Brazil: Fight for equality, fight racism!

A summary of the speech by the National Coordinator of the Black Socialist Movement and leader of the Marxist Left [Esquerda Marxist] of the PT, José Carlos Miranda, during the Public Hearing of the Brazilian Supreme Court about racial quotas held on 5 March 2010, and videos of original speech in Portuguese.

[Editor's note: There is a huge public debate going on in Brazil about the plans to introduce a new law, which would make it a legal requirement for all Brazilian citizens to declare which “race” they belong to, such as “Brazilian” or “Afro-Brazilian”. This will then be used to classify the whole population according to the colour of people's skins. Then quotas would be introduced in the education system, in public housing, in employment and so on.

The Brazilian Black Socialist Movement, MNS, is opposed to such quotas being introduced, and explains that rather than solving the question of racism and inequality, such measures will only serve to divide the working people of Brazil. The MNS state quite categorically that the struggle must be for jobs for all, decent education for all, good housing for all and not a “sharing out of the poverty”.

Brazil's Supreme Court recently invited what it considers the top, most influential personalities of the country to present before the Court their views, not against and in favour of the proposed new law. Among these was José Carlos Miranda, the National Coordinator of the Black Socialist Movement and leader of the Marxist Left [Esquerda Marxist] of the PT.

We provide here an English translation of his speech, which was broadcast on Brazilian TV and which we provide videos of here. Fred Weston]


Good morning, Your Excellency the Minister Ricardo Lewandowiski, Deputy Attorney General Dr. Deborah Duprat. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

I present a photo:

The projected picture was taken by photographer Osmario Marques in the quilombola community of Serrote do Gado Bravo in Pernambuco and won the 14th Cristina Tavares prize of the Jornal Diário de Pernambuco. [Note: Quilombos are Brazilian settlements founded by people of African origin].

Two quilombola children, one white and one black. Which of the two is indebted to whom?

Here we hear two versions of the story: that whites are guilty of slavery, that blacks are guilty of slavery. These versions are false. They are false because history was not made by men of one color fighting against men of other colours. History is pushed by the class struggle. And who is to blame for the exploitation, oppression, colonization, the dispossession of the African continent are not white men in general. To insist on this kind of "historical storytelling" is to distort the facts and seek different conclusions from the lessons of history.

It was the need for intensive exploitation of labour, production of goods with low technology and high levels of exploitation that created the premises for slavery in the early stages of capitalism. Slavery was practised systematically by the capitalists in Haiti in the production of sugar; in the U.S. for the production of cotton to supply the factories in England; in Spanish America the Aztecs and Incas were enslaved for the extraction of gold and silver.

In Brazil, black slavery was introduced for the production of cotton, sugar, the mining of gold and diamonds. In other words, every form of slavery, both of blacks and the indigenous peoples had one goal: the primitive accumulation of capital, the development of capitalism.

So if the "deadly sin" of slavery was committed this was not the fault of white men against black men, but of the new social class that had emerged, the bourgeoisie, together with its exploitative system.

The beneficiaries of this super-exploitation were the elites in Europe and their junior partners in the Americas and Africa.

Racism - whether it is practised against blacks, against the indigenous peoples, against any people - has one goal today: to divide the workers and prevent them from exposing the real culprits for the existence of this excrescence: capital and its owners, the capitalists.

As the great philosopher Karl Marx stated in the first volume of Das Kapital, "the capitalist system was born dripping blood from every pore.”

That is why the slogan of the Black Socialist Movement is "racism and capitalism are two sides of same coin."

The rhetoric about debt to the "black people" can only be asserted by distorting and hiding the real story and the system that benefited from slavery.

And is it possible to change the current situation of immense social inequalities, even within this system?

Of course it's possible!

And it can begin by offering quality free education for all, at primary, secondary and university levels.

How is it that this country, which does not have public universities for all, pours millions and millions of dollars into private universities through tax exemptions, subsidising to the so-called "shark schools" where many courses barely reach the average level established by the MEC [Ministry of Education and Culture ]?

How come we pay billions and billions of dollars to the capitalist bankers, while the people suffer from lack of health, education and decent housing?

The resources are in the budget and have been for a long time. What is lacking is the political will to reverse this situation.

But let us return to the question of skin colour and the implementation of racial policies for the granting of extra benefits.

On television all Brazilians see today that workers are free from the conditions of slavery or semi-slavery and can also see the colour of their skin! Now tell them that whites are different from blacks?

Racial quotas are the tip of the iceberg and a symbol of what a racially-divided society would mean.

By implementing such policies starting with the education system from childhood, we are teaching children that they will have different rights.

At the same time quotas are being proposed for companies, such as in Chapter V, Article 45 of Law 3198, the Racial Statute, approved unanimously by the House of Representatives: "The public authorities will be able to regulate the granting of tax incentives for businesses with more than twenty employees that have a minimum of 20% of black workers."

History has already shown where this leads: first it is taught to the children of workers from their infancy that there are "human races" and that there is a debt of the "white" to the "black".

When these children enter the labour market, the law imposes privileges for workers with a dark skin. What is the next step in all this?

The formation of trade unions of whites and blacks.

And finally we end up with a country where the struggle for universal rights, i.e. for all the working people will be replaced by the struggle for the rights of ethnic groups, peoples and races.

Imagine two fathers or mothers, household heads, which have the same hard life, living in the same community, one light-skinned and the other dark-skinned. Imagine the lighter-skinned worker losing the opportunity of employment at the expense of his neighbour who has darker skin. Imagine this situation being repeated millions of times!

History has taught us where the consequences of the struggle for survival can lead!

Throughout history those who used racial arguments were always the conservatives, reactionaries: from Louis Farracan to Idi Amin Dada, from Mussolini to Botha, from Hitler to Radovan Karadzic.

All dragged their people to a tragedy! That is not the future, even if remote, that we want for our children and grandchildren.

This policy of racial quotas that was adopted by Nixon and exported by the billionaire Ford Foundation, has one goal in mind: put an end to the struggle for universal rights, or to put it more precisely, to cut public spending for the working people.

It is the policy of sharing out poverty while the same old situation where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and on top of that pitting one against the other, workers and children of workers who struggle every day for their rights and for their very survival.

Thus, creating a division that does not exist in our country.

In the USA, the richest and most powerful country in the world, since they first implemented these policies, the gap between rich and poor, black and white, has increased, and racism has continued. Yes, a black petit bourgeois has been created that, as can be seen, has clung on tooth and nail to the system that created them, while the majority of blacks, especially the youth, have continued to remain in the same, or even worse, situation as we have seen in the recent crisis.

Ministers of this Court, ladies and gentlemen.

Today in Brazil there must exist hundreds, perhaps thousands of laws based on the idea of racial classification.

In your hands you have an important decision to take that may or may not mark the future generations with the retrograde notion of racial classification that has brought only tragedy to all peoples where this has been implemented.

In your hands you have the power to prevent a greater harm being done.

The defence of racial politics can only be carried forward by those who have given up the struggle for equality.

On our part we remain confident in the strength of the working people of Brazil. This courageous Brazilian people who fought many battles for freedom and equality. We are convinced that it is through this strength and energy that the huge inequalities will be overcome.

And we will be able to live in a society where the word happiness does not belong to a distant future but will be a part of everyday life for the Brazilian working people, and where people will be valued by the strength of their character and not by the colour of their skin!

Thank you!"

Video of speech

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