Portuguese scholars, Julio Mota and his colleagues, have translated a few of my blog posts in recent months and published them in their online journal A Viagem dos Argonautas. These articles are transcripts of lectures and interviews on the subject of the breakup of the USSR and Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with introductions and discussion written by me. To reciprocate in this exchange, the following blog post is a translation of a recent letter (2022/09/01) that Julio Mota wrote to followers of A Viagem dos Argonautas. It offers readers of English-language media a perspective of Portugal that also includes a Portuguese perspective of current events in the Anglo-American political sphere and the world in general. The letter was translated with translation software, edited by me, then edited further by the Julio Mota, who has the requisite competence in both languages.
We live in Difficult Times: Avenida dos Ignorantes and Avenida dos Acomodados*
By Julio Mota, Faro, Portugal, September 1, 2022
We live in hard times, very, very hard times. A time when we lack quality leaders and cheats in politics abound, ignorant, like Liz Truss, possibly the next Prime Minister of England, cynics, like Boris Johnson, jugglers like António Costa, greedy like Mario Draghi, or pure opportunists and ignoramuses like Trump or Bolsonaro, and this in addition to other possible typologies that are equivalent to these.
A few days ago, I sent you a writing of mine describing the clamorous state of England today. In all societies, among the very fundamental pillars for a decent life we find education, health and labor market structures if they comply with democratic rules and objectives. According to Victor Hill’s The UK’s attitude to work, none of these pillars is functional in Britain, and none is in a position to serve the ideals of democracy.
And in Portugal nothing seems to be going on differently. The condition of the Health Service is what is widely known, and education is not any better, as I am tired of repeating, and will worsen further. As for labor markets, as a lawyer of my acquaintance said, labour law no longer exists in Portugal. Soon, things will crack as they are cracking in England, as they will in Italy, the United States or elsewhere. The signs of the upcoming labour strikes are beginning to be seen on an already close horizon.
Last week, I organized a series of texts that could well be entitled “From the digitization of teaching to its cretinization, from its cretinization to its fascistization. The distance from one to the other is a short step away.” A great avenue, which we call Avenida dos Ignorantes, has been under construction by our education reformers in these last two decades—after Bologna—and now this avenue can be travelled at higher speed. All this is done in the name of the great platitudes of now, modernity, competitiveness, and internationalization of teaching practices. This avenue already has a lot of people who have come halfway, reaching the level of mass cretinization. Our official reformers certainly know what they’re doing. They know the purpose of this avenue they’re building and occupying.
Is this theme not linked to what is happening now, to the silence with which we are witnessing the dangers that are taking place and which are being unleashed before our eyes and with our silence? Personally, I think so. Decades of neoliberal discourse have obscured our view, and the result is now individuals accept reality without critical analysis. At the extreme, they even want us to stop thinking. This is the result seen in those who are guided by the official truth conceived and produced by think tanks at the service of a reality that is spread extensively by the media on a global scale.
When our politicians are what they are, when they are driven by the most spurious interests, when they are well packaged by the creators of official truth and by the professionals of the mystification of that same official truth, everything can be transfigured. Thus, collectively deprived of rationality, people fall into behaviors that have little or nothing to do with a consideration of people as unique individuals and groups. To this purpose, real propaganda machines are created in which states invest everything to enforce their truth, and they do it with such intensity that they give us the illusion that we are reaching the end of the chain of causalities mentioned above. This can be condensed into a single very simple formula: who is not with us is against us and who is against us must be with Putin. From here, the regressive and repressive machine gets dangerously mobilized, and the costs for those who are not strictly aligned with the official truth can be very high. The reaction against the Festa do Avante is an example of the fueling of a climate of hatred that is created in this way.** This situation is clearly exemplified by the current situation both with regard to the war in Ukraine and with regard to the economic crisis which brutally threatens Western societies not yet recovered from the global financial crisis of 2008, the public debt crisis in Europe in 2010, and the Covid crisis. One can only agree and flow with the official current.
In parallel with the social dynamics and the consequent trajectory created on the Avenida dos Ignorantes, we have another social dynamic, created by people who have nothing to do with the people who occupy the avenue that we have just mentioned, and who are therefore outside it. These are people who occupy another avenida, Avenida dos Acomodados, people who have a political habit of sticking to the system and defending it. This second dynamic is established by people who have their own view of the world and who, regardless of the official truth produced, adapt relatively well to the neoliberal policies as long as they seem appropriate and well packaged. There are these two different dynamics, one created on a basis of emotion and ignorance, based on and sustained in a sophisticated and intense manipulation of information, and the second dynamic created and sustained in its own conceptual frameworks; that is, by a solidly established culture, whether right-wing or left-wing. An example is the case of Bernie Sanders supporters. We may disagree with the neoliberals, the right, or those assumed to be left-wing, but we cannot call them uneducated or ignorant. No, not ever!
So these are two different groups, the one that occupies the Avenue dos Ignorantes and the one that occupies the Avenue dos Acomodados. There are two different dynamics, with different bases of departure. They are also very different, but with regard to the dangerous crisis derived from the war in Ukraine and the severe consequences which we are witnessing, their positions are completely equal. The reason is that there is a common element among them that states:
Whatever their distant or near causes, what we care about here is that there has been an invasion; there is an invaded country and an invading country. In this context there is only one position to take, that of defending the invaded country, and that of ignoring all arguments that might favor the invading country.
This is what is said by the two groups that are aligned with the policies followed in this war and with the containment measures that are practiced regarding the high collateral costs that this war is generating—costs that were predictable.
It is not by chance that, contrary to what happened from 1970 to 2005—for situations equivalent or even less dangerous than the present situation, in which millions and millions of people in unity came out to protest in the streets—now there is a sepulchral silence all the more serious as the escalation of the war intensifies. As for nuclear disarmament, nothing is said about the treaties abrogated by the West in recent years, nor is there anything said in favor of attempts to demilitarize the war zone. Discussion of the Minsk Agreements has vanished, as if it is forbidden to talk about them. It seems that silence is golden.
And what does that silence mean? Our ignorance? Our naivety? Our indifference, our sense of disagreement? In the latter case, will our silence mean a feeling of opposition and powerlessness in the face of what politicians decide without asking us, after having propagandized us with an officially imposed truth? Alternatively, does our silence mean our consent? Frankly, I have never seen such silence in the face of the grave dangers that humanity is now faced with.
We are in an extremely dangerous situation, and everything is happening as if nothing is happening except the war in Ukraine which, on the Western side, no one wants to stop. It is clearly pointing to the danger of a global threat. All this is only possible if modern societies are already in the early stages of fascism. It is clear that this change is under way, although in some countries—namely the USA, Great Britain, Ukraine, and the Baltic States—it is further advanced than in others. Those who follow along—such as Portugal, Spain, and others—behave like members of a herd, as if they were rushing into a rally in the financial markets.
From the unconsciousness of our politicians to the moral irresponsibility also assumed by think tanks (often paid the weight of gold) and by the media in the dissemination of official truth as to the reasons underlying their decisions, here I leave you three examples:
1. About Joe Biden’s statements, here is what David North tells us:
Biden’s statement: “We are not encouraging or allowing Ukraine to attack beyond its borders.” But the United States is sending Ukraine “advanced missile systems” that in fact encourage and enable Ukraine to attack Russia.
Biden is giving Ukraine a carte blanche to use these weapons in any way it deems necessary. Ukraine will take steps to provoke military confrontation between NATO and Russia. Attacking Russia with U.S.-supplied missiles will achieve that goal. Russia will retaliate.
By the way, Biden says, “I know that many people around the world are concerned about the use of nuclear weapons.” Then he proceeds to fend off such concerns, absurdly reassuring readers, “Currently we see no indication that Russia intends to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, although Russia’s occasional rhetoric to stir up the nuclear saber is in itself dangerous and extremely irresponsible.”
But what is “Russia’s occasional rhetoric to threaten with the nuclear saber” other than an “extremely serious indication” of an “intention to use nuclear weapons”? And if it’s not such an indication, why does Biden describe it as “dangerous and extremely irresponsible”?
2. Statements by Liz Truss, current UK Foreign Minister and probably the country’s next prime minister.
These statements were reported in some media (see here and here): “Liz Truss is prepared to annihilate us all because it is an ‘important part’ of her job.”
During the recent leadership campaign, Lizz Truss was quizzed about leaked audio suggesting British workers have low productivity and need to “graft.” See the clip here.
Liz Truss has come out as the favourite in the Tory leadership race and has now said she is “ready to press the nuclear button if necessary.”
The Foreign Secretary was speaking at the Tory Party event in Birmingham on Tuesday night when she was asked about this perspective by her host John Pienaar.
Pienaar said the idea of pressing the button would make him “physically sick,” but Truss said it was an “important duty.”
“One of the first things that will happen when and if you become Prime Minister will be to be introduced into a room, a real private room at Number 10, and there will be in front of you what is called the letters of last resort,” Pienaar said.
“Your orders to our trident submarine captain on whether Prime Minister Liz Truss is giving the order to unleash nuclear weapons,” he added.
The Foreign Minister said she was ”ready” to press the red button. Getty/iStock
“This would mean global annihilation. I won’t ask you if you’d press the button. You’ll say yes, but in the face of that task, I’d feel physically sick. How does that thought make you feel?”
Truss answered by saying, “I think it’s an important duty of the prime minister and I’m ready to do it.”
3. In an interview given by Ukrainian writer Vladimir Rafeenko to Marci Shore, an Associate American Professor of Intellectual History at Yale University, published by the important website Syndicate.
Shore tells Vladimir Rafeenko: “The West needs to understand that in war, it is not Putin who is guilty. He didn’t create Russians. Russians created Putin. He’s their instrument, their alter ego. He is the flesh of Russian culture as it is, without illusions or sentimentality. And this beast must be stopped.”
Later we can also read:
MS : Do you believe that now there is a way to reach the Russians?
VR: I think that only a crushing defeat—a terrible and unprecedented defeat—and a bitter regret can put the Russians in their place and bring them to reality—if they are able to do so.”
Let us also stress that this long interview was later posted on Twitter by Timothy Snyder, an American historian and professor at Yale University who specializes in the history of Central and Eastern Europe. He writes, among other places, in the New York Times. If we replace “Russians” with “Jews” in these quotes, we see this logic leads us back to the hideous decade of the 1930s with only different victims.
In this example, we are even seeing think tanks and the media defend such views as a defense of democracy! With this example, we are therefore seeing the means involved in the campaign for war and extreme demonization even if there is a serious danger of it leading to the destruction of the world. We see the desire to go all the way to total destruction. It is forbidden to speak of peace, and it may be that this is the result of the two social dynamics mentioned above that distort a loathing of diplomacy to make it look like a quest for peace. It is thanks to the ignorance of the inhabitants of Avenida dos Ignorantes, and to the defective logic of Avenida dos Acomodados (a logic that refers only to the present, excluding both the past and the future consequences of decisions taken in the present), that paths toward peace have been avoided. We do, therefore, reject the official narrative, and this rejection must not be seen as an acceptance of the logic of Putin, an autocrat in an autocratic system.
In contrast to the official discourse reproduced in London, Paris, Kiev, Washington, or other European cities, that justifies continuing war in the name of democracy and the high values of the West, here I leave you with four recommended articles for further reading:
1. The Return of the King, by Wolfgang Streeck, May 4, 2022
2. The Blacklist of Ukraine, by Wolfgang Bittner, August 9, 2022
These two articles discuss facts that contradict the official speech, the articles of our press, and the programs on our televisions. These facts go against the information assault to which we are subjected daily on the subject of war, inflation, and the economic crisis that is already in front of our eyes. These facts should lead us all to a deep reflection on what is really happening.
The other two articles are concerned with what is happening in the United States. One looks at what could be a class struggle in the United States before the November 2022 midterm elections and beyond until the 2024 presidential elections. The last article, authored by Robert Reich, calls for political awareness movements so that the country can avoid the real danger of fascists gaining power in the United States.
3. Presidential Emergency Council decision on the railways: The Biden administration declares war on the working class, World Socialist Web Site, August 18, 2022.
4. The Most Important Battle of our Lifetimes, by Robert Reich, September 2, 2022
And after reading the texts I am presenting to you, I leave you a question here: with these leaders of ours, and Truss’ speech that does not differ in practice from what others may be thinking, given what they do or what they say, where do you think our political leaders are taking us, if we don’t gain the strength to stop them? Read the texts carefully and think carefully about my question. Let’s give peace a chance and reject the constant resort to more weapons, more demonization, and more hatred.
Pleasant reading to all.
Julio Mota, Faro, Portugal, September 1, 2022
Note: I would recommend above all text The Return of the King by Wolfgang Streeck, director emeritus of the Max Planck Institute and one of the most important German intellectuals active today.
* Avenida dos Ignorantes in English means Avenue of the Ignorant and Avenida dos Acomodados means Avenue of the Accommodated, which could mean both those who have accommodated the status quo and those who have been accommodated by the status quo. These terms are recognizable cognates of English words, so they were left untranslated in the text above.
** Julio Mota’s note for the English translation
The victims of hatred were their organisers of the Festa do Avante, those who went to the festival and, above all, the artists who put on the shows. They were insulted for not distancing themselves from the Portuguese Communist Party, for not being against the PCP because it was not against Russia. The PCP was in a position very close to ours.
To give you an idea of the media, when referring to the Festa do Avante, the media spent 3/4 of the time criticising the PCP because of the war in Ukraine and the rest of the time talking about the Festival for just a few seconds. We never saw any excerpt of any of the shows that were organised at the Festa do Avante. This was intentional.
A very accurate analysis that makes my blood boil. Since the industrial revolution, nothing tried has been able to bring down predatory capitalism. Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do or die.