On Carlos Marighella, Brazilian Guerrilla

Published February 24, 2021

On Carlos Marighella, Brazilian Guerrilla

The man stamped as a wanted criminal and described on the cover of the reactionary periodical that circulated on the newsstands of the country in November 1968 as a communist boss, lemon shake enthusiast, fan of fairground singers, soccer critic, and guerrilla was Carlos Marighella, leader of the Ação Libertadora Nacional, the ALN, the main revolutionary organization that confronted the Brazilian corporate-military dictatorship in arms. Declared enemy number one by the fascist regime of the generals, Marighella was hunted and persecuted by the forces of repression, being exposed as a “dangerous terrorist” by the propaganda machine of the real criminals in uniform of the imperialist vassal dictatorship. The same magazine would announce exactly one year later, on a new cover, with commemorative tones and his bloodied image, the murder of the most important Brazilian revolutionary communist, ambushed and killed on November 4, 1969, at Alameda Casa Branca, in São Paulo.

Carlinhos, as he was called by his neighbors and friends during his childhood and youth, before becoming a character wrapped in a heroic mystique and a reference for the revolutionary left all over the world, had without a doubt a poetic and, above all, courageous existence. Born in Baixa dos Sapateiros, Salvador, he was the first son of Augusto Marighella, an Italian worker with anarchist influences from Ferrara, in the Emilia-Romagna region, and Maria Rita do Nascimento a black woman and descendant of enslaved Haussas, kidnapped in the region of Central Sudan, today northern Nigeria, from where came part of the people who led the Malês Revolt, an anti-slavery insurrection that seized the capital and the recôncavo of Bahia in January 1835. Carlos, the firstborn of seven brothers, who was interested in poetry and social justice from an early age, is therefore the best synthesis of the social formation of the Brazilian people and the search for liberation of the diverse subjects that converged and resisted here.

In an autobiographical letter written while in Moscow in May 1954, Marighella describes himself thus: “My father is an Italian worker who migrated from Italy to Brazil. My mother was the daughter of African slaves. I have brothers and sisters who are workers and maids. But my father sent me to school and I studied in high school, doing the whole course, as one of the first students in the class. Then I entered college, studying at the Escola Politécnica, the top college for Civil Engineering studies in my home state of Bahia. After completing most of the course, I was removed from the School as a punishment, after an inquiry that the School Board ordered. This was in 1934, when I was 22. I was a member of the Red Federation of Students and led a series of movements at the school, for which reason I was expelled. I then transformed the Red Federation of Students into the Students' Union. I was soon recruited by the Party and joined a cell of textile workers.

During this period I organized Party cells among the workers in the port of Bahia, among the workers in the city train service, among the bakers, etc., becoming Party secretary, and also organized the Communist Youth. In 1935 I moved to Rio de Janeiro and worked in the Special Commission of the Central Committee Organization Commission. This Special Commission was in charge of maritime communications, with the illegal newspapers and with the illegal houses of the leadership. In this illegal work I was arrested in 1936 by the police when I was trying to make a phone call at the house of a comrade, who I didn’t know had been arrested that dawn. The country was then under police terror, which had been implanted after the defeat of the 1935 Insurrection. In the Central Police and Special Police I was tortured and beaten for three weeks so that I would confess the location of the newspaper, but in view of the denials I was later taken to detention. The following year, 1937, the country entered the electoral period, the movement of the masses had grown and the police had to release many prisoners. Using legal means (habeas-corpus), the Party managed to get me and others released. Then, although I was free, the National Security Court sentenced me to two and a half years in prison. The Party leadership then sent me to São Paulo to, as propaganda secretary of the Regional Committee, help combat Trotskyist fractionalism […].”

Since his entry into the Communist Party of Brazil, still young (which officially changed its name to Brazilian Communist Party only in 1961), Marighella, although very affable, emotional, smiling, and irreverent as a Bahian, was always a disciplined man, a militant communist dedicated and decided for the people’s cause, willing to dedicate his life and faithfully follow the Marxist-Leninist principles and methods. Marighella, who had already been arrested in 1932 in Bahia, after writing a poem criticizing the interventionist Juracy Magalhães, was arrested again in May 1936, this time in Rio de Janeiro, where he was also responsible for the party’s propaganda sector, and was tortured for 23 days by the special police of the Nazi Filinto Müller during Vargas' Estado Novo dictatorship. The climate was one of war and total repression, after the unsuccessful Communist Uprising in November 1935, organized by the Aliança Nacional Libertadora (ANL) and the PCB, Getúlio Vargas carried out a violent persecution of the regime’s opponents, overcrowding the prisons. Marighella was released from prison in 1937, went underground and moved to São Paulo, but was once again captured in 1939. Among the several imprisonments, first the Estado Novo confined him to the island of Fernando de Noronha (PE), where he organized political training courses for the prisoners, took care of the community vegetable garden and participated in soccer games against the integralists who were also imprisoned. Later, in 1942, he was transferred to the dreaded Colônia Correcional Dois Rios, on Ilha Grande (RJ), and was only granted amnesty on April 18, 1945.

It is in that year, with the end of World War II and the defeat of Nazi-fascism, that significant changes take place in the national political scenario, with the amnesty of political prisoners, the legalization of the PCB, the deposition of Getúlio Vargas, and the holding of elections for the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) of 1946. Marighella, together with Jorge Amado, is elected deputy to the ANC for Bahia, becoming one of the 14 members of the communist bench.

Under the government of the extreme right-wing marshal Eurico Gaspar Dutra, the PCB is again outlawed in 1947 and, soon after, the mandates of the communist caucus are revoked. Marighella went back underground and until the beginning of the 1950s became the main leader of the party in São Paulo, also responsible for coordinating the union work and workers' mobilization that resulted in the great 1953 General Strike, known as the 300,000 Strike. The underground PCB had resumed a revolutionary line with the “August Manifesto” of 1950, but in 1956, after the XX Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (PCUS) and the consolidation of the counter-revolutionary coup by the Soviet bureaucracy with the publication of the famous report by Nikita Khrushchev, the PCB was again shaken internally, as were most communist parties around the world. A process of internal debate and dispute is opened, an “intellectual core” of journalists responsible for the communist press organs, Voz Operária and Tribuna Popular, leaves the party after the hasty conclusion of the internal debate. Another important sector, part of the leading nucleus and of the Central Committee is expelled from the PCB still in 1957, in the split that will give rise to the PCdoB, in 1962.

The PCB officially assumes the revisionist line with the “Political Declaration of March 1958”, where it defends the peaceful path for the transformations of the country, confidence in bourgeois democracy, etapism and class collaboration. Marighella remains loyal to Prestes, occupying leadership positions in the party. Marighella’s loyalty to the party and trust in the leadership of the “Knight of Hope”, Luís Carlos Prestes, is at this point somewhat blind. Still in 1952, Marighella was sent on a trip to Maoist China and then went to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), at which point he was making serious criticisms regarding the party’s mass work, and his trip had a punitive character of temporary withdrawal. His reaction to Khrushchev’s report, with accusations and falsifications about Josef Stalin in 1956, was one of the worst, between bouts of crying and a deep depressive mood that lasted a few weeks, to finally adhere to the revisionist and counter-revolutionary line of Prestes and the PCUS.

In 1961, with the resignation of Jânio Quadros, a new situation opened up in the country and the Legality Campaign began for the inauguration of João Goulart, separately elected vice-president. From 1962 on, the PCB and the newly formed General Workers Command (CGT) actively participate in the support to the labor government of Jango and in the broad campaign for the basic reforms. The conjuncture quickly becomes radicalized with popular movements on one side, and reactionaries and conservatives on the other, which will culminate with the coup d’état of the fascist generals in 1964. It is during this period that Marighella begins a process of ruthless self-criticism, internal struggle, and revolutionary radicalization, influenced by the Castro-Guevarist winds of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, which will culminate in his expulsion from the PCB and the founding of the ALN. Marighella criticizes mainly the immobilism, the dirigisme, the trust in summit agreements, and the reboquista policy of the PCB in relation to the national bourgeoisie and the Jango government. With the corporate-military and imperialist coup and the clear incapacity and cowardice of the majority of the leadership of the PCB to resist and respond to the tasks that the conjuncture imposed, Marighella, who remained faithful to party discipline in other crises and even fought other dissidents, begins his internal rebellion, disputing the party, forming a majority in São Paulo in the famous “Marighella Wing” that will originate the Communist Grouping and later form, together with other sectors of the revolutionary left, officially from 1968 on, the Ação Libertadora Nacional (National Liberation Action).

It is in this process, between the beginning of his radicalization, the criticism of the party and its leadership, mainly from 1966 until his assassination in 1969, that Marighella develops his theory of the Brazilian revolution, outlines elements of revolutionary strategy and a political-military theory of guerrilla warfare and of movement (or of maneuvers, as he also called it), in addition to the organizational and programmatic proposal of the ALN as an organization of a new type. The ALN’s political practice is based on the centrality of revolutionary action and denial of theoricism and bureaucratism, where urban guerrilla warfare, through the Tactical Armed Groups, the GTA, opens the way and combines with rural guerrilla warfare, which assumes a strategic role, accompanying the advance of popular resistance and the insurrection of the worker and peasant masses, in unity with the dissident intellectuality and the radicalized middle layers to overthrow with a revolutionary war of national liberation, the corporate-military dictatorship that came to a head with Institutional Act No. 5 in 1968, the complete closure of the regime and the coup within the coup, and establish through guerrilla warfare, which would evolve into the formation of a Revolutionary Army of People’s Liberation, the process of building socialism in Brazil.

The somewhat late exit of Marighella from the PCB, with his expulsion only confirmed in 1967, with the episode of the 1st Conference of the Latin American Organization of Solidarity (OLAS), was in a way compensated by his complete radicalization, intensity, and integral dedication to the armed revolutionary project, with the ALN becoming the main organization of the revolutionary left from 1968 onwards, gathering at its peak between 5 and 6 thousand militants in its bases and in its military, logistical, and intelligence sector. The departure of the Bahian leader also brought with it direct support from Cuba, and already in 1967, the first group of guerrillas from the Communist Grouping started training on the island, which had previously supported with training, arms, and financing the Leagues of Francisco Julião and the movements linked to Leonel Brizola. Along with Marighella, Joaquim Câmara Ferreira and Virgílio Gomes da Silva, other important leaders such as Mário Alves, Jacob Gorender and Apolônio de Carvalho also left the PCB, but opted to found the Revolutionary Brazilian Communist Party (PCBR) in 1968. Many of them, in opposition to the immobilism of the party, had signed in 1964, in the months following the coup, the document “Schema for Discussion”, affirming that the cause of the defeat was the fact that the PCB had incurred in a “serious right-wing deviation”, because it fed illusions about reforms by peaceful means, trusting in an alliance with the national bourgeoisie and the João Goulart government, and therefore had not prepared the working masses to resist the coup.

These ruptures were part of a context of general crisis in the Partidão, and gave rise to several new revolutionary groupings, such as the Corrente Revolucionária, the Dissidências Internas, and others, willing to take up arms against the corporate-military dictatorship. Even before this crisis, from which the PCB would never recover, some organizations were already promoting guerrilla struggle projects, even before the 1964 coup, such as Julião’s Peasant Leagues, originated in the Pernambuco Planters Agricultural and Livestock Society (SAPPP) and POLOP, the Marxist Revolutionary Organization - Workers' Policy, founded in 1961, by militants coming from the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and laborism, or soon after the coup, as in the case of the MR-26 and the Três Passos Guerrilla War, in Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná, by initiative of ex-military men expelled from the armed forces, and the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR), initially linked to Brizola and which led the Caparaó Guerrilla War between Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais, and also Popular Action also of Ação Popular, an organization linked to the Catholic left that became more radicalized and evolved into the Marxist-Leninist Popular Action (APML), and of PCdoB itself, which would lead the last great movement of armed resistance to the regime with the Forças Guerrilheiras do Araguaia, the FOGUERA, finally defeated only in 1974.

The name and acronym of the ALN were a clear reference to the ANL, the National Liberation Alliance of the 1930s, an anti-fascist and anti-imperialist mass organization that, under the leadership of the PCB, led the 1935 Insurrection, known as the Communist Uprising, with an anti-landowner program, materializing the revolutionary line of the PCB in the period with an armed uprising with strong popular support and the slogan “All Power to the ANL”, which took power in Natal (RN) for some days and was also triggered in Recife (PE) and Rio de Janeiro. After the defeat of the uprising, pejoratively called the “Communist Intentona” by bourgeois historiography, a great repression and state terror against the popular forces and the PCB followed.

The ALN was not only a military organization, nor even an organization adept at the theory of the “guerrilla focus” systematized by Régis Debray, as it is commonly described, despite a decided influence of the Cuban revolution. Still in 1966, in November, Che Guevara clandestinely passed through São Paulo on his way to Bolivia, the trip was organized by ALN militant Farid Helou. Che stayed at Hotel Samambaia, downtown, disguised as a Uruguayan executive, and met at length with Carlos Marighella and Joaquim Câmara Ferreira, organizing the logistical support of the sector that would found the Communist Grouping for the passage of revolutionaries and weapons to Che’s project in Bolivia, where the greatest icon of the Latin-American revolutionary struggle would be captured and murdered between October 8 and 9, 1967. The ALN’s founding politics involved a necessary dialectic between guerrilla struggle and popular struggles, it was also a mass organization with thousands of militants, supporters and sympathizers in its various sectors, which invested in student struggles, worker mobilization and insurgent strikes, it operated militarily through the GTAs, mainly in the triangle São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, where the structure of repression was concentrated, but also in other regions of the country, leading spectacular actions of armed propaganda to challenge the regime and carrying out dozens and dozens of assaults and expropriations, some of these actions coordinated with other organizations such as the Tiradentes Revolutionary Movement (MRT), the Revolutionary Movement 8 of October (MR-8), the PCBR, the Revolutionary Popular Vanguard (VPR), and the National Liberation Command (COLINA), the latter two which would later form the Vanguarda Armada Revolucionária Palmares (VAR-Palmares), to open the way for rural guerrilla warfare with a plan that included the liberation of rural areas, They would promote peasant self-management in the territories liberated by the ALN, to advance in a revolutionary war of national liberation with an anti-imperialist and socialist character, based on the alliance between the peasantry, the urban workers, and the middle sectors of the intelligentsia and religious groups against the dictatorship.

Far from the accusations of militarism, or even of “petty-bourgeois adventurism”, coming from the cowardly collaborationism of the PCB, the ALN was an organization of a new type that blended elements of Marxism-Leninism, and of Guevarism specifically, with an instinctive revolutionary anarchism, rejecting “democratic centralism” and any form of bureaucratism, with a method of internal organization baptized as “revolutionary democracy”, It has maintained since its beginnings a mass front, with a strong presence in the student movement, mainly in Rio de Janeiro, where it had a decisive participation in the Passeata dos 100 Mil, after the murder of the secondary student Edson Luís, a considerable influence in the workers' movement, participating in the insurrectionary strike of 1968 in Contagem (MG), through the Revolutionary Current of Minas Gerais that would later merge with the ALN; And, together with the VPR, which would later be commanded by Captain Carlos Lamarca, in the mythical strike of Osasco (SP) also in 1968, besides several other strikes with factory occupations or providing armed support in workers' struggles. The fight of the masses of workers, peasants, students, and the support of progressive religious and intellectuals were always of fundamental importance for the ALN. The role of women was also preponderant in the organization, especially in activities related to logistics and intelligence.

The ALN also maintained an important policy of mass and vanguard propaganda, with bulletins, communiqués, pamphlets, and printed newspapers like O Guerrilheiro, Venceremos, and O Guerrilheiro Operário. Marighella, besides being declared enemy number 1 by the dictatorship and the Brazilian bourgeoisie, after the OLAS Conference, also became an international personality, being revered in France, published by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, and having his writings translated in almost all Latin American countries and in Europe. Specular actions with protagonism or participation of the ALN became news worldwide, like the execution of US Army Captain Charles Rodney Chandler (together with the VPR, in October 1968) and the kidnapping of US Ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick (together with MR-8, in September 1969). This last action, also famous for the film O que é isso, Companheiro? (Dir. Bruno Barreto, 1997), took place even though Marighella disagreed, foreseeing a sharp increase in the levels of repression, which in fact happened. The Urban Guerrilla Mini-manual and other texts on the armed struggle were a fundamental reference for guerrilla organizations like the Red Army Fraction (the Rote Armee Fraktion, RAF of Germany), for the Tupamaros, the National Liberation Movement of Uruguay, the Montoneros of Argentina, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Basque organization ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), the Irish Republican Army, better known by its English acronym, the IRA, the Weather Underground in the US, and even the Black Panthers Party had translated the “Mini-manual” and the “Call to the Brazilian People” in 1969.

The organization also maintained a support network in Europe and Marighella, like Che, were the inspiration for the Revolutionary Coordination Board, the JCR, formed in 1972 by remnants of the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, the Tupamaros, the Chilean Revolutionary Left Movement, Miguel Enriquez’s MIR, the Workers' Revolutionary Party - Revolutionary People’s Army of Argentina, the PRT-ERP of Mario Roberto Santucho, as an internationalist and revolutionary coordination, in response and opposition to the political-military alliance of South American dictatorships coordinated by imperialism known as Plan Condor, in which the ALN did not formally participate since it was already almost completely destroyed by repression.

The ALN began its final decomposition, as did the other guerrilla groups, in the early 1970s. With the assassination of Marighella on November 4, 1969, the fall of Joaquim Câmara Ferreira, “Commander Toledo”, on October 23, 1970, the exile of Carlos Eugênio da Paz, “Commander Clemente”, and finally the assassination on July 13, 1973 of Luís José da Cunha, “Commander Criolo”, the last top leader of the ALN. The organization, which had already been suffering from splits (such as the Popular Liberation Movement - MOLIPO and the Leninist Tendency), falls and deaths of militants, came to an end. Even so, in 1970, the guerrillas would achieve great success in the campaign for the null vote with the Manifesto Against the Electoral Farce signed by several organizations, and a belated attempt at unity in the Revolutionary Armed Front, first an alliance of the ALN with the VPR, where later the MRT and REDE (Democratic Resistance) would join. The kidnapping of the West German ambassador Ehrenfried von Holleben by the ALN and VPR in 1970, the execution, also by the ALN and VPR, of the Danish businessman Henning Albert Boilesen in 1971, In 1971, a sadistic businessman and president of Ultragaz who personally accompanied the barbaric torture and murder of militants, as well as the kidnappings of the Japanese consul-general, Nobuo Okuchi, and the Swiss ambassador, Giovanni Enrico Bucher, both by the VPR, gave impetus to the armed struggle. But the guerrilla organizations, including the ALN as the most important of them, that managed to confound the dictatorship and the repression in the 1960s, making people believe in the possible victory of the revolutionary war, would be completely destroyed before the middle of the 1970s, with the murder of Captain Lamarca in the backlands of Bahia, The massacre of FOGUERA in Araguaia, after three major operations of the dictatorship, where Osvaldo Orlando da Costa, the “immortal guerrilla” Osvaldão, was also murdered, in February 1974, and several other massacres, hundreds of militants murdered, and hundreds more exiled and disappeared.