Hegemony and socialist strategy

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By LUIZ MARQUES*

The struggle for political supremacy is decided within the process of wars of position

There are books that wait years, decades to obtain the status of classics. Hegemony and socialist strategy: towards a radical democratic policy (Intermeios), by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, was published in 1985, in England. Despite any caveats that may be raised in methodological terms, it brought an invaluable epistemological contribution. It was reissued in 2000, with a preface added. At the time, the concern of the Brazilian people turned to paving the way for redemocratization and governance, starting with the 1988 Constitution, after a generation under military dictatorship, torture, persecution, censorship of freedom of expression. A metallurgist, without a university degree, was preparing to place the presidential sash on his chest.

The translation landed in Brazil in 2015, when the country was experiencing the brazen sabotage of a corrupt leader of the Chamber of Deputies to the measures of President Dilma Rousseff, to quell the economic and political crisis that fomented the 2016 coup and the rise of a neo-fascist to the power. The national situation seemed to have more urgent and burning issues to resolve. As a result, the work of the brilliant couple of academics has not received the attention it deserves. But it has not expired.

In Europe, in the interval between the original editions and the late version in the language of Machado de Assis, Eurocommunism, which had emerged as an alternative path to Stalinism and social democracy, fell into oblivion; the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed; and the end of the Cold War was toasted. In the United States, multiculturalism erupted in street battles for civil rights, with visibility to groups excluded from the white, heterosexual, male, Christian Euro-American paradigm.

In Latin America, the alter-world social movements came together in the exchange of experiences at the World Social Forum (WSF); the inaugural cycle of progressive governments was born (Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela) with Latin American integration; and the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) came to light.

Above everything and everyone, the neoliberal hegemony extended, which the newspaper Le Monde named after unique thought by the drag force of countries towards the globalization of the economy. At the same time, post-modernism was gaining ground, supplying the theoretical need for the “new reason of the world”, to evoke the title of the beautiful essay by Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval. Narratives about the decline of ideologies (due to the uselessness of the distinction between left and right), class struggle (due to the absence of the proletariat in post-industrial society to combat the bourgeoisie) and the history itself that would have hit the ceiling (with the victory of neoliberalism and representative democracy).

The brief XNUMXth century was saying goodbye. Laclau & Mouffe tackle the spirit of the times by rebelling against Marxist orthodoxy, from the old “tricks of the Third International”. To do so, they use the arsenal of concepts bequeathed by Antônio Gramsci: “war of position, historical bloc, collective will, hegemony, intellectual and moral reform”. Such are the pillars of the opportune theoretical-political reflections in the pages of “one of the most important works of social and political theory of the XNUMXth century”.

 

The Bitches of Marxism

Outbound, on reading what will it be like, two methodological obstacles draw our attention: (a) Marxism is not limited to its immobilization by the Third International (1919-1943). In the first five years of the Communist International, five congresses were held. After Lenin's death in January 1924, the Comintern came under the control of Stalin, who turned it into an international party with national sections serving the Soviet bureaucracy. Only two more congresses took place (1928, 1935). Imprisoning Marxism in the period when it lost its restlessness and creativity, immured in communist and fascist totalitarianism – is not correct and; (b) The recurrence to Gramsci and Critical Theory, from the banished Frankfurt School, shows that historical materialism survived the tics. Laclau & Mouffe's "post-Marxism" alludes to the Comintern, not to the Marxian theory, in the purpose of “going beyond”. His reflections take place in the decade following May 1968. Auge dos new philosophes (Alain Finkielkraut, Bernard-Henri Lévy, André Gluscksmann), who abjured Maoist/Trotskyist militancy to attack the foundations of Marxism. "Really existing socialism" would not be a totalitarian deviation. The theory would already have it in germ. It is in the reflux of dialectical thought that the prefix “post” is sustained.

It is true that the rejection of the economicist and schematic postulate of “determination in the last instance” instigates the search for a Marxism open to recent forms of apprehending reality. The juxtaporations of colonialism / racism, patriarchy / sexism and positivist progress / ecological imbalance gave rise to answers that are not found in Bukharinian manuals, to welcome the intersectionalities that cross the struggle against the capitalist system today. But the premise does not automatically infer the false conclusion about the obsolescence of the Marxian method of interpreting capitalism. On the contrary, it continues to have a productive utility.

Many researchers, whether in the genius of Gramsci or Frankfurt, incorporate contemporary issues linked to surveillance capitalism or the reconstruction of democratic socialism to the framework of the “philosophy of praxis”. Nancy Fraser and Rahel Jaeggi, in Capitalism in debate (Boitempo), maintain the notion of concrete totality to capture the relationships between the sparse parts of the real, supported by the conceptual construct of the “synthesis of multiple determinations”. If Marx's discoveries were influenced by the cultural environment that surrounded the birth of his formulations, they have a heuristic value that goes beyond immediate, birth conditioning. It matters the permanence of its ontology of the social being.

The allegory of the stone thrown into the water, which causes concentric circles, elucidates the question about the best theory: it is the one with circles wide enough to interpret the greatest number of phenomena. Fraser & Jaeggi see no need to abandon Marxism's pretense of comprehensiveness. The search for an open Marxism is not synonymous with an intellectual-militant dissolution in a postmodern tangle, or whatever it is, to face the new contradictions of the system. The wealth of relations of capitalist rationality, at the current stage, would certainly surprise Marx / Engels. There are things between capital accumulation and social and institutional reproduction, nature and the state – that the founders of Marxism did not imagine. But they would decode, if they were alive.

 

game of particulars

The supposed transition from Marxism to post-Marxism is not the most relevant element to be highlighted in the publication, which contributed to format what became known as “discourse analysis”. In the words of the professors who gave a good presentation of the half-forgotten work, in Portuguese, namely: “the analysis of how practices become symbolically and materially hegemonic, binding, self-evident, founded on the plurality of the social and on the polycentricity of political struggles” .

Struggles that multiply the subjects of the transformation of establishment, with the aim of a radical-democratic configuration. Only achieved in politics by the discursiveness of the “hegemonic particularity”. To, here, use the dictionary of some of the main expressions coined by Laclau & Mouffe, when they refuse the temptation of the old-fashioned Hegelian vocabulary about a “universal class”, often incorporated in the demiurgical proletariat designed by the Marxist vulgate.

The construction of hegemony, under neoliberalism and its finalistic certainties, takes place in a sociocultural environment that stigmatized politics as an out-of-place idea, for acting in a scenario of “social division” and “antagonism”. Political radicalism would apply to “vital” issues, such as the imminence of a nuclear war. Otherwise, it would be a simple item of social etiquette, circumvented by listening to each other in conversations head-to-head. “Hence the sacralization of consensus, the erasure of the boundaries between left and right, and the shift towards the center”. Conflicts would be resolved with rational arguments or with purely technical solutions.

Adversarial formatting (“us versus them”) would be outdated. The demand for strong governments in opposition to the democratic rule of law, to deepen neoliberal policies, withdraw acquired rights, make work more precarious and enhance the overexploitation of workers, by the way, was not on the radar of those who frequented think tanks neoliberals twenty years ago. However, the reinvigoration of the extreme right on the world map, with destructive attacks against constitutional democracies in the name of illiberal political regimes, revealed that politics vs they are the unavoidable core of the struggles waged “for a radical and plural democratic policy”.

In later writings, Chantal Mouffe distinguishes “antagonism” from “agonism”. In the first, the conflicting forces do not recognize shared common spaces and try to eliminate opponents. The antagonism drinks at the source of the friend / enemy relationship, proposed by the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, and cannot be resolved dialectically. Consequently, it is unacceptable in a pluralistic society. In the second, the particularities in conflict recognize the legitimacy of the opponents, who are civilly treated as opponents. Respect for the rules of the game, in agonism, guarantees the coexistence of differences, without undermining the democratic ideals of socialism. The possibility of alternation in the discourse that promotes hegemonic particularities works as a civilizational anchor against barbarism. Note: "Liberal democracy is not the enemy to be destroyed in order to create, through revolution, a completely new society".

 

Theory applied to practice

Currents on the left have already made the mistake of questioning “really existing” liberal democracies. The knot is not in the values ​​(crystallized in the principles of freedom and equality) of political liberalism, which Norberto Bobbio separates from the values ​​(crystallized in the free market, without social commitments) of economic liberism. The node is in the power scheme that readjusts and limits the operationalization of values. Radical and plural democracy is a stage of the “democratic revolution”, as it expands the struggles for freedom and equality in the broad spectrum of social relations. Discarding the Jacobin matrix of the friend/enemy theorem does not lead to acceptance of the liberal framework, which removes the anti-capitalist component from socialist policy. Yes, it protects democracy.

The centrality of the concept of hegemony in politics is fundamental. It means that consensus in a society divided into corporate classes is always the result of hegemonic articulation, which makes a new historical bloc empowered to impose its discursiveness on others. This does not deconstruct the democratic regime, it is a condition of possibility. Consensuses do not dismantle the immanence of particularities and conflicts. No fetishized public sphere, with the alleged Habermasian rational communication, suppresses the particularism of actors and social actions.

See the interclass pact that guided the governance of the Workers' Party (PT). When the dear interests of banking/financial capital were affected, the pact was broken and another discursivity sewed the judicial-parliamentary-media coup that deposed an honest president to raise a misogynistic government, of lese-patria and damage- morality. Among us, the history of the ruling classes is a parade of crimes, injustices, impostures and cynicisms.

The removal of the first woman elected to the highest office in the nation, added to the unjust imprisonment that made Lula a political prisoner, released the predatory drive (antisocial, antinational and anticivilizational) of the indigenous elites. It is not surprising, although it causes indignation, that 33,1 million people, equivalent to 15% of the population, have nothing to eat. And that 58,7% of the population lives with some degree of food insecurity (mild, moderate or severe). “The public policies to combat poverty and extreme poverty that, between 2004 and 2013, reduced hunger to 4,2% are no longer part of the Brazilian reality”, comments Renato Maluf, coordinator of the Brazilian Research Network on Sovereignty and Security Food and Nutrition (Penssan Network).

Only four out of ten households maintain access to food. The situation is worse in the North and Northeast regions, and among blacks and female heads of household. Hunger in black or brown homes jumped from 10,4% to 18,1%. In a testament to colonial-slave perseverance in Brazil land, which received more blacks removed from the African continent between the 16th and 19th centuries, the victims who fill the shameful statistics with pain and humiliation are concentrated more on the commoners not populus, properly.

Within the current plurality, the so-called struggles of identity against racism, sexism, sexual discrimination, as well as for environmental balance are connected with the struggles for formal jobs and wages against destitution and hunger. Hegemony and socialist strategy proposes “a chain of equivalence between the various democratic struggles against the different modalities of subordination and domination”. By extension, one could also speak of the need for the junction of the urban question and the class struggle; dealing with public spaces in cities and the democratization of society with effective channels for citizen participation. Undoubtedly, in Brazil, Lula da Silva's candidacy in the next presidential elections exposes a synthesis of multiple determinations of the “new hegemonic project of the left”. Bolsonaro, the country's necropolitics of self-destruction.

 

Role of the political party

“Brazilian society remains structurally authoritarian and significantly unequal, hierarchical and violent, presenting itself, in this first quarter of the 21st century, still reactionary, especially in relation to the majority of the poorest. Even during the three main historical modernization movements of late capitalism, when the profound change in the trajectory of society, driven by progressive forces of each era, prevailed, there was an undeniable conservative and oppressive framework on the part of the dominant socioeconomic groups", says Marcio Pochmann in the chapter on the traumatic interruption of the Social Welfare State in Brazil, in The great historic dropout and the end of industrial society (Ideas & Letters).

As Arthur Rosenberg already pointed out in the 1930s when he studied the political history of democracy and socialism, in the past there was an attempt to make the working class unify the people. Ball out. At present, the challenge is repeated with an aggravating factor in the Brazilian case: to constitute the protagonism of the people, over the divisions of the rabble, the sub-proletariat, the precariat, the sweaty informality, the fighters without fixed remuneration in the tasks of delivered, wage earners in the market and public service, in the eye of the hurricane of deindustrialization. Would social movements, trade unions, community organizations and progressives be up to the task of unifying the fragmented segments of work? Where are the counter-hegemonic particularities? Such questions and anguishes accompany efforts to form a new historical block.

Everything indicates that the initiative for the constitution of a popular anti-system pole, now, should start from the political sphere and not from the fragmented social sphere of work. This fact puts the “collective prince” back on the agenda, that is, the role of the political party as an organizing agent for the masses. The disqualification of political institutions and attacks on working class organizations went hand in hand with the global consolidation of the Washington Consensus over four decades. They almost wiped out the biggest leftist party in the West and its iconic leadership. But the PT and Lula resisted, and rose again to incarnate hope for an egalitarian society. The neoliberal praise of inequality as an engine of individual and collective development has failed.

The population split between the privileged 1% and the sacrificed 99%, in the metaphor of Occupy Wall Street (OWS, 2011), was as pronounced as in the wolf age of abominable capitalist greed, which coincides with the decline of unique thought in the hemispheres. History knocks on the door. “The division of the social into two antagonistic fields is an original and immutable fact, prior to any hegemonic construction, and the transition to a new situation, characterized by the essential instability of political spaces, in which the very identity of the forces in conflict is subjected to constant changes, demanding an incessant process of redefinition”, emphasize Laclau & Mouffe.

The assertion is prophetic in the second wave of progressive governments in LA. Groupings to the left restrict the conjunctural evaluations to the characterization of the parties in institutionality, without paying attention to the social roots of the subtitles, which makes it difficult to take steps towards a solidary Popular Front in the country. The opposition people / neoliberalism and neofascism is what, in a crescendo, brings the perspective of Lulismo's victory in the first round. Keeping the Popular Struggle Committees active, from the October election to Lula's festive inauguration in the Presidency in January, will be crucial to demobilize Bolsonarism and reinforce the elected government's transformative agenda. It would be up to the Committees to boost the pedagogical process of discussion on areas to prioritize in the Union's budget distribution, now pocketed by the congressmen's secret clientelistic amendments.

 

the democratic revolution

The paradigmatic French Revolution “set the world on fire”, according to Hannah Arendt, because it claimed the legitimacy of the people, symbolized in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), to end the Ancien Régime. The discursive grammar that classifies “the different inequalities as illegitimate and unnatural, making them equivalent to forms of oppression” emerged. This is the subversive potential of democratic values: they incite the expansion of equality and freedom to wider areas, fermenting struggles against subordination. English Chartism based demands for universal suffrage, including women, on struggles for political freedom. This one induces equality of gender, race, and so on, like a snowball.

The aristocratic French thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America (Gallimard), proved to be a keen observer of the movement's potential: “It is impossible to believe that equality will not finally penetrate both the political domain and others. It is not possible to conceive of men as eternally unequal to one another in one respect. And equal in others; at a certain point, they will come to be equal in all respects”. The train is on the move.

Socialists stimulate the democratic imaginary and struggles for equalization. Capitalists in subordination relationships use numerous discursive resources, from meritocracy to property, to legitimize differential positions. Factory commissions question the hierarchy between workers and capitalists. Racial slurs and homophobia are penalized. Women's football breaks the phallic monopoly on football. The democratic revolution is multidirectional. In the words of Marx, “the free development of each must be the condition for the development of all”. Equivalences stand out in the hegemonic parameters that reinvent the societal status quo, combining the desire for equality with the exercise of freedom, in a permanent practical-discursive transcription.

Multidirectional is also capitalism that commodifies the workforce, culture, education, sports, the environment, justice, entertainment, disease, sex, beauty, affections, religious faith, lies, life, death, and scandal. Themes gush like waterspouts in post-industrial societies, bathing new claims and new rights. Unusual contents occupy the liberal-democratic discourse with the addition of social rights for individuals. In order not to succumb, even though it is uncomfortable with the “excesses of democracy”, liberalism resizes itself, rearranges and resignifies. While neo-Pentecostal conservatism adheres to neo-fascism.

The point is not to renounce the liberal-democratic ideology, but to deepen and expand it under the sign of a radical and plural democracy to overcome the oppressive routines, in civil society and in the State. The struggle for political supremacy is decided within the process of wars of position. The implementation of the program of popular inflection, on Lula's return to the leadership of the government, will provoke the shock of narratives of disputes with a hegemonic character. The Participatory Budget (PB) will serve as a symbol to designate the conquest of active citizenship among those who have always been on the margins of the reports in history. From the people will come the lesson that organically interweaves democracy and socialism. It is imperative that the democratic-socialist strategy fights the mongrel elite. The bourgeoisie does not deserve Brazil. He lacks love for the Brazilian people.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.

 

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