The challenge to the status quo

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By FRANCISCO FERNANDES LADEIRA*

We have witnessed a strong process of adaptation of progressive sectors to the capitalist status quo

Historically, the political left was constituted as such, having as its main characteristic the challenge to the status quo. The very origin of the term “left”, in terms of the ideological spectrum, refers to segments of French society that questioned the order in force in that nation, in the context of the pre-Revolution of 1789.

However, in recent decades, especially with the rise of the so-called "new left" - which embraced certain identity guidelines to the detriment of class struggle - we have witnessed a strong process of adaptation of progressive sectors to the status quo capitalist.

On the other hand, it fell to the extreme right to occupy the contesting vacuum left by the left. It is no coincidence that names from this political spectrum, such as Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orbán, enjoy relative popularity among the working classes of their respective countries.

As Marxist authors (such as Antonio Gramsci and Louis Althusser) and non-Marxist authors (such as Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu) have pointed out, under capitalism, bourgeois domination over other classes is not achieved only through the exercise of political power, as it also relies on the aid of what Althusser designated as “ideological State apparatuses” or Foucault referred to as “normative institutions”.

Therefore, every individual on the left is expected to have minimally critical and skeptical attitudes towards the judicial system, schools, psychiatric hospitals, the press, science, the market and the police. Unfortunately, that's not what we've been seeing lately. The main criticisms of the actions of some of the institutions listed in the previous paragraph have not come from the (adapted) left, but from the extreme right. Evidently, with all the delusions and prejudices inherent to individuals of this ideological spectrum. Let's look at some examples.

The process of globalization (which, according to Milton Santos, kills the notion of solidarity, returning man to the primitive condition of “every man for himself”) has practically not been contested by the left. Meanwhile, the extreme right, through the (anodyne) concept of “globalism”, criticizes the supposed communist projects of domination on a planetary scale.

Of course, anyone in their right mind knows that there is no “communist plan for global domination”. However, it would be naive not to think that powerful corporations and large investors in the financial market do not aspire to exercise such hegemony on a planetary scale.

Criticism of the scientific field (already denounced in its relations with economic power, by thinkers such as Thomas Kuhn and Bruno Latour) is also mostly on the extreme right. Unlike the left and its blind belief in science as unpretentious knowledge and for the good of humanity, the extreme right has emphasized that the pharmaceutical industry, for example, like any other sector in capitalism, aims at profitability above all else.

As it should be, the extreme right's "arguments" on this issue are anchored in denialist and anti-vaccine ideas. But that doesn't negate the fact that many scientists have spurious connections with big business, which, at least in theory, should be widely debated by the left.

Following this global trend, in Brazil, the extreme right (represented by Bolsonarism) has monopolized criticism of the status quo and institutions. As we know, around here, the extreme right came out of the closet on the lookout for anti-PTism, whose peak was the 2016 coup, a democratic rupture movement that relied on the decisive collaboration of extra-parliamentary mechanisms, located mainly in the media and judiciary (both the service of US imperialism).

Due to one of these contingencies in the political sphere, the biggest criticisms, both of the judicial system and the mainstream press, are located today, precisely, in Bolsonarism. On the other hand, a considerable portion of the Brazilian left, instead of building a critical and consistent discourse in relation to institutions, prefers to “defend” them from attacks by the extreme right.

However, this monopoly on criticism of the status quo on the part of the extreme right does not only bring electoral damage to the left; it is also a discursive weapon against contesting minds. Thus, all questions to institutions or to the prevailing economic system (whether on the left or on the right) fall into the same “basket” of “conspiracy theories”.

Interestingly, the concept of “conspiracy theory” (today aimed at flat-Earthers) emerged to delegitimize the speeches of those who denounced the actions of the United States in other countries, such as support for coups d’état, assassinations of political leaders and economic wars.

In the Brazilian context, in what they call “political polarization”, any criticism of the STF and the electoral system (however well-founded it may be), runs the serious risk of being classified as “Bolsonarist”.

In short, if the left does not put aside its capitulation and recover the hegemony of criticism, all individuals who question the status quo they will be branded as conspiracists, lunatics, extremists or have their sanity put in check. The “owners of power” thank you.

*Francisco Fernandes Ladeira is a doctoral candidate in geography at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The ideology of international news (CRV Publisher).

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