Twelve books for 2024

Ceri Richards, The Crooked Rose, 1965
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Twelve books for 2024

By CARLOS DE NICOLA*

1.

EN, a story, by Celso Rocha de Barros, interesting in that Rocha de Barros draws a line between the movements and fronts that gave rise to the PT, the “largest progressive party in the West”, in the words of Eric Hobisbawn. The author highlights that, of the “founding” movements, the only one that mobilized, that is, articulated sectors outside party life was the one linked to the Catholic Church and Liberation Theology.

For the contemporary reader, the question comes to mind about what the religious bloc mobilizes in Brazil today – imagining that the “new leaders” are people like R. R. Soares, Silas Malafaia, among others. Another highlight is the tactical game that guided the PT for most of its history, far from “country vision” and “strategic project” in these terms, and more oriented towards resolving specific – and concrete – situations in the lives of the Brazilian people. Which guarantees governability, but can make us fall on scaffolds like that of Bolsonarism.

2.

Arrabalde. In search of the Amazon, by João Moreira Salles, because the work immerses itself in the Amazonian reality, namely in the area of ​​the state of Pará, to understand the socioeconomic-cultural intricacies that result in the destruction of the forest. During the colonization of Brazil, it was pointed out – and this was still done during the Dictatorship, lasting until today – that there was no one in the Brazilian Amazon, it was a “land without people”.

João Moreira Salles and Lula come together in the proposal that new archaeological discoveries that demonstrate how the Amazon is a human construction in the sense of the collaboration of the original peoples be included in school curricula for what the forest is today, including in relation to its biodiversity . Moreira Salles also points out possible solutions within the capitalist system to reduce the deforestation of the Forest.

It raises interesting questions, for example, how to scale up your economy and value environmental preservation. It also raises ideas for other Brazilian biomes, and for socio-environmental preservation in Brazil in general, which should, in its view, become a spearhead in non-timber forest products, and, in addition, the establishment of legal frameworks for remunerating communities that preserve the environment.

A challenge for the “forest economy”, according to Moreira Salles, is to overcome niche consumption and subsistence production. “Apprehending the forest as it is”, and not in our own terms as residents of the Southeast, for example, is one of the challenges. Moreira Salles compares the process of occupation of the Amazon to a “great epistemic failure”. We need a “forest culture” to counter the “ox culture”. The book also talks about the low productivity of agriculture in the Amazon region compared to other regions of Brazil and the world.

Public policies were to occupy the Amazon, basically an incentive for deforestation. The region's lack of economic dynamism also works against preservation, since the forest is the “succulent dish” and is easy to explore in the most rustic way possible. It also suggests that, in the coming years, restoring forests in Brazil could become a relevant economic activity, since no other country in the world has so many priority areas for forest restoration. In a way, it's like seeing the glass half full, or the forest (still) half preserved.

3.

Squid. A biography, by Fernando Moraes, interesting in that Fernando Moraes is Brazil's greatest biographer and, in addition, several historical elements in the construction of the figure of the greatest leader in the history of Brazil, which is Lula, help us to draw an x-ray of the present situation policy. It is important to know that the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) was the most relevant movement in defending Lula's attempted arrest at the ABC Metalworkers Union in 2018. The photo on top of the sound car on the eve of Lula's arrest is anthological: Guilherme Boulos on his left side, with his fist clenched, and Manuela d'Ávila on his right.

The Vigília Lula Livre, in Curitiba, was a historic act of those who understood the barbarity being committed against Brazil's greatest progressive leadership. And even those who are not sympathetic to Lula, but are defenders of the most basic idea of ​​freedom and justice, should have opposed his arrest, and acted actively in this direction. A posteriori, it is interesting to note how there is a line of continuity between the coup against Dilma, the inauguration of Michel Temer, the persecution of Lula and the election of Jair Bolsonaro.

The narrative thread chosen by Fernando Moraes, of equating Lula's two arrests, in 2018 and 1980, is very interesting and fulfills the function of creating a connection between different moments in the leader's life, and showing how he was formed over the years. years, in union life, in the repression of the dictatorship, in “redemocratization”, as President, then as a supporter of Dilma Rousseff, until the third election that once again established him as the nation's top leader.

The confluence of struggles in the 1980s that made it possible to overthrow the military dictatorship in the wake of the largest movement of Brazilian workers ever seen is a lesson for the present. At that moment, under the direction of the Brazilian working class, on the basis of “economic” and political demands, a coup de grace was given to the tyrannical regime that reigned in Brazil. A historic alliance that included the Catholic Church and the Base Ecclesiastical Communities (CEBs) – the last time that this Church, and religiosity in general, played a progressive role in Brazil.

It is interesting to note the rhetorical mechanism that Lula used to go “unnoticed” by the top military leadership and repression: he said he did not like politics, despite doing politics in the strongest sense of the term. Then comes the creation of the PT, the most important political event in Brazilian history. A book full of great things.

4.

Formation of the MST in Brazil, by Bernardo Mançano Fernandes, is to better understand the MST, a controversial social movement on the extreme right and center-left, given the statements by Jair Bolsonaro, about “pacifying the countryside”, and by Lula, that “they are not more land invasions are necessary”. How can a movement with five decades of history have so much to talk about?

Bernardo Mançano Fernandes explains the confluence of movements that triggered the MST in the 1970s, in the wake of the concentrationist and elitist agrarian policy of the Brazilian Military Dictatorship, and gives considerable emphasis to the formation of the Movement in each Brazilian state. The historical and organizational similarities between MST and MTST stood out to me.

5.

Karl Marx's ecosocialism, by Kohei Sato, interesting in that it explains the ecological concepts that can be glimpsed in the work of the greatest thinker in history, Karl Marx. The author emphasizes that, in his view, the first stage of ecosocialism is the incorporation of the regulation of nature into socialism. Kohei Sato emphasizes that Marx, in the last years of his life, studied natural sciences, chemistry, biology, botany, geology and mineralogy and that the depletion of the soil with modern agriculture was one of the aspects of the environmental repercussions of capitalism that Marx was able to capture.

Kohei Sato emphasizes that, at the time of feudal production, the unity of producers with the land was due to direct personal dominion, in contrast to the penetration of the autonomous power of capital, which makes production on land in capitalism a more unstable than in feudalism, and goes against concrete social needs. Quoting Marx, in The misery of philosophy, from 1847: “Income, instead of linking man to nature, only links the exploitation of the land to competition”. According to Kohei Sato, the separation between producers and the land is a historical and logical assumption for the functioning of capitalism.

Marx's great task was to investigate concrete social relations and capitalism is the specific way of organizing social and natural metabolisms. Value is the purely social character of a thing (a ghostly objectivity), while the exchange of products is characterized by the objectivity of socially equal value, which is opposed to the objectivity of use. “The ecosocialist strategy needs to aim to build a sustainable human-nature relationship by restricting reification.”

Kohei Sato highlights, citing Marx, that capitalist production only turns to the land after its influence has been exhausted and its natural qualities have been devastated. The concept of “nature” exists only in relation to social production.

6.

The tailor from Ulm. A possible history of the Italian Communist Party, by Lucio Magri, interesting in that it describes the heyday and decline of what was then the largest communist party in the West, the Italian Communist Party (PCI). According to the author, a historical communist activist (and even a satirist towards Trotskyism), the PCI was the most serious attempt, at a certain historical stage, to pave the way for a “third way” in order to combine partial reforms and seek broad social and political alliances.

The Gramscian heritage has been described as laying the foundation for a middle way between Leninist orthodoxy and classical social democracy. The “united front” of the post-fascism years in the 1940s was fundamental in conceiving the PCI that was known in the following decades, and was oriented towards building a multi-party democratic Republic, with full guarantees of expression, press and religion, with a program of profound social reforms, constant participation of workers and their organizations, guaranteeing national independence, repudiation of war and the formation of blocs between powers.

At the beginning of the 1960s, the PCI represented a quarter of Italian voters, and maintained two million members – for comparison purposes, the PSOL, in Brazil, in 2021 has approximately 220 thousand members. The PCI would have been swallowed up by the so-called “end of real socialism”, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, at the beginning of the 1990s. Its leaders were unable to give concerted answers to the questions that arose with this serious historical event, and opted for implosion. It is difficult to think which socialist leaders in the world, at that time, were prepared for this, but it still makes us think about the drama of Italian communism's self-annihilation.

Youth also no longer saw the PCI as a useful tool, as the author describes the events of 1968 and their repercussions in Italy, “young people, in particular, did not feel attracted to, nor did they see any usefulness in, an engagement made up mostly of meetings, electoral campaigns and proselytism […] They wanted to understand and participate effectively in the elaboration of policy and contribute their own experiences; they wanted leaders, even peripheral ones, capable of directing their struggles and sharing their forms of expression, their emotions; They didn’t just want to hear about the times we lived in the mountains or how we governed town councils.”

In 1984 the PCI scored 33,3% of the votes in the national election and became the largest Italian party. Paradoxically, this election marks the beginning of an electoral, programmatic and political collapse. The author highlights the “newism” rhetoric that began to prevail in the party's leadership, coinciding with and perhaps due to the dismantling of the Soviet Union, which “[this dismantling] was irrepressible. However, it was urgent to build a different system, with a perspective capable of mobilizing tens of millions of people and achieving immediate results to improve the conditions of daily life and, with this, consolidate a broad consensus, stimulate participation and begin to clean up the institutions”.

There was also a semantic change in the PCI's congressional materials, similar to the process that Mauro Iasi portrays in The metamorphoses of class consciousness: the PT between denial and consent. Lucio Magri points out the following, taking stock of the PCI's path and the current socialist struggle: today it is not possible to escape the vicious circle of integration and revolt without the intervention of strong political mediation.

7.

Ana Maria Primavesi: life stories and agroecology, by Virginia Mendonça Knabben, interesting in that it highlights the life of one of the exponents of agroecological thought. Portraying the life of Ana Maria Primavesi in Europe, fleeing the Second World War, Virginia Mendonça Knabben shows the academic and practical journey that led to the new ecological and agronomic reading that gives centrality to the soil in crops, in order to understand it and help it to overcome their nutritional difficulties so that it, in turn, results in greater plant health.

At a time when the regeneration of biomes is being discussed with greater emphasis in Brazil, agroforestry is re-emerging as a potential large-scale public policy, supported by academic and traditional knowledge, to help in the fight against the climate emergency. This route also marks the inauguration of the warehouse that hosts the organic products fair in Parque da Água Branca, in São Paulo. Ana Maria Primavesi also advised settlements of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST).

8.

Adiós Muchachos: the story of the Sandinista Revolution and its protagonists, by Sergio Ramirez, interesting in that it narrates the last revolution of the 1979th century, that of Nicaragua in 1990. Its author, Sergio Ramírez, was a leader of the Sandinista Front, and also a vice-presidential candidate on the ticket, along with to Daniel Ortega, in the last election of XNUMX, lost by both, which marked a point of no return for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

There are issues that involved the participation of members of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua – one of the striking elements of this process, since this magnitude of engagement by priests and parish priests has never been seen before. There is also the foreshadowing of what Daniel Ortega's administration would be like after the 2000s, based on an agreement with sectors of the opposition to guarantee permanent power, a caricature of what the 1970s were like - of militant, moral and ethical.

There is a certain anti-social or anti-Marxism in the author's words, but it is understandable, based on his life path. Mention is made of the participation of the United States of America in the process of promoting the counter-revolution, the so-called “contra” – an initiative that is relatively more diplomatic than in other events in South American countries throughout the XNUMXth century, even so, with an iron fist , “democratically” approving military aid in the US Congress.

The National Literacy Crusade stands out as perhaps the great immediate achievement of the Revolution, following July 20, 1979. It is also interesting that, under the Sandinista leadership, sectors of the national bourgeoisie, fed up with the dictatorship, even came together. by Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The revolutionary government's program, established in 1977, consisted of five main points: a democratic regime of public freedoms; the abolition of Somoza's National Guard; the expropriation of all the assets of the Somoza family and their accomplices; the transformation of the property regime; and non-aligned relations with all countries in the world.

The author criticizes the “vertical submission”, which, according to him, was due to the influence of the “Leninist model”, and led to the “obsession with dual party-state authority”, when the party's leading cadres tried to impose themselves on state ministers. Regarding the financing of the counter-revolution by the CIA, which even occurred with indigenous groups dissatisfied with the government – ​​Sergio Ramírez highlights the distance from the FSLN leaders with their “ideological paternalism” that had little understanding of the culture of those they wanted to influence.

The option for socializing land in the countryside is reported instead of handing over property titles to farmers, in the case of the Somoza family lands, which, according to the author, over time has placed medium and small farmers in the basket of “against ”. The brilliance of this process emanates from the lines that describe how volunteers from all over the world went to Nicaragua to fight against the Somoza dictatorship, including Latin American Trotskyists, in the internationalist echo of what was the Spanish Civil War of 1936.

9.

When new characters entered the scene, by Eder Sader, is a book that describes the social movements of the 1970s and 1980s in São Paulo, a fervent nucleus of the fight against the military dictatorship, and the embryo of redemocratization in Brazil. Birthplace, including, of Luís Inácio Lula da Silva. Eder Sader describes how a new social and historical subject was created based on these movements.

Especially useful in our time when, based on indigenous movements, app workers, women, among others, the world and in Brazil discuss the historical subject of the XNUMXst century, of a neoliberalism that is already profound and has solid roots. in the working class. From “places where institutional policy has not yet launched tentacles” the author builds a mosaic of struggles in a period in which fighting was, legally, a punishable crime, and, unofficially, torture, forced disappearance and murder.

Based on a great distrust of the system of the time, what was done was not the denial of politics, but politics in the best sense, in the public square, in the communities in the peripheral neighborhoods of the growing metropolis, on the factory floor and in the marches (re)nascents. The PT is an almost hidden subject in this story, not because of the author's censorship, but because the aim of the work was to describe the very dynamics of these movements which, in some cases, led to party politics, not without criticism or reservations from their authors. , of these political, popular, real, flesh-and-blood characters.

There was an emergence of new collective identities, which were based on “news in the real and in the categories of representation of the real”. The strength of an open, airy Catholic Church, based on basic ecclesiastical communities, is impressive. As I wrote previously in these reviews, perhaps it was the last outburst of progressive mass religiosity in Brazil, now that we see, in 2023, in the masses, the growth towards hegemony of a religion that preaches the cult of hypocritical individualism, of individual salvation dressed in love for others, in collective catharsis in which there is a lot of form and little content in pulpits in suits and ties.

It is interesting to note that it was this influx of social movements that collaborated in the overthrow of the military dictatorship, which no longer had social legitimacy, and how the trade union movement, especially the Metalworkers Union of São Bernardo do Campo, was “eating at the edges”, saying it was “apolitical”, but wresting relevant victories from the Brazilian political and business class and serving as a general affront to the dictatorship’s state of affairs with Lula shouting at the Vila Euclides stadium.

To fight, the oppressed need to recognize oppression, and build forms of group self-identification, in the sense of seeing themselves as part of a collective. In the era of “liquid modernity”, it is difficult to establish collective bonds of existence that are not based on consumption, even on cultural consumption, and, therefore, militancy is currently at a low level in Brazil compared to previous decades.

What draws attention is the fact that Lula, in the book, was “just” a worker leader. Decades later, he is the president of Brazil in his third term. In a way, those Eder Sader characters that entered the scene still dominate the stage, despite the lurking of brand new candidates (for protagonists).

10.

The Carbonari. Memories of the lost guerrilla, by Alfredo Sirkis, interesting in that it reveals that, during the 1964 dictatorship, there was resistance beyond what is officially disclosed. Reading the construction of marches in the midst of a dictatorship, on the eve of AI-5, is impressive because it reminds us of the construction of the demonstrations in June 2013, already under a formal democracy, but still under the boots of the military police and their henchmen.

The level of tension, the possibilities, the protesters' tricks, are examples of what it was like to demonstrate during the dictatorship. It is possible to note that in the first half of 1968 – months before AI-5, the regime “woke”, that is, there was the embryo of a mass movement, which had as its vertices the struggle of students, which was beginning to convince the middle classes and popular classes to engage in an active struggle against the regime.

If the balance of the armed struggle is more or less cohesive, the reasons for the failure of that movement are not. The most “legalist” militants who stood up against those “who broke” already existed in those days of 1968. “You who are exploited, don’t just stand there” was a slogan that was heard at that time, and that was also heard in 2013. Another point to highlight from Alfredo Sirkis' book is the account of how the student movement was built in those difficult times, mainly within the secondary movement in Rio de Janeiro, but also within the university movement.

We read the names of characters who later occupied high positions in the “democracy” governments, mainly Lula and Dilma Rousseff, decades later. One of the highlights of the work – which is fictional, by the way – are the intricacies of the kidnapping of two ambassadors, from Germany (Western Germany at the time) and Switzerland. I would bet that these are fictional excerpts, but read the character strolling through Rio de Janeiro while keeping the Swiss ambassador kidnapped in the suburbs.

The highlight of the book, perhaps its best, is when the protagonist discovers that one of his companions in kidnapping the German ambassador was none other than Carlos Lamarca, mythical even at that time. First, because of a fancy weapon – Lamarca was in the Army and was an excellent marksman –, then, because of his own handwriting when the character spied his writings on a table in the “apparalho” – the house where the ambassador was kidnapped.

We read the ins and outs of the urban guerrilla, its mistakes, its high moments, and, reading and thinking retrospectively, we see that, despite their idealism, those militants lacked an overall reading that would enable the perception of isolation in relation to Brazilian society. A beautiful moment, possibly fictional, when the author portrays that the solution found by the group to justify Lamarca's presence was to give even more notoriety to the supposed “uncle” in the “apparatus” of the kidnapping of the Swiss ambassador, who went to visit his family, and records the guerrilla playing naked through the streets of the Rio suburbs, perhaps the most wanted person in Brazil. It talks a lot with the film marighella (2020) by Wagner Moura and, obviously, Lamarca (1994) by Sérgio Rezende.

11.

It's not you, Brazil, by Marcelo Rubens Paiva, interesting in that it narrates the passage of Carlos Lamarca and his companions from the Vanguarda Popular Revolucionária (VPR), at the beginning of the 1970s, in Vale do Ribeira, in São Paulo, in the region of the municipality of Eldorado . The “fillet” of the book is precisely the part in which this passage is most deeply portrayed, in what the author calls “Vertex 2” of the material, which is divided into two other “vertices” – read, chapters – and one afterword.

Marcelo Rubens Paiva conducted interviews with former guerrillas and members of the Brazilian Armed Forces, and with local people. It is impressive to know that, even surrounded by an army, Lamarca's group managed to escape a very tight siege, and even humiliate the Caxias Army. Regarding the narrative that the writer creates, around a family, the Da Cunha, who spend their holidays in Eldorado on a large property, it is interesting, but nothing close to Feliz Ano Velho, the magnum opus from the author, a balance between form and content that is very difficult to repeat in a literary journey.

Ideally, the part of chapter 2 that focuses most on Lamarca and his gang would be included in the entire book, but it would be an almost impossible challenge. Marcelo Rubens Paiva uses written materials from the dictatorship and guerrillas to illustrate parts of the story, and cites many references from Vale do Ribeira. Out of curiosity, Eldorado, before it was called that, was known as Xiririca da Serra, a synonym for something very small, distant, hillbilly in the pejorative sense.

Marcelo Rubens Paiva also talks about the mannerisms that involve the issue of “center and periphery”, that is, how the members of the Cunha family behaved when they were in this interior, in Eldorado, in relation to the local population.

12.

Brazil, a biography, by Lilia M. Schwarcz and Heloisa M. Starling, insofar as it is a “biography” of Brazil in the best sense of the term, that is, it highlights the strong characteristics of this “personality” Brazil without necessarily sticking to conventional historiography . It explores details of the trajectory of “making Brazil” that allow for an overall understanding, for example, when the authors describe the social construction of the appetite for sugar in Europe which, in turn, accompanied the beginning of colonization through sugar mills. sugar, massive slavery, and colonial division within a scheme of transnational capitalism from the XNUMXth century onwards.

As the authors write in the title of the conclusion: History is not a sum total, and we need to look into it to find points (and bridges) of contact to think about our actions.

Carlos DeNicola is a member of the socio-environmental movement.

References


Alfredo Sirkis. Os Carbonários: Memories of the lost guerrilla. São Paulo, Global, 1994, 378 pages. [https://amzn.to/3TsxnxW]

Bernardo Mançano Fernandes. The formation of the MST in Brazil. Petrópolis, Vozes, 2001, 320 pages. [https://amzn.to/3RJj6vu]

Celso Rocha de Barros. EN, a story. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2022, 486 pages. [https://amzn.to/41pYsUg]

Eder Sader. When new characters entered the scene: Experiences and struggles of workers in Greater São Paulo 1970-1980. Rio de Janeiro, Paz e Terra, 1988, 330 pages. [https://amzn.to/3Nyazcd]

Fernando Morais. Lula: Biography – Volume 1. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2021, 448 pages. [https://amzn.to/3tmzCIo]

Joao Moreira Salles. Arrabalde: In Search of the Amazon. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2022, 424 pages. [https://amzn.to/3NxhMsW]

Kohei Sato. Karl Marx's Ecosocialism: Capitalism, nature, and the unfinished critique of political economy. Translation: Pedro Davoglio. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2021, 486 pages. [https://amzn.to/3RMUl1e]

Lilia M. Schwarcz and Heloísa M. Starling. Brazil: a biography. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2015, 808 pages. [https://amzn.to/485zj3N]

Lucio Magri. The Tailor of Ulm: A Possible History of the Italian Communist Party. Translation: Silvia de Bernardinis. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2014, 402 pages. [https://amzn.to/3GIgCHv]

Marcelo Rubens Paiva. It's not you, Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, Objetiva, 2007, 312 pages. [https://amzn.to/3NwCTvo]

Sergio Ramirez. Adiós Muchachos: the story of the Sandinista Revolution and its protagonists. Translation: Eric Nepomuceno. Rio de Janeiro, Record, 2011, 348 pages. [https://amzn.to/3RLW3iz]

Virgínia Mendonça Knabben. Ana Maria Primavesi: life stories and agroecology. São Paulo, Expressão Popular, 2017, 484 pages. [https://amzn.to/3Ny1pwu]


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