The anarchist struggle in South America

The South American working class have a long history of brutal repression and heroic resistance. The 1970’s and 1980’s were a period of intense class war which saw brutal military regimes come to power in virtually every country. Their purpose was to stave off the threat of revolution from the mass-based Marxist parties and numerous guerilla movements. The enthusiastic support of the United States government, who supplied arms, training, intelligence and financial aid, was crucial in allowing these regimes to take power and persist against the popular will.

In the 1980’s these military regimes were one by one forced from power by a combination of mass protest and disastrous economic results. This allowed anarchism, which had been an extremely powerful force in South America in the early years of the 20th century, to re-emerge as a living movement. In 1986 the Uruguayan FAU was reformed, after having been crushed by the military coups of 1971 in Uruguay and 1978 in Argentina. Elsewhere although anarchist groups did emerge they were mostly affinity groups, collections of friends, mainly within the punk movement. The attempts at forming broader groupings fell apart quickly. However in the last 5 years many anarchists have started coming together to form real organisations. Militants from Marxist groups who have come to question the failed politics of the geurilleros have also formed an important part of these new movements.

In 1996 the Argentine OSL was formed and in 1999 the Chilean CUAC. The FAG in Southern Brasil has also recently emerged and in Bolivia a number of local collectives have started the process of coming together. These new anarchist groups share a common conception of the need for organisations which are capable of coherent, disciplined action based upon a collectively agreed theory.

[This article in French]

Much of the activity of these newly formed anarchist groups has been confronting the legacy of the military regimes. Amnesty laws were passed which essentially pardoned the atrocities commited under military rule. Much of the police and military are completely unreconstructed and their culture of brutality and impunity remains strong. In Argentina anarchists have been active in the movement against police brutality, and have supported the vigil of the mothers and sons of those who ‘disappeared’ during the military regime. Chilean anarchists have been involved in the popular movement for the punishment of Pinochet. Bolivian anarchists have braved repression to work against the government of Banzer, who was elected president in 1997 after having headed a brutal dictatorship from 1971 to 1978.

Another legacy of the military regimes is on the economic front. The soldiers and the tame civilian governments which succeeded them obey unquestioningly the dictates of the US based International Financial Institutions, the IMF and World Bank. They unleashed a neo-liberal hurricane across the continent. Millions of workers have been fired, denied access to basic services such as housing, health and education, and pushed to the limits of poverty.

Anarchists have been in the frontlines of the resistance to this brutal onslaught. In Uruguay the FAU has participated in mass occupations of land by the homeless, takeovers of factories to prevent closures and other campaigns of direct action. The Argentine OSL has been active in the poorest suburbs of Buenos Aires among marginalised and desperate workers, teaching literacy, and the tactics of direct action and self-organisation. Anarchists have also been active in the trade unions but, due to the mass closures, the union movement has been much weakened. Nevertheless, in Chile, the CUAC have succeeded in creating a strong and growing anarchist influence in a number of unions.

Other areas of anarchist activity include the fight for the rights of Indigenous peoples. In Chile the anarchists have played a big part in the militant campaign of the Mapuche people for their rights and in Bolivia the anarchists supported the uprising of indigenous people and peasants which shook the state in April 2000. Anarchists are once again on the march, their voices are being heard in mass social movements after many years of silence, and their message of self-organisation against capitalism is being listened to by an ever growing number of workers.

Chekov Feeney

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This edition is No63 published in March 2001