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Socialists in Brazil Call for a National Strike against the Attacks of the Far Right and Anti-Worker Policies

On January 8, thousands of supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the three branches of Brazil’s government to demand the military institute a coup against president Lula da Silva. While the government makes deals with the Right and uses these events to consolidate support, workers and the oppressed must use their own methods to confront the Right.

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Supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro invade the National Congress in Brasilia on Jan. 8, 2023.

The following is a statement published by the Revolutionary Movement of Workers (MRT) in Brazil, an organization of the Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International. 

This Sunday, the extreme Right in Brazil invaded Congress, the Planalto Palace, and the Federal Supreme Court in Brasília, a clear attempt to advance a coup against President Lula da Silva. They also staged other protests, blocking roads and even oil refineries owned by the state-controlled oil company Petrobras. These supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro are challenging the results of last year’s election and are demanding military intervention. Such reactionary maneuvers must be denounced in the strongest terms, but it is clear that the forces of the capitalist state have not been and will not be able to restrain the Far Right. Instead, these attacks must be fought with the full force of worker and mass mobilizations. It is urgent that the leaderships of the trade union confederations and social justice and student organizations call for a national strike and a plan of action against these coup provocations, as well as for the repeal of the government’s labor and social security reforms and privatization.

***

Just eight days after Lula’s inauguration, the extreme, right-wing, proto-fascist base of former president Jair Bolsonaro escalated its reactionary attacks, invading the halls of the state’s three branches of government. The rooms of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), the Planalto Palace (seat of the executive), and the Senate and Chamber of Deputies were overtaken and ripped apart by demonstrators.

The ease with which these thousands of extreme-right demonstrators entered the capital suggests that they likely acted with the complicity or support of sectors within the state, including the police and the Ministry of the Public Security (headed by Bolsonaro’s former Minister of Justice), and even the government of the federal capital. 

Images from that day show the police escorting the demonstration straight to the doors of the state’s most important institutions. It had been public knowledge for days that this demonstration would take place. For months, the police and the government of Brasília have stood by as members of the Far Right set fire to buses and staged protests to contest the results of the 2022 presidential election.

The media has dubbed this action the seizure of the Brazilian “Capitol,” making a direct comparison to the storming of the Capitol in the United States by Trump supporters on January 6, 2021. Key officials and heads of state have widely rejected these events, from leaders across Latin America to imperialist figures like French president Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Joe Biden, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Far from any defense of “democracy,” the imperialist governments of France and the United States condemn these actions because doing so draws a clear line in the sand against the extreme right-wing tendencies in their own countries, from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen.

Although the scope of these events is still to be determined, from what we know now it seems that they occur outside a correlation of forces that could have garnered more support from the larger base of the Right across the country. Indeed, it seems that the storming of Brasília could have the effect of separating a more radicalized extreme-right sector from the electoral base that voted for Bolosnaro, and that it could ultimately unite different wings of the regime against these actions and in organizing a response to fortify Brazil’s institutions. 

Strengthening the unity of the regime and the majority of the bourgeoisie around the Lula-Alckmin government, the January 8 actions also contribute to a pervasive feeling among the population of national unity against the extreme Right, and contradictorily may lead to more tolerance for right-wing measures and figures within the government itself, as long as they delimit themselves from the sectors that took part in the invasion of the capitol. But this unity with bourgeois sectors and the institutions of the regime works against the independent organization of the labor movement and the social movements and the fight for their interests. It is an obstacle to the only thing that can solve the social, political, and economic crises facing Brazil, including the advance of the extreme Right. 

Jair Bolsonaro — who is currently taking refuge in Orlando, Florida and who has tried to distance himself from the events of January 8 through social media — must be held accountable for these reactionary attacks. He is responsible for emboldening the Far Right and encouraging coup actions,not just during the election cycle or with his silence after the elections or subsequent begrudging acceptance of the results, but also throughout his entire tenure as president.

The extreme Right was never going to disappear because Bolsonaro was voted out of office. In fact, it has been very active, pushing the correlation of forces to the right. This dynamic is being used by the new government to lower expectations and justify all kinds of concessions to the Right, as well as an increase in authoritarian and repressive measures.

Making a statement on national television, Lula ordered federal intervention to retake control of the Federal District (DF) and entrusted the institutions of the capitalist state to respond to these reactionary actions. But it is this very repressive state apparatus that has fostered the growth of extreme right-wing forces since the institutional coup of 2016. Workers and the oppressed cannot trust these institutions to be “defenders of democracy” or a solution to Bolsonarism. They are an instrument for the violent containment of the movements of workers and the oppressed, even if they are now temporarily directed against the forces of Bolsonarism.

Measures such as these, push the correlation of forces in the country further to the right, positioning the institutions of the regime and its most authoritarian mechanisms as the guarantors of order and, in effect, preventing and discouraging independent mobilizations that could organize the broad rejection of the reactionary reforms of Bolsonarism and the threat of a coup by the extreme Right.

The indiscriminate support for federal intervention in the Federal District and Bonapartist intervention by Brazil’s highest courts — which carried out the institutional coup of 2016 — by sectors of the institutional Left, such as the PSOL is an expression of confidence in this regime and its institutions, which have and will turn against the workers and the Left themselves. We cannot forget that federal intervention in 2017, declared by coup leader Michel Temer, led to the assassination of Marielle Franco and the repression and terrorizing of Black communities and favelas. These same forces were used in Brasília against the labor movement and social movements during demonstrations on the Esplanade against the labor reform of 2017 and against demonstrations by organizations of indigenous activists in 2021.

The reaction by the regime and its most ardent supporters — whose authority was challenged by the events of January 8 — has been to seize on this moment to further contain Bolsonarism. Rodrigo Pacheco, president of the Senate, Arthur Lira, president of the Chamber of Deputies, and members of the Supreme Court, have all made statements on the matter, strongly condemning these events.

A few days before the storming of government buildings on January 8, Lula’s Minister of Defense, José Múcio, declared that the groups of extreme right-wing supporters camping outside the barracks of the Armed Forces for days were “acts of democracy.” This politician — exalted by the military and Bolsonaro and recently appointed by Lula, and who was once a member of ARENA, the party of the military dictatorship — openly stated that he has relatives and acquaintances among the sectors who took part in the events in Brasília.

For now, most of the military who supported Bolsonaro’s government have not spoken publicly on Sunday’s events, because those same sectors are also part of his social base. Bolsonaro’s vice president, retired military officer Hamilton Mourão, published a tweet distancing himself from the actions on Sunday. The day before Lula took office he took to national television to blame Bolsonaro for the attrition that the armed forces were suffering, though he took care not to explicitly name the former president. Bolsonarist figures such as the governor of São Paulo, Tarcísio de Freitas, had to dissociate himself from the “violence” of the actions, saying that opposition to the government must be done peacefully. All of this suggests that the current correlation of forces does not provide good conditions for such insurrectionary acts to garner support from the broader base of Bolsonarism.

It is not possible to fight the Right by reconciling with it, by integrating figures into the government like Múcio or Daniela do Waguinho, Lula’s Minister of Tourism, who has strong connections to the militias of Rio de Janeiro and who was part of União Brasil, a party that voted for Bolsonaro in 2018.

We cannot leave the fight against the extreme Right in the hands of the police, which has expressed its support for Bolsonarism on countless occasions, nor to the institutions of the capitalist state and its authoritarian mechanisms. Historically, class conciliation has only opened more space for the extreme Right. That is why the political organizations that place themselves to the left of the PT and the bureaucracy need to position themselves independently of the government.

The most effective repudiation of the coup actions by the extreme Right, which go beyond the events of January 8, is to use a strategy that can actually confront these forces, using the methods of the working class and organizing a united workers’ front, which will only develop in combination with the struggle to repeal the state’s anti-worker reforms and in support of struggles already underway, like the mobilizations of distribution workers that will take place later this month.

That is why it is necessary that the Central Única de Trabajadores (CUT) and the other trade unions immediately break their paralysis and passivity and call for a national strike and a plan of struggle to confront the attacks by the extreme Right. In particular, CUT workers in the petroleum industry must organize against the serious threats against oil refineries.

The slogan “No amnesty!” for Bolsonaro and all his henchmen (as was chanted by crowds at Lula’s inauguration) must also mean taking up the struggle against the labor and pension reforms, as well as against the unrestricted outsourcing law and all privatizations, to unify powerful sectors of the working class with the social movements and reverse the legacy of the 2016 coup and the governments of Temer and Bolsonaro. The guarantee that there will be no amnesty for Bolsonaro will only be possible with the independent methods of struggle of the working class. That is why the policy of sectors of the PT and union leaders to condemn the mobilization of delivery workers in late January is an outrage.

Those who say that the workers’ demonstrations will strengthen the Far Right are those who strengthen it the most. For the workers and youth who want to mobilize against the Far Right, it is fundamental to understand that the way out is not the defense of bourgeois national unity and its authoritarian federal intervention, but an independent path forward.

Only with this independent mobilization of the working class — unifying youth, women, indigenous people, Black communities, and LGBTQ people — will we be able to put an end to these reactionary mobilizations, which only serve to fuel the project of the Far Right and sustain a highly degraded political regime that keeps the workers poor, hungry, and unemployed while the businessmen and agribusinesses make millions. This plan of struggle must put forward the struggle to make the capitalists pay for the current crises facing the working and oppressed, to stop the coup threats of the Far Right, and to fight against oppression and in defense of the environment.

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