(Eng)Anarquismo en America Latina (Cast)

Luis Prat (prat@chem.ucsb.edu)
Mon, 22 Jan 1996 11:46:47 -0800


I) A necessary book

EL ANARQUISMO EN AMERICA LATINA (prologue and chronology: Angel J. Cappelletti;
Selection and notes: Carlos M. Rama and A. Cappelletti), Caracas, Biblioteca
Ayacucho, 1990. Prologue CCXVIII pages. Text selection, chronology and
index: 490 pages.

Finally, after several editorial mishaps that delayed its appearance, this
work qualified without exaggeration as a fundamental milestone in latin
american anarchist bibliography is out there. Even though the print
indicates November 1990, it was barely in June 1993 that it came out for
sale in Caracas, in an otherwise restricted form due to its size and high
cost, reduced printing (1500 in a hard cover edition and 1500 in paperback)
besides being published by a statist agency with the classic attributes of a
tropical bureaucracy, which translates into it being complicated for those
interested in this country to have access to the work through the normal
channels (bookstore purchase or library borrowing) and that it will be
problematic or inexistent its distribution abroad. In spite of it all, the
publication of this book is a tribute to the efforts of a person without
whose enthusiastic will and erudition is not possible to undertake a task of
such magnitude and so many difficulties: Dr. Angel J. Cappelletti, who took
into his hands and carried to completion a project that had remained
suspended after the death in 1982 of the person that had conceived and
initiated it, the uruguayan sociologist and historian Carlos Rama.

Cappelletti not only finalized the planned compilation of texts, but also
undertook the writing of an extensive essay on the historical, social and
cultural keys that marked country by country the presence of libertarian
socialism in our subcontinent, mandatory preamble to the documentary
compilation that encompasses 18 individual and 6 collective authors from 7
countries, a collection of written testimonies of continental anarchism
never before attempted, taken from the most diverse sources - at times
bibliographic rarities- and that by date and motivation span from a
combative workers manifesto from Paraguay dated 1892, to the conceptual
criticism of democracy by an intellectual militant from Uruguay (Luce
Fabbri) in 1983.

Other names could be added to those presented in this anthology (such as the
greco-mexican P. Rhodokanaty, the cuban E. Roig San Martin or the chilean
IWW) but no doubt that those included fully deserve it, whether outstanding
individuals like the mexican Ricardo Flores Magon, the peruvian Manuel
Gonzalez Prada, the spanish-argentinian Diego Abad de Santillan and the
brasilian Jose Oiticica, or grassroot collectives such as the Federacion
Obrera Regional Argentina and the Partido Liberal Mexicano.

In the Prologue, Cappelletti worked with the investigative thoroughness
characteristic of his wide and esteemed intellectual labor, culminating that
which to us is the sharpest and most exhaustive contemporary exam of what's
been written on this subject, worthy of a description higher than that of
"simple sketch" that the author modestly attributes to it, and not only
because of the more than 200 pages written with passion, amenity and rigor,
but also because it forms a solid basis for the rescue of a history as
diverse and significant as ignored or distorted. Of course there is room for
detailed observations from more precise studies about the anarchist presence
in particular social processes ( for example, the recently published
investigations on Colombia by the comrades from Proyecto Cultural Alas de
Xue, unknown to Cappelletti when he wrote about this item); but this more
than a deficiency constitutes a challenge by the Prologue as it opens up so
many paths of information, analysis and reflection.

The Prologue as well as the Text Selection make central reference to the
period between the end of the XIX century and the first decades of the XX.
In fact, the chronology Cappelletti prepared for the book goes from 1861 to
1940, because within this period anarchosyndicalism as a social movement and
anarchist thought as cultural reference achieved undeniable relevance in
Latin America, being one of the book's basic merits the description of that
reality for each country of the area, in a multiplicity of expressions and
linkages that are hardly known by the new generation that today attempts to
push the libertarian renaissance between Rio Grande and Tierra del Fuego.

For us the conscious recovery of this vast and unexplored heritage must be
an inmediate task, not out of nostalgic sentimentalism nor to consacrate yet
another historical mythology with which to face liberal or marxist dogma,
but to rescue the living meaning that this past has for the present and the
future of the social struggles in the continent. It is in this spirit that
we may read and debate EL ANARQUISMO EN AMERICA LATINA among those who
aspire to build roads of freedom with equality for our peoples.

(CORREO@ #24, p.18; october 1993)

(Brief excerpt, reviewed by Angel Cappelletti, of the above mentioned
prologue, Op. Cit. pp X-XIII. Published in Correo@ #25, pp.16-17, March 1994)

...Anarchism has an ample history in Latin America, rich in peaceful and
violent struggles, in demonstrations of individual and collective heroism,
in organizational efforts, in oral, written and practical propaganda, in
literary works, in theatrical, pedagogic, cooperative or communitarian
experiments, etc. This history has never been totally documented, although
there are very good partial studies. Moreover, those who write the social,
political, cultural, literary, philosophical history of the subcontinent
usually neglect or minimize the importance of the anarchist movement. There
is in this as much ignorance as bad faith. Some historians do not know the
facts or consider anarchism as a marginal ideology absolutely minoritarian
and scornful. Others, on the contrary, know what anarchism means in the
history of socialist ideas and understand well its attitude towards marxism,
but precisely because of this they try to forget or belittle it as the fruit
of revolutionary inmaturity, abstract utopianism, craftsman and petit
bourgeoise rebelliousness, etc.

...Like all thought originating in Europe, anarchist ideology was for Latin
America an imported product. But ideas are not mere products but rather
organisms that, as such, must adapt to the new environment and in so doing,
change in a lesser or greater measure. To say that anarchism was brought to
these shores by european inmigrants is to say the obvious. To interpret this
fact as a sign of lesser value, seems rather like a show of stupidity. (The
very idea of "fatherland" and nationalist ideology came from Europe).

But anarchism was not only the ideology of the working and peasant masses
that newly arrived in the continent, felt cheated of their hopes for a
better life and saw the exchanging of the opression by the ancient
monarchies by the no less weighty one of the new republican oligarchies.
Soon it was the outlook on the world and society that the native and even
indigenous masses adopted, from Mexico (with Zalacosta in Chalco) to
Argentina (with Facon Grande in Patagonia). Very few times it has been noted
that the anarchist doctrine of self-managed collectivism, as applied to the
agrarian problem, coincided in fact with the ancient way of life and
organization of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Peru, prior not only to
spanish imperialism but also to aztec and inca imperialism. In the measure
that anarchists got to approach the natives, they didn't have to inculcate
exotic ideologies, but only to make conscious the peasant ideologies of
"calpull" and "ayllu".

On the other hand, many times in the creole population a tendency to
liberty and a detachment to all forms of statist structures took roots which
when not channeled into following feudal caudillos, were fertile ground for
a libertarian ideology. It is almost never mentioned the existance (in
Argentina and Uruguay) of anarchist gauchos, that had its literary
expression in the libertarian "payadores". But even doing without these
phenomena, that will be doubtlessly considered insignificant by academic and
marxist historians, it can be said without doubt that anarchism grew roots
among native workers much more deeply and extensively than marxism (with the
only exception, perhaps, of Chile).

Even when, from a theoretical point of view, the latin american movement has
not contributed fundamentally to anarchist thought, it can be said that from
the organizational and practical point of view it produced forms unknown in
Europe. Thus, the Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA) was an example
of a center that, being majoritarian (to the point of becoming, in many
ways, a single center) it never made any concessions to syndical
bureaucracy, while at the same time adopting an organization as different
from the CNT and other european anarchosyndicalist organizations as from the
north american IWW. Another example, typically latin american, is the
existance of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, which a few years after its
foundation adopted an ideology that no doubt was anarchist (the work, above
all, of Ricardo Flores Magon) and that nevertheless kept its name and
continued presenting itself as a political party (which earned it sharp
criticism from some european orthodox such as Jean Grave).

Anyway, with the exception of this singular case, it can be said that in
Latin America anarchism was almost always anarchosyndicalism and was
esentially linked to peasant and worker's organizations. There were, no
doubt, some anarchoindividualists in Argentina, Uruguay, Panama, etc., and
also some anarchocommunists foes of the syndical organization (in Buenos
Aires during the 1880s and 1890s), but the great majority of latin american
anarchists were followers of a syndicalism revolutionary and antipolitical
(not, as it's usually and erroneously said, a-political)...

On the other hand, anarchism also presents some different traits in the
different latin american countries. In Argentina it has been, with the FORA,
more radical, to the point of being considered extremist by the spanish CNT.
In Uruguay it has been more peaceful, as Nettlau noted, perhaps because it
was less persecuted (except during the last dictatorship). In Mexico it has
had government significance, not only with the magonist participation in the
revolution against Porfirio Diaz, but also because the Casa del Obrero
Mundial offered Carranza its "red batallions" in the fight against Villa and
Zapata and because the CGT presidents debated with president Obregon. In
Brasil, on the contrary, it was always outside of all statist influence, and
the military-oligarchic republic never took it into account but to
persecute, ostracise or assassinate its militants. A typical phenomenon of
certain latin american countries, between 1918 and 1923, was
anarcho-bolchevism. In Argentina, Uruguay, Brasil and Mexico, when the
bolshevik revolution took place in Russia, many anarchists pronounced
themselves for Lenin and announced their unconditional support for the
soviet government, but did not stop considering themselves anarchists. This
current dissappeared with Lenin's death, because those that decided to
follow Stalin no longer dared call themselves anarchists.

In all the countries in the region anarchism produced, besides a vast
newspaper propaganda and copious ideological bibliography, many poets and
writers that often were frontline figures in their respective national
literatures. Not everywhere, however, were they equally numerous and
significant. In Argentina and Uruguay it can be said that the majority of
the writers that published between 1890 and 1920 were, at some point and in
some measure, anarchists. In Brasil and Chile there were, likewise during
this period, more than a few literary anarchists, though not as many as in
Rio de la PLata. In Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, etc., if a properly
anarchist literature did not flourish, the influence of libertarian ideology
was more among literati and poets than among the worker's movement. It is
important to note, however, that even where literature and anarchism were
almost synonymous as in Rio de la Plata (during the above-mentioned period),
anarchist intellectuals never played the role of elite or revolutionary
vanguard and never had anything to do with the University or with official
culture. In this anarchism differs profoundly from marxism.

The decadence of the latin american anarchist movement (which does not imply
its total demise) may be attributed to three causes:

1) A series of coup-d'etats, more or less fascist, that take place around
1930 (Uriburu in Argentina, Vargas in Brasil, Terra in Uruguay etc.); all of
them characterized by a general repression against the worker's movement,
leftist groups and specially the anarchists. In certain cases (Argentina)
they achieve the total disarticulation of the organizational and
propagandistic structure of the workers' anarchosyndicalist federations.

2) The founding of communist (bolshevik) parties. The support of the Soviet
Union and affiliated european parties conferred them a strengh that was
lacking in the anarchist organizations, without material resources other
than dues payed by their militants. More in some countries (Brasil), less in
others (Argentina) there are anarchists that cross over to the communist party.

3) The appearance of national-populist currents (more or less linked to the
armed forces and even, sometimes, to the promoters of fascist coups).

The particular situation of dependence in which the latin american countries
find themselves with respect to european and, above all, north american
imperialism steers the class struggle towards struggles of "national
The workers view the exploitation of which they are victims as the
imposition of foreign powers. The bourgeoisie (national and foreign) linked
to certain sectors of the army and the catholic church convinces them that
the enemy is no longer Capital and State, but only foreign Capital and
State. This convicction (skillfully induced) is, in reality, the principal
cause of anarchism's decadence. All else, even the intrinsic difficulties
that affect an anarchist organization in the world today (such as the need
to make unions work without bureaucracy and the real or apparent inviability
of its concrete proposals) is secundary.


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Luis J. Prat * /__\ *
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University of California * *
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