The List Lands: Who can reconstitute democracy after this bombshell?

By 6 PM on the night of Tuesday 11 April, the plenaries of Brazil’s house and senate were empty. A long-promised political holocaust had arrived. Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin had just authorised corruption investigations into nearly a third of interim president Temer’s cabinet, and a similar proportion of senators. The list to be investigated totals 108 leading politicians.

A question I’ve long pondered is whether the Lava Jato investigations will actual fulfil their ‘promise’ of taking down the bulk of the political class, or stop short for the sake of order (and partisan gain. Hiya toucans!).

My article published yesterday in Jacobin explores this in depth, looking at what ‘anti-corruption’ means today and examining the parallels offered by Italy in the early 90s.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 11.56.31

The really preoccupying thing, though, is the absence of a credible democratic pole in the country today. As I suggest in the essay, Lula remains democracy and the Left’s best hope for 2018. That’s quite damning.

By coincidence, the excellent Gilberto Maringoni, PSOL member and IR Professor, posted some very useful reflections on this question on Facebook yesterday. I’ve translated them into English here below.

The List and the Chaos

Fachin’s list is devastating for one central reason: it’s ample and ecumenical enough to not be accused of being partial or unidirectional. At the same time, its destructive potential might put the kibosh on the whole political system. The list smacks us in the face, screaming, ‘Après moi, le déluge! Après moi, le déluge!’


And after the flood? Who will administer the waters?


The roll call of names contained in the list reaffirms something that was perceptible after the 2014 elections, when Dilma decided to dispense with the credibility of the popular vote that was invested in her: there is no vector in society with enough credibility to reorganise the system. The electoral fraud brought dismay, exacerbated anti-political sentiment, and unmasked the social fascism which had not dared speak its name.


In the 1980s, during the collapse of the dictatorship, the MDB (and afterwards the PMDB) trained itself through long years of democratic struggle to carry on through the rubble of the regime, holding up the Constituent Assembly as it’s North Star. That party became an important vector or political ballast. Around it, all political movements unveiled themselves.


The PMDB’s delegitimisation, at the end of the decade, together with the Sarney government, created four years of interregnum – the Collor and Itamar governments – until the PSDB solidly anchored itself in finance capital to impose a feasible political and economic project in an era of the reorganisation of the international division of labour. The PSDB became the second vector of redemocratisation.


The third parameter to guarantee continuity in the democratic contest was the PT, from the point at which the FHC government broke the country three times, onwards [a reference to IMF bailouts]. Without breaking totally with the administrations, the party showed extreme competence in its first years to piggyback on an external dynamism (China), raise real wages, with moderately redistributive taxes, and GDP growth. Life got noticeably better for the masses during the period.


Lula invested in the expansion of the internal market and had notable success in doing so. He did not take the next step, though, of using the public surplus to leverage state investment and reduce the impact of the external crisis. That would have implied a intensification of redistribution, which he opted against.


The PT’s collapse opened the doors to chaos. Neither the PMDB nor the PSDB has popular legitimacy, and the project they propose, of subordinate insertion [in the global division of labour] does not galvanise significant forces beyond those of finance capital. The coup project only works through the drastic reduction of real wages and the exponential increase of the base interest rate, which results, inter alia, in an overvalued exchange rate.


That is to say, if on one side the directive is to reduce the costs of production to attract capital, on the other, the discrepancy in the exchange rate objectively raises those very same internal costs. The accounts don’t square up – especially not in a depressed economy.


It is in this context that Fachin’s list comes to us. It’s good that it exists, but it is not a solution for anything. In the race against time, there is no serious competitor for the 2018 elections, with the exception of Lula.


But a Lula bereft of a national project (as during 2003-2010, despite the favourable winds from overseas) – even if it might be an important tonic in the fight against the reforms – will not reorganise the post-coup disorder. It may even reaffirm it.


Lula is decisive in this conjuncture – yes, in 2017! – for being the only glimmer of a future directions. He retains electoral density and an identifiability amongst the poor electorate that is unequaled by any other candidate.


But Lula – or any other Left force – needs a consistent macroeconomic development project. Whether he would want this or not, his positioning would represent a definite acceleration of class struggle. He has become unpalatable to those above, hence the effort to remove him from the contest altogether.


The road is difficult and complex. But it will not become clear without the accentuation of divisions in the dominant block, and without contestation from below.


Can there be a kind of conciliation? Yes, but it does not seem to be the dominant tendency in the political scene right now.


Fachin’s list seems to have the power to blow up all the ships.

Featured image is Comerre’s Le Déluge (1911)

Dirty Hands, Broken Carwash – now in Portuguese

My October piece on the politicisation of the Lava Jato investigations – originally published here and in Brasil Wire has been updated and republished in translation in Brazil’s Revista Maquiavel. The initiation last night of investigations into leading politicians across the spectrum has changed matters somewhat, but the principle points remain valid, I think.

tropical_storm_1.jpgBasically, it’s the following: you can’t ‘end corruption’, because it’s a feature of bourgeois politics. Purely judicial initiatives don’t even remove corruption in its own terms, because it is rooted in the how the representative system functions; only democratising this will improve matters. Instead anti-corruption politics always conceal another aim. In this case, a transition to neoliberalism and reduced democratic accountability. By exploding the existing political class, however, you only further anti-political sentiment, and clear the way for authoritarian demagogues.

There’s (a lot) more to come on this, so I’ll be posting again shortly.

Featured image is Girodet’s The Deluge (1806)

In Defence of Abominations and Peversion

It is one year to the day since ISIS claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, in which they “targeted the capital of abominations and perversion.”

What followed was the predictable Je Suis Charlie-style demonstrations of ‘solidarity’ – so patently a charade when voiced by authoritarian, militarist, and censorious European leaders. Others repeated the French Republican trinity of liberté, egalité, fraternité, but – at the risk of being ungenerous – did it maybe sound hollow? Where is the commitment to these ideals: not just a defence of the liberal achievements of the past, but their continued realisation and advance into the future?

The literal and symbolic targets of the attacks were people, especially the young, enjoying themselves, mixing with one another, watching football or attending a gig (“idolaters participating in a party of perversity” according to the ISIS statement). One might suggest that even (especially?) in a post-heroic age, footballers and rock stars remain better idols than any god you care to mention.

This is something the Marquis de Sade knew, as he wrote in the years immediately following the French Revolution. France was slipping back into the dark days, and a fully fledged libertine atheism was required to rid the country of vestiges of religiosity. The future of Europe was at stake. In a pamphlet entitled “Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen, If You Would Become Republicans!” from de Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom, the author spelled out the new spirit required. Here I quote selectively from it.

On idolatry:

Let the slave of a crowned brigand grovel, if he pleases, at the feet of a plaster image; such an object is readymade for his soul of mud. He who can serve kings must adore gods; but we, Frenchmen, but we, my fellow countrymen, we, rather than once more crawl beneath such contemptible traces, we would die a thousand times over rather than abase ourselves anew! Since we believe a cult necessary, let us imitate the Romans: actions, passions, heroes – those were the objects of their respect. Idols of this sort elevated the soul, electrified it, and more: they communicated to the spirit the virtues of the respected being. Minerva’s devotee coveted wisdom. Courage found its abode in his heart who worshiped Mars. Not a single one of that great people’s gods was deprived of energy; all of them infused into the spirit of him who venerated them the fire with which they were themselves ablaze; and each Roman hoped someday to be himself worshiped, each aspired to become as great at least as the deity he took for a model.

Here we have an almost Sartrean suggestion that each individual has a responsibility to live as an example of freedom to others.

It is no longer before the knees of either an imaginary being or a vile impostor a republican must prostrate himself; his only gods must now be courage and liberty.

When nihilist terror attacks flagrant demonstrations of pleasure in the streets, in stadia, in bars, in clubs… our response should be to have the courage to live life publicly, without fear of the Other or one another.

De Sade explained that prostration to religion came from fear:

Man’s uncertainty with respect to his god is, precisely, the cause for his attachment to religion. Man’s fear in dark places is as much physical as moral; fear becomes habitual in him, and is changed into need: he would believe he were lacking something even were he to have nothing more to hope for or dread.

And if we give into fear…?

They will rebuild upon these foundations, and will set thereupon the same colossi, with this difference, and it will be a cruel one: the new structures will be cemented with such strength that neither your generation nor ensuing ones will avail against them.

Of course, it is not religion that oppresses Europe today. It is fear – an abjection in the face of nihilist terror, and of our own leaders who would seek to terrorise us. The imperative – the effort to be truly republican – must be rejection of facile and cowardly exits. Neither the neoconservative lashing-out at phantasmic enemies, nor pusillanimous post-liberal mea culpas in the face of reaction.


The response to the Paris attacks a year on should be cocksure.There should be no assent to fences and frisks and metal detectors. The tumult of 2016 has left us with even less to which to cling. Whatever other political struggles may be required, a joyous, libertine, arrogant filling of public squares must be an essential part. All our cities should be capitals of abominations and perversion.

Let the most insulting blasphemy, the most atheistic works next be fully and openly authorised, in order to complete the extirpation from the human heart and memory of those appalling pastimes of our childhood.


The featured image at top is Umberto Boccioni’s The Street Enters The House (1911). Above is Aubrey Beardsley’s The Peacock Skirt (1893), created for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, depicting the latter as a confident, sexually charged ‘New Woman’.