A Militant Utopia – Three Essays on Socialism

Warren Mackenzie, Untitled, 1951


Commentary on Paul Singer's Newly Released Book

Paul Singer (1932-2018) was born in Austria, at the age of eight he came with his mother to Brazil, in order to escape the machine of grinding meat and souls of Nazism, in Europe. In São Paulo, he worked as a worker and came into contact with socialist ideals. He served in the Metallurgists Union. He entered the University of São Paulo (USP) in 1956. He graduated from the Faculty of Economics and Administration (FEA), where he taught until he retired in 2002, the year in which another metallurgist kept his blue overalls as a souvenir, so he could wear them with dignity. the presidential sash.

He was Secretary of Planning for the municipality of São Paulo (1989-1992) and Secretary of Solidarity Economy for the federal government (2003-2016). As a thinker and as a public manager, he had an outstanding performance. He wrote 24 books of his own and six in co-authorship, plus dozens of scientific articles published in several countries, hundreds of texts, interviews with newspapers, reports and oral communications, now kept in the collection of the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros (IEB), at USP. It is an unavoidable reference for critical thinking and socialist political and economic practice.

Paul Singer was one of the founders of the Workers' Party (PT), in 1980. He brought from the veteran Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), whose registration was revoked by the military dictatorship in 1965, the thesis defended by Karl Kautsky and also by Rosa Luxemburgo, in a polemic against Soviet Bolshevism, from which socialism and democracy are inseparable. One cannot live without the other.

Political scientist André Singer was responsible for presenting the exquisite joint edition, by Editora Unesp and Fundação Perseu Abramo, of a militant utopia. It inaugurates the Paul Singer collection. The author was an intellectual with militancy in favor of a “revolutionary democratic socialism” – a political regime capable of preserving individual guarantees. On the cover of the book, Carlos Henrique Arabia reiterates the pioneering effort of the generous fighter in “updating the classic notion of unity between democracy and socialism, starting from the base”.

In the PT, he always kept the flag of socialism flying, contributing to the deepening of the theme in the semi-peripheral societies of capitalism. When studying Chile's experience, under Salvador Allende's government, he concluded that the mistake was to nationalize large companies, when they should have implemented workers' self-management, because bureaucratic nationalization is not the way to democratic socialism. This would be the lesson of the misplaced Russian Revolution (1917).

Fernando Haddad, in an intervention transcribed in the closing pages of the book, on screen, after confessing that he feels comfortable in the PT, which has a wing committed to socialist ideals, a wing committed to republican ideals and a majority social-developmentalist center, fundamental in countries outside the core of capitalism – classifies Singer’s reflection as “republican socialism”. And explain. “The attempt to show what he calls socialism coming from below is the idea of ​​building, republican, a new form of economic and social organization. I see no incompatibility between republicanism and socialism”.

Although he did not participate in the Fourth International, Paul Singer's positions intersected with those of Ernest Mandel, in works such as Control Obrero, Consejos Obreros, Self-management – ​​Anthology (was) or About the History of the Worker Movement (Fontamara), both originally edited in French and soon translated into Spanish, in the 1970s. If they did not share the positions on the requirement of a “vanguard party” to carry out the tasks of a revolution, they shared the importance of the steps towards the constitution of a duality of power, which would open up libertarian perspectives in the face of oppression and exploitation.

It is no coincidence that Paul Singer was responsible for presenting (with remarkable erudition) a classic written by the Belgian luminary to Brazilian readers, late capitalism, in the collection “Os Economistas” by Editora Abril, in 1982. “The vision of the history of capitalism, which Mandel offers us, is suggestive, especially when combined with the thesis that, in monopoly capitalism, the pursuit of super profit replaces the search for profit maximization, an assumption that is also found in Marx”.

The issue of the transition from the capitalist system to the socialist system always deserved care on the part of the old professor, who did not look favorably on the transition from Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), by Marx, in which the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is mentioned, whose undemocratic destiny was the dictatorship over the proletariat, as the history of the Gulags revealed with horror and in detail.

Hyperstatization, as a means to effect the centralization of economic decisions, led to “failure”. The dictatorialization of political attributions in the hands of a “single party”, ditto. Socialism must be guided by freedom of expression, with equal opportunities for all currents of thought. In turn, “the legalization of unions, the regulation of cooperatives, the institution of a public pension”, need to be accompanied by forums for citizen participation in deliberations on the directions of the State and society, in Singer's conception.

None of this is found in manuals or in the “utopian imagination” (Fourier, Owen, etc.), criticized by Marx at the end of the XNUMXth century. Communist ManifestoOf 1848. Socialism is based on actual experience, permanently adjusted to the rising level of consciousness of the working classes at every interval. In this perspective, Paul Singer advanced the proposal of an “economic parliament” to democratize discussions on the economic sphere, extending the democratic process to economic units, but le unique thought of neoliberalism prevented the proposal from materializing. The situation was in opposition to the progressive proposition. And, today, it further restricts the people's access to the economy (see the Central Bank's autonomy and the spending ceiling). What was bad, got worse.

The book consists of three essays on socialism. In the first, A militant utopia: rethinking socialism (1998), Paul Singer extracts from the failed experience of socialism, as a mode of production, that it would still need to develop under the garrote of capitalism, taking advantage of empty spaces as a subordinate mode of production. Theoretically, the socialist experiment would begin not in a noisy way, but in the silent non-hegemonic “airplane mode” within the capitalist formation, between articulated complexes of modes of production. This would be the role of the “solidarity economy” cooperatives, together with the precariat.

For skeptics, with a Hollywoodian perception of revolutions, if there are no crowds in the streets, screams and a show of colors, it seems that nothing worthy of attention has happened. If visible or audible signs do not appear on the radar of changes, it seems that nothing existed. Conditioned by cinema, with a disconnected spirit, only the senses seem to measure things. Paraphrasing, however, the verses of TS Eliot, in the poem The Hollow Men (1925): "Thus expires the world / Not with an explosion, but with a sigh". Solidarity economy is the airplane mode of transformation.

Surveys between 2003 and 2007, for example, indicated around 22 solidarity enterprises in the country, which involved close to 1,7 million workers. In the census, between 2009 and 2013, 20 enterprises were registered, with 1,4 million adherents to the program. The Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea) considered the drop to be small, in light of the sharp drop in unemployment in the period. On average, the ventures had 70 associates and monthly revenues of R$ 28. 605 did not reach R$ 5 thousand. The sector comprised 2% of the workforce. The demonstrative effect in a revolutionary crisis, with dual power, would make pedagogical sense.

André Singer cites an exponent of the Red Party, of the Nordic Socialism (2021), to support internationally the pertinent intellectual-militant legacy of his father, Paul, rightly so. In Denmark, the public and cooperative sector that encompasses the second largest Nordic supermarket chain, which are successful samples of socialist experiments, is evidence that bothers supporters of the free market – legitimized thanks to the manipulations of corporate media. “Paul Singer is in line with a certain international debate, as the inclusion, post-mortem, from his article in the collection Reflections on Socialism in the Twenty-First Century, organized by the Swede Claes Brundenius”.

The second test, About what is socialism today? (1979), written in a media time that glorified the new philosophes French (Alain Finkielkraut, Bernard-Henri Lévy, André Glusksmann), who abjured the Maoist/Trotskyist militancy of youth, which had been expressed in May 1968, and began to torpedo the foundations of Marxism. The totalitarianism of “really existing socialism” would be contained in embryo in the “Philosophy of Praxis”, they preached, evoking the image of the Repentant Magdalene in the painting of the baroque painter, by Caravaggio. Singer, instead of putting garlic and bugs in the same bag, asks what socialism is being talked about.

The kind of society we want in the future matters and influences the course of our struggles in the present. Tactics and strategies intertwine means and ends, ethically and politically. The standard for seizing power may not be the standard necessary for achieving democratic socialism. “The conquest of power did not lead to socialism,” he argues. “Socialists today have an obligation to position themselves clearly in the face of 'really existing socialisms' and to define very precisely what they understand by a superior alternative not only in relation to existing capitalism, but also in view of the potential of its evolution”, he challenges. . As an accomplished swordsman of utopia, Paul Singer simultaneously puts authoritarian socialism and reformism on the defensive.

The last essay deals with the Socialist Economy (2000). Fruit of the Seminars: Socialism and Democracy, promoted by the Instituto Cidadania in partnership with the FPA and the PT's National Training Secretariat. The text is presented by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, prefaced by Antonio Candido and commented by João Machado. Lula explains the purpose of the meetings: “Awaken creativity and revive the impetus of a left that, even representing the most promising in our land, is never immune to the vices of complacency and attachment to routine”.

Candido is assertive: “We know that the pragmatism of political actions must be balanced by constant reference to theoretical principles, which for us are embodied in the word socialism. We also know that at the moment there is a lot of hesitation and a lot of doubt about socialism. Socialism is something vaster than its historical manifestations and continues to be the most adequate path for social struggles whose purpose is to establish the maximum possible economic, social and educational equality as a requirement for the conquest of freedom for each and every one. Socialism is a valid and legitimate concept and reality, making it necessary to study it, debate it, adjust it to the times. Only in this way will a party like the PT avoid the risk of losing its ideological compass in the dispersal of the necessary tactical operations. The reference to reflection and debate is indispensable”.

João Machado confirms the importance of meetings to irrigate left-wing organizations and the opportunity to debate with Paul Singer, “who has made the most effort to renew this discussion, to keep the issue of socialism ever current”, he acknowledges. Machado emphasizes that “the problem today is not an attachment to the socialist ideas of the past, it is the uncritical acceptance of the anti-socialist ideas of the present”, he shoots. Next, he argues that the centralization of planning could even occur on an international scale, with few centralized guidelines: related to the depletion of non-renewable natural resources and the allocation of resources for scientific research, without trade secrets or privatized intellectual property rights. However, most policy decisions could be decentralized. Same on a national scale.

Perhaps it is not feasible to prospect markets integrated into a consolidated socialist economy, due to the mercantilist nature of the markets that act like the scorpion in the anecdote of the frog that serves as a raft across the river. But since this is a distant scenario, in the meantime, the “socialist implants” theorized by Paul Singer in an economy – still capitalist – fulfill an important function of self-management learning, along the lines of social security in the post-World War II period, of solidarity economy cooperatives and the Landless Workers Movement (MST), as well as the Participatory Budget (OP). Here are illustrations of what socialist implants are.

The Cooperative of Work, Production and Marketing of Self-Employed Workers in Vilas de Porto Alegre (Cootravipa) was one of the pioneers of selective collection in a metropolis in the country. It organized itself and remained standing, surrounded by the neoliberal rationality that prevails in the economy and society since 1980, fighting for survival for almost 40 years. It brings together 2.500 members in defense of cooperativism and those discriminated against in the formal job market. Leonardo Boff refers to such individuals as “the new prophets”, in the biblical sense, for signaling alternative paths to anti-ecological waste. “We are the union that worked”, celebrates the president of the association. The seed of socialism from below takes root. “Workers' cooperatives can fulfill to a high degree all the conditions for the disalienation of socialism at the level of production”, writes Singer. There develops the new habitus socialist in the workers.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.



Paul Singer. A Militant Utopia: Three Essays on Socialism. São Paulo, Unesp\Perseu Abramo Foundation, 2022, 332 pages.

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