a farcical repetition

Image: Stela Grespan


The various mobs in Leblon and Jardins, which claim to be cosmopolitan, might even turn their noses up at this new neo-fascist general jam. But it is nothing, however, that can make the current lords of Casa Grande stop supporting the ongoing barbarism

Populism is one of the central themes of Latin American political thought and experience. In fact, although this phenomenon had previous versions in countries as diverse as the USA and Russia throughout the XNUMXth century, it was in our region that its manifestation had more influential and lasting consequences. And while in the Northern Hemisphere the bias of such experiences was, in general, retrograde, in Latin America it proliferated through movements and especially through so-called populist leaders with economic concessions to the traditionally most excluded segments of the population, forwarded, in most cases, through salary improvements, labor laws and the expansion of public services.

As a schizophrenic counterpoint to this logic, which largely guided the 1990th century in the region, in the XNUMXs we saw the emergence of new leaders who, this time, were guided by the fierce implementation of the neoliberal agenda. And even if their actions led to the reversal of social achievements accumulated over decades, they were, at least in the beginning, politicians with broad popular appeal.

Today in Brazil we live a farcical repetition of such historical experiences and the paradox of having a neo-populist president leading an aggressive agenda of destruction of hard-won social and socio-environmental rights and leading an increasingly authoritarian and militarized regime. Deepening the dilemma, although the country is facing its biggest economic, political and health crisis in almost a century, the levels of support for the current (mis)government have increased in telephone surveys conducted in recent weeks.

How to explain the growing acceptance of what could be understood as a logic of scorched earth or even ongoing collective suicide? Where does the new chunk of support for public agents come from who are largely responsible for more than 120 deaths, misreported and neglected? And how to understand the idiosyncratic combination of authoritarianism and radical neoliberalism permeated by social painkillers, crude fanaticism and increasing demagogic rhetoric? Are we witnessing something new or a return of the Brazilian liberal-authoritarian tradition under neo-fascist guises?

The starting point for evaluating the neoliberal-populist hybridism of the moment is perhaps to be found in the intrinsic violence that has taken over every top-down reform that, throughout our history, has sought to 'change things in order to leave them as they are'. they are'. One could even align a long series of so-called ruptures in the Brazilian political trajectory as expressions of a transformation that, in fact, never came. What could unite important dates such as 1822, 1888, 1889, 1930, 1946, 1988 and 2003 would be, therefore, the realization that even when inevitable, change, the result, in general, of the rupture of some moral economy in crisis, it occurs to avoid crossing some tacitly agreed political-economic Rubicon.

In this perspective, if post-1930 developmental nationalism accepted that 'the people were given everything, except what really matters', post-1994 neoliberalism provided 'votes, cell phones and hard currency', while citizenship was subtracted “in dark transactions ”, as the poet has already told us. In other words, with the traditional populist appeal exhausted, let the populist-liberal eye drop come. But never let the 'below' imagine that they could want more than what they “have in this landholding”, be it sugarcane, coffee, soybeans or cattle. In summary, in addition to programmatic adjustments and changes in focus, the common thread of political-economic history has always been to keep the people out, as spectators or puppets. And even what came to be considered an economic novelty was more than anything a necessary reckoning between those who, in fact, command.

Let us remember that although there have been several attempts to build forms of popular appeal through the bias of the right throughout the 60th century, in general this still took place by prioritizing the interests of traditional oligarchic economic sectors, more dynamic capitalist groups and educated urban middle classes. In a special way, the UDN, the party with the most successful modernizing-elitist agenda in democratic periods of republican history, had in the charismatic figure of Carlos Lacerda the best possibility of expanding support among the popular layers. And although as governor of Guanabara, in the early 1964s, Lacerda began to broaden his support base beyond the middle classes, this episode was interrupted by the 1964 Coup, which was supported, ironically, by the same politician. There was therefore no time for the contradictions inherent in Lacerda's liberal-populist position to be tested at the ballot box. On the other side of the political spectrum, Brizola's interventionist-populist posture also ceased to be put to the test before XNUMX and, years later, it no longer had the viability of becoming effective beyond the state field where, even there, it only found very confused and limited.

We will also recover another part of our memory, for many already quite and intentionally faded, when we realize that our business-military dictatorship managed to reach high levels of popular support, especially during the so-called Economic Miracle, and that ARENA, the official party of the fiery regime, had enormous capillarity around the country. In a special way, Medici, leader in the darkest period, manifested mediocre populist outbursts with trips to football stadiums armed with his battery radio. But even so, the Brazilian regime, unlike the Chilean experience, did not embark on the cult of the 'great leader', perhaps due to the simple absence of someone with the ability to act as a major faker. What we had was arbitrariness and authoritarianism with popular popular appeal and growing income concentration, watered down by foreign loans and megalomaniacal technocracy. Our traditional olive-green populism was, therefore, labyrinthine in combining developmentalism, short-lived social crumbs and technocratic despotism, without the religion of the great protector, father of the nation.

An exception, only partial, in this trajectory of economic concessions without the full activation of the concept of citizenship, we had important, albeit insufficient, trumps with the arrival of the new constitutional text in 1988. In fact, under the umbrella of a constitution that made it possible new means for greater mobilization of civil society in some areas of the State, we seemed to be entering genuinely auspicious terrain on the national scene. New voices, fiercely silenced in the past, came forward in a haughty and promising way. But none of this happened in a simple or linear way, and countless mishaps were experienced, gradually dismantling the constitutional edifice.

In any case, the new social concessions made by the constitution fell to the account of a State that was still deeply conservative, which had no means or interest in collecting the bill from the fat cats that had taken advantage of it throughout history. And in the end, what we had, in practice, was a technical tie between the emergence of new and legitimate popular demands, but which were contained by the continued economic voracity of those who remained in the depths of state and private power. Many even refused to accept the winds of 88 – see the corroded and paranoid reactionary behavior of the armed forces, the growing socio-environmental destruction on the frontiers of development in the Amazon and in the Midwest, and the alienating expansion of religions of result and the great servile media.

Despite everything, we experienced, until around 2015, the most promising scenario for building a minimally viable society, both from the point of view of social interaction and political functioning, and of a capitalist market economy, albeit dependent and peripheral. Admittedly, since then, especially since 2018, we have seen the intentional and planned destruction of that possibility. But taking into account our tradition of violence embedded in partial reforms, which oscillated in a hybrid way between populism and liberalism, what we have today in Brazil is not, in fact, new.

Bolsonaro did not innovate (how could someone who preserves ideas at absolute zero?). What he did was bring, in an explicit and truculent way, the genocidal rage of the bandeirantes and the apocalyptic rhetoric of the inquisitors to Thursday chats on the internet. And what perhaps makes his government something a little different is the ability to condense the worst of populism with the cruelest part of liberalism, carelessly combined and implemented incompetently, but still perversely destructive. His purpose seems to be power for power's sake so that prey may continue forever.

Any reference to the veracity of facts, the need to be efficient, the slightest consistency or even the most basic composure was lost. Less than post-truth, what you have is a mental nonada and the catrumanos of Guimarães Rosa taking over the Esplanada (Sargentos Garcias trained by the offices; at the Ministry of Health, Ed Mortes in the plaques). One lies to lie more and, if there is any complaint, the military and judiciary partners of the lie, well paid, guarantee that the party of power goes ahead.

Everything suggests that the true plan of the olive green government, commanded by a lieutenant expelled from the barracks, is the intention of never letting go of the generous udder of the Brasilia cow, going beyond 2022, 2026, staying there forever, with or without no election. There is nothing that seems to stop the king vulture from leaving the carrion. Endless dark transactions. The clowns change, the circus parrot remains the same. We want or Queiroz.

In the wake of the long tradition of specific changes and 'for the English to see', we experience the construction of a regime of controlled citizenship and a conservative moral agenda whose popular appeal is based on a medievalist reading of selective pages of its sacred book. Under the moralist aegis of the biblical bullet, the aim is to implement the neoliberal reheated to serve an increasingly unsustainable agro-export model. In the absence of a party to which followers must join, the masses' adherence is given directly to the monotonic and messianic lieutenant, who, although he does not perform miracles, is absolved of responsibility for the greatest health tragedy of the last 100 years through military manipulation -legal-media.

Thus, the new tropical Bonaparte III and his gang control information, weapons and wills in the name of a change that 'unchanges' the almost nothing that had changed. When resorting to the example of slave traders and bandeirantes who hunted indigenous people, there is little that is new, apart from the clumsy way of governing and the unrestricted appeal to vulgarity. Religious fundamentalism is supplemented by faith in the path of privatization and in the supposed success of agribusiness – in reality, open-pit mining and the breeding ground for food insecurity.

This militia-military authoritarianism with a popular base via bisexist social alms and an ultraconservative cultural agenda with a fundamentalist religious bias is the realization of the dream of the dictatorship's hard line. A dream that today the country seems more inclined to embrace, with a social fabric that is more fundamentalist and repressed by the neoliberal and anti-political agenda, and without a political opposition worthy of the name.

In addition to the usual crumbs, the new expression of neoliberal authoritarianism is maintained by the fallacious narrative of atomized entrepreneurship (uberism) largely supported by the theology of prosperity and the raw agenda of daily police programs and dog-world clips. All justified under the neo-integralist mantle of the homeland in arms fighting the usual imaginary enemies – bring all the leftists to be expiated in the name of the nation!

The various crowds in Leblon and Jardins, which claim to be cosmopolitan, might even turn their noses up at this new neo-fascist general jam. But it is nothing, however, that can make the current lords of Casa Grande stop supporting the ongoing barbarism. After all, there is much to gain and even more to preserve. And so, in the continuation of our tropical buffalo opera, the curtain is raised and the macabre musical score resumes, this time, under the screams, perhaps a little more muffled, but still very present, of 'myth, myth, myth, myth

*Rafael R. Ioris is a professor at the University of Denver.

*Antonio AR Ioris is a professor at Cardiff University.

They are co-editors of the book Frontiers of Development in the Amazon: Riches, Risks and Resistances (Lexington Books, Maryland, 2020).





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