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New Left Review 85, January-February 2014


NEW MASSES?

The past few years have witnessed successive mass flare-ups in India, Turkey, Brazil; street protests have ricocheted up the Balkans—Zagreb, Sarajevo, Sofia, Bucharest—to Ukraine, where Yanukovich was chased from office last month. Paradoxically, it is not so much in the recession-struck Northern heartlands but in the neo-capitalist Second World, and in the—supposedly booming—brics and emerging economies, that popular anger has made itself felt. The weakness of resistance in the advanced-capitalist zones, despite the provocatively regressive policies of austerity and financial bail-out, remains to be explained—and, hopefully, transcended. But the marginalization since 1990 of capital’s historic antagonist, organized labour, must be part of the answer. In the East and South, what social forces and what politics are in play? In nlr 78, Göran Therborn offered a survey of the global class landscape, examining the realities of the ‘new middle classes’ of the developing world. In this issue, Therborn analyses the oppositional potential of subordinate layers across six continents: pre-capitalist indigenous and peasant forces, ‘surplus’ populations, manufacturing workers, wage-earning middle classes. Under what conditions can defensive protests against the commercialization of public space and services, as in Turkey and Brazil, or popular anger at corrupt, repressive regimes—Ukraine, Maghreb, Mashreq—trigger alliances between them? In Brazil, a bus fare hike sparked demonstrations across the country in June 2013. André Singer examines the social and political complexion of the protests, finding a confluence of classes out on the streets: déclassé youth and ‘new proletarians’—a Movimento Passe Livre organizer describes a ‘gigantic quantity’ of the protestors working in telemarketing, with college degrees [*] Lucas Oliveira, ‘Está em pauta, agora, que modelo de cidade queremos’, interviewed by Maria Caramez Carlotto for Revista Fevereiro, no. 6, 18 October 2013.—and inflation-hit middle classes. What politics do the cadres of the new resistance movements bring to the fight? Lines of descent can be traced from the alter-globo movements of the 90s—Chiapas, Seattle, Genoa, Porto Alegre—as well as from the Latin American protests of cocaleros and piqueteros, and from the Colour Revolutions of the early 2000s (some with discreet Western embassy backing). But as Singer describes, in Brazil as elsewhere, sections of the right and centre had major parts to play. Mapping out the contradictory contours of these upsurges will be a central task as future waves of resistance unfold.

andré singer

REBELLION IN BRAZIL

Social and Political Complexion of the June Events

Several days into the wave of protests that gripped Brazil in mid-2013, I began to hear people referring to the demonstrations—half-joking, half-seriously—as our ‘June Days’. Marx, of course, described the original June Days of 1848 as ‘the most colossal event in the history of European civil wars’, arguing in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that, though the proletariat’s uprising was crushed by General Cavaignac, ‘at least it was defeated with the honours attaching to a great world-historical struggle’; ‘not just France’, he wrote, ‘but the whole of Europe trembled in face of the June earthquake’. [1] Karl Marx, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’, in Surveys from Exile: Political Writings, vol. 2, London and New York 2010, p. 155. The Brazilian June also produced a tremor, but I would not go so far as to call it an earthquake. Nobody seriously imagined that an attempt at revolution was taking place. Class and property were not at the heart of the demonstrations, and the basic framework of the country’s socio-economic order was not called into question. The political rules of the game, too, were only targeted in a diffuse way; proposals for a constituent assembly and a referendum came to nothing, and were forgotten before the month was out.

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