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Anarchism in Latin America: The Archivo Histórico Angel Cappelletti

By charles | September 2, 2009

There’s an interesting new online archive devoted to the work of anarchist writer and intellectual Angel Cappelletti.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1927 and spending the second half of his life in Venezuela, Cappelletti taught philosophy at various universities in Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Mexico, and Costa Rica. As a philosopher, he wrote on a wide range of topics—including pre-Socratic, Aristotelian, and medieval philosophy. And he has written a slew of books on the theory and history of anarchism, including:

* El Anarquismo en América Latina (edited with Carlos M. Rama)
* Hechos y figuras del anarquismo hispanoamericano
* El pensamiento de Kropotkin, ciencia ética y Anarquia
* A Ideoloxia Anarquista
* Estado y poder político en el pensamiento moderno

Below is an excerpt from the prologue of Cappelletti’s El Anarquismo en América Latina. The excerpt was posted to the @-infos listserv in 1996 by Luis J. Prat, who I also think did the translation. And, beneath that, I’ve pasted the Archivo Historico Angel Cappelletti’s “About Us” statement, first in Spanish, then my, um, sloppy translation.




from Anarchism in Latin America

…Anarchism has an ample history in Latin America, rich in peaceful and violent struggles, in demonstrations of individual and collective heroism, in organizational efforts, in oral, written and practical propaganda, in literary works, in theatrical, pedagogic, cooperative or communitarian experiments, etc. This history has never been totally documented, although there are very good partial studies. Moreover, those who write the social, political, cultural, literary, philosophical history of the subcontinent usually neglect or minimize the importance of the anarchist movement. There is in this as much ignorance as bad faith. Some historians do not know the facts or consider anarchism as a marginal ideology absolutely minoritarian and scornful. Others, on the contrary, know what anarchism means in the history of socialist ideas and understand its attitude towards Marxism well, but precisely because of this they try to forget or belittle it as the fruit of revolutionary immaturity, abstract utopianism, craftsman and petit bourgeois rebelliousness, etc.

…Like all thought originating in Europe, anarchist ideology was for Latin America an imported product. But ideas are not mere products but rather organisms that, as such, must adapt to the new environment and in so doing, change in a lesser or greater measure. To say that anarchism was brought to these shores by European immigrants is to say the obvious. To interpret this fact as a sign of lesser value seems rather like a show of stupidity. (The very idea of “fatherland” and nationalist ideology came from Europe).

But anarchism was not simply the ideology of the working and peasant masses who, newly arrived in the continent, felt cheated of their hopes for a better life and saw the exchange of oppression from the ancient monarchies with the no less weighty oppression from the new republican oligarchies. Soon, it was the outlook on world and society that the native and even indigenous masses adopted, from Mexico (with Zalacosta in Chalco) to Argentina (with Facon Grande in Patagonia). It has seldom been noted that the anarchist doctrine of self-managed collectivism, as applied to the agrarian problem, coincided in fact with the ancient way of life and organization of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Peru, prior not only to Spanish imperialism but also to Aztec and Inca imperialism. To the degree that anarchists got to approach the natives, they didn’t have to inculcate exotic ideologies, but only to make conscious the peasant ideologies of “calpull” and “ayllu.”

At the same time, a tendency toward liberty and a detachment from all forms of statist structure took root in the Creole population. When it was not channeled into following feudal caudillos, this provided fertile ground for libertarian ideology. Almost no one mentions the existence (in Argentina and Uruguay) of anarchist gauchos, who had their literary expression in the libertarian “payadores.” But even disregarding such phenomena, which will doubtlessly be considered insignificant by academic and Marxist historians, it can be said without doubt that anarchism sank roots among native workers much more deeply and extensively than Marxism (with the only exception, perhaps, of Chile).

Even when, from a theoretical point of view, the Latin American movement has not contributed fundamentally to anarchist thought, it can be said that from the organizational and practical point of view it produced forms unknown in Europe. Thus, the Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA) was an example of a center that, being majoritarian (to the point of becoming, in many ways, a single center), never made any concessions to syndical bureaucracy, while at the same time adopting an organization as different from the CNT and other European anarcho-syndicalist organizations as from the North American IWW. Another example, typically Latin American, is the existence of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, which a few years after its foundation adopted an ideology that no doubt was anarchist (the work, above all, of Ricardo Flores Magon) and that nevertheless kept its name and continued presenting itself as a political party (which earned it sharp criticism from orthodox Europeans like Jean Grave).

Anyway, with the exception of this singular case, it can be said that in Latin America anarchism was almost always anarcho-syndicalism and was essentially linked to peasant and worker’s organizations. There were, no doubt, some anarcho-individualists in Argentina, Uruguay, Panama, etc., and also some anarcho-communists foes of syndical organization (in Buenos Aires during the 1880s and 1890s), but the great majority of Latin American anarchists were followers of a syndicalism both revolutionary and anti-political (not, as it’s usually and erroneously said, apolitical)…

On the other hand, anarchism also presents different traits in different Latin American countries. In Argentina, it has been, with the FORA, more radical, to the point of being considered extremist by the Spanish CNT. In Uruguay, it has been more peaceful, as Nettlau noted, perhaps because it was less persecuted (except during the last dictatorship). In Mexico, it has had governmental significance, not only with the Magonist participation in the revolution against Porfirio Diaz, but also because the Casa del Obrero Mundial offered Carranza its “red battalions” in the fight against Villa and Zapata and because the CGT presidents debated with president Obregon. In Brazil, on the contrary, it was always outside all statist influence, and the military-oligarchic republic never did anything but persecute, ostracize, or assassinate its militants. A typical phenomenon of certain Latin American countries, between 1918 and 1923, was anarcho-Bolshevism. In Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Mexico, when the Bolshevik revolution took place in Russia, many anarchists pronounced themselves for Lenin and announced their unconditional support for the Soviet government, but did not stop considering themselves anarchists. This current disappeared with Lenin’s death, because those who decided to follow Stalin no longer dared call themselves anarchists.

In all the countries in the region, anarchism produced, besides a vast newspaper propaganda and a copious ideological bibliography, many poets and writers that often were front-line figures in their respective national literatures. Not everywhere, however, were they equally numerous and significant. In Argentina and Uruguay, it can be said that the majority of the writers that published between 1890 and 1920 were, at some point and in some measure, anarchists. In Brazil and Chile there were, likewise during this period, more than a few literary anarchists, though not as many as in Rio de la Plata. In Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, etc., if a properly anarchist literature did not flourish, the influence of libertarian ideology was more among literati and poets than among the worker’s movement. It is important to note, however, that even where literature and anarchism were almost synonymous as in Rio de la Plata (during the above-mentioned period), anarchist intellectuals never played the role of elite or revolutionary vanguard and never had anything to do with the University or with official culture. In this anarchism differs profoundly from Marxism.

The decline of the Latin American anarchist movement (which does not imply its total demise) may be attributed to three causes:

1) A series of coup-d’états, more or less fascist, that take place around 1930 (Uriburu in Argentina, Vargas in Brazil, Terra in Uruguay etc.); all of them characterized by a general repression of the worker’s movement, leftist groups, and especially the anarchists. In certain cases (Argentina), they achieve the total disarticulation of the organizational and propagandistic structure of the workers’ anarcho-syndicalist federations.

2) The founding of Communist (Bolshevik) parties. The support of the Soviet Union and affiliated European parties conferred them a strength that was lacking in the anarchist organizations, which had few material resources other than dues paid by their militants. More in some countries (Brazil), less in others (Argentina), there are anarchists that cross over to the communist party.

3) The appearance of national-populist currents (more or less linked to the armed forces and even, sometimes, to the promoters of fascist coups).

The particular situation of dependence in which the Latin American countries find themselves with respect to European and, above all, North American imperialism steers the class struggle towards struggles of “national liberation.”

The workers view the exploitation of which they are victims as the imposition of foreign powers. The bourgeoisie (national and foreign) are linked to certain sectors of the army and the Catholic church convinces workers that the enemy is no longer Capital and State, but only foreign Capital and State. This conviction (skillfully induced) is, in reality, the principal cause of anarchism’s decline. All else, even the intrinsic difficulties that affect an anarchist organization in the world today (such as the need to make unions work without bureaucracy and the real or apparent unviability of its concrete proposals) is secondary.


Archivo Historico Angel Cappelletti: “Quiénes somos”

Angel Cappelletti, fue el intelectual libertario más importante que ha vivido en Venezuela. Con el fin de rescatar su extensa obra literaria, un grupo de personas afines al ideario antiautoritario, han decidido reunirse para llevar a cabo esta labor. Cómo un primer paso para el rescate y mantenimiento vivo de sus escritos, se crea este blog, cuya finalidad es servir de archivo primario a disposición de todos los hombres y mujeres que deseen acceder a su pensamiento. Surge como idea de poder aglutinar sus escritos, realizados dentro y fuera del país, publicados a través de diversos medios o que aún se encuentran inéditos. Espacio virtual que esperamos permita un intercambio crítico y liberador, así como un lugar que construya puentes con sus lectores y lectoras para el rescate y conservación de sus escritos conocidos y por descubrir.

Si usted desea contribuir con algún escrito de Angel J. Cappelletti, por favor envielo digitalizado al siguiente correo electronico:

Angel Cappelletti was the most important libertarian intellectual living in Venezuela. In order to rescue his extensive literary work, a group of people affiliated with antiauthoritarian ideology have decided to meet to carry out this work. As a first pass at recovering his writings and keeping them alive, we’ve created this blog, the purpose of which is to serve as primary archive at the disposal of all the men and women who want access to his thought. The idea that arose was to gather his writings, those realized at home and abroad, published through diverse means, or that still are unpublished. We hope that this virtual space will allow a critical and liberating interchange, a place to build bridges with his readers for the recovery and conservation of his well-known writings and a place of discovery.

If you wish to contribute some of Angel J. Cappelletti’s writing, please sent it in digital form to

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