Brazil at the forefront of global hell

René Magritte, Apples, s/d.
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By ANDRÉ SINGER, CICERO ARAUJO & FERNANDO RUGITSKY*

Organizers introduction to newly released book

In the sulphurous shadow of Trumpism, Jair Bolsonaro took office and opened, on January 1, 2019, la porte de l'enfer tropical. A long process was condensed, as if in a sculptural panel by Rodin, in the events that preceded the 2018 election. Lula, the best placed in the polls despite being imprisoned in the Federal Police of Curitiba, became ineligible, by decision of the Superior Court Electoral, at the end of August. This crowned the judicial maneuver that began four years earlier with Operation Lava Jato and ended with the threat by General Eduardo Villas Bôas, commander of the Army, to the Federal Supreme Court, via Twitter, in April.

For the military, the former president could not run. Six days after the TSE formally excluded Lula, Bolsonaro, the deputy and former army captain who came in a distant second, suffered a serious knife attack during his campaign in Juiz de Fora. By being, to his advantage, in the intense media spotlight and out of the running of candidate debates, he began to rise in the polls. The PSDB candidate, who had been advancing, sank. The rest is history.

But it is a story that connects directly to the world crises of capitalism and democracy. Realizing, with the victory of Donald Trump in 2016, that the dissatisfaction caused by the disarray that started in 2008 could be channeled into authoritarian responses with a foot in fascism, Bolsonaro dedicated himself, with determination and success, to transforming the Party of Scapegoat workers for national problems. Corruption, insecurity, lack of jobs and income: everything was placed on the shoulders of PT and an invented Bolivarian conspiracy. Trump also accused Barack Obama of being a socialist and founder of the Islamic State. Although the processes in the United States and Brazil have different aspects, as we will see, common elements can be seen, such as the use of post-truth and nationalist discourse and incitement against those erected as public enemies.

With Lula out of the running and the far-right candidate withdrawn into the nosocomium, Bolsonarist propaganda filled the void with the fascist protocol of the fake news violent, full of phallic imagery, Pentecostal prayers and call to arms. No such schism has ever been seen in the homeland of conciliation. Families were torn apart and friendships torn apart. The avalanche of conservative votes, although not enough to dismiss the second round, proved the effectiveness of the extremist tactic. In four weeks, immobilized at the Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, Bolsonaro became the favorite to preside over the Republic. The hesitation of centrist groups, aligned with Alckmin and Ciro Gomes, who might reverse the situation in favor of Fernando Haddad, Lula's replacement in the election, ended the issue, and Bolsonaro was confirmed in the second round.

Then, the evils committed for centuries were rising, one by one, to announce the descent of Brazil to the depths of Hades. From the macabre slavery, whose children, never integrated, suffer from structural racism, to the refusal to review the crimes of the 1964 dictatorship, passing through the negligence with the industry, with great difficulty built between 1930 and 1980. The ghosts announced that the punishment would begin on that Tuesday of January, when, under the command of the newly sworn in, the society crossed the threshold that orders: lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate.

Installed in the Planalto, fascist-biased autocratism is dedicated to shaking the fragile containment walls of barbarism[I] erected during the thirty years in which the 1988 Constitution, even if in fits and starts, functioned as a fundamental pact. Although resistance nuclei emerged, inside and outside the institutions, it soon became clear that the president, surrounded by the military on all sides, had support to resist impeachment. At best, it would be bullied for its worst destructive purposes.

As Leonardo Avritzer (2021, p. 15) argues, in the first year Bolsonaro machine-gunned state policies that had matured for a long time. Two examples, among many: the premeditated dismantling of the fire control system in the Amazon and the cut of resources for higher education (AVRITZER, 2021, p. 14-5). But, in reality, the dismantling extended to the set of federal institutions hard organized in this eternally half-built Pindorama. The only preserved and for good reason, was the military establishment.

In the second year of the Bolsonarian era, the coronavirus pandemic, which landed, literally and officially, at Guarulhos airport, on Tuesday, February 25, 2020, flying from Italy, provoked the descent into a deeper circle of the universe subequatorial dantescus. Functioning, again, as a kind of wild alter ego of Trump, Bolsonaro turned Brazil into a proving ground of what could happen if all the measures recommended by the World Health Organization (who) were boycotted, delayed or simply ignored.

Consequently, when these lines are written, in mid-October 2021, 600 deaths from Covid-19 had been recorded in Brazil — a figure that, considering the vast underreporting, becomes even more astonishing. We are only behind the United States itself, with just over 700 deaths, but a population more than 50% larger. The newspapers register the continuous infernal decline: 14% of the Economically Active Population unemployed,[ii] contingents regressing to poverty, hunger, again, in “large plantations”, people lining up to receive bones at butcher shops…[iii] Meanwhile, the government dreamed of privatizing state-owned companies and infrastructure assets, including post offices, airports, ports and sanitation projects.

The book that you, the reader, have in your hands seeks to understand the fall brasiliensis connecting it to the global situation. How to explain the transposition of currents that reached the Potomac, in 2016 and, later, to Paranoá, entering the Alvorada and Planalto Palaces, in 2019? How to interpret, from a semiperipheral angle, the countercurrent produced by the pandemic, which took Trumpism out of Washington and transformed Brasília into one of the most important representations of the new world extreme right?[iv] To what extent will the regressive plunge be contained by Joe Biden's victory in the United States and his trillionaire plans? Now that the Empire may enter times of Green New Deal, will Brazil be able to imagine itself, again, under the Rooseveltian perspective that rocked the ten years of Lula?

The volume, in which political scientists and economists participate, gathered between 2020 and 2021 around the Research Group on Thought and Politics in Brazil, associated with the Center for the Study of Citizenship Rights (FFLCH-USP), has articles on the two poles of duality, which results in the organization in two parts. Although each author has their own points of view, the issues were addressed in joint seminars, which built a common agenda. An attempt was made to examine the relationship between the external and the internal, asking, ultimately, where we are in the interregnum and how to evaluate the Brazilian situation. There was no intention to compose a complete panorama. Numerous significant themes, such as the role of the Judiciary or the military, although mentioned, were not subjected to specific analysis, given the main focus on the intersection between politics and economics. Below, a trailer of the clues that the collection offers.

 

The global context

Faced with the serious and successive crises that the planet went through and is going through — starting with the collapse of financial circuits in 2008 until the pandemic — much is discussed about the fate of the neoliberal order, on the one hand, and of democratic regimes, on the other. The first part of this collection gathers the discussion and explores it in three alternative scenarios: (1) The benign hypothesis that there is a fundamental, albeit hesitant, reconfiguration of capitalist domination; (2) the worst omen: a continuity of the foundations of neoliberalism, but with an openly authoritarian framework; (3) the intermediate way out: what we call “interregnum”, following the meaning of Wolfgang Streeck (2016), that is, a period of decline with no prospect of overcoming, of uncoordinated capitalism and political instability. Put in sequence, the different constellations make it possible not to guess what will happen, but to think about the ongoing processes.

This assessment, of course, involves varying understandings of what neoliberalism is. In the contributions to the collection, each article seeks to indicate what it is and, against this background, to elaborate diagnoses and project futures. Roughly speaking, however, the reader will find a common underlying meaning, regardless of differences in emphasis. The authors agree that the neoliberal order is not just a certain type of policy that this or that state imposes on capitalism and the society under its rule, but also a pattern of interactions between states and societies, since capitalism itself is – since always – a phenomenon with extraterritorial impulses.

Even if there is agreement that the neoliberal order and the process of globalization go hand in hand, we could ask ourselves if the nexus requires a deliberate coordination of the relevant actors, that is, a global “governance”. As Fernando Rugitsky notes, neoliberalism was anchored in a kind of triangle whose vertices were, metaphorically, in specific regions of the planet, performing specialized and complementary functions. As the “new world workshops” moved to East Asia, until it became a hub for the supply of manufactured goods, the rich countries of the North Atlantic (United States and Western Europe), with the notable exception of Germany, ended up for reaccommodating itself in the role of demander of industrial goods. The former “developing” countries located on the periphery of the system – some in Latin America, others in Africa, in addition to Russia itself – were constituting the supply pole of inputs (basically grains, fossil energy and ores), to feed the workshops of the Earth .

If it is true, therefore, that neoliberalism represents the stage in which finance occupies the decisive plane – a point to which the collaborators also converge – the tripod scheme shows that the domain only stabilized because it was based on concrete institutions, which accepted share complementary roles and cooperate. But the cooperation was not symmetrical, of course. The initiative and the invitation came from the region and from the most powerful nations, notably the United States and the holders of capital, at the same time interested in expanding business and breaking the bargaining power of the domestic working classes.

By accepting the condition of supporting players – meaning that the distribution of cards and the rules of the game would not be theirs –, the guests started to make bids in the battle, perhaps betting that the initial asymmetry could be corrected along the way. This is the objective, but potentially shaky, ground on which neoliberal geopolitics was based, and its history can be understood as a result of the opportunities and contradictions that opened up within the game.

The arrangement, however, began to unravel in 2008, in the wake of a huge speculation with mortgages in the United States, which contaminated finance, one of the pillars of accumulation on a planetary scale. An improvised articulation involving the Federal Reserve (FED), the Central Bank of the United States and China was able to avoid a fall similar to the one that followed the crack of the scholarship, in 1929, but not the demoralization. On the verge of doomsday, banks and speculators were rescued, in a typical case of socialization of losses, while millions of people lost jobs and/or homes.

A biennium later, the crisis, whose virulence had been mitigated by the conversion of the banking system's debt into public debt, ended up hitting the most indebted European states. This time, however, instead of throwing the lifeboat – as it had done before with companies and speculators – the European Union, under pressure from Germany, decided to act with the utmost rigor, imposing severe austerity measures, that is to say, against the set of populations. At the same time, the paralysis of credit lines led to a generalized drop in demand for East Asian manufactures, slowing down the Chinese economy: an event pregnant with consequences for the supplier pole of grains and other primary inputs. In short, the Great Tripod weakened and neoliberal hegemony cracked, even though neoliberal policies continued (FRASER and JAEGGI, 2018).

Let's leave Brexit, Trump and other extremisms around the planet aside for a moment, and let's move directly to the advent of the pandemic. The way in which States react to it, and the different capabilities they have shown to face it, support the hypothesis of Fernando Rugitsky, for whom the world is gradually moving away from the neoliberal order. Not only were financial assets saved on a larger scale than in 2008, but most Executives were forced to provide buffers against the effects of the drop in activity and, even grudgingly, relaunch public services (especially health services) that had previously barely endowed or in the process of obsolescence. In other words, the state coffers, previously kept under lock and key, suddenly opened, as if by magic.

In the eyes of the most attentive public, the events laid bare that fiscal discipline, the mantra of orthodox conduct and seen as an ineluctable measure in view of the “economic laws”, was nothing more than an arbitrary and hateful way of disciplining, that is, the populations , especially those most in need of State support, having nothing to do with any limits of reality itself. As the pandemic unfolded, it became clear that precisely the countries least guided by neoliberal prescriptions were the most effective in combating the disease. If this “naked king” of the dominant order is imprinted in the collective memory, it is plausible that, from now on, there will be a push outside the gravity field of neoliberalism.

For now, however, the signs are mixed. It is important not to underestimate the enormous damage that neoliberal practices produced not only in the legitimacy of democratic institutions – and, therefore, in their ability to manage conflicts from within themselves –, but also in the collective conscience. Does the growth of authoritarian currents signal something more serious than a simple passing malaise? What if, instead of a rebellion against the neoliberal order, it heralds an authoritarian inflection of neoliberalism itself? This is the hypothesis of the article by Alison J. Ayers and Alfredo Saad-Filho.

Virtuality is surprising, since we have become accustomed to aligning the neoliberal order with parties and leaders that, even contributing to emptying it, did not call democratic institutionality into question. However, precisely this alignment blurred the perception of the cold and relentless impetus with which post-1980 capitalism managed, at the same pace, to submit society as a whole to its parameters, sacrificing the civilizing achievements of the previous period.

As this required the mediation of politics, it was also necessary to break the link that united the consciousness of the subordinate classes to the values ​​of democracy. While the unions were degraded, the institutional game was eroded, taking the edge out of elections. As democratic discourse sounded increasingly hollow, mainstream parties and leadership became obsolete. The authoritarian lime shovel was a simple unfolding of the financier logic that, provoking destabilizing economic situations and accumulation of social tensions, generated, from bottom to top, a wave of questioning democracy.

It would be expected that the suffering brought by the neoliberal order would broaden the horizon of alternatives. But such expansion has been the exception, not the rule. The incentive to competition and the increase of insecurity, together with institutional degradation, fragmented society and alienated potentially critical layers from public life. As a result, the path of imposition and coercion, putting an end to democratic “blah-blah-blah”, seems to many to be the only way to end the afflictions. The increased presence of far-right currents would express this exhaustion.

In the pessimistic hypothesis, neoliberalism would have within itself coercive “triggers” (configuring a kind of latent state of exception) widely used in the economic field, but extendable to the political sphere. Hence, the rising extreme right, despite the “anti-system” rhetoric, instead of moving away from the neoliberal perspective, has sought to radicalize it.

The fact that prejudiced and violent discourse finds receptivity among the people, and not just in the upper classes, would reveal an affinity between neoliberalism and modernized styles of fascism. It also means that the old establishment – ​​both the moderate right, liberal-conservative, and the so-called labor and social democratic “third way”, responsible until now for managing the order – can no longer cope with its tasks, needing to be replaced by leaders prepared to face turbulent times. Let's say without euphemisms: ready to get rid of scruples and constitutional practices and “fresh” enough to win the confidence of the masses, without moving from the foundations of the order that they allegedly want to change. Deep down, leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro would not aim for a rupture, but a transition from a form of neoliberalism with a democratic façade to another, openly authoritarian one.

Here we come across the third horizon examined in the collection, in the article by André Singer and Hugo Fanton. It is provoked by the following background noise: does the evaluation that we have just summarized not carry too much systematicity and too little disorder? In other words, could it be that the outbreak of the extreme right, alongside the crises and trends described so far, would not be indicating something that transcends the very notion of an “order”, prefiguring, on the contrary, the virtual disaggregation, without any alternative be able to replace it?

In his writings, Streeck has argued that, since the beginning, the neoliberal order lives by “buying time”, a succession of improvisations in which the financial crash of 2008 would represent the end point. The “tricks” start with the tolerance of inflation in the 1970s, followed by the accumulation of public debt in the 1980s and, finally, the proliferation of private debt, which ends in the huge financial bubble destined to burst in 2008. to avoid the meltdown of the banking system, all accumulated “bad” assets are converted into public debt.

But the new debt, being unpayable, is nothing more than a ticking time bomb. With the repertoire of “postponements” of the structural crisis exhausted, the “system” (increasingly less organized) surrenders to adrift.

Contemporary capitalism is evaporating on its own, succumbing to its internal contradictions and above all as a result of having vanquished its enemies – who, as already noted, often saved it from itself by forcing it to assume a new form. What comes after capitalism in its final crisis, now under way, I suggest, is not socialism or any other definite order, but an enduring interregnum – not the equilibrium of a new world-system à la Immanuel Wallerstein, but a prolonged period of social entropy, or disorder (and precisely for this reason a period of uncertainty and indeterminacy). (STREECK, 2016, p. 13)

As is known, the strangulation of 2008 caused a drop in global consumption, reminiscent of the period that followed the 1929 crisis, but without the massive loss of assets and jobs that occurred in the interwar period. The Great Recession, as the phase triggered by the bursting of the aforementioned mortgage bubble in the United States became known, deepened the inequality that neoliberalism had created in previous decades. The containment of the crash by massive injections of public money did not alter the essence of the situation. The famous conference by Larry Summers – “the most influential mechanic of the choked capitalist accumulation machine” (STREECK, 2018, p. 26) – at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2013, according to which a stagnation had entered secular, revealed precisely the historical peculiarity that Streeck wanted to highlight.

Despite the flood of liquidity through the so-called Quantitative Easing (qe), the austerity adopted by the G-20 in 2011 harmed large segments of the planetary population, including the middle classes (THERBORN, 2020). The waves of opposition to the left and right resulted in the fraying of the institutional framework. Bewildered, the neoliberal order ended up allowing itself to be penetrated by authoritarian tendencies. In this vein, Streeck reinterpreted the famous Gramscian coinage of the term “interregnum” (GRAMSCI, 2012 [1930], p. 187) – a period marked, as the Italian Marxist says, by “morbid symptoms” –, projecting through it a continuous undoing of of the social fabric, with no horizon of conclusion. As opposed to a transition (an interval “between two realms”), an entropic phase, combining disorganized capitalism and decreasing social integration.

In the interview given to Hugo Fanton, published in this volume, Streeck does not seem willing to revise the somber hypothesis, even in the face of the optimistic forecasts raised by the initiatives of Joe Biden and the European Union under the impact of the pandemic. In a rather skeptical tone, when asked about the United States' packages, he says he does not see how, in the medium and long term, the gigantic public deficits required to "stimulate the decadent American profit machine" will be financed, and wonders if, in the end , will bring “more harm than good”.

The same with regard to the 750 billion euros launched by the European Union: although it seems an impressive sum, “all it will do is finance some prestigious national projects, benefiting the governments in power”, with the aggravating factor of preserving the factors that lead to the Mediterranean countries to ruin (France included), while Germany enriches. It underlies the idea suggested above: in the absence of a force in the opposite direction, coming from the workers, the most harmed by the blind logic of the “profit machine”, it is difficult to imagine a reversal of entropy.

 

The Brazilian short circuit

In an interview given in 2020, Bruno Latour argued that “Brazil is today like Spain was in 1936, during the Civil War: […] where everything that will be important in the coming decades is visible” (AMARAL, 2020). The Spanish war anticipated fascist bellicosity. The experience – remembered for the tragic heroism recorded by Orwell, Hemingway and so many others – helped, in some way, to organize the later struggle, but Spain paid a high price for having served as a school: Francoism survived for four decades. Let's hope that the Spanish analogy is not confirmed, but there is no doubt that the Brazilian dynamics has a warp that interests the world. The second part of this collection seeks to understand aspects of our navigation towards the sea ​​incognitum which, until now, has given Gramsci's "morbid symptoms" a frightening literalness. Diverging at certain points, the articles provide elements for making such a map.

The tsunami landed like a “little wave” in 2008. The impact of the crash was less than expected and the countercyclical measures, together with the recovery of commodity prices, allowed the economy to resume its previous trajectory in 2010 (BARBOSA -FILHO, 2010; PAULA, MODENESI and PIRES, 2015). At the time, the business press was full of mentions of a decoupling, the fashionable jargon to refer to the supposed detachment of the trajectories of the center and the periphery, which would explain the restricted effect of the financial cardiac arrest on the Asian and South American regions (WÄLTI, 2009).

However, given the unprecedented global articulation, it was unlikely that underground impacts would not arrive. As we have seen, the crisis, which initially shook the United States, would gradually dismantle the planetary arrangement consolidated in the previous decade, slowing down the Chinese economy and reverberating in the four corners of the Earth (TOOZE, 2018; RUGITSKY, 2020). Here, the profound effect began to be felt in 2011, with the fall in commodities, the slowdown in the Gross Domestic Product and the intensification of the distributional conflict. The worst, however, would begin in 2015, when the intensified loss of value of commodities, the sharpening of the political dispute and the accumulation of previous contradictions imposed a serious setback on Lulism (SINGER, 2018).

The article by Cicero Araujo and Leonardo Belinelli suggests that the PT's governmental performance should be seen in the light of the process that led to the stabilization of the 1988 Constitution, with the adaptation of some of its most sensitive clauses to the international context, in principle contrary to the project classic social democrat. The authors speak of a “social-liberal pact”, experienced from 1995, with the election of Fernando Henrique Cardoso in the wake of a successful plan to combat hyperinflation. Lula's later victory certainly tilted the Constitution towards its social pole, but the framework had already been in place. What the PT's first two mandates achieved, thanks especially to the rare skills of the pilot, was to explore to the limit the possibilities of the constitutional balance achieved.

Then, in the phase commanded by Dilma Rousseff, certain flanks of the constitutional consensus were exposed. On the side of institutions, the burden of “coalition presidentialism” came to light, an unwritten rule by which the President of the Republic is forced to form a supermajority in Congress, that is, an alliance much broader than that necessary to be elected. . If it is true that this rule “lubricated” the relations between the Executive and Legislative branches, it did so under the semi-clandestine and distorting influence of money, moving society further away from a party-political system that was prone to taking off.

With the long tenure of the PT in the Executive – when it seemed to have found a way to become electorally unbeatable – the party opposition adhered to a subversive stance, that is, willing to implode the existing constitutional pact. The alliance with sectors strategically positioned in the Judiciary ended up favoring the rupture.

The institutional rift was combined with the one that had opened up in society, markedly between the intermediate ranges of the class pyramid. For Araujo and Belinelli, the social-liberal pact spared the rich and benefited the poor, leaving much of the burden on non-precarious workers, salaried professionals and small business owners. At least, this would have been perceived by such segments. The subversive propensity of institutional actors was thus added to the radicalized sentiment of the middle classes, intensifying the attack on the Constitution and the questioning of democracy. With the Charter and the pact shaken, the retaining walls embedded in them began to sway.

Pedro Mendes Loureiro's article reinforces Araujo and Belinelli's argument, bringing data about the reduction in the relative income of those with a high level of education in occupations that require more qualification, who represent a large part of the traditional middle class. Comparing the averages of the periods 2003 to 2005 and 2011 to 2013, the author verifies that these professionals fell, comparatively, about 16% in the scale of privileges. In the initial period, they earned three times the Brazilian per capita income and, at the end, they began to appropriate an income that represented 2,5 times the same. Such a decrease would have derived from a way of combating poverty that spared the capitalists.

For Loureiro, Lulismo's strategy to combat poverty was combined with a related attempt to expand access to health and education, narrowing financial exclusion. However, to a certain extent, a strategy of commodification of social reproduction was chosen, deepening the combination of underfunding of public systems with subsidies for private provision. Instead of concentrating on the expansion and improvement of public services, Lulism would have sought private associations to expand access, not reversing the privatization that took place in the Toucan period.

Suggesting a more critical approach to the PT experiment, the author assesses that the governments led by the party would have represented a variant that he calls “poverty-reducing neoliberalism”, feasible in the context of external bonanza. When the external winds changed direction, the distributive trend was reversed. The improvement in the standard of living of the poor, which should not be underestimated, was materially made possible thanks to the good use of external winds, which blew mainly from China. When the winds began to blow with less force, due to the delayed effects of 2008, a more brutal variant was imposed, known as “predatory neoliberalism”.. Operating on land fertilized by the constitutional upheaval, it developed rapidly.

Lena Lavinas, Lucas Bressan and Pedro Rubin, in their article, investigate, in a similar critical vein, the effects of a counterface of the commodification of public policies: the growing indebtedness of the popular classes. To do so, they reconstitute the ongoing financialization of contemporary capitalism, through which the workforce has come to increasingly depend on debt and social programs have become hunting ground for finance. Such an advance on social reproduction has faced resistance in various parts of the world, with emphasis on the United States, Spain and Chile. However, the mobilization has not yet proved to be strong enough to reverse the ongoing process, which was, incidentally, deepened by the emergency measures implemented in the face of the pandemic.

As occurred in other places, the Emergency Aid instituted in Brazil took on an unprecedented scale. However, it was implemented outside the social protection system, weakened by chronic underfunding. Without neglecting the importance of the emergency cash transfer, the authors argue that it is important not to lose sight of the implications of the way it was implemented. By sustaining the income of the poorest, the aid allowed both an acceleration of household indebtedness, which had been growing since 2017, and a drop in the number of defaulters. In this way, it contributed to the resumption of the debt cycle and was functional for financial accumulation.

By taking the form of monetary transfers, the aid reinforces the strategy of combining underfunding of public provision with the growing financialization of social policy, worsening an otherwise bad situation. With the reduction of aid and the maintenance of unemployment at a high level, the dispossessed face eviction, hunger and misery, with part of their income committed to dealing with unpayable debts.

Alongside the commodification of public services and compulsory debt, the third plague in Egypt that hit the lower classes was the precariousness of work, consecrated by the labor reform of 2017. The article by Ruy Braga and Douglas Santos shows, based on research carried out together with young bicycle delivery men in the city of São Paulo, how difficult the organizational conditions are in these new modes of exploitation. “Even when successful, the mobilizations show the political fragility inherent in the current moment of reconfiguration of collective identities and class interests”, state the authors.

In Brazil, the Fordist culture, based on the division of tasks typical of the factory, declines due to deindustrialization. Solidarity weakens in the universe of outsourcing and the competitive link proposed by companies like Uber. In the context of the pandemic, the degree of exposure and individual risk, without protection of any kind, was exacerbated, leading to isolated protests, with little organicity. Given the typical fragmentation of the activity through digital platforms, attempts at self-organization oscillate “between confidence inspired by direct action and disbelief in any type of longer-lasting victory for their onslaughts”, say Braga and Santos. With no union ties, it is as if the collective representation process had returned to square one, having to be completely reworked. It will be up to the constituted unions, of course, to extend their hand and, who knows, to accelerate the stages of the “classist remaking”.

If the last three articles mentioned paint some traces of the hell that befell workers, Marina Basso Lacerda gives an account of the discourse that, mixing conservatism and authoritarianism, ended up reaching a portion of these sectors in 2018. Bolsonaro, despite being promoted to presidential candidate through middle-class areas, he ended up sealing an alliance with the Christian right, which helped him to gather important support in the popular milieu.

For the author, Bolsonarist success had to do with “the reissue of paleoconservatism in Brazil, decades after its emergence in the United States”, today led by Donald Trump. Paleoconservatism originates from Reaganist neoconservatism, “which combines values ​​of the Christian right, militarism, neoliberalism and anticommunism, in the trend that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, turned against the internal enemy”, says Lacerda.

The defense of the family and judicial punitivism allowed Bolsonaro to associate elements that, together, activate a popular conservatism long observed in the national bibliography. In particular, the author raises the hypothesis that the “loss of social protagonism of men” and the “sense of destabilization of hegemonic masculinity with the advance of the feminist and lgbt movement” have contributed to strengthen Bolsonaro’s candidacy and the aversion to representative institutions liberals.

 

tropical interregnum

The affinities between Bolsonaro and Trump may, however, obscure the fact that the rise of the latter occurred in spite of the most modern part of the capitalist strata (POST, 2015; RILEY, 2017). Therefore, the fear, aroused in the upper classes, of the extremist mobilization that supported Trump opened up the possibility that Biden would adopt, even partially, projects conceived in recent years by the forces of the left field united around Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren ( DURAND, 2021; IBER, 2021). As mentioned above, we still do not know whether the push will manage to go beyond neoliberalism, but at least it can be said that the question is open.

The Brazilian case is different. If the capitalist groups hesitated for some time in joining the parliamentary coup project, doing so only with the process advanced (SINGER, 2018), there is no doubt that they were the first in line to join Bolsonaro. In the United States, decades of disintegration led to an explosion that forced the owners of money to swallow a character capable of mobilizing the frustration of a significant part of the middle and working classes. In Brazil, a timid and gradual integration process was replaced by an extreme right-wing project welcomed with open arms by wealthy groups. Although the post-pandemic signs of businessmen in relation to Bolsonaro are contradictory – sometimes with an oppositional bias, sometimes condescending ––, the “proof of the pudding” will only come in the 2022 election (provided that the regulatory electoral agenda is maintained).

In the current situation, October 2021, Bolsonaro continues to add authoritarian disinhibition to uninhibited neoliberalism. The result in public opinion has been, in practice, to shift the focus away from neoliberal capitalism and focus attention on democracy. This makes room for the “step-by-step” argument that the priority should be the defense of democracy and that the fight against neoliberalism is for later. As if Bolsonaro could be considered a discrepant parenthesis, a passing excrescence, and we could happily return to the status quo previous.

Viewed from a global perspective, however, Bolsonaro is not an anomaly, but the Brazilian version of the morbid symptoms noted by Gramsci. The rise of the extreme right, Brazil included, can only be understood as a product of the simultaneous crises of capitalism and democracy, both provoked by neoliberalism. One bomb is linked to another, and there is no way to defuse them without cutting the common thread that threatens a simultaneous explosion.

In addition to the immediate afflictions set in motion, it is worth reflecting on whether, in fact, the situation described has brought to light structural aspects of national formation. That is, if the breaking of the constitutional pact, the commodification of public services, the strangulation of family debts, the disruption of the labor market, the partisanship of Pentecostal leaders, in addition to other aspects that the collection cannot address in detail, mean a repetition, squeezed into a short time, of a long and repressed history.

Perhaps, with the exception of a few, it has not been noticed, underneath the stability and advances that the country has enjoyed since the 1990s, how at the same time the reserves of democratic sociability accumulated since the years of struggle against the dictatorship the 1988 Constitution. The criminal occupation of state spaces, the expansion of a regressive religiosity, the validity of an agribusiness that transformed vast corners into a backward replica of the American Midwest, deindustrialization: blocked by changes in the international division of labor, ingredients vital parts of democratic Brazil crumbled underneath.

The artistic antenna of Chico Buarque, whose debut novel showed a familiar place slowly and continuously being taken over by marginality (hindrance, published in 1991), caught the process in the air. In terms of criticism, Roberto Schwarz (1999) understood and explained what was going on: “This absurd disposition to remain the same in impossible circumstances is the strong metaphor that Chico Buarque invented for contemporary Brazil, whose book he may have written”.[v] About ten years later, Francisco de Oliveira (2003, p. 142) would translate the discovery into the language of political economy: “Landing on the periphery, the effect of this astonishing increase in labor productivity, of this virtual abstract work, cannot be less than devastating. Taking advantage of the huge reserve created by industrialization itself, as “informal”, the molecular-digital accumulation did not need to drastically undo the concrete-abstract forms of work, except in its reduced Fordist niches. It then carries out the work of extracting surplus value without any resistance, without any of the porosities that hinder complete exploitation”.

Oliveira indicated, years before Uber was founded (2009), that the future of capitalism was under construction in Brazil, where workers would move directly from informality to platforming, without going through integration. It is worth noting, as an index for future research, that Oliveira's perception provides a view of the semiperiphery on the capitalist totality in development. The purchase of time (including that of the qe) accompanies the destruction of wage relations, which provide the social basis for democracy when duly recognized in the legal-constitutional framework. The precariousness of work, we know, is one of the main mechanisms of the neoliberal period. From the semiperipheral perspective, however, precariousness has been the rule. Hence, democratic sociability in the periphery has always found it difficult to take root.

Although neoliberalism brought about changes in Brazil and in its Latin American neighbors – it is no coincidence that Chilean society was the number one guinea pig –, here its work consisted rather of reconfiguration than of producing precariousness and democratic emptying. With this background, we offer many – often regressive – glimpses into the future of capitalism, should sociability continue to be undermined by permanent instability.

But if, even in the tropical hell, the extremist combination of neoliberalism and authoritarianism has difficulty becoming hegemonic, despite the victory in 2018, in the old rich center of world capitalism, the defeat – albeit provisional – of the Trumpist mobilization in 2020 can be interpreted as a refusal to follow us into the deepest Dantesque circles. Joe Biden's announcement of a program to save capitalism and democracy represents a sign in this direction.

Seen from Brazil, where “the overwhelming majority of analysts continue to defend the imperative need to balance public accounts” (LARA RESENDE, 2021), Biden’s initiative looks more like an attempt to leave the United States than an applicable mold to the semiperiphery. Here it will be necessary to make a double effort to, at the same time, mobilize society around democracy and form a majority capable of reversing the process of disintegration. Even in the United States, it is difficult to believe that a way out of the crises will be found in the absence of an organized offensive by the working class, which until now has not occurred, although there are trials, such as the uprising of the Black Lives Matter on May 2020.

Which does not prevent recognizing the Biden era as a window to rearticulate counter-hegemonic perspectives to neoliberalism, which for the time being continues in its blazing destructive career, quarantine anni fa. It will be up to Brazil, which at the moment rejects, according to polls, Bolsonaro's authoritarian experience, to make good use of this window in the year of grace 2022.

* André Singer He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of São Paulo. Author, among other books, of Lulism in crisis (Company of Letters).

*Cicero Araujo He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at the University of São Paulo. Author, among other books, of The Form of the Republic: from the Mixed Constitution to the State (Martins Fontes).

*Fernando Rugitsky is professor of economics at the University of the West of England Bristol (UK).

 

Reference


André Singer, Cicero Araujo and Fernando Rugitsky (eds.). Brazil in the Global Inferno: capitalism and democracy off the rails. São Paulo, USP Open Book Portal, 2022. Available at http://www.livrosabertos.sibi.usp.br/portaldelivrosUSP/catalog/book/825.

The virtual launch of the book, with the presence of the organizers and some of the authors, will take place on June 8, Wednesday, from 18 pm to 20 pm, with transmission on YouTube (https://youtu.be/05Ii3UFjlvw).

 

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Notes


[I] See, in this regard, the conference by Paulo Arantes at the colloquium “The thought of Chico de Oliveira: the destructive creation”, November 2019. At: cenedic.fflch.usp.br. Accessed: 31/08/2021. Arantes speaks of “managed barbarism”.

[ii] Cristina Índio from Brazil. “Unemployment drops 13,7%, reveals IPEA survey” (27/09/2021). At: https://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/economia/noticia/2021-09/desemprego-cai-para-137-revela-pesquisa-do-ipea. Accessed: 12/10/2021.

[iii] Henrique Rodriguez. “Bolsonaro’s misery: the queue to pick up bones at the butcher shop is a historic landmark” (19/07/2021). At: https://revistaforum.com.br/rede/miseria-bolsonaro-fila-ossos-acougue/. Accessed: 12/10/2021.

[iv] Steve Bannon declared, in August 2021, that “the [2022] election in Brazil is the second most important in the world (behind the US). Bolsonaro will face a criminal, Lula, the most dangerous leftist in the world”. Thomas Traumann, “Steve Bannon is coming” (13/08/2021) At: https://veja.abril.com.br/blog/thomas-traumann/steve-bannon-vem-ai/. Accessed: 01/09/2021.

[v] We would like to thank Paulo Arantes who, in an oral communication (São Paulo, 2020), indicated that he was hindrance the literary work that best explained Bolsonaro and Schwarz's criticism the one that best explained Chico Buarque's novel.

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