Brazil: Huge protests and illusions of capitalist development
Brazil: Huge protests and illusions of capitalist development
19 August 2013. A World to Win News Service. By AWTWNS correspondents in Latin America.
Like a welcome fresh gust of wind, Brazilians took to the streets in large numbers during the month of June in a way that hadn’t been seen in twenty years. The protests came to a peak on 22 June when in Rio alone 100,000 people joined the upsurge, while more than a million total were counted in about one hundred different cities and towns across the country.
Youth from the Movimento Passe Livre (movement for free public transport) accelerated protests back in March in various parts of the country to demand a reduction of public transport fares, at times with the slogan “Tarifa Zero” (Zero Fare). São Paulo, the country’s economic hub of 11 million people, was the site of the first large protest on 6 June, in the elegant central bank district of Avenida Paulista. Police tried to stop the demonstrations with repression, using rubber bullets, gas, clubs and detaining some of the participants. The frustration of many people over the 20 cent hike for both bus and metro transport quickly moved towards a questioning of the billions of dollars being spent on the upcoming soccer World Cup in 2014 while large numbers of people struggle just to survive. The movement grew rapidly and the thousands turned into hundreds of thousands, broadening to resentment over police violence and government corruption.
In the beginning mainly youth demonstrated, but as the protests grew in size, they drew in older people as well. The majority who participated in the marches and meetings were from the middle classes, but more oppressed sections of the people also joined in. This social mix of people from different classes made clear to the youth the connection between police brutality in the demonstrations and the systematic repression by the military police that has been intensified for years against the oppressed in the favelas (shantytowns in Brazilian cities). Although the fare increase kicked off the June protest movement – people earning minimum wage already had to pay a big chunk of their 700 RS$ salary (about $340) to get to and from work – other problems such as access to good health care and public services, as well as the violent response of the police who killed several demonstrators during the month, and the widening gap between rich and poor became part of their demands and some began to question on some level the whole system they had lost faith in.
The protests ruptured the apparent social harmony and the supposed agreement of the people with the government, putting on the table that in Brazil, as in so many other countries dominated by imperialism, the masses carry the weight on their shoulders of keeping a parasitic minority that feeds on their blood and sweat, a tiny group that appropriates the general wealth of the labour of millions. Many people in Brazil consider that the demonstrations showed that the time had come to say Basta! and to express their discontent with the current order of things.
Over the past months leading up to the upsurge of mass protest the ruling class had unleashed repressive attacks, detaining, beating and torturing hundreds of demonstrators and charging them with crimes. The “disappearance” of Amarildo de Souza one month ago is very telling. He was a construction worker living in the Rocinha favela in Rio who has not been heard from since he was seen entering the station of the Pacification Police Unit (Unidade Policial de Pacificacao, UPP). Since June, several smaller protests have been organized under the banner, “Where is Amarildo?”, denouncing state repression, including the targeting of black and indigenous people in particular. The state created these special forces a few years ago in order to take back control of the favelas from drug dealers, yet in reality they have systematically criminalised the poorest masses living there. (Human Rights Watch has denounced what they say are more than 11,000 homicides carried out by police between 2003-2009 alone.) The violence, the deaths and the disappearances have generated a growing hatred of the different police forces and have unmasked to a certain extent the nature of the state and the government.
Some people report that there are thousands of “Amarildos” and so have shouted, “the police who repress in the streets are the same ones killing the youth in the favelas!” Mainly it is the lowest section of society condemned to live in ghettos that regularly faces the repression. Some among the people came to recognise that the police repression in the favelas is not fundamentally for combatting organised drug crime, but rather is part of the containment of a potentially rebellious sector that could destabilise the state. And from the initial resistance among the oppressed, the rulers may have some reason to worry.
Long before the protests had broken out the state had already scheduled and paid big money for administering a mass dose of sleeping medicine to young Catholics who came from all over Latin America (and the world) to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day and see the new pope last month. This display was meant to bolster the church as well as the state and to brighten and “purify” the face of a society known worldwide to be violent, in preparation for the coming world sport events. The pope spent a week in Rio, blessing the poor in the favelas and staging a gigantic rally on Copacabana Beach. Although the huge June demonstrations had wound down significantly by that time, various feminist groups, LGBT and intellectuals protested against the intervention of the church in a secular state, as well as against the pope’s opposition to abortion and homosexuality. They also targeted recent reactionary laws making abortion illegal and the “bolsa estupro”, a fund to compensate rape victims so that they won’t abort.
The role of the PT in the government
In January 2003 the Worker’s Party – Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) – took control of the government when Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva was elected president, coming to power on a reformist and social democratic platform. The PT had pulled together back in the early 1980s various professional associations and trade unions that had moved away from Marxism and communist ideas while maintaining a socialist face. Appealing to the people on the basis of a socialist and seemingly racial equality “socialist” discourse, the PT tried to bring the whole left under its wing, including the Partido Comunista do Brasil. The PC do B of today arose out of a split within the original Partido Comunista do Brasil in 1962 during the struggle in the international communist movement between the Soviet Union and China, taking a position opposing Khrushchev. They launched a guerrilla war in 1971 and after heavy losses in the leadership in 1975 stopped the armed struggle and abandoned any pretence of Maoism in favour of a more openly reformist approach. Today the PCdoB occupies positions in the PT government and continues to refer to itself as Marxist-Leninist. Thus in 2003 leaders of different “people’s” political organisations joined the government and began to occupy important positions, with the effect of attenuating the struggle of the people against the state. Lula’s rise to stardom came about thanks to his party absorbing the people’s demands for more democracy and the questioning of the social order, while building itself as a force capable of taking the lead in meeting the needs of the ruling class and of imperialism.
In this framework the promises for a more democratic and egalitarian society by the government have been welcomed by a section of the people, especially by the middle classes, whose numbers and standard of living have both increased over the past decade.
The language of social democracy goes hand in hand with the deepening of imperialist domination and with the fuller integration of Brazil into the capitalist-imperialist system. For example, vast stretches of Brazilian land have been turned over to export production, while basic food crops are grown less and less often. The Brazilian government has been stepping up efforts to attract foreign investment as a good destination for capitalist-imperialist capital. To the extent that capitalism tightens and transforms its grip over various sectors of the economy, the suffering of poorer sections of the people worsens, while social policies have served as a palliative. However, this process has limits and the illusions of the petty bourgeoisie are disappearing as their social and economic ascent has slowed down. This situation has led to the disgruntlement and mobilization of these strata, mostly around the demand that the government fulfil its promises.
Accelerating urbanisation in a wide range of oppressed countries has been pushed forward by the workings of capital itself. Rural land use has changed to prioritise crops for the production of biofuels in Brazil. Such crops often require a smaller labour force and peasants are displaced towards the cities. On the one hand this change in land use generates the shrinking capacity for food production, raising the price of basic foodstuffs and, on the other hand, it results in a larger number of urban consumers.
At the same time as it carried out a repressive rampage against the protesters, in the face of growing anger the state rescinded the transport fare increase and promised to take into account their demands. In addition, the reformist left in power argued that the demonstrations were only playing into the hands of the rightist parties, in an effort to destabilise and de-legitimise the revolutionary process it says the PT is leading. Using twisted logic, they tried to show that the demonstrations were basically fuelled by the right and by Yankee imperialism. This facilitates the reformists’ aims of stopping more people, including from among their base, from joining the protest movement. While spreading these rumours and arguments, the PT and PCdoB parties try to channel and co-opt the struggles in such a way as to incorporate them into their structures, recognising that some of the demands are just. As if that weren’t enough, in the height of cynicism they proclaim that these demonstrations are really the result of the democratic process begun when Lula took power, since he is seen to have educated the people politically and to have broadened democratic freedoms.
This type of strategy is frequently used by other reformist and social democratic governments in the region such as Venezuela, Ecuador or Argentina in order to justify repression and control popular discontent that threatens to spread.
The de-legitimisation of the PT government and traditional and reformist parties
In rejecting the harmful role that organisations calling themselves socialist, communist and “people’s parties” have played for decades, but in fact have been vehicles for imperialism and serve its interests, a section of the people have promoted the idea of a movement without parties, without leadership or a leading structure.
This idea has been accepted by many youth who are trying to break away from the control of the reformist parties and to build an independent people’s movement. This righteous intention has led to arguments for a different, “horizontal” form of organisation without leadership, in which the collective consensus determines everything. While many within the popular movement in Brazil are not aiming to totally transform the capitalist system, some people within are asking how it is possible to fight a highly structured social system without organisation, leadership and a clear programme. Bitter experiences of the people have shown that there is a material need for organising themselves, for taking in political and ideological nourishment both from the struggle of the people and from the synthesis of communism.
What is certain is that the people can never free themselves and break away from the chains of imperialism under the leadership of the PT and the PCdoB or any other reformist party. Because of their nature and the class interests they defend, these parties promote illusions in bourgeois democracy and orient the people’s struggle towards electoral ends. These kinds of strategies do little more than make minor changes so that things remain the same (or sometimes get worse). At no time and in no country has a reformist conception such as this succeeded in radically transforming society, but has served simply to maintain the bourgeoisie’s control, containing popular uprisings and sowing confusion by putting up a social and democratic facade.
The current movement is encountering the effects of illusions about democracy and the state. For example, some people demanded the demilitarisation of the police and demanded that it defend the interests of the people. This case makes plain the confusion that exists over the class character of the state that fundamentally protects the interests of the ruling class.
Other sections of the movement are trying to focus the struggle on getting rid of individual authorities such as the state governors of Rio and Sao Paulo. In accordance with the wrong idea that the people’s problems are due to corruption of certain individuals, the demand to sack them has become popular and the focus of several smaller demonstrations since June, particularly in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Corruption is in fact a sharp problem in Brazil and there are more than a few individuals and economic sectors that are profiting from public money. But this doesn’t mean that the people’s problems stop there. Some sections of the ruling class and its communication structures are encouraging the struggle against corruption, sending the message that it gets in the way of the normal functioning of the system. They argue that to the degree that the system works well, it is capable of improving the living conditions of the people.
As can be seen in all this, the path for the masses of people who have awakened in Brazil is presenting opportunities to fully grasp the link between their situation and the imperialist system. It will be decisive for a group of people to come to see in this upsurge the broader horizons of the struggle and direct its aims towards a communist revolution striving for the emancipation of all humanity.
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The article “From Hiroshima and Nagasaki to today: reporting American crimes against humanity” in AWTWNS130729 erroneously stated that children were killed in the 12 June, 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad shown in military footage leaked by Bradley Manning. Two children were in a family van that stopped to help one of the men who had just been shot by the helicopter. The American crew then returned and blasted the van but the children, although wounded, were not among the 11 people known to have been killed in that incident. Also, the correct title of the Wikileaks film made from this footage is Collateral Murder, not Collateral Damage.