Authoritarianism and colonial regression

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By LUIZ BERNARDO PERICAS*

Considerations on Brazil after the 2016 coup

The immediate causes of the current Brazilian crisis can be found at least ten years ago, with the end of the supercycle of commodities, between 2005 and 2010, when there was a brief economic growth accompanied by relative redistribution of income and a favorable projection of the country's image on the international level.

Although this was an important moment within the Latin American progressive wave, with the implementation of inclusive social and cultural policies that contemplated and raised the levels of education and income of the less privileged segments of society, it was possible, at the same time, to verify the clear limits of lulismo, which never proposed radical and decisive ruptures with capital, undoubtedly improving the quality of life of the most needy, but guaranteeing and preserving, through conciliatory commitments, enormous dividends and profits for the financial sectors rentiers, banking, business and agribusiness.

The recession in the period 2014-2016 (with inertial stagnation in the following three years) had as a harbinger and complement the deterioration in the political field, symbolized by the Jornadas of June 2013, the rapid rise of conservative sectors in different social groups and the institutional blow against the president Dilma Rousseff.

A dispute between fractions of the ruling class for the state apparatus and the lack of a competitive candidate for the 2018 elections led to the choice of Jair Bolsonaro as the safest option to curb a possible return of the Workers' Party (PT) to power. All this, of course, with the support of a good part of the middle classes. If, on the one hand, during the tenure of Michel Temer, the policy of intensifying against the dispossessed mass in the cities and in the countryside intensified (with an increase in the use of force, coercion, repression of demonstrations and systematic murders in rural and urban areas), the labor reform promoted by him, on the other hand, created mechanisms to withdraw historical rights from workers, guaranteeing, at the same time, the possibility of exponential expansion of the profit rate for companies and banks (including foreign ones).

At the same time that all of this was unfolding, Operation Lava Jato helped to bankrupt or dehydrate national companies (especially contractors responsible for civil construction, as well as public companies such as Petrobras or an institution the size of BNDES) and to put several well-known politicians, among which, the most emblematic of all, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (in this case, in a process full of irregularities), with the aim of preventing him from running and winning the last election, which, incidentally, was dominated by “dirty war” tactics on the internet, fake news and the construction of far-right virtual militias ready to consolidate Bolsonaro's position (who was running for the PSL and is now without a party) as the favorite at the time.

Later, the disclosure (by the website The Intercept) of the exchange of messages and recordings of the Public Prosecutor's Office in Paraná with former judge Sérgio Moro, clearly showed the biased nature and anti-PT political intent of that "criminal organization" disguised as a group to combat corruption (within the logic of the so-called lawfare). Moro would be rewarded with the position of Minister of Justice in the new administration.

Of course, if we decide to analyze the situation in greater depth and within a “long-term” process, we will realize that it is a classic reproduction of the Brazilian historical pattern, in which the internal bourgeoisie creates all kinds of mechanisms, agreements, alliances or “from above” intra-class arrangements, in a verticalized and authoritarian dynamic, to exclude most of the population from the decision-making process (co-opting leaders or repressing any resistance attempts by the popular means) and maintain their status as a hegemonic group (authors such as Caio Prado Júnior, Nelson Werneck Sodré, Florestan Fernandes and Edmundo Moniz, among others, would be some of those who would study this subject in depth), as well as preserving the secular structural “permanences” that keep the country in its position subordinated, dependent and peripheral in global terms, that is, consolidating its world insertion as a nation primarily focused on the export of agromineral products and thus removing any emphasis on the development of the industrial and technological sector, which has lost ground over the decades (the national industry accumulated a drop of 1,7% in 2019 and 15% from 2014 to last year).

This “colonial regression” dynamic has intensified in this administration. It is clear that there is no project of “nation” at the present time. Quite the opposite. If historically different thinkers have been concerned with proposing ideas to “build” and develop the country, Bolsonaro has already made it public that his intention is to “destroy” and dismantle what remains of the State’s organization. That is, to promote a supposedly “minimum” and repressive State, leaving the environment free for the unbridled robbery of national and foreign private capital, and defending the continuity of an unjust social order, which guarantees the privileges of a wealthy minority that controls the means of production and ideological apparatuses.

Furthermore, one cannot forget the “structural” authoritarian tendencies embedded in Brazilian society since the period of slavery, which never left the scene and are now returning with force. The tiredness and exhaustion of the “New Republic” model and even of the political system and its main parties, the PT, the PSDB and the MDB, are also elements pointed out by some analysts to try to explain the current scenario.

In this context, the president is an expendable character, who had a very defined role to fulfill. A retired army captain, unimpressive politician, and representative of the “lower clergy” in Congress for nearly three decades, he has channeled the class hatred of elites through the most abject expressions of racism, homophobia, misogyny, narrow-minded “anti-communism,” and all manner of prejudice (especially related to customs), in addition to his explicit exaltation of torture and the military dictatorship. Its function, in practice, would be to facilitate the return of the right to power, even if it presented itself with an “anti-political”, “salvationist” and “redeeming” facade, in addition to raising the banner of the fight against corruption, something that usually has been done in election campaigns in Brazil for decades.

His extremist, radical and religious vision and his personal links with militia bandits (especially in Rio de Janeiro) and ideological ties with individuals like Steve Bannon and Olavo de Carvalho, however, are excessive and harmful not only to the interests of the “traditional” right. and Brazil's image abroad, as well as for current commercial transactions, especially for agribusiness ("anti-globalist" ministers, global warming deniers and intellectually unprepared, such as Ernesto Araújo, Damares Alves, Abraham Weintraub and Ricardo Salles, do more harm than good that help the country's position in international forums and the government's image abroad).

There is, who knows, the danger, still diffuse, of a self-coup, of an intense rigging of public bodies and a quest to remain in power at any cost, based on reinforcement in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and repression (the recent comments by one of his sons on the possibility of a reissue of the AI-5 show this), even though there are minimal institutional checks and balances and various sectors of civil society, the press, the legislature and the judiciary that could curb his possible authoritarian ambitions. On the other hand, there is an attempt to build, even if unofficially, a “white parliamentarism”, in which Congress (and, especially, the president of the Chamber, Rodrigo Maia) assumes an increasingly greater role, by preventing outbursts and excesses of power. Bolsonaro through articulations with the so-called “Centrão”, which has usually opposed the president’s deliberations.

More important, in this sense, is the implementation of the aggressive liberal and privatist economic agenda of the minister and banker Paulo Guedes (a graduate of the “Chicago School”), with profound changes in the social security area (which intends to withdraw, in the next decade, R$ 800 million from the pockets of the majority of the population and expose the overexploitation of work) and the guarantee of law and order, without mediation, going over any opposition, even if that means increasing precarious work and even unemployment (still that, in the speech, this is not admitted).

All sectors of the bourgeoisie and the big corporate media support Guedes' economic policy and his reforms (which aim to drastically modify labor relations, generally favorable to employers), publicized in the press as “modernizing”. On the other hand, there is a resurgence of police actions in the favelas, an increase in the purchase of weapons by the middle and upper classes, mass arrests, massacres, murders of workers in poor communities and repression of any protests carried out by residents of the periphery.

Currently, around 70 bills (prepared by different right-wing parties) are being discussed in the Chamber and Senate against street protests, which, ultimately, criminalize the conduct of militants and ensure more severe punishments for them. Among the proposals, the monitoring of individuals by genetic mapping or through private communications on social networks, the infiltration of agents in popular organizations and the interception of telephone calls without the need for judicial authorization.

In addition, some parliamentarians also suggest changes to the Terrorism Law (approved in 2016 during the Dilma Rousseff government), making the understanding of what “terrorism” would be more flexible in order to include social movements in this category (it does not hurt to remember that article 5 of the Constitution guarantees the protection of freedom of expression, association and assembly to all citizens). And yet, one cannot fail to mention Bolsonaro’s defense of the illegality exclusion project, exempting public agents accused of crimes from punishment during Law and Order Guarantee operations.

There is, therefore, an articulation between an ultraliberal economic agenda with a tough “security” policy, while the rhetoric for the masses has conservative, evangelical and moralistic traits. Bolsonaro thus encourages the privatization of state-owned companies (the government plans to include at least 133 companies, which would bring “gains” estimated at 33 billion euros), resulting in a significant reduction of the public machine (research indicates that the vast majority of the population is against this measure); the creation of a stimulating environment for large private capital; land grabbing; the advance of deforestation in the Amazon and, consequently, of the logging sector or fires (in 2019, the Amazon had 89 fires, 30% more than in 2018, while the area devastated by fire in the whole country doubled, around 318 thousand square kilometers of forests); the dismantling of inspection bodies linked to the environment; the unbridled and aggressive appropriation of nature's goods by private capital (oil, minerals, biodiversity); political and ideological closeness with the government of Donald Trump; possibility of implementing an exception regime to contain popular protests; the scrapping of universities and the investment in private teaching institutions; rapprochement with neo-Pentecostals; budget cuts in public health (your project to abolish mandatory vehicle insurance alone could withdraw around BRL 6 million from SUS); the dismantling of the More Doctors Program; if possible, the end of the popular housing program; stoppage of agrarian reform (something that has actually been happening for some years); elimination of payroll charges; attacks on the cultural milieu (considered leftist by him); and an offensive against students, progressive militants, social movements and unions.

In the first half of 2019, for example, there was an ebb in the number of strikes in the country. It is worth remembering that Brazil has lost 1,5 million union members since the labor reform that came into force in November 2017, equivalent to 11,9% of individuals in the total contingent of union members. There are approximately 12 million unemployed, while the layers of precarious, outsourced, discouraged and informal workers are considerably expanding, which in the latter case reaches 41,4% of the population (the average drop in GDP per capita in the last five years, in turn, was 1,5%, with an average reduction in labor productivity of 1,1% per year in the period).

The rate of underutilization of labor (that is, those who work fewer hours than they would need to have an income compatible with their needs) is 30 million people. Even formal workers (those hired with a formal contract) also suffer from high turnover, that is, they constantly change activities. The low technical and professional qualification of most of the workforce, in general, remains unchanged.

It doesn't hurt to remember that economic growth in the first year of the Bolsonaro government was meager, around 1%, which means that the country is in a condition of semi-stagnation, with little dynamism in the labor market, even though it has been excessively flexible. (and disorganized) in recent years. The increase in poverty and inequality is clear today (in this case, 1% of the population monopolizes almost 30% of wealth, while “extreme poverty” affects 13,5 million people, who survive on less than R$ 145 per month) .

In the countryside, as reported by MST leader João Pedro Stedile in the recent article “A balance of the Bolsonaro government”, no indigenous or quilombola areas were demarcated or legalized; MP 910 was issued, which regulates the legalization of public lands illegally taken over in the legal Amazon by large landowners; the advance food purchase program (PPA), Pronera, technical assistance and promotion programs for family farming and settlements, and the rural housing program were paralyzed; the National Program for Reducing the Use of Pesticides was interrupted; the government released 502 new pesticide labels for sale (many of which are banned in several countries); there was greater flexibility in the rules for registering new transgenic plants; suspension of the ban on planting sugarcane in the Pantanal and the Amazon region; impunity in relation to mining companies that committed environmental crimes; dismantling the cistern construction program in the semiarid region of the Northeast; dismantling and equipping what was left of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra); a policy to abandon family farming; and a project to eliminate hundreds of small municipalities, among others. In addition, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), violence in rural areas has increased, with the murder of 29 leaders of social, indigenous and quilombola movements in 2019.

To complete, Bolsonaro forwarded to Congress a Bill that allows mining, agriculture, livestock, hydroelectric plants, oil and gas prospecting, extractivism and tourism in Amazonian Indian lands, without the original peoples having veto power, it being up to the Executive to define the areas that will be granted for predatory activities by large companies and thus paving the way for the legal exploitation of those reserves.

The left, in turn, has not demonstrated the capacity for resistance or effective “offensive”. Without a clear, daring project or program that mobilizes the population, still disorganized and fragmented, it presents itself, mainly, as a dissonant and critical element in parliamentary environments (state and national), seeking, at the moment, circumstantial and conjunctural alliances for the next municipal elections of 2020, not transcending, therefore, a conventional performance in everyday institutional politics.

The most radical parties, in turn, are small and do not have capillarity or greater penetration in the masses. And the social movements, which take to the streets intermittently, are not strong enough and often have as their priority focus an identity, environmental or customs agenda, in addition to promoting specific manifestations linked to specific situations, such as possible unfavorable deliberations by some body (the case of the Ministry of Education is an example of this) or the increase in public transport fares. All of them, without a doubt, important forms of action, but which, for the time being, do not seem to be able to go beyond the immediate conjuncture.

There is a strong “post-modern” component to these struggles, with the presence of self-proclaimed “autonomist” and “anti-capitalist” militants (in general, unemployed youth and students from the urban middle classes), but who, broadly speaking, do not use or like the term "socialism". These activists, even without admitting it, end up serving, to a large extent, to “improve” the existing system (and not, “destroy” it), by proposing inclusive public policies, compensatory mechanisms for minorities, and legal and legislative measures” progressives”. The idea of ​​revolution, on the other hand, is still a long way off for them, as well as a project to build “socialism”.

The situation, therefore, appears to be quite complicated and will only become more clearly defined in the coming months. After all, the political framework in Brazil often changes quickly and events accelerate. New facts could change the immediate political dynamics and provoke strikes and protests, spontaneous or organized, like those that have occurred in other countries of the continent in recent times. The government knows this and is preparing for any eventualities. A violent response has the potential to lead to further radicalization of the environment. But it could also be an opportunity for the left to make a qualitative leap in terms of organization and programs, and change the course of popular struggles. It is therefore a question of waiting for the progress of the process.

* Luiz Bernardo Pericas He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Caio Prado Júnior: a political biography (Boitempo).

Originally published on Casa de las Americas Magazine, no. 298, Havana, January-March 2020, pp. 46 to 52.

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