A bad use of history

Image: AaDil


Bandeirantes like heróis of nationality

The evaluation of the “act of faith” to which the São Paulo monument in honor of the bandeirante Borba Gato was submitted gave rise to a large number of conservative considerations about the past and the present on the part of the traditional “Peninhas” of Brazilian historiography. More serious were the proposals of prominent left-wing intellectuals and leaders, such as comrade Antônio Carlos Mazzeo, from the PCB leadership, who characterized that action as an act of “barbarism”. Rui da Costa Pimenta's defense of the bandeirantes as builders of nationality, in an interview with 247, on July 27, deserves attention due to the indisputable audiences of that program and the president of the PCO.

I make the present amends in a fraternal way and with a light heart. I never refused to publicly praise Rui Costa Pimenta and the PCO when they fought against the imposition and consolidation of the 2016 coup; for the return of the left to the streets; for the freedom of Lula da Silva. Defense of the imprisoned ex-unionist stretched to a support for his candidacy for the presidency that scares me more and more, considering that the social-liberal PT administrations helped send the country to the hole it is currently in. I applauded Pimenta's impeccable presentation, on October 8, 2020, at the DCM debate, on Stalinism, with Breno Alteman and Jones Manoel. He seemed like an erudite and condescending teacher with students who had not prepared the lesson.

I've always believed it was my generation's curse—1968 and beyond. At that time, the militants knew everything about the Bolshevik, Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese revolutions and, not infrequently, ignored Brazilian history. The more refined ones focused on the past only from 1930 onwards, as the categories proper to the capitalism they handled were incapable of explaining the times of the Colony, the Empire and the so-called Old Republic. Themes that were believed to be of little interest to the struggle to conquer power, as that was the pretension of those times. We know the result, usually dramatic.

brilliant scholars

Paradoxically, the previous post-war Marxist generation, which preceded us, had known brilliant scholars of our social formation, many of them militants and political leaders, not infrequently, regrettably, immobilized by the straitjacket of ideology: Werneck Sodré, Passos Guimarães, Clóvis Moura, Octávio Brandão, Décio Freitas, Manuel Correia de Andrade, Rui Facó, Moniz Bandeira, Octávio Ianni, Caio Prado Júnior and many others. They tried not to stray too far from the reality they knew, even when they ruthlessly distorted it for political interests.

Costa Pimenta elevates the bandeirantes to builders of Brazilian nationality. To the nation's defenders, however unaware, of the malevolent purposes of colonialism and imperialism. The latter, proposes comrade Rui, would be opposed to Brazilian national unitarism for always supporting small nations and, therefore, easier to dominate. Mainland Brazil would be an obstacle to imperialist domination, he says. Pimenta argues that, among the villains of the Brazilian past, the bandeirantes would be, in the worst case, the least villainous. The alleged struggle of the bourgeoisie against imperialism and international greed for the Amazon would also be a class struggle to be supported by the workers.

Pimenta refers to other great historical figures, even more distinguished than Borba Gato, such as Júlio César and Napoleon Bonaparte, who did not belong to the oppressed classes. In fact, the former put an end to the oligarchic Roman Republic and started the semi-absolute dictatorial order of Bonapartist representatives of all the great slaveholders of the Empire. Small-mercantile slavery was consolidated in the two centuries following his coup. Napoleon Bonaparte was the gravedigger of the revolutionary republic; he restored monarchy, Christianity, and colonial slavery; he tried to recolonize Haiti. He compromised the bourgeois-democratic-revolutionary spread by dividing conquered Europe among his relatives and subjecting it to the interests of the French bourgeoisie. Both would not be great generals without the fierce Roman and French soldiers. It's hard to identify anything inspiring for the world of work in these two characters.

On the burning of Borba Gato, driven by revisionism, Pimenta ends up agreeing, in general, with Aldo Rabelo, former PT Minister of Defense, Political Articulation and Sport, former high-ranking leader of the PC do B, who today is lost for there. He, always at the service of the powerful, as usual, depoticated on Twitter against the young promoters of the protest. “Scumbags, thugs, murderers of national memory. (sic) See that the dozens of imitations of 'statues of liberty' scattered throughout Brazil do not bother, choose the work of a Brazilian artist, a symbol of the history and identity of the city of São Paulo.” Note the indirect incitement to set fire to elevated monuments on “private property”.

Informaportentous action

Pimenta's final conclusion, when stating that historical research and documentary information about the bandeirantes are weak, not knowing well what they did or were, is a disastrous landing of a flight without instruments. The documentary collection and historiography about the bandeirantes — in São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Goiás, Rio Grande do Sul, etc. — are portentous. We would say, Amazonian. Only the classic hagiographic work of Afonso de Taunay, HistoryRua Geral das Bandeiras Paulistas, published from 1924 to 1950, has eleven volumes! Another magnificent and easily accessible source of documentation is the Angelis Collection! There are literally thousands of books, articles, maps, etc. Not to mention the primary documentation from the archives of Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Holland, etc.

Marx and Engels proposed that the overcoming of a social formation by a superior one has a historically progressive character, as it advances civilization, despite the violence produced. They were thus referring to the different painful births of history that should have ended in the emancipation of humanity, if all went well. However, they never deified the ruling classes, which they abused however they could. On the contrary, they performed the heartfelt praise of the oppressed who, despite eventually being crushed by history, pushed it forward. For a conservative misunderstanding of what was proposed by the founders of Marxism, it would be merchants and slaveholders who  promising of Brazilian nationality, for the reasons that we will see below. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable for this vision to erect a monument to the Brazilian Francisco Félix de Sousa, known as Xaxá, from the African kingdom of Dahomey, the most famous slave trader.

It is a historical nonsense to propose bandeirismo as a constructor of national unity, at a time when the Portuguese and Luso-Brazilian colonial dominant classes reigned over multiple colonies — hereditary, grantee captaincies — mostly independent, without any pre-arranged meeting with a national unity arising from historical phenomena that would materialize in the distant future. As the Portuguese-American colonies emerged from the colonial crisis in a unitary form, they could have exploded into a constellation of republics like the Spanish-American colonies.

The so-called nativist movements —Beckman's Revolt (1684), Guerra dos Emboabas (1708), Guerra dos Mascates (1710) and Filipe dos Santos' Revolt (1720), as well as the Inconfidência Mineira (1789), the Pernambuco Revolution (1817) ), the Revolt of the Tailors (1798), the Farroupilha War (1835), etc. they fought for the independence and autonomy of their regions, and never for an objectively and subjectively non-existent country. They were colonial and imperial movements secessionists. At that time, members of the ruling classes of the various regions were understood to be from Minas Gerais, Bahia, Pernambuco, São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul. It is abusive and anachronistic to refer to those movements as Brazilian and national and, even more so, to the bandeirantes as builders of national unity.

This is not the time to discuss the reasons for Brazil's national unity, a semi-mystery for conservative historiography, which explains it due to the arrival of the Royal Family to Brazil (in fact, to Rio de Janeiro); to the presence of Dom Pedro in the Brazil, when he left for the Kingdom, after practically losing power over Rio de Janeiro, when the pro-Portuguese troops and forces pronounced in favor of the Portuguese Cortes; to the Portuguese-Paulista José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva.

National unity birthed by slaveholders

Brazilian unitarism was born from the decision of the great traders of slave workers, especially in Rio de Janeiro, and in the main slave provinces — RJ, SP, MG, RS, Bahia, Pernambuco — not to endanger the slave social order and the transatlantic slave trade. of Africans, the latter already questioned by the British. The federalist, liberal, republican tendencies, in favor of total or partial independence of the provinces, etc. they were simply repressed, erupting later in the Regency Revolts. The independence of Brazil, in 1822, elitist, authoritarian, slave-owning, the most backward and conservative in the Americas, was rocked by slave traders and suckled with the blood of captives. It was carried out above all against the enslaved working masses.

A reality recognized at the time by John Armitage, the young English merchant who arrived in Brazil, aged 21, in 1828, and wrote an insightful History of Brazil. When referring to the Independence of 1822, he recorded the fears of the slave ruling classes: “Any premature attempts to establish the republic would have been followed by a bloody and lasting war, in which the slave part of the population would have taken up arms, and the disorder and destruction would have laid waste to the most beautiful part of South America.” Fear was the armed captive. (MASTER. Revolution and counter-revolution in Brazil. 1530-20 2nd ed. Porto Alegre: FCM Editora, 2021. p. 32 et seq.)

It was certainly a slip by Rui Pimenta to propose opposition, even unconsciously, by the bandeirantes to imperialism, since the latter, in the Leninist sense of the term, which is common to us, appears in the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, as a superior stage mature capitalism. Borba Gato lived in the transition from the 17th to the 18th century, in the midst of colonial slavery, when feudal production and organization were still hegemonic throughout Europe, with the exception of England and the Netherlands.

There is no historical basis for the proposal that the master nations of the world always want the explosion of the large peripheral nations into small states. This was not the case for England in India. Also in the case of Brazil, England supported unitarianism in 1822. It feared default on the country's debt crumbled into small nations and the need to impose itself on each of them, instead of just one. I don't think that the USA currently wants an anarchic explosion of a nation that it keeps firmly under its heel, conservatively pressing the American nations, especially the closest ones. J. Biden pushes imperialist rule over unitary Brazil and its eventual membership of NATO.

The Amazon is theirs

As for the Amazon, sincerely, who believes that it is the object of territorial greed of some great nation. The USA would be the only nation capable of undertaking this strange operation. And the Americans did badly in the territorial domain of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. In the Amazon, the mariners they would land to catch manatees and sea cows and to clear what remains of the forest to form pastures. They would spend immense fortunes to occupy what they are already buying at the price of rotten bananas. And this when the gentlemen generals, who agitated this fanciful nationalist rhetoric in the past, are now proposing the sale and exploitation without complacency of that region.

Borba Gato (1649–1718) was an “entrepreneur” in the transition from the 17th to the 18th century, at the beginning of the establishment of the slave gold economy in Central Brazil. He based his fortune on the initial exploitation of the enslaved native and on the political representation of the Portuguese colonial heel in the region. The consolidation of mining provided the resources for the resumption of the slave trade, weakened by the sugar crisis. The bandeirante under discussion was just a successful “businessman” of the regional slave order, one of the multiple roots of the current despotic capitalist organization in Brazil. Rescuing him as a reference historical figure consolidates the proposals for the permanence and immutability of class society in Brazil and its intrinsic violence against the oppressed.

The homage and naturalization of exploitation in the past consolidates the current despotic order. The grotesque statue on Avenida Santo Amaro, in São Paulo, of the bandeirante holding the blunderbuss in his hand, an instrument that symbolized the social oppression of the natives at the time, took on unexpected prominence. It became, in fact, a point of confluence of the broader historical, political and symbolic dispute between the World of Work and the World of Capital. It is true that the destruction of symbols does not mean the destruction of what they symbolize. But they can give a little push, even emblematic.

Under the flames, the statue of grotesque bad taste was re-semantized, to use a modern word. From a symbol of barbarism, it became a symbol of resistance. Photos and films of the statue of Borba Gato on fire traveled across Brazil, enlivening the discussion on past and current social barbarism. His fight with fire also has important symbolism. And, in this case, the burned statue was of an odd character from the distant past, already difficult to defend, even for important sectors of the intelligentsia and conservative media. Hence the incongruity of the defense of bandeirantismo and Borba Gato's image by sectors of the left.

our full support

In a way, it doesn't matter who fixed the tires, lit the lighter, lit the fire. Admittedly, it was an avant-garde act, eventually carried out by directors with some protagonist objective, which is not uncommon in a left that does not excel in introversion. It would have been better if it had been the result of the action of the workers and populations on the outskirts on the march, which our collaborationist left insists on keeping away from the demonstrations, afraid that they might start to trample on everything and everyone they deserve. Those who took responsibility are not students, university professors or politicians and professional activists, but precarious workers. They deserve our respect and full support against the repression they suffer. And not disqualification of their actions. Even if we don't agree on the fighting strategy.

But there is a new fact. With the social movement resuming its march, after long years of “get off the street” and “stay at home”, the institutional left itself modulates its view of this “direct action”. Juliano Medeiros, president of Psol, historian, who never sinned for radicalism, declared about the burning: “What does it mean to burn the statue of a murderer in the face of the act of erecting a statue for a murderer?” Congratulations to him.

The defenses on the left of the monument's safety to the genocide are diverse. Some propose respect for all so-called cultural monuments, even those that praise domination and massacre, such as that of Borba Gato. However, throughout history, uprising populations have marched over explorers and their symbols, identifying each other. So it was in the peasant wars, in the mystical popular movements, in the Paris Commune, in the Revolution of 1917, in the Spanish Revolution and so on.

Soviet armies and communist guerrillas rolled over Nazi-fascist symbols and monuments as they advanced. Not for aesthetic reasons, but as part of the fight against barbarism. In Brazil, the population outraged by the torpedoing of merchant ships by Nazi submarines, in 1942, and, above all, by the suicide of Getúlio, in 1954, set fire to stores, factories and newspapers that they identified with the offenders, expressing a just indignation Social. Were they barbarians?

Others propose, like Mazzeo, that the statue in question (and other similar monuments) be taken to “a museum where it will be exposed alongside a serious and didactic text, which explains its history, the history of this character and the meaning of bandeirantism. ”. (FACE, 25/7.) Have you ever imagined a museum to expose the Bastille, overthrown após to be conquered, in 1789, or the immense Column of Vendôme, brought down by the Commune, in 1871! And, when our country is liberated, there will certainly be no deposit capable of keeping the piles raised in honor of the oppressors.

These defenses are, even if in some cases unconsciously, just pacifist, rhetorical and utopian social proposals, advanced to anathematize acts of insubordination against the symbols of tyranny. What unifies the burning attack to which the icon of Borba Gato was subjected is the desire to put in the short hair an eventual popular anger and indignation, especially as we approach the 2022 elections. Another monumental monument — excuse me redundancy—to class domination, exacerbated by the current institutional order imposed on the country since 2016.

* Mario Maestri is a historian. Author, among other books, of Revolution and counter-revolution in Brazil: 1500-2019 (FCM Publisher).


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