‘Anarchism is creating libraries,’ an interview with Tobi Libertario

Photo: José Ignacio de Alba.
In memory of Tobi Libertario. Tobi lost his battle with Covid-19 on January 10,2020.
For some people, to be an anarchist is to also fight against the stigma of violence. In Tobi’s case, who was in charge of the oldest anarchist library in Mexico, the immediate fight is to humanize our ways of living. “What do you get from breaking a window? It’ll be replaced tomorrow”, he questions.

Written by Ignacio de Alba in Pie de Página on October 6, 2019. Translated by Shantal Montserrat Lopez Victoria

Mexico City – Tobi takes care of one of the largest anarchist archives on the continent. The middle aged man is an anarchist and pacifist to the core, which to him goes hand in hand. Through his wire-rimmed glasses, he seems to detach himself from almost everything, even his last name: He insists that I quote him as “Tobi, from the Reconstruction Library”.

The Social Reconstruction Library (Biblioteca Social Reconstruir)  was founded by anarchist Ricardo Mestre, a refugee from the Spanish Civil War who opened a public library with his books during the PRI’s harshest years of political persecution in 1976. After Mestre passed away, Toby became the caretaker of the library, which is a couple of streets away from La Raza Metro in the north of Mexico City.

At the entrance, which is open to the public, is a sign that reads “Freedom and Non-Violence”. When I ask Tobi with no last name, “why peace?”, he tells the following story:

-During the years that Mestre was in Spain, the owners of the factory where he worked hired scabs to break a workers’ strike. A shootout occurred. Mestre fired at a strikebreaker and wounded one person. 

Years later during an anarchist propaganda tour, he was questioned by one of the attendees about where he was from. Mestre answered that he was from Villanueva y Geltú. Then, the attendee replied that that city brought back bad memories. When his family was literally dying of hunger, he was offered a terrible job which he took because he had no other options. When he went to work he was confronted by a striker and during the riots he was chased, beaten, and wounded by a bullet.

Mestre realized that he had shot him and remembers thinking: “How is it possible that we anarchists were capable of killing a man for material things? Were we capable of killing a man not because he was a traitor, but because of hunger and misery?

Mestre understood anarchism in a much broader perspective: If the ends were good then the means had to be good, Toby explains.

-How would you explain anarchism to someone who doesn’t know the term?

People don’t understand the concept at all and the press or the State have taken it upon themselves to say that anarchism equals chaos, disorder, but it’s the opposite. Anarchism proposes an organized society without government, that is, there is organization. Basically when a problem arises we discuss it together, that is accompanied by direct action; if there is a problem, we solve it ourselves, without intermediaries.

-One associates direct action with violence but that’s not the case? 

-No, no, no. Direct action is when in a community you have a problem in regards to crime, garbage, whatever. You develop a plan with the neighbors to fix it yourselves, that’s direct action. It’s like if you want to hang out with a girl, you don’t go and tell your friend “ask her if she wants to hang out with me”. No, you go yourself and do it directly, that’s direct action. That’s how it’s always been, it is in anarcho-syndicalism: Workers go directly to the boss: “this is our problem”, without having to involve a lawyer who will go and speak for them. Direct action means that those involved solve their problems themselves. 

Toby explains that anarchism arrived in Mexico in 1861 with the Greek activist Plotinus Rhodakanaty, who founded the group Socialist Students (Estudiantes Socialistas) which was a hotbed of many other movements. One of the most prominent is that of Julio Chávez López, who organized a peasant revolt near Chalco and Puebla. In the uprisings, they burned land and property deeds until the movement was suppressed by the military and Chávez López was executed.  

-Did that movement influence the Mexican Revolution?

-No, because the problem in Mexico and of all humanity is the lack of memory, there is no continuity; on top of that, the history of those rebellions was erased by Porfirismo.

Anarchism in Mexico flourished again in the 20th century due to the Flores Magón brothers, Librado Rivera and Praxedis G. Guerrero, among others. In was during the time of the Revolution and when the anarchist newspaper Regeneración circulated in various towns. The Mexican Liberal Party fought in many places and the popularity of anarchism caused other revolutionaries to isolate themselves, such as Francisco I. Madero.

Toby explains that the current Mexican Constitution, written in 1917,  has several anarchist elements. For example, the 8-hour work day, a day of rest or municipal autonomy are Magonist elements. 

-What is the situation of anarchism in Mexico now?

-Nowadays, the cities are immense, there are few who are fighting for anarchism. This means that it’s going to take a lot of work. We are mainly looking for elements of freedom, rather than perfection. If we had the power to overthrow the State and to appropriate the means of production, we would do it; but while that can’t be done, we are creating spaces: we’re creating libraries, we’re teaching libertarian pedagogy where we have groups that are creating independent radios station and people who have spaces for the community. We are creating spaces and looking for ways to bring anarchism to very basic parts of our life. For example: anarchism is creating libraries.

-What do you think about the violence that happened during the protest on October 2nd?

-When someone breaks a window, I ask them, “What do you gain by breaking a window? Tomorrow they’re going to replace it with another one. The graffiti is only good for photos, but that doesn’t really leave a mark. The violence becomes a kind of spectacle, where people are screaming “death to the state” and then we go back to living our normal lives. We have to reformulate how effective our actions are today. We must changes our hearts and minds before we use weapons.

Toby says that the most violent people during marches are the first to leave anarchism, “because you’re not going to win against a violent State with your so-called violence. He also says that people who act violently during marches often have “bourgeois ideas” about anarchism, and act as the state wants them to.

-How do you use anarchism in your everyday life?

-By humanizing the things you do every day.

To the people who would like to know more about the topic, Toby recommends reading The Anarchist Ideology by  Angel J. Capelleti.