Rio Grande do Sul – from political to social

Image: Disclosure/ Agência Brasil


The understanding that plural resilience is capable of confronting the hegemonic model in society, based on the ultraliberalism of the war of all against all, is per se a factor in the politicization of the masses

New Yorker Jodi Dean, professor of political theory and feminist theory, in Comrade: an essay on political belonging (Boitempo), studies the affections surrounding political identity, loyalty to the program of overcoming the status quo and the daily brotherhood of those who share revolutionary dreams. The word “comrade” condenses in the treatment what it projects in social relations, making the future present and putting into practice a utopia, here and now.

In the presentation, Christian Dunker highlights: “Under this signifier of resistance, multiple forms of life and identities come together characterized by a common condition, of struggle for equality and solidarity. Communists, socialists, anarchists, cooperativists are all comrades; but although he can be anyone, not everyone can be a comrade. The difference between being equal and desiring in the same direction thus becomes crucial. The comrade is an inducer of the experience of the common, an experience guided by fidelity to a truth”. He has conviction and offers proof.

The Latin etymology of camarade goes back to room, room or vault, the space that establishes the divide between who is inside and who is outside. In French, comrade indicates a barracks, something shared by soldiers. In German, genosse is linked to the verb geniessen, which indicates the collective enjoyment of a property. In Russian, tovarish, comes from tovar, who reports to brothers in the trade. In Chinese, tongzhi replaces the designations of hierarchy and gender with egalitarian vectors. For Slavoj Zizek, “it is the zeroth degree of communism, the presupposition of the new social order”.

until victory

Jodi Dean compares the guy to a crowd. Both have the same substance, an “equal discharge”. Egalitarianism is the password. The difference is that in a crowd the intense vibrations are momentary; in comrades, permanent. This corresponds to an ideal of the self with the expectation of an intervention to modify reality, alongside those who march and sing The International.

“As we fight together for a world free from exploitation, oppression and intolerance, we need to be able to trust and count on each other. The word comrade names this relationship.” The sound that identifies her has an equalizing and anti-hierarchical character, overcoming the differences of sex, race or class that persist in capitalism. Furthermore, it engenders attitudes: (a) discipline; (b) joy; (c) courage and; (d) enthusiasm. Being left-wing, of course, means having commitments to radical transformation. To achieve this, companionship among those who join hands in the struggle is essential. until victory.

The global left's word equivalent to “companion” expresses utopianism. The impression, experienced, that unity in action in anti-capitalist organizations anticipates socialist society is due to the contrast with what is there. The danger lies in minimizing the need for re-education to overcome the barrier of “modern freedom”, focused only on private life.

The political subject

“When people say 'comrade' they change the world.” The statement evokes the short story by Máksim Górki, with the same title, also published by Boitempo. In the story, when the call echoes in a city hostile to the poorest, the vulnerable become aware of their strength and break the shackles of ideological slavery. The scene in which a prostitute feels a hand on her shoulder and, upon hearing the statement, begins to cry is very striking. It signals the moment in which she stops being a sexual object of consumption, to become the political subject of changes in a dismal destiny.

Jodi Dean highlights the transition from melancholy to euphoria, with the quote fromThe Damned of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon, who combines the seminal anti-colonialist work with the ode to those who play the role of midwives from another world: “For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must change our procedure, develop new thinking, put a new man.”

In the continuation, he mentions Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell, which commemorates 1936 Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War with utopian camaraderie. “The servile and ceremonial forms of address had temporarily disappeared. No one else said 'Sir,sun,usted'; everyone called each other 'comrade' and 'you', and they said 'Health!' instead of 'good days”' - a toast.

The Paris Commune

The camaraderie goes beyond brotherhood between brothers. According to Frida Kahlo, it even goes beyond love, alluding to her relationship with Diogo Rivera: “Diogo is no one’s husband and never will be, but he is a great comrade”. Neither blood nor marriage serve as a measure. Neither do inheritances through kinship, which removes the material bond where some need each other. Unity in battle has political connotations; love and friendship express the interpersonal relationship. In polarized situations, politics, love, friendship come into conflict and become fragmented instead of harmonizing.

In 1866, in a text addressed to the International Workers' Association, Marx corroborates the bonds of affection: “It is one of the great purposes of the association to make the workers of different countries not only feel, but also act as comrades in the army of emancipation” . It is not enough to share a political program, for the real praxis transformer

Os Communards of the Paris Commune are equivalent to the “generic comrade”. In an effective popular revolution they were in the same trench, shoulder to shoulder. The term was adopted by socialists at the end of the 19th century, in Germany. In England, it spreads in the sense of Walt Whitman who – on the basis of homosocialism – highlights the close interconnection between complicity and camaraderie. In any period or geography, to be a comrade you have to empathize with the suffering of others. 

Imagination to power

Today, in the totalitarian turmoil of neoliberalism that eclipsed mobilizations and sanctioned hyper-individualism, the market spirit has become universal alongside resentment against a policy of the common good, reduced to a Realpolitik of negotiations in institutionality. It is about fighting for a society that does not consider human beings as a miserable economic fraction, disposable like a pawn in chess, as does the capitalist system and its think tanks to reduce heads with the deregulation of state control bodies over the majesty of the market.

The “phenomenology of affects” reveals the dogmatism of the former CPs and the elision of soviets in the former USSR. If the subjectivity of the generic comrade is undermined by the bureaucracy of the party apparatus, then the bureaucratization process has managed to destroy the bonds of criticism. In its place, a void of thought was created without the aspiration of a new social order. Such a stumble fits with the betrayal of dialectics in the 1930s and the murder of Trotsky. Every deterministic faith in history breaks with open Marxism and emancipatory values, as it suspends individual autonomy.

The future depends on the combination of socialism and democracy. This is the meaning of the sixties slogan l'imagination au pouvoir (imagination to power). This is what distinguishes the true militant. Namely, the “prophet” in the meaning of the biblical First Testament of someone who points out alternative paths to open the morning horizon. The history of political ideas explains the exercise of power through different figures: the prince, the lord, the citizen, the bourgeois, the general, the president. Jodi Dean, by praising the minds and hearts of those who strive for associative, civilizing, post-capitalist ideals, pays homage to the protagonism of an unjustly forgotten subject; yes, comrade.

From political to social

Rio Grande do Sul started Way of the Cross amidst the climate changes affecting Asia and Africa. The neoliberals made a huge contribution to the tragedy: on the part of a governor who follows the predatory path of Bolsonarist misgovernment, in the relaxation of environmental protection laws “to let the herd pass”; and on the part of the mayor of Porto Alegre who turns the environment into a monetizable commodity, in parks. Announced at the International Conferences on Climate, the catastrophe found the floodgates opened in the sad autumn of Rio Grande do Sul, due to Tucano's scientific denialism and the negligence that relegated municipal prevention instruments. 

Result: 458 municipalities affected; 320 in emergency due to partially losing the conditions for institutional response; 46 in calamity, with city halls completely unable to respond to the misfortune, including the Capital and the Metropolitan Region; 500 thousand residents displaced from their homes; 80 thousand in public or improvised shelters – schools and universities, especially Unisinos, which took in 6 thousand helpless creatures. Added to the 155 dead, 90 missing. Mourning flows through the anguished question of a poet: “What now, José? / With the key in your hand / you want to open the door, / the door doesn't exist. / If you got tired / if you died. / But you don’t die, / you’re tough, José!” 

In a loose interpretation, the poem dialogues with the prophecies of José Lutzenberger, founder of the visionary Associação Gaúcha de Proteção ao Ambiente Natural (AGAPAN, 1971) and, also, author of End of the future? Brazilian ecological manifesto (1976). There were warnings about the irrationality of a destructive industrialism, wrapped in the insatiable dynamics of profit. Violence against nature and the disorderly expansion of urban centers, on the banks of rivers and lakes, were harbingers of misfortune.

The federal government and President Lula demonstrate empathy in serving the “new rags”, with concrete measures. Members of the Civil Defense, from Alagoas, bring advanced drones to map risk zones in the rain, with the expertise acquired in the cataclysm caused by the company Brasken, in the extraction of rock salt from the subsoil of Maceió. The people carry out solidarity actions with food, medicines, clothes, towels, hygiene products, sanitary pads, toothbrushes, mattresses, and affection for the surviving victims. The Post Office handles distribution free of charge.

The commotion shakes the parallel reality, which reacts with fake news to disorganize work, cool tempers and spread cognitive confusion. It is in the interest of disavowing the participatory State and solidarity, obstacles to gentrification to expel the poor from coveted locations and deepen privatizations, as part of post-flood reconstruction. Phenomenon analyzed by Naomi Klein, in The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. With their financial consultancies, friends of opportunity accumulation foresee the enjoyment of Babel, to radicalize the free market.

In the meantime, a myriad of volunteers search the submerged streets with boats to save bodies from abandonment, on the islands of Guaíba and in the neighborhoods of Canoas. In addition to people, the rescue includes pets (cats, dogs) and the horse Caramelo. There are no records of animal care in the great flood of 1941. The incipient awareness about the social consequences of “environmental racism”, which affects affected populations, spreads through peripheral communities. Those who suffer and despair the most are those who have always been on the supremacist trajectory of the Brazilian continent.

In the installed chaos, anonymous humanitarian actors expand and transpose the notion of “comrade” from the political sphere to the social sphere. It doesn't matter that perception is infinite only as long as the epiphany of rescue lasts. The understanding that plural resilience is capable of confronting the hegemonic model in society, based on the ultraliberalism of the war of all against all, is per se a factor in the politicization of the masses. The movement in sociopolitical fusion redolent of the hope stamped in the motto of the World Social Forum (WSF), which RS hosted in the inaugural editions of the alter-world event – ​​“Another world is possible”. It even has a Christian name: Ecosocialism.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.

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