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Revolutionary Syndicalism and Reformism in Rio de Janeiro’s Labour Movement (1906–1920)

  • Claudio Batalha (a1)


Divided between revolutionary syndicalism and reformist unions, Rio de Janeiro’s labour movement represented one of the most complex local cases during the Brazilian First Republic. This article intends to show how relations between these two currents were far from clear cut, and that, despite the confrontational discourse they adopted and the disputes over labour unions they were involved in, they eventually shared common practices and, to some degree, a common culture.

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1 Santos, Rozendo dos, “A ação operaria”, A Voz do Trabalhador, 6:23, 15 January 1913, pp. 12 .

2 For examples of the former see Nettlau, Max, Histoire de l’anarchie (Paris, 1983); Joll, James, The Anarchists (London, 1970); Viana, Nildo, “Aurora do anarquismo”, in Rafael Borges Deminicis and Daniel Aarão Reis Filho (eds), História do anarquismo no Brasil (Niterói, 2006), pp. 2343 ; and Tiago Bernardon de Oliveira, “Anarquismo, sindicatos e revolução no Brasil (1906–1936)” (Ph.D, Universidade Federal Fluminense, 2009); for the latter see Julliard, Jacques, Autonomie ouvrière. Études sur le syndicalisme d’action directe (Paris, 1988); Toledo, Edilene, Travessias revolucionárias. Ideias e militantes sindicalistas em São Paulo e na Itália (1890–1945) (Campinas, 2004).

3 From now on “reformism”, “anarchism”, and “revolutionary syndicalism” are used without quotation marks.

4 There are three main approaches concerning the relation between revolutionary syndicalism and anarchism among Brazilian scholars: those who see them as inseparable and make no distinction between the two currents; those who consider them as separate and clearly different currents; and, finally, those that view revolutionary syndicalism, although distinct from anarchism, mainly as a practice adopted by anarchists in the trade union movement.

5 For this topic, see Kirk, Neville, Comrades and Cousins: Globalization, Workers and Labour Movements in Britain, the USA and Australia from the 1880s to 1914 (London, 2003); Hyslop, Jonathan, A Notorious Syndicalist. J.T. Bain: A Scottish Rebel in Colonial South Africa (Johannesburg, 2004); Hirsch, Steven and van der Walt, Lucien (eds), Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870–1940: The Praxis of National Liberation, Internationalism, and Social Revolution (Leiden [etc.], 2010).

6 Directoria Geral de Estatística (Ministerio da Agricultura, Industria e Commercio), Recenseamento do Brazil. Realizado em 1º setembro de 1920, Rio de Janeiro, 1923, vol. 2 (1st part), p. XXII.

7 Ibid., p. XXXVII.

8 Ibid., pp. 11 and 13.

9 Ibid., pp. 514–515.

10 Centro Industrial do Brasil, Relatorio da diretoria do Centro Industrial do Brasil para ser apresentado à Assemblea Geral Ordinaria do anno de 1915 (Rio de Janeiro, 1915), pp. 239–253.

11 Arthur H. Redfield, Brazil: A Study of Economic Conditions since 1913 (Department of Commerce/Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Miscellaneous Series, No. 86) (Washington, DC, 1920), pp. 63–65.

12 Ibid., p. 58.

13 Centro Industrial do Brasil, Relatorio da diretoria, p. 244.

14 Ibid., pp. 252–253.

15 “Direct action”, it should be remembered, has experienced a shift in its meaning during the last decades. Whereas at the turn of the twentieth century, especially in the context of French revolutionary syndicalism, the emphasis was on direct economic action without institutional intermeditation and in relation to sites of productions, through strikes, factory occupations, etc., since the 1970s, the meaning has shifted towards the contestation of public space, acts of civil disobience, or the disruption of symbols of power and order.

16 On this subject, see for example, da Silva, Fernando Teixeira and Gitahy, Maria Lucia, “The Presence of Labour in the Urban Culture of Santos”, Moving the Social, 49 (2013), pp. 1129, 25 .

17 The resolution was reprinted as “Os operarios – O Congresso Operario Regional”, Correio da Manhã, 16 April 1906, pp. 1–2.

18 Quoted from an extract of the congress’ report reprinted in a compilation of documents by the Brazilian labour movement: “O Segundo Congresso Operário (1913)”, in Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro and Michael M. Hall (eds), A classe operária no Brasil. Documentos 1889 a 1930, vol. 1, O movimento operário (São Paulo, 1979), pp. 172–223, 207–208. Emphasis in the original.

19 It should be added that “syndicalism” and “revolutionary syndicalism” have mostly been used synonymously (both by contemporary activists and subsequent historians) although there are instances of a syndicalism that did not identify itself as “revolutionary”, but as “gradualist” or “reformist”.

20 On Argentina, see for instance, del Campo, Hugo, El “sindicalismo revolucionário” (1905–1945). Selección de textos (Buenos Aires, 1986), pp. 910 ; Belkin, Alejandro, Sobre los orígenes del sindicalismo revolucionario en Argentina (Cuadernos de Trabajo Nr . 74) (Buenos Aires, 2007). On France, see Julliard, Autonomie ouvrière; Gervasoni, Marco, “L’invention du syndicalisme révolutionnaire en France (1903–1907)”, Mil neuf cent, 24 (2006), pp. 5771 . On Italy, see Riosa, Alceo, Il sindacalismo rivoluzionario in Italia e la lotta politica nel Partito socialista dell’età giolittiana (Bari, 1976); Gianinazzi, Willy, “Le syndicalisme révolutionnaire en Italie (1904–1925). Les hommes et les luttes”, Mil neuf cent, 24 (2006), pp. 95121 .

21 Among these particularities are that the IWW was based on industrial unions, an organizing method that, although it also existed in other contexts, gained pre-eminence among the Wobblies. Another characteristic was the One Big Union concept, i.e. the demand for a united union organization for all workers, which was unfamiliar to most revolutionary syndicalists elsewhere.

22 Toledo, Travessias revolucionárias, ch. 2; Tolede, Edilene and Biondi, Luigi, “Constructing Syndicalism and Anarchism Globally: The Transnational Making of the Syndicalist Movement in São Paulo, Brazil, 1895–1935”, in Hirsch and Van der Walt (eds), Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870–1940, pp. 363393 .

23 “O Primeiro Congresso Operário (1906)”, in Pinheiro and Hall, A classe operário no Brasil, vol. 1, O movimento operário, pp. 42–49.

24 “Livros à venda”, A Voz do Trabalhador, VII (71), 8 June 1915, p. 4.

25 For Rio de Janeiro, see for example O Marmorista, 1907; O Baluarte, 1907; Novo Rumo, 1906, 1910.

26 Neno Vasco arrived in São Paulo, as a child along with his father and stepmother. Some years later, he returned to Portugal to complete his studies and attend the Law School of the University of Coimbra. On returning to Brazil in 1901, he became an active anarchist, publishing a number of newspapers, as well as a prolific political writer, playwright, and translator. In 1910, with the establishment of the Portuguese Republic he returned to his homeland, where he continued his anarchist engagement until the time of his death. The most complete study on Neno Vasco is Samis, Alexandre, Minha Pátria é o Mundo Inteiro. Neno Vasco, o anarquismo e o sindicalismo revolucionário em dois mundos (Lisboa, 2009).

27 For some of the first mentionings of this term, see “Para Genebra”, O Alfaiate, VI (25), 13 May 1926, p. 4; “O III Congresso (dezembro de 1928–janeiro de 1929)” in Edgard Carone (ed.), O P.C.B. –Vol. 1: (1922–1943) (São Paulo, 1982), p. 73.

28 See for example, Pereira, Astrojildo, Formação do PCB. 1922–1928, notas e documentos. (Rio de Janeiro, 1962).

29 Woodcock, George, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (Harmondsworth [etc.], 1983), pp. 277; 303304 .

30 A critique of this term in Brazilian context first came from da Silva, Adhemar Lourenço Jr., “O anarco-sindicalismo no Brasil. Notas sobre a produção de um mito histórico-historiográfico”, in Ana Lúcia Velhinho D’Angelo (ed.), Histórias de trabalho (Porto Alegre, 1995), pp. 151159 . It was further developed in Batalha, Claudio, O movimento operário na Primeira República (Rio de Janeiro, 2000); and figures as one of the central arguments in Toledo, Edilene, Anarquismo e sindicalismo revolucionário. Trabalhadores e militantes em São Paulo na Primeira República (São Paulo, 2004).

31 da Silva, José Elias, Campos, Manoel, and Moutinho, Antonio, O anarquismo perante a organização sindical. Para desfazer mal entendidos (Rio de Janeiro, 1916).

32 Leonidio, Adalmir, “Saint-simonismo e positivismo nos primórdios do movimento operário no Brasil”, Mediações, 10 (Jan.–Jun. 2005), pp. 165183 ; Meade, Teresa A., “Civilizing” Rio: Reform and Resistance in a Brazilian City, 1889–1930 (University Park, PA, 1997), pp. 95101 .

33 On the repeated attempts to found such a party and on the trajectories of a group of leading socialists, see the contribution by Aldrin Castellucci and Benito B. Schmidt in this Special Issue.

34 Haupt, Georges, “Militants sociaux-democrates allemands au Brésil (1893–1896)”, Le Mouvement Social, 84 (July–August 1973), pp. 4761 .

35 Among the more important of the numerous newspapers of this orientation were A Questão Social, Santos, 1895–1896; Echo Operario, Rio Grande, 1896–1898; O Socialista, São Paulo, 1896–1898; Primeiro de Maio, Rio de Janeiro, 1898; Aurora Social, Recife, 1901–1902.

36 See Batalha, Claudio H. M., “A difusão do marxismo e os socialistas brasileiros na virada do século XIX”, in João Quartim de Moraes (ed.), História do marxismo no Brasil. Os influxos teóricos, 1st repr., (Campinas, 2007), vol. 2, pp. 941 ; Schmidt, Benito Bisso, “Os partidos socialistas na nascente República”, in Jorge Ferreira and Daniel Aarão Reis (eds), As esquerdas no Brasil, vol. 1, A formação das tradições (1889–1945) (Rio de Janeiro, 2007), pp. 131183 .

37 See, especially, Sadock de Sá’s contributions during these years, written under the pseudonym of François Seul, in the fortnightly newspaper Brazil Operario, published from 1903 to 1904 under the direction of a group of printing workers.

38 Claudio H. de Moraes Batalha, “Le syndicalisme ‘amarelo’ à Rio de Janeiro (1906–1930)” (Ph.D., Université de Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne, 1986), pp. 176–177.

39 The exact origin of the designation is unknown, but, most likely, it is a reference to the “colonels”, a group who, being mostly landowners, held military ranks in the National Guard and who dominated politics during the Brazilian First Republic (1889–1930).

40 See Michel Zaidan Filho, “Pão e Pau. Política de governo e sindicalismo reformista no Rio de Janeiro (1923–1926)” (MA, Universidade Estadual de Campinas – UNICAMP, 1981), ch. 3; Maria Cecília Velasco e Cruz, “Amarelo e negro: matizes do comportamento operário na República Velha” (MA, Instituto de Universitário de Pesquisa do Rio de Janeiro – IUPERJ, 1981); Marli B.M. Albuquerque, “Trabalho e conflito no porto do Rio de Janeiro (1904–1920)”, (MA, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ, 1983); Batalha, “Le syndicalisme “amarelo”.

41 Pereira, Formação.

42 Bak, Joan L., “Labor, Community, and the Making of a Cross-Class Alliance in Brazil: The 1917 Railroad Strikes in Rio Grande do Sul”, Hispanic American Historical Review, 78 (1998), pp. 179227 ; Maciel, Osvaldo B.A., A perseverança dos o mutualismo dos trabalhadores do comércio em Maceió (1879–1917) (Recife, 2011); Castellucci, Aldrin A.S., Trabalhadores e política no Brasil. Do aprendizado do Império aos sucessos da Primeira República (Salvador, 2015).

43 Confederação Brazileira do Trabalho (Partido Político), Conclusões do 4º Congresso Operario Brazileiro. Realizado no Palacio Monroe no Rio de Janeiro de 7 a 15 de novembro de 1912 (Rio de Janeiro, 1913).

44 The term derives from pelego (a lambskin used between the saddle and the horse’s back in Southern Brazil) and is used to designate state-controlled unionism after 1930.

45 In this remarkable campaign, COB representatives tried to convince those willing to emigrate that working conditions in Brazil were worse than in Europe and that promises made to emigrants were not fulfilled.

46 See the partial reprint of the congress’ report in “O Segundo Congresso Operário (1913)”.

47 While the FMB was more willing to compromise with government representatives and even sustained government policies, the federation of land transportation unions was less inclined to such a collaboration.

48 Cristina Hebling Campos, O sonhar libertário. Movimento operário nos anos de 1917 a 1921 (Campinas, 1988); Aldrin A.S. Castellucci, Industriais e operários baianos numa conjuntura de crise (1914–1921) (Salvador, 2004); Bilhão, Isabel, Identidade e trabalho. Uma história do operariado porto-alegrense (1898–1920) (Londrina, 2008).

49 “Rapido retrospectivo do movimento associativo: um ano de vida operaria”, A Razão, 19 December 1917, p. 9.

50 The agreement and a later addition are documented in Liga dos Operarios em Calçado, “Accordo feito entre o Centro da Industria de Calçados e Commercio de Couros e a Liga dos Operarios de Calçado e a União dos Cortadores de Calçado da cidade do Rio de Janeiro”, 26 July 1917, Arquivo Nacional (Rio de Janeiro) [henceforth, ANRJ], Secretaria de Policia do Distrito Federal, 1887–1930, 6 C–584 [old classification].

51 The agreement’s aftermath is documented in the same file through letters of the Liga dos Operarios de Calçados to the Chief of Police, number 60, 22 January 1918 and number 63, 23 January 1918.

52 The UGM’s support for Evaristo de Moraes is mentioned in “A candidatura do Dr. Evaristo de Moraes à deputação federal”, A Razão, 10 December1917, p. 5. On the trajectory of Evarista de Moraes see also the contribution by Aldrin A.S. Castellucci and Benito B. Schmidt in this Special Issue.

53 “Proletariado – União Geral dos Metalurgicos”, A Razão, 16 December de 1917, p. 6.

54 Competing unions in the same trade or industry were rare during the Brazilian First Republic (1889–1930). Although there was no legal prohibition, such situations were usually short-lived. This was the case of the anarchist dissident graphic workers’ union, which ceased to exist within a year of its creation.

55 Ernesto Garcez Caldas Barreto (1874–?), was a lawyer, who, after being state representative in the Northeastern State of Pernambuco, began a political career in Rio de Janeiro, where he was city councilor from 1907 to 1910 and from 1917 to 1925. He entertained close ties with certain unions and presented bills concerning work regulations for various occupations.

56 On the activity of the Centro Cosmopolita and the role of Garcez, see Adailton Pires Costa, “A história dos direitos trabalhistas vista a partir de baixo. A luta por direitos (e leis) dos trabalhadores em hotéis, restaurantes, cafés e bares no Rio de Janeiro da 1ª República (DF, 1917–1918)” (MA, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina – UFSC, 2013).

57 Ibid., pp. 180–190.

58 Delegacia do 4º Districto Policial, 22 April 1918, ANRJ, Secretaria de Policia do Distrito Federal, 1887–1930, 6 C–602.

59 Different studies reach different conclusions concerning the number of strikes during the 1917–1919 period: 21, 33 and 26 are the numbers found by Lobo, Eulalia Maria Lahmeyer and Stotz, Eduardo Navarro, “Flutuações cíclicas da economia, condições de vida e movimento operário – 1890 a 1930, Revista Rio de Janeiro, 1:1 (December 1985), pp. 6186, 86 ; while 13, 29 and 22 were those established by Costa, Branno Hocherman and de Freitas, Francisco Josué Medeiros, “Greves e polícia política nas décadas de 1920 e 1930”, in Marcelo Badaró Mattos (ed.), Trabalhadores em greve, polícia em guarda. Greves e repressão policial na formação da classe trabalhadora carioca (Rio de Janeiro, 2004), pp. 137160, 139 .

60 For Argentina and the remarkably long-lasting group of “Anarcho-Bolsheviks” that had formed there, see Andreas L. Doeswijk, “Entre Camalões e Cristalizados: Os anarco-bolcheviques rioplatenses, 1917–1930” (Ph.D., Universidade Estadual de Campinas – UNICAMP, 1999); and Pittaluga, Roberto, “Lecturas anarquistas de la revolución rusa”, Prismas. Revista de historia intelectual, 6 (2002), pp. 179188 . Also see Pittaluga’s much broader study about the Russian Revolution in Argentina (including the debates until the end of the 1920s), Pittaluga, Roberto, Soviets en Buenos Aires, la izquierda de la Argentina ante la revolución en Rusia (Buenos Aires, 2015).

61 Pereira, Astrojildo, “A Russia revolucionaria. Um ano depois”, O Cosmopolita, 2:29, 25 March 1918, p. 1 .

62 For a more detailed account on the insurrection see Addor, Carlos Augusto, A Insurreição Anarquista no Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro, 1986), ch. 3 .

63 For a typical example of this suspicion, see “Movimento operario”, O Graphico, 4:74, 1 February 1919, p. 4.

64 The Leopoldina Railways (Estrada de Ferro Leopoldina), founded at the turn of the twentieth century under the auspices of British investors, was one of Brazil’s major railway companies, its huge network covering mainly the states of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais and thus playing an important role in the coffee economy.

65 For an eyewitness account see Pereira, Astrojildo, A greve da Leopoldina (Rio de Janeiro, 1920).

66 A historiographical analysis of the Leopoldina Railway strike is offered by Glaucia Fraccaro, “Morigerados e revoltados. Trabalho e organização de ferroviários da Central do Brasil e da Leopoldina (1889–1920)” (MA, Universidade Estadual de Campinas – UNICAMP, 2008).

67 For a detailed account of the congress see Rodrigues, Edgar, Nacionalismo & cultura social (1913–1922) (Rio de Janeiro, 1972), pp. 307320 .

68 “Terceiro Congresso – A imponente sessão de hontem”, Voz do Povo, 1:77, 24 April 1920, p. 1.

69 On this subject, see Batalha, Claudio, “Syndicalisme révolutionnaire et syndicalisme réformiste. Les modèles européens dans le movement ouvrier brésilien (1906–1920)”, in Tania Régin and Serge Wolikow (eds), Les syndicalismes en Europe. À l’épreuve de l’international (Paris, 2002), pp. 1526 .

70 The club’s name originated from the fact that it was formed in 1869 at an Irishman’s home. See Cunha, Maria Clementina Pereira, Ecos da folia. Uma história social do carnaval carioca entre 1880 e 1920 (São Paulo, 2001), p. 110 .

71 “A festança dos fenianos”, A Voz do Trabalhador, 8:70, 11 May 1915, p. 1.

72 Estatutos da Associação de Marinheiros e Remadores (Rio de Janeiro, 1913), p. 7. It should be noted that with such concerns about stable finances these organizations already went beyond a “pure” revolutionary syndicalist orientation, according to which financial issues, etc. are secondary.

73 “Columna Operaria”, A Epoca, 1 May 1913, pp. 5–8.

74 Garcia, Antonio Mariano, “Liga do Operariado do Distrito Federal”, A Epoca, 4 May 1913, p. 11 .

Revolutionary Syndicalism and Reformism in Rio de Janeiro’s Labour Movement (1906–1920)

  • Claudio Batalha (a1)


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