Talk of Chilean politics, poetry and anarchy echoed through the Olin stacks on Tuesday.
Latin American Studies Program Director Prof. Raymond Craib, history, presented his new book revealing the history of 1900s Santiago, Chile during the rise of anarchist ideas and activism.
The Cry of the Renegade: Politics and Poetry in Interwar Chile, which centers on José Domingo Gómez Rojas — a 24-year-old university student and acclaimed poet — aims to “reconstitute the context in which his persecution and death took place… [which] meant focusing very closely on his environment: Santiago, Chile,” Craib said.
“I wrote this book with a very basic question in mind: why did this man die?” Craib asked. “How did he go from basically spending time in cafés with colleagues and friends in Santiago, to a penitentiary, then to a jail, then to an asylum, then to a cemetery? I wanted to make sense of that.”
Craib explained that his interests in writing about Rojas were “twofold.”
He first mentioned his general frustration with the treatment of younger people involved in politics, citing the treatment of protest attendees by reporters in the 1999 World Trade Organization protest in Seattle.
“The reporters and media would come up to young people and ask them why they were here,” he explained. “If [the reporters] didn’t get a 20 minute theoretically sophisticated exegesis that precisely analyzed why they were in the street, they were somehow bored bourgeois middle-class youth with nothing better to do.”
Craib also mentioned his interest in Rojas’s “relationship to anarchist politics” in Chile and highlighted Chile’s political climate in the 1990’s when inflation, social unrest and social insurgency were challenges after World War I.
“Before Chile had a parliament composed of a core of agricultural aristocrats in July 1920, their rule was challenged,” he said. “There was a repression against people who were considered to be subversive, that meant either you were a member of The Student Federation called FECh or perceived to be a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.”
During this period, radicalized university students, workers and intellectuals gathered together to discuss readings and share their common cause.
“These clubs were reading about the Russian Revolution,” he said. “They were reading eclectically. They were reading Max Stirner, who was an anarchist, very Nietzschean. They were reading Bakunin, Marx, Spengler, a Russian conservative whose work seemed very revolutionary to them because he was talking about the decline of the Western civilization.”
Craib compared activism in 1900s Chile with the current Chilean political system, where students tend to drive politics.
The leadership of the the FECh, even today, is anarchist, that’s what they call themselves,” he said. “The contemporary Chilean student movement today is enormously important and is pushing politics in a way that nobody else is.”