Popular Action, a statement

Image: Nikola Tomašić


The dilemmas arose within the AP and lasted until 1968, when a large, reasonable part of the Popular Action became radicalized and went into armed struggle.


My approach to Popular Action (AP) took place in two ways. Student politics, high school, where we broke the hegemony of the Gaucho right with the candidacy of Aluízio Paraguassu Ferreira for president of UGES, in the 1960s. I was in my second year of high school. And also for Catholic Action, of which I was part of for a short period of time, even though I was no longer a Catholic in the meaning of the word. These are the two paths that led me to Popular Action.

From a political-organizational point of view, the União Gaúcha dos Estudantes Secundários (UGES) was part of the national system União Brasileira dos Estudantes Secundários, dominated by the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) since its inception. When we entered UGES – Aluízio Paraguassu, Hélio Gama Filho, José Luís Fiori, Hélio Corbellini, myself and a group of other people, all of the same age and from high school, we became part of the Brazilian Union of Secondary Students system with a left-wing participation, contrary to the position of the previous boards which in Rio Grande do Sul were dominated by Victor Faccioni and Hugo Mardini, both later federal deputies in the support body for the 1964 dictatorship and major national right-wing leaders. We broke this cycle and left Rio Grande do Sul's isolation in the secondary political system and entered the national system.

I was a student at Colégio Rosário, in my second year. I did the first year of Scientific (as one of the branches of secondary education was then called) and then in the following two years of so-called Classical education, at the same Marist school, in Porto Alegre.

My family was traditionally Catholic. They were always supporters of Catholic conservatism, although they did not attend church as recommended by the militant Catholic manual. However, the orientation was quite conservative from a political and social point of view. And they only trusted education if it was a confessional education. That was my case, when I entered Colégio Rosário.

Friendships in the student movement were important because I was close to many people who were from the Communist Party. In most cases, however, they were people on the left linked to PT, at the time the party promoted by Leonel Brizola in the 1960s, in Rio Grande do Sul. It was a great influence mainly from the independent, non-communist left, which brought me closer to these currents policies.

Leonel Brizola

When Legality occurred, I was secretary of national affairs at the União Gaúcha de Estudantes Secundários and participated in the defense operations of Palácio Piratini against the coup attempt in 1961.

My interest in politics has always been very strong because, despite being conservative, my family was very politicized in the sense of participating in many debates, always with positions on the right. Which led me, by contradiction, to have more advanced and libertarian positions. At that time, I was very influenced by the thinking of Christian Democracy, especially the Italian aspect, which supported the Christian Democratic Party, which at that time was in power.

The rise of Leonel Brizola, first in the municipality, then in the government of the State of Rio Grande do Sul was the great catalyst for my militant position. It was what led me to a deeper and more responsible activism.


I always read a lot of authors who came from left-wing Christianity, such as those who gave rise to Liberation Theology, as well as classic Marxist texts that were always read, even in secondary school. In literature, at that time, my generation was very excited by authors like Jorge Amado, who had a great influence on an entire generation of young people at that time.

An important author at that time, who only existed in French and was extremely important in the formation of us all, was anthropologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin, who in a certain way was a harbinger of the era based on internet communications. This was still in the 1950s when he traveled to Asia, Japan and China to develop his theories. He was a top-quality Jesuit and I read a lot in French. Some of his several books on religious life are notable, especially on the world that emerged from communication.

His fundamental thesis was that this intelligence generated by communication would be the great reference for all countries and populations in future relations. In a way, he foreshadows authors who came later. Another author who was very important was Aldous Huxley, on the modern world, and George Orwell, with 1984.

political action

I was a boy and one of the projections I made was that I would be a professional politician. I thought I was a federal deputy. Obviously this never happened. I even painted a wall in my house – on the top floor of Farmácia Santos, owned by my father – with the text “For federal deputy: Benício Schmidt. I think it is still painted there today.

We had a very close group: Hélio Gama Filho, Hélio Corbellini, Raul Portanova, who was close to the Communist Party. We were all very close to each other and we exchanged some literature almost every day, we exchanged books, magazines and had a discussion that was practically daily. After that, I got closer to left-wing Catholic leaders, such as Professor Ernani Fiori, of whom I was later a student at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. Fiori and Leônidas Xausa.

Leônidas Xausa was absolutely decisive, both at that moment and later, when I decided to abandon my beginning career as a lawyer and dedicate myself to teaching studying Political Science, completing my Master's and Doctorate. Leônidas Xausa was the main adult responsible for these changes and was the main source of bibliographical reference for me and for this small group – basically Paulo Crochemore and Hélio Gama Filho, apart from those who belonged to other groups, such as the Communist Party.

Ernani Fiori and Leônidas Xausa were militants of Ação Popular. Especially Xausa was very active, holding weekly meetings at his home. True political evenings in which a lot was examined and a lot of reflection was made. The authorities from Ação Popular or Ação Católica on the left who went to Rio Grande do Sul always passed by Leônidas Xausa's house and those evenings.

AP membership

It was right at the beginning. Ação Popular was officially founded at a congress in Salvador, in February 1963, through a base document that was basically written by Father Henrique de Lima Vaz, a Jesuit with a very high degree in Hegelian philosophy. The organization process began in 1959. I have the impression that in 1960, when it was organized in Rio Grande do Sul, I was one of the first adherents to the leaders that the group had in Rio Grande do Sul, who were Leônidas Xausa, Ernani Maria Fiori , Francisco Ferraz and Hélgio Trindade.

The basic text was the Salvador document. It was the launch of Ação Popular, our “Communist Manifesto”. It was written almost entirely by Father Vaz and Luiz Alberto Gomes de Souza, a civil theologian who recently died in Rio de Janeiro, brother of the great actor Paulo José, among other things. They were the main writers of this document, reproduced in full in the book Images of the Revolution – Political documents of clandestine left-wing organizations from 1961-1971 organized by Daniel Aarão Reis Filho and Jair Ferreira de Sá.

The same volume contains the second key document for understanding the evolution of the AP, the “Basic Program” for converting the AP into AP-ML, dated March 1971, according to which it is established that “The new Popular Action is guided by the principles universal scientific concepts of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism”.

This document was taken to Rio Grande by some people, by some priests who had attended the congress in Salvador and was disseminated among the Catholic Student Youth (JEC) and the Catholic University Youth (JUC), which was very well organized in Rio Grande do Sul, especially JUC, under the command of figures such as Carlos Walter Aumond, now residing in São Paulo and who was a major executive at Hidroservice. There the document was brought to the scope of the Catholic Student Youth of which I was a part and to JUC, which was made up of staff who were a little more veteran than my generation strictly speaking. In other words: I joined AP via JEC and JUC.

As can be seen in the aforementioned book, the document established that “… the AP will increasingly play the role of promoting and guiding each mobilization, supporting it through direct interventions and through the coordinated action of its militants within the current structures of power. It sets itself the task of developing a new society with the people, based on their contributions.” We are talking, therefore, about a political organization that distances itself from Christian democracy and identifies itself as a movement that aims at “revolutionary preparation”, as the last paragraph of the document says.

The history of AP goes back to 1968/69, when there was a big split between the group that joined the armed struggle and ended up joining other acronyms, such as PCdoB. I abandoned the group because it no longer made sense to participate in a divided group, although I was part of and remained close to the Popular Action reference group, which included figures like Paulo de Tarso, who was João Goulart's Minister of Education, and included Betinho , who was a prominent figure throughout his life and after the introduction of the popular action document in the JUC. Betinho was a bigger star.

Basic reforms

The basic reforms were much discussed and drafted to take them to João Goulart who dedicatedly disseminated them, especially in a terrible rally on March 13, 1964. These reforms had a very large participation of the left-wing clergy already sheltered by Ação Popular, such as Father Vaz and other episcopal figures at that time, as leaders in the university movement, such as Vinicius Caldeira Brandt and Betinho. Vinicius became president of UNE. Betinho has always been the gray eminence in this movement and was an important part in the promulgation of basic reforms that also included the very effusive participation of Minister Paulo de Tarso and other São Paulo cadres, especially.

The AP participated in the entire mobilization in support of the basic reform movement, so much so that after the coup many of its activists and leaders were seriously punished, arrested and tortured. The AP has always been up to its neck in the basic reform movement on a national scale.

There was support along with other left-wing parties, but the participation of the AP was fundamental, especially in the academic world, with the presence that was fully adopted by the figure of Paulo Freire. The AP staff were great educators of the Paulo Freire mission throughout Brazil from Pernambuco. Most of the activists in the literacy crusade using Paulo Freire's method were members of the AP. Including in Rio Grande do Sul. I myself was part of the Paulo Freire brigade. I even taught some people who later became soldiers to read and write and one of them, ironically, arrested me, after 64, after giving me a few “rubs”. A corporal from the Military Brigade. Marco Aurélio Garcia and I were beaten by my literate student.

The method was revolutionary, it had always been revolutionary and we were very committed. I remember trips we took in the suburbs of Porto Alegre and in the interior of the state through the União Gaúcha de Estudantes Secundários, which was actually an instrument of education rather than pure representation of the student movement, at that time very dispersed.

We, all from AP, but within UGES, in the early 1960s, went on great theater and cinema tours. I myself wrote a play called The Current which was a real-socialist manifesto on the possibility of uniting left-wing Catholics in Ação Popular and the Brazilian Communist Party in a reform movement that in Brazil began to solidify from 1961, when the attempted coup against the Presidency of the Republic.

Lawyers, engineers, doctors

Many lawyers participated in the movement and were with it until 1968. Lawyers were always led by Leônidas Xausa, who was minister of the Municipal Audit Court and was a councilor for the PDC. He was Brizola and Loureiro da Silva's preferred candidate to succeed Loureiro in the mayorship of Porto Alegre (1960-1964), but Xausa had a heart attack and had to reduce his work to law practice and teaching while it was possible, at the University. Federal, where he was the inspiration for the future Department of Political Science at UFRGS. But lawyers had a lot of participation, especially young lawyers linked to the agrarian movement that later resulted in the creation of João Pedro Stedile's MST.

Engineers had a large participation in Popular Action, especially students from the Faculty of Engineering at UFRGS, counterbalancing the great power that the Brazilian Communist Party had in the Faculty of Engineering and the DCE at UFRGS. In both, the hegemonic position of the Communist Party and the first major challenge came from the formation of Popular Action at the Faculty of Engineering and later at the Faculty of Architecture of Porto Alegre.

Very few doctors. The elitism inherent to a career in medicine prevented regimentation. I remember that one of our representatives at the Faculty of Medicine was the nephew of none other than Armando Câmara, the stalwart of the Gaucho right-wing and later Senator of the Republic, a position from which he resigned, and died as an exemplary right-winger. Armando Câmara's nephew, who lived with him, was, ironically, our battering ram, our most important presence at the Faculty of Medicine. Unfortunately, he tragically passed away on a sailing trip in the Guaíba delta, whilst still a medical student. But doctors' adherence was very low.

Relationships with professional politics

Many politicians were sympathetic, although none of them had explicit adherence to Popular Action. The approaches took place within the scope of the Legislative Assembly of Rio Grande do Sul. Politicians such as Cândido Norberto, and in the Chamber of Councilors, of which Xausa had been a member for the Christian Democratic Party and which had great support in the Zachia family (whose main representative at time, José Alexandre Zachia state deputy for the PDC from 1959 to 1963, later regional president of Arena, the party supporting the military regime).

But politicians officially did not adhere to Popular Action. Cases like the one in São Paulo, with Paulo de Tarso, are rare. In Rio Grande do Sul there was no such official membership, although in practice there was a lot of coexistence and influence of Ação Popular over members of the Legislative Assembly, mainly from the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC).

Brizola treated the AP with great respect. I, for example, was a regional leader for a while, and I have nothing but words of gratitude for the respect with which Brizola treated us. He listened to our positions in private and always had explanations to give and always asked for suggestions. Brizola was exemplary in conducting dialogue with this political force.

Brizola was the most eminent figure who persisted in the conversation with the group, including during the events that culminated in the 1964 coup d'état. Brizola was always very open and democratic in listening to all forces, especially with us he took very special care. In fact, I must make a mention: on the eve of the 64 coup, at the end of 1963, there was a Popular Action convention to choose the candidate for the first direct election for the presidency of the UEE. At that time we already had hegemony over the UEE under the presidency of Roberto Brinco and Paulo Crochemore. Brinco died, an engineering student, in the UEE car, before the coup.

But when the coup came, we had hegemony, the presidency of the UEE. Popular action met and decided that the candidates, in alliance with the Communist Party, would be me and Paulo Odone, later deputy and president of Grêmio and a great lawyer. On the eve of the decision as to which of us would be the candidate in the election, which would count on around ten thousand votes from university students from all over Rio Grande, I was called to do military service in the CPOR. I presented myself to the CPOR infantry and I was desperate because if I stayed in the CPOR, first I knew that a coup d'état or a very strong military operation was coming to interrupt the democratic circuit. That was January '64.

Secondly, I could not be a candidate for president of the UEE. So, guided by several older people who belonged to the group and by the UEE leadership, we went to speak to Brizola and he was immensely courteous. He made a call to General Osvino Ferreira Alves to welcome me and dismiss me from CPOR. That was on a Thursday. On Saturday I went to the general's residence, introduced myself and he, in front of me, called the CPOR commander and on Monday I was released with a third class certificate from military service, thanks to Brizola's interference. I escaped that one, by the way.

The Christian Democratic Party of Rio Grande do Sul had a lot of influence from Brizola and the widows and followers of former mayor Loureiro da Silva. But the party's hegemony was held by deeply reactionary people, right-wing Catholics like Adolfo Puggina, today an emeritus inspirer of very reactionary positions. The relationship with the Communist Party was very good, especially because of the coalition experiences in the academic centers of the Faculty of Law, Philosophy and the DCE of UFRGS and UEE, where hegemony was divided between us – Ação Popular and the Communist Party .

It is also due to the very courteous and convivial position with the PC due to the presence of Marco Aurélio Garcia, for example, in the Party's ranks. Our alliance was very interesting and was, in a way, exemplary, taken as an example by Ação Popular in Brazil, as seen at the UNE congress in Santo André, where I was considered to be present at the Brazilian Union of Secondary Students (UBES ). I gave up because I would have to become a professional in the third year of the classic, right on the eve of the entrance exam. So, we decided that instead of my candidacy, we would support a candidate from the Communist Party and was elected, then, marvel the heavens, ironically, Políbio Braga, today a member of the Brazilian right.

He would be my vice-president and the vice-president went to a colleague from Ação Popular, a doctor then a high school student, Estevão dos Santos, who liked Rio Grande so much that he settled in Porto Alegre and ended his career as a doctor there. A man from Pará from Santarém. He was president together with the then communist Políbio Braga.


We were all fans of European Labour. I remember that a widely read author on that occasion was Harold Laski. It was widely read and discussed and was somehow taken to the Faculty of Social Sciences at UFGRS as a bibliography in Leônidas Xausa's courses. And even the discussion of laborism in terms of relations with Italian Christian Democracy was the subject of some reflections by professor Ernani Maria Fiori in the philosophy and metaphysics courses that I attended as a student at the Faculty of Philosophy.

Alberto Pasqualini was always seen with some prejudice, but he was well read. I remember that I read many books in which he collected his speeches and presentations, but it had little repercussion because there was a lot of influence of Marxist political economy on our thinking and with that Pasqualini was left on the sidelines as a labor politician, but very conciliatory. in its economic and social projections.

The military coup

We discussed the possibility of a military coup, especially in these meetings we had, led by Xausa. And Xausa, on the day of the coup, when we practically took refuge in her house, which was huge, to discuss what to do, Xausa confidently told us not to deceive ourselves, that the coup would last at least 20 years.

An important person in these discussions of the political situation were José Serra, who had been president of UNE, and Vinicius Caldeira Brandt. They traveled around Brazil together with Frei Betto and Betinho and discussed what to do in the event of a coup d'état. These four leaders were very important in the psychological preparation for what happened as a disaster in 1964.

The dilemmas were already present then and lasted until 1968, when a large, reasonable part of Popular Action became radicalized and went into armed struggle. This was already present in the discussions with the leaders I mentioned, although none of them, neither then nor later, adhered to the militarist position. Everyone abandoned the group that remained an “intelechy” until today as a reference group, but without organicity, without direction, without hegemony.

Armed resistance was much debated and desired by members, especially from the Popular Action of Bahia and Rio Grande do Sul. Some of them, such as a doctor who was a member of the Guerrilha do Araguaia and died, demanded a military reaction to which the group did not adhere in its entirety.

Everyone knew that the so-called “Jango's military scheme was very weak and our main formulation was that of Leônidas Xausa and especially the warnings given in the meetings we had outside the palaces with Leonel Brizola. Brizola always warned that the coup would come and that we were not prepared for any type of resistance. As inmates, Brizola was always very realistic, tragically realistic.

The AP's position was to resist as much as possible, within the apparatus set up by the presumed hero of the resistance, General Assis Brasil, who revealed himself to be a fake news…

At that moment, we thought that the most important thing was to maintain the group, the existence of the group, avoid arrests and deaths, torture; prevent forms of solidarity from being broken, which I believe, we managed. Many people suffered a lot, but the group is not known for betrayals in the sense of adhering to the 1964 order. It was a resistance group that, as a culture of resistance, in a way remains today, disseminated among those who are still survivors.

From 1965 onwards, the vision of Ação Popular was that the political situation would truly become radical. And in this sense, the main leaders who voiced this position won. The group became radicalized and the order was to disappear from the map and resist as much as possible in the elections, especially in the unions and universities...


At that time, many joined the MDB, but generally in subordinate positions, as advisors, not as parliamentarians or party leaders. This was, for example, the position in Rio Grande, in support of forces that were not exactly socialist, such as Pedro Simon, who was always very supported because he came from the PDC, in Caxias do Sul, and always had many connections with the clergy and with Catholic Action and then with Popular Action, but the AP always entered there in subordinate positions with very rare exceptions.

It was a group decision. Especially because the most effusive leaders of the movement, such as José Serra, were impeached in every way. José Serra, for example, would have been able to be a candidate like Paulo de Tarso and many others, but they were obliterated because they participated in many pre-64 movements and as a result, we did not have strong leaders to compete for hegemony within the MDB.

*Benicio Viero Schmidt is a retired professor of sociology at UnB. Author, among other books, of The State and urban policy in Brazil (LP&M).

Statement given to journalist Carlos Müller.

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