9 The June Days of 2013 in Brazil and the Persistence of Top-Down Histories
This chapter contests the arguments of elements of the left in Brazil and beyond that have condemned the so-called June Days of 2013. In June 2013, the Free Fare Movement (Movimento Passe Livre, or MPL) in São Paulo—a left-wing autonomous political formation oriented by a horizontalist strategy and tactics—led a movement against a R$0.20 (approximately C$0.05) increase in bus, train, and subway fares in the city. The movement of young workers and students quickly spread throughout the major cities of the country, mobilizing at its peak millions of people in militant street demonstrations and occupations of public buildings. State and municipal governments across the country were forced to revoke the fare increases, and, in reaction, the federal government of President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) promised a series of sweeping reforms to improve urban mobility and public services. The promises were not fulfilled: the Workers’ Party government instead opted for a neoliberal turn and a wave of conservatism and reactionary politics eventually emerged in the country, culminating in a parliamentary coup with the impeachment of Rousseff in 2016.
From the beginning, however, intellectuals, militants, and leaders of social democratic political parties—especially, but not exclusively, from the Workers’ Party—criticized the June Days. They argued that the demonstrations were manipulated from above by the corporate media and the right and cynically used as an attack on the social democratic governments of Fernando Haddad, Workers’ Party mayor of São Paulo, and the federal Workers’ Party government of Rousseff, initiating a series of events that would lead to her unjust impeachment in 2016 and the election of the neo-fascist Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. Indeed, in 2017 and 2018, Workers’ Party leaders such as Fernando Haddad, the Workers’ Party’s losing presidential candidate in 2018, and former president Lula da Silva repeated the argument that the June Days had initiated the conservative groundswell in the country.
Based on a critical historical approach developed from the 1960s on by historians such as E. P. Thompson and Bryan D. Palmer, a broad reading of social movements and the Workers’ Party in the historical and social science literature, and a rigorous empirical study of the June Days, I argue that these criticisms are erroneous for a number of reasons:
- they derive from a decidedly top-down approach, that is, an empirical analysis, political formulation, and practice of the left detached from the base of the working class and social movements. These critics thus called the young protesters of 2013 “ungrateful” for not being satisfied with all the supposed advances of the governments of the Workers’ Party from 2003 to 2013. Similarly, they believe that the June Days were merely driven, in a superficial way, through social media networks. These arguments show a deep ignorance of social movements historically, and especially in the more recent neoliberal period;
- there is a distinct lack of understanding of the changes in the structure of the working class in Brazil over the last decades, which have seen a substantial increase in precarious workers and growing expectations created by modest advances during the Workers’ Party governments;
- such criticisms fail to engage with the fact that other struggles emerged before, during, and after June 2013, such as the record number of strikes in the country in 2012–14 and the important struggles of the Homeless Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto, MTST);
- the criticisms ignore the limits of the Workers’ Party’s economic development model, which reacted to the global economic crisis through neoliberal austerity policies;
- they also neglect the consequences of ruinous alliances with central and right-wing parties that compromised policies against oppression and advanced conservative policies in the areas of public security and policing;
- they mistakenly locate the nature and timing of the conservative wave, falsely linking right-wing groups that emerged after the June Days to the progressive demonstrations against the fare increases and poor quality of public services and urban mobility, and neglecting the importance of the Workers’ Party’s own policies in nourishing the conservative tide.
The history of the concept of “history from below” is relatively well known, but it is worthwhile briefly discussing the trajectory of the concept itself in the historiographical literature and in the intellectual/political formation on which the present chapter is based. First coined by the founder of the Annales, Lucien Febvre, “history from below” became explicitly known in the English-speaking world after the publication of an article with this title by E. P. Thompson in 1966, but also implicitly from the impact of his The Making of the English Working Class.1 Although the title of the 1966 article was likely added by an editor since Thompson did not actually use the term in the article, the notion that “history from below” would focus on the hitherto “history-less”2—“the lives and struggles of ordinary people . . . social relations at the grass roots, popular forms of protest, everyday activities such as work and leisure, as well as attitudes, beliefs, practices, and behavior”3—would be welcomed by critical historians, especially Marxists, from the 1960s onward who aimed to counter the “history of great men” (and, occasionally, “great women”) still prominent in the academy. Not by accident, such an insight ended up fostering not only research on workers, but also on women, slaves, immigrants, and other oppressed groups. And the influence of the concept was felt not just in Europe and North America, but in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, where it conceptually merged with similar traditions, such as microhistory, Alltagsgeschichte (the history of everyday life), and people’s histories.4
In the specific field of labour and working-class history, strongly influenced by Thompson, historians such as Bryan D. Palmer, Gregory S. Kealey, and others in the Canadian context in the 1970s and 1980s focused on the class experiences of workers and their cultures of protest, cutting against the staid and largely institutional histories of working-class organizations and political parties (especially social democratic unions and parties).5 Again, following Thompson, there was a clear interest in countering histories, even by Marxists, that mechanistically viewed the determination of political outcomes by economic structures, ignoring “temporality, the dialectical unity of the economic and political, and the complexity of capitalist totality.”6
Sometimes, such practitioners bent the stick too far, offering one-sided appreciations of the class struggle and ignoring material determinations and the influence and actions of the dominant classes.7 Yet it is noteworthy that both Thompson and Palmer also authored detailed histories of the ruling classes or working-class histories with particular attention paid to ruling-class ideas, strategies, and tactics.8 It is clear that one can pursue “history from below” or, using Staughton Lynd’s notion, “history from the bottom up”9 without neglecting economic structures and the dominant classes’ ideas and practices in the class struggle.
What’s this got to do with the struggles of young workers and students in June 2013 in Brazil? First, “history from below” involves a clear political commitment to the struggles of ordinary people despite the often ambiguous and contradictory matrix of ideas and practices and unintended outcomes involved in popular struggles. This does not mean neglecting rigorous empirical research and conceptual clarity; in fact, these are even more important when an explicit political commitment is adopted. Second, there is a concerted focus on “class as a historical process and dynamic relationship” that must take into account “contingencies of class struggle, relational processes in the formation of political subjectivity, and the role of contending ideologies.”10 I argue in the rest of this chapter that left critics of the June Days not only ignored these insights from class analysis, but, in toeing the party line of the Workers’ Party and seeking specious excuses for the party’s misfortunes, also neglected honest and rigorous empirical research.
While individual Workers’ Party militants and the party’s youth section in São Paulo participated in or supported the Free Fare Movement–led demonstrations in June 2013, several Workers’ Party and Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil, PCdoB) councillors in the municipal government of São Paulo, and later, key intellectual and political figures in the Workers’ Party, condemned the first demonstrations on 6, 7, and 11 June as the violent acts of vandals, sharply questioning the legitimacy of the movement.11 An influential journalist who supported the Workers’ Party, Paulo Henrique Amorim, dismissed the acts as a “coup” led by conservative media conglomerate Rede Globo.12 Prominent intellectual and founder of the Workers’ Party Marilena Chauí, a retired professor of philosophy at the University of São Paulo, had (in general) a much more sober and reflexive analysis, but his still failed to distinguish between the progressive movement of workers and students that managed to get the increase of the tariff revoked and raised progressive demands and the conservative “anti-corruption” and anti-Workers’ Party minority that emerged at the end of the cycle of demonstrations in June.13 In April 2018, Professor Igor Fuser of the Federal University of ABC wrote the following post on his Facebook page, “June 2013: the most expensive 20 cents in Brazilian history,” and in the comments defended the argument that the June Days resulted in the impeachment of President Dilma as well as the anti-working class politics of the Temer government from 2016–18.14
Criticisms of the June Days by the key Workers’ Party cadre continued in the years following 2013. In January 2014, Gilberto Carvalho, the former chief of staff of President Lula, a minister of the Rousseff government, and a supposed interlocutor of the latter with social movements, called the demonstrators “almost” ungrateful:
When the demonstrations occurred in June, on our part there was a scare. We were perplexed. When I say “we,” I refer to the government and all our traditional movements. (There was) a certain pain, a misunderstanding and almost a feeling of ingratitude. (It was like) saying: “we have done so much for these people and now they stand up against us.”15
In August 2017, former President Lula expressed: “We precipitated in thinking that 2013 was a democratic thing. That the people went to the street because they were very worried about that collective public transportation thing.”16 In March 2018, he suggested that the June Days had been planned in the United States (without citing by whom or how exactly).17 In June 2017, Fernando Haddad, a former minister of the Lula government and mayor of São Paulo during the June Days, said that the coup against former president Dilma Rousseff in 2016 would hardly have occurred had it not been for the June Days, blaming nebulous and (again unspecified) “large corporations” for manipulating social networks and involving “possible infiltrators” in the protests.18 Certainly, the most calumnious declaration came in late December 2019 when Workers’ Party vice-president Alberto Cantalice compared the June Days of 2013 with the infamous “March for the Family with God for Liberty” in support of the coup in April 1964 that inaugurated a brutal twenty-year military regime in Brazil.19
In the academic literature on the June Days, critical scholar-activists in Brazil, such as Elena Judensnaider et al., Erminia Maricato, Ruy Braga, Marcelo Badaró Mattos, André Singer, Alfredo Saad-Filho, Felipe Demier, Raúl Zibechi, Ruda Ricci, Aldo Sauda, and the present author have celebrated the revolt from below as a genuinely progressive and democratic movement and emphasized the decidedly class nature of the June Days in the wider contexts of the economic crisis and the erosion of the “left neoliberal” project of the Workers’ Party.20 While the historian Alexandre Fortes acknowledges the importance of the revolt from below, he nonetheless stresses the “multiple narratives”—including conservative and anti-Workers’ Party perspectives—that emerged from the struggles.21
Among other academic researchers, political philosopher Marcos Nobre sees the mobilizations more generally as a popular denunciation of the absence of tangible political representation in the country, as a veritable “shock to democracy”—the lack of democracy in a country whose traditional political parties have consolidated a closed political system that allows for little real decision making among citizens.22 Giuseppe Cocco utilizes Tony Negri’s argument of the “multitude,” arguing that the lack of formal leadership and horizontal organizational forms in the Free Fare Movement were the key strengths that led to the success of the movement.23 Manuel Castells sees recent social movements, including the June Days, as distinct from earlier movements of social contestation in that they present a “singular content” that relies on the “connectivity” of social media networks, promising a genuinely new form of utopian subjectivity and rebelliousness.24 In another text, I have already engaged with these social scientific interpretations of the June Days.25
In the following six sections, I contest, in particular, the arguments that the June Days were anti-democratic, right-wing, and resulted in President Rouseff’s coup in 2016, the draconian cutbacks of the Temer government, and the ascension of Jair Bolsonaro. I have been influenced and inspired in this effort by Bryan D. Palmer’s historical and political interventions over his long career—his rigorous empirical research and his explorations of the multi-faceted experiences of working-class and popular mobilizations and the centrality of capitalist social formations.
The chief basis of the arguments against the June Days by left commentators is the notion that social movements should not operate independently and autonomously from a progressive government like the Workers’ Party. “Leave it in our hands and we will do everything (or what we can) for you” describes the attitude of the type of leftist politics constructed by the Workers’ Party. Already in the 1990s, the grassroots branches within the Workers’ Party—which played a key role in formulating party policies in its first decade—had become increasingly moribund.26 The Workers’ Party was gradually transformed into a party of professional politicians with interests linked more to electoral politics and the party bureaucracy than to grassroots struggles.27 In the Workers’ Party governments from 2003–16, most social movements and the trade union movement were characterized by their close relationship with the government, relinquishing strikes and protests in favour of negotiating behind closed doors with party and government officials. Tens of thousands of key ministerial and bureaucratic positions in the state were filled by Workers’ Party militants, many of them ex-union leaders and social movement activists, as well as by members of allied political parties from the centre and the right. The Workers’ Party maintained the financial orthodoxy of neoliberalism, yet achieved modest social reforms “from above,” that is, through government programs formulated and implemented from above and detached from the base of the working class and social movements.28
It is necessary to highlight that the June Days constituted a legitimate progressive social movement composed of young workers, university students, and the left, who mobilized first against the increase in public transport fares. The class character of the participants on a national scale in the demonstrations from 17 June to 20 June, the peak dates of the uprising, was quite clear: while 70–80 percent of the demonstrators had either graduated from post-secondary school or were currently attending, 50 percent of demonstrators were earning working-class incomes, 25 percent had lower-middle-class wages, and only slightly more than 20 percent had upper-middle-class salaries.29 The majority of demonstrators belonged to what many critical researchers call the “new proletariat” or “precariat,” characterized by relatively high educational levels after more than a decade of expansion of higher education opportunities, but employment in low-wage, precarious jobs in telemarketing, services, and education, among other occupations.30 The June Days were thus distinguished by a massive working-class revolt against precariousness not only in public transit, but in public services in general.
After the first demonstrations against abusive public transit fare hikes, protesters expanded their demands, but they were still progressive and class-based demands. Flags, posters, and interviews with protesters highlighted claims related to the right to free assembly and expression, the end of police violence and racism, and improvements in public services, as well as against the corporate media monopoly.31 Even after the annulment of the fare increases in São Paulo on 19 June, a survey done by Ibope on 20 June 2013—the day demonstrators celebrated the victory—carried out in the capital cities of the seven most populous states and in the federal capital, Brasília, shows that of the participants, 37 percent were primarily against the increase in fares; 12.1 percent wanted improvements in public health; 5.5 percent were against a legislative proposal to give the judiciary more investigative power; 5.3 percent were for improvements in education; 4.5 percent were against the FIFA World Cup/Confederations Cup; 1.3 percent were against violent police action; and 1.3 percent were there for improvements in criminal justice and public security.32 Of the demonstrators, 29.9 percent also expressed that they were protesting against the “political environment,” including 24.2 percent who were against corruption and misappropriation of public money, which may be indicative of some (but by no means all) interventions by right-wing activists. It is true that a small group of right-wing protesters had already participated in the demonstrations on 17 June in São Paulo, the fifth Free Fare Movement demonstration, but until 20 June, after the victory against the fare increases, the vast majority of demonstrators were on the street in favour of a progressive agenda.33
Another misleading argument raised in criticism of the June Days is that they were merely superficially driven by social networks. The role of social networks was said to be exaggerated and linked to the notion analyzed above about the role of social movements: demonstrators were supposedly ignorant and only went out on the streets because of Facebook or Twitter. As Lula simplistically put it: “With nimble fingers on their cell phones, youth went to the streets all over the world to protest, connected by social networks.”34 Social scientist Luiz Werneck Vianna opined simplistically: “Beyond social media, the people are not organized.”35 Without a doubt, the use of the internet and social networks to discuss strategy and tactics and divulge protests was important and should be studied more.36 However, it is extreme technological determinism to assert that millions mobilized simply because of participation in social networks. This was reflected in the sloppy journalism of The Guardian and The Economist,37 and was reproduced by at least one social movement theorist,38 for example, who reported that protesters carried posters with the slogan “We left Facebook,” which was incorrectly translated in these publications as “We came from Facebook.” It is a relatively small example, but it demonstrates the ignorance and/or distortion of material questions in social movement analysis.
The incredulity of Workers’ Party leaders, signalled above by Gilberto Carvalho and Fernando Haddad, as to the legitimacy of the June Days demonstrates that the possibility of a mass movement criticizing the Workers’ Party government simply was not contemplated nor taken seriously. Therefore, these critics called the young protesters of 2013 “ungrateful” for not being satisfied with all the supposed advances of the Workers’ Party governments in the first decades of the 2000s. The Workers’ Party leaders failed to understand that the June Days confronted the entire establishment, which included their party. The Workers’ Party could simply not comprehend a mass movement that was not under its control and that questioned the basis of its parliamentary practice from above. Their logic was binary: “if it is not under our control, it’s right wing.”
I will briefly highlight here the emergence of workers’ discontent during the first term of Workers’ Party President Rousseff (2011–14), especially among those with low-paid, unstable jobs, within the limits of the development model directed by the Workers’ Party. The present crisis cannot be understood without taking into account the discontent of the working class, especially from those in the most precarious sectors in Brazil, and their part in the June Days.
As the historian of the Workers’ Party, Lincoln Secco, argues, the party successfully promoted modest social reforms, yet ceded hegemony to the “ideologues of the financial markets.”39 Alfredo Saad-Filho has exhaustively shown in a series of studies that the Workers’ Party maintained “the neoliberal macroeconomic ‘Policy Tripod’ imposed by the preceding administration, including inflation targeting and central bank independence, free capital movements and floating exchange rates, and tight fiscal policies.”40 Interest rates were among the highest in the world, and almost half of government receipts was used to pay off the national debt.41 According to statistics from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the profits of Brazil’s four largest banks in 2013 were larger than the gross domestic products of eighty-three countries.42
The modest advances in employment, income, and social programs during the Lula governments in the context of a (temporarily) favourable world market for Brazilian exports significantly increased expectations among the Brazilian population. As Saad-Filho argued, “the poor want to consume more, larger masses of people want social inclusion and both want better public services.”43 While Lula’s governments created more than two million jobs a year between 2003 and 2010, 94 percent of them only paid up to one and a half times the minimum wage.44 Job creation had already begun to slow down by 2009; from 2009 to 2012, the average time in employment also fell from eighteen to sixteen months, suggesting deterioration in the employment market.45 Job turnover was also very high: in 2012, 45 percent of newly hired workers quit their jobs within six months.46 Moreover, as Ruy Braga has shown, the period between 2003 and 2010 was “marked by economic growth and formalization of employment, but the current rate of informality [was] still 44%.”47
While the government widely trumpeted that it had brought tens of millions of Brazilians into the “middle class,” economist Marcio Pochmann, himself a leading Workers’ Party intellectual and politician, has shown that this is a myth: the weakening of basic industry that provides relatively high wages and benefits and the massive expansion of outsourcing actually reduced the middle class. He emphasizes that there has been no fundamental change in class structure in the twenty-first century.48 Indeed, the unique focus on the agribusiness industry, the creation of precarious jobs, and a reliance on neoliberal financial policies would leave Brazil particularly vulnerable to the global economic crisis that hit Brazil hard in 2011–12.
There were modest reforms and some improvements in public services in the areas of education, health, and housing, but they did not meet the expectations of most Brazilians. Expenditures on education and health were inadequate compared to developed and even developing countries among the BRICS.49 The “My Home, My Life” housing program launched by the Lula government in 2009 had modest successes, but by no means solved the deficit in decent housing. Moreover, it was very beneficial to the construction firms, which retained control over many aspects of the program.50 One side effect of this program, combined with the high interest rates, was the creation of a speculative bubble in urban real estate markets, with house prices and rents increasing much more than increases in income and the cost of construction.51
More important in relation to the June Days were the huge discrepancies in urban mobility—not only the formal availability of public transport in the city, but also its cost and quality. As Saad-Filho argues, “rapidly rising incomes at the bottom of the pyramid and rising auto sales have not been accompanied by improvements in infrastructure, leading to an overall deterioration in the quality of urban life.”52 Long journeys on overcrowded, uncomfortable, and relatively expensive vans, buses, trains, and subways are daily facts of life for many Brazilians.53 According to the Brazilian government’s statistical research institute, IPEA, from 2000 to 2012, the cost of transportation in Brazil as a whole increased by 67 percent above inflation.54 Taking into account average wages, the public transport systems in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are among the most expensive in the world.55 It is no surprise, then, that the argument for “the right to the city” during the June Days attracted broad support among those of the working class, especially young workers from the peripheries of large cities.56
It is valuable to place the June Days within the broader cycle of protests and strikes that began in 2010 and only ended in 2014. It was no accident that after a decade of decidedly uneven growth, strike levels began to substantially increase in 2008, reaching a peak in 2013 with more strikes (2,050) than in any other year since at least 1978.57 According to Ruy Braga, many of the 2010–12 strikers were “semi-skilled or unskilled laborers who entered and exited the labor market, young workers in their first jobs, and workers who had recently come out of the informal market.”58 In fact, there was a marked increase in strikes by precarious workers in the public and private sectors with little tradition of workplace action.59 Salary increases in 2014 even surpassed the levels of 2013, with increases on average of 1.4 percent above inflation.60
The main explanations for the low level of strikes throughout the early 2000s were the precariousness of labour relations in the context of neoliberal productive relations and what Marcel Badaró Mattos calls the “progressive pacification” of many of the combative union leaderships in the country and their incorporation into the Workers’ Party government.61 Since 2010, therefore, Brazil has witnessed not only rising expectations but economic slowdown, increasing numbers of strikes, and the gradual erosion of the economic and political development model of Lulismo. The June Days of 2013 thus did not arise from nowhere.
Indeed, the original protests against public transit fare increases were not new (the Free Fare Movement had mobilized around this question since 2005), and neither was the plethora of demands for improvements in social services. The Homeless Workers’ Movement had already begun to mobilize through occupations of empty buildings and large street demonstrations, employing many of the tactics historically used by the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST) and redeployed by the Free Fare Movement in 2013. Furthermore, one of the key leaders of the Homeless Workers’ Movement explicitly acknowledged the inspiration of the June Days for the group’s escalating campaign of occupations and street demonstrations in late 2013 and 2014.62 Moreover, in many strikes and mobilizations throughout the 2000s (2000–13), public sector workers had raised similar banners to those of the protesters in June 2013 on the necessity to preserve and expand social programs. It would also be negligent to ignore the influences of mass protests on an international scale, such as the Arab Spring and the Gezi Park mobilizations in Turkey that occurred at roughly the same time as the June Days.
The June Days also boosted the profile of the Comitês Populares da Copa (People’s Cup Committees) in cities hosting games for the 2014 World Cup, raising awareness about the reckless spending and corruption involved in preparing for such mega-events.63 The Free Fare Movement–led activities in June were also particularly influential in the late 2013 strikes by education workers, especially in Rio de Janeiro, where teachers and their supporters (with certainly many of the same people on the streets as in June) mobilized a spectacular struggle of occupations and resistance in the face of police repression that on several occasions brought out tens of thousands.64 And in March 2014, street cleaners in Rio de Janeiro paralyzed the city in support of better salaries and working conditions in the middle of the popular Carnival holiday against the wishes of their own union leaders. The largely black workers won the sympathy of the majority of the city’s population and eventually achieved their principal demands through massive street rallies and the blocking of major urban arteries.65
On 24 June 2013, President Rousseff met with twenty-seven state governors and twenty-six mayors of capital cities, proposing five “social pacts” involving health, education, public transportation, political reform, and fiscal responsibility. As demonstrations declined in the second half of 2013, however, the government shelved all the pacts except the last, that of fiscal responsibility. Although Rousseff’s government was already faltering in 2014, it managed to win the second round of the elections that year by a short margin, largely due to the support of the working class.66 This support was conditional on the continuation of formal employment opportunities, even if these were of low quality and poorly paid.
However, shortly after starting its second term in 2015, the Rousseff government followed clearly neoliberal austerity policies, choosing the head of the country’s largest bank to be finance minister, cutting R$80 billion from the annual budget (drastically affecting social spending), and restricting pension and labour rights.67 And since the election, an economic contraction has occurred, driven by federal spending cuts and increased unemployment (which rose from 8.5 percent at the beginning of 2015 to 12 percent at the end of 2016), hitting both the urban precariat and the organized working class.68
The traditional middle class, in turn, some of whom were hitherto supportive of the Workers’ Party and the main trade union federation, the Unified Workers’ Central (Central Unica dos Trabalhadores, CUT), moved toward a markedly right-wing economic agenda and politics. One important reason for this was the formalization of employment conditions for those doing domestic work, widely employed by the middle class, which led to increased salaries at a time when the heated labour market had raised the cost of services in general. In fact, the Workers’ Party governments had effected a certain de-concentration of income among workers and this eventually had impacts on the middle class. Services provided by precarious workers to the middle class saw prices increase, so concierges, pedicures, manicures, and hairdressers, for example, were more expensive, especially domestic employees.69 If one takes into account the tight labour markets and strategies to increase the minimum wage at more than the rate of inflation, which had a direct impact on domestic work, the cost of living for the middle class certainly increased significantly.70 In addition, the increased buying power of workers led to their higher engagement in mass consumption. Workers began to use spaces, such as shopping malls and airports, that had previously been considered exclusive for the traditional middle classes. Lastly, the improving access to low-quality private universities for the children of workers meant increased competition for middle-class children for jobs that paid more than one and a half times the minimum monthly wage.71
Finally, the deepening economic crisis in 2014–15 affected small and medium-sized businesses particularly sharply. Influenced by the reactionary and conservative corporate media in the country, the middle classes grew increasingly dissatisfied with the measures instituted by the Workers’ Party government. When the Petrolão/Car Wash scandal broke, in which the state petroleum company Petrobras was linked to kickbacks and money laundering, the dissatisfaction of the traditional middle class and small and medium-sized businesses exploded into a huge wave of protest driven by a reactionary political agenda.72
The collapse of Rousseff’s support base in the National Congress was only the most visible face of a crisis that was rooted in the very social structure of a country that had suffered a deep recession for two years. The Brazilian development model, which had promised the creation of jobs for precarious workers and the levelling-out of income inequalities, was no longer able to guarantee corporate profits, let alone win the consent of the subaltern classes. Faced with a worsening international crisis, the main representatives of Brazilian business, with the private banks in the lead, began to demand that the federal government toughen its austerity measures.73 In short, for large companies it was necessary to deepen the recessionary adjustment, increase unemployment, and contain the strike cycle in order to impose a series of unpopular reforms, such as cuts to social security and labour rights. This agenda flowed into the Workers’ Party government’s actions. The fiscal adjustment that Rousseff thus implemented early in her second mandate betrayed the expectations of the fifty-five million voters who had been seduced by her campaign promises of improving employment numbers, social programs, and labour rights. Certainly, the vulnerability of the Rousseff government that resulted in impeachment in 2016 was due to these policies and decidedly not to demonstrations by young workers and students in 2013 around abusive public transit fare increases and demands for improvements in public services.
The argument that the June Days resulted in the wave of conservatism and eventually the parliamentary coup also neglects the consequences of the Workers’ Party’s ruinous alliances with central and right-wing parties throughout the government’s four mandates (2003–16). These not only compromised its economic policies, but also handcuffed its social policies against oppression as well as its policing and drugs policy. In the name of “governability,” the Workers’ Party, at all levels of government, brokered alliances with right-wing politicians to secure support in the National Congress, state assemblies, and municipal governments. In addition to alienating the party’s own base, Workers’ Party governments undermined their own policies in a number of areas associated with the fight against oppression, leaving an open human rights opponent, for example, the evangelical federal deputy Marco Feliciano, to preside over the Commission of Human Rights of the National Congress.74
The Workers’ Party’s public security policy and its effective support for a phony “war against drugs” witnessed Brazil’s prison population rise to the third highest in the world as well as record-breaking numbers of homicides and violent crimes, many by Brazilian security forces that regularly kill poor and black people with impunity.75 An “anti-terrorism” law pushed through by President Rousseff in 2014 and the police brutality against social movements was, at best, wilfully ignored by Workers’ Party governments at the federal, municipal, and state levels.76 Added to the failure to enact media reforms to reduce the power of the de facto corporate media monopoly of the Globo group (also sought after as an ally by the Workers’ Party government), these policies ended up giving legitimacy to the conservative political tide, while erstwhile allies from the centre and the right quickly split with the Workers’ Party, voting overwhelmingly for impeachment and/or composing and supporting the Temer government and, more recently, the neo-fascist government of Jair Bolsonaro.
Rousseff won the elections in 2014 by a bare margin for many of the reasons outlined above. There is no doubt that right-wing social movements such as the Free Brazil Movement (Movimento Brasil Livre, MBL) and Come to the Street (Vem pra Rua) (both created in 2014) took advantage of the weakness of the Rousseff government and mobilized in conjunction with the media and conservative parties to overthrow it in 2015 and 2016. There is also no doubt that these groups cynically adopted the tactics of the mass demonstrations that characterized the June Days, yet they were funded, aided, and disseminated by traditional right-wing political parties, the corporate media, and international foundations.77 However, in comparing the activists of the June Days and these later groups, one can see a radically different social composition and demands as well as clearly opposing political-ideological agendas.78
The argument that the June Days resulted in Rousseff’s impeachment and the vicious cutbacks of the Temer government is misleading because it simply ignores and/or overlooks many other important factors in explaining the period. In this chapter, I have shown that the leftist political model of the Workers’ Party is based on a notion of reformism from above, so it distrusted any social movement that criticized it. I also showed that the economic development model of the Workers’ Party was exhausted during the first Rousseff government, frustrating the expectations of the population. I argued that the Workers’ Party’s spurious alliances with the right and its accelerated adoption of neoliberal policies fueled right-wing politics, which resulted in the president’s impeachment and the Temer government’s assault against workers. Finally, I showed that the very sequence of events related to the conservative turn in the country cannot be honestly connected to the June Days.
The author would like to thank Benjamin Glyn Fogel and the editors of this collection for suggestions as well as the militants of the Free Fare Movement and Bryan D. Palmer for continued inspiration.
- 1. E. P. Thompson, “History from Below,” Times Literary Supplement, 7 April 1966, 279–80; E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London: Victor Gollancz, 1963).
- 2. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, “History from Below,” Social Scientist 11, no. 4 (April 1983): 4.
- 3. Andrew I. Port, “History from Below, the History of Everyday Life, and Microhistory,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 11, ed. James D. Wright, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Elsevier, 2015), 108.
- 4. Ibid. See also Staughton Lynd, Doing History from the Bottom Up (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014).
- 5. Bryan D. Palmer, A Culture in Conflict: Skilled Workers and Industrial Capitalism in Hamilton, Ontario, 1860–1914 (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1979); Gregory S. Kealey and Bryan D. Palmer, Dreaming of What Might Be: The Knights of Labor in Ontario, 1880–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
- 6. Jeffrey Webber, “The Deadweight of Structure: A Response to René Rojas on Latin America’s Pink Tide,” NACLA Report on the Americas, 7 January 2019, https://nacla.org/news/2019/01/08/deadweight-structure-response-ren%C3%A9-rojas-latin-america%E2%80%99s-pink-tide.
- 7. See, for example, Bryan D. Palmer’s critical appreciation of the work of Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh: Bryan D. Palmer, “Hydra’s Materialist History,” Historical Materialism 11, no. 4 (2003): 373–94.
- 8. Among other texts, see E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origins of the Black Act (London: Pantheon Books, 1975); Bryan D. Palmer, Capitalism Comes to the Backcountry: The Goodyear Invasion of Napanee (Toronto: Between the Lines, 1994); Bryan D. Palmer, Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934 (Leiden: Brill, 2013).
- 9. Lynd, Doing History.
- 10. Webber, “The Deadweight of Structure.” See also Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky, and Alf Gunvald Nilsen, “Marxism and Social Movements: An Introduction,” in Marxism and Social Movements, ed. Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky, and Alf Gunvald Nilsen (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 1–40.
- 11. Diego Zanchetta, “Vereadores chamam manifestantes de ‘criminosos’ e transformam sessão em ato de repúdio,” Estado de São Paulo, 12 June 2013; Elena Judensnaider, Luciana Lima, Marcelo Pomar, and Pablo Ortellado, Vinte centavos: A luta contra o aumento (São Paulo: Veneta, 2013), 55–64; Daniela Pinheiro, “O comissário: Rui Falcão e a missão de comandar o PT depois das revoltas de junho e do desgaste de Dilma,” Piauí 83 (August 2013); Mônica Bergamo, “Em dois,” Folha de São Paulo, 19 June 2013.
- 12. Paulo Henrique Amorim, “Globo derruba a grade. É o Golpe!” Conversa Afiada, 20 June 2013, http://www.conversaafiada.com.br/brasil/2013/06/20/globo-derruba-a-grade-e-o-golpe.
- 13. Marilena Chauí, “As manifestações de junho de 2013 na cidade de São Paulo,” Teoria e Debate, 113, 27 June 2013, reproduced in https://www.geledes.org.br/marilena-chaui-as-manifestacoes-de-junho-de-2013-na-cidade-de-sao-paulo/; Marilena Chauí, “Entrevista,” Revista Cult 182 (20 August 2013), reproduced in O Cafezinho, http://www.ocafezinho.com/2013/08/28/chaui-fala-sobre-manifestacoes/.
- 14. Igor Fuser, Facebook Post, 22 April 2018, https://www.facebook.com/igor.fuser.9/posts/10214987597939291.
- 15. “Houve ‘quase ingratidão,’ diz ministro sobre protestos no país,” Folha de São Paulo, 24 January 2014. Translated by the author.
- 16. “Lula diz que foi precipitado considerar atos de 2013 democráticos,” Folha de São Paulo, 11 August 2017. Translated by the author.
- 17. Mônica Bergamo, “Entrevista com Lula,” Folha de São Paulo, 1 March 2018. Lula repeated this claim in late 2019 in an interview with Venezuelan state television. See Telesur, “Entrevista de Lula a Telesur, O Cafezinho, 31 December 2019, https://www.ocafezinho.com/2019/12/31/entrevista-de-lula-a-telesur/.
- 18. Fernando Haddad, “Vivi na pele o que aprendi nos livros,” Piauí 129 (June 2017), https://piaui.folha.uol.com.br/materia/vivi-na-pele-o-que-aprendi-nos-livros/. Translated by the author.
- 19. See Congresso em Foco, “Vice-presidente do PT compara 2013 com marchas pró-ditadura,” 29 December 2019, https://congressoemfoco.uol.com.br/eleicoes/vice-presidente-do-pt-compara-2013-com-marchas-pro-ditadura/.
- 20. Judensnaider et al., Vinte centavos; Erminia Maricato, ed., Cidades rebeldes (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2013); Ruy Braga, “Cenedic: Uma sociológia à altura de Junho,” Blog do Boitempo, 26 May 2014, http://blogdaboitempo.com.br/2014/05/26/cenedic-uma-sociologia-a-altura-de-junho/; Ruy Braga, A pulsão plebeia: Trabalho, precariedade e rebeliões sociais (São Paulo: Alameda, 2015); Marcelo Badaró Mattos, “New and Old Forms of Social Movements: A Discussion from Brazil,” Critique 43 (2015): 485–99; André Singer, “Brasil, junho de 2013: Classes e ideologias cruzadas,” Novos Estudos CEBRAP 97 (2013): 23–40; Alfredo Saad-Filho, “Mass Protests under ‘Left Neoliberalism’: Brazil, June–July 2013,” Critical Sociology 39 (2013): 657–69; Felipe Demier, Depois do golpe: A dialética da democracia blindada no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: Mauad, 2016); Raúl Zibechi, “Autonomy in Brazil: Below and Behind the June Uprising,” ROAR Magazine, 21 November 2013, http://roarmag.org/2013/11/raul-zibechi-brazilian-uprisings/; Rudá Ricci, Ruas, Nas: A política que emergiu em junho de 2013 (Belo Horizone: Letramento, 2014); Aldo Cordeiro Sauda, “Do direito à cidade à anticorrupção: Deslocamento de pautas, diversificação de atores e desdobramentos de junho de 2013” (master’s thesis, State University of Campinas, 2019); Sean Purdy, “Brazil’s June Days of 2013: Mass Protest, Class, and the Left,” Latin American Perspectives 46, no. 4 (July 2019): 15–36; Ruy Braga and Sean Purdy, “A Precarious Hegemony: Neo-liberalism, Social Struggles, and the End of Lulismo in Brazil,” Globalizations 16, no. 2 (2019): 201–15. See also the various contributions, including by the present author, in “The Long Brazilian Crisis: A Forum,” Historical Materialism 27, no. 2 (2019): 59–121.
- 21. Alexandre Fortes, “Os movimentos de 2013 e os novos desafios da esquerda brasileira,” in Manifestações no Brasil: As ruas em disputa, ed. Alexandre de Freixo (Rio de Janeiro: Oficina Raquel, 2016), 41–56.
- 22. Marcos Nobre, Imobilismo em movimento: Da abertura democrática ao governo Dilma (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2013); Marcos Nobre, Choque de democracia: Razões de revolta (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2013).
- 23. Giuseppe Cocco, “‘O levante de junho: Uma potentíssima bifurcação dentro da qual ainda estamos.’ Entrevista especial com Giuseppe Cocco,” Instituto Humanitis Unisinos, 7 December 2013, http://www.ihu.unisinos.br/entrevistas/526455-entrevista-especial-com-giuseppe-cocco.
- 24. Manuel Castells, Redes de indignação e esperança: Movimentos sociais na era da internet (Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2013).
- 25. Purdy, “Brazil’s June Days of 2013.”
- 26. Lincoln Secco, História dó PT: 1978–2010 (São Paulo: Ateliê Editorial, 2011).
- 27. Sean Purdy, “Lessons Earned,” Jacobin, 19 May 2017, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/05/lessons-earned.
- 28. Among many texts, see Braga, A pulsão plebeia; Andréia Galvão and Laurence Hallewell, “The Brazilian Labor Movement under PT Governments,” Latin American Perspectives 41, no. 5: 184–99; Secco, História do PT; Alfredo Saad-Filho, “Two Transitions in Brazil: Dilemmas of a Neoliberal Democracy,” MR Online, 14 January 2014, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2014/sf140114.html; Alfredo Saad-Filho, “Brazil: The Debacle of the PT,” MR Online, 30 March 2015, https://mronline.org/2015/03/30/sf300315-html/; Sean Purdy, “Lessons Earned.”
- 29. André Singer, “Brasil, junho de 2013”; André Singer “Quatro notas sobre as classes sociais nos dez anos do Lulismo,” Psicologia USP 26, no. 1 (2015): 9–10.
- 30. Ruy Braga, “Sob a sombra do precariado,” in Cidades rebeldes, ed. Erminia Maricato (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2013), 79–82; Braga, A pulsão plebeia.
- 31. Jimmy Chalk, “Speaking Out in São Paulo,” New York Times Videos, 20 June 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/americas/100000002291907/speaking-out-in-so-paulo.html; Christopher Gaffney, “Global Parties, Galactic Hangovers: Brazil’s Mega-Event Dystopia,” Los Angeles Review of Books, 30 October 2014; Simon Romero and William Neuman, “Sweeping Protests in Brazil Pull in an Array of Grievances,” New York Times, 20 June 2013.
- 32. “Veja pesquisa completa do Ibope sobre os manifestantes,” G1, 24 June 2013, http://g1.globo.com/brasil/noticia/2013/06/veja-integra-da-pesquisa-do-ibope-sobre-os-manifestantes.html.
- 33. See Judensnaider et al., Vinte centavos, 151–73.
- 34. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, “The Message of Brazil’s Youth,” New York Times, 17 July 2013.
- 35. Luiz Werneck Vianna, “A busca por reconhecimento e participação política: O combutível das manifestações,” Cadernos IHU Ideias, no. 191, 19 June 2013, http://www.ihu.unisinos.br/entrevistas/521147-a-busca-por-reconhecimento-e-participacao-politica-o-combustivel-das-manifestacoes-entrevista-especial-com-werneck-vianna-.
- 36. See, for example, Sérgio Amadeu Silveira, Sérgio Braga, and Claúdio Penteado, Cultura, política e ativismo nas redes digitais (São Paulo: Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2014).
- 37. Jonathan Watts, “Brazil Protests Erupt Over Public Services and World Cup Costs,” The Guardian, 18 June 2013; “The Digital Demo,” The Economist, 29 June 2013.
- 38. Ann Mische, “‘Come to the Streets, but without Parties’: The Challenges of the New Brazilian Protests,” Mobilizing Ideas, 4 September 2013, https://mobilizingideas.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/come-to-the-streets-but-without-parties-the-challenges-of-the-new-brazilian-protests/.
- 39. Secco, História do PT, 202.
- 40. Alfredo Saad-Filho, “Neoliberalism, Democracy, and Development Policy in Brazil,” Development and Society 39, no. 1 (2010): 1–28; Saad-Filho, “Mass protests,” 657–69; Saad-Filho, “Two Transitions in Brazil”; Saad-Filho, “Brazil”; Lecio Morais and Alfredo Saad-Filho, “Lula and the Continuity of Neoliberalism in Brazil: Strategic Choice, Economic Imperative or Political Schizophrenia?” Historical Materialism 13, no. 1 (2005): 3–32.
- 41. Auditória Cidadã da Dívida, “É por direitos! Auditória da dívida já!” 2014, accessed 21 January 2019, www.auditoriacidada.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Panfleto-Manifestacoes-versao-2014.docx; Maria Lucia Fattorelli, Caderno de estudos: A dívida pública em debate (Brasília: Editora Inove, 2012).
- 42. Anay Cury, “Lucro somado de 4 bancos brasileiros é maior que o PIB de 83 países,” O Globo, 13 February 2014; Dan Horch, “In Good Times or Bad, Brazil Banks Profit,” New York Times, 13 August 2015.
- 43. Saad-Filho, “Mass Protests,” 662. See also Purdy, “Brazil’s June Days of 2013.”
- 44. Marcio Pochmann, Nova classe média? O trabalho na base da pirâmide salarial brasileira (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2012), 32.
- 45. Pochmann, Nova Classe Media, 110–18.
- 46. Redação RBA, “Para centrais, em vez de mexer em direitos, governo deveria cuidar da rotatividade,” Rede Brasil Atual, 13 January 2015, accessed 21 January 2019, http://www.redebrasilatual.com.br/trabalho/2015/01/para-centrais-em-vez-de-mexer-em-direitos-governo-deveria-cuidar-da-rotatividade-9384.html.
- 47. Ruy Braga, “Precariado e sindicalismo no Sul global,” Outubro 22, no. 2 (2014): 40.
- 48. Marcio Pochmann, O mito da grande classe média: Capitalismo e estrutura social (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2014). Consult as well, Ricardo Antunes and Graça Druck, “A epidemia da terceirização,” in Riqueza e miséria do trabalho no Brasil III, ed. Ricardo Antunes (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2014), 13–24; and André Singer, Os sentidos de Lulismo: Reforma gradual e pacto conservador (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2012).
- 49. Wilson Almeida, ProUni e o ensino superior privado lucrativo em São Paulo: Uma análise sociologica (São Paulo: Musa/FAPESP, 2014); Michele Gragnolati, Magnus Lindelow, and Bernard Couttolenc, Twenty Years of Health System Reform in Brazil: An Assessment of the Sistema Único de Saude (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2013).
- 50. Raquel Rolnik, “Guerra dos lugares: A colonização da terra e da moradia na era de finanças,” Tese de Livre Docência, Universidade de São Paulo, 223–90.
- 51. Rolnik, “Guerra dos lugares,” 245–48.
- 52. Saad-Filho, “Mass Protests,” 661.
- 53. Armando Castelar, ed., Gargalos e soluções na infraestrutura de transporte (Rio de Janeiro: FGV, 2014).
- 54. IPEA (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada), “Tarifa de ônibus subiu 67 pontos percentuais acima da inflação,” 4 July 2013, http://www.ipea.gov.br/portal/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18865.
- 55. Samy Dana and Leonardo Siqueira, “Análise: A tarifa de ônibus por aqui está entre as mais caras do mundo,” Folha de São Paulo, 17 June 2013.
- 56. Singer, “Quatro notas sobre as classes sociais,” 9–10; Singer, “Brasil, Junho de 2013.”
- 57. DIEESE, “Balanço das greves em 2013,” Estudos e Pesquisas 79 (December 2015): 2.
- 58. Ruy Braga, A política do precariado: Do populismo à hegemonia lulista (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2012), 96.
- 59. Ruy Braga, “Da política do precariado à crise do lulismo: Sobre algumas tensões do atual modelo de desenvolvimento,” in Desigual e combinado, ed. Isabel Loureiro and André Singer (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2016).
- 60. DIEESE, “Balanço das negociacões dos reajustes salariais de 2014,” Estudos e Pesquisas 75 (March 2015): 2.
- 61. Mattos, “New and Old Forms of Social Movements,” 487.
- 62. Guilherme Boulos, Por que ocupamos? Uma introdução à luta dos sem-teto (São Paulo: Scortecci, 2014).
- 63. Comitê Popular da Copa, 2014, accessed 21 January 2019, http://comitepopularcopapoa2014.blogspot.com.br/; Gaffney, “Global Parties, Galactic Hangovers.”
- 64. Cocco, “O levante de junho”; Mattos, “New and Old Forms of Social Movements,” 488.
- 65. Maria Luisa Barros, “Após greve, garis retornam ao trabalho com gostinho de vitória,” O Dia, 11 March 2014.
- 66. See “Eleição em Números,” G1, 29 October 2014, http://g1.globo.com/politica/eleicoes/2014/blog/eleicao-em-numeros/5.html.
- 67. Sean Purdy, “Rousseff and the Right,” Jacobin, 5 October 2015, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/10/dilma-rousseff-impeachment-pt-petrobas-brazil/.
- 68. Robson Sales, “Desemprego no Brasil atinge a maior taxa desde 2012,” Valor Econômico, 31 January 2017.
- 69. Ruy Braga and Sean Purdy, “A Precarious Hegemony: Neo-liberalism, Social Struggles, and the End of Lulismo in Brazil,” Globalizations 16, no. 2 (2019): 201–15.
- 70. Rafael Fagundes Cagnin, Daniela Magalhaes Prates, Maria Cristina P. de Freitas, and Luis Fernando Novais, “A gestão macroeconômica do governo Dilma (2011 e 2012),” Novos Estudos CEBRAP 97 (2013): 169–85.
- 71. Joao Feres Jr. and Veronica Daflon, “Políticas de igualdade racial no ensino superior,” Cadernos do Desenvolvimento Fluminense 5 (2014): 31–43.
- 72. Felipe Demier and Rejane Hoeveler, eds., A onda conservadora: Ensaios sobre os atuais tempos sombrios no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: Mauad X, 2016); Purdy, “Rousseff and the Right.”
- 73. André Singer, “A (falta de) base política para o ensaio desenvolvimentista,” in As contradições do Lulismo: A que ponto chegamos? ed. André Singer and Isabel Loureiro (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2016).
- 74. Rafael Bruno Gonçalves, “A atuação de Marco Feliciano na comissão de Direitos Humanos e Minorias (CDHM),” Mandrágora 23, no. 2 (2017): 205–45.
- 75. Graham Denyer Willis, The Killing Consensus: Police, Organized Crime, and the Regulation of Life and Death in Urban Brazil (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).
- 76. Leonardo Sakamoto, “Dilma também ataca a democracia ao sancionar lei antiterrorismo, diz Boulos,” Blog do Sakamoto, 18 March 2016, https://blogdosakamoto.blogosfera.uol.com.br/2016/03/18/dilma-tambem-ataca-a-democracia-ao-sancionar-lei-antiterrorismo-diz-boulos/.
- 77. Katia Baggio, “Conexões ultraliberais nas Américas: O think tank norte-americano Atlas Network e suas vinculações com organizações latino-americanas,” Anais do XII Encontro Internacional da ANPHLAC, 2016.
- 78. Renan Truffi, “Quem são os manifestantes de 16 de agosto?” Carta Capital, 18 August 2015, reproduced in https://ceert.org.br/noticias/participacao-popular/7987/quem-sao-os-manifestantes-de-16-de-agosto; Demier and Hoeveler, A onda conservadora; Raúl Zibechi, “La nueva derecha en Brasil,” La Jornada, 1 April 2016, http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2016/04/01/opinion/019a1pol.