Autobiographical Notes

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Autobiographical Notes

by Agustí Chalaux i de Subirà

(San Genís dels Agudells, 1911, Barcelona, 2006)

License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

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Agustí Chalaux i de Subirà (1911-2006)

I was born at San Genís dels Agudells, a little village of 15 inhabitants near Barcelona on 19th July 1911.

My father was a French industrialist who had a factory of wool dyes in Carrer dels Almogàvers, in Barcelona. My mother came from the Subirà family, a traditionally Carlist Catalan lineage.

When I was four I was taken to the Montessori school, one of the first to be opened in Europe.

My friends were the factory workers. Our living quarters were just above the factory, so it was easy for me to go down and play there.

As a child I heard often my father mentioning Joan Bardina, a friend of his. My father helped him often to meet his debts caused by his school experiments, such as that of the Teachers' School. However, I never met Joan Bardina.

When I was nine years old, my parents sent me to France to study, and I stayed at Toulon until I finished the grammar school.

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Horace Finaly (1871-1945)

When I was 14 I met Horace Finaly, the banker. While walking in town I saw announced a talk on The role of the bank in society at large. I went in. The hall was full of gentlemen with great beards. After Mr. Finaly finished his talk, he asked the public to participate. I asked to speak but, since I couldn't be seen I had to climb on a chair. Mr. Finaly said he would talk to me personally at the end of the meeting. This casual fact was the beginning of a friendship which lasted about 14 years. I regularly met Mr. Finaly, and he explained to me his experiences, facts, his knowledge, information... on his life and on his profession, the unknown inner world of bankers. He used to tell me: I am not concerned on when you will understand and know what to do with all the information I am transmitting to you; I will have been dead for a long time then...

Three years after that first meeting something of capital importance happened in one of my regular visits. The meeting was at 8.30 p.m. in Mr. Finaly's office. When I arrived the butler told me kindly that Mr. Finaly was very sorry he could not be with me at once, because he had an important meeting going on, and he asked me to wait in the library.

At first I just spent my time going through his books. Then I sat at his desk and in a mechanical way I found that some of the drawers were open. The remonstrances from my conscience did not stop me from browsing through the papers. Everything was perfectly in order in duly labelled files, some being more interesting than others. My teenager cunning made me cautious so as to keep the files in the same order I had found them. At the bottom of the last drawer I found a file labelled as Confidential. I read its contents without understanding much, as it was quite new for me. It was the report of an important meeting which had been held in Paris in 1919. I remember that the only people taking part in the meeting were J.P. Morgan, sir Henry Deterding and Finaly himself as host. In the meeting they were alone, but now and then they called different experts, whose names I don't remember, and asked some explanation from them. What interested me the most was a summary which was at the end.

It contained two points and one conclusion:

First point. According to the experts, but also according to the general opinion of the great economists of before and during the 1914 war, the gold reserves were only allowed to cover the war expenses during three months. To overcome this difficulty, international bankers —such as they were— had suggested to the governments at war to forsake the convertibility to gold of their respective paper money, at least inside each State.
Second point. If paper money, cut off from gold, which had been proclaimed and carried out during the war, was «rationalized» at the end of it, it would allow international bankers and the heads of the leading classes —according to the experts— to earn more money than with the «uninformative» and «anonymous» currency which had been the dominant one up until then (and up until today).
Conclusion. The decision was that they were not interested in «rationalizing» the more common irrational paper money because they already had enough money, and the irrational paper money allowed the (foul) play of the «world plutarchy».

While I was passionately reading this report I received a great blow which sent me to the floor. For some time I didn't know what had happened, then Mr. Finaly, changing his attitude, helped me kindly to get up and apologized. He showed me that I had been indiscreet in face of the trust he had shown leaving me alone in his library with the drawers open. He told me that not even a servant would have dared to do what I had done (which I doubt, but probably he had more spies in other peoples' homes than there were in his own).

After this accident we had dinner. Nobody knew of Finaly's sharp rebuke. During the meal he asked me to explain what I had understood of the report.

I told him that very little:

The word which most attracted my attention is «plutarchy».
Little by little I shall explain it to you, —he said.

That day he did not explain anything. Further on he took the habit of expatiating with me on these absorbing matters. He took pleasure in opening his most secret mind to a thirsty teenager who, in his dark intuition, had guessed the importance of the knowledge which was kept hidden by the higher caste of the great bankers. Finaly opened my head with an axe, so to speak.

Together with the banking information, Finaly transmitted to me elements of the non written tradition of Plato's. He was a man of a great culture and very powerful. He was of jewish ascent, had been born in Budapest in 1871 and died in New York in 1945. He suceeded his father Hugo (1844-1914) at the head of the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, and converted it into one of the first business banks in France.

J.P. Morgan (junior), one of the persons who were with Finaly in the confidential meeting, had been born at Irvington, New York, in 1867 and died at Boca Grande, Florida, in 1943. In 1913 he had inherited the management of his father's company (S.P. Morgan & Co.). During the First World War he contributed generously to sustain the financial effort of the allies. The Morgan Bank gave a valuable help to the French government during the financial crisis of 1926.

Sir Henry Deterding, the third person present, was an important Dutch businessman. Since 1901 he was general manager of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, of the Netherlands, which in 1907 merged with The Shell Transport & Trading Company, Ltd., of London, and formed the well-known Royal Dutch/Shell, in competition with the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, in the U.S.A. Deterding, who had been born in Amsterdam in 1866, died at St. Mortiz in 1939.

Stirred by all these discoveries, I started studying Economics in Paris. Finaly used to make fun of the problems caused to me by my study, as he considered the economic knowledge granted by the university to be far from scientific.

Following Finaly's suggestion and my father's wishes I enrolled at the School of Chemistry at Mulhouse. In this school they spoiled for me all my rhetoric and the idealistic thoughts I had. They told me: Phenomena are to be studied with an exact method, irrespective of ethical beliefs, of transcendent ideals, of the principles and the feelings you may have. A phenomenon is always a phenomenon, something objective which can be studied and documented. When you start to study a phenomenon you must do just that, logic is useful to study phenomena, for nothing else. Logic is a discipline, you get in and out at will, unlike religion. When you get out of logic you can do whatever you like, it has no use in ordinary life. This basic instruction has been very useful to me.

The discovery of this scientific method, exact and rigorous, applied to the physical and chemical phenomena, allowed me to start to approach the study of social and economic phenomena with a similar exactness and rigour.

Trying to apply this method to political phenomena has caused several conflicts. Every time I have gone to a political party and have asked: «What do you want to do?» they have answered: «We want justice, freedom, equality... we want to defend this and that...». I used to ask: «Which phenomena do you want to study, which solutions do you actually suggest?» but I only got verbiage and more verbiage for an answer... As a result I am now over 80 and I have spent my life in solitude, a person who seeks, through the study of human phenomena, proposals to try out.

Every time I came to Barcelona I met the workers of the factory and those of the textile trade unions of the Clot area. I met Ferriol and a group of very intelligent people. I found again the libertarian atmosphere I had grown in as a child at the factory. I was shocked by the opposition between the strong ideals of the time and the manipulation of that idealism by a lot of opportunists who benefited by them. A worker, nicknamed the Jesus Christ of the Ramblas, told me: «Try and find a way of transforming ideals into realities, because living on an ideal is very nice, but it doesn't take you anywhere. You must try to set us completely free».

One day, at Palestra,[1] after a meeting, myself and Llopis the bad guy declared ourselves rebels against Batista i Roca because we considered that Palestra was trying to imitate too closely the Czechoslovakian youths, which were in fashion at the time. We then created a small association called Via Fora. At that time Catalanism (Lliga Regionalista, Acció Catalana, etc.) was controlled by the middle-class, and nobody gave a dime for the common people. This people, so full of libertarian aspirations, did not know how to put them into shape.

My weapons were Finaly's intuition and the scientific method of Mulhouse. The facts of 1936 showed quite crudely that the libertarian aspiration was not enough to make a revolution.

The first thing I learnt was that general strikes failed when people had to go out to buy food. It was necessary to prepare the strike with enough food at home to resist one month.The second thing was that you cannot go out on a revolution without having ready the instruments to carry it out.

Two conversations held in the first months of the war showed to me this need for a properly prepared revolution.

The spark came to me the day Abad de Santillán told me, with reference to the currency and the bank, in september 1936, exactly the same conclusion I had reached through my long conversations with the banker Finaly: «We have lost the war and the revolution because we have not been able, from the very beginning, to control the currency and the bank as instruments in the service of the people. We thought, like teenagers, that weapons and violence were everything».

This affirmation by Abad de Santillán confirmed the words of another CNT leader, Mariano Vázquez: «For twenty years we have been getting ready to put 'the moon in a bucket', and now that we have it, we don't know what to do with it. We have studied and practiced all the paths of revolution, but we have not thought what we should do with the unlimited control that revolution has given us».

After that conversation with Abad de Santillán I decided that I would study in depth the problem according to the realistic technique I had been taught at the School of Chemistry: all phenomena could be controlled through a reducing analysis and a mathematical expression, on condition that a price be given to it. I was willing to pay the price with all my life and the life of the people who would feel in them the birth of the same calling for the common good in full service to mankind.

In those years I wrote on the studies and research I was carrying out. Most of the material was lost twice. In 1939, the manager at the factory burnt all my papers in the boiler to avoid unpleasant searchings.Years later, in France, I had been able to prepare again new material, and I had to leave about twenty trunks at a friend's place. I have never known what happened to them.

During the Spanish war I was able to be a critical and active observer thanks to my French nationality. I cooperated with the trade-unions and acted as manager of the factory, which was never collectivized and worked at full capacity. At the beginning of 1939, being the occupation of Barcelona an impending fact, I preferred to go to Paris and wait for developments.

When the Second World War started I was in Paris and was mobilized at the School of Artillery Officers. After the German occupation I was immediately demobilized by the Government of Petain, and I went back to my studies and reflections. A family friend invited me to write my book at his place, and I stayed there nine months. I kept thinking over and over again on the problem. After this time an incident made me go away. It was a small village, and somebody called me a parasite. In spite of my friend's kindness, who insisted that I should stay, I went away and started again to earn my living, working from 5 in the morning to 8 in the evening, saturdays included, as a conscious and organized proletarian, leaving aside the studies I had started.

Very soon, through an ad in the papers, I was hired by somebody with money who wanted a secretary. I had an office, paper, food, all for very little work. I took the opportunity to study in depth the pending problem.

When I went back to Catalonia in 1945 I lost all my books and papers again. But my head and memory were in good shape, and I felt free not to be faithful to my books, which perhaps were wrong, even if I had a great affection for them for all the work they had implied.

In those years I was a regular reader of Semana Internacional, which Joan Bardina published in Chile. Reading it I felt inspired by many original ideas, many of them still valid today for me.

Until 1956 I had believed in revolutionary violence. After this date, with the occupation of Hungary, having analysed the many historic failures, I discovered the hopelessness of violence. With violence the State is practically indestructible, because it has all the means to stay in place (army, police, money, armament...). My option is for intelligent and active non-violence. This means that non-violence has to call on the conscience, the action and intelligence of the opponent, it is not enough to call on his conscience, because usually it is very difficult to awaken it.

Within the present system it is still possible to do politics, but it is necessary to be intelligent. Usually, those who are within the system are unable to imagine a new one, and are unable to do politics within the system.

I am a robber of ideas. My own ideas are few, because I think that the world is so old that it is not worth while to break my head trying to find a radically new idea.

Of my life in Barcelona I can only say that I have become such a monomaniac of the revolutionary utopia of intelligent and active non-violence and of the practical solutions I find, that everybody runs away from me. But after I left my job as a chemist, free now of the headaches of earning a living, I find friends all the time with whom I can share my modest, ordinary utopia.



Note:

1. A Catalanist organization founded at Barcelona in 1930 by a group of friends of Josep M. Batista i Roca. It had an educational and patriotic flair, and organized history and literature courses, seminars of dialectics, etc.

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