Luis Emilio Recabarren

Luis Emilio Recabarren / Art by Marcelo Lima Guimarães


Entry from the “Dictionary of Marxism in America”

Life and political praxis

Luis Emilio Recabarren Serrano (1876-1924) was the son of José Agustín Recabarren and Juana Rosa Serrano, two small traders and parents of five more sisters and one brother. He studied for four years at the school of Salesian priests Santo Tomás de Aquino, before his family moved to Santiago, in search of better living conditions.

In the capital, the need to help his family made him get a job as a typographer in a small workshop, when he was just 14 years old. Self-taught, through his co-workers and the small labor movement in Santiago, he began to come into contact with works of literature and philosophy, which would form the basis of his training.

In 1894, at the age of 18, Luis Recabarren married Guadalupe del Canto, his cousin, and remained with her until 1911 – having two sons, Luis Hermenegildo and Armando (who died as a baby).

Luis Recabarren's work as a militant journalist began around 1898, when he published in the newspaper The afternoon, from Santiago, a letter addressed to the director of the periodical, with whom he argued, defending socialism and affirming his sympathy for socialist ideas – with a view to carrying out “social transformations” and “making injustices disappear”.

The following year, he firmly engaged in socialist advertising activity, starting to act as secretary of the newspaper's Steering Committee Democracy, from Santiago, of which the following year he became director. The publication was edited by Democratic party (PD), a small party composed mainly of urban workers, which Luis Recabarren had joined in 1894.

In 1901, differences led this party to split into two organizations: the one led by Malaquias Concha, called “regulatory”; and the one led by Francisco Landa – to which Luis Recabarren joined –, known as “doctrinaire".

The nature of his party activities and socialist dissemination in workers' newspapers led Luis Recabarren to return to Valparaíso in 1902. The following year he spent his first period in prison, accused of fraud in electoral records. Released after three months, he was elected vice-president of the organization's board of directors. II National Worker Congress, in September 1903. That same year, his activism intensified and reached greater relevance, when he was invited by Gregorio Trincado, president of the Tocopilla Community Society (a mutual aid society maintained by workers), to found and edit a periodical with the aim of representing and defending the interests of this labor organization.

The demands for democratic freedoms, although enshrined in liberal ideology, found an echo among the mine workers in the North of the country, who despite experiencing the expansion of the saltpeter cycle, were subjugated by the super-exploitation of their workforce – and in this context the communal societies They were important in achieving better working conditions, in addition to strengthening them in collective negotiations with employers. Participation in societieses communal and the proximity to the miners in the north of the country forged their formation during these times, with their thinking and activism impacted by the struggles, forms of association and dissemination of ideas of those workers. Thus, in October of this year, the first edition of the newspaper appeared the job, in which Luis Recabarren maintained intense militant activity, contributing 43 articles – which is why he would be arrested again, in January 1904, on charges of being a “subversive”.

During his imprisonment, he engaged in controversies with Chilean anarchists over the direction of the country's labor movement. Luis Recabarren, a party man, although he had also been influenced by anarchism, was critical of many autonomist conceptions; Shortly before being released, he wrote a text in which he firmly defined his political position, declaring himself a “revolutionary socialist”. In October 1904, upon leaving prison, he resumed his journalistic activity in the job e El Proletario, the latter being the newspaper of the local PD section.

In 1906, his reputation, built as a working-class journalist among the workers, contributed greatly to electing him (by the PD) as national deputy, for the state of Antofagasta. With this election, a cycle of intense activity in the Chilean North ended for him, moving again to Santiago to take office. In the capital, Luis Recabarren was prevented from assuming the parliamentary mandate due to legal and political maneuvers, both within his party, the PD, and the Radical Party, which resulted in an accusation of fraud and a new threat of imprisonment.

Luis Recabarren then went into exile in Argentina, landing in Buenos Aires in 1907. He maintained his journalistic activity there and, since arriving in the country, he has integrated both the Socialist Party Argentinean and the local labor movement, which he admired due to its advanced process of class consciousness – even though it was influenced by anarchist ideas (from which he distanced himself). That same year, there was an attempt to bring together the two main workers' associations in Argentina, the General Union of Workers and Federación Obrera Regional Argentina, to merge into the Confederación General del Trabajo. Thus, between March and April 1907, at the Teatro Verdi (federal capital), the Congreso de Unificación de las Organizaciones Obreras, with the participation of more than a hundred unions and groups, including the Graphic Union, an entity for which Luis Recabarren appeared as a representative – making a harsh intervention against the speeches of the anarchist leaders present. The result, at that time, was the failure of negotiations to unite the two associations.

Definitely breaking with anarchism, Luis Recabarren reinforced his Marxist convictions, working actively – although unsuccessfully – to revise the program (from 1887) of the PD, as well as for its name change to Democratic Socialist Party, with the aim of making it affiliated with the II International (Socialist). With this aim, in 1908 he traveled to Europe and met with socialist leaders, such as Jean Jaurès in France, Pablo Iglesias in Spain and Emile Valdeverde, in Belgium – having attended, in October, the meeting of the Bureau of the Socialist International, in Brussels, in which your Democratic party was accepted as a member of the organization.

At the end of this year, he returned to Chile, where he was arrested again, remaining in prison until August 1909. After this new period of detention, he maintained his militant activity and socialist dissemination, promoting conferences, writing articles and contributing to periodicals.

In the 1912 elections, after running (unsuccessfully) for a deputy seat, Recabarren was involved in the creation of the Socialist Workers' Party (POS) – effective on June 4th of this year –, writing its party program.

In 1915, he presided over the 1st Socialist Congress, in which he was elected member of the POS Executive Committee. In this city, where at the beginning of 1916 he settled with his second wife, Teresa Flores – a northern worker who formed part of the founding Executive Committee of the POS –, he participated in the founding of the weekly newspaper El Socialista de Valparaíso, as well as the Labor Defense Society and Federación Regional Obrera.

In August 1916, he traveled again to Buenos Aires, where he maintained his journalistic activism, writing for different workers' periodicals – such as La Vanguardia.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the consequences of World War I caused a great schism among Argentine militants grouped around the Socialist Party. One part aligned itself with the Mensheviks and Kerensky's government, while another, to which Luis Recabarren was linked, aligned itself with defending Bolshevik ideals and criticizing the war. This stance in relation to the international situation led him to found, in January 1918, together with other socialist dissidents, the International Socialist Party, returning to Chile in March of the same year.

Established this time in Antofagasta, he participated in the founding of another periodical also called The Socialist, in which he held the positions of administrator and editor. Still in 1918, he became general secretary of the Antofagasta section of the Federation of Workers of Chile (FOCH), which he helped found.

Despite having been arrested again, in April 1920, his party nominated his candidacy for president – ​​at an extraordinary convention held in June of the same year. The presidential candidacy did not prosper, as at that time there was a great division between the popular sectors of the FOCH, as well as among the socialists themselves, which caused a large part of these sectors to vote for Arturo Alessandri Palma, in a damage reduction strategy that weakened the candidacy of Luis Recabarren (which had even been proposed as a form of pressure for his release). Released at the end of 1920, the Marxist began preparations for his campaign for deputy for Antofagasta. Elected in 1921, he moved again to the capital Santiago – this time to truly assume his mandate, together with another deputy elected by the POS, Luis Víctor Cruz.

In the meantime, in December 1920, during his III Congress, held in Valparaíso, the POS began the procedures to join the Third International, updating the party's resolutions. Thus, in January 1922, gathered in his IV National Congress, in the city of Rancagua, the POS then changed its name to Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), ratifying its adherence to the Communist International (IC) – in an event that would come to be known as I Congress of the CPC (although the party's recognition as a Chilean section of the Communist International only occurred in 1928).

After this congress, Luis Recabarren toured the south of the country as a representative of FOCH, supporting several strike movements in the coal mining sector. In November 1922, he traveled to Moscow, attending the IV Congress of the Communist International (as a representative of the CCP), which took place that same month, and, later, the II Congress of the Red Trade Union International (as a representative of South America) – there is evidence that at the time he participated in the writing of the text “To the workers and peasants of South America" (published by La Correspondance Internationale, in January 1923).

After returning to Chile, he published the writing “Working and peasant Russia”, printed in Santiago by the graphic Graphic Workshops, in March 1923.

In 1924, deputy Luis Recabarren saw approval, in a session on February 5, of a motion of condolences to the USSR on the occasion of Lenin's death.

Between September 18 and 24, 1924, the CCP held a Extraordinary Congress, in which some differences were exposed between already consolidated leaders (such as Luis Recabarren) and younger staff – whose main focus was related to municipal politics. This issue, which immediately impacted the daily lives of the population, presented itself as a political dilemma: creating bridges and establishing specific agreements with the bourgeoisie and its representatives; or maintain a kind of doctrinal purism and not do it (which tended to lead the party to political isolation).

The situation was especially critical in the Viña del Mar and Valparaíso sections, where the assessment was that tactical flexibility had privileged bourgeois sectors. In the case of Valparaíso, a dissident group even maintained its own general secretary. At the same congress, Recabarren was elected, although absent, to the National Executive Committee of the party, along with six other members. He refused, however, to accept his appointment – ​​publishing on October 12 an article in which he criticized the lack of experience of the activists elected to the party leadership.

After the exhaustion caused by the controversies raised at the extraordinary congress, the communist also traveled around Chile, giving lectures – before committing suicide, at the age of 48.

On December 19, 1924, Luis Emilio Recabarren shot himself with an automatic pistol in his home in Santiago. According to reports, he said he was unhappy with some personal and political situations, in addition to suffering from severe headaches – which made his work difficult. An investigation commission set up jointly by his party and the FOCH gathered information about a previous suicide attempt and the existence of a letter written by him, in which he reported being “sleepy and having a bad brain”.

Contributions to Marxism

The nature of Luis Recabarren's written production is closely linked to the different moments of his life and his activism, such as controversies with opponents and intense activity in workers' newspapers, or his class experiences, his cultural formation and his own reflections during life. Although he did not elaborate a theoretical systematization on the major themes of Marxism, he carried out a reflective undertaking on Chilean history, from the context of the struggle of the nascent labor movement in the mining industry – in its struggles for better living conditions. and confrontation with the Chilean State itself (forged along the lines of Santiago's elites).

Being an “organic intellectual” – according to Gramscian’s formulation –, Luis Recabarren, on the one hand, did not have the academicist vices that affect so many Marxists; on the other hand, he lacked the refinement provided by academic experience. His Marxism was thus heterodox, practical – forged by his readings and by the questions of the historical context imposed on the direction of the labor movement and the Chilean proletariat.

An example of Luis Recabarren's ideas is in one of his most famous interventions, “Rich and poor through a republican life siglo” – text presented as a conference, in Rengo, in 1910, on the occasion of the centenary of Chile's independence, but written in prison the previous year. In it, he makes a critical assessment of the process of independence and the consolidation of the bourgeoisie as the hegemonic class in the country and points out the consequences of this for Chilean society as a whole. Under the fundamental division “rich” and “poor”, Luis Recabarren sought to establish the origins of class domination in Chile, which in his judgment was not only “economic”, but also “moral”.

In relation to the incipient material conditions for the survival of the working classes, he refers directly to the high level of illiteracy, intermittent working hours and the military influence on the people – stating that “poverty, and poverty to an excessive degree, above all, prevents all progress". Over the material poverty that subjected the people, all the institutional apparatuses aimed at preserving bourgeois power were built. One of Luis Recabarren's harshest criticisms was aimed at the judicial and penitentiary system, which he, with the property of having been arrested several times, identified with the privileges of capitalists: both were intended to prevent any attempt at social transformation, throwing the population into disarray. poor in a penal system in which she was exposed to vices and crimes.

Luis Recabarren understood that both poverty and moral decadence were products of bourgeois hegemony that began with independence. According to him, the Chilean working classes had no reason to celebrate independence since they did not take part in this process, were not called upon to decide on their direction and remained victims of class oppression constituted in a republican form and, only in theory, “democratic”. It also underlay a critique of the idea of ​​nationality, considered from a historiographical rupture – with the imaginary of the heroes of the country and the nationalist exaltation of the characters of the independence process.

Criticism of the judicial system and its operators was recurrent in the Chilean Marxist's publications. In response to the official lawsuit against the Tocopilla Community (1905) – one of his first writings to structure his political thought in a more systematic way – he highlights the persecution against workers and their aid and mutual aid associations.

In 1912, between October 8th and November 21st, continuing the work of disseminating Marxist ideas, he published in the newspaper The Awakening of the Workers, from Iquique (where years before a massacre of miners had occurred), a series of writings that made up the text Socialism: what is it and how will it be achieved?, in which he exposed and systematized in a didactic way the principles of Marxist socialism, seeking to analyze the conditions and possibilities of its realization in Chile.

In his exposition of these principles, Luis Recabarren combined the universality of the socialist emancipation project with the immediate particular needs of Chilean workers at the beginning of the 20th century, one of the qualities of his text. It identified the armies, police, justice and legislature as devices for maintaining bourgeois power, and called for the creation of cooperative factories and warehouses under workers' control and their organization into defense federations, which could sustain the struggle between capital and labor. .

That same year, he published the Program and regulations of the Workers' Socialist Party, a party of which he was one of the founders. In addition to the party's internal provisions, it proposed practical measures, even though it did not offer a detailed plan to carry them out and some of them contained a high degree of voluntarism – such as the proposals for the extinction of the armed forces, expropriation and nationalization of assets. of the Church, and the replacement of the position of president of the Republic by an executive commission elected directly by the people. There were, in fact, very advanced proposals such as the universalization of secular public education, the payment of salaries in national currency, the abolition of the voucher system and the collection of progressive taxes on the ownership of real estate. The programmatic part, in its entirety, pointed to a distant horizon, but defined the character of the reforms defended by the newly created party and its militants' understanding of the deep social ills resulting from class domination in the country.

Luis Recabarren's Marxism can be understood as an accumulation of the trajectory of a militant life. It is not a static thought, but there are no profound changes, ruptures. There is a progressive refinement provided both by his fighting experience and by changes in the international situation. Luis Recabarren who attacked the newspaper's director The afternoon in defense of the socialists of the Chilean labor movement, distinguishing them from the anarchist fractions, was still rooted in trade union activity.

His frequent movement through Chile and, later, through America and Europe, made him move through different realities and political cultures. Contact with Argentine socialists made him intensify his efforts to enroll the PD in the Socialist International, just as the outbreak of the Russian Revolution reinforced in him a more doctrinal sense of action – which would lead him to the construction of the CCP, aligned with the Communist International. The central point of Recabarren's Marxism was the class struggle manifested in the extremely difficult living conditions of Chilean workers of his time; It is from contact with this reality and the workers' struggle that his formulations are structured.

In short, Luis Recabarren's greatest contributions to Latin American Marxism were his work of class awareness and dissemination of Marxist thought, as well as his work of political organization - especially the creation of the POS and, later, the Communist Party of Chile.

Comment on the work

As previously indicated, the nature of Luis Recabarren's written production is characterized by its thematic variety and intimate connection with his political activism and life trajectory – consisting of articles published in periodicals and pamphlets, as well as transcribed conferences and reports.

Among the main editorial initiatives for publishing the author's work are Luis Emilio Recabarren: selected works, book published in 1965 by Editorial Recabarren – which features an introductory study by the Chilean historian and militant Marxist of Socialist Party (PS) Julio César Jobet. In addition to the transcription of a speech by Luis Recabarren in the Chamber of Deputies, on July 15, 1921, entitled “The beginnings of the social revolution in Chile”, the work contains the transcription of the conference “Rich and poor through a republican life siglo”, delivered on September 3, 1910 on the occasion of the centenary of independence, and the text “Working and peasant Russia”, written as a result of the Marxist’s trip to Russia – published as a pamphlet in 1923.

As mentioned, "Rich and poor through a republican life siglo” deals critically with the historical evolution of the process of Chilean independence and establishment of the Republic. From a perspective that problematizes and emphasizes class contradictions in the republican period until then, Luis Recabarren makes a contribution to critical historiography that contests, clashes with or, at least, adds nuances to officialist and liberal historiography – deeply linked to national oligarchies and a historical conception that naturalizes or praises the formation of the national State and its transformations carried out not by the people, but “from above”.

Another transcribed conference of his has a similar content, entitled “Homeland and patriotism”, the result of a lecture given at the Municipal Theater of Iquique, in 1914 – published in the newspaper The Aurora, by Taltal, in 1916. Just as he did in “Rich and poor…”, here the author calls into question the contradictions of capitalism and the direction of the country – in which workers did not take part. He rejects all accusations made at the time that socialists – especially those from his party, the POS – were “anti-patriots”. On the contrary, he states that socialists were the true “patriots”, as they were concerned with the social degradation of workers, opposing the interests of the State.

It also evokes internationalism when dealing with the issue of war and the opposition to it by socialists, arguing about the “humanity” that is inherent to people from all parts of the world. He also expresses his concern about the effects of the conflict – which resulted in deaths, orphaned children and poverty. For Luis Recabarren, patriotism meant defending his country's citizens and providing them with a dignified life.

Already in "Working and peasant Russia”, dedicated himself to analyzing, based on his stay in the country, the main political and organizational aspects of the Soviet model. Luis Recabarren considered the transformations in the Soviet Union positive, where, in his words, the “expropriation of the explorers had been complete”. The materialization and consolidation of the Russian Revolution had had a profound impact on communist militancy worldwide – Luis Recabarren's journey in Russia was also undertaken by many militants, sponsored or not by their respective parties (sections of the Communist International), especially in the 1930s. The Chilean communist's report is detailed, predominantly descriptive and complimentary of the new Russian situation; This is not a problematization of the challenges of the Revolution, but a work designed to inform and disseminate socialist ideals among the Chilean and Latin American public.

Among the other compilations of the author's texts that deserve greater consideration, the following stand out: the edition organized by Jobet, Barria and Vitale, Recabarren: selected works, published by Editorial Quimantú in 1971; and one compiled by Diego Castañeda Fuertes and published by Casa de las Américas, in 1976, Luis Emilio Recabarren: works.

Furthermore, the extensive production of articles and interventions by Luis Recabarren for the proletarian press and various workers' dissemination bodies were compiled by Ximena Cruzat and Eduardo Devés in Recabarren: press writings (1898-1924), work published in 1985 (in 4 volumes), by Our America e Newfoundland, which was reissued in 2015 (in a single volume) by Ariadna Ediciones - also available in digital version, on the portal Chilean memory.

Due to the relevance and context of production, it is also worth highlighting some writings representing Recabarren's socialist positions and public interventions. Among them, one of the main ones is the series of texts Socialism: what is it and how will it be achieved?, published between October 8 and November 21, 1912 in the newspaper The Awakening of the Workers (also available in Chilean memory) – in which the author theorizes about socialism in general. Using historical, economic and ethical elements, it presents us at the same time with a synthesis of the historical need for socialism – as a means of emancipating workers – and a very particular conception of its characteristics.

It understands socialism as both an integral project – in which all areas relating to human existence are included – and a universal one, even though it must be carried out according to the conditions of each country. He considers it essential to place the autonomous organization of workers at the center of this project and even suggests the formation of federations – such as FOCH – as a greater expression of workers' organization in conjunction with guilds and unions. For the author, socialist morality is committed to social justice, the satisfaction of the needs and dignity of workers, therefore it is not enough to achieve an equal division of the product of work, but it is necessary to combat vices among the class worker. Such ideas, as already stated, are related to his readings and influences, but mainly to his experience as a worker and with workers.

In the article entitled “Pure socialism” – published on 23/03/1914 in The awakening, a proletarian newspaper circulating in Iquique –, the Chilean communist lamented the hostility of some workers to the publication, whether due to its socialist orientation or its campaign against alcoholism (a vice that he considered part of bourgeois domination over workers).

Regarding the Chilean national issue, it is worth mentioning “Old papers: the land and the man (II)” (El Proletario, Tocopilla, 8 April. 1905), in which Luis Recabarren characterizes the Chilean independence revolution (XNUMXth century) as a “bourgeois” process, in a way that, with such an interpretation, suggests a directly socialist revolutionary program (without stages).

Among his youthful texts, the correspondence addressed to the newspaper's director The afternoon, from Santiago, known as “Letter to the director”, published on March 15, 1898, is probably his first writing that became public. In it, Luis Recabarren challenges an association made by the newspaper between the nascent socialist ideals of the Chilean labor movement and the ideas and actions of the anarchist leader Luis Olea. Vehemently refuting the comparison, he apologizes to the labor movement and repudiates Luis Olea's conduct; he stated that the socialists were “builders” and that they called for “justice”, and not a “threat” because they did not maintain conduct like that of the anarchist, considered violent by Luis Recabarren. At that moment, the author's countless disagreements with anarchism were already being rehearsed.

As a young man he also wrote “The duty of the working press”, article dated April 7, 1901 and published in the newspaper Democracy, from Santiago, in which his ideas about the tasks of the proletarian press are exposed. In the text, he explains the formative role that the proletarian press – politically oriented and combative – can play in the cultural universe of workers: a source of enlightenment and a weapon of combat against the political ideology of the exploiters.

Shortly afterwards, he published in the newspaper Democracy, from Nueva Imperial, the small manifesto article “The tenant” (25/09/1904). In it, he stands against “tenant” – work regime historically established in the country, according to which rural workers lived within “haciendas” (latifundios) and received only a small part of their salary in cash, which meant that tenants maintained an enormous degree of dependence on employers and the economic dynamics of the property itself. The author compares the situation to a slavery regime and calls on all socialists and fighters to “free these brothers”.

The following year, in his defense of Tocopilla Community - "Official case against the Sociedad Mancomunal de Tocopilla: response to the tax accusation” –, from 1905 and printed as a pamphlet, the Marxist defends the free organization of workers and denounces the state persecution imposed on it; reconstructs the history of this communal and its periodical (the job), pointing out its importance for the workers’ cause. Reporting the accusation of subversion and the threats made by a fiscal prosecutor against the directory of this workers' society - which even led him to prison and interrupted the publication of El Trabajo –, it demonstrates the persecution and arbitrariness against forms of labor association. Contrary to the alleged institutional neutrality of Chilean Justice, Luis Recabarren's criticism shows it as yet another instrument of the bourgeoisie to exercise class domination over workers and the poor in general.

In an emblematic article published two years later, “Democracy-socialism (I)” (Reform, Santiago, 28/12/1907), Luis Recabarren presents arguments to show that the “democratic” program is very different from the “socialist” one. That one is “pale”, “insignificant”, “vague” – it contains only “soft” reforms, which do not threaten the current “bourgeoisie-dominated coercive institutions of freedom”. The socialist program, on the other hand, proclaims the replacement of “useless institutions” with “completely different” ones; socialism wants the “socialization of land ownership” – and the “confiscation” of assets with which the revolution will transform the state order will be “without compensation”, since “the new State will ensure each individual’s well-being, with the the only condition that it contributes to useful production”.

Although there have been few editions, part of Luis Recabarren's work is accessible to the public, with many of his writings available online. There are sections dedicated to it on the portal marxists (, initiative for the general dissemination of Marxism; and on the official website Chilean Memory, maintained by National Library of Chile ( In addition to these portals, your texts can also be read at: Colectivo Luis Emilio Recabarren (; Ariadne Ediciones (; open edition (

*Daniel de Souza Sales Borges He has a doctorate in history from UNIRIO and professor at SEEDUC-RJ.

Originally published on the Praxis Nucleus-USP.


INVESTIGATORY COMMISSION OF LA FOCH/PC. “Informe de la Comisión Investigadora de la Federación Obrera de Chile y del Partido Comunista de Chile sobre la death de Luis Emilio Recabarren”, 1924. Disp.:

CRUZAT, Ximena; DEVÉS, Eduardo (org.). Luis Emilio Recabarren: press writings (1898-1924). Santiago: Ariadna Ediciones, 2015.

GREZ T., Sergio. History of communism in Chile: the era of Recabarren. Santiago: Lom Ediciones, 2011.

JOBET, Julio C.; BARRIA, Jorge; VITALE, Luis. Recabarren: selected works. Santiago: Quimantu, 1971.

MASSARDO, Jaime. The formation of the political imagination of Luis Emilio Recabarren: contribution to the critical study of the political culture of the subaltern classes of Chilean society. Santiago: Lom Ediciones, 2008.

PINTO V., Julio. Luis Emilio Recabarren: a historical biography. Santiago: Lom Ediciones, 2013.

RUEDA, María Alicia. The educational philosophy of Luis Emilio Recabarren: pioneering working-class education in Latin America. New York/London: Routledge, 2021.

VITALE, Luis. “Luis Emilio Recabarren”. Archive Chile, 2005. Disp.:

WITKER, Alejandro. The works and days of Recabarren. Mexico City: Editorial Nuestro Tiempo, 1977.

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