Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “revolution”

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

Lost Samba – Chapter 17/01 – The end of the dictatorship in Brazil

Part23

Protest for going topless in Ipanema 1980

I was heading home from a rock concert at one of the main venues in Rio at the time, the Teatro Tereza Rachel in Copacabana. It was around midnight and I heard someone in the crowd say that John Lennon had been shot dead. No one knew whether to take him seriously, although everyone went home thinking about that disturbing possibility. The following morning, the newspapers confirmed what we had heard. Everyone was in a state of shock. Television reporters interviewed ordinary members of the public in the streets and famous artists, all of whom had tears in their eyes. For me, this final breakup of the Beatles seemed to interconnect with the extreme situation that I had experienced at the Noites Cariocas and another news that had also shocked us – the imprisonment of a couple of school friends for cannabis possession. On top of this there was Sarah’s dramatic split with her long-time fiancé. It didn’t make much sense, but the ripples from a wave of changes seemed to be affecting everything.

In the wider context, the Brazilian middle class had started to wake up to the fact that the lack of an alternative to the military-led government was a problem. The imprisonment, torture and then murder under the guise of “suicide” in 1975 of the distinguished journalist Wladmir Herzog in São Paulo triggered an unprecedented wave of indignation and numerous well-known political, cultural and religious figures expressed their dismay in newspapers across the country. On the other hand, now that no one could reasonably fear there was a risk of Latin America’s largest country becoming a Soviet satellite, the status of the Brazilian generals abroad was changing. Political movers and shakers in Washington as well as key figures of multinational corporations with economic interests in the country began to see Brazil’s brutal and corrupt military dictatorship as an unnecessary embarrassment.

Sensing the changing mood of their former supporters both inside and outside the country, the military took measures for appeasement. The most significant gesture was to grant amnesty to most political prisoners and to permit exiles to return home. Even if this move helped the military to remain in power, the policy of abertura politica – or political opening – was a victory for the opposition.

Overnight, the political dissidents went from being a virtually taboo subject to being courted as celebrities and hailed as heroes. They were in the press, on chat shows and their memoirs became best-sellers. Reading them we found out that they were regular upper middle class guys like us who had got carried away by the political turmoil of the times. In their books, we learned that some of them had spent periods training as guerrillas in Cuba and elsewhere abroad, before discretely infiltrating Brazil, where they took up arms, robbed banks and kidnapped important people. After the successful clamp down of their organizations, the ones who survived and went into exile were obliged to re-think their positions and to consider their next moves.

In a similar way to the artists, after the festivities for their return died off, they settled back in Brazil with more practical agendas. Many of the former exiles, as well as militants who had managed to survive in Brazil, used their popularity to progress within mainstream politics. José Genoíno, Fernando Gabeira and Carlos Minc, for example, became senators or ministers, while eventually Dilma Rousseff would be elected as president. Other non-guerrilla exiles also returned to Brazil, taking centre-stage in the re-democratization process. These included the veteran politicians Leonel Brizola who would become the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, the architect Oscar Niemeyer and the anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro as well as other more centrist politicians such as the sociologist president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the future leader of the PSDB, José Serra.

Although we admired most of these people, for my generation their presence opened up issues of identity. If we had not been active in the organised resistance but shared similar views on the dictatoraship, recognised the social unfairness around us and also wanted a better and fairer world, should we conclude that we were useless ? Had everything already been done? It was clear, that for them the fight was over. However, it was disappointing to see the people who we considered as legends using their past unashamedly to reach career advancements. Without understanding how a democracy works, to us, it seemed that, as ambitious political figures, they were keen to join something that, at least ideologically, we were resisting. The big unanswered question was how could we make a difference, and how should we position ourselves?

Because the dictatorship had simplified attitudes, the abertura politica brought new challenges. Until that moment, being for or against the regime placed everyone within an uncomplicated framework: depending on which side of the fence you stood, you could blame all the evils of the world either on the generals or on the communists. With the end of the military government now on the horizon, people were no longer confident as to where they stood politically and it would take some time for the country to achieve a state of political maturity.

It seemed obvious that the military would cling to power for as long as they realistically could. Everybody knew that by the time they handed back the power to the civilians, the economy would be on the ropes. For Brazilians at large, there were two pressing questions: in what state would the military return the country to the civilians, and what would our lives be like once the mounting economic crisis kicked in?

back to chapter 01                           next

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Wladimir Herzog, the “suicide” that woke Brazil up.

Does the true revolution start in Brazil?

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Have you seen this pattern lately? People take the street in protest with no specified leaders in demonstrations against their rulers, all grievances and opposition movements become gelled into an amorphous angry mess, pressure is put on the government to step down. When they do the chaos continues until someone strong with pro-western/American credentials steps in to restore the order.

This happened in less subtle ways in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they got smarter and tried to bring regime change via stirring the masses through social media. With this came the successes of Tunisia and Lybia, now Egypt and perhaps Turkey and of course the tragedy of Syria, not to mention the several attempts to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

In Brazil they tried, but after  the country discovered that the CIA had been spying on several Brazilian public figures and that Uncle Sam had also been interfering in the country’s internal affairs, it looks as if this plan is doomed. Now Brazilians are starting to ask themselves who could be behind the Anonymous mask .

This is a very natural question. How can protests be so well coordinated across the country and indeed around the world in countries that have the common feature of not being not subservient enough to the “world order”? Whoever has a blog knows how hard it is to get oneself noticed online is difficult enough, what could be said about the resources needed to ignite popular and “spontaneous” uprisings using the internet? Not only funding is needed but also powerful brains.

Social media is around to amuse people, to allow them to connect with friends and other leisure activities, it takes a touch of genius to transform such platforms into powerful political instruments, but there is someone out there doing this. Why? What is the agenda? Who is this person? Why should he be anonymous? Is this the answer to the Extremist Muslim on-line Jihad and is there any connection/inspiration?

So many questions, so very few answers. Most Brazilian people have not fallen for the Anonymous ploy, and when such things happen new perspectives and fresh routes open themselves not only for Brazilians but for the world at large. May this shift happen now!!

Brazil’s silent Revolution – Diretas Ja

Rio de Janeiro

In the early eighties the Brazilian economy was beginning to dip into one of the worst economic tragedies the world got to know in the 20’th century. The causes were three: a gigantic internal debt inherited by the construction of Brasilia in the fifties, the retraction of the world economy that had begun in the mid seventies and the ineptness of the military government in dealing with bad times.

To try to divert the attention to these issues and to the lack of democracy, the military resorted to the policy of abertura (opening) which had similarities with the soviet Glasnost, that was happening at the same time. They hoped that the opposition would be appeased by allowing exiles back into the country, by freeing political prisoners, by allowing new parties to appear and by giving more freedom to the press. One of the main channels of this new political openness was a program called “Canal Livre” where popular left-wing journalists gathered to interview all sorts of personalities, including important politicians returning from their exile.

Some interviews were memorable, and even shocking for the amount of freedom that was aired. In one of these programs, the iconic Senator Teotonio Vilela launched the idea of a pacific movement in favor of direct elections for president. This was a long awaited change; since the coup in 1964, the country’s rulers had been chosen by the congress where a large percentage of its members were indicated by the military.

With the ever worsening of the economy, the movement grew like fire on dry straw and was soon embraced by all the opposition forces in the country from illegal trade unions to a large amount of mainstream politicians. From relatively small demonstrations, they grew into gigantic rallies in all major cities of the country with crowds always around the million mark. The speakers ranged from celebrity artists, actors, union leaders and politicians, many of whom would become governors, senators and presidents such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luis Ignacio da Silva, or Lula,

Initially branded as “subversive” by the president, General Joao Baptista Figueiredo, the sheer scale of the protests made their voice impossible to go unnoticed. There was violence and there were people sent to jail but the dynamics of the movement were unstoppable and culminated in the Dante de Oliveira constitutional amendment. Although it only guaranteed free and general elections for president eight years later, it nailed the coffin for the worst period recorded in Brazilian political history, and was the founding stone of modern Brazil.

Read a personal account of this historic moment in Lost Samba.

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Thanks to http://insiderbrazil.wordpress.com/ for pointing to the following video:

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