When the left winks at neo-populism

Image : Yen Hui Taw


A fragmented view of social struggles is incapable of presenting them within the large collectives that emerged with the struggles of the modern world.

A sector of the Brazilian left has launched itself to criticize the so-called “identity” struggles − more correctly defined as struggles for the “recognition” of civil rights − as if this were the core of the problem of postmodern militancy. Well, this is just a result, a point of arrival, whose roots need to be traced if what we want is to present the problem in a fair and politically effective way.

A mindset postmodernism is based on the complete break with the idea of ​​“unity of history”, which results in a fragmented view of social struggles, incapable of presenting them within the great collectives that emerged with the struggles of the modern world. A “false consciousness”, to recall Engels' concept of ideology, a consciousness fixed on the “part”, incapable of apprehending reality as a “totality”. But that does not mean that this “part” means “nothing”, an “illusion”. Remember what Gramsci wrote when he spoke of the “intrinsic value of ideologies”, reminding Benedetto Croce that the notions of “natural law” and “State of nature” were taken by Marx in their sense of “class utility”, “ ideological complement of the historical development of the bourgeoisie”, and not a mere chimerical appearance[1].

They correspond to the first stage of those struggles, equivalent to a “certain respect” for “private life” that the liberal Isaiah Berlin spoke of when defining the notion of “negative freedom”[2]. Nothing prevents, however, that they also appear as one of the determinations of the class struggle as conceived by Marxism, which is even more true in social formations with a trajectory within the Third World, whose colonial legacies are translated into different forms. obstruction of secular and civil life. In fact, Domenico Losurdo had already noted the impure character of this category, which for this very reason does not have a purely economic dimension, also concerning the “struggles for recognition” [3]. And it is precisely because of “this lack of purity” that the class struggle “can lead to a victorious social revolution”[4].

We can also think about these questions in the light of what is happening in the great exponent of socialism today − and vanguard of the fight against imperialism −, the Chinese nation. For “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, the “civil rights” and “personal freedoms” that mark the western world are considered as “very important”, at the same time that, seeking to go beyond this formulation (but not rejecting it, one must - if you insist), proposes a notion of human rights that refers to “the person in his relations with others, the individual in relation to society, in short, man as a social being”[5].

In short, “emancipation”, but also “recognition”, a overcoming from the western way towards a more advanced form which, however, is not pure liquidation of the superseded form. Hence, it is not surprising that the overcoming of poverty in China, an undisputed result of the capacity to maintain a sustained development of the material productive forces, has also relied on affirmative policies aimed at ethnic minorities, benefiting from “positive discrimination” with regard to “admission to university, promotion to public office, and family planning.[6].

And behold, the aforementioned left is the one that, whatever the dimension of the struggles in question, frequently proposes that not only “the dirty bath water” be thrown away, but even “the child” − yes, even the “ child!”, surprised reader. And it is here that it is worth remembering the lessons of the old Hegel regarding the absurdity of taking history as a mere slaughterhouse, history devoid of any progress. The same Hegel whose idea of ​​the State, aware of “the value and freedom of the individual”, was positively assumed by Jean Jaurès, barbarously “murdered by a chauvinist fanatic” at the beginning of the First World War, “as a synonym of socialism”.[7].

Unable to understand these formulations, but even to observe their historical incarnation, it is not surprising that this same left sees it as its task to settle accounts with the struggles of the black movement, women, environmentalists, movements for gender recognition − all expressions of heavy political backwardness, he argues. A delay capable of destroying the revolutionary proletariat's struggle against capitalism and imperialist domination. In this momentum, conspiracy theory is left, Marxism is scarce − or the conscious Marxism of Hegel's escort, as proposed by Losurdo[8].

After all, we are facing a perfect “roundabout turn”, a turn that leads this type of militancy towards very conservative positions. A kind of neosocialchauvinism, the translate in the present time and in particular spatial conditions, elements of what developed even within the European left at the time of World War I, which completely distorted the important national question − strictly speaking a popular question − within Marxism[9].

Just like the socialchauvinism of the early XNUMXth century, which, by approving war credits, ended up opposing the struggle of the oppressed peoples (including the proletariat of their own countries, like cannon fodder in the trenches), this too, moving away from of the popular and democratic struggles that each of these fractions represents, and above all unable to integrate them into the struggles of the great collectives that emerge with modernity, he dangerously moves to the opposing camp, assuming positions as conservative as he is.

Round and round to not leave the same place. Turns and turns to assume revisionist positions very close to a right-wing postmodernism, absolutely intransigent in the face of the “cult of the numerical majority that is expressed in democracy and in the growing presence of the masses” in political life[10]. And it is no wonder that now even Lenin is unfaithfully presented as a disciple of Oswald Spengler, appearing as the leader of a “Prussian socialism” – an ideological, openly manipulative argument, which until recently only the liberal right dared to use. Obstinate critics of the legacy of the modern world, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, Bolsonaro and how much of the call neopopulism − which, similar to classic Latin American populism, has only the name, openly reactionary and far from even a breath of modernizing reforms and any anti-imperialist flame−, congratulate themselves on the domination of the broad spectrum of the new Zeitgeist, phagocytosing the left itself.

There is no doubt that instead of a united struggle against big capital and its ideologues, what is being promoted is just “the war of the penultimate against the last”.[11]− a war that interests only the right. A path, Gramsci knew, through which it is not possible to overcome the subordinate condition. And it is still with Gramsci that it is worth concluding: along this path, what the left does is nothing other than operating in the field of “common sense”[12]− as is always known to be “incoherent”, “contradictory”, “inconsequential” −, since he accepts to associate the universalist ideas that are his − universalism that is always realized concretely, and not in an abstract way − with misoneist and openly conservative points of view.

* Marcos Aurélio da Silva Professor of Geography at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).



[1] Gramsci, A.Quaderni del jail. Ed. critique by Valentino Gerratana. Torino: Einaudi, 1975, p. 441

[2] Jahanbegloo, R.. Isaiah Berlin: with complete freedom. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1996, p. 70.

[3] Losurdo, d. Western Marxism. Come nacque, come morì, come può rinascere. Rome: Laterza, 2017, p. 63.

[4] Losurdo, d. La lottadi class. A political and philosophical story. Rome: Laterza, 2013, p. 27.

[5] Puncog, Q. Cina: i diritti umani bring viluppo sociale and destiny comune del l'umanita. In: L'egemonia del socialismo. Governa la Cina difende la pace sviluppa l'Europe. Teramo: Centro Gramsci di Educazione, 2018, pp. 279-70.

[6]Losurdo, d. Escape from history. The Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution Seen Today. Rio de Janeiro: Revan, 2004, p. 176.

[7] Losurdo, d. La catastro della Germania e l'immagine di Hegel. Napoli: Istituto Italiano per gli studi filosofici, 1987, pp. 91, 116 and 118.

[8] It is interesting to note how the patriarchal family, criticized by Marx and Engels n'The German Ideologyand then by Engels in The origin of the family, private property and the state, has its contestation already in Hegel. As the recent biography of Terry Pinkard recalled, although Hegel still conceived the woman as the “housewife”, his conception of the family was not the patriarchal one, being strictly “egalitarian in its dynamics”, which is why he came to write, in the margins of your copy of Philosophy of law, that the husband should “Respect the woman as his equal… Equality, identity of rights and duties”, and that “the husband should not count more than the wife”. Pinkard, T. Hegel. Il philosofo dellaragionedialettica. Milano: Hoelpi, 2018, pp. 529 and 788 (note 12). See also Marx, K. and Engels, F. The German Ideology (Feurbach). Trad. JC Bruni and MA Nogueira. São Paulo: Hucitec, 1991, pp. 30 and 46; Engels, F. The origin of the family, private property and the state. 5 ed. Trans. L. Konder. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1979, p. 61.

[9] Azzara, S.G.. 'Sovranismo' or questione nazionale? Il rinselvatichimento social sociovinista nella politica odierna. in: The second time of populism. Sovranismi and lotte di classes. Rome: Momo edition, 2020.

[10] Losurdo, d. Nietzsche and the critique of modernity. Trans. A. Siedschlag. SP: Ideas and Letters, 2016, p. 27.

[11] Azzarà, SG op. cit., p. 56.

[12] Gramsci, op. cit., pp. 1396-98.

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