Let us summarize the red thread connecting various recent occurrences in Argentina and Brazil, occurrences that are only disconnected on the media surface. We are immersed in a significant process of change in the correlation of political forces pushing to reform the architecture of the State and the accumulation of wealth, a State that has become an institutional residuum, broadening its repressive role and reducing hard-fought rights with a view to opening the way for the old oligarchies and brute force of the market, against a background of permanent promises of economic growth. Aside from rhetorical tricks, almost all the governmental measures implemented in Argentina and Brazil are aligned with this transforming future and generate a growing climate of violence and instability.
As in the Brazilian case, it is striking how, aside from its contradictions and the electoral antibodies gradually becoming consolidated, this project works to install long-lasting change with a view to guaranteeing a new asymmetry of power favourable to the concentrated sectors: demonization of popular figures and the counter culture, unilateralism of the executive power (rule by decree), discretional power of the institutions and complicity with monopoly interests, media and judicial conditioning, mass capital flight and excessive debt. These initiatives of a liberal-authoritarian nature, strongly discredited two decades ago after such politics yielded such scarce results, have been reactivated in part to take advantage of the late spread of the 2007-2008 crisis, the wave of disturbance that polarized many structures in the central countries and to a lesser degree in the Latin American economies from 2013. This was something that much of the left was unable to anticipate seriously, save some honourable exceptions.
The main aim of this context is undoubtedly to stop these advances as soon as possible and prevent the worst from happening. In fact, this same aim is present in many local and international political spaces. However, as figures like Tardo Genro of the Brazilian Workers Party recalled on the eve of the last municipal elections in October 2016, this immediate priority, in pointing the agenda at the opposition and an immediate electioneering, became the limit to then develop another group of political actions that are also highly necessary, including the need to create a strategic rethinking that can come up with an imaginary to mobilize voters in the times to come. The desirability of this imaginary is a fundamental issue that the last presidential elections in Argentina showed (because of the lack of one.) Although the new electoral attraction is gradually crystallizing around Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva due to the mediocre performance of conservative governments, the question of the project remains central and pending.
What kind of democracy? How? For what? These questions, in practice, are whispered among many political groups. Fernández de Kirchner asked them again in her own way on her return from her recent European tour. It would be risky to delay them as the only imperative to stop the austerity or repair the legacy of the mandates of Temer or Macri, obviously no minor issue and one from which it will take a long time to recover. In terms of popular answers, the social movement is taking up the gauntlet with the construction of the Frente Ciudadano in Argentina and the Frente Brasil Popular across the border, synthesizing perhaps the degree of togetherness that can be attained today in a context of political crisis (not only of institutional or electoral rupture.) The political spaces are not yet with their backs to the wall, there is little self-criticism. Therefore difficulties appear in designing the bases of a new stage incorporating the lessons of the past.
These crises are particularly profound. The bid in Brazil to recover a representative democracy that has been transformed into a a kind of federation of sectoral economic interests projects us towards a political transformation of various decades, almost comparable to the one that opened up thirty years ago. In short, the challenge for the future is perhaps proportional to the size of the real power on which the weak institutionality of our liberal democracies rest. As we know, there were a great many advances with notable organizational results in the last decade. But laws aren’t enough. The brutality of neo-authoritarian regimes in Brasilia and Buenos Aires show that it has not been possible to implement these advances irreversibly in the best periods of democracy and within the current constitutional and economic model. Because this model is oligarchic, dependent, concentration-based, extractivist and unequal, it has structural anchors that allow it to continue to contaminate the whole political terrain according to the political situation and remain in the long term. It is clear that there is no end to the progressive cycle in so much questioning of this conservative model. But we can at least say that there is a certain exhaustion of the emancipating horizons in the context of the pattern of hyperconcentration of wealth and global insertion that the world offers us today.
Today, on a shaky planet, in many (re-)emerging countries there is a passionate spirit of dignity growing, a sense of return, for better or sometimes for worse. There is also a growing and dangerous disillusionment with democracy. Low-intensity democratic governments generate scepticism and fear. Faced with this, a new ideological flexibility is necessary to go beyond the left-right dichotomy. While agents of the restoration are recycling orthodox recipes, conceptual boundaries are opening up for (re-)thinking alternatives—this is not so much the case now in political or identity terms. This is why it is essential to know the enemy better and consolidate what Alvaro García Linera in Bolivia calls a “fossilized” post-democratic imaginary. There are many tools and social subjects: post-developmentalist monetary and financial sovereignty; a leading regulatory role for central banks (Peronism has historically pioneered this;) democratic socialism and forms of participative, direct democracy; reconnection with trade union movements, society movements and feminism; a new equation between social and environmental justice, etc. Who says history has come to an end?