freedom and participation

Image: Paweł L.


Participatory democracy, with the empowerment of active citizenship, is a strategic issue


social democracy

Democracy is linked to the idea of ​​freedom. It means that government by the people, for the people, cannot be replaced by any authority. The relationship rulers / ruled does not interrupt the exercise of freedom by the sovereign power. In this sense, the imposing measures on the Union Budget must pass through the scrutiny of the population, with total republican transparency.

No wonder, pre-candidate Lula da Silva proposes the replacement of the scandalous scheme of secret parliamentary amendments, sponsored by the Planalto Palace, by mechanisms of participatory democracy. "We're going to have to find a way to do it", said the former representative, who leads the polls of voting intentions for the 2022 election. In other words, it's not enough just to put the poor in the Budget, it's necessary to include the poor in Policy to overcome the exclusionary model, which deliberately ostracizes citizens between elections. It's time to aim for a social democracy. Meeting the demands for rights is to extend the human statute to everyone.

Never has popular participation been suggested with such vehemence, in interaction with institutions of the Republic, on the eve of a presidential campaign. Faced with the repeated neo-fascist attack against the pillars of the 1988 Magna Carta, the progressive forces reacted wisely by demanding more democracy, more political and social inclusion. The abysmal current inequalities weaken the practice of freedom, as they impose unemployment and hunger on vulnerable sectors and regions. Not pass, despite evoking a cliché, highlights the militant resilience of the lulist clamor.

Some modalities of democratic experimentation have already been implemented in PT governments, reads in the document Participatory Democracy: New Relationship between the State and Society (2003-2010), published by the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic. “All the major structural or conjunctural decisions of the Lula Government were the subject of dialogue with civil society”, observes Luiz Soares Dulci in the presentation of the historical record, whose interest transcends Brazilian borders. Numerous public policies emerged from discussions held in Councils, Conferences, Ombudsman, Dialogue Roundtables, Forums and Hearings. They must spread through the social fabric to make democracy a shared way of life rather than a management project.

It is about resuming and intensifying citizen participation in different areas (education, health, environment, urban mobility, etc.) so that administrative management does not bow to pressure, in favor of the technocratization of deliberations in the state orbit. This does not result in an abrupt suppression of representation, but the metabolization of a democracy, in fact, massive. Democracy needs to reinvent itself to survive the challenges of our time. Without falling into the siren song that the age of digitization has buried face-to-faceness once and for all. Internet aid does not eliminate compromises.

The utopia of the hegemonic classes has always been to put an end to politics, to appropriate the determination of the country's direction. Democracy was never a gift distributed “from the top down”, it was rather a conquest “from the bottom up” at the cost of sweat and blood. Spartacus (109 BC – 71 BC), under the Roman Empire, was the prime symbol of resistance to exploitation and oppression in Western history, as he led the great Slave Revolt. Insurgency that evokes what Georges Burdeau calls “freedom-participation”, in Democracy (Seuil), to designate the ties that unite the terms of the binomial in the arduous struggle for emancipation. To participate is to collectivize.


Participatory budget experience

Porto Alegre was a reference with international repercussions, thanks to the successful experience of the Participatory Budget (PB), which turned the capital of Rio Grande do Sul into the proud seat of the first editions of the World Social Forum (WSF), at the turn of the millennium. The defeat of the PT and allies for City Hall, after four consecutive terms (Olívio Dutra, Tarso Genro, Raul Pont, Genro / Verle), between 1988 and 2004, began the dismantling of the co-management process. The star went out.

Revenue, which served as a parameter for the PB, no longer corresponds to the total collection. The intentional disregard for accountability for the works generated skepticism about the method. Retrograde governments contributed to the extinction of the experiment praised even by the World Bank. It was the return of the clientelistic policies of the age-old politics, the bitter return to the old rogue tradition.

“Today, keeping regional and thematic assemblies, or the PB Council itself, without having access to real budgets, without prior criteria for resource distribution so that each region or theme knows what to prioritize and has the guarantee that it will be carried out and accompanied by Cadernos de Obras e Serviços – is a mere simulacrum of participatory democracy. Worse, with the bad federal example, municipalities and states are instituting the figure of parliamentary amendments, which transform any Budget into a patchwork quilt without planning, without democracy, for pure clientelism. A real administrative disaster. We are once again a city where the Executive and Legislative branches dispense with and even deny popular participation”, laments ex-mayor Raul Pont (Brazil in Fact / Rio Grande do Sul, 25/03/2022). From participatory politics to the prince's non-politics.

Political freedom is not an end in itself, but the means capable of guaranteeing the autonomy of the governed, which translates into self-disposition, free choice of what to do and responsibility for the acts carried out. Autonomization is the foundation of freedom-participation. Democracy, as a system of government, develops from the independence of individuals in relation to the heteronomous power of external wills (figuratively, of the father, the priest and the boss). Luther and the Protestant Reformation, with Gutenberg's press, signal the birth of individual freedom – a springboard to political freedom, therefore, to democracy in the Modern Age.

The curious thing is that, currently, individual freedom has become a threatened value, with the pasteurization of the vision of reality by the communication vehicles, especially in countries with a strong concentration of cross-ownership of media. The herd effect demonstrates that individual freedom has become a fetish, manipulated by authoritarian leaders with totalitarian leanings (Hungary, Poland, India, Brazil). The political and religious currents, which most praise personal independence, are the ones that most disrespect individuals. Idiotizing, standardizing for the march of barbarism, emptying Bolsominions of thought just like the bureaucrat who trivializes evil, in the description of Hannah Arendt. Or the satanic pastor who prayed for actor Paulo Gustavo to die.

In “surveillance capitalism”, with robots and algorithms to coordinate market trends and consciences, individual freedom in a crescendo melts into thin air. From a pillar of culture in classical liberalism, it became an instrument to combat the paradigms of collective construction. This was evident during the pandemic in the behavior of denialists who, in the name of the “sacred right”, refused to comply with scientific health recommendations. More: they condemned the Federal Supreme Court (STF) for endorsing compliance with regulations.


With feet in the mud

Outside the scope of freedom-participation to encourage inclusive networks of procedures, with the aim of strengthening participatory democracy and improving the effective exercise of representative democracy, individual freedom is a label to justify the undermining work in essays aimed at a civilization anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-capitalist. In this context, it configures a sterile prerogative that serves only to confirm isolationism, which excludes the majority from the list of dignity, in the interval between festive dates dedicated to manifestations of civic spirit. Participatory democracy can fill the void of rights and reframe shallow everyday life.

In the field of basic material needs, the lack of urban equipment, the updating of the slave burden still alive in the insensitivity of the autochthonous elites, social democracy proves to be a condition for the transition from the “kingdom of necessity” to the “kingdom of freedom”. , in the famous Marxian metaphor. The thing that political democracy, per se, does not resolve with the repertoire of academic concepts and theories on coalition presidentialism, governance, concertation, open society. Conservatism is content with political-representative democracy.

It is up to Drummond's “crooked angels” to face the challenges of social democracy. For such confrontation, popular participation is essential. Only with feet in the mud can the suffering of the peripheries be alleviated. In the past, Liberation Theology didn't mind getting shoes dirty. Prosperity Theology soils them. Bureaucratization pushed militancy away from places of residence.

Os Rights of Man and Citizen, since the Declaration of 1789, are inviolable faculties inherent in individuals. They did not encourage participation at the outset. They led to an abstention from the action, due to representation and legal protection. For several Anglo-Saxon political scientists, democracy does not need more than 30% of voters to show up at the polls. The paradox of democracy would be that "as a form of political and social life, it is the reign of excess, which spells the ruin of democratic government and therefore must be repressed by it". Jacques Rancière, in Hatred of Democracy (Boitempo) mocks the fallacious squaring of the circle.

It is not the apathy of the citizens, but the excess of engagement that poses risks to the regime idealized in the “elites of backwardness”. Vices of representative democracy are tolerated, while the virtues of participatory democracy are restrained due to its subversive potential for the establishment. The formatting of a delegative democracy is encouraged, with representatives who exempt taxpayers from public diatribes. The push for the “privatization of existence” is what the Greek-French philosopher Castoriadis (who attended Participatory Budget assemblies in Porto Alegre) considers to be the essence of “alienation”.

Adam Przeworski, in Crises of Democracy (Zahar), by the way, writes: “Participatory populism has its roots in Rousseau, who believed that the people should govern themselves. The program of participatory populism consists of institutional reforms aimed at giving more power to the voice of the people. However, however fair dissatisfaction with institutions may be, the fact is that being governed implies decisions that we do not support. In reality, 'the people', as a singular entity, does not exist; what exists are people, in the plural, with different interests, values ​​and standards. Besides, is it really true that people want to govern themselves?” The quote is long but illustrative of the liberal mindset. “Interests, values ​​and standards” refer to individualities, not to social classes that dissipate entirely in the course of the argument.


empower citizenship

In order to find out if people want to participate or not, it is necessary to forge the tools that allow direct intervention in relevant subjects to align the development of the social body. O World Atlas of Participatory Budgets reveals that, when concrete accesses to popular participation and consensual criteria for the allocation of existing resources are instituted, the population rushes in thousands, granting itself the role of political subject of deliberations and, consequently, of supervision for the execution of collectively approved. Look at the "democratic centralism".

Moreover, scholars point out, participatory democracy corresponds to a kind of corrective for the deep wear and tear that affect party representation (“all equal, they don't represent me”). Crisis worsened in central Europe with the neoliberal turn of parties, from the wide range of the very confused Social-Democracy. A political phenomenon that suggested the decline of ideological differences between the left and the right. In a vacuum, the extreme right has been stepping on the accelerator.

The Revolution that ushered in modernity emphasized individual rights. The Constitutions, with few exceptions, accompanied the evolution of ideas by affirming collective social rights. The right to work, the right to dignified remuneration, the right to leisure and the right to social security are today elements of positive legislation. For followers of laissez-faire, like Hayek and Mises, proof of the surrender of status quo to socialist appeals. For socialists, testimony that organization and mobilization awaken the “right to have rights” in subordinated classes. A recognition that goes beyond the barriers naturalized by anti-people rulers. By contrast, one glimpses the setbacks that victimized us in preventing legitimate governance, with the 2016 coup.

Undoubtedly, the reconstruction of Brazil will be difficult. The destructive impulse unleashed with the rise of the homeland-damaging duo, Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro, disorganized politics, society and the State, compromising the future of the nation. Lula will have a lot of work to do in the next quadrennium. He will find Congress with a composition led by the Centrão and, the progressives, with a disadvantaged bench. Participatory democracy, with the empowerment of active citizens (trade unions, associations, social movements, governmental base parties), is a strategic issue tomorrow.

It is worth continuing, step by step, towards a horizon emancipated from all versions of domination. Social democracy aims at the possible equality between individuals, which liberation efforts build with the solidarity of many. In the many battles of the future, in the vine of memories of the long walk, the vibrant greeting immortalized in the tale by Gorki can already be heard.

“In a life full of deaf and repressed animosity, in hearts poisoned by infinite offenses, in consciences obstructed by the blinding lies of the strong, in that difficult and sad life, full of bitterness, of humiliations, a simple and luminous word came to land: – Comrade! ”

* 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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