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Combative Memory: An Anarchist Expropriation in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1911

Combative Memory: An Anarchist Expropriation in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1911

From AMW English

“The anarchist is direct action. It is that man in whom most ideas are acts. He loves anarchy and believes that the best way to make it love for others is to act anarchism.

You also know one thing: that it is a minority type, almost always opposed to the majority. And that this will bring him neither the glory nor the respect that other exceptional beings, geniuses or saints, bring them; but mockery and death as rebel or heretic. Because it is not above or on the fringes of social conflicts, but in the living bowels of it all. And it has its direct action.” - Rodolfo Gonzalez Pacheco

The Anarchist Expropriating Armed Hand

The constant search for anarchy drives multiple forms of action. Opening paths, giving an answer, affirming principles, spreading the seed, giving life to ideas, turning them into endless initiatives always in conflict with the bonds of freedom, authority.

Indomitable beings abandon the social norms and conventions that frame the feeling, the living that impose misery, citizenship (subject of the state), the normative thinking guided by the laws of the rich, the conception of justice, borders. They feel in the their senses that freedom is a basic element of the manifestation of life based on the chaotic quest for balance, and in this eagerness are found anarchists clashing here and there against the tentacles of domination, against everything that threatens freedom. Their balance of life flows by refusing to be complicit in the machine’s gear.

Banks, bureaux de change, payment coupons, cash! What is money if not sweat, blood, effort, stolen force that in a pass of illusion is transmuted into paper money. A filthy role that insists on imposing itself by summarizing our lives. Money is born of exploitation and that is why it is in the hands of the would-be owners of life, garnished by repressive apparatuses, justified by the laws, the voices of radios, televisions and newspapers, blessed by priests and pastors. They worship the money, exploitation, and defend it, gain weight with it, are the empire of money and its lackeys, sponsors of imbalance, of disaster.

Faced with a mind-blowing intermittent plunder of lands, peoples and their forces, the challenges against the money empire (capitalism) and all domination are numerous, bold; the rebellious, indomitable, insubordinate, stubborn, subversive, anarchic wage an endless, unending, ongoing struggle.

There are within the multiple anarchist initiatives, which are spontaneous and hatch without stop, those that respect the legal parameters and precisely because they seek to live anarchy, there are also anarchist expressions that are not based on the legal possibilities for their action and the constant theft of life, of lands, of widespread looting by the empire of money, of dominion, of power, feel it is reasonable to treat them with shouts of bombs and gunshots, to set fire to their strongholds, to kidnap them, to expropriate them, to liquidate them.

Expropriation is constantly in this turmoil. Practiced and debated many times in anarchist circles with fierce comrades who in action traumatized the memory of the bourgeoisie; Ravachol, Marius Jacob and the “Night Workers,” the Bonnot Band, Severino di Giovani and so many other companions who kept their armed, supportive and expropriating hand on both banks of the La Plata River (Buenos Aires and Montevideo), Buenaventura Durruti, the Maquis [2], Lúcio Urtubia [3], the anarchist band that expropriated Argentine TV baron Tinelli’s producer in 2006, Claudio Lavazza, Liza, a practice that crossed the ages, are comrades from two centuries ago to those who today are still fighting.

“You standing still must grasp what you lack and you must walk armed. The worker must stop offering his muscles to accumulate the wealth of others and must attack the property. The peasants must take the land, plunder the woods of the owners. Are there other means of struggle? No!” -Anonymous anarchist leaflet of 1904 smuggled out by the thousands in southern Russia [4].

“Russian” anarchists

The anarchists of the vast regions dominated by the tsarist empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lived intense lives “Ai Ferri i Corti” [5]. One proposal and practice that stood out was the confrontation against all authority, continually attacking the bourgeoisie, the police and government agents of the tsarist empire, becoming a permanent storm in the first years of the nineteen hundreds, following an abundant trajectory of confrontation against power, the state, and capital [6].

Arrested, the enemies of Tsarism were exiled to Siberia with sentences of forced labor. Many were sentenced to death and executed. They led many prison breakouts, formed communities of exiled “Russian” anarchists who published newspapers and always facilitated means to enter the Tsarist Empire with clandestine anarchist literature, weapons and dynamite.

These newspapers circulated all over the world where there were Tsarist exiles: Argentina, Uruguay, Canada, the US, and also in the interior of southern Brazil in a community of Ukrainian anarchist immigrants in the locality of Erebango, these words came shouting anarchy alive.

The persecution of anarchists that was already systematic within the Tsarist empire after the insurrectionary upheavals of 1905 increased. In the following years, anarchists were severely persecuted, resulting in more arrests, deaths in clashes, executions, exiles.

Outlaw anarchists spread across the world, not by chance, and pursued by the Tsar’s claws. In Buenos Aires, in 1908, the young anarchist profligate Simon Radowitzky, who, in response to the murder of nearly a dozen anarchists during the protests of May 1, 1909, landed on November 14 of that year, wound up attacking the executioner Colonel Ramón Falcón, commander of the repressive operation [7], with a bomb thrown in his carriage, ending the life of a faithful executioner just as it was resolved in Yekaterinoslav, the Ukrainian city where he became and anarchist and from where he had to evade [8].

London was another city which received a significant community of exiles of different nationalities: Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles, Georgians, Belarussians, all considered “Russian” exiles for being exiled from the power of the Tsarist empire, its political (ocher) police, the Cossacks, the pogroms, the executions, Siberia. The anarchist’s action and life does not recognize nationalities, state boundaries, nor does it lose its roots.

In December 1910 a theft of a jewelry store was underway in London. Orchestrated by “Russian” anarchists who had rented two houses next to a jewelry store and were working to clear a path to the jewelry vault when they were caught by the police. They reacted by killing three police officers and injuring others seriously. Making way for escape, an expropriator was injured and died; his death was detected by police, finding his body in the house of a comrade who had helped him from being arrested.

With the anarchist’s body in their hands, the police photographed him, produced posters with his picture, and called for the outrage of good citizens. The repressive wave was back against “Russian” exiled revolutionaries. The allegation bore fruit by leading police to anarchists who were arrested and charged with killing police officers, Nina Vassilleva, Dubov, Peters and Federov. The carving goes on, the finger stiffens and points to No. 100 Sidney Street. There, the police retreated and after hours of shooting; the anarchists were well armed and full of ammunition. In distress, the police asked for help from the army, which to win the battle called for artillery. After seven hours of siege with the house on fire, the repressive forces feel they have won; they enter the house, a wall falls and kills an inspector, injuring other agents of the order. In the rubble are found the two bodies of the anarchists who fought to the end of your existence.

All prisoners accused of attempting theft and murder of police officers are released in May 1911 and travel the world… Months later, in Porto Alegre, newly arrived “Russian” anarchists expropriate a money exchange in the city center.

“And if money was needed for the movement, no one would set up ball parties and gatherings among the comrades… The generous donation of a few hundred or thousands of rubles was obtained from a capitalist persuaded with the pistol pointed at his head.” - In the memories of Max Nacht [9]

An anarchist expropriation on Rua da Praia

One Tuesday morning, September 5, 1911, at about 8:30 pm, a young man wearing a cap and revolver in his hand is spotted by a passersby in front of a money exchange house on Rua da Praia n.210, the central heart of the city. Inside the exchange office, three other expropriators begin to collect the valuables. Gunshots are heard from the interior of the money changer, calling the awakening of the back and forth from the downtown streets. With an unexpected reaction, the official, who was also a “quiet” lieutenant of the National Guard, takes three shots, and is seriously injured; days later, receives a change of address to live permanently in the cemetery São Miguel e Almas.

The expropriation takes a fast pace, carrying watches and gold chains, British pounds, Argentine pesos, Italian lira… On the street the exchange house was already surrounded by people, shouting begins, the four apaches [10] make their way, carrying browning pistols and revolvers, pursued by the crowd. A “square car” is forcibly taken by the daring flock, shooting towards the coachman, who is kicked out of the ride. They go through Rua Voluntários da Pátria to Rua da Conceição where they hit a car. Following the escape, the expropriators stop and take the number 35 tram that came to the center, coming from the Navegantes neighborhood. With the driver surrendered, he puts the tram on the way back to the neighborhood; at the corner of Rua do Parque, the tram derails. The fugitives board a passing milk cart, heading to the end of the urban area, culminating in the mouth of the Gravathay Forest.

The city is in turmoil! Actions like this where the expropriating armed group acted in daylight with such audacity and ferocity, unlike today, did not occur during these times. Gangs of people arm themselves and set off into the woods behind the robbers even before the police who saw nothing of what happened, the robbery, or the escape.

These forests were composed of marshes and swamps of difficult crossing. The Gravathay River was flooded and soon from the beginning of the siege, its bridges and wells were heavily escorted. By water, police vessels have started patrol; by land, the siege is total with bands of armed vigilantes, the Administrative Police (Municipal Guard) and also the Military Brigade who arrive, all hunting the wrongdoers. The repressive forces of the city and region unite; the chief actor of the repressive forces, chief of the operation, is Deputy Thompson Flores, who is saved by a captain from drowning in the swamp.

Surrounded by the Guaíba River, swamped and flooded, with the Gravathay River guarded and 400 law enforcement officers in its wake, night falls without police finding the whereabouts of the four anarchists. They take refuge in the woods, try to pierce the repressive siege wrapped in the cloak of night and are repelled.

Amid the haze of dawn, a detachment of reconnaissance stumbles upon the band hidden in a leafy fig tree. The shootout begins to hiss as soon as the police bring reinforcements. According to reports, the fig tree has been stripped naked from so many shots, and the four anarchists have their bodies shot through with calibers.

In a punitive frenzy, the authorities board the four bodies in a wagon, set their faithful executioners in formation, and parade into the city center. Taking over the sinister spectacle that has roamed the streets is Colonel Cypriano Ferreira, Commander General of the Military Brigade, “tired and delighted.” Intendant (mayor) José Montaury, present in the hunt, is invited to participate in the morbid parade, and denies, stating that he does not accompany criminals neither alive nor dead.

The sinister spectacle bears resemblance to the terror applied by the authorities against rebels throughout Brazil’s colonization by quartering and scattering their bodies, hanging them on the streets of cities such as Salvador and Recife and also with the procession through the streets of the damned and the consequent hangings. Porto Alegre was Largo da Forca [Gallows Square, where slaves and other convicts were executed], the scene of the torment. The “triumphal march” with the display of the four bodies of the expropriating anarchists is applauded. The authorities have tried to boost their morale with the blood of fierce anarchists.

With mercantilistic and innovative readiness, some capitalists film the bodies of anarchists with the police showing off. Over the days, a movie tape, an action movie, The Beach Street Tragedy is set up. The bureau’s burial worker is also filmed and a staging of robbery and escape takes place, starring the cast of the play Captain Vianna and 40 soldiers of the Military Brigade, who all act in the royal siege. The film will soon be shot in the Colyseu Theater cinematograph.

The police arrest everything that moves and they suspect. Russians, Poles, Austrians, Jewish immigrants were their main targets. The bodies are identified: Alexandre Grauberger, a native of Saratof, Russia, from where he had left three years ago, known here as Sasha, who worked and lived in a butcher shop on Pinto Bandeira Street. Stephen Sedoresky, Pablo Pavlovsky and Feodor had arrived from Buenos Aires two months earlier and lived together at No. 54 General Neto Street.

The police search and seizure activities find diaries written in Cyrillic characters, a map of South America, photographs; in Sacha’s belongings they find grammar books, dictionaries and “anarchist” books, that is, they discover that he is a studious person. Sasha’s boss declares that between him and his Russian friends there was a firm complicity, “emanating from some mysterious sect between them.”

The expropriating anarchists of Rua da Praia go in step with the anarchists who lived and fought in the lands under the Tsar’s rule. Wherever they go, they follow the same path in the search for anarchy, articulating bold and ruthless action against bourgeois trade and repressive forces. They waged war on the social peace and the legalized plunder of the captured social and natural riches, resisting to the last sighs, gunfire, fighting to the end without repenting or surrendering.

These subversive deeds of confrontation are part of our long anarchist memory of the region. We anarchists are a living part of where we live; we have no nationality, we are stateless, internationalists, we live and interact ardently in the world.

“Expropriation, theft, theft, both personal and collective, have a great burden. Both socially and politically. In my opinion, every kind of robbery is political; it is a way of resisting wage slavery; it is a way of freeing oneself from social currents in order to make life enjoyable. Whatever you want. The projection of the fight against authority needs comrades willing to give their time to extend the fight to win the war. Therefore, it is very important that illegality excels in getting resources for each individuality and for the group with which one decides to undertake the direct attack on the structure.” -Angry [11]

Nothing’s over, everything continues

In the winter of 1996, the anarchist comrade Sergio Terenzi, called Urubu, died shortly after an expropriation by the bullets of a Federal Police officer in Buenos Aires. At the end of 2013, December 11, Sebastián Oversluij Seguel “the Angry,” a self-declared nihilistic insurrectionist anarchist, was assassinated during an attempted robbery of a State Bank in the commune of Pudahuel, Santiago de Chile. Two expropriating armed anarchists that lived their last moments in confrontation with the empire of money.

Living life in word and deed, thinking and doing here and now, is the decision of those who seek anarchy. Facing all arms of domination, its values, its laws and repressive forces. And as other anarchists have claimed, anarchy is not from the past or the subject of the future, but rather a disquieting search for the present.

Armed War, Spring 2019

From Subversive Chronicle #5, Spring/Summer 2019

[1] Cartels of Spain; Rodolfo Gonzalez Pacheco; Buenos Aires, 1940. La Accion Directa p.28

[2] Many anti-Franciscan guerrillas of anarchist inspiration who acted in the Pyrenees mountains the natural border of France with Spain.

[3] The Documentary Lucio The Anarchist (2007) is an inspiring account of his life and actions.

[4] Bialystok Anarchists 1903-1908; Anonymous; Stateless Fury and Anomie Edicions, 2009, Barcelona, p.170

[5] Iron and cut, in a fight with no return.

[6] The life lived “Ai Ferri i Corti” by anarchists in Russia is not a theme of the past. The former Tsarist political police that chased anarchists from Ukraine became the famous KGB during the Soviet Union, with democracy mutated into the FSB, following its task of spying, arresting, torturing anarchists. As the FSB did during the 2018 World Cup preparations by arresting anarchists, torturing them and forcing them to take part in an organization created by the police mind. In response to this violence, anarchist Mikhail Vasilievitch Zhlobitsky, Misha, visited FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk City on October 31, 2018. Upon entering, he fired an explosive device he brought with him, bid farewell to his life, wounding three FSB agents.

[7] Even though dead about a century ago, anarchists keep alive their hatred for such a character. On the eve of the 2018 G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, Anahí and Hugo went to the tomb of Fálcon, leaving an explosive device there, Anahí, in an accidental move, became seriously injured and is now under house arrest. Hugo, who did not betray and helped his comrade, is still kidnapped by the Argentine state.

[8] …And terrible will be your rage. The anarchism in Yekatrinoslav 1904-1908. Ukraine; Anonymous, Ediciones Negras, 2014, Buenos Aires, p. 37

[9] Bialystok Anarchists 1903-1908; Anonymous; Stateless Fury and Anomia Edicions, 2009, Barcelona, p. 91

[10] Expression used in A Reforma, September 5, 1911. The text refers to all September 1911 editions of A Reforma and O Diário, both daily newspapers in Porto Alegre.

[11] Run of Life. Memories of “Angry” Comrade Sebastián Overluij; 3rd edition; p.120