Resistencia Libertaria: Anarchist Opposition to the Last Argentine Dictatorship

This first appeared in the February 2003 issue of The New Formulation:
An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books
 (Vol. 2, No. 1) .

 * * *

A broad and popular resistance confronted the military dictatorships that strangled Latin America in the 1970s. Activists from diverse political tendencies fought back, in both organized and spontaneous ways, and their efforts doubtlessly saved many lives and hastened the collapse of these brutal regimes.

Although some of their contributions have been celebrated in books, articles, and
films, important aspects of the resistance have never been studied. In particular, anarchist opposition to the dictatorships—which existed in Argentina, Brazil,
Chile, and Uruguay—has been almost entirely omitted from the historical record.

The following interview offers a corrective to that omission. It tells the story of Resistencia Libertaria, a clandestine anarchist organization founded shortly before the Argentine military seized power in 1976.

Resistencia Libertaria (RL) was active in the student, labor, and neighborhood movements and also had a military wing with which it defended and financed its activities. At its peak, it had between 100 and 130 members and a much broader network of sympathizers. The organization was crushed in 1978 and 80 percent of its members perished in the dictatorship’s concentration camps and torture chambers.

The RL sustained the long tradition of Argentine anarchism and also transformed it in the face of the new conditions confronting activists in the 1970s. The experiences of the RL—which have been essentially undocumented in Spanish or English until now—mark an important chapter in the history of resistance to the last Argentine dictatorship and post-World War II anarchism generally.

Although the New Formulation is normally restricted to book reviews, it is hoped that readers will welcome this small departure from our normal editorial policy.

This interview was conducted in Spanish by phone on October 13, 2002 with Fernando Lopez, one of RL’s few surviving members. Please see the “About Contributors” section for more information on Lopez.

~ Chuck Morse

Please tell me about the origins of the RL. How was it formed?
The RL was founded by comrades from the city of La Plata at the end of the 1960s. The founding nuclei constituted a community around a cooperative carpentry shop (which still exists to this day) and developed militant projects among university students and later in the workers’ movement (specifically in the shipyard workers’ and judicial workers’ unions).

A key event occurred when members of this group starting collaborating with the newspaper, La Protesta, and a very heavy, acute discussion took place between them and the old people that were there.(1) The discussion had to do with the appearance of the first, groups of armed action, such as the Tupamaros and the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (Revolutionary Army of the People). The young people tended to support the actions carried out by these groups and thus conflicted with the older people, who opposed these actions, because they rejected some of the Marxist positions of these groups. The younger group was expelled from La Protesta due to these differences around 1971. This cut their relationship with the older anarchist movement and rendered them independent from it.

Later, in 1973, an anarchist conference was held in the city of Cordoba, in which militants of groups from Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, and Montevideo [Uruguay] participated. Myself and another comrade attended this conference as delegates from a group called Action Directa. It was here that comrades from La Plata, Cordoba, and Action Directa from Buenos Aires constituted Resistencia Anticapitalista Libertaria (Libertarian Anti-Capitalist Resistance) as a national organization.

A year or year and a half later, the name Resistencia Anticapitalista Libertaria was dropped simply for Resistencia Libertaria (this just happened naturally, there was not a discussion about changing the name). I joined the organization in 1974.

How was the RL structured?
The RL was an absolutely clandestine organization and it was organized in a cellular form by fronts of work.(2) The fronts of work were the workers’ front, the student front, and the neighborhood front. The RL also had a military apparatus that was, in reality, a mechanism for financing the organization—working in a moment of almost absolute clandestinity is very onerous and costly—and for protecting militant workers, etc., because things such as kidnappings and rightist actions against left-wing workers’ groups were common during this era. It was necessary to organize self-defense in some cases.

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Latin American Anarchism

This first appeared in the February 2003 issue of The New Formulation: An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books (Vol. 2, No. 1) .

Cronica Anarquista de la Subversion Olvidada by Oscar Ortiz
and Contribucion a una Historia del Anarquismo en America Latina by Luis Vitale
Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Espiritu Libertario, 2002

Anarquismo y Anarcosindicalismo en America Latina
By Alfredo Gomez
Paris: Ruedo iberico, 1980

Anarquistas en America Latina
By David Vinas
Mexico City: Editorial Katun, 1983

* * *

Review by Chuck Morse

There are important reasons for anarchists in English-speaking parts of North America to study the history of Latin American anarchism.

One reason is political. We need to form principled, collaborative relationships with our Latin American comrades to fight global capitalism globally and, to do so, we obviously need be able to identify our real comrades among the countless groups in the region that make claims upon our solidarity. Should we “defend the Cuban Revolution” or toast Lula’s social democratic victory in Brazil? Should we adopt the Zapatista ski-mask as our emblem or devoutly align ourselves with small anarchist groups? A genuine confrontation with these questions requires a deep appreciation of the history of Latin American opposition and certainly the anarchist movement has played a significant role in this history.

Another reason is more theoretical: it is necessary to develop a vision of a worldwide anarchist movement that takes into account the very different conditions that exist in “underdeveloped” parts of the world (such as Latin America) as opposed to Europe or the United States. It is necessary to understand how these conditions affect the form and content of anarchist activity. For example, clearly Belgian and Bolivian anarchist movements will have different characteristics, but exactly what type of differences and why? Certainly a good way to begin exploring these questions is by looking at the actual experience of anarchist movements in Asia, Africa, or, in the case of this review, Latin America.

Finally, the Latino identity is central to economic and cultural contradictions in the United States. Of course it is a positive source of community, tradition, and sense of self for millions of Latinos within U.S. borders and it is also used as a negative signifier to justify exploitation and racism. The constantly changing meaning of the Latino identity is highly dependent upon ideas about the history of Latin America and radicals can encourage the most expansive, Utopian elements of this identity by making sure that liberatory historical experiences in the Americas are not forgotten.

Unfortunately those who try to research the Latin American anarchist tradition will immediately discover that the historical literature on the movement is remarkably poor. There are no books on the topic in English or Portuguese and only five in Spanish, of which one is an anthology and another is a very brief overview.(1) The paucity of studies does not reflect the significance or dynamism of the movement but rather that social democrats and Marxists, who have produced the richest literature on social movements in the Americas, are hostile to the anarchist tradition and have attempted to erase or diminish its presence in this historical record.(2) Both groups need to construct the revolutionary Left as fundamentally statist to justify their social projects: the Marxists to defend their authoritarian regimes and the social democrats to present their free-market policies as the only socially conscious alternative to Marxist authoritarianism. Of course the existence of the anarchist tradition—a revolutionary, anti-authoritarian alternative—complicates their assertions.

Thus contemporary anarchists are obliged to undertake a major reconstructive effort to restore anarchism to its proper place in the history of the Americas and the three books reviewed here are among the best on the subject. Their authors defiantly and unanimously assert that the anarchist movement was a vital actor in early twentieth century social history. Louis Vitale, in a sentiment echoed by the other authors, observes that “anarcho- syndicalism was the dominant current in the Latin American workers’ movement during the first two decades of the twentieth century.”(3) They also all assert that anarchists were leaders in the creation of early labor unions, cultivated a strong working class militancy, and achieved many concrete gains for the working class. Indeed, between the revolutionary unions, schools, daily newspapers, and other projects, these authors paint a picture of a profoundly dynamic anarchist movement, especially in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay.

Anarchism and the Labor Movement
Alfredo Gomez’s Anarquismo y Anarcosindicalismo en America Latina {Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism in Latin America) treats anarchism in Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Gomez focuses on anarchists’ role within the revolutionary labor movement and attempts to draw conclusions about the classical anarchist project based on the comparative study of the anarchist movement in these countries. G6mez, who is an anarchist, wants to both document the history of the movement and defend it in theoretical terms.

For Gomez, anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism (he does not distinguish between the two) is linked fundamentally to the labor movement. He regards anarchism as a theoretical expression of workers’ capacity to organize themselves and potentially run society without the interference of capitalists or statists. In other words, anarchism allows workers to become conscious of their power as workers, defend their immediate interests, and fight to revolutionize society as a whole.

In each country he treats, Gomez charts the emergence of a combative working class and the influence of anarchist groups on this class. His study of Colombian anarchism, which makes up nearly half of the book, is a welcome contribution given that Colombia has received scant attention in existing studies of Latin American anarchism. Here he documents major strikes, such as the anarchist led banana workers’ strike of 1928, and also the activities of anarchist groups such as Bogota’s Grupo Sindicalista “Antorcha Libertaria,” the Via Libre group, and others.(4) However, his emphasis lays upon the working class and its capacity to fight directly for its own interests rather than specifically anarchist activities per se. This is partially because the anarchist movement was less developed in Colombia than in other countries, but also because Gomez regards a direct action based workers’ movement and anarchism as essentially two sides of the same phenomenon (practice and theory, respectively). In Brazil, Gomez shows us how anarchists led a massive and nearly revolutionary wave of strikes from 1917 to 1920. In Argentina, which had one of the most mature anarchist movements in the Americas (and the world), Gomez focuses on the relationship between the anarchist Federation Obrera Regional de Argentina and working class struggles. In Mexico, Gomez examines the anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon’s intervention in the 1910 Mexican Revolution and also treats the Mexico City based Casa del Obrero Mundial (House of the World Worker), which was a center of anarchist organizing and labor radicalism.

The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism
The double book released by Chile’s Ediciones Espiritu Libertario contains Cronica Anarquista de la Subversion Olvidada {Anarchist Chronicle of Forgotten Subversion) by Oscar Ortiz and Luis Vitale’s Contribucion a una Historia del Anarquismo en America Latina {Contribution to a History of Anarchism in Latin America). These books document the history of anarchism in Latin America but have a special focus on the movement in Chile.

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