the poles of power

Katherine Sophie Dreier (1877–1952), What of It, 1939.


The issue, then, is not to promote a center alternative to the Brazilian political debate, but it is a battle on the right wing.

When a political scientist or something like that argues that there is the possibility of inserting a center between the right-left poles in Brazil, there are only two alternatives to process this forced analysis: either this specialist is completely ignorant of the country's political process; or he is simply a disingenuous man who wants the mainstream media audience. Obviously, the second hypothesis is more credible than the first. Therefore, let us be careful not to be influenced by fakes and contribute to forced aberrations to configure reality. Therefore, this text intends to discuss these four variables of the current Brazilian political conjuncture: a) the possibility of an alternative called “center”; b) the poles considered extreme; c) dissimulation regarding the third way; d) finally, ignorance about elections.

The issue of the center in Brazil is complicated by the fact that we have the Centrão. It is a mistake to ignore Centrão, even if we cannot consider it exactly as the center of gravity of the political system, something that circulates between right and left ideologically. The so-called Centrão has as its main objective to occupy space in the public machine for campaign financing and maintenance of its spaces of power. It does not have and will not have a representative to the presidency of the republic. At the same time, Centrão (in addition to the physiological criticisms that we may have regarding its conduct and ethics) as a pragmatic element of Brazilian democracy, forces the executive to negotiate and mitigate its centralizing impacts, but has no effect on the direction of political leadership chosen in the executive.

This configuration is characteristic of Brazil. In an international perspective, the classic center is the one towards which the left moved and softened its revolutionary agenda to a social democracy or social welfare agenda that liberalism implemented. But one thing are theoretical categorizations, another thing is how these categorizations are manifested in everyday life and in party national realities. The welfare state in Brazil manifested itself from the Varguista corporatism and the liberalism of social concern that was present in some of its elements in the military regime itself – which proposed to have social elements without democracy.

Well then: without a classical center in the dispute, what do we have left? The center of politics in Brazil has to do with a certain liberal social democracy, which at the same time does not confront the regime directly, but has an element of combating inequalities and reducing the impact of poverty and misery in the country.

After the 1988 citizen constitution, the poles that were configured were: the neoliberal design of the right after 1989 with Collor supported by the PFL (today DEM), the latter becoming the representative of the economic right in Brazil. The PSDB, which launches itself as a social democrat, has a trajectory towards this neoliberalism in a PSDB-PFL coalition in the Fernando Henrique government. The PT leaves the pole of the reformist left and moves towards a welfare state. Between the Fernando Henrique and Lula administrations, the PT took center stage, although it misunderstood part of the discourse and alliances with sectors of the social left. The PT of 2002 expanded its leftist base, reached the center and walked towards a part of liberalism with an alliance between Lula and José Alencar.

The occupation of the center

All this digression serves to justify the following observation: historically, Brazil does not have a consistent ideological pendular center in the sense of moderate discourse and with political leaders capable of leading a debate. Secondly, the path presented by the political parties leads us to realize that the PT occupied the center space while maintaining its left hegemony (the dispute that PSOL holds with PT or that Ciro Gomes tried before France still did not constitute alternatives on the left). While the PT moved to the center and sustained its base on the left, the center parties moved towards predatory political physiologism and the parties with social democracy roots embraced neoliberalism.

Therefore, there is no third way as it is intended to be announced. Because we don't have opposite poles between Lula and Bolsonaro. Lula has already occupied the center and the center's proposals and the Centrão itself, which represents the moderation between right and left, is not interested in a competitive candidacy that unifies it. Furthermore, what is wanted with the parties that would place themselves at the center are right-wing neoliberal alternatives.

the poles of power

The issue, then, is not one of promoting a center alternative to the Brazilian political debate, but it is a battle on the right: between the neoliberal right and the denialist right. And if this radicalized market discourse reaches the median voter – something that hasn't been the case for 20 years or 5 elections. The party that was withdrawn from the second round of elections and which it had occupied since 1994 was the PSDB. PT may have lost the last election, but it did not lose the hegemony of a political field that today is center and left. Not because it is a moderate left, but because it occupies the left field and the center field. That's because it has some proposals for transformation and many proposals for moderation. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, was a disruptive phenomenon that occurred in such a unique way that his election shifted the ideological system to the right. So, there was no need to preach center moderations.

This leads us to the next issue of this article: the discussion about poles. Politics and power disputes have nothing to do with magnets, which are poles of opposites that repel or attract each other. The polarity of power means spaces and orbits in which groups coalesce. There is not necessarily symmetry. These poles are not necessarily diametrically opposed. The best example of this is the United States: Republicans and Democrats are the two poles of power in that country and are not diametrically opposed. You can discuss there, for example, why an anti-system left cannot advance, but it cannot be said that in that country the two poles occupy, opposite sides of the dispute.

Assuming that Lula and Bolsonaro are not asymmetric poles is an error without real support. They are poles because they concentrate popular representation, very high density political engagement and that no other political representation in the country reaches the same degree of agglutination. The “error” in this story is to assume that when saying that Lula and Bolsonaro represent extremes because they are poles. They are poles, one is at the extreme, the other occupies a large margin between left and center.

Any proposal for a center will have to compete with Lula for its audience. Any neoliberal proposal will have to compete with Bolsonaro for its audience. There is no third way in this space. A neoliberal center does not exist because it has no space. The third way (which is a moderate proposal is already being occupied) by the mainstream media and economic elites makes no sense because it is essentially neoliberal. That's what comes of leaving politics in the hands of marketers on duty. Bolsonaro's negationist conservatism does not reject neoliberalism and any neoliberal proposal that led the PSDB, for example, to win two elections, because it will have to overcome Bolsonaro.

We know that won't happen. Bolsonaro messed with the Brazilian political system because he shifted the debate to the right. Unlike Lula, who moved to the right to dialogue with this electorate, Bolsonaro's electoral communication shifted the political system to the right – obviously taking advantage of a favorable national and international context. This may be windy, but the wind today inhabits the Planalto Palace and Bolsonarism is the hegemonic force of the right today and concentrates the speech and communication mechanisms.

The official discourse of the center's biogenesis

It remains for us to discuss why some so-called experts insist on the thesis of the third way? There are two justifications for answering this question. First, the same elites who defend a center alternative want to accept what the center is. The center is not on a pasteurized discourse based on neoliberalism. The center is on the moderation of market and state practice. In the regulation of work, income, but social and citizenship policies. Being less stupid than Bolsonaro is not synonymous with moderation.

As there is nothing concrete to build in terms of the project, they need to find people who rationally and elaborately reverberate this discourse in the hope of transforming the void into reality. At this moment comes the second reason why a third way is insisted on: whoever wants to have an audience in the mainstream media tries to placate the discourse. It is the strategy of prediction that manipulates reality. Hoping to repeat this in many ways and make people believe it can be true and thus build their own future reality from built beliefs. The result of all this so far is poor and associates a self-deceived elite with the idea that it has social benevolence and a pseudo-intellectualized class thirsty for recognition and visibility.

The construction of the narrative

Concretely, we know that there is no distance between the neoliberalism of Paulo Guedes and that a middle ground cannot be included for the neoliberalism of Arminio Fraga. This is easily demonstrable. Anyone who tries to show that there are differences in this is either bad-natured or naive. Because the difference is in the customs, values ​​and insistence of the social base.

But, there is always the risk of forming an agenda and letting yourself be tricked into spending months discussing alternatives to current polarities. It is a bet on the ability to form an opinion that the mainstream media is betting on, believing that the construction of the narrative can pave the way for the real construction of an alternative that steals space from one pole or another. The problem with this is that if both Lula and Bolsonaro have consolidated bases and are references, they have dialogue and political support.

In the minds of marketers, it is enough to have a speech and a good name. But the result found only shows that these artificial alternatives fail, mainly because they cannot find representatives with the capacity for popular dialogue that both poles have. To justify failure, they use another subterfuge: that they are facing populist leaders. But populism is another erratic concept they use to manipulate, seek discourse efficiency and promote audience hunters and narrative manipulators.

*Luis Fernando Vitagliano is a political scientist and university professor.


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