Questions following coup in Brazil

[Part VII: The incapacity]

By Farooque Chowdhury

Frontier | 22 August, 2016

[Parts I-V have been published here earlier]

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson raise two questions: “Why does a nondemocratic elite ever democratize? Since democracy will bring a shift of power in favor of the citizens, why would the elite ever create such a set of institutions? […T]his only occurs because the disenfranchised citizens can threaten the elite and force it to make concessions. These threats can take the form of strikes, demonstrations, riots, and – in the limit – a revolution. Because these actions impose costs on the elite, it will try to prevent them. It can do so by making concessions, by using repression to stop social unrest and revolution, or by giving away its political power and democratizing. Nevertheless, repression is often sufficiently costly that it is not an attractive option for elites. Concessions may take several forms – particularly policies that are preferred by the citizens, such as asset or income redistribution – and are likely to be less costly for the elite than conceding democracy.” (op. cit.)

Therefore, questions that thus emerge are:
(1) Why prospect for democracy is being subverted in Brazil?
(2) What class equation, political alignment and structural conditions are garnering the anti-people move there?

“[M]inority groups (e.g., various types of elites) may have an incentive to mount a coup and create a set of more preferable institutions.” (ibid.) To the Brazil elites, the coup is, it appears, “less costly” than income redistribution and democracy (?). But, actually, the moves are widening and sharpening of area of conflict with the people. When the majority, “[t]he citizens are excluded from the political system in nondemocracy […] they can sometimes challenge the system, create significant social unrest and turbulence, or even pose a serious revolutionary threat.” (ibid.) With continued move of the type already taken, conflict with the people will continue to widen and sharpen. The question, then, is:
Why the wealthy and their masters are treading the path of a widened and sharpened conflict?

It’s their, the ruling interests’, incapacity to concede an area to the people. After discussing a series of models “that underpin the analysis of distribution of political power in democracy” Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson find: “The models suggest that the rich may have more power in some democracies”. (ibid.) An argument that thus develops on basis of the finding: The rich may find a prospect of loosening a bit of power in some political settings. In Brazil, the people were having a scope to widen their sphere, but not expropriating butter, mansion, diamond and dividend of the rich. But the rich there face a reality of weakening of their political position, which they are failing to accept. Prime minister Earl Grey said in the British parliament in 1831 while he was presenting his electoral reform that he was well aware that this was a measure necessary to prevent a likely revolution. Grey argued: “There is no-one more decided against annual parliaments, universal suffrage and the ballot, than I am. My object is not to favour, but to put an end to such hopes and projects […] The principle of my reform is, to prevent the necessity of revolution […]”. (cited in Eric J. Evans, The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783–1870, Longman, New York, 1996) The Earl was reforming to preserve, not to overthrow the status quo. The propertied classes taking anti-democratic move in Brazil don’t have that capacity that can direct it to make concessions. Their masters also lack the capacity. They, the masters and their servants, in this way, try to demolish all prospect of gaining space by people, which means, they are not inclined to accept even reformist/welfare measures unless they find them cornered.

Corruption by ministers in the interim government is not smaller than by Temer, which has been mentioned above in brief. It’s, now, a blatant show of the wealthy group’s corruption-based “democracy”, a democracy of the corrupt wealthy interests. A regime without legitimacy, with an image tarnished by corruption and conspiracy, with an image of a puppet of an empire assigned with the job of subverting a people’s efforts to improve their life is not accepted by the commoners. Moreover, such a leadership stands on weaker ground while they confront the commoners.

With the conditions – widespread corruption, conspiratorial politics, a group of politicians in the pay roll of an intelligence agency, absence of legitimacy, and intervention by the world masters – wealth-interests, in the long-term, can’t effectively secure its rule. So, the questions that come forth are:
(1) Why the wealthy interests in Brazil are to resort to a corruption-ridden political leadership?
(2) Was there no other option available to the interests as the leadership is without any legitimacy?

It’s a symptom of their – the wealthy and their masters – condition; it’s a show of their lower level of capacity, which is incapacity. Facing a possibility of weakening of hold on power – economic and political – the wealthy and their masters are inclining to take away people’s gains, even at the risk/cost of widening the area of conflict as they fail to co-opt/accommodate the commoners – the commoners’ interests – although the failure endangers rule of the wealthy and their masters. Along with these, their drive for more intensified exploitation – higher profit, and for greater loot – is alive.

Co-optation is, Oliver Schlumberger argues, a part of legitimacy. (“Political Liberalization, Authoritarian Regime Stability, and Imitative Institution Building”, paper presented at the 5th Mediterranean Social and Political Research Meeting, March 24-28, 2004, Florence, European University Institute) Another group of political scientists consider it as a mechanism. Power-grabbers in today’s Brazil are going through the path of failure in co-optation even at the cost of delegitimizing them, even by disenfranchising the commoners in areas of economy and politics. An increased/leading role of imperialism aggravates the situation.

Deborah J. Yashar observed that coup attempts “have rarely led toward democracy in the absence of mobilized and mobilizable coalition partners”. (Demanding Democracy: Reform and Reaction in Costa Rica and Guatemala, 1870s-1950s, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1997) It will be difficult for the usurpers to mobilize their partners as the political crisis the country is going through is beyond their capacity to surmount. Their electoral performance, political maneuvering, especially their resorting to conspiracy and manipulation of political process are the evidences of their incapacity. Therefore, the wealthy part bent on assaulting the people is failing to carry forward the task of democratization.

Guillermo A. O’Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead consider the armed forces a regime’s “Queen”, which, as a veto player, defends the “King”, or the “property rights of the bourgeoisie” and ensures that the armed forces’ “institutional existence, assets, and hierarchy” are not “eliminated or even seriously threatened. If the armed forces are threatened, they may simply sweep their opponents off the board or kick it over and start playing solitaire.” The “Queen” doesn’t allow any attack on its “King”, and doesn’t empower pawns to take power. (Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Prospects for Democracy, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1986) The conspirators in Brazil rely on, as exposed conversation mentioned above show, generals from the armed forces. It’s not only their reliance on muscle – the generals. It’s the “Queen” defending the “King”, the “property rights of the bourgeoisie”. Consequently, it’s the defense of the “property rights of the bourgeoisie”, which will widen conflict with the commoners, especially the commoners having an experience of widening of their access to essentials of life and to rights, but now finding excluded from political process. In that case, the commoners find no way other than initiating their own political process, which is antagonistic to the existing property relations and privileges.

Now, the issues for consideration are:
(1) How long the masters of the economy in Brazil – the wealthy, the capital with ties to the world capitalist system – shall be able to carry on their assault riding a dead horse?
(2) Shall that assault be profitable for them?

Answers to the questions are related to power the wealthy classes hold in Brazil, and on class equation as a whole. Their power is also relative to the power of the people in Brazil.

There are issues of snatching back people’s gains also. The issue of snatching back people’s gains is related to the issues of regeneration of capital and capacity to compromise by the propertied classes in Brazil.

The bourgeoisie in a number of countries in Europe made compromise, actually, it had to compromise, with labor, and had to give up space to labor in the form of limited, and most of the time, distorted/twisted, rights, welfare, etc. During the twentieth century, in the 1930s, and after the World War II, “a process of accommodation between the trade union movement and capital occurred” in most of Europe. [… T]his social partnership between labor and capital was a result of the actual strength of the trade unions and the labor movement. The employers and their organizations came to see that they were not able to defeat the trade unions.” (Asbjørn Wahl, “European Labor: The Ideological Legacy of the Social Pact”, Monthly Review, vol. 55, issue 8, January 2004) One the one hand, by this compromise, the bourgeoisie there secured its interest – lessen conflict and secure regeneration of capital in a comparatively better way.

The questions that come up are:
(1) Why the rich classes in Brazil don’t enter into compromise?
(2) Don’t they need it?
(3) Isn’t it required for regeneration of capital there in Brazil?
(4) What’s the implication of this non-compromise on the working people, especially on those generating surplus value, and on the capital there?

The questions posed above are related to functional issues connected to people’s march forward: organization, slogan, intensity of movement, alliance and compromise. Capacity to organize powerful organization, and to intensify struggle between classes plays role in these areas, and also on future flight of political development.

Alexander B. Downes writes: More than 40 percent of states that experience foreign-imposed regime change have a civil war within the next ten years. There are examples in Latin America that regime change led to civil wars as popular policies were reversed or unpopular policies were instituted. Regime change also tends to sap state’s capability to maintain order, reduce its ability to respond to internal opposition. It thus provides two of the key ingredients — motive and opportunity — for civil war. Regime change is highly destabilizing, and its outcomes depend less on strategy of the intervener than on conditions in the target country. (“Regime Change Doesn’t Work”,Boston Review, September 1, 2011)

Civil war, in all its phases and in all societies, may not necessarily be in armed form during all the phases a society goes through. Firm opposition to rule of exploitation and to authority may be a form of war people wage at a certain stage of a society. Even, at times, powerful political mobilization can create powerful and fruitful effect on existing edifice of power/status quo. Shall the usurpers in Brazil and their external masters afford the risk of (1) facing intensified struggle by opposing classes, and (2) shall they have the stability in that situation, which is required for exploitation?

Along with consolidation of grip over power by the wealthy interests class struggle shall intensify as the working people will not accept loss of rights, and their non-acceptance will lead to increased confrontations. Rich classes consider people only as subject for exploitation. It’s difficult to defend unbridled capitalism, a set of measures that brutally assaults people, in today’s Brazil. Neoliberalism is already discredited in the broader international theater, and a few of its strong proponents have already begun to disown it. These proponents now-a-days don’t defend it.

The planned onslaught by the wealthy group will be difficult to execute if popular movements successfully take an organized stand against repression. Already the wealthy group had to make an adjustment. Following wide protests by the country’s culture and entertainment sector and the progressive movement Temer had to reinstate the ministry of culture. Artists feared: the elimination of the cultural ministry would lead to a loss of public resources for supporting cultural projects. Now Brazilian scientists are protesting the merging of the Science and Technology Ministry with that of Telecommunications. The adjustment shows the rightists’ not-strong-base.

Pro-democracy and anti-Temer protests throughout the country since Dilma’s ouster are now regular incidents. The last few months have seen massive mobilizations opposing the rightists. The demonstrators’ banners read: “Coup”, “Globo supported the dictatorship and wants a new coup in Brazil”, “Out Globo, putschist”. Dilma joined thousands of women marching for democracy in Rio de Janiero. Frente Povo Sem Medo, a coalition of Brazil’s leftist movements, organized a protest. MST has led protests against impeachment. The cast and crew of the Brazilian film Aquarius staged protest at Cannes film competition. The protestors included Kleber Mendonca Filho, the film’s writer and director, and Sonia Braga, the lead actress. They denounced Dilma’s suspension as a “coup d’état”. Their banners read: “A coup took place in Brazil,” “The world cannot accept this illegitimate government”. Banners also held by the audience read: “We will resist.” A theatre in a Brazilian town had a Carmina Burana performance with a political message that condemned the usurper government. More than four thousand workers set up camp in the Farol da Barra. Acts in defense of democracy mobilized 700,000 people across the country. Despite having a critical stance toward the PT a number of political parties on the far-left including Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) have actively participated in building up a broad movement to defeat the rightwing coup. With the background of economic hardship of the people, lack of political legitimacy of the usurpers, exposure of their corruption, and rising resistance by the working people Temer’s prognosis, it can be assumed, is of a short duration. Simultaneously, widespread corruption, appeasements and political crisis will strengthen call for political reform in Brazil as popular movements have already called for a Constituent Assembly. A recent evaluation of the movement against the coup by MST leader Joao Pedro Stedile pointed out that the current mass mobilizations against the coup were being organized and led primarily by labor and popular organizations. In recent time, a process of unification of popular forces the Frente do Povo Sem Medo (People without Fear Front) and the Frente Brasil Popular (Popular Brazil Front) are trying to proceed further.

Farooque Chowdhury, a Dhaka-based freelancer, has authored/edited only three books in English: Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured(ed.), The Age of Crisis, and What Next? The Great Financial Crisis (ed.), and doesn’t operate any blog like “Farooque Chowdhury’s Blog”.

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