Fifth Letter to the Lefts: Boaventura de Sousa Santos

Translated from Rebelión. This is the fifth such letter. You can read translations of the previous four here: 1, 2, 3, 4

Fifth Letter To The Lefts

Why is it that the current crisis of capitalism strengthens those who have caused it? Why are the reasons for the “solution” to the crisis based on the predictions that they make and not the consequences, which they nearly always deny? Why is it so easy for the State to replace welfare for citizens with welfare for banks? Why is it that the vast majority of citizens view their own impoverishment, and the scandalous enrichment of a few, as something necessary and inevitable so as to prevent the situation from getting worse? Why is the stability of the financial markets only possible at the cost of the instability of life for the majority of the population? Why is it that capitalists, in general, are decent people as individuals, but capitalism, as a whole, is amoral? Why is economic growth nowadays the cure for all ills in the economy and in society without it being asked whether the social and environmental costs are sustainable or not? Why was Malcolm X right when he warned: “If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing”? Why do left-wing criticisms of neoliberalism enter the news with the same speed and irrelevance with which they leave it? Why are alternatives so scarce when they become more necessary?

These questions ought to form part of the agenda for political reflection for the lefts, or before long they will be consigned to the museum of bygone joys. This would not matter if it did not mean, as it does mean, the end of future happiness for the popular classes. The reflection ought to start off here: neoliberalism is, above all, a culture of fear, of suffering and of death for the great majority: it is not possible to combat it effectively without opposing it with a culture of hope, happiness and life. The difficulty that the lefts have in order to become the bearers of this other culture arises from having fallen for a long time into the trap that the right hve always used to hold on to power: to pare reality down to what exists, however unjust and cruel it might be, so that the hope of the majority should seem unrealistic. Fear in the waiting kills off hope in happiness. Against this trap it is necessary to start off from the idea that reality is the sum of what exists and of everything that within it is emerging as a possibility and as a struggle for its realisation. If they are unable to detect what is emerging, the lefts can succumb or end up in the museum, which in practical effect is the same.

This is the new point of departure for the lefts, the new common basis that will afterwards allow them to diverge fraternally on the responses that they give to the formulated questions. Once the reality upon which one has to act politically has been widened, the approaches of the left must prove credible to the vast majority, as proof that it is possible to struggle against the supposed inevitability of fear, suffering and death in the name of the right to hope, happiness and life. This struggle must be guided by three key principles: to democratise, to de-marketise and decolonise.

Democratising democracy: because the current version has been taken hostage by antidemocratic forces. It has to be made plain that a decision taken democratically cannot be annulled the following day by a ratings agency or by a fall in the stock markets (as could happen soon in France).

Demarketising means showing that we use, we produce and we exchange commodities, but we are not commodities nor do we allow relations with others and with nature to be conducted as if they were one more commodity. Before we are entrepreneurs or consumers we are citizens and therefore we must sign up to the imperative that not everything can be bought or is for sale, that there are public goods and common goods such as water, health and education.

Decolonising means eradicating from social relations any authorisation for dominating others under the pretext that they are inferior: whether because they are women, because they have a different colour of skin, or because they profess a ‘strange’ religion.

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