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Anarchism in Brazil: Loss and Attempted Recovery of the Social Vector

category brazil/guyana/suriname/fguiana | anarchist movement | policy statement author Friday February 10, 2012 21:08author by Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro - FARJ Report this post to the editors
The emergence of what we call the “social vector of anarchism” began at the beginning of the 1890s, driven by a growth in the social insertion of anarchism in the unions, which culminated in the second decade of the twentieth century.

Social Anarchism and Organisation

Anarchism in Brazil: Loss and Attempted Recovery of the Social Vector

We are combatants of a great war.
All combatants mutually “understand” how to fight,
assuming “commitments”, without which there cannot be
unity of action. Those who “understand” this with others are
no longer masters of their will entirely, held
by a few threads to a signed agreement.
If the threads break, the agreement is broken,
if “you misunderstand, desist from the common fight”,
you flee the struggle, you evade your comrades.

José Oiticica

Anarchism arose in Brazil in the nineteenth century as an order-destabilising element, with some influence over the revolts of the time – as was the case with the Praieira Insurrection of 1848 – over the artistic and cultural environment as well as with the experiences of the experimental agricultural colonies at the end of the century. The Cecilia Colony (1890-1894) being the most well-known of these experiences. There are reports of strikes, workers’ newspapers and the first attempts at organising centres of workers’ resistance in the same century.

The emergence of what we call the “social vector of anarchism” began at the beginning of the 1890s, driven by a growth in the social insertion of anarchism in the unions, which culminated in the second decade of the twentieth century.

We call the social vector of anarchism those popular movements that have a significant anarchist influence – primarily with regard to their practical aspects – irrespective of the sectors in which they occur. These mobilisations, fruits of the class struggle, are not anarchist as they are organised around questions of specific demands. For example, in a union, the workers struggle for better salaries; in a homeless movement, they struggle for housing; in an unemployed movement, they struggle for work etc. However, they are spaces for the social insertion of anarchism that, by means of its influence, confers on the most combative and autonomous practical movements with the use of direct action and direct democracy, aiming at social transformation. The mobilisations constituted in the social vector of anarchism are made within the social movements, considered by us as preferred spaces for social work and accumulation, and not as a mass to be directed.

In Brazil, the social vector of anarchism began to develop in the late nineteenth century with the growth of the urban network and the population in the cities, and then with industrial growth which, of course, also saw the growing exploitation of workers; victims of exhausting days, unhealthy working conditions and low wages in factories that also employed child labour. With the objective of defending the working class from these conditions of practically unbearable exploitation arose several labour organisations, riots, strikes and uprisings – all of which were becoming increasingly common.

The intensification of class struggle in Brazil was occasioned by the coachmen’s strike of 1900, a number of strikes in 1903 that peaked in the general strike initiated by the weavers and the uprisings that culminated in the 1904 Vacina Revolt. In 1903 the Federation of Class Associations (Federação das Associações de Classe) was founded in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It followed the revolutionary syndicalist model of the French CGT and was later transferred to the capital and named the Brazilian Regional Workers’ Federation (Federação Operária Regional Brasileira - FORB) in 1906, some time after a visit by members of the Argentine Regional Workers’ Federation (Federación Obrera Regional Argentina - FORA) and a solidarity campaign with Russian workers.

By 1904 we can say that anarchism was able to present itself as an ideological tool of struggle and it “was, without a doubt, revolutionary syndicalism that was responsible for the first social vector achieved by the anarchists in the large Brazilian centres” [13]. In 1905, in Sao Paulo, shoemakers, bakers, carpenters and hatters founded the Labour Federation of Sao Paulo (Federação Operária de São Paulo- FOSP) and, in 1906, came the Labour Federation of Rio de Janeiro (Federação Operária do Rio de Janeiro - FORJ), which led in 1917 to the General Union of Workers (União Geral dos Trabalhadores - UGT) and brought together the “resistance unions [i.e. militant, combative]” . In 1919 the UGT became the Federation of Workers of Rio de Janeiro (Federação dos Trabalhadores do Rio de Janeiro - FTRJ) and, in 1923, the FORJ was re-founded.

In April 1906 the Brazilian Regional Labour Congress (Congresso Operário Regional Brasileiro), later known as the First Brazilian Labour Congress (Primeiro Congresso Operário Brasileiro), took place in Rio de Janeiro receiving delegates from several Brazilian states, representing diverse categories. The Congress approved its adhesion to French revolutionary syndicalism, adopting labour neutrality, federalism, decentralisation, anti-militarism, anti-nationalism, direct action and the general strike. The Second and Third Congresses took place, respectively, in 1913 and in 1920. In 1908 the Brazilian Labour Confederation (Confederação Operária Brasileira - COB) was founded.

The choice of revolutionary syndicalism occurred through the adoption of the economic camp of mobilisation and by the interesting proposal of federalism, which permitted the autonomy of the union in the federation and of this (the federation) in the confederation. Besides this, there was an international influence from the adoption of this model in other parts of the world. The means of struggle made by the mobilisation around short-term issues serves as a “revolutionary gymnastics”, which prepares the proletariat for the social revolution.

The anarchists hoped that in concrete action, in solidarity, and in the empirical observation of the contradictions between capital and labour, evidenced in conflicts, was the great lesson to be learned by the workers. That was the guarantee, they said, of the acquisition of ideological principles, not by rhetorical preaching or manuals, deprived of sensible experience, but by the practice of revolutionary and daily action by the masses. [14]
The first decade of the twentieth century counted more than one hundred strike movements, which acted, principally, in relation to the salary question. During the years of 1917 to 1920 more than two hundred demonstrations and strikes took place between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo alone. This whole conjuncture of mobilisation occurred with ample influence of the anarchists, who tried to carry out their propaganda in the unions; not circumscribing these within the anarchist ideology – the unions were for the workers and not for anarchist workers – but utilising them for the propagation of their ideas.

All this expectation placed on the social revolution, which was becoming more and more real since the mid-1910s, culminated in three relevant mobilisations. Firstly, in 1917 in that which became known as the 1917 General Strike, when workers of Sao Paulo, in a large way organised around the Proletarian Defence Committee, struggled against famine, carrying out sabotage and boycotting products from the Crespi, Matarazzo and Gamba industries. Among the victories of the strike movement are the eight hour work day and wage increases won by sectors of the movement. In 1918 the mobilisations continued and, in Rio de Janeiro, the Anarchist Insurrection took place. With strikes taking place in the carioca (Rio de Janeiro) factories and Campo de São Cristóvão occupied by the workers, the insurgents wanted the seizure of government buildings and the establishment in the city of the first soviet of Rio de Janeiro. Finally, in 1919, the Civil Construction Workers Union (União dos Operários em Construção Civil - UOCC) had the greatest gain of all, winning the eight hour work day for the whole sector. Besides this, outside of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, significant mobilisations took place in other states of Brazil: Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Santa Catarina, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Paraíba, Bahia, Ceará, Pará and Amazonas.

There was even a large cultural movement that worked together with the union mobilisations and was very important: rationalist schools inspired by the principles of (Francisco) Ferrer y Guardia, social centres, workers theatre and other initiatives that were fundamental in forging a class culture, an object of union in times of struggle.

There was also, at this ascendent juncture of struggle, the formation of two political and ideologically anarchist organisations which sought to work with the union movement. The first of these was the Anarchist Alliance of Rio de Janeiro (Aliança Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro), founded in 1918 by the need for an anarchist organisation for working within the unions, and which was important for the 1918 insurrection. However, with the repression that occurred the Alliance was disbanded, returning to organise in the first Communist Party, of libertarian inspiration, founded in 1919. Both the Anarchist Alliance and the Communist Party grouped together members of a sector of anarchism which is called “organisationalist” and which understood as necessary the distinction between levels of action – the political level, ideologically anarchist, and the social level, of union mobilisations. These militants understood as necessary the existence of specific anarchist organisations to act together with trade unions. It is important to emphasise that, at this time, anarchists already had a preoccupation with their specific organisation.

We can say that the social vector of anarchism was on an upward curve until the beginning of the 1920s when the crisis of anarchism, parallel to unionism itself, began to develop. Culminating in the 1930s in their demobilisation and in the loss of this social vector. For us, the loss of the social vector of anarchism is the result of two contexts of crisis: one of the situation and the other of anarchism itself.

The context of the situation was marked, firstly, by the repression both of trade unionism as well as anarchism, which can be seen in the third revision of the Adolfo Gordo law of 1921, which provided for the repression and deportation of anarchists, in addition to the deportation of militants to the penal colony of Clevelândia, located in the current state of Amapá, between 1924 and 1926. Besides this, there was also an ebb of social struggles around the world and frustration with the result of the struggles that came after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Also significant was the end of the First World War and the recovery of European factories, which returned to export (including to Brazil), reducing the workers contingent in the cities and the growth of the Communist Party, founded in 1922, which from 1924 began to most strongly dispute the unions and ally itself with the reformists, proposing electoral participation as a form of political expression. Finally, the harnessing of the unions to the state which was legalised in 1930 and 1931 by the Vargas government, culminating in 1932 when the unions were obliged, by law, to have government approval and to follow operating rules determined by the state.

The context of anarchism was marked, primarily, by the confusion between different levels of activity. For many militants unionism, which was the social vector, the medium of action that should lead to an end – expressed by the social revolution and the constitution of libertarian socialism – ended up becoming the end itself. This phenomenon was already being noticed in anarchism and was the subject of fierce debate, already in 1907 at the Amsterdam Congress, between Malatesta and Monatte. Monatte, defender of “pure syndicalism”, saw great similarity between syndicalism and anarchism and argued that “syndicalism is enough in itself” [15]. Malatesta, with a diametrically opposed position, considered syndicalism “a camp particularly favourable to the spread of revolutionary propaganda and also as a point of contact between anarchists and the masses” [16]. Thus, Malatesta argued for the need for two levels of activity: one politically anarchist, and the other social, within the union, which would be the means of insertion.

The positions of Malatesta and Monatte summarise the positions of the Brazilian anarchists. On one side, a part of the anarchists defended the need for specifically anarchist organisation, which should seek social insertion in the unions. On the other, anarchists who had understood militancy within the unions as their only task, and thus “forgot to form specific groups capable of giving support to revolutionary practice” [17].

Our position in relation to the social events of the early twentieth century is aligned with that of Malatesta, which was taken up in Brazil by José Oiticica who, at the time, regarded the lack of specific anarchist organisations as the problem. In 1923 he already warned of the fact that the anarchists had been dedicating themselves completely to the activities of the unions and renouncing ideological activities, confusing unionism, which was the means of insertion, with the end they wished to achieve. For him it was essential to create “anarchist federations outside of the unions” [18], such as the Alliance of 1918 and the Party of 1919 which, despite being groups or federations of this type were, unfortunately, insufficient for the task it was necessary to realise.

For Oiticica, as we have already partially referred to, it was important at that time to direct forces towards the formation of “closed” groups, with a definite programme of action and commitment tacitly assumed by the militants [19]. The “centralisation” of the anarchist forces in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, he continued, should not be confused with the “decentralisation” typical of libertarian organisations. He then claimed two urgent steps for the efficiency of anarchist action: “selection of militants and concentration of forces”. And he concluded: “Only this will give us unity of action”. [20]
We believe that the lack of anarchist organisations that could lend support to the class struggle, expressed most notably at that time by the unions, was also largely responsible for the loss of the social vector of anarchism. As the ideological organisations were not sedimented, the context of the crisis of unionism eventually extended to anarchism itself. Thus, a crisis at the social level also condemned the political level, since there was no real difference between the two at the time.

For us it is normal that the social level, represented at that time by unionism, has ebbs and flows, moments of ascent and descent; and the specific anarchist organisation serves precisely to accumulate the results of struggles and, sometimes, to seek out other spaces for work, other spaces for insertion. The problem is that, without anarchist organisations, when the social level – or a sector of it – enters into crisis, the anarchists are not able to find another space for social insertion.

Once the social vector was lost, and without specific organisations capable of sustaining an ideological struggle of longer duration, it was not possible for the anarchists to immediately find another space for insertion. [...] The prestige achieved through the entrance into trade unions very probably led them to believe that the potential of the class associations was inexhaustible, even superior to the changing circumstances. [21]
Thus, the crisis in revolutionary syndicalism also took the social vector of the anarchists, who then started to “organise themselves into cultural groups and for the preservation of memory” [22].


The FARJ claims to continue the militancy of Ideal Peres and the work that originated from his history of struggle. Ideal Peres was the son of Juan Perez Bouzas (or João Peres), a Galician immigrant, anarchist and shoemaker who played an important role in Brazilian anarchism from the end of the 1910s. He was an active militant of the Alliance of Craftsmen in Footwear (Aliança dos Artífices em Calçados) and of the Workers’ Federation of Sao Paulo (Federação Operária de São Paulo - FOSP), having been active in numerous strikes, pickets and demonstrations. In the 1930s he was active in the Anticlerical League (Liga Anticlerical) and, in 1934, participated decisively in the Battle of Sé – when the anarchists rejected the Integralistas (fascists) under bursts of machine gun fire. The following year anarchists also participated in the formation of the National Liberator Alliance (Aliança Nacional Libertadora - ANL), a co-ordination that supported the anti-fascist struggle, combating imperialism and landlordism.

Ideal Peres was born in 1925 and began his militancy in that context of crisis, when the social vector of anarchism had already been lost. This happened in 1946 when he participated in the Libertarian Youth of Rio de Janeiro (Juventude Libertária do Rio de Janeiro); in the periodicals Ação Direta (Direct Action) and Archote (Torch); in the Anarchist Union of Rio de Janeiro (União dos Anarquistas do Rio de Janeiro); in the Anarchist Congress (Congresso Anarquistas) that took place in Brazil; and in the Union of Brazilian Libertarian Youth (União da Juventude Libertária Brasileira). Ideal Peres had relevant participation in the Professor José Oiticica Study Centre (Centro de Estudos Professor José Oiticica - CEPJO), site of a series of courses and lectures that used anarchism as a “background” and which was closed down by the dictator in 1969, when Ideal was imprisoned for a month in the former Department of Social and Political Order (Departamento de Ordem Política e Social - DOPS), first in the Galeao Air Base and then in the barracks of the Military Police on Barao de Mesquita road, torture centre of the military dictatorship.

In the 1970s, after prison, Ideal organised in his house a study group that had as its goal to bring in youth interested in anarchism and, amongst other things, to put them in touch with former militants and establish links with other anarchists in Brazil. This study group would constitute the nucleus of the Libertarian Study Circle (Círculo de Estudos Libertários - CEL), conceived by Ideal and his partner Esther Redes. The CEL functioned in Rio de Janeiro from 1985 to 1995, having close to (or even inside) it the formation of other groups like the José Oiticica Anarchist Group (Grupo Anarquista José Oiticica - GAJO), the Direct Action Anarchist Group (Grupo Anarquista Ação Direta - GAAD), the 9th of July Anarchist Student Collective (Coletivo Anarquista Estudantil 9 de Julho - CAE-9), the Mutirão group; in addition to publications such as Libera...Amore Mio (founded in 1991 and which still exists today), the magazine Utopia (1988-1992) and the journal Mutirão (1991). Besides this, the CEL promoted events, campaigns and dozens (if not hundreds) of lectures and debates.

With the death of Ideal Peres in August 1995 the CEL decided to honour him by modifying its name to the Ideal Peres Libertarian Study Circle (Círculo de Estudos Libertários Ideal Peres - CELIP). CELIP gave continuity to the work of the CEL, being responsible for aggregating militancy in Rio de Janeiro and continuing the theoretical improvement thereof. Additionally, CELIP emerged with the publication of Libera, through which it developed relationships with groups across the country and abroad. It brought forward important libertarian reflections on issues that were on the agenda in Brazil and the world at the time, and served for the spread of texts and news of various groups in the country. The lectures and debates continued attracting new militants, and the relations that some militants had with the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (Federación Anarquista Uruguaya - FAU) ended up significantly influencing the model of anarchism that was being developed within CELIP. It was co-organiser of the State Encounter of Libertarian Students of Rio de Janeiro (ENELIB) in 1999; participated in the International Meeting of Libertarian Culture in Florianopolis in 2000; and contributed to the activities of the Institute of Libertarian Culture and Action in Sao Paulo (ICAL). It also took up the struggle of the oil industry workers, re-establishing ties between anarchists and unionists in the oil industry – ties that date back to 1992/1993, when they occupied the head-quarter buildings of Petrobras (Edifício Sede da Petrobrás - EDISE) together in the first occupation of a "public" building after the military dictatorship. In 2001 this struggle of the anarchists and oil industry workers was resumed, culminating, in 2003, in the more than 10 day encampment by anarchists and oil industry workers fighting for amnesty for comrades politically dismissed. Besides this, CELIP did a range of other activities.

In 2002 we initiated a study group in order to verify the possibility for the construction of an anarchist organisation in Rio de Janeiro, the result of which was the foundation of the FARJ on 30th of August 2003. For us, there is a direct link between the militancy of Ideal Peres, the construction of the CEL, its functioning, the change of name to CELIP and the subsequent foundation of the FARJ.

When we speak of seeking the “social vector of anarchism”, we necessarily make reference to the work initiated by Ideal Peres who, even in the 1980s, started working with social movements with a view to withdrawing anarchism from the strictly cultural realm to which it had been constrained since the crisis of the 1930s.

In the first half of the 1980s, Ideal and Esther [Redes] entered a social movement, as founders and members of the Leme Friends and Residents Association (Associação dos Moradores e Amigos do Leme - AMALEME). In the 1980s a number of federations of neighbourhood, favela (township/slum) and community associations appeared in Rio de Janeiro, and Ideal participated in AMALEME, trying to influence it to use self-management practices and to demonstrate solidarity with the poor community of Morro do Chapéu Mangueira. In 1984 Ideal is elected vice president of the association and in 1985 president. His attention to neighbourhood associations having been born in another association, ALMA (Residents Association of Lauro Muller and Surroundings), perhaps the first association to demonstrate combative and self-management impetus, which ended up influencing other associations [23].
The stimulation of Ideal Peres and the very development of militancy in Rio de Janeiro showed a practical need for social work and insertion of the anarchists, which had deepened after the contacts we had with the FAU in the mid-1990s. Through Libera and contact with other groups in Brazil we assisted the initiative of the Brazilian Anarchist Construction (CAB) in 1996, disseminating a document entitled "Struggle and Organisation," which sought to give support to the creation of organisational groups that would defend the idea of “especifista” anarchism. We can say that all especifista anarchism in Brazil has been influenced by the CAB and FAU itself, and this is no different with us.

Since then the idea of social insertion and recovery of the vector was becoming larger all the time. The history of Brazil and a more strategic observation about anarchism’s own reason for being were leaving us increasingly convinced that especifismo was the form of anarchist organisation most suitable to our purposes. For us, the path to the recovery of the social vector passes, necessarily, through a specifically organised anarchism that differentiates the levels of activity and is present in the class struggle. However, unlike the early twentieth century, when the preferred terrain of class struggle was the unions, we now consider that unionism can be a means of insertion, but that there are others far more important. As previously defined there is today a very broad exploited class which permits the social work and insertion of anarchists: the unemployed, peasants, landless, homeless etc. For us, to be well-organised at the political (ideological) level will allow us to find the best path to bring back this social vector of anarchism, be it where it may.

All of our actual reflection aims to think of a strategic model of organisation that enables a recovery of the social vector, in that this points to our objective of overcoming capitalism, the state and for the establishment of libertarian socialism. What we seek, in this context, is only a station in the struggle: as we emphasised at our foundation: "Here we present the FARJ, without asking for anything other than a fighting station, lest righteous and profoundly beautiful dreams die."[24 ]


13. Alexandre Samis. "Pavilhão Negro sobre Pátria Oliva". In: História do Movimento Operário Revolucionário. São Paulo: Imaginário, 2004, p. 179.

14. Ibid. p. 136.

15. Pierre Monate. "Em Defesa do Sindicalismo". In: George Woodcock. Grandes Escritos Anarquistas. Porto Alegre: LP&M, 1998, p. 206.

16. Errico Malatesta. "Sindicalismo: a Crítica de um Anarquista". In: George Woodcock. Op. Cit. p. 207.

17. Alexandre Samis. "Anarquismo, ‘bolchevismo’ e a crise do sindicalismo revolucionário". (Still unpublished).

18. José Oiticica in A Pátria, 22 of June 1923.

19. José Oiticica, Fabio Luz and other anarchists radicalised in Rio de Janeiro took part in a specific group of anarchists called Os Emancipados.

20. Alexandre Samis. "Anarquismo, ‘bolchevismo’ e a crise do sindicalismo revolucionário".

21. Ibid.

22. Idem. "Pavilhão Negro sobre Pátria Oliva". In: História do Movimento Operário Revolucionário, p. 181.

23. Felipe Corrêa. Anarquismo Social no Rio de Janeiro: breve história da FARJ e de suas origens. Lisboa: CEL/Cadernos d’A Batalha, 2008, p. 25.

24. FARJ. "Manifesto de Fundação".

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