The electoral victories of Gustavo Petro, Xiomara Castro, Gabriel Boric, Pedro Castillo, the return of MAS to the Bolivian government and Lula to the Brazilian presidency, together with the electoral victories of Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Alberto Fernández inaugurated a new wave of progressive governments in Latin America.
As a result of major popular mobilisations against the violent imposition of an already worn-out neoliberalism in the region, the construction of broad alliances succeeded in reconquering political leadership in several fiefdoms governed for decades by capitalist figures.
Aspirations for self-determination, integration and multilateralism, which had been postponed by the conservative ebb following the wave of popular governments at the turn of the century, were reactivated.
Faced with this reconfiguration of the regional political map, and as on previous occasions, the conservative reaction was not long in coming. A combination of judicial manoeuvres, parliamentary coups, financial strangulation, among other extortive imperialist pressures, harsh media defamation and even assassination attempts, would be launched against the political figures that augured a positive shift in public policies in favour of the majorities.
At the same time, and casting a shadow over the panorama, the forces of the extreme right, after the end of their painful governmental administration in Brazil and their narrow defeat at the polls, have once again regained prominence with the results of the recent election of constitutional councillors in Chile, the support of a significant number of Paraguayans for an ultra-conservative option, and the drumbeat around a feverish and mediatically inflated figure for the upcoming elections in Argentina.
In the face of this reactionary advance, far from falling into futile alarmism or immobilising panic, it is first and foremost necessary to reflect deeply on its background and then take decisive action.
Past, present and future in the collective consciousness
This eruption of violent political posturing has undeniable similarities with previous historical tragedies. The financial crisis produced by the volatility of the speculative economy, the projection of guilt onto minorities – yesterday Jews and gypsies, today migrants -, the rejection of diversity, hate speeches, now amplified in a segmented and massive way by the use of digital channels, high-flown and messianic histrionics and false promises of idyllic mythical pasts, configure a scenario with obvious similarities to features present in European societies in the first half of the 20th century. Elements paved the way for the rise of fascism and the hecatomb of subsequent wars.
On the other hand, the presence of the population is objectively asphyxiating. Misery is increasing, while the tiny wealthy sectors seek refuge in cynicism and anesthesia in the face of the suffering of others, resorting to repression, criminalisation and the expansion of addictions as an infamous response to the legitimate demands of the large groups for dignified living conditions.
At the same time, a certain “political correctness”, imposed by those in power through the system’s media as “red lines” that cannot be crossed, weakens the possibility of these new governments really fulfilling their campaign slogans to the people. Added to this is the intrinsic weakness of the fragile pact of particular interests, the short duration of their mandates, the entrenchment in the different branches of government of officials prone to immobilism, and the legal locks that the system itself institutes to continue without any fundamental change.
In this way, those who were called upon to vote for change feel that they have been cheated by the slow, lukewarm or even treacherous actions of leaders and parliamentarians who do not measure up. Thus arises the much-talked-about “political class”, used ad nauseam by the radical right, which is not only linked to certain evidence of postponement of the real needs of the people but is also reminiscent of and functional to the degradation of the public and political spheres so dear – in its double meaning – to neo-liberal ideology.
The real contradiction is much more profound. In the framework of a system in which money is the true power, master, lord and god of the social organisation and the scale of values of the time, political management is just a piece of the puzzle. At times, serving with courage and good intentions as a protective shield against the unhealthy capitalist attack, and at others, favouring destruction or acts as a decoy to distract the look from the heart of the matter.
Added to this swampy present is the great instability felt by individuals, the product of an acceleration of historical time, causing the disappearance of previously valid existential references, while at the same time fracturing the bonds of brotherhood and closeness, throwing large human contingents into helplessness and loneliness.
Finally, the internal malaise, characteristic of all the no ends of an epoch, is heightened by the feeling of a future with no way out. The images of progressive social improvement, which represented a credible horizon in the periods of industrialism, in which study and hard work were precepts that supported daily effort, are today empty slogans in an evident framework of precariousness, unemployment and uncertainty.
All this explains why, in a context of globalisation forced by corporate desires, but also of growing interconnection of cultures and peoples, the growth of ultra-right and fanatical irrationalism is not a local issue that can be resolved entirely in restricted ambits, but has become a global phenomenon.
What not to do
Faced with this psychosocial panorama, whose expression in the political arena facilitates the emergence of and adherence to grotesque characters – which obviously will not resolve but rather complicate conflicts – it is good to avoid adopting negligent or catastrophist attitudes.
Minimising these phenomena, denying their existence, only allows them to operate. Well-known are the lines from the poem “First They Came”, erroneously attributed to the German playwright Brecht and originally expressed in a sermon by the anti-Nazi Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, who warned of the fatal consequences of indifference.
At the same time, maximising its importance makes the scene gloomy, sowing terror and impotence, while at the same time, giving an inordinate amount of importance to rogue positions, prevents us from seeing those factors that are also present, which encourage and build in an evolutionary direction.
It is absolutely inadvisable to demean the people themselves for their choice, branding them as ignorant, naïve or servile. On the contrary, it is worth recognising the frequent failure of “enlightened minorities” to engage in effective dialogue with the social fringe whose rights and opportunities are most violated, spilling out into fizzes of self-affirmation that vanish when contrasted with popular rejection.
Finally, externalising the causes of the advance of irrationalism in the political sphere with reference to the manoeuvres of imperialism, the manoeuvres of the power groups or the omnipresent propaganda of the hegemonic media at their service, diminishes the comprehensive understanding and, once again, dwarfs the intentionality of the peoples and their capacity to overcome these attacks, although the aforementioned factors certainly constitute part of the problem by way of systemic self-preservation in times of crisis.
What to do
From the above diagnosis, necessarily reduced to the framework of a journalistic analysis, some possibilities for immediate and mediated action emerge.
The general key is the eradication of all forms of violence, be it physical, economic, religious, ethnic, psychological, moral, gender-based, etc. Violence which, in its objective and subjective naturalisation, gives shelter to reactionary attitudes.
Nonviolence, as an overcoming stage of the human species, in permanent change and evolution, must become the new paradigm of social organisation, interpersonal relations and individual and collective attitudes.
From this horizon, it will be possible to build transforming utopias in all spheres and spaces. Thus, political change will tend to include direct popular participation as the only guarantee of a new type of democracy, promoting self-management and co-management, thus shortening the distances between the most general public affairs and the everyday life of the population.
For this to be effective, it will be necessary to decentralise power towards the social base, towards the community itself, but also, at the same time, to disarm the concentration in a few hands, interfering in speculative and corporate mechanisms, strengthening the cooperative economic system, supporting community media, providing people with universal basic sustenance, adhering to ongoing alternative experiences such as fair trade, agro-ecology or free technologies, among many others.
But above all, it is necessary to detach the ideal of happiness from irrational materialistic consumption, which not only causes suffering in the imagination due to its insatiability but also makes us competitors rather than allies in the cause of the common good.
Logically, this will not be possible without a simultaneous change in its interior, a transformation that, like the indispensable social changes, requires dedication and applied resources. In this sense, the creation of official programmes in community co-management that provide space for each person and collective to deactivate internal violence in their own consciousness and conduct should be a priority.
In terms of immediate action, we need to rebuild the social fabric, encouraging family members, colleagues, neighbours, and strangers to rebel against the walls that seek to separate us. Welcoming others with open arms, offering them protection and calm in the face of anxiety, rising above lacerating individualism, helping to increasingly integrate differences and discrepancies, going beyond what divides, and valuing what unites us, is imperative today.
To achieve this warm treatment and nourish hope in this time of structural agonies, the way is to begin to feel what is truly human in each and every one of us, not simply our object or animal presence, but the intention that characterises it and the aspiration for growth and liberation that lives in this great being.
Javier Tolcachier is a researcher from the World Centre of Humanist Studies, an organism of the Humanist Movement. Mail: [email protected] Twitter: @jtolcachier