historic stalemate

Richard Wright, Untitled Figure 1, 2001


No society plunges into regression without resistance.

“Now (against the line of the third period), as before, Trotsky held the view that the whole epoch beginning with the First World War and the Russian Revolution was one of the decline of capitalism (…) This, however, did not mean that the building was on the verge of collapsing with a crash. The decay of a social system is not an isolated process of economic collapse or an uninterrupted succession of revolutionary situations. No depression was therefore, a priori, the “last and final” (…) It was therefore absurd to announce that the bourgeoisie had “objectively” arrived at its final impasse: there was no impasse from which a ruling class would not try to break out and its success depended not so much on purely economic factors, but much more on the balance of political forces” (Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky, the banished prophet).

There is a lot of exasperation on the left after five years of a long reactionary situation. Even in socialist circles there is an excruciating anxiety, in the face of an increasingly serious social crisis, and an unstable political impasse, in which the accumulation of forces for impeachment remains insufficient, but the danger of a self-coup still threatens the outcome of an election distant.

It was no historical accident that a neo-fascist leadership like Bolsonaro came to power through elections and the formation of an extreme right-wing coalition government with a Bonapartist strategy. After two and a half years, the malaise has already infected a social majority, but we are not experiencing an explosive situation, despite the accelerated decay of objective factors.

The subjective factors that explain the dramatic slowness of mass experience must enter into the analysis equation. The key to the situation is the evolution of the consciousness of the most organized sectors of the working class. Confidence is lacking. Disgust, anger, indignation grow, week after week, faster. But indecision, uncertainty and doubt still prevail. Harassed by the pandemic, threatened by unemployment, insecure by the weight of defeats, but also resigned that it will be possible to defeat Bolsonaro in the elections, without having to measure forces in the streets with the petty-bourgeois crowds mobilized by the neo-fascists.

It is not ruled out that, at some point, the will to overthrow the government will gain the strength of a political passion. Passions are an intense state of mind, it is a moment of maximum exaltation. It cannot be maintained for a long time. The nerves and muscles of the masses cannot stand it. They mix at the highest intensity, hope and uncertainty, anger and insecurity. The fear of the approach of the time for a decisive confrontation, the time to measure forces, generates a frenetic restlessness. It is the historic opportunity in which the chance of overthrowing the government opens up. While it does not arrive, we are at an impasse.

Opera summary: we are nervous. A little perspective, perhaps, might help. We live in a historic epoch of the decline of capitalism. At this level of abstraction, capitalism is experiencing its decadence. The epochs of genesis and apogee are behind us. In the senility stage, capitalism becomes more dangerous. Trumpism did not die with Trump's defeat. Bolsonarism is not a Brazilian anomaly. They are the expression of a historical trend.

But the analysis of classical Marxism on the fate of capitalism, the elaboration of the first and second generations, is not equivalent to a prognosis of imminent catastrophe. There is no “apocalyptic” prophecy in Marxism. Nor is there a theory of the inevitability of the “natural death” of capitalism. There is a prognosis that the crises would be increasingly serious and recurrent and an open decision: socialism or barbarism. And most importantly: a bet on the possibility of revolution.

This hypothesis has been put to the test in the laboratory of history. No society has remained indefinitely immune to pressure for change. The forces of historical inertia are proportional to the reactionary social force of each epoch. All contemporary societies were, at some point, faced with the challenge of transforming themselves, or plunging into crisis. But the need for reforms is in contradiction with the avarice of privileged class interests, with reactionary social and cultural rigidity, and not least, with the tendency towards inertia of political regimes. Reforms are not impossible, and they save time. Not all crises spill over into revolutions.

A significant and often terrible delay is inevitable between the moment of the manifestation of a social crisis, and the time that society needs to be able to face the transformations that are indispensable. Revolutions do not happen when they are necessary, but when the pressure for change proves to be unavoidable. Historical times are slow. Only under the impact of dire circumstances do crowds wake up from the state of political resignation, and discover the strength of their collective mobilization. Revolutions are, in this sense, a historical exceptionality if we use the measures of the political times of the conjunctures. But they are also one of the laws of the process of social change, if we consider the scale of long durations.

This is the meaning of Trotsky's remarks in the Preface to History of the Russian Revolution: “Society never changes its institutions when it needs to, (…) On the contrary, it practically accepts as definitive the institutions to which it is subjected. (…) Quite exceptional conditions must arise, irrespective of the will of men or parties, to wrest the chains of conservatism from discontent and lead the masses to insurrection. Therefore, those rapid changes which the ideas and mood of the masses undergo in revolutionary times are not the product of the elasticity and mobility of the human psyche, but, on the contrary, of its profound conservatism.”

There are many and varied different types of crises: government management crises, social crises, political regime crises, and finally, the most serious of all crises, the revolutionary one. In other words, reforms essentially took place when the danger of revolutions was imminent, or as a result of the victory of revolutions that threatened to spread and infect an entire region.

Revolutions happened when injustice or tyranny proved unsustainable, and political regimes were unable to pre-emptively effect change through reforms. The obtuseness of regimes taking the initiative to promote reforms has fermented the objective conditions of revolutionary situations. They are the moment when crowds erupt in history, when, in the words of Daniel Bensaïd, a long wait ends: “They begin with astonishment and good humor, with confidence in a just cause. The sudden rupture of times first assumes the appearance of celebration, an exceptional displacement from the rule of everyday life, of transgression (…) In July 1789, in February 1848, in May 1871 in Paris, in February 1917 in Petrograd, in July 1936 in Barcelona, ​​in January 1959 in Havana, on May 10, 1968 between two barricades, in April 1974 under the carnations of Lisbon, something improbable happens, “of the order of the demonic and of passion”, which always secretly waited” (Le pari melancoliques, Fayard, p. 276).

Understanding what tyranny is does not require much explanation. But the perception of what injustice would be is a subjective conclusion that refers to the expectations that were dominant in the previous historical period and that will necessarily be different and varied in each nation. Conditions of injustice or tyranny that would be intolerable in one society may be tolerated in another, even for decades. It is unfair when society is incapable of continuing to guarantee even the living conditions that the people accepted as consolidated achievements. Or when the sacrifices required are dramatically disproportionate.

The central issue is that social psychology suggests that the salaried popular masses discover themselves as social subjects willing to fight, when the perception is generalized among them that there is a danger of not even being able to continue living as they used to, and that everything it will get worse. This rebellious, uprising, insurgent fighting disposition is the main factor in the outbreak of a revolutionary situation.

But only in extraordinary circumstances did social crises spill over into political crises. Most political crises were resolved within the limits of governance, that is, within the institutions. When political crises do not find an institutional solution, the probability of opening a regime crisis increases, that is, a situation involving an exasperated dispute for power. The prospect of change through elections may not be enough to quell the impatience of millions.

A “seismograph” of revolutions is not possible. Not for lack of causalities, but for excess. There has never been an economic crisis or a social crisis in history without a way out for capital. Exiting economic crises has, of course, never been painless. It required massive destruction of capital, an increase in the level of exploitation of the workforce, an intensification of competition between monopolies, and competition between States, that is, immense dangers.

While capitalism lived its historical period of genesis and development, these destructive crises were, relatively, faster and smoother. The political and social evolution of the last forty years, in the central countries themselves, seems to suggest that a time has opened in which regulatory reforms are more difficult, although not impossible.

The limits of capitalism were not, and could not be, fixed. They result from a political and social struggle that manifested itself in the past in waves of strikes, in the intensification of social conflicts. In some periods the limits of capitalism contracted (after the victory of the Russian revolution; after the crisis of 1929; after the Chinese revolution; after the Cuban revolution), and in others they expanded (after Roosevelt's New Deal; after the Yalta/Potsdam at the end of World War II; after Reagan/Thatcher in the 1980s).

It has been said that the next revolutions will always be more difficult than the last ones. Because the counter-revolution learns quickly. The counterrevolution was a worldwide phenomenon in the XNUMXth century, especially in the XNUMXs. It has come back with a vengeance over the last five years.

But the experience with Bolsonaro itself confirms that it is difficult for the ruling class to impose a destruction of the historic achievements of the previous generation. The breakdown of social cohesion is dangerous. We know from the study of history how difficult it is to start a social fire. But once it's started, it's much more difficult to control. Because it quickly becomes more or less clear that this is a social regression.

No society plunges into regression without resistance. Social psychology does not operate in the same way as the psychology of individuals. In the personal dimension, any human being can give up fighting in defense of himself, giving up even before fighting. He is worn out by weariness, discouragement, disillusionment. The broad masses do not fight with a revolutionary disposition to win, except exceptionally. But when this disposition arises it is one of the most powerful political forces in history.

When the average worker, the average citizen, feels cornered, he tends to abandon political credulity. Credulity is the form of political innocence. Old loyalties break down. This is the window through which the wave of social radicalization passes. In Argentina, the spark was the declaration of a state of siege by the De La Rua government in December 2001, reacting in panic to a wave of supermarket invasions. In Tunisia, in December 2010, the spark was the immolation of a desperate young man, and the hypocritical reaction of the dictator Ben Ali when he visited him in the hospital.

When it will come to Brazil, strictly speaking, we don't know. Because this dispute is decided in the field of political struggle. Which is the field of conjunctures, of short rhythms, of quick responses, of unexpected initiatives, of surprises, of blows and counterattacks, of instantaneous responses, therefore, of what is random, circumstantial, accidental.

But she will come.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).


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