polarization challenges

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By RONALDO TAMBERLINI PAGOTTO*

Challenges for the left in the face of the complex and antagonistic risks that the political dispute poses in the current scenario

The Brazilian political scene brings together complex, antagonistic possibilities and risks, and promises to be the most important political dispute in recent decades. The 2022 general elections are likely to be the most strategically important since 1964. Faced with this challenge, efforts must be concentrated on neutralizing attacks and promoting a mobilization capable of winning the election, as well as building a social force – on the streets and institutionally in parliament and executive to face the crisis and the destructive project of a fraction of the Brazilian ruling class, neo-fascism.

For this, we cannot invert Gramsci's formula, with optimism in analysis and pessimism in action. But the more challenging the scenario, the more it will require coldness and realism in the analysis with initiative and optimism for action.

 

Deepening crisis scenario

The combination of crises in Brazil has an economic basis and there are no signs of reversal. Incidentally, not only do we have no signs of a reversal, but also other elements make the picture even more complex, with emphasis on the effects of the so-called industry 4.0, the international picture of the crisis, the geopolitical disputes, the longer-lasting effects of the pandemic still in progress, the Ukraine war etc.

This process is not reversed, but aggravated in Brazil. The financialization of the economy takes on monumental dimensions and the most optimistic sectors present a perspective of one or two decades for Brazil to be able to face its effects. The most pessimistic ones are not even worth commenting on.

The deepening of the economic crisis is the fuel for the environmental crisis, but above all for the social and political crises. These three crises – environmental, social and political – intertwine and result in a scene that is difficult to face: in this combination of crises, those who pay the bill are the most vulnerable sectors, workers in general and the medium sectors of small businesses, future generations with attacks in geometric progression to the environment. Within the framework of these crises, we must also consider the biggest health crisis of the last century, whose impacts and consequences are still in full swing, with the pandemic killing an average of 300 deaths per day, whose numbers are catastrophic and we are close to 1 million dead ( if we consider the real picture of underreporting from the beginning), other hundreds of thousands of people with serious and lasting consequences, in a scenario of despair and dismay for thousands of families.

 

The government in deep crisis has not yet been defeated

In the midst of this scenario, the ruling class advanced in an anti-national, anti-popular and anti-democratic project with the election of Jair Bolsonaro. And since taking office, the government has faced opponents (which it considers enemies) that do not stem from the opposition's initiatives, but from much broader factors and beyond the political forces in dispute. The main “opponent” of the government was and remains the pandemic, the second is the deep economic and social crisis, whose confrontations were deliberately treated with all the contours of an irresponsible policy and which helped to deepen the causes and consequences.

The war against the pandemic waged by the government was a battle against reality. He fought the existence of the pandemic, the spread of contagion, its impacts, the measures applied in countries with good results, the role of the State in the confrontation and everything with hints of psychopathy, sociopathy and genocidal traits. That was the battle lost by the government and all the people paid the bill. And it was the main engine of unpopularity and threat of the first non-reelection of the federal government since the institution.

The second “opposing” axis was the worsening of the economic crisis, especially the impact of the general crisis on workers, small and medium-sized businesses, in the countryside and in the city, and very clearly on the most vulnerable contingent of unemployed, underemployed and vulnerable self-employed people, which a much of it migrated to starvation and absolute instability. And they continue in dismay.

On this side, the efforts of the democratic sectors, especially the progressive sector, were very important, but insufficient to defeat this project. And realizing this is not an exercise in uncompensated, inopportune or somewhat exaggerated criticism, but what is necessary for us to treat things as they are – and were. The attempts and efforts of the left opposition to the government were very fragile and limited. It is evident that part of this limit stems from the situation of the pandemic itself, limiting mass political action, occupying the streets, but not only. The political initiative was captured by the government since the election in 2018, which since then defines – due to mistakes and initiatives in general – the national agenda, leaving the opposition sectors with a reactive position, when not specific reactions limited to the terrain of the calls social media. The acts convened in the windows of slowdown of the pandemic or in the first year of the government demonstrated a balanced correlation of forces, improving in perspective, but incapable of defeating this project.

An exception in terms of a more forceful reaction was the CPI on Covid, which centralized politics and imposed political and, above all, ideological defeats on the government.

Worthy of note are the solidarity efforts, concrete initiatives that transcended the traditional agendas and political flags to deal with the central issues of the people: hunger and food instability, the conditions for dealing with the pandemic, in an important wave to be considered for being something so impactful for the people reached and also for those who promoted them. These actions broke the immobility, the left centered on social networks and set in motion in an action the best of the tradition of the left in the world. Solidarity action as part of the modus operandi of that tradition.

 

polarization challenges

Historically, the crisis frame is the appropriate setting or environment for the most radical proposals, located more in the sense of poles, extremes. It was in these scenarios that the extreme right – such as fascism and neo-fascism – and also the progressive and revolutionary sectors emerged. In this context, the traditionally center exits (self-proclaimed or in fact representatives of a “concertationist” formula) are momentarily unfeasible, since in certain situations the polarized blocs – the right and the left – can turn to a composition of the center in order to prevent a defeat to the opposite pole.

Simply put, the polarization is the voltage for lighter positions on the right and left. It occurs in special circumstances – usually in deep crises like ours, which, as they worsen, fuel polarization.

For this reason, considering that polarization is a situation much more defined by the crisis, which allows sectors with very different – ​​in fact, antagonistic – projects for society to present themselves and find a political echo, it is a scenario of greater politicization of society and which requires of the contending forces a superior ability to make that dispute. In this context, the ideological struggle deserves great emphasis, which is strategic and very neglected by the Brazilian left in recent decades. It would be correct to say that it is one of the central environments of the political struggle in this context of deepening crisis.

And the central challenge of the ideological struggle is always to help compose a common reading of the crisis (causes and consequences), of the subjects in conflict and their interests: against whom we fight (or who are the enemies of the people), with whom we fight ( the allies); the scene of this fight etc.

And this is a challenge of the greatest magnitude for two main reasons.

The first is that the forces against the people traditionally use mass manipulation, the exploration of themes sensitive to common sense, chronic problems (such as violence), to build readings, narratives and interpretations that hide those responsible, the causality relationship and how to overcome. The second is a very particular addition to our Brazilian situation: a very depoliticized society, which we can identify by the degree of disinterest in politics, the limited expansion and generalization of the political debate, the habit and interest in debating and differing politically, in dealing with the difference and discuss solutions. On the contrary, we have a scenario in which many people declare themselves disinterested in politics, a vision without hope of change and evaluating the scenario as a “fight” understood as a dispute based on interests, personalities or one group against another. We must not disregard that this is the result of the oligopoly of the mainstream media and the absolute neglect of the left's actions in this field of (ideological) struggle.

The combination of worsening crises, political polarization and general depoliticization is a complex picture that adds tense elements to the Brazilian crossroads. This combination suggests great and urgent challenges. The first is to understand that the ideological struggle is not just another task, but one of the most strategic and decisive fields of struggle. However, as already mentioned, a terrain in which the left is going from bad to worse, in general, with an action that intends to dispute millions with a scattering of websites, blogs, pages, podcast, but with a negligible reach in the face of this challenge. And this picture shows no signs of reversal in the short and medium term, requiring, therefore, the conformation of common and large-scale initiatives to give this issue a consistent treatment. The theme is discouraging.

 

Bolsonarism as an unsubmissive force, which combines action within and against order

The Brazilian right has changed its activities from parties and initiatives within democratic frameworks to a neo-fascist political force. When we deal with this, we cannot convey the idea that it is the set, but a relevant part of the Brazilian ruling class, a considerable part of the GDP, that adopted this path with the “shortcut” of Bolsonarism. At this point in the crisis, part of that team is sorry, but another is not, which is per se revealing the historical characteristics of the Brazilian ruling class, which does not regret or amend. She was a slaveholder, servile internationally and continues to do so in other ways. It is important to note that with our history we have no right to be surprised by any of this. That's a very coherent photograph with a long film.

Still on the bet on Jair Bolsonaro of a fraction of GDP and the middle sectors that have no democratic concern, empathy for the hungry and discouraged, or fear of a fascistization of society, but the opposite, adhered to this and are driving this project. Even without being surprised, we should note that this political position supporting this neo-fascist project reveals the degree of political, ideological and human degeneration of this fraction of the ruling class. It is a concrete basis for understanding who the enemies of the people are, how they act and what they stand for. In general, in these moments of crisis, these issues become even more evident, crystal clear.

We must pay special attention to dealing with “Bolsonarism” as a complex political phenomenon. Sectors of ultraliberalism are present in it – always colluding with political authoritarianism; the old fascism; deeply anti-communist sectors, in transition to neo-fascism, conservative sectors in customs and morals, among others. They have a deeply authoritarian dynamic, they are followers of the leader and do not admit debates and questions. Not between them. It is a field that does not politicize the base and its influence expresses the authoritarian vision and without any shame, in which the ends always authorize (more than justify) the means, in a deep intolerance with any kind of debate and difference. They are preachers – in the worst sense – and not agitators. They are more accustomed to the posture of adhering to the leader and those who supposedly waver or doubt are attacked and excluded. Politics and religion are not discussed, they say.

This complex group has a bit of everything, but the center of this force is fascist. Old term for those who hate the left and use violence as a method. Fascist hates a lot of things, but the heart of fascism is old anti-communism.

This force acts within the order, the margins of the Constitution and legality, while at the same time it acts tensioning from outside and against this order. It assumes, at the same time, a dynamic of fraying the margins from the inside and an anti-systemic tension from the “outside”, sometimes more from the inside, sometimes more anti-system. This even though the government is supported by sectors of parliament that are absolutely part of the system, integrated into it. It is a method of combining acting within and against order; to act in the Presidency attacking the polls; to convene a formal meeting with ambassadors to advertise the anti-systemic character; anticipating that if he loses, it will be for theft and preparing the troops (with a part of them made up of fanatics) for the new period. It is a dynamic that is always on the attack and guiding national political life. And that it has a small social force of militants, even after so many mistakes and crimes to sustain coup plots and such serious mistakes. A resilient militancy, let's say.

This force in recent days has announced, as the coup leaders of 1964 did not, the coup. And we know that this can be a method, a bravado and a form of tension from within. But we have no right to despise the Brazilian ultraconservative forces of a possible new coup adventure.

In this context, an element of the international situation deserves to be highlighted, which plays an important role in the scenario. The US position in Latin America and the Caribbean is strained from side to side. The emergence of governments from the democratic and progressive camp is not received with passivity by the Pentagon hawks. This picture certainly adds to the historical role of the US in the region, with Brazil being the most important country and one that will be able to fulfill – once again – the role of strategic and preferred ally of the US in South and Latin America. This is a very important element and it does not contain any fanciful hypothesis, but a commonplace and absolutely evident practice of the methods and interests of US imperialism in the region.

And this is still delicate with the multipolar scene with the rise of China and progressive governments in the region. These two changes – non-aligned governments and multipolarity – will make this coup and all sorts of action machine something that deserves our special attention. Without scaremongering, but without disregarding this situation.

 

Some Challenges to the Left at the Crossroads

We have experienced a long period of conservative offensive since the end of the 2014 elections, political, ideological, social offensive and with relevant international backing and support, especially from the US. We have had different moments over the last few years and it would be worth remembering some of these moments.

A first stage of facing the 2016 coup, forged since the proclamation of the 2014 election result, with the left debating until the eve of the impeachment whether this would be a coup offensive or not, with a part contesting that we were facing a change in the correlation of forces towards a rupture, a coup, with profound consequences for the ability to face this offensive; in the sequence, the whole persecution of Lula, who until the eve of his arrest still had many sectors of the left disbelieving of such audacity in arresting the greatest leader of the Brazilian left; and Bolsonaro's election, transitioning from a denial of the possibility of this subject's ascension to complete despair after the victory at the polls.

Expensive errors that deserve our attention. That is to say: we did not arrive at this situation because we were right in the analysis and in the action, but in general the opposite. We made a lot of mistakes in the analysis and this had important consequences for action and reaction.

This picture was qualitatively altered with three unpredictable dynamics of the scenario: first, it stems from an unusual fact, the solitary action of a young man (called the hacker from Araraquara), which resulted in the operation “vaza-jato” and greatly helped to demonstrate the partiality and political persecution against Lula, allowing a counter-offensive until Lula's freedom and recovery of his political rights, with emphasis on a very important action in Curitiba for almost 600 days – the Vigília); second, the pandemic, which, without disregarding the full impact, deserves to be highlighted because of how much it hit the government head-on; and third, the worsening of government contradictions, experiencing regular crises since the day of inauguration, losing allies, dividing the enemy camp and an endless spillover of problems for the group that won the elections in 2018.

All this was not determined by the political action of the democratic camp or the left. And in this process, we left a “winter-like” pessimism between the election and mid-2019, moving to a situation of greater optimism with the government crises and reaching the current state of a certain “spring” optimism today. A substantive transition. Hope is a fuel of life evidently!

But what would be the point of critically evaluating this process?

It is undeniable that we have good reasons to be optimistic, without losing sight of the enormous current and future challenges. We only present some of them to contribute to the debate on this broad topic. Our option was to present some of the most central ones to get out of this crossroads, overcoming our serious problems.

The most immediate and central is the struggle to elect Lula, as well as a group of senators and federal deputies, followed by the effort to elect governors and state and district deputies. And that this process accumulate forces and political capacity to sustain a government in the face of coup and right-wing pressures, at the same time that this force is capable of disputing the directions of that government from the left, in the streets and as a way of exerting legitimate pressure to support and tension. It is undeniable that the steps for this pass through a popular campaign, via Committees and political unity, electoral victory and guaranteeing tenure.

In conjunction with this, it will be necessary to face neo-fascism, a force with regular political initiative and mass action, which even in crisis has shown that it has not lost its ability to take initiative and occupy the streets (let's remember September 7, 2021). And that, in the midst of the electoral process, has already called for two large mass events – July 31 in some capitals and September 7. And this topic deserves further consideration. 2019 was a year of conservative offensive and progressive forces in full resistance; the pandemic period was and still is atypical for any mass action. Therefore, the measurement of the correlation of forces is absolutely imprecise and diffuse. We do not have actions and initiatives to assess the political framework and our strength. We keep survey data and information on broad cultural activities such as concerts, etc. But it is a different election in which the left acts within a campaign that is still quite mild and the right with a campaign with initiatives and boldness. The dynamic seems to have reversed.

And about the daily coup threats, without feeding hallucinations, but it is necessary to talk about it. Perhaps it is the topic of greatest general concern and that dominates the political debate. And we cannot treat it as a misfit, fearful position, just as we cannot feed dread and fear. Neither this nor that. The threat has a bit of reality, still diminutive, and more bravado. But it is said to the four winds and regularly. Treating it as just bravado and a method of tensioning can be a mistake. And we know the price of belittling class and project enemies. There is no doubt about the role this plays: a part of society is astonished, frightened, which plays a role in inhibiting left-wing fringes from occupying the streets and carrying out a broad mass political campaign.

But not only. He is the creator of a militancy that adheres to proselytism and starts to accept (and even complain) about a coup d'état. This is something that is ongoing and that we know to be a proposal that has reached different segments of the lower classes as well. That abject idea of ​​a coup d'état in Brazil did not remain in history, an important part considers it something to be thought about; another supports.

And the combination of these two challenges – overcoming and defeating coup threats and attempts – reasserts the centrality of the resumption of political initiative, of scale and consistent with these central objectives. Without initiative to articulate a national front in defense of democracy, bringing together broad sectors and with mass actions, monumental acts and demonstrations of strength that the majority will not accept setbacks and will preserve Brazilian democracy, we may have an election on the ropes, trying to win " playing at a standstill”, believing that we are facing forces considered normal, transforming the campaign with this position into a network action, tablecloths, twitter graphics and with the immense mass of society watching everything worried and tense. Without overcoming this situation in the streets, in the political initiative and in the general verve of conducting this process, we will have tough months with each survey, with each enemy action, with each act, each threat, each initiative. Shifting to us a reactive role and trapped in the defensive position.

And we have reasons for optimism. We form a broad front with progressive sectors in the leadership, with consistent forces committed to democracy. The government even has forces like Globo in its opposition, which will not help the left, but only if it does not put itself in its usual place – for reasons of the centrality of the opposition to Bolsonaro that it has supported – is already something to consider. And society, which saw all of this from home, frightened by the virus, threats of unemployment, reduced living conditions, criticism of the government, with an emphasis on women and youth, with enormous potential for calling to occupy the streets . And turn these threats into fanatics and numb convescote.

We need all the optimism for political action and with it to regain the initiative and defeat neo-fascism at the polls and in the streets.

*Ronaldo Tamberlini Pagotto, lawyer, is an activist of the Movimento Brasil Popular.

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