Manifesto for João Pedro

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By RONALDO TADEU DE SOUZA*

We need to put a stop to this. The elite and the white, rich and proprietary class will not stop exterminating us and our black and black children and young people who still do not have a voice

“It doesn't matter what we say. It doesn't matter how loud we scream. They refuse to listen to us [...] we have nothing to lose except our chains.[…] Maia, The Hate You Sow because if you want war you will have it, we want double peace” (Emicida, Criolo and Mano Brown).

“We are all obliged to imagine some madness within us” (Marcel Proust)

Political Premise

I begin this simple manifesto for João Pedro with two considerations by and from Marx. “The history of all societies is the history of class struggle”; but in slave-owning societies (such as Brazil and the United States) the history of society is the history of the struggle against black people – the overwhelming majority belonging to the poor, subaltern and working classes. And “the emancipation of a particular class [or group] [depends on] another class having to concentrate in itself all the ills of society, a particular class having to channel and represent a general hindrance and limitation”; in Brazil it is the State (organizer of our white, very white economic and political elite) that concentrates in itself all evils, especially for black men and women.

But unfortunately and sadly, we are far from finding the way, the track and the clues to emancipation. And only we black men and women (and the left in general) “are responsible” for this. Let's see.

Black Resistance Cycles

The Brazilian social structure, in a historical perspective, is formed, or was formed, so to speak, from and having the agrarian economy as its material basis – “the rural lord monopolized wealth, and with it his natural attributes: prestige and dominance” . So, the hands that worked these lands and allowed the accumulation of wealth and money were the black hands that arrived here around 1550. At the end of the colonial period, blacks represented 50% of the Brazilian population, which still included the indigenous group. In effect, the social organization at that time was simple and cruel – even violent – ​​because on the one hand there was the reduced class of owners and on the other the large mass of black slaves being whipped to produce the economic surplus.

Political and class power echoed this social configuration. But not in a peaceful and conformist way. If, on the one hand, state policy was restricted to the intrigue of landowners and slaves, on the other hand, blacks in the slave quarters constantly rebelled, in search of freedom and a better life. Thus, the quilombos as a strategy of struggle, an organizational space of black strength and a moment of constitution of subjectivity (the narration of oneself in the face of the other) responded to these circumstances of our social and political structure – we would thus have the first cycle of black resistance in Brazil. (One could say that the quilombos were a kind of commune, or if you prefer, black soviets that no longer wanted to be enslaved.)

The Brazilian State and the rural-slave elite from the beginning saw the quilombos as a real danger – and as such they were treated. In the mining cycle in the XNUMXth century, the number of potentially rebellious slave populations in Portuguese America (Brazil) increased; the previous experience with the quilombos, especially that of Palmares that resisted with the most varied strategies and tactics as we said above – militarily, with violence in political action, forming its own economy, religiosity, traps in the forests – made the white slave elite attentive and more aware of the problem he would inevitably face. Thus, to contain the tendency towards constant black insurrections against the oppressive slave-owning order: the class and the rural elite made the repressive legislation tougher and more violent and institutionalized the figure of the captain-of-the-bush.

In the context of the Empire, with the presence of moderating power, the political game – all of it – was carried out with slavery, and its possible end, as the social horizon. It was at this time (1822 to 1889) that the second wave or cycle of black resistance emerged with the slave rebellions – one of which was so well narrated by João José Reis in Slave Rebellion in Brazil: the History of the Malês Levant in 1835 in Bahia. (This and other rebellions created what JJ Reis called the “audacity tradition”.) In this second cycle, the abolitionist movement is added. And it is here that the first (public) intellectuals in the country appear: Luiz Gama, André Rebouças and José do Patrocínio stood out as black writers in the tenacious struggle to free their brothers and sisters from the political-economic regime of slavery. After rebellions, manifestos and political vicissitudes, in 1888 abolition came definitively and completely.

In the XNUMXth century, industrialization and urbanization took shape in Brazilian society. The freed black man was left to his own devices in the white world and his social insertion has since then been, structurally, impossible within the scope of Brazilian dependent capitalism, but this did not mean that the black arm ceased to be the fundamental and decisive element of the process. accumulation of wealth for the national white elite. (In hypothetical terms, the low cost of reproduction of labor at the beginning of industrialization corresponded to the elasticity of the supply of black arms available at any moment – ​​it was a psychodynamic pressure on those who had acquired a place in the economic and social mechanism of daily survival. ) With the modernization of Brazil then under way, three circumstances occurred: the constitution of the first interpretations about the constitutive characteristics of Brazilian society, the creation of our public universities (especially USP and São Paulo sociology) and the emergence of the third cycle of resistance black with the formation of black movements.

The interpretation of Brazil with the most marked presence in the period was Casa Grande and Senzala by Gilberto Freyre (and even today his thoughts on Brazil are still spread directly and indirectly to the four corners of the country); the sociologist from Pernambuco sustained in his long essay that Brazilian society was constituted through the interpenetration of cultures – which even antagonistic, balanced each other – meaning with this an attenuated (and even aestheticizing) modality of slavery. But the black movement never accepted Freyre's formulations: conservative and even reactionary as such. The response to the elitist and conservative interpretation (Gilberto Freyre explained not a mistaken view of slavery, but a view from the scope of the big house and problematically projected it throughout Brazilian society) of Casa Grande and Senzala had: on the one hand, the very organization of the first black movements in the XNUMXth century (press, fronts, black activism, public figures, black theater and the most diverse political actions), a fierce racial subjectivity, classist and rebellious, anti-system nonetheless say, formed in modern Brazil; on the other hand, the conformation of São Paulo sociology at USP with Florestan Fernandes as its main builder and interpreter of the problem of black people in Brazil.

In this way, political action by black movements, the press, fronts and black intellectuals and the sociological theory that explains our structural ills, with the reproduction of the slave society as a fundamental core, marked a significant part of the black struggle against the remnants – if we can speak of remnant at that time – of the slaveholding social structure in Brazil. Indeed; black people were the problem/solution for a set of issues in Brazilian society. Now, if we can extract something from the three cycles of resistance (organizational, political, theoretical and intellectual) that I have outlined briefly and without precision so far: it is that the black was (is) and will be for a long time the main political subject of social transformation Brazilian. And this was perceived and understood, unfortunately, “more” by the country's ruling classes and elites – “than by blacks themselves”, particularly in the late XNUMXth and early XNUMXst centuries, and the left-wing forces in Brazil. Therein lies our political problems and the difficulties of tracing perspectives for our immediate political situation; especially in the context of the right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro/Paulo Guedes/economic/military elites.

The white, right-wing, conservative and intransigent Brazilian ruling class/elite understood long ago who their gravediggers would be. Her efforts since then have been to root out any threat to her exploitative and dominant social status. Already in slavery, state violence had been the decisive instrument: this is how we should read the expeditions of Domingos Jorge Velho against the Palmares Quilombo and the organization and institutionalization of the captains-do-mato as an armed militia of the slave-owning elite for the capture of blacks and rebellious blacks. (The boy João Pedro is just another potential black rebel and resistance, a rogue as vice-president Hamilton Mourão says, who has to be shot down by the State so as not to jeopardize the wealth and property of the dominant white elite.)

But the expedients of the Brazilian ruling classes did not rely solely on state violence; the process of dismantling, controlled liberation and the social and economic favoring of some blacks expressed an additional mechanism to attenuate the tension of the slave society and establish group divisions among blacks. This tactic of the white, rich and dominant elite still persists in Brazil – today with other modalities, (cynical) discourses of inclusion, media spaces granted as a demonstration of diversity, etc. Brazilian history can be told from this race/class struggle: black, poor and subaltern results of the slave-owning society and the violent, cynical dominant elite, with a slave-like attitude in dealing with issues and always ready to sacrifice the fragile moments of our always undermined democracy. How did we black men and women arrive in the XNUMXst century? And how did the Brazilian left respond to these questions?

There is an overlap in these questions in terms of their development and dynamics. Brazil lost the radical and revolutionary impulse of the left over the last quarter of the XNUMXth century (it is true that everywhere else, but here it is more symptomatic; let us note that even today in a country like the United States the left already speaks openly of socialism, theorize how to overcome capitalism and debate with this horizon, the pages of New Left Review, the candidacy of Bernie Sanders and the magazine Jacobin driven by Bhaskar Sunkara a non-white American, amazingly, they are the expression of change in the spirit of part of the world left, particularly the North American one). And in the specific case of the structural problem of black race/class, the vocabulary of political action was gradually shifted towards theories of normative diversity; to the narrative of the institutional inclusion of differences in spaces previously denied by white privilege. However, the Brazilian elites, economic, political and social, did not substantially change their way of understanding the country.

The military dictatorship of 1964, the police society, violent and harshly vigilant built in the transition to democracy and the Schumpeterian democracy itself, tutored and more recently taken over – are the irrefutable demonstration of the vision of our ruling classes about the country. In the terms of Paulo Arantes: 1964 did not end, it was a break in the Brazilian political struggle. So that the loss, felt by all today, of the rebellious and radical impulse of the left and of the black movements in general corresponds to the demand “from the shift elites [...] [of the acceptance] of an unwritten law [that] expects from the pacts […] an unequivocal demonstration of moderate convictions” (see What Remains of the Dictatorship, Boitempo, 2010). A left that moves and almost completely abandons any radical, transformative and revolutionary perspective – it will never be able to find (and in fact will not want to find) the subject of transforming political action in the society in which it operates. (The classic example of the evolution of European social democracy so well addressed by Adam Przeworski in Capitalism and Social Democracy it's crystal clear.)

Hence, the issue of blacks, the problem of a structurally slave-owning society, did not effectively call the attention of left-wing forces. His treatment is always: objectifying; leader; instrumental; puerile and sometimes foolish, prejudiced and naive. There are very rare exceptions among us, obviously. It is true that there was and is an imposition by the ruling elite so that the left acts like this, as we said a moment ago; but there is also a convenient adaptation of leftist parties, intellectuals, progressive researchers from universities of excellence, activists and movements. Because it is undeniable that in our ever-present Lenin moment, of indetermination, the main representatives of the national left decided on the path of being a structural part of a precarious political system – they chose the path of Kerensky (Francisco de Oliveira).

Black movements did not respond in the best way. Since the 2000s, at least, the constitutive axis of struggles has changed radically. Positively, our understanding of ourselves as black men and women has reached very expressive levels: today a portion of black groups know their origin, their culture, their history and what they want. Negatively, the change of axis throws us into a situation of complete lack of perspective for us to wage a collective and race/class struggle against the rich, dominant and proprietary white elite: its political projects, its repressive state apparatus and now its murderous militias that exterminated Marielle Franco. With each operation in the hills of Rio de Janeiro, with each young black man exterminated on the outskirts of São Paulo (and now with each black lung that succumbed to the lack of air caused by the Covid-19 in our fragile public hospitals) we witness the cost of displacement that we mentioned earlier.

Thus, the fourth cycle of black resistance in Brazil has been built with significant changes in the interpretative and intervention vocabulary. Resistance accompanies the changes in the progressive and left-wing social theory that we alluded to, as well as the historical and political sedimentation of constitutional-liberal democracies that frame the perspectives of action and struggle of social movements in general (the specialized literature here is abundant and for all tastes). So that, under the structuring arrangement of the notions of institutional racism and privilege, we have before us the ideals of representativeness, black bodies, self-care, place of speech, black toxic masculinities, whiteness/blackness, intersectionality and colorism. There is no hint of talking about social transformation, organizing black men and women for collective struggle, structural capital reform that uses the black arm (indirectly) to have available elasticity of variable capital and street rebel mobilizations.

If in previous cycles (the quilombola resistance, the XNUMXth century rebellions and the black abolitionist public intellectuals and the black movements of the mid-XNUMXth century) in one way or another we witnessed the remarkable understanding that the black problem/solution was, essentially, of transformation of social structures, that is, of clear political confrontation with the elitist and slave-owning order in force and its historical and social developments, today a good part of black “resistance”, if we can still call it resistance, boils down to in being “accepted” in the elite and class Brazilian society. Things understood well: being “accepted” here means that today we defend state public policies to combat racism; we call on whites (white ruling elites) to empathize and grant us spaces of privilege; we understand that a black man or woman presenting a newspaper is a historical fact; we urge companies to invest in diversity (both in the executive sector and in advertising); we claim that universities include diverse black epistemologies and we demand from PM's e Police General Commands investigations into the extermination that they themselves practice, intentionally and decisively, against us blacks.

It is true that this state of affairs is an expression of the most educated, cultured layer, formed in universities of excellence and who managed with much struggle and sweat to move in the social pyramid as a race, class and from the point of view of the stratification of Brazilian society. But even so, when going through situations of prejudice, racism and symbolic violence – they enunciate the problems of blacks in general and of subordinates across the country. Hence, our political and intellectual responsibility is immense: and we are somehow “guilty” for sufferings like that of João Pedro's family.

It is obvious and it would be unreasonable to say that the new vocabulary of the struggle and its political, social and institutional developments did not bring significant gains, especially in the construction of black self-esteem and this is fundamental if we want to establish a new cycle of resistance in Brazil, nevertheless: we must admit that, today in 2020, they are not being enough, for us to envision that it is, that the death of Joãos Pedros and Ágathas, Cláudias Silvas Ferreiras and Amarildos, Lucas and Ítalos will not be repeated anymore. And we are “guilty”; the black men and women who have a voice and obtained a certain intellectual, cultural and economic mobility and the post-1964 left, unfortunately, we are far from that glimpse.

 For a New Cycle of Black Resistance  

It is therefore necessary for a fifth cycle of black resistance in Brazil and for the left to rebuild itself and review its posture of moderate and agreed adaptation to the status-quo (political system, institutional possibilism, controlled and humane market economy, etc.). symbiosis of the strength of the black political subject with the social and organizational forces of the left, we will be able to break the steel circle of the intransigent right that today launches the country: in political-police violence, especially against black men and women/poor/subalterns, in systematic action of the militias (the cruel and cowardly murder of Marielle, the latest demonstrations and motorcades across the country and the president's call for the arming of these fascist bands) and on the precipice of Covid-19.

On the left, it must be insisted, it will only be able to reconstruct itself if it manages to understand who the historical and political subject of Brazilian social transformation actually is: this will require reviewing its excessively moderate and institutionalized action (this does not mean that we stop defending democracy and its institutions because if we don't, the right obviously won't bother to do it), its ridiculously objectifying stance on the black problem, its misplaced elitist leadership, and its sometimes hidden prejudice. In the new cycle of black resistance is suggestive:

1) we try to mimic the quilombola struggle tactic, at least put it up for debate, as it is necessary to democratically organize the largest possible number of the black population in all spheres of social life (material power is suggested to be materially resisted);
2) to resume the “tradition of the audacity of the XNUMXth century rebellions and the intellectual daring of Luiz Gama, José do Patrocínio and André Rebouças, Lélia Gonzales and Beatriz Nascimento;
3) to claim the history of the union of black movements and their understanding of society in the mid-twentieth century, as well as the most interesting aspects of Brazilian social thought regarding the problem of post-slavery black people;
4) make more radical use of the new vocabulary of resistance that emerged in the XNUMXst century and the culture, erudition, sophistication, esteem and undeniable influence of those who enunciate it (Bell Hooks emphasized the importance of the black intelligentsia, the female in particular, to take a public position on the problems of racism);
5) we need to get out of the ideological trap that it doesn’t matter to us blacks right or left (this only favors the elite/class and the white right and their political, economic and racial projects: they know who their gravediggers are) and think of ways and ways of incorporating ourselves into leftist movements, groups and initiatives to empower them, because without that they themselves will not leave where they are,
6) and it is urgently necessary in this sense to outline a program of radical political action collectively.

Just as in the context of slavery and throughout all cycles of Brazilian history, the ruling classes and elites understood who they were fighting against and what risks they ran with black resistance, today they also know it: the murder of Marielle Franco by parastatal forces ( what Gramsci called the division of labor of repression and violence against subordinates between fascist bands and the State) that form the steel circle that governs the country today and the symbolic-political meaning that the phrase of Hamilton Mourão, military vice president of the republic enunciates, that is, that the problem in Brazil is the “malandragem of the blacks” are the fatal demonstration of this.

You have to put a stop to this. The elite and the white, rich and proprietary class will not stop exterminating us and our black and black children and young people who still do not have a voice. Either we face Mourão, Bolsonaro, their police and militiamen or very soon (right now) we will be mourning the death of another black man, another subordinate. And despite the differences in social formation, the recent radical manifestations of blacks (and leftist forces) in the United States can inspire us greatly. We only have our chains to lose as Maia said, the chains of racism that held João Pedro and that holds us by making our body, the black body, the killable body available to the Brazilian white elite/ruling class and its murderous state. And if we don't reach heaven (an abstraction or utopia some people would say) – we will have our black body to continue the fight for a society free from oppression.

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

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