What does 2013 tell us?

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By JEAN TIBLE*

June shows a series of paths and makes room for new practices and political alliances

A frequent way of approaching and analyzing protests, here and elsewhere, is to establish a kind of tribunal, from above, of their (immediate) results. This means, in the Brazilian context (but we could also say in the Chilean, Egyptian, Syrian or many others), decreeing the failure or defeat of the demonstrations, or even their favoring of the extreme right. I perceive this position of judgment as mistaken and, moreover, conservative and bad for thinking-fighting.

Long term

The episode of Mao Zedong responding that it is still too early to talk about the effects of the French Revolution is well known. There is another version of this episode, mentioning a translation/understanding problem: the question would be about 1968 and not 1789. Such divergence, however, does not influence the purpose here, which is to highlight the long duration of certain disruptions.

At the beginning of 1848, when the young militants Marx and Engels threw into the world the Communist Manifesto, despotism dominates Europe. We don't know if the partners prophesied it, but in the following weeks all the continent's tyrannies falter. A few months later, the situation is one of general restoration. But what prevailed in the long run, dynastic legitimacy, popular sovereignty or the self-determination of peoples? These clashes are still ongoing, but the developments indicate a much more complex situation than hurried assessments shortly after the event.

If the classic understanding of revolution rhymed, for a long time, with the seizure of power by a force of transformation (of politics and economy, of society and culture), dialoguing with Immanuel Wallerstein, anthropologist David Graeber (2015 [2013]) understands -as changes to basic assumptions about politics. What is understood by politics changes, globally, in these processes and, thus, perspectives that were extremely minority quickly became common sense – people's participation, equality policies, new collective subjects.

The common winds of the Haitian Revolution (Scott, 2018 [1986]), but also of so many others (American, Russian, Mexican or Cuban), blew (and still blow) across the globe. These revolutions took place in these countries, but also in the planet as a whole, influencing and inspiring, in different intensities, other points. Others, like those of 1848 or 1968, occur almost simultaneously in dozens of countries. A displacement is also produced when imagining it in the footsteps of feminism or abolitionism as movements that cause profound moral mutations – slow, acting mainly outside the formal political system, with direct actions and thickening a political-cultural broth, but whose effects are lasting.

Direction

The cycle of protests that started in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia at the end of 2010, in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, brings a blunt message: “stability is dead” (Invisible Committee, 2016 [2014]). It is in this context that a political earthquake shakes Brazil in June 2013. Millions of people – overflowing divisions, sectors and areas – take to the streets without any centralized coordination. Unprecedented fact, shakes and transforms the country.

The preceding decade is marked by the rise of tens of millions (and debates over their interpretations). Almost everywhere, disputes also took place in the streets and not just in institutions, Brazil being an exception. In addition to connecting it to the cycle of global revolts, the Jornadas de Junho open a parallel with 68 (Mexico City, Dakar, Berkeley, Nanterre, Córdoba, Tokyo, Rio and São Paulo) if we think about the role of new university students: in Brazil their numbers exploded in previous years, constituting a ferment for revolt — new existential possibilities for these young workers confronted with a wall of diminishing opportunities.

These fights are, of course, not a bolt from the blue; they have a history and a memory. One of the sparks is the struggle for transportation, with the traditional breakdown of trams in Brazilian cities due to the increase in ticket prices. In the first half of the 2000s, the Buzu revolts in Salvador and the two Catraca revolts in Florianópolis broke out. Hence, the Free Pass Movement (MPL) was born, influenced by the Zapatista experience and the anti-globalization movement.

In 2011 and 2012, other mobilizations preceded the explosion, such as the wildcat strikes by the dam builders of Jirau and Santo Antônio and the broad solidarity with the Guarani and Kaiowá. A few weeks before they break out nationally, the indigenous occupation of the Congress plenary takes place, the Bloco de Lutas in Porto Alegre and the struggles for transport in Goiânia and Natal, in addition to the organization of the Popular Committees for the World Cup. There was, therefore, a whole more subterranean broth — in many ways not visible to conventional lenses — that was developing in that period.

Fear, generally felt by common people (due to their permanent vulnerability, in several senses), undergoes a mutation with the event: the powers that be begin to feel it. The owners of power and money were afraid in those days and this reveals a truth of democracy, that power belongs to those from below who cede it to the State, constituting the social contract. These moments of eruption show whose power is not exercised, and at that moment it becomes so. Hence the great richness of these events, and we cannot forget the “crazy days” of June (between the 13th and the 20th – between the eruption and the reduction in tariffs), when everything seemed to run away – and it did – from any control, like , for example, on the 17th, in the capture of the roof of the Congress in Brasília and in the Battle of ALERJ (Jourdan, 2018).

The detonation opens a new political cycle and from then on all actors and sectors of Brazilian society are forced to reposition themselves — this applies to the right, left and center, companies, banks and agribusiness, indigenous and black movements; everyone is questioned by the 2013 event. For better or for worse, it is the end of the moment that the country was living. Stability is over, say the protests, and this end means the sharpening of the distributive conflict, due to the difficulty of continuing the process of reducing inequalities without touching certain material interests upstairs.

The “magic” of Lulism (distributing to the poor without taking from the rich) finds its limit there. A paradox of this in its moderation and in the absence of “structural reforms” lies in the fact that it constitutes a kind of symbolic and concrete overturn. An expansion of life-struggle perspectives, with a series of social policies (Bolsa Família, quotas and expansion of the public university, universalization of electricity), economic (increase in the minimum wage, rural and popular credits), cultural (from thedo in anthropology” by Gilberto Gil), participation mechanisms and new links with the world. These policies catalyze and even change the PT electorate to this day, with electoral realignment and winning the support of the poorest, especially in the Northeast.

On the Brazilian streets in 2013, demands clearly coming from below could be observed: against the bus companies mafia (poor services and high prices, no transparency regarding costs and profits), police violence (the other spark of the day 13 in São Paulo and the cries of “where is Amarildo?” in Rio) and for profound improvements in public education and health. These agendas are strengthened after the huge demonstrations. They had, however, been left aside by the left in the government (despite the proposal of zero tariffs in transport being, for example, a formulation originally in the PT, in the management of Luiza Erundina in the São Paulo City Hall).

This also applies to issues that are very important, for example, to the black, indigenous and transfeminist movements, generally ignored by society as a whole and largely by the left, such as the war on drugs and certain people and collectivities. Revolts, permanent and uninterrupted, gain greater visibility; just as transportation increases were revoked in over a hundred cities, it was possible to claim and win in other fields.

The floodgates open, or rather are opened. The number of strikes skyrockets according to Dieese: from less than a thousand in 2012 to more than two thousand in 2013 (the highest number since the beginning of the count in the 1980s), covering sectors generally less prone to strikes, such as the food industry, security or urban cleanliness (SAG-DIEESE, 2015). Guilherme Boulos tells that the MTST was not realizing the longing for occupation that took over the outskirts of São Paulo in those weeks. In Rio, which will remain mobilized for months (during World Youth Day, Ocupa Cabral and the teachers' strike), after an attack on a station building, the newspaper The Globe publishes a self-criticism about the support of Globe Organizations to the civil-military coup of 1964. Aldeia Maracanã did not become a parking lot and continued to resist.

June shows a series of paths and makes room for new practices and political alliances: street sweepers' strikes in Rio and a much more forceful Guarani Mbya presence in São Paulo, in a multiplication of acts of repercussion and inspiration since then. Dying the Monument to the Flags red, blocking the Bandeirantes Highway, occupying the Presidency's office for 24 hours or, in particular, resuming the old Kalipety village, in this flowed where today the city lives one of its most beautiful cosmopolitical experiments, of agricultural and political crops (Keese dos Santos, 2021).

Reaction

We were then experiencing a record of consecutive presidential elections and a certain economic growth with income distribution. For the members of the PT government, everything was going well in terms of indicators (with low unemployment and rising wages), however, like other historical moments and against certain conservative expectations, better living conditions generate more struggles and not accommodation. What would be a kind of coronation (thinking about the World Cup and the Olympics) of a project is laid bare by the protests, making explicit the strong weaknesses of this process of changes: a low-scale democracy (violence, limited participation, repression of demonstrations, genocide of the black youth, ethnocide of indigenous peoples) with its contradictory alliances and the undemocratic power of large companies and banks.

The bet on a powerful Brazil connects the support to the so-called national champions and the holding of these great events. Between, on the one hand, promoting mega-companies with money from public banks and giving them international projection and, on the other hand, financing the hosting of business-sports competitions, with removals of communities, gentrification of cities and sports and dubious investments. And, also, its fiasco, whether in telecommunications (judicial recovery of the company Oi), in the concentration in the meat market (JBS Friboi and its first place in the world as a food processor), or in the bankruptcy of Eike Batista's Grupo X, for first, and the lack of a substantive legacy for the population with regard to the second. This gains another relief with the irruption.

Why has this broth given, for now, more in lost opportunities? First, the pole of the left, which ended up becoming more – shall we say – behaved, led by the PT, but which includes other organizations such as the CUT, the MST, and the feminist and black movements more linked to the cycle of struggles that began in the final period of the dictatorship.

The party controls, in 2013, the executives with two of the most important public budgets (of the Union and of the largest city in the country). His cadres at the head of these administrations, however, stuck to technocratic perspectives. Mayor Fernando Haddad was opposed to Junho, which is curious, since his campaign for City Hall the previous year spoke of a new time and this one could connect with what emerged more forcefully, but the spirit did not recognize the body incarnating in the streets and rejected it.

Dilma Rousseff, as president, proposed five pacts (one of them being the important Mais Médicos program and the other “fiscal responsibility” – austerity at a time like this?) and made an interesting gesture (and perhaps unprecedented in this global cycle) by receiving some demonstrators at the Palace. However, as MPL militants said at the end of the meeting, there was no real talk or intention to take into account what had been proposed on the streets. Despite growing dissatisfaction, Dilma will even be re-elected the following year, as the opposition, represented in the second round by Aécio Neves, presented a pre-June and even pre-Lulismo project.

Deep down, once the most immediate storm had passed, the PT world “touched life”. The consequences were tragic for the movement, for the party and for the country. The PT did not know how to win; it contributed decisively, but it was not able to strip itself of the state perspective and deepen the conquests even when the streets pointed to it and changed the correlation of forces. More: maybe it caused a short circuit by promoting new subjectivities and not going deeper, opening a flank for reaction.

The other pole, an autonomous left, including dozens of organizations and sensibilities, unfortunately, did not cope with the openings of June either. The MPL, one of its expressions, set Brazil on fire, set a fundamental theme for the working class, managed to include it as a social right in the Constitution and, above all, helped in the emergence of a new radical political imaginary, but failed to articulate the fight against the transportation turnstile for the other fences that plague society. Nor was it able to take advantage of that moment to dialogue with the population on a more continuous basis, in the sense of building new connections and fostering everyday organizations (but is this perhaps too much of a “demand” for a set of small collectives of a few dozen people?).

Many people, especially after the 13th of June, took part in demonstrations for the first time and mobilized non-politicised arguments about corruption, moralistic arguments about “violence” (the National Journal on June 20 is impressive for the number of times the presenters insist on the supposed opposition between peaceful majority protesters and minority vandals) and catchable green-and-yellow symbols. the documentary with vandalism, by Coletivo Nigeria, portrays this process in Fortaleza, but isn't it precisely the role of those who want to transform, convince and win more people? Somehow, the lefts are surprised by 2013 and these lost gaps are tragic and open spaces for the extreme right (we remember Walter Benjamin speaking of fascism as the result of a failed revolution).

Five years later, a candidate who celebrates the death machine (repudiated in that year's demonstrations) is elected, in a process full of illegalities (coup, Lula's arrest) and demagogically placing himself as alien to a political system in turmoil and with low legitimacy. . As the institutional policy does not take into account the event of 2013, its crisis deepens and we are approaching the sinister scenario.

June, in its questioning of the representatives, opened a new political cycle and the left (more akin to the plural messages of the streets) did not know how to take advantage of the new fissures: the strategy opened by the disruption did not find the tactical virtue of the organizations. The opportunistic foundation of Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL) copies the sound of MPL, somehow stealing an acronym and a symbol, just like Vem pra Rua. Both, within the scope of the (extreme) right, try to correspond to this yearning.

The year 2013 becomes – curiously, both for the extreme right and for a good part of the left, albeit with inverted signs – the starting point of a conservative wave. It is no use, however, to blame the Globe and the conservatives (or US sectors) who disputed the course of the protests, after having supported their repression. Later demonstrations against Dilma Rousseff began shortly after the contestation of the 2014 result by the defeated candidate and strengthened in the following two years, leading to the impeachment.

Anyone can see, however, that this is a different audience, much richer, older and whiter than that of 2013. Surprisingly, a right that had not faced the street for decades knew better how to position itself after the explosion, while for the lefts, or, at least for some of them, 2013 may have remained as a kind of trauma.

Repression

June puts the ruthless apparatus in check. The disappearance and murder of Amarildo Dias de Souza, a bricklayer and resident of Rocinha, has a very strong impact. Indigenous struggles, as we have seen, herald the rebellion, including the battle against the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. The usual repression is, at this moment, vehemently contested: cries for the end of the Military Police echo everywhere.

The murder of Marielle Franco, within the framework of the military intervention in Rio, on March 14, 2018, can be read as an attempt to close what had opened up, by taking the life of an embodied symbol of the new emerging subjectivities. By not dealing more forcefully with our colonial wounds (genocide of young black people, ethnocide of Amerindian peoples and immoral inequalities), these pendencies of justice that permeate all generations since the beginning of what we call Brazil, this goes against the political- creative that was ongoing.

When considering this decisive aspect, the disagreement between the PT and the protests becomes even more acute (which is clearly expressed in the anti-terrorism law, approved in the final moment of the Dilma government). A broad reaction is articulated and the Brazilian State strengthens “all its instruments to repress and silence dissenting voices” (Article 19, 2018). Mechanisms are improved from the irruption and the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary powers converge and collaborate in the coercive state agenda, in the context of major events, secondary occupations and political and economic crises. New weapons (more sophisticated and varied) and tactics (such as wrapping), filming and surveillance, infiltration (as in the case of Balta Nunes, from the Army) and federative articulation.

This set evidences concerted actions to restrict the founding right to protest. The Federal Government did not stop this process, on the contrary. Not braking this machine was a tremendous mistake. Brazil figures in the top positions in data on the execution of militants (alongside Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines), in a certain public-private policy of selective assassinations (especially in matters related to land) of key people for having a country (and one planet) with dignity for all. Dismantling this repressive apparatus should be a fundamental task for any government that seeks change. But when the MPL discussed, in the meeting at the Planalto Palace with the president in the heat of the demonstrations, the question of the regulation of less lethal weapons: silence.

Joy

Let us hear the voices, screams and whispers of protesters. “Finally breathe! Metalworkers strike” (Weil, 1996 [1936], p. 119). Thus Simone Weil begins her account of the experience of a wave of occupations, during the French government of the Popular Front in 1936.

The strike is a joy. The writer, who was a worker at Renault, insists on that word, which is repeated a dozen times on a single page. Joy as soon as you enter the factory, allowed by a smiling worker; being with everyone together, eating, talking, when before there was loneliness of each one holed up in their machine. Joy in hearing music, singing and laughter instead of the pitiless rumble of equipment; now they beat in the human rhythm (breathing, heart beats) and not in the cadence of the chronometer. Joy of passing in front of bosses with your head held high, recalling Spinoza-Deleuze, for whom “sadness serves tyranny and oppression” and generates impotence – unlike joy, which activates (Deleuze, 1981, p. 76).

Such affection is ubiquitous in the reports of people in motion. That's what happened in Egypt in the first month of 2011. Everything is reversed in Tahrir Square (and in the country): there, the services that were supposedly before, supposedly, in the buildings that surround it are guaranteed; the upside-down world, in which, “instead of being watched, citizens scrutinize the regime” (Weizman, Fischer and Moafi, 2015, p. 44), resisting camel attacks by Mubarak supporters and mercenaries and bombs of gas and shots by the repressive forces. A joy to be together, cultivating and creating – one participant will say that he never in his life felt so much love as in the square, being the happiest moments of his life (Ghonim, 2012, p. 264 and 290). New beings emerge these days, led by young people, but with people of all conditions, religions and ages; a million living other existences, says another witness (El Aswany, 2011, p. 17-19).

The limitations of these explosions are not few (ephemerality, inconstancy, effectiveness) and the difficulties of inventing, concretely, new political communities, their affective infrastructures and common rules, in the total countercurrent of the state-capital-colonial machine and its individualist values, are immense . Furthermore, in so many places where there has been an eruption, the counterrevolution is gaining the upper hand.

In the emblematic Egyptian case, two presidents are overthrown, but a third arrives, from the same Armed Forces as the first, also the main political and economic force in the country. Massacres continue to occur. The inertia, however, was broken and “when we say 'the revolution failed' we are leaving aside something fundamental” (El-Tamami, 2016), even if insufficient, such as the explosion of humor and imagination of the handmade posters, of the murals and, above all, the relationships built there and the possibilities, betting on a change in people-collectivities that will bear fruit.

What does 2013 claim, the Brazilian process of a global phenomenon, a decade later? What impossible demands are not, because movements can stop and take over the city, questioning society and wresting conquests from power. The tariff for an essential service was lowered, priority was given to public transport and the utopia of zero tariffs was discussed (implemented in some cities and in greater numbers on election days in the following years), in addition to putting the police in check. (for a short time). And this openness is fundamental to face the pressing challenges of having a real democracy: the energy of those days is inspiring to face our absolute urgencies: obscene social and racial inequality, recurrent murders, mass incarceration, bad food and ecological crisis.

And this is where another paradox of 2013 appears. Although a negative assessment of the protests predominates on the left, it would be unimaginable without them the presence of figures (and their historical agendas) in the ministry of Lula's third government, such as Sonia Guajajara, Silvio Almeida, Anielle Franco or the return of Marina Silva? The new batch of indigenous, black and trans women deputies (Célia Xakriabá, Erika Hilton and so many) or the million votes for Boulos? Delicacies and difficulties are equally accentuated, as a friend (André Luzzi) reminded me the other day, if we think that two important government actors from June 2013 in São Paulo are now vice president and finance minister of that same government…

2013 deserved and deserves to blossom, in order to “not trample the time proper to the creative imagination, to avoid the risk of interrupting the germination of a world”. James Baldwin, in another context, speaks of the danger of not contaminating ourselves with the event, because “every attempt we would make to oppose these explosions of energy would lead to signing our death sentence” (Baldwin, 1963, p. 99) . Could he be talking about recent Brazil? From the waste of a collective power of these revolts that “devote power to impotence” (Comitê Invisível, 2016 [2014], p. 89)?

The decree of defeat, above, mentioned at the beginning, is somewhat impotent and, moreover, loses an epic aspect of the fight. This, from a protest perspective, is not an option, but the core of dignity in the face of uninterrupted war or, according to a long lineage, as formulated by the Zapatistas, when announcing their recent trip to Europe: “we will tell the people of Spain […] who did not conquer us” (CCRI-EZLN, 2021, p. 282).

Revolt, Albert Camus conceives, is “one of the essential dimensions” of existence, “our historical reality”. It fulfills, in our “everyday ordeal”, the same “role that I 'cogito' in the realm of thought: it is its first evidence […]. I revolt, therefore we are”. History is thus apprehended as “the sum of its successive revolts”. Politics and invention: his “profound logic is not that of destruction”, but that of creation. In its reasons for being, the uprising manifests a “crazy generosity”, which gives “its strength of love and rejection […] of injustice. Your honor is not to calculate anything.” It constitutes, for the Franco-Algerian writer, “the very movement of life and which we cannot deny without giving up living. Its purest scream, each time, makes a being stand up. It is then love and fecundity or it is nothing” (Camus, 1951, p. 37-38; 141; 356; 379-80). The existential struggle, life-struggle.

The protest is.

*Jean Tible is a professor of political science at USP. Author, among other books, of Wild Politics (Glac editions & n-1 editions).

Originally published on New Moon Newsletter.

References

ARTICLE 19 BRAZIL. 5 years of June 2013: how the three powers intensified their articulation and sophisticated mechanisms for restricting the right to protest in the last 5 years. (2018).

BALDWIN, James. “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind.” In: The Fire Next Time. London, Michael Joseph, 1963.

CAMUS, Albert. The rebellious man. Paris, Gallimard, 1951.

CCRI-EZLN. "A mountain on the high seas". In: Mariana Lacerda and Peter Pál Pelbart (Org.). A whale on the mountain. São Paulo, n-1 editions, 2021.

INVISIBLE COMMITTEE. to our friends. São Paulo, n-1 editions, 2016 [2014].

DELEUZE, Gilles. Spinoza: philosophie practice. Paris, Les Editions de Minuit, 1981.

EL ASWANY, Alaa. Chronique de la révolution egyptienne. Paris, Actes Sud, 2011.

EL-TAMAMI, Wiam. “Egipto (I): Between fear and challenge, a country on the move”. Alexia Magazine, November 8, 2016.

GRAEBER, David. A democracy project: a history, a crisis, a movement. São Paulo, Paz e Terra, 2015 [2013].

GHONIM, Wael. Revolution 2.0: the power of the people is greater than the people in power. Boston, Mariner Books, 2012.

JOURDAN, Camilla. 2013: memories and resistances. Rio de Janeiro, Circuit, 2018.

KEESE DOS SANTOS, Lucas. Xondaro's avoidance: movement and political action among the Guarani Mbya. São Paulo, Elephant, 2021.

SAG-DIEESE. “Balance of strikes in 2013”. Studies and Research, no. 79, December 2015.

SCOTT, Julius S. The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution. London, Verse, 2018 [1986].

WEIL, Simone. “The life and strike of metallurgists” (June 10, 1936). In: Ecléa Bosi (Org.). The working condition and other studies on oppression. São Paulo, Peace and Land, 1996.

WEIZMAN, Eyal; FISHER, Blake; MOAFI, Samaneh. The Roundabout Revolutions. Critical Spatial Practice 6. Berlin, Stenberg Press, 2015.

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