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From Brazil to the world, or Twenty theses for a democratic theory of the state

About the author
Tarso Genro, born in 1947, worked as a labour lawyer for twenty-five years and served twice as mayor of Porto Alegre. As a leading member of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), he coordinated the political council of the Frente Popular between 1988 and 2001. After the presidential elections of October 2002, he was appointed Minister of State and head of the special secretariat of the new Economic and Social Development Council.

Read also in this series:
  • Global comparisons in policy-making: the view from the centre, by Geoff Mulgan


  • Governance as learning: the challenge of democracy, by Tom Bentley


  • A new way for British government?, by Anthony Barnett


  • And access news of the Progressive Governance Conference of July 2003 in London, attended by President Lula and with the participation of Minister Tarso Genro and Professor Marco Aurelio Garcia, special adviser to the President for international relations



  1. A democratic socialist strategy that seeks to distribute labour and generated wealth fairly, and ensure the observance of human rights – one where a project for the state and its society is, as in any democracy, the result of an interaction between hegemony and legitimated coercion – faces one striking difficulty. This lies precisely in confronting the fact that “the social being, unlike nature, where there is only causality” is the product of “a particular and unique interaction between causality and teleology, between determinism and will.”


  2. The interaction between causality and teleology, between determinism and freedom – cause and aim, the force of external factors and choice – is never evenly distributed among the subjects in a given social formation. If it is true that there is a growing control over external factors – “the removal of natural barriers” (György Lukács) – it is equally true that groups, classes and nationalities have their own potential to determine history, to a greater or lesser degree, dependent upon the power they accumulate in the context of an uneven distribution of wealth, information and culture at a certain stage of civilisation.

    Today, the power invested in financial capital on a global scale – which now directs world history, subverts nation-states, reduces the effectiveness of traditional politics, reorganises the immediate interests of groups and classes, and leads to the emergence of a new breed of “organic” intellectuals of financial capital, who dress up as theory what is merely the need of a new pattern of accumulation: namely, the ideology of neoliberalism.


  3. The concept and reality of “praxis” defines man as a social being, and especially labour as its key category; but its way of operating varies historically and forces man creatively to adapt to a degree of unpredictability over the certainty of social projects.

    Today, the degree of indeterminacy is much higher, and the immediate future itself is almost always diverse. Even if one considers that it is possible to predict the future in general terms – given that conceived reality is always different from reality as it constitutes itself in history – reality for man as a generic being falls into an increasingly manipulated everyday life. Changes in the social world acquire an ever more fluid and less predictable shape, and the consequence is that “strategies” and programmes age faster and faster.


  4. When the social classes were relatively at rest in the development of industrial capitalism, the projection of present developments into the future was correspondingly less uncertain. The teleology of workers’ labour (organically articulated in the modern factory) and the teleology of capital (oriented by the process of accumulation established upon the production of physical goods), offered more secure parameters for reflecting upon the world. The programmes, strategies, and forms of distribution of the social product could then be planned with greater assurance.

    This stage of humanity’s development has been left behind. Mobility, fragmentation, the emergence of new labour processes and of new patterns of accumulation make the future an ever nearer and less predictable moment.


  5. This confrontation between, on the one hand, a new spatial reality (radical globalisation) and a new time reality (rapid rhythms of change in the social world) and, on the other hand, the classic features of the socialist culture generates in industrial and post-industrial revolutions a crisis of the left, especially its radical, Marxist variant.

    The ever more rapid change of time and space in history has the consequence of disorganising programmes, strategies, and forms of distribution which aimed to address social inequalities; in turn, these inequalities become more extreme and fraught with new forms of exploitation and oppression.


  6. The rise of consistent, albeit fragmented, movements in “defence of rights” corresponds both to an impotence (in failing to attack the concrete forces violating them) and to a force (the wish to resist violence in the postmodern world). Such impotence and force have led to the emergence of an enormous constellation of civil organisations – focusing on a wide field of issues – from consumerism, health protection, sexuality, and environment to the affirmative struggles of minority or marginalised cultures to land ownership, housing, employment and integration in formal society itself.


  7. To the contemporary state-enterprise (the direct interaction of the public apparatus in agreement with the dictatorship of financial capital in global scale) corresponds the party-enterprise, which needs both to finance itself and to connect all, or at least some, of the demands of capital in order to have electoral feasibility.

    From the new global spatial-temporal reality there arises the demand for a politics that needs to favour a false universality – in other words, a politics that needs to work from within in manipulating public opinion in one direction or another, according to commitments that originate from the party’s relations of class, culture, group or nationality.


  8. For individuals who create or organise political ideas, this process produces the devastation of modern humanistic culture – particularly among democratic, socialist, or social-democratic intellectuals (organic or not). Since it is no longer possible to prescribe a hegemony based upon a uniform, socially-articulated organism (a single, compelling class), the absence of delimited future perspectives enhances the intellectuals’ lack of organicity and “frees” them to be co-opted.


  9. In this context, the state today – through its executive power – promotes Keynesianism in reverse. As its regulatory capacity is specially oriented to correspond to the interests of those who manipulate the virtual movement of trillions of dollars around the world, the state becomes a macro-regulatory institution to facilitate this movement.

    Contrary to the claims of neoliberals, the state directs a powerful normative force that controls not only the totality of the legal order, but the daily life of individuals whose reference-points are the stability of the currency and their immediate level and power of consumption. This state is as “interventionist” as the Keynesian one; however, its regulatory force finds its power only in a thorough submission to the demands of a volatile financial capital, to which it responds so that it may organise socio-economic relations in accordance with its needs.


  10. In these circumstances, the capacity for political resistance vis-à-vis economic policies has become far more problematic than it was a generation ago; in turn, the economy itself has become more difficult to understand as a consequence of the “praxis”. The state is “occupied”, and apparently unable to generate reliable alternatives; as a result, the alienation of daily life has outgrown itself in a sequence of depoliticised and fragmented answers.

    The choice of a positive, creative advance here offers itself as a “break with the current world order”, for in this order the powers not perceived by or accessible to the ordinary citizen turn heads of state into managers of an increasingly fast and irrational merry-go-round.

    Sources and references for Tarso Genro’s Twenty Theses:

    • Thesis 1: (The social being): Carlos Nelson Coutinho, Marxismo e Política – A dualidade de poderes (Cortez Editora, 2nd edition, 1996)


    • Thesis 7: (The party-enterprise): Luigi Ferajoli, “El Estado Constitucional de Derecho hoy – el modelo y su divergencia de la realidad”in Corrupcion y Estado de Derecho. El Papel de la jurisdicion, Editorial Trotta SA, Madrid, 1996. p. 17


    • Thesis 7: (Spatial-temporal reality): Boaventura de Souza Santos, Pela Mão de Alice – O social e o politico na pós-modernidade (Edições Afrontamento, 3rd edition, Porto, 1944)


    • Thesis 9: (Keynesianism in reverse): Raimundo Rodrigues Pereira


    • Thesis 11: (Localism): Ladislau Dowbor, O que é pode local, (Coleção Primeiros Passos, Editora Brasiliense, 1994)


    • Thesis 12: (Political language and politics): Francisco Fernández Buey and Jorge Reichmann, Ni Tribunos: ideas y materiales para un programa ecosocialista (Siglo Veinteuno Editores, Madrid, 1996)


    • Thesis 12: (Local, regional and global stimuli): Ivan Izquierdo, in Os Construtores do Futuro – entrevistas com Lurdete Ertel (Artes e Oficios, 1995)


    • Thesis 14: (The regulation of power): Tarso Genro, in Os Construtores do Futuro – entrevistas com Lurdete Ertel (Artes e Oficios, 1995)


    • Thesis 14: (Control over the state and its institutions): Eliezer Pacheco, Marxismo e Democracia?, mimeograph



  11. The refuge of politics here becomes localism – which does not transcend itself but nevertheless does not deny itself as a process for the universalisation of citizenship. Paradoxically, this gives rise to a new form of impotence, namely, social justice as a geographically-circumscribed virtue, and to a new possibility, namely, a localised experiment.

    This experiment, as a founding moment for new public institutions capable of creating the elements of a new politics, can serve as a reference in the disputes over a new form of state and for new relationships of solidarity and sociability.


  12. The fact that political language is no longer composed by just politics is another consequence of this new complexity. The reproduction of “common sense” is now much further from history (as a great process shaped by achievable strategic wishes) and much closer to immediacy (as fluid processes for endless change require urgent responses).

    The accumulation of local, regional and global stimuli originating in the globalisation of economic processes, and the way of life controlled by predatory consumerism, generate more individuation, more individualism and more competition between people searching for scarce and secure havens in the new information society. The mere access to steady wages is now seen as a privilege.


  13. The answer to this condition lies in the search for a strategy that may fuse political action and way of life; in the right to advocate sectoral rights for each group as well as universal demands; in strategic action combined with the search for prompt answers; in legitimate private as well as public demands; in education through social practice and state political experience; in movements that may only refer to the state, (whether beside, above or against it). From this dynamic fusion of actions aimed at generating both dispute and consensus in public life, demands may be placed in open confrontation and in time build a new consensus in a democratic, popular way.


  14. Jurgen Habermas spoke of a “citizen’s public sphere”, a space for organisation and dialogue in defence of rights without presuming that the state can and should be radically changed, and that in its structural change lies the “driving force” for the democratic transformation of society. Oskar Negt theorised a “public, proletarian sphere”, without conceiving that twenty years later the proletariat would be merely one player in the transformed world of labour within the new “information society”.

    A socialist-democratic strategy for an open future requires that “the regulatory power of other sources of power be reduced”, given that in the current historic phase it – meaning the power of financial capital in the current world order – is nearly absolute. A continuous increase in the power of society would consist in understanding democracy not as a closed concept, but as the permanent effort of humanity to achieve control over the state and its institutions.


  15. The state can no longer “descend” toward society through political representation alone. Hence the need for the creation of a new non-state public space which will have – through representation by the executive – the project of creating a new political contract through which a new sphere for decisions is opened, by programmed decision and ideological definition from its managers.

    This new sphere thus emerges from dialogue, from decisions elaborated under tension, from repeated confrontations and hegemonic consensus, in which the direct presence of citizens’ organisations (along with political representation) induces and agrees on immediate responses and long-term projects. This is the non-state public space – a system-process based upon representative democracy combined with direct participation on a volunteer basis, a space integrated by representatives from labour sectors as well as by organisations originating in popular autonomy, which alike contest the “abdication” of public functions by the state in the neoliberal order.


  16. This project calls for a radical democratisation of the current state, to allow for the creation of a new state with two spheres for combined and contradictory decision-making: one consisting of existing political representation, and a second originating in the non-state public space – where the direct presence of civil society organisations combines with universal consulting mechanisms for referendums and plebiscites.

    Under these circumstances, the representative state begins to produce and implement its policies through an innovative democratic dynamics that incorporates into public life all those willing to take part in it, especially those sectors in society deprived of channels where their rights are respected.


  17. Through this strategy, the executive branch of government, at every level, acquires fundamental importance for a socialist democratic project based upon the growing democratisation of the state. This is so whether the project develops by rupture or evolution, since it is from the executive that the commitment to a new political contract between state and society can arise – a commitment that will fight causality and determination in the economy (as expressed in the most concentrated manner by globalised financial capital) by subordinating itself to the creation of policies generated by, in Ernst Bloch’s words, “the living energies of living human beings”. Political representation becomes permanently relegitimised under democratic pressure, and will acquire a greater degree of authenticity based on the active knowledge of major social aspirations.


  18. To make this possible, the electoral process must be understood by the democratic socialist party as simultaneously a statement of political representation and a refusal of its limitations. These limitations become clear when the elected representative abides by the authoritarian functioning of the current state, which implements its major decisions under persuasion of the logic of hegemonic economic interests, and dissociates itself from the basis of society, which lacks the power and influence to articulate its demands and needs.


  19. A vision sustained solely by social struggle – whether led by civil organisations or by the unions – is absolutely impotent to reform, and effectively democratise, the state. Yet a purely electoral vision only affirms political representation as representation that is soon delegitimised and hence unable to oppose the order of the volatile capital which constrains the state.

    As a democratic strategy, only the executive government, defined as the force macro-regulating the social order and subject to induction by civil society, can both affirm civil society’s autonomy and submit itself to it so as to achieve the constitutive power to define policies of a democratic-popular character.


  20. The basic premise that must inform the socialist democratic party guiding this movement is the defence of a socio-economic project for the development of society as a whole.

    This constitutes a project distinctive in its components and in its strategic objective. It has a multi-class character that is capable of generating a shift in political and economic power away from private monopolies, which promote Brazil’s dependent, submissive integration to the global order, and towards a bloc of alliances capable of promoting a non-dependent, autonomous and cooperative development that can radically combat exclusion and increasingly reduce social inequalities.

    For extensive information about Brazilian politics, culture, and social issues, including translation of major speeches by its leading representatives, click here



This article was translated from Portuguese.


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