Not Just Another Recession
Why the Global Economy May Never Be the Same
Brazilians are now widely conscious that their country is on the march toward transformations in its economic and social structure. They want to understand what is happening so that they can take intelligent positions on the issues involved. Those who must make decisions of major importance therefore owe it to the public to define their aims clearly and disclose the methods to be used in achieving them. What follows is an attempt to satisfy this requirement.
The first question often raised concerns the disproportionate social costs of the notable economic development that has been taking place in Brazil over the past several years. Economic analysis deals exclusively with the cold description of reality. We know that this development of which we are so proud has brought about no change at all in the living conditions of three-fourths of the country's population. Its main feature has been a growing concentration of income, both socially and geographically. The large mass of people who toil in the fields and constitute the majority of the Brazilian population have reaped no benefit. Worse than that, the masses have witnessed a relative decline in their standard of living as compared to those engaged in commerce and other services. As for the industrial workers, who represent a sort of middle class in the Brazilian social framework, they have grown both in absolute and relative terms, without having improved their standard of living to any large extent. They, too, have suffered a relative worsening of their economic position as compared to higher income groups employed in urban services.
It is not only in the concentration of income that economic development has produced social results of an extremely negative character. Because of the anachronistic structure of Brazilian agriculture, it has led in many regions to a relative increase in the rent from land, thus rewarding parasitic groups. Similarly, in the absence of a conscious policy designed to further the social purposes of state action, a variety of subsidies have been improvised, which-in the name of development-have very often put a premium on investments which either were superfluous or fostered a still greater concentration of income in the hands of privileged groups. Through capital contributions, such as subsidized exchange and credit, large amounts of social wealth have been transferred to a few hands.
In political and administrative fields the distortions are still more glaring. The expansion and diversification of state functions-both as cause and effect of the development-have not been followed up by the necessary basic reforms within the state structure, and as a result waste in public administration has enormously increased. This, combined with the state's increased role in the field of investments, has created ideal conditions for the illicit acquisition of capital at the people's expense. Big contracts for public works have become the current source for amassing fortunes both within and without the government.
The resulting popular indignation, especially among the young, is easily understood. People see their supposed representatives being elected through the influence of contract-mongers for public works; they see an alliance between operators of the feudal machine and those who make budgetary appropriations resulting in the election to Congress of legislators who know they will survive politically only if they remain docile stooges in the hands of their financial patrons.
Some might object that things were much worse before; elections then were a mere formality, since an oligarchy decided for itself what would be called the will of the people. But the objection is no longer valid. If we know where the failings of the system lie-and we do-then we are able to change them; if we do not try to do so, we will be conniving with them.
There is also the other side-the positive gains of development. It has provided the country with the instruments to make decisions, given it the ability to exercise choice and, by making the people conscious of their destiny, has made them responsible for their own failings. The root cause of the present state of uneasiness in Brazil is this simple truth: we know where the errors of our development lie, and we know that it is within our power to eradicate or minimize them.
The second point which I would like to elaborate is the need for a philosophy to guide our action. Many people both in Brazil and abroad have asked me why Marxism has permeated Brazilian youth so deeply. The reason is simple: Marxism, in any of its varieties, affords a diagnosis of the social reality and a guide to action. We must approach this subject with absolute frankness if we are to maintain an effective dialogue with the idealistic and active youth of our time. What does their Marxism consist of?
It may be summed up by describing a few of their attitudes. They maintain: (1) that the present social order is based to a great extent on the exploitation of man by man, which favors the well-being of a class sheltering many a parasite and idler and leaves the great majority in poverty; (2) that the social reality is historical and thus in permanent change; therefore the present order must be superseded by another; and (3) that it is possible to identify the strategic factors which affect the social process; this in turn opens the way to a conscious policy of social reconstruction.
If we go deep into the core of this philosophy, we shall find on the one hand the wish to liberate man from all chains that socially enslave him, allowing him to fulfill his potentialities; and on the other hand an optimistic attitude concerning the capacity of human communities for self- determination. In the last analysis, what we find is a higher stage of humanism, for while it places man in the center of its concerns, it recognizes that full individual development can be attained only through a rational guidance of social relations.
Whatever name we choose to give this conception, it is impossible to object to it openly, for it is inspired by the most profound longings of modern man. It has its roots in the humanism of the Renaissance, which taught man that he could affect his own destiny; and its inherent optimism emanates from the Industrial Revolution, which gave man the power to affect his own environment.
In our dialogue with the new generation we must reach agreement as to what is really fundamental. We should relegate to the background all things that are merely instrumental or subordinate to the ends pursued. For example, it would not be possible to ascribe more than an instrumental character to the private ownership of means of production-in short, to private enterprise. We are all agreed that private enterprise is merely a decentralized form of organizing production which must be ruled by social criteria. Whenever there is a conflict between the social aims of production and its organization as a private concern, measures have to be taken to preserve the social interest. On the other hand, as a greater abundance in the supply of goods is reached, that is to say, in the higher stages of development, the actual organization of production becomes less important while the control of political power increases in importance. It is the latter, finally, that dictates the patterns of distribution and utilization of social income, in the form of either public or private consumption.
We may well ask, therefore, what are the fundamental aims on which we can unite? Should these aims be considered as ends in themselves and related to our own conception of life? It is of the highest importance, I believe, that we define these objectives clearly. Otherwise we shall not distinguish means from ends and will risk treating what others consider merely means as though they were ends. We have the right to take a stand as to the ultimate ends we are trying to attain without reference to the issue of Russian or American preëminence on the world stage. To subordinate the future of our culture to the tactical conveniences of either of the two great centers of military power would mean to give up the struggle before it is joined. We must consider the Russian-American stalemate as a given fact of the present day. By doing this we admit that it is not in our power to change the balance of forces to any significant degree. Our very helplessness regarding the world conflict gives us a wider margin of liberty to establish our own aims. And, as often happens, greater freedom gives rise to greater awareness of responsibility.
It is against this background that we must establish irrevocable aims of political action. I believe that they can be described as humanism and optimism concerning the material development of society. Or, to use more current terms, liberty and economic development.
I have used the word humanism because liberty can also be understood in terms of nineteenth-century individualism, which often saw the individual as opposed to society. There is not the slightest doubt that aspirations of our present-day youth center about authentic humanism. What makes them angry is the inhuman aspect of our development-the growing contrast between wasteful wealth and abject poverty. They see peasants living in the country but unable to grow enough food and suffering hunger almost every day of the year. They see state capitals where 10 percent of the population are listed in hospital registries as suffering from tuberculosis. And we know that all this can be remedied, indeed has already disappeared from a large portion of the world. We can see then that what worries youth is man and his degradation, and the consciousness that we are also responsible for it.
Once we have defined our aims, the question is how to pull ourselves together to achieve them. How can we prevent the struggle for intermediate or secondary objectives from making us forget our authentic ends? It is an extremely difficult problem, especially as the historical experience of recent decades has suggested that the underdeveloped countries must make a choice between individual liberty and rapid material development. This false dilemma is posed both by the champions of liberty and by the promoters of mass welfare.
It is now clear that the rapid material development of the Soviet Union, until recently an underdeveloped country, was achieved partly by the use of inhuman methods. The requisitioning of agricultural surpluses in order to finance industrial development was accomplished by the use of armed force, through compulsory collectivization and the violent suppression of all resistance. In order to justify these drastic methods, the "theory" was put forward that the peasant was fundamentally an individualist and that the only way to overcome such "individualism" was by enforced collectivization. This is the theory of salvation through punishment. To achieve administrative efficiency an enormous price was paid in human lives. But even if we put aside the painful Soviet experience, account must be taken of the evidence that the rapid economic development of the Communist countries has been achieved under forms of socio-political organization in which individual liberty was restricted beyond the limits which we would consider tolerable.
It must be recognized, however, that the masses in the underdeveloped countries have not generally put the same high valuation on individual liberty that we do. Since they have not had access to the better things of life, they obviously cannot grasp the full meaning of the supposed dilemma between liberty and quick development. Also, if we were to assert that rapid economic development of socialist countries was achieved only at the price of restricting civil liberties, we must then accept the corollary that the liberty enjoyed by the minority in our society is paid for by a delay in general economic development, hence is at the expense of the welfare of the great majority.
Even less effective with the peasant is the argument that the development of the socialist countries is being obtained at an enormous human cost, including forms of semi-slave labor. The fact is that the underdeveloped peoples are quite prepared to pay a price, even a very heavy one, for their development. They know by hard experience the extremely high price they pay for remaining underdeveloped. How many millions of lives are sacrificed every year in a country like Brazil by underdevelopment? How many millions of lives are lost through hunger and physical exhaustion? How many millions of human beings live without access to primary education, or any opportunity of sharing in secondary and higher education? Very few of us have sufficient awareness of these deeply inhuman characteristics of underdevelopment. When we do become fully aware, we understand why the masses are prepared for any sacrifice in order to overcome it. If the price of liberty for the few had to be the poverty of the many, we can be quite certain that the probability of preserving freedom would be practically nil.
Insistence on false alternatives nevertheless goes on, elaborated in different forms by opposing champions. The self-appointed defenders of liberty argue that the structural changes in the social order necessary for the rapid acceleration of economic development have always been associated with the suppression of fundamental human liberties. Those who take the opposite side argue from the historical fact that the only effective method for introducing the social changes necessary for rapid development has been a revolution of the Marxist-Leninist type, which by its own nature requires the setting up of a rigid dictatorship. So both sides acknowledge that social change is the effective instrument for accelerating material development in underdeveloped countries.
The discussion of this very important point has been bedevilled by a great confusion of ideas, either unconscious or deliberate. We should not forget that the method of Marxism-Leninism was created and perfected in the struggle for the overthrow of an entirely rigid socio-political structure- that of tsarism. The historical experience of the last decades has shown that such a revolutionary technique applied against other rigid structures- Nationalist China, Japanese-occupied China and Batista's Cuba are obvious examples-can be highly effective where accompanied by a Spartan discipline in the rank and file and the daring of an Alexander in the leadership.
The same does not apply, however, to "open" societies. The example of Western Europe seems conclusive: Huge party machines guided by Marxism- Leninism found themselves bewildered by an ever changing socio-political reality. This was because Marxism-Leninism sees in the state-which it defines as "a special repressive force"-the dictatorship of a class, the bourgeoisie. From the moment the state ceases to be the mere dictatorship of a class to become a composite system, though under the aegis of a certain class, the unity of revolutionary action is weakened by an inability any longer to define the party's aims. The need to discriminate between good and bad policies of the state requires a capacity for adaptation that a monolithic revolutionary party cannot have.
We cannot, then, ignore the historical fact that the Marxist-Leninist techniques have been proved ineffective in dealing with open societies. Nor can we escape the following conclusions: (1) that dictatorships were not created by the acceleration of development but preceded it; (2) that the acceleration took place only in structures which were previously rigid (dictatorships); and (3) that the techniques which have so far been used for the rapid transformation of social structures have been effective only in rigid societies (dictatorships).
So the fundamental problem we face is to develop techniques which will make rapid social transformations possible, while retaining the pattern of an open society.
Before turning to specifically Brazilian questions, I will indulge in one more observation on revolutionary methods: Since Marxism-Leninism is based on the substitution of the dictatorship of one class for that of another class, it would be politically retrogressive to apply it to societies which have attained more complex social forms-that is, modern open societies. It would mean, in the last resort, a sacrifice of the very objectives previously described as essential. While it is true that economic development means a fuller life for man, it is no less true that the pattern of social and political organization is the warp that sustains the woof of a fuller and richer life. Although it is probable that in the future material abundance will coexist with forms of socio-political organization which permit the full realization of authentic human values, that does not necessarily occur at the present historical stage. To have attained higher forms of social and political organization is at least as great an achievement as that of high standards of material development.
Historical experience has demonstrated that whenever a revolution of the Marxist-Leninist type has been imposed on a complex social structure-as in the case of certain European countries-socialism as a form of humanism becomes perverted. As there is no possibility of converting an open society into a dictatorship without creating a climate of frustration, there is a deterioration of social values. Since the dictatorial régime does not permit the individual to play his proper part in society, a series of social myths is put forward in order to replace genuine human values. Thus, material development can take place at the same time that the dictatorship is consolidating itself upon principles which are the antithesis of humanistic revolutionary ideals.
Let us now face up to the Brazilian problem. The fact is that our society is an "open" one to the industrial workers, but not to the peasants. It is therefore not hard to explain why the peasant is much more susceptible to revolutionary techniques of the Marxist-Leninist type than is the industrial working class, although from the orthodox Marxist point of view the latter should be the vanguard of the revolutionary movement. But our political system allows the urban workers to organize themselves in order to press their claims, within the rules of the democratic game, whereas the situation of the peasants is altogether different. Since they have no rights, they cannot have legal claims. If they organize themselves, the inference is that they do so for subversive purposes. The necessary conclusion we must draw is that Brazilian society is rigid at least in that large sector composed of agricultural laborers. As regards this sector, we have to accept the fact that the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary techniques are effective.
We come now to a conclusion of great importance in Brazil. To the extent that we live in an open society, the attainment of higher social aims tends to assume the form of gradualism. To the extent that we live in a rigid society, those objectives will tend to be attained by cataclysmic disruption. Thus there is a duality within the Brazilian revolutionary process.
What is the likelihood of an effective Brazilian revolution through Marxist- Leninist methods? I believe there are two ways in which this might occur. As suggested above, the first one is connected with the land problem. We must not forget that over half of the Brazilian population gets its living from the land. If this sector maintains its present rigidity, every peasant movement will tend rapidly to adopt revolutionary techniques of the Marxist- Leninist type. Thus we have an important segment of the population with a Marxist-Leninist bias which, given certain conditions, might be able to take the lead in the Brazilian revolutionary process. The practical results would be the predominance of the least developed sector of our society. The real objectives of our development, as previously defined in terms of humanism, would thus be partially frustrated at the very start.
The second way in which a revolution of the Marxist-Leninist type might be carried out would be as a result of social and political retrogression. We have observed that a revolution of this type is hardly likely in an open society, unless it is imposed from without, as happened in some countries of Central Europe. Nevertheless, the possibility of "putting the clock back" must not be excluded. The imposition of a right-wing dictatorship, making the whole political structure rigid, would create favorable conditions for an effective revolution of the Marxist-Leninist type. But even in this case, the agrarian sector would be likely to predominate. In the absence of conditions resulting from political retrogression, the only possibility of a Marxist-Leninist revolution lies in the persistence of an archaic agrarian structure.
In order to achieve a high rate of economic development, in accordance with truly social criteria, we shall have to bring about some important changes in our basic structures. Because we have not been prepared for such changes, anxiety has grown from day to day. We have come to live in what may properly be termed a pre-revolutionary period, in which drastic change is a political necessity. Thus techniques of social transformation and revolutionary methods are in the forefront of present-day political concern. If we are to avoid dictatorial régimes, whether of a social class or ideological group or rigid party machine, we must: (a) prevent all forms of retrogression in our social and political systems; and (b) create conditions for fast and effective change in the country's archaic agrarian structure.
These general directives must be elaborated into specific lines of action. Political retrogression will not come haphazardly, but as a reflection of panic among some privileged groups confronted with growing social pressure. Where structures are rigid, preventing gradual adaptations, these pressures may create cataclysmic situations, leading to emergency solutions or preventive coups. Thus, the first task is to give more flexibility to the existing structures. We have to tread boldly the path of constitutional change which will permit agrarian reform and a radical change of government administration of the fiscal system and the banking structure. We have to subordinate state action to a clear definition of the aims of economic and social development. The Congress has the right to draw up directives, but local politicians must be deprived of the power to allocate public moneys. We have to give the government effective means to punish those who embezzle public funds, to control extravagant consumption and to dignify the function of civil servants. We must have legal statutes to subordinate the action of foreign capital to the aims of economic development and to the requirements of political independence. The recent law affecting the remittance of profits constitutes a clear indication that, even in a legislature where conservative views prevail, there is an awareness of a need for such discipline. Passed at a moment of serious political tension, the law contains ambiguities and, therefore, ought to be improved. It is taken for granted that the coöperation of foreign capital is indispensable for the development of any underdeveloped country; but in the absence of regulation, conflicts of economic interest may become conflicts of a political nature, harmful to international coöperation. Also, the government must have thorough knowledge of the sources of all investment in means of mass communications. And above all we must have a plan for economic and social development compatible with our own possibilities and in conformity with the aspirations of the people.
What must we do to translate into action all these objectives? I believe that the most immediate task is to organize public opinion so that it can express itself. It is up to the students, workers, entrepreneurs, intellectuals and perhaps even the peasants, through their incipient organizations, to start a frank debate about what they expect from their government. The more complex problems must be given systematic study by groups of specialists, and their conclusions must be publicly debated. Brazil is mature enough to start thinking about its own destiny. From general debates and from expressions of public opinion must emerge programs that will serve as a basis for the renewal of popular representation.