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Interview with the OASL about the protests in Brazil
brazil/guyana/suriname/fguiana | community struggles | interview Thursday July 04, 2013 02:06 by Organização Anarquista Socialismo Libertário (OASL) - Integrante da Coordenação Anarquista Brasileira (CAB)
The members of Organização Anarquista Socialismo Libertário (Libertarian Socialism Anarchist Organisation, OASL) have participated in the struggles against the rising tariffs in Sao Paulo, both in the capital as well as in cities like Mogi das Cruzes, Marilia and Franca, in the growing movement that has gripped the country. The membership of other organisations linked to the Coordenação Anarquista Brasileira (Brazilian Anarchist Coordination, CAB) has, in other states, also helped to build the struggles. Below, two militants of OASL, Pablo Pamplona and Thiago Calixto*, who have been participating in the struggles, respond to a few questions about the recent process of mobilisations in the country. OASL is a member of Anarkismo.
Interview with the OASL about the protests in Brazil
Jonathan Bane (JB): How did the protests start and gain momentum? How are they being organised and by whom?OASL: In recent months, there have been a lot of significant struggles, like the teachers' strike in the state of Sao Paulo, which happened a few weeks before and which also mobilised thousands of people in various protests, but was co-opted by the union leadership. Another relevant struggle has been that of the students and staff at the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Sao Paulo State University, UNESP) that have been on strike for more than two months, with some facilities under occupation and with road barricades in Marilia, and who have struggled for important demands such as student permanence, equality in relation to other public universities, a policy of social and racial quotas and against the Programa de Inclusão com Mérito no Ensino Superior Paulista (Inclusion Programme with Merit in Sao Paulo Higher Education, PIMESP). Members of OASL have helped build these struggles.
On the other hand we see other relevant mobilisations at community, trade union, agrarian and student level, that have helped influence the mood of the population, such as support for workers evicted from their homes as a result of property speculation and preparation for mega-events, as in the case of Pinheirinho and the Moinho favela (slum), among many others. The popular movements that are articulating these movements have certainly helped spur the population on to the streets.
The struggles against the tariff increase has been organised mainly by Movimento Passe Libre (Free Pass Movement, MPL), which has been organising and convening struggles around the question of transport since 2006. The movement – with which we have great affinity and proximity – retains an autonomous and combative character. It builds its struggles independently through general and horizontal participation. It doesn't bring sound cars to the streets, the statements are always passed around in minstrel form (someone shouts out the notices and the people around them repeat the same words, so that a greater number of people can hear) and the passivity of protesters is never encouraged; on the contrary, broad participation and action is always encouraged. This character, quite characteristic of the struggle against the rise, has earned strong support from the population, which, in our view, is tired of demonstrations in the traditional model of the left, around podiums and worn out speeches. Civil disobedience and direct action, as well as grassroots work, have been consistently practices by the movement. At the same time, the fact that the opposition to parties has, to a large extent, been appropriated by a conservative and nationalist sector, sometimes stimulated by the extreme right, and has extended to the left as a whole, including trade union and social movements, should be cause for concern. The mainstream media has also contributed to this advance of conservative forces and to the weakening of the demands relating to transport.
JB: Protests against tariff increases are quite common in Brazil. How does what is happening in Sao Paulo differ from past protests?OASL: When the protests against the last increase stopped in 2011, the MPL discussed the amplification of their discussion. They made an assessment that this should continue with the struggle at another level of discussion and raised a campaign for Tarifa Zero (Zero Tariff). The movement took the discussion on public transport to a political discussion, of the public management of resources and the right to the city, arguing that real public transport, as well as other rights such as health and education, should not be charged for, but guaranteed by the government and paid for with incremental taxes: who has more pays more, who has less pays less, who doesn't have doesn't pay. With this new campaign, the movement could sustain the internal political discussion and external grassroots work in schools and communities that, in our view, was very positive, for two years. We believe that this contributed to qualifying the militants for the construction of a new, bigger and bolder phase of struggle, as it in fact was, even since before the first big action. They just weren't expecting that the mobilisations would grow so much and, largely, completely bypass what had been planned.
Another factor that could have contributed is that, after eight years and for the first time in the struggle against the increase in Sao Paulo, we have a mayor from the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers Party, PT). The struggle also interested strong conservative sectors further to the right, which have been trying to erode the image of the new mayor, and with it, that of the federal government. A key element was the position of the media that, at first, positioned itself against the movement. As the protests grew, as well as the popular support – coupled with massive repression which reached a significant part of the reporters from the large media companies – the media started changing its position and moving to defend the movement. They preferred, however, to promote their own agendas and encourage pacifism, civility, nationalism, criminalising the more radical sectors. Finally, we can identify that technology in general (cameras on cellular phones, for example), notably the internet, allowed for the dissemination of what was happening in the protests and that this was boosted by social networks. This variable is also relevant.
JB: What has been the role of social networks in the mobilisations?OASL: None of this would be possible without the movement's years of building struggle, or without this feeling of revolt against state repression. However, social networks also play a key role, as we said. Facebook is one important tool for MPL, and its main point of reference. The call to the actions was done through "events", public notes have been released making clarifications about the struggle and, especially, it is through it that the vehicles of mass communication are debunked.
The first demonstration had about 5 thousand people, and already had live coverage on Jornal Nacional, the country's main television news. The same was to continue with the following actions: the mainstream media kept talking of struggle (even before the tariff reduction, it was already on the cover of many of the country's major newspapers and magazines). Initially, the protesters were labelled as vandals, youth without a cause and other positions trying to delegitimise the movement. So the whole country was talking about the demonstrations, which was fundamental, and through social networks shared videos and information that showed another side of the story.
The repression, contrary to causing fear, encouraged the revolt of the population and, in Sao Paulo, the government halted the most massive repressions by the Tropa de Choque (Shock Troop). The demonstrators, heavily influenced by the mainstream media, began to denouncing any acts of violence and "pacifism" became one of the main common senses of the protests.
In our assessment, recent events confirm what the anarchists have always advocated: it is not enough that the people take to the streets; it is necessary that the people conquer power, from the bottom up, at their own rhythm and organisation, not by taking the state, but through the construction of participatory and popular organisations. For this, grassroots work is indispensable. If there is no prior preparation, political discussion is abstracted and co-opted by the more organised sectors of society. In the current case, the big capitalists and the state. A large part of the population that is in the streets have no accumulation in political discussions and just reproduce what they have seen for a long time through the lens of the dominant ideology. They were conditioned to convert the demands to issues that matter to the right, like the "pride of being Brazilian", "less taxes", "less impunity" etc.
Social networks are not good in and of themselves and don't, in any way, replace the importance and necessity for popular organisation and permanent grassroots work.
JB: Are the demonstrations only about the bus fare increase or are there other social more profound social questions that are being raised? if so, what are they and why?OASL: MPL maintains that any bus fare is theft, since it is a public service and, as such, should be free. The movement believes that the question of urban mobility is directly related to other basic rights, such as health, education and culture. In addition it defends that the right to come and go not be restricted to getting to and from work. The right to the city, that every citizen can enjoy the things that the city offers, is then a central and very profound point. Decriminalisation of social movements is also an important issue and should gain momentum with the arrival of the World Cup.
But in any case MPL maintained before the repeal of the increases, and we share this analysis, that the agenda of the struggle should continue being the immediate reduction in tariffs. We are concerned that a struggle for everything would end up as a conquest of nothing. Therefore we support the focus on tariff reduction. From the moment that the reduction is won, the fight could advance to the next steps and, through the accumulation of short- and medium-term gains, the movement could be increasingly strengthened. This point of view was shared by virtually the whole left.
However, with the winning of the reduction, other demands have been raised. Some by the left, such as the need for zero tariffs, an end to the repression of social movements, the advance of struggles for rights etc. Others by the more conservative right, or even by much of the common sense that pervades many people who are on the streets. The size of the demonstrations led the population towards optimism, to thinking that "Brazil is changing" and to the will to demand everything that comes to mind. In our view, it is important that our sector, that seeks to build autonomous and combative popular struggles, resumes this continuity of issues.
JB: What type of demographics are involved in the protests? Are they mainly activists and youth or have the protests assumed a more popular character?OASL: In recent days the struggles have won over a more plural crowd. In the central regions of the city we have noticed a collection of forces composed more or less as follows. A more autonomous and combative sector, linked to MPL, which is strong and spearheaded the beginning of the movement. A more traditional left sector, with parties and movements, which had significant involvement since the beginning of the protests. A majority sector of new people who have taken to the streets (research has shown that most people had never taken to the streets before), and that reproduce a lot of the common sense; they are mainly conservatives and support demands linked to the conservative agenda. The repudiation of political parties, which ended up being a repudiation of the whole left, comes from this wing. Finally, there is a sector, certainly the minority, that combines the extreme right, in some cases linked to military sectors, of big capital and landlords. The question that is still not clear is what the capacity of these new people that are the majority is to adhere to proposals of combative class struggle, though independent of political parties and the state.
In terms of class, the demonstrations in the central region of the city are composed, mostly, of who is or has been in higher education. However, it is possible to notice the participation of workers and residents of the periphery; the majority outside of the organised left. In the peripheries social movements have held very important demonstrations of markedly popular character and with positions further to the left. Perhaps the continuity of the protests should be sought in these initiatives, by those who actually want to build alternatives of popular power.
In terms of numbers, the country has come to mobilise over one million people (0,5% of the population); in Sao Paulo we reached a few hundred thousand in a few days.
JB: How did the population in general react to the protests? Both to the excessive use of force by the police and the accusations of vandalism?OASL: There is a very large division in the general reaction. In the first demonstrations we had the following picture: there were those that denounced the demonstrators as freeloading vandals, but even then it was not a majority position. There were those who argued that the demonstrations were peaceful, and those that denounced state violence. However, given the widespread manipulation of the media and the lack of preparation of the left to respond to the accusations, today we have a large number of people that accuse any more radical direct action as vandalism. It is an attempt to separate the peaceful protesters from the violent ones and, unfortunately, in a few cases, the government has tried to place the blame for the violent actions on the anarchists. This was the case in Rio Grande do Sul (RS), with the invasion by the police of the local of the Federação Anarquista Gaúcha (Gaucha Anarchist Federation, FAG) and the attempt to blame them not only for the acts of vandalism, but for the cumulation of support for right-wing initiatives. This is really absurd.
First of all, violence is directly propagated by the system in which we live. Violence is to use daily the precarious transport system that we have, violence is dying in the queues of public hospitals, violence is the education of our public schools, violence is the exploitation that we suffer daily when we work. This has to be clear. Capitalism is a system based on violence. We are violated every day. And when the people complain, mobilise, they are again violated by the state, as have been the cases of repression throughout the country. The violence of the demonstrations is in response to this situation to which the population is subjected every day.
Still, we must remember that the last demonstrations in Sao Paulo showed cases of violence between the protesters themselves, stimulated by sectors of the extreme right and led by the inexperienced and conservatives that are in the streets. Violence against party militants, social movements and the whole organised left. And it was not a rejection by the left, but by the right, in fascist speeches and attitudes. A lot of the advocates of non-violence acceded to that, a fact that the media hardly addressed.
JB: There are also protests against the tariff increases in Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and other cities. What is the social character of these protests? Are they similar to Sao Paulo?OASL: One cannot say that the social character is the same. At least in our impression this conservative sector is bigger in Sao Paulo than in the rest of the country. However, other cities have been widely mobilised and in this there is similarity. The country is widely mobilised in general.
As for MPL, what we can say is that one of its principles is federalism, and that there are cities and states where the movement exists organisationally. Its articulation in several states and even the building of blocs of struggle against the increase has contributed to this building of the movement's independent and combative left.
We believe that the previous victories, which include Porto Alegre, and the victories of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro – not to mention other regions – have contributed to the increase in demonstrations.
JB: Brazil is currently hosting the Confederations Cup. Next year it will host the FIFA World Cup and in 2016 Rio de Janeiro will host the Olympic Games. What has been the social impact of hosting these mega-events?OASL: In testimony on public television networks, President Dilma Rousseff guaranteed that "Brazil deserves and will host a great World Cup", and that she supported peaceful protests, but will not "compromise with violence and riot". New laws against "terrorism" have also arisen, facilitating the criminalisation of social movements and direct action, and guaranteeing the protection of the capitalists and their crimes.
Clearly these mega-events have brought social impacts quite contrary to anything that could be popular. Politically, it strengthens power figures and their images and, deliberatively, their union takes place with big entrepreneurs and speculators. Following the final confirmation of these events, systematisation in the processes of social cleansing gained momentum in various conservative and reactionary sectors. Building contractors have profited like never before due to the intense speculation in the real estate sector, and these same contractors were responsible for financing parties of the liberal wing. We know that favelas have been torched in a criminal way, with the clear objective of cleaning the image of the cities for tourists.
In Sao Paulo, drug users have suffered police repression at the behest of the government, which even includes interning these people compulsorily. In Rio de Janeiro, a process that the police, with the help of the media, have called "pacification". It serves as an argument for the installation of police in the favelas and to continue with the cleansing and the murders. All the media, together with the bourgeoise and even the military use these subterfuges to resume and propagate an ultranationalist sentiment lost after two periods of military dictatorship.
JB: Are the current protests in some way related to these mega-events?OASL: The trigger was the increases in bus, subway and train tariffs. However, together with many issues that arose, to the left and the right, the question of the World Cup has been relevant. People have questioned the public investment in these mega-events while the country needs investment in many other areas like education, health, transport etc. This has certainly contributed to the demonstrations.
From the beginning, MPL has supported the movement Copa Para Quem? (Cup for Who?), which raises these issues, and is united with the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (Homeless Workers Movement, MTST), which also makes the refelction that the World Cup has occasioned questions of housing and property speculation in the periphery.
JB: Has the popular revolt in Turkey had any influence on what is currently happening in Sao Paulo and other cities? And the Arab Spring?OASL: These revolts always raise our spirit of what is possible. To see other people rising up makes working men and women question why they are not taking to the streets and demanding their rights, reminding them of everything that it is necessary to win.
But two years ago, during the last round of struggles against the tariff increase, we had already seen other countries rising and there was no adherence that would come even minimally close to what we see today. There may be a strong influence in the unconscious or symbolic camp, especially for the militants and activists, but very little can be said about the great mass in the streets.
JB: Is there anything that people outside of Brazil can do to support the struggle there?OASL: Discuss these demonstrations and demonstrate solidarity publicly in organised demonstrations in your countries and through statements of support. Dissemination and propaganda is always something that helps.
Another important thing is to give support to the struggle against the repression that anarchists have suffered in other parts of the country, especially the case of the Federação Anarquista Gaúcha (FAG), and to other struggles underway such as that of the students and staff at UNESP, besides several other struggles of Brazilian popular movements.
JB: Would you like to add anything else?OASL: We think it is important to emphasise the importance of organised and continuous grassroots work. The image of hundreds of thousands of people spontaneously occupying the streets brought new optimistic airs, of the possibility of concrete change outside of the polls. For the social imagination, the occupation of the streets became the new terrain for doing politics. But, thanks to the distortion of the facts, it has also become the only terrain. The right is trying to construct the idea that all political organisation is inherently opportunist and corrupt, while grassroots work is supposedly unnecessary, since, as the protesters chanted, "the people have awoken" (and when were they asleep)?
The streets are a fundamental tool to make the struggle public, but it is not in them that the public debate and political training will be completely carried out. It is through daily struggle in the social, student, trade union and community movements that the people build the necessary power to win their emancipation. What we are seeing today is that, if on one hand the left has the potential to mobilise, some of its ways are very worn. It is necessary, in our view, to emphasise grassroots work and to adopt a strategy that contributes to this emancipatory project. In our view, in the demonstrations, in the popular movements stimulating class struggle, combativeness, independence, democratic participation; in short, trying to build popular power. We should not leave aside the symbolic struggle.
The key point is that this potential must be converted into a social force that contributes to our project of a new society; and this is not by way of the state or agreements with capitalists. The people need their own alternative. If there is no popular organisation, struggles will continue to be lost. As anarchists, we maintain that this organisation will be better prepared if it is built from the bottom up, with a strong base and capable of taking the struggle towards paths that interest it as a class.
We live in a historic moment, a turning point in the mood of the population. We have had an immense quantitative advance in the struggle, and if we want to advance even further we need to focus on grassroots work where, with daily struggle, we can learn from our mistakes and successes.
Forward in the building of popular power!