“Please make a disclaimer next time”

Image: Action Group


Reply to Leonardo Avritzer's article

It was with astonishment that I received the article by Leonardo Avritzer [“Bastille and Borba Gato”] about my text in defense of the action against the statue of Borba Gato, made by the collective Movimento Periférica. I say “astonishment” because I believe it is significant an article that, in the face of flagrant arbitrariness committed against popular leaders involved in the action, considers it best to put itself in the position of someone who questions “whether the use of violence as a method is the correct language of political dispute”.

So Avritzer saw fit to write an article in which no mention is made of the arbitrary arrest of an app delivery man and his wife, no expression of solidarity and indignation is shown. Rather, there is only one judgment, largely caricatured, regarding the abstract refusal of “violence as a method”. I think that says a lot.

We could start by asking: which violence is the object of criticism in your article? The violence of the Brazilian State when arresting demonstrators who set fire around a statue that celebrates slavery and colonial violence? The violence of having to live with a statue that represents an armed bandeirante, that is, armed against Amerindians and enslaved blacks? The violence of seeing a hunter of men and women celebrated? No. What frightens him is the “method” used by those who set fire to a symbol of armed violence that occupies public space.

After all, perhaps a petition, a note of repudiation, or something whose effectiveness, in Brazil and in the world, has always been shown to be null would be more appropriate. However, it would be the fact of starting by remembering that what Avritzer calls “violence” against a statue that celebrates Brazilian colonial and racist history was the only action capable of opening a real discussion about the memory policy imposed on us by the São Paulo's oligarchic power. This openness that protesters paid for with their arrest and persecution. The action was strategically successful, it achieved what it set out to do and it would not have achieved that if it had done otherwise.

In this sense, it is suggestive that in recent months we have seen statues demolished in Chile, Colombia, the USA, and England for similar reasons and, in none of these cases, have we seen representatives of the progressive camp believe they have the right to teach the popular people about it. of “whether that was the correct language of the political dispute”. When Colombian Amerindians tore down the statue of Sebastián de Belalcázar in a much more “violent” action than the one made against the statue of Borba Gato, no political scientist from the progressive field decided to use quotes from Judith Butler and Hannah Arendt to delegitimize political actions of this nature . Strange phenomena like this only occur in Brazil. Likewise, no one involved in these actions has been arrested, except in Brazil. Perhaps there is a connection between the two facts.

For me, it is symptomatic that, when quoting an excerpt from my article where I say that: “destroying such statues, renaming highways, stopping celebrating historical figures who only represent the brutal violence of colonization against Amerindians and enslaved blacks is the first gesture of construction of a country that will no longer accept being a space managed by a predatory State” Avritzer thought it appropriate to speak of his refusal to “form violence”, a form that would be an expression of “non-politics”.

But if we ask ourselves about, after all, what exactly is the “form of violence” that bothers him, we will see that it is nothing other than simply “destroying statues, renaming highways and stopping celebrating colonial historical figures” because that was the only one he was responsible for. question in my article.

This is just an expression of an elementary problem in political theory. Because Avritzer prefers to act as if he didn't know that democracy does admit situations of dissociation between justice and established law. The history of social struggles for the expansion of rights was made by actions that, from the point of view of established law, were understood as “violent” and “criminal”. Workers in the XNUMXs resorted to the crime of going on strike to fight for rights that would never be won without “violence”, since a strike was then a criminal action. This situation only changed due to the strength of popular mobilization.

Just to take a recent example, on January 6, 2014, the workers of the French branch of the Goodyear industry kidnapped the director of production and the director of human resources for more than one day, as a practice of imposing negotiation. That is, they arrested them in the factory until they were heard. The logic, which proved to be effective, recalled that this was a politically legitimate, and historically widely used, way of acting against a power that will do everything to ignore popular demands. This dramatization of the urgency of injustice is by no means “non-political”, and it is no accident that no one has been arrested or tried for it.

Finally, I would just like to insist on two inadequacies in Avritzer's claims. I do not believe at all that Judith Butler understands an act of symbolic violence against a colonial statue, with no possibility of harm to people, carried out in a place where there are no passers-by, as a non-political form of violence. Not even actions of this scope are in his horizon of defending non-violence. That is, the theoretical support that Avritzer seeks is simply incorrect.

On the other hand, he ends his text by recalling the alleged “incapacity of revolutions based on violence to build democratic forms after the end of the old regimes”. That is one topos classic of conservative thought. However, this presupposes believing that American independence (just to use an example dear to Arendt) was achieved with flowers or as if national liberation processes were the result of a gentleman's agreement.

We can still ask if Avritzer thinks that the reality produced by the Haitian Revolution was “less democratic” than the former slave-owning and murderous regime. In other words, the diagnosis is flawed, in addition to wrongly assuming that the detours of the revolutionary processes are produced, necessarily, by the use of violence against the previous order. As if that were not enough, we can always question whether we know of any effectively democratic political form so far or whether it would be more correct to criticize the authoritarian structures naturalized in the legal provisions of our liberal democracies before criticizing revolutionary processes with their immanent difficulties.

In any case, I could not fail to finish without remembering that Hannah Arendt's statements about revolutionary processes are, in my view, historically mistaken and indefensible, and I am very surprised that she is used in such an unproblematic way in the Brazilian context. Just to stay on one point, according to Arendt, the problem with the French Revolution was that: “Pity, taken as the source of virtue, showed that it possessed a capacity for cruelty greater than cruelty itself: “Par pitié, par amour pour l'humanité, soyez inhumain”: these words, picked up almost at random from a petition by one of the sections of the Paris Commune to the National Convention, are neither gratuitous nor exaggerated; they are the authentic language of piety (...) Since the times of the French Revolution, it was because of this unlimited character of the feelings of revolutionaries that they became so curiously insensitive to reality in general and to the reality of the people in particular, that they had no scruple to sacrifice to his 'principles', to the course of history or to the cause of the revolution as such (...) about the revolution, P. 128).

His criticism is clear in denouncing the allegedly harmful effects of the allegedly abstract desire for social transformation. Love for what can be would always end up killing what is. For a political process that ignores the irreducibility of individuals and their particular systems of interests could only end in annihilating insensitivity to what exists.

However, it would be interesting to start by asking what “insensitivity to the reality of particular people” might actually mean in this context. Because perhaps it would not be in vain to remember how the diagnosis of “insensitivity” changes depending on the perspective we occupy. For why speak of “insensibility” if only the Jacobins were sensitive to slavery, since it was they who abolished it? Why keep talking about insensitivity if only the Jacobins were sensitive to indigence, since they were the ones who registered the indigent providing everyone with an income from the confiscation of the assets of “traitors of the fatherland”? Only they organized medical care for the poor at home.

We could continue these examples extensively in order to problematize what we should, in fact, understand by “insensitivity to people's reality” in this debate. We could even suspect that the real discomfort may come from the fact that revolutionary violence is, at least in this case, directed preferentially at the nobility, the clergy and the aristocracy, and not at the traditional targets of the powers that be. For this violence is not simple destruction, nor state violence with a view to preserving the state. It is a direct action of popular sovereignty against dynamics of restoring the previous order. Problematic or not, consequential or not, it is within this horizon that the problem should be placed. But Avritzer prefers to discuss whether, next time, it wouldn't be better to make a note of repudiation.

*Vladimir Safatle He is a professor of philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Ways of transforming worlds – Lacan, politics and emancipation (Authentic).


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