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The Uncivil Servant: Simon Radowitzky, “Why I Killed”

Mitchell Abidor
March 22, 2015

Translated from the Spanish, with commentary, by Mitchell Abidor

21-Simon-Radowitzky-queda-en-libertad-09-10-2009The Russian-Jewish anarchist Simon Radowitzky (1891-1956), served twenty years in the worst of Argentina’s prisons for his part, at age 18, in the assassination of Ramon Falcón, the police chief of Buenos Aires responsible for the 1909 massacre of workers at a May Day demonstration, who had gone unpunished for his actions. In a statement widely published in the anarchist press he explained his deed:

Why I Killed

I killed because on May 1, 1909 Colonel Falcón, at the head of the American Cossacks, led the massacre of the workers. My indignation reached its paroxysm when I suffered the shame of realizing that the people’s representatives in the Chambers applauded the attitude of the cited police chief.

I am the son of the working people, brother of those who fell in the struggle with the bourgeoisie, and like everyone, my soul suffered for the agony of those who died that evening solely for believing in the advent of a freer and better future for humanity.

Though the government had sought the death penalty, due to his youthfulness Radowitzky could only be sentenced to life imprisonment, which he was sent to serve in Argentina’s worst prison, Ushuaia, in southern Patagonia. According to the historian of Argentine anarchism, Osvaldo Bayer, while there Radowitzky “became ‘the martyr of anarchism,’” and the headline in an anarchist newspaper called him “the Christ of the 20th century.” While he was imprisoned, countless support rallies and demonstrations were held calling for his liberation.

Ushuaia was often referred to as the Argentine Devil’s Island, but Radowitzky managed to escape from the camp, though he was soon captured by a Chilean naval vessel and returned to the Argentine authorities. Again according to Bayer: Radowitzky “was the defender of the other prisoners, for whom Radowitzky was a mystical personality who they admired with an almost religious respect.”

As a result of strikes calling for his freedom, in 1930, more than twenty years after his arrest, President Yrygoyen released him, expelling him to Uruguay, where he continued his anarchist activities, for which he was arrested in Montevideo and sentenced to the prison on the Isla de Flores. Campaigns were mounted there for his release, but he demonstrated his revolutionary purity by refusing support from those he despised:

To the Communist Party and the National Confederation of Labor:

I have learned of your propaganda and posters, in which my name figures demanding my freedom.

As an anarchist I say to you: I declare that I don’t wish to be the propaganda instrument on any political party, including the Communist Party, whose support of the policies of the Russian government is absolute.

In the name of the anarchist prisoners in prisons and Soviet Siberia; in the name of the destroyed anarchist groups whose propaganda is prohibited in Russia; in the name of the comrades executed at Kronstadt; in the name of our comrade Petrini who was handed over to Italian fascism by the Soviet government; in the name of the Argentine Regional Workers Federation and the Uruguayan Regional Workers Federation; in the name of our comrades killed in prison by the Bolshevik government; and in protest against the calumnies and defamation against our comrades Kropotkin, Malatesta, Rocker, Fabbri, Makhno, etc., etc., I declare that as an anarchist I reject all of your support, which represents an unworthy exploitation on the part of the Bolshevik leaders of the party and the CGT of the generous sentiment of solidarity shown me by the working class.

—Simon Radowitzky, Montevideo

Released in 1936, he would participate in the Spanish Civil War, refusing to carry a gun, saying he was a pacifist, but carrying food and supplies to the anarchist forces at the front. After the defeat of the Republic, he lived in France and then in Mexico, where he worked in a toy factory and died in poverty in 1959. For his purity and self-abnegation, he remains to this day a figure of veneration among Argentine anarchists.

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer, is the recipient of a Hemingway Grant from the French Ministry of Culture for his forthcoming translation of Emmanuel Bove’s A Raskolnikoff. His latest book is Anarchists Never Surrender, an anthology of anarchist writings by Victor Serge.

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. Among his books are a translation of Victor Serge’s Notebooks 1936-1947, May Made Me: An Oral History of My 1968 in France, and I’ll Forget it When I Die, a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Liberties, Dissent, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications.