June 2013 anguishes us. Why?

Dora Longo Bahia, The police come, the police go, 2018 Acrylic on cracked laminated glass 50 x 80 cm


The June 2013 mobilizations were essentially chaotic. Were politically ambiguous and confusing

“Peasants are voting with their feet” (Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov, alias Lenin, when informed that peasants were deserting the Tsarist Army en masse in World War I).

June 2013 still torments and anguishes us. The left maintained hegemony on the streets in Brazil for three and a half decades, since the end of the 1970s. It lost this supremacy in the June days. But this does not warrant the conclusion that right-wing forces, liberal or extremist, led. June was up for grabs and no one drove. June was a no-brainer.

An analysis of the reasons for this explosion in 2013, and not earlier or later, must consider many factors. The country was still far from the recession that opened in 2015, and unemployment was low. Personal and even functional income inequality was falling slowly, but falling. These and other variables led many on the left to disregard the centrality of socio-economic determinations, and to look for a “cultural” or even “ideological” explanation for the June Days. It is not a good way, because it is impossible to explain the gigantic dimension of the spontaneity of adherence without recognizing that economic growth is not enough. The ten-year limited and slow progressive reforms of PT-led governments were not enough to silence the protest.

But there is a grain of truth in this assumption. The Brazil of 2013 was already very different from the Brazil of 1983, on the eve of the Diretas-Já, but not only due to the spread of cell phones with internet. June opened up a generational transition. The more educated youth wanted more.

The increase in bus fares was just the spark that lit the fire. An Ibope survey on the reasons for participating in the demonstrations reveals that the vast majority were on the streets in defense of free public services, and against corruption.[I] We witnessed a disconcerting explosion of protest and euphoria. We shouldn't worry too much about what we saw as inconsistent, irreverent, and even a little gullible.

The June 2013 mobilizations were essentially chaotic. They were politically ambiguous and confusing. But trying to disqualify its meaning with the characterization that it would be, essentially, the expression of the malaise of the urban middle classes that are more educated and hostile to the PT, that is, reactionary, is unreasonable.

It was following June that the LGBT movement took to the streets with an anti-fascist impulse against Marcos Feliciano. It was after June that a wave of strikes set in motion teachers and even firefighters. June gave power to the environmentalist and indigenous movements. A Ninja Media won a mass audience denouncing the violence of repression by the Military Police. June paved the way for the formation of a new generation of left-wing activists.

The dominant meaning of the June Days, despite being very tumultuous, was complex. The overwhelming majority of the posters were restricted to the limits of democratic demands, but they were progressive: “if the people wake up, they won't sleep! It's no use shooting, ideas are bulletproof! It's not for pennies, it's for rights! Put the tariff on FIFA's account! You'll see that your son doesn't run away from the fight! If your child gets sick, take him to the stadium! Ô fardado, you are also exploited!”

To be dazzled by the strength of the marches and not to know their limitations would be myopia. Viewing the dimension of these three weeks of struggles with skepticism, that is, perceiving only their inconsistencies, too. There are three responses on the Brazilian left to this crucial question. Which one was confirmed in the “laboratory” of history? The way out of the “labyrinth” of the reactionary situation in which we still find ourselves, after six and a half years since the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, four of the Bolsonaro government, depends, to some extent, on a correct answer.

The first answer is the one that sees the serpent's egg in the mobilizations opened in June 2013. June would be the seed for the extreme right to take to the streets, and the moment of an unfavorable reversal of the social balance of forces. He attributes to the June days a reactionary meaning because it would be the beginning of the offensive of the “conservative wave”, and its leadership could not be disputed by the left.

June 2013 would be the “heat up” of the “amarelinhos” mobilizations in March/April 2015 and 2016, a few million echoing “our flag will never be red”. But conspiracy theory is not good Marxism. Operation Lava Jato began almost a year later. June was not a “color” revolution manipulated by US imperialism. It was not a political operation led by the Globo network and the bourgeois media to try to overthrow the Dilma government. But it is true that the Globe made a 180 degree turn on the 20th of June, suspended even soap operas and, shamelessly, summoned them to the streets.

The second hypothesis is fundamentally opposed, as it identifies an almost uninterrupted progressive dynamic in the process opened in June 2013. It attributes to Junho the sense of a revolt against the political regime that came out of the transition negotiated from above, in the Electoral College, at the end of the dictatorship, and which took the form of the New Republic, or coalition presidentialism. It diminishes the contradictory nature of the social impulse, hides the dispute that took place in the streets with the right-wing forces, and ignores that a defeat has occurred.

The third is the most complex, because it recognizes the progressive character of some claims, but also notes the presence of a reactionary core with a mass audience, and observes that political acephaly left the dynamics of mobilizations adrift. Everything was up for grabs.

If in June there appeared what is most generous and supportive in the hearts of youth, what is naive, confused and even reactionary also emerged, as in all historical processes, when mobilizations are still polyclassist, and the social weight of the working class did not prevail. The popular masses were not the main protagonists in June 2013.

Intoxicated provocateurs of exalted nationalism, wrapped in the national flag, attacked the columns of the left. The episodes of clashes with neo-fascist gangs that wanted to knock down the red flags were dramatic. Although serious, these conflicts were not the most important, even if they were the saddest. Right-wing extremists were a minority. The vast majority of those who took to the streets designed their own posters. “No flags” was the form assumed by the distrust and fear of a mass that did not want to be manipulated by any party.

June 2013 was a bewildering explosion of protest and euphoria. In any analysis, respecting the sense of proportions is essential. We must not be impressed by what has happened that is irreverent and gullible, or even dangerous and reactionary. When interpreting major events there is always the double danger of underestimating or overestimating.

A sequence of four street protests against the increase in bus fares, in São Paulo, with a few thousand young people from the popular classes, was a spark. Repressed by the police with wild and unusual violence, outside the peripheries, they triggered a surprising social explosion. A conflict that seemed marginal triggered a national wave of mobilizations that the country had not seen since Fora Collor, twenty-one years earlier. As of June 17th, a generation of middle-class youth took to the streets for the first time.

The initiative of the MPL (Movimento Passe Livre), a group of activists with an autonomist inspiration, without any major political leadership being committed to the call, opened the process. The demonstrators themselves declared, spontaneously, in their thousands, to whom they came: “it's not for pennies!”.

In the June days, hundreds of thousands of young people invaded the streets of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. On a national scale, something close to two million people took to the streets in four hundred cities in a few weeks. This wave extended in various ways in the second half. On the one hand, the campaign “Where is Amarildo?” moved the country. On the other hand, groups of black blocks, some with police infiltration, multiplied violent symbolic actions. But the wave petered out in February 2014, after the tragic death of the Band in front of the Central do Brasil.

The perception still prevails among a portion of the left that it is possible to discern a causality between June 2013, and the institutional coup that overthrew the Dilma Rousseff government in 2016, and everything that came after: the inauguration of Michel Temer, the apogee of the operation Lava Jato, Lula's arrest and the election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. A dynamic of defeats. But this interpretation is one-sided. After all, what were the connections between June 2013 and the impeachment, remembering that Dilma Rousseff won the second round against Aécio Neves at the end of 2014?

This struggle for free and quality transport, education and public health clashed head-on with Fernando Haddad's PT in São Paulo City Hall and Geraldo Alckmin's PSDB. Sérgio Cabral and Eduardo Paes of the PMDB in the governments of Rio were not spared. In Recife, Eduardo Campos' PSB was also hit. Then the avalanche of mobilizations spread in the form of a national tsunami. Many cities saw the biggest marches in their history. In not a few of them, mobilizations greater than those they knew during the Diretas in 1984.

Support for the Dilma government, which was largely majority – more than 65% – in less than a month, became a minority: less than 30%. The shocking social force of these mobilizations left state institutions semi-paralyzed for almost a week. The ruling class was divided between those who demanded more repression, and those who feared a complete political demoralization of the governments, in case the uncontrolled police fury caused one or more deaths. The reversal of fare increases was not enough to get the masses off the streets for a few months. A majority of the middle sectors moved to support the demonstrators.

But, despite the 2014 election victory, everything evolved very badly afterwards. Which means a lot of mistakes were made. We therefore have a lot to learn.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of No one said it would be Easy (boitempo).


[I] http://especial.g1.globo.com/fantastico/pesquisa-de-opiniao-publica-sobre the-protesters

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