A Review of Na Contracorrente da História: documentos do trotskismo brasileiro 1930–1940 [Against the Current of History: Documents of Brazilian Trotskyism, 1930–1940], edited by Fúlvio Abramo and Dainis Karepovs



Carlos Eduardo Rebello de Mendonça

Institute of Social Sciences, Rio de Janeiro State University




This is a review of a recently updated collection of documents by members of the Brazilian section of the International Left Opposition that shows the concept of Permanent Revolution being developed independently of Trotsky.


Trotsky – Permanent Revolution – Brazil

Fúlvio Abramo and Dainis Karepovs (eds.), (2015) Na Contracorrente da História: documentos do trotskismo brasileiro 1930–1940, São Paulo: Sundermann.

The Particular Relevance of the Work

This book is a revised and enlarged edition of the original collection of documents from the Brazilian section of the International Left Opposition, the Internationalist Communist League (Liga Comunista Internacionalista; hereafter LCI), the original 1987 edition comprising documents from the period up to 1933, to which were added documents from the period up to the late-1939 split from the LCI (at the time renamed the Leninist Workers’ Party – POL – as a national section of the Fourth International) of its most important cadre Mário Pedrosa over the controversy with Trotsky on the class nature of the Soviet state (Pedrosa, in exile in New York City during the late 1930s, sided with James Burnham in questioning the ‘Degenerate Workers’ State’ position held by Trotsky). Pedrosa’s split with the Fourth International is considered the close of the early period of Brazilian Trotskyism. Pedrosa’s break, occurring against the backdrop of the increasing general repression of the Vargas dictatorship in Brazil, followed by Trotsky’s murder, meant that when the Brazilian Trotskyist movement resurfaced after WW2 and Vargas’s fall in 1945, it was to do so under different leadership and over different issues. Pedrosa himself, since the 1950s and up to his death in 1981, remained a man of the Left, but his political life since then was mostly an offshoot of his activities as an art critic and international museum curator.

This is, therefore, a collection of documents that can be tackled as a self-contained whole, as they bear witness to the local development of an historical process all too well-known to historians of the Communist movement: the 1920s internal struggles among the Bolsheviks, Trotsky’s exile, the transition of his oppositional movement from a mostly Soviet perspective to an international one, the movement’s brief spells of influence in the late 1920s and early 1930s, followed by a rapid nadir prompted by Stalin’s purges and the rise of fascism, culminating in Trotsky’s murder in 1940 in Mexico.

Histories of the early development of the international Trotskyist movement are generally tied to Trotsky himself, to the development of his views on the issues of the period and – last but not least – to the unchallengeable ascendancy exerted by the Old Man over his followers, such that a history of the early ‘Trotskyist movement’ tends to be merely the political history of Trotsky and his circle. The early history of the national sections of the movement, conversely, is mostly the history of what Trotsky said and wrote on the issues this movement had to face nationally (‘Trotsky on…’). This, however, is not the case with the Brazilian section, which, according to the collection’s general foreword by Pierre Broué, developed its activities in ‘almost total absence of written interchange with the International Secretariat of the Opposition, with Trotsky and [Leon] Sedov’ – even when compared with other Latin American sections, such as the Mexican and Argentinean ones (p. 25). This unique trait of the Brazilian section means that, firstly, the section developed independently of Trotsky’s immediate guidance, and that its leaders had to formulate theoretical work in the absence of a blueprint devised by the Old Man: there is no collection of Trotsky’s writings titled ‘Trotsky on Brazil’. This allowed for the emergence of a specifically Brazilian movement and a specifically Brazilian praxis. Secondly, this relative independence was produced, among other things, by the relative political insulation of Brazil herself from world- and Latin American political developments – something that adds to the work’s general relevance.

Fortunately, the collection of writings contained in the book was begun, in the late 1980s, in the Workers’ Movement Documentation Centre of the University of Campinas (CEMAP) by the then still-living member of the original LCI cadre, the journalist and activist Fúlvio Abramo (1909–93). As Abramo writes in the second foreword to the book, the Brazilian section of the LO did not emerge from a factional clash among the rank-and-file of an already-developed Communist Party; it developed out of what was felt as the insufficient development of a newly constituted CP: ‘the Party was new and lacked members with a modicum of ideological capabilities: Marxists could be counted on the fingers of a single hand’ (p. 31). The Brazilian CP had developed out of a previously existing petit-bourgeois radicalism (with a mostly Comtean Positivist tinge) that had itself developed over the political clashes associated with the 1889 transition from an outwardly constitutional monarchy to a presidential republic. The CP’s original leadership was mostly enragé petit-bourgeois, and kept at the helm by the subsequent organisation of the party within the authoritarian framework devised by the 1920s Comintern (Zinoviev’s ‘Bolshevisation’). The Brazilian LO, therefore, developed over the ideological critique of the CP’s leadership. The LCI leadership was also composed of ‘middle-class’ intellectuals (Pedrosa, Lívio Xavier, Costa Pimenta) – albeit more conversant with Marxist theory and in touch with a group of Hungarian expatriates, former Red Army servicemen with a surer grasp of Soviet questions (pp. 32, 34).

          What was the nature of this ideological logjam? In Abramo’s view, the divide out of which the Brazilian section of the LO developed had mostly to do with the Marxist characterisation of the nature of Brazilian society, since ‘out of the characterisation of the type of society where one lives, comes the character of the change (revolution) one intends to materialise’ (p. 31). The ‘middle-class’ character of the existing Party leadership imposed a mode of political activism that was to remain within the bounds of bourgeois democracy. It was not simply an issue of copying strictures that came from the ICCI: very early on, Brazilian communism had already enjoyed an autochthonous ideological foundation, expressed in the 1926 handbook by the pharmacist and activist Octávio Brandão, Agrarismo e Industrialismo [Agrarianism and Industrialism]. As the title itself indicates, this handbook proposed a sociological interpretation of Brazilian society in terms of a (mechanical) dialectics between two opposing principles: ‘Agrarianism’ (not only agriculture as an economic basis, but the mores, the politics and the ways of living of a mostly-rural society) versus ‘industrialism’ (i.e. bourgeois modernity). Since ‘industrialism’ was the ‘superior’ principle, the incoming Brazilian revolution was of necessity liberal-bourgeois…

As Abramo remarks, this conception (a mash-up of Hegel with Comtean Sociology) was also profoundly faulty in terms of practical politics, in that it confined the activity of the CP to the liberal-bourgeois state apparatus. As Abramo, again, outlines, the early formation of a section of a Left Opposition alongside the Brazilian CP had to do not with a class change in the rank-and-file, but simply with the existence of more theoretically-aware activists, above all the lawyer and teacher Mário Pedrosa, a would-be student of the Lenin School of cadres who had refused to go to Moscow after Trotsky’s exclusion from the Central Committee and returned to Brazil after a season of Marxist studies in Germany and France (p. 33). Abramo stresses that, since the LCI developed mostly as an intellectual opposition, this opposition concerned itself chiefly with the actual understanding of the dynamics of the class struggle as it developed in 1930s Brazil on the social and political levels.

The oppositionists’ principal charge against the incumbent CP leadership had to do, firstly, with what practical political activity a communist party should busy itself with in the conditions of late-1920s Brazil – a supposedly bourgeois republic on the American model ruled in practice by a caucus of commodity-exporting agrarian oligarchies that managed to get ‘elected’ in (mostly fictive) ballot-casting events – given that this particular facade was breaking down: in October 1930, a military coup, aided by dissident oligarchies, put the governor of the Southern Rio Grande State Getúlio Vargas in power as provisional President, in accordance with an anti-oligarchical blueprint. At such a juncture, the LCI’s first complaint was that the Communist Party’s politics mostly involved striking an alliance of sorts with various petit-bourgeois demagogues and the dissatisfied Young Turk junior army officers [tenentes] leading most of the contemporary military uprisings. In the words of LCI activist Aristides Lobo, in the tract that opens the collection, such a policy made the Party limit itself to a struggle for the political leftovers of current petit-bourgeois politics, and accept being led by ‘peddlers of sacred images and other instalment-sold trinkets, unreformed exploiters of the proletariat’ (p. 49).

But in 1930 backward Brazil, should the political task of a fledgling Communist Party not rather have been, of necessity, that of working alongside middle-class bourgeois radicals in order to deepen and radicalise such necessary bourgeois reforms as extending the franchise, empowering the destitute, achieving land reform, putting controls on international finance capital, and so on? We seem to find ourselves fully in the middle of the discussion of Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution and its cause, Combined and Uneven Development. But then, at the time, in Trotsky’s own words to his American followers during 1934, the ‘theory’ wasn’t yet a theory, a ‘law’, a definite and necessary causal link, but only a case-history – or a couple of such cases – or namely, ‘as a law [uneven and combined development] is rather vague. It is more of a historical reality.’[1] And there lies the particular relevance of the 1930s Brazilian literature.

How far Permanent Revolution Goes

At its inception, Trotsky’s notion of ‘Permanent Revolution’, torn asunder from its original context in the text of Marx and Engels where the Russian revolutionary had found it, was simply an extraordinary statement intended to explain an extraordinary case: namely, the Russian one. Trotsky seems to have started with the idea that the development of capitalism in Russia was a case of what Gramsci would – independently, and basing his account on the Italian case – call a ‘Passive Revolution’, i.e., that the capitalist development of Russia was sponsored by the tsarist state apparatus in the face of the military pressure exerted by the Western European powers, and that this political development melded together the economic interests of the Russian bourgeoisie with the maintenance of a feudal-absolutist political apparatus and of backward social-relations, in such a way that the accomplishment of bourgeois modernity would depend upon putting the bourgeoisie aside, depriving it of social and political power. The Russian Revolution, as Trotsky describes it – both ex ante and ex post – was bourgeois in character, proletarian in agency – a ‘passive revolution’ turned upside down.[2]

In the case of China, however, Trotsky seemed to believe in the early 1920s that semi-colonial China, in the absence of a feudal state, could achieve something like a standard bourgeois revolution in which the native bourgeoisie would lead the process of self-determination against the occupying colonial powers. It was only sometime before 1926 that he began to argue that the clear hostility of the Chinese bourgeoisie and its Kuomintang political leadership towards the native workers’ movement expressed the sheer impossibility of such a bourgeoisie building a fully-fledged bourgeois modernity – either politically (a functioning liberal-bourgeois democracy, even one expressing unmistakably bourgeois class rule), socially (land reform, the end of openly-hierarchical social relationships and unfree labour) or even economically (a minimally autonomous process of capitalist reproduction, what the economists of the ECLA/CEPAL would call in the 1950s ‘development from the inside [desarollo hacia adentro]’). Even then, Trotsky hesitated in turning uneven and combined development into a general law of capitalist development: the Chinese case was another extraordinary occurrence, requiring a purely historical, contingent, explanation.[3]

Hence the importance of the early twentieth-century Brazilian case, in which one has, firstly, since 1889, a formally independent bourgeois republic – itself the successor to a post-Napoleonic constitutional and formally-parliamentary monarchy on the British model; secondly, a culturally – if not ethnically – unified country, putatively ‘Western’, speaking a single European language (and with, therefore, no question of a linguistically and culturally distinct Amerindian peasantry, as was the case in most Latin American countries); thirdly, a legal set of acknowledged social relations, since the 1888 abolition of slavery and the 1916 adoption of a general Civil Code on the lines of Code Napoléon, based on wage labour and private bourgeois property; and, finally, a commodity-exporting economy tied to the capitalist world-market. Nevertheless, one of the common tropes of early twentieth-century Brazilian political discourse was precisely that of the general self-awareness of the sharp divide between the ‘formal’ country on one hand and the actual one on the other – with the ‘actual’ country being seem as politically oligarchic, socially unequal and economically backward. Therefore, the chief issue at stake was: could it be that ‘combined and uneven development’ is not an historical particularity – or a collection of such peculiarities – but instead a general law, expressing the general contradictions of bourgeois modernity? Could it be that such modernity was necessarily and generally incomplete, always a combination of advancement and backwardness? Could it be that bourgeois modernity is fully achievable only through socialist-revolutionary means – anytime, anywhere?

Combined and Uneven Development in Brazil

Shortly before Vargas’ taking power in October 1930, Mário Pedrosa, jointly with his close collaborator Lívio Xavier, wrote a tract that was to stand as an alternative to Agrarismo e Industrialismo: his and Xavier’s Draft for an Analysis of Brazil’s Economic and Social Situation. This tract practically resurfaced during the 1980s, as it was originally published in the LCI’s underground paper, A Luta de Classe [Class Struggle], the issue in which it was published being shortly afterwards seized by the police, with the copies destroyed, so that the work left no impression and played no role in contemporary Brazilian political debate. What Abramo and Karepovs have published in the present collection is a retranslation into Portuguese of a prior French version.

The resurrected tract, however, still manages to be intriguing, as it begins with the phrase: The capitalist mode of production and accumulation – and therefore bourgeois private property – were imported directly from the metropolis to the New World (pp. 62, 63 – my italics). As to the question concerning what type of class society existed in colonial Brazil, while Octávio Brandão chose to answer it according to the forces of production and their material outlook – therefore stressing the agrarian, supposedly non-capitalist character of the regnant mode of production – Pedrosa and Xavier chose, on the contrary (in an application of what Lukács considered the hallmark of ‘orthodox Marxism’, the viewpoint of the totality) to respond according to production relations, stressing the continuous existence of a monetary economy and its implicitly bourgeois character. For ‘the wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an immense collection of commodities’[4] – hence the superiority of Pedrosa’s and Xavier’s analysis, grounded on a very sound (and, for the time and place, very unusual) understanding of the Marxist method.

The existence of chattel slavery and its role as the basis for colonial plantation production, as well as its association with other forms of unfree labour (debt bondage, sharecropping etc.) inclined most Brazilian Marxists since the 1930s to think of the country’s ruling mode of production as pre-capitalist. That analysis, grounded simply on the observation of existing material forms of production, failed to step behind the phenomenological traits of the process to seek out its structural traits. What Pedrosa and Xavier remarked was that in the plantation colonial system, chattel slavery was introduced in order to prevent the emergence of a class of small independent producers, and therefore to grant a labour-power supply necessary to commodity production: ‘the dependence of the worker towards the capitalist as owner of the means of production had to be created through artificial means, namely: land appropriation by the state, its subsequent conversion into private property, and the introduction of African and Amerindian slavery’ (p. 63).

In view of the subsequent voluminous Marxist historiography on the relationship between the colonial system, its mercantile character, and the subsequent development of capitalism, Pedrosa’s and Xavier’s dictum – to simply declare the colonial plantation system as capitalist – was undoubtedly timely. The fact is, however, that they were not scholars engaged in a drawn-out process of comparative historiography, but political activists intent on devising a blueprint for political action.

What justified the ancillary role of the Communist Party in contemporary political developments in Brazil, its playing second fiddle to middle-class ‘radical’ movements, was the idea that, the existing relations of production being non-capitalist, in order to overcome the existing socio-economic backwardness some kind of classical, standard bourgeois revolution was still necessary (a belief held also in non-Marxist circles, as with the political caucus behind Vargas, the ‘Liberal Alliance’). What Pedrosa and Xavier proposed was that Brazilian backwardness was not a ‘vestige’, a ‘relic’, a collection of remnants of past ages, but that such backwardness was the functioning, actually-existing superstructure necessary to the reproduction of the regnant capitalist economy: ‘in the new [i.e. postcolonial] states, directly tied to Imperialism, the national bourgeoisie enters the arena of world politics already wizened and reactionary, its democratic ideals corrupted from the very start’ (p. 68). The centrality of commodity-export to the reproduction of the economy as a whole implied a high degree of economic instability, as the economy depended chiefly on foreign demand – ‘imperialist penetration playing the role of an emetic, accelerating and deepening economic and class contradictions’ (p. 68). Hence the necessity (Brazil’s export economy had been hit hard by the 1929 Crash) of compensating for such instability by means of a state-led blueprint for internal investment, something that rallied peripheral regional oligarchies to the support base of the movement that had toppled the hitherto ruling coffee-exporting São Paulo oligarchy. Note, however, that such a project of authoritarian bourgeois modernisation has nothing ‘democratic’ about it, as it implies an authoritarian mobilisation of economic resources and the regularisation of capitalist exploitation. Therefore, in the words of Xavier and Pedrosa, the notion of a ‘liberal’ bourgeois revolution, as a political cause in Brazil, was stillborn: ‘In Brazil all classes are dependent on the Executive Branch and the most hackneyed liberal catchphrases seem subversive to the Government [….] So-called liberals support police repression when directed against workers’ organisations’ (p. 70). Just as the colonial enterprise had earlier (re)created chattel slavery ex nihilo, as a necessary prerequisite to capitalist accumulation, the ever-recurring authoritarian political developments in Brazil were not an absence or pathology of liberal-bourgeois rule, but its very mode of operation.

In a rejoinder to Pedrosa’s and Xavier’s tract, their comrade Aristides Lobo elaborated on the contrast between formal and actual relations of production: Brandão had previously mused on the imminence of the coming bourgeois revolution by speaking of a class of small farmers, pointing to the fact that at the time, in the State of São Paulo, some 78% out of the total of rural workers were tenants [colonos] themselves, or members of a tenant’s household. As Lobo elaborates, by the standard terms of lease of the time, the tenant was allowed to farm a patch in exchange for services rendered to the landowner – such services being usually to tend a thousand coffee-trees year-round, in exchange for said right to farm, plus a meagre yearly fee (the fee mentioned by Lobo is 100$000, cem mil-réis two times the asking-price for a posh meal at a fashionable São Paulo hotel of the time).[5] As Lobo concludes, such tenants, ‘if we want to define exactly their place on the social ladder, are on a rung below the seasonal wage-earner [camarada], or, to be precise, midway between the temporary worker and a slave’ (p. 80). In a nutshell, the colono was a disguised rural proletarian producing a surplus-value in exchange for his self-maintenance and a yearly pittance. Therefore, ‘this erroneous notion held by the Party amounts to an implicit approval of a hypocritical bourgeois conception [i.e. an ideological fiction of a ‘fair deal’]. Being equally reactionary, they [i.e. both conceptions] meld into one.’ (p. 80.) Both were equally reactionary in that both disguised, under the notion of fair exchange between formally equal parties, the reality of the most ‘abnormal’, extreme class exploitation supported not by backwardness, but by the normal functioning of the bourgeois economy.

From the Particular to the General

In this point resides the present importance of the collection, besides its value as a piece of purely historical scholarship: what Pedrosa, Xavier, Lobo and others are advancing is the notion of ‘combined and uneven development’ as not only an extraordinary combination of factors in a particular historical juncture, but a general mechanism, a ‘law’ – the step forward that Trotsky himself was at the time loath to take. Instead of thinking of bourgeois society as moving necessarily towards the kingdom of formal equality and representative democracy, what the labyrinthine historical intrigue around the rise of the bourgeoisie in tsarist Russia, KMT China and Vargas’s Brazil tell us is that the bourgeois order is the kingdom of capital as a general social relation, to which democratic ideologies are immaterial; as in the LCI tract dealing with the upcoming 1933 elections for a Constituent Assembly (that would write the short-lived 1934 Constitution, superseded in 1937 by Vargas’s coup, instituting a de jure personal dictatorship), ‘every conscious worker knows that the bourgeois state, as a tool for the rule of the bourgeoisie, does not stand solely on the Parliament, whose functions are relatively secondary and whose existence is conditional, possibly ceasing from one moment to the next, whenever bourgeois interest so demands’ (p. 90). It is an extreme – and usually rejected – Marxist notion of bourgeois rule, bypassing its elements of ideological consensus-building (Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatuses) and stressing instead its ‘core’ of naked coercion; it is the rule of the bourgeoisie as it appears in Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism.

Note, however, that the LCI opposed the Stalinist liquidationist, ‘Third Period’ line held by the CP, advocating instead for workers’ candidacies and for work inside the Constituent Assembly. In the conditions of the time, this was mostly a moot point; but then the LCI also argued, as against the Stalinists, for work inside the new corporatist quasi-state trade unions (these ‘unitary’ unions – only one for each particular trade and geographical area – since comprising the basis for the Brazilian system of industrial relations) organised by Vargas’s regime. Instead of agitation for a fictitious ‘Red Union’ (according to ‘Third Period’ strictures) what communists should do, according to the LCI, is ‘to unite with the EXISTING workers’ organisations to fight for common, well-defined, accepted-in-advance goals [….] If […] the majority of the proletariat were communist […] a United Front wouldn’t be necessary, as the chief condition for a proletarian revolution would have been achieved.’ (p. 109.)

What the LCI opposed was the idea that the abstract interests of the working classes could somehow exist outside the masses themselves, kept unsullied and pristine in an Olympian abode such as the (Stalinist) Party Apparatus. There is no revolutionary practice without revolutionary theory, but no revolutionary theory can become a material force without being tried in the task of guiding concrete working classes’ political activities. At the same time, in a 1933 draft thesis on the Brazilian situation, the LCI caucus stated that Stalinism, in undeveloped countries like Brazil, defined the prospective activities of the Communist parties in terms of instalments: to move away from colonial backwardness towards a developed, ‘mature’ bourgeois democracy. The fact was that such an abstract bourgeois democracy, in Brazilian conditions, could be conceived only as a metaphysical entity, since the practical reality of police and boss repression continued unabated before and after the fall of the oligarchic republic and the relative constitutionality of the early Vargas regime up until 1937. Therefore, what the LCI advocated was for the acknowledgement that

the distinction made by the Communist International programme [in the IC’s Sixth 1929 Congress], between countries ‘immature’ and ‘mature’ for socialism, has nothing Marxist about it [….] The Russian Revolution […] confirmed flatly the perspective of the Permanent Revolution in the sense given to it by Marx, that each revolutionary stage is present in the bud of the preceding stage, hence the uninterrupted development of the revolution, leading directly towards the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The working class, as Trotsky said in 1905 […] could not assure the democratic character of its dictatorship without breaking from its democratic framework. (pp. 125, 126 – italics mine.)

This daring reading of the Permanent Revolution concept should be explained in some detail. Firstly, in their understanding of the trade-unions question, Pedrosa, Xavier and friends toe the Leninist line: the workers’ spontaneous consciousness is shaped by everyday demands, something the CP should accept when developing practical politics among the masses – in this case Vargas’s quasi-state unions – instead of toying with a metaphysical ideal such as the ‘red’ union. But, at the same time, that does not mean that the Left’s political horizon should be confined to bourgeois political normalcy – since such ‘normalcy’ is in itself contradictory, as it does not ‘oppose’ a previous backwardness, but is, at the same time and by the same token, ‘modern’ as well as ‘backward’.

Displaced Ideas and Actual Reality

Much later, during the 1960s and under the aegis of the military dictatorship, the Brazilian literary scholar Roberto Schwarz would coin the notion of ‘displaced ideas [ideias fora do lugar]’ when writing on the socio-politic amalgam between liberalism and slavery forged by the constitutional monarchy in nineteenth-century Brazil: ‘the greatest national issue in our nineteenth century was the defence of the slave trade in the face of British pressure – something that could hardly arouse intellectual enthusiasm’.[6] Interestingly enough, Schwarz forgets the fact that the defence of the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery was also one of the mainstays of contemporary American liberalism, and that US Southern liberals saw nothing ‘displaced’ – or unworthy of intellectual enthusiasm, for that matter – about it. This, in turn, throws light on the – more-or-less contemporary to Schwarz’s dictum – 1970s critique by Perry Anderson of Trotsky’s notion of Permanent Revolution. According to Anderson, ‘Permanent Revolution’ supposes that, since backward national bourgeoisies cannot bring a bourgeois revolution to its ‘completion’, such a task falls to the native proletariat. However, adds Anderson, such a notion depends upon the definition of what constitutes a ‘complete’ bourgeois revolution (Land reform? Parliamentary democracy? Full national independence?) – a task made even more difficult by the fact that it supposes ‘credentials which would never have been made by the advanced capitalist countries themselves [–] which took centuries to achieve bourgeois democracy, for example’.[7] One might add that the only logical solution would be to think of ‘Permanent Revolution’ as a characterisation of the necessarily ‘incomplete’ character of all bourgeois revolutions – even in the most advanced capitalist countries, and even strictly on bourgeois terms – coming to the conclusion that the bourgeois and socialist revolutions are to be considered as forming a single historical continuum.

The Lessons of the 1935 Brazilian Uprising

This explains the nature of the criticisms directed by the LCI at the activity of the CP in 1930s Brazil, in that such activity was at the same time moderate and sectarian. The CP tended to think of its immediate goal in terms of a bourgeois, national revolution – hence its sponsoring and organising of an umbrella organisation, the Alliance for National Liberation (ANL), which was supposed to function simultaneously as an antifascist organisation and as a broad front for a ‘popular national government’. In the words of a 1935 LCI tract, the ANL was a Babel of people from different classes, activities and ideologies, sharing a common feeling of dissatisfaction towards Vargas’s regime, in addition to a vague nationalist striving. Therefore, as the LCI remarked, by setting up such an organisation the CP was recusing itself from its primary task of ideological guidance of the working class in favour of an organisation whose programme was ‘an […] ideological porridge sprinkled with a few pinches of “marxism” […] an insipid nationalist admixture of the most trite variety’ (p. 222). Nevertheless, in order to achieve the goal of a more ‘democratic’ and ‘national’ bourgeois republic, the ANL proposed to resort to sectarian means, i.e. the staging of a military putsch led by disgruntled officers (first of all the former tenente Prestes, the later First Chairman to the BCP). Banking on the support of some ‘progressive’ bourgeois politicians, such as the caucus of the ‘socialist’ Rio de Janeiro mayor Pedro Ernesto, the ANL expected to make a kind of ‘reconnaissance-in-force’ into bourgeois mass politics.

The CP’s wings were soon clipped when Vargas, in mid-1935, after toying with Ernesto’s demagoguery, banned the ANL on the wave of a media-induced red scare. The CP, however, counting on the supposedly mass support of the ANL, reacted to Vargas’s backlash by puffing itself up, like Aesop’s frog (p. 228). The final result of this policy was to be the late November 1935 ALN military putsch, ruthlessly suppressed by Vargas, which allowed for the institutionalised anti-communist propaganda that would outlast by far Vargas’s dictatorship.

But then, as the LCI noted in another tract, the putsch was, notwithstanding its very modest goals (a ‘national’ and ‘popular’ government) also sectarian, in that the putschists blindly expected to garner support on the strength of supposedly general nationalist feelings shared by the bourgeoisie, the military officers and the radicalised sections of the petite bourgeoisie. That was the point, according to the LCI: the ‘November disaster’ was a disaster in that its practical consequence was to cause the supposedly ‘radicalised’ middle-class – as well as the bourgeois ‘progressives’ – to close ranks, to a man, around Vargas’s regime:

What good was it to Prestes […] to manoeuvre towards the Brazilian bourgeoisie? Did this bourgeoisie let itself be fooled, did it forget its class position? When the time was nigh, all of its factions forswore family quarrels, and closed ranks around the government, helping the general repression as well as each and every one of the measures taken, down to the most infamous. (pp. 249, 250.)

The CP, through the ANL, suffered a most demoralising defeat in that, even when the failed putsch had no avowedly communist goals, its leaders were still being repressed as such (p. 251).

And why was that? Because the bourgeoisie judges events inimical to it according to its class interests; it is not concerned with conscious, avowed goals; ‘contrary to what Prestes & Co. thought, [the bourgeoisie judged the movement] according to the class character of the parties, groups – even individuals – who directed or took a part in it’ (p. 250). A workers’ movement, a Communist-led organisation, no matter how moderate its conscious goals and avowed interests, in itself sets a precedent for the autonomous political activity of the working class and its allies – and that is reason enough for its suppression, the sooner the better.

Therefore – and this perhaps constitutes the most important theoretical contribution of the early Brazilian Trotskyists, in their efforts to ‘generalise’ the notion of Permanent Revolution independently of Trotsky – the struggle for a ‘radical’ (liberal) democracy will simply not do without bearing in mind that the final goal must of necessity be the socialist revolution; a radical, ‘complete’ bourgeois democracy is, when all is said and done, an oxymoron. There are no backward bourgeois revolutions, in the sense that bourgeois democracy is, in and of itself, necessarily backward, incomplete. The struggle for socialism cannot be subsumed under a struggle for ‘democracy’ – the struggle for democracy can be achieved to the full only by ascertaining its class character.

Even if the LCI ceased to function in the repressive backlash that followed Vargas’s turning the regime into a de jure dictatorship from 1937 to 1945, and was unable to function again as a group in the wake of WWII, Trotsky’s murder and the various pre-and post-war splits in the Trotskyist movement, the contributions of its members to Marxist literature are still very much with us. And what is meant by this ‘with us’? I dare say that the worth of this collection of almost-lost and now-recovered documents by little-known activists writing about obscure and long-forgotten political happenings in a backward country resides in the fact that they are to be taken as more than mere historical sources. If, during the early 1970s, Perry Anderson willingly accepted the accuracy of Trotsky’s historical account of the Russian Revolution in ‘Permanent Revolution’ terms, he was at the same time reluctant to accept the notion of the ‘permanence of the revolution’ as general theory.[8] And then we have a group of Brazilian activists who, writing more or less at the same time that the Old Man was writing his magnum opus in Prinkipo, in the complete absence of his guidance, pondering over completely different events and circumstances, reach the same general conclusion: that, even in the absence of a pre-bourgeois Ancien Régime, even with the various bourgeois factions having the ideological field more-or-less entirely to themselves – even then, the mere presence of the working class is enough to make the bourgeoisie as whole close the door to any possibility of deep, lasting bourgeois reformism. That is what makes this collection something more than a collection of sources to a Brazil scholar: the fact that it is a kind of crucial experiment (the notion of the Permanent Revolution, of the socialist revolution as the necessary deepening and continuation of the bourgeois revolution) achieving replicability. It is a case history where the practical difficulties of the Brazilian LO section – its insulation from the Trotskyist movement, as befits the detached character of Brazilian politics – worked to the advantage of general theory.

Coda – Bourgeois Democracy and Fascism

Finally, a side note should be made in order to cover the LCI’s antifascist activities, especially versus the Brazilian 1930s fascistoid movement, Integralism. As a minor tract included in the collection under the pen name ‘Leo’ states, Integralism was different from mainstream fascism in that Brazilian society could never developed a mass base that allowed Hitler to give his movement a bogus ‘revolutionary’ outlook, directed against the bourgeois powers-that-be. Integralism, under a masquerade of uniforms and salutes aping its European counterparts, acted mostly in police politics, its rank-and-file playing the roles of ‘stool pigeons, thugs and fakers of manifestations […] paid agents for unpopular politicians’ – updated versions of the ‘red carnation’ thugs employed during the 1920s by oligarchic president Arthur Bernardes as bodyguards and hit men, and as such identified by the carnations worn on their lapels (p. 337). Hence, the relative ease with which a group of LCI activists – acting in tandem with the Stalinists, by a confluence of fortunate circumstances – dispersed a Integralist rally in São Paulo in late 1934 (‘the flight of the green chickens’ – in reference to the fascists’ green shirt uniform). However, the relative weakness of a fascist movement, contenting itself on scraps from the state apparatus, is, in itself – wrote Leo – no grounds for optimism; on the contrary, it is a hallmark of the fact that in a moment of sharpening of the class struggle, ‘the bourgeoisie reserves [to fascism] a greater role than the role learned Bernardes reserved for his cheaply-bought red carnation men’ (p. 337).

Perhaps, this is a fitting comment with which to end this paper.




Anderson, Perry 1979, Considerations on Western Marxism, London: Verso.

Marx, Karl 1976, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume One, translated by Ben Fowkes, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Schwarz, Roberto 2014, As ideias fora do lugar: ensaios selecionados, São Paulo: Penguin Classics.

Trotsky, Leon 1953, Histoire de la Révolution Russe, Paris: Éditions Gallimard.

Trotsky, Leon 1969, 1905, suivi de Bilan et Perspectives, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit.

Trotsky, Leon 1976, On China, edited by Russell Block, New York: Pathfinder.

Trotsky, Leon 1982, ‘Uneven and Combined Development and the Role of American Imperialism’, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932–33, edited by George Breitman and Sarah Lovell, New York: Pathfinder.

Último Segundo 2010, ‘Há 80 anos, passar o réveillon ao som de orquestra e cardápio refinado custava aproximadamente R$ 60’, 15 September, available at: <…;.



[1] Trotsky 1982, p. 116.

[2] Trotsky 1953; 1969.

[3] Trotsky 1976.

[4] Marx 1976, p. 125.

[5] Cf. Último Segundo 2010.

[6] Schwarz 2014, p. 4.

[7] Anderson 1979, p. 119.

[8] Ibid.