Italian Anarchist Activity in Brazil: 1909

Report on Italian anarchist groups drawn up by Public Security inspector Cesare Alliata-Bronner, an officer of the special monitoring agency attached to the Italian consulate in São Paulo, addressed to Italy’s representative, Luigi Bruno, in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, 30 June 1909.

The La Battaglia Group is run by the well known anarchist Oreste Ristori, director and owner of the newspaper of the same name and by his close friend A. Cerchiai. It comprises of large numbers of printworkers and metalworkers and some of their wives. They make up the most intellectual group and there are frequent speeches from Ristori, Cerchiai, Damiani, Sorelli, Boni (see note) and others, for the purposes of propaganda and to raise funds for the paper and solidarity funds. The members have modest resources, given that they are nearly all workers earning between 7 and 10 reis a day! So there is small danger from them.

Then there is the so-called Ponte Grande Group. It comprises around twenty impoverished Italians, nearly all garbage collectors, shoemakers, brickmakers, street-sweepers and other menial trades.

The Pensiero e Azione Group, also known as the Bom Retiro Group. It is made up of a hundred-odd workers, nearly all bricklayers, carpenters and employees of the nearby railworks; they get together for lectures, celebrations and drinks nearly every Sunday. The driving force there is one Enrico d’Avino, an educated young man reputedly from a highborn family from Lucca and he has managed to launch, as an offshoot of the Group and with the direct cooperation of propagandist Tobia Boni, Ristori, Gino Chiari and others, a mixed elementary school attended by around fifty pupils, boys and girls, nearly all children of the anarchists belonging to the group. In D’Avino’s school, which is subsidised by his friends, there is pronounced and unrelenting subversive propaganda, the cruellest class hatreds being instilled into the young hearts of the pupils as well as rejection of religious and moral principles, with the members of our Royal Family exposed to ongoing vilification, worse even that that emanating from the notorious Damiani from Ristori’s La Battaglia!

The Aurora Group, run by anarchists Pietro Frigeri and Onofri Vella has some forty members and voluntary subscribers. It meets here and there, having no premises of its own, in the lower districts of the city (Lavapes, Bras, Cambuci) and also goes under the name of the Cambuci Group: it disseminates propaganda pamphlets and organises parties and dances down by the docks at which bloody brawls frequently erupt: a number of thieves and misfits are members.

From an Italian diplomatic dispatch of 1903 reporting to Italy’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on conversations had with the Baron do Rio Branco:

It is in the city of São Paulo that the anarchist group has, so to speak, its headquarters and from where the anarchists run the smaller groups they support elsewhere across Brazil (…) In this city, where at least a third of the population is Italian, anarchists have a number of periodical publications and it is here too that propaganda pamphlets and subversive sheets and flyers are printed for distribution not just among Brazil’s workers but for shipment to (…) other centres of Italian immigration. The Baron do Rio Branco tells me that he is convinced that vigorous steps will have to be taken to curtail the daring of foreign agitators who have thus far enjoyed over-long tolerance from those who are now starting to see the fruits of this in the form of agitation among the labouring masses and the threatening nature of the rash of strikes in Brazil’s main industrial cities.


1, Alessandro Cerchiai: Italian anarcho-communist who served 2 years in prison in Italy in the wake of the popular unrest in 1898, after which he emigrated to Brazil in 1901. In 1903 he left briefly for Argentina before returning to Brazil in 1904, remaining there until his death in 1935. His activities were linked mainly with the anarchist press. Occasionally contributed to Galleani’s Cronaca Sovversiva.

Oreste Ristori. (1874-1943) Born in Italy in 1874., he arrived in Buenos Aires in 1902 only to de deported to Italy, but he jumped ship in Montevideo, and escaped deportation a second time by jumping into the sea, eventually making his way to Brazil where he was such a significant, indeed, legendary agitator that Sao Paulo today has a square named after him. He arrived in Brazil in 1904 from Uruguay. During the Spanish Civil War he was in Spain before crossing into France from where the Pétain government shipped him back to Italy in 1940. He was taken from a prison cell in 1943 by fascists and shot as one of a number of people killed in reprisal for the partisan shooting of the fascist bigwig Colonel Gobbi.

Gigi (Luigi) Damiani (1876-1953). Met Oreste Ristori while in prison for agitation in Italy before emigrating to Brazil in 1897. He was deported to Italy from Brazil following his role in the general strike in 1919. There he became editor of Umanita Nova in 1920 and close associate of Malatesta. After the fascist take-over he left for France, only to be expelled to Belgium in 1927 and thence to Spain and Tunisia. In 1946 he returned to Rome and again became editor of Umanita Nova. Died in Rome in 1953.

Julio (Giulio) Sorelli. Prominent anarchist labour activist and advocate of a “revolutionary gymnasium” approach to strikes. He was on the executive of the São Paulo united trade unions. Often dispatched around the country by the FOSP (Federação Operária de São Paulo - São Paulo Workers’ Federation) to advise strikers. He also took part in anarchist theatre groups and founded anarchist groups and publications (mostly in Italian).

Tobia Boni. Artist who served on the Pro-Modern School Committee in 1909. A contributor to anarchist publications he also distributed Malatesta’s pamphlet Among Peasants free of charge and his ambition was to launch a workers’ library.

From: P. S. Pinheiro and M. Hall: A Classe operária no Brasil (2 vols.) Sao Paulo, 1979 & 1981, Vol. 1 (cited in Boletim Operário No 41, Caxias do Sul, 29/01/10). Translated by: Paul Sharkey.