Capitalism versus… what?

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By Maria Rita Kehl*

A critical commentary on Contardo Calligaris' column “Liberdade, Equality, Fraternity” published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo

I read, with the usual interest, the column by Contardo Calligaris in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo on the 5th of March. The topic is so important that I wanted to join the debate. In this case, to disagree with some points that support the arguments of the psychoanalyst colleague. Which is rare: I almost always agree with what he writes. I learn to think better by reading his columns, as Contardo preserves the Enlightenment, anti-dogmatic practice of exposing the path of his thought to the reader. We think “along with him”. In the case of the column “Liberty, equality, fraternity”, I thought and… I disagreed.

According to his argument, it is as if there were no alternative to capitalism as it is found today in almost all countries on the planet. And as if the “socialist” experiences of Cuba and the Soviet Union, not to mention North Korea, prove that it is not possible to think of alternatives to capitalism. Which, on the face of it, becomes more and more wild.

I begin to say that I disagree with the polarization proposed by the columnist. Equality (under socialism) vs freedom (under capitalism). If so, I would choose freedom with my eyes closed. Well, let's face it, it's easy for me: I'm at the privileged end of capitalism. Like him and other liberal professionals, I don't have a boss. No guaranteed salary, of course, but that's the price of my freedom. Like other self-employed professionals, in times of economic crisis we are forced to work much harder, as the people we serve rightly ask us to pay less.

Still, we are lucky. We don't have a boss. No one exploits our workforce, no one (except ourselves) imposes exhausting working hours on us, no one threatens us with dismissal when we try to resist wage losses – an increasingly real threat when faced with the queue of unemployed people knocking on the door of our employer. Those who, in desperation, would accept (and accept) to occupy our vacancy, in even worse conditions than those we would refuse the boss for finding abusive. It is in economic crises that the capitalist regime shows its potential for cruelty.

On the other hand, the Capitalism x Socialism polarization addressed in the column “Liberty, equality, fraternity” excluded the social democratic countries, where it is still possible to reconcile the reduction of inequality with the full right to individual freedoms.

Brazil, where we urban middle classes enjoy almost complete freedom of choice, has not yet completely eradicated slave labor. The labor rights of maids, established by law in 2013, were once contested by the writer Danuza Leão with the following argument: “… what if my old friends want to have tea at 11 pm? Wouldn't they have that right? I thought about answering that, yes, maybe before they started granting the servant the right to the eight-hour day, she would need to teach her bosses two or three classes on how to prepare tea...

I do not write these things to “teach” anything to my psychoanalyst and writer colleague. It is a question of taking the debate forward, in the good Enlightenment tradition in which I include, on my own, the free thinking of Contardo Calligaris.

Today, it is easy to criticize Cuban socialism, for example. Isolated, by the North American blockade, from the countries with which it could have commercial exchange, Cuba became a very poor country. But upon arriving at the Havana airport, the traveler is faced with a sign that says: “All over the world, today, millions of children sleep in the street

[Sorry, I don't remember the exact number]

. None of them are Cuban.” Well, propaganda each one does what he wants. But in this case, it's true. Just as there are no children out of school in Cuba.

In Brazil today, an increasing number of families live on the streets. Some have recently lost their homes: beside the bags and blankets, the pedestrian comes across mattresses still in good condition, a small stove, school books… heartbreaking. Brazil was never communist, nor do I hope it will be. The rallying cry of the angry middle class against the PT – “go to Cuba!” – is ignorance or bad faith.

Brazil, in the governments of the extremely moderate left of the PT cycle, was not, by far, “Cuban”. But it managed to promote some reduction in inequality. It managed to include young black people, descendants of slaves, in universities – with good performance, by the way. He managed to demarcate some indigenous lands, such as Raposa Serra do Sol, now threatened by the greed of agribusiness. He managed to bring quality medical care to the outskirts and isolated places where Brazilian doctors did not want to work. They were Cuban doctors. Excellent training, by the way. Sent back in 2019, of course.

And speaking of Cuba… once, on a program Roda Viva on TV Cultura, a journalist asked the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura if he was free to write whatever he wanted in his country. He replied, “Yes, I do. And this question, was it thought of by you or did your editor ask you to ask it?” The girl swallowed hard. She was a journalist for Estadão. The same newspaper that in 2010 canceled my column when I defended – what? Communism? No: Bolsa Família, a modest and efficient instrument for reducing poverty established by law approved by the National Congress in 2004.

*Maria Rita Kehl is a psychoanalyst, author, among other books, of the weather and the dog (Boitemo).

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