Is political clientelism corruption?

Image: Elyeser Szturm

Foreign capital is more interested in criminalizing the use of resource bargaining, in its defense of the neoliberal program and the monetarist policy of containing state spending.

By Francisco Pereira de Farias*

Political clientelism – present in the horizontal (Executive and Legislative) and vertical (central government and regional government) relationships of the contemporary (bourgeois) State apparatus, as well as in electoral campaigns and in the management of government policies – appears as the bargaining of resources, positions and social facilities for political support. Its understanding is inserted, therefore, in the analysis of the “support policy”, in the expression of Nicos Poulantzas [1].

The support policy, that is, the implementation of government measures to satisfy the needs of the salaried class, arises as a need to contain the appetite of the capitalist class to plunder the workforce, guaranteeing its simple or normal reproduction at the level of civilization reached. Through support, the bonds of political subordination are reinforced, ultimately benefiting the values ​​of the ruling class, as it presupposes the relationship with the discourse of the representation of the people-nation, that is, it presents itself as a modality to implement the “national-popular will”.

Differently, the policy of class alliance, that is, the implementation of social policies that promote the expanded reproduction of the workforce, is born out of the interest of subordinate fractions of the dominant class in conquering political hegemony. In Europe, after World War II, the internal bourgeoisies (represented by liberal parties and employers' associations) established alliances with the working classes (under the leadership of social democratic or socialist parties and trade union forces), with a view to overcoming the power of American interests. in their countries. This, in part, resulted in the so-called welfare state.

If, in general terms, clientelism serves the values ​​of the dominant class, in specific contexts it can play a role that is sometimes conservative, sometimes progressive – depending on the correlation of forces in the game of interests of the dominant fractions. As Poulantzas pointed out, monopoly capital is divided into foreign capital and domestic bourgeoisie, and there is a dispute between these fractions within it.

Now, after the 1970 crisis, the sector interested in criminalizing the use of political clientelism will be foreign capital, due to its connection with the entirety of the neoliberal program, especially the monetarist policy of containing State expenditures. For the representatives of this capital, clientelistic practices are a waste of government spending, which should be guided not by sectoral or regional demands, but by the general interest of the nation (read: interests of foreign capital).

In several capitalist democracies, clientelist practices are considered illegal (an exception is the USA, where there is regulation of so-called lobbies). One of the reasons for this legal interdiction would be the search of the great international capital to restrict the power of the internal bourgeoisie, tending to make use of clientelism as a resource of its political cohesion. In other words, the international monopoly capital's policy of containing State spending and maneuvering them in its favor seeks to impose control over clientelism, making use of judicialization practices.

The internal bourgeoisie, conquering hegemony in the national State, can make progressive use of clientelism, because, although this class fraction comes to have preponderance in national politics, it plays a partly subordinate role in the field of international politics, that is, of the interests of central imperialist capital. The internal bourgeoisie becomes both a hegemonic fraction (on the national level) and a semi-subordinated fraction (on the international level). In Brazil in the 2000s, the use of bargains by the domestic bourgeoisie with the State to conquer markets abroad or maintain control of national oil production provoked reactions from international capital to try to destabilize the left or center-left government.

From the point of view of the relationship with its specific social base, a leftist party is not consistent when it makes concessions to political clientelism. Because it is in the interests of the left forces to restrict clientelism among wage earners, since it becomes an obstacle to the generalization of class interests. But, as a participant in a class alliance that ascends to the government of the bourgeois state, some kind of “top” clientelism becomes almost inevitable. Intergovernmental pressures can lead the party to resort to selective practices, in view of the stability of the governing coalition.

The approach to the issue of political clientelism in left-wing currents, centered on the polarity of public/private ideology, generates ineffective political proposals. From a practical point of view, it ends up accepting proposals for the judicialization of party bargaining in political life. It does not question when the legislation puts private corruption and the LOBBY political.

The institutionalized rule of modern bureaucracy, however, requires that the official not confuse his livelihood with the administrative means of the State. It does not follow from this that a state agent, acting in view of partisan objectives, will be “privatizing” the state. Although in practice the dividing line between the “private” and the “public” will oscillate, due to the outbreaks of individualism and careerism in party-political life, in principle, the action, for example, of a politician to allocate state resources to a group or community in exchange for party-political support is not to be confused with the diversion of resources to their private-family life.

The question then arises: should a progressive policy position itself in favor of the proposal to decriminalize political clientelism? We can make an analogy with the problem of drug consumption. The criminalization of drugs ends up favoring the economic interests of the group of traffickers, under the guise of preserving the moral values ​​of society. Satisfying the aspirations of individuals and communities is a more efficient way to control the use of narcotics.

Likewise, the criminalization of political clientelism ends up favoring the interests of the hegemonic fractions of world capitalism (international monopoly capital, American bourgeoisie, etc.), under the guise of defending the values ​​and general interests of nations. Participation and organization would be the most effective means of combating patronage among subordinate classes.

It could not be said that with this proposition today the left would be legislating for its own sake. What seems strange is that the national political agenda is guided almost exclusively by the right-wing coalition. The resumption of political reform would become an agenda for the struggle of the left-wing opposition, with the regulation of the LOBBY political. This would imply the annulment of judicial processes that restrict the presence of leftist leaders in the political scene.

In any case, faced with the onslaught of international and imperialist capital, under the coordination of its representative agencies (World Bank, UN, IMF, WTO, OECD) or the US Government – ​​replacing the battle horse of “human rights” with civilizing crusade to combat “political corruption” – it is up to the left-wing groups to take a clear position: political clientelism is not corruption.

*Francisco Pereira de Farias He is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Piauí.


[1] Thanks to Danilo Enrico Martuscelli for his comments on a first version of this text, published in Brazil Debate, 07/04/2016.

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