About Fronts and Farces

Man Ray (1890–1976), Rayograph, 1923–28.
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By OSMIR DOMBROWSKI*

Those who insist on forming broad fronts under the argument that this is necessary to defeat fascism, should do so knowing that they will only be participating in one more farce.

“Hegel observes in one of his works that all the facts and personages of great importance in the history of the world occur, so to speak, twice. And he forgot to add: the first time as a tragedy, the second as a farce” (Karl Marx).

The above sentence, taken from the opening of The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, is surely one of the best-known passages in the vast literature produced by Karl Marx and introduces an instigating reflection on our relationship with the past. In it Marx notes that "the tradition of all dead generations oppresses the brains of the living like a nightmare" and that, on the other hand, at critical moments men conjure "the spirits of the past to their aid".[I]

Marxian reflections occur to me now because it seems to me that we are living one of those critical moments: the lieutenant presents himself as a parody of the dictator general and many attempts to understand the script of history are made by evoking the spirits of the past and “borrowing their names , the battle cries and the draperies”.[ii] This is what happens with some lighter analyzes that present the Bolsonaro government as fascist (proto ou neo) mainly to deduce from this that the political task before us at present is to repeat the tactic of forming broad fronts involving all segments of opposition to the government, regardless of their class nature or ideological affiliation. With all the weight of the past acting on them, such analyzes end up taking farce for tragedy.

The alliance with liberal sectors in other times had as its objective the defense of democracy or, to use a language closer to that time, the defense of bourgeois freedom annihilated in Europe where fascism had installed itself and seriously threatened in other lands. By defending bourgeois values, this tactic has always generated controversy among sectors of the left, notably among those who did not feel comfortable defending other flags than the banner of the Revolution. In the process, gas station attendants tried to convince more skeptical militants, so-called leftists, that the defense of bourgeois democracy was a tactical move, necessary at that time to contain a greater evil.

Arguments that are too close are often heard in the current debate, even though a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. On the one hand, within the left, adherence to the idea grew that the defense of democracy is not just a tactical move. It is impossible not to remember Carlos Nelson Coutinho standing up against a tradition by stating that democracy is a “universal value” and not an instrument that is adopted at some point to be discarded later on.[iii] Today, a large part of the left seems to have understood that freedom is not bourgeois and that socialism without freedom is not socialism, it is just another form of dictatorship. As a consequence of this transformation that took place in the thinking of the left, especially in the last decades of the last century, its defense of democracy is no longer done in a timid or embarrassed way. It is an unequivocal and forceful defense, and thus, currently, among cadres experienced in the democratic struggle, the frentist theses find ardent defenders and little, or almost no, resistance.

The current problem, therefore, is no longer the lack of willingness on the part of the left to form democratic fronts, as some suggest. The biggest problem today is knowing who to ally with to defend democracy. If in the past it was possible to speak of an alliance with liberals to face fascism, our hypothesis is that it is currently very difficult, if not impossible, to block the advance of conservative authoritarianism (be it fascist or not) by allying with (neo)liberals .

We still know very little about the Bolsonaro phenomenon and its real historical significance, as well as about his disastrous government. It is a phenomenon still in progress and, as such, difficult to be apprehended in all its complexity. He rose to power in the form of an electoral alliance that brought together military and militia sectors, evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics, agribusiness and financial capital, amalgamated by a draft neoliberal government program praised by the mainstream press. In government, the alliance that could become simpler with the purge of some emblematic figures, left everything even more confusing by revealing the support it always had at the base of the misnamed Centrão parliamentary group. And as a major complicating factor, the Covid19 pandemic, among so many other individual and collective consequences, once and for all removed the already weakened left from the streets, leaving the stage free for agglomerations and yellow-green demonstrations promoted by a president who never tires of demanding more. powers as a way of apologizing for his colossal incompetence.

Despite all the uncertainties, the current global conservative wave, including Bolsonaro's electoral victory, can hardly be explained without considering a strong relationship with neoliberalism. Thirty years after the Washington Consensus, the effects of implementing the policies recommended by that forum are evident in most countries, especially among poor populations. The deregulation of the economy deepened structural unemployment and worsened the precariousness of labor relations, at the same time that it undertook the dismantling of the protection systems of the welfare state with the liquidation of social, labor and social security rights. As a result, inequality between rich and poor nations has increased, and within both, poverty has grown vertiginously, to the same extent that it has aggravated the concentration of wealth in the hands of the richest 30%.

This, however, is only the most visible aspect of the outcome of neoliberal policies. Transformations also took place at the deepest level of social structures, where the new laissez-faire it promoted the generation of hopeless and abandoned individuals. Some, forced to guarantee their own subsistence alone, but lacking in resources, suffer on the margins of the market, surviving on odd jobs and swindles. Others, making use of some financial resource or some specific skill, became entrepreneurs of themselves. Among these, many identify themselves as entrepreneurs and not as precarious workers. Two main traits characterize such individuals: the first is the development of an exacerbated selfishness, the result of daily practice in a competitive environment where the need to guarantee survival is above any moral value. And alongside selfishness, a deep and bitter hopelessness. Neoliberalism produced a society where most people lost hope for a better life and along with it, lost faith in humanity. Other human beings seem to them more of a threat than a possible point of support. Your fellow man is perceived as a competitor and not as a collaborator engaged in a common task. Eventually, abandoned by the state, they also lost any hope they might have had in politics. This is no longer seen as a source of rights and an instrument for human emancipation, to be perceived as the origin of oppression and malaise.

These hopeless individuals isolated by the loneliness of everyday battle become easy prey for allegedly anti-political and allegedly anti-system discourses. And it is they who form the mass on which current conservatism thrives.

From this perspective, it can be said that the conservative wave that threatens democracy today is yet another side effect of the functioning of neoliberalism. This effect, it is important to point out, was perfectly foreseen by the patriarchs of the cult of the market, who, Hayek at the head, were always aware of the latent incompatibility between mass democracy and the dismantling of the State implied in the deregulation of the economy. Between one and the other, however, neoliberalism has never hesitated to stick with the second. Democracy, in Hayek's opinion, has no value in itself, and therefore, not only can, but should, be contained in its infinite spiral of generation of rights whose counterpart is the structuring of the State[iv]. That's what happened in Chile with Pinochet to the applause of Hayek and that's what happened in Brazil with the coup that overthrew President Dilma Rousseff to the applause of the entire neoliberal crowd. Driven by the idolatry of the market, neoliberals do not resent discarding democracy whenever they see fit.

That said, it must be concluded that in the contemporary scenario, it is a real contradiction to propose alliances with the agents of neoliberalism to defeat fascism. Defeating the militiaman at the polls is only part of the problem. Winning the elections and leaving the work of neoliberalism intact means maintaining the conditions for another conservative to prosper in the very near future, perhaps more articulate and competent than Bolsonaro, which, let's face it, is not very difficult.

To definitively remove the present authoritarian threat, more than winning elections, it is necessary to drastically transform the scenario of anomie produced by neoliberalism and restore solidarity and social responsibility as links in the structure of society. Which means to say that it is necessary to rebuild everything that neoliberalism destroyed – starting with labor, social security and social rights – restructuring the State to provide a minimum of security and hope and to welcome the huge contingent of people who today are abandoned to their own luck.

All the big press, the main think tanks and large segments of parliament have many good reasons to oppose the Bolsonaro government, but it is hard to believe that they are interested in forming an alliance to promote the removal of neoliberal debris. Even so, those who insist on forming broad fronts on the grounds that this is necessary to defeat fascism, let them do so knowing that they will only be participating in another farce and that both they and democracy will surely be discarded around the next corner.

*Osmir Dombrowski, political scientist, he is professor of the master's program in Social Work at the State University of West Paraná, (Unioeste).

Notes


[I] Marx, Carl. The 18th Brumaire and Letters to Kugelmann. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1978.

[ii] Op.cit. p. 18

[iii] COUTINHO, Carlos Nelson. Democracy as a universal value. 2nd ed. Rio de Janeiro: Salamandra, 1984.

[iv] Hayek, Friedrich A. The Fundamentals of Freedom. Madrid: Unión Editorial, 2006.

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