Interview with the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) about Anarchism in Brazil
The interview was completed in 2010 for the German book »Von Jakarta bis Johannesburg: Anarchismus weltweit«. This is the original English version. It is largely based on an interview conducted by the journal »Divergences« in 2008.
What is the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) and since when has it existed?
The FARJ is a specific anarchist organisation, which was founded on the 30th of August 2003 as the result of a process of organisation and struggle in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that was initiated decades earlier. The objective, at the time of founding, was to consolidate an anarchist organisation that was seeking to contribute towards the resumption of the social vector, lost in Brazilian anarchism in the decade of the 1930s. At the time of founding we published our "Founding Manifesto" that already affirmed our will to struggle for organised anarchism, inspired by the history of anarchist resistance in Rio de Janeiro. We also published our "Statement of Principles", in which we define the principles which orientate all of our actions: freedom; ethics and values; federalism; internationalism; self-management; direct action; classism; political practice and social insertion; and mutual aid.
What do you mean by "resume the social vector”?
We call the social vector of anarchism its presence and influence in the popular movements and in the class struggles. In reality, anarchism never disappeared in Brazil as a convincing and consistent ideological proposal but, during the 1930s, it lost its first great social vector - represented, in that epoch, by revolutionary syndicalism. This happened, in large part, for reasons of the harnessing of the unions by the state, of the repression committed by the authorities and of the Bolshevik offensive. As Malatesta recommended, the anarchists should be in all of the camps that articulate the contradictions of capitalism, making sure that they function in the most libertarian way possible; and this was the orientation of the anarchists when they searched for insertion in the unions. Another factor that contributed to this loss was the fact that many people believed in syndicalism as and end in itself and therefore abandoned specific organisation as a goal. Brazilian anarchists, as was the case with José Oiticica, had already noticed that this strong movement that was formed from the beginning of the twentieth century was not enough in itself, but it could be a field for the actions of anarchists, in which they would have to act organised politically and ideologically in a specific anarchist organisation. When the problems above affected syndicalism, the fact that the anarchists were not more ideologically organised caused them to fail to find another social vector. With the loss of this vector, the Brazilian anarchists were found in anti-clerical leagues, in cultural and social centers, schools, editorial and drama collectives etc. These spaces were - and are - interesting and vital proposals, but are more effective when linked to a real social movement. Unlinked to concrete social practice, these initiatives were not able to promote the propaganda and agitation in the way that those companions wanted. For us, since the problems with syndicalism, anarchism has failed to find another social vector and our objective has been to contribute to the fight to find other social movements that permit this "reinsertion" of anarchism.
And what was the model of organisation chosen?
We opted for the specific model - known by other names as "especifismo" or organisational anarchism - in large part inspired by the FAU [in Uruguay]. Through the discussions that we had we arrived at the conclusion that it would be essential to work with popular social movements and that, for this, we should create an organisation with an emphasis on militant commitment. In this way an organisation defends certain clear positions: the organisation as active minority, the emphasis on the necessity of organisation; theoretical unity and unity of action; the production of theory; the necessity of social work and social insertion; the understanding of anarchism as a tool for the class struggle in pursuit of a libertarian socialist project; the differentiation between the levels of political action (the anarchist organisation) and social action (the popular movements); and the defence of a militancy that is strategically made. Obviously the organisation was not born functioning with all of these concepts, but we have improved our work in this direction over the years.
Is it possible to detail more about how these ways of organisation function?
This model of organisation maintains that the function of the specific anarchist organisation is to bring together and co-ordinate the forces stemming from militant activities, building a tool of solid and consistent struggle that seeks a finalist objective: social revolution and libertarian socialism. We believe that work without (or with little) organisation, in which each one does what they want, poorly articulated or even isolated, is inefficient. The model of organisation we advocate seeks to multiply the result and effectiveness of militant forces. In this model, the specific anarchist organisation works as an active minority, i.e., a group of anarchists that, organised on the political and ideological level, is party to actions on the social level - social movements, unions, etc. In this work, the organisation of active minority works to influence the movements and struggles in which it is involved, in order that they function in the most libertarian ways possible. Always acting on the social level, the active minority does not seek positions of privilege, does not impose its will, does not fight for the social movements, but with them, thus differentiating itself from the Marxist-Lenninist "vanguard".
How is the FARJ situated in the history of the Brazilian libertarian movement?
We are linked to a history that has much connection with the militancy of Ideal Peres. Ideal was the son of Juan Peres Bouzas (or João Peres), an immigrant anarchist and Spanish shoemaker, who made an important participation in anarchism from the end of the 1910s. He was an active militant of the Alliance of Craftsmen in Footwear and of the Workers Federation of São Paulo, and featured on numerous strikes, pickets and demonstrations. In the 1930s he was also active in the Anti-Clerical League and in 1934 made decisive participation in the Battle of the Cathedral - when the anarchists rejected the integralistas (fascists) under bursts from machine guns, with the participation of the National Liberator Alliance (Aliança Nacional Libertadora - ANL), a coordination that supported the anti-fascist struggle, combating imperialism and latifundia. Ideal Peres was born in 1925 and began his militancy in 1946, participating in the Libertarian Youth of Rio de Janeiro; in the periodicals "Ação Direta" (Direct Action) and "Archote"; in the Rio de Janeiro Anarchist Union; in the Anarchist Congress which took place in Brazil; and in the Brazilian Union of Libertarian Youth. He had relevant participation at the Professor Jose Oiticica Study Centre (Centro de Estudos Professor José Oiticica, CEPJO), site of a series of courses and lectures with an anarchist "background"; it was closed by the dictatorship in 1969, when Ideal was jailed for one month in the former Department of Political and Social Order (Departamento de Ordem Política e Social, DOPS). After the arrest Ideal organised, in his home even in 1970, a study group that had as its objective to approach youth interested in anarchism in order to, among other things, put them in contact with older militants and establish links with other anarchists in Brazil. This study group would be the germ of the Libertarian Study Circle (Círculo de Estudos Libertários, CEL), designed by Ideal and his partner Esther Redes. The CEL functioned in Rio de Janeiro from 1985 to 1995, having near to (or even inside) itself the formation of other groups as well as publications like "Libera...Amore Mio" (founded in 1991 and which still exists today). Moreover, CEL promoted events, campaigns and dozens (if not hundreds) of lectures and discussions. Today in the FARJ there are companions who arrived at the time of the study group in Ideal's house and companions who arrived at the time of CEL. With the death of Ideal Peres, CEL decided to honor him, modifying its name to the Ideal Peres Libertarian Study Circle (Círculo de Estudos Libertários Ideal Peres, CELIP). CELIP has given continuity to the work of CEL, being responsible for adding to the militancy of Rio de Janeiro and continuing in the improvement of its theory. In 2002 we started the study group to verify the possibility of the construction of an anarchist organisation and, as we said above, the outcome of this group was the founding of the FARJ in 2003. For us, there is a direct link between the militancy of Ideal Peres, the constitution of the CEL, its operation, the change of name to CELIP, and the subsequent founding of the FARJ.
How strongly is the FARJ connected to other anarchist groups and activists in Brazil?
In addition to the specific organisations with which we have organic relations with, as the Gaucha Anarchist Federation (FAG-RS) and the groups Rusga Libertária (MT) and the Vermelho e Negro (BA), the Anarchist Collective Zumbi dos Palmares (CAZP-AL), the Organisation Libertarian Resistance (ORL-CE) and the Anarchist Federation of Sao Paulo (FASP-SP), we seek to maintain a fraternal relationship with other anarchist groups and individuals in Brazil. Through our periodical "Libera" we can disseminate information and contact anarchists from all over Brazil, regardless of their positions, many of which are isolated in small and midsize towns. In Fabio Luz Social Library (BSFL), located at the Center of Social Culture-RJ (CCS-RJ), in Vila Isabel (RJ), we receive comrades of the whole country showing interest in knowing our work, and distribute newspapers and periodicals of other anarchist groups in Brazil to the general public.
We should not forget the efforts of the support network of FARJ, which has contributed to closer ties with militants willing to rescue the social vector of Brazilian anarchism, and promote the emergence of other organisations along the lines of FARJ, which is the case of the Study Group Ideas and Practices of Anarchists and the Pro-Organised Collective Anarchism, in the cities of Florianópolis and Joinville (SC) and the Anarchist Collective Class Struggle (PR). We just do not believe that there is an anarchist movement in Brazil, as some colleagues argue, because it implies to us a good degree of coordination, communication and political integration that does not yet exist in our country.
Have Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo always been the centers of anarchist activism in Brazil, or where there other important cities or regions? How about today?
Beyond Rio and São Paulo, Porto Alegre (RS) has always been a place of active anarchist militancy since the beginning of the twentieth century. We believe that only those three cities had an anarchist activity more or less continuously since the beginning of the twentieth century. But we must not forget the cities of Santos (SP), Recife (PE), Belém (PA), Curitiba (PR) and Petrópolis (RJ), which had strong libertarian presence in the first quarter of the twentieth century and the city of Salvador (BA), which published in 1977 the newspaper "Inimigo do Rei". Today we know of several initiatives of small anarchist groups or even individuals, in cities that did not have that tradition, but even so, they have their importance.
What are your ideological references, both nationally and internationally?
At the national level we can say that, since the especifista current was not in fact realised in its fullness in Brazil, our ideological references relate to some initiatives of the past and others that we believe to be signatories of the same current in the more recent history of the country. We understand that since the first years of the twentieth century, anarchists linked to "organisationism" (name of the period, which correlates to especifismo), particularly followers of Malatesta, worked for the purpose of organising a number of possible companions with visions to form an organisation with common strategies and tactics, based on tactical agreements and a clear understanding of the group. It was these who were responsible for realising the First Congress of Brazilian Workers in 1906, and for the initiatives of the most breathtaking national anarchism. These anarchists prepared the conditions that would allow for the full integration of libertarians into trade unions, into social life, with the formation of schools and theatre groups, beyond reasonable production records. It was also, to a large extent, the "organisationalist" current which eventually helped in the preparation of the Anarchist Rebellion of 1918, the creation of the Rio de Janeiro Anarchist Alliance, in the formation of the Brazilian Communist Party - with libertarian features - in 1919, and in the events that distinguished the anarchists from the Bolsheviks in the 1920s. In this first phase the names of Neno Vasco, José Oiticica, Domingos Passos, Juan Peres Bouzas, Astrojildo Pereira (until 1920) and Fábio Luz stand out. Later, after the slumber of social anarchism for almost two decades, part of the organisationalist tradition resurfaces in the journal "Ação direta" and, with the consummation of the Military Coup of 1964, we again lose our main force in that field, represented by Ideal Peres and the students of the Libertarian Student Movement. Externally, more specifically in Latin America, we can say that we have many affinities with the historical legacy of Magonism, the stage of radicalisation of the Mexican Liberal Party, in particular the period from 1906 to 1922. In that period, the phenomenon that received the name of its most active militant, Ricardo Flores Magón, undetook - in exile - several guerrilla actions and was able, even in spite of the limitations of Mexican revolutionary syndicalism, to go beyond appearances and, in a symbiotic form, approximate the ideology of the historical demands of the Mexican peasants, thus becoming a key vector of a radical revolution. Remember that, in the midst of bloody revolutionary war, there was an important approximation between Magonistas and Zapatistas. Aside from this, there are influences from the model of the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (FAU), particularly with regard to the type of Bakuninist/Malatestan organisation and its action in fronts (student, community and trade union), with priority on the question of social work/insertion and differentiating the levels of action. Inevitably we have a great influence from the classics Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta and from the anarchist presences in the Russian and Spanish Revolutions.
What are your goals and perspectives?
We consider ourselves a revolutionary organisation, hence, our compass (long-term goal) is the social revolution and the construction of libertarian socialism. The goals for the year of 2008 (short term) are: continue and strengthen our work in occupations, work with political training in occupations under the project of the Popular University, maintain relations with and integrate other social movements in Rio de Janeiro; maintain CCS-RJ, the Fabio Luz Social Library, rethink/increase the work inside CCS-RJ, set up a cooperative of Faísca Publications in CCS-RJ, consolidate the work of the agro-ecological front, look for other areas of activity, obtain more militants for the organisation, continue internal training, external relations and publications. In a more general way this is it.
Currently, in what state do you find anarchism in Brazil?
From our point of view there is not a "Brazilian anarchist movement", because the idea of "movement" implies a more or less well made articulation between these groups, which does not exist. We had a "resurgence" of anarchism in the 1980s with the end of the military dictatorship, and now some people who were distanced or worked with the resistance (mainly in the cultural sphere) "returned to being active", and others were added. Anarchism, at that time, generated a lot of interest from the "general public", until the end of the dictatorship. From the 1990s there was a process of deepening of libertarian positions and many of the anarchists, who had common affinities and were in different cities and states, began to discuss in more detail the issues of organisation, priorities of an anarchist group/organisation, etc. and, of course, this lead during the 1990s and early 2000s, to fragmentation. The groups started to act, each one, with those with which they had more affinity. A specific tendency surged (also in 1990), inspired by FAU, which would launch the proposal of the Brazilian Anarchist Construction (Construção Anarquista Brasileira), and would be responsible for the generation of virtually the entire especifista movement of Brazil; there is also a more synthesist tendency, inspired by the model of the French Anarchist Federation, which formed many groups; and finally a more individualist/post-modern line that grows mainly in the 2000s.
Today, there is a very fragmented anarchism in Brazil. We were together with this especifista tendency until 2003, when there was a split in the formation of our organisation (during the study group) and the groups that discussed the formation of the Forum of Organised Anarchism (FAO) which preferred to include the rival organisation which was formed in Rio de Janeiro (and which would then be separated from the FAO), preventing our entry. Since then, we began to focus our work on internal issues and fundamentally on our social work, because we believe that this should be a priority. Now, with more developed internal and social work, we are starting a moment of rethinking relations in Brazil and we reestablish relations with FAO. The synthesist tendency (or what we might call non-specific) is very diffused and has worked the hardest on the issue of anarchist propaganda, with publications, cultural centers and so on. It is not possible to explain exactly why, but there is more of a synthesist tradition than that of especifista in Brazil, so that - when there is not a more in-depth discussion about this - the groups that arise place themselves within this more synthesist (or non-specific) trend. The third line leads individualism and "lifestyle anarchism" to the latest consequences and has today some representation (Stirnerists, primitivists, etc. ...).
What kind of relations does the FARJ have with these tendencies?
After the problems that we had with the other specific organisations in constituting the FAO, we began not to work with them anymore. We also believe that there is no possible work to be done with the individualists, which defend this "lifestyle anarchism," not aimed at social struggle. Accordingly, we searched within the non-specific organisations, groups that agree with a slightly broader concept that we have come to defend: that of "social anarchism." With these groups we began to do publications, events and other activities.
What do you mean by "lifestylist" elements in Brazilian anarchism? And how strong are they in comparison to the "social anarchists"?
When we talk about behavioral or “lifestylist” anarchism, we vindicate these terms coined by Murray Bookchin in the U.S.. By them, we are referring to groups and individuals who are in the field of counter-culture. When we defend our position, we make a critique of these positions in a political and fraternal way, without the slightest intention of reproducing personal attacks, derogatory and destructive, which is only of interest to our adversaries and class enemies. We have no intention of playing this position that tends to fragment and de-politicize the debate between anarchists, regardless of their position in the libertarian environment.
Our criticism to this kind of practice is that it, by preaching individualism, non-political and ideological organisation of anarchists and anti-class struggle liberalism reinforces the separation between anarchism and social struggles. For these behavioral or "lifestylist" anarchists, class struggle is "outdated" and, therefore to organise ideologically would be a Marxist practice. This does nothing for the emancipation of the exploited classes, and is, at maximum, a critique of capitalist mass culture.
In addition we understand that these are practices that glorify spontaneity, we see that these guys end up isolating themselves in the consumption of the group that is living in a "ghetto" and around itself.
Often in their discussion forums, publications and practical activities, we, those who defend and organise around social anarchism, are criticized and sometimes maligned, and we prefer not to answer for avoiding to let "the snowball grow". But it is undeniable that, when compared to our circles, they seem to be quite numerous, but they are not socially influential because they are not sufficiently organised. And because they are neither adversaries nor class enemies, we have no intention of focusing our practice around a confrontation with these fellows, but to alert them to the limits of a project disconnected from social struggles moved by the workers.
And what, for you, is "social anarchism"?
Social anarchism is a concept a little wider than especifismo and seeks to overcome the division between the classical currents of anarchism (anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-individualism). It is a concept that seeks to group within itself the tendencies of anarchism committed to social issues (struggles, popular movements, etc.) and libertarian socialism. It is a current that we believe carries the legacy of various traditions - anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, council communism - plus a series of practical experiences that have happened since the nineteenth century. This "social anarchism" excludes individualistic and non-socialist tendencies of anarchism, namely, anarchism that is not focused on social struggle, anarchism that does not want to be a tool to change society. This social anarchism advocates an organised return to the popular struggles, stimulating anarchist presence with the oppressed, in the search for emancipation and freedom. It advocates, therefore, the concepts of organisation and social work/insertion.
How do people perceive your action? Is there a good reception of your ideas in the popular classes?
People, groups and social movements have received us well in all the work that we have been developing. We believe that for any work worthy of respect and receptivity, we have to escape from authoritarianism - which is present even in anarchist groups - and have enough humility to learn to listen, to build together, without wanting to impose our way of thinking to others. We are convinced that a lot of frustrated work is the result of a certain arrogance, presumption and even of a certain authoritarianism of groups or people who can not follow these fundamental ethical concepts. For us, ethics is a non-negotiable principle and one of the pillars of our organisation; we believe that working with ethics, we achieve/will achieve increasingly more receptivity and respect. An example of this could be our relationship, as an anarchist political organisation, with the social movement. Tired of people who only come to harness them, telling them what to do, to make them swallow their projects whole, to address them, many of these movements are calling for the presence of the FARJ, that is, view us with respect and are receptive to our ideas, primarily by the ethical way in which we relate the political (anarchist) with the social (of the social movements). Our proposal is to fight with the people and not for them or in front of them. Contrary to the authoritarians that mean to be a vanguard that illuminates the path of the people, we find that there is no light that is not collectively lit. We can not go ahead in front, lighting the way for the workers, while they themselves come behind us in darkness. Our goal is to stimulate, being together shoulder to shoulder, providing solidarity when it is necessary and requested. We understand that receptiveness and respect increase in the same proportion in which we work with this ethic; essential and not negotiable in our view.
What are the sectors in which anarchism is more developed: workers, students, people in marginalised areas...? Does a particular profile of the Brazilian militant exist (ethnic or social origin, belonging to class, age, level of education, type of employment, gender...) or do people of all types participate?
Here the vast majority of anarchist groups and organisations is composed of students and workers. The profile is not homogeneous, but we can give some indication: there are more whites than blacks and virtually no other ethnic groups (indigenous, etc.). There are more militants from the middle class and lower middle class than from low/very low classes, age ranges a lot (in FARJ, for example, we have members who are in their 20s as well as militants over 50), likewise occupations, there are more militants with university level education than without, and there are more men than women.
From what I see, but perhaps I'm wrong, it seems that current Brazilian anarchism is more of an urban phenomenon. Is there work (propaganda, organisation...) directed towards or even arising in/from agricultural workers, from the landless peasants, from indigenous communities?
You are right. Brazilian anarchism has always been much more urban than rural. That does not mean that groups seeking social work do not have contact with the landless, with indigenous communities or even with other people in rural areas. Ourselves, we are in contact with the MST (Movement of Landless Rural Workers) through a companion who is doing the political training course and bringing anarchism through there. According to the information we have, the MST (fundamentally the base) has a lot of receptivity towards anarchist ideas, especially for Magón and the Mexican Revolution. Nevertheless, this rural influence is much more restricted than the urban influence.
Do you have any kind of relations with the Brazilian extreme left? Do you sometimes work together?
It depends what you mean by "extreme left". We have no relations with Trotskyist or Bolshevik parties, but in the social field, we often relate with social movements of different influences/tendencies. We have relations or contact with, for example, the already mentioned Movement of Landless Rural Workers (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST), the Front of Popular Struggle (Frente de Luta Popular, FLP), the Homeless/Roofless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem-Teto, MTST) and the Unemployed Workers' Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Desempregados, MTD). Often, we have signed letters or flyers with non-anarchist organisations who are also on the broad field of what we might call the left, as was the case, for example, in the demonstrations against the implementation of the San Francisco river and in defense of the life of Bishop Cappio, in the occupation of the National Petroleum Agency (ANP) or the manifestation of the "Cry of the Excluded". We are non-sectarian and have tried, where possible, to interact with people and organisations of different ideology, always maintaining our principles and being aware of the ideological differences that distinguish us.
How does the government respond to the action of the FARJ and other Brazilian anarchists? Do you suffer state repression?
The government does not necessarily repress "anarchism". When anarchism is trapped in a ghetto, serving as a "lifestyle", a form of friendship, aesthetic freedom and philosophical thought, it does not offer any possibility of social change, is not involved in social struggles, and is therefore tranquilly "tolerated" by the State. The repression responds in exact proportion to the amount of social work that anarchists do. The more work, more mobilisation, more struggle, the more repression. For us it is no different. Anarchism is not repressed as a current of thought, but as a tool of struggle.
At the international level, with whom do you have contacts and ties with, first in Latin America and then in the rest of the world?
Here in Latin America, we are in contact (with different organic levels) with the following groups and organisations: Alianza Magonista Zapatista (AMZ) and the Colectivo Autônomo Magonista (CAMA), both from Mexico; Pró-Federação Anarquista from Costa Rica; Federação Anarquista Uruguaia (FAU) and the Colectivo pro-Organización Socialista Libertaria, from Uruguay; Red Libertária, the Organización Socialista Libertaria (OSL), Columna Libertária Joaquin Penina and the Frente Popular Dario Santillán, all of Argentina; Organización Comunista Libertaria (OCL), Estrategia Libertaria, Voz Negra and Hombre y Sociedad from Chile; Red Libertaria Popular Mateo Kramer, from Colombia; the group Qhispikay Llaqta (now Union Socialista Libertaria) from Peru and the journal "El Libertário" from Venezuela. There are also the following organisations: Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) from South Africa; Anarcho-Communits Federation (FdCA) from Italy, Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM), from Ireland, North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communist (NEFAC) from the US and Canada, Liberty and Solidarity, from England; CNT Vignoles, the Pierre Besnard Foundation and Anarchist Federation, all from France; the CIRA, from Switzerland; the journal "A Batalha" from Portugal; you from "Divergences"...
Can we talk about a resurgence of the anarchist movement in Latin America in general?
Our impression is that the number of militants and of groups has not grown significantly, hence, we do not believe that anarchism in Latin America is making a quantitative growth. However, it is undeniable that these groups are increasingly more organised and the tendency is that this increases the strength and scope of anarchism, so perhaps this impression of "resurgence" is because of this. For us, there is a more qualitative than quantitative growth, in this sense.
Can we consider that the Brazilian anarchist movement, and more generally Latin American, has a peculiarity, or its own traits, ideological considerations or practices that differentiate it from European anarchism?
We believe that there are some common features between Latin and European realities, but there is certainly a very different context and history. The ideological considerations are not very different. However, our challenge is thinking about how to apply anarchism, or these ideological considerations, in the context in which we are, dealing with a people that is the result of a history of colonialism, slavery and that has very diverse influences to European reality. We believe that this difference is more strategic than ideological. This difference of reality in which we work completely alters the diagnosis of the environment in which we act and has influences on our tactical and strategic objectives. Some basic differences that we could cite are: difference in the performance and role of the state in society; revolutions which occurred in many countries in Europe and that did not happen here; levels of poverty, inequality, education; movements of different perspective; organised crime; different influences of the process of economic "globalisation", particular cultural traits; finally, a series of differences that require us to adapt our ways of acting.
Most Latin American countries now have leftist governments, or which claim to be such. There is Lula in Brazil, Bachelet in Chile, Morales in Bolivia, Chavez in Venezuela... What is your position in relation to this situation? What is your analysis?
We understand this wave of progressive governments "of the left" as the result of the ebbs and flows of capitalism that, as we see, can allow these governments to be elected with a more progressive position, holding a more "popular" discourse and managing capital in favour of the economic elite. We are not saying that a dictatorship is the same thing as a government of this type - it would be complete non-sense on our part. However, what must be questioned is the fact that governments of this type tend to allay the most combative social movements, encouraging them to act within the State, as a progressive government "can give them institutional space". With that, they leave direct action behind and begin to be co-opted and to believe that a government, such as that of Lula for example, is a "popular" government, which has space for the movements and is capable of realising the necessary changes. Lula, despite having increased social benefits for the most exploited class, supports, at the same time, an economic policy that benefits the banks and transnational capital - a policy that is largely responsible for the situation of exploitation of the people. Finally, we believe that this new environment requires a more sophisticated analysis on our part, because the contradictions of capitalism become more masked. This requires a greater training of militants.
Can you say a little more about how certain social movements have been co-opted by "progressive" States in Latin America over the last few years? And how does this influence the relations between these movements and organisations like the FARJ?
To answer this question, we will limit ourselves to the social movements in Brazil and the recent years of those progressive governments. The case of union and student movement in Brazil are more explicit, because today, both the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT) and the União Nacional dos Estudantes (UNE) are "transmission belts" of the neo-liberal government headed by the Workers' Party (PT). In such cases, we see no possibility of such entities to retake a path of autonomy and class struggle, at least in the union movement, where, at the beginning of construction of the CUT, we attended and addressed this in the draft of the CUT Pela Base (Grassroots CUT). UNE, the leading student organisation of national character, never took up the characteristics that we advocate for the social movement. But it is not the same to criticize from the outside and not participate in the labor and student movement. The militancy of the FARJ is also present in the workplace and study that are frequented by our comrades.
However, there are examples of opposition to the PT and its dominated organisms as well as forms of popular organisation that have methods and practices very close to the autonomy that we defend for social movements.
A typical case in our country is the MST, which today represents the largest fighting force and resistance to the bourgeoisie by the exploited classes in our country. Many anarchists and authoritarian socialists consider that this is just a movement led by a Leninist vanguard, being constituted as a movement ideologized and dominated by authoritarian socialists, extremely hierarchical, which should serve to legitimate Lula/PT in power.
We have a different reading of the MST. We think this is an autonomous and combative movement, representative of the true role of the exploited classes. Obviously there are some Leninist or reformist political sectors trying to push the movement to more bureaucratic positions or attached to the government, but the primary struggle of the MST is the struggle that occurs in the occupation and settlements of estates, and so it is a struggle that affects private property, a pillar of capitalist domination, and it is not lost. And this makes us very comfortable to work together not only with this force but with other workers' movements which also do the same thing in the city, such as the homeless movement that promotes urban occupations.
With the "anti-globalisation" movement, the model of "participatory democracy" experienced in Porto Alegre has become well known. What is your opinion about this?
Anarchism advocates a model of self-management that is, first of all, deliberative. The model of participatory democracy in Porto Alegre is similar to the movement within the capitalist enterprises to improve the involvement of officials within the company and the financial results using, for this, participation in which the officials are heard in the decision-making of the managers and employers. For us, any system of "democratisation" - be it a company in the private sector, or an instance of the state (such as Porto Alegre) - must come from below, as a requirement of the most exploited class, so that the decisions are made in their favour. Porto Alegre maintains a consultive model of democracy, where the state comes from above and asks what its citizens want, without being obliged to implement what was decided and doing instead what it feels best. Its the same thing as the company that decides to ask officials what to do to improve the work. This model is radically different to the models of mobilisation of the base that, from the bottom to the top, are organised to compel the state to guarantee a social benefit or to oblige the company to give a salary increase or anything of the sort. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that any model that promotes debate and that may in one way or another fight against the culture of omission and political delegation, stimulating popular participation, has positive aspects. However, we encourage that this comes from below and, mainly, that it is considered as a means to something more, and not an end in itself.
In France very little is known about Brazil. Besides the touristic "clichés" (Copacabana, Carnaval...), the most known are the slums and their relation with drug trafficking, violence, misery etc. How exactly is the situation in these places?
Brazil is a country of continental dimensions (in area, it is the fifth largest country in the world), has 26 "federated" states plus the Federal District, occupying almost half of South America, with a population of over 180 million people. Brazil has the largest economy in Latin America, with a GDP of more than 2.5 trillion Reais (more than 1.5 trillion Dollars). However, it is a country with serious social problems. Social inequality is extremely high; for example, the average income of the richest 10% of the country is 28 times higher than the average income of the poorest 40%. In the United States, the proportion is five times, ten times in Argentina and fifteen times in Colombia. 30% of the population in Brazil is very poor, while in other countries with the same income index it is 10%. Formally, there is 10% unemployment, nearly 40% are functionally illiterate (of these, almost 10% are completely illiterate), housing problems are very complicated, as well as there being a housing deficit. The country is full of buildings that, through speculation or other reasons, are not being used. Health is precarious, as well as the public transport system. In the end, it is a rich country, which retains a gap between a few who enjoy this wealth and the many who suffer the consequences. What you see about slums and drugs trafficking most probably occurs in Rio de Janeiro. The situation is not exactly like the rest of the country because poverty manifests itself in different ways. In São Paulo, for example, there is a process of "social cleansing" where the poor are driven out, every time further away, until they can no longer be seen. In Rio de Janeiro, the conformation of the city with the hills tends to show this situation to the middle and upper classes more, because it is different from other regions where the poor are increasingly far away. This problem of the state, which only works in terms of repression - which, in an area of supposed "well-being" serves almost nothing - has created a space of power in the hills of Rio which was taken by trafficking - a kind of Brazilian mafia - with capitalist means and ends and extremely hierarchical and authoritarian organisation. Trafficking in the slums just gives the people some money, service or other type of thing, but at the same time oppresses, dominates and exploits them, even playing the role of "micro-state".
Finally, do you have a message for the companions from other countries?
We would like to have contact with groups/organisations and individuals who have affinity with our work and our points of view. Because we are convinced that the task of connecting with all who are willing to work for social anarchism is urgent. Aside from this, we would like to say thank you for all the support we are receiving from groups/organisations from many different places!
The Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) was founded in 2003 and is one of Brazil's most active anarchist organizations.