Democracy by a thread

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By BOAVENTURA DE SOUSA SANTOS*

Limits and tensions of liberal democracy

We live in paradoxical times. For a long time after the French Revolution, left-wing political forces were the most reluctant to accept the limits of liberal democracy. For vast and respectable sectors of the left, liberal democracy was a regime designed to favor the interests of elites and ruling classes. Despite the inclusive phrases (“we, the people”, “government of the majority for the benefit of the majority”), the truth is that the traditional mechanisms of social exclusion (social inequality, racism, sexism) continued to reproduce themselves under a democratic facade. .

The division in this regard between leftist forces was dramatic and, in fact, caused wounds that have not healed to this day. For some, socialists and social democrats, these limits were overpassable, but for them to be, it was necessary to enter into the liberal democratic game and accept progressively more advanced partial transformations. For others, communists and revolutionary socialists, such limits were insurmountable and, one of two, either another truly inclusive model of democracy was invented or resorted to revolution, with the (possible) resort to arms.

In the aftermath of the 1848 revolutions, the division seemed resolved in favor of liberal democracy. But it was short-lived. The Paris Commune of 1871 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 gave new life to the option between liberal democracy and non-liberal democracy (radical, direct) or revolution. The 1989th century was a period of permanent tension between these options, with different intensities in different regions of the world. The anti-colonial liberation movements themselves experienced this division. After the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991-XNUMX), there was a return to belief that the division had again been overcome by the now irreversible victory of liberal democracy. What, then, is the paradox?

The paradox consists in that, as the left forces became more and more convinced in the liberal democratic game, the right forces increased their reservations about it. Instead of disinvesting in the democratic game, they began to invest in it in order to manipulate it in order to guarantee what they had always expected from it: the reproduction of their privileges.

Manipulation has been very creative, but it always consists of injecting anti-democracy into the veins of democracy: soft coups, electoral fraud, financing of electoral campaigns, buying votes, control of hegemonic press vehicles, external pressure (IMF, imperialism), resource abusive to courts and religion, refusal to accept adverse election results. These processes are happening all over the place and the most recent cases include the first economy in the world (USA) and the fourth economy of the European Union (Spain).

In the latter country, it has just been revealed that business sectors, combined with the right-wing party and the secret services, came together to discredit the emerging left-wing party (then, Podemos) with actions that involved inventing the invoice of a false payment from Nicolás Maduro to the leader of Podemos in the amount of 270 thousand dollars and to promote a television channel and journalists with a left-wing appearance so that, in the pre-election period, they could more effectively neutralize the politicians targeted with false accusations.

Given this, what to do? In the short term (that is, in the pre-electoral period), the left forces have to remain firm in the defense of democracy, but they have to think that such defense will be increasingly complex in terms of fields and instruments. As for the fields, the defense must include the democratic surveillance of the press, the normality of the electoral campaign, the defense of the institutions that publish the electoral results, the popular recognition of them whatever they may be, the regular taking of office of whoever wins the elections and the peaceful entry into office of the new government. As for the instruments, it is essential to understand that institutions are not enough to defend democracy. It has to be defended on the street with peaceful and creative popular mobilization at all times.

As for the medium term, the tasks are no less demanding, but require reflection of a different kind. Here are some of the most important questions. Given the signs of the final exhaustion of liberal democracy, is it possible to imagine other regimes of more peaceful and more democratic coexistence? Is it possible to answer the previous question without having credible anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist and anti-patriarchal alternatives?

Is it possible to encourage long-term reflection in the course of coalition governments with right-wing forces whose democratic claims have no credibility today? Is the refusal of armed struggle irreversible if the extreme right continues its rise and assumes government power? Is it possible to think of all the alternatives, even the most remote or risky ones? A new horizon is being drawn and not necessarily for the better. It could be for the worse, if leftist forces continue to disarm themselves of strategic thinking.

*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is full professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra. Author, among other books, of The end of the cognitive empire (authentic).

Originally published on Boitempo's blog.

 

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