Remembering Brazil’s Days of Struggle (2013)

A reflection on Brazil‘s 2013 popular uprising from the CAB (Coordenação Anarquista Brasileira/Brazilian Anarchist Coordination) …

Defending 2013 as an experience of popular struggle!

(CAB 22/06/2023)

Marking 10 years since the 2013 Days of Struggle, part of the forces of the institutional left have been reviving analyses that criminalise or delegitimize the demonstrations, elaborating a discourse that contends that the seed of the Bolsonarist extreme right was planted then, disregarding the various experiences of struggle as a whole, their complexities, their landmarks and their political successes. Regarding the narratives that delegitimize 2013, we especifist anarchists ask ourselves a central question: who is afraid of popular power? Who is terrified of seeing the people organising and massively revolting in the streets, claiming a basic right?

The MPL, Movimento Passe Livre, originates from popular struggles, such as the Buzu Revolt in Salvador (2003) and the Turnstile Revolt in Florianópolis in 2005. The motive for the rebellion is the indignation of the oppressed classes in the face of the appalling conditions of collective transport. Historically pushed to the outskirts of big cities, our people live very far from where they work, facing hours of traffic and crossing cities suffocated in overcrowded vehicles, with abusive prices charged for this service that employs poorly paid and overworked labourers, due in turn to cuts in employees and to mass layoffs, which forces those who remain behind to accumulate tasks and functions; a kind of exploitation that fills the pockets of private public transport mafias.

While the Brazilian people take money from their tight budget, from their salary that does not keep up with the increase in the cost of living, to pay for buses, or risk jumping the turnstiles of the stations, the families of the Transport Mafia buy their helicopters, enrol their children in the most expensive schools, eat the best – all at our expense.

Since January of that year, the people rose up against yet another abusive increase in the tariff and the State responded with violent and disproportionate repression. Protesters were beaten and arrested, tear gas and stun grenades were fired at point-blank range, people were shot in the face by rubber bullets, leaving many blind and seriously injured. Our spaces were invaded like the invasion of the Ateneu Libertário – A Batalha da Várzea, along with the FAG’s in Porto Alegre, on June 20, 2013, at the height of the experience of the Bloc de Lutas against the price increase for transportation tickets.

It was at a demonstration in June 2013 that Rafael Braga, a recycling worker who was in the centre of Rio de Janeiro collecting papers and other materials, was arbitrarily arrested by the racist police, who accused him of carrying materials for preparing Molotov cocktails, when in fact, all he had at the time was a bottle of pine sol and he didn’t even take part in the demonstrations against the tariff increase.

It was in the face of these moments of police brutality against protesters in São Paulo and Rio, in early June, that the demonstrations of the Movimento Passe Livre, allied with the popular fronts of struggle for transport, multiplied and gathered hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, particularly on the 13th and 20th of June. There were acts connecting the revolt against the transport tariff and police repression in Joinville, Floripa, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, São Paulo, Brasília, Porto Velho, Maceió, Salvador and hundreds of other cities – in the metropolitan and interior regions. With millions of people on the streets, it is likely that June 20 was the largest demonstration in the country’s history. Behind it all, there was the contrast between the urgent social demands of the working people and the public money used by the Workers’ Party (PT), at the head of the government at the time, to hold sporting mega-events. Opposition to the mega-events was also related to the right to the city, as the host cities underwent an intense gentrification process that included the forced removal of thousands of families from their homes.

There is no way forward beyond the popular struggle!

After a failed attempt by the media to criminalise and delegitimize the acts of resistance, there was a coordinated and efficient effort to dispute the meaning of the protests in the streets. Soon, the banners of the organised social movements against the tariffs disputed space against generic anti-corruption agendas and hostility to any leftist party or organisation. In some cities, the left-wing bloc found itself in a minority at the end of that dispute. Even so, there were concrete gains from the mobilisation. It was possible to reduce the value of the buses in more than 100 cities at the same time, an achievement that even had an impact on the national inflation statistics for 2013.

From a political point of view, there were also important milestones. The Days of Struggle inspire a generation of new militants to organise themselves, including part of the organizations that make up the CAB today. Dozens of housing occupations emerged between 2013 and 2014, later linking themselves to the MTST (Movimento dos trabalhdores sem teto/Homeless Worker’s Movement), giving to the movement the expression and strength that it still has today. The struggle against the forced evictions caused by megaevents and the occupations of schools in 2015 and 2016, mark of the combativeness of the student movement, were also decisively influenced by the Days.

Since 2013, it has been 10 years of confronting neoliberal offensives; agricultural-exporting capital that continues to swallow our forests and threaten the people who live there; a period in which we witnessed the advance of the extreme right, with four years of a genocidal government and its vindictive police state. We saw a World Cup and an Olympics in Brazil designed around the forced expulsion of thousands of poor people. During these 10 years, we also witnessed the strengthening of the idea that our only way out as an oppressed people is through elections. There are those who blame 2013 for this decade, trying to blame the people for the blows that it has suffered at the hands of the elite. To pull the brakes on the popular struggle and to make it responsible for any response from the right, the bosses or the conservative sector present among the people, is to believe that by retreating we can win this war, perhaps without bothering so much about those who exploit us. For all these reasons, it is necessary to affirm: we will not be able to build a new world without class struggle, without facing and destroying everything that oppresses us!

As anarchists, we understand the State as our enemy, as an instrument of a minority that has a monopoly on violence through the police to sustain the wealth of an economic elite. There is no prospect of building a popular state. That is why, in 2013, we were not afraid to point out the contradictions of the PT government or to fight its unpopular measures in the streets. It is worth noting that the neoliberal right or fascist groups were not strengthened by the acts of 2013: they were, in fact, the result of a failed attempt to deal with the wounds of slavery and the class war through a conciliation pact.

To ensure governance, we have seen years of a progressive executive bowing to the demands of the rich, landowners and speculators, culminating in the parliamentary coup suffered in 2016 by President Dilma. In addition, the PT’s effort to tame class instruments and turn them into campaign machines meant that unions and movements built by the people no longer had the strength or disposition for popular struggle, giving space to the right in the ideological dispute.

Those who today want to tame the streets try to represent the June Days as an MBL [Movimento Brasil Livre/Free Brazil Movement] organised act or a CIA setup. Would the MBL, which didn’t even exist in 2013, have fought to lower bus prices, would it have occupied Assemblies and Legislative Chambers? Would the MBL have faced and made the racist police caveirão [armed police vehicle] run away, as happened in Rio de Janeiro? An honest analysis of 2013 should not make us fear the streets, but reaffirm our ways outside of bourgeois democracy, through autonomy of our people and their self-organisation.

There is no way out for the people outside of popular struggle! This is what the legacy of 2013 teaches us. There are criticisms to be made and lessons to be learned from this 10-year period, but they have nothing to do with abandoning the streets and autonomous acts. In 2013, we stated that we did not have the strength to face, at the same time, the violence of the State, the ideological dispute of the coordinated action of the corporate media and the bullshit of professional politicians. Why? Because there was not enough popular organisation. Every heart that beats for a free world must also be a hand and a shoulder within a social movement, a union or another organism of struggle of our class. Every street act must also serve to bring more people into our movements. Our victory will not be by accident. It needs to be built with collective strategy and daily work, starting today, from below and to the left.




The Brazilian film maker, Carlos Pronzato, made an excellent document dedicated to the June days of 2013, entitled A Partir da Agora – As jornadas de junho no Brasil. Unfortunately, it is unavailable with subtitles in languages other than Portuguese.

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