Solidarity economy and politics

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By RENATO DAGNINO*

The solidarity economy as a “window of opportunity”

This text deals with two territories, that of the solidarity economy and that of the world of politics (of politics and ). In the first one inhabit the popular movements and those who are in solidarity with them. The second takes part in leaderships from the left; with their particular agenda, which stems from their political project, when faced with other actors and agendas, they influence public policy. He also deals with a bridge that connects them; that it is necessary to (almost) rebuild to allow the contact between the territories to be able to boost the process of “reconstruction and transformation of Brazil”.

He emphasizes the need to install pillars (at least one, close to the world of politics) to raise the bridge that will allow the left to travel between those territories above the flow, much more intense than previously thought. With “increasing” flow due to the threat that the bridge poses to the objectives of the property-owning class, it is also a result of misunderstandings on the part of the left.

Reality is showing that the solidarity economy territory side of the bridge has leveled up. Contrary to what happened with the world of politics, where cultural regression is evident in the downgrading of public policy agendas (and the discourse itself) of the left.

The bridge will have to be raised with a pillar next to the side of the world of politics. Constructed with a concrete “poisoned” with a leftover additive and construction iron with greater compatibility between its alloying elements, it could prevent the increased flow from destroying the bridge.

Before the end of this text, I argue that this bridge is essential to make the solidary economy grow. By allowing the Gordian knot to be cut that historically forced left-wing governments around the world to submit to the logic of capital accumulation in order to implement socializing measures, it can guarantee governability to those who defend it. For this, to get out of the labyrinth of peripheral capitalism at the top, I draw attention to one of its rarely mentioned conditions in the vicinity of this bridge.

And, in conclusion, I lay bare the essential cognitive ingredient that knowledge workers will be able to add to the construction of this pillar, making it happen more quickly, even before the level of the policy side has its level increased.

 

The territory of the solidarity economy

I begin my description noting its rise. The worsening of the survival conditions of the poorest caused by the action of the property-owning class to increase its profit (and aggravated by the pandemic) strengthened the bonds of solidarity that characterize the solidarity economy movement and drive its actions.

At first, and sometimes merely defensive, they gained organicity and directionality. The inherent capillarity and transversality of the solidarity economy and its ability to receive and forward multiple demands from the poorest means that it is raised by the popular movement as a political fact that leftist leaders are considering with increasing attention.

Some have even recognized that if it had remained on the government agenda when – twenty years ago – it occupied an important space on the political agenda of the left, the unspeakable defeat that is being inflicted on the working class would not have been so serious.

A flow of awareness, participation and empowerment often associated with “identity agendas” raised by the poorest grows in the urban “quebradas”. Until recently located (in various aspects that must be privileged, but which I will not address here) well behind the popular movement in the countryside where there are remnants of collective ownership of the means of production, they acquire a lack of protagonism.

Another contingent of this territory also stands out, which gathers around actions such as those that take place in Universities – incubation, extension curricularization, etc. – and in civil society organizations. Among others, they increase the perception, driven by the environmental crisis and its most cruel manifestation (the intentional lethality of the pandemic in our country), that only active solidarity can face the increasingly evident suicidal greed of the property class.

 

How has the left played in the world of politics?

Moving to the other side of the bridge, to the world of politics, where my focus is on the leaders of the left (the social actor or segment that I am interested in analyzing here), I see them paying little attention to what is happening there.

I have the impression that they form a system with erratic behavior. Some of our leaders act like the one who says to a friend who came to talk about a movie: “I didn't see it and I didn't like it…”. Without going deeper, I note that the forces related to the solidarity economy that operate in this system do not have a positive result.

But as I was trained to highlight more structural constraints, I see something that deserves consideration. The praxis of the left consolidated over many, many decades has been oriented towards the defense of the rights that Northern capitalism allows its workers. And in an attempt to mitigate the even more wild and predatory character that he assumes on the periphery.

Among other aspects, such as the correct perception that the workers' struggle must be global and unitary, the legitimization achieved by the successes obtained here meant that most leftist leaders did not pay due attention to the portion of the working class that is the majority here. . Although evidently necessary, his attention to the defensive dynamics limited to workers directly engaged in the capitalist production and consumption of goods and services, hindered his understanding of the solidarity economy. About its potential for social and productive inclusion, about its potential to disrupt the hegemony of capital, about its ability to contribute to a society beyond capital”.

He explains, for example, why he placed in the Ministry of Labor – a space reserved in corporate States for the polite clash between bosses and unionized workers – an initiative whose objective was precisely to question and seek alternatives to the relationship of capitalist exploitation. And that it should, transversalizing through a program-oriented mission, as proposed by the one that preceded it (Zero Hunger), the vertical structure in favor of policies that favor the property-owning class.

 

Left-wing leaders and the solidarity economy

In particular, because this is what I am interested in analysing, I see the leadership of the left still not very involved with territories neighboring that of production that today stand out in the solidarity economy. Among others, the quasi-financial arrangement constituted by banks and solidarity currencies that may come to compete with the excruciating usury system formed by private and “public” banks. And to be the catalyst for an alternative style of leveraging the production and consumption of goods and services.

More than that, I see that they remain focused on the sectors that most interested the alliances that were established between the North and South property classes. And, among them, for also understandable reasons, in those workers who, because they were unionized, had a relative more advantageous starting position to embrace the causes of the left.

At the risk of generalizing, I see the leaders of the left little aware of what the solidarity economy can contribute to leveraging their political project. He continues to interpret it through the Keynesian lens of his economists as a compensatory policy.

They even agree to put it in the budget. After all, I say, it is a claim (and even, materially speaking) of a “part” (in its double sense) of the organized people. Incidentally, in addition to being politically aware and voting, it is by far the most potentially mobilized to lend governability to a left-wing government.

In addition, and this is perhaps what is decisive, the problem may arise from the meaning of a positive result from the defense that makes the proposal of the solidary economy of collective ownership of the means of production and self-management. If it happens, it could frighten the social democratic left that defends micro and small companies. And those who see it as collaborationism with capital and as something that diverts the working class from its revolutionary mission will be disgusted.

But there will be a growing number of those who see the solidarity economy as a socialism that will have the face they can give it. They are the ones who will be able to make it stop being a “social policy” (the one that the property-owning class should call uneconomical, given that it reduces its share of the treasury) and become an economic policy. Not like that of the past (which the left should call antisocial, given that it harms the working class) but rather like a policy that includes the poor in the budget as what they are, the citizen most capable of pulling the country out of the quagmire.

Concluding this point, I tend to note that the leaders of the left have not paid due attention to the proposal that the solidarity economy movement formulates.

 

Three aspects of the situation

At least three aspects of the reality observed on the side of the bridge where the world of politics is located should motivate an inflection in the practice of left-wing leaders.

The first can be summarized by the fact that of the 180 million Brazilians of working age, only 30 have a formal contract, 10 are civil servants and around 80 have never had and most likely never will have a job. And that if this is allowed, they will tend to be kept by our anorexic property-owning class in the “infernal economy”.

The second aspect has to do with the level of deindustrialization of our economy. And that, it is essential to understand so that we are not mistaken, is caused by the evaluation that the proprietary class has always and every day made about the options that are presented in the “market” (or in the space reserved by it for the accumulation of capital) . The rentier, contemporary, and agro-export options, ancestral, are derived from their adaptation, as usual subordinated to the context – already ultraliberal for some time and until now of the right – hegemonized by its central partners.

The third has to do with the fact that, not by chance, agribusiness is the star of this deindustrialization movement. More than in the industrial sectors, which were once the main interest of the imperialist property class, it is there (in commerce and other primary goods) that it is now focused. Even when one observes only the acceleration of its contribution to economic growth, the potential dynamism of activities (and segments) located upstream (equipment, pesticides, seeds) and also downstream (super-processed foods), its ability to capture the multi advantages of foreign trade in one of the most unequal and closed countries in the world, it is clear what will tend to concentrate the interest of the property-owning class.

 

The solidarity economy as a “window of opportunity”

The left, when in government, throughout history and all over the world, has been trapped (self-encircled) in a trap, in a kind of labyrinth that was being built by events like the ones I mentioned above.

In order to promote socializing policies, which in most cases have been limited to compensatory measures required in times of crisis to restore the smooth functioning of the economy, leftist governments have sought to make the capitalist economy and state work. This is how they have promoted the expected growth of stroke caused by business activities. At the very least, because the allocation of resources to those policies assumes that there are taxes collected through a virtuous circle that can be triggered by state subsidies for these activities.

It has been demonstrated that our tax structure based on the consumption tax means that when the “compensatory resource” reaches the poorest, it – to a large extent and immediately – “returns” to the treasury as a tax embedded in the goods and services that are purchased. What we don't know, but we can assess, is the ability of the solidarity economy to exorcise this anathema that accompanies the left and allow our next leftist government to come out on top, as it has to be done, from that labyrinth.

What would happen if these goods and services were managed and produced “downstairs”, by the poorest? If a left-wing government, “bypassing” (partially of course!) the company, avoiding “financing” its profit, preventing “market failures” and social and environmental “negative externalities” that it causes, curbing “imperfections” such as evasion and corruption (which in our case add up to more than 10% of GDP), could mobilize the potential of the solidarity economy? By allocating part of its purchasing power (which amounts to almost 18% of GDP) to its production and consumption networks. Could it, even without going through the market, provide the satisfaction of collective needs that are currently unsatisfied or underserved?

If, systematically and simultaneously with – inevitable given the current correlation of forces – business reindustrialization, this government implemented a solidary reindustrialization? If, together with the first one and its subsidy to the generation of jobs and wages, another one was promoted, based on the subsidy to the generation of work and income, collective property and self-management. A reindustrialization capable of producing goods and services of an industrial nature with some autonomy in relation to the circuit of capital accumulation, in networks of solidary enterprises?

 

A message to knowledge workers

At the beginning of this text, I referred to the pillar that must be built next to the world of politics to raise the bridge. And I added that it was up to these workers and workers to add the cognitive ingredient that is necessary to make this pillar ready even before the level of the political side has its level increased.

I go into the normative part of this text, remembering that it is known that the actions that should take place to reverse exclusion and promote the organization of the excluded demand an intelligence and public management capacity (governmental and social) that are contradictory with the functioning of the State apparatus (or its class character). And, also, that they depend on the scarce existence of people in the institutions adventitious to him where the cadres of the left are formed.

These institutions have not been able to drive this process forward. On the contrary, they continue to orient their teaching, research and extension agendas in the sense of giving course to the cognitive conditions favorable to the accumulation of capital.

The fact that these institutions, whose elite dominates the elaboration (formulation, implementation and evaluation) of cognitive policy and where the presence of leftist ideas is still significant, continue to feed the myth of stroke on the periphery of capitalism deserves to be highlighted. Given that they continue to act as if the local company, taking advantage of the favorable conditions that they consistently and repeatedly engender, could promote the development they aspire to, these teaching and research institutions end up reinforcing the exclusionary character of our peripheral condition.

The political-ideological superstructure of capital, which guarantees the functioning and legitimizes its economic-productive infrastructure, is so solid and meticulously built that many times not even those who are part of these institutions and understand the contradiction inherent in capitalism are able to escape its logic. The dynamics of capital accumulation that crosses “their” State is so strong as to make its left-wing members give free rein and even participate in actions contrary to their ideology.

This situation, I say in passing without going into detail here, contributes to a vicious circle that perpetuates a cognitive policy that repels analytical-conceptual elements and methodological-operational instruments that could enhance the solidarity economy proposal. Interrupting it depends on those members of the left identified with the solidary economy; but it also depends on the leaders of the left who are willing to be the government. These two actors will have to change their institutional culture and behavioral tradition. Which will be facilitated as you coexist and mingle with those, organized, who are coming to cross the bridge. They have the responsibility and ability to contribute to building the bridge's cognitive pillar.

I conclude with an invitation to anyone who is a worker or knowledge worker like me to help take advantage of the “window of opportunity” that the solidarity economy represents for our next leftist government.

* Renato Dagnino He is a professor at the Department of Scientific and Technological Policy at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Solidarity popular economy (editorial tome).

 

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