Artur Araújo (1958-2023)

Image: Perseu Abramo Foundation
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By DIOGO FAGUNDES*

Commentary on the left-wing militant who combined political experience and deep intellectual knowledge

Last week, on June 12th, one of the most important friends in my life passed away. He had lost his zest for life after two heart attacks, a cardiac arrest and their terrible consequences of consequences and constraints. Life, without being able to do politics and work, had lost its meaning for him. Someone who was, above all, a political animal.

In this text I will emphasize some great virtues of the figure. However, I engage in these lines not to provide a hagiographic elegy, in order to promote an exemplary and idealized personality, a correct citizen. This outfit does not suit our friend, who would never feel comfortable in this position. Self-indulgence, a penchant for flattery, and the posturing of a morality harbinger were never his style. On the contrary, he would make fun of it all with that sharp humor of his that we loved.

Speaking of which, Artur Araújo must be the least moralistic guy I've ever met in my life. It was an odd trait for someone raised in the old-choice Marxist-Leninist tradition, so jealous of its rigidity. Precisely for this reason, I was able to get along so well with him: I never felt judged, diminished or despised. In fact, Artur Araújo, without ever celebrating or making a romantic-decadent apology for hedonism, addictions or unruly behavior, had deep empathy, perhaps even fraternal identification, with whom he had his demons to fight. This helps to explain why, in addition to political and intellectual affinities, we created such strong bonds, even with the great difference in age and experience.

Nor do I want here to describe his biography in detail. However, as his life is somewhat anonymous even for many militants who got to know or live with him, I need to start with some biographical notes before getting to what matters: his political thought, a legacy transmitted to those who could share his friendship, but also, I hope, for everyone who reads this text.

Biographical notes

Artur Araújo lived under the sign of the multiple. On the basis of a few persistent unitary traits (bitter humor, the political activist's analytical and assertive precision, dexterity with pots in the kitchen, taste for novels...) its multiple facets have developed over time.

Initiated into political militancy as an engineering student at Poli-USP in the mid-1970s, he participated intensely in the revival of the student movement then in ferment, through Refazendo, a student tendency linked to the Marxist-Leninist Popular Action. There, he stood out as a national leader, participating in the reconstruction of the National Union of Students (UNE) and in the political processes of opposition to the final phase of the military dictatorship.

After the dismantling of the APML, he formed, with some remnants, among them, the journalist Breno Altman, a small Marxist-Leninist association called Comunidade Comunista (UC). Its general secretary was José Aníbal, the future strong man of the PSDB in the FHC years. Artur remembered that time with a mixture of nostalgia and humor, due to the exaggerated pretensions typical of a youth enthusiastic about conversion, from head to toe, to a transcendent cause. It was at this time that he says he read Lenin's complete works as a militant obligation.

Militant obligations practically consumed his entire life during this period, explaining the reasons for never having managed to finish his graduation. A commitment greater than his own career and life may seem crazy to anyone who has never surrendered to the paradoxical satisfactions of political militancy – something like an expanded version of the “mad love” celebrated by the surrealists – but Artur, like many of his generation, lived this strange form of disinterested dedication to something greater than oneself. Faced with financial needs, needing to exercise a trade, he had to separate himself from strictly political life, specializing in hospitality and tourism.

Years of travel and different adventures followed, ranging from a life as a small restaurant owner in the USA to adventures in the interior politics of Goiás almost typical of western. I always found it fascinating and ironic that a four-backed communist did reasonably well as a character in the saga of self-made man North American. In an apparently contradictory way, he attributed this to his communist and militant background: according to him, Marxism-Leninism gave him the means to know how to organize and direct any meeting or collective matter, an observation that, for me, makes a lot of sense, as it reminded me of the content of the last section of the Fundamentals of Leninism, referring to the style of Bolshevik work, if I may quote an author from the index prohibitorum of Marxism: “Uniting Russian revolutionary impetus with American practical spirit: this is the essence of Leninism in Party and State work.”

Taking this opportunity, I emphasize that I have always felt this connection between Artur Araújo and the USA in many aspects: the taste of the tradition of the North American novel and the fine journalism style The New Yorker to the movies western, passing through the permanent interest in black popular music in the country (blues, jazz, rock, R&B….). Until the end of his life we ​​talked about this and he got excited when he found artists or new information about this great school of wild musical energy.

However, for the purposes of our report, two things matter above all: (i) Artur Araújo became a top executive in the hotel business, which allowed him to be director of Embratur during the first Lula administration, (ii) his integration in the Workers' Party. This, he said, relying on a comment by his friend João Guilherme Vargas Netto (a former PCB militant and union consultant), was the true Brazilian “uniqueness”. The communists' mistake, according to him, was not having joined and disputed directions in the party. This formulation about “singularity” has always reminded me – and I have a permanent mental debt about never having written an article about it – of the theory of my favorite philosopher, Alain Badiou, about the “event”, characterized as a mutation based on into a strong singularity in a given situation or world.

Speculative digressions aside, Artur Araújo was in the PT, at the same time, a faithful militant and someone a little out of place. Coming from a communist culture, Artur never got along very well with the logic of trends or disputes between different parliamentary kings, with the lack of strategic and programmatic formulation or with the culture of absence of real self-criticism, the basis of any therapy for immunization or broken.

He worked with David Capistrano Filho in Santos city hall, someone who, like him, came from a communist culture and there he made friends for the rest of his life, especially with militants of the sanitary movement, the specialty of David, former secretary of health . These old communists linked to health – many of them at the origin of the creation of the SUS – often met to discuss the situation in a group called “Orphanage”, with the presence of some important PT names, such as Rui Falcão. I had the privilege of attending some of these meetings, real lessons in politics.

Despite the regrets, he envisioned in the PT an instrument to build something between the welfare state European and the New Deal rooseveltian. Lately, he was enthusiastic about the possibilities opened up by the so-called Modern Monetary Theory (the study of economics was one of his passions), by the Green New Deal of the Anglo-Saxon “democratic socialists”, for the return of industrial and protectionist policies to the center of the economic discussion and for industrialization and modernization via the State undertaken by China. In a way, Artur Araújo advocated socialism in the style of the magazine Jacobin avant la letter and Brazilian. In this, we differed somewhat, but this never disturbed our relationship and our convergences

In his mind, the PT should become a strong reformist party, like the Labour Party in the late 1940s or the German SPD before the collapse of the Second International. He said, without fear of being judged by us, younger militants who had broader and more hopeful horizons, that he was a reformist (like many, but at least he had the courage to say so). A mixture of national-developmental heritage from the PCB of the 50s/60s, Italian Eurocommunism and even Karl Kautsky (he was not ashamed of this, despite his permanent debt to Lenin) formed a core of thought based on anti-rentism and anti-neoliberalism as fundamental objectives of the State. This “strong reformism” could be seen as a left wing of social democracy (definitely to the left of PT governments) or as a right wing of communism, depending on your inclinations.

In this perspective, the PT would fulfill its historic role if it managed to stick firmly to this mission, which commanded all its interventions in the direction of the party. For this, a sincere review of the liberal dogmas in terms of economic policy and the role of the State would have to be made, mainly regarding the balance sheet of the disastrous Dilma II government, as well as a permanent fight against the supposed heralds of “economic science” enshrined in the media. , academia and in the arcana of power. Artur Araújo often did this fight in a hilarious way, as those who read his texts commenting on the great disasters, presented in technical language, by media economists like Samuel Pessoa, a great enthusiast of high unemployment rates, know.

It was as a PT militant in my youth that I met Artur Araújo, at the time a union adviser to the engineers and later an employee of the Perseu Abramo Foundation, where he worked frantically – he read all the newspapers from 6 am onwards, often going to bed at dawn – around different activities.

From 2017 onwards, Artur became a true companion, almost a senior member of Coletivo Contraponto, a group that headed the Academic Center XI de Agosto at the USP Faculty of Law for a few years, and Balaio, the core of PT students that this scribe many other comrades we had founded at USP, responsible for making PT return to the USP DCE after many years as a somewhat disjointed opposition.

It was an incredible learning experience to count on Artur's intense presence throughout this period, in training sessions, meetings, conversations at the bar (he, always, with his Coke Zero). We develop a real friendship, sometimes even taking the form of a paternal relationship (in a positive sense), with protection, demand, scolding, and encouragement of growth. I got to know the generosity, dedication and enthusiasm (an affection that signals all the right direction towards true politics) of someone very experienced, treating all those young people as true friends.

Years of great learning and political training, even if, in our eyes, Artur Araújo always seemed excessively realistic and attached to the most immediate concrete issues: employment, work, income. Almost like a mantra, Artur liked to repeat these words in order to sensitize us and never forget that no policy is victorious if it lacks the most basic interests of survival and reproduction of the most popular ones.

Four Legacies of Arthurian Politics

I close this small tribute, written under the impetus of deep nostalgia, with four of the striking characteristics that make Artur always remembered by those who lived with him:

(1) Serious humor: Our old comrade was known for a unique ability to laugh at himself and others. It was yet another characteristic that was out of harmony with the stereotype of the traditional communist militant, serious and who takes himself very seriously. However, those who saw in this humor only a playful element, a pleasure of the joy of living, a form of relaxation and irreverence. For him, humor was an intellectual and political art: corrosive, made to tear down masks and poses, lay bare social roles and remind us of our stupid illusions about ourselves, in the good tradition of comedy, from its Greek origins.

This weapon of denuding, sharp and even merciless, was not a mere personality trait, but an essential form in the task of rescuing a seriousness different from the usual, a seriousness without the lures that often accompany our imaginary representations. That's why I coined the paradoxical expression “serious humor” to characterize it and differentiate it from mere juvenile jokes. I've never seen someone so humorous and at the same time taking things as seriously as Artur.

All of his speeches were meticulously planned, all of his conduct at meetings was a concentrated and sometimes even violent and disconcerting form of thought (God knows how necessary these moments are in politics). Here's a valuable lesson: Artur Araújo reminded us that a political meeting was a serious thing, made to produce lasting effects in reality and not to reconcile comadres who already agreed with each other.

(2) Never forget the lives of ordinary people: a policy is only truly popular when it deals directly with the afflictions and anxieties of the impoverished masses and given over to the inhuman savagery of capitalism. Artur often reminded us that certain discussions of state policy and their somewhat theatrical and media representations served to reinforce our group identity in opposition to other closed identities than to mobilize people's thinking. It was important, above all, never to close ourselves in exclusive groups: it was necessary to proceed through conversations in bars, bakeries, fairs, in order to investigate people's thoughts, understand their dramas and desires, rather than comment in a chatty and unfocused way ( we know how fickle, mobile and incoherent journalistic commentary is) the “important” news.

In this sense, Artur Araújo was someone deeply anti-identity. I am not referring to identitarianism as a stigma to characterize minority groups, but something deeper: the idea that the cohesion of our identities and belonging determines our political conduct. Despite being a serious and committed militant of the Workers' Party, Artur did not have a closed, club-like conception and supporter of it. Nothing is more antithetical to his view than the view of politics as a lifestyle, an urban tribe or convivial club to reinforce our identities.

Someone could see this as “economism”, that form of lowering conscience to the most immediate issues that Lenin so denounced. However, I always saw this more from the perspective of Mao (and with regard to style and method of work, Artur Araújo always paid homage to the Chinese leader), the theoretician of the “mass line”. Starting from people's real experience before systematizing the directives is the zero point of all real politics.

(3) Real democracy: As an almost necessary consequence of the previous item, in our friend's thinking reigned a supreme respect for what I consider a fundamental axiom of politics: the equality of thoughts. This does not mean any demagogic concessions, but an attention to what anyone said and thought, regardless of titles, distinctions, occupations, positions. Artur Araújo was capable of talking to anyone, regardless of their level of education, and he thought this was important: he wasted time with people who, from an outside perspective, might not be very interesting.

I really liked the discussion between different points of view, I provoked the debate through polemics when I saw a consensus that was too loose. He never lent himself to flattery and subservience to the powers that be, nor, conversely, did he act with disrespect and disdain for the opinions coming from people without authority. For me this is the meaning of real democracy: resolving disagreements between friends (potentially encompassing all of humanity), with persuasion, infinite patience (one of Arthur's most outstanding traits) and support in facts and rational methods. As Mao would say again: "to resolve the contradictions within the people". A taste for debating ideas, generally in an affable and polite way, but never refusing polemics, assertiveness and humor, is the necessary fuel for any action.

(4) Politics is made of principles and convictions: Artur Araújo's scathing style, a somewhat Beckettian, almost absurdist black humor, could lead us to believe that he was a cynical human being. Cynicism, by the way, is a permanent temptation of politics, almost an official philosophy of 90% of professional politicians in the country. However, this path is misleading, because Artur, even though he considered the game of interests involved in all politics in an extremely realistic way (wasn't this a fundamental lesson of Marx, by the way?), started from solid principles and convictions. As broad and flexible as it was in tactics, it was rigorous and tough in strategic terms, as the communist saying preached.

Therefore, even though he cultivated many broad relationships and did not show any sectarianism, he never forgot the fundamentals, which prevented him from becoming corrupted. I don't mean “corruption” in a monetary and legal sense (but in this aspect his simple and even austere life at the end of his life proves that politics was not a means of enrichment for him), but on the most fundamental, ideological level. Its commitment to the world of work, to the well-being of the majority, to implacable criticism – apart from the trade in opinions – of neoliberalism and everything that the State and the market are capable of doing, especially if the the former slavishly subordinates himself to the latter, he was unbreakable.

Arthur often said that the mistake of the French was to have been too inspired by Rousseau, whose philosophical anthropology was idealistic and romantic. Materialism was on the side of Hobbes and his view black in relation to the selfish and petty interests of man. Despite partially agreeing, I thought that, exceptionally, a human being could be Rousseauian and Arthur himself was the very life of this. I end the text with an anecdote confirming this intuition.

I was once taken aback when Arthur refused to take an Uber with me. I didn't understand why he preferred public transport on an occasion when we were late, since he was sixty. He replied to me saying that he refused to contribute to that way of working which in his eyes was completely brutal, exploitative and savage. It was almost a childish gesture. Totally apolitical and ineffective, as he knew it. This practical uselessness was not for preaching purposes: moralistic sermons were not his style.

It was a gesture of inner revolt, an almost spiritual insubordination to the misfortunes of contemporary capitalism, a rite of purge of barbarism from the world. Idealistic attitude, great irony, from someone so realistic, practical and without affection for inner psychological issues. This gesture, however, said a lot about the real Arthur for me, as it represented a great exception to what was celebrated even on the left (often anxious to connect with the “modernity” of capital, more comfortable and promising than archaisms of “dinosaurs”, such as Artur Araújo gets bored).

But what is, after all, the lesson that remains? The following: without deep convictions, without principles of thought, without ideas, there is no way to escape resignation before the injustices of our world. And Artur Araújo, our incorrigible realist, seen so many times by us younger ones as having “rightist” deviations, reminded us of this: capitalism is essentially infamous, we can never consent to the idea that it represents the best that humanity can conceive and do it for yourself.

If humanity is not commensurate with the Communist Idea, we cannot even think of it as different from other animal species. Let us be consistent in our practical lives with this statement, let us celebrate Artur Araújo in our lives.

* Diogo Fagundes he is studying for a master's degree in law and is studying philosophy at USP.

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