This book “O Canto da Sereia” is a major contribution to the clarification of several important political and scholarly issues. In the first instance the essays critically analyze the new ideological, political and social instruments utilized by ruling classes to undermine the class struggle.
Specifically the contributors focus on the ruling classes’ engagement in the class struggle from below: the use of so-called non-governmental organizations, (NGO) and the manipulation and co-optation of “progressive” slogans (“empowerment”, “democratic participation”).
The opening theoretical essay by Carlos Montaño provides an insightful framework. His essay “The illusion or self-representation of civil society” links the rise of neo-liberalism and the assault on class organizations and social welfare , to the states’ sponsorship of NGOs designed to compete, co-opt and undermine class organizations engaged in the class struggle.
In the face of the demise and decay of conventional neo-liberal ideology and the rise of class politics, following the retreat of authoritarian regimes in the 1980’s, imperial and national ruling classes, understood that they could not rule by force and violence alone. They looked for and found a small army of ex-leftist activists, “renovated” post-Marxist intellectuals, repentant guerrillas and compliant academic entrepreneurs willing to perform the role of diverting class organizations from the struggle for state power, to class collaboration for micro-changes within the neo-liberal system. The ruling class counter-insurgency strategy was designed to “repackage’ the neo-liberal regime as a “Third Way” between “rapacious capitalism” and “authoritarian state socialism”. The “post-Marxist” academics and activists secured lucrative positions, access to imperial foundation and state funding and regime protection from repression. The NGO’ers received generous grants to purchase 4×4 vehicles, hire ‘staff, rent or buy well- furnished offices and buildings all in the name of “organizing and empowering the people”. They were paid to develop an ideology and organization that substituted class collaboration for class solidarity by evoking individual empowerment.They promoted “self-employment” over collective ownership of the means of production.They focused on “poverty” not exploitative class relations that resulted in poverty.
Through state intervention influential research centers were funded and prominent ex-leftist intellectuals’ provided the conceptual tools that led to neo-liberal “social reforms’ which perpetuated the power and privileges of the ruling class. Multi-national extractive capital and banks flourished; the imperial state colonized cyber space, but the “Third Way” , academics excluded imperialism from their research agenda.
With the demise of the first wave of neo-liberal rulers (Cardoso in Brazil, Menem in Argentina, Sanchez de Losada in Bolivia, Gutierrez in in Ecuador) a second wave of so-called “post-neoliberal” rulers emerged on the bases of mass popular upheavals and struggles.
The new “post neo-liberals” deepened their ties to extractive capital and expanded the role of financial capital to develop the economy and sought to retain mass support by financing vast clientelistic anti-poverty programs. Social neo-liberalism found in the ex-Marxists the ideological soldiers to justify and promote the myth of radical changes. CLACSO patron, Emir Sader and PT ideologue Walter Pomar in Brazil, Garcia Linares in Bolivia and a string of others provided an intellectual gloss to justify the accommodation between regime and capital.
Following in the footsteps of the originator of the “Third Way” , British sociologist and adviser to Tony “Bombs over Baghdad” Blair, Anthony Giddings(Baron Giddings), Latin America’s ex-leftists sought to denigrate, exclude and dismiss the critical Marxists who challenged the ‘post neo-liberal’ regimes.
Fortunately they were not successful for two important reasons;, one “objective” and the other “subjective”. The economic crises beginning in 2008 and continuing to the present and the pro-capitalist policies of the post neo-liberals generated mass protests and mobilizations undermining the progressive assumptions and claims of the academic defenders of ‘post-neo-liberalism’.
Equally important, critical scholarship, like the present collection of essays demonstrated both theoretically and empirically, the intellectual bankruptcy of the “Third Way” and the failures of its political-economic projects.
A Complete Critique of Post Neoliberalism Project and the Third Way Ideology
The Siren Song is the best single comprehensive critique of “counter-insurgency from below” – the ideological war to win the hearts and minds of the masses through ruling class controlled “grass roots organizations”.
The structure and ideology of the ruling class directed “counter-insurgency” rests on five pillars: NGO’s, micro politics, micro-enterprise, social neo-liberalism and depoliticized subjects. The essays in this collection systematically demolish each and every ideological pillar sustaining the Third Way argument. Andre Dantas and Ivy Carvalho demystify the notion of “democratic participation” and “empowerment” – by locating the concepts in their larger political and economic context: how oligarchical power contains and reduces the time and space of their operational meaning, emptying them of any substantive content.
Carlos Montaño provides an historical and structural analyses of the NGOs linking them to the crises of post-military rule and to their function as neo-liberal “firemen” – organizations designed to undermine emerging class organization and divert class struggle to class collaboration.
The micro-enterprise policies of the Third Way, embodied in the “self-employment” and “solidarity economy” programs of the PT which were designed to reduce unemployment and inequality are shown to have failed in three rigorously documented articles by Soares, Martins and Wellen. The continuities in economic structure and strategy between the past (Cardoso) and the present (DaSilva/Rousseff) has resulted in temporary limited gains at the cost of strategic structural losses.The growth in “start-ups” of micro-enterprises is more than matched by the high rates of bankruptcy. “Subsistance economies” in the context of growing wealth concentration is not historical progress.
The fourth column of the Third Way edifice: “development with social justice” is brilliantly critiqued in two articles by Maranhaõ and Sigueira. Debunking the notion that Brazil’s development model has broken new ground by combining extractive capital and anti-poverty programs, the authors’ document how the ruling class’s ideological manipulation of the concept of poverty has preserved the power structures which generated and perpetuate poverty.
The fifth column of the Third Way ideological construct are the concepts of “autonomous subjects” and “new social movements”. Martin effectively demonstrates that the most dynamic and influential movements bringing about structural changes are those led and directed by class-oriented ideologies and leaders.
The “new social movements” were ephemeral phenomena which remained at the margins of the major political struggles and played no role in regime changes during the past decade and a half.
In their two essays Martino and Zacarias provide data and theory which demonstrates that the dynamics of class struggle and class consciousness were the determining factors in the realization of consequential changes in the correlation of political forces. Zacarias focus on environmental movements, highlights the importance of class analysis in identifying the (ruling) classes as the main agency mainly responsible for climatic degradation and the working and peasant classes as the most adversely affected by environmental pollution.
Together these essays demonstrate how the Third Way ideology and the neo-liberal project complement each other; how the neo-liberal ruling class privatizes the economy and repress the masses, while the NGO’s de-politicize and divert the workers and urban sub-proletariats into class collaborationist organizations.
These essays collectively vindicate Marxist class analysis and serves as a model of critical scholarship at its best. After reading these essays, the entire project of the “Third Way” lies in ruins. And in its place, we have a brilliant new intellectual paradigm and project, rooted in class analysis, which combines classical Marxist theory and its creative application to a new set of political and economic conditions.