Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Fascism or Bonapartism? Lessons from Trotsky for Understanding Brazil Under Bolsonaro

Is genuine fascism rising in Brazil? How should the working class respond if so? Marxism helps us to characterize the Bolsonaro government and spells out the method for confronting the extreme Right.

André Barbieri

October 29, 2022
Facebook Twitter Share
Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini in 1937.

Marxism is a guide for action and, at the same time, a guide for thinking that allows us to group together and differentiate phenomena according to the concrete situation. In Brazil, there is an urgent need to organize a decisive struggle against the extreme Right. The first-round election results reaffirmed this, with incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro and his allies strengthening their position within the overall regime. Meanwhile, the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores;  Workers’ Party) and its presidential campaign of Lula1Translator’s note: Lula Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, is the PT presidential candidate. He was Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2011. He is also a founding member of the PT — the largest left-wing party in Latin America, which is probably best characterized today as social democratic in ideology. He was succeeded by Dilma Rousseff, also of the PT. declare that we are facing a “fascist threat” — a declaration aimed at impeding any grassroots mobilization in the streets against the extreme Right. This characterization serves as a useful cover for the PT’s policy of hindering any serious confrontation with Bolsonaro. 

Basing this on Bolsonaro’s genuinely fascist traits, the maneuver seeks to create a “fascism versus democracy” dichotomy to inject terror among the masses as a way to chanel rejection of the extreme Right toward the polls and support for the Lula–Alckmin campaign.2Translator’s note: Lula’s running mate for vice president is Geraldo Alckmin of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), who is a former governor of São Paulo state. It is a ticket that, faced with the Trumpist and neoliberal figure of Bolsonaro, offers class conciliation with the right wing, with big industrial and finance capital, and with the Democratic Party wing of U.S. imperialism — all of whom bear responsibility for the 2016 institutional coup d’etat that brought us to the reactionary situation in which we find ourselves today.3Translator’s note: In December 2015, a process began in Brazil to impeach the president, Dilma Rousseff, for “corruption.” The charges were based on Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash; so named because it was first “uncovered” at a car wash in Brasilia, a criminal investigation into corruption by the Brazilian federal police that began in 2014 during Rousseff’s first term as president and initially centered on the Brazilian state oil company Petrobras. It was later used to jail Lula —part of an effort, aided by U.S. imperialism, to keep the PT from winning the 2018 elections. At the end of August 2016, the Brazilian Senate voted to remove Dilma from office, finding her guilty of violating budget laws — and resulting in a bloodless coup employing the institutions of the state.

Certain left groups such as Resistência (a current within the PSOL4Translator’s note: The Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL, Socialism and Liberty Party) is a large Left party in Brazil that describes itself as socialist and democratic. It was founded by expelled members of the PT.) have repeated this line of the PT. Its leader Valério Arcary echoes the propaganda of the PT’s ideologues, such as Emir Sader and the “fascism versus democracy” dichotomy. With a long history of confusing and conflating political concepts, Arcary stirs up the need to defeat the Brazil’s “neo-fascists” or, sometimes “fascists” — something to be achieved at the ballot box. Hence, Resistência calls for “turn[ing] the country red in order to defeat fascism on election day.” In this fiery commitment to conciliation the Lula–Alckmin conciliation politics, the group “doesn’t resist” even the unusual “fascism of the second term” argument that regardless of whether Bolsonaro was unable to build a fascist government in his first term, he’ll surely do so this time. 

It is important to what fascism is and is not, and what exists today in Brazil. But before that, let’s explore Resistência’s definitive break with Marxism — a break that exists regardless of whether Brazil today has come under fascist rule.

How to Fight Fascism in the Marxist Tradition

The Bolsonarist far Right is the enemy of the working class, women, Black people, indigenous people, and LGBTQ+ people. No doubt, Bolsonaro and his allies have notable proto-fascist characteristics. 

What if, hypothetically, these individual proto-fascist traits became a mass phenomenon? Imagine that we are witnessing the rise of fascism in Brazil. This could become reality only were the working class to rise up, with its own methods, in a situation foreshadowing clashes that pose revolution or counterrevolutionary. What would Arcary’s organization do if faced with a real fascist situation? Again, Resistência — so willing to dissolve itself into a campaign with Alckmin, the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (Fiesp), the Brazilian Federation of Banks (Febraban), and the U.S. Democratic Party, all of whom played vital roles in the 2016 coup — believe that fascism is fought at the ballot box, and by voting for a ticket in which the PT is allied with the Right.

Defeat fascism on election day” is Resistência’s banner. Through Arcary and its other spokespeople, the group argues the urgency of using voting as an effective anti-fascist weapon. The logical conclusion is to withdraw from confronting fascism on the terrain of a physical struggle between classes and direct it toward the “normal” channels of bourgeois rule in “peaceful” times. Consequently, the Left’s task is to build the broadest front with “anti-fascist” forces (or, in the words of Luciana Genro of the PSOL’s MES current, “democratic forces5Translator’s note: Movimento Esquerda Socialista (MES, Left Socialist Movement) is one of the largest blocs within the PSOL.), a characterization with which many figures of the regime refer to the Lula–Alckmin broad front, while celebrating the return of neoliberal economic stalwarts of the 1990s such as Persio Arida, Armínio Fraga, Pedro Malan and company.6Translator’s note: Persio Arida is former president of the Brazilian Development Bank. Armínio Fraga is former president of the Central Bank of Brazil. Pedro Malan was Brazil’s minister of finance from 1995 to 2003.

But is this really how to confront a rising fascist phenomenon? In the Marxist tradition, the political logic is precisely the opposite. The fight against fascism can be carried out only through class struggle, with a program based on working-class hegemony and independent of all sectors of bourgeoisie. In other words, Marxist theory’s contribution to the fight against fascism is the need to unify the working class in action against the ruling class, in alliance with women, Black people, the youth, and all the oppressed. This is the objective of the workers’ united front, as elaborated by Lenin and Trotsky in the Communist International.

The tactic of the workers’ united front, spelled out in 1921 at the Third Congress of the Communist International (with its theoretical basis originating from the successful working-class struggle in Germany against the so-called Kapp Putsch, and attempted coup in March 1920 led by Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz) is part of the arsenal we inherit from the Marxism of that era, with its emphasis on strategy. It has two components. Its tactical aspect involves temporary agreements with reformists aimed at unifying the ranks of the workers around minimum demands, including countering the far Right’s attacks on democratic rights. At the same time, its strategic aspect aims — as a primary objective — to increase the influence of revolutionary parties as a product of common experience with the masses (and their rejection of reformist leaderships) and to win the majority of workers to the perspective of seizing power. At all times, it maintains independence from all bourgeois parties. 

Hitler’s triumph in Germany in 1933 resulted, in large part, from Stalin’s contempt for the workers’ united front approach, dragging out the class struggle and impeding any unity between communist and social democratic workers to defeat the fascist groups. In a subsequent U-turn, Stalin used the Popular Fronts in France and Spain to postpone the class struggle, thus impeding the revolution and conceding victory to the fascists. 

Prior to Hitler’s victory in Germany, the Trotskyist Left Opposition devoted its forces to achieving the unity of workers, social democrats and communists alike, in the face of the fascist advance (defending the factories and the workers’ neighborhoods; defending democratic rights; etc.). This policy of independent unity of the working class was sabotaged by the Comintern in Germany and Austria, under Stalin’s direction, according to the directives of the “Third Period,” during which the Communist Party apparatus and reformist Social Democratic leaders fought for leadership of the workers’ movement — a disadvantageous dispute for both. This came after the disasters caused by Communists’ opportunism in England and China. 

Once the Nazis emerged victorious, a result of Stalinism’s catastrophic sectarian policy, the Comintern adopted a diametrically opposed position, not only allying itself with European Social Democracy (and refraining from criticizing the reformists for the duration of the agreements), but also with the “democratic” wing of the imperialist bourgeois parties. The Stalin–Laval communiqué in France secured the Soviet–French military agreement with the French Communist Party’s promise of “social peace.” This became the model for “anti-fascist” Popular Fronts around the world. 

Trotsky put forward the workers’ united front, which had at its core unity in action among workers (in alliance with all the oppressed) to achieve practical objectives in the class struggle, to combat the opportunist policy of building class-collaborationist Popular Fronts. 

Throughout the 1930s, Trotsky fought vigorously against the policy, under the guise of “anti-fascist fronts,” of conciliation with the so-called democratic-republican wing of the bourgeoisie — which always had its electoral expression. This was the banner under which Stalinism built the Popular Fronts in Spain and France, destroying enormous revolutionary processes and paving the way for the fascists to take power. In Brazil, echoes of this policy in the second half of the 20th century led to a series of defeats. Under the leadership of the Brazilian Communist Party, the policy of class conciliation led to the defeat of the workers’ and peasants’ movements and facilitated the triumph of the military dictatorship in 1964. Conciliation with “bourgeois democracy” in the post-dictatorship period led to guardianship of the military being ensconced in the constitution of 1988, easing the way for the neoliberalism of the 1990s. Examples abound of historical experiences that ended the same way. 

Faced with a genuine fascist ascent, Trotsky illuminated the problem in an exchange with Austrian workers in July 1936. Criticizing the policy of the socialists and Stalinists in Austria, who called for an alliance with “anti-fascist” forces against Hitler, he wrote:

Their entire policy proceeds from the idea: The main enemy of both the Austrian and the Russian workers is Hitler. Therefore the first task is to strike at Hitler. For this reason it is necessary to ally the proletariat with all the “antifascist forces,” under which shamefaced name the “democratic” bourgeoisie inside and outside of Austria are included. This alliance, naturally, is possible only with the complete deferment of the class struggle. On any other basis an alliance between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is inconceivable. But as we have just attempted to show, this policy facilitates the victory of the Nazis.

 In this concise reflection, Trotsky points out that an alliance with the bourgeoisie (considered to be part of the anti-fascist forces) means postponing the class struggle and sidelining the independent organization of workers to confront the far Right. In the face of a fascist threat, it means eliminating the primary weapon at the workers’ disposal. 

Applying this analysis to the situation in Brazil makes clear that postponing the class struggle is the PT’s modus operandi. As one example, faced with Bolsonaro’s attacks on the national universities, the union bureaucracies linked to the PT fled like the plague from organizing a struggle. Lula does not want to give any signal of instability to the business leaders represented by Alckmin. The solution is at the polls, and conciliation with the bourgeoisie to “defeat fascism,” when the results of the first round of voting on October 2 — when Bolsonaro received far more votes than anticipated and forced a second round — revealed that a policy like this only strengthens the far Right.

In his letters to Spanish Left Oppositionist Andreu Nin and others around the world, Trotsky denounced these alliances with the bourgeoisie, whether they were called “anti-fascist fronts” or “broad fronts” or, as figures such as the novelist and French CP member Henri Barbusse, the novelist Romain Rolland, and leaders of the Stalinized Comintern presented them in the 1930s, “united fronts of the masses.” In an April 1935 essay, he described how the elementary idea of the workers’ united front loses its meaning in relation to the “parlor pacifists, the democratic windbags, the acrobats and the charlatans,” and concludes that  bourgeois individuals, pacifists, democratic writers and others.” He concluded, “All these blocs and congresses and committees have as their task to screen the passivity, the cowardice and the incapacity to solve those tasks that compose the very essence of the class struggle of the proletariat.”

Trotsky was correct in his prognosis. Those who wished to resolve the fascist problem through elections led millions to the nightmare scenario of the 1930s. The alliance between Austrian Social Democracy, the Stalinists, and the national bourgeoisie pacified the class struggle in the name of “anti-fascist struggle.” Taking advantage of the workers’ demoralization, the Dollfuss government staged a series of provocations aimed at generating an incident — finally succeeding in 1934 and thus allowing Austrian troops to massacre workers. 

In France, the alliance formed by the Socialist and Communist parties with the republican bourgeoisie (the Radical Party) led to the creation of the Popular Front in 1936, supposedly with the objective of preventing the fascists, who had been gaining strength since 1934, from taking power. The Popular Front put the brakes on the class struggle, which had seen a wave of factory occupations, and prepared the way for the defeat of the revolutionary upsurge. This in turn, cleared the way for Marechal Pétain’s Vichy government and the Nazi occupation. 

In Spain, the Popular Front formed by anarchists, socialists, and Stalinists (with the support of Nin and the POUM7Translator’s note: The Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM; Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) comprised the Trotskyist Communist Left of Spain and the Workers and Peasants Bloc, the latter affiliated with the Right Opposition within the Communist International, and formed over the objections of Trotsky.), together with the republican bourgeoisie led by Manuel Azaña and Diego Martínez Barrio, similarly upheld the defense of private property and the rule of capital, destroying the heroic Spanish Revolution. Gradually, all the Spanish workers’ organizations engaged in struggle were sabotaged, workers’ committees were dissolved, workers’ militias were disarmed, and factories were handed back over to their previous owners — paving the way for Franco’s fascist government. 

What is clear in each of these historical examples is that the defeat of fascism does not come through the vote, as Resistência argues in breaking with Marxism.

What, then, is the method — in the Marxist tradition — for seriously confronting a genuine fascist phenomenon? The struggle against fascism is not resolved through elections, but through class struggle, which includes a physical struggle. Its starting point is political independence from all bourgeois parties. 

Take the example of Spain. Trotsky counterposed to the Popular Front the struggle for the immediate redistribution of land to the peasantry (abolishing the large estates and expropriating the biggest rural landowners) and for the immediate handing over of the factories to the workers (expropriating the capitalists). Just as important, and contrary to the position of the Popular Front, he emphasized the fight against Spanish imperialism in Morocco, defending the liberation of oppressed peoples from the rule of the Madri government, which was a frontal attack on the Francoist armies. This policy was the exactly the opposite of the logic of an alliance with “anti-fascist forces.” It established anti-capitalist social and economic demands as the basis for the most efficient organization of a defense of basic democratic rights — which could be achieved through the method of the united front, through workers’ unity in action for concrete political objectives in the class struggle against the bourgeoisie (including the so-called democratic bourgeoisie). That is the correct policy to fight the far Right and the fascists. 

Debating with the Stalinists over the situation in Germany prior to the Nazi victory, Trotsky wrote:

No common platform with the Social Democracy, or with the leaders of the German trade unions, no common publications, banners, placards! March separately, but strike unitedly! Agree only how to strike, whom to strike, and when to strike!

It is should be noted further that Trotsky problematized the parliamentary method of electoral agreements with reformist workers’ organizations, like the Social Democracy, as detrimental to the methods of class struggle. That was even before the period of the Popular Front. Far worse is the opportunist adaptation of Resistência, which has dissolved itself within the presidential campaign of Lula along with the right wing, big capital, and the Democratic Party wing of U.S. imperialism.

Has Trotsky’s method — a workers’ united front (including how to strike, against whom to strike, and when to strike) — achieved success in practice? It can, and it has at various historical moments. In 1917, in the fight against the attempted putsch by General Kornilov (a fascist band directed against the Russian Revolution), the Bolsheviks proposed a united front policy to the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries (the reformist parties that led the soviets during the transitional government of Kerensky) aimed at unifying the workers and blocking the offensive led by the generals allied with Kerensky. This would have strengthen the position of the Bolsheviks and weakened that of the conciliators. The fight against Kornilov was carried out without any support for Kerensky and not through electoral methods but with weapons in hand.

In 1920, the united front of German unions was the decisive factor in defeating the Kapp Putsch. In the later fight against Hitler in Germany , the workers’ united front was formed in the Bruchsal and Klingenthal regions, bringing together communist workers, members of the centrist SAP led by Brandler-Walcher (formerly part of the Right Opposition), and trade unionists bucking their own leaderships in order to defeat the local Nazi forces. 

In the Spanish Revolution, in July 1936, socialist, anarchist, and communist workers united to crush the fascist reaction (before being contained and disarmed by the army of the Popular Front). 

Even in Brazil, although on a smaller scale, Trotskyists led a united front with workers from various political groups in the 1934 Revolt of the Galinhas Verdes, defeating the Integralists in the Battle of Praça da Sé.8Translator’s note: Integralism in Brazil was a movement in the early 1930s with similarities to the mass fascist movements in Europe of the time. 

The workers’ united front tactic, developed at the Third Congress of the Communist International, is part of Marxism’s rich arsenal and is essential today. It has both tactical and strategic aspects. The former involve reaching agreements with reformists as conjunctural allies to unify the workers’ ranks to engage in common struggles. Strategically, its main objective is to increase the influence of revolutionary parties by going through common experiences with the masses, helping them reject their reformist leaderships, and winning over the majority to a struggle to seize power. 

At every juncture, this must be done independently of every faction within the ruling class. Again, Hitler’s 1933 victory in Germany resulted from Stalinism’s contempt for the workers’ united front tactics, sidelining the class struggle and preventing any unification of communist workers with social democrats against fascist groups. In a subsequent U-turn, Stalin used the Popular Fronts to defeat revolutionary movements, which led to the victory of fascism in France and Spain.

Resistência has adopted a variant of the anti-Marxist Popular Front policy, not the Marxist policy of the workers’ united front. This policy promotes electoral blocs with the “anti-fascist” Right and a coalition with the FIESP, Alckmin, and Biden. “March together and never strike” is its formula. Put precisely, this means it adheres to the conciliatory policy/program of the Lula-Alckmin ticket, which is incapable of defeating Bolsonarism but is useful enough to strengthen it. It is a shameful policy that postpones class struggle in the name of uniting with our oppressors.

Were there to be a fascist uprising in Brazil, Resistência’s policy would thus inevitably lead to a fatal workers’ defeat. This is an absolute departure from the Marxist tradition.

Why Label as Fascist Something That Is Not?

What is the actual situation in Brazil?

Resistência parrots the PT’s propaganda about “fascism,” but that does not reflect Brazil’s political reality. We must distinguish the reactionary actions of the Bolsonarist extreme Right from fascism as a theoretical-political category.

Marxism applies theoretically generalized practice to learn from reality. In that tradition, we understand fascism’s essence as the complete crushing of all workers’ organizations and, through their atomization, preventing their resurgence. Trotsky maintained, “In a developed capitalist society this goal cannot be achieved by police methods alone. There is only one method for it, and that is directly opposing the pressure of the proletariat ― the moment it weakens ― by the pressure of the desperate masses of the petty bourgeoisie. It is this particular system of capitalist reaction that has entered history under the name of fascism.” 

Fascism is the product of a union between the desperate middle classes and the terrorist politics of big finance capital, which leads these ruined sectors of the petty bourgeoisie to believe that the workers’ class struggle is the reason for their plight. The preemptive or subsequent counterrevolutionary response to open clashes between the workers and the bourgeoisie becomes the direct struggle with fascism.

Bolsonaro represents the savagery of the Trumpist extreme Right. We must understand the profoundly reactionary character of his politics in all of its dimensions and wage a serious struggle waged against it, employing the best historical methods of the working class. As Luiza Eineck, Social Services student at the University of Brasília and a member of Faísca, put it, “We need to build unity to fight cuts in education, Bolsonarism, and this abhorrent extreme Right, without making alliances with the corporations and the Right like the PT does.” 

It takes only minor theoretical rigor to see however, that there is no fascism or fascist rise in Brazil — other than in certain electoral fantasies. 

There are several transitional stages between a degraded bourgeois democracy and fascism, none of which can be reached without major upheavals. These include various phases of Bonapartism, a concept useful for understanding the basic functioning of government. Trotsky defined Bonapartism as a form of government that seeks to rise above the struggling classes, relying more directly on the armed forces to the detriment of parliament, and always with the aim of preserving capitalist property and imposing order — without yet sounding the alarm of more decisive physical confrontations. 

It is the instrument of “order.” It is summoned to safeguard what exists. Raising itself politically above the classes, Bonapartism, like its predecessor Caesarism, for that matter, represents in the social sense, always and at all epochs, the government of the strongest and firmest part of the exploiters.

This definition, written for European countries, speaks to the decisive power of imperialist “finance capital which directs, inspires, and corrupts the summits of the [state] bureaucracy.” Applied in semi-colonial, dependent regions such as Latin America, it is more about the submission of local representatives to foreign finance capital. 

Bolsonaro is the symbol of the most absolute submission to imperialism. Furthermore, he has relied on his government’s generals and judicial authoritarianism to wage attacks that are favorable to finance and industrial capital — something he could not have done without the parliament. He has relied systematically on his base in Congress to avoid various crises. Bolsonaro’s brand of Bonapartism has had a chilling effect on the most advanced sectors of society. This has, in turn, helped to revitalize the other Bonapartist wing, the judiciary, which defends “democratic” methods to pursue the objectives of finance capital ― including maintaining constitutional provisions established by the dictatorship, such as Article 142, which entitles the military to intervene in politics “in the event of public disorder.” This futile attempt to reconcile the interests of finance capital and the masses also revives the classic PT notion of an alliance between capital and labor.

This scientific analysis of reality makes a clear differentiation between political stages; it is indispensable for waging a better fight against the extreme Right. There are no clashes between revolution and counter-revolution in Brazil. There is not even unrest among the working-class rank and file, nor a level of class struggle that would require the big bourgeoisie to prepare to use methods of civil war against the workers and the poor. Bolsonaro cannot dispense with his parliamentary base, without which he is fragile; he was conditioned for months by the regime’s legislative and judicial institutions (e.g., the Supreme Federal Court), which seek to “normalize” him by absorbing the extreme Right. The conditions for a fascist movement to emerge do not depend on a leader’s personal desires, but on the objective demands of the class that is struggling to retain its power. 

This analysis is not meant to diminish the importance of right-wing elements in Brazil or rule out the threat of a coup, attacks on electoral procedures, and other elements typical of Bolsonaro’s supporters. Its aim is to increase our understanding of the current stage of social conflict so we can develop the correct orientation.

This raises an important question: if we are not actually confronted with this phenomenon, what do these leaderships hope to achieve by warning of a “fascist threat”? Their objective is to create an atmosphere of fear aimed at convincing people that “Lula’s leadership” — his electoral victory — is the only way to prevent the regime from becoming increasingly oppressive and stop the “fascist rapture.” Valério Arcary and Resistência have become no-frills advocates of the Lula-Alckmin campaign, which is now striving to show it enjoys good relations with church leaders and promoting that it’s not defending women’s right to abortion. They stick closely to the PT’s own campaign statements, even repeating the official line on anti-worker reforms. According to Arcary, the labor reform needs to be “revised” — thus serving the interests of big business by not demanding the full repeal of all ultra-liberal reforms. Conciliation has consequences and, in this case, has led them to water down their program on issues that are vital to women and the working class.

Labeling as fascism what is currently happening in Brazil not only helps keep the mass movement from preparing for an actual fascist threat, but also legitimizes the PT’s politics and its social-liberal coalition, which has restrained mobilizations against the economic and social attacks against workers imposed by the extreme Right. As Trotsky pointed out, an alliance with “anti-fascist forces” only serves to prolong the class struggle, since conciliation with the bourgeoisie is necessarily based on “social peace.” This is what the PT has been doing since the institutional coup of 2016. Who could forget the April 28, 2017, general strike against Temer’s labor reform, eventually blocked by union confederations linked to the PT? Or the nefarious 2019 pension reform that was passed with no opposition? What about the assassination of Marielle Franco and capoeira Master Moa, both in 2018, or of environmentalists Bruno Ferreira and Dom Phillips, in 2022, whose murders ― ignored by the union federations ― should have paralyzed the country in a confrontation with the extreme Right?9Translator’s note: Marielle Franco, a member of the Rio de Janeiro city council and an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, was assassinated in her car in March 2018. Details can be found here. Moa do Katendê was a 63-year-old master of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira and a beloved cultural figure and advocate for Black rights. A self-described supporter of Bolsonaro murdered him on October 7, 2018—the same day as Bolsonaro’s victory in the first round of the presidential elections. Bruno Pereira was a Brazilian indigenous expert and activist who had been assisting indigenous people of the Amazon in documenting and filing complaints against the illegal invasions of their land. Dom Phillips was a British journalist who was on a research trip with Pereira in the western region of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest for his book titled How to Save the Amazon when they were ambushed and killed in June 2022. The murderers presumably acted on the orders of one of the leaders an illegal fishing network. And what of economy minister Paulo Guede’s Green and Yellow Card program — a hellish reduction in workers’ benefits passed during the COVID-19 pandemic without a fight? Not to mention the numerous attacks on public education. The PT’s response to the most nefarious austerity policies imposed by the extreme Right — through the leaderships of the Unified Workers’ Confederation (CUT), the Brazilian Workers’ Confederation (CTB), and the National Union of Students (UNE) — has been to disarm the mass movement. 

Those who believe that the advance of the Right precludes scenarios of open class struggle are wrong: this was proven false by the events of 2020 in the United States, during the Trump administration. The role played by the leaderships is essential to understanding the current moment.

Resistência legitimizes all this containment of the class struggle by the PT’s leadership in its alliance with Alckmin, Biden, the Supreme Federal Court, and big capital. Resistência relegates to the Lula-Alckmin government, under the control of the Brazilian capitalist state, the task of combating what it calls “fascism” — claiming it would “improve” the conditions for workers’ struggles. Arcary’s social-democratic view that the bourgeois state can act as an instrument against fascists is the last link in a long chain of his rupture with Marxism. Contrary to Arcary’s conception that a social-democratic government could “rescue” the working class from a fascist threat, Marxists view the bourgeois state as an instrument of oppression of the subaltern classes by big capital. It uses different vehicles to exert its power, depending on its needs. These can be “democratic” or, when the class struggle demands it, fascist. In a country such as Brazil, it includes right-wing Bonapartist (or pre-Bonapartist) variants.

Resistência does not oppose the policies that have brought the unions under state control or how a state-linked union bureaucracy has the power to prevent the necessary organization and struggles of the working class. It has broken with one of the most basic principles of Marxism: that the trade union bureaucracy is one of the pillars of capitalist democracy, without which the ruling classes could not achieve the slightest stability in a situation of mass impoverishment. It avoids class struggle like the plague while fueling the PT-sown illusions about how a “progressive government” would somehow be “state security” against the atrocious extreme Right. But that extreme Right needs to be crushed with the fist of self-organization and a workers’ program that fights for the repeal — not a “revision”! — of all economic and social attacks against the working class.

Six years ago, while the MRT (Revolutionary Movement of Workers; the sister organization of Left Voice in Brazil) was fighting against the right-wing institutional coup against Dilma Rousseff’s government, Valério Arcary’s was engaged in the internal debates of the PSTU (United Socialist Workers Party) around basic issues such as whether to support an institutional right-wing coup. Unfortunately, the PSTU took a position that adapted to the coup, considering the PT’s removal from power as a result of the Lava Jato operation to be a step forward. In response to this profound mischaracterization, Arcary’s current at the time took its own step forward and opposed the institutional coup. It was elementary Marxism, a position based on the ABCs of Marxism, and not some sort of great advance — as the PSTU’s capitulation made it seem. The situation was tragic. 

After that, having abstained from the demonstrations against the coup, Arcary’s current organized an festival it called “Let’s Build a Joyful Future.” It was a deepening of their departure from Marxism, one that has been consolidated by the shameful role the current is playing today. Its dissolution into the PT, based on the most frenetic electoralism, is already having harmful consequences for the current, which declares its “joy” hand in hand with the putschists, neoliberals, and reactionaries of the STF, Fiesp, Febraban, and many others of their ilk, not to mention Alckmin and Biden. Will Resistência actually resist? Only time will tell, and time will be merciless.

Brazilian and world history, generalized by Marxist theory, have left us some great lessons. It is impossible to fight the extreme Right and achieve a relationship of forces favorable to the working class through alliances with the bourgeoisie. This has been demonstrated by Juventude Faísca (Youth Spark) in its interventions at universities across the country ― such as UnB in Brasília, Unicamp in Campinas, and USP in São Paulo ― where members discussed the situation with students and promoted a policy of steadfast class independence in a direct fight against Bolsonarism, without giving any political support to the Lula-Alckmin ticket. As Mariana Duarte said at USP, “Our first task right now is to organize the struggle against the extreme right, and this can happen only through grassroots organization, assemblies, strikes, and our own methods of struggle.” 

At Unicamp, Juliana Begiato spelled out the fighting spirit that should inspire these discussions: 

Bolsonarism will continue to be a social force in Brazil, with the election of loathsome figures like Damares, Mourão, and Ricardo Salles. We need to respond to reactionary Bolsonarism by struggling and mobilizing, without making alliances with the Right. It has become clear that the PT’s policy of class conciliation with the bosses and businessmen is incapable of defeating Bolsonarism. We need to defeat the Right with our own forces, demanding that trade union federations and the UNE organize grassroots assemblies in which students can self-organize with workers and discuss a plan to fight against all the attacks being waged against us.

First published in Portuguese on October 9 in Ideias de Esquerda.

Translation by Marisela Trevin and Rob Belano; notes by Scott Cooper

Notes

Notes
1 Translator’s note: Lula Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, is the PT presidential candidate. He was Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2011. He is also a founding member of the PT — the largest left-wing party in Latin America, which is probably best characterized today as social democratic in ideology. He was succeeded by Dilma Rousseff, also of the PT.
2 Translator’s note: Lula’s running mate for vice president is Geraldo Alckmin of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), who is a former governor of São Paulo state.
3 Translator’s note: In December 2015, a process began in Brazil to impeach the president, Dilma Rousseff, for “corruption.” The charges were based on Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash; so named because it was first “uncovered” at a car wash in Brasilia, a criminal investigation into corruption by the Brazilian federal police that began in 2014 during Rousseff’s first term as president and initially centered on the Brazilian state oil company Petrobras. It was later used to jail Lula —part of an effort, aided by U.S. imperialism, to keep the PT from winning the 2018 elections. At the end of August 2016, the Brazilian Senate voted to remove Dilma from office, finding her guilty of violating budget laws — and resulting in a bloodless coup employing the institutions of the state.
4 Translator’s note: The Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL, Socialism and Liberty Party) is a large Left party in Brazil that describes itself as socialist and democratic. It was founded by expelled members of the PT.
5 Translator’s note: Movimento Esquerda Socialista (MES, Left Socialist Movement) is one of the largest blocs within the PSOL.
6 Translator’s note: Persio Arida is former president of the Brazilian Development Bank. Armínio Fraga is former president of the Central Bank of Brazil. Pedro Malan was Brazil’s minister of finance from 1995 to 2003.
7 Translator’s note: The Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM; Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) comprised the Trotskyist Communist Left of Spain and the Workers and Peasants Bloc, the latter affiliated with the Right Opposition within the Communist International, and formed over the objections of Trotsky.
8 Translator’s note: Integralism in Brazil was a movement in the early 1930s with similarities to the mass fascist movements in Europe of the time.
9 Translator’s note: Marielle Franco, a member of the Rio de Janeiro city council and an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, was assassinated in her car in March 2018. Details can be found here. Moa do Katendê was a 63-year-old master of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira and a beloved cultural figure and advocate for Black rights. A self-described supporter of Bolsonaro murdered him on October 7, 2018—the same day as Bolsonaro’s victory in the first round of the presidential elections. Bruno Pereira was a Brazilian indigenous expert and activist who had been assisting indigenous people of the Amazon in documenting and filing complaints against the illegal invasions of their land. Dom Phillips was a British journalist who was on a research trip with Pereira in the western region of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest for his book titled How to Save the Amazon when they were ambushed and killed in June 2022. The murderers presumably acted on the orders of one of the leaders an illegal fishing network.
Facebook Twitter Share

Latin America

Under Xiomara Castro’s Government, the Garífunas in Honduras Still Await Answers in the Struggle for Their Land

The Garífunas in Honduras persist in their struggle for their ancestral lands, while eviction attempts and threats against their leaders continue. Almost 10 months into Xiomara Castro’s administration, her campaign promises to the Garífuna communities remain unfulfilled.

Marisela Trevin

November 19, 2022
Argentina's Party of Socialist Workers (PTS) holds an assembly for workers to discuss working-class solutions to Argentina's crisses.

Thousands of Workers and Young People Participate in Socialist-led Assemblies across Argentina

Last weekend, the Party for Socialist Workers (PTS) in Argentina held over 100 democratic and open assemblies in cities and towns across the country to debate the inflationary crisis, government’s the austerity program, and a working-class solution.

Robert Belano

November 15, 2022
Jair Bolsonaro pictured on election day. Wearing a yellow Brazil shirt and smiling.

Bolsonarism Will Not Be Defeated in Brazil without Organizing Independently of the Lula Government

Lula won by a narrow margin in yesterday’s elections in Brazil, but his government is unwilling to truly challenge the Right’s advance. A Brazilian socialist describes the fight ahead for the country's workers and Left.

André Barbieri

October 31, 2022

Three Years After the Chilean Rebellion, President Boric Says It Was the Protestors Who Engaged in ‘Violent Behavior’

In a statement commemorating the three-year anniversary of the Chilean rebellion, Boric echoed the rhetoric used by the Right, criminalizing those who took part in the uprising. Meanwhile, his government has continued the persecution of political prisoners while protecting the police forces that carried out severe human rights violations.

MOST RECENT

Biden, Congress, and the Squad Just Voted to Block a Rail Strike. Workers Should be the Ones Who Decide

The Biden administration called on Congress to undemocratically impose a contract on rail workers across the country and avert a nationwide rail strike. The deal has already passed the House with unanimous support from Democrats. This latest maneuver by a “proud pro-labor President” shows that there is no such thing: the state acts in favor of the bosses to protect their profits.

Madeleine Freeman

November 30, 2022

“Grueling Working Conditions and Low Wages”: A Testimonial from a UPS Warehouse Worker

Workers in UPS warehouses are among the most precarious workers in the logistics industry. As the 2023 Teamsters contract negotiations approaches, a UPS warehouse worker speaks out about his working conditions and calls for unity in struggle among UPS drivers and warehouse workers.

Nehuen Latif

November 30, 2022
The U.S. Congress building

Senate Votes to Overturn Covid-19 National Emergency

Just over a week after the “election to save democracy,” Senate Democrats voted with Republicans to end the Covid-19 Emergency Declaration three years after it was invoked. Both parties show us time and time again that the working class needs its own party.

Mike Pappas

November 29, 2022
Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco. Logo on a grey building.

Workers Built Twitter — They Should Own It, Not Elon Musk

Corporations like Twitter cannot function without the workers who do the daily labor.

Kyle Thibodeau

November 27, 2022