The Centenary of the PCB



Throughout history, the Communist Party has become a political educator of the Brazilian working class.

The Communist Party of Brazil (PCB) was founded between March 23 and 25, 1922 in Niterói, then capital of Rio de Janeiro. There was another grouping of the same name, but of ephemeral duration, created on March 09, 1919 from the impact of the Russian Revolution.

The PCB immediately sought recognition from the Communist International (1919-1943), but did not obtain it on the first attempt. In November 1922, he sent Antônio Bernardo Canellas, who was in France, to the IV Congress of the Communist International. He was an intriguing character in the party, but soon forgotten.

Canellas was seen in quick historiographical references as someone who was unprepared and who did not understand how the congress worked. He did not accept the resolutions that reached the plenary decided. Some theses were recorded in the minutes as approved with the only vote against the “Brazilian delegate”! It was then that Trotsky ironically called him "phenomenon of L`Amerique du Sud".

Back in Brazil, he was arrested by the police and expelled from the party. Later, those who excluded Canellas would be sidelined as well. The attempt to develop an autonomous Marxist reading of Brazilian reality did not suit Moscow's growing interventionist centralism. With the replacement of the original ruling group, in 1928, there was an oscillation of unstable directions until the rise of Luiz Carlos Prestes at the end of the Estado Novo.

The anarchist past had shaped the thinking and practice of the first communist leaders such as Astrojildo Pereira, Otávio Brandão and Canellas. In most European countries, communists emerged from the breakaways of socialist parties. In some cases the majority of socialists joined the International. Even in South America, Chile and Argentina had socialist parties in place. This was not the case in Brazil, where until the 1920s approximately 60 “socialist parties” were formed, in fact dispersed and ephemeral local organizations. The communist cadres came, therefore, from libertarian currents and the sources of the history of the early years of the PCB attest to the constant concern in combating anarchist conceptions in its ranks.

After the insurrection of the National Liberation Alliance (pejoratively treated in the historiography as “intentona de 1935”), the repression physically and psychologically destroyed several communist cadres. The subsequent installation of the Estado Novo dismantled the party. The important labor laws, the industrial boom and Getúlio Vargas' later adherence to laborism can make us forget his anti-communism. His regime resorted to torture, banishment and even proposed a concentration camp for children born to communists.

That organic massacre that reduced the PCB to small isolated groups without a national leadership, called into question the continuity of the party. When the National Commission for Provisional Organization (Cnop) held the Mantiqueira Conference in 1943 and reconstituted the PCB, there were other political alternatives such as the Action Committees, which had their greatest strength in the State of São Paulo. Prestes' support for Cnop was decisive.

Many abandoned the PCB. On other occasions, internal ruptures led to new organizations, such as the Lenin Communist Group in 1930; the Socialist Revolutionary Party in 1938; and the Corrente Renovadora do Marxismo Brasileiro in 1957. We could go on and mention the organizations that joined the armed struggle in the 1960s and more recent events, such as the departure of Luiz Carlos Prestes, whose followers acted in the PDT and in currents of the union and student movement . The split that acquired permanence, however, was that of the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B) in 1961.


B's PC

The Declaration of March 1958, adopted by the PCB after the 1950th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, opened up the perspective of fighting within legality. A risky bet in a democracy that coexisted with several attempts at a military coup between the election of Getúlio Vargas in 1964 and the beginning of the dictatorship in XNUMX.

The PC do B rebelled against that document and rescued the former name of the PCB, which had been renamed the Brazilian Communist Party. PC do B documents treat that moment as a party reorganization, but only about 100 people supported the split manifesto. Later, other militants accompanied the splinter group.

The PC do B faced the dictatorship and actively entered the national picture. Differently from previous splits, he established himself in the political scene, participated in governments at all levels, went on to direct a trade union central and the National Union of Students and decades later surpassed the PCB in number of affiliates.

The PCB continued its trajectory, reaffirmed itself as the heir of a tradition, remained influential in national life, had around 40 members and a much larger number of sympathizers until 1964. Luiz Carlos Prestes continued to be the general secretary and his prestige also enshrined continuity, although he gradually fell out with the other leaders throughout the 1970s.



The PCB was legal for short periods: March to June 1922; January to August 1927; and October 1945 to April 1947. This was decisive for its political culture. In resistance to the 1964 dictatorship, the party did what it was most accustomed to in its history: surviving underground and acting in the few legal spaces of opposition.

The party elected councilors and deputies in the 1970s, acted in neighborhood and union movements and was one of the articulators of the political opening. In 1982, it elected a group larger than the PT and much more geographically diversified. Let's remember that it was a clandestine party that launched candidates for the MDB.

However, those values ​​that guided its action proved to be inadequate for the new period of semi-legality in which workers' and mass struggles exploded. Prestes realized this in his “Letter to the Communists” (1980) when he wrote that the PCB should not be the “guarantor of a pact with the bourgeoisie”. In the memory of some intellectuals who had a reference in Eurocommunism, the PCB “sacrificed” its mass influence to guarantee democracy. This was not Prestes' position.

Full legality would come in 1985 and the fact is that the party was already just the political tail of a bourgeois sector, so much so that it supported the candidacy of businessman Antônio Ermírio de Moraes for the governorship of the state of São Paulo, without any reason of a strategic nature, after all, the dictatorship had formally come to an end; and in 1989 launched Roberto Freire to the presidency. Its performance was dismal, despite the sympathy of part of the bourgeois press. That association no longer had the prestige of the past.



In February 1991 the Italian Communist Party dissolved. With a strong influence on PCB leaders at the time, the event represented a second fall of the Berlin wall for them. That same year, in December, Roberto Freire took a symbolic step: he and Roberto Marinho signed an agreement for the preservation of the memory of the PCB by the Globo organizations. In practice, it was the handing over of the communist archives to a company linked to the dictatorship.

But Freire was not about to get rid of just historical documents. In early 1992 he and his group copied the Italian example, declared the PCB extinct and founded the PPS. Despite being accused of having a casual majority, the fact is that Freire's followers were victorious. A dissenting wing convened an Extraordinary Party Reorganization Conference and was later able to rescue the initials. The so-called period of revolutionary reconstruction began.

Let us remember that it was not the first crisis that called into question the continuity of the party. As we have seen, 50 years earlier the PCB had been reconstituted.

By abandoning the acronym, name, program, principles and Marxist theory, Freire's followers inherited material heritage, but not communist history. The successor to the PPS was Cidadania, a centrist party with a “progressive” neoliberal program that maintained the Astrojildo Pereira Foundation and released books on the history of the PCB and the thought of Gramsci. Despite their transformism, the ex-communists insisted on disputing the Pecebist memory.

History and memory have many points of contact, but there is a crucial difference. History is a science, however much postmodern approaches have reduced it to a fictional discourse.

Disputes over acronyms, names and symbols are more or less legitimate, but the most important question that history can address is another: why do current political groupings consider it relevant to defend the communist past?



The current struggles of the left and the general demands of society reorient historians in their research. The thematic range that has emerged in academic studies is not by chance. Until the 1980s, many memoirs and analyzes covered the decisive moments of the party leadership. In the XNUMXst century, we know PCB better in other dimensions: in the small and medium-sized cities where it operated; in its relationship with peasants, writers, parliamentarians, visual artists, the press, blacks and women; although there is almost no study on its base members who are Freemasons, Spiritists, Christians, adherents of religions of African origin, etc.

A fertile field is the Marxist literature translated in Brazil: the editions, the circuits that the communist printed matter traveled, the daily newspapers that the party owned, travel reports to socialist countries, the printing presses, etc.

The working class in Brazil has historically been marked by fragmentation and informality. It makes perfect sense that a new militant generation would look to the Communist Party for a tradition of struggles for development, national sovereignty and social rights. But the new generation, marked by a much more recognized plurality, also wants to find in history the fight against prejudices that have been continuously reproduced.


political educator

During the catastrophic governments of Margareth Thatcher from 1979 to 1990, Eric Hobsbawm reflected on the role of his country's small communist party, at that moment in the shadow of a crumbling Labor Party. In the articles collected in his book Strategies for a Rational Left, he showed that the decline in class consciousness and the strength of trade unions, the crisis of real socialism, privatizations and the attack on the welfare state endangered the very ground on which the left had trodden for decades.

In such a situation, it is natural for young people to take refuge in extremism, after all, they only initially join the struggle because they realize that capitalism generates intolerable horrors that they experience on a daily basis. Hobsbawm recalled that in the book Leftism – Childhood Disease of Communism, Lenin reduced left-wing radicalism to shambles only after paying tribute to the “spirit” that animated the sectarianism of left-wing militants.

It is worth quoting Lenin himself: “This state of mind is highly consoling and valuable; it is necessary to know how to appreciate and support it, because without it one would have to despair of the victory of the revolution of the proletariat and in any other country. All help must be carefully preserved and given to men who know how to express this mood of the masses, who know how to stir it up in the masses (which often remains hidden, unconscious, unrealized)”.

Lenin alluded to the “noblest proletarian hatred” of bourgeois politicians; a sentiment which is the "beginning of all wisdom." Of course, his intention was to show that politics is a science and an art and that that spirit alone is insufficient.

However, Hobsbawm asserted that young people no longer find a school anywhere where they can learn to combine their conviction and non-sectarian politics. The communists provided in many countries such a school.

What would post-war Italian culture be without the Communist Party? In Brazil, the PCB was the institution that guided the historiographical debate for decades; acted in the political and trade union formation of thousands of people; it had publishing houses and daily newspapers; and focused on cinema, theater, visual arts and even Brazilian literature.

As in Europe, Hobsbawm's words are valid. In his article “The Retreat to Extremism” (1985) he said that “the party has long since lost its position as the sole center of such political education, but has maintained, until now, at least a certain presence as a political educator” .

The role of a revolutionary left is no different. If for no other reasons, in conservative times it exists to remind us that socialism is not the permanent reform of capitalism but the socialization of the means of production. That all particular oppressions must be fought, but that only the working class can withstand universal oppression and can emancipate humanity. That a socialist society is not utopian, but a historical necessity. The alternative to it is the endless extension of the barbarism in which we already live.

Long live the PCB!

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


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