the lost decade

Image: Cyrus Saurius


Between 2011 and 2020, Brazil walked sideways, economically, and took a step backwards, socially

“Society never changes its institutions as it needs to, (…) On the contrary, it practically accepts the institutions to which it is subjected as definitive. Long years go by in which the opposition's critical work is nothing more than an escape valve to give rise to the discontent of the masses and a condition that guarantees the stability of the dominant social regime; (...) Completely exceptional conditions must arise, independently of the will of men or parties, to tear the chains of conservatism from discontent and lead the masses to insurrection. Therefore, these rapid changes that the ideas and mood of the masses undergo in revolutionary times are not the product of the elasticity and mobility of the human psyche, but of its profound conservatism” (Leon Trotsky).[I]

Between 2011 and 2020, Brazil walked sideways, economically, and took a step backwards, socially. The preliminary assessment is that the GDP will not have grown more than 2,2% in ten years, when considering a projection of a drop of 4,5%, probably underestimated, this year.

This is the worst performance ever. But it's worse. Because, when considering per capita income, we will have a decrease of 5,9%, since the population grew 8,7%. In the same period, the IMF estimates that the world economy may have grown by 30,5%. Peripheral countries reached an average of 47,6%. The countries of the imperialist centers 11,5%. The country's place in the world market has shrunk.[ii]

Ten years is not ten months. In fact, Brazil has been going through a long, even if slow, economic decline for forty years. After the fall of the dictatorship, Brazilian peripheral capitalism lost its post-war momentum and began to experience low growth rates.

In the 1,6s, the average annual variation in GDP was XNUMX%. In that decade, the rate of demographic expansion was much higher, so per capita income fell more rapidly. But now, contradictorily, it's worse. Because per capita income, despite small fluctuations, has remained the same for a generation. This means that, in most families, children will have a shorter life span than their parents. Never happened.

Evidently, injustice and tyranny, in varying degrees of intensity, rule the world. If we consider a very high degree of abstraction for the analysis, each and every society is continually faced with the need to resolve, to a greater or lesser extent, the conflicts that result both from its insertion in the world market, from the dispute over positions between States , how much of the social struggles that divide, fragment and, at the limit, even disintegrate.

If they don't, they plunge into stagnation. Economic and social stagnation is the path to national decay. Individuals can waive the defense of their interests. Classes, however, do not commit historical suicide. A nation's historical regression cannot be done without resistance. National decay may prove to be irreversible, but there will be a struggle and, eventually, with a revolutionary disposition. This dynamic must be considered in times of political[iii]. But the clock of history is ticking.

Historical times are slow, because human society is structured around the profound conservatism of the masses. Only under the impact of dire circumstances do crowds wake up from a state of apathy and political resignation, and discover the strength of their collective mobilization. Revolutions are, in this sense, a historical exceptionality if we use the measures of political times, that is, of conjunctures, but they are also one of the laws of the process of social change, if we consider the scale of long durations.

It is with this historical perspective that we must consider that, even having lost the social cohesion potential of rapid growth, the democratic-electoral regime gained stability, an interesting paradox. The consolidation of democracy was only possible because it was a strategic choice of the hard core of the ruling class, in the context of a wave of mass struggles in the XNUMXs, and was expressed in the Tancredo/Sarney ticket.

It's been a peculiar stability. At the end of the eighties, the adjustments made by the Sarney government opened the way for the election of Fernando Collor, who was defeated by impeachment. At the end of the 2010s, the adjustments initiated in the second term of Dilma Rousseff, whose term was interrupted by an institutional coup, and the inauguration of Michel Temer, paved the way for Bolsonaro. The fate of this government remains uncertain. But it seems unavoidable to recognize relations between the tendency to stagnation and the economic and social costs of liberal-democracy.

Because Bolsonaro's election revealed that the mass of the bourgeoisie shifted to support a Bonapartist project, and today the differences in the face of the regime's institutionality are not nuances, but a fissure, even a fracture with the hard core. But if they have differences before the regime, there is a strategic project that unifies the ruling class. This project can only be implemented with a historic defeat of the working class, the youth and the oppressed. A historic defeat means demoralization by the interval of a generation.

The project informed by neoliberal dogmas accuses the increase in State expenses, the burden of taxes, the uncertainty generated by the explosion of the public debt, and the increase in productive costs for the private sector due to stagnation. They argue that the biggest problem is not social inequality, but poverty.

Neoliberals denounce that, in the last thirty-five years, the democratic regime expanded social services with the structuring of Social Security, the organization of the SUS, the expansion of the universality of basic education and public higher education, federative transfers, incentives and subsidies. The State raised the tax burden to something close to 35% of GDP, and the public debt to something around 95%, two levels that they consider incompatible for what semi-peripheral capitalism is. They conclude that a new phase of growth would only be possible if it were driven by foreign investment. However, adjustments would be necessary to reduce public expenses so that Brazil could be attractive in the world capital market.

But in contemporary industrialized and urbanized societies on the periphery of capitalism, the destruction of the average conditions of existence of the majority of the population, conquered by the previous generation, could never be done “cold”, that is, without colossal resistance.

The Brazilian working class of the beginning of the XNUMXst century is different from the proletariat of thirty years ago, but it is not weaker. It is a less homogeneous working class, in several dimensions, than the previous generation because the social weight of the industrial working class is smaller. It is a class with more social and cultural differentiations, with a lower degree of participation in the organizations that represent it. It is a class less confident in itself, too, worn out after the defeats that have been piling up.

But it is more numerous, more concentrated, and much better educated. It is a class with the potential to attract a majority of the popular masses to its field. It is a class that is more aware, especially among young people, of the need to fight against sexist, racist and homophobic oppression and much more critical of the old trade union and political leadership. They will not surrender without a fight.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).



[I] TROTSKY, Leon. History of the Russian Revolution. Bogotá, Pluma, 1982, Volume 1, p.8.


[iii] It is not because some societies are more in a hurry to carry out transformations than others, or because some people are more aggressive than others that revolutions happen. Revolutions are brought about because, in some rare circumstances, there are social crises that prove intractable. Faced with crises, societies can resort to the method of revolution, that is, the breakdown of order, or the method of negotiated reforms, therefore, of preserving order with some concessions, to resolve their crises. When and why one way or another prevails is the core of historical investigation. In some historical stages, exceptionally, progressive transformations were possible through the game of pressures and social and political concerts. This was the case, for example, at the end of the 1885th century in Western Europe, when the partition of the colonial world was enshrined in the 1871 Treaty of Berlin. and because there was fear of new Paris Communes as in 1945. Or between 75/1917 in the Triad of central countries, USA, Europe and Japan. That can only be understood in the context of the terrible destruction of the Second World War, the structuring of the stage of armed peace between the US and the USSR, the preservation of world market dominance, even after the Asian and African independences and, finally, but not least, as a preventive measure against the possibility of new October revolutions, as in Russia in 1973. Reactionary economic and social regressions also proved to be possible through the conclusion of agreements, without the need to resort to destructive counterrevolutionary violence, as in Pinochet's Chile in 1976 or in Videla's Argentina in 1975. This is how the revolutionary storm that Portugal experienced in 25 was controlled after the 1977th of November. It was also like this in the post-Franco transition in the Spanish State in 78/XNUMX. Mészáros clarifies: "Capital in the XNUMXth century was forced to respond to increasingly extensive crises (which brought with it two previously unthinkable world wars) by accepting “hybridization” in the form of an ever-increasing State intrusion into the socio-economic process of reproduction as a way to overcome its difficulties, ignoring the dangers that the adoption of this remedy brings in the long term, for the viability of the system”. Meszáros István. “The Structural Crisis of Capital”, in October 4, São Paulo, Xamã, March 2000, p.11.


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