The independence process

Chila Kumari Singh Burman, Red Riots on Indian Paper, 1981


Since the birth of Brazil as a State, contradictory paths have been opposed

Brazil's independence process began before September 7, 1822 and lasted well after. Contrary to what is usually debated and presented officially and by the mainstream media, since the birth of Brazil as a State, contradictory paths have been opposed between the interests of large rural landowners, slaveholders and traders and the working masses composed mostly of black slaves, but also by indigenous peoples and free workers. These contradictions were mixed with the advance of capitalism from abroad, which here was articulated and initially combined with slave labor itself, helping to build a new authoritarian and centralizing State to subject the entire territory and its populations.


Capitalism begins to put an end to the old Portuguese empire

More than two hundred years ago, capitalism began to consolidate itself, leaving England and spreading throughout the world. The center of economic life now began in the new factories, in the mass production of clothing and equipment that did not exist before, and in the emergence of a new historical subject, the working class, which was taking its first steps. In this way, capitalism and the new English industries were transforming countries and continents, changing societies, overthrowing old empires and opening new markets and businesses for the most powerful bourgeoisie at the time, the English. The French bourgeoisie, which had overthrown the monarchy during the 1789 revolution, tried to confront England for years to dispute control of the nascent capitalist world market. It was the wars under the leadership of Napoleon, which ended in 1815. These wars between France and England had a great international impact.

The great production capacity of English industry compared to artisanal production and small workshops increasingly needed to open new markets to sell their products, which put pressure on the old empires such as the Spanish and Portuguese and their huge American colonies. These had closed markets and monopolies only for their own traders. The Spaniards tried to reform and modernize their empire with the “Bourbonic reforms” and the Portuguese with the “Pombaline reforms” of the Marquis of Pombal, but nothing was able to stop the advance of capitalism and better and cheaper industrial products.

This pressure increased when Napoleon closed the European market to the British, enacting the continental blockade in 1806. Spain and Portugal disrespected the blockade, had important business with the British, and were invaded by Napoleonic troops in 1808. With that, the collapse of the old empires and its colonies in the Americas accelerated. King Felipe VII of Spain was arrested by the French and the King of Portugal fled with the court and help of the English navy to the colony of Brazil.

The regimes of Portugal and Spain were being swallowed up by the war between France and England. The industrial revolution, building the world market, provoked an economic and political crisis in the Portuguese and Spanish colonies, a dismantling of the monopolies and privileges of their merchants and a political realignment of groups of owners and landowners. Among the popular masses, hunger and misery increased and new revolts broke out. Portugal was already rehearsing an economic change since the beginning of the 1801th century, such as the end of the salt monopoly in 1808, which the arrival of the royal family in XNUMX deepened with the policy of opening up trade, giving privileges to the English, who in fact began to command life economy of the Brazilian colony.


Popular Revolts in the Americas

The working masses of the American colonies were mobilized even before these events. The Haitian independence revolution began at the same time as the French revolution of 1789 (Haiti was the most important and richest French colony at that time) and was victorious in 1804 after finally defeating the troops sent by Napoleon; it freed almost half a million black slaves, created the first free republic on the American continent and had repercussions in all corners (the USA, although independent since 1776, maintained the slavery of blacks).

Free Haiti clearly demonstrated to the oppressed peoples that victory was possible, that there was a popular side to the independence struggles on the continent that was rooted in the daily resistance of the working masses, most of whom were enslaved. Tupac Amaru's great Indian revolt in Peru in 1781 signaled the future wars of independence in Spanish America.

In Brazil, the struggle of the Haitian people for freedom had great repercussions, the news came by ship and reached Salvador. The Baiana Conjuration of 1798 (also known as the Tailors' Conjuration), contrary to the better known and elitist Tiradentes revolt, was a popular insurrection mainly of free black and mestizo workers motivated by hunger. The pamphlets of the time defended the Proclamation of the Republic and the end of slave labor. Three of its arrested leaders were decapitated and their bodies dismembered and displayed in the streets of Salvador.

The path that would lead to Brazil's independence was part of the independence revolutions that took place in other Latin American countries. Many of these revolts proposed independence from Spain along with social rights such as freeing slaves and agrarian reforms. In Mexico, a great popular uprising of indigenous peasants under the leadership of Fathers Hidalgo and Morelos proposed independence with agrarian reform.

Simon Bolivar also had the support of the President of Haiti Alexandre Petion, who in 1815 provided arms and soldiers for his expedition. Bolívar started to defend the liberation of the slaves and liberated Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and finally Peru and Bolivia after defeating with general Sucre the last Spanish troops in the battle of Ayacucho in December 1824. Among his generals was the Brazilian Abreu e Lima.


the break on top

When the Portuguese royal family arrived in Brazil in 1808, it was forced to create a new structure of control and administration and was forced to command the Portuguese empire – which had other colonies in Africa and Asia – from Rio de Janeiro. The slave trade increased, as it interested both Englishmen and Portuguese traders and large landowners. With the definitive defeat of Napoleon in 1815, England began a commercial offensive that increased the subordination of Portugal and the Brazilian colony. That same year, the Portuguese crown tried to defend its economy against other competing sectors, decreed the Constitution of the United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil and imposed economic measures that tried to protect Portuguese trade such as wine and olive oil.

The Pernambuco revolution of 1817, articulated by the economic elites of Recife, reflected this economic crisis by proposing the Proclamation of the Republic, maintenance of slavery and freedom of worship and press. Economic pressure increases and in Portugal a revolt of the ruling classes – the Porto revolution of 1820 – demands the return of the court and that Brazil return to being a colony. It was in this context that the events that led to the independence of Brazil from 1822 took place.

The birth of Brazil as a national state was not peaceful and tranquil. On the one hand, it broke the obstacles that the colonization of Portugal created to the development of capitalism, on the other hand, it released a revolutionary impulse for change that spread even to the masses of slaves and free workers. Who took power in 1822 were landowners and large merchants. But despite their efforts to prevent any change, independence revolutionized the life of the country, provoked a rupture, demanded the formation of a national state and increasingly strengthened a capitalist dynamic in the economy, even if articulated with the permanence of black slavery. and control of England.


The separation from Portugal

In a rapid succession of events between 1821 and 1823, the process of rupture with Portugal initiated in 1808 advanced rapidly. On February 26, 1821 street demonstrations forced the king d. João VI to swear allegiance to the Liberal Constitution and return to Portugal, leaving his son D. Peter as regent. Portuguese liberals wanted Brazil to become a colony again. D. Pedro became “Perpetual Defender of Brazil” on May 13, 1822 and actually began to reorganize the foundations of the new State.

On September 2, the government in Rio de Janeiro receives information that the Portuguese parliament would send troops to Brazil because it considered the regent and his advisors traitors and enemies. The ultra-conservative adviser of D. Pedro, José Bonifácio wrote: “from Portugal we have nothing to expect but slavery and horrors” and recommended a break with the metropolis. Traveling to São Paulo d. Pedro proclaims Independence on September 7, 1822.

The fight for independence does not end there, a date that took time to gain importance. The ruling classes tried a transition through palace arrangements, but the resistance of the Portuguese troops on the one hand and the popular mobilizations on the other, raised other alternative projects that made the process tense and violent. This was also reflected in the attempts at a Constituent Assembly in 1823, which reflected the divisions between the ruling classes who wanted to take control of the new country through different paths.


The new State and the Constituent Assembly

To give birth to the new national State, a precarious conciliation was sewn between those who defended an absolute monarchy and the liberal revolutionaries who defended some kind of constitutional monarchy that would give some control to the owners. There was also pressure from the provinces, not to mention popular hopes for land and freedom, completely ignored and soon to appear.

An attempt to submit the emperor to the oath of a future Constitution is crushed by José Bonifácio in October 1822. A wave of arrests and press censorship prepares the opening of the Constituent Assembly in May 1823.

At the opening of the assembly D. Pedro I defended the monarchical system and José Bonifácio that the greatest danger to be avoided would be “demagogy and anarchy”, democracy and the participation of the popular masses. After half a year of work the same d. Pedro had the deputies arrested and the constituent assembly dissolved on November 12, 1823, just one expression of an entire authoritarian project for a national state that was being built.

The country's first constitution was imposed in 1824 and established a "monarchical, hereditary and constitutional representative" government. The emperor is “inviolable and holy”; being able to exercise the unprecedented “moderating power”, another name for absolute power: he could intervene in legislative chambers, Senate and judiciary; choose senators from triple lists, call provincial general meetings when deemed convenient, approve or suspend decisions by provincial councils, suspend judges, etc.

The emperor was also the head of the executive, being able to appoint ministers, bishops, judges, create jobs, direct foreign policy and the armed forces. The Chamber of Deputies would be temporary and the Senate for life. It was a democracy for the property-owning elites: to be able to vote, you had to NOT be a worker, with a few exceptions. To be elected deputy, you had to have a net income of 200.000 réis and for senator 800.000 réis, elections were indirect. The Catholic religion was imposed as the official religion of the Empire. Brazil would be an “independent free nation”, guaranteeing the “right to property in all its fullness”.

The liberal ideas of the European revolutionary bourgeoisies remained only in the minds and debates of small minorities. Liberalism here was adapted to the interests of slaveholders and large merchants: when they fought for freedom and equality, our patriots wanted to end the privileges that benefited the metropolis and harmed their businesses. These leaders were mostly members of the elite and racists, they feared the rebellion of the mass of slaves and any idea close to democracy. But enslaved blacks and poor free mestizo whites saw in Independence a possibility of eliminating racial discrimination.


Independence and the fear of revolution

In Bahia, the struggles spread and gave a revolutionary character to the independence process. The defeat of the Portuguese troops only ended on July 2, 1823, after a great popular mobilization in which blacks and indigenous people, regular troops and volunteers participated. This popular bloc aroused great fear among slave owners, who feared that struggles for land and freedom would become part of the objective of independence and spill over beyond their control.

In the province of Grão-Pará (today the entire northern region of the country) the struggle for independence was partly captured by the demands of the popular masses. There was a strong elite of Portuguese landowners and a direct commercial link with Lisbon, closer than Rio de Janeiro. In the city of Belém, the Proclamation of Independence only took place on August 15, 1823, after Lord Admiral Grenfell, in the service of d. Pedro I overthrew the government junta. But a mass mobilization requires the formation of a popular government headed by Canon João Batista Campos. Grenfell, who had received orders to hand over the government to men of the emperor's confidence, unleashed violent repression, shootings, hundreds of arrests that led to the massacre by suffocation of 256 prisoners in the hold of a ship known as “Slaughter of the Clown Brique”.

In Pernambuco, the roots of the 1817 revolution were alive. Ten days after the proclamation of September 7, 1822, a government aligned with d. Pedro I. In December 1823, as a reaction to the closure of the Constituent Assembly, a rebellion took place and the provincial government was overthrown. D. Pedro I sent an appointed governor and a fleet to blockade Recife in June 1824 and enforce his control. But resistance continued and on July 2, 1824, the Confederation of Ecuador was proclaimed as an independent republic uniting Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte and Paraíba to Pernambuco, headed by Manuel Paes de Andrade and Friar Caneca. The imperial troops manage to defeat the confederation with the support of the planters. The war ends on November 29th and its main leaders are shot.


The Leap to Capitalism

Independence provoked a social and economic revolution in Brazil. It forced the layer of landowners to build a new and complex state apparatus for the defense of the territory, for its administration and to directly favor its interests. This process in the early years was chaotic and contradictory, but it created a dynamic of new and directly capitalist economic modernization. There was a block to industrialization. The commercial opening since 1808 destroyed the small textile factories and the small metallurgy that existed in Minas Gerais and São Paulo. The deficiencies of Portuguese trade had served as a protective barrier for a small local industry that was almost artisanal in nature, but which was satisfying a good part of domestic consumption and which survived with little foreign competition.

At the same time that the country was ridding itself of the parasitic weight of Portugal's decadent economy and was completely opening itself up to competition from English capitalism (import tariffs of 15% were low), the work and trade of black slaves was maintained internally. A process of capital accumulation began to occur among rural landowners, but it crushed the possibility of an autonomous development of capitalism in the country with the strengthening of a national bourgeoisie by maintaining slavery and turning its production abroad, favoring the commercial opening. Slavery was the economic heart of the country and the political direction of the new state was with the class directly interested in the conservation of slavery. Only with the end of the slave trade in 1856 did this building begin to be destroyed.

The model of independence plotted since before 1822 by the classes of wealthy landowners, farmers, large traders and slave owners was of a Brazil that was born on its knees, dominated by England and the monarchy to continue enslaving and exploiting its people. But for the popular strata, poor free workers, women, indigenous peoples, enslaved blacks, independence brought hope and a revolutionary character. This popular feeling overflowed in the countless slave revolts and in the provinces such as the Cabanos in Pará and Amazônia, in the Praieira revolt in Pernambuco and in the popular insurrections of the Balaios in large regions of Maranhão and Piauí. These explosions of revolt were added to the permanent and countless rebellions and daily resistance struggles of the slaves and the various black quilombos across the country. The Brazilian nation was built in these struggles.


The struggle against slavery

Quilombos and mocambos are constant in the local landscape since the 1820th century. They were born as refuges and continued to form even after independence. From this period we have the famous Mocambo do Pará created in 1823 near Manaus in the Trombetas River Forest. In 2000, it gathered more than 1835 people, including blacks and indigenous people, who fiercely resisted the various armed attacks to destroy it. But some leaders managed to escape and manage to found a new Quilombo that was only dismantled in XNUMX.

In Bahia there were great struggles of resistance and one of the best known was the Quilombo do Cabula, in the caves and forests of the hills that surround Salvador to the northeast, being destroyed by a military expedition in the beginning of the 19th century. as well as in the Bahian Recôncavo sugar mills between 1816 and 1835, when five major insurrections took place. The Malês Rebellion of 1835 was the largest slave revolt known. Salvador had 65.000 inhabitants at the time, only 20% were white and most of the black slaves were Africans, many of them literate and Muslim. The revolt took place between the 24th and 25th of January and provoked a brutal repression, executions and condemnations of the main leaders. Among the struggle's difficulties were internal divisions among the exploited and brutal and efficient repression. Every movement of revolt was met with stricter laws. Slave owners always demanded more repression to protect their properties, the jails filled up.

In the period of independence, slavery in Brazil was undergoing an important change. Slave labor was growing in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (in the Paraíba valley) attracted by the new coffee plantations; slaves from the Northeast were now sold in the south of the country. In one of the great waves of slaves from the northeast was a boy named Luiz Gama, later one of the greatest abolitionist leaders. The coffee economy strengthened slavery in São Paulo. In 1872 blacks and mulattos were 62% of the population in São Paulo.

The capitalists who used to invest in the slave trade, now banned (since 1850), took their capital to coffee farms. But capitalist business itself required the development of a free labor market. Two forms of work came to exist more and more in the São Paulo coffee plantations: slavery and free work. This helped create new forms of struggle, resistance and unity among workers. Slaves not only fled to form quilombos, but participated in the abolitionist process itself, had contact with foreign settlers and created connections with radical abolitionist groups, organized escapes from farms and support in cities.

In the final phase of slavery, free workers actively participated in the abolitionist movement, helping with the mass escapes of slaves. They were peddlers, small farmers and traders, in addition to various categories such as coachmen, workers in small workshops and typographers. From the newspaper reports of the time, it is known that after 1870 the slaves were in real flight. Brazil would not really become a nation without the liberation of slaves. Even the conservative José Bonifácio had to recognize that: “without the emancipation of the current captives, Brazil will never establish its national Independence…”.


The Cabanagem revolution in Pará

The revolt of Cabanos do Pará began in 1833 and lasted until 1839, had a great impact and even proclaimed the republic and governed the region for a few years. Pará had a long past of agitation by the working masses and isolation from the rest of the future country. In 1832 there was an uprising in the region of Rio Negro, the future province of Amazonas. A popular agitation forced the imperial government to send interventors in 1833, which provoked an explosion of revolt that was fed by poverty, slave labor, authoritarianism of the great merchants and landowners.

The new government tries to control tempers by applying a fierce repression with persecutions, arbitrary arrests and mandatory conscription for the army and navy. An armed uprising erupts and on the night of January 6 to 7, 1834, the Cabanos rebels take over the city of Belém: the president, the governor and the commander of arms are shot. The leader Félix Malcher takes office, who, by swearing allegiance to the emperor, betrays the revolutionary movement and is also shot.

New imperial troops are sent and land in Belém for a counterattack. The Cabanos took refuge inland and once again attacked the capital and took it in August 1834, proclaiming the Republic declaring the region disconnected from the Empire. They manage to hold power for several months. In April 1836, a powerful squadron arrived in Pará and, after hard resistance from the Cabanos, the capital was occupied on May 13. Many Cabanos take refuge in the interior of the Amazon and continue the fight.

The Cabanagem revolution was the most important popular resistance movement that took place in Brazil in the 19th century and the only one in which the working classes were able to occupy power in an entire province. The Regent Feijó who controlled the Empire at the time raged in 1836: “The volcano of anarchy threatens to devour the Empire: it is necessary to apply the medicine in time…”. But the popular volcano kept boiling, trying to build another Brazil.


Balaios and Praieiros against the Empire

Between 1833 and 1841, Maranhão was the scene of another great popular uprising that spread across the neighboring province of Piauí. Maranhão had just over 200.000 inhabitants, 90.000 of whom were slaves and a huge mass of rural workers from the sertanejos employed in livestock. It was not the only movement, but successive popular uprisings. There were more than three years of revolts by the sertaneja masses and slaves against the exploitation policy of the great masters, engineers and farmers. In some places, the Balaios Rebellion was organized into permanent groups, but they were unable to articulate with the movements of slaves who fought for freedom and who even formed a Quilombo near the coast between the Tutóia and Pria rivers.

The imperial forces sought to prevent the union of these two oppressed sectors of sertanejos and slaves. The Balaios even took over the city of Caxias and set up a military council and an assembly of its chiefs, but it was short-lived. At the beginning of 1840, Colonel Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, the future Duke of Caxias, the greatest executioner in the Empire, who crushed the Balaios insurrection, took over the province and commanded the repression troops.

In the province of Pernambuco, the concentration of exploited land and wealth was in the hands of a handful of wealthy landowners who owned legions of slaves and submissive households. Beside them there was a rich and powerful Portuguese commercial bourgeoisie. A popular agitation with a clear connotation of class struggle took place since 1842 against these rich people. On November 7, 1848, an armed uprising of more than 2.000 people broke out against the government.

The program of the so-called “Praieiros” defended the free and universal vote for the Brazilian people, Freedom of the press, work as a guarantee of life for the Brazilian citizen, Independence of the powers with extinction of the Moderator power, Judiciary reform to ensure the individual guarantees of the citizen . It was an advanced democratic program for the time. The uprising struggled to win over the broad working masses and was put down after 2 months of fighting on February 3, 1849. The Praieiros were one of the last impulses given by the independence revolution.

The Praieiros revolt took place in the same year that the first internationalist revolution of the working class exploded in Europe, in the same year of the publication of the communist party manifesto. The Brazilian working class was gradually being forged since 1822 in the different revolts against slavery, in popular struggles against the ruling classes and their model of an imperial, authoritarian, slave-owning Brazil, always kneeling before England and other external powers. The fight for a Brazil with true independence and national sovereignty, with democracy, rights and freedom for its people continues to be the axis of the struggles of the working class throughout the entire XNUMXth century of our history.

*Everaldo de Oliveira Andrade is a professor at the Department of History at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Bolivia: democracy and revolution. The Commune of La Paz, 1971 (Avenue).


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