Who is afraid of working-class self-organization?

Giovanni Battista Piranesi's (1720–1778), The Prisons of the Imagination, 1761.


By setting fire to the uncomfortable statue of Borba Gato, the Peripheral Revolution movement opened the debate on the working class emerging in public debate

“No matter how little you tell the story / I won’t forget you my people / if Palmares doesn’t live anymore / we’ll do Palmares again / Yesterday a distinguished gentleman told me: /– Son, don’t think about those things / (naturally I sent you to hell)” ( Jose Carlos Limeira, quilombos).

“Bandeirantes, Anhanguera, Raposo, Castelo / Are they heroes or executioners? Go see what they did / Putting these guys' names on the road is cruel / It's the same as the Hitler Highway in Israel” (Inquiry, I only ask God).

By symbolically setting fire to the uncomfortable statue of Borba Gato, the Peripheral Revolution movement materialized not only a historical agenda, but the performativity present in many speeches chanted for years by the Black Movements.

On this 24th of July, Brazil witnessed a political action that, as claimed by the group, served to bring to the public debate criticisms of the erection of monuments in honor of characters historically responsible for oppressing working people - slaveholders, industrialists, generals, bureaucrats and statesmen who carried out, directly or indirectly, violence against indigenous peoples and black populations, workers and workers, fighters and social fighters of our Améfrica Ladina.

Some people, dedicated to analyzing the topic, criticized the action, arguing that it was not the best way to achieve the desired ends – that is, the end of racial oppression – since the use of violence would be incapable of promoting any truly democratic social reconstruction. after the “destruction” imposed by force. Some also consider that the exaggerated radical nature of the action would make it difficult for the public to really convince the public of the importance of the agenda.

If these statements came from the other side of the class struggle barricade, Limeira's verses would be able to respond; however, this apparently does not mean that some important facts are not known, which need to be pointed out, since they have been forgotten, with the aim of contributing to a more complete debate.

The first is that the direct action of the group Movimento Periférica is not, by far, the first attempt to discuss the right to memory and truth in relation to the Brazilian racial issue. For years, black intellectuals and militants have pointed out, in speeches, songs, articles and books, that it is urgent to rethink this space of affection and homage to the executioners of our people. Unfortunately, little progress was made, facing the marginalization of their speeches to the point that, even today, it is commonplace to hold debates about the legitimacy of anti-racist demonstrations just by citing white thinkers.

If silenced even in so-called left-wing spaces, the proposal to exchange “violence” for institutional democracy is, structurally, even more limited. It is enough to remember that, today, the legislature has the representation of only 24,5% of black people, compared to a population composed of 56,10% of black men and women.

Even so, in parliament, too, an attempt was made to frame the debate in a “political” way. Federal deputy Talíria Petrone, in November 2019, presented in the Chamber of Deputies Bill of Law nº 5.923/2019, whose objective is the prohibition of tributes through the use of expression, figure, drawing or any other signs related to slavery, as well as as well as people who are notorious participants in the Brazilian eugenics movement by individuals and legal entities governed by public or private law. This bill, as well as another presented on November 27, 2020 by the same deputy (Bill of Law nº 5.296/2020) were attached to Bill of Law nº 4.782/2016 and are awaiting processing in the Culture Commission of the legislative house.

It is true that the movement to withdraw from the space of collective affection, which is also what monuments in public spaces represent, did not start in 2020 with the movement that took place in the Global North due to the terrible case of police violence that victimized George Floyd. “Our steps come from afar” is the watchword of the black movement that is reflected here as well. However, since the case of racism in the USA, the world media has given space to the agenda of structural racism and how much these figures represented for the maintenance of everything as it is.

Taking advantage of this moment, in São Paulo, Congresswoman Érica Malunguinho proposed Bill No. 404/2020 which deals with the prohibition of tributes to slaveholders and also proposes in its article 5 the removal of existing public monuments, statues and busts of slaveholders or historical events linked to the practice of slavery for State Museums.

Now, given the urgency of a political and democratic debate, why are these bills not the target of demonstrations by so many who are outraged by the act carried out in recent days?

Drawing on Lélia Gonzalez – who brings the category of denial to her texts to discuss racism in the Brazilian style – it is observed that in Brazil the “custom” of denying the existence of a real problem continues to prevail, as we deny racism in hope that it disappears, is forgotten or overcome, in a magic pass, through the effective way of delegitimizing contesting people and pointing out its existence directly or indirectly.

Finding more violence in a political act that did not hurt anyone than in years of enslavement, marginalization, precariousness and historical erasure of an entire people would not be, in itself, violence? The use of the expedient of subalternization of the black point of view and the relativization of its historical rebellion, for no other reason, is called by the black movement epistemicide – the erasure, in political discourses recognized as valid, of the crushing oppression that falls on more than half of our population.

One of the Black Movements to talk about this issue recently was the Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Estação Primeira de Mangueira, which at the 2019 Carnival brought in its samba plot “História para Ninar Gente Grande” verses that contest the position of heroes in our capitalist society , colonial, racist and sexist: There is trampled black blood/Behind the framed hero/Women, tamoios, mulattos/I want a country that is not in the picture. By demanding the presence of popular heroes in the portrait – hardworking people, let us never forget – what is discussed is the opposite of the same place of the “official story”, the true story.

And where does the discomfort come from, after all, with the manifestation of the oppressed against a history that excludes them? Bringing Clóvis Moura into the conversation, it is worth remembering what he teaches us: that telling history in Brazil is only allowed if within the boundaries well defined by the dominant classes. The search for true history, for what actually happened outside the lines written by the elites, is, boldly, a direct affront to the interests of the dominant classes.

And here is the crux of the matter: contesting history is not the greatest audacity committed by the group to which Galo belongs, yet another black political prisoner in this country.

Sílvio Almeida has already pointed out – and the powerful realized – that the motivation for this arrest was not the performance, but the potential of the struggle that Galo wages: the problem of the issue does not live in an abstract discussion about the “violent” character of setting fire to a stone statue that is known not to catch fire, but in the one who lights the fire.

With the “modernizations” of Law nº 13.467/17, which put an end to the state counterparts conferred on the unions so that they would remain trapped in the logic of organization limited by category and territory, a contradiction is created that needs and has been explored by the “new classes workers”: despite a weakening of the classic union struggles, a window opens that allows the experience of a first step towards the discussion of true union freedom, as already exposed by Souto Maior (2019).

Despite all the dismantling perpetrated by the Counter-Reform or Labor “Reform”, the act of the Peripheral Revolution shows that the organization of the precarious working class is there, it is inevitable and, overcoming the neoliberal disaggregation, it has a constitution the like of which has not been seen in Brazil for a long time. : stripped of the rigid bureaucracy and based on class solidarity, it is capable of carrying out direct actions that, threatening legality, bring a disruptive power not seen in our left for a long time.

Just as Chico Buarque raises, in Linha de Montanha, about the 1978 metallurgist movement (which, incidentally, was also criminalized), it is not difficult to see that it involves the self-organization of precarious working people – without a recognized bond, without access to minimum civilizing level, exposed to the violent daily life that is peripheral living, mostly black – a new phase of the movement of those who make a living from work in Brazil, a country where debating class is debating race.

It is this crossroads that frightens the dominant classes, and that is why it is part of what we must defend and what we must bet on. Far from thickening the soup of speeches that delegitimize the direct action of the organized working class when it tries to emerge in the public debate, it seems that the role of those specialized in analyzing history is to understand the speech of those whom the capitalist system tries to debase, igniting ideas out of place and refusing erasure.

Greetings and freedom to those who have courage!

* Tainã Góis is a doctoral student in law at USP and policy adviser to the group Mulheres de São Paulo.

*Helena Pontes dos Santos is a Master's student in Law at USP.


MOURA, Clovis. Frictions between History, Knowledge and Power. Principles Magazine, issue 19, November, 1990.

GONZALEZ, Lelia. The cultural political category of Amefricanity. In: Brazilian weather. Rio de Janeiro, No. 92/93 (Jan./June). P. 69-82. 1988.

GONZALEZ, Lelia. For an Afro-Latin American Feminism. Isis International Magazine, Santiago, v.9, p. 133-141, 1988.

SOUTO MAIOR, Jorge Luiz. History of labor law in Brazil: labor law course, volume I, part II. São Paulo, LTr, 2017.

SOUTO MAIOR, Jorge Luiz. Who is afraid of change and freedom of association? Available in: .


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