Turbulence Zone

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By ALFREDO SAAD FILHO*

Facing fascism there is turbulence, conflict, fog and uncertainty, yes; but neutrality is by definition impossible.

The left finds its coherence in the principle of building equality – the fundamental characteristic of this political field – and in adherence to Enlightenment ideals: existence has logic, nature has rules, science can understand them, and society can navigate the natural and social constraints in order to build a better world. The left's problem is the lack of capacity to implement these ideals: in other words, the left has vision but lacks power.

The right finds its coherence in the production of value and in the capture of wealth. These selfish goals tend to be veiled by the discourse of “efficiency” (working harder and better to produce more wealth), “productivity” (producing a greater volume of surplus value per unit of time), “waste reduction” (more money in the vault), and “merit reward” (more money for me, who I deserve, and less for others, who are lazy or parasitic). The problem with the right is the lack of legitimacy of these ideals: the right has power, but it lacks the ability to inspire the majority. Hence the need, for the right, for an ideological veil to justify its monopoly on power.

Between right and left there tends to be a zone of political and ideological turbulence, which is often occupied by the middle classes and poor “entrepreneurs”. While the middle strata are divided between democratic and socially egalitarian political ideals, and the pursuit of self-interest with the objective of individual ascension to the richest social stratum, “entrepreneurs” today live imbibed by the theology of prosperity, which rationalizes so much current despair as to the hope of getting out of the quagmire of material need in this life – rather than needing to wait for the salvation of the poor after death. Until the apocalypse arrives, the church fund always needs more contributions. It's not easy to maintain the bishop's jet, let alone finance yet another TV channel.

This zone of social and ideological turbulence, today, is reflected in the growing resistance to the Bolsonaro government. The formation of a gaseous democratic front, led by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who continues to hover over national politics like a stubborn ghost, also includes a wide range of foxes, big dogs, trained birds, professional scoundrels and habitual thieves. This front, from which Lula notoriously escaped through the skylight, proposes to tame the President of the Republic, reaching an agreement whereby he would contain his authoritarian outbursts in exchange for the end of his term – code for “stop creating confusion and let Guedes complete the program".

The front, then, is not structured around democracy; this idea is just the veil. After all, many of its members voted for Bolsonaro knowing full well who it was, while others feigned neutrality, knowing full well that there is no neutral ground in the face of fascism: turbulence, conflict, fog and uncertainty, yes; but neutrality is by definition impossible. The front, then, is for peace in the short term and for Guedes in the long term, and from there it does not pass, except for the hope that, disarmed and tamed, Bolsonaro would stop polarizing national politics and be defeated in 2022.

This plan is unfeasible, because it clings to the selfish logic of the right, and abandons the illuminist coherence of the left. Bolsonaro does not exist outside fascism; he cannot help sabotaging democracy, empowering the militias, distributing weapons and complaining about his opponents. It is of the nature of the beast, just like the scorpion of the well-known fable, which, for no apparent reason, and with suicidal consequences, stings the charitable frog that carries it to the other side of the river. This action is illogical – from the point of view of the left's formal logic. But from the point of view of those who exist to sabotage democracy, it makes perfect sense for Bolsonaro to promise whatever is necessary to escape the immediate predicament, contain the “Queiroz case”, and return to attacking State institutions from behind the scenes, as well as for the situation to calm down. In this sense, and paradoxically, political “tranquility” serves fascist interests.

A democratic front is essential to contain fascism, dismantle the military-militia alliance at the heart of the state, restore constitutional order, contain the pandemic, and reverse neoliberal barbarism in the economy. But this front will only come into existence with a stronger left. So far, despite its efforts, the left remains marginalized and divided, trapped in the dark corner of Brazilian politics by a relentlessly hostile mainstream press, the disarticulation of the trade union movement, and the impotence of its numbers in the National Congress. The essential condition for the formation of a democratic front in Brazil, therefore, is the strengthening of the left, which brings to the table the essential ideals for the reconstruction of the democratic Republic.

To contain Bolsonaro and his gang of psychopaths, it is essential to develop unified actions at the institutional level. But that's just part of the moment of resistance: that's the first step, but it's not enough for the journey. To leverage a project to reinvigorate democracy in Brazil, it is necessary to gain support, polarize the debate, and shift the zone of political turbulence closer to the Bolsonaro clan. For this, it is essential to attract the working classes to a project to save life during the pandemic, and to improve life after the catastrophe. To advance this project, the left needs to grow, and the first step is the unity of forces and purposes within the radical camp. Humility inward, offensiveness outward; the defeat of fascism demands that everything else – all personal projects – be abandoned.

The time is now.

*Alfredo Saad Filho is a professor at King's College London. Author, among other books, of Marx's value (Unicamp).

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