Sa(l)vaging The Capitalist Brand: Memo from the Red Team

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Support for democracy in Latin America, 1995-2007. “Democracy is the best form of government “(54%); “In some circumstances, a nondemocratic government might be preferable” (17%); “Authoritarian or democratic, it makes no difference to us” (20%); “No response/Don’t know” (4%). Source: Latinobarómetro. Does not add up to 100%.

Capitalism is the future of Latin America, but not just any form of capitalism. A capitalism with a terroristic, guerrilla warfare mentality does not build prosperity, although it may be good business for some. This type of capitalist culture delegitimizes free enterprise in the eyes of society.–Fernando Javier Ruiz, Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de America Latina

Agência Carta Maior (Brazil) reviews a recent local appearance by the Hungarian Marxist philosopher István Mészáros.

I often get accused by extreme right-wingnuts of being a “cryptomarxist pseudojournalist,” but I really do not think that is quite the case. These sort of people, of course, tend to think that even if one honestly has the intentions one says one has, one’s cryptomarxism can still be explained by Manchurian Candidate-style brainwashing and exposure to insidious cryptoprogranda such as that college course in which you read Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (and Nozick as well, of course):

When I read the local Communist newspaper, Vermelho, on the grotesque Daslu affair, for example, I stop well short of the drastic conclusions the paper wants me to reach: “And thus we see the inherent corruption of the capitalist order!”

But that the affair was grotesque and revealing about the local poster-children for the capitalist brand, I find this hard to deny.

I like to see myself as a red-team public relations specialist for the capitalist brand.

In wargaming, the opposing force in a simulated military conflict is known as the Red Team, and is used to reveal weaknesses in current military readiness. The approach and the value is depicted in the movie The Dirty Dozen, where a small team of Red Team infiltrators is able to capture the generals in the Blue Team command post.

Setting aside the magical thinking promoted by followers of Ayn Rand — the cult of The Market and its weirdly literal-minded dogmatization of the heuristic notion of the “invisible hand” — my life experience has tended to make me think that small-m markets, organized and run properly, in many, many, many cases prove to be really, really useful and effective mechanisms for motivating people to work together to find common solutions for the common good.

So much so that when people are prevented from getting them going, by law or due to adverse economic conditions, they tend to set markets up spontaneously. These are your so-called “black markets.”

Business is not war: It is a way of harnessing human conflicts and channeling them into activities that stop short of going nuts and massacring one another with machetes, goaded on by a radio station with a monopoly in its market that alternates spinning the tops of the pops with disseminating gabbling David “Fear and Misinformation Abound” Sasaki-style moral panic.

“The Tutsis have already killed 300,000 of you! Slaughter them before they slaugher you first!”

The thing about Marxists, however, is that there are still people who find that this way of think fits their own life experience best.

And this not because these people are easily brainwashed subhuman savages — the Aznar hypothesis — but because there really are plenty of notorious cases floating to suggest that the theory of “savage capitalism” could plausibly be generalizable to capitalism as a whole.

Ignoring the corresponding gabbling wingnuts of the left, you still have a very large number of intelligent people left over who have very carefully thought-out reasons for not buying what you are selling.

I mean, Chiquita Brands running guns into Colombia for narcoparamilitaries. Jesus fucking Christ. You may be able to spin that for domestic consumption, or keep it out of the papers back home in Ohio, but your potential workforce in Colombia knows. They know. And it pisses them off.

In a word, these people have a plausible case to make against the capitalist brand, based on notorious actual facts, not made-up fairy tales. What to do about it?

Sure, you could just line them up against the wall and shoot them, or jeer loudly at their gathering of information on corporate misconduct and corruption as a mere “pornography of facts.”

But this solution does not have a great track record of success. Nor does a revisionist version of history in which the Rockefeller Foundation did not found research projects that later provided a rationale for the Final Solution. See

And besides, these people eat, seek a more comfortable night’s sleep, get bored, and wash their clothes just like anyone else. They are, in other words, potential customers. Killing them or otherwise alienating them: Is this a smart long-term market development strategy?

How will you recover from this reputational deficit? Corporate social responsibility campaigns on the boob tube may not be enough. I submit to you. For one thing, you need to check out the credibility of the networks you are buying the airtime from.

SÃO PAULO – No Brasil para o lançamento de seu último livro, “O desafio e o fardo do tempo histórico” (Boitempo, R$ 57), o filósofo húngaro István Mészáros, considerado um dos maiores marxistas vivos, realizou duas concorridas conferências nesta semana, uma Florianópolis e outra em São Paulo. Com uma abordagem teórica que não perde o vínculo com a realidade contada nos jornais, Mészáros defendeu a essencialidade da crítica ao capital para projetos de emancipação do indivíduo – um tema e tanto para as esquerdas que buscam alternativas à globalização neoliberal.

In Brazil for the launch of his latest book [“The challenge and the burden of historical time”], the Hungarian philosopher István Mészáros, considered one of the greatest Marxists alive, gave two conferences this week, one in Florianópolis and the other in São Paulo. With a theoretical approach that does not lose touch with the headlines of the day, Mészáros defended the crucial importance of the critique of capital to projects of individual emancipation — a very important topic for movements on the left who seek alternatives to neoliberal globalization.

A TV Carta Maior gravou a conferência realizada quarta-feira (21) na Universidade de São Paulo e na próxima semana disponibilizará o vídeo, com tradução simultânea, em sua página na internet.

TV Carta Maior recorded the conference on Wednesday at USP and will make the video available next week, with simultaneous translation, on its Web site.

Em quase uma hora de uma palestra dada em inglês, o filósofo discutiu conceitos da tradição socialista, sempre considerando “o longo período de gestação de cada um deles ao longo da história”. Sua abordagem evitou o dogmatismo e ressaltou o vínculo entre teoria e prática, sem perder de vista que o objetivo da teoria socialista é apontar soluções para os mais graves problemas da humanidade.

In an nearly hour-long lecture delivered in English, the philosopher discussed concepts of the socialist tradition, taking into consideration “the long period of gestations of each of them through history.” His approach avoided dogmatism and undescored the connection between theory and practice, without losing sight of the fact that the objective of socialist theory is to formulate solutions to humanity’s most serious problems.

This review has the defect of many event write-ups: spending too much time saying what the speaker said in one’s own words rather than simply quoting him saying what he said, in his own words.

Em busca do significado dos conceitos, Mészáros analisou a construção histórica de conceitos como o do “trabalho”, dentro da atividade produtiva, e o da “igualdade”, entendida em seu sentido substantivo, que vai além da divisão das coisas materiais e deve ser compreendida, segundo ele, como algo que reflita um elevado grau de justiça nas trocas sociais.

Searching for the meaning of concepts, Mészáros analysed the historical construction of such concepts as “work,” within the context of productive activity, and “equality,” understood as a substantive concept which extends beyond the division of material goods and should be understood, he said, as reflecting a high degree of justice in social transactions.

Yes, Marxists do tend to be this boring, but I would not bet the farm on that being their Achilles’ Heel, as a recent attempt to discredit the APPO movement in Oaxaca did.

The gentleman argued that the movement lacks popular support because it tends to revert to Marxist cant when it talks to the television news.

The thing is that it actually does not lack popular support to the degree the gentleman said it did. See

“Igualdade substantiva não é apenas um dos princípios orientadores do projeto socialista. Ela ocupa uma posição-chave entre as categorias gerais da alternativa hegemônica do trabalho. Os outros princípios da estratégia socialista só podem adquirir significado total em conjunto com a noção de igualdade substantiva”, disse Mészáros.

“Substantive equality is not just one of the guiding principles of the socialist project. It occupies a key role among the general categories of the hegemonic alternative of work. Other principles of the socialist strategy cannot acquire full meaning without the notion of substantive equality,” Mészáros said.

In other words, in the soccer match of life, we must make sure the referee has not been bribed.

Nesse sentido, o filósofo considera que os valores necessários ao “modo de controle metabólico social do capital” são inadequados para a instalação da ordem socialista. Referências à “liberdade” e à “democracia” têm sido, afirmou, “cinicamente usadas a serviço da opressão e, freqüentemente, mesmo em função da mais brutal violência, do Estado policial e de genocídios militares”.

In this sense, the philosopher considers that the values required by the “capitalist mode of control of the social metabolism” are inadequate to the achievement of the socialist order. References to “freedom” and “democracy” have been, he said, “cynically used in the service of oppression, and frequently even as a function of the most brutal violence by the police state and military genocides.”

The president-general (Saddam) received 98% of the votes of his beloved people! He must overthrown at all costs! The cost of not doing so could be apocalyptic!

The president-general (Pervez) received 98% of the votes of his beloved people! He must supported at all costs! The cost of not doing so could be apocalyptic!

Despite all the best efforts of the late, great Karen “den mother to the great unwashed” Hughes, the U.S. brand abroad tends to be personified as that of a sleazy seducer who will say anything just to get over on a poor girl.

Including deciding to interpret her “no” as a “yes.”

I am sorry to have to tell you this, but really, it is for your own good. The time for comforting illusions is past.

Projetos emancipatórios necessitam, portanto, de uma crítica aos mecanismos de dominação do capital, que costumam ser perdidos em propostas reformistas, parlamentares e nas chamadas de “terceira via”. Como alerta Mészáros, esse trabalho tem de começar a partir de práticas emancipatórias, para as quais o pensamento teórico, em seqüência, possui função essencial.

Emancipatory projects need for that reason a critique of the mechanisms of capitalist dominance, which tend to get lost in reformist proposals, legislative initiatives and the so-called “third way.” As Mészáros alerts, this work has to be based on emancipatorial praxis for which theoretical thought, in its time, has a fundamental role to play.

A little slap at Lula and his standard “third way” talking point.

I was talking to someone the other day giving me that whole spiel about “Lula is Chávez.” The analysis does not really hold, if you actually pay attention. But it serves to keep the debate confined to the terms of a Manichaean narrative.

This sort of thinking is also bad for the capitalist brand, however. Because at least those “third way” people leave a way out for the capitalist brand: They are willing to make a distinction between “savage” and “civilized” capitalism, and try to meet the needs of foreign investors and local employers halfway.

These awful labor laws and this awful tax system here, for example. It is not agrarian reform, but the fact is that life would probably be better for most everyone if it got done.

The weird thing is that you have people working extremely hard to make sure that their political rivals do not get it done so that they can be the ones who claim credit for doing it.

The Russia analogy comes to mind again:

The true division in Russia today is not between reformers—democrats and retrograde Communists—but between networks who grabbed real assets using the state and those who feel they were deprived of their fair share. –Vladimir Brovkin

This is a nightmare from which Brazilians of various political persuasions are trying to awaken. The problem is that the people who prefer things this way — rather than the democratic rule of law, the medieval droit du seigneur — are the ones who tend to get credentialed by the Bush Ranger running the embassy down here as the “champions of democracy.”

Russia again:

Yeltsin made it possible to create political-corporatist criminal networks that did not pay taxes, disregarded laws, and used state resources for private purposes. Those networks were soon to show their power in financing Yeltsin’s reelection campaign. As this was happening, most observers in the West were applauding the rise of a class of owners in Russia that would become the bastion of democracy, the guarantor of the rule of law whose very foundation would be private property.

Well, this is kind of a useless post. I am just chewing these notions over from different angles, giving different jaw muscles a workout, really. Waiting for the Sunday churrasco to begin …

E, para Mészáros, tudo isso é tarefa urgente. Como diz o texto de divulgação de seu último livro, a escolha a ser feita não é entre socialismo e barbárie, mas entre socialismo e extinção.


Concluding thoughts tktktktktktk


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