Bolsonarism beyond the elections

Image: Peter Rock


Bolsonarism is the expression of deeper transformations in the structure of class society in Brazil

Currently, most of the discourse said to be critical of Bolsonarism interprets this phenomenon exclusively from the electoral dynamics, crediting its resilience to mass disinformation tools or public income transfer programs in decisive political moments.

In this reading, Bolsonarism is reduced to a punctual and passing expression of political irrationality, something like a nightmare that we will wake up from after an eventual electoral victory of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, capable of restoring the normality of the social pacts and the institutional framework in force after 1988. Thus, the possibility of Bolsonarism being the expression of deeper transformations in the structure of class society in Brazil is silenced, minimizing the radical impasses of the so-called “New Republic” and hiding challenges of the clash against this phenomenon beyond elections.

The social pact established by the 1988 Constitution expressed the powers and limits of the set of social forces that had a relative role in the process that led to the end of the civil-military dictatorship in Brazil. Built in order to preserve important power structures consolidated during the dictatorship, our current formally democratic institutional framework still made it possible to expand popular pressure channels on public power and create tools for the relative reduction of social inequalities.

Simultaneously, however, during the last four decades of the “New Republic”, structural transformations in Brazilian society intensified, which led to the emergence of new forces endowed with concerns and horizons that seem to overflow that social pact established in 1988. Contradicting past and present illusions about the scope and solidity that liberal democracy would finally have achieved in our lands, the “New Republic” seems to have generated within itself impulses that today put it in check.


Deindustrialization and exhaustion of social modernization projects

Among the transformations in the structure of class society in Brazil in the last four decades, the process of deindustrialization stands out. According to a letter from the Institute of Studies for Industrial Development (IEDI) published in June/2021, between 1980 and 2020, the share of manufacturing in Brazil's GDP has steadily declined, while the degree of industrialization of the world economy has increased during the last four decades driven by especially by the transformations in the Chinese economy and society.

While Brazilian manufacturing reduced its share in the national GDP from 21,1% in 1980 to 11,9% in 2020, the degree of industrialization on a world scale rose from 15,6% to 16,56% of global GDP in the same period. This is a long-term structural change in Brazil's pattern of articulation with the international market, with profound consequences for the dynamics of class society in Brazil.

This profound transformation co-determined the relative exhaustion of social forces and competing modernization projects that raised and animated the so-called New Republic in Brazil from the 1980s onwards. Firstly, this process of deindustrialization has been accompanied by an erosion of the hegemony that allowed the dominant classes in the Southeast and the organic intelligentsia, especially in São Paulo, to consolidate a relative consensus in civil society on a national scale. Written press organizations, television stations, public universities, industrial federations and party apparatuses based primarily in the Southeast region, each with its own dynamics, have lost the ability to direct interests, elaborate values ​​and guide expectations in the country as a whole.

In this process, the exhaustion of the characteristic project of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) of liberalization and internationalization of the Brazilian economy, with the alleged objective of correcting distortions and breaking the privileges of oligarchic elites within a patrimonialist State, stands out. Contrary to the illusions characteristic of the 1990s, Brazil's insertion in the so-called globalization did not promote economic and social rationalization, but rather eroded the very foundations of modern society in the country. In this context, attention is drawn to the growing failure of intelligentsia paulista around this party to present in the last two decades presidential candidacies minimally capable of asserting themselves on a national scale.

At the same time, the deindustrialization process also co-determined an accelerated transformation in the morphology of the Brazilian working class, with emphasis on the break in the social protagonism of the working class in the southeast region, which was at the forefront of the rise of popular struggles in the 1980s. solidarity animated by popular Catholicism that were at the genesis of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores and the Partido dos Trabalhadores lost their ability to interpret the concerns and guide the hopes of a working youth far from the factory floor, dispersed throughout the urban space, driven by motorcycles and articulated through online platforms. It is a working youth marked by a relatively higher degree of formal schooling compared to past generations, crossed by greater expectations of social ascension and by the restlessness in the face of the chronic permanence of their economic and political subalternity.

Faced with these subjects, the Workers' Party (PT) still seems capable of mobilizing interests through specific income transfer programs, but seems incapable of offering strategic horizons that create new values. This stems from the complete exhaustion of the so-called (neo)developmentalist discourse, which was betting on Brazilian (re)industrialization led by the public power and by businessmen raised to the status of “global players” as a condition for greater national autonomy and for the extension of wage citizenship to the pastas. If in the 1950s and 1960s the developmentalist strategy and the bet on a national bourgeoisie culminated in a tragedy, in the 2000s and 2010s the reissue of this traditional rhetoric of the Brazilian left was just a farce.


Reprimarization and growing role of agribusiness and neoextractivism

Despite their modernizing rhetoric, both social-democratic governments and the Workers' Party governments encouraged an accelerated process of reprimarization of Brazilian exports, seeking to respond to the constraints and instabilities of global financial crises that increased their frequency and intensity to from the 1990s. With that, Brazil's position in the international division of labor changed rapidly, causing changes in the correlation of forces among the fractions of the dominant classes that make up the bloc in power that directs this country.

In a geopolitical transformation with still unforeseen consequences, the share directed to China (including Hong Kong and Macau) of Brazilian exports increased from 2,8% in 2000 to 27,9% in 2018, while the US share within the set fell from 23,9% to 12% in this period. This increase in trade relations with China led to an increase in Brazilian exports of basic products such as iron ore and soybeans and to an increase in imports, especially of manufactured products, intensifying the weakening of national industrial production chains and strengthening production chains linked to the mineral and agricultural commodities. Within this context, according to the Ministry of Industry, Foreign Trade and Services, the share of manufactured products in Brazil's total exports fell from 59% in 2000 to 36% in 2019, while the share of basic products increased from 23% to 51% in the same period.

Thus, a new political, economic and cultural role was consolidated in the 1st century by fractions of the dominant classes linked to the production and commercialization of mineral, agricultural and agro-processed commodities in the country. These are economic sectors that have some common characteristics: (2) sparse production chains with limited capacity to drive increasingly complex, diversified and dynamic social relationships; (3) low generation of formal jobs and narrow horizons for extending wage citizenship to the working masses; (4) voracious appropriation of land with degrading effects on territories under its influence; (XNUMX) direct or indirect mobilization of paramilitary violence as a tool of social control. Based on these bases, centers of power were formed in medium-sized urban spaces in the interior of Brazil that demand new channels of representation, still incapable of exercising hegemony on a national scale, but with a growing capacity to guide the decisions of the public power and even a significant portion of the country's cultural production.

Specifically, the soy complex has shown an impressive capacity to reorganize a large portion of the national territory: according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, between 2000 and 2018, soy production in Brazil jumped from 32,8 million tons to 13,7 million from hectares to 117,9 million tons in 34,8 million hectares. A central segment of the so-called agribusiness, the soy complex has become decisive for Brazil's current pattern of articulation with the international market: according to the historical series of the Ministry of Industry, Foreign Trade and Services, Brazilian exports of soy in grains, meal and oil jumped from US$4,2 billion (equivalent to 7,5% of all exports from the country in 2000) to US$40,7 billion (equivalent to 17% of all exports from the country in 2018).

Socio-environmental impacts of this overwhelming expansion of soy farming are illustrated by the work Geography of pesticide use in Brazil and connections with the European Union, by Larissa Mies Bombardi. According to Bombardi, the consumption of pesticides in Brazil jumped 135% in 15 years, going from 170.000 tons in 2000 to 500.000 tons in 2014, led by soybeans, which consumed 52% of the country's pesticides in 2015. Between 2007 and 2014, there were around 25 cases of pesticide poisoning reported to the Ministry of Health in Brazil (equivalent to 3.125 cases reported per year, or even 8 poisonings per day). However, due to the estimated underreporting rate of 1 to 50, the author considers it possible to say that there were 1.250.000 poisonings by pesticides in the country during this period.

Similarly, the iron ore production chain has also become a fundamental link between Brazil and the international market. According to the historical series of the Ministry of Industry, Foreign Trade and Services, Brazilian exports of iron ore jumped from US$3 billion (equivalent to 5,5% of Brazil's total exports in 2000) to US$44,6 billion (equivalent to 15,9 .2021% of Brazil's total exports in XNUMX). According to Dossier on mining disasters and crimes in Barcarena, Mariana and Brumadinho, organized by Edna Castro and Eunápio do Carmo and published in 2019, such vertiginous economic growth has been accompanied by several externalizations of socio-environmental risks on “sacrifice zones”.

The authors build a critical balance of public policies and mining business practices in the states of Pará, Maranhão and Minas Gerais, highlighting three events that symbolize the impasses of contemporary Brazil: the failure in 2015 of the tailings dam at the company's Fundão mine Samarco, directly causing the death of 19 people in Mariana (MG); the leak in 2018 of bauxite tailings from the dam of the mining company Hydro Alunorte, contaminating rivers and immense territory in the municipality of Barcarena (PA); the collapse in 2019 of the tailings dam at the Córrego Feijão mine of the Vale do Rio Doce company, killing 272 people in Brumadinho (MG).


Permanent primitive accumulation and strategic significance of the Amazon region

What seems to unify and give meaning to the forces that drive such chains of mineral and agro-processed commodities is the deepening of permanent primitive accumulation in the Amazon region, one of the largest pockets of common resources not yet reduced to the condition of private property in the world today. Historically, the ultra-concentrated appropriation of public lands (and, consequently, land rent) in the interior of Brazil was one of the foundations for the formation of industrial urban capital during the XNUMXth century.

Periods of stalemate in capital accumulation were thus answered during dictatorial cycles by accelerating the advance on the Amazon frontier, with emphasis on the Marcha para o Oeste during the Vargas Estado Novo in the 1940s and for fiscal and credit incentives from the Superintendence for the Development of the Amazon (Sudam) during the dictatorship between 1964 and 1985. The particularity of the current flirtation with a new period of exception is not, therefore, an intensification of the regime of dispossession over the Amazon region, but rather the fact that this permanent primitive accumulation does not seem to serve today as a leverage to the country's industrialization processes.

It seems rather to have become a strategic horizon in itself capable of unifying a portion of the fractions of the dominant classes that make up the bloc in power, in a context of aborting the pretensions of a modern Brazil and of regression to a primary-exporter pattern of articulation with the international market.

Second map published by the newspaper Nexus in April 2017, around 47% of the Brazilian territory is still composed of public lands, concentrated mainly in the northern region, including military areas, indigenous lands, conservation units and public lands not yet allocated by the public authorities. According to the publication, indigenous lands currently represent 13% of the country's area, with emphasis on three states with the highest percentages of indigenous areas in their territories: Roraima (46%), Amazonas (28%) and Pará (22%).

In turn, environmental conservation units correspond to 12% of the country's area, in which 3 states once again stand out for the proportion of these units in their lands: Amapá (63%), Acre (32%) and Pará (26 %). Especially vulnerable to disputes, land grabbing and illegal deforestation, public lands that have not been allocated or “unprotected” (which the federal government has not yet allocated) correspond to 10% of the national territory (greater than the combined areas of São Paulo and Minas Gerais). and they are especially concentrated in the states of Amazonas (35%), Acre (19%) and Roraima (17%).

The strategic unity of the sectors linked to agribusiness and neoextractivism stems from the common objective of transforming these reserves of public resources into land income, even though there are important tactical divergences among these sectors as to how this should be done.

The report Cartographies of violence in the Amazon region, published in 2021 and produced by the Brazilian Public Security Forum in partnership with the Instituto Clima e Sociedade and the Grupo de Pesquisa Terra – UEPA, registers the dimension of violence mobilized by this primitive accumulation. According to this report, between 2011 and 2020 there was a 47,3% jump in intentional violent deaths (IVM) in the Amazon region, with emphasis on the growth of homicides in rural and intermediate Amazonian municipalities, in contexts of intensification of environmental crimes and land conflicts .

Comparing Intentional Violent Death rates by occupation zones in 2020, the report points out that the municipalities with the highest rates are those under pressure from deforestation (37,1 per 100 inhabitants), followed by deforested municipalities (34,6) and by non-forest municipalities (29,7), while forest municipalities had the lowest lethality rate in the region (24,9). The report also points out that the violence resulting from land grabbing, deforestation, the illegal timber market and illegal mining has been exacerbated by the presence of organized crime factions and disputes between them over national and transnational drug routes that cross the region. Such growing role of illegal markets and their complex articulation with power networks related to socio-environmental crimes meant that between 1980 and 2019 the homicide mortality rate grew by 260,3% in the north region, while in the southeast region it fell 19,2% in the same period.

The original peoples in the Amazon region are a preferred target of this escalation of violence, but also an important focus of resistance to the socio-environmental irrationalities of this acceleration of primitive accumulation. The report Violence Against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil – 2020 data, published by the Missionary Indigenous Council (Cimi) identified in that year 263 cases of “possession invasions, illegal exploitation of resources and damage to property” in at least 201 indigenous lands, belonging to 145 peoples, in 19 states. According to the same source, this is an increase compared to the year 2019 when 256 cases were accounted for and a dizzying increase of 137% compared to the year 2018 when 111 cases were identified.

In turn, the report Anti-Indigenous Foundation: A portrait of Funai under the Bolsonaro government, published in 2022 and produced by the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies (Inesc) and Indigenists Associados (INA), makes a critical assessment of the “New National Foundation for the Indigenous People”, especially from 2019 onwards, when Federal Police Chief Marcelo Xavier. The report highlights the growing presence of military and police officers in the institution: 27 of Funai's 39 Regional Coordinations had heads appointed from outside the body's staff, of which seventeen were military, three were military police, one federal police and six people had no previous connection with the administration. public.

Despite the efforts of the “New Funai” to prevent pending demarcation processes from reaching the homologation stage, to weaken mechanisms of protection and action in non-homologated ILs and to regularize veiled forms of leasing in ILs for agricultural, mining and logging exploration, the The report highlights that the ruralist anti-indigenism of the Bolsonaro era has not achieved any effective legislative change so far. Specifically, the paradigmatic judgment on the timeframe of indigenous lands continues to date as an unfinished battle, an indication of the resilience of indigenous peoples in the face of the offensive of primitive accumulation.



This text proposes to raise the hypothesis that Bolsonarism cannot be considered a punctual and transient expression of political irrationality. We propose to interpret Bolsonarism as the expression of a profound transformation of capital accumulation and class society in Brazil, the first hegemonic test of sectors linked to the productive chains of mineral and agricultural commodities galvanized around the strategic horizon of intensifying primitive accumulation over the Amazon region.

According to this reading, Bolsonarism is radically different both from the Nazi-fascist regimes in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, and from the military dictatorships in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. whose centripetal force was fundamental to the consolidation of states of exception. On the contrary, Bolsonarism is the result of the chronic process of deindustrialization that led to the abortion of the social modernization projects that had animated the construction of the “New Republic” from the 1980s onwards.

Marked by the centrifugal force of the new centers of power that were strengthened in the interior of the country with the reprimarization of the Brazilian export agenda, Bolsonarism does not seem capable of consolidating a new social pact that establishes a minimum consensus among the classes within civil society, but seems capable of accelerating the erosion of the foundations of current institutions.

In turn, so-called left-wing forces in Brazil do not offer a strategic horizon that recognizes the civilizing impasse in which we are plunged. Imprisoned in pragmatic calculations restricted to electoral dynamics, these so-called left-wing forces take as unquestionable data a formally democratic institutional framework in a frank process of decomposition. Thus, they are restricted to a nostalgic discourse with a decreasing potential to mobilize the restlessness of a working youth immersed in labor relations and increasingly precarious urban spaces.

This nostalgic speech seems enough to garner votes among the layers most affected by the economic crisis and with a living memory of recent stability, but an eventual third Lula government will have fewer chips and will have to pay more to implement minimum mechanisms to reduce inequality and neutralize social conflicts such as those that prevailed in the 2000s. We may then see Bolsonarism defeated in the 2022 elections, but still with a stable or growing capacity for mobilization in a context of chronic ungovernability and an acute institutional crisis.

*Luiz Felipe FC de Farias He holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of São Paulo (USP).



BOMBARDI, Larissa Mies. Geography of pesticide use in Brazil and connections with the European Union. São Paulo: FFLCH – USP, 2017.

CASTRO, Edna; CARMO, Eunapio. Dossier Disasters and Mining Crimes in Barcarena, Mariana and Brumadinho. Belém: NAEA – UFPA, 2019.

MISSIONARY INDIGENOUS CENTER. Violence against indigenous peoples in Brazil: Data for 2020. Available at

BRAZILIAN PUBLIC SAFETY FORUM. Cartographies of violence in the Amazon region: Final report. Available in

IEDI, Letter 1085. Available in Accessed on 10/07/2022

INSTITUTE OF SOCIOECONOMIC STUDIES. Anti-Indigenous Foundation: A portrait of Funai under the Bolsonaro government. Available in Accessed on 10/07/2022.

NEXO. public and private: The division of lands in the Brazilian territory. Available in Accessed on 10/07/2022.


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