Dynamic realism

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By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL*

Political pragmatism removes from its field of vision all the energy for change that is latent in society

Whenever I publish a text criticizing the “pragmatism” of left-wing leaders – the concessions to capital, the concessions to pastors, the concessions to the Centrão, the concessions to the military, the vices to coup plotters, etc. etc. – there is no shortage of people who say that there is no other way. These are the circumstances. Which is what we have for the moment. That, quoting the phrase attributed to Otto von Bismarck, “politics is the art of the possible”. Really?

In a sense, yes – but in the banal sense that all human activity, from engineering to cooking, from football to medicine, is, in its own way, an “art of the possible”. The problem is that the sentence is read in a way in which realism gives way to possibilism.

We can contrast Otto von Bismarck's adage with the eloquent excerpt from prison notebooks in which Antonio Gramsci describes the “politician in action” as “a creator, a instigator; but he does not create from nothing, nor does he move in the turbid void of his desires and dreams. It is based on factual reality.”

In a synthetic way, Antonio Gramsci is pointing out the need to overcome both narrow possibilism, which sees the limits placed on political action as immutable, and voluntarism, which believes that they can be disregarded by a mere subjective decision.

He adopts a dynamic realism, which is heir to Niccolo Machiavelli and Karl Marx, including in his account both the transformative energies latent in the social world and the active will to mobilize them.

A large part of the Brazilian left remains foreign to this dynamic and trapped in possibilism, which leads to a brutal reduction in the horizon of expectations – based on the understanding that there is a “correlation of forces” favorable to conservative groups and, therefore, our option is between little and nothing.

Or less than that. Since the 2016 coup, the right has hardened its positions and what we are left with is very little, as an alternative to nothing.

In this line of thought, the correlation of forces is perceived, above all, as that present in formal political institutions. The argument is: Lula is facing a very conservative Congress; therefore, the margin for adopting redistributive and democratizing policies is very small. Corollary: it is better to wait for very little, because more than that will not be possible to achieve.

I am not among those who outright deny the validity of a calculation of this type. In fact, the difference between very little and nothing may be ignored by the privileged, but it is often a matter of life and death for the poorest.

The problem is that this reading works with a limited temporality and removes from its field of vision all the energy for change that is latent in society – all the nonconformity, the revolt, the indignation, which will continue to be latent, incapable of organized and effective action, if the political forces committed to transforming the world remain indifferent, immersed in a vision of politics that boils down to immediate electoral calculation.

* Luis Felipe Miguel He is a professor at the Institute of Political Science at UnB. Author, among other books, of Democracy in the capitalist periphery: impasses in Brazil (authentic).

Originally posted on the author's social media.


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