Would indigenous peoples be seen as anarchist?
From punk to indigenous solidarity
In the following interview, two longtime anarcho-punks tell of the resurgence of anarchism in Brazil after the end of the military dictatorship, trace the fate of the social movements through the rise and fall of the left-wing Labor Party government and describe the situation of the indigenous people and indigenous solidarity efforts among the right Bolsonaro regime today.
Andreza and Josimas have been involved in anarchism and activism for several decades - they play in bands, organize events and publish records, zines and books. Josimas was one of the founders of Germinal (2000) and Andreza was involved in the creation of Espaço Impróprio (2003), two important autonomous anarchist collectives in São Paulo. Josimas has played in the bands Execradores, Metropolixo, Clangor, Diskontroll, and Amor, protesto e ódio. Andreza has played in Skirt, One Day Kills, Out of Season and Retórica. They also played together in Você Tem que Desistir and TuNa.
Her current projects include Semente Negra (›Black Seed‹), an ecological project in the Atlantic rainforest and the location of Cultive Resistência (›Cultivating Resistance‹), a collective promoting do-it-yourself culture, permaculture, anarchism, punk, feminism, anti-racism, veganism, LGBTQIA + issues and indigenous rights; No Gods No Masters, both a distributor and an annual festival that brings together anarchists, punks and indigenous people from around the world; and Vivência na Aldeia, an indigenous solidarity project that has been running for nine years.
What legacy remained from previous generations of Brazilian anarchism when anarcho-punk hit Brazil in the 1980s? How significant was that for the renaissance of anarchism in Brazil in the 1980s and 1990s?
The anarcho-punk movement in Brazil emerged in the late 1980s as a result of a more active political awareness within the punk movement in general. For a long time there had been several punk gangs in Brazil fighting each other; this created the need for greater political awareness. In the mid-1980s, when Brazil was still ruled by a military dictatorship, some anarchist groups started organizing again and a few punks decided to get involved. There was the Pro-COB (Confederação Operaria Brasileira) and Juventude Libertária (the first Brazilian libertarian youth group), in which you could already find some punks. However, when the Center for Social Culture (Centro de Cultura Social) got back on its feet - a project over half a century old that had been persecuted and closed under the military dictatorship - these young punks found a point of reference.
The older people at CCS reopened the project in 1985. They had a lot of willpower and organized several activities related to political awareness and anarchist culture. They also put together a library with a large selection of anarchist books and newspapers, which served as the basis for a strong convergence between punk culture and anarchism.
The military dictatorship ended in 1985. As older anarchists returned to the streets, punks came up to them; there were several discussions about these suburban young people with their weird clothes and hairstyles and loud music. Some of the older anarchists served as inspiration - most notably Jaime Cuberos (1926-1998), who saw the punks as the new anarchists. They provided vital learning resources for a new generation looking for a social struggle that went beyond rebellion.
Two libertarians1 Punk gatherings took place in Brazil in 1989 and 1990, bringing together punks who already identified with anarchism. In the early 1990s, the anarcho-punk movement emerged, especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It soon spread to other cities, especially the states in northeastern Brazil - one of the poorest regions in the country. In the political scenario that emerged after the military dictatorship, there was a radical need to organize collectively and federally. The social situation of the people in the country was terrible; the monthly inflation rate reached 140%. In response, the youth called for organization and struggle - and a significant portion of that youth were Brazilian punks.
As a result, anarcho-punk collectives sprang up in most of Brazil's major cities, but also in a few smaller cities. These collectives worked together to organize demonstrations, concerts, discussions and study groups, and to write articles. Many bands also formed during this time.
Some of these groups eventually got involved in other social struggles, including feminism, anti-racist struggles, and organized anti-fascist social groups.
It's important to say that anarcho-punk has always been a political definition in Brazil, not a musical genre. In Brazil, anarcho-punk bands are bands formed by people who are active in the anarchist movement and the punk underground.
Has punk taken on a different form in Brazil because the racial and colonial context is different from Europe?
Yes, punk arose in Brazil as part of a social opposition to the military dictatorship. In Brazil over 60% of the people are black; Punk originated in the suburban areas, where that number makes up 85% of the population. In a scenario in which the young black poor had no hope of improving their quality of life, there were no social or cultural programs to support them. At the same time, there was often overt violence as part of this oppression. As a result, the anarchist struggle and the struggle for survival were linked.
This scenario is less common in countries where people have a higher standard of living, such as Europe. In Brazil, punk emerged as a rebellious response to state oppression, as a struggle for survival and as a cultural alternative. This is common in Latin America. These countries have been invaded and exploited; they are inhabited by the descendants of enslaved populations. The social and economic inequalities here are enormous. In Brazil, young black men who live in some of the suburban areas rarely reach the age of 25 without being imprisoned or killed. This reality determines how we struggle as Latin Americans; it also illustrates the differences between Latin American and European countries. Many punks are descendants of either indigenous or Afro-Diasporic enslaved populations. Here, the main struggle is to stay alive.
How did punks and anarchists relate to the autonomous movements of the 1990s?
As the anarchist movement returned to the streets and anarchist political awareness arose in punk circles, there was an rapprochement between different social struggles that created the need to collaborate with different groups.
As the MST (Movimento Sem Terra, The Landless Workers Movement) began to expand and occupy farms, it was very inspiring. It was a direct action against the injustice wrought by enormous numbers of people who do not have access to land to live on and produce their food, while a few people own entire states of unused farmland. At the same time, people who were in the MTST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto, the Homeless Workers Movement) are engaging abandoned buildings in large cities to be used as shelters for those who live on the streets.
These two movements were inspiring to us because they were legitimate popular actions involving people who are historically disadvantaged. In the beginning we got involved in these movements through solidarity actions, support and participation in the front ranks of the demonstrations. Some anarcho-punks moved to MTST occupations and MST-occupied lands, and became an effective part of these struggles.
In the 1990s, anarchists and anarcho-punks worked side by side in many struggles, learned from them, taught and supported them. These included support groups for anti-militarist struggles (including conscientious objection), support groups for detainees, anarchists against racism and anti-capitalist groups ... There was a feeling that rebel fighters should be united.
In the early 2000s, the anti-globalization movement emerged in Brazil. It had an anarchist base, but it was also in line with several other growing struggles across the country. This organization brought together several anarchist fronts as well as other movements of social struggle. After several working groups, the people founded People’s Global Action - a radical anti-capitalist movement that organized several demonstrations in Brazil. The participants experienced considerable police repression, but there was also a lot of power on the part of the rebel: inside.
How did the election of the Labor Party presidential candidate, Lula Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, affect the political terrain in which you organized and the movements in which you participated?
Before Lula was elected, we had several debates about our position on the election. Since the ›re-democratization‹ (the end of the dictatorship) and the first election, we had campaigned for zero voting (refusal to vote). However, in that first election, in 1989, some working-class anarchist and punk groups tended to vote for Lula as it was an area where Lula lived and where several union fights took place. In the elections that followed, support for Lula rose significantly among leftist movements, including the MST and MTST, as well as other popular groups. We were networked with several groups involved in social struggles, including some who supported Lula, including some anarchists. At that time, the anarcho-punk movement was no longer as organized as it used to be. Several collectives had ceased to exist and some joined other different combat groups.
In 2002 Lula was elected and there were high hopes that he would support the popular social struggles in Brazil. Several social and collective combat groups awaited changes. There was a very long period of social stagnation in Brazil. Several groups discussed basic issues related to one-topic fighting as a way of addressing specific needs. Unfortunately, we feel that this has weakened us a lot in terms of collective struggle. To take just one example - during the PT (Workers' Party) governments we saw very few victories in indigenous land distribution, even fewer than before, although there were high hopes that this would be otherwise. It was like taking a break from many fights.
What role have social centers played in punk and anarchist organization in Brazil?
The Centro de Cultura Social (Social Cultural Center) has been one of the most important social centers in Brazil. They started in 1933 and are still active today. They organize lectures, meetings every Saturday, and theater groups. They also have a huge historical collection. Several other social centers have sprung up from the union of anarchism and punk. In Salvador, in northeastern Brazil, the anarchist project Quilombo Cecilia united anarchism, punk and black struggles; the name is a reference to Colonia Cecilia [a Brazilian anarchist commune that existed in the 1890s]. In São Paulo there was the Comuna Goulai Poulé, an anarcho-punk cultural center, the Centro de Cultural Social da Vila Dalva, the Centro Cultural O Germinal and the Espaço Improprio, a social center that was active for eight years and anarchism, punk , Veganism, feminism and queer politics united and hosted several collectives. In the 1990s, some buildings were also occupied, some of which are still inhabited today. In addition, some anarchist houses became social centers where people met to plan projects, hold meetings and share experiences.
These places have always served as resources for young people to gather together, find anarchist material, and participate in political events.
Capitalism and the great social differences that exist in the country are major problems that affect us. The history of these social centers is shaped by this reality that has forced several social centers to close due to the cost of maintaining these spaces.
How did anarchist organizing and autonomous movements set the stage for the powerful movements of 2013 in Brazil?
After the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Labor Party) the quality of life in parts of the Brazilian population increased and some advantages and rights were won. The forms of social change that were most needed were never part of the PT plan, however, and this became evident when PT candidate Dilma Rousseff was elected president after Lula. Most of what anarchists warned about the election became clear to many people. Rebellious behavior increased in various sectors of society. Movements like the MST and others that hadn't organized demonstrations in years decided it was time to show their discontent and concluded that they still had a lot to fight for. During the ensuing uprising by the social movements that had been waiting for over ten years for what Lula had promised, the government focused on criminalizing the demonstrators; this attitude literally caused the demonstrations to explode. It started with the fight against the increase in bus fares. Soon protests for many more essential goods were integrated into the demonstrations. The land burst into flames. Although there was no agreement, people were eager for change.
At the same time, a rising segment of the population, which was soon to become a strengthened middle class, turned against the poor and the residents: inside the urban outskirts. What was taking place seemed to be a movement aimed at preventing those who were really bad from getting out of the bad situation in which they had always lived. It was like the poor people against the poor, and a right atmosphere began to develop in many of the demonstrations. Even if the radical groups were divided into small reference groups, they were connected to one another; the demonstrations continued in 2013 and 2014, before and during the 2014 World Cup.
We don't think we were really prepared for these demonstrations. The groups and people did what they could with the resources they had. They managed to gradually connect to each other in an attempt to build a network. Perhaps we were better prepared before the PT took over, but the time of the PT administration severed some of our ties and eroded some of our strategies. People seemed to be waiting to see what would happen - and they saw it. In retrospect, we believe that we made the mistake of not creating an autonomous structure in opposition to the state, regardless of which party is in power.
Describe the festival you are organizing, the No Gods No Masters Fest.
The collective we belong to, Cultive Resistência, uses several tools for action. One of those tools is the No Gods No Masters publisher and distributor, which publishes, publishes, and distributes books, zines, and records.
The idea of the festival came about when we realized the urgency to come together in one place to discuss the topics we write about in the zines and books, the topics that affect people's lives. For three days, music, lectures, workshops, films, exhibitions and discussions will take place in our house, Espaço Cultural Semente Negra, which is located in the forest in a small town, Peruíbe, in the state of São Paulo. Our suggestion is to bring together different forms of resistance including anarchism, queer politics, feminism, veganism, black and indigenous struggles, punk and other struggle-related suggestions.
Black anarchists have presented their activities at the festival and bring their different realities and expectations to this mixed collective.
There are several indigenous communities where we live. We developed a project to support these communities and have been working with them since 2012. It was very important to involve indigenous people in the festival. They bring their culture, their way of seeing the world, their music, their experience with medicinal herbs and their forms of resistance with them. They are people who are in constant resistance. They have no choice whether to be a resistance or not. If they stop resisting, they die.
How did Bolsonaro's election change the political context for the popular movements?
There were some pretty complicated processes during the 2018 presidential campaign. It was perhaps the most violent election we have ever seen. Some anarchists chose to vote for politicians running against Bolsonaro as a strategy to support women, blacks and indigenous peoples; others maintained the campaign for the zero election, which created a very complex discussion within Brazilian anarchism.
There was some panic after the election as we saw a wave of right-wing violence on the streets. This violence is still very strong, but we have also seen a regrouping of social movements. Groups that had organized themselves into reference groups opened up to join forces and build something stronger. Several strikes took place, as well as many anti-fascist and anti-racist demonstrations. We believe that people have understood the need to support each other in their struggles rather than just fighting for a specific need.
What is the situation like for indigenous people under Bolsonaro? How do indigenous people organize themselves?
This could be one of the worst times since Europeans arrived in America. When it comes to criminal acts against indigenous peoples, the perpetrators are granted legitimacy and impunity. Indigenous lands have been captured and attacked, forests have been set on fire, indigenous leaders have been murdered, indigenous rights have been taken away, hatred against indigenous people is promoted. And all of this is a plan organized by the Bolsonaro government.
At the end of 2019, Bolsonaro began militarizing FUNAI [Fundação Nacional do Indio, or National Indian Foundation], a public body responsible for demarcating indigenous land and serving the needs of indigenous peoples. Immediately there were occupations in FUNAI buildings against this militarization. Here, in our region, 300 indigenous people occupied the building and the people fought against the militarization of FUNAI for 28 days. This also happened in other cities in Brazil. Unfortunately, the military has taken over the leadership positions at FUNAI and as a result, FUNAI has stopped supporting families and social projects that aim to support indigenous communities. As a result, the struggle has become more intense and dangerous, especially in the Amazon and states that have large cattle ranches. All over Brazil people are struggling to survive and it is important that we rebels stand by this resistance.
Describe the solidarity work you are involved in.
We use different tools of struggle and strive for autonomy. One of these tools is permaculture: planning sustainable environments and applying ecological techniques to build houses with local materials. In 2012 we were invited to support the new indigenous communities that were being built in our region. The area had previously been ruled by a mining company that had driven the indigenous peoples off their land and exploited the natural resources for over 50 years.
In the beginning we supported the building of houses in the churches. In the course of time we have also advocated other needs of the families and their struggles.
Our main task is to support the projects of the indigenous communities. It is about strengthening the self-esteem of the community, breaking down prejudices, holding joint events in order to realize the dreams of the community, but above all, standing together in resistance and struggle.
These families fought for their country all their lives. They were persecuted by the Jesuits, by farmers, by property speculators, by mining companies. Since 2000, the year they were able to take over their land, they have struggled to stay in this area while restoring their culture and way of life.
We support them in their struggles; in the construction of their houses, communal kitchens, vegetable growing areas and ecological sanitary facilities; in courses and workshops; and in their struggles against the state. All of this is built through horizontal relationships and our starting point is always the wishes of the community.
Are there other examples in Brazil where anarchists and indigenous communities work together?
There are people who support this struggle and some anarchists whose grandparents are indigenous have also tried to live within the indigenous communities and their struggles. There are also a few solidarity groups that work with different ethnic groups in several places in Brazil.
Now, with the pandemic, this has become more effective and there is a network that brings together anarchist groups who support indigenous struggles. This is currently an ongoing process.
What are some of the challenges in indigenous solidarity work?
There are tons of fights in Brazil and we have to be aware of many different things at the same time. There are groups that focus on specific issues, but we understand that it is important to support as many fights as possible so that we don't leave anyone behind. With the number of struggles and an economy in decline, helping populations living on the verge of or absolute misery becomes a challenge as they are struggling to survive. The life of indigenous families is an eternal struggle for survival and mostly everything has to be done on the basis of solidarity and with scarce resources.
The lack of resources and the small number of people fighting on so many fronts are enormous challenges alongside our struggle for survival. Embracing the struggle of the indigenous peoples, which is the most constant struggle in Brazil, means that we are fully withdrawn to minimize the impact of Western culture and capitalism on these families.
Are there things in common that connect your experiences in the anarcho-punk movement and the indigenous communities?
Yes, there are incredible connections that we have noticed over time as we live close to the communities. The mutual support network, the gatherings, the importance of music as a weapon of war, the relationship with education, consensus-based decision-making, traveling from one community to another, caring for one another. All of this is familiar to us from the punk traditions that we believe in and seek to keep alive in our own lives.
The main difference, in our opinion, is their relationship with nature, with the planet. Our indigenous vehicles: inside see themselves as part of nature alongside all other animals and plants, while we as people of civilization try to decouple ourselves and create crises inside and outside of us.
How can people support your projects and other important anarchist and indigenous projects in Brazil?
We focus on three projects. Semente Negra, our social center, which is located in the middle of the Atlantic forest, is where we work with permaculture, as well as a screen printing workshop, a recording studio, our print shop and our home. No Gods No Masters is our publisher and distributor for punk, anarchism, feminism, veganism and other materials related to struggle. And Vivência na Aldeia is our solidarity project that works with indigenous communities.
Maintaining all of these projects is a chore, but it has been a part of our lives for many years. This is who we are and we put our energies into it all. Sometimes we are forced to take smaller steps and choose what to prioritize because we don't have the money for all of the things we'd like to do. We put our special effort into all the things that we can achieve without money. This has a very important meaning because it is the space in which we can practice things in a more personal way, through relationships of love and friendship. This is what we strive for in all of our projects and with all of the people we work with.
In normal times we try to raise money for the solidarity campaigns and for projects in the indigenous communities through the events we organize and the sale of T-shirts. All activities themselves are carried out in cooperation with the municipalities. However, we are never able to raise enough money because the communities face so many problems; the struggles they have to fight and the dreams they want to come true.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, we have created an online shop to support the sale of handicrafts from our vehicles: inside so that they do not have to sell and leave their land and keep families alive and well through their culture Keep producing. Soon after, we helped set up a campaign called Alimentação e Vida na Aldeia [»Food and Life in the Village«], which aims to achieve food sovereignty for the eleven communities in the area, a total of around 500 indigenous people. Unfortunately, as I said, this land is in an area that was devastated by a mining company, so planting it is still a major challenge. Therefore, the campaign aims to bring food and information to the communities.
We need to raise awareness of the reality of the social struggles in Brazil and the situation of the indigenous people. We need to build support for a wide range of projects. Solidarity, struggle and mutual support are our best weapons.
You can learn more about these projects through the websites:
Translation of SchwarzerPfeil, slightly edited
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