The 21st Century Saga

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Luiz Carlos de Freitas*

We have to face the fact of burnout of capitalism, of the current predatory way of life, if we want a more democratic and egalitarian social order

The saga of the 19th and 20th centuries was to build a series of safety valves that would allow capitalism to push forward the structural contradictions that – as several authors have already indicated (Immanuel Wallerstein, David Harvey, István Mészáros and others) – are part of its formation Social.

At the end of the 20th century, these valves were already incapable of continuing to manage the effects of these contradictions and they were even worse under neoliberal hegemony. In 2008, we experienced the great crisis of the century with the collapse of the virtual economy. In 2020 we are experiencing the real economy crash. Together they show that without the State, capitalism itself falters, whether in terms of the virtual economy or the real one.

Nor should we expect that, after the storm has passed, neoliberals and “libertarians” will review their positions. When the worst is over, they will insist that such state involvement must only be temporary and will argue for a return to the theses of austerity and the minimal state until the next explosion of the latent crisis, continuing the laborious task of making workers pay for the crises in one way or another. other.

Capitalism struggles in an attempt to find a way out for itself that does not exist. The unfolding of this set of contradictions will lead us – with or without a “social revolution” – to another way of life, which may be better or worse than the current one (Wallerstein). We are in danger of the system imploding under the weight of its own contradictions, and we cannot afford to wait.

In the meantime, reactionary radicalism tends to gain strength as a way to find a solution based on throwing those abandoned by the State, the victims of the system itself, into the sea. The mechanism to justify the process is, as already seen in several countries, personal accountability that relieves the State of responsibility and dampens the collective shame.

One of the misconceptions of the spectrum of right-wing forces is to think that if the “leftists” are eliminated, the future of capitalism is assured. The “leftists” are just a reflection of the contradictions. Another frequent misconception, this time in some groups on the left, is to think that the future is guaranteed by the development of the productive forces that will gradually replace the current model.

The structural crisis advances regardless of what we think. It is important to pay attention to this because it increases our responsibility for what social order should emerge in post-capitalism. Left to chance by right-wing forces, it could be worse than the current one. The right is building the bases of its alternative now, under the baton of the most radical liberal forces: neoliberalism and libertarianism.

In other words, the exhaustion and replacement of capitalism is a fact that we will have to face if we want a more democratic and egalitarian social order. We have to guarantee its construction through the organization of a great social movement on a world scale that fights for it (Wallerstein). We have to be aware that the capitalist system is experiencing its operational limits (Robert Kurz, François Chesnais, Immanuel Wallerstein). In many respects (especially with regard to the environment) this limit has already been reached. And in the course of this process, we can walk both towards barbarism and towards a higher order civilization. This is the saga of the 21st century. This is the basic message of the virus: the current predatory way of life is exhausted.

During the last 40 years, neoliberalism and libertarianism have aimed to destroy the public spaces that could be mobilized in favor of building a new way of life and have deepened the living conditions of a socio-political culture focused on meritocracy and personal accountability. A save yourself who can that makes the elites comfortable to take care of their interests in the midst of crises. Nothing new, therefore, in the attitudes of the current government, which advocates for the continuity of economic activities in the midst of a pandemic.

This is yet another glaring example that should serve to make us anticipate our mobilization for a new way of life, instead of being driven to it by pain, in the face of the inexorable exhaustion of this historical system. Unfortunately, in this moment of a pandemic, it will be because of pain.

The virus that hits us was not unpredictable. It was neglected because the health exploitation model is mercantile and based on the sale of medicines and not on prevention. In 2015, Bill Gates predicted the possibility of this virus based on a comparison with the Ebola virus, which just did not reach all of humanity because it had characteristics that hindered and delayed its speed of diffusion, allowing science to act in time. As we are seeing, although science can come to our aid, the question is: how quickly and how long will it be able to overcome the systemic imbalance.

Today it is a virus, tomorrow other faces of the global imbalance will appear. Monbiot explains in an article in the Guardian that, in addition to today's pandemic, other disasters are in development: food and antibiotics, are an example. He says: “In his next book, Our Final Notice, Mark Lynas explains what is likely to happen to our food supply with each extra degree of global warming. He thinks extreme danger kicks in somewhere between 3C and 4C above pre-industrial levels. At that point, a series of interlinked impacts threaten to send food production into a death spiral.”

He continues: “In places where large numbers of farm animals are packed together, antibiotics are used prophylactically to prevent inevitable disease outbreaks. In some parts of the world, they are used not only to prevent disease, but also to accelerate growth. Low doses are routinely added to feed: a strategy that could hardly be better designed to develop bacterial resistance.”

As the author says: “money has become more important than life”.

To this list, we can add the indiscriminate release, by the hundreds, of pesticides that are contaminating the land and people, causing diseases and the destruction promoted by the productive processes assumed by agribusiness.

The MST, which has the pulse of what is happening in the countryside, has systematically denounced this and, more than that, has sought to concretely build an alternative socio-political process of life. It is not necessary for us to invent “communal” utopias to know which direction to go, we just need to look at the social movements and their collective and solidary practices, where another pattern of humanity is in the making. What the virus message is telling us is that our way of life is outdated. Persisting in it will only bring more pain for most.

The “business” people are on the streets in comfortable and safe motorcades against social isolation in the midst of the pandemic and the president walks through the streets of Brasilia threatening to decree a return to work. People who value life, defend from balconies and windows, as best they can, solidarity and the collective.

This pandemic is just one of the major events that young people will witness in this century in the long trajectory of overcoming the capitalist way of life – this will happen either through proactive mobilization, or in its omission, through pain – but it will be inevitable. And it is salutary to observe that at this moment the pandemic manages to bring out on a global scale a feeling of solidarity and collective care, a gregarious feeling that goes beyond individualistic groups and “businessmen”.

This shows that there is a base that can be mobilized in the direction of influencing the long and dramatic processes that could lead us, still in this century, to a new, more democratic and egalitarian social order. There is hope. But, will we hear the message of the virus?

* Luiz Carlos de Freitas is a retired professor at the Faculty of Education at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp).

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