#eagoraoque – impasses of the intellectual

Jean-Claude Bernardet and Vladimir Safatle in a scene from the film "#eagoraoque"
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By EDU TERUKI OTSUKA & IVONE DARÉ RABELLO*

Commentary on the film directed by Jean Claude Bernardet and Rubens Rewald

1.

Screened in 2020, at the 44th São Paulo International Film Festival and the 24th Tiradentes Film Festival (MG), #and now what (script and direction by Jean Claude Bernardet and Rubens Rewald) did not receive the publicity it deserved, nor the discussion that the impasses on the scene could raise.

The # symbol (hashtag) is used in social networks to categorize topics, making it possible to link posts and opinions on the subject. Like this, #and now what intended to provoke a debate that, however, seems not to have taken place widely among the target audience.

A question is presupposed in the title,[I] and the film provides materials for the spectator to formulate questions related to the intellectual's engagement considering the new problems posed by the contemporary situation. Without formulating solutions, Jean Claude Bernardet and Rubens Rewald did not want to make a film that presented affirmative propositions; the film provokes indispensable questions to discuss perspectives of leftist political action in the face of the current social and political configuration aggravated by the advance of the extreme right.[ii]

#and now what presents contradictory situations that involve not only the different points of view of the various characters, but also attitudes and actions of the central figure, embodied by Vladimir Safatle, who is at the same time himself and a fictional character representative of a portion of middle-class intellectuals[iii], on the left: someone who acts publicly in different spaces (such as the University, the press, TV and internet programs), with dialogue limited to the intellectualized middle layers. This character's actions, however, are not limited to this type of intervention, as he seeks to establish contact with militants from peripheral social movements.

The variety of situations presented in the film outlines a picture of contemporary politics: black feminist activism, the homeless movement[iv], black peripheral groups, student militancy in assemblies, intellectual activity in the media and debates at the University. In addition, there are other scenes that, in principle, would not have a political character, but become representative of political aspects of the family relationship and the relationship with sectors of the bourgeoisie.

Thus, family relationships are marked by Safatle's political discussions with his daughter (Valentina Ghiorzi) and with his father (Jean Claude Bernardet), always with conflicting points of view. An artistic event is also staged, in a bourgeois environment, where Safatle and his daughter present a musical number, after which, and without continuity, the intellectual incisively questions the activities and political affiliations of those present. In all situations, positions are enunciated, forms of action are suggested, opinions are questioned, but there is in fact no dialogue.

The technical foundation of this film's form is the non-linear, non-chronological and non-causal construction of the scenes. The discontinuous fragments accomplish what was exposed as the directors' intention: not to present ready-made answers or what Jean Claude calls a “message”.[v] It is a question of presenting a problem, whose ballast comes from afar and whose core concerns the relations between middle-class intellectuals and dispossessed populations. Currently, with the rise of the extreme right and the expansion of activism in various social movements, identity or otherwise, the radical intellectual[vi] represented by Safatle seeks to link up with militants from some of these groups to expand the struggles.

However, the conditions for this are not always given; moreover, some of these militants are not interested in a joint discussion. The desired alliance between middle-class intellectuals and “the people”, whose reference – for better or for worse – continues to be the 1960s, is apprehended in the current context, at a time when the class struggle was reconfigured and whose new characteristics challenge the lefts that acted in the classic terms of the working class opposition versus bourgeoisie. How to act together with social movements in order to better understand their specific demands and contribute to expanding them towards the anti-systemic struggle?

Throughout the film, there is a deepening in the apprehension of the impasses with which the radical intellectual is faced in his political action. It is about presenting the confrontations little by little, in which the different points of view enunciated do not change due to the discussion (sometimes they are not even actually heard, as is the case of the young black people at the meeting in Capão Redondo[vii]). The possibility of an alliance is frustrated.

In one of the first scenes, Jean Claude, a militant intellectual from the generation identifiable in the 1960s/1970s, who in another era approached the unions to learn from the workers,[viii] reads aloud sentences from the son's article published in the newspaper (which refers to "Organizing the fights", by Vladimir Safatle[ix]):

The current Brazilian situation is not just a picture of the emergence of new dangers; it is the expression of a profound exhaustion of the ways of organizing struggles and mobilizations. The left allowed itself to be configured as a reactive force, incapable of proposing guidelines.

Commenting on the text aloud, the father agrees with the thesis about the left, but wonders who will understand it. He looks for his son and tells him that the article is well written but is pure rhetoric: “It is above reality – about two meters. You need to get down on the ground, realize things.”[X]

At the provocation of his father – for whom effective political discussion presupposes a form of communication that starts from language and the other's understanding of reality –, Safatle, who in the scene is composing an erudite pianistic piece, does not want to be interrupted in his activity: “I'm going to get lost here. Let me just finish and we'll talk later”.

What initially presents itself as a conflict of generations, involving different conceptions of political action, also signals historical transformations in the conditions and possibilities of engagement on the part of radical intellectuals.[xi] There also seems to be no real interest on Safatle's part in discussing his position with his father. Differences do not produce dialogue.

The meaning of this scene expands when thought together with the ones that precede it: the one that starts the film shows, in close-up, the screen of a cell phone with a game in which the player controls "Bolsomito" so that he destroys his opponents, hitting enemies until they turn into feces.[xii] Then, the teenager appears and, right after, Jean Claude approaches and asks her if it is a “killing game” and if she likes to kill people. With a smile between naive and cynical, she answers “Yes”. It focuses, in action, on the strength of the cultural industry, which shapes behavior by establishing a goal that must be achieved regardless of the meaning of the acts performed for this purpose.

The next scene, in sharp contrast to the previous one, shows Jean Claude drying himself after a shower, in which his image wielding a gun is interspersed, without it being possible to discern whether it is a matter of remembrance or yearning.[xiii]. The weapon, here, has a very different meaning from death as electronic entertainment, in which the act of “exterminating the enemy” becomes natural. Jean Claude points the gun at the spectator, presumably the intellectualized middle-class audience. Or does it point to the class opponent, the power holders?[xiv]

To these heterogeneous frames, one more is added, in the 3rd scene. In close-up, in profile, Marlene (Palomaris Mathias), a black activist, questions what democracy is, confronting the abstract concept with concrete problems of the black experience: “Is being treated as marginal democratic? Is being the first to be the suspect as a bandit democratic? […] Is occupying only the most subordinate jobs in society democratic? So, for me, this question, if favela is democracy, is an offense”. Referring to the daily and general experience of blacks in Brazil, she denounces the presumption of democracy in the discretionary country. It remains open, therefore, what moves it politically. Does Marlene defend that there should be democracy, that is, the “egalitarian” integration of black people in capitalist exploitation? Or does it call into question the very idea of ​​bourgeois democracy, which would imply a new form of political-social organization? The questions posed by the scene return to us, the spectators: as it is not possible to determine what this other's yearning is, we have to try to understand it so that it is possible to articulate collective projects.

This scene is a key part of what is proposed from the title of the film. As it is constructed by unanswered questions, the spectator tends to interpret them based on his own experience. The middle-class intellectual will be able to evaluate Marlene's speech, framing her, according to her (his) conceptual schemes, as a (naive?) advocate of integration through exploitation. But the film, which presents Marlene's speech, keeping it as a sequence of interrogations, seems to provoke these interpretations to problematize them, thus enhancing the possibility of an interpretative framework in pre-established categories. In order to understand the meaning of what Marlene questions, it would be necessary that the communication does not suffer, beforehand, the blockage caused by the judgment of someone who does not know the foundation of the reflection of that other, nor its meaning for the logic of that other.

The four initial scenes outline the clash, marked, as we said, by different perspectives in facing problems common to contemporary Brazilian society. In the development of the film, this clash becomes more and more intensified. As the choice of direction is based on the discontinuous sequence, the construction of the final meaning requires the spectator's participation; meaning is not given to it by a unified narrative thread, which constitutes a kind of formal key to promote debate, without the unidirectional responses of the traditional plot.

Despite this, the problematic posed by the film is clearly defined: the radical intellectual's perspectives of action, in the current configuration of the political struggle, before those (and not with those) who could ally with him or accept his support. These intended companions, however, organize themselves in defense of agendas that, if they are not antagonistic to each other, are also not presented in conjunction with an anti-capitalist struggle, which seems to be the focus of Safatle's political conception and will.

The alliance for which the intellectual strives encounters obstacles due to the fact that, in his voluntary intention to communicate, without assertive propositions, he raises questions that are not answered or even taken into account. This occurs in the scene with a representative of the “politicized people” (Valmir do Coco) as well as in the categorical refusal of the group of militants in Capão Redondo to dialogue with Safatle. This reveals not only the impasse experienced by the middle-class intellectual, but also the mismatch between the struggles of some social movements centered on specific issues and the attempt, respecting them, to channel their energies and encourage the expansion of the scope of the struggle. However, the problem is even more complex, since it is not known whether the struggle of the identitarists is not aimed at revolutionary transformation, since they do not open the game.

In the scene in which Safatle enters a room at the School of Communications and Arts at the University of São Paulo, a group of women discuss feminism. On the blackboard, one of the participants, Matilde, writes: “What women are we talking about?”, seeking to advance the debate on issues of gender, race and class. Searching the room through the corridors (while listening, in Off, women's voices at the meeting), Safatle enters with the debate in progress and his presence clashes as he is the only man, and a white man, in a group of mostly black women.

In the discussion about the place of women in society, he intervenes: “I think there is a question of organization for the political struggle […]. Within this society there is no place for us. She's too small for you, for you, she's too small for everyone. […] This society needs to collapse, it needs to disappear”. Apparently, Safatle's intention is to provoke the broadening of the debate, seeking to connect the specific lines to the questioning of capitalist society as a whole, in order to avoid limiting the struggle to the perspective of social integration or closing in on struggles in the behavioral sphere. (in the case of the activist who claims it is good to live in the bubble of “black, bisexual lesbian women”, also ready to combat everyday violence against women). But her speech does not echo; its lack of resonance points to the distance between the experience of the middle-class intellectual and that of these women who daily experience violence against them, also shared by the so-called LGBTQIA+ minorities. Dialog does not happen.

This is how the decisive questions in the film seem to focus on the possibility of communicating with different militants, which implies the need for middle-class intellectuals, with a very diverse background, to know how to “listen to the people”[xv] and, respecting or understanding his point of view, acting and transforming himself. On the other hand, for this communication to take place, it would be necessary for the militant groups to see this intellectual as an ally.

In contrast to the conflicting interaction in the family (with the father and with the daughter) and with the public intervention (on TV, in the newspaper and political demonstrations with a university public), the intellectual’s journey to the “people” is concentrated in two decisive moments in which attempts at alliances are staged. In one of them, the intellectual does not agree with what is proposed; in the other, when he intends to propose a reflection on society, he is rejected by those involved.

In the first case, Marlene, who works in peripheral groups, asks her to write a text that she would launch in the networks of collectives, of blacks, women, LGBTQI+, so that, it is assumed, there would be more chances of diffusion thanks to the renown of the intellectual. Safatle replies that the text would have to be collective. Among discussions about how to start a collective text, when the collective discussion has not even started, enters Jean Claude, who ironically declares: “Two enlightened souls in search of the spark of revolution!” The conversation is also partly disturbed by the maid who vacuums the room; she notices the nuisance of the noise and turns off the device[xvi].

Jean Claude narrates his experience of militancy with the unions, but, for Safatle and Marlene, the union is no longer a viable place for political action (“the unions are very integrated”, says Safatle, and, for Marlene, “[they] they are not dealing with issues of race, gender”). In view of this, Jean Claude's question remains unanswered, “And what do you propose, then?”. The framing changes: the maid turns on the vacuum cleaner again.

In another sequence, Marlene tells Safatle that she works at a community bank created by residents of Jardim Maria Sampaio (a neighborhood in the South Zone on the outskirts of São Paulo). Banco Sampaio, with its own currency, finances local merchants to start or increase their businesses. Safatle questions the group's action. After all, he says, “it's like we're selling the idea that if they're enterprising, they'll get the emancipation they deserve”.

For him, the Bank encourages individual entrepreneurship. Marlene retorts by stating that the would-be entrepreneur “is not alone”; the “Bank is us, people from the community”, seeming to believe that the initiative, being a form of solidarity economy, would change the situation of people in the region. Safatle, however, insists that there is a contradiction between entrepreneurship and community, since the entrepreneur will fight against others. He seems not to understand the “emergency” initiative of that action.

For the intellectual, collective emancipation would imply a society with fewer banks. Faced with this, Marlene asks, “What would you suggest? a practical action that guarantees people’s survival?” The answer, between ironic and serious – “That they organize and rob a bank” – reveals that Safatle, diverging from the attempt of Marlene's group, does not have a realistic proposal to solve the immediate problems.[xvii]

The second case – in the confrontation between Safatle and Valmir do Coco and in the clash between Safatle and Capão’s group – is more striking. If the issue is “listening to the people”, the middle-class intellectual goes to it.

The “conversation” between Safatle and Valmir is rather a monologue. The intellectual speaks little. In the montage, several flashes intersperse in which Valmir do Coco's provocations resound. “What is your policy? You don't. It has nothing to say. I have. What's going to happen in a few days, my friend, is a war. This Brazil that we live in, it's over. And what are you going to do?”. In this scene, with several close-ups of Safatle's embarrassed expression, his response is, "I'll help finish." Valmir incisively states: “My policy is to defend the working class, defend the poor class. Then you will say: 'Your policy is my policy'. It is not, my comrade. You are fascist”.

The strength of the scene is not only in Valmir do Coco's speech, which is combined with his gestures and his corpulence, but especially in the intellectual's embarrassed silence. Also in the clash of two antagonistic expressions: Valmir's defiant air and Safatle's pot face.

The scene follows, including what happens outside of it. From the fictional staging, we move on, without cuts, to the actor's conversation with the directors. Safatle addresses them and says he doesn't know what to say or have the conditions to do so. Then she tells Valmir: “I think you're right. What am I going to say? No, are you wrong?[xviii]

Another attempt to establish contact with the “people” occurs in the meeting between Safatle and the group of militants in Capão Redondo, somewhat anticipated by the collage of scenes with Mano Brown, both in his speech at the PT Rally in 2018, and in excerpts of interviews from rapper (which has become a kind of critical voice from the periphery), in one of which he claims not to speak for anyone.

The scene of Safatle and the group of militants more explicitly exposes what is the guiding line of the feature: How to communicate with the other? How to understand what the “people want” without adhering to the tricks of power in which portions of the population are entangled?[xx]

In this scene, the voice is not that of the “people”, but of specific sectors of peripheral militancy that stand against the white intellectual’s attempt at interlocution. It is a politicized group, whose struggle platform includes self-sufficiency, self-management, awareness of the limits imposed by discrimination against blacks. Black Panthers, anarchist communities and quilombola populations are references of self-organization.[xx]

Tense, the scene focuses on each of the militants in their speeches, but also focuses on the expressions of the intellectual who, sometimes embarrassed, listens and tries to reply to the set of statements that reiterate either the lack of meaning of the meeting (“It's a waste of time ”), or the refusal to share with the “white man in the academy” the ideas that guide them. The debate does not find common ground: Safatle tries to reflect with the residents of the neighborhood on relations between factions, police, State. Those who answer him affirm that he does not come from a politicized family, he is not white, he did not attend the University. That what matters to them is trying to bring people together to discuss topics that are of direct interest to them, with the refusal of the debate in academic conceptual terms and, even more, with the lack of interest in discussing what the intellectual thinks is necessary:

Safatle: What is the relationship between these factions and the police?

Militant (Adriano Araújo): The police are an instrument of the State. So there is no relationship between the faction and the police. There is a relationship between the State and the faction[xxx].

Safatle: What is the State, really? What is the state? The State is the apparatus of Congress, and such, the Planalto Palace, blablabla. If the State is the police, if there is no State without the police, if the police are a fundamental element of the State, we realize that the police do not work alone. The State serves itself, it uses the faction to function.

Another militant (Lincoln Pericles): I can't make this diagnosis so calmly. The State… Fuck me what is the State, you know? I know what's going on here; what's the state, what's not the state, nigga, like, what's up? […] You arrive, make a diagnosis somewhere, think of a general solution, and such, when like me or any partner of mine is in the corner… And then you think that the State controls there, I don’t know what… Firmness . […] I don’t know if I understand either, because for you to understand what the State is in the hood… Maybe we understand the absence more…

Safatle: But things are connected…

The same militant: To me it seems far away…

In this attempt by the intellectual, there is no imposition of any theory or solution, but the group starts from the premise that this is what he is trying to do. There is a gesture of distrust in relation to what the intellectual intends, perhaps due to the perception, on the part of these militants, of the historical predominance of oppression that the ruling class exercised over the exploited; although Safatle is not the typical representative of that class, the group identifies him with it.

At the same time, the rejection of intellectual intervention does not seem to take into account, on the part of the militants, and perhaps due to lack of knowledge, the “grassroots work” that, in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, aimed at popular organization. As this political work metamorphosed with the rise of the PT to institutional power, and became work to increment “social policies”, the distrust of the group is quite legitimate. In contemporary times, politics has become management, to which several intellectuals have aligned themselves, who implement it without realizing the meaning of “social policies”[xxiii]. The group has its more than legitimate reasons for refusing the middle-class intellectual's intervention.

Capão's group defends autonomous organizational forms, not mechanisms for integration into the system. The peripheral identity, in the group, has very specific nuances. Without defining themselves in party-political terms, the group values ​​the “experience” that only belongs to them. They don't want the other (class) to tell them what to think or what to think: “You tell me to think about my experience. This is already a lock. I'm going to think for myself, not because this guy told me to think." For one of them, the problem is the language “with whom we actually communicate”. At one point, a young man asks himself: “Don't we have to build more among ourselves, and then maybe we have more to say to white people on the left, if we mean, to build? This relationship of learning, of utility, is very disloyal. […] It does not communicate”.

The impasse resumed, now aggravated. Communicating with each other, with your peers, is a kind of motto; dialogue, if it exists, will only happen when “we want it”. There is no openness in the group for this to be done with outsiders, and, without explaining the reasons for such a position and for the judgment against the (“disloyal”) intellectual, it is not difficult to understand them in view of the that was established in the PT governments.[xxiii]

When a militant argues that the people who are in the academy are still white people, and these people, even when they come with the discourse of equality, create a disparity of being regulating, regularizing, organizing what is a black, peripheral, northeastern manifesto, Indigenous people, suffering people, not well-to-do people. And we are able to manage ourselves. We are self-sufficient. We can discuss politics, aesthetics, gender, class, Safatle replies: “There is no self-management until today. Nobody got…” A militant makes the rejoinder, incisively: she affirms the existence of anarchist and quilombola communities. Even if the State destroys the attempts, even if there is “a racial and social genocide”, says the young woman, “we organize ourselves. And yet we are self-sufficient”. In the group, the internal debate prevails: “Debate, we debate among ourselves. The rest we teach”. Bent over, Safatle puts a hand to his head.

Cut. Images of Valmir do Coco, without the sound of his speech.

There is a sign with the title of the film. Then follows the scene of one of the group’s militants singing the rap: “Dehumanized/ No right to feel./ But love vibrates from head to toe./ You will never intervene/ I’m with my sweet cat/ away from statistic/ […] / Call the police/ We run away, hack/ only still take the breeze”. The song ends the film. The possibility of dialogue between the radical intellectual, already out of the scene, and representatives of politically mobilized popular sectors is also closed.

 

2.

The situation in which film is thought of as urgent cinema[xxv] refers not only to the polarization evidenced in the 2018 presidential elections, but especially to the moment when, after engaging in the institutional political dispute, grassroots work was replaced by “social policies”. It is within this framework that perhaps one can understand how active minority groups gained strength, seeking answers that differed from the historically hegemonic practices of the left, even at the risk of becoming isolated, or sometimes detached, from the general anti-systemic struggle.

Against this is that the feature (if) asks what to do. Against this, the middle-class intellectual represents those parts of the left that seek to act together with popular movements[xxiv].

And, among so many questions raised by the film, the one that stands out is the (im)possibility of communication, of understanding, between the intellectual and the groups that oppose the contemporary political, economic and social situation. There is a way of acting politically by this intellectual – whose history goes back a long way – that not only does not work but is rejected. Part of the white middle-class intelligentsia, which abandoned the traditional schemes (in which it would represent the vanguard leading the “people”) for having recognized the exhaustion of the model, is not clear about what to do.

You know it's not enough to say; you have to listen. And hear who's in the hood. However, in the film, the efforts of the radical intellectual are frustrated in his attempt to intervene through direct contact with groups of militants and even with politicized individuals who do not act in a clearly organized way (or at least not organized according to traditional standards of the left). There don't seem to be any new prospects. And then what?

For Safatle, certain alliances that would reiterate the maintenance of the system (through entrepreneurship, for example) are inadmissible. For theoretical reasons he does not admit them, without, however, offering any viable alternative for the solution of the immediate problems of survival. Thus characterized, it is on this representative figure that the feature inflects – making objective the fact that the directors, also radical middle-class intellectuals, do not want to speak for another.

The point is that both – intellectuals and representatives (some also intellectualized) of popular movements – do not speak the same language, some fighting to overcome everyday suffering as a means of survival (not exposing what they think about forms of anti-systemic struggle , or even thinking about them) and the other seeking to broaden the reflection, questioning particularist actions due to the risk that they could become forms of poverty management, internalized by the subjects, or that they do not reach the system's operating logic. The radical intellectual's desire to channel energies towards a common goal does not resonate with militants who previously reject it. The trenches of these political struggles do not open up to receive the intellectual as an ally; the intellectual, in turn, wants to break through the entrenchment of the militants in order to expand the struggle, without, however, knowing its scope.

In the film, theoretical thinking is not accepted as an instrument for political action by sectors of the population with which the intellectual wishes to associate. The conjunction of theory and practice, in traditional terms, is not enough to face the urgency of contemporary times. The very idea of ​​“urgency”, today, assumes active participation to help victims of social violence[xxv]. Although this is not made explicit in the film, for Safatle, the struggle to alleviate suffering through specific movements has to be articulated with the struggle for the transformation of society, and for that it would be necessary to reflect on the interrelationship between the social suffering of these layers of the population and the functioning of the capitalist state and system.

But perhaps that is why the peripheral militancy, or identity represented in the film, does not see its struggle to alleviate suffering historically accumulated and aggravated in the contemporary situation recognized, and considers that the intellectual's role is to dictate to them, who experience those sufferings on a daily basis, what to do . This they don't want. And who can define, being outside the movement, that the particularist struggle cannot achieve a broad transformation? How to know, if the peripheral militant refuses to expose what he thinks and what he does to the radical middle-class intellectual?

All this makes it essential that the questions about what to do are clearer, better formulated. The film exposes the questions of the radical intellectual that are put in check; These are the well-known questions, in which the place from which the intellectual speaks does not take into account the place from which the other is speaking (to summarize a phrase by Eduardo Coutinho[xxviii]), nor the experience of everyday suffering of that other.

How to act with identity movements in which particular struggles do not prevent, but can mobilize the broader struggle, especially when the advance of the extreme right, not only in Brazil, starts to demand greater responsibility from sectors that want not only to prevent the advance of authoritarian governments but also to prepare for a fight that transforms society, however unfeasible it may seem; hence the need for actions to move the imagination.

The relationship between middle-class intellectuals and identity militants or social movements, as we can see, leaves the traditional scope (the working-class issue), to have to do with guidelines that have as an immediate perspective transformations in the social condition of parts of the population. Traditional sectors of the left are still unclear about how to face the relationship between specific demands and the general struggle, even including in their programs the defense of so-called minorities.

Other sectors of the left consider the identity movements as an obstacle to the broad political struggle[xxviii], since, according to them, such movements would deviate from the general struggle against capitalist exploitation, which is still the universality of the worker's condition, or would fragment it. However, there seems to be no doubt that emancipatory policies can, and should, due to the very claim of identity struggles, include and combine the particularities of these so-called minorities with the more general struggle against oppression, and not just economics.

From this point of view, Safatle is the representation of the intellectual who, without adhering to the identity movements, and, above all, without demonizing them, tries to intervene. For some of them, the struggle for immediate survival does not eliminate the resistance struggle against the system, as seen in the Capão Redondo debate, although it is not clearly configured as a revolutionary struggle. But these militants do not want to communicate with this representative of another class, even if he wants to change allegiance.

What would be the path for the middle-class radical intellectual to truly understand the struggles of social sectors that have long been oppressed? What is the path for the anti-systemic struggle to expand and articulate militants from different class backgrounds and survival experiences? How can the intellectual who yearns to become a revolutionary overcome his own contradictions and build another vision of a collective future with those sectors? How to invent a vision of the future that confronts the deceitful yearning for integration or even the self-centered resistance that does not change the general conditions of social life? How to break the communication block between the experiences of middle-class intellectuals and those of peripheral groups?[xxix]

 

In the classic conception of the class struggle, it was assumed that the generalization of wages and the consolidation of the salaried worker category would bring the possibility of intensifying the struggle between exploited against exploiters and could leverage the revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system and the State that represents it.[xxx]. In this sense, the conception is progressive: the sharpening of the system's contradictions would bring the conditions for revolution. In this conception, for this it would be necessary to integrate the population into the productive system; those exploited by capital[xxxii] they would rise up when the political and organizational conditions for that were achieved, with the leadership of the revolutionary Party. Even though the events that culminated in the Russian Revolution were a variation on classical theory, it continued to guide leftist thinking as an uncontested model.

Contemporaneity makes it clear that the inorganic will not be integrated under the capitalist regime in the context of wages. Now management policies aim to pacify or incarcerate and exterminate disposable populations to contain the possibility of insurgency. Therefore, approaching the non-integrated, the killable (blacks, peripherals, LGBTQI+, black women), becomes an objective possibility of thinking about the struggles in a broad perspective. But if, for certain sectors of the left, these groups are engaged in a struggle that boils down to claiming to be part of the system, why would these militants trust these intellectuals? And, from historically accumulated experience, these groups know that at the H time these radicals betray the interests of the dispossessed, temporizing.

How to better understand the demands and conceptions of these militants, without preconceptions? An important portion of middle-class intellectuals do not have these answers. But he begins to wonder about it, as shown #and now what. This intellectual can be thought of as the key to what Antonio Candido called “radicalism”. Generated in the middle class and in enlightened sectors of the dominant classes, the radical intellectual is not revolutionary, because, even if he opposes the interests of his class, he does not represent the final interests of the worker.[xxxi]. In this sense, it can prepare the ground for the struggle of the oppressed that will in fact bring about transformations.

In the feature film, Safatle no longer has land to prepare: disseminating ideas (through the media, at the University) does not lead to transformative collective actions; in social movements, the intellectual is not considered necessary. If in the thought of Antonio Candido the reference for the valorization of “radicalisms” was our oligarchy, against which the radical vision of the middle class started to give importance to the oppressed[xxxii], the relationship between intellectual and worker has changed substantially.

As Roberto Schwarz analyzes, given the growth of the labor movement, the radical intelligentsia lost part of its function; later, with the rise of Fernando Henrique to the presidency, they engaged in the LOBBY of themselves, committed to their own career[xxxv]. With Lula's ascension, radical intellectuals are even more committed to the government, and the grassroots work is abandoned once and for all. With the advance of the new right, everything gets worse, not least because the manifestations of hatred against minorities, blacks, women, LGBTQIA+, indigenous, poor re-updates the discrimination that was supposedly buried under an inclusive social conscience that seemed to have become hegemonic in the middle classes in the 1990s.

In this context, what really comes into question is not whether the function of the radical middle-class intellectual will open paths, even if he retreats at the time of the definitive break with his class, to once again refer to Antonio Candido. In the feature, this time is not present – ​​which does not seal the fate of Safatle's character in terms of the radical intellectual. The hypothesis is not discarded that this intellectual, given the futility of his attempts, actually became a revolutionary. The scene in which he agrees with Valmir do Coco is, at the same time, the clearest symptom that he feels that the path he tries to trace will lead him nowhere, and the sign that the path to another option for struggle paralyzes him.

For Jean Claude Bernardet, the trajectory of the radical intellectual of the 1960s, investigated in the production of cinematographic culture, thought he was changing class allegiance and sought to speak of the “people”, of urban workers, of sertaneja communities. Going to the people, however, according to Bernardet, ended up revealing the class perspective projected onto this other. The forms of intervention (in this case, cultural) were the result of the constitutive ambivalence of this intellectual.[xxxiv]

The ambivalence certainly did not cease to exist. But the feature does not address questions to that historical type of middle-class intellectual of the 1960s. without taking their word or directing their conduct – not least because the unfeasibility of this Leninist intervention has lost credibility and is no longer accepted by peripheral groups presented in the feature.

The “people” with whom this intellectual comes into contact is more “real”; it is not a mere projection of its own conflicts, among which is the relationship between theory and practice. Self-aware of his ambivalences, this intellectual comes into contact with a people that has a certain political organization of its own. In this context of the management society and the resurgence of extermination,[xxxiv] is the claim for immediate survival a leaven for transformation – that guarantees not only life but its transformation? On this side, the question still has no answers.

*Edu Teruki Otsuka He is a professor at the Department of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at USP. Author of Marks of the catastrophe: urban experience and cultural industry in Rubem Fonseca, João Gilberto Noll and Chico Buarque (Studio).

*Ivone Daré Rabello is a senior professor at the Department of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at USP. Author, among other books, of A song on the sidelines: a reading of Cruz e Sousa's poetics (Nankim).

 

Reference


#and now what
Brazil, 2020, 70 minutes
Direction and script: Jean-Claude Bernardet and Rubens Rewald
Photography Andre Moncaio
Editing by Gustavo Aranda
Cast: Vladimir Safatle, Palomaris Mathias, Jean-Claude Bernardet.

 

Notes


[I] Hashtags do not use punctuation marks or special characters.

[ii] It is worth remembering that the feature was produced in 2019, when Bolsonaro had already assumed the presidency in Brazil. Also due to this urgent situation of the debate, Jean Claude Bernardet and Rubens Rewald produced a film despite: despite the little budget (13 thousand reais), despite the fact that there was no institutional funding (the directors did not want to submit the production and exhibition of the longer than the deadlines for public notices). The “despite” is also explained by the political will to make what the directors called “urgent cinema”, for the now. Cf. Escorel, Edward. “#and now what – A transformative experience”, Piaui, February 3, 2021; and “Cornered Speech”, a debate about the film, with the directors, on the channel 3 on stage, with mediation by Piero Sbragia, on January 26, 2021. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06ER-DzuzR0

[iii] Although the category “middle-class intellectual” may be considered inaccurate from a sociological point of view, it is also being used by us because Jean Claude Bernardet, to point out the ambivalences of this intellectual, makes use of it when he analyzes the film production in Brazil in movie time (1967). In addition, we are interested in differentiating this intellectual, whose rise took place mainly from the 1930s onwards, and the elite intellectual, typical of the XNUMXth century.

[iv] In the scenes in which the protagonist is with militants from the Movimento dos Sem Roof, Safatle does not appear. Guilherme Boulos occupies a place equivalent to that of the protagonist of the feature, also a representative of the middle-class intelligentsia.

[v] In “Cornered Speech” (cit.) the directors also stated that they wanted to escape the “well-made film” with “clean” photography and sound. Bernardet, since Brazil in movie time, investigated the relationship between Brazilian filmography made by radical intellectuals and their representation of the Brazilian people, which led them to overcome the provincial desire to make “well-made cinema”, to the European and American model. Therefore, the intransigent denial of the “good finish” of the film is not accidental, contrary to certain cinematographic production of the middle-class intelligentsia in contemporary times.

[vi] We return here to the notion of radicalism according to Antonio Candido, for whom the radical intellectual is the one who reacts “to the stimulus of pressing social problems, as opposed to the conservative way” that has always prevailed in Brazil (Antonio Candido, “Radicalismos. In: various writings. 4th ed. rearranged by the author. São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro: Ouro sobre Azul, 2004, p. 193).

[vii] According to the interview by Bernardet and Rewald, in 3 in scene (cit.), the scene makes it seem that they are young people from Capão Redondo. However, they are militants from different regions of São Paulo, brought together by Lincoln Péricles (a resident of the periphery, editor, documentarist, filmmaker). The montage, whose final word was given by the directors, opens up, however, to another version that Péricles could possibly carry out, since he has the filming materials.

[viii] The characterization of the character allows identifying biographical traits of Bernardet. See: Bernardet, JC Critical trajectory. Sao Paulo: Martins Fontes. 2011.

[ix] See: Folha de S. Paul, December 7, 2018.

[X] In the 1970s, a film gained relevance for putting intellectuals (in this case, students) on the front line to point out the paths and detours of the proletarian struggle, attacking the union and radicalizing propositions. Its about The working class goes to paradise, by Elio Petri, from 1971. With all the differences from the 1970s to now, it is interesting to think that the intellectual – pointing to correct analyzes – is detached from the ground of struggles.

[xi] See: Schwarz, Roberto. “We have never been so engaged” (in: Brazilian sequences, from 1999). It is also important to point out that Jean Claude and his generation seem to be in tune with Sartre's considerations about engagement, within the framework of the intellectual's struggle during World War II, and which were assimilated at the time of the struggle in the 1960s, before the collapse provoked by the AI-5, 1968. Sartre situates the intellectual, sociologically, as someone who lives and embodies social contradictions.

[xii] The game actually exists: in “Bolsomito 2K18” the player controls a character similar to the president who needs to attack his political opponents, as well as women, gays, blacks, members of the MST and students.

[xiii] The scene can also be understood as an Einsteinian montage operation, in which the joining of apparently arbitrary fragments is motivated not by the character's subjectivity, but by the directors' decision, requiring the spectator to apprehend the meaning of the friction of images. The technique is used several times in the film.

[xiv] The weapon, as an object with different political meanings depending on who wields it, will reappear during a shooting lesson, when Jean Claude asks the instructor if he uses the expression “taking lives” because it is less powerful than “killing”. He replies: “Yeah, we use more romantic words, let's put it that way. […] Shooting is a means of saving lives. The police train […] not to kill someone; will protect him through self-defense. He goes to save the life of a third, unfortunately taking the life of a marginal. We have to look at it that way.” The instructor's speech reveals the owner class's point of view – in contrast to the scene commented above.

[xv] The expression is from Mano Brown. Cf.: “The people failed to understand, that was it. If we are the Workers' Party, the people's party has to understand what the people want. If you don't know, go back to the base and try to find out” (Brown's speech at the PT rally in 2018, in support of the candidacy of Haddad and Manuela D'Ávila for the presidency).

[xvi] The worker's task interferes with the discussion between militants, and both are disconnected. There is another scene in which Safatle and his father discuss political issues in a cafe. The girl who assists them interferes and says that they talk, talk, talk, and do nothing. When they ask, then, what her actions are, she replies: "I overthrew the trustee."

[xvii] The subsequent mention of the Comando Vermelho, in the scene at Capão Redondo, indicates the blindness of the boutade, since the Red Faction originally put into practice, by robbing banks, what it had learned from political prisoners without, however, making expropriation a revolutionary act.

[xviii]Next, Rubens Rewald addresses Safatle: “These questions you are raising now are the lines. It's the lines. […] I spent my whole life getting kicked around by my class. I will not defend this class. I do not recognize myself in this class”. One cannot understand the meaning of Rewald's words without thinking of Bernardet's reflections on the Brazilian middle class, undecided between being with the "people" and speaking from a bourgeois perspective (cf. Brazil in movie time).

[xx] In the scene in which a lady from Jardim Maria Sampaio is interviewed by Marlene to obtain support from Banco Sampaio in her tapioca business, she brags about the “differential” of her product: ingredients from the Northeast and sweet tapioca good gourmet food, according to their own words, which adhere to the advertising language. This highlights the need for entrepreneurs to “sell” their idea, which implies internalizing the logic of competition.

[xx] This platform perhaps indicates the reflection, on the part of this militancy, on the experiences of zapatismo, as well as on Fanon's political writings, read in a context in which the revolutionary process is not in sight. But the group does not expose its theoretical references.

[xxx] In his speech, the militant recalls that the Comando Vermelho faction (originally Falange Vermelha), founded by Rogério Lemgruber, emerged on Ilha Grande from the coexistence of common prisoners with political prisoners. He points out that the faction's code of conduct put order in the prison on Ilha Grande and, later, "in the hoods". The film almost two brothers (2004), by Lúcia Murat, fictionalizes these episodes, and also follows the career of the middle-class intellectual who engages in institutional politics, while the common prisoner becomes the head of drug trafficking.

[xxiii] It is not by chance that when grassroots work is abandoned, struggles arise that would be characterized by the defense of the “peripheral” (and not the worker) and movements of “pride of being peripheral” (as analyzed by Tiaraju Pablo d'Andrea, in The formation of peripheral subjects: culture and politics in the periphery of São Paulo. Doctoral Thesis in Sociology. FFLCH/USP, 2013). The perspective of integration of the non-integratable through culture engendered forms of action that became normalized, not only through cultural activity stricto sensu, but also by encouraging entrepreneurship with the help of the community – a new type of “grassroots work”. The “citizenship market” was created (cf. Ludmila Costhek Abílío “The social management and the citizenship market”. In: Robert Cabanes et al. (eds.) Emergency exits: winning/losing life on the outskirts of São Paulo. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2011.

[xxiii] Eliane Brun, in Brazil, builder of ruins. A look at the country, from Lula to Bolsonaro (2019), recovers not only the positive elements of Lula's and Dilma Roussef's tenure in the presidency, but also the promises that were not kept and especially the consequences of the policy of conciliation with sectors of the class dominant power that befell workers in the name of the interests of big capital (see the issue of the Belo Monte Power Plant) and, certainly, the incarceration policy and the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Law (by Dilma Roussef, in 2016) which criminalized social movements. All of this was perceived as betrayal against social sectors that had elected the president and manipulation of workers' interests to maintain the power of the Lula-era politics – whose reforms, up to a certain point, pleased the rich more than the poor. As Lula said, at a rally on March 18, 2016 (when he was invited to become Minister of the Civil House, in an attempt to avoid the impeachment: “…bankers never made as much money as they did during [my] mandate” “They [the rich] go to Miami, and we buy on 25 de Março” [popular shopping street in São Paulo].

[xxv] “Interview with Jean-Claude Bernadet and Rubens Rewald”, Canal Cine Esquema Novo. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqWCwdhtZgI

[xxiv] It is worth noting that the film is quite partial in selecting what interests it in terms of popular movements, without presenting any element of what has been the dominant role in the peripheries: that of neo-Pentecostalism. This is not to demand that from the film, but the strength of these new religious groups would give food for thought, as the left would also have to deal with underprivileged populations that find support and solidarity in the evangelical community. In this sense, the evangelical church seems to offer answers to what the people need, but using it for its own economic and political interests.

[xxv] In “Fire alarm in the French ghetto”, P. Arantes refers to the contemporary world where the perennial emergency prevails, trivialized, in which there is a struggle for integration, and not for transformation. This does not contradict the “repressive emergency” that, on the other political side, installs preventive counterinsurgency mechanisms. In: The new time of the world, pp. 224-225; cf. also p. 253 and passim.

[xxviii] See Carlos Alberto Mattos. Seven faces of Eduardo Coutinho. São Paulo: Boitempo/Instituto Moreira Salles/Itaú Cultural, 2019.

[xxviii] Ricardo Nunes, in a recent article (“Contradiction between inequality and identity guidelines need not exist”. Very illustrious. Folha de S. Paul, January 7, 2022), mentions the statement by Alberto Cantalice, director of the Perseu Abramo Foundation, for whom the “identitarianism” is a “mistake” created by “activists from the United States”, which obscures “the core issue” of inequality and divorces the left “from the reality of the people”. The ideas defended by Nunes are not the object of this discussion, but it seems to us that he defends the bourgeois universality and the perspective that the ideals of “freedom, equality, fraternity” would still be valid, without taking into account that there was a change historical: the shift from the policy of transformation (the invention of a new social organization) to a policy of defending human rights. For us, the defense of the universality of rights does not take into account that this was, historically, the strategy of the ruling class to establish the triumph of capital – given the violence with which the bourgeoisie and transnational armies rose up against the claims in fact revolutionaries.?

[xxix] This is the issue discussed at greater length in the feature, which, however, does not include reference to the fight against global warming and the specificity of the actions of indigenous sectors.

[xxx] The possibility, optimistic, did not eliminate its negative version (that capitalism could triumph and eliminate the struggle against it), already formulated by Marx. Hence, with the facts related to the Second and Third International, the strategic task of the Fourth International was: “It is not a matter of reforming capitalism, but of overthrowing it” (Trotsky, transition program).

[xxxii] Not by chance, the issue for Caio Prado was the “integration of inorganics” (Formation of contemporary Brazil, passim).

[xxxi] Cf. “Radicalisms”, cit, p.194.

[xxxii] As can be seen, for example, in the history of Human Sciences at USP from the 1930s onwards. Cf. Antonio Candido, “Occasional Radicals” and “Radicalisms”.

[xxxv] Cf. Roberto Schwarz, “We've Never Been More Engaged” (written in 1995).

[xxxiv] Bernardet's argument, in Brazil in movie times, gains relevance when confronting what was desired in those 1960s and the missteps caused by the end of the dictatorship, including the adherence of intellectuals to the establishment. Provocative, the work deserves and demands to be retaken.

[xxxiv] Extermination is constitutive of capitalist accumulation itself, as we all know. However, the policy of programmatic extermination is a relatively new phenomenon, in the historical moment in which subjects are no longer employable and capitalism dispenses with living work.

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