Return of the Social Movement
By: Raúl Zibechi
The June mobilizations in Brazil can constitute a sharp turn of long duration. They are the first large demonstrations in 20 years, since 1992 against then President Fernando Collor de Melo, who was forced to resign. Things are different now: the movement is much broader, encompassing hundreds of cities, the most organized sectors propose goals of greater reach with an anti-capitalist orientation and we are not facing a punctual explosion but rather the coming together en masse of an extensive discontent.
The above permits venturing that we are probably facing the beginning of a new cycle of struggles impelled by organizations different from those of the previous period. But, what were the prior movements?
In the 1970s, a real social earthquake was produced in Brazil, seen from below, in the middle of the military regime. The factory commissions embodied a new unionism of rejecting the vertical structure of official unionism. The strikes in São Bernardo do Campo and other cities of the São Paulo manufacturing belt broke the regime’s control, a movement that took shape in the creation of the Workers’ Only Central (Central Única de los Trabajadores, CUT) in 1983. In 1979, landless campesinos again took up occupations as tools of struggle, with the occupation of the Macali y Brilhante haciendas (plantations) that are considered the origin of the MST (Movimiento Sin Tierra). In 1980, the Workers Party (Partido de los Trabajadores, PT) was created.
The big creations of the Brazilian popular movement started through small resistance movements and struggles, and by actors, let’s say, marginal from those point of view of big politics. The PT’s creation is the junction of three currents: the defeated from the armed struggle of the 60s and 70s, the faith-based communities –that never separated ethics from politics– and the new unionism, within the context of a broad popular movement for freedom. As Chico de Oliveira, the great Brazil sociologist, points out, those junctures are very rare in history, and are not repeatable.
Two decades later, things have changed radically. The higher stratum of unionism has become, through pension funds, an ally of financial capital and the Brazilian multi-nationals. The PT is one more traditional party, which in no way differs from the parties of the right, or with any of those that co-govern. The politics of the possible led the party of Lula to dirty itself in notorious corruption cases like the monthly allowance (mensalão), which was paid to parliamentarians to vote with the government. Only the MST refused, even paying the price of greater isolation.
The same year that Lula arrived in the government more than 40,000 youths won the streets of Salvador (Bahia), against the increase of the urban transportation fares in a 10-day movement known as the Buzu Revolt (in reference to the buses). The following year, in 2004, another massive mobilization in Florianopolis struggled against high transportation costs, the Turnstile Revolt. The student apparatuses negotiated with the municipal power passing over the movement, generating a profound rejection.
In 2005, at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, the Free Pass Movement (MPL, its initials in Portuguese) was created, with groups in all the big cities. We’re talking about small nuclei that functioned based on the principles of horizontality, autonomy, federalism, and not supporting a political party, but not anti-political party. In that way, they rejected hierarchical and centralized organizations, dependent on the State and the government, which hegemonized the popular field. The MPL wasn’t the only movement of this kind. The Central of Independent Media (CMI, or Indymedia Brazil), the Without Roof Movement (MTST, its initials in Spanish), the unemployed (MTD), the picketers and autonomous and libertarian student groups in the universities and some high schools, formed a vast rainbow.
The MPL stood out for mobilizing tens of thousands of people in the streets, because of the poor quality of urban transportation, in general private, and for its abusive prices. Towards 2008, the Popular Committees of the Cup emerge, which analyzed the consequences that the public works for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games have for the population. Just like the others, they are small groups of heterogeneous composition that started to work with the communities on the urban peripheries and residents of the favelas threatened by the mega-works.
What’s most important is that in those groups a new political and protest culture was being born. Some call it direct action. Anyway it is inspired in the four axes mentioned; it grew and expanded outside of the institutions and has no calling to become an organizational apparatus separated from the people that struggle and mobilize or from participating in elections. In a long decade of consumerist consensus, lubricated by social policies that froze inequality, that new culture was settling into the margins of social action and it began to expand from there.
In the half-year prior to June’s large mobilizations, those modes of acting won victories in a dozen cities, in the resistance to the public works for the World Cup and in the reduction of the cost of transportation. That culture went from calling on hundreds to mobilizing tens of thousands. As is known, police repression and the FIFA’s dominance did the rest. When the people started to spill over into the big avenues, all of Brazil knew that the works for the World Cup form part of a segregationist urban reform concocted by speculative capital. They struggle for the right to the city that capital denies to them.
Now we know that towards 2003, in Bahia, the slow forging of a new band of movements began. But we must not forget that it all began because of small groups of youths, at the margins of the political system and against the grain of the institutions.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Friday, July 12, 2013
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee