The strike of teachers at federal universities

Image: Abdelrhman Magdy
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By DANIEL AFONSO DA SILVA*

The fundamental aspect of the entire situation lies in the need for immediate recognition of the undeniable moral, intellectual, tactical and operational defeat of the entire category over the last ten, fifteen or twenty years.

It has been many years since Luis Felipe Miguel became unavoidable in the public debate of ideas in Brazil. Always well informed, he clarifies, like no one else, the understanding of the current political situation. Few observers of the national scene have his sophistication in approaching themes and his precision in developing arguments. However, it is not always possible to agree with everything he proposes. There are times when he, honestly, accelerates too much or brakes sharply when cornering. In any case, even in these unjustified skids that promote occasions of frank intellectual disagreement, it is impossible to completely ignore him.

Your assessment of the reason for the strike by professors at some federal universities starting on Monday, 15/04, presented in the luminous article “Why are federal teachers going on strike?”, is precise, honest, intelligent and blunt. It would honestly be difficult to find a better manifestation. At first reading, there are no repairs to be made to his analysis or his position.

However, meditating more slowly, the conviction subtly emerges that he simply succeeds in retail, leaving almost everything to be desired in wholesale. Not certainly because I ignore the complexity of the problem. But, perhaps, because I do not wish to delve into the live issues that are far beyond the variability of weights and measures that the new Lula da Silva presidency imposes on the federal public service and its teaching category.

Luis Felipe Miguel knows perfectly well that the indication of the strike does not simply result from the recomposition – necessary, urgent, legal and moral – of the salaries of professors at federal universities. It's not just the cents. Knowing this, he may understand the essence of the present divergence and realize that the fundamental of the entire situation lies in the need for immediate recognition of the undeniable moral, intellectual, tactical and operational defeat of the entire category in the last ten, fifteen or twenty years.

The “silence of intellectuals” at the turn of the Dilma Rousseff presidency was the most reliable demonstration of the displacement – ​​and even distortion – of the weight of Brazilian universities in general and federal universities in particular in national life. The spectacle surrounding the “Mensalão Scandal” and the pugnacity of Penal Action 470 numbed, intimidated and destroyed the entirety of truly thinking and publicly active leaders among teachers. The frustration there seems to have cannibalized the sparks of hope. Consequently, the Brazilian public university as a whole began to sincerely lose the density of its strength and combativeness.

Going back in time, it will be possible to see that from that moment onwards the university progressively stopped positively guiding the agenda of urgent and necessary structural changes in the country. The dream – materialized in the 2002 victory – then became a nightmare, and everything seemed to disappear into thin air. As a consequence, the dynamics of improvements in Brazilian education in general and higher education in particular were being imploded in full flight.

Many will be able to date the beginning of the hecatomb to another time. Before or after maybe. But, thinking about it, it was the immaculate incomprehension and widespread perplexity at the extraordinary events of 2004-2006 that paved a straight path for the unprecedented self-absorption of the entire category of federal university professors.

Since then, therefore, expectations regarding the university factor have been relentlessly decreasing. Even in the face of the brilliant expansion of federal universities – about this expansion, it is worth reading the formidable article “Lula and higher education”, signed by André Moreira Cunha and Alessandro Donadio Miebach, recently posted on the website the earth is round – in those early years of the Lulite and PT adventures in power, enthusiasm for everything was cold.

In this way, resurfacing – read: pulling one's head up to one's nose from submersion in deep waters of disgust – to block José Serra's victory in the 2010 presidential election was an issue wrapped in devices of a simply moral and honor nature. Just for that and just for that. Then, all public expression teachers and recognized interpreters in Brazil returned to silence. And so they remained. Even in the face of the nights of June 2013.

Much has been said and written about those incidents of the June nights. Practically all its aspects have already been ostensibly heard by the intelligentsia Brazilian and foreign. However, as extraordinary as it may seem, the category of professors, notably university professors, clearly did not take away the entirety of the lessons of those nights nor did they promote the necessary examination of conscience to emphatically contrast the idea underlying those protests which, little by little, was asserting itself to the maximum “Olavo is right.”

No: Olavo de Carvalho was not and is not right.

But this was neither observed nor problematized at the time or later. One after which involved the hypocrisy of “there will be no World Cup” in 2013-2014, the presidential skirmishes of 2014, the martyrdom of President Dilma Rousseff in 2015-2016, the implacability of impeachment of 2016, the gushing bleeding of the Brazilian social fabric under the Bridge to the Future of the Michel Temer presidency, the contradictory “He, no” of the 2018 presidential elections until reaching the nomination and appointment of people of the quality of Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez and Abraham Weintraub for the Ministry of Education.

In other words, without mincing words, the most intellectually equipped category in the country was unable to see, predict and contain the multiplication of snake eggs that paved the angry paths for the ascension and affirmation of a truly stupid man to the presidency of the Republic.

This is not about ideologically qualifying President Jair Bolsonaro and his troupe as being the expression of some right-wing or extreme right-wing movement. This type of intellectual maneuver simply distorts and clouds the discussion about the real dimensions of the problem – and here and now may not be the appropriate place or time to return to this true analytical quarrel. But, briefly and roughly, it is important to recognize once and for all that the affirmation of Bolsonavism and all its lethality in the Brazilian political landscape also and above all resulted from the general mental blackout of Brazilian university professors in all these years.

Some clairvoyance, yes, emerged over time. Take, for example, the stridency of “He, no”. It was important and interesting, but, admittedly, almost entirely insignificant. The milk had almost all been spilled and almost all of the teaching staff watched the country's earth-shaking, beastly and numb.

In any case, Luis Felipe Miguel is very right in pointing out that the category of federal teachers was on the “front line of defending democracy and resisting setbacks” – even though it is not clear to anyone the nature of this “democracy” nor the size of the sinister impact of these “setbacks” – under Bolsonarism and during the 2022 presidential elections.

However, even though he is directly affiliated with the legendary University of Brasília, where the eternal Darcy Ribeiro delivered the fiery speech “University for what” about the rebirth of the University after the military regime, he, Luis Felipe Miguel, at no point in his spirited article “By that federal teachers are going to go on strike?” consider considering that the enclosure of the category in the face of the true Blitzkrieg olavista and Bolsolavista enveloped in the axiom of cultural war disjointed what was left of the essentially critical nature – with a capital “c” and not with the small “c” of identity-type criticism and Woke that came to prevail everywhere – of the Brazilian university.

It is simply worth remembering that Brazilian university professors have never been so disrespected, mistreated, disregarded, defamed, humiliated and violated with impunity as in the court that took place from the nights of June 2013 to the afternoon of January 8, 2023 and resulted in the affirmation of academic indigence and intellectual in all fringes of Brazilian reality. Never. Likewise, it weighs heavily on reaffirming that public universities in all spheres have never been subject to such discredit, discredit, devaluation and humiliation as in this period.

All due – it is true – to an unquestionable brutalization of all social relations in Brazil added to a frank, intentional and declared revisionist temptation that was simply unprecedented in Brazilian educational history. But, at the same time, everything was also fueled by the screaming silence of the category that, for the most part, preferred individual self-preservation in their careers to the group struggle for their existential values.

Looking at it from this perspective, when several teachers courageously took to the streets shouting “Not him”, the milk, in addition to almost all being spilled, was already almost all sour or curdled.

Note well, when a histrionic Havan-like department store owner begins to ubiquitously vandalize and belittle the legitimacy of what is taught within federal universities and no rector, no university council, no class association, no intellectual or no teacher of public expression rises, everything is clearly lost. The king is naked and the ivory tower has collapsed. There is nothing to do and nothing to claim. The general capitulation is complete. It’s a relentless “defeat". "It's a default".

Therefore, it is not the case whether or not to defend the federal teachers' strike for deserved, constitutional and moral salary replacements. The fundamental thing is to recover the strength to honestly recognize the brutality of the weighty, existential defeat of recent years and, finally, to return to meditating seriously on what all of us professors at federal and other Brazilian universities are actually for.

*Daniel Afonso da Silva Professor of History at the Federal University of Grande Dourados. author of Far beyond Blue Eyes and other writings on contemporary international relations (APGIQ). [https://amzn.to/3ZJcVdk]


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