Luiz Carlos Prestes and the Brazilian communist movement

Bridget Riley, Colored Ashes I, 1972


Commentary on the document book of the final phase of Luiz Carlos Prestes' political struggle

Few personalities in Brazil have the political and moral greatness of Luiz Carlos Prestes. In it, different historical layers converge in a unique synthesis. Like the Cuban Julio Mella, he was a young nonconformist of the 1920s. Like the Italian Palmiro Togliatti and the Bulgarian Georg Dimitrov, he was one of the symbols of the World Revolution and the Communist International in the 1930s. Like the Spaniard Dolores Ibárruri, who after becoming the passionflower survived long years of his own time, Prestes went far beyond the Knight of Hope.

From the Paulista Revolution of 1924, the “first” Prestes raised the gaucho garrison in Santo Ângelo and led the largest military march in Brazilian history. The tenentes' moral radicalism erupted throughout Brazil with revolutions in Amazonas, Sergipe, Mato Grosso, São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul; but it was only Prestes who accepted all the consequences of his actions and carried his rebellion to the end and to the bottom. He traveled the country and it was this practical reading of the territory and the poor population of Brazil that instilled in him the need to seek new theoretical explanations; to link the successful tactics of the war of movement to a political strategy for the Brazilian Revolution.

Undefeated “general”, the captain of the Coluna Prestes – Miguel Costa aroused the admiration and envy of his peers in uniform and received denials from the dissident oligarchies of the old Republic. By refusing to contain the Revolution within the limits of the oligarchic-bourgeois compromise, the leader of the National Liberation Alliance (ANL) and, later, of the 1935 communist uprising became unforgivable for the ruling classes and their armed forces.

From the 1930s on, Prestes incorporated a new historical time and a new spatial dimension. He became a “party man”, the uncontested leader of the Brazilian communists and with enormous influence in all Latin American Communist Parties.

The “first” and the “second” Prestes suffer a new defeat in 1964. The strategy of the people's national and democratic revolution in alliance with the national bourgeoisie foundered in the uncontested support of the dominant classes to the dictatorship of 1964. After that, he was already a survivor from another time. Prestes continued nominally at the head of the PCB, but the third and “last Prestes” was in gestation in a silent struggle within the party leadership and, in a way, in settling scores with his own conscience.

He studied the history of Brazil again, approached the ideas of Florestan Fernandes and criticized the transformation of the PCB into the political tail of bourgeois parties. Around the age of seventeen I saw Prestes twice at the University of São Paulo. And it was impossible not to become “prestista” whatever his party.

Prestes reviewed at that time the nature of the Brazilian revolution and emerged again with the youth, seeking to understand their new demands, supporting the most radical fractions of the middle classes and reaffirming the hegemony of the proletariat in the process of democratization that the country demanded.

He rejected the myth that reduced him to a figure without a party and without an ideology and reinvented himself along with the radicalism of the new working class. He thus operated an unusual political rotation in a man of his age and welded his destiny once more to uncertain but fair fights. Because what always mattered in his trajectory is that, between mistakes and successes, it subordinated itself to the moral duty of the revolution.

That's the inheritance; this is the hope he left us. This is what the beautiful book organized by Gustavo Rolim reveals to us. The book collects precious documents of Prestes' internal and public struggle for his party to resume the revolutionary path, such as the pamphlet letter to the communists (1980), several newspaper articles and recent speeches. A statement from its supporters and articles by Anita Leocádia Prestes and Florestan Fernandes complement this indispensable set of documents.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History of the PT (Studio).



Gustavo Koszeniewski Rolim. Heritage, hope and communism – Luiz Carlos Prestes and the Brazilian communist movement – ​​documents (1980-1995). Marília, Anticapital Fights, 2020.


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