An escalation of violence brought Brazil to the verge of democratic collapse on 8 January, as Bolsonaristas stormed the centres of power, calling for a military coup. The worst was averted, but the country faces deep social divisions and a radicalized far-right, leaving President Lula no room for error.
The Left treading on the Right
“The Right is culpable. Reactionary. Slightly ridiculous”, writes Romanian philosopher Andrei Plesu in “Dilema veche”. “The Left, in contrast, is impudent, cheeky. It can’t remember the bad things. It hides the Gulag behind a veil of intelligence, nuance, and ‘historical necessity’.” A provocative statement that has prompted a response from Plesu’s leftwing counterpart, the Hungarian political scientist Gáspár Miklós Tamás.
I recently attended a very civilized debate in Sofia on the views of the Right and the Left, organized by the esteemed political scientist Ivan Krastev. The gathering of familiar participants included Alexander Smolar and Gáspár Miklós Tamás, as well as numerous journalists and experts from Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey, the US, Albania and Portugal.
I wouldn’t say that I discovered anything new. However, I did have the occasion – for the umpteenth time – to recognize the numerical, stylistic and rhetorical imbalance between rightwing and leftwing standpoints. Statistically speaking, the Right made up to about five per cent of those present. Among them were two Bulgarian ministers. Their articulate and refined language and mannerisms caused me to reflect sourly on their Romanian counterparts. Despite the quality of their presentations, they were confronted with ironic disbelief from the majority. It was clear that the Left felt legitimate while the Right felt defensive. The Left seemed to be confidently surviving despite all its past crimes, while the Right, surprisingly, continued to embody them. So that, in a meeting dominated by the Left, the discourse of the Right had a muted tone, or at least one that was insular and eccentric.
Leading the leftwing offensive was our good friend Gáspár Miklós Tamás, as bright and refined as ever. The former anti-communist dissident was sporting his trademark mix of anarchism, Marxism, learnedness and sarcasm with panache. He sees (or at least pretends to see) fascists everywhere. Constantly on the offensive, attacking everyone – himself included – in deliberately conservative, perfect English. “The problem with the leaders of the Right”, he says, “is that their insufferable arrogance causes them to consider themselves natural born leaders”. Yet on reflection, you can’t help but notice a common trait in the leaders of the Left that is just as dangerous, if not more so: they consider that destiny has singled them out as leaders, a belief arising from their bloodthirsty, missionary delusion.
“Don’t forget that in my youth I myself actively opposed the communist leaders!” says a defensive Tamás. And again: “Criticisms of communist ideology are usually contradictory: on the one hand, communists are accused of utopianism and a lack of pragmatism; yet when communism is implemented, the results are disastrous.”
This may lead some to ask whether, if all attempts to put an ideology into practice end up in pathetic disaster, this is not sufficient proof that the ideology is ultimately impracticable. Where is the contradiction? Is it the case of a failure to implement the essential feature of the utopia? Yet how many times and in how many circumstances must a system fail to be rendered impracticable? However it is difficult to keep up with the seductive Romanian-Hungarian philosopher. He is well read, intelligent and funny. Bloody funny! Furthermore, unlike his Bulgarian counterparts, he is riding the wave of the majority.
During the coffee breaks, Ivan Krastev and Alexander Smolar are discretely siding with me. Is this a conspiracy or do they fear that I am in desperate need of some friendly comfort? Or am I becoming needlessly suspicious? Do I see a nonexistent dissymmetry? Then why, when someone is talking about the (serious) defects of Mrs Thatcher, does everybody smile in implicit agreement. What about Thatcher’s positive qualities? This question creates an embarrassing moment, like when you object to Che Guevara. The Right is culpable. Reactionary. Slightly ridiculous. The Left preaches equality, but doesn’t recognize the principle of equality when it comes to the Right. Moreover, the Right is miserable, no fun, it has no sense of humour. The Left, in contrast, is impudent, cheeky. It can’t remember the bad things. It hides the Gulag behind a veil of intelligence, nuance, analytic pragmatism and “historical necessity”. The chosen ones, the really chosen ones, must be of leftwing persuasion. The rest? A handful of gloomy elitists, rightly condemned to popular amnesia.
Published 16 June 2009
Original in Romanian
Translated by Anna Codrea-Rado
First published by Dilema veche 243 (2008)
Contributed by Dilema veche © Andrei Plesu / Dilema veche / EurozinePDF/PRINT
Soundings 81 (2022)
How culture in the UK has become the soft target for an improvised neo-Thatcherism; why the Left makes a mistake to denigrate cultural politics; how to understand the far-right’s online power-base; and why the BBC prefers to manufacture dissensus.