Questions following coup in Brazil [Part XI: Complexities in facing intervention]

[Part I-X have been published here earlier]

by Farooque Chowdhury

Frontier | Sep 21, 2016

Complexities arise when democratic forces face intervention in a reality of curtailed rights. This reality takes two forms:
(1) Intervention with puppets of interventionists in control of political power in a country; and
(2) Intervention/on-going process of intervention in a country ruled by a faction of elites/ruling classes coming into confrontation with or opposing intervention, and, at the same time, curtailing rights and carrying on plunder or resorting to widespread corruption.

The path of facing/opposing intervention turns comparatively straight-forward when political power is grabbed by puppets of interventionists. The path of opposing intervention in the second scene, as mentioned in number “2” above, is complex and delicate.

In the case of second scene, the democratic forces face the tasks of
(1) oppose intervention;
(2) carrying forward the struggle for democracy;
(3) safeguard people’s rights; and
(4) oppose corruption and loot.

The situation turns more complex when there’s an addition of another element in the second scene: Expansion of a few of people’s sphere: enhanced role of state in a few areas of public life/economy like education, healthcare, agriculture, even in industry. Handling contradictions arising out of these situations, which include curtailed rights and corruption is crucial to opposing intervention. It’s also a critical issue in the struggle for democracy of people irrespective of country concerned. It doesn’t matter whether the country is Brazil or Bangladesh.

A mishandling of the contradictions helps either interventionists or corruption and loot, and ultimately, it’s the people that suffer. There are constitutional issues to be finalized by people for people. There is the issue: How to democratize political and economic sphere for the people while the mass of corruption is all pervasive, and while intervention is making inroad? The propertied classes block all process for political reform, even if the issue of radical transformation of the process is put on shelf temporarily, even if the ruling faction/classes take non-friendly attitude towards interventionists. Corruption, loot and intervention are actually part of capital’s war on the people, especially the poor. Political reality in Brazil is facing similar complexities.

Case of corruption
Corruption is a critical issue in the struggle for democracy as it, irrespective of corruption’s narrower and broader definitions, begins in economy and reaches politics, and on its path, it destroys people’s lives, devours people’s sphere, and negatively influences people’s struggle.

While discussing corruption, I Ketut Putra Erawan and Eiji Oyamada cite one approach, which is “based on the assumption that corruption is a ‘symptom of institutional dysfunction’.” They cite another approach, which “is based on the assumption that corruption is a ‘symptom of dynamic struggle of political economic struggle’.” (“Understanding the political economy of corruption at local level: The case of Indonesia”, working paper, DAC Development Partnership Forum, Improving Donor Effectiveness in Combating Corruption, OECD and Transparency International, December 9-10, 2004) The struggle is between the possessing and dispossessed classes, and is also between factions of ruling classes. The possessing classes use power in all possible way, defined by their requirement. This goes within limits, but regularly crosses limits of legality defined according to their interests. In this business with corruption, the rulers define and redefine legal limits, they turn blind and turn extra-vigilant, they distort facts and they create sham-arguments.

This gets reflected in democracy these classes practice, and their democracy gets distorted by corruption. “If poverty is the ugly face of unregulated capitalism, corruption is the ugly face of unfinished democracy.” (Stefan Sullivan, Marx for a Postcommunist Era, On poverty, corruption and banality, Routledge, London, New York, 2002) It’s a manifestation of the struggle between dominated and dominating parts of an economic and political system.

“In most of the historical states, the rights of citizens are […] apportioned according to their wealth, thus directly expressing the fact that the state is an organization of the possessing class for its protection against the non-possessing class.” (Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, erstwhile USSR) Thus begins the consecrated corruption. Sacred state is assigned to behave in a corrupt way: deviate from pronounced promises and idealized ideals, pure in appearance; act in a biased way with an appearance of neutrality. Their state sometimes deals with corruption swiftly and says in an over-smart tone “kruption”, and, at times, it turns lazy in dealing with corruption and says “ko-ko-ko-rup-tion”. In capitalist system, state and government are vehicles of corruption; and these two resort to corruption regularly: interpreting rights, privileges, legislation, laws, regulations, justice, power, limits of power according to their need, which very often reaches the limit of misinterpretation and manipulation; favoring a group or faction or class(es) while pushing aside others, and thus corrupting the very ideals of democracy. Corrupt practices include use of, sometimes identified as misuse of, bureaucratic/executive power in distribution of resources – a privilege enjoyed by a few, who were employed by many. Distribution of tax burden, instruments that include permits, licenses and allotments corrupts underlying ideals and principles of democracy. With economic and political power, a minority of privileged puts burden of increased costs of rule on shoulder of the majority – a part of society weak in terms of all sorts of power. The practice itself is corrupt. Anomalies, deliberate distortions in systems of distribution, transfer and accumulation, cost overruns, patronization of inefficiency, regularly depend on contingencies, “overawing” to external and internal trading pressures, and many similar “mismanagements” are regular method of work establishment resorts to that are corrupt practices. According to Vito Tanzi, there are a number of government activities and factors that directly/indirectly contribute to state-corruption. These include: taxation and penalty systems, and institutional controls, regulations, authorizations, spending decisions, public expenditure and provision of goods and services at below-market prices, financing of political parties. (“Corruption around the World: causes, consequences, scope and cures”, IMF staff papers, vol. 45, no. 4, December 1998)

The system pays for the practice – defined and undefined corruption – it resorts to. While explaining reason to found Transparency International Peter Eigen wrote: “Corruption – the abuse of entrusted power for private gain – is a road-block to human development. It distorts competitive markets, leads to the misallocation of resources, and disproportionately burdens the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. [. . .] Corruption makes a mockery of rights, breeds cultures of secrecy, deprives the neediest of vital public services, deepens poverty, and undermines hope.” (“Removing a roadblock to development: Transparency International mobilizes coalitions against corruption”, Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, vol. 3, issue 2, 2008) While focusing on corruption in the economic sphere involving government officials Shang-Jin Wei’s observation adds: “There are several channels through which corruption hinders economic development. They include reduced domestic investment, reduced foreign direct investment, overblown government expenditure, distorted composition of government expenditure away from education, health, and the maintenance of infrastructure, towards less efficient public projects that have more scope for manipulation and bribe-taking opportunities.” (“Corruption in Economic Development: Beneficial Grease, Minor Annoyance, or Major Obstacle?”, The World Bank, policy research working paper No. 2048, February 1999) All the businesses mentioned above by Peter Eigen and Shang-Jin Wei is done by the propertied classes having all sorts of power. It’s their monopoly. The powerless classes, the public, have no scope to put their powerless hands on the levers of the issues/activities that are corrupt or have the scope to get corrupt.

There’s the sanctified private capital. “[I]t should not be concluded that corruption cannot exist within private sector activities. Especially in large private enterprises, corruption clearly does exist”. (Vito Tanzi, op. cit.) Shang-Jin Wei also mentions “political corruption (e.g., vote-buying in an election, legal or illegal campaign contributions by the wealthy and other special interest groups to influence laws and regulations), and bribes among private sector parties.” Allowing market to play the role of the god of all lives contributes to corruption. Resorting to corruption by private capital is part of so-called market-mechanism and market force.

The first and foremost fact that is ingrained in corruption in whatever way it is identified – institutionalized or market-oriented or morally degrading or marginalized or multiple or hierarchically organized or fragmented or vertical or horizontal or diffused or grand or petty or bureaucratic or political – is it’s extortion from people, especially the producers of surplus value – the toilers, and ultimately it’s people that pay for it. Corruption is a part of the entire arrangement of depriving people. At the same time, corruption embedded in capitalist system is a tool for competition. A relative layer of formality/formal arrangement lends corruption legitimacy, which withers away the moment the layer is torn by capitalist competition.

The mass of corruption in Brazil as discussed in mainstream media is only a part of the entire political problem the propertied classes have created over decades in the country, and are failing to bring it into a fold of legitimacy. It’s their problem. Therefore, corruption there in Brazil is a political problem created by the propertied classes affecting the people there. It’s people’s problem also; but the two problems are of opposite character. So, people there are to solve the problem as the propertied classes in Brazil have failed to wipe out the problem while the property owners engage in competition, and compete in the market of corruption. [Other countries also face similar problem with corruption with variations in form, extent, power, and tact of dominating part in hiding/muzzling down stories of corruption.] This mass of corruption negatively impacts people’s political struggle in Brazil while it helps propertied classes to maintain its institutions of rule, and interventionists spread their web.

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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