Interview with Osvaldo Bayer,
I am with Osvaldo Bayer in his austere study in the residential district of Belgrano in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. As would have happened normally, Bayer himself receives the inconvenient visit with his usual friendliness. Exile has cut his life in two. Now he has a home in Germany, where his companion, children and grandchildren await him. Far away, however, in this Buenos Aires, is where he spends the majority of his life. As always when in Buenos Aires, Bayer is at home alone. But this tranquility is an illusion; Bayer’s days in this city are incredibly fatiguing, with lectures, talks and invitations to events and meetings throughout Argentina. The Department of Human Rights founded by him in the School of Philosophy and Humanities of the University of Buenos Aires, although abandoned by him only last year, has not been able to do without him. I had mentioned to him by telephone that I wanted him to tell me something about the ´30s and the activities of the FACA (Federación Anarquista Comunista Argentina) and Bayer upon receiving me bypasses the question
But you’re asking me about the ´30s, I don’t know anything about the anarchism of the ´30s...”
Obviously not! How old were you at that time, ten?
Well look, in 1940 I was thirteen. My contact with anarchism started in the ´60s, when the building was in Humberto Primo Street1 with all the old guys, who died one by one…
The FORA was in Humberto Primo Street? (Ed: Federación Obrera Regional Argentina, Argentinean Regional Workers’ Federation2
No, the Argentinean Libertarian Federation’s building was.
You made contact with people of the FACA?
Well it wasn’t really called the FACA. It was called the FLA(Federación Libertaria Argentina,3 and they remembered the FACA as something of the remote past. Shortly we had to move because of the continuation of 9th July Avenue4 to Brazil Street [the present location of the FLA], premises which I have known since their birth.
I wanted to ask you about your book Severino Di Giovanni. Was it the first militant activity of anarchism in Argentina that you became acquainted with?
Yes, absolutely. It was the first, then came Los Anarquistas Expropiadores [The Expropriator Anarchists]. I started in the year’s ´65 and ´66, and I had the luck that, except for those killed by the police, the majority of the compañeros of Severino’s group were still living. And those that belonged to groups hostile to Severino, too, like Abad de Santillán, for example. And the men who had founded La Antorcha in the early ´20s, they were all living, and a few of the memories were still alive, too. In fact, so many were that they didn’t like it at all that I was dedicating time to Severino Di Giovanni, who was an enemy. They still expressed solidarity with López Arango6 and his compañero, Diego Abad de Santillán. Santillán did every thing possible to stop me from writing this book. The wounds were still very much open and there was a lot of hate involved. For them Severino was the antithesis of anarchism, not only him, but the people who surrounded him too.
But amongst them there were thoroughly proven anarchists like Morán7...
Like Morán, yes, doubtlessly... But Severino got the full brunt of Santillán´s hate. He made statements to me about Severino, that I later proved to be false. On the other hand there were others who worked in La Antorcha and appreciated him very much, such as Alberto Bianchi(8). For me Alberto Bianchi was one of the most important fighters for this tendency, which, of course, didn’t foresee that the FLA was going to turn into a place for meetings and weekends. Then there were very valuable people, who came from the FORA or the interior of the country, who met in the FLA, like Borda, who was a great fighter, who was in La Forestal,9 a quiet man, but who made it perfectly clear for me that Severino had never betrayed the cause or any thing of the sort. What happened is that Severino´s attacks were used by the police to persecute anarchists who were militants at surface level [with] the objective of criminalizing the entire libertarian movement. And a lot of anarchists complained saying, “...but Severino should’ve warned us...”, but Severino, who was always running from the police, could never warn anybody of anything. So that’s how I was able to reconstruct, bit by bit, both of these tendencies. Those two tendencies of the ´20s were really hard on each other.
you able to see Fina then?10
No, Fina didn’t want to receive me. She was tired of the “crows”, the journalists who sought sensationalist material and cops-and-robbers treatment of the case. But then, when the first edition was published, when she saw that it was something different, she phoned me and explained why she hadn’t received me before. She was happy with the book because of how it handled the love between Severino and her, but she wanted to know where I’d found the material and the letters that I’d quoted. Of course, I’d studied all of the material in the court records, in the police records of the case, I’d done the entire circuit, I’d visited the places they’d lived in, I’d even arrived as far as the country-house in Burzaco where they lived together and which was Severino´s last dwelling. She was a girl of sixteen... She’s always denied it! She phoned me up and said, “No Bayer, you have to make this correction in the book. I wasn’t sixteen, I was seventeen...” What a difference! Of course, being seventeen, she was a young lady, because the main point of the press attack was that he was living with a minor.
wrote this book in the ´60s, but you were aware of the
Patagonia issue earlier...
I already knew that topic, because my father was a history buff,
who had lived with my mother in Rio Gallegos11
during the entire strike. It interested him a lot and he collected
the workers’ leaflets and newspapers of the period. That way, I
had a lot of material as well as my father’s accounts.
Then you moved to Santa Fé12?
No, they moved to Neuquén13. What happened is my mother went to Santa Fé, where her sisters lived, to have her last two children. The eldest was born in Rio Gallegos, Franz, the second, was born in Neuquén. Then they moved to Concepción del Uruguay14 and I was born, but my mother went to Santa Fé to have us. But I was conceived in Concepción del Uruguay! Imagine that! [he laughs]…they decided to go to live in Tucumán.15 So, my first four years were spent in Tucumán and I still have memories of when I was four. It’s incredible how I still remember the carts loaded with sugar cane passing by.
But when I was four, I went to live in Bernal en the Province of Buenos Aires…when I was seven we came to live in Belgrano [from suburban Buenos Aires, Bernal, to a residential district in the City of Buenos Aires, Belgrano]. Then I lived here till I got married.
How did you take up contact with the libertarian movement?
my student times in Germany, I’d been strongly attracted to
the libertarian movement. I’d read a lot. Over there I’d
become a militant of the Socialist Students’ League, who were
left-socialists, left of the social democrats. They had a very
libertarian tendency and there I read the classics. So, when I
came back from my studies in ´56, I already had a libertarian
posture. What happened is I wanted to enter the Socialist Party
here, but the internal disputes were so tremendous that they
didn’t accept me. The old guys who represented the right wing
of the party and feared the growth of the youth thought that
I’d come to break the voting tie in the committee to their
disadvantage, because the assembly of associates had to accept
me. I remember that assembly, it was pathetic! It embarrassed
me, because they tied twice or three times! And all I wanted was
to be a member. So, I thanked them, and good bye, never again,
... never again the Socialist Party! Then I started to go now
and then to the lectures at the Libertarian Federation in
Humberto Primo Street.
big of an influence did the FLA have in the social movement at
say very little, because peronism had completely defeated anarchism.
And anarchism had committed some grave errors. All the people who
were against Severino Di Giovanni when I started my research took
me to be an enemy. And there were those who had openly collaborated
with the “Libertadora.”16. Openly! So much so that some syndicates
[until that moment they were peronist] were taken by the marine
infantry. These syndicates held a banquet in the Libertarian Federation
for Admiral Rojas17....
were ferociously anti-peronist and unbearably anti-communist. Furthermore,
I arrived there with my surname of German origin, and some said
that they had to check out if I was nazi or not. It was a really
shitty environment, controlled by the old guys, the old guys who
had lost to peronism.
You have told me that you were once a sailor. When was that?
That was before I went to study in Germany. I had to work to save for my studies, and first I worked in an insurance agency belonging to some Germans. My third job was in the merchant marine. One of my brothers was an officer there, and he had me enter as an apprentice commissary. The commissaries were the ones who did the administrative paper pushing on the ships. But on the second day Captain Almirón saw me and said, you’re not going to stay here doing numbers in the office. Come to the bridge, You’re going to be an apprentice helmsman. So, for six months I was an apprentice helmsman. We went from Buenos Aires to Puerto Caballero to the North of Asunción along the River Paraná. It was a very nice period, dangerous because the crew was Paraguayan then. The Paraguayans and Correntinos18 held shindigs on top of the barges with an accordion and some played the harp19 really well and they danced all night long, those nights of full moon and heat. At the beginning I went but it was very dangerous because I was the only pale face there. I was going to have to close myself up in my cabin [he laughs]. Those trips were really nice, until the Maritime Workers’ Strike was called because they wouldn’t accept Perón’s decree, by which, I can’t remember, seven or eight percent of their earnings were to be discounted for the Eva Perón Foundation [founded by Eva Peron to give money to the poor]. So the Maritime Workers said “no”. The Maritime Workers and the Railway Workers were the only unions still in the hands of the socialists and the anarchists. Well, the anarchists still had influence within the sailors union, not amongst the leaders but amongst the rank and file members, amongst the mechanics. I attended the assembly where the automatic discount was rejected - it was to be voluntary, he who wanted to donate, should donate. We embarked upon the steamer Madrid, and the strike started before we arrived in Rosario.20 So, I said to the captain, “O.K., I’m on strike”, and he answered, “You’re not going to fool around, you’re not going to strike if no one’s going to stop working here”. “What do you mean, nobody’s going to stop working - we have to follow the decisions of the assembly?” “Look, not one Paraguayan or Correntino’s going to stop working here”. And that’s the way it was, I was the only striker on the steamer Madrid, and of course when we arrived in Rosario, they disembarked me and told the Coast Guard that I was a striker. It was 2 o’clock in the morning. A jeep came to pick me up and took me to the Coast Guard Station. They made me stand at attention for about six hours straight.
it was then that they tore up your card?
Ah, I’ve already told you about this, then. Yes, then the Under-prefect came and said, “Watch what I’m going to do with your embarkation card”. He tore it up into little pieces and threw them in the garbage. And he said, “You are never going to sail again on an Argentinean vessel.” And he was right.
you already registered at the School of Philosophy and
First I registered in medicine, because I wanted to learn about the body before learning about the soul. I passed my first year of medicine…and I left medicine to enter philosophy. There I became acquainted with... well, “they” came to speak to me about peronism! Peron had given the School of Philosophy and Humanities over to Catholic Fundamentalism and the Right, so you only saw Saint Thomas and Saint Augustine. The CEU, Centro de Estudiantes Universitarios [University Students’ Center] were the peronists who dominated the School and kicked the shit out of you. Their boss was Jorge Cesarsky,21 you remember...After that, I continued with journalism until [eventually] I accepted to go to Patagonia [with the Esquel22 newspaper]. I went with a contract with the owner of the chain of newspapers of Chubut,23 who [contracted] me for the Esquel paper. I went there with all my family, because I intended to stay for a few years. But right after a year they kicked me out, the gendarmerie24 that is, because of my subversive articles, Because, they said, Esquel was a border town. And so it was that I returned to Buenos Aires as a sort of national journalistic hero, because they had kicked me out and they had put me in the can. The day I arrived in Buenos Aires I started working for the newspaper Clarín. Only a short time afterwards, they elected me to be Adjunct Secretary General of the Press Workers’ Syndicate and I immediately went on to be the General Secretary, the journalists’ maximum commander. There was also the Journalists’ Association, a minority union of gorilas [reactionaries]. There, in the Syndicate, I learnt a lot.
Were you independent within the union or did you belong to any certain tendency?
No, I belonged to a tendency..., there were two “lists” [tendencies] in the union, one Blue and White,25 who were right peronists on the absolute Right and more a group of intelligence servicemen and collaborators, always mixed together with the SIDE [Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado, State Intelligence Secretariat]. We were the Green List, the independent list, formed out of radicales,26 socialists, communists and anarchists. The list, because of the communists, was introduced orders from the Central Committee [of the Communist Party]...We carried out a lot of struggles…in the assemblies and the interior of the country. I traveled throughout the world and I was under arrest for 63 days. That was in ´63, a little after Illia’d been elected [President of Argentina] and took power on the 12th of October. I was arrested during the dictatorship that had Guido as president, after the milicos’ coup d’étàt, and I was under arrest from the 2nd of April till the 20th of June, in the women’s prison. After that, that was everybody ’s joke with me! [he laughs] They had moved all the women because there wasn’t enough room in the men’s prisons - they were all full! In our pavilion there were seventeen communists and two others. Well, I was there for 63 days. You learn a lot... Well, after that my life went back to its normal work, and little by little I started with my research projects.
had gone to Esquel, was that your first contact with Patagonia?
Did you start to do research there?
Yes, yes, mostly to collect data, because someone always appeared who knew something. There was an old journalist and I once wrote an article on him. The Horse-back Journalist he was called and he wrote his articles on horse back. He went to all the villages, always on horse back. He has a really beautiful book. One day we’re going to do a reproduction with some publisher. Any way, when I got back [from Patagonia]... the communists really betrayed the posture we had chosen, which was a completely independent one. They wanted to bend it, twist it, and so finally I didn’t want to have anything more to do with that [Green] list. I left it and continued completely independently. At that time I was director of a magazine called Imagen, a current events magazine of German style, which went pretty well. But then the owner sold it to Alberto J. Armando27 and to that son of a bitch of a painter, the one that always has ads calling him the best painter, what’s his name?…Pérez Celis, unbearable. I had to deal with him. He’s miserable, egotistic, a horrible painter. I don’t know how he keeps pulling off what he does. He’s considered to be the best Argentinean painter, any way, let’s leave him. Well, I carried on with my work there.
You were still with the Clarín, you had started to work on Di Giovanni, you’d collected all that material for La Patagonia.
Yes, I started to work on Di Giovanni, and then the Clarín positioned me as the Chief of Politics and one of my reporters was named Félix Luna. So, one fine day he told me, “I want to start a history magazine. Would you help me?” and I said, “Yes, I’m very interested.” and he asked me, “What would you like to do?” “I’d like to do research on the crimes of the beginning of the century, really get into the nitty-gritty, and describe it all.” And he said to me, “O.K., do it. But do some history too.” And so I started to collaborate with the magazine Todo es Historia. I signed the cop-and-robber articles with a pen name and the other ones with mine. The first issue started with the Palomar28 affair. I liked the topics where I could still find the participants, not from the previous century, where all you have left are the newspapers and documents. I always liked doing research where I could find people to interview. And in all the research work I found the participants alive - the members of Di Giovanni’s group, the members of the expropriator bands and groups. Absolutely everybody of La Patagonia was still living, the soldiers were 62 years old. So all my historical articles are based on oral testimony, except for one topic, which interested me very much, which was the sinking of the Rosales, the only Argentinean ship that sunk with the saving of all of the officers and the drowning of all the other crew members. It was the first time that the matter was researched. The work on Di Giovanni appeared in two pretty long articles. After that, the editor of the Galerna publishers called me to say, “We’re going to publish a book [on Di Giovanni].” So I told him I had tons of material and that I’d had to summarize to fit all of it into the magazine. Then I started to put the book together. It was among the highest sellers for 24 weeks, I think.
It has to be the historical number one best seller of the history in the Argentinean press. I still see kids of 20 or so reading it as if it were the Bible.
Yes, it was, until it was prohibited by that son of a bitch, Lastiri,29 before Peron did it. And then began the whole adventure with the film, which was going to be done on Di Giovanni.
you actually write a script?
Yes, first with Roberto Bezza. Then there was Fabio [Leonardo Fabio, movie director], who had it for ten years or more, and after Fabio the famous Italian, the one who made “Christ Stopped at Eboli”, Gino? I wish he’d made it. Just when he was about to make it the bombing took place in Milan, a bomb in a bank that killed sixteen people, and he said to me, “No, in no way are we going to do the life of a terrorist.” Well, that’s the way it stayed till I returned from exile…In the mean time there was Fabio again, who spoke to me from Columbia. I remember it was snowing in Germany and he phoned me at three in the morning saying, “We’re going to do it on the Côte d’Azur, it’s all set.” Imagine, what a title, “Severino Di Giovanni on the Côte d’Azur” [he laughs]. After I got back here in ´83 and Olivera [who had the rights after Fabio] finally gave it up.
did he give it up?
was really enthusiastic, we’d already started with the
wardrobe, everything was ready, with the script written and
everything else, and one day he phoned me and said, “Look
Osvaldo, I can’t do it.” I asked him, “Why not? Don’t
just tell me that.” And he answered, “Look, Severino’s a
nice terrorist and each time he places a bomb, the people in the
cinema are going to give him a tremendous applause. It’s going
to cause some really messy problems, and I’ve already had
enough of the experience of La Patagonia Rebelde [Rebellious
But it [the movie] was the success of his life...
True, but there was no way. And then who called me? Fabio, who had every thing all ready. He described each scene to me, everything... Well, after Fabio appeared Desanzo, the one who did Evita. And I flatly refused him. He said, “I’ve got great news, Bayer, Fabio’s just given me the rights.” I asked him, “Who is Fabio to give the rights to you?” Desanzo went on, “I’m really very happy, it’s the dream of my life…” And I asked again, “Who is he to give you the rights? Stop fucking around with me, don’t hassle me with this stuff any more. That gentleman had no right! Keep yourself out of these things...” Poor Desanzo... So, well, after Desanzo nobody touched the stuff again, until the matter with Luis Puenzo31 began...
Luis Puenzo has the rights, is he considering filming?
I don’t know. I hope not, because he’s trash.
Give us your evaluation of the situation, today, half way through 2001. What is the situation of progressive politics, of the Left, of humanists faced with the offensive of the Right, of capitalism at its most voracious point?
I’m encouraged by the picketeers’ movement32 and by the movements of the campesinos and the unemployed. It’s really curious, because they appear spontaneously... They are living examples of the phenomenon of the [Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Disappeared)]. When there are demonstrations, people go into the streets. It is as if the absolute and total defeat of ten years ago had somehow been overcome. These movements are calling the attention of the First World. The huge demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, the system isn’t working. The system is finding absolutely no solution to any problem either of the First World or of the Third World...I have real confidence that we’re going to have a more and more revolutionary climate! You see that the bourgeois parties don’t know what to do. They change one guy, put in an other one, they make ridiculous speeches... If you listened to the thing in Tucumán..., it’s just one more radical speech, it seems like they’d looked for one of Yrigoyen’s33 speeches…“All of us have to be united, all of us have to be together...” Yeah! Who united, who?! “Unite! The Mother Land is in danger!” Such stupidity, at least the peronists put a little salt on things, they at least seem to be revolutionaries when they speak...
One sees more and more people who are excluded, marginalized. Those who are integrated and who have an income are terrified of loosing it, of loosing their integration. All the movements which you have mentioned are all movements which have nothing to do directly with production. You’ve mentioned the Madres and the picketers, are they generally outside the system?
They’re outside the system, in one way but in an other they’re the ones who made the French Revolution, right? The ones who started to throw stones, thinkers aside, the urban plebes. They threw stones and started the whole thing. All the rest, you see, stayed back...Communism has been defeated. Look, socialism doesn’t exist any more - socialism as a party. The parties which try to organize are organized by village priests who know the poor and distribute food...or by the Right, isn’t it so? With torturers who are recognized by the people and say, “These guys’re tough and they’re going to kill the delinquents, right? Finally!” That is how the Right thinks and there are more than a few of them…like Bussi34 [General Domingo].
There is always a public for the Right...
Always, yes always. And especially when there’s some big danger, like now: Cavallo35 falls and inflation will take its toll. We will relive the last few months of Alfonsín’s36 presidency. And what will happen then? Then suddenly someone [will] launche a proclamation, it could be Rico,37 Seineldín,38 or Patti,39 or it could be Bussi again. You can just imagine how the Avenida the Mayo,40 is going to be opened up so that they can parade...And we thought that it had already finished, but it hasn’t. At any moment, imagine - not the same ones as before – [a military figure] makes a proclamation saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is chaos, the army has to keep vigil over the destiny of the Mother Land.”…Any way, there’re people in the streets, yeah, people in the streets...
Why anarchism today?
Well, because libertarian socialism is the way...or as I prefer to say, libertarian solidarism, that’s where we can find the essence of a better world, the essence of a society formed from the grass roots up, through the people’s discussion, the protagonism of the people. That is the most beautiful poem of all…Now, we have to be practical but one can think that finally, after so many problems, humanity’s going to start to think and ... the only way is by the people being the protagonists within an enormous mutuality…
* Fernando López Trujillo, Argentinean activist and writer, received a grant award from the IAS for his project, The FACA and the Anarchist Movement in Argentina, 1930-1950.
1 A street in the old district of San Telmo of Buenos Aires
2 Federación Obrera Regional Argentina, Argentinean Regional Workers’ Federation.
3 FLA, Federación Libertaria Argentina, the continuation of the FACA, Federación Anarco Comunista Argentina, Argentinean Anarco Communist Federation
4 A centrally located multi-laned avenue, the construction of which determined the demolition of many city blocks.
6 Secretary of edition of the anarchist daily, La Protesta, who, according to most testimonies, was assassinated by Di Giovanni in 1929 as corollary of an extensive ideological and political battle fought in libertarian publications in Argentina. For further details see Bayer’s book.
Term used to designate the military coup d’étàt against the peronist
government on 16th of September, 1955, and the succeeding dictatorial
process, which lasted three years, until the results of the elections
The vice-president after the ultra-reactionary coup d’étàt of
December 1955, when he together with Aramburu dislodged moderate
military command, who had carried out the coup d’étàt in September,
Border guard corps, who, presently, are the forces used throughout
the North and South of Argentina, in the province of Salta, for
example, specifically for the repression of the movements of popular
demands, and have thus abandoned the tasks they were originally
created to fulfill.
Members of the Partido Radical, the Radical Party, liberal bourgeois
party. Successive use of radical implies of the Partido Radical.
Conservative, populist president of Boca Juniors, the most popular
Football team of Argentina.
28 Famous case of corruption involving the donation of a large tract of land to be used as the site for the National Military School, and its subsequent fraudulent purchase and resale to the state, involving military officers and radical politicians, and obviously huge quantities of money.
President of the House of Representatives, who in 1974 because of the
Campora’s renunciation, assumed
the Presidency of the Nation before Peron’s assumption
Bayer speaks about “la Strage di Piazza Fontana”. “It was a bomb in
the Banca Nazionale di Lavoro, in Piazza Fontana in Milan, December 1969.
It was in fact the bombing of which Pinelli was accused.” [Thanks Leslie
Ray, who gives me these data]
Director of the film The Official Story, Oscar award winner in the ‘80s.
Although good, it is based on “the
theory of the two demons” (Teoría de los dos demonios, the reactionary,
official view about the dictatorship years)
Movimiento de los piqueteros, a protest movement, of which the basic tool
is blocking the flow of traffic on roads and highways, which has gained
considerable strength in Argentina in the last ten years and which in July
of this year was declared illegal.
Radical, twice President of Argentina, removed from power in his second
term by the military coup d’étàt of 1930.
Appointed inspector-general of the province of Tucumán during the
military dictatorship, against whom the lawsuits for genocide and torture
have yet to be concluded, and who, nevertheless, was elected Governor of
Tucumán during the ´90s.
Neo-liberal “Chicago boy” (Milton Friedman disciple), President
of the Central Bank during the military dictatorship, Minister
of Economy under Ex-president Menem, present Minister of
Economy in De la Rua’s radical government.
38 Military companion of Rico’s, from whom he took distance upon the arrival of Menem’s peronist government in 1989; imprisoned for a frustrated coup d’étàt during the ´90s; these days maintains relations with a chavista -so named after the Venezuelan general Chávez- group within the army.
Ex-police official and torturer who received support from scared
sectors of the middle class who he convinced with the promise
of law and order during the campaign -which he won- for mayor
of Escobar, a small city in northern metropolitan Buenos Aires.
Perspectives on Anarchist Theory - Vol. 5, No. 2 - Fall 2001