An article written by group of the International Communist Current in Brazil on the recent wave of protests sparked by public transport price rises.
A wave of protests against the increase in public transport fares is currently unfolding in the big cities of Brazil, particularly in the Sāo Paulo, but it’s also been happening in Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Goiânia, Aracaju and Natal. This mobilisation has brought together young people in particular, students and school pupils, and to a lesser extent but still very significantly, wage workers and people on benefits, all fighting against the increases in what is already a poor quality and overpriced service, and which will add to the decline in living standards for huge layers of the population.
The Brazilian bourgeoisie, headed by the Workers’ Party (PT) and its allies, have been insisting that everything is fine in Brazil, despite the evidence of mounting difficulties in controlling inflation, which has been brought about by the measures of boosting consumption in order to avoid the country going into recession. Lacking any margin of manoeuvre, the only way the bourgeoisie can try to limit inflation is to increase interest rates while at the same time reducing expenditure on public services: education, health and social security, all of which can only lead to a further deterioration in the living conditions of those who depend on these services.
In the last few years, there have been many strikes against falling wages, increasingly insecure employment and cuts in education and social benefits. However in the majority of cases the strikes have been isolated behind a cordon sanitaire set up by unions linked to the PT government, and the discontent has been contained so that it doesn’t challenge social peace at the expense of the national economy. This is the context for the transport price increases in Sao Paulo and the rest of Brazil: the demand for more and more sacrifices in favour of the national economy, i.e. national capital.
Without any doubt the movements which have exploded around the world in the last few years, with the strong participation of young people, are proof that capitalism has no future to offer humanity other than inhumanity. This is why the recent mobilisation in Turkey had such a strong echo in the protests against fare increases. The young people of Brazil have shown that they are not willing to accept the logic of sacrifices imposed by the bourgeoisie and have joined in with the struggles that have shaken the world recently, like the struggle of the children of the working class in France (the struggle against the CPE in 2006), of youth and workers in Greece, Egypt and North Africa, the Indignados in Spain and Occupy in Britain and the US.
A week of protests and brutal reactions by the bourgeoisie
Encouraged by the success of the demonstrations in the towns of Porto Alegre and Goiânia, which had to face up to harsh repression and which, despite that, managed to obtain a suspension of the fare increases, the demonstrations in Sāo Paulo began on 6 June. They were called by the Movement for Free Access to Transport (MPL, Movimeto Passe Livre), a group formed mainly by young students influenced by the positions of the left, and also by anarchism. The MPL saw a surprising increase in the number of adherents, between 2 and 5 thousand people. There were other mobilisations on the 7th, 11th and 13th of June. From the start, the repression was brutal and resulted in numerous arrests and injuries. Here we must stress the courage and fighting spirit of the demonstrators and the sympathy they rapidly inspired in the population, something which took the organisers themselves by surprise.
Faced with these demonstrations, the bourgeoisie unleashed a level of violence unprecedented in the history of these kinds of movements, with the total complicity of the media who rushed to describe the demonstrators as vandals and irresponsible people. A high ranking spokesman of the state, the Public Prosecutor, advised the police to club and even kill protestors:
“I’ve been trying for two hours to get back to my home but there is a band of rebellious apes blocking the stations of Faria Lima and Marginal Pinheiros. Someone should inform the Tropa de Choque (an elite unit of military police) that this zone is part of my jurisdiction and they should come and kill these sons of whores and I will instruct the police inquiries…..I feel nostalgic for the time when these sorts of things would be resolved by a rubber bullet in the backs of these shits”
On top of this, there has been a succession of speeches by public figures belonging to the rival parties, like the state governor Gerlado Alckmin from the PSDB (the Brazilian social democratic party) and the mayor of Sāo Paulo, from the PT, both of them equally vociferous in their defence of police repression and in condemning the movement. Such harmony is not very common, given that the political game of the bourgeoisie typically consists of attributing responsibility to the party in power for whatever problems come up.
In response to the growing repression and the smokescreen created by the main newspapers, TV and radio channels, which resulted in more and more people taking part in the demonstrations (20,000 on 13 June, a figure that has now been far surpassed, translator’s note). The repression was even more ferocious and led to 232 arrests and numerous injuries.
It’s worth underlining the appearance of a new generation of journalists. Although a minority, they have clearly shown solidarity with the movement by exposing police violence, many of them falling victim to it themselves. Conscious of the manipulative methods of the big media, these journalists have to some extent managed to recognise that the acts of violence by the young are a reaction of self-defence and that the depredations inflicted on government and judicial buildings are uncontained expressions of indignation against the state. What’s more, acts carried out by provocateurs, which the police use in demonstrations as a matter of course, have also been reported.
The exposure of a whole series of manipulations and lies by official state sources, the media and the police, aimed at demoralising and criminalising a legitimate movement, has had the effect of increasing the level of participation in the demonstrations and the support of the population. Here it’s important to highlight the major contribution made on the social media by elements active in the movement or sympathetic to it. Fearing that the situation could get out of control, certain sectors of the bourgeoisie have begun to change their tune. The big communication companies that own newspapers and TV channels, after a week of silence on the police repression, finally began to talk about the ‘excesses’ of the police action. Certain politicians have also criticised such ‘excesses’ and said they are going to investigate them.
The violence of the bourgeoisie through its state, whatever face it wears, ‘democratic’ or ‘radical’, is based on totalitarian terror against the classes it exploits or oppresses. With the ‘democratic’ state this violence is not so open as it is in naked dictatorships; it’s more hidden, so that the exploited accept their condition of exploitation by identifying with the state. But this does not mean that the democratic state will renounce the most varied and modern methods of repression when the situation demands it. It’s therefore no surprise that the police should launch this kind of violence against the movement. However, as in the case of the biter bit, we have seen that stepping up repression has only provoked growing solidarity in Brazil and even elsewhere in the world, even if he latter has only been among a small minority. There have been a number of solidarity demonstrations outside Brazil, animated mainly by Brazilians living abroad. It has to be clear that police violence is part of the nature of the state and is not an isolated case or an ‘excess’ as the bourgeois media and authorities claim. It’s not due to a failure on the part of the leaders and we will get nowhere by demanding ‘justice’ or more polite behaviour by the police: to face up to repression and impose a balance of forces in our favour, there is no other method than the extension of the movement to wider layers of workers. To do this, we can’t address ourselves to the state and ask for charity. The denunciation of repression and of the fare increases has to be taken in hand by the working class as a whole, by calling for an increase in the protest actions and a common struggle against repression and precarious living conditions.
The demonstrations are far from over. They have extended to the whole of Brazil and they were protests at the beginning of the 2013 Confederations Cup: the state president Dilma Rousseff was booed as well as the president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, before the opening match between Brazil and Japan. Both of them were unable to hide how uncomfortable they felt with this display of hostility and cut short their speeches in order to limit the damage. Around the stadium there was a demonstration of 1200 people in solidarity with the movement against fare increases. They too were vigorously repressed by the police who injured 27 people and jailed 16. In order to further reinforce the repression, the state declared that any demonstration near the stadiums during the Confederations Cup was forbidden, on the pretext of preventing any disruption to the tournament, to traffic and the functioning of the public services.
The limits of the movement for free transport and some proposals
As we know, this movement has attained a national scale because of the capacity for students and high school pupils to mobilise against the fare increases. However, it is important to bear in mind that the medium and long term aim of the mobilisation was to negotiate free transport for the whole population, to be provided by the state.
And this is exactly where we see the limits of the main demand, since universal free transport cannot exist in capitalist society. To provide it the bourgeoisie and its state would have to further accentuate the exploitation of the working class by increasing taxes on their wages. We have to recognise that the struggle can’t be one for an impossible reform, but should rather be aimed at forcing the state to back down.
Right now, the perspectives for the movement seems to be going beyond simple demands against the fare increases. Already demonstrations have been called for next week in dozens of large and medium sized towns.
The movement has to be vigilant towards the left of capital, which specialises in recuperating demonstrations and leading them into a dead end, as for example with the call for the laws courts to resolve the problem so the demonstrators can go back home.
For the movement to develop, we have to create spaces where we can collectively listen to and discuss different points of view. This can only be done through general assemblies open to all, where the right to speak is guaranteed to all demonstrators. In addition, it is vital to call on the employed workers to join the assemblies and protests because they and their families are equally affected by the price increases.
The protest movement developing in Brazil is a clear answer to the campaign of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, backed up by the world bourgeoisie, according to which Brazil is an ‘emerging country’ on the way to overcoming poverty. This campaign was promoted in particular by Lula, who is known around the world for supposedly having succeeded in pulling millions of Brazilians out of poverty, when in reality his big service to capital was to have shared the crumbs among the poorest masses in order to maintain their illusions and further accentuate the precarious situation of the Brazilian proletariat as a whole.
Faced with the worsening of the world crisis, and capital’s attacks on proletarian living conditions, there is no way out except to struggle against the whole capitalist system.
Revoluçāo Internacional (ICC in Brazil) 16.6.13