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Neoliberal Malaise, 2013 “June Journeys” and the Criminalization of the Protests in Brazil: a Re-reading Through Louis Althusser

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This article investigates the June 2013 protests in Brazil from the perspective an analysis of the pattern of capitalist accumulation and the reaction of state apparatuses. The premise is that these protests are derived from a social malaise in neoliberalism, produced over decades of implementation of commodification and financialization programs. This malaise was expressed through fragmented claims. When, however, the dynamics of protests are observed in the light of the actions of the ideological and repressive state apparatuses, a polarization is observed between participating actors and movements regarding the subject of whether or not to criticize neoliberalism. Finally, it is argued that these apparatuses have fixed divergences to promote conservative demonstrators and to shield the pattern of neoliberal accumulation against dissention. This shielding was stabilized by a selective policy of criminalizing the protest’s sectors. The article’s arguments are based on the renewal of Louis Althusser’s state theory.

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  1. The conception of malaise in neoliberalism is not the same as presented in the relevant literature on “squeezed middle class in Brazil” (Morgan, 2018, p. 55). Existing data shows losses (or at least much more modest gains) for the established middle class in the period 2003–2013, if compared with significant material gains for the rich and the poor. This kind of analysis does not set out to discuss either question on privatization or the different forms of indebtedness. With the notion of malaise in neoliberalism, the debate on delusion of the middle classes and working classes is less related to economic gains and more to the capacity of government to produce social adherence to egalitarian universal policies that ensure the conditions of reproduction of common, collective, and public goods.

  2. Freud’s concept of malaise in culture (Das Unbehagen in der Kultur) appears in the present analysis as a mere inspiration. Indeed, relevant to my argument is the contradiction that Freud points out between civilisational order and real aspirations of the individuals. For him, civilisation is defined as violence against desires, repressing them; it thus becomes a burden, a factor of suffering for individuals. See Freud 2018 [1930].

  3. See Gonçalves 2021

  4. A relevant literature has analyzed that the conflicts, which culminated in the protests of 2013 and extended into the Bolsonaro government, have an intersectional character combining class, gender, and racial dimensions. See, for instance, Pinheiro-Machado and Scalco (2018). A discussion on these entanglements goes beyond the scope of the article. Furthermore, claims of recognition presuppose expectations about access to goods, services, and infrastructures, which are provided by the market expansion or decommodification policies. The debate on the malaise in neoliberalism uses this level of abstraction as the point of departure.

  5. It is important to highlight that levels of crime and insecurity are not mentioned as a dimension of the malaise in neoliberalism, because they are related to structural problems of Brazilian capitalism. Moreover, at the time of the 2013 protests, there was a certain confidence by the population in the control of organized crime due to pacification policies in favelas. See, for instance, Ribeiro and Vilarouca 2020.

  6. By assigning the character of free-riders or vulture groups to right-wing and far-right movements, I am not attributing any precedence to left-wing organizations for framing or expressing dissatisfactions articulated in the demonstrations of June 2013. The terms are used in a very concrete way within the dynamics of the protests: a left-wing movement, the MPL, initiated the June 2013. Right-wing movements took advantage of the existing protests and integrated themselves into them. This successful action shows that the right-wing movements did not arise only during 2013 but have been organized before then. As put forth by Rocha (2019), right-wing movements have developed a robust political engagement at the local level and in social networks at least since 2010.

  7. This occurred on June 20, 2013. See “Editorial” (2013e).

  8. For an analysis of the expression of these conservative articulations, see Russo (2015).

  9. In this regard, see Bringel (2013, pp. 44–45); Goes and Moszczynska (2015, pp. 114–116); Maradei (2013, p. 3); Artigo 19 (2014, p. 20); Singer (2013, pp. 24–25); Teixeira (2014, pp. 203–207).

  10. “Folha de São Paulo” and “O Globo” are the leading newspapers in Brazil by circulation.

  11. See “Editorial” (2013d).

  12. See Teixeira (2014, pp. 205–207); “PF Acompanha Protestos em SP” (2013).

  13. See “Jamais Achei Que Ele Fosse Atirar” (2013).

  14. Mensalão was a vote-buying scandal that broke out in 2005 during Lula da Silva administration. It was based on accusations that government officials paid congressmen monthly stipends in exchange for votes.

  15. See Rousseff (2013).

  16. Cabral is the surname of the former Governor Sérgio Cabral Filho of the State of Rio de Janeiro (2007–2014). In June 2013, demonstrators occupied the street where he lives to protest against his authoritarian way of administering, as well as against suspicions of corruption. He had already been convicted nine times and condemned for nearly 200 years of prison.

  17. About the events and the numbers of people detained and arrested, see the chronology in Teixeira (2014, pp. 203–267).

  18. To draw conclusions about the shared politics of the editorials of O Globo and Folha de São Paulo, Goes and Moszczynska (2015, pp. 114–115) cross-referenced keywords and analyzed the frequency with which they appeared. Based on this quantitative research, the authors surveyed the most frequently repeated expressions and terms. They found that the opinions of the respective newspapers combined arguments that disqualified left-wing Brazilian social movements and unions, portrayed as backward and violent, thus treating them as a matter of public safety.

  19. As presented in the previous footnote, Goes and Moszczynska’s quantitative analysis suggests a convergence between the orientation of Folha de São Paulo and O Globo against leftist movements during the 2013 processes. Obviously, the role of these newspapers in Brazil’s domination structure reinforces the authors’ thesis. This does not mean accepting that there is coordination between the practices of the two companies and that, although they participate in the system of financialized accumulation, both cannot diverge from specific orientation. However, it is not the object of this paper to discuss disputes over positions of power. My aim is different: to observe how state apparatuses create and overcome their tensions to ensure the general reproduction of inequalities and domination, specifically neoliberal domination.

  20. Possession of an explosive device was the justification for the police violence against demonstrators who carried vinegar (which was used to counter the effects of tear gas) and against Rafael Braga Vieira, a homeless person who was found near the protests with a popular brand of disinfectant cleaner “pinho sol” and bleach. Cf. Artigo 19 (2014).

  21. All of the accusations that generated the detentions and prisons were systematized by the report “Protestos no Brasil 2013” (Artigo 19, 2014).

  22. Cf. “Editorial” (2013e).

  23. See Mendes et al. (2013).

  24. Cf. “Editorial” (2013b).

  25. Cf. “Hostilizados, Petistas Abandonam Ato” (2013).

  26. Cf. Caulyt (2013); “Processar Manifestantes com Lei de Segurança Nacional” (2013).

  27. Cf. Caulyt (2013); “Processar Manifestantes com Lei de Segurança Nacional” (2013).

  28. Cf. Lei n. 12.850, 2013.

  29. Cf. Souza (2013).

  30. Cf. “No RJ, Manifestantes Presos São Autuados” (2013); Teixeira (2014, p. 264).

  31. For an analysis of this law, see Machado and Gonçalves (2015).

  32. See Brasil (2015).

  33. Nossa (2016).


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Correspondence to Guilherme Leite Gonçalves.

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Leite Gonçalves, G. Neoliberal Malaise, 2013 “June Journeys” and the Criminalization of the Protests in Brazil: a Re-reading Through Louis Althusser. Int J Polit Cult Soc 36, 499–526 (2023).

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