Participatory Democracy - popular-democratic governance

Dora Longo Bahia, Revoluções (calendar project), 2016 Acrylic, water-based pen and watercolor on paper (12 pieces) - 23 x 30.5 cm each


The coexistence between democracy and capitalism has always been an arena of tensions and conflicts

At the end of the class on “the birth of biopolitics”, in the France secondary school (31/01/1979), Michel Foucault asked if there ever was an “autonomous socialist governance”. He himself replied that such governance has always been lacking in the history of socialism, which included the Welfare State period in central Europe. Governments that claimed to be transformers, in general, coexisted with liberal democracy, indifferent to the modalities of participatory democracy (plebiscites, referendums, assemblies, national conferences). As in the past the right resorted to the relationship direct between rulers and ruled, to the detriment of classic political representation, the expedients proposed by leaders for consultation with voters were distrusted. scalded cat fears cold water. It was understandable. In the present day, it is absolutely unacceptable.

In Brazil, parochialism aside, the emblematic experiences of participatory democracy occurred in governments led by the Workers' Party (PT), in Rio Grande do Sul. In the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, for 16 consecutive years, under the auspices of Olívio Dutra (1989-1992), Tarso Genro (1993-1996 and 2001-April 2004), Raul Pont (1997-2000), João Verle (May 2004). At the state level, the legendary feat of the Participatory Budget (PB) took place with Governor Olívio Dutra, with Miguel Rossetto as deputy (1999-2002), carried out by a front of progressive parties (PT, PC do B, PSB, and PCB, supported in the second round of elections by the PDT). Thousands of people started in politics, in the discussion about state revenues. With variations, the emblematic way of governing was repeated conditioned by the correlation of political forces, in more than one hundred federative units.

The PB reconciled participation (local and regional assemblies) with representation (councils). It perfected democracy, with technical criteria to fill needs, without abandoning the traditional concept of representation, . The Regional Development Councils (Coredes, 1994), composed of state and federal deputies, mayors and presidents of the Chambers of Councillors, in their respective areas of coverage, were incorporated into the General Council of the PB. The work of sustaining the ideals of equality and freedom required redoubled efforts at the political level and capacity for innovation in operating mechanisms. For a panoramic reading on the subject, see the article by Cláudia Feres Faria “Participatory forums, democratic control and the quality of democracy in Rio Grande do Sul (1999-2002)” (Public Opinion, Campinas, Nov 2006).

Not by coincidence, the inaugural editions of the World Social Forum took place in Porto Alegre/RS. Thus, an answer to Foucault's question emerged. The nomenclature of participatory democracy, it should be noted, is more appropriate than that of direct democracy inspired by the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (On the Social Contract, 1762). Avoid misunderstandings.

Freedom: the people (demos) rules (cracy)

Some authors, such as Norberto Bobbio, logically disqualify Rousseau's characterization of direct democracy on the scale of metropolises. They argue that instances of representation, along the lines of councils, would nullify the conceptualization that invokes participation without mediation. Alain Touraine, on the other hand, rejects the experience in political terms, for conceiving participation in the strict condition of a movement of pressure on the political-institutional harvest. It argues the illegitimacy of the occupation by civil society of the usual attributions of political society (the State). For example, in what involves taking decisions on priorities for the allocation of budgetary resources and the definition of public policies. The specter of Caesarist populism is present in European memory.

However, the admonitions are unreasonable. The Italian thinker forgot that the real experiment does not reproduce, ipsis litteris, the ideal type. The French thinker, on the other hand, forgot about the difficulties in conditioning, in theory, the participationist impetus of those who break a long passivity. In participatory democracy, representative instances do not grant agents prerogatives that go beyond collectively agreed limits. Delegates do not overdo their duties, behaving as representatives guided by conscience (no more). They are guided by indicators made explicit in the constituent letter of profane democracy: the Internal Regulations of the PB. The legislation, fulfilled, since it was generated with the participation of all, becomes an explicit proof of freedom.

In the allegorical Magna Carta of the invisible (home delivery men, supermarket cashiers, informal workers, outsourced, precarious, unemployed) the referrals agreed upon in the assembly establish the “categorical imperatives”. The instituted supreme authority inhibits the betrayal of notables. Equality prevails in relationships. What made the experiences of Rio Grande do Sul paradigmatic is that the people (demos) ruled (cracy).

Participatory democracy allows for a critique of liberal democracy that goes beyond the permanent objection to establishment, exposed by the corporate media to common sense in the guise of a complaint by those who, out of oppositional slurs, reveal themselves to be “against”. Instead of allowing itself to be caricatured like a division of lamentations, participationism makes it possible for the left to place itself in the public space with an alternative political, social, cultural and economic vision. Oppositionism and skepticism give way to a propositional posture.

Raul Pont considers this to be “the mark” that distinguishes anti-systemic governance when addressing communities. In plebeian participation resides the “transition program” that leads to the post-neoliberal reality. The full intervention of citizenship would only be able to fully materialize with the radical overcoming of the existing structures of domination. Capitalism does not support, to the fullest extent, the application of participatory democracy on public funds. Can't survive without secrets – soul of the business status quo.

The praxis of participatory democracy is not a cane to keep standing the weakened political representation of whites, racists, sexists, homophobes and rich people who rise to legislative vacancies without millionaire campaigns. Representation has become synonymous with a blackmailing physiologism, whose primary purpose is self-preservation. To hell with the nation's project. As a result, the struggle for Political Reform remains an essential banner in the agenda of changes needed to democratize democracy and recover the decency of politics. Participatory democracy collaborates with “good politics” to overcome the pandemic of political apathy. It is not the panacea for all ills. It is, yes, a vitamin AZ of hope and faith in a humanist, welcoming sociability.

Dystopia on the shoulders of “democracy”

spectrum sectors to the left catalog the governments under the responsibility of the PT, after 2002, with the label of “social-liberal”. Big mistake. They assume that neoliberalism can benefit the areas of health and education, housing and public transport, defense of labor rights and environmental preservation, despite its original flaws. The contradiction lies in denouncing the perverse neoliberal framework and, at the same time, believing that the anti-civilizational “lamp” bursts the “genius” to promote corrections in the consequences of the social fabric. The assumption embedded in the tergiversation seeks, at the same time, to serve the master and the slave of the Hegelian dialectic. Unfortunately, it's impossible to get milk from a stone. It went bad, hands.

It is wrong to paint as domesticable a model of sociability that proposes the savage self-regulation of the market (laissez-faire manchesteriano) and entails the dominance of finance in place of production, in post-industrial society. The term fascist to describe authoritarian regimes in Latin America, in particular Brazil (1964-1985) was misleading. It covered up the heinous crimes of the fascist horrors against humanity in the 30s, which spilled over into the Holocaust. Ditto, today, with the use and abuse of the term social-liberalism, which promises what it does not deliver. Words contain “performative speech acts”, notes Judith Butler (Hate Speech: A Politics of the Performative, Unesp, 2021). It's important to take it seriously, so as not to confuse... the granny with the big bad wolf.

Neoliberalism made the distinction between political liberalism and economic liberalism (“liberism”) innocuous. Its fingerprints are in the economy, in politics, in culture, in the subjectivity of citizen-consumers, in short, in the totality of social life. Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval (Nova Razão do Mundo, Boitempo, 2016) are emphatic: “There is not and could not be 'social-liberalism', simply because neoliberalism, being a global rationality that invades all dimensions of human existence, prohibits any possibility of extending itself on the social plane”. With these shackles, neoliberalism imprisoned political regimes that aspired to societal manumission.

The supposed analytical density of the imprecation to decipher the “PT enigma” went down the drain. It is well said that sectarianism is not a reliable adviser. There can be no social improvements through government interference, without confronting the structures of exploitation and oppression. Much less a democratic face, even a formal one, in neoliberal society. It does not mean that it is obliged to assume dictatorial features. but that with finesse, took on “democratic” contours, without contemplating participation, listening to the representation anointed in the (electronic) ballot boxes or resorting to the AI-5 rerun.

The legal apparatus organized to protect the laws makes the act of governing superfluous. It is the meaning, to illustrate, of the camangas with the Proposed Constitutional Amendment to freeze investments in health and education for twenty years (Temer government). And with the PEC for the autonomization of the Central Bank handed over to rentiers and bankers (Bolsonaro government). Economists are concerned about how, with the yoke of the spending ceiling and shackled by Bacen's financial management, the government elected in 2022 will resolve to square the circle to foster economic growth with job creation and income distribution. This is not a game played for sure. The exit will require political diplomacy, support from the National Congress and popular support.

Constitutional patches convert the governance of citizenship into a Sain-Simon-style “management of things”. The increases in the price of gasoline, gas, light in the daily life of the population do not matter. What matters is the appetite of shareholders of Petrobrás and Electric Energy Companies. The concentration of wealth is a value held higher than the social policies of equalization. To stop resistance, just press the Judiciary button and tune in to the Armed Forces of the Military Police. The goal is to curb civil disobedience to the legislature and keep the “platypus” free. Here, naked and raw, is “democracy”.

There is no path, if you make a path by walking

Neoliberalism wants to construct the “end of history”, announced ahead of time by Francis Fukuyama (The National Interest, 1989). The year that had just celebrated the Washington Consensus, in which the infamous ten points of evil were listed to outline the financialization of the State, in both hemispheres. Sung with triumphalism by the American philosopher, the liberal democracy that would make the requiem of the grand finale dissolved in the putrefied air of the hegemony of the dollar sign, although uncritical strands of the left continue to pay tribute to it. Nothing was left of the virtues that praised the public debate on the common good, in a climate of tolerance. On the ruins, the extreme right grew on an international scale, abjuring the confrontation of positions, transforming opponents into enemies, spreading fake news, feeding the lawfare and re-actualizing fascism.

With ademocratic neoliberalism, the medieval appeals of backwardness to moralizing neoconservatism proliferated. On apparently crooked rails, the locomotive of barbarism moves, with bizarre ideological loads (Guedes & Damares) that go in uneven, however, combined wagons. Neoliberal-neoconservative governance articulates business dynamics with the religion of the new Pentecostalism. It's useless to look in the rearview mirror:

a) Capitalism will not go back to previous phases, as dreamed by those who would like to import German “ordoliberalism” with the effective state intervening role and;

b) Liberal democracy will not bring back balance, decorum, dignity to conventional political representation, since it has foundered and taken polite manners with it.

No one in Terra Redonda is betting on the resurrection of parliamentary activity, the old-fashioned way (Ulysses Guimarães, Teotônio Vilela, Paulo Brossard). Socioeconomic conditions and return policies do not exist. What was, will never be again. That is, the renewal of the cartography of representativeness is a necessity to save the concept of representation. The task of progressives is to oppose participatory democracy to the nihilism resulting from the unavoidable failure of liberal democracy and contemporary apoliticism.

Only by deploying, with boldness and imagination, a governance pattern with proactive (face-to-face) participation will the horizon of the excluded reveal an inclusive pedagogy. The old has died, the new has not been born. We are on hiatus, momentarily. Salvation is to be found in firm ideological resistance to expanded neoliberal rationality.

The coexistence between democracy and capitalism has always been an arena of tensions and conflicts. The first, aimed at the interests of the majority, seeking to respect the rights of minorities and mitigate inequalities. The second, aimed at the interests of those who use the work of others to obtain profits, based on a linear conception of progress at the expense of the environment. The conditions for modern democracy have always been curtailed by the process of capitalist accumulation, which made science a productive force. The re-enchantment of the world by the protagonism of subaltern classes must seek lessons from the self-managed Mexican Revolution (1910), engulfed by the fascination aroused by the epic adventures and by the leading intelligentsia of the Russian Revolution (1917). Popular-democratic (socialist) governance rings the bell of history to rediscover the future. “Nothing like one day going after another coming”, translates Leminski.

The question that challenges the left today

It is necessary to reflect on what communication platforms and technologies entail in expanding the public sphere in the information age. The intersubjectivity and the willing interactions, currently, cross the State and the political system. There is a greater plurality of political, social, cultural and community voices. This strengthens and pluralizes (digital) democracy, with a brand new form of politicity. On the other hand, it facilitates the circulation of “lying truths” and the transit of feelings of hatred and frustration with the values ​​of modernity, which Donald Trump's campaign took advantage of in the United States. The idiotic fanaticism is reflected in the Tropics, in the street team (truculent, ignorant) of the CBF.

The information age is also the age of surveillance capitalism. One cannot fall into the naive conversation that such innovations weaken the “Jurassic” means of communication. The size of communicational groups has not decreased. It multiplied like the tentacles of an octopus revived. To get an idea, Rede Globo has twenty-five written press instruments, ten radio stations, four audiovisual channels and, attention, five web information platforms. In Argentina, Grupo Clarín has daily and weekly newspapers, the main publishing house in the country, magazines, open and cable audiovisual channels, AM and FM radio, platforms and services on the web, internet... national and local. Is very.

“What is generated by the mass media, from their various platforms and orientations, crosses public spaces through their impact on opinion formation, on the prioritization of topics to be debated, on the information they disseminate, on the 'spectacularization' of everyday life and in the expression of expectations”, underline Fernando Calderón and Manuel Castells (A Nova América Latina, Zahar, 2021). Forbes publishes the electroencephalogram of wealth with name, surname and CPF, not the obituary of the customary holders of power in the State and in Brazilian and Latin American society.

The impression is that Calderón and Castells, in part, fetishize the importance of tights with the assertion that “politics in our societies is fundamentally media-based… the different actors compete to appear in them… that is where the construction of political power is played out”. Slow with the walker. The stage of the political dispute continues to be civil society, organized into associations, unions, student, housing, gender, ethnicity/race, sexual orientation, movements for cycle lanes, etc. However, in a short passage (p.217), the authors admit that there is intelligent life outside cyberspace: “Social networks are not instruments of real transformation by themselves, nor of authentic experiences of communication”. Not to mention that they favor a personalist dynamic to the detriment of institutions.

This techno-sociability can help to broaden the range of action of participatory democracy. It may, moreover, strike the coup de grâce in the ongoing representational crisis. It is urgent to use the state-of-the-art toolkit made available (think of the attraction exerted and the familiarity shared with the youth), in the direction of emancipation and not the servitude of consciences. The pandemic quarantine demonstrated that the threat does not lie in the existence of technology itself, but in necropolitics, denialism, digital exclusion and face-to-face invisibility. There is nothing to fear". First, there is something to conquer.

The question that Foucault did not raise about the potential of autonomous citizenship in the age of information and surveillance capitalism – we now have to answer. Through democratic-popular (socialist) governance, with a challenging instrument. It is a revolutionary program in many ways. Why not?!

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.



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