On 21 October, Jair Bolsonaro, the now president-elect of Brazil, made an announcement via his smartphone that was transmitted to crowds of supporters gathered in São Paulo: “Criminals of the MST [Landless Workers’ Movement], criminals of the MTST [Homeless Workers’ Movement], your actions will be classified as terrorism.” This was delivered as part of a broader threat made to the Left (Mollona 2018)—singling out Fernando Haddad, his Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) opponent in the presidential race, who he promised could “rot in jail” together with the currently imprisoned former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva—which would be “cleansed” after he assumed presidential office.
Picture a street handcraft market in a touristic village called Porto de Galinhas in Pernambuco, Northeast Region of Brazil. A few days before the second round of the 2018 presidential elections on 28 October, I observed the following conversation on the market.
“You can vote for him, don’t worry, he won’t kill gay people,” says a local 50-year-old addressing a couple of openly gay, young, black men wearing tight shorts and colorful shirts. They reply: “Yes, he will, Bolsonaro will kill gay people.” While the young men walk away, the Bolsonaro supporter keeps trying to convince them, half-laughing, half-serious, stating that his candidate is not as bad as some people have been arguing. “No, he won’t . . .” he says, “and don’t worry, because if he does kill gays, the environmental agency will come after him—after all, they are animals under risk of extinction!”
The Brazilian Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores—PT) won the country’s presidential elections four times in a row; first with Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (2003–2006, 2007–2010), then with his hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff (2011–2014, 2015–2016). During its 13 years in office, the PT changed Brazil in many ways; four are principally worth mentioning, as they would come to play key roles in the elite conspiracy to impeach Dilma Rousseff and destroy her party.
Brazil is at a critical juncture. Improvements in social welfare that have been achieved over the past two decades threaten to recede as the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) is removed from power. Yet the goods that have been objects of Brazil’s various social programs recede and persist in different ways. Once given, some things are harder to take away.
This post is part of a series on the Latin American pink tide, moderated and edited by Massimiliano Mollona (Goldsmiths, University of London).
The judicial coup against President Dilma Rousseff is the culmination of the deepest political crisis in Brazil for fifty years.
Every so often, the bourgeois political system runs into crisis. The machinery of the state jams, the veils of consent are torn asunder, and the tools of power appear disturbingly naked. Brazil is living through one of those moments: it is a dreamland for social scientists, a nightmare for everyone else.
The June 2013 revolution that shook Brazil last year took everybody by surprise. It started in Sao Paulo as a small gathering against a looming rise in the cost of public transport, and in two weeks it spread to 400 cities and towns, bringing millions of people (6 percent of the national population) to the streets and forcing President Dilma Rousseff to start a process of constitutional reform. For many political observers, this “movement of movements” was a labor movement, which brought together diverse forces of labor—the kind of Latin American “bricolage” socialist movements described by Göran Therborn (2012).1 But, are these bricolaged, working-class formations—to use the expression of Van der Linden—“atypical”? Atypical in relation to what? Are they not part of the same tradition of working-class “communing” described by Susser (2013) and Kalb (2014) for the United States and Europe? Contemporary urban struggles are complex and complicate traditional, factory-based, approaches to class. Below, I describe and analyze the struggles that took place in Rio de Janeiro in the summer 2013 and offer some ideas on how anthropology, geography, and political economy can be put in dialogue for a contemporary class analysis.2