A Report from Rio, Brazil

by Jamie Allinson on June 30, 2013

First published by the International Socialist Network (U.K.)

The protest movement in Brazil has reached a stage that is both inspiring and effective – a status that the headlines of the bourgeois press (“Chaos!” “Out of Control!”) make obvious even to the visitor with the scantiest grasp of Portuguese. Last week millions of people demonstrated throughout the country, including all the major cities. The rise in bus fares that originally sparked the demonstrations has been rescinded and President Dilma Rousseff has made a batch of concessions, including the promise that oil revenues will only be spent on education.

Here in Rio, the demonstration headed north from the city centre towards the prefectural governorate building. It was a march of the hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million. The end of the demonstration was still setting off when the front arrived at its destination: indeed, the absence of police on most of the route (they guarded the ministries, and emerged later with tear gas and batons) gave the protest the feeling of a liberated zone. The marchers were very young, and their placards homemade. The slogans on these were diverse, and often presented the new in-jokes of global protest, including a Portuguese translation of the “Dumbledore would not accept this” sign first spotted at the 2010 student protests in London, and the increasingly ubiquitous Guy Fawkes masks. As in Egypt, the crowd is conscious of itself as a political actor, calling on the inhabitants of surrounding apartment blocks to come to the streets and join in – or at least to switch their lights on and off in support. The protest spilled out into other areas as it dispersed, taking over squares south of the centre and confronting the cops.

Miguel Borba De Sa describes the political heterogeneity of the protests here. The plurality of the placards and slogans called for funding for health and education, against corruption and against FIFA and the marketing of Brazil as a site for global mega-events at the expense of its citizens. The placards were attached to the fence opposite the Ministry of the Armed Forces, making a wall of handmade demands about half a mile long. One placard read “If your daughter is ill, take her to a stadium”, another “until today I was a worker, now I am half-gay”. This last is a reference to a further indignity, the appointment as president of the human rights commission of Marco Feliciano, a homophobic evangelical who has introduced legislation re-stigmatising homosexuality as a mental illness.

As in Syria, Turkey – or indeed anywhere – anyone looking for their own vision of a pure revolutionary subject in these protests will be disappointed. The demonstration in Rio was swathed in patriotic yellow and green, and most of those denouncing FIFA were wearing the national football jersey. There were casually homophobic and sexist chants as much as there were slogans against the “gay cure”. The right have also turned up to the protests, seeking to divert them in their own direction and on occasion attacking members of the ruling Workers’ Party who had joined the protests. Yet the development of assemblies against fare rises, reminiscent of the assemblies of the squares seen elsewhere, suggests a more robust connection to the popular quarters.

Paul Mason has added Brazil to his list of countries off in which “it” has kicked, and from the vantage point of Avenida Presidente Vargas there is no reason to disagree with him. Is this the “permanent revolution” of the BRICs? Mason does not mean the term in its classical sense and the word “revolution” is one that should be used with care. Nonetheless, what seems to unite Brazil with Turkey, and one might argue Egypt, Tunisia or Greece, is the failure of a development model that painted itself as post-authoritarian and post-populist.

The political background here is far removed from the anaemic response to austerity mounted in the (former) capitalist heartlands. Still, the emergence of a heterogeneous, militant, massive and unruly protest movement that actually appears to have achieved something is surely worth talking about.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas Barton June 30, 2013 at 1:48 pm

The article says, above: “Paul Mason has added Brazil to his list of countries off in which ‘it’ has kicked…”

What does that mean?

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Paul July 1, 2013 at 7:14 am

Paul Mason’s book Why it’s Kicking off Everywhere was the first serious look at the wave of unrest and riots sweeping Europe and N Africa after the start of the financial crisis. Still one of the best on the subject.

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Aaron Aarons July 1, 2013 at 11:46 am

Apparently, “countries in which ‘it’ has kicked off” would have appeared to violate the pedants’ old rule of not ending a sentence with a preposition and the writer of this clumsy phrase was, I hope, playing with that silly rule and not taking it seriously.

But I said “appeared to violate” that rule because, in fact, ‘off’ in this use is not a preposition but a verbal particle, and ‘kick off’ is a verbal phrase. OTOH, in the sentence “The statue was kicked off its pedestal”, ‘off’ is a preposition and ‘kicked off’ is not a verbal phrase.

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Thomas Barton July 1, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Got it.

Like “Throw mama from the train a knish.”

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