The anomie of the state



The legal and political structure, since the 2016 coup, has been subverted to annul all concessions to dominated groups, stripping itself of its class character.

“The institutions are working”. Since the 2016 coup began, this has been the mantra of conservative sectors. A president elected by popular vote was overthrown, the pact enshrined in the 1988 Constitution was dismantled by a unilateral decision, sets of rights that often preceded the constitutional charter itself were swept away, but the institutions were functioning. Sectors of the Judiciary and the Public Prosecutor's Office conspired to criminalize one side of the political spectrum, even illegally removing the favorite for the 2018 elections from the race, thus tainting the legitimacy of the election, but the institutions were working. Generals defining the interpretation of the Constitution, McCarthyist persecutions in public service and in schools and universities, increase in police violence, open selectivity of the repressive state apparatus: institutions working.

The approval of the Supreme, even if a “cowardly” Supreme Court, as Lula once said, when not openly involved in the destruction of the constitutional and democratic order over which it should watch over, sometimes bowing to thinly disguised threats from military commanders, was equivalent to functioning of institutions. Apparently, the simplifying and simplistic understanding, expressed even today by a conservative columnist, was widespread: democracy is equivalent to accepting that “the final word in disputes is that of the STF”.

In the democratic field, we asked: the institutions are working, but for whom? It was clear that, since the 2016 coup, the legal and political structure had been subverted to nullify all components that signaled concessions to dominated groups, stripping themselves of their class character. Brazil seemed to present a particularly dynamic illustration of Poulantzas' perception that the State is the material condensation of a certain correlation of forces. With the accelerated change in correlation, in which the popular sectors lost initiative and also resistance, the Brazilian State quickly began to operate in another key, even though it maintained the same Constitution.

Of course, it wasn't that simple. The coup signaled that force was superseding existing rules. As the coup coalition was far from being homogeneous, already in the Temer government, conflicts arose that followed the logic of “who has the biggest club”, generally involving the messianic current of lavajatismo, on the one hand, and on the other the traditional political elites that reached the center of power with the usurper. Both, by the way, with their own benches in the STF. An emblematic episode was the arm wrestling involving the injunction of Minister Marco Aurélio Mello, in December 2016, removing Renan Calheiros from the presidency of the Senate. The Senate refused to comply with the decision and the Supreme Court backed down. Functioning institutions, even in the minimalist and legal sense presented above?

With the arrival of Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency of the Republic, it was natural that the situation would get worse. Destined to be a secondary figure in the Brazilian retreat, a mastiff taken to the kennel when it became unnecessary, he trampled on his occasional allies and took his extremist and disconnected agenda, his deliberate and permanent aggressiveness, his narrow vision and his administrative ineptitude to the Planalto. Well tolerated while delivering, thanks to Paulo Guedes, what the ruling class wanted, it has become a hindrance since the pandemic made it imperative to have a less irresponsible and less incompetent government. Even Guedes, a market fundamentalist unable to turn the wheel when circumstances call for such a change, is becoming less attractive.

The disgruntled, however, are not yet able to establish a strong movement for the removal of the former captain from office. Uncertainty weighs on the position of the deputy, general Hamilton Mourão (if the path is the impediment and not the impeachment of the ticket, for which there are also plenty of reasons). There is also uncertainty about the position of the top leadership of the Army, increasingly called upon to arbitrate political disputes, which, by the way, is another powerful sign of the decay of institutions. And, above all, the fear of losing what they achieved with the coup weighs heavily: the condemnation of the popular field to political irrelevance.

Thus, a situation marked by repeated skirmishes, on the borders of legality or beyond it, between the groups that control different sectors of the State and that measure forces is aggravated. This became particularly visible at the time, with the instrumentalization of the Federal Police, either by Bolsonaro or by the STF, or with the reckless use of blackmail by the President of the Republic over his own Attorney General, with the aim of shielding himself and to children of criminal charges. The vacuum of legality allows Bolsonarism to move towards becoming an armed militia, at the same time that the signs for a violent interruption of what remains of the order instituted in 1988 become ostensible.

The institutionality that was broken to remove the popular field from the game today proves to be incapable of regulating conflicts between dominant groups. By placing itself wholly and undisguised at the service of class domination, the Brazilian State lost its relative autonomy. But, in the same process, Brazilian society plunged into a kind of relative anomie. A part of the rules that should organize social life no longer prevails: the rules that would define the attainment and exercise of power in society. There is a free-for-all that slips dangerously into the use of violence, the ultimate reason for power. To escape the worst, it is necessary that the increasingly palpable shadow of fascism and the tens of thousands of corpses accumulated by the criminal management of the health crisis urgently teach our political elite the lessons that it has struggled to unlearn in recent years. .

* Luis Felipe Miguel is professor of political science at UnB.

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