Anarchist and Antifascist resistance during the Vargas years

In the history of Rio de Janeiro anarchism there is a period of which little is known. Between 1929, when revolutionary syndicalism lost all its strength in what was then the Federal District, up until the demise of the Estado Novo (New State) in 1945, at which point the anarchists regrouped before launching the newspaper Ação direta the following year, there is a sort of a gap in our history. The mist lifted partly when we received a visit last year from our Italian comrade Giampietro Landi who arrived in the city of wonders to investigate the Brazilian experience of the anarchist Nello Garavini (1899-1985) and his partner Emma Neri (1897-1978). Persecuted by the fascist Italian state, they arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1926, bringing with them their daughter Giordana , born in October 1924.

Initially, they had support from Nello’s uncle, Antonio Garavini, an anarcho-individualist who had been living in Rio de Janeiro since the turn of the century. Nello worked as a waiter at the Hotel Gloria and Emma worked as a teacher. In 1928 and 1929, Nello frequented the Centro Cosmopolita, where the frictions between anarchists and bolsheviks were intense. Through the Anti-Clerical League, they got to know its founder, José Oiticica, and they kept in touch with local anarchists and antifascists, many of whom were Italian exiles. In the latter half of 1932, the League paid a moving tribute to Errico Malatesta who died on 22 July that year; Nello had known him and regarded him as a major political reference point.

In 1933, the Garavinis opened rooms on Tiradentes Square, just beside the entrance to the Carlos Gomes Theatre (at No 2 Dom Pedro I Street), the “Minha Livraria” (My Bookshop), a rendezvous point and debating chamber for anarchists and antifascists up until 1942. In 1935, in the crackdown following the “attempted communist coup”, the Anti-Clerical League was banned and the bookshop placed under constant surveillance by the Rio police. With the outbreak of the civil war in Spain in 1936, and despite the increase in repression, the habitués of “My Bookshop” sought to recruit volunteers to fight in the war. Libero Battistelli, a great antifascist and the best of friends with the Garavinis, set off for Spain and met his death there the following year, fighting on the Huesca front. Even during the bleakest years of Getúlio Vargas’s Estado Novo, the bookshop held out bravely against police raids and provocation by the local fascists.

With the end of the world war, the Garavinis decided to go back to Italy which they did in 1946 and 1947. They settled in Nello’s birthplace, Castel Bolognese, where they became active in the local anarchist group and joined the FAI (Italian Anarchist Federation). In 1973, the Garavinis and other comrades launched the Casa Armando Borghi, its premises housing anarchist groups and a libertarian library. To this day, Giordana Garavini, now 83, helps run this libertarian centre.

From: emecê (Rio de Janeiro), No 5, November 2006, emecê is the bulletin of the Marques da Costa Research Group. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.