A Left for the XNUMXst Century

Image: Petrit Halilaj


Comment on the recently published book by José Maurício Domingues

“The challenge of the Brazilian left – which mirrors global challenges, which have also not been well or fully answered – is to be able to build an identity in its radicality, socialist, democratic, ecological and egalitarian in all dimensions, while being able to of, within the framework of a long-term strategy, building alliances that will make room for this more ambitious project, without getting lost along the way and in tactics” (José Maurício Domingues, A Left for the XNUMXst Century, p.103).

In recent years, we have seen a revival of the debate on the left, as shown by the growing number of publications (books and articles) that address the issue from different angles. This more recent debate, like the one that took place in the 1990s, seems to be related to the crisis experienced by left-wing currents or political strands, especially after a certain exhaustion of the experiences of so-called left-wing governments that took place, especially in Latin American countries. Latin America at the beginning of the XNUMXst century.

This book by José Maurício Domingues is undoubtedly yet another important contribution to the debate, whether for the critical assessment it makes of the theme, or for the propositions it puts forward in the sense of rescuing a left-wing policy suited to the current moment. This is not, however, his first intervention in the debate on the crisis of the left, as can be seen in his book Left: crisis and future, published in 2017. In the present book, however, Domingues broadens the debate on the subject, including, in addition to the analysis of the left in the current situation at a global level, a digression on the history of some aspects of the left and an agenda of propositions that he considers important for rethinking its policies.

A Left for the XNUMXst Century it consists of an introduction and seven chapters, with the last being presented as a conclusion. After presenting in the introduction, more or less succinctly, the main objectives pursued by the author, the chapters of the book are dedicated to always dealing with a central theme.

Chapter 1 makes an assessment of the current conjuncture, in Brazil and in the world, marked by the emergence to power of extreme right parties or movements, by the crisis of democracy and its oligarchization; Chapter 2, in turn, turns to the discussion of the relationship between critical theory (in the sense of latus) with the left, in its different aspects. With this, Domingues connects his critical diagnosis of the present – ​​characterized by the crisis of neoliberalism, the rise of the extreme right to power, the oligarchization of party politics and its distancing from social movements, as well as the negative effects of all this on democracy – with an analysis of the left, both the theoretical left of critical intellectuals and the political practice of the militant left found in parties that occupy the political spectrum ranging from the so-called center-left to the extreme left.

The analysis of the current moment, of the theoretical formulations and practices of the left leads Domingues to dive deeper into what he considers the three main strands of the left, defined as social democracy, socialism/communism and anarchism. Here, the discussion occupies two chapters of the book. Chapter 3, where he makes a historical digression on each of the mentioned aspects; and chapter 4, dedicated to taking stock of the same three aspects, considered at the current moment.

Having done this, he turns his attention, in chapter 5, to the left in Brazil, focusing the analysis both on the theoretical difficulties experienced by its representatives and on the political mistakes, especially during his recent experience in power. At this point, he returns to the themes of the oligarchization of leftist political parties, their somewhat spurious alliances, their involvement in corruption schemes, their distance from the bases and also the instrumental treatment that the left has given to democracy. These problems are, to a large extent, the substrate of the crisis that the left is currently experiencing, as he explains in chapter 6, where he discusses the consequentialism of leftist policies, based on a “philosophy” in which the means employed are justified by the supposed nobility of the ends pursued. And this, of course, has disastrous consequences for the left in many ways, as recent historical experience has shown.

For Domingues, however, all is not lost. But so that not everything is lost, the left needs to modernize, both in its thematic agenda and in its political practice. This is what chapter 7, conclusively, deals with, in which he points out concrete paths – in the short and long term – through which the left, in a broad sense, could find itself again with a truly emancipatory policy, which is the reason for its existence.

Here, the defense of democracy and its radicalization in the sense of making it truly democratic occupy a central place in his argument. High-intensity democracy would then be the key to dealing with other issues, such as extreme social inequality, the question of rights (human, social, diffuse), the relationship with nature and biodiversity, and even with the construction of alliances needed to stop the civilizing regressions promoted by the extreme right and neoliberalism. All this must, according to Domingues, be present in “a contemporary agenda (from the left), radical in its foundations, but politically realistic”.

By the way, it is worth mentioning that the text quoted in the epigraph, although taken from a chapter that deals directly with the left in Brazil, translates well, albeit in a very synthetic way, the author's intentions in the book now reviewed. In this book, he critically reflects on the crisis of the left – not only in Brazil – in its different dimensions, without limiting himself, however, to the criticism of an “engaged observer” (as Raymond Aron would say). Domingues goes further: he advances his defense of a democratic and ecological socialism and proposes short- and long-term strategies that he considers adequate for the left, or for the left, in the fight for their historical emancipatory objectives; that is, a strategy that makes it possible to think about the future of the left within a long-term historical horizon, but without losing sight of the difficulties of the moment.

At a time when discussions about the upcoming 2022 elections are beginning, a reflection on the left such as that proposed by José Maurício Domingues is opportune, which clearly indicates the need to focus the debate on proposals and programs rather than focus the discussion on names of personalities whose true interests do not always come to light.

Finally, due to the quality and depth of the analysis it contains, this book by José Maurício Domingues is certainly an important contribution to the current debate on the left, both in theoretical terms and in terms of its political practice. It is, therefore, essential reading for left-wing activists and intellectuals, but not just for them. It is, in fact, a book that should interest anyone concerned with the problems of the present.

* Joshua Pereira da Silva is a retired professor at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Critical sociology and the crisis of the left (Intermeios).



José Mauricio Domingues. A Left for the XNUMXst Century. Rio de Janeiro, Mauad Editora, 2021, 168 pages.


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