Originally published as Manuel González Prada, anarquista convicto y confeso in Anarkismo.net. Translated by Renzo Forero (bitacoraanarquista.wordpress.com).
On July 22nd we remember another year of the passing away of this anarchist comrade from Peru.
The great anarchist thinker Manuel Gonzalez Prada was born in Lima in 1844, at the core of an aristocratic family from which he broke ties in order to approach the workers’ movement in Lima. Many things have been said and many things have been written about comrade Prada (Apristas, Marxists, liberals, and pseudointellectuals of all kinds), distorting his figure, his social work, and his thought, distancing him from the ideas he defended so skillfully.
It is common knowledge that he is portrayed in a merely literary framework, as the great precursor of a unique literature, cutting away ties with colonialism, as the critical positivist, and the carefree anticlerical that contributed so much to national consciousness, among other descriptions. The studies and essays about him portray clearly the intentions of a class, a bourgeoisie of different shades, to divert readers who approach his writings and who become interested in the social question. From the most reactionary right-wing sectors who insist on criticizing his position contrary to the clergy and political institutions, to Marxists and social-democrats of all kinds who keep portraying him as a limited thinker in his socio-political conceptions, as a very first instant of lucid thought in the consciousness of Peru, in the words of Mariátegui, but of who’s work was later “surpassed” by the Peruvian Marxist thinker.
The truth is that nobody reads Prada nor understands him, at least not those who aspire to be his “critics” and who based their arguments in purely subjectivities and prejudices of ideological overtones in order to bury his undeniably labor in Peru.
There are certain truths like the process of ideological evolution in the instruction of Manuel Gonzalez Prada, since he starts his activities as a liberal (critical of the clerical hierarchy and the functions of the State in detriment of the people) and establishes the party Unión Nacional, the one he directed, but from even then he already refined his position as a free thinker of anti-authoritarian traits.
His literary instruction, to some extent self-educated, centers on the Spanish classics, the French symbolists, and some German authors such as Goethe, Schiller, Körner, from which he translated to Spanish many of the works. From this foundation, he accomplished a metric and rhythmic renovation of lyrical poetry in Spanish, which he exposed in the treaty called Ortometría. Apuntes para una rítmica (published in 1877), and he introduced metric verses product of French and Italian medieval lyrical poetry, and Persian compositions that he discovered from English adaptations.
After dazzling the critics with his prodigious writing he leaves these lands and, together with his wife, travels around the old continent. After his stay in Europe (1891-1898), specifically Spain, he comes back to Peru with winds of change and revolutionary hopes for the oppressed classes on this part of the world. He comes back as a self-confessed and avowed anarchist, a propagandist of the libertarian ideal that will have an influence in factories, unions, and workshops, and in the countryside through the proletarian mass who listened and accompanied him.
In Barcelona, he had approached the anarchist circles of the city, had become involved with the workers’ unions, and had met the work of P. J. Proudhon through Francisco Pi y Margall, left republican and diffuser of the thought of the French socialist. He had soaked himself in the tradition of the workers’ First International, revolutionary and antiauthoritarian; now he conceived a worthy struggle against the State and Capital as socio-political and economic factors, deniers of a distinct humanity. His position is clear when in his anarchist articles published in workers’ journals, he denounces the State machinery as a regulator and oppressor of the popular advancement and the struggles for the land from which he was a witness, and the capitalist factor as a mean of savage and murderous production and reproduction. He also declared himself a staunch enemy of authority, it suffices to remember his words: “Let’s hate the authorities for the only serious reason: The fact of soliciting or exerting command, the perversity in instincts is denounced. He who thinks to have the soul of a king, posses the heart of a slave; he who thinks to have been created for the nobility, was born for servitude. The truly good and free man does not pretend to order nor wants to obey: As he does not accepts the humiliation of recognizing masters nor lords, he rejects the iniquity of possessing slaves and servants.” Retrieved from the posthumous book Anarquía.
He is nourished by the great anarchist revolutionaries such as M. Bakunin, E. Reclus, P. Kropotkin, the young Malatesta, from whose works he uses to analyze the situation experienced in the Peru of the time, the Indian and land problem, labor problems, the problem of union organization away from the political parties, and he comes back convinced that only a proletarian organization of anarchic stands could provide solutions for the problems and contradictions that were lived and still are lived.
Back in Lima, he publishes essays and articles in the pages of Germinal, publication that spread freethinking in Peru; later on, in 1904, he founded the journal Los Parias, the voice of anarchism in Peru, together with anarchist comrades, intellectuals who followed his libertarian steps, such as Glicerio Tassara, Carlos del Barzo, among others.
His clear and firm voice reaches the workers eager to find weapons to defend themselves from bosses; and thus the libertarian ideal becomes flesh in the working multitudes, being the most renowned Manuel C. Lévano and his son Delfín Lévano, Leopoldo Urmachea, Nicolás Gutarra, Montany, Ismael Gacitúa, Julio Reynaga, this last one an outstanding northern mulato, anarchist leader in the sugar haciendas; and from the side of the intellectuals spheres he is followed by newly anarchists defending the popular struggle, figures like the medic Christian Dam, Carlos del Barzo, and later on other notable comrades such as the libertarian orator Miguelina Acosta Cárdenas.
Comrade Prada took part in the commemoration of May First in Lima, the first one that took place in 1905 and was organized by the Federación de Obreros Panaderos “Estrella del Peru”; of anarcho-syndicalist ideology, it had recently broken ties with reformist mutualism thanks to the effort of its anarchist leaders, among them the Lévano. That day, on the evening Gonzalez Prada gives his speech El Intelectual y el Obrero, a declaration of principles in which he calls upon manual workers and intellectuals to unite for the future emancipation, speech which was followed upon by the clarifying speech of Manuel C. Lévano named Los Gremios Obreros en el Perú y lo que debieran ser (“The Worker guilds in Peru and what they should be”)
Year after year, his ties with the working class become more intimate. He participates in the socio-cultural evening events organized by the anarchist elements in the workers’ unions and ateneos of the time. In this context, the anarchist newspaper La Protesta is founded in 1911 (the biggest and most popular worker and anarchist newspaper in Peru) and Manuel Gonzalez Prada supports actively this initiative with articles in which he signs as Luis Miguel (in honor of anarchist Louise Michel) or with his own name. His writings were disseminated and read by workers; and from them, the message was transmitted to peasants who started to organize and fight in federations or peasant organizations. His articles were published in syndicalist and anarchist newspapers of the time like La Lucha, El Nivel, El Obrero Organizado, La Voz del Panadero, El Libertario, Armonía Social, etc., which were read by anarcho-syndicalists who used to armed themselves against the bourgeoisie and state institutions.
This comrade had a huge library specialized in sociological, economical, political, syndicalist, and anarchist themes to where the young Mariátegui and Haya de la Torre (the last one will then shamelessly use the image of Gonzalez Prada for his own political goals within the APRA party) attended, eager to learn from the teacher, the rebel, the tireless man ahead of his time.
We could give much more details about his anarchism and his vision of Peru in those days which has not lost validity. His libertarian political stance was not at all the idealistic and romantic pose that critics try to impose him, it was not a petit-bourgeois individualism, not even a radical liberalism; but revolutionary, conscious of the social panorama in the city and the countryside, and recognizing that the workers’ and peasants’ struggles were more human than merely class based.
That these lines also serve to make clear to the bigwigs of the APRA party that Peruvian anarchism, and its anarcho-syndicalist variant has nothing to do with the pseudo-socialist politics of the APRA and even less with its current neoliberal and proto-fascist policy. The rancid argument that states that with the appearance of aprismo, as a political current in Peru and the regrettable decline of libertarian thinking in the working masses, a transition occurred from a liberal democracy to a radical nationalism, as the apristas try uselessly to attribute themselves, claiming their historical “anarchic” legacy.
We remind them that anarchism is socialist, enemy of liberal and bourgeois politics; it is anti-capitalist and anti-statist. And those of us who follow the work of Prada and other ácratas are not at all inside governmental structures, but on the side of the fighting people.
Coming back to Manuel González Prada, we know that his intellectual production is full of great works such as Páginas Libres (1894) in his liberal period, of who Miguel de Unamuno, a great admirer of his, would say “it’s one of the few, of the few Latin-American books, that I have read more than once; and one of the few books which I remember vividly”; then Horas de Lucha (1908) which contains his famous speech of May 1st 1905, Ataque y Propaganda, among others. As a poet, he published Minúsculas (1901) y Exóticas (1911), which are truly catalogues of metrical and strophic innovations, such as the delicate rondels and triolets that he adapted from French. His Baladas Peruanas (1935) recover indigenous traditions and scenes from the Spanish conquest, written from 1871 onwards. He also gathered a collection of his epigrams and satires in Grafitos, Paris, 1917; in this genre he exalts as a great writer, stunning and intelligent, thanks to his synthesis power and the precision of his attacks against writers, politicians and ideas.
This comrade, insulted and hated, loved and respected, denied and underestimated, full of shocking phrases, lucid analyses, with ideas of social change, who accepted the direction of the National Library in 1912, to who an anti-Chilean patriotism is attributed, without knowing until this day his stateless and internationalist stance; to who in his honor monuments are raised, schools and institutions carry his name (Prada would laugh ironically about this), of who much and not enough is discussed, still today and surely tomorrow has and will have comrades who follow his conscious and critical steps, who follow his ideas and his revolutionary anarchism, his words of fire and his pure eyes still seem to pound strokes in the 21st century.
Those who knew him and wrote in their memoirs, know that this comrade was not at all rhetorical, but a man of ideas and actions, that’s why we make an appeal to all anarchists from the world who today fight and organize not to forget this anarchist. Let’s dust off his memory and his work from theoretical cloisters, let’s study, analyze, and remember him fighting. Our Latin American lands had also given birth to sons of the people.
Physically, he would leave us on July 22nd, 1918; with the tranquility of those who know that to die fighting is to live forever. Afterwards, homages were organized in his memory by libertarian circles and that’s a custom that even today has not been lost, since we know that those who raise their voice and fist against oppression are still with us and are still conserved young in those who carry and a new world in our hearts.
Franz García Uceda.