The name of Eugène Lanti is barely known outside of the realm of Esperanto-speakers – perhaps only in literary circles and by chance: the appearance of his name in the novel Rayuela ("Hopscotch") by Julio Cortázar or in biographies of George Orwell (both of which will be discussed in more detail).
Yet he is a very interesting personality in his own right. Lanti was the co-founder and the most important leading figure in the World Anational Association, or to use its original Esperanto name, the "Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda" (SAT), the Esperantist workers' association. He was also the theoretician of a new doctrine, anationalism, which aimed to eliminate the very concept of the nation as a guiding idea of social organisation.
Lanti's true name was Eugène Adam. He was born in a small village in Normandy in 1879. The son of poor peasants, he moved to Paris, where he earned his living as a manual labourer.
In his youth he was much influenced by anarchist ideas, and he was relatively active in the milieu that advocated them. He has contacts with such exponents of French anarchist and radical theory as Faure, Ner or Barbusse.
During World War I he was mobilised and served as an ambulance driver, and that is where his revulsion in the face of war and nationalism became confirmed. These were the years in which he had his first contact with Esperanto and began to learn that language. At that time he also came into contact with communism, under the impression of the Russian Revolution, as was frequently the case in that period.
When he returned to civilian life he got in touch with the Esperantist workers' movement, which had just gotten up and running in the years before the war, but was still disorganised. In 1919 he was chosen to be the editor of the bulletin of the French association, Le Travailleur Esperantiste, where he first demonstrated his literary talent and capabilities.
Lanti took part in the Prague Esperanto congress in 1921, where the decision was made to found an organisation that was to have the specific task of bringing together the Esperantist workers of all countries. The desire to steer clear of anything relating to nationality was so radical that it was decided not to create national affiliates, which explains the name, which, as stated previously, is World Anational Association (Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda).
The association, which Lanti led right from the beginning, entered a period of rapid growth. Its pluralism was nurtured from the outset, which meant that the cultural activities and the contacts between workers of different countries were meant to avert dogmatism. That did not always succeed, and the years that followed saw major tension and several schisms between the various tendencies, anarchists, orthodox communists, social democrats etc. There was also considerable tension between, on the one hand, the internationalist concept, which acknowledged the existence and importance of nations while striving for their cooperation, and, on the other hand, the more radical anationalism that Lanti had originated and which was calling for the elimination of all divisions based on nationality, ethnicity or the state. In 1928 a compromise solution was found for the internal organisational structure. It regulated the relations between SAT, which remained strictly universal, and the workers' associations that had been organised on the national or state level.
Anationalism has never been a permanently fixed doctrine. It can be conceived as a kind of radical cosmopolitanism, not only in the sense that the abolishment of nations is advocated, but also by virtue of its social orientation that puts it in opposition to the exploitation of the workers. The role of Esperanto as a means of egalitarian discourse lies at the heart of this conception.
Lanti adopted his pseudonym (based on his French nickname "L'Anti") in 1921. His change of name was so radical (in all respects but the legal one) that he permitted himself the "joke" of announcing the suicide of E. Adam, something that a few magazines took seriously and published as real news.
Lanti was one of the founders of the French Communist Party, but as a consequence of several trips to the Soviet Union and his differences of opinion with the leaders of the Soviet Esperantist association SEU, he left the organisation at the end of the 20's and became very critical of the Soviet regime. During the 30's he had serious clashes with that regime; he was not a Trotskyist either, though his ideological development had a variety of things in common both with it and with similar organisations such as the Spanish POUM. In 1933 he laid down his responsibilities within SAT, precisely because he believed that to be a way of maintaining the internal unity of the association, even though it was ultimately to no avail, because the Soviet regime banned the Esperanto movement during the Great Purges and executed a number of its key figures.
Lanti not only made Esperanto his fundamental means of expression, but also his field of social activity. He used it as his habitual everyday language, even at home. His life companion during the 30's was the authoress Ellen Kate Limouzin, the aunt of the well-known writer George Orwell, who lived in their home for a time; Orwell and Lanti, though they had many political views in common, were not on good personal terms with one another.
SAT attached great importance to cultural activity. Lanti's literary style is highly regarded as an example of clarity and simplicity. His writings consisted mainly of essays, but another very interesting work is his Esperanto translation of Voltaire's "Candide".
In 1936, taking one more step to enhance his cosmopolitanism, Lanti left France on a voyage that was to take him around the world and put him almost exclusively in contact with people to whom he could relate in Esperanto. He passed through Spain and Portugal rather quickly and lived for a long time in Japan, where he fell ill and which he ultimately had to leave due to harassment by the political police. After a short stay in Australia and New Zealand, he passed through Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, where he did not feel very much at home because of the weakness of the local Esperanto movement. Finally, in 1940, he arrived in Mexico. There he collaborated with the group that published the journal Renobasion, a publication that advocated the rationalisation and simplification of Spanish spelling. A text out of this periodical that was used in Chapter 63 for its literary effect is what caused the name Eujenio Lanti [sic] to appear in the aforementioned work by Cortázar.
Unfortunately, his pessimism with regard to the political situation was accompanied by an aggravation of his illness, and these two things induced him to commit suicide, this time for real, on January 17, 1947. The executor of his will (though he left practically nothing but papers) was the exiled former Spanish parliamentarian Francisco Azorín, who was a member of SAT and was later to become the leader of the Mexican Esperanto movement.
SAT is still carrying on its political and cultural work, and it still exhibits most of the specific traits with which Lanti once endowed it. Even the anationalist faction, which Lanti had inspired in the 30's, has been re-established recently. May this text serve to acquaint non-speakers of Esperanto with a great personality who was a lot more than just a character in a work of literature.