To win the battle against the far right, the left must understand that
it faces a fragmented enemy, which is quite different from unitary historical fascism. Español
left must kick-start a response substituting insecurity for collective action
On October 12,
2014, a group of artists convened in São Paulo to support Dilma Rousseff, the presidential candidate for the Workers' Party (PT). Artists like Otto, Karina Buhr and
Lucas Santana expressed their critical support for Dilma in an event called
Thirteen Shades of Red. Aécio Neves, the conservative Brazilian Social
Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate, was leading the polls.
The polarization of
the campaign had been building up. The candidates were now adopting a visceral
tone. You could sense the hate. Fear was being invoked. Both sides were betting
on binary thinking.
currents within the PT were trying to update the party's narrative with
initiatives such as Podemos Mais, to try connect with the massive protests of June 2013. But Dilma Rousseff’s official campaign was a steamroller
compressing the new narratives and practices which had emerged since 2013.
Thirteen Shades of Red event was a breath of fresh air in the midst of the electoral
quagmire. It sent a message to supporters of the PT's unitary slogans and traditional
symbols. Red of course, but thirteen shades of it.
The man behind the
concerts’ lights and aesthetics was activist Paulinho Fluxus. Paulinho, who
does not hide his leftist leanings, had been going around São Paulo for years
dressed in pink, pushing a supermarket cart filled with plastic cannons. Pink
was his new red. "That colour of fragility can become mighty. A supermarket
trolley can stand up to fifty shock troopers and come out winning in the final
picture", he claimed in 2013 in Folha
de São Paulo.
During the June
days, Paulinho Fluxus and a group of activists fired a laser from a skyscraper
right onto a Rede Globo’s newscaster face in São Paulo. His "aesthetic
shots", which forced the presenter to mention the demonstration that was
going on at that moment close to the TV station, served as a metaphor for the
polyphonic, fragmented and decentralized revolts in which all unitary messages were discarded. Both the right and the left tried to appropriate, unsuccessfully,
the June days.
presidential campaign in 2014 tried to wipe out the heterodox character of
those protests. Forcing polarization against its traditional enemy, the PT's
aim was to control the game board.
Whipping up fear of the right brought critics from the left back to the fold and Dilma won the elections. But the PT's strategy had unexpected consequences: an extreme anti-PT feeling which eventually crystallized in the form of a false outsider, Jair Bolsonaro.
Whipping up fear of the right brought
critics from the left back to the fold and Dilma won the elections. But the PT's strategy had unexpected consequences: an extreme anti-PT feeling which
eventually crystallized in the form of a false outsider, Jair Bolsonaro. On the other side
of polarization, a monster was born.
A new, different monster with a thousand
heads. A hyper-fragmenting monster that would end up winning the battle by
eschewing face to face combat.
In 2015, the
demonstrators at the marches against Dilma defended, paradoxically, progressive
guidelines and rejected the presence of politicians. These protests created an
atmosphere for the June 2013 fragmentation which the PT disregarded.
The protests had
not yet tilted to the far right. In 2016, Lula himself buried the
possibility of understanding the segmented messages of the June days. On March
18, 2016 he gave a speech on Paulista Avenue in São Paulo which gave a
finishing touch to the "them or us" frame of mind:
clothes" in Miami, he said, and we "by buy them at 25 de março"
(a popular São Paulo street market). Left or right, red or blue, good and bad.
He did not suspect
that his definition of a closed "us" was in fact feeding a vigorous,
inclusive and diverse "them". The "we" was wearing only
red. The Brazilian flags waved by “them” at demonstrations were already 1001
shades of green-and-yellow and the demonstrators chanted 1001 cries of outrage.
A few months ago,
Jair Bolsonaro's campaign was just a slogan: "Brazil above everything, and God
above us all". Nationalism and religious morality. Family as a space for
action. Fear lurking in the background.
aggressive attacks against the left were the fuel. The simplicity of the
campaign favoured appropriation. The people themselves created the messages, the memes, the videos. Everything was
worthy, everything fitted.
Aesthetics, fonts, claims of all sorts. Civil
society's techno-political self-organization which had characterized the 2011
cycle of the occupied squares happened to be, in the Brazilian case, on
campaign of the PT was built on unitary messages of inclusion, justice and
equality, Bolsonaro offered different, segmented speeches to address
different audiences. And people broke the messages up and circulated them.
Here lies a major
lesson for the left. Progressive intellectuals make manifestos; the far right
encourages people to make videos and come up with memes for family WhatsApp
groups. The left speaks about high ideals; Bolsonaro, Trump or Salvini deliver
explosive speeches full of emotion, pride or violence.
Indeed, they make
use of fake news. But the political lesson to extract here is not that they lie, but
that disinformation fits perfectly with people’s real discomfort, wishes and
facts are affective facts, bits of information evoking a feeling that is
preferable than the truth underlined by facts", writes Peter Zuurbier in a recent article,
an academic who does research on affective theory.
The paradox is
that the far right candidates appeal to order while sowing chaos. They present
themselves as saviors after using a military strategy called psycho ops, which has been introduced in
election campaigns by the SCL Group, the mother company of Cambrigde Analytica,
accused of encouraging Brexit and helping Donald Trump get elected.
If the new left
abandons its anti-establishment tone, the far right will fill in the vacant
space strategically. If it were to talk only about order, it would lose its
voter base. The great challenge for the left is to be able to present itself as
an orderly solution to chaos while maintaining an anti-establishment tone.
On the other hand,
not only does the Fascist label not fit with the hyper-fragmented reality of
the 21st century, but it is almost harmless. Evoking anti-fascism awakens
popular resistance for the most politicized sectors of the population,
especially in Europe. But it seems inadequate to face the far right’s
The maximalist discourse against fascism is not efficient against the millions who vote for the far right and do not consider themselves fascists.
discourse against fascism is not efficient against the millions who vote for
the far right and do not consider themselves fascists. As long as anti-Fascism
remains a discourse and not a practice, a set of slogans and not neighborhood
community action, the far right will keep on growing by presenting itself as a
solution to people's concrete problems and fears.
In his campaign speeches, Jair
Bolsonaro mentioned constantly the "simple citizens". He also alluded to the cultures that are ill-considered (such as sertaneja or caipira
music) and to forgotten regions (like the Midwest and the Amazon).
Bolsonaro won a
landslide victory in these regions, forgotten and stigmatized by the
progressive cultural elite. The brega Brazil
(a term used for anything considered tasteless or tacky) raised its voice and
voted. Brazilian journalist Leando Demori points out that Bolsonaro has brought
into the fold the "less literate" people, the people who according to
the left do not "have the level of education required to know what a transgender person
is", or do not understand the priority of bike lanes.
constituency is class C (lower middle
class), just as Trump's or Le Pen's are the working class sectors confused and
disoriented by globalization and ignored by cultural elites.
The moral superiority of the left, which stigmatizes "right-wing workers", the unfortunate cultural decisions of the favela dwellers or the inhabitants of the Empty Spain described by Sergio del Molino, widens the gap.
superiority of the left, which stigmatizes "right-wing workers", the unfortunate cultural decisions of the favela dwellers or the inhabitants of the Empty
Spain described by Sergio del Molino, widens the gap.
who got elected member of the Brazilian Federal Congress for the Socialism and
Liberty Party (PSOL) in Rio de Janeiro, is categorical: "the left must go
back to the territories, not to carry any truth, but to listen". The assertion
applies equally to all of the world's metropolitan areas and rural regions.
in the most violent territories is related to the rise of the Evangelist
churches. While progressive organizations were losing space in the favelas and
in inland Brazil, the Evangelical churches were building a real mutual support
and solidarity community network.
Even though some
progressive Evangelical currents - such as the Integrated Mission Theology - do
exist, the left has stigmatized the Evangelical world, and this has resulted in
practice in an Evangelical-run monopoly of social action in many peripheries.
The left, if it wants to dispute disenchantment in the peripheries, must go
back to the territories.
building spaces to live in, facilitating self-organization without co-optation.
The left in Spain has to also tolerate the tastes of the popular classes,
however "unfortunate" it may consider them to be. Otherwise, Hurricane VOX
will grow and grow.
The Homo Velanime
collective is right in urging the "in-lawing"
of political language, by which they mean that it is crucial to dispute the
political field of the family. A progressive family discourse, especially in
Latin America and Southern Europe, may be more useful to dispel fears of the
future than the great values of the left.
After the shock at
the first round of the elections, the PT's campaign changed radically. The
green-and-yellow flag replaced the red one. It was a delayed reaction to
Bolsonarism, which had taken control of the Brazilian flag.
Since the June
2013 revolts, the left had distanced itself from the patriotic symbols. From
2015 onwards, the green-and-yellow tide tide grew, and the flag and the
Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) T-shirts became its icons.
the flag, in a nationalist country where even candomblé terreiros have their own flags and national football team is a
religion, was the PT's catastrophic mistake.
Abandoning the flag, in a nationalist country where even candomblé terreiros have their own flags and national football team is a religion, was the PT's catastrophic mistake.
The right is
taking advantage of identity patterns, especially of nationalism. Its
economic nationalism, however, is a falsely inclusive,
cheater patriotism. Disputing national symbols, resignifying them, weaving
alliances with citizens in other countries, is one of the most complex tasks
facing the left.
To avoid falling
into simplistic nationalist populism, the strategy should combine popular and
citizen narratives. Popular and red tinted narratives (even anti-fascist ones) for the
already politicized. Multiple citizen narratives for a new mass of people who
prefer specific campaigns to constant activism. Hyper-segmented discourses to
win over each of the publics of neo-fascism's highly fragmented Leviathan.
At the same time, the new left in
government must implement forceful public policies aimed at the new excluded
sectors of the population (especially the impoverished middle classes), without
losing its anti-establishment tone regarding the elites.
And it must build
digital and face-to-face platforms and devices to channel people's
discomforts and to give a voice to all cultural manifestations, including the unfortunate ones.
The left must kick-start a response substituting insecurity for
collective action and hope. And it
must bring forth a range of wishes larger than fear.
This article was previously published
by eldiario.es. Read the original here.