29/08/2002 The new specter Boaventura e Sousa Santos
In 1848 Marx and Engels announced that a specter was haunting Europe and that all the powers of old Europe had entered into a holy alliance to exorcise it. The specter was communism, the workers struggle against capitalism that had turned personal dignity into exchange value and all freedoms into one freedom alone-free trade: "These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all fluctuations of the market."
For the last century and a half, this specter was exorcized in Europe by three major means: social democracy, Soviet communism, and nazi-fascism. The last two, after the Holocaust and Gulag, from being exorcisms became as many specters to be exorcized. To exorcize them, social democracy alone remained. For the last two decades, neoliberal globalization has attempted to turn social democracy into a specter to be exorcized by free trade. The European Left, social democracys legitimate heir, has not been aware that, by agreeing to exorcize it in the name of neoliberalism, it gradually became a specter of itself. Could it be that the circle is now closed? Could it be that neoliberalism, Janus-faced, is in turn trnsforming itself from exorcism to specter? Could it be that the electoral successes of Le Pen in France and other extreme right parties in other European countries are an inverted manifestation of such a specter? Could this specter be neofascism? How can it be exorcized?
History does not repeat itself. Nonetheless, it is disturbing to realize that the social groups that were less well integrated in social democracy or are being excluded from it at a faster pace - the young people and the workers affected by the precarization of the wage relation-find themselves in a situation somewhat similar to the one described in the Communist Manifesto, without, however, an auspicious solution in view, like the one promised by the Manifesto. Could the specter, then, be neofascism? European history shows that the specter of some was the exorcism of others, and vice-versa. Herein lies the crucial importance of how the specter is defined and who benefits or suffers from such definition.
It is in the interest of the European Right to have the specter defined as neofascism. The Left, almost bloodless already, will be thereby totally emptied out. This is a trap into which the European Left will easily fall, given the deep resonances it yields of antifascist struggles. But in order to survive the Left must not fall into the trap. To my mind, the specter is not neofascism but something newer. It is a two-headed specter. Its first head bespeaks the possibility that, as democracy loses its capacity to redistribute social wealth, we find ourselves becoming societies that are politically democratic but socially fascistic. The new fascism, therefore, is not a political regime; it is rather a social regime, a system of very unequal social relations that coexists and is complicit with a political democracy that is socially disempowered. The specters second head is the hegemonic temptation to believe that the specters first head can be exorcized in the rich countries through the continuous and increasing exploitation and humiliation of the poor countries. This second head is neoliberal globalization such as it has constituted itself. It is the more insiduous of the two because, in the face of the desert of alternatives it has created, it claims credibly to be the only solution for the problem it itself constitutes.
By this definition, the specter, far from being European, is global and can only be exorcized at the global level. This means that local and national struggles must be articulated at the global level. The assumption is that an Europe with more solidarity is not possible unless another world with more solidarity is also possible. The message of the World Social Forum (Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2001 and 2002) and the practices of the movements and organizations that are part of it are, thus, the only alternative to the "lepenization" of Europe, a phenomenon that is already under way, in a different guise, in the USA.