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Brazilian Communist Party (PCB)

Brazilian Communist Party (PCB)

In March 1922 a group of former anarchist activists met in Rio de Janeiro to found Brazil's Communist Party. Led by journalist Astrogildo Pereira, this group of male artisans were breaking ranks with Brazil's anarchists. Their main goals were to create a national proletarian movement that could coordinate its activities throughout Brazil and to tie this movement to the Soviet Union's new Third International. The party sought to establish centralized control of all labor and left-wing movements. In turn the PCB became a component of the international structure of Communist parties (the Comintern) centered in Moscow.

Unlike the anarchists, who had eschewed participation in the political system, the Communists relied on a two-track program to gain power. At Moscow's behest, they both participated in elections and planned military coups. In 1930 the party leadership even relinquished power to a military man, the former Tenente Luís Carlos Prestes, in accordance with the Comintern's directives. Rather than organizing among the nation's urban and rural laborers, Prestes and his followers launched a revolt in Brazil's Northeast (far from the industrial centers of São Paulo and Rio) in November 1935. The coup's failure ushered in almost a decade of intense government repression of the PCB as well as labor and left-ist groups that had had little contact with the Communists.

During the period of nominally open politics from 1945 to 1964, the PCB reemerged. With Prestes still controlling the party, it again followed policies prescribed by the Soviet Union. By participating in elections, Prestes and other party members gained seats in both national and state legislatures in the mid-1940s, only to lose their positions when the federal government of Eurico Gaspar Dutra (1946–1951) followed the lead of the United States by declaring the PCB an illegal political party.

An important generational and ideological division developed within the PCB at this time. Younger members who worked in factories and on large plantations began to organize among the rank and file. Although formally Communists, many of these younger members openly defied the PCB's national politics, which often called for making alliances with industrialists and other elites. These young activists managed, for the first time, to spread the PCB's influence within the urban and rural trade union movements from the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s.

By 1962 there had emerged within the party a pro-Chinese splinter group, which in that year formed the Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil—PC do B). Prestes and other Communists clandestinely maintained the party during the 1964–1985 military dictatorship and emerged as participants in the broad-based opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) coalition. At first the PCB openly opposed many programs of the newly formed Workers Party (PT). But in the late 1980s, the PCB leadership formally admitted it did not have the allegiance of Brazil's working people and ceded that responsibility to the PT.

See alsoBrazil, Revolutions: Communist Revolts of 1935; Dutra, Eurico Gaspar; Prestes, Luís Carlos.


Two volumes by John W. F. Dulles, Anarchists and Communists in Brazil, 1900–1935 (1973), and Brazilian Communism, 1935–1945: Repression during World Upheaval (1983), detail the founding and operation of the PCB. An excellent institutional history of the party is provided in Ronald H. Chilcote, The Brazilian Communist Party: Conflict and Integration, 1922–1972 (1974). On the often conflict-laden relationship between the PCB and rank-and-file workers, see Joel Wolfe, Working Women, Working Men: São Paulo and the Rise of Brazil's Industrial Working Class, 1900–1955 (1993).

Additional Bibliography

Brandão, Gildo Marçal. A esquerda positiva: As duas almas do Partido Comunista, 1920–1964. São Paulo: Editora Hucitec, 1997.

Ferreira, Jorge Luiz. Prisioneiros do mito: Cultura e imaginário político dos comunistas no Brasil (1930–1956). Niterói: EdUFF, Editora da Universidade Federal Fluminense; Rio de Janeiro: Mauad, 2002.

Mazzeo, Antonio Carlos, Maria Izabel Lagoa, and Aldo Agosti. Corações vermelhos: Os comunistas brasileiros no século XX. São Paulo: Cortez Editora, 2003.

                                          Joel Wolfe

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