the lumpencracy

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By ALEXANDRE DE FREITAS BARBOSA*

How to understand the political regime we live in today and that “could never have happened”?

“Are we going to have a prolonged period of historical impasse […], and we are going to plunge definitively, I mean, into the next century, into lumpen-humanity?” (Celso Furtado in a letter to Álvaro Vieira Pinto on October 30, 1964. In: Celso Furtado: Intellectual Correspondence, 1949-2004).

“This is a country of beasts. Hay that shoot. It is indispensable. Just sowing terror will respect us. El hombre es así de cobarde” (Roberto Arlt, The mad seven).

How to understand what "could never have happened"? This reflection proposed by Hannah Arendt for another historical context seems to synthesize the dimension of the challenges imposed on the Brazilian intelligentsia and on the social and political forces that did not adhere to the captain and the trivialization of the stupidity that his government represents.

The philosopher discusses in her work the concept of “reconciliation” as the ability of the individual or society to “understand and accept what really happened”, even to ensure the continuity of existence and the overcoming of personal traumas and dilemmas faced collectively.

In the current context, it is the responsibility of intellectuals and civil society and political society movements committed to democracy to act on several fronts.

First, use all possible legal means to overthrow the current government. The troublemaker captain can no longer stay on the Planalto, so many were the crimes of responsibility he committed. It is a government that destroys public institutions, democratic coexistence and the basic statutes of citizenship, as enshrined in the 1988 Constitution.

But it is also necessary to act on a second front, as important as the first, and no less urgent. How to understand the political regime we live in today and that “could never have happened” – at least if we look at the succession of events that lend meaning to the New Republic (1985-2016)?

If we take a look at long-term Brazilian history, full of contradictory movements, it does not seem to endorse the shallow and hasty vision that intends to normalize the post-2016 period as a natural result of the “four centuries of slavery” or that “the elites in the Brazil are just that”.

The historic moment that opened with the 2016 coup and was consummated with the 2018 election needs to be assimilated in all its complexity. Their lack of understanding could jeopardize any and all civilizing prospects and the very idea of ​​a nation.

Ideas out of place

Some analysts have resorted, to describe the current situation, to concepts that remain in the appearance of facts. “Populism”, “fascism” and even “nationalism” appear on the betting exchanges, usually accompanied by prefixes and adjectives. Deprived of their historicity, they become watchwords that prevent us from entering the multifaceted reality.

“Populism” is the most commonplace. Everything turned to populism. Lula is “populist”, Bolsonaro is “populist” – this is the motto of the mainstream press. A concept that was already problematic in Brazil from 1945 to 1964, for assuming the people as a mass of maneuver, without self-interest or “class consciousness”, reappears to categorize a government that finds support in the classes of privilege to attack the rights of workers and social policies. Who cares about this “conceptual” scarecrow endorsed by elites and their colonized political scientists?

Fascism? The government has fascist practices and even a fascist pornochanchada aesthetic. The fascist motto “turn fear into hate” that affects significant fractions of the middle classes and popular segments is exploited to the fullest. However, they do not even have an expressive “base” party and organization beyond the virtual space. Their untimely actions, however harmful they may be, serve to feed again the cybernetic space where segments without organic insertion in society are “socialized”.

Now, their “enemies” continue to be represented in Congress, hold their demonstrations and remain active in universities and social movements. The STF that played alongside the general of the tweet the buff opera that arrested Lula went back and today appears as enemy number one of the rioters of the fake news. A good part of the government generals who wear or wore a uniform one day, today can barely fire a fuse.

It is true that outsourced militiamen and inflated PMs invade and kill innocent citizens in indigenous villages and urban peripheries. It is the historical form of advance of wild capitalism, now converted into lumpencapitalism, making use of even more violent methods. It's not fascism. It is the jagunço's alliance with segments of the capital. And regardless of the name, they need to be fought.

Who, after all, intends to organize the break "with everything that is there" and exterminate the enemy? Lula is free and is already flirting with important segments of society and politics that adhered to what “never could have happened”. Brazilian-style fascism is nothing more than a piece of rhetoric. Let the hallucinated recent converts to politics say it: after the picnic in São Paulo on the XNUMXth of September, they saw the captain two days later retire to the French for a convescote with the well-mannered coup leader.

The cage still needs to be ordered, which depends as always on an arrangement by the political elites who are waiting dangerously for the right moment. Meanwhile, economic power and the neoliberals, in their daily appearances in the mainstream press, suddenly realize that the country is witnessing the biggest robbery of the Treasury ever seen in history.

I prefer not to comment on the captain's "nationalism": his declaration of love to Donald Trump serves as empirical proof of how lunatic a statement of this carat is. Indeed, the captain does not exist without the Yankee billionaire. But there, fake nationalism managed to articulate part of the middle class and the poor whites impoverished, while here the extreme right flourishes through racist and classist discourse against those who have ascended socially. His minions flaunt our ills wrapped in the green and yellow flag.

A new political regime?

Instead of resorting to outdated terms, historical situations marked by “it could never have happened” call for the coining of new concepts. Even if they are provisional, they fulfill the role of provoking reflection on how the improbable has lodged among us, not least because, in this case, there is no historical necessity.

Therefore, I launch the hypothesis that we live in a lumpencracy. Not with the aim of appearing in political science manuals, but as an invitation to reflection through a stylized synthesis, literally making use of the reduction to absurdity.

Marx conceived the lumpenproletariat as “scum”, “refuge” or “residue” of the proletariat, for not having class consciousness. Resulting from the passive rotting of the layers of society in extinction, its members tended to behave in a reactionary way, preventing social advances.

I start from the assumption that capitalism assumes different forms in time and space, and that its “laws” cannot be deduced outside of history. In fact, if we make an effort to delve into the dependent capitalism that was made possible in Brazil during industrialization (1930 to 1980), we realize that it produced the most unequal society on the planet. Afterwards, it underwent adaptations in the face of changes in the national and world scenario in the post-1980s, including the rise in basic wages and social rights, more specifically in the Lula and Dilma governments. It would not then be the case to consider that, at the time of the consummation of the 2016 coup, the deformed social structure of this capitalism sui generis gave birth to a monster?

I say this because everything indicates that an ascending lumpenproletariat moved by an individualistic self-conception of its insertion in the labor market (which includes the various self-employed service providers), associated itself with a lumpenbourgeoisie of entrepreneurs in the retail trade, car rental companies and in commodities agricultural; to a lumpen-middle class of diplomas manufactured by private universities; and a lumpenbureaucracy of prosecutors and judges frustrated and resentful despite high salaries, not to mention the other castes born from within the State, who live off small businesses while denouncing the “corruption of petê”.

These class fractions and status groups were symbolically strengthened and united in defense of a country petrified in privileges, counting on the unbelievable consummation with the support of lumpensoldiers, captains, militiamen and PMs, to lead the generals in pajamas to the cliff.

FIESP took on the worldview of the lumpembourgeoisie, and many workers gave up class consciousness to act as a mass drugged by entrepreneurship. Judges and prosecutors became believers in God and justices, taking the place of magistrates who are governed by the laws. Representatives of the middle classes were not shy about occupying ministries by falsifying diplomas, flaunting their lack of “culture” and “technical” knowledge. The Minister of Economy himself is nothing more than a lumpen banker. And the Centrão that runs the country today, what is it if not lumpenpolitics?

The mostrengo escapes the Marxist costume, as lumpencracy brings together the supposedly residual class segments, which in this dependent capitalist society have always been overrepresented. The incompleteness of the typical forms of class socialization opens up a vacuum to be occupied in the form of privilege, placing the burden on those located at the bottom rungs of the social pyramid. In meritocratic savage capitalism, there is always someone below to be trampled on.

But can “residual” groups take precedence over the interests of their respective class fractions and status groups? For how long?

These questions allow us to point out the limits of lumpencracy. The more symbolic than real association between the various lumpens does not generate awareness. Nor is it a question of false consciousness, as it does not even contain ideology. The stupidity displayed by its representatives comes from the subconscious that makes them burp the viscera of our national malformation.

Common sense, made up of the idiosyncrasies of these class or caste outcasts about an idealized past, is what binds. Its language is a quilt made of traumas and prejudices, sewn to the image and likeness of our deformed social fabric erected on the altar of inequality. In a word, the “modern” every man for himself is combined with the narrowest privilege, resulting in an authoritarian style of clothing. But imposture prevails over real power.

Lumpens of all classes and castes, unite! – this is the content behind the speech full of profanities practiced since the inauguration until the seventh of last September. Instead of revolution, herd behavior. Instead of conscience, the exaltation of stupidity. There is no history, process, collectivity, just the eternal now in search of sacrificial redemption, carried out by individuals smearing themselves in fame and power never desired. Why, no one ever dared to promise them anything. Now they don't know what to do.

The Genesis of the Monster

It is important to understand how these fractions of classes and status groups, which always had a shadowy place in Brazilian society, had their lumpen-reactionary interests soldered into the political sphere. How did this happen?

Let's go back in time a little. During the PSDB and PT governments, the country experiences a duality of power, as different political coalitions were structured around programmatic, ideological and physiological lines, which had a connection, even if not automatic or full, with certain class interests. Aécio Neves implodes the duality of power by not recognizing the result of the 2014 elections. In 2016, one of the poles of the duality of political life is kidnapped. In 2018, the assault on power is consummated. There is no polarization. We have moved from dual power to an imploded political system.

This is the password for the invasion of the ship by all sorts of adventurers on duty, who today flood Congress and other spheres of political and social life, after having displayed the apolitical standard, only possible in the middle of a shipwreck.

It lasted too long and the nightmare is not over yet, but the regime is in its death throes. This is because if social media multiply all reactionary traits in real time, the lumpens do not recognize each other outside of the discursive orgy. And there's more. If before their puppet representatives were seen as “mocky” or just “exaggerated”, now conservatives are afraid. The democratic rule of law is in danger, prophesy the editorials of the great press and the luminaries of the STF.

The bourgeoisie returns to the stage, a little out of shape, it is true, unused to living in the shadows. FIESP, FEBRABAN and agribusiness are not even able to write a manifesto prior to doomsday. Many lumpenproletarians and lumpen-microentrepreneurs are retreating with the increase in fuel, electricity and debt. The rifle is rusty and the table is missing beans. The lumpen bureaucracy has lost the lavajatista discourse and the lumpen middle class misses traveling abroad. As the country burns, the captain defends his family.

Art explains the monster

Two works of art condense the drama experienced by the nation in ruins. these people, by Chico Buarque, subtly follows the precarious socialization of lumpens from the high and low lumpens, who live far apart in their parallel lives. At the center of the plot, the two normal characters are a frustrated writer and his ex-wife, a dilettante translator.

Bacurau, by Kleber Mendonça Filho, is the story of a city without a signal and therefore off the map, in the form of an allegory. But the medicines out of date, the school shattered by rifles and the books thrown by the garbage truck make explicit the reality that surrounds the spectator. The foreign tourists – accompanied by their armed national bikers and not for nothing sacrificed – play at killing in their safari of human animals. There are coffins everywhere.

Before the end

The days of lumprencracy are numbered, but its end will not happen overnight. Peace was made between the "powers", but the armistice was not sealed. As the war continues, the temperature will rise again. The captain (dis)governs by kicking inside and outside his playpen. He will not be tamed and his urgent withdrawal from the stage must still cause much damage. The political system will be slowly recomposed, depending on new accommodations and the 2022 elections, which may witness the emergence of new electoral jabuticabas. All with the attentive supervision of the economic power and the “institutions” in tatters commanded by the agreements established between the oligarchs of the three powers.

It is up to the left to act quickly and with a sense of responsibility. There is no necessary exclusion between the “front” to safeguard democracy and the mobilization of social and workers movements and other segments of society in search of national refoundation. If the latter does not advance without the former, it is up to it to define its limits. In summary, there is no nation project with the captain in power. But its necessary purge does not prevent the system from readjusting itself to maintain the agenda that unified the ruling classes and a good part of the elites around the 2016 coup.

Finally, let us remember that in order to get back on top, as the poet Paulo Vanzolini used to say, it is first necessary to (re)acknowledge the fall, understanding what “never could have happened”, without naivety, ready-made phrases and false promises of a campaign yet to come. distant. The exercise of reconciliation with our history requires in-depth knowledge of the society that gave birth to the monster.

*Alexandre de Freitas Barbosa is professor of economics at the Institute of Brazilian Studies at the University of São Paulo (IEB-USP). Author, among other books, of Developmental Brazil and the trajectory of Rômulo Almeida: project, interpretation and utopia (Avenue).

 

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