Call to the Brazilian people

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Fernando Sarti Ferreira*

Commentary on the recently launched meeting of Carlos Marighella's writings organized by Vladimir Safatle

The “Explosante” collection by Ubu publishing house, coordinated by Vladimir Safatle, brought to light a series of writings by Carlos Marighella, seeking to reconstruct his trajectory of rupture with the PCB and adherence to the armed struggle in the second half of the 1960s. Authored by the communist leader, “Call to the Brazilian People” reproduces a series of texts and intervention documents written after the 1964 coup, in addition to the book “Why I resisted to prison”, a text published in 1965 and re-edited with the introduction of Antonio Candido and the preface by Jorge Amado for the Federal University of Bahia in conjunction with Editora Brasiliense in 1994.

 As the collection coordinator states, the political moment we are living, mainly since the crisis of the PT governments, is extremely opportune for us to return to our struggles and our fighters of the past, seeking in their reflections, lessons on the permanence and transformations of the conflict society in our country. The initiative is so successful and exciting that it deserved to be expanded: we should republish, re-read and re-discuss our entire historical tradition of struggle. What did the sailors and sergeants who took up arms to defend the Basic Reforms between 1961 and 1963 think? And what about the union leaders – communists and varguists – who rose up in São Paulo during the general strikes of 1957 and 1953? What were the main proposals of the communist councilors and deputies elected in 1946? Wouldn't there be another alternative country project there in germ, aborted by the ruling classes and party bureaucracies? And what about the workers? Didn't they think anything? The National Liberation Alliance? Wouldn't it be interesting to think that Marighella's criticism of authoritarianism and Stalinist immobility could dialogue with those made by Antônio Bernardo Canellas to the newborn PCB? There would be pages and pages listing the need to rescue the reflections made by the anarcho-syndicalists, by the black movement in its most distinct phases, by the feminist movement and by the radical abolitionists of 1880.

Returning to the publication, the starting point of this reconstruction of Marighella's journey is the electrifying “Why I resisted to prison”. Divided into two parts, Marighella narrates at first the outrageous assassination attempt that she suffered on the part of the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro in May 1965. The anecdote of this episode, narrated in the form of a police thriller in the first person, says more than it seems, especially in these times when the President of the Republic is a neighbor and friend of militiamen: the police diligence that almost killed him, for example, was led by a guy who wasn't a police officer - the nephew of Chief Cecil Borér, João Macedo, a kind of Carlucho before la lettre. The description of the performance of these agents of repression is astonishingly current: a sinister mix of a no-frills Brancaleone Army with fifth-rate Gestapo agents.  

The narrative of the assassination attempt and subsequent arrest of Carlos Marighella makes explicit the methods used by the repressive apparatuses of the Brazilian State until today – fraud, paramilitarism, violence, torture, etc. – and introduces the second part of his book, dedicated to the analysis of the meaning and consequences of the April 1964 Coup. Many of the ideas elaborated in this second part are fundamental for the intervention texts written in the following years. Without losing the thriller rhythm, Marighella makes a strong and didactic balance of the 1946-1964 experience, coining a characterization of Brazilian democracy of fundamental importance and of terrible relevance: this would be a rationed democracy. According to Marighella himself, it was like that, because “(…) individual rights were at least respected, but the restrictions on the participation of the people in this democracy were flagrant. And unfair”[1]. The masses, if they had conquered any rights in this democratic regime instituted by the ruling classes, it had been as a result of their struggles. The regime inaugurated in 1946 had as its fundamental characteristic the “(…) ostensive marginalization of the great exploited masses, the proletariat growing without ever reaching the integration of rights required by its role in production. And the peasants completely outside, pariahs of democracy, under the outrageous justification of their condition of backwardness and supreme enslavement to the interests of the landlords”[2]. The largest portion of the ration offered by the 1988 Constitution, in many cases, was not even regulated, and in many others, mainly after the 2016 Parliamentary Coup, it was even reduced.

This concept and the reflections present in the rest of the text have very important consequences for Marighella's next steps in her process of breaking with the reformism that then dominated the PCB. For the revolutionary, it was this democracy that, by its very structure, “constituted in itself an obstacle to the realization of social reforms – the so-called basic reforms”. The peaceful advancement of these reforms in this context was impossible, a reality that was tragically imposed with the April 1964 coup. and throughout the intervention texts, illusions experienced again by the left during the 2016 Coup and still very strong today in the face of the outbursts of Bolsonarist fascism.

The illusion that the expansion of some elements of bourgeois modernity was a fundamental stage for the construction of socialism, even if in a merely formal way, was very old within the PCB. Luís Carlos Prestes, facing the cancellation of the registration of the PCB by the TSE in 1947, wrote: “For us, the weapons of democracy are enough to fight against the dictatorship. It is strictly within the Constitution that we point out to the people the path to follow to re-establish the constitutional order in the country”[3]. Almost twenty years later, in 1966, Marighella questioned the Executive Committee of the PCB: “The executive still thinks about inflicting electoral defeats capable of weakening the dictatorship. And he gives great importance to the MDB, pointing out how capable of allowing the aggregation of broad forces against the dictatorship (...) Isn't this wanting to get rid of the dictatorship smoothly, without offending coup leaders, uniting Greeks and Trojans?"[4]. It can be seen that the strategies of José Eduardo Cardozo in 2015 and 2016 and of the PT itself in 2018, but also of the various sectors that still believe in the need to rebuild the center to face the rabid dog of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, are based on a wide experience losing history.

Faced with the limits of rationed democracy and its treacherous institutionality, it was central for Marighella, therefore, to break with the conception that the Brazilian Revolution would have the national bourgeoisie as its subject. Faced with the opportunity to carry out her democratic and anti-imperialist revolution during the Jango government, she “missed the revolution”. As Marighella explains in her intervention texts, absenteeism occurred because it no longer existed (it is interesting to think that at the same time, Caio Prado stated in his “The Brazilian Revolution” that it would never have existed). This was another of the many illusions that Marighella pointed out and that are still terribly topical in the Brazilian left, whether through the economic policies of the PT governments or in the cirista alternative-fraud: the existence of sectors of the national business community that were committed to a independent and socially progressive national development project. The Brazilian bourgeoisie, an interweaving of big industry, the landowners and the financial system, was not and is not national, nor progressive. It was and is a multi-secular historical instrument of colonialism and imperialism, be it Portuguese, British or American. Its repressive apparatus, military fascism, as Marighella characterizes it, was forged in its image and likeness: it is authoritarian, cruel, ignorant and racist, dismissing, whenever possible, the option of domination by consensus. The Brazilian Military Dictatorship, in this sense, was the open government of the bourgeoisie, without intermediation or counterweights from other sectors and social classes. Moreira Salles, Ermírio Morais, Gastão Vidigal, looked more like Sérgio Paranhos Fleury than Rockefeller or Krupp. The Dictatorship, and why not Bolsonarismo, are the true expressions of the historical action of this class.

By denouncing the need to abandon the imaginary alliance with the national bourgeoisie, as this did not exist as a national group, but as a parasitic and intermediate class of imperialism, Marighella pointed out that the Brazilian Revolution should take place through an alliance between workers and peasants, shifting its center of action to rural areas. Here we also have another interesting and very current suggestion: while Brazilian industrialization was celebrated as an unavoidable reality, Marighella highlighted the need to shift the center of the political dispute to the countryside, giving greater centrality to the agrarian question. After another cycle of the rise of commodities, of deepening ties between finance capital and agricultural production, as well as another Coup d'Etat, shouldn't we reassess once again the centrality of the agrarian question? This issue is not only of enormous importance because it is the cornerstone of the reproduction of Brazilian inequalities, but also because of the brand new and extremely urgent issue related to the environmental collapse caused by imperialist extractivism.  

Finally, there is one last, very up-to-date lesson that Marighella left us. The poor Brazilians in the countryside and in the city will be the only subjects of their emancipation. It is in housing complexes, slums, mocambos and malocas and not in parliamentary commissions or offices of mandates that we must rebuild the left that was “killed”. And she will “die” as many times as long as she believes that she will be able to modulate the rabid dog with the canine institutions. In this exercise of historical reflection on our defeats brought about by the book and the moment of its launch, we must regret: what is missing is the boldness of a thought like Marighella's combined with another great experience built by the Brazilian left: the social capillarity of the PT.

*Fernando Sarti Ferreira Master in History from the University of São Paulo (USP)


Carlos Marighella. Call to the Brazilian people. Organization: Vladimir Safatle. São Paulo, Ubu, 320 pages (

[1][1] “Why I Resisted Arrest” (1965), p. 114.

[2] Ibidem, p. 115.

[3] CARONE, E. The Liberal Republic – Institutions and Social Classes (1945-1964), p. 346 (

[4] “Letter to the Executive Committee of the Brazilian Communist Party” (1966), p. 224.

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