Recent struggles and anarchist organizing in Brazil

This is the sketch for a presentation I’ve done in Budapest, Hungary, and also in Prague, Czech Republic, in March and April 2014. I’m thankful to the Gondolkodó Autonomous Bookshop and the Prague Anarchist Bookfair for opening the space to discuss these topics. It’s not meant to be a full, complete article on the subject, but still critical comments, doubts or suggestions are welcome.

A translation of this text to Bosnian, for which I thank the Slobodari group, can be found here.

I’d like to give a little background in the situation of Brazil in the last 10 years or so. After that, explain what were the 2013 protests, which continue until now, and then the development of anarchist organization in Brazil and its role in the whole of class struggle in the country.

BACKGROUND

– Brazil is one of the biggest economies in the world (the 7th biggest), but with severe social inequality. Although unemployment is not high (around 5%), almost half of the population have unofficial jobs, which leaves them without social benefits (vacations, insurance, extra wages, etc.) The richer 10% of the population own 75% of the wealth of the country. 1% of the landowners have 45% of all the land. Around 25% of the population lives in slums (favelas).

– Any account of the oppressed classes in Brazil cannot be complete without addressing racism and sexism, which are both huge problems in our society and divide the working class. Even though the population is widely mixed for our history, still people who are considered black or indigenous suffer great prejudice. The huge majority of the people living in slums or being killed and arrested by the police is black, for instance. Income is considerably lower for black people and for women. Brazil also has one of the higher violence records against women in the world, apart from a strong patriarchal culture, which we call “machismo”.

– Brazilian economy is nowadays maintained mainly by the agribusiness, the construction of huge projects (infrastructure for generation of energy, transport of goods and for the megaevents), the housing sector and the automobilistic industry. There is big investment from the government for the World Cup 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.

– There is no significant economic crisis; economic growth is maintained by the domestic market because of a small redistribution of wealth through social programs. Also the working class is increasingly in debt, and policies of easy credit to stimulate consumption continue. As this is not sustainable, it is likely that the good moment will expire.

– The center-left Workers’ Party is in power for the last 11 years, in a big coalition that goes from so-called communist parties to right wing parties. The same Party will probably win again in this year’s election. The coalition is still stable in power, it has support both from many sectors of the capitalists and from social movements. We consider it neo-developmentalist, which differs from the last neo-liberal governments because there is high pubic investment and the privatizations are often disguised, as in the case of “public-private partnerships” or “public companies under private law”.

– Almost half of the State budget goes for paying public debt; that means more money for big bankers and less for social measures and development. Even though consumption has risen, people are very discontent with public services and social rights. Public transportation is a big issue because of high costs and terrible service, especially for those who live in poor communities.

– Many of the social movements and the bigger workers’ unions still support the government, and are not acting autonomously to it, especially because of the history of the Workers’ Party [Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT)], which was fundamental for the building of these movements in the past. Little by little this is changing, as the government keeps on denying its demands and a new generation of militants begins to participate in the struggles, people who no longer see this Party as a reference for the left, but as the government.

2013 AND 2014 PROTESTS

– In the beginning of 2013, two cities were able to stop the rise of the fare in the public transportation through the social movements and the demonstrations (Goiânia and Porto Alegre). The struggles for public transportation in Brazil are common, and we have an autonomous social movement for this specific struggle in many cities: the Free Fare Movement (Movimento Passe Livre)[1]. It has an anarchist influence in its principles since its foundation, 10 years ago.

– In June, the fare also rises in our biggest city, São Paulo. After a few protests, the police repression on the Free Fare Movement is really violent. This generates commotion in the entire country, especially because many cities also face rises in the fare. People start going to the streets in massive numbers, first demanding cheaper public transportation and the end of the Military Police, seen as the most violent.

– For two weeks, protests are huge, all over the country. In cities like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, there are protests with hundreds of thousands in the streets, maybe more than 500 thousand. Some cities have demonstrations with 10% of the population or more.

– The media changes position, from the usual criminalizing to a kind of support. They invite people to go to the streets, but ignore the real demands of the demonstrations. Many sectors, especially from the middle class, go to the streets demanding “the end of corruption” and right-wing sectors are on the streets to attack the center-left government. A lot of people bring Brazilian flags for the demonstrations, sing the national anthem and some oppose the participation of left movements and parties in the streets, too (sometimes recurring to violence). There is no clear message from the protests in this moment, but a dispute on their meaning.

– The left focuses on the public transport and against police repression issues to assure at least some victories for the movement, which can act as a direct demonstration that it’s possible to achieve change by taking the streets. In the end, the bus fares in hundreds of cities go down, which is the biggest victory. The president goes on TV for an official pronounce and invites social movements for a meeting. After the demonstrations get smaller, there are some occupations in government buildings and an attempt to create public assemblies in some cities, but they don’t last long.

– Since the protests got smaller, the use of Black Bloc tactics among demonstrators began and it became an important phenomenon. They got big attention from the media because of the destruction of banks, shops, bus stops and so forth. In many cases, they defended the protests against police brutality and were seen as heroes too. They were not a strategy from any political organization, but a spontaneous response to police brutality and capitalist exploitation: mostly young people with precarious jobs, from the poorest regions, but also some youngsters from the middle class. There is massive criminalization of them in the media and from the conservative sector of the population, along with a caricature of anarchism.

– After June and July, things don’t go back to normal. New social movements arise, especially occupations for housing and human rights struggles because of the evictions by the megaevents. A strong opposition against the World Cup is also a legacy of June and July. The slogan “There will be no World Cup” [Não vai ter copa] becomes famous in all demonstrations, which scares the government and leads to an increase in police brutality and repression. Demonstrations are still going on in most cities every month, in support of workers’ strikes, against the World Cup, against new fare rises, for public housing and so on. Now that the World Cup is near, the Military Forces occupied the biggest slum in the country, Favela da Maré; people are being detained just for participating in demonstrations against the World Cup and there are more and more cases of people killed by the repressive forces in poorest regions. More than 100,000 people had their right to housing violated or threatened for the preparation of these megaevents [2].

– Overall, we could see that the left has little influence and presence among the totality of the working class and this is a reason why the media and the government could dispute the meaning of the struggles so well in June and July. For us, there is no solution other than building strong mass movements with left and libertarian demands, which can face and overcome the influence of the conservative media and the reformist parties in government. Small violent groups separated from the masses will not overcome the system.

– But anarchism had a more significant appearance on the 2013 protests. It has been present in the streets and discussed in the popular movements in most big cities in the country, even when there were no anarchist organizations. As more and more people are critical of the role of the authoritarian left in the struggles, anarchism becomes more evident as an alternative. All of this gave new strength to the work that was being done for the last 20 years by organized anarchists, but it was also an outcome of those efforts.

ANARCHIST ORGANIZING

– After the end of the Military Dictatorship in the 80s, there were few and unorganized anarchists in the country. Libertarian socialist ideology was sustained by small groups or individuals in book publishers, social centers, libraries, squats, and subcultures (such as punk); those were basically focused on doing propaganda.

– Although that was very important, it is clearly limited. Since the 90s, there is a clearer attempt from anarchists to put ideas to practice and restore its position as an ideology from the working class, by participating in social movements. An attempt to go from propaganda efforts to a mobilized social force.

– At the same time, this demands organizing from the anarchists themselves. Social movements and workers unions are dominated by the reformist or the authoritarian left (even today). Without anarchist organizations capable of building a strategy and tactics for the social work, we would just be carried by the strategy of left parties or other groups.

– Some 20 years ago, some anarchists groups established contact with the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU) and adopted the Especifismo, an anarchist current developed in Latin America, whose references are Bakunin, Malatesta, the organizational proposals from the Platform (Dielo Trouda), and the anarquistas expropriadores in Argentina and Uruguay. Especifismo also takes a lot from the history, practices and culture of the workers’ movement from Latin America, and therefore it’s a development from the working class of this part of the world.

– In 2002 a few organizations in Brazil form the “Organized Anarchist Forum” (FAO), which begins to create political unity and to gather more militants from other places. In 2012, in its 10th anniversary, the Brazilian Anarchist Coordination is founded, with its Declaration of Principles, a common analysis of the moment and a program of struggles to work for in the next period.

– Now, the Brazilian Anarchist Coordination has 10 organizations in all the five regions of Brazil. It is composed by militants in workers’ unions, occupations for housing, rural movements for land reform, feminist groups, communitarian and neighborhood struggles, human rights initiatives and also, student movements. It is editing an yearly theoretical magazine and a newspaper. There is a sharp growth since 2009, when there were around 6 organizations and now there are 10, with others arising in new cities and States [3].

– The declaration of principles of CAB gives an example of the core ideas of Especifismo:

a) Anarchism as an ideology and therefore as a system of ideas, motivations and aspirations that necessarily have a connection with action whose goal is social transformation – political practice.

b) An anarchism in permanent contact with the class struggle of the social movements of our time, and functioning as a tool of struggle and not as pure philosophy or in small, isolated and sectarian groups.

c) A concept of class that includes all parts of the exploited, dominated and oppressed of our society.

f) Organization as something essential and contrary to individualism and spontaneity.

h) The anarchist organization as an organization of the active minority, differing from the authoritarian vanguard in that it does not consider itself superior to the organizations on the social level. The political level is complementary to the social level and vice versa.

p) Working with theoretical, ideological and programmatic (strategic/practical) unity. The organization collectively constructs a theoretical and ideological line and, in the same way, determines and rigorously follows the defined paths, all rowing the boat in the same direction, towards the established objectives.

The general strategy of the anarchism that we advocate is based on popular movements, in their organization, accumulation of strength, and on the application of advanced forms of struggle, in order to get to the revolution and to libertarian socialism. A process that occurs in conjunction with the specific anarchist organization which, by functioning as a tool/motor, acts in conjunction with the popular movements and provides the conditions for transformation.” [4]

[1] English page for the Movimento Passe Livre: http://farefreebrazil.blogspot.com/
[2] Report from the National Coalition of Local Committees for a People’s World Cup and Olympics (2012). It summarizes the impacts of the megaevents in Brazil: http://www.scribd.com/doc/171539376/Sumario-Eng
[3] Materials from Brazilian anarchism translated to other languages can be found here:
https://muitoalemdoceu.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/brazilian-especifismo/
[4] The full Declaration of Principles can be read in English here: http://www.anarkismo.net/article/23028

João Gabriel (JG) – jg@riseup.net
Militant from the Coletivo Anarquista Bandeira Negra, BRASIL – SC
http://cabn.libertar.org/

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