Interviewing José Antônio Moroni, Inesc’s Joint Managing Board
There's a tendency to think about new democratic processes based on social networks and virtual participation. We have to make better use of this possibility, but redesigning democracy entirely based on it is unfeasible.
José Antônio Moroni holds an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and a postgraduate degree in History of Brazil, Foundations of Special Education, and Methods and Techniques for Preparing Social Projects. Moroni's work is particularly focused on the following topics: political reform; popular participation and government; social work; children and adolescents; and human rights. He is also a member of the coordinating board of the Brazil Budget Forum (FBO), of the National Popular Participation Forum (FNPP), of the Platform of Social Movements for Reform of the Political System, and of the Council for Economic and Social Development (CESD), a collegiate body of the Office of the President of the Republic.
What do you think needs to happen to deepen democracy in your country/town and involve citizens more directly at the crucial stages of the policy cycle?
Democracy has been undergoing a profound crisis not only in Brazil, but in the world at large. Democratic systems have often been built as a result of social struggles, but always based on the power of representation and of institutions, that is, they have been developed as "derived" democracies, rather than radical democracies where people can rely on different forms of direct participation.This has led to discomfort with a model of democracy based on representation and on the power of representation of institutions. Such a scenario is a result of the advance of democracy and of the maturing of reflections on democracy, but also of the fact that this model does not reflect the complexity of modern society. This model was appropriate for a virtually monolithic society where there was a relationship between capital and labor and political competition was focused on this aspect. This is not saying that there weren't other struggles – such as the struggles of feminists, gays, black movements, which have always existed in history in different ways and with different degrees of visibility –, but from the moment that these other agendas begin to gain greater political density, you realize that the political subjects emerging from these struggles have no place in this model of democracy. This clash between models of democracy is positive, as it forces us to develop our capacity to express proposals from a strategic, theoretical and political point of view and from the perspective of communication, so that we may redefine these democratic processes.
Regarding citizen participation...
We must take into account the issue of individualism. There's a tendency to think about new democratic processes based on social networks and virtual participation. We have to make better use of this possibility, but redesigning democracy entirely based on it is unfeasible, as in doing so you reinforce individualism to a certain extent not in terms of "those who think only about themselves," but in the sense of not creating collective political action, and thus of not creating political subjects. On the other hand, the role of individuals is important if we consider their responsibility in decision-making processes that affect the community as a whole – and this is not individualism. Collective action should influence public policy in all its stages.
How do you think these things can actually change?
The debate on Reform of the Political System being held in Brazil reflects the issues I'm raising here. But we are still in a space of discomfort, of having to tackle the need for going beyond commonplace approaches. But I think we haven’t managed to come up with a new political and ideological model so far that is different from the one built based on the ideals of the French Revolution – and this is not a task for one generation, but rather a historical process. We must still find ways to develop new matrices to try and break away from old structures of the democratic process. We should pay more attention to certain experiences taking place in Latin America: the case of Bolivia, of thinking about a multinational state. We also need to address the issue of political parties from a different perspective: we need to break away from the idea that political parties have the monopoly of "doing politics.” In addition, as in the case of Brazil, we need to challenge the obligation imposed on all political parties to be organized in the same way – in a hierarchical fashion, without political density, etc. Finally, we need to discuss the role of political parties in redesigning democracy and recognize that there are other political subjects involved in the public debate beyond these parties.
Which major changes have you seen? What made these changes happen?
In Brazil's current scenario, it's difficult to anticipate what will happen next week. An anti-democratic process is under way that essentially consists of a political struggle for the non-existence of other political subjects: that is, for denying the right of others to exist. Advances made in recent years made it possible for us to consider ways to break away from old models to build something new: we haven't had ruptures in Brazil's history, as we always had reconciliation arrangements coordinated by the elite for it to remain in power. This accumulation of capital and political power is also being challenged. The problem is that social movements and organizations that want more democracy are also facing a crisis and suffering the effects of neoliberalism. Obviously, there is the issue of the mainstream media attacking social movements, but there's also a lack of communication between the movements themselves, a lack of understanding of changes under way in Brazilian society that prevents them from interpreting the future appropriately and thus from coming up with sound proposals. The left has failed to do self-criticism and we have thus lost room for competing with other discourses in society. This has to do with the Lula administration, but also to the excessive bureaucracy prevailing in civil society organizations. It's as if the existence of an organization itself were its end, due to its synthesizing capacity, and in this regard we need to think in terms of plurality. Social movements need to reinvent themselves in this process of change. There's also a generational problem: the main leaders active today emerged after the military dictatorship; and there are young leaders emerging, but there's a group in the middle that cannot find its space. I can't tell at what level the changes to come will take place, but the fact that no one is feeling comfortable is a great thing in itself.
How do you think one can make a difference?
While recognizing the role of an individual and of people in conducting certain processes, I can only conceive of political processes as conducted by groups. Does one individual make a difference within a group? No. A group makes a difference. We need less individualized and more prioritized political processes to ensure the advancement of democracy.
What can we learn from you?
The Platform of Social Movements for Political Reform has won a great victory in relation to the concept of Political Reform. While a lot of thought was given at first to reforming the electoral process, there's a rooted understanding today that this issue is way more comprehensive: political reform is related to the issue of exercising power, recognizing different subjects, reforming public institutions, including the judiciary, regulating the media, and reforming the electoral system as well. This means that it's not a reform restricted to the electoral system, but rather a comprehensive reform that provides us with the possibility of developing a larger agenda to be worked on for a long time. When we understand that our political system is based on unequal economic relations and we bring racial-, ethnic- and gender-related issues into the debate, we are proposing a new, more equitable political mosaic, and this is a big challenge. So I see it as a great victory that we built this concept under which social organizations and movements in Brazil share an understanding with respect to the political reform agenda and related topics. There's a group of politicians in Parliament that opposes this concept and agenda, i.e. which supports a narrow proposal that only contemplates a minimum agenda of changes in some election rules.
In the Brazilian case, one must play close attention to the subject of deliberative participatory democracy. The instruments that were put place after the 1988 Constitution was passed, such as councils and conferences, are insufficient. The Constitution itself provides for direct forms of participation. Other instruments need to be discussed. Today, participatory democracy is synonymous with "council.” But this is not enough.