Coupists, Caudistas and Sovereignists

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By Fernando Sarti Ferreira*

A phenomenon that began to torment the most diverse groups of the Brazilian left in the last decade was “caudism”. If at first caudismo appeared spasmodically, as isolated hiccups of small groups, after the defeat suffered by the 2016 coup, this tactic seems to have been universalized.

The term “caudism” (from the word tail) was coined by Lenin in the midst of the bloody disputes between the various fractions of the Russian social-democratic movement to describe what he considered a more abject posture than that of opportunism. Used to describe the attitude of the Rabocheye Dyelo group – an insignificant fraction even at the time when Lenin wrote “What is to be done?”-, the term described the wandering attitude of this group by repeatedly supporting and rejecting the most diverse tactical deliberations of the movement, seizing them following the tail of the former and allowing itself to be “dragged along by economism when economism reigns, and by terrorism when terrorism reigns”. It is enough, in this sense, to stand still and wait for the indomitable horse that carries the story to pass by and grab its tail. If he is heading for the cliff, nothing prevents him from letting go of his tail and waiting for another animal to pass in front of him.

 Mensalão, 2016 Impeachment, 2016 truck drivers' strike, Operation Lava Jato, Arab Spring, the 2014 Ukrainian uprisings, Hong Kong and Bolivia in 2019… the list is endless, as is the geographic reach of this lazy tactic. If, on the one hand, a reductionism reigns that attributes a good part of these movements to a low vision of Imperialism and its constantly reinvented ways of acting, “caudism” fails to embrace any type of popular dissatisfaction or mobilizations around any agenda, whatever it may be. are the terms in which they were put.

Defenders of the shallow view of imperialism even received a breath of renewal and theoretical sophistication supported by the study on the tactics of hybrid war, a mechanism for destabilizing regimes that was widely disseminated after the occupation of Iraq in 2003. However, and as can be inferred not only from the positions of these left groups, but also from the reading of Andrew Korybko's book, these analyzes have a big problem, as they solemnly ignore that the hybrid war acts on contradictions that already exist and are very deep-rooted. As fanciful as the revolutionary potential of organizations financed by the US and NATO, such as the Free Syrian Army or the National Transitional Council of Libya, are the alleged “socialist” and “anti-hegemonic” havens of Bashar al- Assad and the late Muammar al-Gaddafi.

There is an ocean separating the counter-hegemonic weight that a regime exerts and its ability to serve as an alternative model of organization. In the cases mentioned above, things as complex as the new forms of imperialism's performance, in a context of deepening of the signaling (or terminal?) crisis of US hegemony and the complex historical and national processes of peripheral nations, are transformed into matter for the exercise of sovereignist dilettantism or revolutionary solipsism. Furthermore, that a political group confuses the udenist and punitive moralism of the Lava Jato prosecutors with a direct blow to the heart of big capital and the Brazilian bourgeoisie says a lot about the possibilities and theoretical instruments that this group has to analyze the political puzzle and ethnicity of a conflict with the dimensions of the Civil War in Syria.

The Kapp Putsch and many other experiences led Hitler to understand that the German extreme right would not get anywhere without popular mobilization. Getúlio Vargas and his entourage knew that from the 1920s onwards, no power project could arise without any appeal to the masses. The UDN reached the same conclusion when it finally submitted to the candidacy of Jânio Quadros. The fact that a reactionary and conservative agenda has adherence and provokes popular protagonism should not generate any surprise on the left. The absence of any strategy and deeper diagnosis of what we are experiencing leads to the arrest of “caudism”.

Workers and subaltern sectors can be misled. To think that the mere action of these groups, even raising reactionary flags, must necessarily carry something that serves emancipation or the construction of any more progressive horizon, even if intangible for them at the time of action, is a tremendous elitism. Truckers asked for what they asked for. Why want to deny “their voices”, replacing them with a completely abstract solipsism? On the other hand, among the most reticent, something equally or more deleterious reigns: conformism, cowardice and deafness that make many other sectors of the left be the first in line at mass in honor of broken shop windows.

Sovereignists and caudistas met again in the recent coup d'état in Bolivia. And again, it seems inevitable to us to return to comparisons with other historical processes. The attitude of some sectors of the left to applaud the fall of Evo Morales, and this even within Bolivia itself!, sounds like nonsense. Let's go back to General Kornilov's coup against Kerensky in August 1917 in Russia. A month earlier, the Kerensky government had unleashed a brutal persecution of the Bolsheviks, forcing a good part of the party leadership to go underground. Kerensky was a popular figure, identified with socialist ideals, but who postponed the more radical transformations demanded by the groups of workers and organized peasants, he continued to wallow Russia in the war, that is, he betrayed his base with a capital T.

However, in the face of General Kornilov's czarist coup, Lenin issued the slogan: “Against the Kornilov scoundrel, for the Kerensky scoundrel”. Trotsky quotes how the Krondstadt sailors – who he himself would massacre a few years later, in one of the most classic and scandalous cases of treason – understood the situation: “Let's put the rifle on Kerensky's shoulder and shoot Kornilov. Then we decided with Kerenski”. What we can learn from all these crises that have swept progressive regimes in Latin America is not the already beaten “limits and betrayals” of certain political groups, but the other face of this process: the historical inability of other movements to build anything else.

Didn't the extreme left have its moments of glory, precisely when it put progressive governments in check? Didn't it gain space in the media, invitations to television programs and full pages of newspapers? To what extent were these movements autonomous? And worse: were they autonomous in relation to what? Drawing on another historical experience, has the error of the German left not been tragically repeated? In Weimar times, anyone could tell by heart the limits of social democracy. Thousands of authors made the most diverse and brilliant analyzes about the crisis of capitalism and how social democracy was a tragedy, which would not solve anything. I feel like we kept shouting “social fascism” and in the end we ended up getting on the same train.

Returning to present-day Brazil, by abdicating its role as an organizer of the masses, whatever the reason for doing so, the traditional political organizations (mainly unions and parties) left entire sectors of workers at the mercy of new and old apparatuses deprived of ideology. . On the other hand, nothing that presented itself as “the new” or with a more radical option came close to the capillarity that the old organizations once had, or managed to organize itself in a strategic way, freeing itself from the stain of a mere inverted mirror. . The distances between the two groups, which never organically diminished in terms of their capillarity, were shortened from a political point of view by the accelerated process of social disintegration initiated by Temer and radicalized by Bolsonaro. In this terrible twilight, before grabbing the “tail” of any animal or asking for “calm down”, we need to decide what we want.

*Fernando Sarti Ferreira is a professor and doctoral candidate in economic history at USP

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