Who's afraid of fire?

Image: Sebastian Sorensen


The fire at the Borba Gato statue and the fight for Bolsonaro Out

“The proletariat produces arms, transports them, builds the arsenals in which they are deposited, defends these arsenals against itself, serves in the army and creates all its equipment. It is not locks or walls that separate the weapons of the proletariat, but the habit of submission, the hypnosis of class domination, the nationalist poison. It is enough to destroy these psychological walls and no stone wall will stand” (Trotsky, Where is France going?).

Fifteen days later, it continues to reverberate, with all sorts of controversies, what was the main political fact of the 24th of July: the fire at the Borba Gato statue, in São Paulo. The action took place on the same day scheduled for the fourth major national act by Fora Bolsonaro. However, curiously, little has been reflected in the analyzes of the 24J the impact of this action and what it reveals about the ongoing struggle to overthrow the genocide in power. Here are some reflections.

 fire in the wound

The fire at the Borba Gato statue was not a bolt of lightning in a blue sky. Last year, the biggest black uprising in the history of the United States took place after the murder of George Floyd, playing a decisive role in the electoral defeat of Donald Trump and the outbreak of black resistance, indigenous peoples and anti-colonialist struggles around the world. In 2020, protesters in Chile, which is undergoing a profound process of institutional rupture, damaged 329 statues of colonizers. In June of this year, in Colombia, demonstrators tore down the statue of Christopher Columbus and wrote “for our dead” under his head. In Charlottesville, in July of this year, two statues were removed by the city. One of them was the statue of General Robert E. Lee, a symbol of black American slavery, which has become a rallying point for white supremacists, the place where a woman was killed in a racial clash four years ago. And just like these, racist statues have been at the center of debate in Great Britain, Belgium, Denmark and other countries.

There are those who say that “Brazil is not the USA”, a truism, to minimize the impact of the black uprising in our country. However, it is not about quantifying how many took to the streets in anti-racist acts in Brazil in 2020, but understanding the impact on awareness provided by the recognition that our country is racist. In the country of the myth of racial democracy, the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, it is no exaggeration to say that the greatest wound in our history was opened. For this reason, we feel vindicated and are thrilled with the fire at the Borba Gato statue.

No wonder, the following week white supremacist groups reacted by destroying the tribute to Marielle Franco and the monument to Carlos Mariguella, in São Paulo. No wonder, the fire on the statue provoked a quick reaction that led to the arrest of Galo, known as a member of the Anti-Fascist Deliverers movement, Biu and Géssica, detained for two days without any justification. A political prison, which manifests the position of institutions for the preservation of a collective memory that praises murderers and rapists as “breakthrough heroes” in the imagination of São Paulo. Galo's arrest, now five days old, is even more shocking when compared to the impunity in the face of countless symbolic and vital acts of violence still practiced today: the murder of Marielle Franco, still unanswered; impunity in the face of the massacre that took place in Jacarezinho, the murder of Kathlen and the many other innocent lives that were taken.

The passage above Trotsky, in Where is France going? comes to demystify all vulgarization that belittles the importance of subjectivity in the name of Marxism. More than that, in his words, “it is enough to destroy these psychological walls” (… the habit of submission, the hypnosis of class domination…) “that no stone wall will resist”. It is evident that our fight also takes place in the symbolic field, since the character of revolutionary activity is ultimately subjective: we do not dispute things, but the conscience of people who have ways of life, values ​​and customs engendered by the dominant ideology. A materialist, historical and dialectical analysis of our reality cannot disregard this act of insubordination as a thermometer of the conscience of a black and peripheral youth, which today is prominently the vanguard of our class (like the 13M carried out by the black movement, opening the way to retake the streets on the left). A thermometer of a time when a unique – and false – story about the formation of our country is no longer acceptable.

It is not surprising that among the Brazilian intelligentsia there are those who were horrified by the action. Gilberto Maringoni, for example, called on his social networks for progressive sectors to disallow “any connection with the mazorca”, as the extreme right will take advantage of the event “of pure vandalism”. Leonardo Avritzer, professor at UFMG, evokes the controversy of more than a century about “the mistakes of violent political action” [https://aterraeredonda.com.br/bastilha-e-borba-gato/] – already very well answered by Vladimir Safatle [https://aterraeredonda.com.br/por-favor-da-proxima-vez-facam-uma-nota-de-repudio/] – arguing that violence (read protesting the symbol of violence) is incompatible with democratic politics. Rodrigo Perez, professor at UFBA, argues [https://revistaforum.com.br/rede/pra-que-isso-paulo-galo/] that the action alienates workers and categorizes it as “identitarianism” because “the worker does not have time to get involved in symbolic disputes”. In these three cases there is a notable separation between form and content, with most of the texts not having a single line about the slave-owning past that perpetuates the unequal Brazil of the present and, when there is, such memory is subordinated to criticism of the tactics used.

The fire on the Borba Gato statue was a radical action not because it used fire, which can be identified in several other tactics, but because it actually touched the root of the problem. According to Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe, “These statues celebrate, every morning of our lives, the fact that, in colonial logic, waging war on “inferior races” was necessary for the progress of “civilization””. Therefore, the action against the statue suggests a break with the celebration of the colonial and racist history of our country, opening an acute reflection on what is behind hunger, unemployment, death by the militias or by the bullet of the State that devastates the black and indigenous population.

If the purpose of the Peripheral Revolution movement was to open a debate in Brazilian society about what it means to maintain a thirteen-meter statue that celebrates a history of genocide, this debate was opened. It is up to us to place ourselves on the right side of this dispute, paving the way so that, as in our neighboring countries, we will soon be a mob tearing down the symbols of our own oppression. The first step towards this task is the uncompromising struggle for the release of Galo, providing all our support and solidarity.

Overthrowing Bolsonaro before 2022 is necessary and possible

Bolsonarism, unlike many so-called progressive intellectuals, does not despise the symbolic struggle to build its project for the country. The tribute to the jagunços, farmers' armed henchmen, made by SECOM on Farmer's Day, walks alongside the timeframe proposed by PL 490, which will be analyzed by the Constitution and Justice Commission (chaired by Bolsonarist deputy Bia Kicis, from the PSL) and submitted to Congress later this month.

The timeframe violates the Federal Constitution, according to which indigenous lands are in their permanent and inalienable possession, and the rights of indigenous peoples over them are essential. PL 490 represents a historic setback not only because it calls into question all the hard-won demarcations after the 1988 Constitution, but also because it allows the opening of indigenous reserves for economic production by third parties and ends the right of isolated peoples to maintain non-contact as a measure of self-preservation. Thus, PL 490 paves the way for the image of the armed jagunço to gain legitimacy in the real world, where indigenous people are exterminated and our forests are devastated in broad daylight.

Crimes against indigenous peoples are among the others that have placed us in this moment of profound social crisis. Although the month of July recorded a drop in cases and deaths from the coronavirus, we are still at the frightening mark of more than a thousand deaths per day. Despite having advanced immunization, those vaccinated with two doses in Brazil are still tiny 13,7%. We continue to experience unemployment that reaches 20 million people among unemployed and discouraged and abusive prices of fuel and food. With the reduction in emergency aid since the beginning of this year, Brazil is once again making leaps in the ranking of world inequality and we know that at the base of our pyramid are black people and indigenous peoples, disproportionately affected by hunger, violence and the dismantling of public services. It is hard to believe that, for this sector, a year of waiting until the elections to – who knows – have some improvement in their living conditions is the most feasible way out.

In recent weeks we have seen two movements that point to the government's moment of greater fragility and, at the same time, its strategy of radicalization. On the one hand, the crisis continues at the heights and this time the military loses the most, after the replacement of General Luiz Eduardo Ramos by Senator Ciro Nogueira (PP), leader of Centrão, in the Civil House ministry. The Centrão coup makes Bolsonaro increasingly hostage to the physiologism that he fought so hard in his election campaign, being forced to give his narrative a 180-degree turn. This occurs at a time of greater demoralization of the Armed Forces in view of the involvement of the military in the vaccine overpricing scandal, placing them alongside those who profited from the more than 500 deaths from COVID-19.

On the other hand, as a measure of desperation, Bolsonaro is again inflaming his bases with coup threats, using the farce of the printed vote to delegitimize the Brazilian electoral system and prepare the ground for a questioning of the electoral result in 2022, in the image and likeness of the that made American trumpism. Thus, Bolsonaro has spent fortunes of public money to carry out his motociatas and, last weekend, he called for demonstrations in defense of the printed vote that mobilized less than previous Bolsonarist acts and incomparably less than what has mobilized the left for the overthrow of the government. .

Bolsonarism’s radicalization strategy is permanent and goes beyond the electoral dispute, as its project is fascist and the photo with the neo-Nazi German deputy last week is yet another of the countless signs of its counterrevolutionary aspirations. If it is true that we cannot belittle the enemy, it is also true that we cannot attribute to him a strength greater than what he actually has. Therefore, recognizing this moment of fragility should in no way serve to conclude that Bolsonaro and his project are defeated, much less that he is no longer a threat. It serves, first of all, to recognize that its defeat is not just a desire or a need, but a possible task.

No step back!

Right now, we are in a race against time. In recent months, a more favorable situation has opened up for the left, with the formation of a social majority opposed to Bolsonaro, the return of street demonstrations and the deepening of the political crisis. However, the government continues to be very advantageous, especially for the financial market, represented by Paulo Guedes, a sector that continued to make exorbitant profits despite the economic crisis. In addition, the opening of an impeachment process sets precedents for a new institutional crisis, which is unlikely to be done in an election year. Therefore, considering the “height crisis”, the highest probability of opening an impeachment process is this year. It is not a question of being held hostage to the intra-bourgeois dispute, but denying it would also be a mistake. It is with this level of urgency that we should reflect on the direction of our struggle over the next three or four months.

The 24J was the fourth national day of mobilization for Fora Bolsonaro in two months, and, again, we were thousands in the streets. First, it is important to recognize the size of this achievement. Not even before the pandemic were there mobilizations for two months with the scale of at least 20 demonstrators in the streets of the largest capitals. The 24J was the most internalized act so far, reaching more than 500 cities and with great international solidarity. For everyone who carried out agitation and mobilization activities in the cities for the construction of the acts, the change in the population's mood is also perceptible. However, after the fourth act on Sunday, a feeling of insufficiency hovers between us. Press coverage was timid and the next day there was no longer any mention in the major newspapers that thousands of Brazilians had protested for the immediate impeachment of Jair Bolsonaro.

Many, today, question the effectiveness of the demonstrations that have already become weekend “tours”. The burning of the Borba Gato statue, in turn, brings us tactical reflections: radicalized actions can play a progressive role in the development of the class struggle, if they have mass support. Our struggle is for the majority, which is why the tendency for the vanguard to divorce from the class as a whole must be fought. We are not supporters of "I told you so". However, if the legitimacy of tearing down racist statues were just a matter of a tiny avant-garde, it would not find echo in the bourgeois press itself, reflecting the strength that this debate has gained worldwide. In addition, the action poses a decisive question of a programmatic nature: what is the place of the anti-racist struggle in our dispute for another country project? At a time when Bolsonarism puts the militia state, institutionalized genocide and white supremacy on the table, how can we respond if not starting from the radicalization of our own emancipation project? Emancipation for a majority that has class, color, gender and a history of dispossession to be repaired.

This self-critical reflection must place the fight for Galo's liberation as a priority task, being part of the dispute in society against racist symbols in front of those who have genocides as heroes. The outcome of this battle will say a lot about the current correlation of forces. This month, the important Fight for Life camp of indigenous peoples will also take place from August 22nd to 28th in Brasilia against PL490, a struggle that must receive full support and solidarity. Also in August there will be a series of other mobilizations, such as Student Day (11), the third Breque dos APPs (11) and the national day of civil service stoppages (18).

The National Campaign Fora Bolsonaro has played a very important role so far, but the absence of open spaces for collective elaboration, or excessive control over the conduct of acts, impose real limits. Every mobilization process implies a multiplicity of tactics, a creative capacity that emerges from the struggle itself from the moment that each one makes use of their talents and abilities to the collective cause. There is nothing fairer that the activists who are part of this process of struggle are also part of the definition of its directions: are weekend acts the best tactic? How to expand the call for mobilizations? Is the demonstration format with sound car and speeches the best? How to organize our self-defense? These and many other fair reflections must be made openly and widely. Identifying the limits of this construction has the main objective of taking a step forward, strengthening the unity of our very diverse class, to respond to the height of the necessary reckoning with the past.

*Vanessa Monteiro is a Master's student in Anthropology at UFF.


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