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The Rise of Bolsonaro and the Position of Brazilian Revolutionaries

Socialist Revolutionaries from Brazil explain how they are organizing against the rise of the far-right and why the call for a ‘critical vote’ to the PT in the coming runoff elections.

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Photo: Rally in São Paulo in repudiation of the murder of musician Moa de Katendê, October 14. Esquerda Diario.

The recent elections in Brazil advanced Jair Bolsonaro one step closer to the presidency as he awaits the second round of voting on October 28th.

Leading up to the elections, we witnessed a radicalization of the “antipetista” (anti-Workers Party), led by the major financial, agrarian and industrial capitalists; the judiciary; and the military and police forces, with added support from the powerful evangelical churches.

The antipetistas have dragged into their orbit the vast majority of the middle class, and sectors of the poor and working class. This is particularly true in the South and Southeast of the country, while the PT maintains strong support in the Northeast. The total vote count for Haddad (PT) and Ciro Gómez (center-left) decreased by 8% compared to the last presidential election in 2014.

Bolsonaro capitalized on the collapse of the PSDB and MDB parties, which directed the institutional coup, and were, in turn, the biggest losers in these elections.

The PT suffered its main defeats in the major states of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and to a lesser extent, Sao Paulo. The center-right parties lost many of their deputies, senators and governors, while the PT retreated relatively little and the PSOL gained five deputies, taking its total to ten Bolsonaro’s slate, featuring several military officials and policemen, soared to become the second largest parliamentary bloc behind the PT.

Bolsonaro is forthright with his intentions to resolve the organic crisis that began in 2013 with Bonapartist methods–through either classical military coups, or through coup-makers supported by judicial power, under the “tutelage” of the Armed Forces.(

The organic crisis deepened with the economic collapse of 2015 and 2016 (during which the GDP fell by almost 8%). The PT’s social base declined during Dilma’s second term, when the party responded to the economic crisis with a classic austerity plan (yet this plan would be considered “moderate” compared to Temer’s labor reforms and Bolsonaro’s proposals to extend these reforms).

As we fought against the institutional coup of 2016, we remarked that US imperialism and sectors of Brazil’s big bourgeoisie and media conglomerates were exploiting the crisis to impeach and remove Dilma Temer’s administration advanced several reforms, but given that 75% of the population opposed him, he was unable to take the reforms as far as demanded by big capital.The “golpistas” wagered that Alckmin, the “Tucano” candidate, would win the election and re-establish a “normal” right-wing government, likening to that of Macri’s.

Influential actors among the imperialist bourgeoisie (such as The Economist or Financial Times) opposed Bolsonaro. Neither did the Globo media network support him at the beginning. However, the crisis developed in unexpected ways. Bolsonaro emerged as simultaneously a defender of the impeachment but an opponent to Temer´s government, (supporting the joint truck drivers’ and employers’ strike against the increase of fuel prices, for example).

From an international point of view, the “unexpected” rise of right-wing figures has actually been trending in several countries with Trump’s victory in the US two years ago; Brexit in Great Britain; the rise of Salvini’s League (formerly, League Norte) in Italy,in alliance with the 5 Star Movement; the neo-fascists in Germany and other European countries, Duterte in the Philippines, and more. Even the “traditional” rightist, Piñera, has been veering closer and closer to Trump.

The fundamental programmatic difference between the right-wing populisms of the imperialist countries and that of the semi-colonial countries is that the former are protectionist, while the latter embrace extreme liberalization and free-trade, which entails submission to the interests of the dominant imperialist power. Bolsonaro represents another difference between these populisms–he not only pledged to eliminate the Christmas bonus (which his vice presidential candidate later denied) and implement widespread privatization, but he has expressed support for military coups and police executions of “delinquents.” In addition, Bolsonaro has selected Paulo Guedes as his Finance Minister. Guedes is an ultra-liberal “Chicago boy” who participated in the Pinochet dictatorship

The coronation of Bolsonaro as president, bolstered by the parliamentary caucuses of the “three Bs” (“Biblia” for evangelists, “Buey” (ox) for agribusinesses, “Bala” (bullet) for the police/military) would constitute a “coup within the coup.” This would result in the further erosion of democratic liberties and an intensification of attacks against dissident mass organizations of workers, women, students, and LGBTQ people. This is one of the most pro-fascist–and dangerous–developments.

As revolutionaries, we defend the democratic rights won by the working class under bourgeois democracy. This does not mean preserving the system of bourgeois democracy, which only acts as a shell for the rule of capital, but rather, defending the organizations conquered by workers and their right to construct those deemed necessary for their struggle. Bolsonaro has explicitly stated that he is on the offensive against workers’ organizations, and that the Workers Party is powerless to stop the coup and other attacks.

The Workers Party (PT) is a “bourgeois workers’” party that was founded in 1980 after the great ABC industrial complex strikes, which Lula channeled into an anti-corporate struggle, distilling its character as a political opposition to the dictatorship-in-crisis. Sectors of the “new unionism” (Lula), the Catholic Church, intellectuals of the reformist left, and minority movements of the Trotskyist left converged to created the PT. The party functioned as the “left wing” of the “transition to democracy,” a process supervised by the military and from which emerged the ‘88 regime. The party was guided by the sense that “doing politics” means uncritically participating in bourgeois democracy with a social democratic program.

Lula came to the presidency in 2002. Until 2010, both his governments were strongly allied to international financial capital, important sectors of Brazil’s bourgeoisie, and the corrupt Brazilian regime, although he awarded concessions whenever permitted by the increased prices of raw materials and financial investments. The PT claims their economic approach lifted 30 million Brazilians out of poverty. In turn, Lula used credits from BNDS (National Development Bank of Brazil) to promote the development of large construction companies and other state-associated enterprises, which became known as the “translatinas” (trans-latin-american companies) such as Odebrecth or Camargo Correa. These later became the target of Lava Jato.

In 2010, two years after the crisis of 2008, there began a new economic cycle linked to China’s growth. This cycle lasted until 2014, when the crisis began, marking Dilma’s first term in office. When the PT was ousted by the coup (beginning in 2016), it began to regain prestige among the masses (the sectors that “adhere” to the party, not just Lula, went from 9% in 2016 to 20% now; some polls even show him with up to 30% support, which coincides with the votes that Haddad won in this election).

As Trotsky said, “Fascism [or right-wing Bonapartism or military dictatorships, we add] does not destroy social democracy; on the contrary, it preserves it.” This does not mean that they cannot defeat it in concrete situations, but Trotsky refers to its historical preservation. So much so that Lula led the pre-elections polls, with about 40%, even as a prisoner , and was prevented from appearing publicly, giving interviews or even recording a video (something that does not happen even with the worst genocidal dictators). If Lula could have competed, he would have possibly won, since “Lulismo” has a broader support base than “petismo” (Workers Party supporters). Haddad was unknown in the country when Lula nominated him as a candidate, yet he managed to “transfer” 30% of the votes in 25 days (in the first surveys he had 4%).

Currently, the PT does not run any bourgeois politician in its slates (Manuela D’Avila is from the Communist Party of Brazil, former Stalinists) as it did in previous formulas (Temer was Dilma’s vice president) although he is in an electoral coalition with minor bourgeois parties, especially at the regional level (as he did in almost all the last elections). At the same time, the party is persecuted by the big bourgeoisie, the judiciary and the armed forces, so it maintains its “worker-bourgeois” character.

As in Argentina, the Brazilian is a presidential system with the antidemocratic mechanism of runoff elections, that forces the masses to choose between two options so that the party that wins will do so with ostensibly “huge popular support” (more than 50%).

Brazil’s runoff election is not comparable with those held elsewhere, such as the one between Scioli and Macri in Argentina, or between Le Pen and Chirac in 2002 or Macron and Le Pen in 2017 in France. In Brazil, the first determining factor is the institutional coup, which established elections completely manipulated by the judiciary (in addition to the everyday manipulation of the media, etc.) and by two pronouncements by the head of the armed forces against any concession to Lula. In addition, Lula is the imprisoned candidate of an indirectly bourgeois party (much less of a directly imperialist party, like Macron’s party in France); the PT is a “bourgeois-worker” party, meaning that its origins lie in workers’ organizations, with which it still maintains an organic relationship (it is particularly close with the unions of the CUT, as well as with popular sectors represented by the landless workers’ movement, the student movement, etc.).

The key to our strategy against Bolsonaro is to encourage class struggle and to use tactics to develop it, such as the Workers’ United Front with a program demanding that the capitalists pay for the crisis. At the same time, we promote the self-organization of workers, women, popular sectors (such as peasants, homeless people, etc.) and students.

To make our politics effective, we must have a dialogue with the broad masses who today see that the immediate way to confront Bolsonaro is through the second-round vote. We would be bad revolutionaries if we did not seek the principled way to dialogue with the working masses who see the danger and the fascist character of a Bolsonaro government and the social, political and military forces that it represents, and only content ourselves with “saving our souls” by taking a position with abstract principles.

Trotsky argued, with regard to the Labor Party in Britain, that “during the last parliamentary elections the Independent Labour Party refused to give even electoral support to the Laborites, precisely because the latter supported the League of Nations. In itself this refusal was a tactical error. Wherever the I.L.P. was unable to run its own candidates, it should have supported a Laborite against a Tory. But this is incidental. In any case, even talk was excluded of any ‘common programs’ with the Laborites. Internationalists would have combined support in elections with an exposure of the crawling of the British social-patriots before the League of Nations and its ‘sanctions.’”

It must be taken into account that the Labor Party, in the year when Trotsky writes (1936), had already directed the government of one of the main imperialist powers (in 1924, and in 1929-31). Years before, Lenin argued, “At present, British Communists very often find it hard even to approach the masses, and even to get a hearing from them. If I come out as a Communist and call upon them to vote for [Labour Party candidate, Arthur] Henderson and against [Liberal Party candidate, David] Lloyd George, they will certainly give me a hearing. And I shall be able to explain in a popular manner, not only why the Soviets are better than a parliament and why the dictatorship of the proletariat is better than the dictatorship of [Winston] Churchill (disguised with the signboard of bourgeois ‘democracy’), but also that, with my vote, I want to support Henderson in the same way as the rope supports a hanged man—that the impending establishment of a government of the Hendersons will prove that I am right, will bring the masses over to my side, and will hasten the political death of the Hendersons and the Snowdens.” [in reference to Labour Party leader Philip Snowden]

As we see, for Trotsky and Lenin the question of principles is not to give “political support” to the social democratic or labor reformers in the sense of agreeing on a common program. On the contrary, they fought the reformists’ policy and strategy, seeking not to separate—as far as possible—from the workers they led. Voting for reformists without supporting their policy (what we call “critical vote”) is a tactical issue that must be defined according to the circumstances. When we criticized the PO for voting for Syriza in 2014 (mainly because it was based on the struggle for a “leftist government”) or for Evo Morales in 2005, our critique was based on the grounds that the PO did so at relatively “normal” moments, when the basic democratic rights of the country were not in question and the reformists were political formations without organic relationships with the working class. Today the joint parties are degraded, so it is necessary to think about the concrete situations.

In France, Trotsky even raised more audacious forms of “dialogue” with the masses that supported the French Popular Front (the alliance of the Socialist Party, the Communist, the Radical Party—which was the “shadow of the bourgeoisie”—and “other rottennesses of the same species and smaller scope “). These included the proposal to form “action committees” of the Popular Front. Although he vigorously fought the program of the already Stalinized Third International, he adopted one of its policies to form “action committees” in an attempt a channel influence the workers’ base of the Popular Front. In the case of Brazil today, it’s just an illusion to propose any type of “action committee” to develop our revolutionary program (which must include self-defense against fascist attacks) if it is separated from the progressive masses, who will be actively agitating for Haddad’s electoral campaign. On the contrary, committees are already emerging (for example in the universities) against Bolsonaro and in support for Haddad, and the entire left participates in them. We must strive to create a class-struggle wing within them.

With these criteria, we issued a statement that establishes an independent policy to confront Bolsonaro, focusing on the revolutionary methods and program (class struggle and workers’ program), and in this framework accompanying the masses who want to confront Bolsonaro by voting on the runoff, calling for a “critical vote” for Haddad but without supporting his policy or program.

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