Rafael Barrett, a brilliant anarchist misrepresented [Review]

(In a recent book Asombro y búsqueda de Rafael Barrett (Anagrama 2007), the journalist Gregorio Morán tries to deny that the great Spanish-Paraguayan writer was an anarchist.)

In Rafael Barrett, duscubridor de la realidad social de Paraguay, Augusto Roa Bastos writes that “It was Barrett that taught all of today’s Paraguayan writers how to write: he introduced us to the searing yet nebulous and almost phantasmagorical light of a reality that causes delirium with its historical, social and cultural myths and counter-myths”. For his part, Borges (not much given to such high praises) described Barrett as “inspired”.

Rafael Barrett is an underground writer who has occasionally burst into bloom in sporadic publications since his death in 1910. Following a recent and superb anthology by Santiago Alba Roco (A partir de ahora el combate será libre, Ladinamo, Madrid 2003), Gregorio Morán’s book brings the works of this extraordinary writer back into the bookstores.

Regrettably, however, this book of Morán’s amounts to a great opportunity squandered by superficiality, distortions and the great bloopers that it contains. Without question and by contrast, its finest pages are the sparkling fragments from Barrett’s own texts and his precise and insightful writing. The pity is that Morán devotes more space to his own trivial personal anecdotes that to Barrett’s own writings and work.

Morán emphatically contests the fact that Barrett has been classified as an anarchist thinker (“an explicit anarchism that will never be his political or intellectual preference”, p.43) “they reach for his supposed anarchy like somebody reaching for a coaster” p. 54) “this sort of rhetorical mediocrity drives me crazy”, p. 219). His intention here is to refute the widespread view held by all Barrett commentators who have always looked upon him as an anarchist. And he also tries to refute … Barrett himself, no less! Because the incontestable fact is that Barrett professed himself an anarchist, operated like an anarchist and wrote like an anarchist.

How can we not regard as an anarchist a writer who called for abolition of the State, abolition of laws, the elimination of money and who highlighted notions such as “the Dawning” or “the Idea”, who advocated the General Strike (“worldwide stoppage”, as Barrett writes) as the crucial move in revolutionary action and who defines such a strike as “the anarchic army of peace”, a thinker who asserts “thought is of itself an anarchist energy” and who alluded to anarchist activists as “heroes” and “martyrs”, a writer who launched a review bearing the title Germinal, the very first issue of which he set out his Programme and says “stamp out the authority principle wheresoever you may find it” and “fight against the chief, against all chiefs”?

But in addition to that Barrett expressly declared himself an anarchist and spelled out his ideas in an article entitle My Anarchism: he spelled it out that plainly and bluntly that nobody could be in any mistake about it. The whole thing is so explicit that Morán’s stance is unfathomable, unless he is simply attention-seeking and straining to say something different and “original”, no matter what the price.

To be sure, Barrett’s anarchism is very searching and far from schematic, deeply thoughtful and averse to any sort of embrace of simplistic notions since, as the quintessential feature of his own anti-authoritarianism, he rejects all imposed doctrine, however minimal. Barrett is an insightful, radically critical thinker caught up in the whirlwind “fin de siècle crisis”, one who regards anarchy as the launch pad for the overall revolutionary current throbbing through his time.

The rabid relevancy of Barrett’s thought has been highlighted by Roa Bastos who plays up the “prophetic” aspect of his work and, more recently, by Santiago Alba Rico with this rounded sentence: “The currency of Barrett derives from the currency of the evil that he fought against.” For instance, Barrett questioned the notion of Progress, raising ideas that were plainly ahead of his times and which seem strikingly modern. And he also embraces without reservation the tensions implicit in the anarchism of his day. The topic of violence being one where Barrett is dramatically sensible of those tensions: “Anarchism’s murderous violence is bad, a pointless spasm; but the mentality behind it is a brave glint of truth” - he writes - “and a vague remorse for what is beyond repair will live on in us.”

Barrett rejects the clashes between anarchists and socialists which began to surface in the wake of the Congress in The Hague, persuaded that nobody gained by them except capitalism and he cautioned that “the antagonism between socialists and anarchists is the bourgeoisie’s last card.” Barrett was thereby articulating a generally positive view of socialism and Marxism, albeit from an explicitly and unmistakably anarchist viewpoint: “In its stance of out-and-out rebelliousness, anarchism, the far left of the drive for emancipation, stands for the modern social genius.”

Morán is startled that Barrett has no place in Spanish literature classes. And the reason for that is very simple: he is more usually classified as part of Paraguayan literature. Rafael Barrett was born in 1876 in Torrelavega (Cantabria, Spain), the son of an English father and a Spanish mother, but it was the Paraguay to which he moved and where he forged the social commitment that drew him to anarchism and he so committed his life that he could state that Paraguay was “mine only land, which I love deeply” and it was there that he produced the bulk of his literary output. So it is entirely reasonable that he has always been looked upon as a Paraguayan writer: and scarcely surprising that somebody who produced nothing literary in Spain is not classed as a part of Spanish literature.

In his opening pages (p15), Morán admits that he knows nothing about Paraguay. Which may be the reason why his book is plagued with mistakes so numerous as to far exceed the basic requirements of rigour:

He insists that the 1 May 1908 rally was “obvious proof of the birth of the Paraguayan labour movement” (p.161). So maybe the Paraguayan workers’ movement was born at the age of at least fifteen? Because 1892 and 1893 had already witnessed the organisation of carpenters’, tailors’, bakers’, bricklayers’, panel-beaters’, railway workers’ unions and so on, a number of strikes had been mounted and the newspaper La democracia had even published an Anarchist Manifesto. And two years ahead of what Morán would have us believe was its birthdate, the Paraguayan workers’ movement was mature enough (on 1 May 1906) to confederate these various unions into the Paraguayan Regional Workers’ Federation (FORP).

Morán claims that Barrett’s grand-daughter, Soledad, died “in combat” (p. 219), swallowing the military dictatorship’s official story, when it has been shown and documented that she had been arrested, tortured and murdered. (See notes)

Of the very celebrated Spanish-Paraguayan writer Josefina Plá, Morán states that “she headed for Paraguay in 1938, never to leave again up until her death in 1999 at the age ninety.” (p. 34), which is entirely incorrect. Josefina Plá left Paraguay on a number of occasions, for the United States, Spain, Brazil and Argentina, and indeed chaired exhibitions and gave lectures in a number of these countries. By the way, she did not die at the age of ninety. She was ninety five at the time.

Morán mixes up the labour meeting on 1 May 1908 with Colonel Albino Jara’s coup d’etat on 2 July that year.

He gets the names of people and places wrong, and so on and so on.

It would be a nightmarish and endless undertaking to enumerate only the most serious mistakes in Morán’s book, so, by way of a sample, here are two of them, mistakes of such calibre and they might rightly claim a place in any anthology of bloopers.

In one letter Barrett refers to his having contributed to “the main Uruguayan reviews”. And again Morán blasts earlier commentators on Barrett because “Up until now, no one has written one damned line about those reviews, neither which they were nor what he published in them.” (p.219) Well now, both the reviews and what Barrett published in them are detailed in the book Barrett en Montevideo by Vladimiro Muñoz (whom Morán dismisses as “a jungle-dwelling biographer” whose “learning sits on the border of the determination to move from illiteracy to the manipulation of concepts beyond his understanding”, p.24).

There has to be something really grotesque about Morán’s fulminating and insulting on the basis of his own ignorance of the facts. But things turn spectacularly ridiculous when we get a glimpse of the real source of the problem: Morán didn’t realise that Barrett’s reference to “revistas orientales” [Uruguay is sometimes still referred to as the Banda Oriental i.e. Eastern Strip of the River Plate] meant Uruguayan reviews (as documented by Vladimiro Muñoz)! And imagined that the reference was to reviews from China or somewhere like that! And on the basis of such stark ignorance he has the effrontery to dismiss as “rhetorical mediocrities” writers of the stature of Mario Benedetti and Daniel Viglietti.

But Morán outdoes himself in pedantry when he tries to correct Barrett himself on the subject of Barrett’s own wife! Barrett described Panchita as “slim” and, on another occasion “skinny”, but here comes Morán to set him straight, assuring us that she was “chubby” and that the reference to her being “slim” was an “autobiographical correction” (p. 137). And how can Morán be so sure that he knows Panchita better than her own husband? Why, because he saw a photograph! And the funniest thing is that the photograph is a photo of her sister Angelina, whom Morán mistakes for Panchita! That might read like a joke but it’s a fact; it’s in the book. Just take a look at the foot of plate No 7 where the names are jumbled up.

So much for the rigour that encapsulates Morán’s entire book. So much for the man who would refute Barrett’s anarchism in the face of all the evidence and in contradiction of Barrett’s own words, thereby intellectually manipulating and misusing Barrett.

Readers interested in knowing more about Barrett’s splendid works and his winning personality (and in judging for themselves) will find plenty of information at http://www.ensayistas.org/filosofos/paraguay/barrett/

Francisco Corral

From CNT (Madrid) No 344 (April 2008)


Barrett, Rafael (1876-1910) My Anarchism

Vladimiro Muñoz (b. Gijon, Spain, 12 November 1920)

Barrett’s granddaughter

Soledad Barrett Viedma, daughter of Rafael Barrett’s only son, Alejandro Rafael Barrett Lopez, was born in Paraguay on 6 January 1945, but her family moved away to Uruguay and she was mostly raised in Montevideo. She became a student leader and in July 1962 (aged 16) was kidnapped by a Uruguayan neo-Nazi group that carved swastikas on her body. Due to the escalating repression Soledad moved to Cuba for a number of years, meeting Brazilian José Maria Ferreira de Araujo, whom she married. They had a daughter together (see below). In 1970 he returned to Brazil and Soledad followed, only to discover that he had been captured and killed by the military there. After a time Soledad met up with an acquaintance from her time in Cuba, the radical leader of the 1964 Brazilian “sailors’ revolt”, José Anselmo Dos Santos aka “Cabo” Anselmo, who was also in Cuba from 1965 until 1970 (having escaped from a Brazilian prison), at the end of which time he had returned to Brazil using a false ID to rejoin the underground struggle as a member of the VPR (People’s Revolutionary Vanguard). Soledad’s late husband had also been a sailor and a participant in the 1964 revolt. Indeed one of José Maria’s tasks had been to prepare the way for Anselmo’s return to Brazil. Anselmo and Soledad eventually became a couple and she fell pregnant again.

The official version is that Soledad perished in the so-called “São Bento farmhouse shoot-out” of 8 January 1973, one of a group of seven subversives , only one of whom - Anselmo - survived. Actually, José Manoel da Silva had been detained at a gas station the previous night. Jarbas Pereira Marques was arrested at the bookshop in which he worked. Eudaldo Gomes da Silva and Evaldo Luiz Fereira were detained at their homes. Pauline Reichstul and Soledad (5 months pregnant at the time) were arrested at the boutique in which they worked. The boutique was raided by five men claiming to be from the police. One was identified as Soledad’s own partner, Anselmo dos Santos who was a “plant” working for the dictatorship and who may well have “set up” José Manuel, her late husband. The next time she was seen, Soledad was laid out on a mortuary slab, bloodied, with her unborn child at her feet.

Source: Francisco Corral article from ABC (Paraguay) 28/01/08

Soledad’s daughter

Ñaysaindy de Araújo Barrett does not exist. Her striking name – which means “clear light” in the Guarani Indian language – cannot be found in any Brazilian government archive. She is a ghost-citizen, without an identity, forbidden to legally work or study in Brazil. Why? Her parents were guerrillas who were killed by the military regime that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.

Araújo Barrett’s father, José Maria Ferreira de Araújo, came from the Northeastern state of Paraíba. Being in the Navy didn’t stop him from joining the Popular Revolutionary Vanguard (VPR), a guerrilla group led by ex-Army Captain Carlos Lamarca. There Ferreira de Araújo met another young militant, a Paraguayan woman named Soledad Barrett Viedma. The couple fled to Cuba in 1966, after the Navy expelled Ferreira de Araújo for his “subversive” connections.

In 1970, a year after the birth of Ñaysaindy, Ferreira de Araújo secretly returned to Brazil to help continue the armed struggle against the dictatorship. However, he was arrested later that year and died under torture in the São Paulo headquarters of the Information Operations Department – Center for Internal Defense Operations (DOI-CODI). In 1995, a government report would reveal that Ferreira de Araújo had been buried under a false name.

Barrett Viedma decided to leave Cuba in 1973 to rejoin the VPR. Knowing that her daughter’s future might be in danger if the Brazilian government knew the identity of Ñaysaindy’s parents, Barrett Viedma had a false birth certificate made that identified the child as Ñaysaindy Sosa del Sol.

The fate of Barrett Viedma paralleled that of her late husband. When she returned to Brazil, Barrett Viedma had an affair with a commander of the VPR, Cabo Anselmo. In 1964, Anselmo had led a sailors’ revolt that helped frighten the higher military into deposing the constitutional government. Nevertheless, by the early ‘70s, Anselmo was secretly collaborating with Brazil’s military regime. Anselmo’s reports about VPR activities helped the government to imprison and kill five VPR militants in 1973. Among them was Soledad Barrett Viedma.

In 1980, Ñaysaindy went to live in São Paulo with her Brazilian foster mother, Damaris Oliveira Lucena. The year before, the Brazilian government had given an amnesty to everyone who had been imprisoned or exiled for political offences. Before going into exile in Cuba and befriending Barrett Viedma, Lucena had been tortured in Brazil. Lucena’s husband had been executed.

Adjusting to life in Brazil was hard on Ñaysaindy. “I was completely lost,” she told Brazilian weekly newsmagazine IstoÉ in 1995. “Brazil seemed so scary…” Her foster mother was also fearful. “Mother [i.e., Lucena] avoided all contact with the police and that’s why my situation wasn’t legalized,” Araújo Barrett said years later. To keep away authorities who might wonder why Ñaysaindy had a different last name than the woman whom she called mother, Lucena gave her surname to the girl.

Things seemed to take a turn for the better when Araújo Barrett received her real birth certificate from an aunt. Unfortunately, it was a false hope. Not only had the document been registered with the Swiss Embassy in Havana (in 1969, when Ñaysaindy was born, Brazil had no diplomatic relations with Cuba), but Lucena had not filed with any government authorities when she and her foster daughter came to Brazil. Therefore, Araújo Barrett, although a Brazilian citizen through her father, was an illegal alien in her own country.

Araújo Barrett now lives with her boyfriend and two daughters in Florianópolis, capital of the southern state of Santa Catarina. There she ekes out a living by selling handmade souvenirs to tourists. Her uncle, Paulo Araújo, has petitioned Justice Minister Nélson Jobim that Ñaysaindy be officially recognized as the daughter of José Maria Ferreira de Araújo and Soledad Barrett Viedma. “That would put an end to many years of lies,” Ñaysaindy says.

Gallant, Katheryn Article Title: Nevermore? From: News from Brazil, Volume 8; Number 125 Date: 05-31-96 Page: p. 8

From: (Main article) CNT (Madrid) No 344 (April 2008). Translated by: Paul Sharkey.