Statement – 29 October 2018
JAIR BOLSONARO’s victory in the presidential election poses a deadly threat to Brazil’s working class and progressive movements. His supporters have already unleashed a wave of terror against Black, indigenous, LGBT and social rights activists.
US President Donald Trump congratulated Bolsonaro, claiming the two would form “great partnerships”. But claims that the president-elect is the Brazilian Trump grossly underestimate the danger he presents to the organisations of the working class and rural poor in the world’s third biggest democracy.
The Workers’ Party (PT) candidate, Fernando Haddad, who stepped in after the regime imprisoned charismatic former PT president Lula from standing, was defeated during a campaign which saw record levels of abstentionism and spoiled ballots in the PT heartlands.
The reasons for the rise of the right and the decline of the PT cannot be understood without looking at the fortunes of the Brazilian economy. Lula’s first five years saw twenty million Brazilians lifted out of poverty. But scarcely had the country recovered from the Great Recession of 2008 when it was catapulted into second one in 2012, triggered by IMF and US lenders’ demands for austerity. This slump lasted into 2016, and was the basis for mass mobilisations against Dilma and the PT and, in August of that year, Michel Temer’s constitutional coup.
The Temer government’s deep austerity measures hampered the anaemic economic recovery. The social consequences were not only increases in poverty and rampant inequality and mass unemployment, but a rise in violent crime and a three cornered war between drug gangs, community organisations, and the police in the shantytowns. Unemployment, which had fallen to a low of 6 million in 2013, had doubled by August 2018. More than fifty million Brazilians, nearly 25 percent of the population, live below the poverty line.
The fact that Dilma was in office when the second crisis hit and had capitulated to the IMF austerity allowed the right wing media, the evangelical churches, and right wing demagogues, to blame it all on the PT. They were identified as corrupt and frittering money away on the undeserving poor. This intensified the feelings of crisis and decline within the middle class and the labour aristocracy. On this basis a campaign of virulent hatred against the poor, the unions, the black and indigenous parts of the population, gained traction, whilst sections of the PT’s popular base were demoralised by the cuts to welfare, and social services created under Lula.
Bolsonaro built his campaign through denunciations of the PT and threats to crush the largest workers’ party in Latin America. Although the PT has been led in government and opposition by mild social democrats, Bolsonaro whipped up a hysterical red scare, saying:
“We cannot continue flirting with communism … We are going to change the destiny of Brazil.”
Bolsonaro’s campaign speeches were littered with vile racist, misogynist, and homophobic demagogy, which set the tone for his threatened destruction of the workers’, landless, and indigenous people’s movements, and to reverse the rights women have won since the end of the military dictatorship in the early 1980s.
He threatened the PT’s leaders and activists:
“Either they go overseas, or they go to jail. … These red outlaws will be banished from our homeland. It will be a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history.”
He also promised that what he called the “crooks” from Brazil’s landless workers’ movement (MST) would be treated as terrorists. Already MST activists are persecuted and murdered by the big landowners’ paramilitary thugs and Bolsonaro has effectively declared open season on them.
Bolsonaro not only has a former general as his deputy, he is closely supported by a sinister cabal of retired generals and far right academics. He threatened to “put the armed forces in the streets” if his election was challenged, and promised to give his fascistic middle class supporters the right to carry arms.
Ominous signs of this could be seen on election night when jubilant Bolsonaro supporters packed Sao Paulo’s Avenida Paulista, cheering the military police. In Niterói, in the wealthy, white, southeastern stronghold of the Brazilian right, armed soldiers paraded through crowds of supporters celebrating the result. Within hours of his election, reports circulated of military police invading at least 20 university campuses to remove anti-Bolsonaro banners and propaganda material.
This reveals the dilemma faced by the leaders of the PT and the 7.5 million strong CUT trade union in the months between election night and the inauguration in January – that direct action to resist Bolsonaro could provide the pretext for a military-police crackdown.
Certainly Bolsonaro’s praise for the brutal military dictatorship means the possibility that he could engineer a provocation to justify wholesale repression, mass arrests, and even a military coup should not be discounted. But if they do not take action to defend themselves, Bolsonaro will salami the still powerful forces of the labour movement.
But forewarned is forearmed, and the Brazilian labour and popular movements should act now to form councils of action to organise the resistance and self-defence units to protect themselves. These bodies can form the basis for coordinating a united front of the PT, CUT, MST, and all the socialist, women’s and indigenous organisations.
Within the framework of united actions to defeat Bolsonaro’s attacks, activists need to discuss the failure of the of the reformist and class collaborationist strategy pursued by the PT and CUT leaders during the Lula and Dilma governments, which must shoulder some responsibility for the current crisis facing the Brazilian people.
Bolsonaro’s victory will accelerate the rise of populist and fascist forces gaining ground around the world. Our own working class movements need a reality check about the consequences of the catastrophe facing one of the world’s strongest working class movements, not only immediately in Brazil, but also in our own countries.
In Britain, Red Flag calls on socialists to organise solidarity committees in the labour movement to demand:
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