According to data from the 2020 Atlas of Violence, 75% of homicide victims in Brazil in 2018 were black. And the situation seems to be getting worse. André Constantine knows this and together with him a movement has emerged that redefines the class struggles, the decolonisation struggle, the anti-racist and anti-capitalist struggle.
Like a lotus flower, capable of growing in the dirty, swampy mud and rising to its surface to bloom in full exuberance, André Luiz Abreu de Souza, popularly known to the militants as André Constantine, rises uncompromisingly above the violent and inescapable fate that a Rio de Janeiro favela imposes on black lives. And, together with him and against all odds, an unprecedented movement of national organization of the shantytowns (favelas) in Brazil arises, redefining, against approved logics, the class struggle, the anti-racist, anti-capitalist and decolonization struggle.
The movement “A favela não se cala” (The favela does not shut up) creat ed by Constantine in 2012 and now expanding into the “Movimento Nacional das Favela e Periferias” (MNFP), is not a class struggle co-opted by NGOs, institutions, political parties, academia or benefactor think-tanks.
It is a struggle for the emancipation of the favela territories based on their own judgement and reality, and against the foundational and structuring violence of Brazilian society.
Constantine’s bold and inspiring strength is not a symbolism.
His struggle is as real as the misery, exclusion, gentrification and expulsion, drug trafficking, police violence, militias and the continuous death threats that he and his colleagues suffer because of their work.
At the same time, this struggle revives the most intangible and painful aspects.
Constantine wants to talk to the people who live in the favela about the perception that human beings have of themselves.
This perception that racism, handled under the logic of class apartheid, legitimizes within each person, those who are discriminated against and those who discriminate.
His movement aims to rebel against the place on the social scale where, historically, Blacks have been forced to exist in Brazil.
André Constantine spoke to The Prisma about this and more.
Who is André Constantine?
I was born and I still live in the favelas of Chapéu Mangueira and Babilônia, in Rio de Janeiro. My father beat my mother, which psychologically affected me. I was an aggressive person for a long time in my life, because I learned violence inside the house, and I took it outside, as a way to get rid of all that violence I was witnessing. I ended up thinking that everything was solved with violence. My father worked in the hotel industry until he became involved in drug trafficking and was killed in 1992. This also affected me a lot. It was at this time that I joined, for a while, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
What was your first experience of racial discrimination?
It happened at school, when I was a child. What is traditionally called harassment or bullying today is racism. Racism is incorrectly called bullying.
I got several nicknames at school: mule lips, wire sponge hair, potato nose. But I thought it was more a mockery of my friends. But that has a devastating effect on the life of a black child because you grow up with an inferiority complex and believing that your ethnic features are ugly.
What is it like to grow up as a young black boy in a favela in Rio de Janeiro?
It’s like growing up as if you had a target on your chest and back. Every favela is a Black Death camp. I believe that every black person in the favela is moulded for crime. Imagine being born in the cradle of misery, in a house that lacks everything, in a dysfunctional family, where the mother is an alcoholic and the father is in jail. Growing up in a place where opportunities are rare, and in this same place you see drug dealers every day, men with a gold chain and women. Every favela is a Black Death camp. Take your shovel, dig your grave, there is no Shindler’s list with your name on it. There is no salvation. The favela is built within a process of exclusion from this racist society of this country that hates us.
How did you start in political activism?
From my childhood. I was always a non-conformist child and had the habit of questioning everything. I have always been sensitive to the issue of social inequality and as a young man I expressed myself through the music I composed.
Even without understanding anything about surplus value or having read Marx, I understood that the worker in Brazil was exploited.
I joined the Consejo Popular which was formed by the Public Defender’s Office, the Pastoral de Favelas and other leaders, to fight for the right to housing in Rio de Janeiro.
When it was over, we created “A favela não se cala”. Initially it was to fight for housing, then it extended to fight the state violence we suffered from the armed arm of the state which is the military police.
We became one of the movements that most confronted the military police and the militarisation of the favelas, by the so-called Police Pacification Units (UPPs).
What are the MNFP struggles about?
Seven months ago, Professor Heitor C L. Silva of the “Combat for Socialism” (“Luchar por el socialismo”), brought me the idea of expanding the “Favela não se cala” movement and organizing it nationally.
We have two fronts of action, one institutional, which must be at the service of building socialism, which is the second front. Together with the favelas in each state of Brazil, we are going to draw up a programme with the technical assistance of jurists, architects, engineers, the academy, the anti-fascist police and members of Parliament.
This programme will be taken to the national congress. And we will fight to make this a state policy for the first time, to include the favelas and the peripheries in the national budget.
We do not need populist government policies.
But the main objective of the MNFB is to create in each favela a committee to raise the class consciousness of the working class.
We do not believe that socialism can be built through bourgeois elections. To paraphrase Malcolm X, there is no capitalism without racism.
How is the movement financed?
Through the collaboration of members and ordinary people. We do not want party or institutional funding, our autonomy is necessary. Now we want to create an international solidarity network to raise funds.
Your struggle is for the emancipation of people historically oppressed by the state, society, traffickers and bloodthirsty militias in Rio de Janeiro. How is it possible to raise awareness in a context of total oppression, where the struggle for physical survival is imperative?
The emancipation of black people in the favelas will go through a process of mental decolonisation, since the process of slavery that began in Brazil almost 400 years ago was done through a process of mental colonisation.
Patrice Lumumba said: “The most difficult thing will not be to free Congo from colonialism, but to free Congo from mental colonization”. The initial work is for blacks, men and women, to recognize themselves as such.
The reaction of the inhabitants of the favelas to the movement and their adhesion has to do with our way of acting. The first relationship we have with the residents is to do something for their most basic needs, and to collaborate with the groups that already operate in these territories. The most important work we do is to raise class consciousness within these territories. This is not an abstract discourse. We also confront the militias, the police and the traffickers. We have problems especially with the militias because they see themselves as part of the state. I often say that the militias are the state.
At the end of the interview, Constantine asked me to finish with the following sentence by Trotsky: “All revolutions are impossible, until they become inevitable”
*Sara Vivacqua, is a lawyer and lives in London