Take down the Katechon

Image: C. Cagnin
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By RONALDO TADEU DE SOUZA*

About the fire in Borba Gato

For Paulo Galo and Géssica…

“We are obliged to nurture within us some small follies…” (Marcel Proust).

On July 24, Brazil witnessed a political action that could mean a substantive change in the social struggles of subaltern groups, especially black-skinned subalterns and natives, who live the cruelest implications of Brazilian capitalist society - historically constituted. By setting fire to the statue of Borba Gato on Avenida Santo Amaro in São Paulo, a group of political subjects who call themselves the peripheral revolution demonstrated two aspects of the current situation in the country; these, when articulated, supposedly gain a meaning with traces of relative novelty for the near future of political disputes. Before approaching those, a general consideration about how sectors of public opinion dealt with the fact.

It is true that there was a minority of social sectors being outraged by the setting of fire to the representative figure of the enslavement and extermination of blacks and indigenous people in Brazil. Among these, some are divided into that group of conservatives and belonging to the intransigent right (the dominant white elite); secondary circles of people who have the perception (and believe) that they do not belong to the stratum to which they sociologically belong (shopkeepers, owners of small service businesses, subordinated professionals from investment funds in the region of Avenidas Paulista and Brigadeiro Faria Lima, more liberal well positioned in the current economic structure, employees with a good level of income exercising their activity in medium and large offices) and the most adept of a life shaped by customs (the orderly daily life). For them, for different reasons, any possibility of indignation that is not expressed, if it has to be expressed, via the standards established by the conventions imposed by those indirectly benefited by the attitudes of Borba Gato himself is not appropriate. However, it "surprises" the ways in which sectors that claim to be progressive, "left", democratic, contrary to the current government's policy, positioned themselves when they saw the statue of our first sicario in flames in the largest city in the country. The justifications for the posture, in a way, contrary to the action of the Peripheral Revolution ranging from the fear that such an act could create conditions for Bolsonaro and the right to restrict freedoms, a “coup” in our, always functioning, democracy (which, as the philosopher Vladimir Safatle says, arrives close to the right side of Av. Paulista – in the sense of Consolação para o Paraíso), to considerations about the little political effectiveness of setting fire to an icon of violent oppression against blacks and Indians. There are still those who consider stating that the discussion had to be better elaborated with fine and pedagogical-rational analyzes concerning the true story of Borba Gato, those who assert the need to conduct the demands of refounding our society towards representative institutions of sorts. to pass laws there that either remove the symbols of our slavery past, rename the possible places where homage is paid to the oppressors or even install eloquent monuments of the struggles for the liberation of the nation's subalterns. (It's appalling: while Roberto Jefferson, deputy allied with the Bolsonarist group and its project to devastate the country, carries two pistols point 40 wanting to hunt down leftists and spread it across the country we witness such debates from well-thinking sectors.)

There's something else to look out for on Saturday's event. It is certain that a few days have passed since the action of the Peripheral Revolution so that public interventions (texts, videos on social networks, more substantive posts if possible within the networks) by instances of black activism (included there without much precision, social network personalities, columnists of prestigious communication vehicles, university researchers etc.) make their voices echo in the critical-emancipatory elaboration of what happened. If I'm wrong, this section can be forgotten. And if in the days that follow there are interventions and positions of black public opinion as well. (It is necessary to shape iron when it is hot…) Even so, I propose a hypothesis for this eventual “silence”: despite the advances in the historical struggle of blacks with the recognition of many of their demands and agendas, we have become accustomed to having a “controlled” vision. ” of the meanings of racism. On the one hand, we are much more outraged by cultural forms of racism (swearing on the social network, criticized music, a disregarded personality, bad service in public-private places such as hotels, restaurants, designer-brand stores, etc.) that with the material misery of thousands of black-skinned individuals – at most we say that racial-social inequality is what leads to the formation of queues for the donation of bone remains for the survival of the black body for the reproduction of capital. On the other hand, there is a shift in sectors of black groups towards the middle class; this implies different patterns of perception of the facts, even of the class racism that affects the overwhelming majority of black men and women who live on the outskirts of Brazilian cities. This social phenomenon had already been warned by Florestan Fernandes in the article 25 Years Later: The Black in the Current Era, from 1976 (See Closed Circuit: four essays on “institutional power”, ed. Globe). Hence, the modalities of “resistance” to racism and its consequences are better “accepted” and elaborated within the framework of normalized institutions. Requirement of rights; anti-racist public policies; human rights; symbolic inclusion; representativeness; justice are some of the forms of “action” in recent years that black activism has mobilized in its historic struggle. It is evident that all this is extremely necessary. However, it is urgent to overthrow the katechon – Borbas Gatos must collapse by the hands of those pretas he crushed indirectly.

Indeed, the current situation in the country combines two aspects, which lead to the event of 24J. The first is historical and concerns the overthrow of symbols of oppression from below. The modern era, both in imperialist-colonialist countries and in peripheral ones, is marked by the irruption of the new (Habermas). The desire to transform reality crosses the various social groups – which makes our time a contingent power of subjectivities. Now, it is not uncommon in major political events, both to witness the destruction of signs of the past that one wants to abandon definitively, and the inauguration of experiences other than those that the daily life of ideas and practices, both reproduced by various artifices, made societies render reverence. At French Revolution the fall of the bastille, a prison that mirrored the estate character of society in France, was “put down” much more because it was interpreted as the emblem of a society and a way of life that would no longer be accepted from then on. It is said that in prison, on July 14th, there were only 7 detainees – if this fact is true, it exacerbates the notion that symbols of oppression of subordinates have to collapse as an explanation of the refusal of a type of society that no longer exists. support. More than a conquest of rights, an exemplary teaching, a significant defeat imposed on the dominant classes: toppling a figure that represented the suffering of thousands of people, in our case black and native people, by the hands and arms of those who inherited such suffering, is the very expression that effectively the circumstances of existence of those affected by it can change. These events have a decisive temporal sense. They are concrete dawns that can mark a breaking point in the history of human societies. And in this case, some will always not understand, or will not consciously accept this supposed rupture. In the same year of 24J and the flames set in Borba Gato, 150 years of the Paris Commune. What can the episode shed light on what happened last Saturday? Among countless things, the comunardos and comunardas assumed their own destiny. While the ruling classes surrendered their society to Bismarck's armies – and, as that was not enough, they plotted with him the crushing of workers who dared to dream of another life –, thousands of women and men built one of the most beautiful political experiences in human history. This was not done without an act of profound real symbolism; on April 12, 1871 to Comuna knocked down the Vendôme Column. Sign of the empire of Louis Bonaparte and of a counterrevolutionary France in which “freedom” was only that of a few Vendome I come down, like an irruption of something that wants to exist freely and no longer bears on its skinned shoulders the historical weight of Column. When the Peripheral Revolution set fire to Borba Gato, it was not a matter of pedagogical learning, or even an insane measure beyond the debates of the authorized political field (Pierre Bourdieu) – it was the practical action of those who will no longer accept being the cruel support of a highly racist in its constitutive class structures. Thus, setting fire to Borba Gato (this katechon of concrete) is the very expression of a broad group of people who want and can envision a different form of life (free, effective equality, universal recognition, creative indeterminacy) than the one violently imposed on them by the dominant white elites to whom the figure of Bandeirante represented: and still represents. Bastilles, Vendômes and Borbas Gatos, these katechons of stone, must crumble by the disruptive force of black and original hands (the oppressed). And if it is with open violence (Walter Benjamin); whatever. Those who set Borba Gato on fire no longer support our persistent history of slavery.

The second aspect of the country context that we are witnessing is the social one. Although the very serious studies of researchers with high investigative capacity systematically affirm about the faces of inequality in the country, this language is not enough to externalize the meaning of being black in the country that worshiped – and continues to worship Borba Gato. (It is regrettable that sectors that claim to be democratic and contrary to our current state of affairs... quibble about whether or not to overthrow the emblem of oppression, hunger, extermination and humiliation of generations and generations of black-skinned and indigenous individuals.) The status of the class-race struggle in Brazil is one of profound barbarism: rude, violent, excruciating, cruel, merciless, reactionary. Those and those who set fire to Bandeirante in the 24J are telling us – everything that was built as a society since the times when the white oligarchies used their Borbas Gatos cannot, and should not, exist anymore. A Peripheral Revolution it makes the flames of hope echo across the country; who, in order to erupt into the immediacy of the action, have to collapse the concrete symbols of the atrocities they experience. If, in the period prior to the Bolsonaro-Guedes government, the situation of black men and women improved substantially, but it was still not a life free of class-race cruelty – let us remember Amarildo, Cláudia Silva Ferreira, Ítalo – in the last four years the situation it became distressing. Suffocating so to speak; and Saturday was the eloquent message that we want to breathe, whatever the cost. Well, the cycle of counterrevolution that began in 2015 and intensified in 2018 has a declared enemy. In the arc of what was and is called in our human sciences of formation (Paulo Arantes) of Brazilian society, it had a veiled public enemy, the former slaves, but an enemy to be taken preventively as dangerous; nowadays black men and women are the peculiar enemies to be fought with all the strength, intransigence, rudeness and violence of the katechon once. If we want to establish a social point of reference for this wild and bloody class-race struggle of the last five years, nobody can forget the political-symbolic murder of Marielle Franco. The combative and radical black politics of the left was exterminated at the behest of two contemporaneous cats; the sordid and cowardly plan of his death leaves no doubt that in the current circumstances of Bolsonarista-guedista Brazil and the dominant white elite that sustains it vigorously (bankers, businessmen, investment fund executives, state military, uniformed party), there is no room for black men and women. The systematic and well-organized incursions into Rio de Janeiro's communities that we have witnessed recently took the lives of young people, children and adults with black skin – in the counterrevolution we are witnessing, it is necessary to decide to make clear who are those who must perish. Vice President Hamilton Mourão knows who he is fighting: “they are all bandits”, we cannot be complacent with these groups, that is what we can imply from his pronouncement after the Jacarezinho massacre. This pioneer in green uniform reborn in our times knows his role in history. Furthermore, police violence against young black men increased enormously after the election of Jair Bolsonaro and the group he represents. Second steel circle of Bolsonarismo-Guedismo armed policy understood who they should fight against; It is not, I insist, the public enemy of yesteryear, it is, rather, the group in society that must be extirpated without any complacency.

But there is something more to be said. The reaction is across the board (to use the language of Marxism from Lenin to Gramsci). Indeed; thousands of black men and women had their lives lost to the Covid-19, in a clear government “program” that insisted and organized the slaughter of those when it demanded the end of social isolation, when it responded to businessmen by not allowing commercial establishments to close, exposing those with black skin to the aggressiveness of the SARS-COV-2, when it “allows” an atrocious inflation of cooking gas, causing thousands of blacks and black mothers to produce their own food in the degrading wood fire, as well as an increase by entrepreneurs in the food trade, leading thousands to consume meat scraps – even bones , as if they were animals. However – there is what Hegel, Marx and critical theory have theorized since the times of the first modern insurrections: the contingent force of the negative. When they set fire to the statue of Borba Gato in 24J, Peripheral Revolution it is telling us, and it is telling itself, that the current state of affairs will eventually no longer be accepted – as we are used to seeing it. It is evident that we are not waiting for a social transformation for the next Sunday, as some may argue (telling us, “this was momentary”, “it is an act that will hardly happen again”, “they will all be conformed in the days that follow” , “this radicalism has no practical result”…) The intransigent, arrogant right, and from another perspective (well understood things, from another perspective, because I don’t share, just respect, with the voices that say whatever right and left on racial issues ) the well-thinking progressives and those who are euphemistically accommodated “to the existing order and that […] makes up most of [still] the updated culture of the left” (Perry Anderson), do not understand what it means to take political action to set fire to the Borba Gato for those who are living the daily life of our current class-race struggle. They understand, the Peripheral Revolution, in the very irruption of their inevitable violence that they will only be able to aim for effective freedom and a happy life, if they overthrow the katechons of concrete that restrict them with the merciless and inhuman strength of their iron glove (Conceição Evaristo). And when that happens: there will always be those who will be cynically surprised…

*Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science at USP.

 

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