Anarchism in Latin American: The Re-Emergence of a Viable Current

Anarchism in Latin America is a forthcoming book scheduled for release in December 2017 by AK Press. Written by Argentinian philosopher and author Angel Cappelletti and translated by the US based Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, the work includes an introduction by Black Rose/Rosa Negra members Romina Akemi and Javier Sethness-Castro. This new translation offers a country-by-country overview of anarchism’s social and political achievements in fourteen Latin American countries and is the first book length history of it’s kind published in English. Below we offer an excerpt of the introduction and hope that this will spark your interest. 

The Re-Emergence of Anarchism as a Viable Current

By Romina Akemi and Javier Sethness-Castro

This book follows on the heels of other publications by AK Press, including the English translated editions of Horizontalism that was edited by Marina Sitrin, Oscar Bayer’s classic Rebellion in Patagonia, Juan Suriano’s Paradoxes of Utopia, among other publications. However, anarchist history and theory produced in Latin America, past and present, is extremely vast and difficult to detail. It should be noted that Cappelletti’s book marks the beginning of a reengagement with libertarianism after decades in being overshadowed by Marxism. The 90s anarchist revival went beyond the social movement arena, as more people sought to revisit their anarchist predecessors once deemed “ultra-leftists” or proto-communists, engendering new research by academics and worker-intellectuals alike.[1]

The rerise of anarchism in the 90s was a worldwide phenomena has some noted commonalities that include the failures by Marxism exemplified in the fall of the Soviet Union, the aggressive spread of neoliberal policies disguised as globalization, and the breaking down of class identities that asserted individual identities and activism, as well as support for specific causes. There is a tendency to assume that these patterns manifested in the same way across the world as in the US. However, the over-individualistic modality seen in US anarchist circles are not readily seen across the Americas, where anarchism remained as a political ideology and not an individual identity or lifestyle. This is not to say that squats and communal living did not spread across the continent because they did, especially in the early 2000s; since living together did not create de-facto prefigurative politics, but fighting together to demand housing and land rights was an important foundation. As Sitrin covers in Horizontalism, that the deep economic crisis experienced in Argentina in the 90s impulsed many to organize and create new forms of social movement organizations that were rooted in autogestión, becoming the living embodiment of popular power.

Cappelletti’s book ends around the middle of the twentieth century. For those unfamiliar with anarchist and autonomist organizing since then, we will offer some highlights. In his chapter on Uruguay, he notes the formation of the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU), founded in 1956. The FAU, after surviving state terrorism and dictatorship, proved influential in the development of organized anarchism across the southern region. FAU was founded by mostly Spanish anarchist refugees fleeing General Franco’s fascist forces who realized the need for a specific anarchist organization that they termed especifismo. Their social insertion work has centered on constructing autogestión neighborhood (territorial) centers and social insertion work in industrial unions constructing a militant class independent politic. For young libertarians seeking guidance on how to build an organized presence within their class, pilgrimage to the FAU headquarters in Montevideo became a common experience in the 90s and 00s. FAU’s steady work with young anarchists in the neighboring Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sul led to the eventual formation of the Federação Anarquista Gaúcha (FAG) in 1996. The FAG militants eventually influenced the formation of especifista groupings in Brazil, including the Federação Anarquista do Rio do Janeiro (FARJ). During the FARJ’s 2008 congress, the document “Social Anarchism and Organization” emerged from their discussions about strategy, rooted in their current organizational and social movement experiences. They eventually joined efforts made by the Forum of Organized Anarchism (FAO) that evolved into the larger federative network—Coordenação Anarquista Brasileira (CAB)—that includes locals from 11 cities. In the realm of anarchist stratagem to organize for revolution, the FAU’s main contributions were especifismo, while the FARJ, in discussion with other libertarian militants in Brazil, gave social insertion greater context as a method of struggle to insert ourselves into the organizations and movements that are the best expressions of resistance by our class. Social insertion is both a commitment to those spaces to flourish into healthy organizations and, at the same time, assert our core ideological principles as we fight for the hearts and minds of the working class.

The other region with an important organized libertarian prominence is Chile. The continual presence of anarchism within the labor movement from the 1950s to the 1990s is owed to syndicalists such as Clotario Blest, Celso Poblete, Ernesto Miranda, José Ego-Aguirre, and Hugo Cárter. Ego-Aguirre and Cárter, older anarcho-syndicalists, influenced a group of young people in the 1980s that led to the foundation of the Hombre y Sociedad (Man and Society) newspaper that ran from 1985 until 1988, with financial support from anarchists exiled in Europe, including Nestor Vega and Urbano Burgos.[2] From then on, other small publications emerged across the country, including El Acrata and Acción Directa. The multi-generational formation associated with Hombre y Sociedad became an important confluence of experience and new ideas.

According to the Chilean anarchist José Antonio Gutiérrez Danton, the 90s is best described by “a virtual ‘boom’” of anarchist ideas and practices” and a “rediscovery” of anarchism as a historical current in Chile. In 1998 the publication of George Fontenis’s El Manifiesto Comunista Libertario sparked polemics among libertarian circles and helped consolidate those interested in forming an anarchist-communist organization, motivating a sector that were mostly punk rock anarchists to become serious political actors. The Congreso de Unificación Anarco Comunista (CUAC), founded in November 1999, marked an important moment by a new generation of libertarian revolutionaries who attempted to better position their political work they were carrying out within various social sectors and united by agreed upon principles in a single organization. CUAC was formed in the construction workers union hall, FETRACOMA, that also functioned as the CUAC headquarters, which allowed for deeper bonds and integration into the labor movement. CUAC owes a greater deal of its political development from Chilean Marxist organizations such as the Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionario (MIR) and the Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez (FPMR). CUAC played a key role in initiating discussions about the need for organized presence within the burgeoning student movement that led to the formation of the Frente de Estudiantes Libertarios (FEL) in May 2003.[3] The CUAC split in 2003 that led to the formation of two currents: the Organización Comunista Libertaria (Communist Libertarian Organization – OCL) and the Corriente Revolucionaria Anarquista (Anarchist Revolutionary Current – CRA), while FEL’s association remained with OCL. The eventual explosion of a militant high school student movement in 2006 calling for free education that evolved into a well-strategized (yet very top-down) university student movement that reached is zenith in 2011 assured anarchism’s ideological viability that continues to be felt today in Chile.

2013 marked another important turning point in organized anarchism in Chile when a sector within OCL and FEL called Red Libertaria (Libertarian Network – RL) who “firmly and enthusiastically joined the ‘Todos a la Moneda’ (Everyone to La Moneda) platform, whose candidate was Marcel Claude.”[4] In an article penned by Gutiérrez Danton and Rafael Agacino, they underscore, “But it was not only the decision itself to participate in an election that produced this seismic reaction within the Chilean libertarian movement, it was the manner in which the decision was made,” especially the secrecy by a sector within OCL and FEL that left many of their comrades dumbfounded and feeling betrayed. Those who questioned the creation of RL and a move toward electoralism were expelled which sparked resignations. The expelled grouping, along with other collectives and individuals not associated with OCL, organized the Communist Libertarian Congress over the course of two years that led to the founding of Solidaridad-Federación Comunista Libertaria (Solidarity – Communist Libertarian Federation) in January 2016.

This organizational split placed the FEL in a difficult position when anarchists gained the presidency of the Chilean University Student Federation (FECH) with their candidate Melissa Sepúlveda; a feat not accomplished since the 1920s. A decision was made to hold on to a FEL split until the end of Sepúlveda’s term. Sepúlveda, who ran on an explicit feminist and anarchist platform, was a political departure from Camila Vallejo, a Communist Party member and FECH president in 2011 who received international attention. Sepúlveda publically supported student-worker alliances and autonomous organizing amongst the working class. At the end of her term, Sepúlveda, along with other FEL dissidents who opposed the electoralism move, founded Acción Libertaria (Libertarian Action – AL) in early 2015.

In Mexico, in parallel to the contemporary authoritarianisms that took the lives of thousands in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, the “Dirty War” of the 60s and 70s saw the full repressive power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) directed against leftists, youth, organizers, and the landless peasantry in the wake of the Tlatelolco massacre of October 2, 1968. The State murdered hundreds of students in Mexico City that day, and the PRI forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed thousands more as part of its counter-insurgent strategy to suppress the generalized societal outrage provoked by the same.[5] The EZLN itself was founded in 1983 as a union between landless indigenous Chiapanecxs and urban-based mestizo and European-descended militants from the Fuerzas de Liberación Nacional (FLN), which had been created in 1969[6]—much as the ten-year Colombian civil war known as La Violencia that claimed thousands of lives catalyzed the founding in 1964 of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army).[7] The neo-Zapatista insurrection on January 1, 1994, proclaimed a radical halt to the ceaseless ethnocide targeting indigenous peoples since the Spanish conquest. The rapid response of domestic and international civil society to the uprising limited the intensity of direct repression by the Mexican Army, resulting paradoxically in the PRI’s resorting instead to employing paramilitary terror against Zapatista support-bases and Zapatista-sympathizing communities in Chiapas—a strategy that continues to this day. Following the inevitable breakdown of negotiations with a racist State failing to observe the San Andrés Accords (1996), the EZLN focused intensely on furthering communal autonomy by strengthening the participatory alternate institutions that comprise the movement which exists alongside the military structures, including cooperatives, autonomous education, the public health sector, and popular assemblies. This project of autonomy advanced importantly in 2003 with the announcement of the Good-Government Councils (JBG’s), comprised of delegates, sometimes as young as adolescents, who rotate in the administration of the five regions of Chiapas in which the EZLN has a presence.

Hence, while it is true that the EZLN’s initial uprising sought to inspire a regional- or country-wide revolution to take over the State—with the Zapatistas hoping to march on Mexico City and liberate it once again—the neo-Zapatista movement has distinguished itself from other Latin American guerrilla struggles by the anti-electoralism and anti-statism that has defined the development of its autonomy. A decade ago, the EZLN launched La Otra Campaña as an effort to unite a nation-wide anti-authoritarian left alternative to political parties and the State amidst the ongoing battle for power between the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the social-democrat candidate, in the 2006 elections. In parallel, la Sexta Declaración de la Selva Lacandona (Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle [2005]) proudly declared the movement’s autonomy in search of a new constitution that would meet its original thirteen demands.[8] Yet now, after having championed autonomous social organization as a viable alternative for over a decade, the EZLN joins its comrade-representatives from the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) in endorsing the proposal for an Indigenous Government Council (CIG) and in presenting the Nahua traditional healer María de Jesús “Marichuy” Patricio Martínez as CIG spokesperson, councilor, and candidate for the 2018 presidential elections.[9] The CNI describes this move as “going on the offensive,” and it paradoxically claims not to want to administer power but rather to dismantle it. Since the announcement, Marichuy and comrades have stressed that the focus is not on the ballot but rather favoring “organization, life, and the defense of territory.” Yet the conclusion of the Fifth CNI in early 2017 is clear: the CIG is meant to “govern this country.”[10] It remains to be seen how this move will play out, and how it will affect the Zapatista movement and autonomous indigenous movements elsewhere in Mexico and Latin America. We imagine that this shift toward electoralism is being met with a degree of resistance within Zapatista ranks, particularly among the youth who have been raised with the JBG’s and la Sexta.


[1] There are numerous authors and some already listed in previous footnotes: Víctor Muñoz Cortés, Sin Dios Ni Patrones: Historia, diversidad y conflictos del anarquismo en la región chilena, 1890-1990 (Valparaíso, Mar y Tierra Ediciones, 2013); Sergio Grez Toso, Los anarquistas y el movimiento obrero: La alborada de “la Idea” en Chile, 1893-1915 (Santiago, LOM, 2007).

[2] “Platformism without illusions: Chile, Interview with José Antonio Gutiérrez Danton,” Common Struggle/Lucha Común, nefac.net, Published May 23, 2003, http://nefac.net/node/424.

[3] “The Process of the Initial Construction of FEL,” Struggle/Lucha Común, nefac.net, published January 14, 2012, http://nefac.net/node/2576.

[4] José Antonio Gutiérrez D. and Rafael Agacino, “Some reflections on libertarians in Chile and electoral participation,” libcom.org, January 4, 2017, https://libcom.org/library/some-reflections-libertarians-chile-electoral-participation.

[5] Elena Poniatowska, La noche de Tlatelolco: testimonios de historia oral (México, D.F.: Ediciones Era, 2012 [1971])..

[6] Raúl Romero, “EZLN: 17 de noviembre de 1983,” Rebelión, November 17, 2012.

[7] Chris Kraul, “The battles began in 1964: Here’s a look at Colombia’s war with the FARC rebels,” Los Angeles Times, August 30, 2016.

[8] These are shelter (or housing), land, food, health, education, information, culture, independence, democracy, justice, freedom, and peace. Comité Clandestino Revolucionario Indígena-Comandancia General del Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (CCRI-CG EZLN), “Sexta Declaración de la Selva Lacandona,” June 2005. Available online: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/sdsl-es/.

[9] CNI y EZLN, “Llegó la hora,” Enlace Zapatista, 28 May 2017. Available online: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2017/05/28/llego-la-hora-cni-ezln/.

[10] Ibid, “Convocatoria a la Asamblea Constitutiva del Concejo Indígena de Gobierno,” Enlace Zapatista, April 2, 2017. Available online: http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2017/04/02/convocatoria-a-la-asamblea-constitutiva-del-concejo-indigena-de-gobierno-para-mexico.