History of the socialist movement in Brazil

The history of the socialist movement in Brazil is generally thought to trace back to the first half of the 19th century. There are documents evidencing the diffusion of socialist ideas since then, but these were individual initiatives with no ability to form groups with actual political activism.[1]


Old Republic (1889–1930)

In 1892 the First Socialist Congress of Brazil occurred in Rio de Janeiro. Later that year, in São Paulo, another Socialist Congress, independent from the latter, took place. That same year the Workers' Socialist Party (Partido Operário Socialista) was founded in Rio de Janeiro. This is considered to be the first socialist party in Brazil. In 1895, also in Rio, the Socialist Workers Party (Partido Socialista Operário) was founded. That same year, Silvério Fontes, considered the first Brazilian Marxist, launched the Socialist Center of Santos, which soon published the socialist magazine A Questão Social (The Social Question) and newspaper O Socialista (The Socialist).

The first major socialist party of the country was founded in 1902 in São Paulo, under the auspicious of Italian immigrant Alcebíades Bertollotti, who was once responsible for Avanti, the official newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party. That same year, the Socialist Collective Party (Partido Socialista Coletivista) was founded in Rio de Janeiro, headed by Vicente de Sousa, a teacher at the Colégio Pedro II, and Gustavo Lacerda, a journalist and founder of the Brazilian Press Association (Associação Brasileira de Imprensa – ABI). In 1906, the Independent Workers Party (Partido Operário Independente) was founded; it created a "popular university", which had Rocha Pombo, Manuel Bomfim, and José Veríssimo as teachers.[1]

The diffusion of socialist ideas increased during the First World War, but most of the Brazilian left-wing groups were still alienated from the general public. In June 1916, Francisco Vieira da Silva, Toledo de Loiola, Alonso Costa, and Mariano Garcia launched the Manifesto of the Brazilian Socialist Party (Manifesto do Partido Socialista Brasileiro). On May 1st of the following year, the Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Brazil (Manifesto do Partido Socialista do Brasil) was launched, signed by Nestor Peixoto de Oliveira, Isaac Izeckson, and Murilo Araújo. This group launched Evaristo de Morais to the House of Representatives and published two newspapers, Folha Nova (The New Leaf) and Tempos Novos (New Times), both short-lived.[1]

In December 1919, the Socialist League (Liga Socialista) was formed in Rio de Janeiro. Its members started publishing the magazine Clarté in 1921, with the support of Evaristo de Morais, Maurício de Lacerda, Nicanor do Nascimento, Agripino Nazaré, Leônidas de Resende, Pontes de Miranda, among others. The group would extend its influence to São Paulo, with Nereu Rangel Pestana, and to Recife, with Joaquim Pimenta. In 1925 a new Brazilian Socialist Party (Partido Socialista do Brasil) was launched, also formed by the group led by Evaristo de Morais.[1]

The foundation of the Brazilian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Brasileiro – PCB) in 1922 and its rapid growth suffocated the dozens of anarchist organizations which had played an important role in staging major strikes during the previous decade. PCB staged major strikes throughout the 1920s. Also during that period before the 1930 Revolution and Getúlio Vargas' rise to power, Maurício de Lacerda launched the short-lived United Front of the Left (Frente Unida das Esquerdas), whose purpose was to write a draft socialist constitution for Brazil.[1] The political agitation of the period included a movement in the tenente revolts context led by future Communist leader Luís Carlos Prestes. Also, as a part of the Tenente revolts, a short-lived commune was formed in Manaus. Prestes was invited by Vargas to lead the military efforts of his uprising against the São Paulo oligarchy, but he refused; he was against an alliance between tenentes and dissident oligarchs. He exiled himself in the Soviet Union and was admitted as a member of PCB. In Moscow, he accepted the task, proposed by the Comintern, of leading a Communist upheaval in Brazil.

Vargas Era (1930–1945)

German-Brazilian militant Olga Benário Prestes (1908–1942).

Political activity was highly repressed during the Vargas regime. On November 23–27, 1935, Prestes' upheaval (Intentona Comunista) took place in Natal, Recife, and Rio de Janeiro almost simultaneously. It was led by the National Liberation Alliance (Aliança Nacional Libertadora – ANL), an organization which gathered anti-fascist (socialist, communist, liberals, progressive and nationalist) military officers. In Natal, the rebels even formed a military junta which ruled the city for four days. According to the official Vargas government account, the rebels killed 32 military officers in Rio de Janeiro, but the event is still questioned. The repression of the uprising resulted not only in the arrest of communist militants involved in it but also the persecution of popular forces in general.

In 1936, Prestes and his wife, Olga Benário Prestes, then pregnant, were arrested as a result of their participation in the upheaval. Benário, a Jewish German-Brazilian Communist militant, was deported by the Vargas regime to Nazi Germany. Benário was eventually killed at the Bernburg Euthanasia Centre in 1942; she had given birth at the facility a few years earlier and her daughter, Anita Leocádia Prestes, was handed to Brazilian authorities by the Nazis at age one. With her father still in jail upon her arrival in Brazil, she was raised by her paternal grandmother Leocádia Prestes. Another victim of the Vargas regime was the Italian-Brazilian anarchist Oreste Ristori, deported to the Kingdom of Italy in 1936 and killed by Fascist police officers on December 2, 1943.

In 1937, Vargas imposed a Fourth Constitution for the country, the so-called Polaca, after his government denounced that international military forces were trying to make a "socialist revolution" in Brazil, in what became known as Plano Cohen. This false claim was a pretext for Vargas to perpetuate himself in power. Written by Justice Minister Francisco Campos, the Polaca was inspired by the authoritarian April Constitution of Poland, and was intended to consolidate the executive branch over the legislative and judiciary, implementing what became known as the Estado Novo regime. Polaca banned all political parties, implemented censorship in the press, and suppressed even further the organized movements of workers and of the society in general.

Second Republic (1945–1964)

João Goulart, President of Brazil from 1961 to 1964.

After the end of the Vargas regime in 1945, socialist ideas started developing again in the Post-War period with the creation of the Democratic Left (Esquerda Democrática) party, which was eventually registered as the Brazilian Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Brasileiro – PSB) on the Electoral Justice Court in August 1947. The PCB was also re-legalized, but the fear of Communism also increased among the middle and upper classes in the context of the Cold War.

In 1946, Luís Carlos Prestes became the first self-proclaimed Communist Senator of Brazil, a feat which would only be repeated sixty years later, when Inácio Arruda was elected to represent Ceará. By 1947, the PCB had nearly 200,000 members, having received 480,000 votes (nearly 9% of the total) in that year's legislative election. The party, however, was denounced as being "internationalist, and therefore not committed to Brazil's own interests" by Eurico Gaspar Dutra in 1948, having its license revoked by the Electoral Justice Court. In 1956, clashes emerged in the party after Nikita Khrushchev denounced Joseph Stalin's policies at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The factionalization of the PCB accelerated after a new Manifesto was approved in 1958, proposing new ways of achieving communist goals, linking the establishment of socialism to the broadening of democracy. Some of its top leaders, dissatisfied with this guidelines, quit PCB and formed a new party, Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil – PCdoB), in 1962. As a result, both parties claim to have been established in 1922.

In 1955, the Latin American Episcopal Conference (Conselho Episcopal Latino Americano – CELAM) was created in Rio de Janeiro. It pushed the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) toward a more socially oriented stance. CELAM is the main basis for the foundation of the Liberation theology, which would play a significant role on the Brazilian left in the following decades, before declining in the late 1990s.

In 1961, after the resignation of Jânio Quadros, Vice-President João Goulart, a social-democrat with popular reform proposals, took office. He would, however, rule the country de facto only in 1963, after a referendum ended the parliamentary system approved by the Congress to prevent the Military Forces from overthrowing him from office due to his progressive views. During Goulart's government, PSB's president João Mangabeira became Justice Minister. A military coup in 1964 deposed Goulart under charges that he was leading a socialist revolution with his Basic Reforms (Reformas de Base) program. Goulart's biggest political opponent – and coup supporter – was Carlos Lacerda, son of Maurício de Lacerda, founder of PCB who later joined the National Democratic Union (União Democrática Nacional – UDN), an anti-Communist party.

Military dictatorship (1964–1985)

Workers' Party logo.

With the 1964 coup, all political parties were banned, and socialist organizations had to act clandestinely once again. The creation of bipartisanship in 1965 by a presidential decree allowed moderate left-wing politicians to join the Brazilian Democratic Movement (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro – MDB), the party of consented opposition to the military regime.

In the second half of the 1960s and all through the 1970s, socialists and other opposition groups to the military dictatorship suffered relentless persecution. The vast majority of militants in armed organizations that fought the regime professed socialist ideas, ranging from Leninism to Maoism. As during the Vargas dictatorship, the guerrilla warfare carried out by Communist groups was used by the regime's propaganda as a justification for repression. The slow redemocratization process initiated by Ernesto Geisel in the second half of the 1970s yielded its first gains on the following decade, when socialist and communist parties were once again able to organize freely and stand their own candidates.

In January 1979, at the XI Steelworkers Congress, the proposal to launch the Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT), a democratic socialist party, was made. Its official foundation would occur a year later at the Catholic school Colégio Sion (Sion High School) in São Paulo. PT is a result of the approach between trade unionists of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), intellectuals, artists, Catholics influenced by liberation theology, and the old Brazilian left. The party, however, can be described as a New Left party, once it refused "taking the path of the old Latin American left, in the form of the guerrilla movement or Stalinism".[2]

In 1984, the Landless Workers' Movement was created as a reaction to the military regime's failed land reform program. This socialist group grew rapidly, becoming the largest social movement organization in Latin America, with an estimated 1.5 million members organized in 23 out of Brazil's 26 states. PT and MST have been closely linked to each other since the mid-1980s, but have grown apart in recent years.

New Republic (1985–present)

In 1988, rubber tapper, unionist and environmental activist Chico Mendes, a member of the PT and an icon of the struggle for preservation of the Amazon Rainforest was assassinated in his house in Xapuri, Acre. He is recognized today as one of the first leaders of the Brazilian eco-socialism movement.

In the 1989 election, the PT formed a socialist coalition with the PSB and PC do B and had Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as its presidential candidate. Although feared by the elite for proposing land reform, Lula declared that neither him or his party have ever been Marxist in a televised debate. The democratic socialist Democratic Labour Party (Partido Democrático Trabalhista – PDT), the only Brazilian member of the Socialist International, which claimed to be the actual heir of Goulart's and Vargas' Brazilian Labour Party (Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro – PTB), launched Leonel Brizola as their presidential candidate. Lula narrowly beat Brizola in the first-round and went on to the second round of the election, losing to neoliberal candidate Fernando Collor de Mello.

After two unsuccessful attempts (losing both to Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a Social-Democrat, who soon adhered to the Third Way neoliberal agenda), Lula was eventually elected in 2002. In spite of criticism of his government for alliances with right-wing politicians and practicing some unorthodox neoliberal politics,[2] which caused the departure of some factions of the PT, Lula claims he still has "socialist skills".[3] A major departure from his government and his party was from the group which created the Socialism and Liberty Party (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade – PSOL). In 2010, PT's Dilma Rousseff was elected the first female President of Brazil. During her term, there were widespread protests for better living standards, in which PT was criticized for distancing itself from social movements and youth organizations; for many it seems the PT's reformist model of left-wing politics is reaching its limits.[2]

Socialist and social democratic parties in Brazil


The following parties have more than 350,000 members:

  • Workers' Party
  • Brazilian Social Democratic Party
  • Democratic Labour Party
  • Brazilian Socialist Party
  • Socialist People's Party
  • Communist Party of Brazil


The following parties have less than 350,000 members and, amongst them, only the Socialism and Liberty Party is represented in the Chamber of Deputies:

  • Socialism and Liberty Party
  • Brazilian Communist Party
  • Free Homeland Party
  • United Socialist Workers' Party
  • Workers' Cause Party


The following parties are not legally recognized by the Superior Electoral Court and, therefore, are not allowed to participate in elections:

  • Revolutionary Communist Party
  • Marxist–Leninist Communist Party

Parties which have adopted Third Way politics. The Socialist People's Party is the ex-communist PCB, which has regrouped into a smaller party.


  1. "Resumo histórico do socialismo" (in Portuguese), article by Encyclopædia Britannica do Brasil published on the Independent Media Center on June 24, 2004.
  2. Larrabure, Manuel. "'Não nos representam!' A left beyond the Workers Party?". The Bullet. July 18, 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  3. Página principal do Portal A TARDE. Atarde.com.br. Retrieved on 2017-07-19.
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