The crowing of roosters in Argentina and Chile

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By Leonardo Avritzer*

Agnes Heller, the recently deceased American Hungarian intellectual, said that modernity constitutes a pendulum between market and state. Certain moments of modernity consisted of strong developments of the market that showed, however, in each of them, its limitation as a unique form of organization of sociability. It was these moments that generated its opposite, a structure of social protection guaranteed by the State capable of relativizing commodification.

The social protection structure that became widespread in Europe after the Second World War was the response of the capitalist and democratic world to the first attempt to attack forms of collective organization and leave society at the mercy of the market, one of the ways of understanding the Nazis. fascism. The defeat of Nazi-fascism generated social protection structures in all parts of the world, limited relations governed by the market and created a sense of stability that allowed the expansion of democracy beyond a small number of countries.

The period covering the last thirty years represents an attempt to radically commodify all social relations, even social protection in old age, which is now governed by a mercantile principle for the first time in the history of capitalism. Neoliberalism is the most radical attempt to break with the pendular principle of modernity of alternating state and market in search of a certain balance.

We can divide neoliberalism into two phases: in the first one, it only pointed to the abuses of a form of bureaucratization of social relations and tried to rebalance them with the reintroduction of a stronger mercantile principle. But, at the end of this first phase, the principle was expanded to international institutions, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), becoming a sword of Damocles over the heads of those who insisted on a certain presence of the State in the economy and social organization.

Since the internationalization of neoliberalism, we now have a different type of State that we can call the “cunning State”, a State that is, at the same time, strong and weak. Strong in defending the interests of “financialization”, but weak in defending society. This period comes to an end in 2008.

The rescue of the international financial system carried out in 2008 – and, mainly, the way in which this rescue took place: at the expense of citizens indebted to the same banks in the United States and Europe – marks a phase change in neoliberalism. This change is significant for two reasons.

First, the fact that states in the developed world opted for their banks over their citizens at a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans were losing their homes and millions of Europeans, in countries like Spain and Portugal, their jobs, it signals a change in the form of organization of democracies whose consequences we are seeing in this decade.

The second element is even more problematic and is linked to the fact that no self-criticism of the program of deregulation and reduction of the State was carried out by the neoliberal forces after the rapid recovery of the banks and the financial system, especially in the USA. On the contrary, what we saw after 2008 was a radicalization of neoliberalism.

Such a radicalization, in which the market attacked the state structure that rescued it from disaster, points to a non-modern or anti-modern element in neoliberalism. He intends to break with the idea of ​​a reflexive balance between State and market and implement the complete domain of mercantile relations in relation to politics. The problem is that the voracity of the neoliberal attack on the State makes it not just an anti-state doctrine, but an anti-society doctrine, which has led to revolts against neoliberalism in different countries.

Brazil and Chile have completely different trajectories in relation to neoliberalism. Brazil was the most successful case of “national developmentalism” in Latin America while Chile is a case of the destruction of “national developmentalism” by the force of a cruel dictatorship. The recession imposed by Pinochet's economic policy destroyed industry and ended up eliminating the actors that could form the basis of a new political pact. In the transition to democracy, Pinochet was even able to propose an electoral model that guaranteed the Chilean right a political overrepresentation and, especially, a capacity to veto constitutional changes.

This is what explains the inability of the “concertación”, the political alliance that governed Chile uninterruptedly until the first Piñera government, to make important changes in the area of ​​education and the pension system. This resulted in an inscription of neoliberalism into the Chilean constitutional system that leftist governments were unable to change. It is for this reason that Chileans are calling for a Constituent Assembly or, at the very least, a constitutional revision. Because they have an antisocial constitution made by a neoliberal dictatorship.

Brazil is a different case, as the country has had a more radical and socially oriented democratization. The 1988 Constitution, enacted about a year before the collapse of real socialism, took place at a time when neoliberalism was not yet firmly established in the region. Thus, it followed a logic of reversal of the inequalities generated by the authoritarian period.

Not even the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government strictly followed the neoliberal primer. He maintained the entire state financial structure: from the BNDES to the Housing Financing System (SFH). The same can be said of the Lula government, which maintained the state structure of the financial system and expanded the state's presence in the area of ​​energy. Since 2012, with the rupture of the pact between the Dilma Rousseff government and the financial system, what we have seen is a radical change in the market's posture.

He moved from an adaptive position to the designs of the political system to a position of establishing an anti-state hegemony at any cost. This fact partly explains the support for the impeachment and election of Jair Bolsonaro. Important neoliberal economists in Brazil recently announced the death of the political pact generated by the 1988 Constitution, the same one that is under open attack by the Jair Bolsonaro government.

Brazil, however, faces the same dilemma as Chile: it is not possible to implement the neoliberal agenda without radically attacking not only the State, but also society. This is what we saw in the original pension reform proposal sent by Paulo Guedes' team: attacks on all social benefits for the poorest population, including the BPC and rural retirement. Fortunately, Congress struck down those components of the proposal.

neoliberalism Chilean style implies attacking society to reduce the weight of the State and social policies in the economy. This is the political dispute of the moment in all of South America. Brazil's late entry into this game is even more problematic because it is not clear that it is still being played by the main international forces of globalization, in particular the United States, currently engaged in a protectionist war against China.

On the other hand, the same economic characteristic that neoliberal economic policies have in Chile and Argentina does apply to Brazil: the association between deindustrialization and long-term economic stagnation. It is this association that compels neoliberalism to attack society so perversely. In a week in which neoliberalism causes social revolt in Chile and is electorally defeated in Argentina, an adaptation of Marx's famous phrase fits in our case: the collapse of neoliberalism in Brazil will be announced by the crowing of Argentine and Chilean cocks.

*Leonardo Avritzer is a professor of political science at UFMG.

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