Anarchism in Latin America

A sketch of its history, characteristics and prospects

NELSON MÉNDEZ [Member of the El Libertario editorial collective; Professor at Venezuela's Central University in Caracas]

Solidary greetings to all participants and organizers of this event from the Venezuelan anarchists, in particular from the editorial collective of El Libertario, where for the past 17 years we have worked and walked the road of dignity, combativeness and enthusiasm that were and always will be the signs that identify and validate our movement in the world at large. Our intention is to contribute from Latin America to the knowledge and strength of that identity which makes us brothers and sisters, therefore our comrades at El Libertario and I think that it would be appropriate to present in this Encounter a global introduction to the history, characteristics and prospects of anarchism in our continent.

Given the attendance of many young people with different levels of interest in this matter but in general with little or limited access to information on the themes of our discourse, I will present a basic schematic with ideas, people, facts and references necessary to understand Latin American anarchism and its trajectory. This tale, particularly in its historic aspect, is not erudite in tone, as I hope that these words will generate in the audience a dynamic of militant solidarity and live interchange with the anarchist movement in our continent rather than the production of papers and university thesis. In short, this will be a talk geared more towards anarchists rather than specialists, and in no way tailored to those "anarchologists" who insist that the anarchist ideal died at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.

To begin, I propose focusing on the past, present and future of Latin American anarchism looking at it in four historical moments:

1) in the XIX Century, its origins and arrival from Europe and its taking roots among us; 2) the first third of the XX Century, the growth of anarcho-syndicalism and the libertarian presence in the social struggles, the political dynamics and the cultural and intellectual scene in the continent; 3) the ebbing and almost disappearance between the 1930's and the beginning of the 90's; and 4) the period between the end of the XX and our current XXI Century, the hopeful resurgence of anarchism facing the challenges of the new realities and the test of the potential of the libertarian ideal.

Although this chronology gives an approximate idea as far as placing us in time, it doesn't attempt to determine exactly the timing of what has been happening in our countries, as circumstances have been different in each, for that reason the proposed focus will have to be adjusted according to each specific context. As an example, in Venezuela the arrival and insertion was slow and intermittent (up to the second or third decade of the XX Century) and besides there was no peak moment such as we have seen in other Latin American countries which also have significant variations among themselves (see what has happened in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba or Uruguay, to name only a few).

An important hurdle in the trajectory of continental anarchism is the silence imposed on this theme by the official historians be they positivist, liberal or Marxist from which it now barely begins to escape. Given this "invisibility" obstacle weighing on the history of anarchism in each country, it is possible to imagine how overwhelming it would be to attempt to describe the libertarian road in the whole area if there were not a precursor of extraordinary worth supporting and inspiring this task: the prologue "Latin American Anarchism" written by Angel Cappelletti in 1990 for the compilation volume titled El Anarquismo en América Latina. Under the identification of Prologue we have an extensive text where the most rigorous knowledge combines with passion for the anarchist ideal, presenting a panorama of the history of the continental anarchist movement (from its origins up to mid XX Century) that, in my opinion, is indispensable reading for anybody interested in this theme... Full text in pdf format