Bastille and Borba Gato

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By LEONARDO AVRITZER*

The mistakes of violent political action

Last weekend, Brazil witnessed an act that has been carried out in different parts of the world: the destruction or removal of statues of characters who violate rights or symbols of inequalities. In our case, the statue of Borba Gato, one of the so-called “bandeirantes”, was set on fire.

The bandeirantes, as recently shown by Edison Veiga in an article for BBC Brasil, are a historical construction in São Paulo from the end of the XNUMXth century. Fernão Dias, Borba Gato, Raposo Tavares, among others, did not call themselves bandeirantes and were considered sertanistas. The Historical and Geographical Institute, sponsored by Dom Pedro II and headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, considered them a kind of backwoods barbarians.

The main person responsible for the transformation of the sertanistas – or, why not say it, the barbarians who had private armies and enslaved indigenous people – was Augusto Taunay, not only with his history of the bandeirantes. The cult of bandeirantes was later reinforced by the Revolution of 1932 and by the monument to the bandeiras in Ibirapuera, as Paulo César Garcez Marins rightly points out in an interview with BBC Brasil. Today we know that the bandeirantes are a central part of the São Paulo narrative, giving the name to the government palace itself and to several highways in the state.

There is, in fact, a question of the appropriation of symbols and the questioning of what was sought to be highlighted in the bandeirantes. This is the root of the recent controversy over Borba Gato, with the episode of the burning of the statue located in the South Zone of São Paulo. The statue materializes the official discourse of the explorer who expressed the political project of the state elites, who sought to ignore the crimes of the bandeirantes – recognized by the Geographical Institute, an organ of the Empire, still in the XNUMXth century.

There is no doubt that Borba Gato and the bandeirantes should be questioned. The question is: what is the language of this questioning and whether the use of violence as a method is the correct language of the historical dispute.

Vladimir Safatle, in a text published in the earth is round, confuses one issue with the other by asserting the inalienable right to tear down statues. The author compares the fire on the statue of Borba Gato to the storming of the Bastille and states: “When it fell, the Bastille was no more than a symbol. But it was the fall of the symbol, it was a symbolic act par excellence, that opened up an entire historical epoch. The change in the symbolic structure is a change in the conditions of possibility of an entire historical era”.

I disagree with Safatle. The political theory he uses is poor to say the least and, most likely, quite misguided. I mobilize two authors of political theory to discuss with Safatle: Hannah Arendt and Judith Butler.

in your classic of the revolution, Hannah Arendt criticizes the idea of ​​revolution in Marx, in which Safatle is inspired to make his praise of violence. Arendt shows that there is a significant difference in politics between destroying and building, a difference that the French Revolution did not adequately address. The price paid for this was high. The argument is simple.

Hannah Arendt says: “when the men of the French Revolution said that all power resides in the people, they understood by power a natural force whose source and origin lay outside the political domain, a force which, in its own violence, had been released by the revolution and swept away all the institutions of the old regime… The men of the French Revolution, not knowing how to distinguish between violence and power… opened the political domain to this pre-political and natural force of the multitude and were swept away by it just like the King…” (of the revolution, P. 179, Editora Moraes).

I think Arendt's argument is clear, violence is not a category of politics and the more politics uses it, the more problems it will have in the construction of a later democratic order. Thus, the impulse to destroy the statue of Borba Gato does not lead to what Safatle wants. For him, “destroying such statues, renaming highways, stopping celebrating historical figures who only represent the brutal violence of colonization against Amerindians and enslaved blacks is the first gesture of building a country that will no longer accept being a space managed by a predatory State… As long as these statues are being commemorated, as long as our streets are named after these, this country will never exist.” That is, for Safatle, the form of violence that, like Arendt, I consider non-political, makes no difference in the process of building a new country. I think it does and that alternatives should be sought.

Recently, feminist political theorist Judith Butler published a book called The strength of non-violence. In the text, Butler reworks Arendt's argument. She says, "Arguing for nonviolence requires that we be able to differentiate between violence and nonviolence." However, the most important thing for Butler is a form of recognition of a social relationship that goes beyond individualism and expresses the ability to form new relationships. (The force of nonviolence, Verse, p. 9).

Thus, Butler seems to be looking for something quite different from that advocated by Safatle, which is the attempt to constitute an ethical interrelationship between individuals based on claims for the recognition of equality and diversity. There is an important difference between Butler and Arendt. The Berkeley philosopher recognizes something she calls “grievability” (complaint of suffering suffered). That is, the constitution of forms of equality implies a reckoning with present and past injustices.

It is this category that brings us to the discussion of the statues of Borba Gato or of General Lee, recently removed in New Orleans, and of many individuals whose names were removed from buildings, as was the case of the former president of the United States Woodrow Wilson, who was named after a building at Princeton University of which he was dean. Judith Butler shows that “grievability” does not just belong to those against whom injustices have been committed, but also belongs to the living. It is the living who are claiming justice for the wronged who are no longer with us.

Associating Butler and Hannah Arendt shows a path that this discussion can follow. Rather, it is about reviewing the past and the injustices of the past. However, reviewing them must necessarily go through categories that do not use violence because the objective of this review is the construction of a democratic and egalitarian order. Therefore, the act of revision and the act of construction must be compatible, and violence is not compatible with democratic politics.

Vladimir Safatle does not even touch on this problem. He stands in a tradition that has been much more successful in destroying undesirable regimes than in building regimes based on equality, diversity and democracy. It seems that Safatle was unable to draw any reflection on the reasons for the inability of revolutions based on violence to build democratic forms after the end of the old regimes.

*Leonardo Avritzer He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Impasses of democracy in Brazil (Brazilian Civilization).

 

 

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