Happy Birthday, Marighella!

Image: Hamilton Grimaldi


Commentary on the life and political trajectory of the communist leader

a mulatto from Bahia

Poet, writer, scholar, rebel, playful, rigorous, coherent, communist, guerrilla fighter, revolutionary. These are just a few adjectives used to characterize what can be considered one of the best Brazilian political figures of the XNUMXth century. In his life trajectory, Carlos Marighella represents the synthesis of an entire process of struggles waged in Brazil: the struggle against colonialism and imperialism, the struggle against the exploitation of blacks, indigenous peoples, women and the working class, and a uncompromising defense of national sovereignty and the interests of the Brazilian people.

The “mulatto baiano”, as he called himself, was the son of Augusto Marighella, an anarchist worker and Italian immigrant, with Maria Rita do Nascimento, a black Hausa descendant of Africans brought from Sudan and known, in Bahia, for the seditions against slave owners during the 05th century. Born in Salvador, on December 1911, 1932, he grew up in Baixa dos Sapateiros and was the only one, among his seven siblings, who had the opportunity to study. His parents noticed his inclination towards reading and poetry, encouraged his intellectual training and supported him to enroll in the Engineering course at the Polytechnic School of Bahia. He chose his path early on, which could only be that of fighting for freedom. Soon, he organized himself with the communist militancy, when he participated in several actions and popular demonstrations in the capital of Bahia. He was imprisoned for approximately one year for writing poems denouncing the authoritarianism and censorship practiced by the intervenor Juracy Magalhães, in XNUMX. Despite family encouragement, Marighella abandoned the engineering course due to an intense feeling of revolt in the face of social injustice that did not allow him to “to pursue a degree in a country where children were forced to work to eat”[I].

Communist militant: prisons and clandestinity

In 1936, he moved to Rio de Janeiro and became a member of the Central Committee of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), with the mission of helping to reorganize the “Partidão”, which at that time was under violent repression by Vargas’ political police after the frustrated insurrection of 1935. In May, he was arrested during the Labor Day demonstrations and tortured for 23 days with punches, kicks, pins under his nails, cigarette burns all over his body and the soles of his feet. He withstood everything and did not give anyone away. He spent a year in prison, without the right to trial, until he was released by the “macedada”[ii]Freed, Marighella moved to São Paulo and soon went underground. He was arrested again, in 1939. This time, he was imprisoned for six years, during the entire period of the Estado Novo dictatorship. He was in prisons in São Paulo, then transferred to Fernando de Noronha and, finally, to Ilha Grande.

In prison, Marighella studied, wrote, organized plays, literate her cellmates and learned to speak English. With the Nazi defeat and the end of the Second War, the Estado Novo was overthrown and Marighella was finally released. In 1945, during the constituent elections, he was elected federal deputy for the PCB of Bahia, which at that point was authorized to operate legally in Brazil, and actively participated in the implementation of the 1946 Constitution. US pressure and the demands of the Cold War led to the removal of the PCB the following year. Marighella once again went underground, a situation that remained until Juscelino Kubitschek's government, when he was able to use his real name again.

The 1964 coup and repression: “freedom can only be defended by resisting”

After the 1964 military coup, Marighella was once again chased by the police who invaded his home and maintained an incessant search for the communist militant. In May of that year, upon realizing that he was being followed, he entered a movie matinee, in Barra da Tijuca, full of children. The agents of repression invaded the cinema and fired shots that hit Marighella in the chest. Even wounded, he resisted arrest shouting “Down with the fascist military dictatorship!”, “Long live Democracy!”, “Long live the Communist Party!”. He spent a year in prison, part of that time incommunicado, being constantly transferred between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo for interrogations, occasions in which he demonstrated his convinced audacity and did not stop propagating communism inside the police station.

Upon being released, Marighella, denounced the crime of “the political police who fired a shot at an unarmed man”[iii]. In 1965, he launched the book “Why I resisted to prison”, using ironic and acid language, called for resistance to the coup and the authoritarian advance, and denounced, with details that provoke nausea in the reader, the torture methods used by the police against prisoners.

According to Marighella, his act of resistance to arrest was a way of setting an example to fellow party members who accepted the 1964 coup and decided to practice institutional opposition to the regime. He denounced that the parties in operation, ARENA and MDB, served the dictatorship to make international public opinion believe that there was political freedom in Brazil. For him, the political struggle should not only be carried out bureaucratically, but through direct actions against US imperialism which, from 1964 onwards, transformed Brazil into a base of operations with foreign companies that owned and controlled all agricultural and industrial production. Faced with disagreements with the Party's guidelines and under the strong influence of revolutionary movements in Algeria, Vietnam and Cuba, he left the PCB. He opted for armed resistance as a revolutionary alternative because he considered the country's situation unacceptable.

Guerrilla: “conformism is death”.

Marighella claimed that he had no time to be afraid and, at the end of 1967, he founded the National Liberation Action (ALN) which soon became the largest guerrilla organization against the dictatorship and raised Marighella to the infamous rank of terrorist "enemy number 1" of the government. The guerrillas should show that there were those who did not conform to the regime and sought, in direct action, a form of political combat. The ALN's plan consisted of fighting against the dictatorship, for democratic freedoms, cutting ties with imperialism in order to favor the development of culture and education to guarantee national sovereignty.

Marighella theorized the revolutionary struggle[iv], but he also placed himself at the forefront of actions, as a leader who does not abandon the battle trenches. Among the countless acts carried out by the guerrillas, we can highlight the taking over of Rádio Nacional, with the aim of broadcasting throughout the country the manifesto written by Marighella that called on the working class to resist, and the capture of the US ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick, released after the release of 15 political prisoners by the regime. If the military's persecution of left-wing groups and organizations was brutal, after the so-called “kidnapping” of the ambassador it became implacable. Repression improved, became more sophisticated and acted with great violence. The objective was not just to arrest the guerrillas, but to physically annihilate them and destroy their organizations.

Marighella knew that kidnapping the ambassador was too bold an action and that the guerrillas would not be able to face the reaction of repression. He learned of the act only after it was performed by his companions. As a leader, he did not denounce the initiative of the young people who carried out the capture without his knowledge and consent, but publicly assumed responsibility for the action. Even after numerous arrests and deaths of guerrilla members, Marighella remained in São Paulo out of a sense of responsibility and solidarity with her comrades arrested and murdered by the police.

“Killed in Defense of Liberty”

In 1969, the ALN maintained contact with Dominican Friars who contributed to resistance to the regime. Sérgio Paranhos Fleury, the feared chief of police – involved in murders, torture, disappearances and drug trafficking - was responsible for leading the hunt for “enemy number 1”. After discovering the location of Marighella's contacts, Fleury took everyone from the convent to the DOPS[v] and personally tortured the Dominican friars in search of information about Marighella and the Guerrilla. After humiliating abuse and torture, the friars gave in to their aggressors and allowed themselves to be used as bait to lure Marighella to a meeting point where Fleury and her henchmen were lying in wait.

On November 4, 1969, at 20 pm, at Alameda Casa Branca, at the age of 58, Carlos Marighella was cowardly murdered by the political police, commanded by Fleury, with four shots at close range that did not offer the victim conditions of defense.[vi]. Along with his corpse, a revolver was found – which Marighella never used against Fleury's gang – ammunition and two cyanide capsules, Marighella's personal guarantee that he would not be captured alive again by repression. The photo of his bloodied corpse in the back seat of a VW Beetle was featured in the newspapers and magazines the next day, which carried the false version pointing to his death as a result of an exchange of fire with the police. The images of torture and Marighella's body are proof that it was the Brazilian State, in fact, that practiced terror against its population.

Marighella was buried as an indigent in the Vila Formosa cemetery. In 1979, his remains were transferred to the Quinta dos Lázaros cemetery, in Salvador, whose tomb was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and contains the epitaph “I didn't have time to be afraid”. In 1996, the Ministry of Justice acknowledged the State's responsibility for his death, but only in 2012 was his amnesty made official. postmortem and Marighella could finally be recognized for what he really was: a fighter killed in defense of freedom.

“You have to not be afraid, you have to have the courage to say it”[vii]

When one thinks of all the Brazilian revolutionary processes – from the Inconfidentes, passing through the Malês Revolts, the Canudos and Contestado movements to the direct action of the Guerrillas – it is possible to find a common point: all were violently repressed by the State due to their legitimate demand for bread, land, work and a dignified life for all. What would Brazilian history be without these episodes?

If he were alive, in 2020, Carlos Marighella would be 109 years old. I wonder how he would act in the face of the current situation in our country, economically devastated after the 2016 coup, molested by the pandemic under the incompetence of a genocidal ruler, supporter of torture and dictatorship torturers. I return to a sentence by Marighella that brings clues: “An attitude of resistance and non-conformity helps to unmask the farce and is the harbinger of victory. The new Brazilian generation marches forward, confident in its destiny, determined to achieve freedom and progress, based on the grassroots organization of the people.”[viii].

Happy Birthday, Marighella! Gratitude for everything! His fight was against hunger and misery, he dreamed of abundance and joy, he loved life, human beings and freedom.[ix]. His history and life trajectory inspire all of us who fight for a fairer and less violent country, with genuine democratic freedoms aimed at the interests of the people and national sovereignty. The revolution you proposed is still alive in our utopia, in the certainty that an inevitable and radical social transformation is on the way and is already approaching. The nation's torturers, murderers, and vilifiers will pass away. Us birds. Until victory, comrade, always!

* Carla Teixeira is a doctoral candidate in history at UFMG.



To read to the sound of “a communist” by Caetano Veloso – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pM-V3f28Oqc



[ii] Measure taken by the then Minister of Justice, José Macedo Soares, who ordered the release of around 300 political prisoners who did not have formal processes.

[iii] MARIGHELLA, Carlos. “Why I Resisted Arrest”. 2nd edition. São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1994.


[v] Department of Political and Social Order.


[vii] “Rondo da Liberdade”, Carlos Marighella.

[viii] Marighella in “Why I resisted arrest”.


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