Lula is not infallible

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By VALERIO ARCARY*

When and under what circumstances could the role of the individual be irreplaceable?

“The defense of the good cause is unnecessary” (Portuguese popular wisdom).

The controversy over the possibility of Geraldo Alckmin becoming the runner-up on a ticket with Lula precipitated another discussion, equally important, however, perhaps more complex. It has been argued that everyone on the left, even those of us who do not belong to the PT, must trust that “Lula knows what he does”. In fact, strictly speaking, and until now, it is not publicly known whether this hypothesis is serious, nor whether Lula would be inclined to defend it or not. But even assuming he does, his opinion shouldn't diminish or, much less, ban debate. The eventual decision to accept Alckmin establishes a profile for Lula's candidacy that conditions, in many and varied ways, the destiny of the fight against Jair Bolsonaro, and the perspective of what would be, in case of victory, the government in 2023, and does not affect PT only.

We must talk, therefore, about the place of leadership. Lula, for having an exceptional influence, should not be criticized? Especially when we are facing the embryo of what can be considered a certain “personality cult”. It's not a new phenomenon, and it shouldn't surprise us. Evidently, Lula's popularity is immense, and his role is of strategic importance in defeating Bolsonaro, but that doesn't make him infallible. Nobody has clairvoyance.

But terrible anxiety over the danger of a second term has fueled an "anything goes" passion. After all, going to the heart of the matter, when and under what circumstances could the role of individuals be irreplaceable, if these moments deserve to be considered?

The barbaric experiences of personality cult that spread from the pioneering process in the former USSR, where Stalin, still alive, made himself glorified by a propaganda industry as powerful as the strength of the police-military apparatus that instituted terror as State policy, must nurture great prudence, if not modesty, in relation to the subject of the place of the individual in history. The still present dictatorial regime in North Korea which, by legitimizing the transition of power from father to son over three generations, instituted the first “monarchy” that claims to be “socialist”, invites both contempt and inspires sarcasm. But this does not diminish the importance of the theoretical-historical problem.

The role of the individual in history is a particularly thorny issue for Marxists. And that for two reasons. Firstly, because traditional historiography, chronologies and major events so underlined the place of personalities that history had become a collateral branch of biographical narrative. Marxism asserted itself, as we have seen, in an irreconcilable struggle against these conceptions, placing the emphasis of explanation on the “underground” articulations of socio-economic contradictions.

The traditional story of political “great narratives” had exacerbated the importance of parties to the limit, and even more superlatively of great personalities. The place of chance and fortuitousness was such that the absence of any historical personage would supposedly have generated terrible paradoxes: the “classic” example, ad absurdum, being, “what if Cleopatra's nose were a little smaller?”. However, it was not always possible to escape the symmetrical error, which would be to think of history only as an anonymous evolutionary/convulsive process of changing “social structures”.

The reaction to these excesses, and to the “objectivist” influence of structuralism, was not expected, when several ex-Marxists became heralds of the new theses that devalued the “great syntheses”, and insisted on the importance of uncertainty and randomness. Postmodernism radicalized, at another extreme, the reinvention of subjectivism and history as yet another form of narrative.

One of the most disturbing objections to Marxism as a theory of history is the charge made against Karl Marx either of fatalistic determinism or simplistic economism.. The devastating “final accusation” would be its “arrogant” claim to discover a perceptible direction that, if known, could be altered and reoriented. Post-modernist fury has been denouncing for decades: knowledge about an immanent historical sense is not possible.

And they disdain: the economic-social “control of an engineering work”? Socialism would be the recognition of a social subject that “does not exist”. Yet another millenarian and apocalyptic fatalism preceded by an eschatological revolution. Marxism would be an egalitarian teleology of history understood as a coming into being... which already is, because the destiny of the future would already have been revealed by historical determinism.

But Marxism does not claim that history is pregnant with meaning. On the contrary, Marxism argues that humanity will be able to offer a direction for its future, if it manages to overcome the blind outcomes of class struggles that tear social life apart. It recognizes uncertainty, identifies possibility, but does not announce the imponderable. The absence of finality should not be confused with the absence of protagonism.

Marxism helped to seek a more reasonable explanation, not because it reduced the importance of personalities to the condition of “fifteenth-degree” causalities, but because it tried to demonstrate that the choices, at each historical crossroads, were placed between a few hypotheses, previously conditioned, by countless factors, far beyond the will of the men and women who commanded.

Is it a political “optical illusion” to conclude that Lula would be irreplaceable to defeat Bolsonaro in the 2022 elections? Even with less talent, and printing “his style” to the fight against neo-fascism, is it plausible to think that, from the ranks of the PT or the left, another leadership capable of winning could emerge? The truth is that the presence of the great personality is, in itself, a blocking factor for the irruption of others who could take his place. It didn't come up. The dialectic of political authority refers to the necessary time of a political experience.

Still, it is “irresistible” to wonder if there would be time for someone to gain the necessary authority to defeat Bolsonaro. Four years ago it was not possible, despite the performance of Fernando Haddad. The conjuncture of 2022 is, fortunately, less unfavorable than that of 2018. Three years of far-right government were devastating and Bolsonaro's wear, although slow, remains continuous, has not been interrupted. In any case, the lessons of history recommend maximum prudence.

No one makes himself alone. Did the “eclipse” of others, in the last forty years, not also occur due to the excess of light that surrounded Lula? Would others have lived up to the needs posed by the leadership of mass strikes between 1978 and 1981? Would they have been able to unite such different currents on the left to build, for the first time, a workers' party with mass influence?

Even granting the strength of the "optical illusion" argument, one issue remains unsatisfactory. Again, we return to the same methodological problem: what were the relations between the collective political subject and the individual leaders in the process? Without the social force released by the rise of the masses in the eighties, and without the political radicalization driven by the PT in the fight against the dictatorship and in opposition to the Electoral College that brought Sarney to power, a party would have been constituted that allowed a worker of northeastern get to the presidency by elections?

Or, in other words, the PT and the CUT, the MST and the UNE, the trade union, popular, peasant and student organizations that took the place of political and social subjects that displaced the place that belonged to the MDB and Brizola, in the stage of the final fight against the dictatorship, weren't they keys to understanding Lula's role? The greatness of the relationship of trust that Lula preserves in the broad working masses, in the organized sectors and in the popular layers, is explained by his capacity, but also by an experience of struggle and collective organization.

One-sided interpretations of "genius" favor "messianic" views. They don't help.

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

 

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