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Not Everyone Criticizing the Protests in Brazil Defends the Brazilian Government

Many demonstrators posed for photos with the police on Sunday. Photo: DCM

No tear gas or rubber bullets this time: many demonstrators posed for photos with the police on March's anti-government protests. Photo: DCM

As dissatisfaction with left-wing President Dilma Rousseff grows, the latest in a series of anti-government protests to hit Brazil is scheduled for this Sunday, April 12. In March, Brazilians dressed in yellow and green and carrying the Brazilian flag took to the streets by the thousands. Some demonstrators demanded Rousseff's impeachment, while a minority called for the military to intervene. Many held signs and chanted songs against communism (“Our flag will never be red!”) and the majority condemned corruption.

A social media war has followed the rallies in the streets. Being excluded from the party, some leftists immediately took to the Internet last month. “A fascist festival!”, one Facebook user commented. “No blacks or indigenous to be seen” and “the protest of the elite”, others wrote — despite the fact the many leftists are from the upper classes themselves.

Those who attended or supported the demonstration countered that the gathering was “diverse” with participants making a “multitude of different demands”. They remarked that this was a protest of “the Brazilian people” — though one activist from a homeless movement was expelled from the Copacabana protest with shouts of “Go to Cuba!”

But among the online bickering was a third camp: Brazilians who identify with the left, but refuse to buy into the racial or class divides or defend the Rousseff's Workers’ Party government. 

Taking a selfie. Photo: Mídia Ninja, Flickr / CC-BY-NC

Taking a selfie. Photo: Mídia Ninja, Flickr / CC-BY-NC

Brazil's Worker's Party (PT, in Portuguese), which has been in power since 2002, had its genesis in the working class, like many other leftist parties and organisations in Latin America. Its base was the peasants in the countryside, the big cities’ poor suburbs, and the factories’ workers unions — its founder, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, who was Brazil's president between 2002 and 2010, was a union leader himself.

But after the party came into power, it gradually lost its populist touch. Alliances with conservative politicians were forged and concessions in its historical agenda in the name of “governability” were made. As current lawmaker and one of the Worker's Party founders Luiza Erundina said in a recent interview to Carta Capital magazine, the party has “divorced” itself from its popular base:

O PT deixou de ser um partido de massas, dedicado à formação política das classes populares, dos trabalhadores, dos sindicatos, das periferias. O foco da militância se deslocou. Eles saíram do chão da fábrica, das periferias, dos movimentos sociais e campesinos. Eles entraram para os espaços da política formal. Com isso, o partido perdeu a novidade que carregava. O PT se divorciou de suas bases. Não diria que isso foi intencional, uma ação planejada. A própria dinâmica do jogo político levou a esse distanciamento, a esse divórcio com as bases. De repente, as lideranças populares e sindicais estavam nos espaços institucionais, sem aquela mesma liberdade, criatividade e ativismo que representava o PT. E não havia outro partido que pudesse se aproximar e ser isso que um dia foi o PT.

The Worker's Party has ceased being a party of the masses, dedicated to the political education of the lower classes, of the workers, the unions, the suburbs. Its focus has changed. Its activists have left the factory floors and the social and peasant movements and entered the spaces of formal politics. This led the party to lose its unique original quality and to divorce itself from its base. I wouldn't say this was intentional or a calculated action. It's the dynamic of the political game itself that carried the party toward this estrangement, this divorce. Suddenly, community and union leaders were in the institutional spaces, without the same liberty, creativity and activism that were the Workers’ Party trademark. And there wasn't another party that could become what PT once was.

That base has been feeling largely unrepresented in the formal political sphere for years. Among their demands that the both Lula's and Rousseff's governments have failed to address are land reform and media regulation — demands that have been around since the party's foundation — and more recently, abortion legalisation and civil rights for the LGBT population.

Now, this group is growing vocal. Below are the words of some of them: bloggers, activists and journalists.

Eliane Brum, who is a veteran Brazilian journalist and pens a column in El País Brasil, says the party needs to worry more about the masses that are not taking to the streets than the ones who are. The former, she argues, are the activists and movements the government have forgotten:

O maior risco para o PT, para além do governo e do atual mandato, talvez não seja a multidão que ocupou as ruas do Brasil, mas a que não estava lá. São os que não estavam nem no dia 13 de março, quando movimentos como CUT, UNE e MST organizaram uma manifestação que, apesar de críticas a medidas de ajuste fiscal tomadas pelo governo, defendia a presidente Dilma Rousseff. Nem estavam no já histórico domingo, 15 de março, quando centenas de milhares de pessoas aderiram aos protestos, em várias capitais e cidades do país, em manifestações contra Dilma Rousseff articuladas nas redes sociais da internet, com bandeiras que defendiam o fim da corrupção, o impeachment da presidente e até uma aterradora, ainda que minoritária, defesa da volta da ditadura. São os que já não sairiam de casa em dia nenhum empunhando uma bandeira do PT, mas que também não atenderiam ao chamado das forças de 15 de março, os que apontam que o partido perdeu a capacidade de representar um projeto de esquerda – e gente de esquerda. É essa herança do PT que o Brasil, muito mais do que o partido, precisará compreender. E é com ela que teremos de lidar durante muito mais tempo do que o desse mandato.

Maybe the biggest risk for the Worker's Party, beyond the government and the current mandate, isn't the masses that took to the Brazilian streets, but the masses that weren't there. They are the ones who didn't go to the March 13 protests, when social movements like CUT (Central Worker's Union), UNE (National Student Union) and MST (Land Reform Movement) organized a demonstration that, despite its criticism of the austerity measures recently implemented by the government, defended President Dilma Rousseff. They were also not at the already historic Sunday, March 15 demonstration, when hundreds of thousands of people gathered in many Brazilian cities against Dilma Rousseff in protests organized through social media, calling for an end to corruption, the president's impeachment and even a frightening, despite secondary, return of the military dictatorship. They are the ones who wouldn't leave their homes carrying a Workers’ Party flag, but wouldn't answer the calls of the March 15 forces, the ones who say that the party has lost its ability to represent the platform of the left — and people from the left. This is a legacy of the Workers’ Party that Brazil, much more than the party itself, will need to understand. It's this legacy that we'll have to deal with for a period much longer than this mandate.

Fábio ZC discussed on his Facebook page the impeachment of Rousseff, which most protesters on March 15 were demanding:

1-) Não é golpe. Golpe é destituir um presidente sem o devido processo legal. O impeachment está previsto na constituição e é um dispositivo legítimo.

2-) Ser legítimo não o torna menos suscetível a ser usado como manobra política, pois é isso que ele é: um ato político. A palavra de um jurista não tem muito valor aqui pois se o congresso quiser, ele cassa um presidente sem provas ou mantém alguém com provas de crime. Basicamente todos os presidentes desde Vargas possuem motivos para serem impedidos, só não o foram por razões políticas.

[…]

4-) Não acho que a Dilma sofrerá o impeachment. […]

5-) Porém, se acontecer, não derramarei uma lágrima e não moverei um dedo para defender essa presidência. Tampouco adiantará o que restou do PT e seus militantes chamarem as “ruas” pois quem abandonou as ruas há décadas, não conseguirá mobilizar agora. E nem todo mundo que não se importa com o governo ou com o PT é coxinha.

6-) Ao abandonar as ruas e optar pela luta institucional, o governo escolheu um caminho. E quando esse caminho falha, não adianta choramingar. Quem dorme com cobra na cama eventualmente será mordido.

7-) Vivemos uma nova época, uma nova safra de militantes fora do alcance da institucionalidade, com novas formas de pensar. E isso incomoda. Os movimentos sociais não vão se importar por um governo que nunca se importou com eles.

 
About the impeachment:

1-) It's not a coup. A coup is to oust a president without due legal process. The impeachment is provided for in the Constitution and it's a legitimate process.

2-) To be legitimate doesn't make it less likely to be used as political tool, because this is what it is: a political act. The word of a jurist isn't worth a lot here because if Congress wants, it will oust a president without proof and will keep someone when there is proof against them. Basically, all presidents since Vargas have had some reason to be deposed, not only weren't because of political reasons.

4-) I don't think Dilma will be impeached. […]

5-) But, if it happens, I won't shed a single tear and won't move a single finger to defend her presidency. Neither will it be worth it if what's left of the Workers’ Party and its activists call for action in the streets because those who have abandoned the streets for decades won't be able to mobilize anyone now. And not everyone who doesn't care about the government or the Workers’ Party is a conservative.

6-) By abandoning the streets and choosing the institutional fight, the government chose a path. And when this path fails, to cry won't help. Whoever sleeps with snakes in their beds eventually will be bitten.

7-) We are experiencing new times, a new crop of activists who are beyond the reach of institutions, with new ways of thinking. And this bothers. The social movements won't care about a government that never cared about them.

Demonstrators wearing the Brazilian flag's colors on Sunday

Demonstrators wearing the Brazilian flag's colors on Sunday. Photo by Mídia Ninja, Flickr / CC-BY-NC

Bruno Torturra, a journalist and media activist who has more than 20,000 followers on Facebook, observed that the protests had more of a neoliberal than conservative tone, and leftists should pay attention to that:

E enquanto a esquerda se preocupa mais com a demografia branca da turba canarinha, insistindo no erro da desqualificação, algumas lamas correm livres debaixo dos nossos pés.

Não é o golpismo que ganha força. É a agenda liberal. Privatizações, o livre mercado, o dólar, a análise do sucesso nacional baseada em índices econômicos são fatores que, no mundo real, melhor traduzem e aplacam os berros surdos na Paulista. E serão as promessas e plataformas políticas que vão ornar bonitinho com as fotos de ontem. Olho vivo.

While the left is more worried about the white demographics of Sunday's green-and-yellow crowd, insisting on the mistake of delegitimizing them, a lot of mud runs free beneath our feet.

It's not advocacy of a coup that gains strength. It's the liberal agenda. Privatizations, free market, the US dollar, the analysis of a country's success based on economic indexes are factors that, in the real world, better translate and calm down the deaf shouts on Paulista Avenue. And those are the promises and platforms that will beautifully adorn yesterday's photos. Eyes on that.

Giuseppe Cocco, a political scientist and analyst, talks about the left's need to position itself in the new political landscape:

 O PT conseguiu fazer como na Argentina e na Venezuela, entregar à direita a hegemonia sobre a justa indignação. Houve sim uma verdadeira e massiva mobilização social, mas com um viés conservador. Para as forças de transformação democrática (ou seja, para a esquerda como resultado dessa prática e não como condição metafísica), o desafio é hoje como conseguir ficar dentro dessa justa indignação (claro, não das manifestações da direita!). Não é simples! 

The Workers’ Party did as was done in Venezuela and Argentina: to give away the hegemony of honest indignation to the right. Indeed, there was a real and massive social mobilization, but with a conservative bias. For the transformative forces of democracy (that is, the left as a result of this practice and not as metaphysical condition), the challenge today is how to push itself into this honest indignation (of course, not into the right's demonstrations!). It's not simple!

Gustavo Gindre, a journalist, blogger and a member of democratic media advocacy collective Intervozes, argued this week following the approval of a law that makes labour relations in Brazil more flexible that the left now merely defend the maintenance of the status quo:

A pauta da esquerda é não perder. Enquanto a da direita é mudar.
Assim, a Constituição Federal, que, quando de sua aprovação, foi duramente criticada pela esquerda (alguém lembra do Centrao?), hoje é vista como um bastião de direitos. A CLT, que já foi uma imposição do Estado Novo, hoje é a nossa garantia de direitos. Num mundo em constante mutação, perdemos a pauta das mudanças e a entregamos de bandeja para a direita. Urge retomar a hegemonia do conceito de mudança. Urge ressignificar a mudança.

The left's agenda is not to lose. While the right's is to change. In this way, our Federal Constitution, which when approved [in 1988] was heavily criticised by the left, is now regarded as a bulwark of rights. The CLT [the Brazilian Labour Law], which was originally an imposition of the Estado Novo [“New State”, a 1930s regime], is now our guarantee of rights. In a world of constant transformation, we have lost the vanguard of change and have handed it over on a platter to the right. It's crucial to retake the hegemony of the concept of change. We need to re-signify the change. 

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