Sometimes you must run away from the clash of media battles. Half a century ago I wanted to write for the international press. It was the famous May 1968. I wanted to participate in the great debate, although the echoes of the turmoil were weak in the place where I lived with my wife and children. Back then I was 25 years old and taught at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico.
In that remote period, I sporadically read articles penned by Germán Arciniegas, Salvador de Madariaga, Ramón Sénder, Arturo Uslar Pietri and other notable Spanish and Latin American thinkers in different newspapers. They all had, at the beginning or at the end, a brief word written in capital letters: ALA. It was the acronym of a press agency based in New York–American Literary Agency.
I thought that with those writers, ALA should be a great American company. How could I find it and propose them to publish my poor and unknown columns? My friend Carlos Castañeda cleared my doubts. He was the managing editor of Lifein Spanish and also had his office in New York.
“ALA is just one man,” he told me.
“It cannot be,” I replied in disbelief. “I see that acronym everywhere.”
“I know him. He is a Spanish republican, intelligent and industrious, who works out of his apartment distributing newspaper columns by mail. His name is Joaquín Maurín Juliá. He signs his own articles with his second surname, J.M. Juliá, or under the pseudonym of W.K. Mayo.
He gave me Mr. Maurín’s phone number, but no one answered, so, after getting his address, I decided to visit him without prior notice in his pleasant apartment on Riverside Drive, very close to the Hudson River.
He opened the door with a certain caution and asked me a lot of questions, discreetly intertwined with the rest of the conversation. How did I find him? Who had revealed his name to me? Why I visited him? I soon discovered the reasons for his suspicion. He feared the Soviet secret services and wanted to make sure that I was not a murderer like Ramón Mercader, the man who killed Trotsky in Mexico.
He was right. He had spent 10 years in Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s jails, under a different name, and had seen how his entire political environment had been assassinated by the Stalinists. Born in 1896, Maurín met Lenin and Trotsky in Moscow, when he was a Communist leader of the Catalan-Aragonese trade union movement. He had even made the first accusations and warnings against Stalin in the mid-1920s, and he knew that his friend and fellow fighter Andrés Nin had been torn apart, literally, by the Russian agents during the Spanish Civil War, accusing him of being a Trotskyist.
In addition, Maurín was married to Jeanne, the sister of Boris Souvarine, a French intellectual of Russian origin, founder of his country’s communist party, and also, like Maurín, one of the first communists who broke with the Party and denounced the crimes of the USSR.
In that visit and in subsequent ones, Maurín told me his odyssey, very similar to that of the fictional hero of the movie Casablanca. He was surprised by Franco’s uprising (July 1936) in Galicia, where he went to give several conferences. Maurín was, along with Nin, the founder of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification, the POUM, internationally famous thanks to George Orwell’s book Homage to Catalonia.
His wife, who loved him, and with whom he had a son, Mario, thought he had died when she had no news of Maurín while thousands of crimes were committed in the early days of the conflict. After the period of mourning, she met a German journalist who had a Norwegian passport and they fell in love. He was Willy Brandt, the man who many years later he would be mayor of Berlin and Prime Minister of Germany.
But finally, when Jeanne was in Paris, she got a letter from Maurín, signed with a different name. He was alive and she loved him. He managed to leave Galicia, but in Jaca (Huesca) the Francoist police identified him and captured him. Jeanne moved heaven and earth, first to save him from being shot, and, second, to get him out of prison and out of Spain. This was achieved in 1947, the year they met in New York.
The couple’s vicissitudes did not end, but Maurín, at that point already an anticommunist liberal, realized the importance of the battle of ideas and decided to become a middleman between the media and the writers with an agency called ALA.
He put me to the test. He asked me for a couple of articles and since then, half a century ago, I’ve been writing my weekly columns. ALA does not exist anymore, but without his help and his boost I would not have been able to publish thousands of texts like this one. I have always thought that I should tell this story. I owed it to Maurín.
Published in Spanish by El Blog de Montaner on Saturday May 19th, 2018