The dispute of the masses

Marcel Duchamp, Miles of String, 1943


Mass politics is in place in Brazil today and there is nothing to indicate that it will not be expressed in the 2022 elections

“The masses have never thirsted for the truth. They shy away from evidence they don't like, preferring to deify error if error appeals to them. Whoever can provide them with illusions is easily their lord; whoever tries to destroy his illusions is always his victim” (Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.

The theme of the masses emerged in Europe at the end of the XNUMXth century, in contrast to the urban-industrial and political transformations that led to democratic demands, unionism and the formation of socialist parties. We know that Le Bon developed a conservative vision of the masses, which appealed to Italian elitists, such as Michels, who adhered to Mussolini's fascism. In spite of this, or precisely because of this, the issue of the masses, addressed by this and other authors, is an interesting clue for us to reflect on some of the new processes and social and political phenomena that have emerged in recent years, in various corners of the world.

But here it is interesting to address its expressions in Brazil, especially the simultaneous rise of neo-fascism and ultraliberalism, the fake news, the unusual participatory protagonism of the extreme right, unarmed or armed, evangelical or literally belligerent, in the name of the law or openly outside it, the generalized feeling of chaos and the collection of contradictions.

After all, Bolsonarist “cattle” see themselves as an awakened giant; the hero lacks empathy and virtues; he who exalts the liberating character of the truth of the Gospel builds the kingdom of lies and manipulation; the Messiah trivializes life; fanaticism opens the door to an anything-goes, simultaneously salvationist and denialist, which, at the same time and coherently, seeks to close the way for science, for human rights, for the environment and for culture in general, seen as Marxist by these sectarians; a political operation called Lava Jato is in coalition with the Globo Group, a communications corporation that claims to combat fake news, to leverage a legal-media farce in the name of fighting corruption, which results in the election of a leader, supported by his crowd, who even attacks his artistic production; judges of the law commit crimes, as revealed by Vaza Jato and, as a result of the show, become celebrities, ministers of the federal government and election candidates; the theology of prosperity marries the political economy of misery, and so on. Anyway, what country is this, much worse today than in 1987, in the days of the Constituent Assembly, when Cazuza's song was released and there was some hope, while the current panoramic feeling evokes the bottomless pit?

The question of the masses can help to understand the country. To face a party rooted in the masses, albeit limited and oscillating, and with charismatic leadership, nothing is more appropriate than a strong prefabricated political assault capable of penetrating the popular mind and creating a slice of the crowd in the streets, on social networks. and in the mainstream media, a slice of dough cake mobilized and decorated with the Jair Messias cherry, supposedly fearless warrior, just like those who believe in him, baptized in the Jordan River by Pastor Everaldo, of the Assembly of God and president of the PSC. There is a taste for everything and new tastes emerge in history. This political onslaught is armed not only with new technologies and the old Bible, but also with lead bullets, also supported by cattle kings, owners of cattle-commodity-capital, soybeans, etc.

In recent years, the BBB caucus (bullet, ox and bible – armamentist, ruralist and evangelical), identified in the legislature sworn in by the National Congress in 2015, has expanded. Led by the anti-globalists, equipped with social media and the backing capital of the fake news, the ideological front became massive. In addition to the evangelicals, it enlisted moralistic salvationism and militant anti-communism. Hallucinations abound. Armamentism entered the battlefield, above all, through the role of the Armed Forces, police and militia, supported, especially the first two, by the repressive-judicial apparatus, more akin to coercion than to the guarantee of rights. Finally, capital is not only B for cattle, but also B for banks, in short, B for bourgeoisie, national and foreign, who supported the 2016 coup in a united front of their class fractions, not to mention portfolio investors not residents.

Even now, despite the various electoral options of the right in 2022 – Bolsonaro, Moro, Doria, perhaps also Mandetta, Pacheco, anyway – the big bourgeoisie, obviously, is in this ideological field. It remains to be seen how she will behave in a possible second round between Lula and Bolsonaro. In 2018, USP professor Fernando Haddad was passed over by the owners of money, who chose an insignificant federal deputy, from the lower clergy, admittedly violent, terribly evangelical and incredibly hallucinated.

In the end, the coalition born in the national crisis brings together, above all, the bourgeoisies, with the capital that seeks financial appreciation at the head, the expanded legal-military repressive apparatus (middle layers) and the evangelicals. But this alliance has no bread to offer – quite the contrary, the unemployment rate is at 13,2%, the precariousness of work is revealed in generalized uberization, the expectation of inflation exceeds 10% (Focus Bulletin), misery and hunger returned, the sidewalks became housing. In order to try to compensate for the material misery destined for the masses and, at the same time, ensure their re-election, it remains for Bolsonaro, who places himself as the guardian of the interests of this broad class domination, to continue offering mass circuses and violence, the same formula of his rise .

On the one hand, his social networks invest in the conservative behavioral agenda, in a covid kit, they sow illusions and plant lies, but they have reaped the charlatan's loss of popularity. On the other hand, since illusions can, at best, deceive the stomach, but not satisfy hunger, and since not all minds are always subject to deception, it only remains to offer a greater dose of violence to compensate for the shortage of bread. . The sections of public opinion less susceptible to the siren song of empty illusions, which do not generate concrete benefits, and those who, examining the facts, saw the ongoing absurdities - the tragic management of the pandemic, the economic and social malaise and the chronic mental barbarism of the neo-fascist – have already jumped off the erratic and ungoverned ship that is deepening the ongoing national shipwreck since the 2016 coup.

Gramsci argues that the State is dictatorship and hegemony, strength and consensus. In 2018, due to the neoliberalism crisis in Brazil, the PSDB and MDB crisis and the existence of a left-wing party organization, with (limited) mass rooting, which even wounded in the political struggle, firmly entered the electoral dispute, the opportunity was configured and consolidated for a neo-fascist buffoon, from the lower parliamentary clergy, to surf the crest of the political wave, blessed by a desperate ruling class, open even, shamelessly or shamelessly, to making use of an antichrist to defeat the PT. Thinking with Pareto, another Italian elitist, there was then, in that context, the circulation of elites. By electoral means, but also made possible by other institutional channels and in the name of an unlikely ultraliberal social stability with military safeguards, the lower clergy ascended to government, with the support of the higher clergy.

The political events since 2015, that is, since the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies by Eduardo Cunha, seem to increasingly confirm the elitist assessment that democracy is a fantasy. This idea is a heartfelt statement of oligarchic self-confidence and arrogance. However, a fantasy whose current relationship between cost and benefit is becoming inefficient for the ruling classes, as it once happened in Brazil, when they preferred explicit authoritarianism. In any case, although seen as inefficient and threatening, democracy still has value in political culture, despite those who call for military intervention, who even use arguments of direct democracy to defend their dictatorship. Hence, in the face of the crisis of the democratic legitimation of neoliberal domination in Brazil, the lifeline of pro-market and pro-minimum State conservatism implied supporting an organically contradictory standard of legitimation.

In this sense, two new political ingredients emerged, from the middle of the Dilma 1 government until now, re-evaluating the structure of the State, here understood three-dimensionally, as a social relationship institutionally grounded in a bloc in power, as a political regime and as a decision-maker of public policies. As for the last aspect, we know that, since Temer-Meirelles, the neoliberal content of federal government decisions has been strongly retaken.

The new ingredients make up a two-sided coin, which forms a bifrontal political assault. On the one hand, the right-wing mass policy, unprecedentedly mobilized in the streets and on social networks, a process that dates back to the 2013 demonstrations, whose development ended up benefiting the neo-fascist side, victorious in 2018 with the “myth”, an opportunistic and opportunistic actor , willing to defeat, at any cost, the PT, elected, then, as public enemy number 1 of a wide range of forces, under the hegemony of finance. On the other hand, the device of judicial violence (criminal populism) and arms violence (licit and illicit) against this same enemy is also new, as if a virtual dictatorship were secretly embedded in the formal structure of the Democratic State of Law.

In the case of licit weapons, in addition to the commonplace killing of blacks and the poor, there has been a resurgence, above all, but not only, of the protection of the Armed Forces, the violence of threats from the active and reserve military leadership over the constituted powers, as occurred in 2018 , on the eve of Lula's habeas corpus trial by the STF, which had been excluded from the election due to an annulled conviction in April of that year. Regarding illicit political violence, I have already mentioned militias, intimidation, the imposition of fear, a wealth of actions, some subtle and almost invisible, others with inevitable public visibility, such as the political assassination of Marielle and Anderson, which until now has not been properly clarified. .

This equation between far-right mass politics and illegitimate violence, among other ingredients such as anti-intellectualism, outlines neo-fascism, which has been deteriorating the rule of law and democracy as a social contract supported by the principle of political equality. . Although there is no fascist regime, the situation is so critical that the main modern theorist of absolutism comes to mind.

The connection between far-right mass politics and violence predisposed to illegitimacy gave birth, at once, to two antithetical monsters: the Leviathan and the state of nature. Reality questions Hobbes. The social pact that founded the Brazilian State since the 2016 coup, but which matured with Bolsonaro, generates the worst of all worlds. On the one hand, the Leviathan implicit in the current military government does not bring peace and does not reduce threats to life. Quite the opposite. The CPI of the Pandemic clarified how much life was despised. The dead exceed 616 thousand. It didn't have to be like this.

Renan Calheiros' final report suggested Bolsonaro's indictment on nine crimes, including the pandemic crime resulting in death, the crime of responsibility and crimes against humanity. This is very serious! Apart from the crimes of his military and civil ministers, his three sons with political positions, etc., totaling 66 people with requests for indictment. On the other hand, the state of nature continues, even fed by the sovereign, who instigates the war of all against all, for example, by defending armament as a means of overcoming violence, by arguing that a good bandit is a dead bandit, etc. We know that the pact devised by Hobbes is one of submission, but he admits a single exception of sudden disobedience, precisely when the sovereign does not protect his own life. Why obey a sovereign who, although he owes nothing to his subjects, does not even fulfill the basic role of protecting their lives?

Continuing with this metaphor of the contract, it is, first of all, an imitation of a pact, as it was undoubtedly not instituted between equals. If the 2016 presidential deposition was not enough to convince the reluctant, what about the 2018 elections after the STF decisions, in April and June of that year, which annulled the lawsuits against Lula and declared Moro suspect? Furthermore, the pact in question results in a State whose authority is strategically ambivalent, elusive, perverse, an authority simultaneously moved by dictatorial values ​​that are confessable and unconfessable.

In this respect, for Hobbesian absolutism, there is no problem, as the sovereign is not subject to anything. It turns out that the constitutional regime is democracy. Thus, with Bolsonaro, the Brazilian State virtually relies on non-legitimate ideological and armed forces, as they are not backed by democratic values. Let's remember what we know: Bolsonaristas openly asked to close Congress and the STF and the return of AI-5. The military tries to feed the institutional confusion when they evoke the controversial Art. 142 of the 1988 Constitution. The turmoil reached such a point that an injunction by Minister Luiz Fux, issued in 2020, had to confirm that there is no legal provision authorizing the intervention of the Armed Forces in any of the Three Powers.

The reactions of the STF and even of the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and of the Federal Senate to Bolsonaro's authoritarian threats, culminating in the reduction of the president's attacks on institutions after September 7, resulted in a partial retreat of the openly violent action front of the neo-fascist offensives. But the ideological war of manipulating the masses against cultural Marxism or Gramscism continues.

I return here to Le Bon. Several authors have already argued that Bolsonarism, similarly to Trumpism, gave rise to the narcissistic voice of the resentful, especially members of the conservative social strata of the middle classes, reverberating in the public space. Until then isolated and atomized, they formed themselves into masses in the class struggles of recent years and projected their clamor for recognition on the leader of neo-fascist inclination. Bolsonaro's popularity has fallen, which also seems to have an impact on the so-called root Bolsonarism, which, according to Reginaldo Prandi, grouped, in July 2020, 15% of voters, and 12% in last August.

But we know that it is important to take into account the embattled content of this mass, which provides authoritarian legitimacy for the barbarities of its charismatic leader. In this sense, mass politics is in place in Brazil today and there is nothing to indicate that it will not be expressed in the 2022 elections, on the contrary, because the president wants to be re-elected. The mass dispute is on. The main challenge is to frame Bolsonarist fanaticism in the democratic pact. The question is how to do this.

The polarization did not come from the left, it came from the rich and the middle classes who, since 2013 – passing through the 2014 elections, the events of 2015 and 2016, which resulted in the presidential overthrow, the 2018 elections and the demonstrations from 2019 to Last September 7 – they went after the PT and Lula. What will be the best way for the favorite candidate in the polls to face, in the 2022 elections, the Bolsonarism crisis, a crisis that takes away his popularity and fragments the rights, but that does not destroy the hard core of his extreme faction? A mass electoral campaign, which does not bet on the derogatory illusions that Le Bon attributes to the psyche of the crowd, but on hope, on dreams, on the will to overcome this dismal historical interregnum, in short, a campaign that mobilizes militancy and the electorate around Wouldn't a collective project of rebuilding democracy and the country be a hypothesis to be duly considered by a political leadership that perceives the masses as a factor of construction, and not of destruction? In 2002, hope overcame fear. Yes, it's not 2002.

*Marcus Ianoni is a professor at the Department of Political Science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

Originally published in the magazine Theory and debate.


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