National Sections of the L5I:

The Movement in Brazil - All out on the streets against the fare-rise!

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What began as relatively small demonstrations in São Paulo and, a little later, in Rio de Janeiro, became within two weeks the largest protests Brazil has seen for two decades. The demonstrations exploded in size, showing the growing discontent of large parts of Brazilian society – especially the youth - with the ruling politics.

The trigger for the movement was the fare-rise in public transport in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and other cities. The fares were increased by 0,20 Reais, which corresponds actually to 7 Euro-Cents. Although this seems a relatively small amount, it is far from inconsiderable. A comparison of the fares for public transport in 20 major cities in the world showed that São Paulo and Rio are among the most expensive in relation to the wages earned in those cities. And the service is very bad, public transport is one of the big problems in Brazilian cities.

However, it soon became clear that the growth of the demonstrations was not only because of the R$ 0,20. Rather, this was more like the final straw, the trigger to release all the anger on the streets. Meanwhile many other issues have been raised such as corruption, inflation and huge public expenditure for the World Cup while there is no money for public policies.

The beginning of the movement and the repression

The demonstrations in São Paulo were organised by a group called “Movimento Passe Livre” (“Movement for a Free Pass”). This is an anarchist oriented group with an open alliance structure, whose main demand is for free public transport. They have been organising these demonstrations against the fare-rises since 2009. This time they were probably surprised themselves by what they started.

The demonstrations started with a few thousand participants, mainly youth. The composition was a lot of anarchists and the main left groups in Brazil, as PSOL (or parts of it), PSTU and LER-QI among others. The marches were quite militant, blocking streets and occupying roads and were met by heavy repression from the police, who attacked the protest with “stun grenades”, tear gas and rubber bullets.

So, the first week of protests was marked by growing demonstrations – from 3,000 to 15,000, clashes with the military police (the “military police” are a separate unit in Brazil beside the “civil police”, and are used basically for repression) and a growing de-legitimisation of the protests by the press. The police infiltrated the protests, promoting acts of vandalism against banks and stores, but also buses and metro-stations (as there was a big share of anarchist-orientated youth, outraged by police violence, they responded enthusiastically to this).

Then there was Thursday, June 13. The governor of the State of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, from the right-wing party PSDB, had announced after the pictures of real or supposed violence by demonstrators in the press, that he would no longer allow this “vandalism”. The mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad, from the Workers Party PT (who is responsible for the fare-rise) stood side by side with the police, supporting their actions.

The demonstration on Thursday, was the biggest so far, gathering 15,000 in the centre. In Rio, there were 7,000 out on the streets on the same day. The demonstration in São Paulo started very enthusiastically, everybody was very happy that this had already become a real movement. People started to wave out of the windows. But this idyllic atmosphere would soon end.

Shortly after the demonstration left the city centre, it was brutally attacked from three sides by the police, launching tear gas and shooting rubber bullets. Even when everybody was already off the street, trying to enter the Roosevelt-Square nearby, the police still attacked. After they had dispersed the demonstration, they began a real hunt through the city arresting any activists they could find.

The police injured more than one hundred people and arrested more than 200 (who were accused of crimes like “gang-building”, denied any legal representation made to pay deposits up to nearly 7,000 Euros to be released). They also injured various reporters.

The mass movement

With parallels to uprisings we have seen during recent years in other countries like Tunisia, or right now in Turkey, we have in Brazil a mixture of wide discontent with government for several reasons, unpopular public measures and brutal police repression as a reaction to first protests. The repression of the demonstration on June 13 added fuel to the fire of growing revolt in Brazilian society. Suddenly a small, anarchist-led group was able to concentrate the anger of thousands all around the country with their demonstrations. As a result, Monday, June 17, saw the biggest demonstrations Brazil had since 1992, when there was a campaign of impeachment against the then president Fernando Collor.

More than 230,000 people demonstrated in 12 major cities all across Brazil on Monday. In São Paulo, 65,000 crowded the streets, in Rio as many as 100,000. The major demand of the movement is still the withdrawal of the fare-rises but, apart from this, there are many other issues, and most people seem to demonstrate simply for a “better” Brazil.

The movement surely surprised most people in Brazil, including the organisers of the protest. Like all movements, once it gained mass forces, it change a lot. The leading group of the MPL is far from having control over it. And right now there is a quite worrying development.

On the mass demonstration on Monday, parts of the demonstrators began to suppress the open participation of (left) parties and groups. This idea was initially promoted by anarchists, who reject the participation of any party, but gained strong forces throughout the whole movement. One of the most common slogans on Monday in São Paulo was “Without party!”. Parties and groups were aggressively made to take down their flags and banners and even attacked if they refused.

Already today, Tuesday, June 18, when again maybe 10,000 took the streets, there were almost no party and group flags on the demonstration. Their place was taken by Brazilian flags. What started as openly and clearly visibly left demonstrations suddenly seemed to have turned into a nationalist demonstration.

Tactics and strategy of the movement

The idea of non-party representation spread across the whole movement, which has now started to call for “anti-party rallies”. Although the strong feeling of non-representation by any kind of party among vast parts of the youth has real and understandable reasons, we clearly reject the reactionary, anarchist idea of banning parties and groups from the movement! The freedom of political organisation and the open participation as such is one of the most fundamental democratic rights gained by the working class. Suppressing this right in a movement is absolutely reactionary!

Moreover, it is dangerous. Once the forces of a mass movement are released, they will be looking for a political expression beyond the demonstrations and, because the roots of the protests are diverse, they will go beyond the withdrawal of the fare-rises, which might be achieved in the coming days or weeks.

This movement represents a huge discontent with political representation in general, but in particular with the Workers Party, the PT. Itself the product of mass protests and the workers' movement, it is the first time that it has faced mass protests since it came to power in 2003. This opens up the huge possibility of building a political formation to the left of the PT. But if the left cannot answer this, and it won´t be able to answer it for sure if the organised forces are prevented from taking part in a visible manner – it is not unlikely that the right will know how to take advantage of it. And this danger is even more immediate as the demonstrations seem to take on a nationalist character.

What is absolutely necessary at the moment is an open conference to discuss and decide the major issues of the movement. This conference must clearly reject the idea of banning all parties and organisations and establish the free right of participation in the movement! And this conference must take decisions on the major demands of the movement.

The movement must join forces with the workers, winning them to common demands and a general strike of public transport. This would not necessarily mean stopping all transport, which would hit the working class itself, but not collecting fares.

Even if the movement achieves its central demand of stopping the fare rises, the problem is far from being solved. The mayor of São Paulo, Haddad, has already said that if the fares don´t rise, the subsidies will have to. In other words: the profits of the private companies have to be guaranteed, and the working class will pay for them – either through fares, or by taxation. Therefore, it is necessary to demand the complete nationalisation of all public transport, controlled by councils of the workers and the users. Only this can assure a democratic control and provision of public transport!

To achieve this, obviously, we cannot rely on the PT or any other established party. The movement can, and should, achieve the withdrawal of the rises by taking to the streets. But that alone will not be able to prevent the working class having to pay again. For this it must build a political expression that goes beyond the question of fares.

Therefore, in sharp contrast to rejecting all kinds of political organisation such as a party, this movement must be the beginning of the formation of a new party, a real party of the working class and all other oppressed classes, a revolutionary party!

For the nationalisation of public transport under the control of the workers and the users, with a massive reduction of the fares!
For a general strike in public transport to achieve this demand and at the same time a rise in wages.
For the immediate liberation of all political prisoners and the dropping of all charges against them! Against the repression of the movement!
For a national day of demonstration, unifying the different struggles in Brazil under one banner and one movement!
For freedom of organisation and speech within the movement! Against all repression of left parties and organisations!
For the building of a new revolutionary party, nationally and internationally!