Thursday, February 14, 2008

Volodia Teitelboim-Stalwart Chilean Communist and Award Winning Writer- "no regrets for having dedicated his life to the cause".

I read with great interest yesterday a wonderful obituary in the Guardian for Volodia Teitelboim who has died aged 91. The obituary written by former Morning Star Moscow correspondent Kate Clark was a tribute to a full and memorable life, the life of a man who was a friend to both Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda, and who was in his own right a writer and intellectual of considerable stature. Teitelboim's life encapsulates that combination of - Pictured Left - Teitelboim at back , and left to right Allende and Nerduda commitment and consistency.Many Communist's lives are as rich, imbued with a consistent thread of heroism and adherence to ideals, which gave their time on this earth relevance and hope. I would dare say, this may also help explain why so many such politically committed and pro-active individuals live to such ripe old ages, as Volodia did. What is interesting about Teitleboim is that whilst maintaining his commitment to social progress and equality, he did not become ossified into a rigid ideological orthodoxy, maintaining a rigourous intellectual life ,but never losing sight of that inspiring vision of a better world, not only being possible still , but well worth the effort to achieve or at least maintain the vision of being one day achievable...

"Volodia Teitelboim, who has died aged 91, was a leading Chilean Communist party (CCP) intellectual, a prolific writer and winner of that country's national prize for literature in 2002. A friend and rival since the 1930s of Pablo Neruda, fellow communist and 1971 Nobel prizewinner for literature, Volodia served on the CCP political committee from his 20s until his death, and was its general secretary from 1989 to 1994.
Born Valentín Teitelboim Volosky, in Chillán, 500km south of Santiago, to Ukrainian/Moldovan/Jewish parents, he decided to call himself Volodia, as Lenin was known familiarly. From an early age, he was widely respected for his erudition, courtesy and temperate language. He graduated as a lawyer from the University of Chile but, already a communist, was drawn into the campaign to elect the progressive Frente Popular (Popular Front) government, led by Pedro Aguirre Cerda from 1938 to 1941. He became a friend of Salvador Allende, with whom he spent years in parliament, first as deputy for Valparaíso from 1961 to 1965, then as senator for Santiago from 1965 until the 1973 military coup.
Volodia founded the CCP's daily El Siglo (the Century), the literary journal Aurora, and later, when in exile from General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, Araucaria, a voice for Chilean intellectuals abroad. He lamented not having more time to dedicate to his writing, but as he told me in 2006 in our last conversation, he had "no regrets for having dedicated his life to the cause".
Despite his activism, he produced some 24 books - political novels, essays, anthologies, biographies and latterly, his four-volume autobiography, Antes del Olvido (Before I Forget), published between 1997 and 2004. He was rightly criticised for omitting Chile's first Nobel poet, Gabriela Mistral, from his Antología de Poesía Chilena (1935), a fault he remedied with his 1991 biography of her. He wrote several biographies, including one of Jorge Luís Borges (1996), whom he admired while not sharing the Argentine writer's politics. His most acclaimed biography was that of Neruda (1984).
In the face of fierce opposition by the right, he lobbied with Neruda in his efforts to persuade Cerda, the then Chilean president, to accept escaping refugees after Franco's victory in the Spanish civil war. In August 1939 the Winnipeg docked at Valparaiso with 2,400 Spaniards aboard, fleeing persecution.
In the 1940s and 50s Volodia was arrested several times during the governments of Carlos Ibañez and Gabriel González Videla and was detained in the infamous Pisagua camp. In his autobiography, he relates how one night his then lawyer wife, Raquel Weitzmann, held the police at bay while he escaped through a hole in the fence into their neighbours' house - the husband being a radical party parliamentarian. In pitch darkness, he crept into their bedroom, only to find the wife asleep in bed alone. He woke her, she phoned her husband and the next thing Volodia knew, he was whisked away in a vehicle under the noses of the police. When the getaway car driver told him it was safe to get up off the floor, he recognised him as Allende, fellow senator and doctor.
Volodia played a crucial role as the CCP representative in the formation of the Popular Unity bloc. Its programme and Allende's government ran for three years until it was brutally terminated in September 1973 by the CIA-backed Pinochet coup.
Volodia was abroad at the time, and he was to spend the next 15 years in Moscow, in charge of the influential radio programme Escucha Chile (Listen Chile), a key source of news for millions of Chileans living under the dictatorship. His weekly broadcasts excoriating Pinochet's rule of terror were legendary. "He was like a flea in the ear for Pinochet," journalist Eduardo Labarca said.
It was in Moscow that I got to know him, in interviews for the Morning Star, over dinners with friends, at official receptions and at home in his study. Exile gave him more chances to write - "for me," he said, "writing is a way of being happy" - and the opportunity to observe Soviet society at close hand. In our discussions, he revealed himself to be undogmatic, anti-Stalinist and convinced of the need for reform. In Antes del Olvido he vehemently rejects socialist realism in the arts.
In 1988 he risked his life by returning to Chile. On Pinochet's death a year ago, he said: "Pinochet has died but Pinochetismo is still alive. It is as if he left a restaurant without paying the bill. We still have much to do to restore democracy in Chile."
Volodia had a wry sense of humour. He joked that he had been born a political committee member, citing his poet friend, Fernando Quilodrán, who had supposedly unearthed a quote from the local paper of Chillán dated 1916, which read: "Yesterday in this city, Communist party political committee member Volodia Teitelboim was born."
At his funeral vigil Chile's president Michelle Bachelet and three of her ministers formed a guard of honour around his coffin. He is survived by his daughter Marina.
Valentin Teitelboim Volosky, politician and writer, born March 17 1916; died January 31 2008


David Duff said...

"I would dare say, this may also help explain why so many such politically committed and pro-active individuals live to such ripe old ages"

Quite so, and that must be the reason dear old Pinochet made 91 before expiring peacefully in his bed. Gosh, if I'd known that politics meant a long life I might have given it a go!

a very public sociologist said...

Nah David, it was fine living that ensured Pinochet had a long life. For activists, being active and committed in itself helps ensure you're fitter than average. Come on over to our side and try it - you'll find the fight for socialism will do wonders for your waist line!

Gabriel, I salute the memory of comrade Volodia. Not only do I want to reach (and surpass) his age, I hope I remain active to the end.

David Duff said...

Sorry, AVPS, I'll just stick to fine living - if I can find any!

XLeftist said...

Stalin lived to 73, nourished by the blood of tens of millions.
Mao lived to 82, nourished by the blood of tens of millions.
Why did Trotsky die so young?
Just wondering.

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