Radicalism in the Tropics: Anarchism and the Labor Movement in Brazil, 1901-1921

By David Wiley

Prior to the establishment of Brazil’s First Republic in 1889, Brazil built its economy on large-scale single-crop agriculture and the institution of slavery. The transition from empire to republic included the growth of industry in Brazil’s Southeast region, primarily in the states of São Paolo. Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro. (See Figure 1)
In the last days of empire, Brazil’selites felt that slaves and the existing free population of Brazilians of African descent could not learn the skills necessary to work in the growing number of factories in the Southeast. They determined that European immigrants on a scale not before seen would solve that problem. The majority of the immigrants, from southern Europe – Italy, Spain, and Portugal came to work in what industry there was, mostly in the southeast. “Between 1884 and 1903 Brazil received over one million Italians, more than the combined inflow of immigrants to Brazil from all other countries in those years.”
Socialists, labor activists, and anarchists arrived in Brazil alongside the immigrants. In the first decades of the twentieth century, radical anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists created the first effective trade unions. Anarchists and syndicalists made important gains for workers, and set the standard for labor organization in Brazil Though they ultimately failed to transform Brazil’s government and industry, anarchism had the most influence on the early development of radical politics.

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