Anarchism in South America


There is a strong history of anarchist struggle in South America. Anarchist ideas were first brought to South America during the 1880's and 1890's through the influence of european immigrants. Anarchist ideas found fertile ground and during the first two decades of the 20th century anarcho-syndicalism was the most important current in the latin amercian labour movement.

During this period anarcho-syndicalists contributed greatly to creating anti-capitalist conciousness and to forming the first working class based organisations in Latin Amercia. The most powerful anarchist organisation at this time in Latin America was the F.O.R.A (Federation Obrera Regional Argentina), the Argentine anarcho-syndicalist union, which in the 1920s had over 700,000 members. Other anarcho-syndicalist unions were to be found at that time in Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Uruguay.

The anarcho-syndicalists at this time had an 'all or nothing' policy. They believed that fighting outright foran anarchist society was the only way to achieve their goals. They rejected the existance of the state andaccepted no relations with it whatsoever and this included the rejection of any demands for reform. This tactic became increasingly divorced from reality when during the 1930s the first popular movements to struggle for the introduction of social reforms began to emerge in Latin America. As workers' discontentbecame channeled into fighting for reforms the anarcho-syndicalists 'all or nothing' tactic eventually led to a crises in the anarcho-syndicalist movement from which it never really recovered.

From the 1940s until the 1980s in South Amercia anarchism generally had only minor influence in working class struggles as marxist ideas dominated.

In the 1980's the brutal military regimes which had been in power in practically every country in south amercia during the 1970s and 1980s were one by one forced from power by a combination of mass protest and disastrous economic results. This allowed anarchism to re-emerge as a living movement. In 1986 the Uruguayan FAU was reformed, after having been crushed by the military coups of 1971 in Uruguay and 1978 in Argentina. Elsewhere although anarchist groups did emerge they were mostly affinity groups, collections of friends, mainly within the punk movement. The attempts at forming broader groupings fell apart quickly. However in the last 5 years many anarchists have started coming together to form real organisations. Militants from Marxist groups who have come to question the failed politics of the geurilleros have also formed an important part of these new movements. In 1996 the Argentine OSL was formed and in 1999 the Chilean CUAC. The FAG in Southern Brasil has also recently emerged and in Bolivia a number of local collectives have started the process of coming together. These new anarchist groups share a common conception of the need for organisations which are capable of coherent, disciplined action based upon a collectively agreed theory. Unlike the anarcho-syndicalist organisations of the early years of the 20 century these new anarchist groups are anarcho-communist and believe that it is important for anarchists to have purely anarchist political organisations whose membersmilitate in unions but whoseorganisation itself is separate from unions. The chilean CUAC, the Argentine OSL and the Brasilian FAG all see themselves as following the platformist tradition within anarchism.

At the moment these anarchist groups, who have common ideas on how to organise, are attempting to come closer together and to have greater coordination of their activity with the aim at some point in the future forming a South Amercian anarchist federation. With this purpose in mind they are currently preparing for a conference which will take place in Argentina in June this year.

This is the text of a talk given to a Workers Solidarity Movement meeting in April 2001. As such it represents the authors opinion alone and may be deliberately provocative in order to encourage discussion. Also it may be in note form. Still we hope you find it useful.