The preventive anticommunism

Image: Cyrus Saurius


Like fascism, anticommunism was not a response to any revolution and its preventive character is structural.

“What opposition party has not been accused of being communist by its enemies in the government? What opposition has not thrown back the stigmatizing slur of communism against both the more progressive opposition parties and their reactionary opponents?” (Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto).

In the XNUMXst century, an apparently anti-communist movement old fashioned gained power in Brazil.[I] Initially tolerated as folkloric and even supported by the corporate media, it later turned out to be monstrous. Media commentators pretend to forget that they themselves have demonized as “radical” not just any far-left policy, but the most moderate reformism. It was the precedent for bizarre characterizations of liberation Christianity, PTism, artistic performances and sexual behavior such as communism to emerge from the ideological sewer.

Anticommunism is a long-lasting element and emerged in Brazil before any socialist or communist movement. In the XNUMXth century, the word “communism” appeared in legal textbooks, speeches by deputies and newspaper articles associated with crime, laziness[ii], the irrationality and the enlargement of the state[iii]. Certainly, this was not a persistent phenomenon rooted in civil society and the armed forces. These were not constituted and centralized, materially and ideologically, which would only happen after 1930; and “civil society” and politics were spaces of a restricted coterie.

However, the particular historical genesis of anticommunism does not contradict its validity in other periods. Rather, it exhibits a “preventive” structural trait, as we will see below. A consultation in the National Library's digital library reveals that the national periodicals assiduously summarized European news contrary to communism. As I have already discussed, our country was not separated from the main lines that guided the ideological debate in the Old World, even though what I called intellectual infrastructure[iv].

An already studied example was the debate about the possible arrival of immigrants from the Paris Commune in Brazilian newspapers and parliament, which provoked numerous interventions contrary to socialism and communism. The annals of the Chamber of Deputies record applause for the victory of “civilization in the capital of France” [v].

But which communism were they talking about?


Imperial and slaveholding elites were acutely aware of the meanings of socialist, anarchist and communist currents. Differentiated the first alternative communities inspired by utopian French socialism and the potential danger of associating socialist ideas with Brazilian revolts[vi]. They read the European anti-socialist libels, such as the best sellers by François Guizot, immediately translated in Brazil[vii]. Marx was referred to as “supreme head of the International” and a newspaper published a short text attributed to him[viii]. In 1851 there is a reference to the first edition of the Communist Manifesto, published in London and in which the names of the authors did not appear[ix]. It was very common for newspapers to publish death notices of “famous communists”, such as Blanqui; or about the arrest of leaders, like Louise Michel. There were also articles that tried to summarize Marx's trajectory and work and when the term Marxism emerged in France, was soon introduced in Brazil with the awareness that it was a “revolutionary collectivism”[X] and not reformist or gradual.

That hasn't stopped many journalists and politicians from fabricating a caricature. In one parliamentarian's definition, communism was the leveling of the fortunes of all individuals by dispossession.[xi]. State income distribution policies (“balancing fortunes”) would already be a socialist sign. Deputy Casimiro Moraes Sarmento denounced any minimal reform as “cloaked communism” due to the “special forms it takes on”. In the opinion of the same parliamentarian, this disguised communism distorted the political economy and even the Bible.[xii]. For him, the “worst kind of communism” was free public education at all levels and support for theaters and artists.[xiii]. Some jurists at the Faculty of Law of São Paulo also considered public instruction a communist principle.[xiv]. Another MP, Mr. Melo Franco, said he was against supporting the theater because the poor would support artists and not attend their performances[xv].

When one thinks of accusations of communism directed in the middle of the XNUMXst century at the megainvestor Soros, at the Pope, at the universities, at Venezuela and at a right-wing governor of São Paulo, the historian has the sensation of déjà vu. For a congressman, communism was living at the expense of the state; for another, Paraguay under Solano López was a communist country and there were those who went so far as to declare that the socialist system was unfortunately already implanted in the country because the State paid for the passage of European beggars to form colonial nuclei here[xvi].

Years later, a parliamentarian dared to defend the free poor (residents or landlords) of Pernambuco on the tribune, making it clear that he was in favor of the latifundia, but advocated a subsidiary role for small property, even to avoid a social revolt. During his presentation he was pulled aside by a colleague who shouted: “here comes communism”[xvii]. Although random, the examples are indicators of a permanence in the political debate.

While the communism envisioned by some politicians was hyperbolic, there was real foundation. They knew that communism was already in Europe a real and practical movement and not a set of ideals of social reform. And in Brazil, escapes, insurrections and violent acts against landlords were documented in reports submitted by police chiefs or provincial presidents to assemblies. Even so, there were rhetorical exaggerations that fulfilled the function of warning the dominant classes against any threat, even minimal, to their material interests.

I do not mean by this to say that anti-communism was the predominant form of defense of slave interests; it was actually marginal. The majority preferred to defend freedom, property and contracts (sic) between enslaved and enslavers, resorting only to liberalism. But the fact that the debates on the Paris Commune coincided with the appreciation of the Lei do Ventre Livre (approved on September 28, 1871) provided an open field for the association of abolitionism with communism.

The law only provided that the children of slaves born in Brazil would be free, which was contrary to colonial laws and customs and, therefore, the alleged right to property. Even so, the children could remain in the hands of the masters until they reached the age of eight, when the owners could receive compensation of 600$000 from the State, or use the services of the minor until the age of 21. In the heat of the debates, the bill was associated with communism[xviii]. Even the government was so called. Christiano Ottoni (1811-1896), quoting a phrase perhaps read secondhand in Marx and Engels, declared that if slaves were emancipated they would have everything to gain and nothing to lose by subverting existing society. He added that that law would allow any communist to repeat the misfortunes of Paris here.[xx].

Communism and Abolitionism

Enemies of blacks considered manumission a communist idea; they criticized the audacity of abolitionists from Ceará for putting signs in the streets saying that slavery was a crime and compared them to communists. Communism was also the equivalent of a “robbery state” that intended to expropriate farmers and create a “40% communist tax” on the trade in human beings. Obviously, the “farmers” declared themselves in favor of emancipation (which would come from individual acts of benevolence and compensation or gradual reforms) and not abolition (which was synonymous with revolution).[xx].

The Viscount of Bom Retiro claimed that the release of sixty-year-olds without compensation was an attack on property, unconstitutional and communist. Others alluded to the “communist project of abolitions”, to the “imperial project of communist emancipation” and D. Pedro II himself was linked to communism[xxx].

The Dantas cabinet, which lasted from July 6, 1884 to May 6, 1885, proposed a bolder law that provided for the registration of the “servile element”; liberation of enslaved people aged 60 or over; and settlement of freedmen on expropriated land on the banks of railroads and navigable rivers. Naturally, Conselheiro Dantas was called a communist[xxiii].

When the law of September 28, 1885, also known as the Saraiva-Cotegipe Law or the Sexagenarian Law, was debated, which determined the release of those over 60 years of age, the connection with communism was repeated. The baron of Cotegipe asked for funds in public securities to indemnify the owners, but Andrade Figueira denounced in the Chamber of Deputies that the government would enter private industry (he was referring to farms) even to fix wages, which naturally was a socialist attack and communist. There was also the panic of immediate release that would provoke revenge and the fall of the crop. As one read in an article at the time, “the abolition of a jet is a communist solution”[xxiii].

This led intransigent abolitionists to defend themselves against accusations that they were communists, anarchists and against family and freedom.[xxv]. The position against compensation for slaveholders was also labeled communist. Against this, a chronicler stated that, in a restricted sense, what made communism was Cotegipe itself, which intended to use the State to indemnify enslavers[xxiv].


Anticommunism is a propaganda operation aimed at constituting an enemy in the public space through the caricature of its ideas and practices.[xxv]. This is not an intellectual posture or a political translation of a theory, but a mobilization technique. In Brazilian history, political polarization has often been asymmetrical. In the case here at hand, the defense of immigration and abolition, by members of the dissident elite, did not even break with the racist foundations and the language of social biology at the time. Still, it was considered revolutionary without being. Joaquim Nabuco affirmed the inferiority of the black[xxviii], although later he centered his position on a more advanced liberal set of ideas[xxviii]. Its objective was the conciliation of classes.

The prefix “anti” is not constituted as a determined negation of communism. What he supposedly denies does not allow us to move on to its opposite, after all, real communism retains nothing of anti-communism. This theoretical and historiographical subtlety was lacking, for example, in Ernst Nolte, in his Historikerstreit[xxix]. Despite the anathema thrown at that historian for having seen in National Socialism only an exaggerated reaction to Bolshevism, the entire liberal press continued to place neo-fascist leaders and labor moderates of the XNUMXst century on a scale of equivalence, under the label of populist or right-wing extremist and left.

Unable to oppose reforms by legal means, the Right gave way to its extreme side. However, its opponent continued to be a restrained social democratic left. On the rare occasions when a revolutionary threat was perceived, it was exaggerated by the discourse of the extreme right.

The absence of an international communist movement and of the Soviet Union itself does not mean that the phenomenon of anti-communism did not exist before and does not continue to act after. The demonization of China is a replacement, as that country restricts its competition in the international arena to trade, unlike the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Like fascism, anticommunism was not a response to any revolution and its preventive character is structural. Obviously, between the wars he reacted also to the Comintern[xxx]. Although its target is hypostatized, the objective is concrete: react to reforms, even if gradual, and anticipate radical ones.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Caio Prado Júnior – the meaning of the revolution (Boitempo).


[I]     Originally published in Maria Antonia, Gmarx USP Bulletin, No. 55, 2020.

[ii]    See, for example, Commerce Diary, Rio de Janeiro, 3/10/1870.

[iii]    Ayres, Vivian N. “Marx and communism in São Paulo periodicals in the XNUMXth century”, Moorish, no. 13, São Paulo, January 2019, p. 187.

[iv]    Secco, Lincoln. The Battle of the Books: formation of the left in Brazil. Cotia: Atelier, 2018.

[v]    Annaes of the Brazilian Parliament, Rio de Janeiro, 13/7/1871, p. 124; 27/12/1872.

[vi]    Aurora Paulistana, São Paulo, 5/04/1852.

[vii]   Deact, Marisa. Democracy in France by François Guizot (1848-1849). Thesis (Livre Teaching). São Paulo: ECA – USP, 2019.

[viii]  Sao Paulo Diary, São Paulo, 6/5/1871. Journal of Pernambuco, Recife, 23/7/1871.

[ix]    Mercantile and instructive, political and universal mail, Rio de Janeiro, 8/11/1851.

[X]    the province of mines, Ouro Preto, 30/11/1882; morning diary, Maceió, 15/2/1883.

[xi]    Annaes of the Brazilian Parliament, Rio de Janeiro, 25/8/1852.

[xii]   Annaes of the Brazilian Parliament, Rio de Janeiro, 31/5/1854.

[xiii]  Annaes of the Brazilian Parliament, Rio de Janeiro, 25/8/1852.

[xiv]  Ayres, Vivian N. From the reading room to the tribune: books and legal culture in São Paulo in the 2018th century. Thesis (Doctorate in Economic History). São Paulo: USP, XNUMX.

[xv]   Annaes of the Brazilian Parliament, Rio de Janeiro, 25/6/1855.

[xvi]  Annaes of the Brazilian Parliament, Rio de Janeiro, 19/7/1854; 22/5/1855; 26/8/1860.

[xvii]  Annaes of the Brazilian Parliament, Rio de Janeiro, 19/6/1866.

[xviii] Viotti da Costa, Emilia. abolitionism. São Paulo: Unesp, 2008, p.52.

[xx]  Diary of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, 24/6/1871; 3/8/1871; 17/7/1871. He was the brother of Teófilo Ottoni, with whom he participated in the Liberal Revolution of 1842 in Minas Gerais.

[xx]   Diary of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, 27/6/1884; 25/5/1884; 19/6/1884; 29/6/1884.

[xxx]  the father, São Luiz, 22/8/1884. Diary of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, 25/7/1884; 1/8/1884; 27/8/1884; 12/8/1884.

[xxiii]  Diary of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, 17/7/1884. A critique of this position in: The Federation, Porto Alegre, 22/8/1884. Newspaper directed by Júlio de Castilhos.

[xxiii] Annaes of the Brazilian Parliament, Rio de Janeiro, 16/7/1885; Durocher, Maria Josefina Matildes. Uncoordinated ideas about slavery. Rio de Janeiro: Typ. from Diario do Rio de Janeiro, 1871. p.5; The Holy Spirit, Victoria, 8/10/1887.

[xxv] Recife newspaper, Recife, 20/4/1884 and 30/5/1885.

[xxiv] The Holy Spirit, Victoria, 23/6/1888.

[xxv] Labica, Georges. Dictionary of Marxism. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1982. Entry: “anti-communism”.

[xxviii] An example of this is: Nabuco, J. Abolitionism. London: Abraham Kingdon, 1883.

[xxviii]      Azevedo, Maria CM Black wave, white fear. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1987, p.100.

[xxix] This polemic is from the 1980s, yet Nolte's earlier work is important for the study of fascism. For example: Nolte, Ernst. Les mouvements fascists. L'Europe de 1919 à 1945. Paris: Calmann – Lévy, 1969.

[xxx] I refer the discussion to Secco, Lincoln. History of the Soviet Union: an introduction. São Paulo: Maria Antônia, 2020. And also articles about fascism that I published on the website the earth is round. Access at:

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