Background to the 2022 election

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By FLÁVIO MAGALHÃES PIOTTO SANTOS*

What is different in the current scenario for Bolsonaro is who he will run against

Two hundred years have passed since Brazil's independence and nothing seems further from real independence for the country. The social condition of most of the Brazilian population is one of great misery and suffering, given the increase in hunger, homeless people, unemployment, violence, poor quality of health and transportation. In fact, Brazil is going through an intense economic and social crisis. There is also a political crisis, with a system that does not shelter politicians, but henchmen at the service of fractions of capital such as the pharmaceutical industry, health plans, landlords, industry and banks. The increase in null and blank votes in the last elections shows that the population does not feel represented by the current political system.

Well, the scenario is serious and needs reflection in order to obtain a satisfactory answer on what to do in the face of the current crisis. Before starting our analysis, it is necessary to bear in mind some points. The first is that the election will not solve the social problems faced by the population. The election is one of the mechanisms that exist to carry out a political dispute, but neither the only nor the most important one. The political struggle is not carried out every two years when discussing who to vote for, but on a daily basis in what we can call the process of political awareness. Therefore, attributing to the 2022 election a scenario of good against evil or salvation against the apocalypse is very naive, if not an act of bad faith.

A second vital point concerns the story. It is necessary to analyze first the government that is there, its economic policy, its cultural orientation, its relationship with the landowners, with the banks, with the industry. Thus, it will be possible to have a correct dimension of what the current government represents in relation to the social condition currently faced. However, this is not enough. It is necessary to recover the recent historical development in order to have clarity of what was done or not done, especially the history of governments of current candidates, such as Lula. So let's start our analysis.

 

Background

In a distant 2018, the scenario was one of apprehension and doubt. After the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff, the country was governed by the representative of the large fractions of the capital and vice president of Dilma herself, Michel Temer. Temer created a government that was extremely unpopular, as it could not be otherwise. He implemented vital reforms for the bourgeoisie, such as the labor one, which, under the pretext of producing more job vacancies, removed several workers' rights and deepened the overexploitation of the workforce.

This reform only said it wanted to make the current legislation more flexible, which was actually a euphemism to legalize precarious working conditions, increase the super-exploitation of the workforce and maintain profit in a time of systemic capital crisis. In addition, his government approved a measure to establish a limit on public investments (health, education, transport, housing, food, culture, sports, etc.) for 20 years.

This proposed amendment to the Constitution was made to serve the capitalist fractions that profit from the Brazilian State, especially in relation to the public debt, but also with privatizations and benefit packages. The measure was a necessity of the capitalist class as a whole to maintain its rate of profit and to divert state money to itself. Temer was the way out that the different capitalist fractions found to contain the open crisis with the impeachment. Temer held on to the government, as there was no one else to replace him. The left was demobilized and without guidance, thus not making any significant combat and resistance.

That same year, former president Lula was convicted and imprisoned for the Lava-Jato operation, led by former judge Sérgio Moro. This operation had a clear political orientation and abysmal bias, as all justice within the capitalist system has to be. This fact does not in any way reduce the fact that Lula himself got too close to contractors who do not seem to have a great desire to improve the living conditions of the Brazilian population. In this way, the PT was without its main candidate and cornered in the face of the upcoming electoral scenario.

Within the center-right, there was the candidacy of Ciro Gomes, certainly one of the candidates who most studies the Brazilian reality, from its social aspects to its economic issue. His posture is insufficient, however, to effectively break with the dependency in which Brazil finds itself. So much so that he is proud of having been part of the elaboration of the Real Plan, which was a way of deepening Brazil's dependence on foreign capitalist powers. The criticism generally leveled at him that he would be an unbalanced candidate and that he would throw tantrums is a complete error of analysis.

The viability of a political proposal does not come about through the personal characteristics of that candidate, but through his proposals and his real connection with the people. It doesn't matter if Ciro Gomes is unbalanced or not, if he has tantrums or not. It is important to know what he will do to put an end to the overexploitation of the workforce and the misery of the majority of the population.

On the left, there was the candidacy of Guilherme Boulos for the PSOL, which had the support of other leftist parties, such as the PCB, for example. Boulos is an MTST militant with a long political career in the fight against injustice and social inequalities, especially in relation to housing. A critical and even revolutionary response to his candidacy was to be expected. But that's not what happened. In one of the first debates he participated in, Boulos began his speech by saluting ex-president Lula, then in jail. Greetings are not irrelevant, nor should they be neglected. It indicates the orientation that Boulos intended to have within his political spectrum, that is, a subservience to the interests of the PT, or rather, Lula himself. But we will still talk about the Lula government.

Finally, in the field of the extreme right there was a candidate who had participated in the political life of the country for 30 years, but without ever having approved any project or having done anything relevant. His fame lay in attacking women, making fun of poor people, making racist comments and saluting the civil-military dictatorship of 1964, even making an apology for torture. Jair Bolsonaro was that candidate. Expelled from the army, Bolsonaro never ceased to have great admiration for the barracks. He was linked to the Rio de Janeiro militia, which is a criminal organization that controls several regions of the city and subjugates its population. Bolsonaro is a person who has no knowledge of anything, speaks absurdities as if they were the most normal thing, curses and offends when he is contradicted and gets irritated easily when he does not know how to answer questions that are a little more complex. A pathetic figure, but one that contains great menace in its posture.

Given this complete lack of knowledge of reality in all aspects (social, political, cultural, economic), his candidacy was based on two points. The first was to be against everything that was established in the Brazilian political system, that is, against that system condemned by the immense majority of the population for precisely harboring thieves and not politicians. This point was extremely important for his candidacy, because by speaking out against the current political system, Bolsonaro automatically became an alternative for millions of people dissatisfied with the political scenario in the country.

Its great asset was to present itself as a real alternative to what was present at that time. This was evidently false, as Bolsonaro was part of this very system, he being one of those who were effectively thieves. But as the critical conscience of the population does not go along with their needs, this lie became a truth more by will than by real effectiveness. Dissatisfied with PT, with the PSDB and with all the other candidates, the population saw in Jair Bolsonaro an opportunity to put something new in politics, nurturing false hopes that he would bring about a change in Brazilian society. Lack of historical knowledge and critical awareness has led millions of people to subscribe to this fallacy. And there were also those who effectively agreed with Bolsonaro in moral terms (defense of the dictatorship, anti-communism) and voted for him.

A second extremely important point was that Jair Bolsonaro appointed a Chicago school guru and ultraliberal economist to be his future finance minister. Paulo Guedes was responsible for dictating the economic policy of the Bolsonaro government. And although Jair Bolsonaro himself was a reactionary nationalist, the only way to garner support from the most important fractions of capital was precisely by appealing to someone who would effectively adopt policies in favor of foreign and national capital. Paulo Guedes was the answer that Jair Bolsonaro was able to give to these great desires and fears for his candidacy.

At first, the major media were apprehensive about his candidacy. However, as soon as Paulo Guedes was announced, The Globe, The state of Sao Paulo, São Paulo, Valor Econômico, Globo they saw someone who would defend liberal interests in all their power and thus understood that Bolsonaro was a necessary evil, since the PT candidate, Fernando Haddad, despite also being a liberal, would have some connection, albeit weak, with social demands. Paulo Guedes appeared like a bolt of lightning in a blue sky for all the unsuspecting, just like Jair Bolsonaro. And so, his lack of knowledge started to favor him and transform him into an economics savant.

The campaign started and there were some debates, which showed the poverty of practically all candidates. A candidate from Rio de Janeiro called Cabo Daciolo, formerly affiliated with the PSOL, drew laughter from the audience by pointing out communist plans for the implementation of the Great Fatherland in Latin America. His speech bordered on nonsense, even though it contained some real criticism of the plight of the working class. The rest of the candidates fought each other and Ciro Gomes, Fernando Haddad and Guilherme Boulos seemed to be the ones who knew something about the Brazilian reality. Jair Bolsonaro presented himself as he really was: someone who doesn't know anything and lives off jokes that distort reality.

Behold, at a rally, Jair Bolsonaro receives a stab in his stomach. He is operated on and his health improves. Despite this, he deliberately chooses not to participate in any further debates. An incredibly right decision, as this way he would not demonstrate his total ignorance in an open way and could lead to success in his candidacy. And that's what actually happened.

In the second round, Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad were present. The rejection of the PT was extremely strong and Jair Bolsonaro took advantage of it. As there was no debate, Fernando Haddad was left to hope for his rejection to decrease, which did not happen. The result was 57 million votes for Bolsonaro and 47 million for Fernando Haddad, with whites, nulls and abstentions totaling 45 million, showing that a large part of Brazilian society did not see any of the two as a real alternative to rottenness of the political system. Bolsonaro buries the dismal defeat of PTism and Lulism, thus starting his government. It is with him that we must deal now.

 

Bolsonaro's government

Despite what many people say, the government of Jair Bolsonaro is not the worst government in the history of Brazil. He is really bad. Jair Bolsonaro began his term with only one certainty of what he should do: let Paulo Guedes carry out his ultraliberal economic policy and try to approve more reforms that would be beneficial for capital and deleterious for workers. In several other fields (culture, health, education, transport, environment), Jair Bolsonaro did not know what to do, but he knew that he had to dismantle the minimum that existed of beneficial public policies.

And that was the script his government followed. The great reform conquered by Bolsonaro, and which for a time appeased the desire for profit of the various capitalist fractions, was the pension reform. In the light of his beloved Chicago school, Paulo Guedes drew up a proposal for pension reform that mirrored what was implemented during the dictatorship of Salvador Allende in Chile. This reform proposed by Guedes changed the very financing of social security, moving from a transitional regime, where active workers contribute to paying the retirement of inactive workers, to a capitalization regime, where each worker is responsible for contributing to his own retirement. This pension fund would be managed by public and private entities, showing without any inhibition that workers' money would go directly to bank speculation, creating more fictitious capital.

In addition, the pension reform raised the minimum retirement age for both women and men. This means that workers will effectively need to work most of their lives to be able to retire and receive an extremely low salary. This was a measure that was clearly aimed at extracting absolute surplus value, because it expands the working time within the worker's life. A measure that could only happen in a dependent country such as Brazil, where industrial development has regressed and therefore it is not possible to extract relative surplus value.

It was a victory for the capitalists and a resounding defeat for the workers. The media, which manufacture society's conscience, spent months saying that the social security system was deficient and thus turned a lie into the truth. What these same media criticize in the Bolsonaro government, namely, lying and distorting information, is done day in and day out in relation to topics that interest large fractions of capital. Pension reform was sold not as an option but as a necessity.

There was nothing the workers could do. The left, defeated and fragmented, was left to accept the result and hope for a possible reversal in the future with the election of a less ultraliberal government. Naivety bears bad fruit.

The same happened with a state company, Petrobras. Petrobrás has been managed for some decades not as a public company, but as a company that must make a profit for the shareholders. This was not Jair Bolsonaro who inaugurated it. The problems are latent now precisely because there was a war between Russia and Ukraine that ended up impacting the entire supply of oil around the world, in addition to the systemic crisis of capital that already had its reflections in the prices of gasoline, diesel oil and ethanol. Now, the prices of these fuels are reaching stratospheric levels and Jair Bolsonaro removes and installs new presidents of the state-owned company. It is not enough to change Petrobrás' pricing policy or create a “cushion” that can offset the effects of a crisis. It is necessary to nationalize Petrobras, defend it from the rage of foreign capital, transform it into a company that is at the service of the Brazilian population and not against it.

In the field of culture, Jair Bolsonaro emptied any form of artistic funding, denouncing it as “mamata” or “ideology”. The Ministry of Culture was abolished and a Culture Secretariat was created. Occupied by people without any commitment to culture and art as a fundamental element for social transformation and for the formation of a critical conscience, this folder had a secretary who gave a speech similar to a speech by the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. There was also the participation of actress Regina Duarte, who, if she ever understood culture as transformative, abandoned it once and for all when she decided to support Jair Bolsonaro. Indeed, the culture suffered from intense delegitimization and lack of funding. Bolsonaro does not want “ideology”, but where he says there is ideology, there is actually critical thinking and appreciation of Brazilian popular culture. That's why culture constitutes a constant threat not only to your government, but to economic and political elites.

In his second year of government, an event broke out that no one could have predicted: a pandemic of a virus that originated in China. The story operates in a curious way. It traces a plot, which is made by the people of that particular time. This plot allows certain historical characters to gain or lose strength. As Marx said, “Circumstances make men, so men make circumstances”.

Where Jair Bolsonaro could have risen to someone who can do something right, he chose to do nothing. But not because he didn't know what to do, but simply because he didn't care about the health system and much less about the health of the people. His decision was deliberately not to do anything and people should continue to go to work, because after all the economy cannot stop. At this time, the Unified Health System (SUS), public and free, has proven how important it is. And even the then Minister of Health, Henrique Mandetta, a former deputy in the service of wanting to privatize the SUS, recognized that this was actually the greatest public asset for facing that health crisis.

Jair Bolsonaro did not recommend social isolation, made fun of the use of masks, encouraged the use of medicine without proven effectiveness, neglected the purchase of vaccines. And the very thing he tried to save, the economy, deepened into a crisis that had been coming for years before.

With regard to the environment, Jair Bolsonaro never hid his contempt for indigenous communities and their reserves, the preservation of the fauna and flora that exist in our forests, nor for agrarian reform. On the contrary, his actions were all done with the intention of allowing prospectors and land grabbers to devastate and deforest forests, destroy the remaining indigenous communities, illegally sell wood and, finally, the unlimited expansion of large landowners. These are affectionately called “agribusiness”. And the catchphrase from Globo that “Agro is pop, agro is tech, agro is everything” completely agrees with the policy of valuing and expanding the agricultural frontier, no matter what damage this will bring.

It is very interesting to observe how the major communication vehicles do not disagree with the policy of valuing large estates that Jair Bolsonaro disseminates, but only cynically condemn the deforestation of the Amazon. The newspaper The state of Sao Paulo makes several editorials to illustrate how this “agribusiness” is efficient, productive, capable of obtaining a harvest with high use of technology and therefore it would not need to expand its territories. Nothing could be more false than that, because capitalist production does not know a limit other than itself. Agricultural production has to advance over more territories, no matter how efficient it may be, how much highly sophisticated technology it uses. The capitalist mode of production demands ever greater expansion of profit and the only way to increase production after using all the efficient machines is to expand the plantation land itself. But this is cynically ignored by the media and also by landowners, who believe it is possible to grow more food in the air itself and not in the earth.

The various other areas were consciously neglected by Jair Bolsonaro because they were not really a concern of his government. Education had only ministers who sought to combat the existing “ideology” in classrooms and who accused teachers of taking sides. Here is one of the strengths of the Bolsonaro government, but not only of him, but of the entire ruling class. As Marx and Engels pointed out in the german ideology, the representations that individuals produce are a conscious mental expression – real or illusory – of that particular reality, of their social relations. Ideology acts as a mechanism for distorting consciousness, because reality itself produces this inversion.

However, the dominant ideas of an era are the ideas of the ruling class. Ideology is precisely the ruling class's attempt to distort reality, first and second, to transform its particular interests into universal interests. This is how it works when “agribusiness” is sold as something positive for society as a whole, when it is said that the labor reform will generate more jobs, when those who accuse a certain group of producing ideology are themselves the producers of the ideology that masks reality. . Jair Bolsonaro and the ruling class constantly make this inversion.

When Jair Bolsonaro is accused of conspiring to carry out a coup, he points out that he is actually the one who wants to save the country from a coup. Ideology operates in such a way as to hide the truth of social relations and to produce a fantastic world where everything appears upside down. As fanciful as it is useful, ideology conquers people's minds and hearts in such a way as to make it impossible to critically analyze reality and thereby prevent the revolutionary transformation of society. There is nothing older and more harmful than the capture of social conscience, because it is on it that one depends to transform the world.

In addition to all this ideological mechanism of hiding reality, Bolsonaro gathered practical elements to show his strength. He has given several benefits to police, state and federal, so that this category feels a need for loyalty to someone who defends their interests. Possession of weapons was facilitated, with the aim of arming the population so that, in the event of a coup by Bolsonaro, there would be armed support from civil society itself. Finally, Bolsonaro sheltered thousands, and this is not an understatement, of military personnel to work in the government, granting broad privileges to this sector. In the first place, Bolsonaro does this because he feels he owes his trajectory to the army and because his political, economic and social conception of what Brazil would be was effectively formed within the corporation itself.

Secondly, the objective is clear to have material support from the military (weapons, soldiers) so that, if necessary, Jair Bolsonaro can defend himself by means of war. It is clear that a large part of the Army agrees with Bolsonaro's views and only a small minority would tend to disagree. To what extent the Army will actually support the current president if there is a challenge to the loss in the elections, is still a mystery. The Army itself will not support Bolsonaro if it does not have the support of the bourgeoisie to do so, or at least important sectors within it. Therefore, there is still uncertainty about what will happen within this hypothetical scenario.

Despite all the scandals, the lack of any minimally organized public policy, the destruction of control mechanisms, albeit precarious, of important elements of the country (environment, education, etc.), Bolsonaro still has the support of a significant portion of the Brazilian society. And this is how he will arrive at the elections that are coming up in October, because if nothing has shaken that percentage of people who still trust him, it won't be in 3 months that this will change. What is different in the current scenario for Bolsonaro is who he will run against. If ex-president Lula was in jail before, now he is free and polls indicate that he is leading the presidential race so far.

*Flávio Magalhães Piotto Santos is a Master's student in Social History at the University of São Paulo (USP).

 

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