Domenico de Masi (1938-2023)

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By TARSUS GENUS*

Here the greatness of Domenico de Masi is recorded, who died in this year of redemption of the democratic idea in Brazil

Domenico De Masi passed away on September 9, aged 85. I wanted him like an older intellectual brother – always present and always distant – who I remember with affection and with the joy of having known him and received his affection and even – who knows – deserved a certain admiration from him. Soon after I ended my first term as mayor of Porto Alegre, I was invited, if I remember correctly, by Mayor Walter Veltroni, of Rome, to give a talk about our government experience, particularly about the local invention of the Participatory Budget. .

When I finished my speech, I saw a person in the background who I didn't recognize from a distance, who was waving at me: it was Domenico. I quickly went to the back of the Auditorium at Campidoglio, where the event was taking place, and there he was with his friendliness and simplicity. A little scared I asked “what, Domenico, are you doing here?” He responded to me in a low, conspiratorial voice – ironic and irreverent – ​​“it's just that most politicians here in Italy annoy me and you don't annoy me”. Imagine my pride!

I remember here a correspondence dated February 4, 1995 sent by him, when I was still mayor of Porto de Porto Alegre. We were then governing one of the most important global experiences of local public management, here known as Participatory Budgeting, built by many hands and many thinking heads, which united around the democratic ideal that elected Olívio Dutra our mayor (I was his vice) became our capital is a world famous and respected city.

This experience was opposed or ignored by the mainstream press, detested by big local businesspeople and attacked by the political right, because it placed the Public Budget at the service of the majority of the impoverished middle classes and – above all – the poorest in the city, in a radically unequal society, which it still persists in our country and throughout Latin America. The local ruling classes have always looked to Porto Alegre – after the election of Olívio Dutra – for a manager for their real estate interests, in particular, not a mayor for everyone in the city. They found and elected some, after the rise of the fascist amorality of Bolsonarism.

Domênico's letter pointed out the Participatory Budget experience as the most important “that exists” in the world, in terms of democratic public management, and said that his stay in Porto Alegre was one of the most interesting periods of his life. He also mentioned his latest book, based on the Conference he gave here, also informing me that he had read my last book (possible utopia) and who was recommending it to his students at the Department of Sociology at the University “La de Sapienza”, in Rome.

Years later, on September 27, 2017, De Masi gave a conference at the University of Caxias do Sul, which awarded him the title of doctor Honoris Causa. Previously, in his “wanderings” around the world – as he said – on November 5, 2012 he also gave the opening conference of the “Congress of Administration” in Rio, proposing the opening of an “era of social justice” in democratic society , guided by a new structure in the world of work, based on the reorganization of “free time”, transformed into “creative leisure.”

When his death was announced, a serenade of praise from even “neoliberals”, liberal and conservative sectors – from the left to the center-right of the political spectrum – flooded our media. Some just tried to take a ride on his prestige, without knowing very well who he was, others – certainly linked to the business sectors – remembered him from a distorted view of his work that considered unemployment as inevitable, failing to consider that he defended – to combat social desertion – that everyone should work less so that everyone can work, and that this implied an enormous process of income distribution as a true civilizational challenge.

Lacking the meaning to sponsor the dreams of a community of freedom and daily self-control, mainly due to the rejection of alienated work, politics should be recovered – according to De Masi – as an instrument of liberation and self-affirmation for individuals alienated by the routine of factory exploitation, whose overcoming would only occur when “the plenitude of human activity (is) achieved only and when work, study and play coincide, accumulate and merge; that is, when we work, learn and play, all at the same time.”

Leisure, taken as free time for culture, affection, art, the affirmation of the liberated potential of individuals, without the stupidity of repetitive and poorly paid work, would be more than a “party” program, but a program of civilizing unity against the barbarity of programmed obsoleteism. It would be the end of production and consumption schemes manipulated to generate dependence on superfluity, of the dictatorship of the market of false needs and real exclusions: a market without efficient regulation, which presupposes war between individuals to survive and presupposes war between nations, to dominate territories and wealth.

When Domenico de Masi spoke, taught or wrote his books, he was not directing his proposal for the reordering of society and the forms of wealth production to a socialist or capitalist project, but he said that the politics developed in both societies – just like been put in place until now – he did not organize the conditions to provide happiness and overcome need: the machines and new technologies accumulated in the last 100 years did not provide, for him, the rational and emotional use of free time – bequeathed by new technologies of production – for human beings to free themselves from the “dissipating and alienating idleness”, enjoyed by the rich, and free ordinary citizens of our time from unworthy poverty. In other words, in the language of Martin Heidegger, “technical progress” would have been appropriated – according to Karl Marx’s vision – by the owners of the means of production.

I have always read and appreciated Domênio's lessons based on my socialist and democratic convictions, which will never be able to prevail without – from time to time – heads like his and many other intellectuals like him, Karl Marx, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Antonio Gramsci, Manuel Castells, Marilena Chaui, István Mészaros, Roberto Lyra Filho, and many others who always go beyond the classics and dare to think outside the programmed primers that circulate in the market of ideas.

I understand like the Albanian Lea Ypi, at the end of her beautiful autobiographical book “Livre”, that “failures take different forms and, if we are not able to understand them, we will forever be divided. I wrote my story – she continues – to explain, reconcile and continue the fight.” This is what thinkers like these have always inspired me, with their nuances, diversity of opinions and grandeur. Here the greatness of Domenico de Masi is recorded, who died in this year of redemption of the democratic idea in Brazil.

*Tarsus in law he was governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, mayor of Porto Alegre, Minister of Justice, Minister of Education and Minister of Institutional Relations in Brazil. Author, among other books, of possible utopia (Arts & Crafts).
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