Coalition against inequalities

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By MARCUS IANONI*

Changing the most ingrained structures in the history of Brazil, inequality, in its various faces

After the setback and obscurantism of the period between 2016 and 2022, the inauguration of the new government, elected through the configuration of a broad front, with President Lula at the head, unveiled the national hope of rescuing the democratic path – interrupted since the deposition of President Dilma Rousseff – and moving towards sustainable development. The current federal management proposes to unite and rebuild Brazil.

The first actions already signal a new era, such as in the areas of the environment and human rights, with the decree aimed at combating illegal mining in indigenous lands, which also determines support from various ministries to the Indians; in Science and Technology, with the readjustment in the value of master's and doctoral scholarships; in the fight against hunger, with the benefit of R$ 600 to Bolsa Família; pressure from the Planalto Palace against the ultraconservative monetary policy of the autonomous Central Bank, chaired by a Bolsonarist; the resumption of the minimum wage appreciation policy, which will now be R$ 1.320; income tax exemption for the R$2.640 bracket, among several other progressive initiatives and measures.

A key action, due to its form and content, was the refounding of the Council for Sustainable Economic and Social Development (CDESS), an advisory body to the President of the Republic, whose coordination and secretariat is in charge of the Secretariat for Institutional Relations (SRI). This council already had a relatively successful institutional experience in Lula's previous terms, having been revoked in 2019 by the neo-fascist government.

By valuing dialogue, the government is putting into practice an institutional arrangement to promote interlocution with different actors, from the political-institutional and socio-political spheres. For dialogue with national political-institutional actors (there are also international ones, such as other States, multilateral agencies, etc.), the Political Coalition Council and the Federation Council were created. The first of them brings together Lula, the ministers and the leaders and presidents of the 16 parties of the allied base, aiming, above all, at dialogue with the two houses of the National Congress on legislative measures of government interest.

As for the Federation Council, in the words of Minister Alexandre Padilha (SRI), it aims to be “a permanent table of deliberations, with the representation of members of the Federal Government (president, vice-president and ministers), of the state governments, in addition to representatives of the national entities of municipalities”. In this sense, the instrument of Public Consortia stands out, an important institutional tool to put into practice the perspective of federative cooperation present in the 1988 Constitution.

With regard to socio-political dialogue, the Sustainable Social Economic Development Council has a key role, due to its ability to articulate the political-institutional sphere and civil society organizations and personalities, which, formally or informally, represent, in the broad sense of the term, term, fronts of interest and action on various important topics of public debate. The challenge is to constitute syntheses, thematic intersection points and/or areas of public policies and rights that advance towards the greater objective, sustainable economic and social development.

Inequalities are an Achilles heel in Brazil, highlighting its socioeconomic, racial, gender and regional aspects, which are not structured and operate in parallel, as they overlap and combine to generate vicious circles. I take them here as a given of reality. The main point of interest of this article is that the Council for Sustainable Economic and Social Development is willing to build a collective action aimed at overcoming inequality in Brazil. This provision refers to the problem of coalitions, alliances, pacts, fronts, blocs, in short. I will make a brief conceptual digression.

What is at stake is the transforming action of the State in Brazil. I highlight three key dimensions of the concept of the State: (a) Leviathan is a decision-makers, highlighting, obviously, decisions on the economy (production, employment, income, taxes, etc.); (b) regime concerns the institutions that regulate the formation and change of government, the right of opposition, the freedoms and prerogatives of citizens; (c) moreover, it is a political association intertwined with class domination, therefore, it leverages objective and volitional coalition mechanisms, crossed by opposition and struggles, even in authoritarian regimes, given the existence of different social classes and fractions of these classes (or interest groups, for those who prefer).

These three elements are synthesized, combined, composing, so to speak, a set of intersections, an “equation of the State”, a dynamic totality, whose intelligibility, at each relevant period and critical juncture, depends on the identification and analysis of the mentioned components. The regime can change qualitatively or quantitatively. In the passage from a dictatorship to a democracy, for example, there is a change in quality. And the quantitative components of the regime can vary, with increasing or decreasing levels of democratization or autocratization. In the struggles around the State, there may also be changes in the political system, but not exactly in the regime, as occurred in the USA, at the end of the XNUMXth century, in the context of the Long Depression, in the realignment election that led to the hegemony of the Republican Party, only undone in the Great Depression.

As a rule, these qualitative and quantitative movements occur together with changes in the State's decision-making content and in the support coalitions. The national setback, mentioned at the beginning of this article, involved de-democratization, ultraliberalism and a political-party and sociopolitical coalition dynamics that, at first, led the balance of forces to the right and then to the extreme right, given the crisis of the parties, especially the (P)MDB and PSDB, and the chance that the PT will win the fifth consecutive election in 2018, in a context of distributive conflict, growth crisis and scandalous politicization of corruption. Politics involves cooperation, competition and conflict and its connection with the economy and classes is structural, without prejudice to the relative autonomy of the State and the political object itself.

In objective terms, the State has been immersed in capitalism, more precisely, in recent decades, in its neoliberal modality, pregnant with contradictions and crises, especially since 2007-2008. But the interests of market agents do not operate by mere mechanics, as structures without agency. Nor does voluntarism prevail. Structure and action coexist and combine.

My main point here is coalitions, alliances. “The essence of all politics […] is struggle, the conquest of allies and a voluntary following”, argues Max Weber. A party is already a coalition, within which there can also be competition and conflict. But history clearly shows that the political undertaking often mobilizes alliances between different parties or groups, as happened, for example, in the 2022 presidential election, when several party legends supported Lula, in the first and second rounds.

In the international system, alliances between states occur. The coalition inherent to politics is explained by the fact that political change, the main objective of political action, depends on power, support, on the horizon that the relationship of forces and the political process can reveal to the actors. Political change also depends on good ideas and communication. Whatever the issue at stake, such as changes in public policy programs and objectives, elections, regime change, revolutions, wars, in short, good ideas are also essential for the destiny of collective actions. But, in addition to allies and good ideas, communication occupies a central place in political transformation, as it mobilizes values ​​and gives rise to the generation of legitimacy, as political propaganda and the mass media have already demonstrated, a function that, in recent years, the Social media have not only reinforced, but also, so to speak, revolutionized, by bringing a wider audience into the content creation process, the increased proliferation of fake news etc.

In the government of Jair Bolsonaro, for example, how many times has it been said “Brazil above all, God above all!” or “Our flag will never be red!”? Coalition, program and communication make up a political strategy, they are key resources in the exercise of political leadership. These elements, in turn, are circumscribed in certain (mutable) contexts, in which men make history.

Coalitions can be examined both to understand local politics and relevant national transformations, for better or worse, in different countries. I will briefly give some historical examples of the latter, using Germany, the USA and Brazil as a reference.

In the context of the first great international crisis of capitalism, the Long Depression, Bismarck, leader of the German Empire, sewed, in 1879, the iron and rye coalition, between the heavy industry and the entrepreneurial agriculture of the Junkers (nobility of large landowners), a social sector that until then defended free trade, but, with the reduction of external markets and the fierce competition induced by the crisis, the Chancellor managed to convert it to protectionism, which, at the time, was defended by the German steel industry, a country of late capitalism, and by the capital goods industry. In the political-institutional sphere, the coalition expressed itself in the alliance between the National Liberal Party and the Conservative Party.

Bismarck mobilized again his political communication skills, already famous since his famous speech Blood and Iron, delivered in 1862 – when he was still presiding over the state of Prussia –, in defense of the approval of military expenses for the unification of the German territories, completed in 1871, leveraged by the victory over France in the Franco-Prussian war. This protectionist coalition was a component of a strategy that involved nationalism, imperialist militarism, anti-socialism and an authoritarian-competitive regime. In 1914, the German Empire entered World War I, in alliance with the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

With the humiliating defeat of the First Reich in the war, the balance of forces changed and the republic was proclaimed. The Social Democratic Party and the General-in-Chief of the Armed Forces reached an agreement, which unfolded into the Weimar Coalition (1919-1929), structured around the alliance between the high-tech export industry and workers, especially skilled workers . However, given the immense external debt to repair the war, hyperinflation, political fragmentation, ungovernability, the rise of the extreme right, the class struggle, in short, this coalition was not successful.

In this chaotic political environment, which worsened even more with the banking crisis of 1931, during the Great Depression, the Nazi Party grew, conquering, in the elections of 1932, the largest bench in the Reichstag, although not enough to have, alone, an absolute majority. The division between socialists and communists, stimulated by the Communist International, controlled by Stalinists, paved the way for Hitler to impose on the President of the Republic his appointment as Chancellor, in January 1933. From then on, the Nazi leadership reunited the business groups, intuitively implemented a new economic paradigm, a Keynesianism of high military loom – very successful internally – revoked certain progressive achievements of the workers, while maintaining Social Security, and implanted a belligerent dictatorship that promoted terror. These actions were accompanied by a large investment in political communication, highlighting, in addition to Hitler's speeches, the Ministry of Propaganda, commanded by Joseph Goebbels.

In the same Great Depression and, also, in the year 1932, who was elected president in the USA, two months before Hitler was nominated as Chancellor, was Franklin D. Roosevelt, of the Democratic Party. This election was also one of electoral realignment. Blocs of salaried voters, racial and religious minorities, intellectuals, whites from rural areas of the south of the country and powerful interest groups (trade unions, political networks of important cities, big urban and rural entrepreneurs) supported the Democratic candidate.

Once sworn in, Roosevelt implemented the New Deal, which, between 1933 and 1936, had two versions. Among its measures, several emergency programs were created for the unemployed and for the recovery of the economy, joint efforts for jobs to carry out public works, unions were recognized and collective bargaining and action were legalized, social security and low-income housing plans, bank regulation, etc. The mentioned blocs of voters and interest groups that supported Roosevelt's reformist program constituted the New Deal Coalition, which, in 36 years, only lost elections to the Republicans in 1952 and 1956, and, despite the strong opposition of the Conservative Coalition , represented a progressive and democratic liberalism in the US, responsible for numerous institutional changes in the state apparatus. Roosevelt's political communication played an important role in leveraging the national reaction to the Great Depression. In 1932, for example, during the election campaign, he gave the famous speech entitled The Forgotten Man. In his 1933 inaugural address, he said the following: “Restoration requires, however, not only changes in ethics. This nation calls for action, and action now.”

In relation to Brazil and still continuing in the Great Depression, the international crisis influenced the conjuncture of the Revolution of 1930, a coup d'état against the Old Republic, led by the dissident oligarchies and supported by urban actors – workers and middle classes – that ended the hegemony of the coffee bourgeoisie. The coalition supporting the coup included liberal constitutionalists, military nationalists (tenentes), senior army officers, disgruntled coffee farmers, and dissident forces from the political elite and oligarchies.

A period of transformation of the Brazilian State began – which modernized and became developmentalist – and of the economic system, whose productive matrix surpassed agro-export exclusivism, revealing industrialization and the internal market. Archaic and modern were rearticulated. In a short time, the developmental State under construction experienced a dictatorial regime, the Estado Novo. Already in that first post-1930 period, Getúlio Vargas put into practice an important political communication, resorting, among other means, to the radio, a tool also mobilized by Roosevelt and Hitler.

In his speech to the nation on the establishment of the dictatorship of the Estado Novo, he said: “In periods of crisis, such as the one we are going through, party democracy, instead of offering a safe opportunity for growth and progress [...], subverts the hierarchy, threatens the national unity and endangers the existence of the Nation, extreme competitions and igniting the torch of civil discord”. Elected in 1950, he stimulated the creation of the government newspaper, the innovative Last Minute, by journalist and businessman Samuel Weiner.

The examples above illustrate relationships between State transformations (in its regimes and decision-making agenda), in international crises of capitalism, with coalitions, ideas and political communication. Change requires leadership, fertilization of power. That said, I return to the main point of interest of this text.

The Conselhão, under Lula's leadership, has the potential to play a key role in leveraging an expanded coalition (party and socio-political), of national scale, dedicated to the large-scale task of resuming, on new bases, after the cycle obscurantist politician of Temer-Bolsonaro, of the fight against inequalities, interrupted by the ultraliberal governments from 2016 to 2022. most essential, political equality, equal citizenship, the right of every person to influence and participate in state decisions on an equal basis with any other.

The existing inequalities, exacerbated by the austerity policies of neoliberalism, compromise the normative principle of political equality. The effectiveness of such a principle requires guaranteeing citizens minimum conditions, both material and of public recognition. Public policies need to guarantee these minimum conditions of social, racial and gender equality, in order to reach a basic level of equity, which requires budgetary expenditures directed to well-designed, formulated and implemented actions.

As shown, for example, by the experiences of more egalitarian capitalist countries, which pursued social-democratic development strategies, such as Norway and Sweden, the sustainability of the transformation of the social malaise constituted by inequality requires its articulation with productive transformation, from so that a national project is essential for the sustainability of citizenship development policies.

One of the foundations of President Lula's charisma is his immense capacity for political communication. His speeches, interviews, interventions in public debate have the gift of political fertility. But, thinking about the trajectory of the four governments headed by the two PT presidents, between 2003 and 2016, some problems were found in building alliances and in political communication. By the way, with regard to this last item, the economic regulation of social communication is still open. It is very difficult to promote social-developmentalist policies with the hegemonic approach in the mainstream media on economic policy and on the role of the State.

Former minister Gilberto Carvalho, for example, when assessing the causes of the 2016 coup d'état, criticized the government's political communication. He has also highlighted the importance of more consistent dialogue with social movements. Integrating the population, especially the excluded, poor and miserable, underemployed, unemployed, individual microentrepreneurs, uberized, in short, in consumer markets is very relevant, but politicizing this social inclusion, politicizing development and the fight against inequality is also, and can be It is even a means to the end of equity. Dialogue with social movements and unions is necessary, but not enough. It is not a question of proposing leftism, but that the definition of the national-popular transformation project be accompanied by its recurrent pedagogical explanation for the nation as a whole.

President Lula has already made it clear that he has returned to the Planalto Palace to do more and better and that his government is not at the service of the financial market, but of the Brazilian people as a whole, including investors, however, aiming at growth and development with social inclusion and sustainability, and not the enrichment of a tiny minority at the expense of the pauperism of tens of millions

The Council for Sustainable Economic and Social Development, when it effectively begins to operate, will already be an expanded coalition agency. The challenge should be, based on it, to implement an effective broad front, multi-party and without restriction of class, ideology or creed, an effective national pact against inequality, articulated with the sustainable development project, tax justice, the strengthening of public services and so on.

The Political Coalition Council and the Federation Council must be integrated into this alliance, as well as the political parties, the leaders of the National Congress, the STF ministers, state and local parliaments and governments, the trade union centrals, the MST, the UNE, NGOs, civil associations throughout the national territory.

There is little consensus on this mission, as there will always be dissent. I do not propose utopia, but the great politics that Gramsci spoke of, despite all the small politics that exist out there. Without political force, there is no political change, especially when it comes to altering the most ingrained structures in the history of Brazil, inequality, in its various faces.

*Marcus Ianoni is a professor at the Department of Political Science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

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