Work and Revolt at Brazil’s Dead End [II]

Militants in the Fog

In Part II of their expansive portrait of formless class struggle in Brazil, the authors pivot from considerations on worker suicides, app worker strikes, and Bolsonaro to a broader balance sheet of revolts in our time. Engaging with other revolutionary theorists such as Endnotes, Temps critiques, Chuang, Torino & Wohlleben, Nunes, and more, the militant collective from Sāo Paulo introduces us to a world of "just-in-time revolts" that erupt in lockstep with a formless condition of labor in which "everyone is fully mobilized in an endless effort in which nothing but 'negative experiences' are formed."

Part I can be found here.


Other languages: Português, Italiano, Español, Français

Abandon All Hope

In the leadup to a national truck drivers strike on February 1st, 2021, a video circulated through WhatsApp groups of a driver who had hung himself in a tree by the side of the highway, next to his truck. The scene was shared with mournful messages and warnings about the desperate situation of self-employed truckers, who were trapped between low freight rates and spikes in driving costs, especially fuel. Even so, the movement got nowhere close to achieving the strength of the May 2018 strike, during which the supply chains of the whole country were choked in a matter of days and the government, terrified, offered some immediate relief, through measures that would lose effect in the following years.1 Lacking the broad — and ambiguous — coalition of the preceding mobilization, which involved owner-operator truckers, small fleet owners, and even several large transportation companies, the irruption in the beginning of 2021 amounted to the scattered initiative of independent truckers who assembled highway blockades in several states, but which were quickly dismantled by highway police.2

Although the strike did not take off, the unrest contaminated other workers who also rely directly on fuel to make a living in the cities. Between February and April, demonstrations by couriers, app drivers, and self-employed school bus drivers took place almost daily throughout Brazil. Alongside new protests by truckers, all of this gave an insurrectionary contour to streets whose daily circulation had been reduced by the peaking second wave of coronavirus. This movement of motorized workers blocked highways and Petrobrás distribution centers; it crammed itself into gas stations, with the tactic of refueling only 1 real to produce queues and cause losses to the retailers; it reignited the organization of the courier strikes, and powered the largest motorcade of Uber drivers in the history of São Paulo, which blocked access to the Guarulhos International Airport for an entire night, demanding the end of low paid promotional rides.3Whereas inflation traditionally translates into demands around the cost of living, in the era of Uberization it leads chiefly to protests over the costs of work, i.e. to struggles over the ability to work. The reproduction of the workforce turns into the management of the microenterprise of oneself — hence the frequent rapprochement between protests against hikes in fuel prices and anti-lockdown campaigns of shop owners during the first months of the year. For many, these strikes were the last resource before abandoning the fight and surrendering all weapons, that is, before returning the car to the rental companies (in some cities, app driver associations estimate that more than half of the drivers registered in the platforms gave up working during the year of 2021).4

Between the growing financial inviability of self-employment, on one hand, and the crumbling of formal employment, on the other, there is nowhere to run. The only alternative is the endless rat race, viraçāo [getting by] under more and more adverse conditions. This sensation of being confined to exhausting work with no future found its echo on the other side of the globe in the buzzword nèijuǎn (内卷), used by  Chinese social network users “to describe the evils of their modern lives.”5 Before trending in the most populous country in the world, in mid-2020 the term was used by scholars to translate the concept of “involution," a dynamic of stagnation in agrarian societies — but also of big cities in the peripheries of global capitalism — in which the intensification of work does not amount to modernization.6Composed by the characters “in” [内] and “to roll” [卷] the expression can be “intuitively understood as “turning inward."7While “development," in English, carries the image of an outward unfolding towards something, nèijuǎn suggests a stripped screw revolving around itself: a ceaseless movement in place. Isn’t this, after all, the endless everydayness of viração? Echoing the despair of the daily experience of students and workers in the chinese metropolises, the term condenses

the feeling of being trapped in a miserable cycle of exhausting work that is never sufficient to achieve happiness or lasting improvements, but from which no one may opt out without falling into disgrace. They feel it when they complain that life feels like an endless competition with no victors, and they feel it when they dream of the day that’s coming when they will finally win. But that day never comes. Debts pile up, petitions for help go ignored, remaining options start to dwindle. In a time of involution, when even the smallest reforms seem impossible, all that remains are desperate measures.8

If part of the same despair runs through the struggles of freelance drivers in Brazil, it assumes even more dramatic outlines in the Chinese streets and roads. In January 2021, a delivery worker who had his payment refused by the app self-immolated in front of his delivery station in Taizhou. In April, a trucker in Tangshan who had his vehicle seized by the police for being overweight drank a bottle of pesticide and sent a farewell message to his fellow drivers via social media. Over the course of that same month, a man from São Caetano do Sul confined to a wheelchair strapped fake explosives to his body and threatened to blow up a Social Security Institute building if he wasn’t granted access to his disability pension, while the resident of a village in the Southern Chinese district of Panyu — where the state had expropriated the collective lands to sell them to tourism companies — entered a local government building with real bombs and blew himself up, killing five employees.9 Fired in the beginning of June, a bricklayer invaded his former employer’s house on the coast of Santa Catarina, held his family hostage for ten hours before being killed by the police after releasing them.10 The pandemic brought with it even more pressure and desperation, as is evident in the case of the man who crashed his car into the reception desk of an overcrowded public hospital in the metropolitan region of Natal after his wife, infected with Covid, was denied care.11

When a Military Police soldier in Bahia abandoned his post and drove alone for more than 250 kilometers to Farol da Barra (a tourist spot in El Salvador) and opened fired with his rifle into the air while screaming denunciations of the violation of “dignity” and the “honor of the worker," his outburst was celebrated in anti-lockdown networks as an heroic gesture against the “illegal orders” of the governors.12 The tragic end met by the soldier, who was killed in a shootout with his own colleagues, was instrumentalized by far right congressmen to incite a mutiny among the troops. However, the police motorcade that left the scene the next day ran straight into a traffic jam caused by another demonstration: couriers were denouncing the death of a fellow delivery worker who had been run over by a drunk driver speeding down the wrong way of the road the night before. Accidentally united by their mourning for fallen comrades in a social war with no defined form, the protest routes converged toward the state government’s headquarters.13

At the same time the it aggravates the crisis, or rather, widens the cesspool in which we’ve been struggling for decades without moving an inch, Bolsonaro’s scorched earth policing enables him to mobilize despair into suicidal bursts under the promise of a decision14 — the idea of taking “one final shot.”15 As much as discontent with the rise in fuel prices has cut into the president’s support among one of his key “bases" (truckers), Bolsonarism was still the chief political force that had any capacity to dispute the social turbulence of these apocalyptic times, by molding diverse dissatisfactions into a “revolt within the order,"16 diverting them either toward targets aligned with the institutional agenda — whether they be mayors, governors, judiciary, the media, the vaccine, or the electronic ballot box — or else  simply mimicking concrete struggles through aesthetic rituals, as with his Sunday motorcycle trips.

At the peak of the turmoil, the Supreme Court placed a decisive piece back on the board, which its judges had removed from the game a few years earlier. By overturning Lula’s convictions and enabling him to run for elections again, the decision signaled that perhaps it isn’t possible to contain the onslaught of the Bolsonarist insurgency without turning to the commander of the great pacification operation that went practically unchallenged until the blow of June 2013 — presumably with the expectation that everything will go back to its normal functioning once again. However, amidst the current escalation of social warfare, it is worth asking “what tools he will have on hand to pacify” an urban mass in an accelerated trajectory of “downward proletarization”?17 As much as the judiciary’s maneuver may revive the Left’s vain hope of restoring the dismantled rights, the policymakers of the Workers’ Party economic program for 2022 not only acknowledge labor’s loss of form but also echoes iFood executives in “taking the digital platform workers out of regulatory limbo,"18 which “doesn’t mean framing them under the old Labor Law but neither leaving as they are today."19

“A new Lula government will mean, at best, that people can continue to work as Uber drivers”20, with a regulated “partnership” between platform and drivers and more “legal security” for the companies. Even though Bolsonaro’s incendiary government provides fertile grounds for the expansion of business, Brazilian food tech does not dismiss the expertise in dialogue and conflict mediation accumulated in the country during “popular democratic” governments. In order to minimize the negative impact of protests on its brand, iFood — which, by the way, celebrates “the goal of diversity and racial and gender inclusion” within its offices21 — has been recruiting cadres forged in NGO’s and social projects in favelas in order to placate the rebellion of its motorized “partners.”22 Throughout 2021, couriers involved in strikes throughout the country were sought out by a “community manager” hired by the company, yet it was not so as to meet their demands but to engage in dialogue, announcing the organization of a “Delivery Worker’s Forum”23 with digital influencers and alleged strike leaders in the finest style of participatory conferences from yesterday’s Brazil. 

A return of the former metalworker to the presidential palace would not signify a moment of national reconstruction, but a chance to bury the wreckage and consolidate new terrains for accumulation in the country; in other words, to normalize the disaster by giving it the taste of victory — and, for that reason, making it “more perfect than would ever be possible under a conservative politician."24 The expectations for the 2022 elections thus deepen the state of waiting of the big left wing parties and small collectives, which during the pandemic found in the imperative of social isolation the excuse for its political quarantine. In embodying the defense of the public health recommendations, the left conformed itself to the reality of the remote work, in a paralyzing wait with diminished expectations: the wait for the daily count of the dead, hoping for the fall of the contamination numbers; the wait for the arrival of the vaccines to Brazil, followed by the wait — and the dispute25 — for a place in the line; the wait for the end of the “Bozo government," animated by each new deadlock with the Supreme Court or testimony in the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry about the pandemic management; in short, the wait for the worst to pass and for everything to go back to being slightly less bad, like before. By mid 2021, with the slackening of the pandemic this inert hope left the nest and became an aerial photograph. However, if the left wing parades demonstrated the scale of the president’s disapproval in the main cities of the country, they also made the impotence of this opposition flagrant. After gathering hundreds of thousands of people, the rallies gradually dwindled as they entered into the holding pattern of the organizing entities.

The lethargy of the left contrasts with the insurgency of the far-right, which feeds on the mobilization of those who no longer harbor any hopes. And if it is not possible to rule out an unexpected victory of Bolsonaro in the ballots, neither one can dismiss the threats of a rupture of the institutional order, always postponed in order to keep its militancy in an almost paranoid readiness while keeping the opposition on a defensive stance, hypnotized by the imminence of a decisive coup that never comes. Politics remains in a trance, in an eternal preparation for a conflict that never erupts, which is, in itself, is already a war tactic in the arsenal of “hybrid” management of territories and populations.

Even though relying only on the same ever faithful crowd, the Bolsonarist demonstrations of September 7th, Brazil’s Independence Day, represented less a sign of impotence26 than a testing ground for military mobilization exercises. In the dawn of the following day, when the highways of fifteen states of the country were blocked by truckers — which, until this point had proven incapable of sustaining a movement around the freight and fuel prices, attesting to the considerable support for the President’s strategic offensive against electronic ballots and the Supreme Court27 — the government was forced to recognize that the call was nothing but a dress rehearsal, provoking the rage of many protesters and displaying a glimpse of a Bolsonarism that already goes beyond Bolsonaro himself. Whether inside or outside of the State, whether commanded by the captain or not, “the revolution through which we are living”28 — which “positions violence, and the use of armed strength, as an essential political resource” — will make itself felt well beyond 2022, as in the almost surrealist scenes of the assault on the United States Capitol and other state legislative houses after Donald Trump's defeat.29

Scheduled for September 11, a new national strike of app delivery has come to be confused with the news of the truckers' strike — less because of the support for the president than because of the significance that the last major strike of that other central category of the logistics sector acquired in the imaginary of the motorcycle couriers.30 Without the same repercussions as the previous year's App Strike, the 2021 strike lingered, here and there, beyond the scheduled date. In a beverage distribution company of the app Zé Delivery, in the south zone of São Paulo, riders decided to start the strike two days earlier to demand late payments.31 And in São José dos Campos, in the countryside of São Paulo, the delivery drivers remained on strike for the next five days, in the longest app strike the country had yet seen.32

Inspired by a video in which motorcycle couriers from the capital city enacted step by step “how to pickett a shopping mall,"33 the deliverers in the state's fifth largest municipality split into small groups to blockade the city's major establishments, while others circulated on the streets to intercept scabs, as well as distribute water and food to the strikers. Each night, everyone gathered in a square to discuss the directions of the movement and vote on whether to continue the strike. While a smaller app, new to the city, gave in to the pressure by announcing an increase in fees, iFood organized a counter-offensive and promised a meeting to the local leaders, through one of its “community mediators." The news that the largest food delivery platform in Latin America had opened a negotiation — however limited — in the face of the heroic persistence of the “three hundred from São José dos Campos," as memes on the motorcycle couriers' networks portrayed it, gave that defeat the taste of victory and turned it into an example for onlookers. In the following weeks, the hinterlands of São Paulo were swept by an uncoordinated sequence of strikes, which would continue for several days in Jundiaí, Paulínia, Bauru, Rio Claro, São Carlos and Atibaia.34

In the tense moments that marked the end of the mobilization in São José dos Campos, however, the promises of dialogue were combined with another iFood negotiation with local restaurant owners and logistics operators that, in a threatening tone, sent a message to the couriers that the continuity of the movement could lead to “acts of violence” in the city.35 By resorting at once to participationist and militia-like demobilization strategies, Brazil's largest delivery app hints at the future of the country between Lula and Bolsonaro — or simply reminds us that pelegos [sheepskins, union bureaucrats] and jagunços [henchmen, roughnecks] have always crossed paths in the greyzone of popular intermediators.36

Formless Class Struggle

In the first days of March 2019, passengers encountered closed ticket offices at several subway stations in São Paulo. This was not at all strange, since headaches from the card reloading system are a routine part of using public transportation in the city. What looked more like a technical problem from outside the booths was, however, an invisible movement taken by outsourced ticket vendors against illegal cuts in their salaries, among other illicit schemes often used by the service provider to reduce its personnel expenses.37"Exploiting the ambiguous boundary between the precariousness of the already usually dysfunctional system, the winding up [...] and an effective ‘partial stoppage,’" the outsourced ticket takers conducted an intermittent strike in which interruptions and returns to work succeeded each other “at various ticket offices, according to opportunities, the force of the moment," and with no apparent coordination.38 One turnstile away, the conflict passed almost unnoticed in the eyes of most of the subway's permanent employees, known for their intense union activity. Besides exposing the abyss opened by outsourcing within the same workspace, the difficulty in recognizing that strike, completely outside the official rites — without a delimited beginning or end, without a clear announcement, without assemblies or formal negotiations — is a sign of the disappearance of form from social conflicts in a world of formless labor.39

Like the subterranean mobilization in the ticket offices, countless stoppages of delivery workers explode and fall apart without precise contours, in the shadowy spaces geared towards the diffuse work that moves urban logistics: shopping mall docks, motorcycle parking lots, distribution centers, dark kitchens and dark stores40, as well as virtual environments. If among the subway outsourced workers the insubordination oscillated from one station to another according to the gaps and the pressure of the moment, among the motorcycle couriers it is usual for the conflict to move from store to store, from one neighborhood to another, or from city to city in a discontinuous and unpredictable manner: while the first strikers reach their limit of strength and resources, a new group announces a strike in another place, propelled by videos and reports that spread in real time.

When high labor turnover is the rule, struggles also tend to revolve: within a city, it is common for those on the frontline of an app strike to have never participated in previous struggles. And if this fact hinders a consistent process of co-optation of leaders, the centrifugal dynamic of the struggles also presents a challenge for any efforts to organize the movement. WhatsApp groups emerge and are abandoned at each mobilization, workers gather and disperse with the same volatility with which a conversation on the sidewalk is interrupted when the notification of a new order arrives: like molecules of gas that condense in a storm, it is only at the moment of confrontation that this cloud-proletariat takes form.

“A ‘base’ that only exists in confrontation," that “dissolves as soon as the action declines…is not capable of being managed."41 As for the leaders that do emerge publicly, far from leading a cohesive contingent of motorcycle couriers, they count, at best, upon a diffuse network of followers in the cloud. For YouTubers and influencers linked to the movement, who are less leaders than “political entrepreneurs," the commitment to the cause is often confused with a personal career.42 Winning the fight is not dissociated from profiting from the fight, which can mean anything from monetizing videos, to collaborating on marketing efforts, or being invited to become the owner or manager of a Logistic Operator. This ambiguity, which describes a zone of indistinction between political action and work, is already to some extent contained in the current vocabulary of delivery drivers: being a “warrior” or “facing the struggle” are expressions that can refer both to the conflict against the platforms and to the low-intensity war experienced in the day-to-day rush on two wheels.43 The profusion of app drivers' candidacies in the 2020 municipal elections, mostly by political machines and right-wing parties, represent much more a path of individual ascension than the deliberate tactics of an articulated movement of the sector, which does not exist.44

Today, organizational structures only endure outside the conflict to the extent that they operate as gears of labor itself, such as the countless professional associations, unions and cooperatives that function, for the deliverers, as channels for insertion into the labor market — as well as the large social movements of decades ago, which now subsist as mediators of access to government programs and the market. It’s enough to recall the latest success of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in the financial sector, a partnership with large business groups to raise funds for seven rural workers' cooperatives — among which are some of the largest organic food producers on the continent45 — by issuing bonds within the reach of “small and medium investors” on an online platform.46 Faced with the insufficiency and dismantling of policies to promote the so-called “family agriculture," MST turned directly to the market, in an operation that raised more than 17 million reais without any mediation by government programs, a move entirely in sync with the growing valuation (and quantification) of the “social impact” investments worldwide.47

After all, it’s been quite some time since certain social movements migrated to the cloud. Throughout the 2000s, the challenges of managing land squats with hundreds of families in the metropolitan outskirts, replete with disputes among competing territorial powers and always under threat of eviction, led more and more housing movements (notably the Homeless Workers' Movement (MTST)) to recognize their squats as a necessarily provisional moment and to adopt, as a permanent structure, a large registry of families. While other organizations built a base by collecting rent in squatted buildings, the MTST expanded its ranks by demanding engagement rather than money: participation in assemblies and protests yields points that determine access to the rental subsidy program negotiated with the government, and each family's score determines the ranking in the waiting line for the promised house.48 In short, the “rank and file work” gave way to the work of the rank and file. With pioneering technology, the movement has digitalized part of this internal logistics of squats and demonstrations into an app, and more recently launched a campaign called “Hire those who struggle," which relies on a WhatsApp bot capable of connecting registered homeless people to clients seeking a range of services.49

If “the boundary between forms of association aimed at collective struggle and those intended to further engage the worker in exploitation has blurred,"50 it is by no means strange that the conflicts of our time occur outside consolidated organizations, or even against them, but without building any structure in their place. The largest wave of strikes in the country's history, from 2011 to 2018 — and not the 1980s, as one might assume — has so little to do with the cycle of struggles that marked the end of the dictatorship that the comparison becomes almost misplaced.51 When resurging in relatively stable fordist niches forty years ago, the unionism still nurtured a horizon of expansion of conquests, in which new and important mass organizations were forged, integrated in the general effort of “building democracy” — a mantra that, from then on, would dissipate “in a perpetual present of redoubled work."52 Over the last decade, the strikes “increasingly took place in the field of immediate, urgent reactions”53: for the payment of delayed salaries and compliance with legislation, against plant closings and mass layoffs, among other “defensive” claims. Carried out in default of the unions and often hostile to their representatives, such movements sometimes took on insurrectionary features, such as the rebellions at the construction sites of the late Growth Acceleration Program (PAC)54 or the wildcats of bus drivers outside the garages on the eve of the World Cup.55

Despite its unprecedented scale, the 2010 strike wave left no room for any “accumulation of forces” — neither here, nor in China. Contrary to what one might imagine, the situation was similar in the industrial heartland of the planet, which went through a wave of worker unrest in the same period. Without official channels of representation, the scattered and violent strikes that multiplied in Chinese factories ended up “unable to build a durable organization or articulate political demands.”56 With airs of “looting," the strike appeared as a moment to “take-whatever-you-can-get” in exchange for the unbearable day-to-day life in the industrial districts: “obtain back wages, holiday bonuses, unpaid benefits, or simply to get back at managers who had sexually harassed workers, owners who had hired thugs to beat up workers who stand up for themselves, etc.”57 Other times, workers would “just take the money and leave” — or rather, “lifting the bucket” and abandoning their lodgings, to use the typical Chinese migrant worker expression that has recently gone viral alongside videos critical of factory life.58

Without the old “horizon of 'conquests' to be accumulated, in a broader perspective of progressive integration," what is left to the struggles of our time is to recede little by little or escalate immediately, “assuming insurrectionary forms without any mediation (without before and after).”59 Therefore, protests against an increase in transportation fares become, in a few days, earthquakes in the streets of Brazil or Chile; police violence burns cities in Greece, the United States, or Nigeria; an increase in fuel shuts down Ecuador, France, Iran or Kazakhstan. Even if the initial demands provide minimal outlines to these uprisings, their explosion tends to stretch and dilute them into a generalized revolt against the order — which ends up translated in many cases, inaccurately, into a revolt “against the government."60

As intense as they are discontinuous, without ever assuming stable forms, the conflicts that proliferate from one end of the globe to the other can be described as “social non-movements."61 Brought up in debates in certain militant circles, the expression comes in handy in a context of an increasingly atomized “class struggle without class organization"62, whose propagation passes not so much through centralized structures as through actions that replicate themselves in a dispersed manner. Non-movements expand through gestures that can be “copied and imitated, accumulating instances of repetition”63 and branching out like memes on the internet — but on the streets, in a dynamic that feeds back into the networks. This was certainly the case with the App Strike, which was neither an organization nor a planned campaign but a replicable gesture spread through videos that followed the same script. The same is true of the shutdowns in the telemarketing industry right after the arrival of the new coronavirus; the blockades of dozens of traffic circles by pedestrians wearing reflective vests in France; the student evasions and the primera línea [frontliners] during the Chilean protests. By multiplying these decentralized acts, conflicts acquire scale without acquiring a stable form (when the form is fixed, the meme loses its momentum and is in danger of becoming a brand, an image that is empty of content, an aestheticization of revolt).64

Pushed by diffuse turmoil and with no interlocutors to negotiate with, governments and businesses around the world are challenged to “respond unilaterally and rationally to an 'irrational' insurgency."65 The formalization of non-movements — that is, their translation into a grammar legible to institutions — stands as a precondition for their neutralization and incorporation. However, even when revolts are victorious in their immediate demands, the return to normality usually carries the perception that nothing has improved, or even that the situation has worsened. The inability of the state to fully absorb the energy of confrontation leaves a latent dissatisfaction, which can reverse itself into the opposite of the original impulse — wasn't this, after all, the continuity between the June 2013 uprising and the Bolsonarist insurgency?66 From the election of politicians who openly assume social violence to the degradation into actual civil wars, non-movements often end up accelerating the destructive tendency of the crisis itself.67 Intense and exhausting mobilizations that never really leave their seat: are the conflicts of our time trapped in the infernal cycle of nèijuǎn?

On the charred walls of the subway stations of an uprisen Hong Kong, phrases like “I‘d rather become ashes than dirt” or “If we burn, you burn with us” condensed a precise image not only of the dead end faced by the rioters of that city, but of the suffocating atmosphere that weighs on the uprisings of our time.68 If it makes little sense to talk about the accumulation of forces, “the anger certainly accumulates,"69 and is always a short step away from descending into violence among the flayed themselves. Without significant changes in working conditions, it is not uncommon to hear motorcycle delivery drivers defending the strikes as a way to at least take revenge on the apps — but the collective hatred can quickly turn against a driver in a traffic fight or a motorcycle thief caught in the act and about to be lynched.70 With the same vengeful and suicidal features as these individual outbursts of despair, the confrontations often boil down to an escalation of senseless violence.71 And someone needs to stick around to clean it up — as occurred the morning after the largest demonstration in Chile's history, when Venezuelan migrants organized to voluntarily clean the streets of downtown Santiago; or in Quito, in that same October 2019, where the clearing of the barricades was left to a task force organized by Ecuador's own National Indigenous Coordination (CONAIE) after an agreement ended the uprising. Seen from this perspective, riots and rebellions of the most varied dimensions become another routine fact of our catastrophic daily life.

Interestingly, the term “non-movements” first appeared in sociological literature to describe the “constant state of insecurity and mobilization” of subaltern urban layers “whose livelihoods and sociocultural reproduction often depend on the illegal use of the public spaces of the street” in a “long war of attrition” with the authorities in contemporary Middle Eastern metropolises.72 Not very distant from the rush of hustlers or delivery drivers in the Brazilian streets, always ready to evade a police roadblock, avoid paying bus fares, or cross a red light to get by: “dispersed efforts," individual, daily and continuous, that may involve “collective actions when gains are threatened."73 With just one spark, this desperate routine of work, which transitions at every moment between resistance and engagement, can break down in a desperate explosion — it is well worth remembering that it was the self-immolation of a street vendor whose fruit cart had just been confiscated that served as the trigger for the 2011 protests in Tunisia.

On the street corners where we hustle between “bullshit jobs” and temporary gigs — where there is nothing promising in sight except to escape — insubordination erupts with the same urgency, the same immediacy as just-in-time production. Conflicts explode as a desperate gesture, a cry of “fuck this shit” in which “suffering, frustration, and revolt” are mixed together, often in the form of an act of individual — or at best, collective — revenge.74 Like the recent wave of desertions from work in the United States75 and other parts of the world, the stampede from call centers in the first days of the pandemic in Brazil was a sign of refusal of a routine that, in order to cope with a collapsing “normality," becomes even more hellish. With each new emergency — health, environmental, economic, social — the screw of work intensification tightens, everyone is fully mobilized in an endless effort in which nothing but “negative experiences” are formed.76 If the “non-movements” bring good news, however, it is precisely this: they “signal that the proletariat no longer has any romantic task”: nothing to hope for, but also nothing to lose.77 


March 2022

Translated by the authors, in collaboration with Ill Will.

Images: Adam Magyar

Notes

1. The documentary film Bloqueio (dir. Victória Álvares and Quentin Delaroche, 2018) depicts the atmosphere of those days of interrupted flows, which perhaps announced what was yet to come. See also the article written in the heat of the moment by Gabriel Silva, “A greve dos caminhoneiros e a constante pasmaceira da extrema esquerda,"Passa Palavra, May 28, 2018.

2.  Raquel Lopes, "Greve dos caminhoneiros tem baixa adesão e poucas problemas nas rodovias até o início da tarde,"Folha de S. Paulo, February 1, 2021. One of the instruments used to disarticulate mobilizations taking place on highways, the infraction for “using the vehicle to interrupt, restrict or disturb the highway flow," punished with an exorbitant fine and suspension of the driver’s license, was created by the government of President Dilma Rousseff to curb the truckers protesting for her impeachment in 2015 and is also frequently employed to repress the movement of delivery workers.

3.  Target of criticism and boycotts by app drivers throughout the year, the Uber Promo and 99 Pop modalities were terminated at the end of 2021. For an account of the wave of protests around fuel prices in the first half of that year, see Comrades in Brazil, “Petrol in the Pandemic: short report of motorised workers' protests in Brazil," Angry Workers of the World, May 29, 2021.

4.  See Akemí Duarte, "Combustível caro faz motoristas abandonarem apps de corrida", R7, Jul. 14, 2021, "30% dos motoristas por aplicativos abandonam a função em Campinas e região", Digital, Mar. 18, 2021, Jael Lucena, "Motoristas de aplicativo devolvem carros às locadoras após decreto no AM", D24am, 22 January 2022.

5.  Wang Qianni and Ge Shifan, "How One Obscure Word Captures Urban China's Unhappiness", Sixth Tone: Fresh voices from today's China, 4 November 2020.

6.  “In a [...] prosaic way, the agricultural or urban 'involution' can be described as the relentless increase in the self-exploitation of labor (while holding other factors fixed), which continues, despite reduced income, as long as it produces some return or increment," writes Mike Davis, taking up a concept of anthropologist Clifford Geertz in his study of “urban involution and the informal proletariat.” Mike Davis, “Planet of Slums," in New Left Review n. 26, April/March 2006. “Such societies must run faster and faster — just to stay in the same place and not slip.” See also Anonymous, "China: Neijuan 内卷", Wildcat, n. 107, 1 April 2021.

7.  “'Neijuan' has now become the term that the metropolitan Chinese use to describe the ills of their modern lives, their sense of frantically treading water in a hyper-competitive society. Intense competition with low chances of success, be it in high school exams, on the job (or marriage!) market, or when working mad overtime. Everyone is afraid of missing the last bus - and yet knows that it has already left.” (“China: Neijuan 内卷," Wildcat, cit., our highlight)

8.  Like the episodes described in the following paragraph, the excerpt is from “Bombing the Headquarters,” Chuang, May 2021.

9.  "Cadeirante ameaça explodir agência do INSS com bomba falsa em SP", UOL, 16 March 2021.

10.  Carolina Fernandes, "Homem demitido invade casa de ex-chefe e faz família refém no Sul de SC, diz polícia", G1, 5 July 2021.

11.  "Em Parnamirim (RN), homem joga carro contra UPA após ter atendimento negado", Diário de Pernambuco, 22 March 2021.

12.  João Pedro Pitombo, "Morre policial baleado após dar tiros para o alto e contra colegas no Farol da Barra, em Salvador", Folha de S. Paulo, 28 March 2021.

13.  Gil Santos, "Grupo faz protesto no Farol da Barra após morte de PM", Correio, 30 March 2021.

14.  See Felipe Catalani, "A decisão fascista e o mito da regressão: o Brasil à luz do mundo e vice-versa", Blog da Boitempo, 23 July 2019.

15.  "It was the last shot, let's see where this will end", explained a resident from the far south of the city of São Paulo the day after Bolsonaro got elected in October 2018. Six months later, another resident would tell these same interviewers: "I see the country as a cesspool, a hole. Every president came in, there was a hole, covered with concrete. Four years went by, and 'oh, the hole is there: if you want to solve the problem, solve it, or cover it up too'. Then our president came, plugged it, fought to be able to put Dilma in power, to plug the hole. When Dilma left, Temer came in, tried to plug the hole, but by screwing Dilma. When Temer left, Bolsonaro came in, and do you know what he did? He broke the lid of the cesspool. Is he wrong? He is right. This cesspool comes before Fernando Henrique, it is a very big hole. So, man, he only broke the hole in the cesspool. No more shit can fit in the cesspool, everything is already burst. That’s the way I see it." Carolina Catini and Renan Santos, "Depois do fim", Passa Palavra, November 1, 2018 and "Apesar do fim", Passa Palavra, June 10, 2019.

16.  This is the synthetic formula used by João Bernardo to define the foundation of fascism in his “Labirintos do Fascismo” (2018).

17.  Leo Vinícius, "Que horas Lula volta?", Passa Palavra, September 29, 2015.

18.  Fabrício Bloisi (president of iFood), "Novas regras para novas relações de trabalho", Folha de S. Paulo, 21 July 2021.

19.  “Therefore, it is not a matter of repealing the labor reform, but of undertaking something that a campaign coordinator suggestively called a "post-reform," to be settled, of course, through "negotiation between workers and employers' representatives." Fábio Zanini, "Regras fiscais precisam ser revistas, diz coordenador econômico de plano do PT", Folha de S. Paulo, July 11, 2021 and C. Seabra and C. Linhares, "Petistas procuram Alckmin para desfazer ruído com fala de Lula sobre lei laborista", Folha de S. Paulo, January 10, 2022.

20.  "Lula today gestured towards a re-nationalization of the aspects of Petrobras that are currently being privatized and to releasing fuel prices from international parity. At this moment many truckers and app drivers are literally stopping work because the activity has become unviable with the price of fuel. [...] A new Lula government will be one in which the horizon of expectation should be no greater than the perspective of making a living driving for apps." Leo Vinícius, March 10, 2021.

21.  "iFood terá 50% de mulheres", iFood News, May 29, 2021 and Pablo Polese, "A política identitária do iFood"Passa Palavra, 2 November 2021.

22.  It is telling that one of iFood's main spokesman to delivery workers displays in his résumé having worked for public policies in which the "social inclusion" via "art education" is part of an effort to "'pacify’ the youth and precarious territories", such as with the “Culture Factories in São Paulo. See Dany and others, “Rebelião do público-alvo? Lutas na fábrica de cultura,"Passa Palavra, July 18, 2016.

23.  Gabriela Moncau,“iFood assina compromisso com entregadores escolhidos pela própria empresa e não aumenta repasse,"Brasil de Fato, December 16, 2021.

24.  Luis Felipe Miguel, "Favorito em 2022, Lula pode normalizar dismonte do país se ceder demais", Folha de S. Paulo, 14 August 2021. When it took over the federal government in the early 2000s, the Worker’s Party (PT) played an analogous role, completing and deepening, with the help of its social capillarity, the "state of economic emergency" implemented in the administrations of its predecessors and criticized by PT at the time when it was the opposition. See, for example, Leda Paulani, Brasil delivery, Boitempo, 2008.

25.  Throughout the first semester of 2021, we witnessed a profusion of corporate struggles for priority in the queue for vaccination. However, only clearly identifiable "work sectors" where "frontline" work retains some form, can claim a special place in line. Naturally, the priority was limited to public workers, permanent employees and people with diplomas: teachers, policemen, subway workers, bus drivers, biologists, etc. For many of them, the achievement would revert itself into an early return to work — usually before the complete immunization was finished. In the words of a subway worker, "the vaccine became the new 'early treatment'. It doesn't matter if they give vaccines or chloroquine. What matters is to keep working, regardless of whether a thousand or four thousand die every day. In the hand of capitalists, the vaccine is one more weapon to impose the return to work." Um funcionário do Metrô, "Prioridade para os trabalhadores do transporte?", Passa Palavra, April 14, 2021.

26.  "In fact, the withering ended up being an important element, a charm" Eduardo Moura, “'Piroca verde e amarela' do 7 de Setembro é gigante pela própria natureza, diz autor,"Folha de S. Paulo, September 15, 2021.

27.  Among the reasons for such a difference between the unsuccessful attempts by independent truckers to paralyze fuel prices and the mobilization in support of Bolsonaro, there is the suspicion of support from agribusiness and transportation companies, raised by entities opposed to the blockades initiated on September 7. The audio of the president circulating through WhatsApp groups of the category the next morning departed from the explosive rhetoric of the previous days and asked them to release the roads to "follow normality." While some of the protest leaders, for whom it was too late to back down, were left to their fate, Bolsonaro was accused of betrayal on social networks, where some spoke of "game over." “O que se sabe sobre paralisação de caminhoneiros que atingiu 15 Estados,"BBC, September 8, 2021 and  “'Game over': a decepção e revolta de bolsonaristas com recuo de Bolsonaro,"BBC, September 9, 2021.

28.  The expression is Bolsonaro’s. As cited in Gabriel Feltran, "Elementary Forms of Political Life.”

29.  As one astute observer noted, "the sight of gatecrashers angrily storming the Senate demanding Mike Pence reveal himself, a man in proletarian dress with his feet up on a desk in the office of the multi-millionaire powerbroker Nancy Pelosi, and the perverse fun most of them seemed to be having doing it, furnish powerful political images, (...) no matter how ephemeral." “In a country where the majority of eligible citizens do not vote," where “rampant interpersonal violence, addiction, routines mass shootings, and suicide epidemics testify to a profound hopelessness that anything can be done to improve daily life," they “register in the minds of millions of people the idea that drastic measures can be taken by ordinary people.” Jarrod Shanahan, "The Big Takeover", Hardcrackers, January 7, 2021.

30.  The blockades that brought Brazil to a halt three years ago are often referenced by delivery workers: some even took food to the strikers in 2018 and now dream of a similar unity capable of disrupting the flows in the cities and highways throughout the country. For more on the September 11th strike, in 2021, see Treta no Trampo, “Almoço brecado,"Instagram, September 11, 2021 and “Teve jantar brecado em SP,"Instagram, September 11, 2021.

31.  Treta no Trampo, "Entregadores de aplicativo bloqueam Zé Delivery Jabaquara", Instagram, September 9, 2021.

32.  Amigos do Cachorro Louco, “Entregadores de app de São José dos Campos completam 6 dias em greve,"Passa Palavra, April 16, 2021 and Ingrid Fernandes and Victor Silva, “Como uma greve de entregadores no interior de SP enquadrou o iFood,"Ponte Jornalismo, September 20, 2021.

33.  Treta no Trampo, “Manual de como brecar um shopping,"Instagram, August 29, 2021.

34.  See Amigos do Cachorro Louco, "Greves de entregadores no interior de São Paulo já completam 7 dias", Passa Palavra, October 14, 2021 and Gabriela Moncau, "Greves de entregadores contra apps de delivery se espalham e já duram dias", Brasil de Fato, October 11, 2021.

35.  During the mobilization in São José dos Campos, in addition to "terminating their partnership with restaurants without any warning" and pressuring establishments to resume deliveries, iFood threatened to use alleged "recordings of delivery workers complaining about the strike" and made it known to the strikers "that the police might start showing up at the picketed locations." Renato Assad, "Entregadores de São José dos Campos recuperam métodos históricos de luta e emparedam Ifood", Esquerda Web, September 24, 2021.

36.  "When we look at lower class territories, community leaders become intermediaries of a huge amount of relations, regulating everything from commercial, domestic, community, political issues, etc. and being, above all, centralizers of demands and mediators of the community with external agents." As Isadora Guerreiro notes, such middlemen are necessarily ambivalent figures: at the same time that "they are part of the community, lean on its existence and its networks, having to maintain and promote them," their economic interests "place clear limits to this partnership." "It is not surprising that in the reports on the delivery strike in São José dos Campos, small businesses / shop-owners appeared initally as supporters and then as potential deflagrators of violence if there was no negotiation by the workers." Isadora Guerreiro, “Lições do Breque entre a cidade e o trabalho,"Passa Palavra, September 27, 2021.

37.  Dois funcionários do Metrô, Metrô SP: Terceirizados da bilheteria denunciam descontos abusivos,"Passa Palavra, March 3, 2019. 

38.  “Bilheteiros do Metrô param os atendimentos contra descontos abusivos do salário,"Passa Palavra, March 7, 2019. It is noteworthy that, at the beginning of the mobilization, a group of ticket workers appealed to the union that legally represents them against the company and received the reply that "the strike is only beneficial to public employees", because for the outsourced workers the strike "is not legally accepted, but rather the paralyzation".

39.   Two years and one pandemic later, in a strategy accelerated by the loss of revenue during the period of social isolation, the São Paulo government would announce the extinction of the contract with the service providers and the closing of all subway ticket offices, transferring the work of employees to users through an app and self-service machines. Fernando Nakagawa, “Metrô de SP triplica prejuízo em 2020 e quer fechar bilheterias para economizar,"CNN, April 1, 2021.

40.  The expansion of the delivery service by apps has been producing, around the world, the proliferation of "ghost" kitchens and stores — facilities without face-to-face customer service, which sometimes bring together several virtual establishments, reducing costs with personnel, furniture, inventory and rent. Nabil Bonduki, "Dark kitchens, que vieram para ficar, são boas para as cidades?", Folha de S. Paulo, 16 February 2022. A new front for real estate investments, they also become meeting points for delivery people, where conflicts often erupt. See, for example, Treta no Trampo,  “A greve na loja da Vila Madalena entra no 2º dia,"Twitter, November 6, 2021.

41.  Francesc & El Quico, "The centrality of conflict", Ill Will, January 18, 2022.

42.  The expression is used by Rodrigo Nunes to shed light on the financial dimension of the Bolsonaro militancy — a true "entrepreneurial phenomenon" that can help understand a dynamic present in other mobilizations. "Whether by creating movements able to raise funds of nebulous destination, whether by conquering (or regaining) spaces in traditional media, whether by monetizing YouTube channels and Instagram profiles, they constituted a circuit in which the accumulation of political capital was easily converted into the accumulation of economic capital, and vice versa. This convertibility is, moreover, simultaneously the means by which the trajectory of political entrepreneur is built and an end. By consolidating himself as an influencer, the individual becomes a candidate for public office, either by election or nomination; the public office, in turn, brings notoriety and a loyal audience, feeding back the performance in the social networks. Even when it does not lead to a career in politics, this type of entrepreneurship always involves pecuniary advantages, both direct (invitations to lectures, advertising and publishing contracts, sale of products such as T-shirts and stickers, public funds) and indirect (forgiveness of tax debts, loans, access to authorities)." Rodrigo Nunes,“Pequenos fascismos, grandes negócios”Piauí, October 2021.

43.  It is not uncommon that, during a picket in a shopping mall, someone shows up with a portable speaker playing Racionais MC's, SNJ, 509-E, DMN, and other national rap groups that emerged in the 1990s singing about the undeclared civil war underway in the Brazilian peripheries. Throughout the following decade, the social contradiction expressed in the lyrics would gain increasingly ambiguous contours, between resistance and adherence to widespread competition. In the verses that enunciate that "today is the reality that you can interfere" and that "the future will be a consequence of the present" (Racionais MC's), or that "if you fight you conquer" (SNJ), the convocation may represent the call for a combat in which the conquest is only possible through collective interference in the present — the social struggle. But it can also be the expression of an objective condition that imposes itself on all those for whom daily life is a succession of battles for survival, like the "unemployed, with hungry children and a large family" (SNJ). It is necessary to "not measure efforts" (SNJ) or, as the lyrics composed by the deliverers themselves explain, to be "ninja" and "risk your life" both in the rush of daily life and to break the system — "every day in this [ambivalent] fight". Racionais MCs, “A Vida é Desafio”in Nada como um dia após o outro dia, 2002; SNJ,  “Se tu lutas tu conquistas” in Se tu lutas tu conquistas, 2001; Sang, “Diz pro iFood” Rzl Prod, 2020 and Família019 CPS, “22 de junho de 2020”)

44.  Leandro Machado, “Eleições municipais 2020: os entregadores e motoristas do Uber que viraram candidatos,"Folha de S. Paulo, November 13, 2021.

45.   For a critical reflection on the trajectory of the MST, see “MST S.A.”Passa Palavra, 8 April 2013 and Ana Elisa Cruz Corrêa, Crise da modernização e gestão da barbárie: a trajetória do MST e os limites da questão agrária, doctoral thesis, UFRJ, 2018.

46.  Paula Salati, “MST inicia captação de R$ 17,5 milhões no mercado financeiro para produção da agricultura familiar,"G1, July 27, 2021 and Maura Silva and Luciana Console, “Fundo de investimento permite financiar cooperativas de pequenos agricultores,"MST, May 22, 2020.

47.  "Despite the difficulties faced with the lack of aid [in the pandemic], development policies, and access to credit, peasants continue to foster solutions," states a short account of the financial operation published on the MST website. For the thousands of interested people who were not able to acquire their quotas, the movement promises to repeat the dose soon. Lays Furtado, “Finapop consolida horizontes de investimentos para a agricultura familiar camponesa,"MST, October 28. 2021. On the financialized management of the social conflict that is outlined from this and other initiatives, structured to capture "income flows generated by social actions", see Isadora Guerreiro, “Impacto Social, Apps e financeirização das lutas,"Passa Palavra, August 2021 and  “O futuro dos trabalhadores é a rua?,"Passa Palavra, February 14, 2022.

48.  "The scoring system was originated by the urban popular movements from the Popular Democratic camp, and serves as a queue not only for access to construction processes, but for any other relationship between the family and the organization." From an internal control tool, notes Isadora Guerreiro, the MTST would also make the registry an instrument of negotiation with public power. In mid-2010, a collective already warned about the use of attendance control in "assemblies, political meetings, or public acts considered important by the leadership," and even in "electoral campaign" actions, to determine who had access "to the movement's promises: houses, scholarships in colleges, training courses, allotments." That when the registry was not "also a means of control and monitoring for (...) the movement's accountability to the State, due to agreements and related partnerships established with it." Isadora Guerreiro, Habitação a contrapelo: as estratégias de produção do urbano dos movimentos populares durante o Estado Democrático Popular, PhD thesis, FAU-USP, 2018 and Passa Palavra, “Entre o fogo e a panela: movimentos sociais e burocratização,"Passa Palavra, August 22, 2010.

49.  “Núcleo de tecnologia - Setor de formação política - MTST”

50.  Francesc & El Quico, "The centrality of conflict", cit

51.  The comparison of the historical series of strikes can be found in DIEESE, “Balanço das greves de 2018,"Estudos e Pesquisas, n. 89, April 2019.

52.  Militants in the Fog, "How things have (and haven't) changed", Passa Palavra, June 5, 2019

53.  According to the "Balance of strikes of 2017" by DIEESE, "(...) the defensive emphasis of the strikes' agenda continues, but some ruptures, some discontinuities are observed. We can say, briefly, that the civilizing aspect of the defensive strikes is now being relativized. In other words, without ceasing to address those rights that have been historically unfulfilled, strikes are increasingly taking place in the field of immediate, urgent reactions: against layoffs and against late payment of wages." DIEESE,Estudos e Pesquisas, n. 87, September. 2018.

54.  Between 2009 and 2014, explosive strikes would occur in the works of the hydroelectric plants of Jirau, Santo Antônio and Belo Monte, the Suape Port Complex, the Abreu e Lima Refinery and the Petrochemical Complex of Rio de Janeiro - "not strike, terrorism," explained a Jirau worker when filming through his cell phone the fire in the construction site's lodgings. See, in addition to the documentary "Jaci: sete pecados de uma obra amazônica.” Caio Cavechini (2015) the research of Cauê Vieira Campos (Conflitos trabalhistas nas obras do PAC: o caso das Usinas Hidrelétricas de Jirau, Santo Antônio e Belo Monte(Master's thesis, UNICAMP, 2016) and Rodrigo Campos Vieira Lima (Desenvolvimento e Contradições Sociais no Brasil contemporâneo. Um estudo do Complexo Petroquímico do Rio de Janeiro — Comperj, master 's thesis, UNESP, 2015).

55.  For then-mayor Fernando Haddad, the stoppage of bus drivers and bus fare collectors in São Paulo in default of the union was not exactly a strike, but "an inadmissible guerrilla war. How do you get on a bus and tell the passenger to get off? You get on the bus and throw away the key?" (“Greve de ônibus trava SP, e Haddad fala em ‘guerrilha’,"ANTP, 21 May 2014). In the aftermath of the conflicts over transportation that shook the country, that wave of wildcat stoppages between May and June 2014 added to protests and catracaços [turnstile-jumping actions] of passengers at bus terminals and subway stations. For records of these struggles in different cities, see “Sem choro nem vela: paralisações no transporte em Goiânia,"Passa Palavra, May 18, 2014; “De baixo para cima: a greve dos rodoviários em Salvador,"Passa Palavra, 27 May 2014 and “São Paulo: greve dos metroviários e catracaço dos usuários,"Passa Palavra, 5 June 2014. 

56.  Eli Friedman, Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China, Londres, ILR Press, 2014, https://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/books/97, 13. In the early 2010s, activists and intellectuals following the strikes in China still "expected a generalization of the shift from 'defensive' to 'offensive' actions, in which workers would seek wage increases beyond existing laws and norms, rather than 'reacting' when employers pushed them too far and did not comply with legal norms. In the years that followed, however, these 'reactive' demands (for unpaid wages, social insurance, etc.) remained dominant in labor struggles." Chuang, “Picking Quarrels,"Chuang 2: Frontiers, 2019.

57.  The wave of strikes in the 2010s was not indicative of "the emergence of a traditional 'labor movement,' or anything like that. There is no such movement in China, and it is not simply because of repression, because there is also no such movement in Europe, the United States, or other places without the 'hard' oppression characteristic of Chinese state policy." Lorenzo Fe, “Overcoming mythologies: An interview on the Chuang project,"Chuang, 15 February 2016.

58.  G., “Scaling the Firewall, 1: #LiftTheBucket,"Chuang, September 24, 2020.

59.  Francesc & El Quico, “The Centrality of Conflict," cit. 

60.  The diffusion of the agenda is yet another symptom of the loss of form of the struggles. In June 2013, the existence of an organized interlocutor, Movimento Passe Livret (MPL), still gave some contour to the street disturbances, especially in São Paulo. "The explosion of revolt is (...) also the explosion of meaning, and as long as this explosion has to be contained, the maintenance of the agenda (in which the MPL is engaged) will fulfill a fundamental limiting role." (Caio Martins e Leonardo Cordeiro, “Brazil: Popular Revolt And Its Limits,"Passa Palavra, May 27, 2014, available in English). Years later, in France, the yellow vests insurgency seemed to become more radicalized as the initial fuel tax agenda lost importance; moreover, among the protesters, there were even those who openly claimed that nothing should be demanded, so as not to give the state the key to demobilization. (see “On se bat pour tout le monde,"Jaune - Le journal pour gagner, January 6, 2019).

61.   “Onward Barbarians,"Endnotes, December 2020.

62.  The expression, used by Chris King-Chi Chan to describe the factory conflicts in China, interestingly matches the synthesis of Brazilian Marxist Luiz Carlos Scapi about the protests of June 2013: "mass movement without mass organization.” See C. K. Chan, The challenge of labour in China: strikes and the changing labour regime in global factories, PhD Thesis, University of Warwick, 2008.

63.  Adrian Wohlleben, “Memes Without End,"Ill Will, May 16, 2021. Also see Paul Torino and Adrian Wohlleben, “Memes With Force — Lessons from the Yellow Vests,"Mute, February 26, 2019.

64.  Just remember how that anonymous and diffuse popular violence that shocked the Brazilian news during the riots of June 2013 - at the time, simply called "vandalism" or " disorder" - was gradually replaced, already in the hangover of large demonstrations, by the crystallized media figure of the black bloc. The backlash of the conflicts becomes visible when what once went viral and became a meme is reduced to a static brand or a symbolic staging of the revolt. There is something of this in the insistence to "not return to normality" of the relentless protesters who continued to gather regularly in the inhospitable central Santiago traffic circle months after the peak of the Chilean social estallido; as well as in the French groups who, past the peak of the mobilization, tried to turn the "yellow vests" into a fixed identity.

65. Friedman, Insurgency Trap, 19.

66. We’ve discussed such continuity in depth in  “Brazil: How Things Have (And Haven’t) Changed

67.  In this sense, Ana Elisa Corrêa and Rodrigo Lima observe that "such explosions end up aggravating the generalized fragmentation and make the revolt itself even more abstract", which ends up contributing "to widen the risk framework that makes up the arsenal" of capital accumulation in our days. “Revolta popular e a crise sistêmica: a necessária crítica categorial da práxis,"Anais do XIV Encontro Nacional de Pós-Graduação e Pesquisa em Geografia, Editora Realize, 2021.

68.  Sharpening their gaze amidst the geopolitical mirages surrounding the 2019 Hong Kong protests, a group of activists encountered an apparent paradox: "How is it possible that the least overtly political grouping — the one that seems to want nothing more than for the city to burn — is, in fact, the only one with an accurate intuition of the real political terrain? This is because, on the one hand, their very lack of political coordinates is itself an accurate reflection of the state of the movement’s collective consciousness. Their literal act of tearing apart the city is also a figurative unmaking of the city’s political and ideological foundation." “The Divided God,"Chuang, January 2020.

69.  "We are back to the time of class hatred...in the absence of classes in the historical and Marxist sense of the term," concludes another group's analysis of the protests against the health passport in France. "Here, anger certainly builds up, but it does not have the character of the 'proletarian experience' that aimed the class struggle and inscribed in it cycles of struggle and thus continuities and discontinuities with periods of greater and lesser intensity that succeeded each other in time. [...] Here, the sense that nothing really began creates the impression that temporality itself has disappeared." Temps Critiques, “Demonstrations Against the Health Pass… a Non-Movement?,"Ill Will, 5 October 2021.

70.  With no prospect of conquests, the workers' demands make room for revenge. In July 2021, a trail of destruction would attract the attention of the newspapers of São Paulo: in different parts of the city, dozens of buses were being approached by small and unidentified groups that withered tires, cut the engine belts, broke windows or damaged the keys. The mysterious wave of sabotage was attributed to "former employees who had left the bus companies." Adamo Bazani, "Polícia faz diligências para identificar autores de vandalismo contra ônibus em São Paulo e classifica participantes como criminosos", Diário do Transporte, July 12, 2021. In 2019, a collective of young workers fired from precarious jobs in small establishments in Italy organized to haunt their former "shitty bosses" by going to protest in front of stores with their faces covered by white masks — "make them pay" could refer to both severance pay and vendetta. Francesco Bedani e outros, “È l’ora della vendetta?,"Commonware, September 12, 2019.

71.  The occupation of the ruins of a fast food store in Atlanta, burned down in the midst of the June 2020 rebellion in the United States after another young black man was killed there by police, and from which teenagers came out every night "to block the roads with flamethrowers, guns, swords, and vehicles," illustrates this dynamic well. The account of a group of activists "intoxicated by a mixture of adrenaline from 17 straight days of rioting, a large stockpile of looted alcohol, MDMA" and more, tells how the "distinctly 'anti-political' airs" of that space quickly evolved into a mixture of "paranoia and fatalism": "I'm ready to die for this shit! " was what was heard from the "young black men armed to the teeth" who took turns standing watch to "defend a parking lot that contained little more than a destroyed building" from a supposed imminent attack by white supremacists or the police. The occupation would end up "privatized" by armed identity groups, with a toll of seven shootings and the death of an eight-year-old child See Anonymous, “At The Wendy's,"Ill Will, 9 November 2020. In the midst of struggles fought in a context of deep social disintegration, these militants encountered problems that sound familiar to anyone trying to organize in the Brazilian urban outskirts. In a balance of more than a decade of "attempts to create urban occupations, settlements near cities, grassroots groups in peripheral neighborhoods," a Pernambuco militant reported how "some good fruits seemed not to compensate for the failures and frustrations, which were mounting. The evaluations were recurrent: extreme poverty hindering discipline, [...] the youth distant from the political objectives, the fast pace of renovation making political formation always having to start over from scratch. It is a dialogue among the deaf, said one leader. We cannot admit that our mobilizations become recovery clinics, said another. The general perception is that we are dealing with a degenerated people - almost incapable of social organization [...] We don't have words in our vocabulary, concepts in our theories, pages in our primers, and space in our meetings to assimilate the lacerating reality of the ghettos." Carolina Malê, “Critérios de periferia,"Passa Palavra, September 2010.

72.  The idea of "social non-movements" seems to have been coined by the Iranian-American sociologist Asef Bayat, in studies on the transformations in the cities of the Middle East, and employed more recently by the author to reflect on the origin of the "revolutions without revolutionaries" that swept the region at the beginning of the last decade. See A. Bayat, Revolution Without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of Arab Spring, Stanford University Press, 2017, 104-108, and N. Ghandour-Demiri and A. Bayat, “The urban Subalterns and the Non-movements of the Arab Uprisings: an Interview with Asef Bayat,"Jadaliyya, March 26, 2013. According to Bayat, "there are constant tensions between the authorities and these subaltern groups, whose subsistence and sociocultural reproduction often depend on the illegal use of external public spaces. The tension is often mediated by bribery, fines, physical confrontation, punishment and imprisonment, when it does not remain marked by constant insecurity, by guerrilla tactics such as 'operate and flee.' [...] The link between non-movements and the episode of riots lies in the fact that 'non-movements' keep their actors in a constant state of mobilization, even if the actors remain dispersed, or their ties to other actors remain often (but not always) passive. This means that when they sense that there is an opportunity, they are likely to forge coordinated collective protests, or merge into a larger political and social mobilization." See “The urban subalterns and the non-movements of the Arab uprisings." Interestingly, one of the examples mentioned by the sociologist are the "thousands of motorcyclists who survive by working illegally on the streets of Tehran, carrying mail, money, documents, goods, and people, in constant conflict with the police." (Revolution without revolutionaries, 97).

73. Bayat, Revolution without revolutionaries, 106-108.

74. Temps Critiques, “Labor Value and Labor as Value,Ill Will, December 28, 2021.

75.  In the last months of 2021, quitting also became a meme in the United States. In a TikTok selfie, a young fast food worker jumps out the drive-thru window while laughing and announcing her resignation to the manager. With the hashtag #antiwork, the video in which a worker uses the speakers of a supermarket to curse the bosses and declare her departure circulates alongside photos of stores without attendants, where a handwritten sign explains that all staff have asked for the bills. The memes report a much larger wave of quitting (4 million layoffs per month), described by a former Labor Secretary as an "unofficial general strike" — which is also a sign of labor's loss of form. Between reports, jokes, and complaints against companies and employers, postings on online forums like Antiwork: Unemployment for all, not just the rich! (https://reddit.com/r/antiwork) oscillate between anarchism and "self-entrepreneurship" — with some frequency, "being your own boss" appears as an alternative to shit jobs. Ver Robert Reich, “Is America experiencing an unofficial general strike?,"The Guardian, 13 October 2021, and Passa Palavra, “Greves e recusa ao trabalho nos EUA e no mundo: novo ciclo de lutas?," Passa Palavra, October 2021. 

76.  "In these recent reactions against labor, we hear cries of suffering, frustration, and revolt mixed together, in an expression that at first is not collective, but particular, individual, and subjective. To see a collective consciousness there would be a fiction, because, today, it is the notion and the experience of a collective consciousness that tend to change, dissolve, decompose, since, from work, only "negative experiences" emerge — and negative in the original sense of the term, not in the Hegelian and Marxist sense (...). Just as the proletariat can no longer assert a workers' identity, it can no longer refer to a 'proletarian experience'" - and only exists politically, in this sense, in "its immediate actions": fragile and unstable parentheses that close as soon as the conflict ceases. See Temps Critiques, “Labor Value and Labor as Value.” Paulo Arantes had already located "this negative recentralization of work at the origin of the current explosion of new suffering in companies and societies" in a commentary on the findings of Christophe Dejours ("Sale Boulot").

77. Endnotes, “Onward Barbarians.”