Memoirs — theory and practice of a political scholar



Excerpt, selected by the author, from the recently published book

Participation in the student movement — the XXX UNE congress

In the square councilor José Mendes, in front of the municipal palace of Ibiúna, there is a monument in honor of the students who participated in the XXX UNE congress in that city: “Our interrupted trajectories\ have no price, no return\ everything has been accomplished\ everything has been consumed\ of ​​our best time to dream”.


My work in the university student movement took place between 1964 and 1968, having been interrupted twice. First, in May 1964, when I was revoked (prevented from studying) for a year, due to my participation in the occupation of the Faculty of Law at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB). One could also call it an invasion, committed by secondary students and supported by the Academic Directory of that Faculty, in repudiation of the projected visit of the then Governor of Guanabara, Carlos Lacerda, a declared enemy of the left, to João Pessoa (In: ARRUDA MELLO E ROCHA MELLO: 2021, p.192).

I was also deprived, again for a year, of the rights to study in December 1968, when I was to complete the Law course, for my participation, as a Faculty delegate to the XXX UNE Congress, in October 1968, and for other aspects of the my role in the university student movement.

To understand the existing political polarization and the determining influence of socialist ideology throughout the student vanguard, it is worth remembering that the world was divided into two blocks. The capitalist, led by the United States, and the anti-capitalist (considered by everyone, at the time, to be socialist), led by the USSR and supported by mainland China.

The Vietnam War, in which the United States was defeated, and the episodic confrontation that involved, in 1962, Cuba, the USA and the former Soviet Union over the installation of Soviet missiles on the Island, were the maximum expression of this antagonism, known as Cold War. But internal factors weighed even more heavily on political radicalization in Brazil: social inequality, income concentration, large estates and poverty in the countryside, with serious conflicts, especially in the Northeast.

In this context, I signed, in 1963 — a year before I entered the Law course, as President of the União Pessoense dos Estudantes Secundários (UPES) — alongside, among others, the peasant leader Pedro Fazendeiro and the playwright Paulo Pontes — the manifesto of the Popular Mobilization Front in favor of Basic Reforms (MANIFESTO:1963).

In this short introduction, it is worth remembering the influence of student demonstrations in 1968, including the famous French May, which almost shook the foundations of the French Republic, with worldwide repercussions, even projecting itself into the Brazilian university student movement.

The libertarian Spring of May stood out, among other aspects, precisely for calling into question the hegemonic “socialist” model and for proposing a society of a socialist nature, radically democratic and libertarian (LYRA: 2021, ps.299-303).

The occupation of the UFPB law faculty

The invasion of this Faculty represented my first participation in a student protest at the university level. It took place on March 3, 1964 — almost a month before the military coup — at which I was present as a freshman, before even attending law school. This was due to the contacts he already had with the leaders of the university student movement, having previously served as President of the Lyceum Board and President of the União Pessoense dos Estudantes Secundários.

The demonstration against Carlos Lacerda is explained by the fact that he was, at the time, considered the enemyo. 1 on the left, having received the nickname The Crow from her. The College was surrounded by right-wing groups, led by the then State Deputy Joacil Pereira, who prevented students from leaving the building and began breaking into its main door.

Only the arrival of an Army corps stopped the attacks against the Faculty building and the protesters who occupied it. They were taken to the Social and Political Order Police Station, being booked, interrogated and released at two o'clock in the morning.

The then President of the Academic Directory of Law, JoséTarcízio Fernandes, recalls that “we were photographed and shown by newspapers, including A União, an official State body, contrary to what was agreed between the parties, that is, no one would be photographed, much less, exposed their faces to the press” (in: ARRUDA MELLO and ROCHA MELLO, 2021, p.195).

With a retrospective look, one can ask what would be the best attitude of the Academic Directory when the College was invaded by high school students. Knowing in advance the difficulties of controlling the occupation, wouldn't it have been more appropriate to abdicate this responsibility, informing those who intended to participate in the event that it would not have the approval of the Directory, and of the risks they would assume with their participation?

In a statement given to reporter José Nunes in 1994 about this matter, he said that it was the Academic Law Directory that called on the students to occupy the Faculty, as it did not know that it had been initiated by high school students. However, the then President of the Directory, Tarcísio Fernandes, later explained to me that, even though he was surprised by this initiative, the Board of Directors decided to take it on (FERNANDES: 2024).

On the same occasion, I told the aforementioned journalist the following: “the strategy of the left was bad because it was intended to radicalize without having a favorable correlation of forces. Furthermore, at that time, the issue of democracy was not valued: the left was also a coup leader, in its own way. But we need to understand that the international context was different, dominated by Manichaeism associated with the Cold War” (GUEDES et alli, 1994 p. 270 and 272).

Participation in demonstrations and student events

Having been removed from university in 1964, due to the revocation of my rights to study, I returned, in 1965, to study Law, participating intensely, especially in 1968, in demonstrations against the dictatorship and, in particular, against its policies. to university. The focus of student mobilization was, on the educational issue, the prospect of signing the MEC-USAID Agreements.

On an international level, the Vietnam war had a strong impact on the student movement. I was appointed by the DCE to act as a prosecutor, with the United States as a defendant, in 1967, in a jury held at the University Student Club, based at Cassino da Lagoa, headquarters of the pitched battles we fought against the police. Despite the modesty of the event, my participation in this “simulated jury” was registered by the National Information Service (SNI). (DIAS: 2021, p. 198), among the twenty that I was given by the military regime.

One cannot forget the role of the French Alliance (Culture) of João Pessoa, also based in Lagoa. Thanks to the courage and democratic spirit of its then Director, Louis Pinatel, it often served as a refuge for students. They were fleeing police persecution resulting from the various demonstrations held against the dictatorship, in which I was a constant presence (LYRA, in ROCHA E DIAS FERNANDES: 2021, p.305).

I also distributed, on several occasions, in cinemas in João Pessoa, clandestine pamphlets advocating the overthrow of the dictatorship. And I sought, within the Faculty of Law, with a conservative profile, not only to participate in political activities, but also, organizing competitions, showing art films and joining committees of the Academic Directory.

Agamenon Sarinho, one of the Lyceu's student leaders in 1968, stated, in a statement, that “among the university students, I remember Rubens Pinto Lyra. I remember his figure, at Ponto de Cem Réis, giving a speech. He got on a stool and kept talking” (TESTIMONY. In: ROCHA E DIAS FERNANDES – Vol. I, 2021: p.94).

The candidacy for the presidency of the DCE

My intense participation in the student movement, which began at the age of 14, at Colégio Pio part, to be a candidate for the Presidency of the DCE, in the entity's first direct elections. And this despite the little time he had for the student movement, since, in addition to being a Law student, he was a professor of French Language and Literature at the Colégio Estadual de João Pessoa.

Popular Action (AP) defended a more radical, although non-militaristic, line of option to the military regime, prioritizing the political aspects of the fight against the dictatorship, and more democracy in the social and political sphere. The Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) and the Brazilian Revolutionary Communist Party (PCBR) emphasized the challenge to the dictatorship's educational policy. Among left-wing political formations, only the AP, at the time, was critical of the Leninist and Soviet model of socialism, although it later became Maoist.

I was defeated in the DCE elections by the late and admirable comrade Everard Nóbrega de Queiroz, who passed away prematurely, in the first direct elections for this entity.

The XXX UNE Congress

Still in 1968, I was elected Delegate — the only one — of the UFPB Faculty of Law to the III Congress of that entity, scheduled to be held in October of that year, in Ibiúna (SP). It should be noted that this Congress was aborted, as soon as discussion of its agenda had begun, due to an invasion by the São Paulo Military Police. The political situation of the XXX UNE Congress was one of political radicalization. We were less than three months away from the decree of Institutional Act no. 5, which served as the supposedly legal basis for all discretionary acts and violence committed by the Military Junta and Governments of the military presidents that succeeded it.

Part of the left had already gone underground. At the local level, still in August, during the DCE election, several colleagues had been ordered into preventive detention, including José Ferreira, President of the DCE and João Roberto Souza Borges, leader of Ação Popular (AP) and elected President of the Directory of Medicine , who was later found dead, under circumstances that are still unclear. Another prominent member of Ação Popular (AP) was Socorro Fragoso, a Social Work student at UFPB. She was forced, for years, to remain in hiding. With redemocratization, she was elected Federal Deputy, with the name Jô Morais, for the PC do B of the State of Minas Gerais.

Also playing a leading role in the fight against the dictatorship was the university student Simão Almeida, a member of the PC do B, who, like Socorro, spent many years in hiding, with the two supporters — together with João Roberto — being the most prominent in my candidacy for the Presidency of the DCE, Simão, with the return to democracy, dedicated himself to parliamentary activity, twice being elected State Deputy for the same Party.

The organization of the congress

The characteristics of the organization of the XXX UNE Congress reveal the avant-garde nature of its organizers' conceptions: it was designed to be totally isolated from the “masses”, as they said. We didn't know how we got there and we left without knowing where we were.

The congressmen were welcomed by conclave participants, designated by their management, armed. They experienced hardships during the four days they were at the site that would host the congress, in the municipality of Ibiúna (SP), leaving them considerably weakened.

They participated in a kind of guerrilla training, without ever being consulted about it. This is not just a mere personal opinion, as can be seen from this short passage from Zuenir Ventura's book about the year 1968: “Upon arriving at the site, the President of the Metropolitan Union of Students of São Paulo, Vladimir Palmeira, had the feeling of disembarking in a guerrilla camp” (1988, p. 246). Vladimir Palmeira was one of the main leaders of the university student movement.

A young participant at the congress, in a report from the then famous magazine The Cruise, revealed that “he experienced moments of despair: between sleeping and eating, a decisive choice was necessary: ​​those who stood in the long food queues could not find a place to lie down. At three in the morning, anyone who was sleeping was forced to give up their place to anyone who remained out in the open, waiting for their turn to rest. Most were unable to endure another day” (LUZ: 1968).

I am a witness to these conditions, in reality worse than those described, as the food was almost non-existent, of poor quality and the sleeping accommodations were more than precarious. “There was already a case of mumps and another of hepatitis. Furthermore, three people had already fainted from weakness. The Police medical service began distributing sugar, as it found there was a great lack of glucose” (O CONGRESS: 1968).

The facilities intended for holding the Congress, which also functioned as a dormitory, were in fact a hole, dug into a ravine, with steps that served as stands, with part of them even collapsing due to the heavy rains that fell in the area. local. And as the avant-garde sectors of the university movement considered themselves enlightened, made up of those who supposedly studied the Revolution and believed they were preparing it, they believed they had the right to impose their conceptions on everyone.

The incompetence of the conference organizers

The excessive self-confidence and incompetence of the congress organizers meant that the São Paulo Police easily located the place where the participants were gathered and arrested them. Anyone who had previously wanted to leave would not have left, because the entrance to the site remained guarded at all times by armed members of the Congress organization.

His unpreparedness is impressive for would-be guerrilla instructors. Several reports from the time reported that there were those who were going to make demands on the owner of the place where the UNE congress was held. Those in charge of security at this conclave detained one of them for two days and ended up releasing him!

The arrested character reported the arrest to the police and this fact alone was enough to compromise the congress. Furthermore, the unusual activity in the small town of Ibiúna, which never received visitors in large numbers, also aroused the suspicions of the police (VENTURA: 1988, p. 245).

As Cláudio José Lopes Rodrigues describes, “The XXX Congress of the clandestine UNE was an authentic Polychinelo secret. It was aborted on the cold and rainy morning of Saturday, October 12, 1968, when 400 soldiers from the São Paulo Public Force and DOPS agents invaded the Murundu site, the headquarters of the meeting, on the outskirts of the São Paulo municipality of Ibiúna, under the command of the São Paulo delegates Orlando Rosante and Paulo Buoncristiano and Colonel Barsotti, Commander of the 7th Battalion of the Public Force”. The “portentous arsenal” found: two Beretas, a Lugger and two carbines” (O CONGRESS: 1968).

Arrest and release

Initially, it should be noted that the detention of the students in Ibiúna corresponded to the largest collective arrest to date in Brazil. According to Zuenir Ventura “the number of students arrested varies, depending on the source, between 750 and more than 1.500” (1988: p.239).

During the “accommodation” of these students in the Tiradentes prison, there was no knowledge of mistreatment or torture, a situation that changed radically with the publication, on December 13 of this year, 1968, of Institutional Act No. 5. We went on a hunger strike , in protest against the deprivation of our freedom and against the poor quality food. We constantly sang the hymn “Freedom, freedom, spread its wings over us. In the fights, in the storms, let us hear your voice.”

The people from Paraíba were the first to be freed, it was said, thanks to an agreement made between Governor João Agripino Filho, father of one of the congressmen, Fábio Maia, who studied Engineering at UFPE and Abreu Sodré, then Governor of São Paulo.

However, the testimony of Lourdes Meira, at the time, an active participant in the university student movement, radically diverges from this version: “the State government refused to intercede for the imprisoned Paraíba students. The brutality of the State government increased and ended up involving other sectors, such as the Judiciary, whose building was invaded by the police hunting for students” (in ROCHA E DIAS — 2018, p. 51).

I was the first to return to João Pessoa. I gave an interview about the UNE Congress to the newspaper Correio da Paraíba, denying that we had been tortured (REGRESSAM: 1968).

While the delegates to the congress were arrested, student leaders from João Pessoa and Campina Grande held several protest demonstrations, demanding the release of their participants.

A few days after Ibiúna's return, the final move took place: the clandestine election for the Presidency of the UNE, with the AP candidate, Jean Marc Von Der Weid, winning.

My role in social movements: an opinion

In an article published in the Magazine Educational Praxis, the prof. Rogério de Araújo Lima evaluated my role as an opponent of the military regime as follows: “Rubens Pinto Lyra is one of the most notable witnesses of the student movement to resist the coup and confront the dictatorship. This explains his participation in more than one forum of the Paraíba Truth Commission and the dedication of a moment (hearing) just for his testimony. In this hearing, which takes his name as the title, he narrates his permanent political activism, which became part of higher education teaching” (2019: p. 141).

Critical reflection

It is necessary, firstly, to reflect on the conditions of the political action of the university movement and, more generally, of the socialist left, at the time, essentially determined by the ideological Manichaeism in force at the time. In this context, the role of avant-garde ideology stands out, which has always imagined revolution knocking on our door.

This ideology led the university student movement to lack understanding of the unfavorable correlation of forces between the military regime and the so-called revolutionary left, with disastrous consequences, which resulted in the sacrifice of many militants.

Analyzing with hindsight the holding of the XXX UNE Congress, its main responsible parties are unanimous in considering that its form of organization was a mistake, but no one takes responsibility for having committed it (VENTURA: 1988, p.241).

In fact, the hole was lower down. The distrust that prevailed between the opposing tendencies was not compatible with the successful organization of a conclave of such magnitude, which presupposes a reasonable degree of trust between adversaries, under penalty of third parties bearing the consequences of eventual failure, as was the case. . Indisputable proof of this incompatibility: statement made to the magazine Veja by student Paulo de Tarso, responsible for security at the congress and follower of José Dirceu, Vladimir Palmeira's candidate for President of UNE, regarding supposed information received by Travassos about the imminent arrival of the police at the site that hosted the congress: “ If no one fled in time, it was because Travassos wanted to see in the information received a political maneuver by his adversaries” (VENTURA: 1988, p.247).

The owner of the Murundu site, Domingos Simões, where the XXX Congress was intended to be held, paid dearly for the favor he did to its organizers, giving him his property for the student conclave. As Ventura reports: “After fleeing and hiding for two years, Simões was finally arrested and taken into Operation Bandeirantes, along with his wife and their two daughters, Ana Joaquina and Maria da Glória. His wife reported that: “I was in one cell and the girls in another, so that we could hear the screams of Simões being tortured” (1988, p.243).

At the time, Simões' wife was 17 years old and could not even be arrested, and his youngest daughter, Ana Joaquina, was only 3 years old. The losses of “vanguardism” extended to hundreds of students who were, throughout the country, deprived, for a year or more, of their rights to study. They also suffered several other punishments, resulting from revocation, which were extremely harmful, with emphasis on the unofficial impediment, until the revocation of AI no. 5, entry into public service, especially in universities.

The left's historical contempt for democracy, supposedly reduced to the condition of “bourgeois democracy”, resulted, in large part, from the influence of avant-garde conceptions of revolution and political struggle, generating a climate of distrust between trends, which believed they were the exclusive owners of the truth . Deluded by false ideologies, they conceived of the different modalities of “real socialism” as being effectively socialist.

History, however, demonstrated, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, that this supposed socialism was more harmful to workers than capitalism itself – because “it not only exploits them but also deprives them of freedom” (KAUTSKY, in LYRA, 2021, p. 147).

However, the debacle of statist-bureaucratic regimes favored the growing institutional insertion of the left, developing, based on the success of several social-democratic experiences, the reticent acceptance of the virtues of the democratic regime, and the commitment to its defense. Today, avant-garde practices have lost, even for the small minority that still appreciated them, their credibility and glamorous.

Therefore, only with effective acceptance of the democratic rules of the game - the more consistent the greater the protagonism of the left, it will be possible to build agreements, establish alliances and develop programs with credibility and popular support.

It is worth reflecting on the extent to which the current reality of power in Brazil embodies these possibilities, or remains distant from them.

* Rubens Pinto Lyra He is Professor Emeritus at UFPB. Founder and former director of ANDES. Author, among other books, of Bolsonarism: ideology, psychology, politics and related topics (CCTA/UFPB) [].


Rubens Pinto Lyra. Memoirs — theory and practice of a political scholar. João Pessoa, Editor of CCTA, 2024, 204 pages.


DIAS, Elissandra. Surveillance and control: the role of the SNI on the academic community of the Federal University of Paraíba (1964-1985). João Pessoa, PPGE, 2021.

FERNANDES, José Tarcizio. DA of Law. Taking over the College, escape and arrest. In: ARRUDA MELLO, José Octávio and ROCHA MELLO, Victor Raul. João Pessoa: THE UNIÃO/EDUEPB, 2021.

FERNANDES, José Tarcísio. Statement to the author. 27.2.2024/XNUMX/XNUMX.

GUEDES, Nonato et al (org.). The game of truth. João Pessoa: A União, 1994.

LIMA, Rogério Araújo. Higher education in Paraíba in light of the State Truth Commission. Praxis Educational Magazine. Vol. 15, sn.34, Special Edition, 2019.

LUX, Luiz Antonio and PETROLLI, Claudine. Four nights in purgatory. The Cruise, 2.11.1968.

LYRA, Rubens Pinto. The libertarian spring of May. In: Lyra, Rubens Pinto. Bolsonarism: ideology, psychology, politics and related topics. Joao Pessoa: Ed. from CCTA/UFPB, 2021.

KAUTSKY, Karl. The dictatorship of the proletariat. São Paulo: Livraria Editora Ciências Humanas.

Congress Interrupted. Veja, no. 6, 16.10.1988.

Students arrested in São Paulo return completely free. João Pessoa: Post Office from Paraíba, 20.10.1968.

ROCHA, Washington and DIAS FERNANDES, Telma. 1968: the year that stayed. Vol. I João Pessoa: CCTA Ed., 2017.

ROCHA, Washington and DIAS FERNANDES, Telma. 1968: the year that stayed. Vol. II. João Pessoa: CCTA Ed., 2019.

SARINHO, Agamenon. Testimony. In: ROCHA and DIAS Fernandes. 1968: the year that stayed. João Pessoa: CCTA Ed., Vol. I, 2017.

RODRIGUES, Claúdio José Lopes. Alienated and subversives — the student adventure.

João Pessoa: Editora Ideia, 1999.

VENTURA, Zenir. 1968: the year that didn't end. Sao Paulo: New Frontier, 1988.

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