Historical regression?

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Five years after the impeachment of the Dilma Rousseff government, and two after the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro, can we already conclude that we are facing the danger of a historic regression?

“Although both Marx and Engels (…) showed robust optimism about the future of socialism, they were always careful, when the question was posed at its highest, general, abstract, historical level, to reject any idea of ​​inevitable historical sequences of social organizations (modes of production). On several occasions, they pointed out that the transition from one mode of production to another depended on the outcome of concrete class struggles, which could end with the victory of the most progressive and revolutionary class, or with the mutual destruction of the ruling class and its revolutionary opponents. , and a prolonged decline of society” (Ernesto Mandel).[I]

A historical regression is more than an uninterrupted process of economic decay, or long-term stagnation, of social degradation due to chronic unemployment, or of political degeneration due to the abuse of power by an extreme right-wing government led by a neo-fascist president with a Bonapartist project. .

A historical regression is a civilization catastrophe. It is not possible, in contemporary society, without a long-term social and political defeat of the working class and its allies among the oppressed. This historic defeat has not yet occurred. After two years in office, the danger was even greater. But it cannot be discarded, as long as the far-right government is not displaced, defeated, overthrown.

But, paradoxically, three major narratives prevail in Brazil about the historical cycle opened since the end of the military dictatorship that despise the danger of historical regression, and diminish the devastating role of the Bolsonaro government. They are teleological constructions, that is, they attribute meaning to the past in terms of a desire, choice, preference for the future. They prevail because they respond to the interests of different wings of the ruling class, and the left has little independence in the ideological struggle.

The first is the one that excites the extreme right. It is an idealization of the period of the so-called “Brazilian miracle” of the seventies. The three and a half decades of the liberal-democratic regime would be a stage of moral degeneration due to corruption, in which Brazil would have lost its national pride, and society would have been perverted by the breakdown of the patriarchal family, and succumbed to socialist subversive pressures. The Bolsonaro government would be a turning point in rescuing a supposed “eldorado” of progress in order. Two years were just the beginning.

The second narrative is the one that excites the neoliberal right. The stabilization of the democratic regime has become too expensive. It would have required an unsustainable increase in the cost of the State for expanding public services such as Social Security, universalizing access to basic education, or raising the minimum wage. But condemned the country to long-term stagnation due to the growth of public debt in relation to GDP, and a disproportionate tax burden, inhibiting investments due to the increase in the Brazil cost. The far-right government should be a moment of recovery of the ability to attract foreign investment with a hard, but unavoidable shock of fiscal adjustment and privatization, paving the way for a "shangri-la" of competitive growth, even if they are condemnable and Bolsonaro's authoritarian excesses unnecessary. These two years have been turbulent, the pandemic was a tragic accident, but it is possible to bet on a dynamic recovery.

The third narrative is the one that reassures the center-democracy, but also influences a portion of the moderate left. These three decades of liberal-democratic regime would be a benign stage in which the country managed, through the alternation of PSDB governments, in the nineties, to overcome inflationary pressures, and the PT, in the two thousand years, an acceleration of a process of income distribution. The premise is that there is a middle path to a tropical capitalist “nirvana” of growth with social justice. This middle path rests on the strength of the institutions that have demonstrated their power by neutralizing Bolsonaro and we can calmly await the elections in 2022. they will have no other outcome than the danger of “trials” by dictatorships that are covered up with fraudulent elections, as happened in Bolivia and they failed, or in Venezuela, since 1998, where they triumphed. These two years were a “revenge of history”, but democracy will protect us from Bolsonaro in 2022, and the best thing is to trust and wait.

A Marxist analysis must not rest on narratives. You can be more humble and ask yourself a simpler question, but no less dramatic. Five years after the impeachment of the Dilma Rousseff government, and two years after the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro, can we already conclude that, after the accumulation of so many partial defeats, we are facing the danger of a historic regression? The concept deserves some thought.

In every process of class struggle there are three possibilities: a prolonged stalemate, or a victory for one of the two most powerful blocs into which contemporary society is divided, capital or labor.

But in the times we live in, a period when capitalism is meeting its historical limits, there is potentially a fourth outcome. Victories and defeats can be partial, progressive developments or provisional, temporary, passing reactionaries. But they can also be revolutionary or counterrevolutionary with long-lasting, consolidated, irreversible, or extremely serious consequences.

The historical limits of capitalism are not fixed or rigid. They expand or contract depending on the outcome of combat. These outcomes are expressed in a system of social relations of forces. A historic defeat of the workers, which would have an impact for a generation, opens up new possibilities for the valorization of capital, albeit in the form of the development of destructive forces. Or a prolonged decline, a historical regression.

It is not uncommon for us to see growing elements of barbarism: tens of thousands of deaths in the pandemic that could have been avoided, an increase in the population in conditions of extreme poverty, the formation of neo-fascist militias, the murder of Marielle Franco and threats against popular leaders, the expansion of fires. in the Amazon, invasion of indigenous lands by miners, proliferation of massacres, etc.

The theme of historical regressions has always been dear to the socialist tradition. History has no direction. The disjunctive socialism or barbarism, more than a slogan, was a prognosis, even if it was often neglected. The pulsation of historical rhythms was, over long periods of time, largely irregular, full of discontinuities, very bumpy due to real fractures in time, dangerous abysses into which the evolutionary process seems to plunge, blocking promising possibilities that were latent, but were, dramatically , aborted[ii].

In history there have been, if we consider a high degree of abstraction, transitions of a “revolutionary” type and transitions of a “catastrophic” type. A historical passage can be characterized as revolutionary when it is driven by a social class that, in the defense of its interests, opens a time of greater economic and social prosperity, as was the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe. A passage can be defined as catastrophic when the collapse of the social order opens a historical regression.

The end of the Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean, between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries BC, opened a “dark age” with the collapse of the Minoan empire and Mycenaean Greece, when for centuries the domain of writing was lost. In the western Mediterranean, despite the long decay of the Roman Empire, there was no revolutionary transition driven by the protagonism of the mass of slaves. And the empire finally succumbed under the pressure of the great Germanic migrations.[iii]. Between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the European world regressed: an abrupt demographic reduction, a decrease in arable land, suspension of trade routes, wars and chronic plundering.

The meaning of the Second World War is also important to understand the meaning of the concept of historical regression. The triumph of Nazi-fascism would have been the victory of barbarism. It was the most tragic and monstrous war in history. Its outcome defined the second half of the 1941th century. From a Marxist point of view, it cannot be reduced to an inter-imperialist struggle for hegemony in the world, or for control of the world market, although that was what it was, too. An essentially economistic approach to explaining it ignores the most important thing. Not only because of the German invasion of the USSR in XNUMX, and the threat of capitalist restoration and colonization that it posed. But why should we not diminish the importance that Nazi-fascism had as an expression of contemporary counterrevolution?

The concept of historical regression can be useful, therefore, on a historical scale, in the international dimension, but also in the national dimension. In the history of Brazil we can consider and reflect on several situations in which the outcome of social and political conflicts was regressive.

The defeat of the “paulistas” before the forces led by the Portuguese empire, in the war of the emboabas at the beginning of the XNUMXth century for control of gold in Minas Gerais, interrupted the possibility of a process of accumulation of “internal” capital that would favor a historical acceleration of the struggle for the emancipation of the colony. The defeat of Conjução Mineira also blocked a revolutionary path to independence that would create better conditions for the struggle for a less late end to slavery. The Canudos massacre by the Old Republic, the greatest peasant war of the XNUMXth century, created long-lasting obstacles to the struggle for agrarian reform.

The outcome of the resistance struggle against Bolsonaro, when raised in historical perspective, has this meaning, because we are facing the danger of a historical regression. Only the revolutionary willingness to fight can defeat the counterrevolutionary danger and open the way for a left-wing government. It's possible.

What if Bolsonaro falls? If we win, we'll be better off. The struggle continues, and we improvise.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).


[I] MANDEL, Ernest. El capital: cien años de controversies surrounding the work of Karl Marx. Trans. Adriana Sandoval et alli, Mexido, Siglo Xxi, 1985. p. 232 .

[ii] Braudel presents a surprising hypothesis about the relationship between prolonged crises and climate change, a thought-provoking hypothesis for interpretation. The generalized regression of the fourteenth century would be explained firstly by the fragility of the level of the productive forces in the face of a natural catastrophe, global cooling, generating a generalized crisis of underproduction, and less by the blockade that feudal production relations represented. Braudel suggests that in the XNUMXth century, the living conditions of the majority of the European population, considering food, clothing, housing, would have receded to a level lower than that enjoyed by the peasant masses at the height of the Middle Ages between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the which sheds new light on the birth pangs of a transition that required primitive capitalist accumulation driven by the conquest of Africa and the Americas. BRAUDEL, Fernand, Material Civilization, Economy and Capitalism, 1th-XNUMXth Centuries, Volume XNUMX, The Structures of Everyday Life, Martins Fontes, São Paulo, 1997, p.21/34/36

[iii] Among the most unlikely processes in history, the ephemeral reign of the Vandals in Carthage stands out. After roaming southern Europe for a few years devoted to plunder and prey, like other Germanic tribes, the Vandals crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and settled in North Africa where they imposed their ferocious rule, mercilessly enslaving the conquered. It was processes like this that led most Marxist historians to consider that the slave revolts did not carry any project of reorganization of socio-economic production that was very different from the historical limits of slavery in the Mediterranean. The theme of great historical transitions, as is well known, has always attracted the attention of Marxist historians. Most concentrated their research focus on the passage from feudalism to capitalism, but some were also interested, with the same passion, in the collapse of the ancient world. They sought to understand the objective conditions of these unique moments in history, which are the changes in modes of production. Among the numerous studies on the issue, the two works by Perry Anderson, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism e Lineages of the Absolutist State, for the original articulation of analyzes of class struggles with other causalities, applying to these periods the resources of an understanding of history as an uneven and combined development.


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