Agustín García Calvo, Comrade! by Octavio Alberola

Agustín García Calvo (Zamora, Spain, Oct. 15, 1926 — Zamora, Spain, 1 Nov. 2012)

Agustín García Calvo, Paris, Belleville, 2002 (portrait by Ariane Gransac)

Philologist, philosopher, writer, lifelong rebel, revolutionary and comrade, Agustín García Calvo was expelled by the Francoist authorities from his chair of Classical Languages at Madrid University for his support of the nascent student anti-Francoist movement in 1964-1965. In 1967 he was, perhaps, the leading light in the formation of the ‘Acratas’, an important Spanish anarchist student grouping that was part of the Europe-wide radical and revolutionary movement of the time. Nor did Garcia Calvo confine himself to the role of thinker, speaker and writer — he was also an activist prepared to put himself on the line. In the early 1970s he was an important liaison between the ‘Angry Brigade’, the ‘First of May Group’ (Grupo Primero de Mayo) and other European anti-Francoist/anti-capitalist action groups operating at the time and in this role was investigated as a ‘revolutionary facilitator’ by both the Metropolitan Police Special Branch (as it then was) and the French Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST). In 1971 our imprint ‘Simian’ published his reflections and speculations on the nature of the 1960s/’70s’ student revolt under the title ‘On How The Student Movement Is Re-Absorbed’ (original title ‘De los modos de integración del pronunciamento estudantil’).  (A fuller appreciation by Octavio Alberola follows)

‘Agustín García Calvo, comrade’ by Octavio Alberola

As might have been expected, the death of Agustín García  Calvo was reported in the media (the “mass-moulding media”, as he called them) in the conventional terms used in this society for cataloguing people by profession: ‘philosopher’, ‘writer’, ‘poet’, ‘thinker’ “controversialist”), ‘essayist’, ‘Latinist’ (“one of the leading 20th century ones”), ‘linguist’,  ‘philologist’, ‘grammarian’, ‘playwright’, ‘translator’, ‘university professor’, ‘lecturer ‘… Not forgetting, of course, the highlighting of his academic accomplishments … “lecturer in Classical Philology at Salamanca University, Professor Emeritus of Classical Philology at the Complutense University” as well as his “National Awards as Essayist in 1990, Dramatist in 1999 and for his overall body of work as Translator in 2006.” Plus, of course, the citation of a few titles from his “prolific oeuvre on Grammar and language theory, Logic, his translations and adaptations of classical Greek and Roman authors, essays and politics, poetry and theatre, etc.,”  most of them published under the Lusina imprint which his son, Víctor, has moved heaven and earth to keep afloat.

To top it all, the lady mayor (Partido Popular) of Zamora has expressed her “sorrow” that “the world of thought and culture has lost one of the most prolific and telling intellectual figures of the age and the city of Zamora one of the most creative and most widely acknowledged of her sons in recent times”. Adding that “over and above his, sometimes, controversial person or ideological differences, Agustín García Calvo is a paragon of erudition, intellectual ability and capacity for work “ Naturally, it was also placed on record that he was “one of the academics persecuted by the Francoist regime” and that “he was stripped of his professorial chair in the student uprisings of February 1965” (on account of his involvement with them) “and forced into exile in France.”

The “mass-moulding media” seek to reduce to just this a man who was at all times a rebel, a tireless battler against lies, a man who never ceased reminding us that Capital And the State were but two faces of the God of Reality and Power, a man who never adapted to the norms laid down by those who give the orders in this world, the man who set his face against everything official (not least in the ‘Anthem of the Community of Madrid’, commissioned from him by the very first president of the home rule administration there, Joaquín Leguina, for the peppercorn price of one peseta, an anthem that was only ever sung on one occasion), the champion of equality in this highly ambiguous world, the most critical of cultural controversialists which he labelled “the opium of the people”, the man who uttered the most original and most devastating critiques of the developed world and the “welfare State”, the man who never ceased politicking which is to say, fulminating … as he did every Wednesday afternoon at the Ateneo in Madrid, in an authentic socratic marketplace, these past twelve years.

Hence the need to remember who Agustin was in addition to all of the above; an anarchist who never wearied of saying No to Power, to the State, to Capital, to the Individual, to the Couple, to the Family, to the Future, to Progress and, most especially, to the system we presently endure as developed Democracy. For there is no question but that he used his outstanding oratorical talents to provoke reflection, in his inimitable colloquial style, and to expose the lies of our times, to shrug off and break with conventional thinking… Beginning with his peculiar spelling style that is a frontal assault upon the Academia de la Lengua as the source of the falsification of the language and for depriving people of the right to write as they speak. Remember too that in his own writings, Agustín strove to give a voice to a nameless, popular sentiment that rejects the manipulation coming from the powers-that-be. Indeed, in Agustín’s view, language is the key to thought, insofar as it is through language that the dominion of the established is exercised. Which is why exposing Reality was an essential concern of his, Reality being an ideal depicted as a faithful mirror image of “what is”, but which nothing but an abstract construct wherein thinks and people (the latter being merely another thing), organised as “individuals” (akin to some numerical mass) are reduced to ideas, so that they can be made to conform to schemes, plans and deployments for draining the life out of the living, in the most advanced and most backward societies (communist dictatorships or Islamic countries) alike and the function of which is to flatter bourgeois Democracy by comparison.

The need to remember what does not get a mention in the biographies now being published on him or the ones already in circulation hereabouts; for Agustín-the-Comrade does not even rate a mention in Wikipedia. It may be on record, by the way, that he was persecuted by Francoism and expelled from the University over “the student uprisings on February 1965”;  but there is no hint that this because of his support for the student acratas, those fore-runners of the anti-authoritarian May of 1968. He subsequently joined them in Paris in forming a tertulia (La Horda) at the ‘Boule d’or’ café in the Latin Quarter. With them, he co-wrote the pamphlet ‘De los modos de integración del pronunciamento estudantil’) which we published surreptitiously in Belgium (reissued in 1987 under the Lucina imprint). (SC adds: in 1971 we — ‘Simian’ — published an English-language translation of Calvo’s reflections and speculations on the nature of the 1960s/’70s’ student revolt under the title ‘On How The Student Movement Is Re-Absorbed’.)

By all means remember the Agustín who stood foursquare alongside comrades in need; but remember that he also did the same with those actively fighting against the Francoist dictatorship (the ‘Angry Brigade’, ‘Grupo Primero de Mayo’ and other action groups), all of which led to his being categorised by the British, French and other European police, security and intelligence services as a “subversive” and a “terrorist”. He was subjected to interrogation and house searches; and, come the Russian President Leonid Brezhnev’s 1973 visit to Paris, Agustín was deemed to be a “dangerous anarchist” and was banished to the island of Corsica for the week. In 1976 he avoided further banishment by the skin of his teeth when king Juan Carlos paid a visit to Paris and when the French authorities banished a group of us Spanish anarchist refugees to the island of Belle Île-en-Mer while a band of Basque independence campaigners were banished to the Île de Ré.

Albeit that it might not be worth remembering, because, as Agustín would have put it, it is not the past that matters but what we do today… never to go with the times! And bear it in mind that “the palpable and actual evidence is that, beneath the skin of Dominion, there still beats a heart that knows how to say NO and which does not give a damn about agendas and what may be “in fashion”.

Octavio Alberola (translated by Paul Sharkey)

Zamora, 2/11/2010: May the earth lie lightly on you, Agustín García Calvo.