Notes to the debate on the current historical moment

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Vladimir Puzone*

The election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018 was a landmark event in Brazilian history, especially for the left and the different perspectives of social transformation. If until a few months before October 2018 the victory of the neo-fascist candidate appeared to be an aberration, the indications that he would win the second round led many people to defend Fernando Haddad’s candidacy at all costs, including the author of this article. People with little or no experience in political organizations and social movements desperately ran into the streets to try to convince potential voters not to vote for Bolsonaro.

Desperation at the prospect of the ascension of an individual who never hid his affinities and passions with the civil-military dictatorship and all that it represents, including torture and murder, was increasingly accentuated as the neo-fascist promised to kill the “petralhas” and communists. If, on the one hand, panic in the face of the memory of the past horror and in the face of a dark future served for some form of mobilization to be attempted, it also indicates some questions to be thought about, starting with the meaning of despair.

The notes that I will publish in parts and little by little in the earth is round do not intend, of course, to exhaust the explanations about Bolsonaro's victory and its meanings. Rather, my intention, in contributing to this debate, is to highlight the complexity of the subject and return to some elements with which I have been working in recent years.

Although the commotion over the last presidential elections manifests its unforeseen character, I believe it is more appropriate to think that what is happening in Brazil is the result of a prolonged course of transformations in our society and the ways in which its inherent conflicts gained expression. Far from being a kind of lightning bolt from a blue sky, it is perhaps more interesting to try to describe and analyze current events from a long-term perspective.

In this sense, the rise of the Brazilian extreme right did not occur only as a result of the protests that took place from June 2013. It is true that this date constitutes for many a turning point in the political and social history of the country. I do not disagree with the importance of the demonstrations against the reduction in the price of public transport tickets or the revocation of their increase, as well as the appropriation of such protests by the so-called middle class and reactionary groups. With the help of the corporate media and the encouragement of traditional political parties, as well as the funding of national and foreign businessmen, the protests acquired enormous repercussions, contributing to the overthrow of Dilma Rousseff, in addition, of course, to the victory of Bolsonaro.

But the overemphasis on the importance of events from 2013 onwards obscures the understanding of historical unfolding that goes back much further. More precisely, accepting that the June days and subsequent events constitute a simple about-turn is the starting point for theses and theories that are very common in progressive self-described circles. Until that date, the economy was booming, poverty was reduced absolutely and political institutions worked satisfactorily.

Since then, many have thought that there was an imperialist attempt to take over the country and that there was a plan on the part of the “elites” to put an end to what was most powerful in Brazilian society and take the national riches, including Petrobras and the construction companies and the contractors. I do not deny that there are connections between different fractions of the Brazilian bourgeoisie with the dominant classes and with large corporations abroad, much less the obscurantism of our bourgeoisies. However, it would be necessary to discuss with more caution the term “imperialism” itself and the notions around it.

After all, as one critic has already said, the left in Brazil historically has more traces of anti-imperialism than anti-capitalism – and it is worth remembering that the notion of imperialism gains prominence because it is closely related to a discussion on capital accumulation, and not only by reference to a struggle between nations.

In the notes to be published next, I intend to work on some aspects to position myself against this type of explanation. Although briefly, I will try to show some elements that make up trends present in Brazilian society since a few decades ago and that help, from my point of view, to understand why we find ourselves in this situation. The summary indications made below make a summary of the arguments to be detailed. The provisional character of the short texts indicates that it is not just about controversial matter, subject to possible questioning, but the very doubts that the themes carry with them.

One of the central pillars of the analyzes that will appear refers to the development of Brazilian capitalism since the end of the civil-military dictatorship and the way in which different classes and social groups moved and reconfigured themselves in the face of changes in the processes of accumulation. This means that both the physiognomy of the different fractions of the Brazilian bourgeoisie and those of the working classes should be the focus of the analysis.

My assumption, to be confirmed or refuted, is that the political crisis, which has dragged on since the 2005 “mensalão” and which has worsened since Dilma’s reelection, resulting in Temer’s inauguration and, later, Bolsonaro’s, points to a fierce internal dispute between the bourgeois factions. Perhaps this became more visible after the arrest of businessmen like Marcelo Odebrecht and Eike Batista. However, these disputes point to the common trait of our dominant classes: in their incessant search for surplus value, they use all possible and imaginable forms of violence. For this characterization, I will use the expression racket.

On the other hand, one cannot understand the reconfiguration of Brazilian capitalism and the way in which its intrinsic conflicts took place by looking only at the dominant sectors. On the contrary, it will be necessary to understand how the different layers of workers in Brazil have also changed their features in recent decades.

In particular, its configuration is directly related to the neoliberal reorganization imposed from the 1990s onwards, but which has acquired particular importance in recent years. Changes in legislation and labor relations, as well as the deepening of “precariousness” in work processes, symbolized in part by the infamous “uberization”, had and still have decisive impacts on the new configuration of the exploited and dominated. It's not just about the way they produce and reproduce their lives. Changes in work processes and in the reproduction of the workforce directly impact organizational and transformative perspectives.

It is from these considerations that I will outline some comments about the most important political party in the recent history of the country and linked to the workers. A critical analysis of the Workers' Party, of its origins, transformations and dilemmas, allows us to glimpse important aspects of the very reconfiguration of capitalism in the country, such as the famous quote by Gramsci about a party, as well as about the perspectives and limits of transformations possible for exploited and dominated. In this sense, I will highlight some aspects of those transformations, such as, for example, the centrality that the State assumes for the party throughout its existence, the place of party propaganda, the perspectives of social change and the figure of Lula, as its leader. maximum.

Discussion of these topics is not unprecedented. On the contrary, it has set in motion much of the energy of intellectuals, fighters and social movements since the very foundation of the PT – but whose most notorious inflection is the election of Lula in 2002. But it is worth underlining an element that I consider decisive both for understanding from the transformations of the party to the reconfiguration of capitalism: the relationship between its trajectory and the different features assumed by the working classes in recent decades. My hypothesis is the following: the PT was a central vector for shaping the emancipatory perspectives of the exploited and dominated in Brazil. At the same time, this conformation is linked to limitations in the perspectives of social transformation and in the acceptance of bourgeois sociability as the horizon of the possible.

It is evident that the PT is just a part of the left in Brazil, which includes not only other political parties, more or less on the left, but also unions, social movements and more horizontally organized groups. But their problems can be seen as representative of the more general dilemmas linked to the autonomy of the dominated in Brazil. If these impasses cannot be attributed to only one group, they have to be sought in historical difficulties of the Brazilian left, which date back to the pre-1964 period. Among them I highlight “statism” and “personalism”.

In a similar way, it would be possible to do something related to rights in Brazil. Since I still cannot advance safely on the subject, I will limit myself to pointing out some common traits both on the left and on the right. The explanation of these features returns to the core of my argument. If there is a set of social relations that characterize our bourgeois society, they cross different sets of individuals. Even if there are important inflections depending on whether a person is left or right, whether he is a worker, a bourgeois or an administrator, the fact is that capitalist sociability imposes itself in a coercive way on all of us.

From this perspective, I believe it is possible to envision an explanation of why exploited and dominated individuals chose a repulsive figure in 2018. This will also allow us to understand the association I make between the adjective “neo-fascist”, Bolsonaro and his followers. Or yet, why it is necessary to discuss neo-fascism and the pertinence of the term, even though historical fascism has been defeated (militarily).

It is difficult to predict what will happen in the coming months and years. But, if it is pertinent to think that the electoral victory of the neo-fascists was not an abrupt process, then what leads us to believe that the same trends that brought us to the current court will dissipate as if by magic? The simple overthrow of the current government, whose popularity ratings apparently decline month by month, does not necessarily correspond to a reversal of the advance of the extreme right in Brazil, much less the return of something that resembles a prosperity never effectively achieved.

*Vladimir Puzone He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of São Paulo and a PNPD/CAPES scholarship from the Department of Sociology at the University of Brasília

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