The sluggishness of history

Image: Thelma Lessa da Fonseca


Capitalism has no salvation. But how to escape it?

Allow me to start this short article with a case in point. The Argentine government recently froze prices for telecommunications services(1). The opposition roared, almost calling President Alberto Fernández a communist, despite the fact that private companies in this sector immorally raised prices for their services in times of a pandemic. The even simple question is: are there any new facts in this situation? The equally simple answer is no. But, behind this apparently banal example, lies the core of our central question, that is, why capitalism succeeds itself in a whirlwind of crises and counter-crises for more than two centuries, without us having been able to escape from it?

Indeed, we know the great liberal-media apparatus since before the philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), with the Spanish Jesuit priests Juan de Mariana (1536-1624) and Francisco Suárez (1548-1617). The seed of economic tyranny over political power, under pre-capitalist forms of governments still in force, is perceptible in the light of history by the narratives left along the path of growing empowerment of money (capital).

From this perspective, the tussle between the Fernández government and private telecommunications capital is not unlike many others in the long history of confrontations between the “hidden” forces of the market and the desperate struggle of less fortunate populations to escape complete abandonment. Obviously, some were more successful than others. However, all of them, at some historical moment, were hopeless. The incredible thing about all this is that capitalism not only has not been demythologized as a god ex machina, as it has evolved into the current neoliberal phase. In other words, in the current historical “field” of modernity, its two poles (economic and political) are not separated but, on the contrary, are intertwined, with the aggravating factor of economic supremacy over politics.

How did we get there? Marx's phrase about history can be stupidly slow is well known. But even in her time, history has sometimes swayed for the great mass of people without a solution. Even though we can identify perverse motivations in groups disinterested in putting an end to socio-economic inequalities along the capitalist trajectory, much could have been different in the emancipatory movements. It will be?

Honestly, I don't think so. And my denial is based on just one word: “democracy”. Perhaps, to the surprise of many, this form of government that Plato considered the best among the worst possible forms of government – ​​or, if you prefer, the worst among the best forms of government – ​​was the fundamental foundation for unlocking the political imbroglio in which the market messed with its commodity-producing system. Let me explain further: without a political system that promoted the false appearance of popular participation in the designs of the nation-state, economic and social barbarism could not have been legitimized by private capital.

Thus, ARCADY (2020) is correct when he writes that: “Democracy is not a political regime of struggle between equals: the propertied classes struggle to exercise and preserve dominion and control over material life and, also, over human life. cultural and political workers, in conditions of superiority that are incomparable” (2). majority of the population.

Now, if such an assertion is correct, then our title assertion is also correct, that is, capitalism has no salvation. For the political regime of planetary dreams, democracy, which supports the disintegration of social ties in favor of the subject atomized into a mere consumer, should have already been overcome. It remains to try to find out if there are alternatives and, if so, what they are. So how do you escape capitalism and its efficient insurer, democracy? Is it possible to think of any democratic alternative without capitalism?

Indeed, the challenge to democracy as a form of government that saves the world is not new. Just to mention recent examples, we can mention two giants: the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawn and our no less brilliant Sérgio Buarque de Holanda. The first, at the beginning of this century, already anticipated the failure of democracy at the global level(3); the second, thinking about the national reality, in an interview granted in the already distant 1970s, stated that he always understood democracy to be difficult in the homeland, not to say non-existent (4).

Let's bring a brief summary of the ideas of these men, who fled the "status quo" of dominant capitalist thought, to understand how difficult it is to answer the question about a democratic alternative without capitalism, or even about a more radical alternative of "decapitalism". For, without this radical, profound and emancipatory critique of a new future, without the Gemini interweaving of economics and politics, both the first alternative and the second are doomed to failure.

Thus, Hobsbawn writes as if he were speaking in a classroom. He points out negative arguments about liberal democracy and points out, ironically, that, despite everything, “the 'people' is the basis and common reference point of all national governments, except for theocratic ones”. He emphasizes, emphatically, the ultra “laissez-faire” status of the State, with market sovereignty being an alternative to liberal democracy. The economy swallows politics and the consumer emerges in place of the citizen. Despite the media having a key role in this new modernity of the vote without value, or, if you prefer, of the vote without decision-making power, Hobsbawn reaffirms that the “utopia of a global market and without State, based on 'laissez-faire' , will not materialize”. Unfortunately for us, he did not have time to advance a theory consistent with what he outlined in the text, still not sure, about a kind of “mediacracy”. Possibly, in the same way that Marx did not leave us an authorial theory about the concept of the State. Either way, this unique historian warns that time is against us; the planet is depleted by the inhuman action of the human being hypnotized by technological benefits; and the solution, or mitigation, of these problems is no longer in the hands of voters, that is, of liberal democracy.

Returning our thoughts to Brazilian democracy after this brief “lesson” by Hobsbawn can be a “Herculean” task, but it is important for us to understand that, if on the global level liberal democracy languishes, on the micro level, that is, in a peripheral country like ours, as well as in so many others, this is not even possible. In other words, if liberal democracy was offered to the post-war Western globalized world like the Penepolis of Ulysses, in the third world liberal democracy was imposed on recalcitrant countries like the myth of Sisyphus.

From this perspective, for Buarque de Holanda, as he wrote in Raízes do Brasil, at the end of the 1920s, there would never have been democracy in Brazil that “disturbed the entire social and political structure in force”. We may add that neither up to that date nor to this day. It is very well stated in your interview that the country's history is the history of our elites, in different times and forms. One of the main allegories of our mythology is the “cordial man”, even if not materialized in a character, like Macunaíma, the Brazilian hero without character by Mário de Andrade.

Indeed, the Brazilian cordiality of Buarque de Holanda is explicit in the bloodless war of independence, as well as in the military coups and in the collusion between the families of powerful colonels in political disputes. No insurrections, revolutions, civil wars. Except for one or another episode of localized popular revolt, some more successful than others, the truth is that Brazil has lived, for 500 years, with people outside the history of the country. Needless to say, for Buarque de Holanda, what was called democracy was born here as a mere misunderstanding. For here liberalism (now neoliberalism) has always existed without the need for democracy. The democratic facade, for a country always “developing” like ours, only served as a disguise for authoritarianism or totalitarianism, at the whim of the historical wind.

However, two things remain to be added: the first is that the myth accompanies the story, but it does not always happen according to the myth; the second is that history may not follow the myth, but he, dialectically, is always influencing it. Thus, Ulysses, dressed as a beggar, may very well represent the people who rebelled against the elites who historically remain in search of the “holy grail” of eternal happiness, even if they do not know exactly what that means. As you don't know, here and in the world they perpetuate themselves in power, at the annual cost of millions of lives taken by the idol of money. $84 trillion dollars in real money versus $700 trillion dollars in play money pretty much sums it up. Unfortunately, contrary to this Greek myth, the Penelope of alterity between people and peoples is still waiting for Ulysses. As for Brazil, poor Sisyphus is still rolling the stone up the mountain every day, but this stone, full of hunger, violence, corruption and despair, is still very heavy and rolls down the slope every time Minerva's owl takes off.

So, returning to the core of our questioning, and in view of what has already been exposed, we repeat the questions: how to escape capitalism and its efficient insurer, democracy? Is it possible to think of an alternative to capitalist democracy?

I insist that yes, but I fear not in the short term. Let's see. If it is true that capitalism, or the commodity producing system, is a historical economic system, then we can say that it is subject to transformation. Furthermore, if the 10.000-year average defined by historians for the beginning of the first agricultural settlements is correct, the current capitalist system does not correspond to 5% of these years. Finally, if we only take the Enlightenment period here, we will see that the ideology of capital did not cover the entire planet, far from it, being most of the time restricted to the European continent and, later, to the North of the Americas. If all this is true, then it is possible to escape from mercantile logic without substance. As? Well, precisely by destroying its greatest myth today: “capitalocracy”.

It is true that most readers may not think this way. After all, destroying “capitalocracy” means doing away with the two main fetishes that Bauman's liquid society has today, namely, consumption and voting. But, for those unwary, I say that we lost the reins of the game a long time ago. We are the 99% (5) of insolvent subjects that the capitalist system tries to expel. It is necessary to abandon this game that has only one winning side, that is, the side of capital, to find an alternative to the binomial capital-democracy. It is interesting to note that the greatest material invention of this duo in the last century was, not by chance, a binary data processing system: the computer.

In this sense, in my opinion, at this moment we only have three alternatives in the face of the totalitarian democracy that devours its children (KURZ, 2020), one of which is its continuity, with consequences that are less and less possible to imagine. I step aside from the current ultraliberal thinking, that this form of government will one day be the core of the transmutation of human beings into gods, even demiurges, despite the already publicized torrid attempts, such as Facebook's experiments to develop the "Iphone" brain (6). As for the other two alternatives that we can suggest, in this theoretical effort “beforehand”, the first is the much-acclaimed universal basic income, which is gaining more followers every day around the world, regardless of ideologies, and the second, more radical, is what I call the “theory of small communities”, as a way of supplanting the current managerial state model of capitalism.

Regarding universal basic income, I confess that this idea is quite attractive at first sight. In fact, if we divide the approximate number of the World GDP (US$ 84 trillion) by the also approximate number of 7,2 billion human beings on the planet, we arrive at the per capita value of US$ 11.667,00. This amount is much higher than proposals already suggested around the world, which reached, at most, one fifth of the current per capita income (7) above, this in more developed countries (8). is being conceived, we will not be changing the current model of government, but perpetuating barbarism on a colossal scale. For to the extent that capitalism does not hold back the storm that comes from paradise, what it offers is progress heaped with ruins (9).

About what I call the “theory of small communities”, it is not even being conceived, discussed, envisioned as an alternative. Why? Because at the heart of this proposal is to supplant the State as we know it today, be it neoliberal, social-liberal or state capitalist. Globalization will not elevate the “stupid bipedal leprechaun” (LUXEMBOURG, 1902) to the fetishist paradise of a pleasant earthly life, eternally supported by inexhaustible science and technology. Even hallucinatory drugs are at their limit, given our insatiable thirst for more alienation and ego satisfaction. On the contrary, it is likely that only the reverse of what has already been said can indicate a way out of the precipice of the human journey, namely, re-learning from the remaining peoples who live harmoniously with planet earth. This is an idea that I think is promising. It has to be crafted with care.

Finally, in the short term, we are left with certainty and benevolent skepticism. The certainty is that we are afraid of the unexpected, the intangible, the unknown. The collective unconscious described by Jung is a set of feelings, thoughts and memories shared by all humanity. We have already lost the images of the distant past, the so-called archetypes, of our ancestors, who lived without an abstract entity monopolizing the current necropolitics. It is true that some thinkers are trying to rescue it, like Serge Latouche in his “Theory of Degrowth”. But, as he said, we haven't even discussed it yet. Perhaps one day we will be able to make the commodity production system dwindle.

The benevolent skepticism is that we need to move forward on conversations about universal basic income. It would already be an enormous gain for the people of the abyss, as Jack London called the majority of the population bestialized by inhuman work (10). In that same book, Ernest Everhard, the main character, possibly paraphrasing Marx, says to his wife Avis, already predicting the defeat of the first revolt of the proletariat: "Social evolution is slow, exasperatingly slow, isn't it dear?" (11). There will be a moment when the storm that blows from paradise, in the name of progress, will stop piling up ruins. Whether this will be good news remains to be seen.

* André Márcio Soares is a doctoral candidate in Social Policies and Citizenship at UCSAL.



1 -;




5- This term is supposed to have been the work of the recently deceased anthropologist David Graeber, author of the book Debt: the first 5.000 years. São Paulo. Publisher TRÊS STARS. 2016. However, AnselmJappe harshly criticizes this nomenclature (see JAPPE, Anselm. Did obedience die?. In: Margem Esquerda, Revista da Boitempo, 34, São Paulo, 1st. Semestre/2020);

6 -;

7 -;

8- As a local example, here in Brazil, the pandemic forced the government to offer the poorest a crumb of R$ 600,00 for a portion of the population that managed to access the benefit, which saved many lives. However, despite the initiative proving to be attractive, it is necessary to take into account the trap negotiated with the elites.

9 – LOWY, Michael. Walter Benjamin: fire warning. São Paulo. Boitempo. 2005, p. 87;

10 – LONDON, Jack. THE IRON HEEL. São Paulo. Boitempo, 2011;

11 – ditto, p. 172;

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