June 13st, 2013

Image: Action Group


The defeat of the June 2013 momentum weakened the popular struggle, and paved the way for fascists to vie for hegemony in the streets.

“To understand the present through the past is, correlatively, to understand the past through the present” (Marc Bloch).

As of June 13, 2013, an important inflection of the political situation in Brazil took place. A sequence of four street protests against the increase in bus fares in São Paulo, with a few thousand young people, was a spark. Repressed by the police with savage violence, they triggered a surprising social explosion.

A conflict that seemed marginal triggered a national wave of mobilizations that the country had not known for twenty years. And this happened without any major political apparatus being committed to the call. The demonstrators themselves spontaneously declared, in their thousands, to what they came: Not for pennies!

In the June days, hundreds of thousands of young people invaded the streets of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. On a national scale, something close to two million people took to the streets in four hundred cities in a few weeks. This wave of fights extended in different ways in the second half. On the one hand, the campaign Where is Amarildo? shook the entire country. On the other hand, black bloc groups, some with police infiltration, multiplied violent symbolic actions. But the wave petered out in February 2014, after the death of Band's cameraman in front of Central do Brasil.

A perspective analysis should help us understand the significance of those first four weeks, and the following six months. But it's not like that. The perception still prevails on the left that it is possible to discern a direct causality between June 2013 and the impeachment of Dilma in 2016, and what came after. But this interpretation is difficult to support because it is not supported by irrefutable evidence.

It is true that after the institutional coup came the inauguration of Temer, the apogee of the Lava-Jato operation, the conviction and imprisonment of Lula and the election of Bolsonaro in 2018. A dynamic of defeats. But what were the connections between June 2013 and the impeachment, remembering that Dilma Rousseff won the second round against Aécio Neves at the end of 2014?

There are three responses on the Brazilian left to this crucial question. Which one was confirmed in the “laboratory” of history? The way out of the “labyrinth” of the reactionary situation we find ourselves in, in June 2021, depends to some extent on a correct answer. June 2013 still torments, disturbs and confuses us.

The first answer is the one that sees in the mobilizations opened in June 2013 the seed of the extreme right taking to the streets, and the moment of the unfavorable reversal of the social relationship of forces. He attributes to the June days a reactionary meaning because it would be the beginning of the offensive of a “conservative wave”, and its leadership could not be disputed by the left. June 2013 would be the “warm up” of the “amarelinhos” mobilizations in March/April 2015 and 2016, a few million echoing “our flag will never be red”.

The second is opposed at root, because it identifies a revolutionary dynamic in the June 2013 process. The third is the most complex, because it recognizes the progressive character of the claims, or the presence of oppressed social subjects, but it also notes the presence of a fascist core with a mass audience, and observes that political acephaly left the momentum of mobilizations adrift. Everything was up for grabs.

The dominant meaning of the June Days was tumultuous. The overwhelming majority of posters were restricted to the limits of democratic claims: if the people wake up, they won't sleep! It's no use shooting, ideas are bulletproof! It's not for pennies, it's for rights! Put the tariff on FIFA's account! You'll see that your son doesn't run away from the fight! If your child gets sick, take him to the stadium! Ô fardado, you are also exploited! The united people will never be defeated!

There was some silliness between what the crowds were doing and many of the posters. This mishap was predictable. An Ibope survey on the reasons for participating in the demonstrations reveals that the vast majority were on the streets in defense of free public services, and against corruption.[I]

In historical evaluations there is a danger of an anachronistic optical illusion that interprets past struggles solely by their results. It is not the present that deciphers the enigma of the past, but essentially the opposite, although there is a dialectical tension. The outcome of a defeated class struggle process is often more revealing of the strength of the reaction than anything else.

In June 2013, after ten years of coalition governments led by the PT, a colossal explosion was precipitated, essentially spontaneous for democratic demands, but which deserves to be compared, for its scale, with the mobilizations for Direct now 1984 that paved the way for the end of the military dictatorship. Or, also, with the mobilizations by the Out Collor in 1992, which culminated in Collor's impeachment.

However, unlike in 1984 and 1992, in 2013 no political leadership played a relevant role. For being acephalous, the mobilizations of 2013 were no less relevant. They were perhaps even more impressive. In the space of a few weeks, all governments and institutions of the regime underwent, in different degrees of mistrust, a serious questioning.

In the first acts of June 2013, the streets were occupied by salaried youth, but educated, although, for the most part, precarious in low-wage jobs. The more mature battalions of the proletariat were absent, although they had sympathies. Attempts to unite June with the organized workers' movement, which also had the support of the CUT, in two days of national strike under a program of demands with a more defined class cut, although it was the most encouraging perspective, were frustrated. . Up to three million salaried workers went on strike on July 11th, and a lower number, still significant on August 30th, if we consider that Brazil has not experienced a national strike call since 1989.

The Brazil of 2014 was very different from the Brazil of the late seventies. The country has never known such a long historical interval of a liberal-democratic regime. Few contemporary societies have experienced, in such a short historical interval, such significant transformations. Brazil has doubled its GDP and its population in these thirty years. But these two indicators, which evolved rapidly in the decades prior to the 1980s, began to have much slower dynamics.

Brazil in 2013 was a nation with slow growth, which dropped from the historical average of around 7% a year to something less than 2,5%, and the fertility rate collapsed from more than 5% to less than 2%. The economic slowdown was partially offset by the demographic transition, but this did not prevent social inequality, although it has suffered fluctuations in these thirty years, as it increased in the 1990s and fell in the 2000s, from not having decreased significantly. Brazil remained, essentially, after three decades of democratic-electoral regime, a country still among the most unjust. So with many dashed expectations.

This historical perspective is essential to give meaning to the mobilizations of June 2013. This struggle for transport, education and free, quality public health clashed head-on with Fernando Haddad's PT in São Paulo City Hall and Alckmin's PSDB. Sérgio Cabral and Eduardo Paes of the PMDB in the governments of Rio were not spared. In Recife, Eduardo Campos' PSB was also hit. Then the avalanche of mobilizations spread in the form of a national tsunami. Many cities saw the biggest marches in their history. In not a few of them, mobilizations were bigger than the ones they knew during the 1992 Fora Collor. Some even bigger than the Diretas in 1984.

But on June 20, a week after the violent repression, the commercial media did a 180º turn, abandoned the vandalism denunciation, and started to provide favorable coverage of the Acts, until a summons was issued, both on Avenida Paulista and on Avenida Paulista. in the center of Rio de Janeiro or on the Esplanada dos Ministérios in Brasília. Open TV's and radios echoed the protests live. Globo, unusually, suspended the transmission of soap operas.

Organized fascist columns appeared in all the main capitals, which had already erupted in Salvador two days earlier. Young people intoxicated with nationalism appeared, wrapped in the national flag. They sang: “I am Brazilian with a lot of pride and a lot of love”. Nationalism is a dangerous political ideology. It is only positive when it defends Brazil from imperialism. The demonstrations split and the leftist columns were surrounded, and they had to fight with fists and kicks to defend their flags. A portion of the masses of the accommodated middle classes, set in motion by a very varied range of organizations, took to the streets. Reactionary slogans echoed, and the dispute for hegemony in the streets opened.

The June 2013 mobilizations were politically chaotic, ambiguous, confused, controversial. But trying to simplify or disqualify its meaning with the characterization that it would only be the expression of the malaise of the urban middle classes that were more educated and hostile to the PT, that is, reactionary, proved to be unsustainable. It is true that not all mass mobilizations are progressive. Those who took a stand against the June demonstrations argued that a backlash from the middle class threatened democracy.

Support for the Dilma government, which was largely majority – more than 65% – in less than a month, became a minority: less than 30%. The shocking social force of these mobilizations left state institutions semi-paralyzed for nearly a week. The ruling class was divided between those who demanded more repression, and those who feared a complete political demoralization of the governments, in case the uncontrolled police fury caused deaths. The reversal of fare increases was not enough to get the masses off the streets for a few months.

But the context of low unemployment, wage agreements with real gains, the deceleration of inflation, the persistence of a high level of consumption, slightly above even 2012, signaled a trend of recovery of political stability. Social tension was channeled to the 2014 presidential elections. After Dilma Rousseff's re-election, the great bourgeois offensive began, which culminated in the 2016 coup.

June 2013 was not the seed of the reactionary situation in which we live. The romanticization of what was the experience of thirteen years of PT governments needs to condemn, dramatize, demonize the ambiguities of the June mobilizations. Nor does it make sense to idealize, embellish, fantasize about June.

But the defeat of the June 2013 momentum weakened the popular struggle, and paved the way for fascists to vie for hegemony in the streets in 2015/16, demanding impeachment and calling for military intervention. There, the serpent's egg from which Bolsonaro emerged was hatched.

* Valerio Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).


[I] http://especial.g1.globo.com/fantastico/pesquisa-de-opiniao-publica-sobre-os-manifestantes.

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