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‘Living Worse and Costing More’: Resistance and Riot in Rio de Janeiro, 1890–1917

  • Teresa Meade (a1)

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On 1st May 1917 m Rio de Janeiro, protesters took to the streets carrying placards and shouting slogans denouncing high prices and miserable living conditions. Over the succeeding months the May Day protest mushroomed into an unprecedented general strike of more than 50,000 workers in the federal capital. Rio de Janeiro had witnessed frequent protests and agitation against taxes, high prices, shortages, poor housing and public services and the cost of transport during the late Empire and first decades of the Republic.1 What was different about May Day 1917 was that complaints over consumer, community-based issues affecting the general populace triggered off a wave of trade-union militancy unique in the city's history.

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* Research and assistance for this project was carried out under grants from the Doherty Fellowship Fund and the Union College Research Council. I am grateful to Maria Fernanda Venancio Filho, Cliff Welch and Fernando Venancio Filho for their help in checking on sources in Rio de Janeiro; to Warren Den, Thomas Skidmore, Andor Skotnes, and this journal's anonymous referee for comments and suggestions.

1 Graham, Sandra Lauderdale, ‘The Vintem Riot and Political Culture: Rio de Janeiro, 1880’, Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 60, no. 3 (08 1980), pp. 431–49; Meade, Teresa, ‘“Civilizing Rio de Janeiro”: The Public Health Campaign and the Riot of 1904’, Journal of Social History, vol. 20, no. 2 (Winter 1986), pp. 301–22; de Carvalho, José Murilo, Os bestializados: o Rio de Janeiro e a república que não foi (São Paulo, 1987), pp. 1519, Nachman, Robert G., ‘Positivism and Revolution in Brazil's First Republic: The 1904 Revolt’, The Americas, vol. 34, no. 1-2 (07, 1977), pp. 2039; Needell, Jeffrey D., ‘The “Revolta Contra Vacina” of 1904: The Revolt against “Modernization” in “Belle-Epoque” Rio de Janeiro’, Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 67, no. 2 (05, 1987), pp. 233–69; Sevcenko, Nicolau, A revolta da vacina: mentes insanas em corpos rebeldes (São Paulo, 1984).

2 Tilly, Charles, The Contentious French (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), p. 10.

3 See Hobsbawm, E. J., ‘Pre-political Movements in Peripheral Areas’. Paper presented at Conferencia Sobre História e Ciéncias Sociais, Campinas, 26–30 05 1975 [conference paper cited with author's permission], pp. 12; revised as ‘Pre-political Movements in Modern Politics; in Kontos, Alkis (ed.), Powers, Possessions and Freedom: Essays in Honour of C. B. Macpherson (Toronto, 1979), pp. 89106. For examples of recent protests, see Moisés, José Alvaro and Stolcke, Verena Martinez-Alier, ‘Urban Transport and Popular Violence: The Case of Brazil’; Past and Present, no. 86 (02 1980), pp. 174–92.

4 Manuel Castells provides one of the best correctives to the outdated ‘pre-modern/modern’ dichotomy in his essays on the development of social movements in several cities. He shows that a ‘collective consumption-oriented trade unionism’ paralleled in the community the rise of labour unions at the work place: The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements (Berkeley, 1983), p. 94.

5 Benchimol, Jaime Larry, ‘Pereira Passos – Um Haussmann tropical: as tranformações urbanas na cidade do Rio de Janeiro no inítio do século xx’, MS thesis, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, 1982, pp. 331–71; Carone, Edgard, A República Velha: evoluçāo político (São Paulo, 1974), pp. 80132; Lobo, Eulalia Maria Lahmeyer, História do Rio de Janeiro: do capital comercial ao capital industrial e financeiro, 2 vols. (Rio de Janeiro, 1978), vol. 2, pp. 501–7; Tannuri, Luiz Antonio, O Encilhamento (São Paulo, 1981), pp. 3968; Justiça, Ministerio da, Relatório apresentado ao Presidente da República de Antonio Luiz Affonso de Carvalho, Chefe da Polícia da Capital Federal (Rio de Janeiro, 1891), p. 6.

6 Directoria Geral de Estatística, Recenseamento geral da república dos Estados Unidos do Brazil em 31 de dezembro de 1890, Districto Federal (Rio de Janeiro, 1895), p. lxxiii; Recenseamento do Rio de Janeiro realizado em 20 de setembro de 1906 (Rio de Janeiro, 1907), pp. 180261; Recenseamento do Brazil realizado em I de setembro de 1920, populaçāo do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro, 1925), vol. 2, p. xxvi.

7 O Paiz, 17 02 1890, p. 1; 18 Feb. 1890, p. 1. The government's many explanations for the food crisis and social disturbances are summarised in Ministerio da Justiça, Relatório apresentado ao Presidente da República pelo Dr. Antonio Gonçalves Ferreira, Ministro da Justiça e Negocios Interiores (Rio de Janeiro, 1895), p. 13.

8 O Paiz, 12 09 1893, p. 1; Correio da Manhã, 29 05 1902, p. 1; Gazeta de Notícias, 1–2 05 1902, p. 1; Lobo, Eulalia Maria Lahmeyer, Canavarros, Octavio, Feres, Zakia, Gonçalves, Sonia, Madureira, Lucena Barbosa, ‘Evolução dos preços e do padrão de vida no Rio de Janeiro, 1820–1930’; Revista Brasileira de Econômia, vol. 26 (10/12, 1971), p. 256.

9 Jornal do Brasil, 24 06 1905, p. 1: 25 June 1905, p. 5.

10 For a description of early Rio see, Bell, Alured Gray, The Beautiful Rio de Janeiro (London, 1914), pp. 20–3; Cruls, Gastão, Aparéncia do Rio de Janeiro: notícia histórica e descritiva da cidade, 2 vols. (Rio de Janeiro, 1965), vol. 2, p. 551; Edmundo, Luiz, O Rio de Janeiro do meu tempo (Rio de Janeiro, 1938), p. 207; Gersón, Brasil, História das ruas do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro, 1954); Silva, Fernando Nascimento (ed.), Rio de Janeiro em seus quatrocentos anos: formação e desenvolvimtnto da cidade (Rio de Janeiro, 1905), pp. 1620, 248–59. The best recent study of the changes in elite society during the ‘belle-epoque’ is Needell, Jeffrey, A Tropical Belle Epoque: Elite Culture and Society in Turn-of-the-Century Rio de Janeiro (Cambridge, 1987). The government compiled numerous descriptions of the city's housing and population distribution. See, Directoria Geral de Estatística, ‘Estatística Predial’, Apuração das cadernetas empregadas no recenseamento geral da república dos Estados Unidos do Brazil en 31 de dezembro de 1890, pp. 424–5; ‘População classificada segundo as profissões’, Recenseamento, 1890, (Rio de Janeiro, 1895), pp. 408–21. See also Benchimol, , ‘Pereira Passos…’, pp. 210–36, 237–62; Solis, Sidney Sérgio F. and Ribeiro, Marcus Venício T., ‘O Rio onde o sol não brilha: acumulaçāo e pobreza na transição para o capitalismo’, Revista Rio de Janeiro, no. 1 (12, 1985), pp. 4559.

11 Directoria Sanitaria da Capital Federal, Relatório do lnstituto Sanitário Federal ao Presidente da República (Rio de Janeiro, 1895), pp. 214–16; Relatório ao Presidente da República pelo Dr. Antonio Gonçalves Ferreira, Ministro dos Negocios Interiores (Rio de Janeiro, 1896), pp. 243, 314–16.Relatório ao Presidente da República pelo Dr. Amaro Cavalcanti, Ministro dos Negocios Interiores (Rio de Janeiro, 1897), pp. 248–9; Directoria Geral de Saúde Pública, Relatório apresentado ao J. J. Seabra, Ministro da Justiça pelo Director Geral de Saúde Público, Ni, Annexo (Rio de Janeiro, 1904), pp. 80–3; de Albuquerque, Marli Brito Moreira, ‘Porto do Rio de Janeiro: estigma e história’, Revista Rio de Janeiro no. 1 (12, 1985), pp. 87103.

12 Jornal do Brasil, 20 05 1892, p. 1.

13 O Paiz, 14 02 1902, p. 1.

14 Ibid., 16 Feb. 1903, p. 2.

15 de Azevedo Pimentel, Antonio Martins, Quaes os melhoramentos higitnios que devem ser introduzidos no Rio de Janeiro para tornar esta cidade mais saudavel (Rio de Janeiro, 1895). A history of the public health plan was compiled under the direction of Dr Oswaldo Cruz; see Directoria Geral de Saúde Pública, Placido Barbosa e Cassio Barbosa de Rezende, Os serviços de saúde pública no Brasil especialmente na cidade do Rio de Janeiro de 1808 a 1907, 2 vols. (Rio de Janeiro, 1909). Other important sources include Stepan, Nancy E., The Beginnings of Brazilian Science: Oswaldo Cruz, Medical Research and Policy, 1890–1920 (New York, 1976); Pechman, Sérgio and Fritsch, Lilian, ‘A reforms urbana e o seu avesso: algumas consideraçōes a propósito de modernizaçao do DF na virada do século’; paper presented at Seminário Rio Republicano, Casa de Rui Barbosa, Rio de Janeiro, 1984 (photocopy), pp. 1826; Solis, and Ribeiro, , ‘O Rio onde o sol nāo brilha’, pp. 56–7; Benchimol, , ‘Pereira Passos…’, pp. 304–29.

16 Demolition of the cortiços was not an arbitrary action since they were some of the most unhealthy sites in the city. The problem was that the city did not build any housing to replace what was destroyed: see Directoria Sanitaria da Capital Federal, Relatório do encarregado do serviço de estatística demographosanitário (Rio de Janeiro, 02 1893), p. 24. The plan was summarised in Jornal do Brasil., 14 03 1903, p. 1 and 15 05 1903, p. 1. The Correio da Manhā was a consistent opponent of the public health code and featured articles almost daily throughout 1904 denouncing the law: 1 Oct. 1904, p. 1; 7 Oct. 1904, p. 1; 6 Nov. 1904, p. 1. For accounts of different aspects of this plan and its shortcomings see the articles in the above cited Revista Rio de Janeiro, de O. Cavakante, Berenice, ‘Beleza, limpeza, ordem e progresso: a questāo da higiene na cidade do Rio de Janeiro, final do século xix’, pp. 95103; Pechman, Robert Moses and Ribeiro, Luís César Queiroz, ‘A Companhia de Saneamento do Rio de Janeiro: contribuição á história da formaçāo do capital imobiliário’, pp. 105–13; Padilha, Sylvia F., ‘Da “Cidade Velha” á periferia’, pp. 1523;and Benchimol, , ‘Pereira Passos…’, pp. 295–9.

17 In addition to those sources already cited above, see Cooper, Donald B., ‘Oswaldo Cruz and the Impact of Yellow Fever on Brazilian History’, The Bulletin of the Tulane University Medical Faculty, vol. 26 (02 1967), pp. 4952; Stepan, , The Beginnings of Brazilian Science, pp. 88–9; Benchimol, , ‘Pereira Passos…‘, pp. 383403, 450–67.

18 Nachman, , ‘Positivism and Revolution…’, pp. 24–5.

19 Jornal do Brasil, 15–16 November, p. 1; Jornal do Commercio, 13 11 1904, p. 1. A full summary of the riot, description of the ‘pernicious elements’, in his opinion who were involved, and the repressive measures that the state took to see that the protesters were punished, is in Ministerio da Justiça, Relatório apresentado ao Presidente da República pelo Dr. J. J. Seabra, Ministro da Justiça e Negocios Interiores, vol. 1, annexo G (Rio de Janeiro, 1905). pp. 37.

20 O Paiz, 16 01 1900, p. 12.

21 Police provocations could turn peaceful strikes violent and cost strikers valuable support. When garbage collectors went on strike in January 1901 for current and back wages, the usually anti-labour O Paiz declared the strikers’ demands ‘respectable and just’. After mounted police charged the picket line, and the strike turned violent, the newspaper reversed itself and labelled the whole affair an ‘anarchist provocation’, 14 01 1901, p. 1.

22 Jornal do Brasil, 14 01 1901, p. 1; 15 Jan. 1901, p. 1; 10 Jan. 1904, pp. 1–2; Correio da Marnhã, 12 01 1903, p. 1; 10 Jan. 1904, p. 1; 12 Jan. 1904, p. 2.

23 Correio da Manhã, 12 01 1904, p. 1.

24 Jornal do Brasil, 21 05 1901, p. 1; Hahner, June, Poverty and Politics: The Urban Poor in Brazil, 1870–1920 (Albuquerque, 1986), p. 264.

25 Needell contends in his article ‘“Revolta Contra Vacina ”’ that Afro-Brazilians led the anti-vaccination riot and participated actively in the destruction of the city. Blacks, he states, embraced ‘the established patterns of Carioca violence because it was something born of an environment whose values they quickly assimilated’ (p. 206). However, Seabra and the press both blamed foreigners, not blacks. Although their assessment of the rioters should be viewed sceptically, one would presume that if sizable numbers of Afro-Brazilians had been in the vanguard either the police or the press would have made more mention of it. See Relatório (1905), pp. 35; Jornal do Brasil, 17 11 1904, p. 1. Needell's work is an exemplary description of the role and the motivation of the military and other sectors of Carioca society who participated in the revolt, but his inferences on the role of blacks in the riot are ideologically troubling, particularly since he admits ‘there is no way to prove it’ (p. 261).

26 Relatório (1905), pp. 515.

27 Adamo, Samuel C., ‘The Broken Promise: Race, Health, and Justice in Rio de Janeiro, 18901940, Ph.D. diss., University of New Mexico, 1983; Chalhoub, Sidney, Trabalho, lar e botequim: o cotidiano dos trabalhadores no Rio de Janeiro da belle époque (São Paulo, 1986), pp. 90–4; Coaracy, Vivaldo, Memórias da cidade do Rio de Janeiro, Coleçao Documentos Brasileiros, vol. 88 (Rio de Janeiro, 1955), pp. 128–34; Needell, , A Tropical Belle Epoque, p. 50; Rago, Margareth, Do cabaré ao lar: a utopia de cidade disciplinar, Brasil 1890–1930 (Rio de Janeiro, 1985); Raphael, Alison, ‘Samba and Social Control: Popular Culture and Racial Democracy in Rio de Janeiro’, Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1979; Skidmore, Thomas, Black into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought (New York, 1974), pp. 78123.

The Carioca elites were not unique in their desire to segregate the city by class and race; see Spitzer, Leo, ‘The Mosquito and Segregation in Sierra Leone’, The Canadian Journal of African Studies, vol. 2, no. 1-2 (Spring 1968), pp. 961; Scobie, James, Buenos Aires: From Plaza to Suburb, 1870–1910 (New York, 1974), pp. 160207.

28 Recenseamcnto, 1890, p. lxxiii, Recenseamento (1906), pp. 180261; Recenseamento (1920), vol. 2, p. xxvi. The housing the government did finance was too expensive for most working-class families; see Backheuser, Evarardo, ‘Habitações Populares’, in Relatório (1906), pp. 13126; Rubens, Porto, O problema das casas operárias e os institutos e caxias de pensões (Rio de Janeiro, 1938), pp. 7980; Benchimol, , ‘Pereira Passos…’, pp. 590609.

29 A Vanguarda, 13 05 1911, p. 3.

30 Jornal do Brasil, 20 07 1908, p. 1.

31 Gazeta de Notícias, 12 01 1910, p. 4 and 19 02 1910, p. 8.

32 Ibid., 28 Feb. 1910, pp. 6 and 5 March 1910, p. 4. Concern about the prevalence of abandoned children roaming the streets of the city's poorest districts is in Directoria do Interior, Kelatório apresentado ao Ministro da Justiça pela commissāo inspectora dos estabelecimentos de alienados, públicos e particulates, no Districto Federal, ‘O abandono moral’, vol. 2 (Rio de Janeiro, 1905), pp. 353; Seabra, , Kelatório (1905); Chalhoub, , Trabalho, lar e botiquim, pp. 4051, 181–90.

33 Jornal do Brasil, 1 07 1905, p. 1: 4 07 1905, p. 1.

34 A Voz do Trabalhador, 16 08 1908, p. 1, the organ of the anarcho-syndicalist Confederação Operária Brasileira, which in Rio was the Federacão Operária do Rio de Janeiro. For a summary of the role of the transport companies in determining the city's development, see Keremitsis, Eileen, ‘The Early Industrial Worker in Rio de Janeiro, 1870–1930, Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1982.

35 A Vos do Trabalhador, 8 07 1909, p. 3; A Gazeta de Noticías, 9 02 1910, p. 2.

36 Gazeta de Notícias, 28 02 1910, p. 6; 21 Mar. 1910, p. 1: 23 Mar. 1910, p. 1; 1 Apr. 1911, pp. 1–2.

37 A Vanguarda, 12 08 1911, p. 2.

38 Reported in Jornal do Brasil, 24 06 1912, p. 1.

39 Maram, Sheldon, ‘Anarchists, Immigrants, and the Brazilian Labor Movement, 1890–1920’, Ph.D. diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 1972, p. 111.

40 A Voz do Trabalhador, 1 04 1913, p. 3.

41 Ibid., 15 Mar. 1913, p. 1.

42 Albert, Bill, South America and the First World War: The Impact of the War on Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 18, 37–38.

43 A Voz do Trabalhador, 1 11 1913. p. 1.

44 Gramsci, Antonio, ‘The Intellectuals’, in Hoare, Quintin and Smith, Geoffrey Nowell (trans, and ed.), Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York, 1971), p. 5.

45 Albert, , South America and the First World War, p. 38.

46 Fausto, Boris, Trabalho urbano e conflicto social (São Paulo, 1976), pp. 5960. John W. F. Dulles notes that the foreign demand for Brazilian leather doubled the price of footwear sold domestically, Anarchists and Communists in Brazil, 1900–1935 (Austin, 1973), p. 57; Lobo, , Históia do Rio de Janeiro, vol. 2, pp. 516, 521; Carone, , A República Velha: instituiçõs e classes socials (São Paulo, 1975); Correio da Manhá, 27 Dec. 1916.

47 Although protests and strikes were scarce during 1914 and 1915, the ones that did take place usually centred on non-payment of wages. Office workers at Trajano de Medeiros & Cia. struck on 21 November 1914, claiming the owner was fifteen months behind in paying their wages. In December of that same year meatcutters at the Matadouro packing plant walked off the job because they had not been paid for over four months. In both cases workers returned under the promise of receiving backpay, but subsequent walk-outs and protests indicate that they never received the promised wages; Jornal do Brasil, 21 11 1914, p. 1 and 7 12 1914, p. 1.

48 Jornal do Brasil, 18 04 1916, p. 1; 4 May 1916, p. 1.

49 Ibid., 5 Jan. 1917, p. 7. News about the high cost of living and the meetings about it appeared in the press throughout the early months of 1917; see Jornal do Brasil, 9 Jan. p. 7; 15 Jan., p. 5; 17 Jan., p. 7; 22 Jan., p. 6; 29 Jan., p. 5; 1 Feb., p. 9; 4 Feb., p. 5; 5 Feb, p. 7; 12 Feb., p. 7; 26 Feb. p. 5; 6 Mar., p. 1.

50 Maram, , ‘Anarchists’, p. 168.

51 Jornal do Brasil, 6 03 1917, p. 1.

52 The police department had argued that these slogans were too inflammatory, but their attempted restriction only drew more attention to the signs since the Jornal do Brasil carried a photograph of about a dozen FORJ supporters holding the signs, with the words ‘Placards prohibited by the police that figured in the workers' demonstrations’, 1 05 1917, p. 1.

53 Correio da Manhá, 2 05 1917, p. 1; Jornal do Brasil, 2 05 1917, p. 1.

54 Jornal do Brasil, 7 05 1917, p. 1; Dulles, , Anarchists and Communists in Brazil, p. 44.

55 Jornal do Brasil, 7, 12, 14 05 1917; 14, 23 06 1917.

56 Ibid., 27 July 1917, p. I.

57 Fausto, , Trabalho urbano, pp. 60–5; Carone, , Instituições pp. 231–3; Jornal do Brasil 14 06 1917, pp. 12; 23 June 1917, pp. 1–3; 18 July 1917, p. 1; Correio da Manhā, 18–19, 24–26 July 1917.

58 Fausto, , Trabalho urbano, pp. 218–30; Maram, , ‘Anarchists’, pp. 181–2.

56 Fausto, , Trabalho urbano, pp. 60, 1277–8.

60 Maram, , ‘Anarchists’, pp. 163–4.

61 A Razāo, 18 11 1918, p. 1. See also Bandeira, Moniz, Melo, Cloviz, Andrade, A. T., O ano vermelho: a revoluçāo Russa e seus reflexos no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro, 1967), pp. 115–47.

62 Directoria do Interior, Relatório apresentado ao Presidente da República dos Estados Unidos do Brasil pelo Ministro da Justiça e Negocios lnteriores, Dr. Alfredo Pinto Vieira de Mello (Rio de Janeiro, 1921), pp. v–vi.

63 Conniff, Michael, Urban Politics in Brazil: The Rise of Populism, 1925–1945 (Pittsburgh, 1981), p. 27.

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