The crisis: circling on dry land

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By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO*

Civilization has again entered an era of catastrophe, in which multiple crises will follow one another in a process of aggravation

The noted British historian Adam Tooze wrote a seminal note on his blog – Polycrisis: Tightrope thinking – with the aim of highlighting the importance and relevance of the notion of polycrisis, which he deems necessary to think about the difficult situation of humanity in the contemporary world. There, he defined this new term as follows: “polycrisis is a way of capturing the tangled mix of challenges and changes that interact closely with each other, twisting, blurring and amplifying each other”.

Thus, he circumscribed the term in the perspective of systems theory which, as is known, presents itself as an analytical and constructivist technique for modeling complex systems. These, in turn, are understood as plexuses of interacting parts or elements that have a specific organization or, more than that, a self-organization. In this way, complex systems are defined by the external links between the parts, that is, by their interactions, which supposedly take place according to certain patterns of regularity.

It turns out that there is another way of defining a complex system, not only through external links, but as a plexus of internal relationships between the parts that compose it. These relations not only structure the interactions, but also pose dialectical contradictions, that is, they form contrary polarities, but united with each other. Behold, such relationships are already constituted as contradictions, as a conjunction of determined negations. The whole of the system is thus no longer just a composition, but needs to be thought of as a totality. Now, this simply means that the parts and the whole cannot be rigorously thought – ontologically – without their internal connections.

In doing so – repeating here what was written in the past – one evolves from the way of thinking of the understanding to the way of thinking of the dialectic; this path, however, has to be made under the condition of a double recognition: understanding is both necessary and insufficient for a good understanding of the world. The dialectic only aims to supplement understanding in understanding its constitutive complexity, which is not static but, on the contrary, is in the process of becoming.

Now, this elucidation – somewhat cryptic and perhaps pretentious – has become necessary here because Adam Tooze, in his short article, challenges Marxists to give an explanation that is capable of encompassing the complexity of the contemporary crisis. He suggests, then, that it is not enough to say “that it all boils down to capitalism and its development in crisis”. He does not doubt, however, that this modality of critical reflection “is capable of offering an answer, but for it to be convincing” – he says – “it would have to be a Marxist theory of complexity and polycrisis”.

It is argued in the face of this challenge that Marxism does not focus on the notion of polycrisis – since it is a notion that only covers appearance – precisely because it has the concept of totality, which must be understood – it is judged – in the perspective of Theodor Adorno that the whole is false. The disposition of thought to totalization is necessary, but it is necessary to know that it is a method guided by a cognitive utopia; behold, good dialectical reason also operates under the principle of non-identity between the cognitive subject and the real to be apprehended. Now, this avoids the positivization of the whole as is done by vulgar Marxism and, thus, ultimately, the totalitarianism that it engenders.

In any case, it is worth mentioning that the concept of totality is necessary because “the concrete is the synthesis of many determinations, that is, the unity of the diverse”. The crisis, in this sense, always figures as a single crisis, but one that has multiple dimensions. It appears through the outbreak of various problems, which result from various contradictions and thus produce tensions.

In this perspective, moreover, it is judged that the notion of polycrisis is still in the field of positive knowledge, since it does not fail to examine the facts as discreet occurrences, even if they are participants in a composition, in a system of interaction – and not in isolation. , joined only through mathematical functions. It can be seen, even from what was presented above, that the subject of knowledge remains external to the object – and not in an immanent way to it, as all critical theory intends.

It is evident that Marx examined the capitalist crisis through an economic lens in The capital. For him, as is known, not only do crises occur in capitalism, but crises are part of the very logic of development of capital accumulation. The crises - said in The capital, still in the perspective provided by mid-nineteenth-century capitalism – are disruptive moments in the course of evolution of the contradictions inherent in the capital system itself, outbreaks that temporarily relax them and prepare for a new cycle of accumulation.

Capitalism at the end of the 2008th century and the beginning of the XNUMXst century claimed, as is well known, the need for the concept of structural crisis because its immanent outbreak no longer necessarily produces a temporary rebalancing; on the contrary, the imbalance can persist, tending to remain for a long time – or perhaps even permanently. For, the necessary destruction of accumulated capital to restore a certain balance can no longer occur without capitalism itself collapsing – a threat that painted on the horizon with the XNUMX crisis, but did not occur just because the State’s action prevented the triggering of the process of overwhelming devaluation of accumulated fictitious capital and, as a result of successive breaks, of industrial capital itself.

Marx himself knew that the economic crisis engenders the social crisis – that is, the sharpening of the class struggle and the consequent tensioning of political struggles. He noted that classical economists, and especially Ricardo, knew this because they were concerned with the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, indicative of the existence of overaccumulation, in the short and long term. “Hence the fear of English economists in relation to the decrease in the rate of profit – he says – (…) What worries Ricardo is that this spur of capitalist production (…) will put it in danger by the very development of that production”.

What Marx did not know, however, is that crises, even the most profound, of capitalist production would not necessarily engender an opportunity for socialist transformation. If this possibility was still true in the XNUMXth century, in the course of the XNUMXth century it became a reason for great uncertainty, an unlikely advent. For, this century has seen the rise of right-wing extremisms that can be roughly characterized as fascist.

Due to his historical situation, he cannot understand the complex interconnections between the objective conditions of economic crisis, the state of culture and the formation of character – or personality. Behold, these connections, as we know, only began to be apprehended through, first, Freudian-Marxism (Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, among others) and, later, critical theory (Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, mainly ).

A full history of this investigation and its exposition can be found in the book Critical theory and psychoanalysis by Sérgio Paulo Rouanet. Here one can only open the question. It is suggested, in what follows, that fascist extremism can be seen as a political formation that captures certain desires for security and protection that arise when the character, especially of individuals belonging to the middle classes, but also of “subjects” who are outside of them, it goes into crisis.

To restrict the scope of this note, no more than an informative piece for any interested parties, we are left only with the theses of Erich Fromm presented in his classic book, The fear of freedom.

A first point, brought by this author, is that modern society does not create firm and rational individuals as the legend of current economic theory says, but above all, sometimes under this appearance, fearful and insecure characters who are bothered by fluctuations and changes. uncertainties of economic life, as well as the political conflicts that thrive in society under certain circumstances.

When the capital relation system itself enters into a structural crisis, a significant part of these individuals are sometimes willing to sacrifice their freedom. Erich Fromm then uses Freud's discoveries to unveil the irrational and unconscious forces that determine human behavior and that lead social individuals to desire and cry out, even when they feel weak and helpless, for fascist dictatorships.

As is known, social relations in capitalism take place as relations of things; economic subjects, in turn, are subject, non-subjects, since they act and have to act as personifications of things – of goods, of the workforce and of capital. As such, they have only negative "freedom". Positive freedom, however, is effectively reserved for the bourgeoisie only.

Referring especially to the non-bourgeois, for Erich Fromm, individuals under capitalism, by becoming independent of their parents, that is, “subjects” in themselves, have “two paths (…) to overcome the unbearable state of impotence and loneliness ”: he can fight for positive freedom by becoming an activist or he can accommodate, flee the struggle, abdicate self-assertion, roughly becoming a “neurotic”. Well, the escape route, guided by fear and, eventually, by panic, is characterized by its compulsive nature.

Some of those who take the escape route enter the path of authoritarianism. By renouncing the struggle for independence, for a certain autonomy of their own ego, they tend to identify with someone or something in the outside world in order to acquire power. They are taken, therefore, by the yearning for submission and domination, that is, by masochistic or sadistic impulses, which – he says – exist “in varying degrees in both normal and neurotic people”.

These contradictory impulses somehow support the individual, preventing him from feeling alone and impotent in the face of the world. The sadomasochistic character, found especially in middle-class individuals – especially, nowadays, in those who see themselves as self-managers – is authoritarian because it always comes to be an attitude that recognizes and even values ​​authority, the power of “winners”. ”. It is these individuals who offer themselves as the mass to fascism when the uncertainty inherent in the economic, social and political crisis settles in society. That is, the authoritarian character is a personality structure that gives a human basis to fascism.

Fromm also distinguishes another way of responding to the loneliness and impotence of the individual in the competitive world created by capitalism – something that does not only affect the economic sphere of society, but spreads through social relations in general, thus creating an inhospitable world. Some individuals, to escape the feeling of frankness in the face of a system that they do not control and that seems marked by fatality, assume a character marked by impulses of aggressiveness against everything and everyone, that is, what he calls destructiveness – something that Freud captured through the notion of death drive. “Destructiveness” – says this author – “is the product of unlived life”.

Finally, the psychoanalyst who is working here mentions the existence of yet another possible way of escape from the estrangement that modern society imposes on people: alienation from the world. According to him, it is the path adopted, usually without conscience, by the majority of “normal” individuals in modern society. This type of character is formed when the individual simply unwittingly adopts the cultural patterns that prevail most widely in society. It is mimicry, that is, the individual seeks to erase the difference between him and the world, becoming identical to the majority that appears as silent. Fromm characterizes this path by a very suggestive term: “conformism of automata”.

Based on these two abstract notions of character, the authoritarian and the automaton", with the complementary notion of destructiveness, Erich Fromm, in his book, became able to present psychological foundations both for the advent of fascism and Nazism and of " normality” of modern democracy. It is clear that his explanation of these sociopolitical forms is not intended to replace, but to complement, sociological and political science analyses. Behold, both are phenomena shaped by factors rooted in the economy and society.

In any case, this analytical framework – as well as those developed later by critical theory – also seems relevant to think about the “unexpected” advent of fascism on the “placid shores” where the “sun of freedom” shines and where the earth is “ kind mother”. Now, these grandiloquent terms that ideologically characterize Brazilianness in the minds of many are certainly in contradiction with everything that Bolsonarism has represented in the last four years.

It is therefore necessary to salute the “resounding cry” of the electoral victory of the coalition of democratic forces that won a battle of neoliberal fascism – an eminently political notion that has been used by many to characterize Bolsonarism in broad strokes.

The adversities brought about by the structural crisis of the decline of capitalism, a crisis that affects all countries in the world, could not have been reversed in Brazil, by him and his nameless boss – on the contrary, everything was getting worse day after day. But neither will it be significantly reversed by the civic movement that followed. A political enigma for the future, thus, is set. It is necessary to be clear that human civilization has once again entered an era of catastrophe, in which multiple crises will follow one another in a process of aggravation, as we tried to indicate in the previous post: the post-global economy. Anyway, as always, you have to doubt everything.

* Eleutério FS Prado is a full and senior professor at the Department of Economics at USP. Author, among other books, of From the logic of the critique of political economy (Ed. anti-capital fights).

 

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