Beyond the illusions of the political conjuncture

Image: John Lee


Conjuncture analyzes have become our main method, causing us to run the risk of losing sight of all the structural reconstructions that could allow us to understand the present moment

The current scenario imposes many challenges on us and, among them, the possibility of thinking serenely. One of the main intellectual problems imposed by the current situation is that the media has specialized in placing all its focus on the novelization of politics. Each week we follow a different chapter of this soap opera, which makes the future increasingly unpredictable, despite trying to anticipate it at all times. As a result, conjuncture analyzes have become our main method, causing us to run the risk of losing sight of all the structural reconstructions that could allow us to understand the present moment.

In this context, one of the main paradigms that was built in Brazil and in the world consists of placing all the blame for current problems on the mistakes of the left. There is no argument more favorable to fascist sentiment than this. The rise of the extreme right, the increase in inequality and violence, in addition to the economic and financial crisis, are all attributed to the political mistakes of the left and its supposed inability to carry out its always promised project of social justice. With that, the heart of the mass would have migrated to the extreme right. I believe that understanding the current scenario requires a much more complex theoretical movement than that. Here, we need to go beyond the conjuncture and illusions of the present, seeking higher order structural theoretical reconstructions.

The confusing fact, little theoretical and politically mistaken, that we identify an affective scapegoat in the left and a culprit for all the ills of the present is one of the central aspects of what I would like to define here as “methodological Bolsonarism”. With this concept, I intend to account for the fact that a large part of the analysis of the current situation in Brazil boils down to an exhaustive description of the actions of the government and especially of the president, reproducing the novelization of politics. Methodological Bolsonarism, in this sense, is a development of what we could call a “methodological petism”, which boils down to the fad of criticizing the PT and the left, with meager and repetitive arguments (I am not interested in the defense of any party, but the critique of the poverty of the critique). We need to escape this analytical pobrism of the conjuncture and the way out will always be the construction of social science with method and research, which is not reduced to the repetition of clichés that, in a kind of sociology of laceration, quickly become fashionable in social networks.

It was with this scenario in mind that I decided to prepare the second edition, revised and expanded, of my book The new world society of work: beyond center and periphery? (Rio de Janeiro: Autografia, 2021). In this new version, which has prefaces by Jessé Souza and Cinara Rosenfield, I added an afterword in which I try to update the debate, considering that the book was published before the coup d'état that overthrew Dilma Rousseff and paved the way for the rise of Bolsonarism to government Brazilian.

As a central point, I try to develop the idea of ​​a new world society of work, which takes shape from the 1970s onwards and fails to overcome the deep differences between central and peripheral countries. For that, I start from a theoretical discussion articulating especially the works of Claus Offe, André Gorz, Ulrich Beck and Robert Castel. My thesis is that the failure of the welfare state in central countries such as Germany, France and England is the main historical proof that capitalism will never succeed as a system that promotes social justice. As a result, my argument is that we find here the main theoretical and empirical starting point for a new interpretation of contemporary capitalism in its entirety.

The importance of this movement consists in realizing how the “great transformation” of capitalism, to use Karl Polanyi's precious term, since the 1970s, has brought us here, paving the way for the emergence of collective despair that brought extreme poverty. right to power. Much more consistent than the simplistic and clichéd thesis that blames the strengthening of authoritarianism on the left's mistakes in the previous conjuncture, in this sense, is the perception that the great structural crisis of capitalism since the 1970s has plunged us into a scenario unprecedented in history, which will really allow understanding of the current global situation. As a consequence, history tells us the introduction of neoliberalism, in the following decade, led by Reagan and Thatcher, which deepened inequality between all social classes and created the castellation of a super-rich global elite, which is also unprecedented. in history.

To advance with this analysis, we need to understand what I am calling a new world society of work, consolidated from the crisis of welfare state in the North Atlantic. The first author I mobilized for this task was Ulrich Beck. His critique of “methodological nationalism” is decisive for thinking about world society. With this concept, the author seeks to define all the reductionism of the sociology of inequality throughout the XNUMXth century, restricted to the political and cognitive frameworks of national histories. It is impossible, for example, to understand the center-periphery relationship without this starting point, which led me to dedicate a central attention to it.

Next, I try to reconstruct the main transformations of the work society in a global perspective. For that, I resort to the works of Claus Offe, André Gorz and Ulrich Beck. Offe's well-known questioning in the 1980s about whether work was still a central category for the social sciences was misunderstood by much of the ensuing debate. He was not saying that the work society ended, which would be a simplistic argument, but rather that work no longer provided social integration in the sense of welfare state European. Therefore, the author's problem was not issuing the death certificate of the labor society, but rather ignoring the periphery of capitalism in his analysis, a criticism that I make of all the authors analyzed in the book, for specific reasons in each of them.

Then, I reconstruct Gorz's analysis of what he defines as “Post-Fordism”. Another author misunderstood by a good part of the sociology of work, due to his book “Adeus ao proletariado”, published in the year 1980, in the following decade the author carries out an important analysis on the exhaustion of Fordism. For him, this system would no longer be able to feed the dream world created by the consumer society with goods, which leads capitalism to prioritize the production of “immaterial” goods. His analysis is important to understand that such structural changes fragment the working class, creating the situation that now “we are all precarious” in potential, and not in potential workers. What is at stake here is not to remove the possibility of action by the working class, as if theory could dictate what will happen in reality, but rather to perceive its real impediments. Hence his controversial assertion that the proletariat could no longer be the ruler of its own history.

In addition, I recover Ulrich Beck's interpretation from another path, now about what he will call the “admirable new world of work”. One of the main aspects of his risk society thesis, developed in the 1980s, consists precisely in understanding the fractures in the dimensions of work and social classes, a scenario that he will define as marked by the rupture of the link between economy, politics and social welfare state. In this direction, the author will develop his well-known thesis of the “Brazilization of the West”, to which I direct a critique in the book. When he comes to Brazil, in the 1990s, the author is terrified by the dimension of our precarious work, which I prefer to define as unworthy, and he quickly returns to Europe to develop a conservative thesis that does not discuss the reasons why the global system, that is, Wallerstein's “world-economy”, produced a periphery of countries that are only left with the negative realizations of the system, as I tried to thematize.

Finally, the last author I will reconstruct in the book is Robert Castel, arguably the most critical and thought-provoking of all. Based on the French case, this author little understood in Brazil will develop his important analysis on the “surpluses”, that is, a mass of people who will be increasingly expelled from the labor market with no chance of reinsertion, adding to thus the other mass of young people who will never have their first job. This reality begins to devastate the central countries since the breakdown of the welfare state, configuring what Castel will define as the end of the salary society and what I define as the generalization of the indignity of work, including in the central countries. In this sense, my argument is that the indignity of precarious work and the condition of indignity of those who do not have any work, that is, a new global rabble, and the great mark of the new capitalism that is configured on a world scale, no longer just in the peripheral countries.

It is in the face of this new scenario that we need to discuss the rise of the extreme right, as a direct effect of a world of working conditions and relations between classes that have become and are becoming, at this very moment, increasingly unworthy, a problem that is not caused by the situation, but which can obviously be deepened by it, when we are dealing with authoritarian governments whose antisocial project is evident. With this, I also perceive contemporary capitalism as unworthy, in the sense that it specializes in producing the devaluation of human life. The social production of a structural rabble has always been the reality of peripheral countries, as Jessé Souza has shown for years in the Brazilian case. The novelty of this new and “admirable” unworthy capitalism, however, is the production of a global rabble, a fact unprecedented in history, which even to a large extent is a “digital” rabble, oppressed by the invisible boss of platform capitalism.

Faced with this tragic scenario, it is not difficult to understand why the left “has lost the heart of the simple man”, who is now giving himself up to the extreme right. A careful re-reading of Frankfurt School classics such as Erich Fromm and Adorno makes it clear that this fragility of the mass is a full dish and the great causal factor of the success of the fascist feeling, in the past and in the present. This feeling and its consequent transformation into State policy, however, cannot be understood without realizing the “spectrum of indignity” that plagues the current world and that forms the main backdrop of all our existential tragedy in the present time. In this sense, we need to go beyond the conjuncture and see the confusing, “admirable” and unworthy new world of work that has brought us here.

At this very moment, we may have a chance to turn the Brazilian scenario around, so that the progressive camp or a renewed left wins back the heart of the simple man, which needs to be converted into votes at the ballot box. To do this, however, it is vital that, from within our intellectual, political, academic, and middle-class bubbles, we begin to rid ourselves of the cognitive and intellectual impediments that obstruct our understanding. This is the challenge.

* Fabricio Maciel he is professor of sociological theory at the Department of Social Sciences at UFF-Campos and at the PPG in political sociology at UENF.


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