Luís Carlos Prestes

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Luís Carlos Prestes
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-13290-0017, Luis Carlos Prestes.jpg
Photo taken between 1930–40.
Senator for Federal District
In office
Personal details
Luís Carlos Prestes

(1898-01-03)January 3, 1898
Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul Brazil
DiedMarch 7, 1990(1990-03-07) (aged 92)
Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Political partyPCB (1934–1980)
Olga Benário
(m. 1934; death 1942)

Altamira Sobral
(m. 1950; his death 1990)
Children8 (including Anita)
Alma materRealengo Military School
ProfessionMilitary engineer

Luís Carlos Prestes (January 3, 1898 – March 7, 1990) was a lieutenant, later communist militant and Brazilian politician. He was one of the organizers of the 1920s tenente revolts and the communist opposition to the Vargas Era in Brazil. He was also the general-secretary of the Brazilian Communist Party.

Tenente revolt[edit]

Prestes helped organize the failed tenente revolts of 1922, an uprising of the largely middle class officer corps and poor conscripted servicemen against the agrarian oligarchies that dominated Brazil's Old Republic (1889–1930). Because Prestes was sick with typhoid fever, he was unable to fight on the day of the revolt. From 1924, Prestes became one of the leaders of the insurrectionist movement, leading the Coluna Prestes (Prestes' Column) on a 25,000 km (15,534 mi) march through the Brazilian countryside. The march did not aim to defeat the enemy forces of the Federal government, but rather to ensure the insurrectionists' survival and their ability to continue threatening the dictatorship.

1930 revolution[edit]

The tenente revolt heralded the end of the 'coffee and milk' coronelismo politics and the beginning of social reforms. The Revolution of 1930 ended Brazil's Old Republic. Joined by many moderate tenentes, but not Prestes, the Revolution of 1930 installed Getúlio Vargas as Brazil's provisional president. Although the tenentes sympathized with him, Vargas was a far more conservative figure. As the tenentes wanted Prestes to join Vargas, Prestes decided to meet him in Porto Alegre and explained his idea of socialist revolution to Vargas for about two hours. Vargas was highly impressed by Prestes and even donated 800 contos de réis (about $400,000 at the time, or about $5,860,000 in 2017 USD) to the revolutionary cause. However, Prestes viewed Vargas as the leader of a bourgeois revolution and decided to route most of the donated money to the Latin American branch of the Comintern, financing the group for a few years. Another part of the money was routed to tenente member Siqueira Campos, who died in a plane crash while flying from Argentina to Brazil. His body was discovered three days later, but the money was never found.[citation needed]

Alignment to Marxism[edit]

As Getúlio Vargas was gaining power in Brazil, Prestes turned to Marxism while in exile in Buenos Aires. In the 1930s he became the leader of the Aliança Nacional Libertadora (National Liberating Alliance) (ANL), a left-wing popular front launched in 1935, consisting of socialists, communists, and other progressives led by the Communist Party in opposition to Vargas' crackdown against organized labor.

Getúlio Vargas, who had by this time become Brazil's legally-recognized president (no longer merely ad interim), thus looked to a form of authoritarian government. He endeavored to suppress his enemies on the left, led by Prestes, through violence and state terror in order to survive with his coalition intact during the agitated years that began in 1934. Vargas had become allied with Brazils' agrarian oligarchies, having an established network of economic and political power, and the Integralists, a fascist movement with a mass popular support-base in urban Brazil. Vargas' political power forced the Brazilian Congress to respond to the growth of the Communist movement.[citation needed]


As a result of Vargas' increased political power, the Brazilian Congress branded all leftist opposition as "subversive" under a March 1935 National Security Act. The new act allowed the President to ban the ANL. Vested with its new emergency powers, the federal government imposed a crackdown on the entire left, with arrests, torture, and summary trials. By mid-1935 Brazilian politics had become drastically destabilized. In July the government moved against the ANL, with troops raiding offices, confiscating propaganda, seizing records, and jailing leaders. The ANL became forced, reluctantly, to begin an armed insurrection in November. The authoritarian regime, like its fascist counterparts in Europe, responded by imprisoning and torturing Prestes and violently crushing the Communist movement through state terror.

Vargas, seeking to co-opt Brazil's fascist movement and paramilitary, known as "Integralism" and led by Plínio Salgado, tolerated a tide of anti-Semitism, and may have targeted Prestes' wife to appease his new supporters. Vargas deported the pregnant, German-Jewish wife of Luís Carlos Prestes, Olga Benario, to Nazi Germany, where she later died in a concentration camp. According to Prestes, he was a virgin until he met Olga Benario.[citation needed]

After Vargas began abandoning fascist-style autocracy in 1945, following his rapprochement with the World War II Allies in 1943, political prisoners were released, including Luís Carlos Prestes. Prestes gave an astute assessment of Vargas' politics, commenting, "Getúlio is very flexible. When it was fashionable to be a fascist, he was a fascist. Now that it is fashionable to be democratic, he will be a democrat." Many members of the Brazilian Communist Party were disgusted by Prestes and decided to leave the party.[citation needed]

However, Prestes was correct in his assessment. Vargas astutely responded to the newly liberal sentiments of a middle class that was no longer fearful of disorder and proletarian discontent by moving away from fascist repression. Vargas promised "a new postwar era of liberty" that included presidential elections, amnesty for political prisoners, and the legalization of opposition parties, including the Communist Party, which had become more moderate and weaker. When asked how he could give his support to the man who deported his wife to her death, Prestes answered by saying that the good of the common man was above personal disputes.

Political career[edit]

In the elections of December 2, 1945, Prestes won the highest number of votes in his race for the Senator of the Federal District. Later that month, Vargas was ousted by the hard-right wing of the military partly because of his liberalizing moves; the Communist movement became persecuted once again. However, the party made another comeback following Brazil's move toward democratization in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Under the presidency of João Goulart (1961–1964), a protégé of Getúlio Vargas, and another gaúcho from Rio Grande do Sul, the closeness of the government to the historically disenfranchised working class and peasantry and even to the Communist Party under none other than Luís Carlos Prestes was equally remarkable. Goulart appeared to have been co-opting the Communist movement in a manner reminiscent of Vargas' co-option of the Integralists shortly, and not coincidentally, before his ouster by reactionary forces. Once again, Prestes was imprisoned and the Communist movement was persecuted.

The experience of the failed tenente rebellion and Vargas' suppression of the Communist movement left Prestes, and some of his comrades, skeptical of armed conflict for the rest of his life. His well-cultivated skepticism later helped precipitate the permanent schism between hard-line Maoists and orthodox Marxist-Leninists in the Brazilian Communist Party during the early 1960s. Prestes went on to lead the pro-Soviet faction of the party known as the Brazilian Communist Party (or PCB) while the Maoists formed the Communist Party of Brazil (or PCdoB). While the Maoists went underground and engaged in urban combat against the military dictatorship after 1964, Prestes' faction did not.

In 1970, Prestes went to Moscow with his second wife and children, and only returned to Brazil after amnesty for political offenders was granted ten years later.

After his return to Brazil, Prestes later abandoned the PCB without renouncing Marxism. He became a supporter of the Brazil's Democratic Labour Party and took part in Leonel Brizola's presidential campaign in 1989. Prestes died on March 7, 1990, aged 92.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  • The Prestes Column: Revolution in Brazil, by Neill Macaulay (1974).
Party political offices
Preceded by
Antonio Maciel Bonfim
General-Secretary of Brazilian Communist Party
Succeeded by
Giocondo Dias