The situation has changed

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Julian Rodrigues*

The neoliberal prescription is being challenged. The political-economic debate leans to the left. Proposals arise for the allocation of state resources, minimum income, nationalization of companies, stricter controls over economic activity.

“First we save the people, then the economy” (Luís Inácio Lula da Silva)

A new international scene

It is still too early to predict the impact and consequences that the current crisis will have on the economy and international politics. It is necessary to avoid two simultaneous pitfalls: trying to make peremptory predictions, and, on the other hand, continuing to act as if there were no qualitatively new elements. Neither catastrophism nor paralysis. Neither panic nor over-optimism. “Analysis of the concrete reality in each concrete situation” (Lenin), added to the “optimism of the will and pessimism of reason” (Gramsci).

The severity of the Covid-19 pandemic was added to and overlapped with the bursting of the economic bubble (something that had been predicted by some analysts). There was the so-called “perfect storm”. Two major crises happen simultaneously across the world. It is not possible to know the size of the hole, but it is clear that the effects are devastating on the economy (global recession) and, above all, for the poorest people in the world. The scenario is similar to that of a war – perhaps the most serious since World War II. Or worse: because in wars jobs are created and there is demand.

A window of opportunity opens. The political-economic debate leans to the left. Contribution of state resources, minimum income, nationalization of companies, stricter controls on economic activity. The neoliberal prescription is challenged, in practice, in Europe and the USA. At the same time, the masses realize the importance of free, universal, public health systems. And the coordinated actions of governments at all levels. Only the State saves!

Even Donald Trump takes typically Keynesian and social democratic measures, which distribute resources directly to Americans, allow the government to take over private hospitals, postpone mortgage collections. On the other hand, the package announced by the US president will direct much more resources to companies and banks. The question posed is: should the State prioritize the well-being of families or the profit of large corporations and the financial system (as they did in the 2008 crisis).

Geopolitics moves faster. The crisis erupted at a time when Saudi Arabia lowered the price of oil (to affect Russia, Venezuela), along with China's more radicalized reaction against Trump's protectionism. For the first time, the Chinese government has threatened to stop funding US public debt. Also consider the ongoing war of narratives and conspiracy theories. The world's extreme right accuses China of creating and manipulating the virus. And a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says the US planted the virus in Wuhan.

Macron suspended, in France, the neoliberal pension reform, and considers nationalizing the Air France, while Italy announced the nationalization of Alitalia (which was already in crisis).

China announces the end of new cases of the disease. It was a show of coordination and state initiative, watched globally. Cuba sends humanitarian aid to Italy, has one of the most effective drugs yet discovered against the virus, and is still watching the Bolsonaro government beg for the return of its doctors.

In a situation like this, the space for anti-liberal, interventionist programs, proposals, theories, ideas, keynesian, statists, socialists and communists – why not?

Donald Trump desperate for a vaccine puts science at the top, again. The irrationalist, conspiratorial discourse of Bolsonarist neo-fascism, trumpism, flat earthism fall to the ground in the first globalist crisis.

State, public policies, science, market regulation, solidarity return as essential values. It is the best time to attack neoliberal selfishness, anti-statism, privatist ideas. But, without a political-ideological struggle, neoliberalism can go through this crisis as it did in 2008: filling the bankers and financiers' asses, without changing the foundations of the model.

Changes are not automatic, they will depend on the strength of the working class, the left, socialists and progressives in forging alternatives, discourses and political strength to reverse capitalist/ultraliberal/neofascist hegemony.

Ultraliberalism and recession in Brazil

Since the liberal turn of the Dilma/Levy government in 2015, we have experienced the longest continuous stagnation-recession in Brazilian economic history. The 1,1% drop in 2019, plus the soaring dollar, capital flight, low investments, and the dismantling of social policies already pointed to a crisis scenario in the Brazilian economy. Added to all this is the increase in unemployment, misery, and degradation of life for the working population.

The double global crisis (bubble burst + pandemic) aggravates the already gloomy scenario to spectacular levels. Successive falls on the Stock Exchange resulted, this year, in the meltdown of more than R$ 1,5 trillion. The dollar burst to R$5. In Brazil, in addition to the double global crisis, there are signs of a future – or possible – institutional crisis.

Minister Paulo Guedes' first reaction was to double down on pro-market reforms and the dismantling of the State. On March 12, he presented the privatization of Eletrobrás, the administrative reform and the so-called Mansueto Plan (with more fiscal tightening) as economic responses to the coronavirus. Something so absurd that it embarrassed even card-carrying neoliberals.

Continuing act, it was “the penny falling” from them about the size of the crisis. The PT made very interesting initial proposals. Its deputies, together with those from PSOL, had a good debate. It has become increasingly clear, from the actions of governments around the world, that vigorous action by the State will be needed to minimize the economic impact.

Thus, begrudgingly, the government had to present some positive measures, although very timid and insufficient, such as the payment of R$ 200 to self-employed people already registered with SUAS, authorizing the delay in the collection of Simples and the reinforcement of Bolsa Família (in the process of being scrapping).

On the other hand, the government authorized a general reduction in wages and hours, instead of prohibiting dismissals. In return, it announces that those affected by these measures will be able to access 25% of unemployment insurance.

Objective reality is imposing an agenda on the government that is totally different from the one they propagate. There is no way to face a crisis of this size without freeing up money, without making the federal government act, without increasing social protection networks, without investing in the SUS, without turning the very assumptions of ultraliberal policies.

Outside Bolsonaro?

A considerable portion of the progressive bloc has not yet managed to establish a detailed and complex political definition on the nature, composition, program and modus operandi of Bolsonarism. There is no consensus on the characterization of the “state of exception”, nor the dual nature (ultraliberal and neo-fascist) of the government.

Not only sectors of our social/electoral base, but many political leaders and parliamentarians still work with the perception that Jair Bolsonaro (and his family) are “crazy”, “unprepared”, “idiots” etc. They underestimate the organicity and rationality of the neo-fascist project and its broad international support. They ignore, above all, the defeat we suffered in the cultural-ideological-communicational field and the beating that Bolsonarism has been applying to the progressive field in the field of communication. It is an arrogant and uninformed posture – which has not yet understood the new international framework, much less the strategies at play in the hybrid wars.

One of the consequences of this misreading of the politician Bolsonaro and the political moment is the fact that (in our bubbles) there appears, more or less every three months, a noise pro-impeachment. As if there was a correlation of forces for that. Or worse, as if Bolsonaro’s dismissal – operated by the liberal elites – was something positive in itself. As if a Mourão/Maia/Toffoli/PIG government would bring improvements to the lives of the people and better conditions for the democratic struggle.

It is a fact that Bolsonaro and his core operate to progressively close down the regime. But this is still not the option of the ruling classes, the bourgeois media, imperialism or the “liberals”.

As well characterized by Jorge Branco: “The Bolsonaro government is entering a period of legitimacy crisis. His relationship with the majority of the National Congress is unstable, having already suffered defeats in structuring projects for his economic policy. Even his relationship with big capital is less solid than at the beginning of his government, given the evasion of investments. However, this does not mean that Bolsonaro is on the brink of collapse. Its political strategy is based on three major movements: an increasingly subordinate approach to the US government of Donald Trump; an expansion of the power of the ultra-right military sectors expressed in the nucleus of palace generals; and an ever-increasing appeal to mobilize its right-wing organic social base”.

Bolsonaro may be turning into a “lame duck”, losing command of the general political process, condemning himself to lateralities. He doesn't tend to fall, but he tends to boss less. Unless he reinvents himself and puts himself back on the political scene in the coming days.

There has, in fact, been a significant change in the situation. It seems that Bolsonaro made a big mistake, for the first time. He angered many sectors of his own base by repeatedly dismissing the effects of the coronavirus, by delaying the adoption of government measures, by attending the March 15 demonstration. And the clan continues at the same radicalizing pace: statements by Eduardo Bolsonaro have recently created a serious diplomatic crisis with China.

The pots, still timid, on March 17, 18 and 19, show Bolsonaro's exhaustion. The common people, however, remain distrustful, frustrated, scared – still muted, but increasingly dissatisfied. When we contrast Bolsonaro's disastrous performance with the posture of other rulers, such as Bruno Covas and Doria, for example, his political mistakes become even clearer.

the consignment “Bolsonaro Out” is legitimate, expresses the revulsion of broad sectors to the current government. However, it is not on the agenda. Nor should it be the center of action of the PT and the left, parliamentary or social.

Bolsonaro’s “interdiction” requests take politics to the field of pathology. A regressive movement. Often, some leftist cadre endorses these demagogic nonsense – from Haddad, to PT senators or PSOL deputies. Ask "imfix” is now something totally “out of the box”. In the first place, Bolsonaro has not yet become unfeasible, nor is there any operation in "upstairs" to take it down. Secondly, we want to defeat not Bolsonaro, but Bolsonarism, the authoritarian and neoliberal program. This will only happen with mass struggle and electoral victories. It won't be with aimfix” captained by Rodrigo Maia.

As misguided as raising the flag of impeachment right now (without the support of the majority of the working class) is to bet all the chips on a “Broad Front” with Huck, Maia and “clean” bourgeois sectors, for the 2020 and 2022 elections. 2022? As wrong as pulling the "imfix” now it is a matter of betting on the normality of the electoral calendar, or worse, on alliances with the neoliberal bourgeoisie.

The political framework is much more open than before. We are now interested in disputing the program, ideas, directions and actions for the country. Dispute the need for broad measures to protect the poor and stimulate economic activity. And above all, emphasize the need to defend the SUS.

There has never been a crisis like this. We have to live up to the political moment and take advantage of the openings to strengthen socialism, the popular-democratic field, the left and the PT.

What to do?

At a time like this, there is a huge hole in our tactic-practice and communication strategy. Only on Thursday, March 19, did Lula pronounce on the crisis, with a live 15 minutes, undisclosed before airing. There is not memes short videos, network strategy to disseminate PT proposals. An impressive thing. PT's institutional videos are below criticism.

It is necessary to immediately start a war operation to build the “digital party”, focusing on Whatsapp, producing memes, videos, micro targett, IT, manipulation of big data etc. Communication between the PT and the left is at a standstill in the early 2000s. It is time, in this quarantine scenario, to turn everything to the “digital party”. People are confined, even more thirsty for information and guidance.

It's time to detail our proposals in favor of the people, the popular economy, economic growth, the SUS. Hammer key ideas such as the end of EC 95 (freezing spending), increasing Bolsa Família, income transfer with a minimum wage for all informal workers, credit for everyone, not charging water and electricity bills, construction of hospitals campaign – increase in ICU beds, and so many other measures that are already being proposed.

The focus is more State, more SUS, defense of jobs, more public policies, more state money in the economy, protection of the poorest. It's time to reorganize our political activities. Quarantine is not a vacation. Take advantage of the crisis to socialize among us the use of digital meeting tools online, the reading and study of denser texts, non-face-to-face political articulations.

Julian Rodrigues he is a journalist and professor; activist of the LGBTI and Human Rights movements.

Article originally published on Forum Magazine.

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