Lost Sambista

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Archive for the tag “Karl Marx”

Where Marx went right and where Marx went wrong

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Whoever dares to break all the neo-liberal, and middle class taboos and ventures to read Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto will ask himself if this is not a post that some blogger wrote one month ago. He will also start to understand why for one hundred and fifty years the words on those pages have been the greatest fear of our “beloved” bankers, industry leaders and heads of state in the Western World.

The one reason for the fear over that text is that it has made perfect sense for a century and a half; Marx’s critique is precise and undeniable and reality keeps on confirming his views. Needless to say, as Christians in the Roman times, the powers of the day have thrown many people to the lions for embracing this forbidden belief.

Before we continue, in order to rebuke the usual attacks, we will have to point out that what existed in the Soviet Union and behind the “Iron Curtain” was not communism. They saw themselves as societies working towards communism; and most ended up as flawed attempts to reach a utopic state of social equality. It is also worthwhile pointing out that they were as flawed as the western attempts to create their utopia; general contentment and optimization of resources through the “invisible hand” of the Market.

Going back to our quest for where Marx went right and where Marx went wrong, we’ll start with what went right. A recent article in nowhere less than the Rolling Stone Magazine states it succinctly in five examples:

The tendency of Capitalism to create crisis: In their need to reduce costs, companies, investors etc… drive down salaries, cut down their workforce to a point where there this affects the consumer market because there is no one left to consume. Even in the best days they come up with schemes to induce more consumption such as credit, but when this money turns into debt it only worsens the crisis in the cycle.

The creation of absurd consumerist desires: to keep the machine alive capitalism induces people to consume industrialized and technological “monstrosities” with absurd values. They become carrots on sticks for the workforce to dedicate their lives to. The examples are out there in abundance; Ferrari’s, the latest iPhones, the latest kindles, overpriced coffee Houses, overpriced holiday locations, the list is long.

Globalization: Capitalism has an insatiable appetite for new markets, not only for more people to consume its products but also to supply them with cheap labour. Could this explain why the west went as far as to finance radical Islam in order to bring those markets into the world order? This may explain why there is no place in the world to escape Capitalism. Une could argue that this just shows that this is the “logic of the world”, the “reality” as it is. But then, why do we need police and armies to back things up and to repress people who go against the system? As the neo-Marxist thinker, Slavoj Zizek, states; people find it easier to imagine a planet without natural resources than to imagine the world without Capitalism,

Tendency towards Monopoly: the logic of maximizing profits and leaving the regulation of the economy to competition leads to the big sharks eating all the other fish in the pond. One doesn’t need to go far to see small stores, small software companies, small everything almost disappearing while, as the economy recovers, it is the big guys who have managed to survive and now are having greater profits than ever.

Low wages and high profits: The essence of Capitalism is to create an “army” of workers who only have their workforce to put on the table when it comes to making a living. The people who do have the means employ them try to pay as little as they can to obtain as much profit as they can. They do this not because they are evil; it is just the logic of the system, if they do not, some ruthless competitor will end up forcing them out of business.

There are many other points that the article could have added, the main one being the founding stone of Marx’s thought: placing profit as the central motor of a society will never work. Contrary to what Wall Street, the City and their lackeys say, greed is a very bad policy maker, simply because it is self-serving. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if you allow big profit oriented conglomerates to drive politics they will act in no one else’s interest but their own. One just needs to look at the trillionaire Bank bailouts in 2008 and their current “social responsibility” to understand why.

Until now, we have only seen where Marx went right, where did he go wrong?

The problem lies in his solutions. Actually, not in his solutions but in his lack of proposals. This is where both Marxist radicals and hysterical anti-Marxists fall into a realm of mystification and lack of understanding. Throughout his work except for some rare opinions and hints, he never really stopped to write about how a communist state would be nor how humanity would ever get there.

As we all know, his opinion was that communism is an inevitable state that we will all end up in, regardless of the route we choose. For him, communism is a utopian state of affairs where the means of production will be aimed at the community (hence the name) and not at private profit. Again, we have to mention that the mainstream theories also have their own utopia where, if left to their own devices, the selfish agents of the economy will optimize the resources available to humankind and will create generalized wealth in the most optimized way possible.

Both utopias stem out of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim messianic belief that history has a goal. For both, intelligence or the God-like qualities blown by the Almighty into mud to create Adam will eventually flower into a world of mutual understanding that will be fair for all. This is a very powerful concept that has kept not only religions, but the entire political debate alive.

For Marxists, the good days will come through a revolution, for the Monetarists they will come through the general acceptance of the Market, for the Christians they will come through the universal acceptance of Christ, for the Muslims through the universal acceptance of the prophet and for the Jews through the coming of the Messiah. There are different versions and for each of these myths but they are all saying the same thing.

It is our opinion that Marxism is the latest step of the utopian tradition, it is a natural follow up to the revolutionary Christian concept of the holy Ghost: forget all dogma, forget the laws, get along with each other and create something sacred. The problem here, as with all other Messianic views is that it privileges the future rather than the present.

As a revolutionary in Tahrir square sais at the end of the fabulous documentary The Square, after seeing his struggle being kidnapped by the Egypt’s military and by the Muslim Brotherhood, “We fought for a new way for people to relate to each other, the people have taken over the streets and now we know our strength.”

Our opinion is that he nailed the issue; the key is the here and the now, not the future not the past. The possibility for change comes to us every day and in every situation and it comes from within, it lies in the way we relate to each other, it lies is in doing the right thing, it stems from the courage of standing up against what is wrong. If people see themselves personally responsible for improving the world and their lives things can change. We all know deep inside what is wrong and it is within our reach to change them. This is not about a takeover revolution with parties, armies and new leaders but about an enormous pressure on the institutions where we work, on the organizations who make products that are vital for us, on what the state gives back to us as tax payers and on the way we relate to each other. This is about ending the “us and them” stalemate, a macro revolution based on an infinitude of micro revolutions.

SPRING

Diretas Ja, Fora Collor and the Brazilian Spring.

Anonymous

It was Karl Marx who said that when history repeats itself, it repeats itself as a farce.

As a politically conscious person, this is the third protest en masse against the Brazilian government that I have witness. The first one was the Diretas Ja, in the early eighties. This was a movement demanding the vote for president from the military regime. Slumping into economic hard times and after enduring fifteen years of dictatorship, the country was hungry for democracy and for regime change. Many of the politicians who the current protesters hate were the voices of freedom of those rallies, in particular the ex-president Lula who at the time a true working class hero who had defied the military by stopping the powerful foreign based automotive industry in Sao Paulo. Still a central figure in Brazilian politics he would disappoint the country when in power for refusing to prosecute corrupt allies. Much of the current discontent falls back on him, although one must never loose sight that the success of his left wing party’s governments may guarantee them a fourth term, they are the favorites.

The second wave of protests my generation witnessed was the Fora Collor! (Out Collor!) one, where the country united to oust its corrupt president. Fernando Collor had confiscated the population’s savings accounts in order to end hyperinflation while he himself was constructing mansions with public funds. The Brazilian nation was again in the streets throwing huge pressure for his impeachment and was finally successful, despite the many questions that remain unanswered. During the campaign, the first presidential race in 25 years, he was the young, good looking and energetic candidate who was brought in to hold the left’s certain victory after a series of catastrophic old school and right wing, military sponsored governments. His opponents were Lula and the late Leonel Brizola, two heavyweight champions in the struggle against the Brazilian privileged. After his victory, when Collor started to change things and excluded traditional power brokers from important deals, his former allies turned against him and opened the doors for the popular will to be fulfilled, generously supplying the press with all possible incriminating details and not moving a finger to save him. The final step in this episode was the very badly explained assassination of his treasurer, PC Farias, when he seemed disposed to talk to the press.

This year, once again, protesters flooded Brazil’s streets. The underlying theme was the same as always: impunity, corruption and injustice; plagues that time, new parties and new governments seem unable to eradicate, not only in Brazil but all over the world. The reasons are clear and need addressing and young people are the best to do the job.  It is very healthy that they are alert to what is happening and that they are renewing the country’s political blood. However there are questions, the biggest one is that we know what they are against but what are they proposing? what do they want?

Before there were clear issues: we wanted to vote for president, we wanted a corrupt leader who confiscated our savings out, but now what is it about? Trials? That suspect politicians should be tried and put into jail? That money should go to hospitals and schools instead to the construction of stadiums? A moralization of the country?

OK, Brazil is far from perfect; there are thousands of reasons to protests and a population has the obligation to stand against the wrong doings of their authorities, no one would ever question this, but it seems weird to us that a tropical “anonymous”  uprising should erupt in the wake of the failed Arab springs. OK, there are people being dislodged from their houses to build new stadiums. OK there is A LOT of money going into the wrong pockets at the moment, OK politicians have gone too far by voting laws that make them immune to public investigations. This is wrong and it is right to protest against this.

However there are other aspects to take into consideration. The first one is that, under the two previous administrations, apart from having paid out there gigantic external debt and having growth rates that popped the world’s eyes, Brazil has been derailing out of the American sphere of influence and is becoming an independent world power with ever closer ties to China, who is challenging the western formulas of economic administration . The second point to consider is that although the Dilma administration is being considered by Brazilians as too open to foreign pressure the truth is quite the opposite and that other parties would facilitate even further the intervention of foreign big money. Whoever has tried to do business with Brazil, or even tried to get working permits in Brazil, knows how protective its regulations are and one has to be very naive not to consider that there are powerful forces wanting to “open Brazil up” who would be very happy if the current ruling party changed or, even better, if the democratic regime that the Brazilian people managed to obtain though many sacrifices disappeared.

The fact that these movements, similar to the tragedy of the Syrian “spring”, do not have a defined leadership nor a defined goal other than destabilization, leads us to pose the following question: are they just spontaneous and innocent initiatives of nerdy kids wanting to change the world? We would like to believe that the answer is yes..

Communism as an inspiration: Latin America

ImageDuring the 60’s and the 70’s in Latin America the notion of what the “free” world was about was clear; it was bullshit. This was the period when the rich developed Capitalist countries intervened in the continent’s local affairs. They wanted the southern hemisphere to swallow their bitter pill at whatever cost in order not go to the communists. For this they sponsored numerous military dictatorships where there was everything but freedom.
In most cases the military’s main concern were not the people whose lives and futures were most affected, the uneducated masses, but the leaders of potential uprisings. These were middle class knowledgeable students who understood what was going on and who were in favor of more egalitarian avenues to development. The example of Cuba was in everyone’s mind and provided a unacceptable scenario in the offices that dealt with the richness and the future of the LatinAmerica.
Taken out of the context of the cold war, the bearded revolutionaries had a Robin Hood like appeal that inspired a generation. For sure this is what drew a great part of the middle class kids towards them and not their disastrous Stalinist way of controlling their people. This was brought about by the economic blockade imposed by the US and its allies and forced the Castro regime to approach the Soviet Union and become an important pawn in a wider conflict.
In Brazil, for young people living under a dictatorship set to destroy it, the word communism was uplifting. First of all it was forbidden; mentioning the tabu word was like talking about porn and anything in this condition is exciting. Secondly it sounded like the antidote of an unjust and elitist solution that the powerful forced down the country’s throat. Lastly and most important, due to the secrecy surrounding this ideology, the only thing we knew about it was its name, which alluded to something that did not sound bad at all: sharing. There must have been something very good being kept from us.
To our uninformed minds and souls the word common implied privileging what belonged to everyone. For us a system with these worries seemed better than one that wanted the world as a place where individuals fought for survival in a hellish Darwinian fire of vanity and consumerism. The military dictators then, as the mainstream politicians now, seemed to want to appease and bow to the interests of these powerful forces “beyond their control” that created evil instead of focusing on common grounds such as our future, our ecology, our wealth, our education, our children, our friendship, our love ( the list is endless).
This giant task of standing up to these idols with unimaginable wealth, armies, police forces and prisons while fighting to transform the world into a more communal place was set long before neo-liberalism, the Latin American dictatorships and Karl Marx himself. The demonized and abused word communism stood in our minds as representing this struggle. We did not know about the parties, the purges, Siberia etc.. what we knew was that our oppressive system struggled against it and saw it as a serious threat.
The more profound and “realistic” interpretations of communism created state sponsored monsters in a similar way that the holy scriptures caused inquisitions, jihad and land grabbing. We were going to learn about this later but what we hopefully never forgot was the stream of clear water that this ideology originally drank from.

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