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International Socialism, March 1975


John Newsinger

The Brazilian Communist Party


From International Socialism, No.76, March 1975, p.40.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Brazilian Communist Party: Conflict and Integration 1922-72
R.H. Chilcote
Oxford, £8.75.

THE Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) was formed in March 1922 through a number of small anarchist and communist groupings coming together. The impetus for this development was provided by the Russian Revolution that offered an inspiring example and more important a political method whereby that example could be followed. At the founding conference there were 9 delegates present representing 73 people.

For the rest of the 1920s the party was concerned to consolidate itself as an organisation and to root itself in the working class. This work brought a slow rise in membership to 300 in 1925 and to 1,000 by the end of 1928. The small promise contained in these developments, whatever the mistakes and weaknesses of the early years, was to be lost in succeeding decades, as the impact of Stalinism made itself felt throughout the international communist movement.

Ronald Chilcote’s book is an attempt to explain the history of the PCB within the terms of bourgeois political science. The party we are told was ‘a miniature political system comprising a membership with goals and tasks, and subject to a pattern of authority and distribution of power’ and so on. Entrapped within the academic apparatus that the author feels obliged to use is a wealth of information but he succeeds in rendering it virtually incomprehensible.

The party initially remained aloof from the middle class nationalist conspiracies and uprisings that occurred throughout the 1920s. This changed with the adoption by the Comintern of Third Period policies. In Brazil implementing these involved outbidding the nationalists on their own terms and subordinating industrial work to this end.

The inevitable end of this road was the disastrous putsch of November 1935 against the Vargas regime. This took place after the Popular Front line had been formally adopted but the politics of the uprising were still those of the Third Period. It was easily crushed, the PCB was driven underground and its leaders thrown into prison.

The Vargas regime had come to power in 1930 and attempted to carry out a nationalist programme of industrial development. It enlisted the support of the working class by encouraging trade unionism and carrying out measures of social reform.

Inside the working class Vargas and his supporters operated as a popular-labourist movement and built up considerable popular support.

Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s the PCB maintained a position of sectarian hostility to Vargas which effectively isolated it. This changed when Vargas allied with the Western Allies and the Soviet Union during the Second World War and sectarian opposition became opportunist support. The party benefited considerably from this. Early in 1945 its leaders were released from prison and the party legalised. Thousands flocked to join and membership multiplied from a mere 3,000 in April 1945 to 82,000 in December and to 200,000 in May 1947.

This dramatic growth in membership was not made on the basis of revolutionary politics, but rather of militant nationalism and militant reformism. The party advertised itself as the most militant wing of the nationalist movement. Theoretical justification for this was provided by the Stalinist ‘stages theory’ of a democratic revolution in alliance with the middle class against the landowners and foreign business interests which should precede the socialist revolution. From 1954 it was openly proclaimed that this democratic revolution could be accomplished peacefully. In practice the struggle for socialism was abandoned and the party became solely concerned with opportunist manoeuvring for positions within the nationalist movement and the trade unions.

The perspective of democratic revolution was shown to be altogether utopian by the Army takeover on 31 March 1964. The nationalist middle class, in whom such hopes had been placed, welcomed the coup. The party which had trusted in the constitutional reliability of the high command was caught completely unprepared. The bankruptcy of Brazilian communism was decisively demonstrated.

Another book is needed to evaluate this story from a Marxist standpoint, to locate the party more concretely within the development of the Brazilian working class and to discuss not just its formal political positions but also its actual political work in the trade unions, in its factory branches and in the peasant leagues. Chilcote is worth reading in the absence of such a book.

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