Anarchism in Portugal

Anarchism has very deep intelectual roots in Portugal even though some believe (and are probably right) that the anarchist heritage is not much of an evidence in our present society.

Júlio Henriques, for instance, makes the interesting point that the anarchist failure is observable in the common prevalence of verticalized forms of treatment (such as ‘você’ – equivalent to the french ‘vous’) among people.

The great José Cardoso Pires described Portugal in the 60s the ‘country of doctors’, in satirization of the Portuguese ‘titlecracy’ and our fascination for titles such as ‘sua excelência’, ‘senhor doutor’, ‘senhor engenheiro’ and so on.

Presently, decades after the Revolution of 1974, more horizontal forms of relationship such as ‘citizenship’ are still to fully develop, exemplifying the stratification of the contemporary Portuguese society and the maintenance of a set of values and institutions from more salazarist times.

Even inside the libertarian movement, and mostly since 1930, the very hierarchized communist organizations (with a little help from their Russian friends) have gained the edge over the traditionally more horizontal anarcho-syndicalist organizations that had characterized the movement from 1910 to 1926.

So what remains to be seen from the anarchist movements in Portugal?

The academic movement of the ‘geração de 70’ (also known as the Coimbra’s ‘gold Generation’) was deeply influenced by Proudhon‘s ‘Mutualism’. Eça de Queiroz, Antero de Quentral (notably on ‘Odes Mordernas’) and Oliveira Martins, among others, incoporated its core ideas into their work in a variety of ways.

However, after failing to change the country with their writting and revolutionary ideas, like they had promised to, such generation became known (along with other personalities such as Ramalho Ortigão) as the ‘vencidos da vida’ (‘the losers of life’).

Time would prove them wrong, as Portuguese cultural production (literature, film, music and so on) still has to find ways to depart from the Queirosian rupture/paradigm.

Portuguese anarchist movements were not able to transmit their legacy because many of them were dizimated in the final battles before the implementation of the Military Dictaroship (1926) in Portugal but also in the Spanish Civil War, fighting, guns on their hands, against Franco.

The ones who survived and didn’t ran way from the country were among the first victims of the Dictatorship, being quickly persecuted, arrested and deported to Timor or Tarrafal.

Their legacy is one of struggle towards auto-determination and emancipation.

Other, less direct, influences can be drawn from such movement. Proudhon has always favored local institutions, such as workers associations, cooperatives and cooperative credit unions for workers.

Some investors have since then reformulated Proudhon’s idea (he argued that no interests should be charged in such credit schemes) in order to construct strong businesses like Rabobank, Crédit Agricole and, of course, Crédito Agrícola here in Portugal, networks of local implemented mutualist banks.

Personally, the core idea I like to retain from the anarchist heritage is one that combines the right for individual emancipation of all human beings, the need for direct political action and the responsible practice of active citizenship.

From the ‘geração de 70’, more generally, we can learn the critical importance of conquering cultural spaces, outside the formal political scope, for political struggle.


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