Raúl Zibechi: When the Peripheries Move


Flash mob at the Mall

Flash mob at the Mall

Raúl Zibechi

Groups of youths from 15 to 20 years old are self-convoking in the shopping centers of Brazil, above all in São Paulo, although the practice is extending throughout the country, to walk around, have fun and to sing and dance ostentation funk, a genre derived from funk carioca that exalts consumption, luxury brands, money and pleasure. They are youths that come from the São Paulo peripheries, poor and, therefore, Black.

On December 7, some 6,000 came together at the Itaquera [1] Metro Shopping Center, habitually frequented by families of the periphery. On the 14th several hundred entered Guarulhos International Shopping Center dancing and shouting, and although there were no damages, robberies, or consumption of drugs, the police repressed them again and carried 23 off arrested for no reason.

The flash mobs (rolezinhos) were held for several years on the part of students or fans of musicians or sports celebrities. The University of São Paulo (USP) economics students held one of the most famous rolezinhos since 2007 in the Eldorado Shopping Center. They were never repressed, not even made uncomfortable by security, although they came en masse and without prior warning. They shouted offenses and when some of them went up to the tables, security politely asked them to get down (Folha de São Paulo, January 21, 2014).

To the contrary, when dealing with youths from the peripheries, property owners of the commercial centers find protection in court decisions, sellers close businesses and clients insult them and treat them like delinquents. They create the climate ripe for repression from the Military Police, one of the most deadly in the world.

Journalist Eliane Brum asks: “Why are the Black youth from the peripheries of Greater São Paulo being criminalized?” (El País-Brasil, December 23, 2013). In the national imaginary, she maintains, for the poor youths to have fun outside the limits of the ghetto and to desire consumer objects is something offensive, because “the shopping centers were constructed to keep them out.” Not just the shopping centers: the whole society leaves them out.

Those from below always move around, show themselves, if it is only to come out of the periphery using the same codes as the capitalist society. They are discriminated against and beaten up because they are occupying spaces that are not meant for them. In this case, they committed a major crime: not only did they dare to show the same objects as the rich on their dark-skinned bodies, but they also began to occupy spaces-temples sacred to the middle and upper classes.

When the peripheries move around, they uncover the power relations that in daily life appear covered by inertias, beliefs, media influence, religion and ideologies. The first thing that they have shown is the texture of power: the role of the repressive apparatuses and of the justice (system) as servants of capital; how racism and classism are interwoven as the axes for oppression and exploitation; the role of the city as a space for real estate speculation, in other words, for urban extractivism. [2]

The second thing is the intransigence of the middle classes, in particular that sector of new consumers that recently left poverty thanks to economic growth because of the high price of commodities and social assistance policies. There is a generational problem here: the youths that make flash mobs are children of those who they accuse of being robbers and they beat them with their clubs. They belong to the same social sector, but few are grateful and they want more.

The third question is related to us. I consulted a friend and member of the Passe Livre Movement [3] (N de la R: he travels free on public transportation), who played a relevant role in the June demonstrations, to ask his opinion about what’s happening. Annoyed, he told me that they are tired of being interpreted by others, above all people that do not have the least relationship with their struggles but establish themselves as analysts, thereby establishing a relationship of colonial power, subject-object, in that second place always falls to those from below.

In a few days an infinity of analyses were triggered that sought to explain what the youths do, often kicking it far from the goal. Even more damaging are the discourses that individuals and groups on the left have been issuing. During the June demonstrations when they were playing for the (FIFA) Confederations Cup, they labeled the mobilizations as provocations that can favor the right; an absurd calculation, but efficient for isolating and de-mobilizing.

With respect to the flash mobs they affirm that they are “uncommitted, de-politicized actions,” which in the end only seek to be integrated through consumption. Although an age prejudice also appears here: the older generations (to which I belong) usually recite sermons on what is correct and what is deviation to the youths, with the same air of superiority that the party cadres admonished us in 1969 and 1970.

But what appears more serious is the mystification of the social struggles. The workers of Saint Petersburg that championed the 1905 Revolution and created the first soviets were not politicized by the speeches and texts of Lenin or Trotsky, but by the Czar’s bullets when they marched to the Winter Palace to deliver him a petition, headed by Father Gapon, who was working for the secret police. Bloody Sunday politicized the Russian workers. Something similar happened with the women’s march to Versailles in October 1789, which sealed the end of the monarchy.

A profound confusion exists about the role of ideologies and leaders in revolutions and in the processes of change. Pure spontaneity, which does not exist according to Gramsci, does not lead very far, often to bloody failures. But, “conscious and external direction” does not guaranty good results. We can attempt to learn together, above all when the peripheries move around and place our old wisdoms in question.

Translators Notes:

[1] The Itaquera Stadium is one of the new stadiums Brazil is constructing for the World Cup this summer. It is located in São Paulo and, although not yet completed, has a Metro (rapid transit) stop and a shopping center next door.

[2] Extractivism is Zibechi’s term for accumulation by dispossession. In Mexico the word despojo is used for dispossession.

[3]  The Passe Livre (Free Fare) Movement is an autonomous Brazilian movement that advocates free public transportation.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, January 24, 2014

Translation: Chiapas Support Committee

En español: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2014/01/24/opinion/019a1pol

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