Brazil: armed demonstrations threaten coup

27 October 2021

By Carlos Uchoa Magrini and Assiria Conti

ON 7 SEPTEMBER Brazil’s far right president Jair Bolsonaro called hundreds of thousands of his supporters onto the streets across the huge country—100,000 in Sao Paolo alone. Contingents from the army, especially the military police, marched in uniform, carrying their guns.

Truckers blockaded highways for hours. Counter-demonstrations by socialists and the unions were heavily outnumbered.

This indicates the right wing populist president’s supporters, both civilian and in the armed forces, are crystallizing into a reactionary petit-bourgeois mass movement with an increasingly fascist physiognomy. It also shows the danger of a military coup, backed by the 500,000 strong military police, to prevent his defeat in next year’s presidential elections.

Bolsonaro’s speeches and broadcasts ceaselessly foment hatred against the dispossessed, especially the homeless and the landless movements (MTST, MST), the trade unions (CUT), the left, civil servants and teachers. To these he adds attacks against women, LGBT+, black and indigenous activists. In this he has the support of the right wing evangelical churches.

The backdrop to this is a severe economic crisis, 580,000 death from covid, the second highest in the world, and rampant corruption, which has seen charges against Bolsonaro’s sons. The Supreme Court could remove him from office.

Sections of the wealthy élite that brought him to power are turning their backs on him. Nevertheless the core of the ruling class is hesitant to oust him, seeing him as the best agent to demolish the social gains of the working class and the oppressed, initiated by the Workers’ Party (PT).

This instability, added to the aggressive militarised marches, is creating calls for a ‘strong man’ to assume full dictatorial powers. In short it is the pretext for Bolsonaro to destroy the trade unions and working class parties.

Left confusion
Unfortunately the main working class party, the PT, has responded by building a ‘broad front’, which even includes right wing bourgeois parties that carried out the 2016 coup and supported Bolsonaro in 2018. This is nothing more than the popular front such as we saw in France and Spain in the 1930s and in Chile in the 1970s, a strategy which has always led to the defeat of the working class.

In opposition to this broad front, stand the smaller leftist organisations. Some, however, take a sectarian position, refusing to work with the PT, as the Communist Party of Germany did in 1929–33 (the Stalinist Third Period) when they rejected the united front with the Social Democratic Party, enabling Hitler’s rise to power.

History has shown that in a prolonged political and social crisis both the popular front and sectarian obstruction of the united front have proved fatal for the working class, on many occasions a mere prelude to a fascist or military coup.

But neither should the left regard fascism as already in power with the implication that all is lost and the workers’ movement has somehow already been rendered impotent. Ultra-left posturing can cover failure to fight and capitulation—the worst sort of defeat.

In fact Bolsonaro and his fascist followers, plus the armed apparatus of the bourgeois state, are not yet in a position where they have dismantled the workers’ organisations and the various social movements. The numbers on the streets on 7 September were not overwhelming and the bourgeoisie itself has not yet decided to throw in its lot with a coup.

In the present situation, we need a major mobilisation of the working class to confront Bolsonaro’s attempts to cling on to power or turn his presidency into an outright dictatorship. However, the main parties of the Brazilian left and the CUT (Brazilian TUC) used the excuse of the pandemic to largely stop political and trade union activity.

United front
Revolutionaries must ring the alarm bells. The working class—its parties, the trade unions and the rank and file organisations—must prepare a fight to the death that really can smash fascism. This will include the most powerful weapons of the proletariat, the general strike and its armed self-defence.

The leaderships of the left and of the unions are slowly starting to mobilise their troops. To speed up this process, direct action by the leaders and the rank and file is necessary. The CUT and the PT, overwhelmingly the largest working class organisations in the country, alongside the mass social movements, should clearly call for a general strike and start to organise self-defence units.

To do this requires breaking with the strategy of alliances with bourgeois parties. Instead, we need to promote a united front of the working class and all oppressed strata of society: the landless and homeless, women, LGBT+ and student movements.

Linked to this we need to advance an action programme to solve the economic and social crises, the health emergency and the climate catastrophe and reverse all the reactionary measures enacted or threatened by Bolsonaro. But as Trotsky said, the general strike always poses the question, which class shall be master in the state.

This raises the need to impose a workers’ government, drawn from the organisations of workers and the oppressed, to carry out the revolutionary measures to stop the crisis, an emergency programme that meets the immediate needs of the working class and the impoverished masses and lays the foundations of a socialist society.

Such a government needs to be based on organs of struggle, on committees of resistance in the neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools and universities—the foundations of workers and peasants’ power.

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