War as a continuation of politics



Marcelo Arruda's grisly murder at his own birthday party likely won't be the last

Unfortunately, it must be recognized that something like the murder of Marcelo Arruda by an armed man who entered his birthday party shouting “Bolsonaro here” was already expected. This character of something already announced increases even more the astonishment and bitterness for what happened. Because such an absence of surprise clearly shows where we are, or even the type of social engineering project to which we are submitted.

Already in the last election, Brazil had come across people killed by supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, as in the case of Mestre Môa. On the occasion, it will be remembered what was the reaction of the gentleman who currently occupies the Presidency of the Republic. No public declaration of consternation and mourning, just the statement: “But I was the one who was stabbed”. Now, the pattern is the same: complete lack of consideration for the death, only the complaint that the case was being handled differently from the way his own incident that resulted in the famous stabbing had been handled.

This government standard is not strange. Unfortunately, its rationality is quite evident. It is about naturalizing the logic of war as a form of relationship between social groups. In a war, there would be no reason to show dismay at the death of enemies. In fact, in a war it is essential that such deaths occur, as they can produce a spiral of violence whose true function is to push the entire country into armed tension, consolidating antagonistic positions. Hence the need to minimize such murders as “incidents” not very different from a “traffic fight”, as the leader of the government in the Chamber insinuated.

This generalization of the war would be the ideal situation for Mr. Jair Bolsonaro. Because that would allow him to state that the country is in a situation of chaos, thus making room for a double game, namely, both seeking to create the conditions for a coup (or something similar) exit and growing in fear, recovering conservative sectors that left their orbit, but which can always come back if the logic of war prevails. In other words, all of this reminds us that the grisly murder of Marcelo Arruda at his own birthday party is unlikely to be his last.

Some may wonder how we got here. And it is always good to remember in this context that Brazil has known 13 years of left-wing government without any case of electoral violence that ended in murder perpetrated by supporters of the former government. There is no possibility of talking about any form of mutual aggravation. If, even in the face of the normal symbolic violence of political clashes, there have never been reverse cases, it is because there is no direct line between symbolic violence and real violence. Symbolic violence is often, in fact, a shield against real violence, as it shifts violence to another scene, with its own dynamics.

We must insist on this point not to erase the responsibility of this government in acts of this nature. On the contrary, it is about showing where exactly such responsibility lies. Because if we are in a situation like this now, we must look for one of its main causes in the generalization of the militia logic that marks the popular fascism of Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonarism provokes a social reorganization whose central axis is the “breaking of the monopoly” in the state use of violence. It is this rearrangement that is truly responsible for brutal murders like this one.

It has already been noted that the fundamental base of this government is not only the armed forces, but mainly the police forces. The logic of extermination, disappearance and murder that forms the backbone of the Brazilian police gained an additional element when such actions began to be carried out without the need for shadows, without having to move from the spotlight, as happened in this government.

Something fundamental happens when the same thing is done, but without the need for masking, with the absolute certainty of impunity and with applause from the Planalto Palace. In this case, the militia background of the Brazilian police appears in a completely unrepressed way, being able to produce an irresistible dynamic of social contagion. That is, other social groups, or even isolated individuals, are increasingly authorized to act as if they were in a war situation.

In fact, as in historical fascist movements, the armed base of this political project does not exactly come from traditional military forces, but from the organization of society based on the logic of militias. The militia then becomes the fundamental model of social organization. This means that the exercise of violence appears as a fundamental attribute of the exercise of citizenship, however strange this may initially appear. To be a citizen, to be a citizen is, in this logic, to be able to use violence to “self-defense”, and it is always good to remember (and this the colonial experience clearly shows us) that not everyone has the alleged “right of self-defence”. Some just have the condition of bodies to be shot.

Thus, those who claim that the main objective of this government is to make every Brazilian a potential militiaman are not mistaken. That is, to make of all those who identify with this “Brazil”, with its national colors, its history of erasures and genocides, with its predatory agribusiness, a militiaman reconciled with himself.

Someone indifferent to the death of “enemies”, sympathetic to the corruption coming from his own, identified with brutalized figures of power and strength, while seeing himself as the armed defender of the West and its values. This is not just a project of power, but effectively a project of society. Against that, we'll need something the size of the strength of another societal image.

*Vladimir Safatle He is a professor of philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Ways of transforming worlds: Lacan, politics and emancipation (Authentic).


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