In the following analysis, anarchists in Brazil examine how the pandemic and rising far-right populism coincide in a colonial extraction economy, surveying a society headed for catastrophic collapse. In this context, self-organized mutual aid and collective defense projects involving delivery drivers, football fans, Indigenous organizers, squatters, residents of the favelas and the urban periphery, anti-fascists, and other targeted populations may indeed represent our only hope of survival.
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“History isn’t made by a handful of activists with the correct ideology, but through the unpredictable actions of countless proletarians learning to fight together against what they perceive (however inaccurately) to threaten their future. They come into these struggles with contradictory ideas, and these are only worked through in the material process of sustaining such movements and pushing them forward.”
In dystopian literature and films in which a catastrophic event causes civilization to collapse, we often see humans living in groups afterwards, planning to “rebuild the lost world,” as if restoring that same social organization and economic structure that dragged them to collapse would be the answer to their misery. To these characters—and to their leaders with their epic speeches—the problem was not the normal functioning of the system, but its end. We see this in 28 Days Later (2002), Children of Men (2006), Dawn Planet of the Apes (2014), and several other films that flirt with our desires and fears about the possibilities that would follow a disaster with the potential to irreparably unsettle our way of life—be it a nuclear apocalypse, a deadly virus, or human infertility.
The word “dés-astre,” from French, indicates detachment from celestial bodies—a disruption in our relationship with the cosmos, with our destiny. Many people can only imagine the end of capitalism as a disastrous event that would leave us desperate and astray, as in those dystopias: ruined cities, infertile soil, extreme pollution, endless wars, hunger, and, of course, deadly diseases spreading freely. Yet for those of us surviving the real world crises of disasters and pandemics caused by capitalism, normality is the problem. For us, crisis has already started and disaster—the real disaster—is for everything to continue as it is. Inequality, privatization, pollution, oppression, and violence do not represent a break with the normality of the system we live in; rather, they are the conditions of its continuation.
Capitalism isn’t the first unequal and brutal system in history. But it is the first to endanger lives worldwide so that a minority can prosper in a globally unified system. We struggle to understand it because it is the world we inhabit, the world that we share with the people we love, that we get our sustenance from—though at the expense of much suffering. In this world, tragedies are unequally distributed, to say the least: a dozen billionaires continue to determine our futures, our lives and our deaths, as they control and benefit from the majority of our planet’s resources. The rest of us compete for jobs that are becoming more and more precarious, struggling to hold on to our homes, to survive racist police—not to end up in the crowded hospitals, refrigerated trucks, or mass graves that constitute the new stage set of the pandemic.
“While hundreds of thousands of people fall victim to COVID-19 throughout the territory occupied by the Brazilian state, Bolsonaro is using Trump’s playbook to consolidate control: spreading propaganda about electoral fraud, arming his supporters, and seeking to gain more leverage over the police. How do we stop him?”
We must be done with the idea that the death of capitalism is the death of something that bears life. Capitalism is what is threatening our survival, imposing artificial competition within artificial scarcity. Even fiction authors are increasingly incapable of depicting the future as progress or a promise of “better days.” There are enough resources, food, and land for all people, but those who control them would rather destroy them than share with us. A social organization that launches satellites to explore galaxies but cannot feed the earthly population, that produces advanced medicine but intentionally renders it inaccessible to most people, is a social organization that will inevitably bring about its own collapse. We will not stop repeating: the true disaster is not the end of capitalism, but its continuation.
Scientists and official institutions like the World Health Organization are taking from environmentalist and anti-capitalist movements the “alarmist” role of announcing the global crises caused by untrammeled economic expansion. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) declared that we’re steadily approaching a catastrophic rise in the temperature of the Earth, with a maximum of twelve years to stop this process. At the beginning of the 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a report showing that at least one million species will vanish from our planet’s surface in the coming decades—this includes a great deal of familiar flora and fauna, and also insects and micro-organisms that are necessary for the agriculture that feeds all of us. In August 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, scientists from around the world published the State of the Climate 2019 report, warning that this decade has been the hottest on record. In his 2016 book Big Farms Make Big Flu, Rob Wallace had already pointed out the concrete connections between capitalism, industry, agribusiness, and epidemiological outbreaks like the one in which we live now.
Amid all this tragedy, we see that left-wing governments in the Americas and around the world are unable to contain the rise of populism. They could not refrain from corruption; they failed to fulfill their promises to “include the excluded” while protecting the privileges of the rich and the frail comfort of the so-called “middle class”—a stratum that generally identifies with the desires and ideologies of the ruling class. This is not a matter of moral judgment, but an indication that corruption is inherent in all states and capitalism, as both serve to maintain the division between those who control and those who obey, those who flaunt and those who starve. Left governments have been driven out by elections or coups led by the far right, which assume different forms in each country—whether populist, fascist, or authoritarian—but capture generalized dissatisfaction and disappointment on a global level.
Democracy keeps swinging back and forth like a pendulum, taking power from the left to give to the right and back again without any change in the political and economic structure. For each Lula or Dilma who fails to pacify rebellion by means of concessions and increased investment in repressive apparatuses and laws, new Bolsonaros and Trumps appear, ready to double down and declare themselves the new leaders who “rebel within the order” and defy the limits of democracy, stretching them to the border of totalitarianism. In this respect, we could say that the ones who call for a reactionary “revolution” today are the extreme right, while the left wallows in attempts to preserve the paltry economic, political, and social advances they used to appease us long ago, while governing to manage our misery.
We see the result from Brazil and the United States to Russia, Hungary, and India: new populist autocrats who subvert their own laws with impunity, leading governments that mire their populations in the deadly tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic. The only thing worse than living in a society in which petty leaders monopolize all the power and resources to impose decisions on our lives and our health is living in a society in which those leaders use their concentrated powers to let sickness and death stalk us without hindrance.
As we compose this text, Brazil is burying 240,000 of the 2.5 million people killed around the world and is home to over 10 million cases of infection according to official data. The coronavirus crisis is the most faithful portrait of a predictable and preventable global disaster.
The worst pandemic in over a century is not “pedagogical,” not a message from Gaia, not a divine punishment. But it is also not unrelated to human action across the world, like the meteor in the film Armageddon (1998) or the planet en route to collision with the Earth in Melancholia (2011). It is the direct result of the advance of capitalism, agribusiness and urbanization over biomes and wildlife. It is the material, political and subjective effect of an event yet to be elaborated.
We now seem to be closer to The Turin Horse (2011) by Bela Tarr, for whom the end of the world is at the same time both strange and routine, monotonous in a life reduced to survival—the slow cancellation of the future.
“The way I see the end of the world is very simple, very quiet, without any spectacle, without fireworks, without apocalypse. It goes down until it gets weaker and weaker and in the end, it ends.”
It no longer seems possible—or even preferable—to postpone the end. It is already here. The big question now is how to deal with an ending that does not precipitate itself as a revolution but as a perpetual crisis. We start by setting out for another end of the world in the midst of the disaster. It is only by beginning there that we can act.
Disinfecting a shopping mall in Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul.
II. Capitalism Is a Logistical Disaster
“I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation. It is the slavery of other men that sets up a barrier to my freedom, or what amounts to the same thing, it is their bestiality which is the negation of my humanity. For my dignity as a man, my human right which consists of refusing to obey any other man, and to determine my own acts in conformity with my convictions is reflected by the equally free conscience of all and confirmed by the consent of all humanity. My personal freedom, confirmed by the liberty of all, extends to infinity.”
–Mikhail Bakunin, “Man, Society, and Freedom”
In May 2020, asked about limiting the economy and putting rules for social distancing into practice, Bolsonaro compared Brazil to Sweden, saying that the Nordic country “didn’t stop,” representing a good example of a country that kept its “normality” in the face of the pandemic. Brazil had 13,000 deaths from the coronavirus by then, and Sweden just over three thousand.
Comparing these two countries might seem ludicrous, considering that the Swedish population is 21 times smaller than the Brazilian, in fact smaller than the 12 million people who live in the city of São Paulo. Besides, the 10 million Swedes are well-supported by state welfare and social and economic inclusion the likes of which most of the 210 million Brazilians can’t even dream of. We don’t want to pay any naïve compliments to the Nordic capitalist model, which might be better described as “the world’s biggest gated community.” The existence of these global “condominiums” in the Swedens and Norways of the world necessitates the global margins in Latin America, Africa, and Asia that serve as cheap labor reserves, natural resource extraction zones, and garbage dumps with conveniently loose regulations. This helps explain why Brazil is incapable of controlling the pandemic and its effects, despite having the largest public health system in the world, exacerbating longstanding inequalities and forms of exclusion.
Brazil is a nation of continental dimensions with a substantial production economy. However, it is still characterized by profound social inequality and a compliant role in the global market as a producer and exporter of agricultural and primary products such as grain, minerals, and oil. Fully 14 of the top 15 exports are primary. Abounding in various biomes, water, and arable land, food production on Brazilian soil is the third largest in the world, feeding 1.5 billion people worldwide. But this economy treats forests, rivers, soil, and all human and animal lives as nothing more than sources of income in the external market. It is based on individual property, concentration of wealth and land, deforestation, pollution, violence, enslaved labor, and the appropriation of Indigenous lands—a process that has not slowed since the European invasion in 1500, not even during the pandemic.
While Bolsonaro exhorts Brazilians to pretend to be Swedish, a considerable part of the population lacks access to water or sewage treatment, or even to the documents needed to apply for those services. For 35 million Brazilians, ordinary sanitation is not even possible, as there is no access to clean water. Almost 100 million people—47% of the Brazilian population—have no access to a sewage system. Unlike Sweden, where the government subsidized 90% of wages to keep people at home, approximately 46 million Brazilians in 2020 were living without any documents, bank account, or internet access, invisible to the eyes of the state and excluded from receiving emergency aid—which amounts to just over half of the Brazilian minimum wage, but four times more than the minimum of Lula’s celebrated Bolsa Familia aid. This exclusion is directly reflected in statistics about the impact of COVID-19, just as it affects those same people in the “normal” times, whether by misery or by the violence that comes along with it.
Police Violence, Safety, and Control
The disastrous scene of the Covid-19 pandemic in Brazil would not be set without the permanent state of calamity imposed by security forces. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, even with businesses closed and stay-home recommendations, murders by police rose 43% in April, the first month of lockdown and quarantine. Among the 177 people killed by Rio de Janeiro police in April 2020 were 14-year-old João Pedro, shot at home by police, and 18-year-old João Vitor, killed by police while social movement groups delivered boxes of food in Cidade de Deus. After the STF (Brazilian Federal Supreme Court) prohibited police operations during the pandemic on June 5, deaths dropped 70% throughout the entire city. Rafaela Coutinho, João Pedro’s mother, summarized the situation thus: “I was protecting João Pedro from a virus and he was a victim of an even more dreadful virus: the virus of a murdering state.”
“Black lives and lives from the favelas matter”: A protest against police violence and racism in Rio de Janeiro, May 2020.
Environmental devastation, seizures of Indigenous land, police murders, the political persecution of educators—crises don’t ever come alone. Furthermore, they often become opportunities to get certain measures passed, measures that would draw much more attention—or resistance—in other times. The current environment minister stated on video that the pandemic was an opportune moment to pass laws facilitating environmental degradation, “while the media only covers COVID.” Indeed, we have seen rapid legal measures to dismantle environmental protection legislation. The halt of inspections during the pandemic and isolation period allowed cattle ranchers, timber merchants, and miners to penetrate further into the Amazon and Pantanal forests, causing a 28% increase in fires compared to last year.
At the same time, Indigenous and quilombolas movements and groups denounced Bolsonaro’s government for putting into practice a “genocidal plan to clear the area” by permitting COVID-19 to reach communities that lack the bare minimum to resist. Even STF minister Gilmar Mendes used the word “genocide” to describe the politics of this president who vetoed measures to increase access to potable water, hygiene supplies, internet connection, and educational supplies about disease prevention in Indigenous languages in July. Bolsonaro also vetoed a measure affirming the state’s obligation to provide medical treatment to Indigenous peoples. Before the end of July, 70 thousand Indigenous people had been infected and more than 2000 had died of COVID-19 across the Americas. In the 21st century, this is the new face of a colonial project that, when it doesn’t strike Indigenous peoples directly with weapons, once more employs diseases and neglect to kill off individuals and exterminate entire communities—whether it be the Chilean state against the Mapuche people in the Araucania region or the Brazilian state against the Guarani-Kaiowa in Mato Grosso do Sul.
State surveillance measures now include innovative methods such as phone monitoring, facial recognition, and thermal camera control. We have not yet experienced such intense surveillance as the completely locked down neighborhoods in Madrid, or robots monitoring people in the streets as in Tunis, or individual phone monitoring and facial recognition tracking citizens as in China. But wherever state control gets a foothold, it can only intensify.
Isolation measures and police intervention to suppress meetings and gatherings remind us of the years of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), when there were curfews and any meeting of more than two people, however casual, was disbanded by police as potentially conspiratorial. For those who remember that time—or who still experience the police and military state in the outskirts of the cities or in rural areas—such measures always take the form of hostile enforcement, even if they are “for everyone’s health.” The classic example of why such measures can arouse people’s fury is the well-known “Revolta da Vacina” (Vaccine Revolt) of 1904, when the government of Rio de Janeiro—Brazil’s capital at the time—imposed a vaccination plan to fight smallpox by force, with cops breaking into people’s houses to make them take the vaccine. At the same time, a violent hygiene urbanization project demolished whole streets and forced the poor to move to the outskirts.
A tram overturned in Rio de Janeiro during the Vaccine Uprising of 1904.
Today, such revolts are not necessarily directed against science, medicine, or the preservation of health, but against authoritarianism and the power of those who aim to force us to accept their decisions without dialogue as a way to suppress self-organization. For example, in 2019, the governor of São Paulo, João Dória of the PSDB, re-enacted the 2014 law prohibiting masks in demonstrations in order to prevent black blocs. A year later, the same governor mandated the use of masks across the state for all people who go out to the streets for any purpose. This irony illustrates how vulnerable and alienated we are from our agency when we count on politicians and laws to determine what is best or safest for us.
Doria, the governor of São Paulo, prohibited masks in 2019 and made them mandatory in 2020.
Lines of Exclusion
It is difficult to implement remote learning where students do not have a computer or Internet access or live with several family members in dwellings of one or two rooms. The pandemic has only exacerbated the tremendous inequalities between students from public and private schools. The rise in domestic violence during the lockdowns has shed some light on patriarchy and sexism in our society. Prison revolts protesting the violation of human rights and carelessness with which prison officials permit COVID-19 to spread show the brutality of an overcrowded and murderous prison system. The new dangers threatening the lives of people in the countryside, Indigenous peoples, and the elderly reveal the social exclusion these groups have already been subjected to for centuries.
The pandemic is no different from other disasters that disproportionately affect the poor and excluded. When winter or a storm hits a city and homeless people die of cold and houses built in high-risk areas collapse, it is obvious that the problem is not the cold or rain, but that people are left without the basic resources they need to face those situations. As long as capitalism persists, the people at the bottom of the pyramid will always suffer the most in any crisis or catastrophe. Like the tragedies before it, this health crisis has an age, but also a color and an address: in April, the number of Black people killed by COVID-19 in Brazil was already five times higher than the number of white casualties. Recent studies indicate that, in São Paulo, housewives, self-employed professionals, and people using public transportation are the chief victims of the pandemic, while employers have almost no chance of infection.
As some of the anarchists who fought the cholera epidemic in Italy in 1884 put it, “The true cause of cholera is poverty, and the true medicine to prevent its return can be nothing less than social revolution.” With just a few adjustments, we can say the same thing about our situation in the 21st century. The geopolitical disparities—Brazil feeds 20% of the planet, but does not guarantee basic resources, such as water and sewage, to almost 50% of its population—prove that the problem is not scarcity of resources, but the concentration of all land, money, infrastructure, and power in the hands of fewer and fewer people. The problem with capitalism is distribution, and the cause is the very logic of its economics and politics.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it is that capitalism is full of bottlenecks that block access to resources. A crisis that threatens the health of all people on all continents, exposing the poorest and most vulnerable to preventable deaths—and by endangering them, enabling the virus to continue spreading and threatening others as well—confirms that this economic system is unable to sustain everyone. As Bakunin1 might have put it, my health depends on the health of everyone else, everywhere on the planet. Anarchists and other radicals have always held that freedom must be for everyone if anyone is to be truly free. This pandemic confirms that, while some lack freedom, while some lack equal access to resources and the autonomy to cooperate and support each other, a single sick person poses a risk to everyone’s health. Until we destroy these lines of exclusion, we will all be at risk.
A gravedigger in a section of Caju Cemetery exclusively for victims of COVID-19 in Rio de Janeiro, May 14, 2020.
III. The Image of the Future: Nationalist Populism or Social Revolution?
“Professional politicians, seeing that they are losing ground, because the state falters with capitalism, become professional bandits to continue in the same positions of power and the assault on the public purse. Primitive expeditions arise. It is fascism.”
–Maria Lacerda de Moura, “Fascismo: Filho Dileto da Igreja e do Capital,” 1934
The 2013 uprisings in Brazil shook up the fragile stability built by the PT government, showing that popular unrest could not be pacified by class conciliation. Democracy does not represent anyone or anything other than the interests of the elites, and when the population reaches the limits that democracy imposes on their ability to meet their needs and make their voices heard, the burning streets become their channel of expression once more.
Movements for free transportation, such as the MPL (Movimento Passe Livre), continued the tradition of the autonomous movements that emerged at the turn of the century; their constant organizing for over a decade was fundamental to the revolt that broke out in 2013. That revolt escaped any form of control, whether from the movements themselves or from traditional parties, unions, or organizations. But when these autonomous and anti-capitalist groups were effectively repressed by the PT government, the right wing took advantage of the situation to gain prominence in street demonstrations and on the Internet.
The “bacillus of the plague” in Brasilia, March 15, 2015.
At the end of 2014, the PT won its fourth consecutive election, Dilma Rousseff’s second victory. Defeated, the candidate of the PSDB [Brazilian Social Democracy Party], the country’s second largest party, called for one of the first protests under the slogans “Fora Dilma” (“Dilma out!”) and “in defense of democracy,” helping to catalyze the massive protests for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff that took place over the following years. Without an opportunity to win an election, the conservative parties organized their representatives in parliament, widely supported by the media and the business elite. In 2016, they managed to push through an impeachment that ended 13 years of PT governments. Michel Temer of the PMDB (now MDB—Brazilian Democratic Movement) took over.
Temer’s government pursued its conservative agenda, accelerating the neoliberal project that was already underway under the PT. Temer, too, encountered a lot of popular resistance: building occupations against the dissolution of the Ministry of Culture, the occupations of more than a thousand schools and a hundred universities, violent demonstrations and confrontations in Brasilia against the budget freeze on health and education in 2016, calls for a general strike in 2017, and a major demonstration that took over the center of the country’s capital and ended with the burnings of two ministries. All of these were important episodes of struggle and resistance that pushed back against the state, but they did not slow the growth of the right wing on the streets.
Protesters occupying Paraná State College against Temer’s PEC 241 in 2016.
On the eve of the 2018 presidential election, protests from the #EleNão (“Not Him”) campaign, organized chiefly by women’s movements against Bolsonaro, showed that thousands of people were still willing to demonstrate on the streets. But they were unable to radicalize their actions and agendas the way the movements of 2013 had, or to compromise Bolsonaro’s victory at the polls.
“Ele Não”(Not Him”): feminist movements gather thousands in São Paulo against Bolsonaro’s election in 2018.
In other words, it wasn’t just the autonomous movements that gained momentum; reactionaries also learned how to recruit more and more people on the streets. When the mainstream left fled the popular uprising of 2013 to continue chasing state power and control, the result was that the right was able to present itself as an electoral solution to the bankruptcy of the democratic system itself. Bolsonaro won the 2018 presidential election because he understood better than much of the left that the model of representative democracy was worn out. Fascism is fueled by the state reaction against popular revolts.
The Greatest Populist—or Just Another Authoritarian?
Bolsonaro defeated the PT with 55% of the vote in the second round. But before that, in the first round, polarization crushed the PSDB, the PT’s biggest rival and the main party representing the Brazilian neoliberal right since the end of the dictatorship. The party that ruled for two consecutive terms before the PT got a measly 4% of the vote in the 2018 election. The effects of polarization and radicalization promoted by right-wing movements imposed profound changes on the political landscape in the country, putting Bolsonaro’s personality in place of an entire party as the pole alternative to the PT.
The worst of the effects of Bolsonarism were yet to come. As the Italian anarchist Malatesta warned, the Spanish militant Durruti demonstrated, and the Brazilian anarchist Maria Lacerda de Moura confirmed, every elite and every government keeps fascism as a weapon always within arm’s reach to contain or prevent the advances of the working class. In times of economic and political crisis, fascistic personalities and programs can seduce the elites and the electorate with the promise of a solution. The new populist wave that we see around the world today represents this strategy. Even though they are not technically fascists—or currently lack the capacity to be—politicians like Bolsonaro engage fascist dynamics by channeling the resentment of the middle classes and their desire to regain control of the state into hatred of minorities and what few rights they have won. Neo-Nazi cells and websites have increased considerably since Bolsonaro’s election. The more offensive, racist, and sexist they are, the more successful they have been engaging people in their campaigns. In this context, the internet has been fundamental in deepening the polarization between a left reduced to focusing on the electoral competition between Lula’s PT against Bolsonaro, on the one side, and the conservative, evangelical, and neo-liberal movements that supported Bolsonaro on the other.
A year after the election, Bolsonaro was expelled from his party. He remains the only president without a party in Brazilian history. After using the Internet to win the election, Bolsonaro continued to govern by using it as a stage, becoming the first president to make announcements through weekly livestreams on Facebook. Like Trump, Bolsonaro maintained the warlike tone of a man waging an eternal electoral campaign even after victory, heralding his project of management by destruction.
But it’s not just the Internet, television, and the use of bots in social media. Bolsonaro’s political career is over three decades old; his whole family has deep ties to the militias that control part of the organized crime market in Rio de Janeiro. His three sons, who all have careers as parliamentarians, have employed militiamen and their relatives in their offices, including the known murderer Adriano da Nóbrega. Da Nóbrega received a medal from Flávio Bolsonaro in parliament; his imprisoned militia colleagues were accused of murdering councilwoman Marielle Franco. One of these colleagues was a neighbor of Jair Bolsonaro’s family, living in the same elite condominium.
These milícias or milicianos are common in the state of Rio de Janeiro: paramilitary groups of police, ex-policemen, firefighters and security agents who take the place of criminal organizations to sell “security services” to residents and merchants and to monopolize illegal private transportation companies along with access to real estate, Internet connection, electricity, and other resources. These groups have their origins in the death squads that emerged in the 1960s to act as hired killers under the military dictatorship. By the 1980s, these groups already dominated several sectors, consolidated by terror and, over the following decade, the connivance of elected councilors, deputies, and mayors in several cities in Rio. They do not only operate “where the state does not reach”—rather, they represent a symbiosis of organized crime with the state. Whatever corruption emerged from the 14 years of PT governments cannot compare to 50 years of these groups’ activity—which helped the Bolsonaro family secure their positions as parliamentarians and Jair Bolsonaro as president.
Combining distorted military doctrines, obscurantism mixed with an ultra-neoliberal agenda, and campaign strategies imported from Steve Bannon and his cronies, Bolsonaro introduced a new way of governing—governing to destroy—lowering Brazilian democracy to levels similar to those of 1964. The Secretary of Culture has quoted Joseph Goebbels in a TV address, among several other allusions to the Nazi regime. Bolsonaro is a strong competitor in the field of global populism, and Brazil is the best candidate to be the new epicenter of this lethal virus and its death cult.
It is not surprising that a president who defends the military dictatorship, torture, and death squads and maintains close family relations with the militias treats a health crisis that kills hundreds of thousands with total indifference. When the pandemic hit Brazil, Bolsonaro followed the same script as his master, Donald Trump. First, he downplayed the risks of the disease and contradicted scientists and health institutions; then, he opposed the closing of businesses and other lockdown measures, refusing to work with other elements of the government or to release funds to the states and cities to contain the disease. When asked about the number of deaths, he shocked public opinion with responses like “So what?” and “I am not an grave-digger.” At a time when the severity of the pandemic was undeniable, he promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine as a miracle drug, just like his idol in the USA. His government proposed a R $200.00 monthly allowance for unemployed workers or workers unable to work informally during the isolation period—and then when left-wing parliamentarians approved a new R $600.00 proposal, Bolsonaro took credit for it, gaining popularity among Brazil’s poorest groups and regions. In August 2020, with 3.5 million people infected, Bolsonaro continued to spread disinformation alleging that “the majority of the population is immune to the coronavirus.” Regarding the deaths of over 100,000 people, he said “Let’s move on with life.”
In other decades, statesmen facing a pandemic would make empty speeches to the effect that protecting the population is the top priority. Today, we see far-right populist leaders who are proud to speak with “authenticity,” stupidity “without filters” and “without demagogy.” Leaders like Bolsonaro and Trump break with the decorum previously expected of those in office or in the media. They openly proclaim their ignorance about specific fields of economic management (“I am not an economist!”) or pander to their base with racist, misogynist and classist vulgarities. To embody this air of “novelty,” “anti-system,” and “authenticity” is to venture where not even the greatest political figures on the left or right go.
Graves at the Vila Formosa Cemetery in São Paulo, the largest in Latin America.
Alongside threats to send troops to close the Supreme Court and other sensationalist statements, while other governments introduced forced lockdowns and martial law, the federal government of Brazil organized its own version of extremism, permitting death on a genocidal scale. This is not just a matter of ignoring science, but rather of using scientific management to implement targeted eugenics and genocide. In accepting that 70% of the population would “inevitably” contract COVID-19, Bolsonaro and his government have risked up to two million casualties, chiefly from among those who are already at risk due to class, age, gender, ethnicity, and locality.
In the face of this, movements for social transformation must show what it means to be truly rebellious, reclaiming tools for struggle that have been appropriated and distorted by our enemies. Populist bases are rejecting institutions that, at the turn of the century, only anti-capitalists dared to question. A slogan from the anti-globalization movements, “hate the media? Be the media,” has been corrupted into a right-wing version based in discounting verifiable facts and spreading false information to achieve political objectives. Challenging the way that pharmaceutical conglomerates monopolize the field of science is no longer a step towards increasing popular access to knowledge, but a means to promote potentially lethal obscurantism. Now the ones seeking to subvert political institutions are not self-organized political initiatives, but those who aim to establish a form of government based on rumors and authoritarianism.
When we imagine a future beyond capitalist democracy, we must picture a social revolution and the end of social classes, implying a permanent confrontation with all hierarchies—not just the obviously authoritarian figures like Trump, Bolsonaro, and Orbán. The alternative will be an even more brutal and unequal state kneeling on our necks forever as we struggle to breathe.
IV. Solidarity and Attack in the COVID-1984 Era
“…the progressive statist recomposition was a step backwards. A setback. For those who bet on collective emancipation, the reference point must always be the highest level reached by social struggle, and never what it is possible to achieve. The possible is always the State, the party, the existing institutions. But emancipation cannot stop there.”
–Raul Zibechi e Decio Machado, Os Limites do Progressismo
“History forgets the moderates.”
Since the 2018 elections, people and social movements have wondered what form radical resistance to the government of Jair Bolsonaro would take. How can we resist an enemy that seems to transform all controversy into momentum and all resistance into a pretext for further repression? How can we mobilize an opposition that is not incapacitated by a pacifying and conciliatory left that has become accustomed to state management, seeing popular revolt as a threat to the order that they identify with? A few episodes have shown that many people are willing to take the first step—for example, in 2019, when anti-fascists clashed with groups celebrating the anniversary of the 1964 military coup.
During the first months of the pandemic, the best answers emerged in the daily activities of social movements, anti-fascists, and organized soccer fans who confronted and blocked pro-government street actions, couriers who organized unprecedented strikes across the country, and residents of favelas and occupations who organized solidarity actions. We see a promising model in these examples of mutual aid between poor and excluded people and of direct action confronting the reigning order and those who support it. Such struggles did not limit themselves to what politicians deem possible—which is simply the catastrophic management of the disaster. They did not wait, but dealt with the situation, refusing be paralyzed. This is what we are betting on.
“Bolsonaro out—We are the resistance!” Anti-fascists in Porto Alegre, May 17, 2020.
Take Back the Streets: Anti-Fascists and Football Fans
“Without the hierarchical, hegemonic nature of the state, which monopolizes the use of force, the economy, official ideology, information, and culture; without the omnipresent security apparatuses that penetrate all aspects of life, from the media to the bedroom; without the disciplinary hand of the state as God on Earth, no system of exploitation or violence could survive.”
–Dilar Dirik, Radical Democracy: The First Line Against Fascism
The anti-fascist struggle that emerged in the media and in the agendas of these movements had not been seen in Brazil for decades; there was widespread coverage of protests, but also threats of criminalization and repression. Starting in 2015, the right wing expanded their street presence with marches on Sundays to demand the impeachment of the PT, and then, in 2018, to elect Bolsonaro. After the election, right-wing groups revised this model again, staging “protests” in favor of the government. They organized these on weekends so as not to hinder the flow of vehicles and commerce on weekdays—the opposite of the anti-capitalist movements that organize with the aim of paralyzing urban circulation during the rush hour in the middle of the week.
This was not a triumph of grassroots right-wing organizing; rather, it was built with the direct support of police and security agencies. Military police files leaked to the press showed that the police command treats pro-government demonstrations as harmless, praising them even when they violate health measures like the mandate to wear masks. Although it is unconstitutional to discriminate against political demonstrations on an ideological basis, linking certain organizations and even political parties to crimes such as vandalism, police did not even monitor the actions of the right, while opposition protests were classified as a “threat to order” and forcefully repressed. Once again, we see the lines of exclusion at work in the way that repression is concentrated on popular demonstrations of the left, peripheral, Black, and poor majority, while police officers escort, protect, and take photos with the mostly white Bolsonaro supporters from upscale neighborhoods driving caravans of luxury vehicles. The state seeks to determine which political actions will gain space on the streets and which will be crushed.
Defying this, football fans and precarious workers organized several public demonstrations in 2020. On May 3 and 17, anti-fascists in Porto Alegre interrupted Bolsonarist protests calling for the return of the military dictatorship, chanting “Step Back, Fascists.” These were some of the first demonstrations of the year—and after many months—to challenge Bolsonarist hegemony on the streets.
As elsewhere in the world, the media debated whether it was “essential” to meet in public spaces to confront demonstrations in support of Bolsonaro and for the reopening of businesses. Bosses and pundits see no problem in crowding us onto buses, into queues, into the precarious workplaces and delivery service jobs that have been expanding while we suffer from the virus and privation—so we consider it necessary to get together to block the defenders of this murderous economic system and the circulation of labor for production and goods for consumption.
Soccer fans at Av. Paulista in São Paulo, on May 31, 2020.
An app delivery worker joins front-line protests against police repression.
On May 9, about 70 Corinthians fans in the city of São Paulo organized a small action at the same time and place as a pro-government rally. The action blocked the Bolsonarista protest; along with images of something similar happening in Porto Alegre on May 17, this drew attention on social media and brought more people out into the street. Fans of different football teams took to the streets in São Paulo to thwart protests by supporters of the president on May 31, the day that these actions spread to a national scale. Fans of Gaviões da Fiel, one of the biggest groups in the country, with a political history dating from the worst years of the dictatorship, called for demonstrations with rival fan groups such as Palmeiras, São Paulo, and Santos. This moment of unity between different football clubs and other anti-fascist groups drew a crowd almost ten times bigger than the Bolsonarista side. The police tried to form lines to keep them isolated, but a clash took place when anti-fascists responded to provocations from protesters carrying US flags and flags from the Ukrainian neo-Nazi group Pravy Sektor. The police intervened, attacking anti-fascists and protecting the neo-Nazis on Paulista Avenue. Anti-fascists resisted, erecting barricades and blocking roads for a long time.
The scenes reverberated across the country, especially a photo of a gig economy delivery worker throwing stones at the police. Under the slogan “Somos Democracia” (“We are Democracy”), chanted by many participants, this example of a combative and organized opposition spread. The wave of revolts that spread across the United States after the assassination of George Floyd on May 25 further strengthened the anti-racist protests in Brazil. The barricades that appeared on May 31 showed that the fights against racism, governments that flirt with fascism, and their repressive lackeys are fundamentally the same from the north to south of the globe.
This tweet shows anti-fascists in São Paulo facing nationalists with Ukrainian neo-Nazi symbols and United States flags. The Military Police are protecting the nationalists.
Altogether, more than 15 cities saw protests on May 31. In Rio de Janeiro, anarchists and anti-fascists showed up to confront a pro-Bolsonaro action in Copacabana, and a physical confrontation ensued between anti-fascists and nationalists. In Belo Horizonte, the actions also began with small calls and became large demonstrations. In many cases, it was possible to block, delay, or even prevent caravans supporting Bolsonaro and demanding the reopening of business. The soccer members of Resistência Alvinegra made the first call for a rally in Praça do Papa; the weekly demonstrations that started with a dozen became thousands of people on May 31 and June 7, with many supporters and social movements marching to block the right-wing caravans, carrying anti-fascist flags and songs, honoring George Floyd and also João Vitor and Rodrigo Ciqueira who had been murdered by police in Rio de Janeiro, as well as councilor and black-feminist militant Marielle Franco, who was murdered in 2018 by militiamen.
In the following weeks, more cities joined these protests. In Salvador, the wave of protests in Brazil and the US inspired groups including Reação Antifascista Salvador, organized football clubs, labor unions, and Quilombos to organize a mass demonstration on June 7. In Curitiba, a demonstration including a massive anti-fascist turnout marched through the city center on June 1, burned the gigantic national flag in front of the government palace, and clashed with police.
Despite all their problems and internal conflicts, football clubs possess an enormous capacity to mobilize people and open dialogue between different sectors of society. We see this in the recent example of organized football fans in Chile joining the front lines to defend the 2019 protests. In 2013, the occupation in defense of Gezi Park in Istanbul, Turkey also drew fans who left internal rivalries aside to defend the park and the people occupying Taksim Square. In his Antifa Handbook, Mark Bray argues that “some of the most ferocious anti-fascist conflicts have happened in the context of football.” This tradition goes back to the 1970s, when fascist groups used football clubs and games as a venue to recruit new members and anti-fascists responded to prevent this.
Unfortunately, the protests dwindled, especially in São Paulo, the city with the biggest football organizations participating. After the clashes of May 31, the state government and police officials tried to mediate between anti-fascists and the organizers of pro-government rallies so that they would not organize protests at the same time on Paulista Avenue again. Movements like the “Povo Sem Medo,” linked to the leftist mayor candidate Guilherme Boulos, the Somos Democracia network, and other Black movements decided to respect the court decision that prohibited rallies at the same time and place on June 7. After that, it didn’t make sense to organize a counter-protest against fascists when it would not mean actually confronting them.
The backlash took other forms in other states. Soccer matches were taking place without audiences, but football clubs were permitted to decorate the stadium with their flags. In Belo Horizonte, however, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) banned the Resistência Alvinegra members after they displayed a flag with the image of Marielle Franco and the word “Antifa,” the same flag that had been present in street protests over the previous months. The explanation of the CBF showed that, by its rules, the word “antifa” is the same as racist and xenophobic expressions.
Massive anti-fascist flags banned from Mineirão stadium.
The authorities’ fear of combative expressions and movements is obvious. We have seen a wave of upheavals in Latin America, with Ecuador, Colombia, and Chile rising against police violence, the cost of living, and neoliberal austerity measures. Some of the Brazilian left and many anti-capitalists take inspiration from those struggles, wondering if uprisings could start here too. Jair Bolsonaro himself expressed in 2019 that the government is apprehensive about the wave of protests in neighboring countries; in 2020, he showed his concern about the radicalization on the streets and his fear of Brazil “turning into a Chile” in response to the effects of the social crisis created by the pandemic. However, the government’s maneuvers indicate a desire to imitate the Chilean neoliberal model, giving total freedom for capitalists to intensify the exploitation of labor and the environment while the state reduces social services for the population. Indeed, both the crisis caused by the pandemic and the killings carried out by police have generated protests and clashes, such as the one that took place on June 15 after police officers working as private security guards murdered young Guilherme Guedes.
Bolsonaro and his allied lawmakers sought to imitate Donald Trump, declaring anti-fascists a “domestic terrorist threat.” They may not actually use the law to ban anti-fascism, but history shows us that Bolsonaro can accomplish his goal directly by catalyzing his base into street violence . Extreme right groups are already doing the dirty work legitimized by the president’s speech: invading hospitals to try to “prove” that, as Bolsonaro insinuated, they are not full of patients, violating coffins to check rumors that there are no dead people but just stones inside them to simulate funerals, assaulting health professionals in hospitals or organizing protests for more resources to assist patients. We saw groups like “300 Pelo Brasil” (“300 for Brazil) camping in Brasilia and marching to the Supreme Court with torches and aesthetics explicitly inspired by the fascist “Unite the Right” mobilization in the US in August 2017. Despite suffering some arrests, both the “300” (who have no more than 30 members) and other less organized groups show that the impact of the Bolsonaro government goes beyond the damage that state institutions can do—it is bringing organized fascism and racism to the streets.
Bolsonaro fans emulating the worst of Trump fans, May 31, 2020.
But everywhere in the Americas, people are sending a clear message: we will not tolerate the rise of fascism, nor the murders perpetrated by police, the most fascist institution in our society. The streets do not belong to those who “protest in favor of the government” and do the dirty work that the police are not (yet) able to do on camera. We will continue taking the streets, with the soccer fans and others, even when traditional parties and social movements lack the courage to join us.
Breque dos App: “App Strike” in the Gig Economy
“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”
During the pandemic, workers organized strikes to halt the erosion of employee rights and working conditions. Deemed essential yet overworked and without any PPE or protective supplies, workers from crucial sectors like the subway and the postal service participated in successful strikes. Tenants associations also came together to call for a rent strike and relief, drawing less response from the media but still playing a crucial role. One new group stood out for its size, strength, and organizational creativity in uniting to defy one of the most successful businesses during the pandemic: Entregadores Antifascistas, “Anti-Fascist Couriers.”
Professionals working with their own bikes or motorbikes for food delivery apps and the like saw a significant increase in demand for their services. Their labor was declared essential so others could stay home. Meanwhile, those who weren’t able to stay home, like the nine million people who became unemployed in the first half of 2020, tried to make ends meet in the informal labor market—which already employed more than 40% of the Brazilian workforce. International companies such as Uber and Rappi and the Brazilian Ifood have grown up to 50%, absorbing services and taking in masses of laid-off workers from companies that interrupted their activities or went bankrupt due to the pandemic, which raised the country’s unemployment rate to 13.3%. Nevertheless, more orders didn’t mean more earnings for those who work. In addition to receiving less pay, app couriers were subjected to higher health risks.
The Entregadores Antifascistas group first emerged in São Paulo to oppose the opportunistic logic of digital businesses that individualize labor relations. Galo, who was to become one of the founding members, recorded a video on his birthday in March 2020 in which he vented his frustration after getting blocked by the app for not being able to complete a delivery because of a flat tire. The video went viral and this encouraged him to make a petition demanding meals, protective equipment, and other basic rights denied by the companies who handle couriers as if they are “entrepreneurs” and “partners” rather than employees (to such an extent that companies claim that they are the actual users’ employees). It received more than 600,000 signatures. When others joined the cause nationwide, the group came together under the name Entregadores Antifascistas as an informal union and a movement aiming to become an autonomous cooperative. Dozens of them took part in the antifascist protests of June 7, when they made a video calling for other couriers to join the movement.
Entregadores Antifascistas in the anti-fascist protests of June 7, 2020.
After attending the protests of organized soccer fan clubs and anti-fascist movements, the group called for a one-day strike (the “Breque dos App”) fro using delivery apps on July 1. This national couriers strike took place in thirteen states, demanding rights including better wages and working conditions. The only way to hinder the apps’ punitive measures towards groups or individuals who participated was to expand the movement further. They blocked avenues with hundreds of motorcycles and blockaded the delivery app companies’ main offices. A second strike occurred on July 24.
The “App Strike” in São Paulo.
The example of Entregadores Antifascistas shows how the “uberization” of employment agreements intensifies employee precarity amid the already dominant informality. Those who sell their labor power are not autonomous entrepreneurs on a level playing field with the companies that employ them. In Galo’s words, “We’re not entrepreneurs, we’re workforce!” Becoming dependent upon these apps and their algorithms, workers have only lost control. The old class division remains between elite and proletariat, employers and employees. The modernization introduced by these companies and their “gig economy” is a digital feudalism that takes advantage of the lack of regulations to do away with fixed payments, labor rights, job security, and retirement, only paying drivers, couriers, and other app workers for the kilometers they ride or for the deliveries they complete, with no established rules. Only a grassroots struggle built from the ground up that allows diffuse and isolated individuals to gather to create a language of action can strike, inflict costs upon the bosses, and achieve real changes.
Solidarity Actions and Mutual Support: We Take Care of Us!
In addition to the direct impact on the health and lives of millions of people, forecasts indicate that the pandemic will subject up to 66 million more people to hunger worldwide. In Brazil, in addition to the nine million jobs lost, hunger has been one of the first problems to emerge with the economy partially closed and many people staying at home. The Bolsonaro administration contributed to creating this situation: in his first act as president, Bolsonaro eliminated organizations responsible for fighting hunger, such as the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security (Consea). The following year, he told members of the international press that “There is no hunger in Brazil.”
Along with the health and economic crisis, there was an increase of up to 40% in the price of food. In São Paulo, for example, producers saw a drop of up to 80% in the sale of vegetables to bars and restaurants in the first months of the pandemic. Up to 70% of some products were thrown in the trash while thousands of people in the cities had no way to feed their families. The logic of the market causes producers to throw away food rather than sharing it with those who are starving and hampers the rational distribution of resources in times of crisis. If there are no profit returns, it is not useful for them to bring food to those who need it most.
Many companies have tried to advertise in the guise of charity by donating processed and industrialized food products in order to get their brand mentioned in TV reports. They used Brazilian corporate journalism to occupy prime-time millionaire minutes, getting free publicity and an image of “solidarity” for their brands.
By contrast, between March and July, the MST (Movement of Landless Rural Workers) managed to donate 2300 tons of food to communities across the country. Family farming is responsible for up to 80% of fruit production and 60% of vegetables consumed by the population. The MST used the same model to produce and sell food below the market price, donating rice, beans, pine nuts, yerba mate, cornmeal, fruits, and vegetables on a national scale during the pandemic.2
Three tons of food that the MST donated during the pandemic.
Other initiatives demonstrated the anarchist principles of mutual aid in the urban peripheries, in squats, and in the favelas, distributing food and even offering community aseptic cleaning. In the Paraisópolis, one of the largest favelas in São Paulo, residents organized their own health care network, training and equipping 240 residents in 60 bases to act as first responders in emergencies. In addition, they distributed meals to support those who were sick, those who stayed home unable to work, and those who had no option but to go out to earn a living.
The autonomous movement MOB [Movimento Organização de Base] carrying out a solidarity action in the Macacos community.
Solidarity is not a service or a “job”—rather, it is a way of changing the world together. It has been an essential activity for every revolutionary movement throughout history. People educated within capitalism know only the scarcity model created by individualized property rights. In health or economic crises, they believe that the solution is an even more intense competition for resources, for money, even for health itself. Only direct, voluntary, mutually supportive, and autonomous actions can overcome this tendency towards competition and isolation.
Comrades from the Federation of Revolutionary Union Organizations in Brazil (FOB) argue that the Spanish Flu, the last global pandemic, can teach us about anti-capitalist values for the current crisis. A century ago, the Spanish Flu killed more people than the four years of World War I had. It devastated Brazilian cities, killing 35,000 people, whose bodies piled up in the streets and in mass graves in cities like Rio de Janeiro. During this period, the first significant general strike exploded—the General Strike of 1917—followed by the Anarchist Insurrection of November 1918 in Rio de Janeiro, ultimately winning rights for the whole working class. Both were led by the anarchist union movements that were hegemonic at the time.
FOB members in community hygiene action. “Only the people save the people.”
Staying healthy is both a defensive and an offensive task, just like the organization we saw during the protests against racism and the police in the US and in the occupation movements of squares and buildings in the preceding years. We need forms of care that nourish the oppressed classes while undermining the state and capitalism—not just a crutch to make up for the intentional precariousness of their services. Football fans have already learned this lesson, organizing the distribution of food baskets at protests.
Pandemics, social conflict, and solidarity among the poor and excluded are nothing new in these lands. Acting with a revolutionary perspective, collectives and movements can do more than simply “filling” the void of state services. We intend to show that new relations and principles can solve the problems caused by capitalist tyranny and to overcome the logic that causes such problems.
Conclusion: Towards the “Old Normal”?
“For us, politics is something else. These are the words of Omama and the Xapiri people that he left us. These are the words that we hear in the time of dreams and that we prefer, because they are ours. Whites don’t dream as far as we do. They sleep a lot, but only dream of themselves.”
–Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, “A queda do céu,” 2016
“When engineers told me they were going to use technology to recover the Doce River, they asked my opinion. I replied: ‘My suggestion is very difficult to put into practice. For we would have to stop all human activities that affect the body of the river, a hundred kilometers on the right and left banks, until it came back to life.’ Then one of them said to me: ‘But that is impossible.’ The world cannot stop. And the world stopped.”
–Ailton Krenak, “O Amanhã Não Está à Venda,” 2020
Despite the advice and ancestral wisdom of the Krenak people, capitalism has not stopped, though we have seen the effect of the brief slowdown on economic and industrial activity in large cities during some moments of the lockdown. Still, there is no “new normal.” The next normality will not be “new,” but rather, a reissue of the old corruption, greed, authoritarianism, and crises of a system condemned to make crisis its form of rule.
We watched Donald Trump lose the election in the United States to another racist and sexist who chose a police officer as his vice president.;As predicted, on January 6, 2021, we saw Trump attempt to resist defeat at the ballot box, exhorting his base to invade the Capitol. Trump’s defeat directly affects the future of Bolsonaro’s foreign policy, which is always subservient to US imperialist interests in Latin America. The Brazilian president is the last remaining declared supporter of Trump’s delusions, reproducing his narrative of electoral fraud and being practically the only head of state to justify the fascists’ invasion of US Congress on January 6. Bolsonaro is insinuating that there will be electoral fraud in 2022, emulating Trump’s speech to prepare to contest his defeat at the polls.
In one of the many scandals involving Bolsonaro and his government, 7.5 million reais (U$1.4 million) raised to produce COVID-19 tests was given to an organization involving the president’s wife and the deputy government leader in the senate. The new normal, whether with regards to the pandemic or Bolsonaro populism, is similar to normality under other governments and crises. The same goes for business: 33 Brazilians became billionaires and the super rich expanded their fortunes during the pandemic, while fully half of the working population is unemployed for the first time in the country’s history. People die without care or tests while corrupt managers live a life of luxury financed by money intended to fight the coronavirus.
History does not follow a straight line of “natural progress.” The tyrannical specters that some believe had been left behind with the arrival of modernity continue to haunt us as the “plague bacillus” Albert Camus warned us of. We did not rid the world of totalitarian and obscurantist ghosts, nor of infectious pandemics—both are threatening us in the same way that they were centuries ago. Like the rise of fascism, the coming epidemics are already underway; according to experts, they can be triggered by viruses contained in threatened biomes, such as the Amazon. The disaster that we live in and that connects everyone in the world today is not a discontinued chapter in history. It is the product of capitalist exploitation and agribusiness, domestication, and the devastation of animal and plant life, from the cosmic to the microbiological level. The authoritarian forces that are capitalizing on this moment to refine their tactics and make their laws more brutal had already emerged over the past few decades; right-wing nationalist populism engulfs all continents, casting a shadow over all. From politicians like Trump and Bolsonaro to authoritarian groups like the Islamic State and fascist gangs, authoritarians aim to divide the world into a nationalist global civil war.
Unlike much of the left, who long for a “new normal” rather than paying attention to the disruptions that were already underway, we believe that if we don’t use our skills to strengthen our communities and our organizational capacity for social struggle, fascist governments, militias, and gangs will outpace us in developing theirs. The solidarity actions between communities and the fight against fascism on the streets foreshadow possible scenarios for any anti-authoritarian struggle, now or in the future; the means by which we search for a new world already show what this new world should be like. Those who organize in their neighborhoods and in the countryside to produce food will not go hungry when the centers of capitalism face global collapse. Whoever promotes solidarity will not need to compete for resources that rendered scarce only by a system that individualizes and concentrates property. Whoever organizes self-defense will not be at the mercy of police, armies, and other mercenaries, begging for defense against fascist aggressors.
The European invasion of this land in the year 1500 generated several deadly pandemics in the Americas—which the Europeans often intentionally used as biological weapons. Probably the Incas, Guaranis, Krenaks, and Mapuches who inhabited this land also asked themselves: “When will everything return to normal?” Five centuries later, we have seen no return to what capitalism destroyed. These landscapes will always bear the marks left by all the worlds that have been destroyed here. If there is one thing we can learn from the past, it is not to hope for the “return” of what existed, but to face and overcome what is threatening us today.
Here, we remember the film Serras da Desordem (2016) directed by Andrea Tonacci, which mixes fiction and documentary to accompany Carapirú, a survivor of the massacre that gunmen inflicted upon the Awá-Guaja people in 1978. Carapirú wandered alone for 10 years, traveling 2000 kilometers. The catastrophe evoked in the film is the loss of a world without another being able to replace it. At one point in the film, we read the headline of a newspaper from the time of a meeting with Carapirú: “He dances, paints, and laughs. But it is sad.”
The pandemic was something that many expected as a catastrophe—but when the plague finally arrived, it was like nothing anyone had imagined. The world does not behave according to our expectations, as those who seek revolution should know by now. We still do not and cannot know how to confront this epoch, because our previous way of life has been lost forever. We try daily to confront the unthinkable—to mourn the deaths of relatives, friends, strangers—to continue in our jobs—to survive—to embrace someone—to deal with destruction and anguish. We still try to be together, however separated, absorbing the experiences of individuals and collectives in this process, fighting and learning to fight until we can finally breathe again.
“The plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and enlightenment of men, it will rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”
–Albert Camus, The Plague
“Peace for Black people. Fire for the racists.”
“I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.” –Mikhail Bakunin ↩
The MST remains one of the main targets of the federal government and the states. In Minas Gerais, the eviction of the Quilombo Campo Grande settlement on August 13 displaced 450 families that had lived and farmed that land for more than 20 years after it was abandoned by its owner, who owed a fortune in taxes. Military police wrecked the community school and set the fields on fire, similar to the tactics the Islamic State used to expel farmers from their lands in Syria. ↩