2013: Rise of Many Nobodies

Image: Roman KaiukđŸ‡ș🇩
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By ALEXANDRE MARINHO PEPPER & PAULO HENRIQUE FLORES*

The legacy and ultimate meaning of 2013 remain up for grabs

On June 20, 2013, shortly after the announcement of the revocation of the increase in transport tariffs in São Paulo, by the then partners Geraldo Alckmin and Fernando Haddad, a cartoon by Angeli was published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul. In the way that only art can accomplish, it's a stunning synthesis of that moment. On one side, three tiny men, all in suits, ask a question: “After all, who do you think you are?”. On the other, huge people, whose worn shoes are the size of men. There is no answer. Greatness speaks for itself.

The cartoon does not capture the faces of the giants. They are not identifiable. And, in addition to their disproportionate sizes, there are many. Mutineers, forming a mob. If they could speak, as Vladimir Safatle reminds us, they would respond like a protester to a journalist in 2013: “write it down, I am nobody!”.

June 2013 completes ten years. Like every major historical event, even in the face of numerous analysis efforts, June continues to be, in many respects, an unknown quantity. Its protesters, great sphinxes. Faced with the countless and conflicting interpretations that are circulating again due to the decade, it is also seen that the legacy and the main meaning of 2013 are still in dispute.

Despite all the historical minutiae, it cannot be denied that 2013 was a popular uprising. A wave of protests emerged against high prices, then in repudiation of police violence, and fueled by the dissatisfaction that was spreading along with the economic slowdown.

As a popular uprising, it was no Brazilian jabuticaba either: in a way, the Brazilian 2013 closes a cycle of global struggles from the beginning of the previous decade. The masses in various corners of the world were already reacting against the effects of the 2008 crisis and government oppression.

This uprising of various nobodies, of the dominated classes in their various gradations, was not a bolt from the blue sky around here either. In 2012, there was already an increase in the number of strikes in the country, from the workers' revolts in the construction of hydroelectric plants to the historic strike of the federal public education network. In 2013, strikes exploded and, along with street protests, continued in the following years at a high level.

However, “June is perhaps the first major popular uprising in Brazilian history to have been demonized by the left—on its part, at least” (Marcos Nobre, Folha de S. Paul, 03.06.2023). Now, the most affected by the revolt was the country's central government, at the time of the PT. And, as from 2013 onwards, the PT arrangement suffered hard blows and a new extreme right appeared in the country, along with a deep economic and political crisis, the defense of 2013 as a “serpent’s egg” became common in the media. from this left.

In reality, this thesis says more about this so-called left than about 2013. By accusing the obvious and expected right-wing dispute and infiltration throughout the uprising and its aftermath, or, even more absurd, drawing a straight line between June 2013 and the fascist march of January 08th, while expressions of “anti-politics”, can only point, in the end, to its own reflected image.

It is, to say the least, symptomatic of the accusation that in the then (and still) current state of affairs any anti-institutional movement was anti-democratic or an embryo of authoritarianism. To make this accusation is, in fact, to accuse his own position in the events, because it presupposes that the institutional system of the Republic of 1988 is affirmed as that of a democracy to be maintained and defended.

But one of the most important problems that the events of June 2013 allowed to relocate was precisely this: is the Republic of 1988 an adequate political form for the expression of the interests and desires of the working classes or a Republic of Property, anti-popular and oligarchic? The fact that the neocolonial capitalist economic structure and the same repressive state apparatus have been maintained since the business-military dictatorship of 1964 are sufficient indices to give a concrete answer to the problem.

To accuse the events of 2013 of having produced the new Brazilian right is, for a good understanding, to accuse the PT and its satellites as a “party of order”, to fear those who, with their dissatisfaction, in that cycle of struggles, did not fit into the web of the current institutional framework. It is perfectly legitimate, then, to understand that the true name of this left is the “left of order”. Events demonstrate that, by becoming a “system”, manager of this exploitation regime, this political field can no longer be the flag of any nobodies uprising – and, like conservatives of all time, offer only repression and defamation in response .

Let the real test be taken away: after all, where were the forces of the theological-political right in the ten years of “calmness” that preceded 2013? And the estate? Who backed the adventures of the military in Haiti, when they admittedly began to plan their return to the political scene? Uncomfortable questions, admittedly, but important to indicate which was the left that in fact fed the embryos of fascism.

2013 marked, in its own way, the long history of rebellions in the country. It is, of course, up to those who side with the dominated to criticize the organizations, forces and movements that went through the uprising, but always aiming at advancing that resistance and in the name of the right to live with dignity for the immense majority.

2013 demonstrated that when the nameless and faceless rise up, they disrupt the game of the men in suits. That they are not as untouchable as they seem, behind their skulls and riot police shields. That, as Paulo Arantes says, we can fight back.

However, without a doubt, the uprising found flaws and was defeated. Not because they dared to fight even those who claim to be our representatives and disturbed the fragile balance that allowed a rationed democracy – the reinforcement of the right being a kind of divine punishment for such a sin. But because at the time no ways were found to keep the uprising on its feet, resisting the increasingly harsh attacks of the men in suits. And, as a result of that failure, our life has gotten worse since then, without being able to react accordingly.

We were unable to generate political and organizational results from that uprising and that is exactly what we still lack today. Organization: it's what makes all the difference in facing ups and downs, advances and setbacks common to every fight. We lacked and still lack a different institutionality, under another political guideline – one that is not tied up in the thousand traps of the state and private apparatuses of the dominant ones, nor in the increasingly manipulable fluidity of the networks. This is a question that deserves the best of our theoretical and practical efforts. The destitution of the dominant and the autonomous constitution of the power of the dominated impose the resolution of this problem that 2013 opened, but that we still have not solved.

Unlike those who wish that 2013 had never existed, it must be said, finally, that there is no more dangerous illusion than the desire for a historical time as a painless, gradual passage. This is an egg that spawns many monsters. The events of 2013 drew, among us on the left, a real line of demarcation, which the rise of fascism only made more serious. Working to solve the problems we have, the problems that are ours, is based on analyzing and understanding this demarcation. This is, perhaps, the condition for us to find the thread that takes us to the exit of the infernal labyrinth in which we are.

*Alexandre Marinho Pepper is a doctoral candidate in education at UnB.

* Paulo Henrique Flores he holds a doctorate in philosophy from PUC-Rio.


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