Insurrections. Why?

Image_Oto Vale

By Valerio Arcary*

Why do societies that have accepted, with greater or lesser resignation, the permanence of iniquities and abuse of power for years, for decades, without fracturing, at a given moment fragment in the face of accumulated hatred and fury?

Last year it was in Chile: general strikes, marches with hundreds of thousands in the streets, occupation of public buildings, brutal repression, arbitrary arrests, hundreds of victims of blindness and, finally, dead in the streets. A few weeks ago, in the heart of the most powerful imperialism in history, the strongest and most intense wave of protests against racism since the sixties took to the streets.

But now, after the explosion in Beirut, it's in Lebanon, and the government has resigned. This week, too, in Belarus, White Russia, following the presidential elections. We are, once again, facing the “dangerous corners” of history. Youth uprisings, popular rebellions, mindless explosions, insurrections. Injustice and tyranny remain the ferment of the objective conditions for the opening of revolutionary situations.

But the key to understanding are the subjective conditions. Why do societies that have accepted, with greater or lesser resignation, the permanence of iniquities and abuse of power for years, for decades, without fracturing, at a given moment fragment in the face of accumulated hatred and fury? In each of them an event was the trigger, the spark, the spark. But it is not the spark that explains the fire. When uneasiness turns into anger, dissatisfaction into rage, resentment explodes into rage?

There are no “seismographs” for predicting the opening of revolutionary processes. Not for lack of causalities, but for excess. The great popular masses do not wake up with a revolutionary disposition to fight, only because they are afraid of losing what little they have, but when they believe they can win. Discovering their strength is the lever that inspires confidence in mobilisation.

But what is certain, if we keep our eyes open to the laboratory of history, is that there is, for every regime of exploitation, oppression and domination, a historical limit. More than ever, paradoxically, a discussion on the dynamics of capitalism remains open on the left. The idea that the programmatic horizon of our time is the introduction of reforms that impose regulation on capitalists still prevails. But the project of “saving capitalism from the capitalists” is an old reactionary utopia.

The impact of the pandemic led to a new round of large-scale monetary easing in central countries. But both in the USA and the United Kingdom, as well as in the European Union and Japan, uncertainty about economic recovery prevails, and the strategic references of fiscal balance remain intact.

On the left, some argue that it is urgent for national states to establish limits on the free movement of capital, others argue that the impact of the pandemic legitimizes the introduction of new taxes on wealth and inheritance.

There are many people convinced that it is essential to eradicate tax havens, but even more vehement are those who defend the financing of public education, so that the poor can acquire the skills to get better paid jobs. While these proposals are necessary and fair, they are nothing new. In fact, they implore our conscience to accept the indefinite permanence of the system. It's about fighting for harm reduction.

In this context, it should not surprise us that there is also a great controversy about whether or not there is growing social inequality in the world. There remains a great controversy about whether or not there is growing social inequality in the world.

It is argued, based on data from organizations of the UN system, that globalization has removed hundreds of millions of people from poverty in some peripheral countries, especially China, in the last thirty-five years. The 2015 UN report confirms that just two decades ago, nearly half of the developing world lived in extreme poverty. The number of people now living in extreme poverty has more than halved, from 1,9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015.[I]

However, the reduction of extreme poverty does not allow us to conclude that there has been a reduction in social inequality. The two processes are not incompatible. Countless times, in different countries, there has been a relative reduction in poverty and, at the same time, an increase in social inequality due to the faster enrichment of the richest.

One of the world's largest databases for investigating social inequality is the World Wealth and Income database. From the 1s onwards, the richest XNUMX% of the world's richest share of the world's wealth has grown[ii].

The graph above illustrates the comparative increase in the share of the richest 1% in the US, France and China between 1978 and 2014. But true inequality is measured on wealth, and it includes wealth, not just income. New estimates indicate that the wealth of just eight men is equal to that of the poorest half of the world.

Oxfam's report is devastating. Over the next 20 years, 500 people will pass on more than $2,1 trillion to their heirs – a sum greater than the GDP of India, a country of 1,2 billion people. The income of the poorest 10% increased by about US$65 between 1988 and 2011, while that of the richest 1% increased by about US$11.800, that is, 182 times more.

In the United States, a recent survey reveals that, over the past 30 years, the income of the poorest 50% has remained unchanged, while that of the richest 1% has increased by 300%. One out of every 100 people in the world has as much as the remaining 99; 0,7% of the world's population own 45,2% of total wealth[iii]. And the richest 10% own 88% of total assets, according to the new edition of the annual wealth study published by the Swiss bank Credit Suisse, unsuspecting any exaggeration, and based on data on the wealth of 4,8 billion adults from more than 200 countries[iv]. The chart below sheds light on these proportions amazingly.

The UN MDGs (Millennium Declaration Goals) for 2015 have not been achieved. They were rescheduled for 2030. The graph below confirms in six peripheral countries, including China, a trend towards an increase in the participation of the richest 1% in national income, therefore, an increase in social inequality.

The dominant narrative of exaltation of globalization that we live in an increasingly better world is just a propaganda speech. All surveys suggest that social inequality, including in central countries such as the United States, and OECD countries, and even Australia, has grown again in the last thirty-five years, considered by the Gini index.

Piketty's theoretical solution to the issue of growing inequality, of neo-Keynesian inspiration, is of a fiscal nature: a tax on wealth that allows financing a fund that guarantees faster growth. Piketty's hypothesis reduces the analysis to the equation of two key variables: r, the general rate of return on capital; It is g, the rate of economic growth in society. When is bigger than g, therefore, when the profit rate is greater than the economy's growth rate, capital grows faster than the economy as a whole, therefore, inequality increases.

World Bank chart. Consultation on 15/10/2017

Summary of the opera: the richest are appropriating a greater share of wealth, both in central and peripheral countries, even with the modest growth after the 2008 crisis.

In more unequal societies, two tendencies that are already manifested tend to be exacerbated. The first is that electoral democratic regimes will be harassed by the radicalization of bourgeois fractions willing to seek the counterrevolutionary mobilization of frightened middle-class sectors. The second is that the patience of the working class and the oppressed with electoral timetables will wane, and we will see new insurrections. Both will seek political representation.

This is the challenge of a left for the XNUMXst century.

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


Consultation on 14/01/2017

[ii] Consultation on 15/01/2017

Consultation on 16/01/2017

[iv] Global Wealth Databook 2016 Consultation on 15/01/2017
Consultation on 10/01/2017.

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