The murder of the German Spartacists at the hands of the Freikorps was one of the great human betrayals of the twentieth century. In an imagination pining for justice lies the haunting potentiality of what could have been—a Europe without the ugly scars of Nazism; a Europe not enervated and ravaged by its past, but poised to face the future; a Europe prepared to make amends for its colonial viciousness, unencumbered by the tepid cowardice of the Weimar state. But Rosa’s corpse was thrown to the Landwehr Canal, Liebknecht’s discarded nameless in a morgue. Hitler, the Holocaust—this is what came next.
Gramsci, the organic intellectual—the sage of the Italian Anti-Fascists—was taken from his family to slowly rot in prison. He died at 46, his teeth falling out, another martyr of the people. Thus, the unbridled violence of moments of reaction splatters onto the pages of history: an unmistakable sign that “the old world is dying” as the “new world struggles to be born”.
Sometimes, in the darkest moments, even in its dying flickers, the slivers of the new world do not let us forget its brilliance; for this reason, the story of Victor Jara’s death is indelibly etched in my mind. Who else could sustain this revolutionary optimism so resolutely in the face of death? The bombing of La Moneda, a tragic suicide using Fidel’s rifle; this was the shattering of a dream, the annihilation of the unthinkable thought: an independent Latin American nation.
Jara, singing of the right to live in peace, of the quietly suffered tragedies of the poor, of love, was deemed a threat to the Pinochet regime. An activist and staunch supporter of Allende’s government, he lived and died for the people. He loved far too much. On September 12, 1973, he was apprehended, beaten, tortured, killed, and abandoned on the streets near Estadio Chile by right-wing military officers. Before his death, those who were too near-sighted, too cruel to see the beauty he saw in the world, tried desperately to strip him of his humanity.
A guard flicked a lit cigarette on the floor. Signaling with his gun, he commanded Victor to crawl over to it on his elbows. Victor complied—he did not want to die. Arms outstretched and tied together, laboring towards the cigarette, Victor suddenly felt his wrists crushed by the heavy boot of another Pinochetist guard. A suppressed cry. The guards mocked the folk singer of the people: “Play a song for us!” they sneered. In this attempt at degradation, they awakened his courage, his vigor. With broken wrists, he could not play his guitar, but he could sing:
Enfrentemos primero a la muerte
Traicionar a la patria jamas
Mil cadenas habra que romper
La miseria sabremos vencer!
Victor assimilated himself with the concept of hope. But the open veins of Latin America are still raw to this day, and for a long time, our future felt lost in a branch further down the tree of history—a lost potentiality. We now notice a new world breaking through, though in small amounts. Jara inspires us to believe in ourselves and our companions. His death is a great loss.The brutality of his death might remind us of the near-immovability of the current world. Everything good is destroyed; nothing ever changes. Maybe his hope is too naive for us to seize upon. Today, the world is bleak and seemingly dying. It’s contorting itself into strange positions, bursting at the seams with absurdity and contradictions: perhaps the beginning of the end—or something far worse. Why can’t we freeze ourselves in metaphysics, a static ontology? Because the world changes and nothing hangs in ‘middle-air’ for too long. We must face the future with hope, in all its irrationality. We can start by observing that Victor’s light came through on the other side: the fascist Kast was kept out of power in the elections, and—although not without setbacks—Chile can now join the rising tide of Latin American nations daring to invent the future.
Victor was one of millions who have given everything fighting for a better world. And he will not be the last.
By Samuel Araura