In defense of Florestan Fernandes

March at USP in favor of surpluses, Jornal do Brasil, March 14, 1968.


The bosses' dictatorship is now turning, on the eve of May 1st, to strike the university, retiring professors who stand out for the highest teaching standards in the country, as is the case of professor Florestan Fernandes.[I]

We cannot allow, comrades, in any way the removal of this and other USP professors perpetrated by a government whose only authority rests on the arms of ½ a dozen generals. For a government that does not have the support of any sector of the population, including broad layers of the bourgeoisie itself. For a government that after the 5th act of the April farce is becoming demoralized with each passing day, because in the name of force it released dozens and dozens of decrees in the square without having the strength to comply with them. The decree that establishes penalties for students and teachers, for example, clearly reveals the stupidity of the military who think they are fighting the revolution through decrees!

They say that there was a “qualitative change” in the character of repression after the 5th act. Mistake, comrades. In fact, the December coup developed the same process of repression that has already existed since 64. The same cowardly repression that seeks to stifle the struggles of the Student movement by blackmailing some student leaders, going to classrooms disguised as the press in search of some colleagues .

Where is the much vaunted and mythologized force of repression that had to watch immobile the boycott of the Social Sciences entrance exams? Nothing has changed mates. It is not the first time that Crusp has been invaded and it is not the first time that teachers and students have been persecuted.[ii] If today we let Florestan Fernandes' head roll, setting a serious precedent, tomorrow the incident could happen again with other teachers.[iii] If we remain passive in the face of the Crusp occupation and the expulsion of teachers, then repression will feel strong enough to continue its arbitrary actions. A political movement organized by UEE, Grêmio and Centrinhos aiming to return Crusp is already long overdue. It is time for UEE and Grêmio to call general assemblies to discuss the issue of Crusp and the fired teachers.

May 1st

In 1968, on the day of the workers' struggle, students joined the working class in the demonstrations in Pça da Sé that culminated in the expulsion with stick and stone of the intervener Sodré from the platform set up by the union fighters; then, shoulder to shoulder with the workers, the students participated in a march shouting through the streets “Only the strike brings down the arrocho” and showing, in practice, the need for the ME to unite its struggles with the workers' struggles. [iv] On this May 1st 69, workers hope that once again students will participate in public demonstrations in repudiation of the bosses' dictatorship and wage cuts. It's time to take to the streets our protest against the occupation of Crusp and against the dismissal of Florestan and his colleagues, on the day that marks the struggle of Brazilian workers against the bosses' dictatorship and for the strike against arrocho!

Proposals for the social sciences assembly

(1) That the Assembly be transformed into a general assembly of the Grêmio or UEE;

(2) Appeal to retired teachers to disregard the decree and return to classes;

(3) Boycott the classes of substitute teachers, holding political discussions during their class hours;

(4) Formation of working groups, aiming to continue the struggles at the University and the May 1st demonstrations;

(5) Decree of a permanent general assembly to discuss: (a) the military occupation in Crusp; (b) dismissal of USP professors; (c) Restructuring and Parity;

(6) 48-hour general strike to protest the occupation of Crusp and the dismissal of teachers.

Out with the CRUSP soldiers!

All power to the parities!

For the immediate return of Professor Florestan Fernandes and other dismissed teachers!

Out with the trade unions!

All power to company committees!

Only the strike expels the CRUSP soldiers!

Only the strike brings down the crunch!

Student movement May 1st – Social Sciences section

April 28, 1969. [v]

May 1st Student Movement (ME1M).[vi]

Research, editing and notes Paulo Fernandes Silveira.


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BNM 009. 1-2. Criminal Action 207/69-A. Appeal STM 39.111. National Liberation Action (ALN). Project Brazil: Never Again, Federal Public Ministry. Available in:

Letter from Florestan Fernandes (2006). Perseus Abramo Foundation. Available in:

CELESTE FILHO, Macioniro (2006). University reform and the University of São Paulo – 1960s. (Doctorate in Education). Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, São Paulo. Available in:

COGGIOLA, Osvaldo (1995). Florestan Fernandes and socialism, Adusp Magazine, no. 4, p. 34-38. Available in: Eduardo de Oliveira e Oliveira Collection. Special Information and Memory Unit (UEIM), Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar). Available in:

Eduardo de Oliveira e Oliveira Collection. Special Information and Memory Unit (UEIM), Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar). Available in:

Correio da Manhã, 24/3/1968, Student crisis worsens in SP: surpluses, edition 22995 (1), p. 1. Available at:

Correio da Manhã, 3/5/1968, May Day riots cause impact in SP, edition 1, p. 23024. Available at:

From Florestan Fernandes to the May 1st demonstrations (1969). CEDEM/CEMAP/FM-04, UNESP.

FERNANDES, Florestan (1979). Free higher education. In. Brazilian university: reform or revolution? São Paulo: Alfa-Omega, p. 129-153.

FERNANDES, Florestan (2008). The “Brazilian revolution” and intellectuals. In. Class society and underdevelopment. São Paulo: Global, p. 159-170.

Folha de S. Paul, Official army statement announces intervention in CRUSP, edition 14.430, p. 11. Available at:

IPM – CRUSP (1969). Report – Years – 1968 – 1969. Ministry of the Army. Available in:

JANOTTI, Maria (2021). College of Application of the University of São Paulo (1955-1970), RIDPHE-R Iberoamerican Magazine of Historical-Educational Heritage, v. 7, p. 1-40. Available in:

Newspapers in Brazil, 12/9/64, Professor wrote to the colonel and was arrested, edition 216, p. 12. Available at:

Newspapers in Brazil, 14/9/64, Faculdade de São Paulo puts DOPS on standby, edition 218, p. 4. Available at:

Newspapers in Brazil, 14/3/68, Student march for traffic in S. Paulo but police do not intervene, edition 291, p. 17. Available at:

Newspapers in Brazil, 23/3/68, Dismissal of 2 teachers worsens the student crisis in Philosophy of São Paulo, edition 299, p. 16. Available at:

Newspapers in Brazil, 31/3/68, Professor withdraws dismissal request, but confirms his socialist conviction, edition 306, p. 17. Available at:

Newspapers in Brazil, 17/7/68, Public force intervenes in the strike in Osasco and arrests 34, edition 84, p. 14. Available at:

Newspapers in Brazil, 4/10/68, Sodré orders the occupation of schools to avoid student struggles, edition 152, p. 7. Available at:

Newspapers in Brazil, 14/10/68, São Paulo police arrest Vladimir and 1239 others at the former UNE Congress, edition 160, p. 1. Available at:

Newspapers in Brazil, 14/12/68, Government issues Institutional Act and places Congress in recess for an indefinite period, edition 213, p. 1. Available at:

Newspapers in Brazil, 26/4/69, Costa e Silva retires another 44 employees based on AI-5, edition 16, p. 3. Available at:

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Newspapers in Brazil, 8/5/69, Sodré will choose among three who will direct USP during Gama e Silva's leave, edition 26, p. 4. Available at:

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Democracy Memorial. Regime throws Une and UEES into illegality. Available in:

OLIVEIRA, Tiago (2018). Between the criticism of weapons and the weapons of criticism: Trotskyists in the military dictatorship (1968-1973). A contribution to the history of Trotskyism in Brazil. (Doctorate in Social History). Fluminense Federal University, Niterói. Available in:

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[I] Between 64 and 68, Florestan Fernandes established an intense relationship with the student movement.

On September 9, 1964, Florestan sent a letter to Lieutenant-Colonel Bernardo Schoman protesting against the fact that the faculty of philosophy and other institutes at USP were being investigated by the military police (Letter from Florestan Fernandes, 2006). Florestan was arrested for this (Newspapers in Brazil, 12/9/1964). The students were in solidarity with the professor: “Students at the philosophy faculty will not return to classes until professor and sociologist Florestan Fernandes is released by the IPM authorities” (Last Minute, 14/9/1964, p. two).

A few days later, Florestan was released from prison, his college welcomed him to a party: “The student Fuad Daher Saad, president of the Grêmio, led the professor among the students. There was pique and more clapping” (Newspapers in Brazil, 14/9/1964, p. two).

Florestan was elected paraninfo of the 1964 graduates in social sciences, class of Eduardo de Oliveira e Oliveira, intellectual and activist of the black movement (Eduardo de Oliveira e Oliveira Collection). In his speech, given on March 23, 1965, Florestan defended the resistance of intellectuals to the dictatorship (FERNANDES, 2008).

In 1967, the student movement began a national campaign in favor of surplus students, students who achieved the necessary marks in the entrance exams, but were unable to obtain places in public universities (CELESTE FILHO, 2006). This campaign brought together university and high school students. Accused of instigating students to enter without authorization a meeting of the philosophy faculty's faculty congregation that would deal with the demand for surpluses and university reform, Florestan threatened to resign (Newspapers in Brazil, 23/3/1968).

Regarding the lack of places for surpluses in universities, Florestan stated: “surpluses are an effect and not the cause of this crisis, which clearly shows the character of the Brazilian university, it is an institution of elites” (Correio da Manhã, 24/3/1968, p. two).

In May 1968, at a conference organized by the Pereira Barreto Academic Center, of the UNIFESP faculty of medicine, Florestan maintained: “It is necessary to pay attention to the problems of popular education and open all schools, including universities, to the people” (1979 , p. 130). In his analyses, Florestan highlighted the enormous disparity in the number of white and black people who have access to public universities: “Although it is clear that the ways of mitigating 'color lines' are not yet universal (they are more effective in Bahia than in São Paulo), it is also clear that a disadvantageous participation in the social structure leads to a kind of 'civil death'. The social strata, thus affected, are systematically deprived of the rights guaranteed by the legal order and only by chance are they able to effectively enjoy them” (1979, p. 138-139).

[ii] The final months of 1968 marked an intensification of repression against university and high school students.

At the beginning of October, the battle of Maria Antônia took place. In an unequal confrontation, Mackenzie students linked to the CCC attacked students who defended the philosophy faculty at USP. Many people were injured, high school student João Guimarães died after being shot in the head (Newspapers in Brazil, 4/10/1968).

According to Franklin Leopoldo e Silva, a philosophy student at the time: “The seriousness of the facts is already well known, but I think it would be worth insisting on some issues: for example, the fact that weapons were taken to Mackenzie; and organized sniper groups in Mackenzie. Chemical weapons were made available to them or, at least, chemical elements that could be used as weapons. All of this shows the active participation of Mackenzie authorities and public security authorities at the time. I think the blame should be shared between the university authorities at Mackenzie and USP, about whom we know the degree of 'reactionism' that led to that type of position. And, therefore, teachers and students who were there, students not only from USP, but also from other schools – from PUC, some from Mackenzie himself (Mackenzie's left), and high school students engaged in the movement – ​​formed a group that as far as it went As possible, until the last moment, he tried to defend the faculty. We only left there when the fire reached such proportions that it was no longer possible for us to remain inside” (2018, p. 228).

The UNE and the UEEs were made illegal following the Suplicy Law, sanctioned by General Castelo Branco on November 9, 1964 (Memorial da Democracia). Since then, UNE congresses have become clandestine.

On October 13, 1968, assisted by DOPS agents, 150 soldiers surrounded the site in Ibiúna where the 30th UNE Congress was taking place (Newspapers in Brazil, 14/10/1968). Hundreds of students were arrested and booked and their leaders were taken to the DOPS: Luis Travassos (president of UNE), José Dirceu (president of UEE-SP), Vladimir Palmeira (president of UME) and Antônio Guilherme Ribas (president of UPES) .

The repression produced several folders, with photos, names and general information of registered students (XXX UNE Congress, 1968). Copies of these folders were kept in the torture rooms to induce the denunciation of other people in the resistance (KILSZTAJN, 2022).

On December 17, 1968, the Public Force and the DOPS invaded the USP Residential Complex (CRUSP) and arrested all the students. The next day, the newspaper Folha de S. Paul only released the army's statement about the invasion (Folha de S. Paul, 18/12/1968).  

According to Wolfgang Leo Maar, at the time a philosophy student and resident of the residential complex: “CRUSP aroused the ire of the regime not only because of its central position in the student organization (it was there the large assembly in which Ibiúna's arrests were discussed), but because it meant a critical space in relation to the moralizing ideological manipulation promoted by the government of the time. The depoliticization of the student movement that was officially promoted had its great counterpoint there: culture and science were seen at CRUSP as necessarily engaged. Politics was considered intrinsic to student life” (MAAR, 2006, s/p).

Among the arrested students was Arkan Simaan, a member of ME1M. The DOPS report states that he “was very active in subversive propaganda in CRUSP, through the distribution of pamphlets, graffiti, posting of posters and participation in meetings and assemblies in which he spoke violently, inciting his colleagues to disorder and struggle against the government” (IPM-CRUSP, s/p).

[iii] On December 13, 1968, the dictatorial government issued Institutional Act No. 5. Paragraph 1 of Article 6 determines: “The President of the Republic may, by decree, dismiss, remove, retire or put into operation availability of any holders of the guarantees referred to in this Article” (Newspapers in Brazil, 14/12/1968, p. two).

On April 26, 1969, newspapers reported the compulsory retirement of 44 public servants, including USP professors: Florestan Fernandes and João Vilanova Artigas (Newspapers in Brazil, 26/4/1969, p. two).

Days later, a new list of compulsorily retired teachers was released, including: Mário Schenberg; Caio Prado Jr.; Fernando Henrique Cardoso; Emilia Viotti; Paula Beiguelman; Octavio Ianni; José Arthur Giannotti and Bento Prado Jr. (Newspapers in Brazil, 30/4/1969, p. two).

In solidarity, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, history professor at USP, requested retirement even before reaching the service time limit (Newspapers in Brazil, 8/5/1969, p. two).

[iv] According to Arkan Simaan, the activist Fábio Munhoz was the one who brought the information that “workers from Osasco wanted to disturb governor Abreu Sodré's speech in Praça da Sé on the 1st of May” (OLIVEIRA, 2018, p. 47).

The celebration organized by the government was supported by union leaders appointed by the governor himself. As soon as he began to speak, the governor was booed and attacked by stones thrown by protesters (Correio da Manhã, 3/5/1968). There was violent police repression, which is why this date became known as Red May (ALMADA; VALLE, 2022).

The event brought together workers, university students and high school students. Red May inspired the creation of ME1M. The movement supported workers' strikes. After the metalworkers' strike in Osasco, in July 1968 (Newspapers in Brazil, 17/7/1968), worker José Ibrahim “took refuge in the residence of actors Francisco Solano and Gabriela Rabelo, then members of ME1M” (OLIVEIRA, 2018, p. 48).

Involved in various political and educational campaigns, such as the campaign in favor of surplus students at public universities, high school students played a fundamental role in the fight against the dictatorship. In the city of São Paulo, one of the main focuses of high school resistance was the USP College of Application (JANOTTI, 2021).

[v] A copy of this leaflet is in the Fábio Munhoz collection, at the Documentation and Memory Center (CEDEM), at UNESP. I am grateful for the important collaboration of Guilherme Machado Nunes, CEDEM historiographer.

This leaflet was found among the books and texts of student Friar Tito de Alencar Lima, seized by DOPS agents in November 1969 (BNM 009. 1-2. Ação Penal 207/69-A. Apelação STM 39.111, p. 267 ). 

[vi] ME1M emerged in 1968. Some founders of the movement participated in the Partido Operário Revolucionário-Trotskyista (POR-T), the fourth generation of the Trotskyist movement in Brazil (OLIVEIRA, 2018). The following were part of ME1M: Fábio Munhoz; Julio Calasso; Mtnos Abdala Calil; Arkan Simaan; Ottaviano de Fiori; Walter Paixão; Francisco Solano; Gabriela Rabelo and Luiz Araújo, whose intellectual collection is found in the Edgard Leuenroth Archive (AEL), at UNICAMP.

In his youth, Florestan Fernandes worked with his friend Hermínio Sacchetta in the Revolutionary Socialist Party (PSR), also linked to the Trotskyist movement (COGGIOLA, 1995).

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