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“The South Atlantic is not a past in Europe”

Crisanto Barros
© Taylla de Paula

To the sociologist Crisanto Barros, world democracy must be rethought from an African perspective.

Present in the closing table of this conference, at the rectory of the Federal University of Bahia, the professor from the University of Cape Verde (Uni-CV/Praia) speaks about the dislocation of capitalism from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and its implications in liberal-democratic practice with the weakening of ideals of the left.

Carla: You suggest dislocating an analysis on democracy, thinking not only of itself, but observing the economy and politics. What changes from this perspective?

Crisanto: In the last decades there has been a turn in the analysis of political power into the power of seeing the political field as if it was autonomous. The movement now is to retake a discussion made in the 20ths century, that political power is conditioned to other influences, that can be religious, cultural, and that politicize themselves as well. I wanted to bring a little bit of the discussion on political economy from these processes of dislocation. From a capitalism that flourished in the Atlantic and of its dislocation to the Pacific. Which implications, which tensions does this generate? For example, in the north, you see the case of the United States, and even in the south, in countries such as Brazil, these tensions need to be understood, not only in the internal logic of politics, but from a set of elements that condition political movements and that bring up the matter of work and of employment, of the productive system. These aspects need to be considered and how countries react to them, looking at this in the long term. 

Carla: This context relates democracy to the parasitic capitalism you mentioned?

Crisanto: Yes. Capitalism expanded from mechanisms of slavery, of colonization, of the exploration of resources. Actually, the entire composition of the State in the west occurs on mechanisms of accumulation. The order that we have today is not the same as that which we had in the 19th century or even in the 20th century. These mechanisms are not so easy anymore. The United States do not dictate rules to China, to Russia, or even to Brazil, as they did before. What happened in the last decades is an economy based on finances, it is the money generating money without a productive process. I bring myself to this expression by Bauman [the polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, who lived between 1925-2017] in order to show that the exit that the West found was to apply these tules to itself, and as such, created a mechanism, a credit bubble, accumulating capital in order to compensate losses, parasitizing itself. This mechanism entered a crisis in 2008, with the USA, and contaminated Europe, Latin America, and Africa. The situation in Greece, for example, is almost a “bankocracy,” in which banks decide: if there Is money, there is voice. This implicated what they euphemistically call the “flexibilization of work,” but it is the impoverishment of the middle class and the turning the youth in the market into precarious, which in itself generates a framework of great insecurity. 

Carla: To you, the fact that capitalism has become self-referential and that alternative utopias have weakened, resulted in the political turn to the right. What other consequences would you highlight?

Crisanto: I remember in 1989, when the wall of Berlin fell, everyone was euphoric, thinking that the expansion of the market would create a paradise in Europe and in the United States in particular, and in the world in general. It was not quite like that. The advancement of social rights in Europe resulted a bit from the ghost of communism. Capitalism has domesticated itself because it was scared about an alternative to the left. One of the great contributions that Hobsbawn [the British historian Eric Hobsbawn, who lived between 1917-2012] and Galbraith [the North American economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who lived between 1908 and 2006] is that they showed that the existence of ideologic alternatives to liberalism and capitalism, in the 19 and 20th centuries, provoked their domesticity. And that was one of the conditions necessary for democracy to be more generous, permitting the expansion of social rights. With the weakening of diverse ideologies in the left, this diverse and precarious proletariat mobilizes itself not only in terms of class struggle, but also in terms of other oppositions, such as whites/blacks, Christians/Muslims, nationals/emigrants. It is the return of the nationalist discourse at its worst, France for French people, England for English people.

Crisanto Barros © Tayilla de Paula

Carla: And that is where your idea fits in, that Europe also became a society of refugees? 

Crisanto: Yes. Europe makes itself a refugee in order to prevent the contact that is before a crisis of myths: the myth of the nation and the myth of race. It is the difficulty in dealing with these myths that makes them take refuge from their nightmares. Because it is a society that was founded with basis on the idea that there is one being, the European one, and others, who were inferior. The entire European cosmology is constituted on this idea that the European is like a ground zero, like it is colorless. It is a process of humanization and of dehumanization and Europe finds itself threatened. People who go to Europe are not refugees, they are people who search many ideals, be they religious, cultural, economic. In truth, it is europeans who take refuge inwards, with mechanisms of separation and of segregation. France, the country of égalité, fraternité, and liberté, is the country that ghettoized itself, that gathered in the peripheries the blacks, the poor, and the Arabs, that developed borders and mechanisms of control, vigilance, and separation. This Europe is progressively more like a province, that self-references itself and that does not see the world that goes by alongside it. 

Carla: To you, Africa should not think of itself like a past of Europe. Can you speak more about that?

Crisanto: Taking a bit from the text by Achille Mbembe [camaroonian philosopher], he said that Europe was a pharmacy of the world, in the sense that it projected this idea of humanism. At the same time, it rejected this humanism, turning more and more into, in my opinion, a hospital. Today, there is not only one pharmacy in the world, there exist many alternatives, many epistemes. When Europe searches for its founding myth in Greece, the Greeks will say that it was in Egypt. When they arrived in Egypt, they found out that it was the black Africans who built it all. The South Atlantic is not a past of Europe. Africa, like South America, can build its trajectories looking towards the north, but without the pretension of mimicry. 

Carla: Achille Mbembe speaks about the importance of reinventing a human condition. How could this be possible without appearing to be utopian?

Crisanto: The world has always been a world with a high mobility of people, goods, and capital. What he is saying is that me being a man is not a matter of birth, origin, and race, but of trajectory, circulation, and transfiguration. He strongly critiques the idea of an Africanism that will report back to this black essentialism. Mbembe shows this possibility of going to Africa and seeing that it has circulated, to find there a hybridism. This capacity of permanent contact is what gives it the possibility of transfiguring itself. I come from Cape Verde, which a country of a very strong diaspora, open to many influences. 

by Carla Bittencourt