Marx and Boulos

Image: João Nitsche


The accusation leveled against Boulos by a part of the Brazilian radical left that he had gone into “peace and love” mode is unfair, and even a little student, or politically, childish.

“The minority replaces critical observation with dogmatic intuition, materialist intuition with idealist one. For her, the driving wheel of the revolution is not the real circumstances, but the will. We, on the contrary, say to the workers: they will have to go through fifteen, twenty, fifty years of civil wars and struggles between peoples, and not only to transform circumstances, but to transform yourselves, enabling them to power, if not, we can lie down and sleep.” [I]

Karl Marx was never a doctrinaire. He valued all the small steps of the workers' struggle in the defense of their interests above the abstract defense of a maximum program. But the truth is that a portion of the radical left among us, even when inspired by Marxism, is very sectarian. Nobody is more revolutionary because, impassive to the concrete situation of the conjuncture and, indifferent to the average conscience of the advanced workers, he proclaims that a revolution is necessary and now, all or nothing.

In political struggle it is never all or nothing. Voluntaryism can be medicine or poison, an expression of mobilized strength or unrestrained despair, depending on the dose. The way to change the reactionary situation, and leave the defensive to build the offensive, as in Chile last year, goes through a process of accumulating forces.

Our strategy must be the preparation of revolutionary mobilizations against Bolsonaro in 2021. But it can only be successful if the state of mind, the mood, the political disposition of the most active in the movements of women and blacks, youth and trade unions, environmental and LGBT's rise up. To ignore the place of elections in this context would be anti-political anarchist myopia.

The accusation leveled against Boulos by a part of the Brazilian radical left that he had gone into “peace and love” mode is unfair, and even a little student, or politically, childish. Boulos asserted himself as the greatest new popular leadership, precisely because he has been at the forefront of major struggles since June 2013.

The young man at the head of occupations with tens of thousands of families is denounced by everything that is most reactionary in this city as an arsonist who does not respect private property. The passage of the PSol candidacy to the second round, two years after Bolsonaro’s election, is a political feat: Bolsonaristas were excluded from the second round.

Marx was not a sectarian. Many testimonies confirm that Marx was curious, open to life and its simple joys, stubborn and intense. He read newspapers, magazines, and books; wrote poetry; wandered through the streets; he followed the science and art of his time; enjoyed eating and drinking; loved to play with children; he loved Jenny, passionately; he liked to spend time with friends and, at the dinners he organized at his home in London, the most distinguished militants of the egalitarian cause, of the most different nationalities, from the moderate English Chartist union leaders, the German reformist Lassale, to the Russian anarchist Bakunin; he was sarcastic and smoked furiously.

Marx knew the tragedy of the human condition from a young age. He had eight siblings: the eldest had already died when he was born, and four other brothers and sisters died prematurely of tuberculosis. Of Karl and Jenny's six children, only three daughters survive – Jenny, Laura, Eleanor – but the last two eventually committed suicide, and Jenny died young shortly after her own father.

Above all, Marx was, over the past two hundred years, the main inspirer of the greatest dream and adventure in human history: the struggle for socialism. Marx fired the imagination of generations with a bet on the anti-capitalist project of a conscious transition to a society in which we will be, socially, equal, humanly different and totally free. This Marx, the socialist, is immortal.

This bet on the political struggle was based on hope in the role of workers: the presence of the social subject as an objective element in the process of class struggle. The historical factor needed to defeat capitalism was the potentiality of the revolutionary disposition of the proletariat: a class dispossessed of property and, even if heterogeneous, much more homogeneous than all other classes in society.

Grouped together in large masses, with a shocking social force far superior to dispersed peasant crowds; endowed with greater self-confidence than other popular fractions; able to attract the support of the majority of the oppressed; inclined to collective political action; concentrated in huge urban centers; with a higher cultural level; more definite class political impulse; greater capacity for self-organization and solidarity; and higher “power instinct”.

Marx identified in the workers the class which, due to its place in the production process, would have the social strength to, in the narrow defense of its “egoistic” class interests, attract most of the other popular classes to the struggle against capital, and defend a program of property socialization and production planning.

Assigned like this historical legitimacy to the socialist struggle. He recognized the universality of the struggle of a class that, fighting for its “selfish” interests to the end, could, if it were able to conquer power, supported by the relative abundance that capitalism had already generated, and guaranteeing increasing equality and freedom, lead to the human emancipation. By fighting for itself, the working class would pave the way for the eradication of all classes, and the reunification of humanity with itself.

There has never been a more beautiful dream than this. But for this class brutalized by exploitation and alienated. suffers a stripping of its own humanity, can rise to the status of social subject, it is necessary to face the question of “how”: the construction of class consciousness. It does not advance because the revolutionaries are dedicated to maximalist ultimatums: expropriation, now! It advances when a program is presented that builds a bridge between the most felt needs and anti-capitalist measures that dialogue with the conscience of the masses.

The dramatic historical problem is to know how a class that is exploited, economically, oppressed, socially, and politically, dominated, can be the protagonist of a project of social revolution, in which it is a candidate for the conquest of political power, and for the general reorganization of the whole the society? Marx's response was a wager on political struggle. He believed that workers, even with all the objective and subjective limitations that conditioned him, would face the struggle for socialism.

Marx was a revolutionary. That was why he gained so many enemies. We can know the place in the history of each one by the friends he left behind, but also by his enemies. His enemies never belittled him. On the contrary, they magnified it.

More importantly, in every fight against injustice, Marx remains present. He is here in the occupations of those who have no home to live in; in workers' strikes demanding wage increases; in the mobilizations of teachers in defense of public education; in resistance against environmental catastrophes such as in Mariana, the Pantanal and the Amazon; in the occupations of high school students; in the fight against Bolsonaro when we returned to the streets for Marielle Franco; in defense of democratic freedoms by Lula Livre.

He is here in the fight to take Boulos to the City Hall of São Paulo.

He is here in the hearts of those in whom hope beats.

He never left us alone.

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



[I] MARX, Charles. “Dos alocuciones del Comite Central de la 'Liga de los Justos' to its affiliates”, in Karl Marx et alli, From the “Liga de los Justos” to the communist party, Mexico DF, Roca, 1973, p.121/2.

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