The Weakness of the Left

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By Luis Felipe Miguel*

If social chaos appears, with disorganized masses of desperate people looting markets, it will not generate, as some dream, a “revolutionary situation”. It is far more likely to lead to an overtly authoritarian “law and order” government.

The crisis caused by the global pandemic of the new Coronavirus caught the Brazilian left at its worst moment – ​​and exposes, with devastating clarity, its weakness.

The protagonists of the crisis are all on the right of the political spectrum: Bolsonaro, Maia, the governors of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the Minister of Health. Minorities in parliament, absent from the biggest centers of power and with the capacity for social mobilization, which was already insufficient, even more reduced by the sanitary isolation measures, what can the parties and movements of the popular field do?

It is easy to point out that the crisis reveals the importance of the SUS and the public service in general, destroys the fallacies of the minimal State, dramatizes the inhumanity of our extreme social inequality, values ​​scientific knowledge, discourses typical of the left. It's easy, but it's not enough.

It is necessary to define a set of specific proposals for facing the crisis and a strategy to press in favor of them. It is not about (and this record seems to have not yet fallen for some leaders) to take a stand to win points politically in the future, but to present proposals that are viable, even with the current correlation of forces, and can lessen the human cost of the pandemic .

We are in a situation where an important part of the conservative political leadership is motivated to abandon previous convictions and embrace more “progressive” ideas – what some are calling “Coronavirus Keynesianism”. A flag such as the adoption of a universal and unconditional basic income, for example, to protect the millions of unemployed, underemployed and precarious people, gained a viability that even a month ago was not even dreamed of.

In addition to it, it is necessary to present concrete and viable proposals for emergency financing of public health, for the acquisition of tests, respirators and other equipment and for hiring personnel; employment and salary protection; to support the huge number of micro, small and medium-sized companies that will face bankruptcy. The challenge, therefore, is twofold: to establish a dialogue with decision makers that allows the adoption of measures that protect the most vulnerable majorities and to mobilize the maximum possible pressure in their favor.

A complicating factor arises: the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. His behavior in the face of the crisis is marked by ostensible irrationality. Not only does he deny the seriousness of the pandemic, he pressures (with some success) the Ministry of Health to delay measures to deal with it.

He presents himself, personally, as a probable contamination vector. It produces false information, such as the video in which it announced the “cure” for the coronavirus, whose effect is to create more turmoil in the health system. And he holds firm to the policy of Paulo Guedes, a fundamentalist more concerned with preserving his dogmas than sparing Brazil from the social devastation that lies ahead. So far, the announced emergency measures consist almost entirely of anticipating government disbursements and postponing collections, without an effective injection of money into the economy (contrary to what has been done around the world), in addition to cuts in wages.

Bolsonaro's irrationality, however, has a method. He holds his base together, fueled by reality denial, fake news and conspiracy theories. For this, it can be good business to put the health and lives of hundreds of thousands at risk, to produce a diplomatic crisis with a crucial partner (China), to always stretch the tension between the powers to the maximum. A survey released today shows that a significant minority – 35% of those consulted – approve of its actions. Surveys of this type should always be read with caution, but the data shows that Bolsonaro, who still has the support of the unscrupulous leaders of some of the largest Christian sects in the country, knows which audience he is speaking to.

This social resonance makes it all the more urgent to remove him from office. Bolsonaro gets in the way of facing the crisis, either because of the power he controls or because of the example he sets. Here, once again, the Brazilian left shows difficulty in orientation.

A part of her, even if she doesn't say it out loud, thinks it's better to leave Bolsonaro in office until the end of his term, to easily defeat him in the 2022 elections. dimension of the crisis that hit us. It is not possible to know which Brazil will remain in 2022 to be managed by the victorious in the elections. It is not even possible to know whether the little that remains of our democracy will be standing by then. It is the bet on an uncertain alternation of power to inherit a devastated land.

Another part – or the same one, perhaps – is more concerned with its internal disputes. The reaction of the national leadership of PSOL to the request for impeachment of Bolsonaro, presented by the leader of the party in the Chamber, is a good example of this. The priority was to condemn the initiative, criticize the parliamentarians who joined it and preserve a “democratic centralism” that, incidentally, never prevailed in the party. Instead of washing the dirty linen at home, so as not to weaken a movement in opposition to the government, it was decided to exploit the situation to the fullest in order to stigmatize the internal adversary.

Opposition to the idea of impeachment is based on the risk of granting the presidency to General Mourão, at a time when circumstances may justify the adoption of exceptional measures. And truth. However, this risk is a given of reality, which is not removed by a mere act of will. Is it better to keep Bolsonaro in government? Clearly not. So the question is: are there any viable alternatives?

There are those who say that it is necessary to change the correlation of forces before talking about impeachment. It only remains to say how. The first effect of the social isolation imposed by the health crisis is the freezing of the political struggle. The change in the correlation of forces, which we were not able to produce even when we had the possibility of mobilization, will certainly not come in a time frame consistent with the urgency of removing Bolsonaro from office.

And if social chaos presents itself, with disorganized masses of people in despair looting markets on the outskirts of Brazilian cities, which is a real possibility, it will not generate, as some dream, a “revolutionary situation” – not with a left that already proved so incapable of leadership. It is far more likely to lead to an overtly authoritarian “law and order” government.

O impeachment of Bolsonaro means removing from the scenario an aggravating factor of the crisis. With him in the presidency, the initial dividing line is between sanity and insanity – and, in this case, we are often constrained to remain in the same field as Maia, Dória and Witzel. Without it, the obvious issues are overcome (the seriousness of the pandemic, the need for State action) and we can focus the debate on the most important issues: how to face the crisis, who should be helped as a priority, how to divide the bill. In this debate, with clear and realistic proposals in defense of the most vulnerable, the left can win important victories.

* Luis Felipe Miguel Professor of Political Science at the University of Brasilia (UnB).

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