Reintroducing Rosa

Flavia Ocaranza

To introduce a column on translation, it feels appropriate to translate an introduction: in this case, the one Revista Rosa published in 2020 as part of its first issue. Translating it is also, in a sense, a reintroduction, not only to an anglophone audience but to those who are or were involved in Rosa’s publication.

By publication, I mean an ensemble of collaborative and interrelated practices — including editing, production, distribution, and translation — as well as the creation of something in relation to, or that is in itself, a public: like a magazine or a journal, which can also be called a publication. As a translator and ethnographer in collaboration with Rosa, I am interested in how publication is approached as a critical endeavor, as something understood as capable of effecting meaningful social change, especially during moments of political uncertainty.

Rosa was first envisioned by Ruy Fausto in 2018, the year in which Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian presidential election. Ruy maintained a longstanding commitment to the advancement of democracy, drawing upon a robust international tradition of leftist thought and practice to critique both the far right and the establishment left. A philosopher of the dialectic, he was a scholar of Marx but not a Marxist. He believed in the vitality of the intelligentsia and the “critical press” in combating bolsonarismo and other far-right insurgencies, but also asserted that, to intervene in contemporary politics, Rosa “must play a leading role separate from the purely academic sphere.”1

For Ruy, in the words of his close friend Arthur Hussne, “politics and philosophy went hand in hand: they were passions that came together and tested each other.”2 One might say that, for Ruy, philosophy cannot be reducible to scholarship, if scholarship implies supporting or being determined by the academy’s institutional politics. In order to test each other, to have a relationship built upon and motivated by a capacity for critical and independent intervention, politics and philosophy had to be passions.

Cícero Araújo, another friend and, like Arthur, one of Rosa’s editors, writes that “Ruy Fausto could passionately, and sometimes even angrily, face a right-wing opponent, a reactionary opponent, or even an opponent from the left. But the most formidable adversary was actually indifference.” Critique, then, becomes a passionate form of provoking an orientation away from apathy: “the recipients of even his most scathing critiques,” Cícero continues, “know they were not getting his contempt, but exactly the opposite: care. Through forceful critical rigor, Ruy Fausto was truly a great caregiver.” If passion is an intensity impelled by an ethos of care, such force and commitment is critical in multiple ways. It is critical in the sense of being vital: to Ruy, “living — not simply living, but pursuing a full life — is a form of stubborness.”3 And it is critical as a political orientation, one that understands a willingness to think carefully, as opposed to indiscriminately, as a form of caring for others.

The poet and translator Haroldo de Campos notes that the “translation of creative texts will always be a re-creation, or a parallel creation, autonomous yet reciprocal.”4 To introduce — in translation, ethnography, or otherwise — is not only to reintroduce; it is also to create and recreate, to build and carefully rebuild.

The introduction is based on a draft written by Ruy. In Arthur’s words, it “distills [his] perspective: the task is arduous and the traces of an old, rotten world insist upon their presence, but there is a new world to build, and if careful reason cannot build it alone, surely everything will be more difficult without it.” While the process of building is arduous, it is also, as seen in the introduction’s writing, unmistakably ardent: against an administration characterized by “a deadly subservience to a guru who cultivates a fanatical and anti-democratic esotericism” and “a hyper-reactionary customs policy conducted by representatives of a pharisaical religiosity,” Rosa “assumes the role of defending culture, theory, and reason.” The language is self-assured, sometimes brash in its assertions and polysyllables. In moments when I wanted to soften it, I had to remind myself of what is at stake in this text: not “intellectual frivolousness” but “the future of the left, of democracy, and of the country.”

The introduction is authored by Revista Rosa, whose signature represents the corpo editorial (literally, editorial body) at the time. A number of the original editors, such as Arthur and Cícero, are still involved, but the masthead today is substantially different. Many have joined over the past three years. A few original members have left. Ruy, who passed shortly before the release of the first issue, remains on the masthead in memoriam. He remains in editors’ conversations about Rosa, in the collective signature both then and now, in the name Rosa — meaning pink or rose, evoking the revolutions of people’s springs — itself, which was his suggestion.

Rosa “is certainly not a single voice, nor does it aspire to be the sole arbiter of the truth.” This is carried over into the magazine’s design, as developed by Wallace Masuko. In the logo, for instance, Rosa is spelled backwards with outlined and mirror-inverted letters. Each letter in the word comprises three distinct versions, layered like rose petals with a 3D glasses effect. Using different fonts, sizes, and spacings for each character, this sense of dissonance is both sensuous and, in what Wallace recognizes as a political capacity, transparent: each individual letter is legible only in terms of its multiplicity.

The voices of the editorial body, a certain chorus, do not determine Rosa, but they do inflect it. I am translating a voice of many voices into one that is and is not my own. But this is not about ownership. It is about iterations. This translation is an iteration. The original is not an original but also an iteration, and each iteration builds upon others that may or may not have been published or even written but have, nonetheless, built something: if not a world, at least a way towards one.

Introducing Rosa

[Published in Revista Rosa 1.1, March 2020.]

A flower even faded
eludes the police, ruptures the asphalt

— Carlos Drummond de Andrade,
“Flower and Nausea”

Revista Rosa introduces itself to the Brazilian public at a very difficult moment in the country.

Fifty-seven million Brazilians voted for a candidate who, in a campaign marked by illegal actions concerning electoral marketing and financing, openly defended torture, called for the eradication of the left, and publicly issued homophobic, misogynistic, and racist statements. This figure emerged victorious, having been president since the beginning of 2019. His government has been a horror show that has attempted to demoralize other powers of the Republic, waged attacks against Indigenous populations, called for the rampant destruction of the environment, dismantled the assets of the Brazilian State, and left national sovereignty in shambles; that has been shameless in its nepotism and complicit with corruption and official militia banditry; that has fostered a deadly subservience to a guru who cultivates a fanatical and anti-democratic esotericism; that has developed both a hyper-reactionary customs policy conducted by representatives of a pharisaical religiosity and close contacts with international far-right forces.

While working on Rosa in 2018, the organizers recognized that a launch under favorable conditions would no longer be possible. A tense and adversarial atmosphere was to be expected, in which the right, not the left, was running the political game. However, Bolsonaro’s election aggravated things even further. Given these new circumstances, the fight became urgent.

Touted as an alternative to the welfare state, neoliberal economic policy led to the explosion of inequality in “developed” countries since the mid-1970s. In this context, the retraction of public services, alongside the increasing precarity of labor relations, yielded a legion of discontented people eager to embrace anti-establishment rhetoric. The solutions put in place against the financial cataclysm of 2008 — for whose emergence neoliberalism is greatly responsible — were deeply unsatisfactory: the transformation of bad assets into public debt, which spared the rich from bearing the costs of the crisis, further intensified social suffering and collective indignation towards the system.

Against this backdrop, Brazil’s situation is more complex: a few years after passing nearly unscathed through the acute phase of the crisis, the Brazilian economy revealed its structural fragility — which was greatly reinforced by poor governmental choices — and collapsed. The forces unleashed by the June 2013 protests were co-opted by the right, which made the fight against the PT [Workers’ Party] government its call to arms as a means of fighting corruption. In the aftermath of Lava-Jato, of all the protests and heightened intrigue from political elites, a president was overthrown, and the main leader of her party was arrested. Supported by the middle class and the media, a task-force of prosecutors and judges tasked itself with launching — through underhanded tactics and countless illegalities — an investigation into the traditional political assembly, which, regardless of its wrongdoings, allowed for an unprecedented regression. In sum, a coup-electoral [golpista-eleitoral] process paved the way for the worst.

Faced with the far right’s attacks, the left showed itself to be underprepared. That being said, resistance against bolsonarismo has not been for nothing. It was considerable in terms of popular protests, as well as regarding journalism and parliamentary activity. But its action was dispersed, and it would be difficult to argue that these efforts had a clear vision of their short- and medium-term objectives.

We are paying the price for the vicissitudes experienced by the left’s thought and practice in the last hundred years. In the first place, the totalitarian bent it has attained throughout the world opened a wound that needs time to close, if it will at all. Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall, a totalitarian power — if not Stalinist, then at least Leninist — built in the name of the left still casts a shadow. In concrete terms, totalitarian regimes, like those of North Korea and even China, or post-totalitarian ones, like that of Cuba, still enjoy the sympathy of some groups on the left. Unfortunately, being lured by authoritarianism isn’t exclusively a right-wing tendency.

A source of confusion for many progressives, particularly those in peripheral countries, this shadow is a formidable asset wielded by the right and, especially, the far right. Exorcizing this specter once and for all remains an urgent task. With the same vigor with which we critique the contradictions of capitalist democracies, we must vehemently repudiate the bureaucratic and totalitarian regimes that lay claim to the tradition of the left.

The illusions that still persist in relation to totalitarianism are inextricable from complicity with so-called progressive populist and authoritarian regimes, like that of Venezuela. In general, these experiences combine traces of bureaucratic authoritarianism with the old patrimonial vice we recognize as a lax approach to public affairs. We know where this goes all too well.

The far right’s pseudo-reputation for corruption led to a “suicide vote” whose consequences we are bitterly suffering. However, if the rallying cry of the right and far right was evidently demagogic and supported by a conspiracy established by sectors of the judiciary, the promiscuity phenomenon, involving part of the economic power and the left-wing governments that presided over the country’s destiny for more than a decade, was real.

Regrettably, the left’s hegemonic party bought into the thesis that corruption was necessary to secure a parliamentary base and advance with reforms. Letting itself be slowly led by inertia, it opted for a certain kind of populist patrimonialism and followed the traditional path of public power in Brazil. In the name of immediate progress, it continued to lag behind.

This party’s famous self-criticism never came, and it probably never will. The release of an ex-president condemned in an entirely irregular process, as the materials published by the Intercept reveal, was something that all of us demanded, but this cannot amount to a policy, or even the crux of a policy, in itself. And, as for the future, we are promised nothing more than prolonged terms for current party figureheads and calls for old leaders returning to power. We must mobilize new forces.

This is not a matter of precluding dialogue with anyone — a party is not a monolithic bloc, and its bases and sympathizers don’t need to share its leaders’ beliefs. However, under no pretext whatsoever can it be impervious to free, rigorous, and constructive critique.

Despite managing to carry out a program in its own reformist way, the PT, in taking such a wayward course, committed a major error, one further aggravated even by never having been acknowledged. Sweeping things under the rug didn’t fool anyone. And not only did reactionaries take advantage of this, but the party lost much of its popular support, weakening it at the pivotal moment when it had to face the attacks of the right and far right. Despite being aware of all the foul play, we reject the interpretation that the PT is merely a passive victim of everything that has transpired over the last few years. We cannot close our eyes to this party’s shortcomings and how it has made our current situation possible.

Taking advantage of this series of errors, the right managed to launch its coup-electoral offensive. Many ask: is the current government fascist? It lacks important elements of classical fascism, such as the extensive and intensive mobilization of the entire people, paramilitary groups, unified mass assemblies, ritual proclamations of loyalty to the leader, and the sacralization of insignia. But it does come from the same universe of fascisms, the universe of conservative, reactionary, and obscurantist revolutions. And what’s essential is that this dose of authoritarianism is already enough to destroy democracy in Brazil.

We cannot let the position of even the most serious Brazilian liberals go by uncritically. With few exceptions, they do not seem especially concerned about the distinctly authoritarian thrust of this new power. Is it theoretical ignorance or hidden sympathy? These liberals are strange, but so were their icons. Without making summary judgements about his deep-seated convictions, it is important to remember how someone like Hayek made clear in his writings and attitudes that he had no major problems with antidemocratic powers. In the same way, if Paulo Guedes [Bolsonaro’s Minister of Economy] carries out our program, or part of it, why worry so much about the rest?

Rosa intends to contribute to the advancement of how the left understands these problems. Our magazine is certainly not a single voice, nor does it aspire to be the sole arbiter of the truth. In the current landscape, there are, on the one hand, publications that do not assume a well-defined political position; on the other, there are leftist magazines and blogs that are not critical. Rosa presents itself as an independent and critical leftist publication with democratic convictions. Its ideal is the unity between adopting a political position and maintaining theoretical rigor.

Just because a magazine is on the left doesn’t make it any less objective. Understood and practiced well, critique is superior in terms of objectivity to discourse claiming to be neutral. The reason for this is simple: only critique can reveal what uncritical discourse considers too scandalous to be revealed. In not striving to be neutral, our magazine will be more objective than if it did.

If Rosa supports the positions it features, nothing is more contrary to the ethos of its editors than orthodoxy and sectarianism. Besides not only dealing with politics — since our first issue will include literary and artistic works in open dialogue with different artistic practices, forms of experimentation, and epistemologies — we will not avoid discussing or publishing texts that do not correspond to the majority opinion of the editorial board. Though the problem largely comes from the extreme violence of far-right speech and actions, any effort to curb the climate of hate and intolerance that dominates public discussions in Brazil is worthwhile.

Something to keep in mind is the question of theory. The neo-authoritarian front we are witnessing wages, among other things, a war against reason. In the style of the right’s extremist tradition, it reeks of a formidable anti-intellectualism. But it’s more than that. The government’s actions, whether attempted or realized, aim to attack critical thinking in general and, more specifically, the institutions where knowledge is produced. The ideal outcome for these elected officials would be to rid our universities of their professors and replace them with a bunch of charlatans, fanatics, and, at best, miseducated pedants. Under a number of pretexts, the goal is to deprive universities of the endowments they require to function. Unfortunately, this policy of defunding has had some success.

A characteristic trait of our new governing officials, this anti-intellectualist tendency has always been a deciding factor in far-right movements, and in the present instance is exacerbated by resentment. Rosa assumes the role of defending culture, theory, and reason. It is necessary to fight against the neo-obscurantist wave that has spread, with deleterious political consequences, throughout the country. Against barbarism, theory. Theory justifies itself, without a doubt, but in Brazil’s current conditions, it is invaluable.

The stance taken by Rosa is not the result of some intellectual frivolousness. It is the future of the left, of democracy, and of the country that is at stake. It is becoming increasingly clear, and not only in Brazil, that the global far-right juggernaut can only be countered if the left is capable of making a drastic political shift, a shift that, as of yet, has not been announced.

However, if the progressive camp is reluctant to face its contradictions, we must note the presence of elements in the world that allow us to not succumb to defeatism. The global right continues on the offensive, but resistance manifests in no small number of places. In this recent period, we have seen important democratic movements in Algeria, the Middle East, Russia, Hong Kong, Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia. In the United States, the radicalization of public opinion towards a social-democratic project is a new reality. In Europe, the left shows its current or potential force in countries like France, Portugal, Spain, and the Scandinavian nations. Beyond the partisan left, we must remember the strength of social movements, whether pertaining to workers and unions, feminist causes, the LGBT umbrella, or anti-racist demonstrations. In sum, if the right strikes, the left is by no means crushed.

These are our convictions, and this is our project; we hope to have the support of the leftist public and readers of different political persuasions, as well as the sympathy and backing of all the country’s democratic forces. Revista Rosa has no illusions about the extent of its abilities, like those of any publication. But we must utilize them and not find solace in a comfortable nihilism. The team behind this magazine chose to give it a name that evokes the best in the history of the left, specifically in terms of the difficult intersection between an intransigent critique of capitalism and an uncompromising demand for democracy. The name Rosa also expresses support for the “peoples’ springs,” springs that, in both earlier centuries and our current moment, have not been rare but have unfortunately had an ephemeral course. But there is no such thing as an endless nightmare. We must hasten its run, to cut short the night of this very bleak winter.