Renewed Bolsonarism and the Lula option

Image_Stela Maris Grepan


Against the evil incarnated in Bolsonarism Lula became, even if by default, the bad boy what Brazil needs to defeat neo-fascism

Fascism, historically, has never been characterized by a closed, definitive, consistent political-ideological project. It is above all an absolute opportunism and its objective is the monopolization of political power without going against the fundamental interests of the ruling class.

Bolsonarism is a form of neo-fascism. It built an alliance with the “market”, represented by Paulo Guedes and amalgamated a set of social sectors.

The government adopted the economic program of the neoliberal elites, albeit outside the traditional cultural horizon of its supposedly democratic sectors. For this reason, it was never really threatened, even with growing discontent upstairs (democratic freedoms, civil rights, environmental agenda, facing the pandemic, etc).

The rationed democracy (Carlos Marighela) that characterized the "new republic", reached the limit of its potential in 2016, when the bourgeoisie opted for the coup that deposed Dilma Roussef. The attack on democratic forms deepened in 2018, when the main leftist candidate was arrested and banned. Bolsonaro's election is a phenomenon inseparable from the electoral blockade operated against Lula.

The Broad Front

Lula symbolizes Bolsonaro's opposite pole and, with him, shares common ground in the dispute for popular support. That is why sectors of the center “denounce” the polarization and look for a leader “to call their own”. Ironically, they blame the PT for being the main obstacle to national unity. But if it is necessary to overcome the antagonism, it is useless to appeal to one of the poles. The strengthening of those who consider themselves to be in the middle depends on overcoming the two antagonistic sides and not just one of them. Annulling the main force of the left in a general jam resolves the polarization with the definitive victory of the extreme right. It seems that the problem lies much more in the fact that our polarization is asymmetrical, as the left is not really radical and anti-systemic.

It is for this reason that “broad fronts” do not prosper. Rodrigo Maia is transparent: he does not support Bolsonaro’s impeachment, although he disagrees with his “values” agenda (a euphemism for talking about democratic freedoms and the defense of the environment).

The illusions of the broad front have become more disappointing in the face of new opinion polls that show that, in addition to not losing its hard core of support, Bolsonarism is advancing in other segments of the population.

As much as we have to be suspicious of institutes that sell their results to their contractors and the conditions of electoral polls in the midst of quarantine, it is evident that the government has survived all the false prophecies of its imminent fall.

At a time when the tragedy of the death toll from covid 19 advances, the rise in the president's popularity sounds amazing. It so happens that Bolsonarism is a complex social phenomenon, which is not limited to the former captain's victory in 2018. It really put culture, civilizing values, worldviews and society's organization at the center of the dispute - even if monstrous shape.

His adherence to this or that economic program is not a matter of principle and is subordinated to a fascist purpose of dismantling what he believes to be the State apparatuses infiltrated by “cultural Marxism”.

the illusions

The prediction of Bolsonaro's defeat, either by impediment or in the next elections, is based on the effects of the economic depression combined with the government's ultraliberal policy. In 2015, the Dilma government reacted to the crisis with fiscal austerity, while Bolsonaro did the opposite. Now it has begun to call into question the very maintenance of the public spending ceiling (a neoliberal touchstone).

Brazil reached the lowest number of people below the poverty line in the pandemic. The emergency aid is higher than the value of Bolsa Família.

Those who believed that Bolsonaro is not a neo-fascist because he is liberal may have to revise their definition of fascism. There is no historical novelty in the radical change of “fascist” economic policy, simply because fascism has none. Mussolini began his government in the democratic system contained by the liberals and later made Italy the country with the largest public sector in the world, second only to the Soviet Union. The Brazilian dictatorship of 1964 began with a violent fiscal adjustment and evolved into statism.

We don't know if Bolsonaro, who was never a liberal out of conviction, will break with austerity. But if he does, what will be his political fate? This is the heart of the problem.

For some, he would be removed if he used the public fund to do "kindness". For others, the sub-Keynesian option may represent a reorientation in the economic policy of the Bolsonaro government. By questioning the spending ceiling and waving towards a broad basic income, the president would show that his goal is to win majorities and be re-elected. It would be possible to build a new menu of economic policy, which, without abandoning the neoliberal framework, distances itself from Guedes' market fundamentalism, guaranteeing a basic income for half of Brazilians, carrying out some degree of public investment, without, however, changing the strategic core of economic policy (deepening the dismantling of social policies, privatizations and denationalization)?

Although the chances of degradation of the conditions of governance and an impediment are not ruled out, today they seem to be minimal. It is also true that the option for social spending may have been just a parenthesis in the government's trajectory. However, we need to accept the possibility that the parenthesis becomes a new tactical, or even strategic, option.

If so, it doesn't look like it will be overthrown. There is an autonomy of the concrete political process that fascism exposes in all its brutality. Bolsonaro was elected not because he was the first bourgeois option, but because he was the only one. The Brazilian bourgeoisie, subjected to the draining of part of the economic surplus abroad, only has the option of turning periodically to the purest class selfishness. There is no material basis for hegemony in Brazil, or for continued moderate reformism. The short periods of accelerated growth and rationed democracy only end up renewing the illusions of the left and of “civilized” sectors of the bourgeoisie in a democratic regime.

It happens that the working classes, when they acquire political citizenship and strengthen their party and social organizations, fight and vote according to their material interests and often reject liberal programs.

The alternatives on the table could therefore be either a fascist or a left-wing government, but both with ample basic income. The problem for those at the top is that the left would not be content with just that and, even with limitations, will fight to recover labor rights, universal public spending on health, education and culture, etc.

The Bolsonarist alternative can, by manipulating a new mix of economic policy, associate social spending with the complete end of labor legislation, impoverishment of universities and the public health system, further squandering of public assets and selective political repression in order to prevent the return of reformist governments.

Unlike what the military did in 1964, Bolsonaro could finally bury national statism, as proposed by the 1955 coup leaders in Argentina, as Ariel Goldstein recalls.[I].

The utopia of a broad anti-fascist front is based on the belief that the business community would sacrifice what is right for what is doubtful: abandon Bolsonaro and promote soft neoliberalism, without fascist outbursts, co-opting part of the left, placing it as an auxiliary line.

But why would they do it if Bolsonarism has shown much more ability to defend big capital and at the same time compete for popular support with the PT?

There are those who believe that the bourgeoisie itself could recover with the PT. Keeping the comparison with Argentina, we could say that this would only be feasible if Bolsonaro took the country to such a political fracture that Lula resurfaced as Perón in Argentina, in 1973. Let's leave aside what happened afterwards.

The fight can be long term

For the left, the equation is: dispute the popular electorate focusing on the struggle for democratic freedoms (on broad fronts) or on the social terrain and structural reforms (on a left front)? Obviously, the left never dissociates the two things, but a part of the electorate does.

Bolsonaro is the anti-Lula par excellence. As his antagonistic pole, he has something in common with Lula, even if in a distorted way. He is the simple petty bourgeois, despised by the establishment. As we said earlier, Bolsonaro placed culture and ideological dispute at the center of the political debate, while the left had become a good manager of moderate social reforms.

Bolsonaro organized a neo-fascist social base via social networks and the apparatus of evangelical churches hegemonized by fundamentalist leaders. He bet on disruptive mobilization, on anti-institutions discourse, on what – some call – “cultural wars”. And it has worked so far.

It is impressive that in the dispute over the reaction to the pandemic – for various reasons, including the failure to offer real economic alternatives -, Bolsonarism was victorious, anesthetizing and normalizing the perception of the tragedy among the majority of the population.

The resumption of the offensive by the left will necessarily involve resuming the centrality of the battle for cultural hegemony, the political-ideological war, the struggle for the values ​​of freedom, equality, respect for the environment, plurality, equality between women and men, anti-racism, diversity, people's autonomy and, therefore, the defense of socialism.

On the other hand, what worked in 2018 may not be repeated. The far right will not be able to feed people indefinitely with hate speech alone. It takes material ballast and concrete improvement of life. The economic prospects are devastating (down 12% this year alone).

Whether Bolsonaro is really going to try to constitute this material ballast by getting rid of Guedes' mercantile fundamentalism, we still don't know.

But if you do, only a left-wing candidacy, with a clear and popular base, will be able to polarize the 2022 race.

Since 2016, what unifies the bourgeoisie is the ban on the popular field in general, the PT in particular and Lula in particular.

squid there

In addition to isolating and trying to divide the PT, the main tactic of the elites has been the exclusion of Lula from the national scene. And there is an objective reason for this: Lula brings in his persona both the hope of food, fun and art. He is at the same time the creator of Bolsa Família, quotas for young black people and policies for the LGBT population. Lula can dispute the culture, ideology, values ​​of the working class, women, young people, black people and the poor, as well as an economic project of social rights – the material ballast.

It is true that perhaps not even the strength of Lula and the PT is enough to defeat someone who has the state machine, a growing popular base and the support of big national capital and foreign investors (since the adoption of the re-election institute in 1994, every presidents were re-elected).

But, if there is hope for polarization and real dispute, it goes through Lula's candidacy in 2022. Because a liberal from the center, good guy and with social sensitivity does not seem to be a better alternative programmatically or electorally.

Against the evil incarnated in Bolsonarism Lula became, even if by default, the bad boy what Brazil needs to defeat neo-fascism

*Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Gramsci and the Revolution(Avenue).

* Julian Rodrigues is a PT-SP militant; professor, journalist, human rights and LGBTI activist.


[I]Goldstein, Ariel. Bolsonaro the Democracy of Brazil in Danger. Buenos Aires, Marea, 2019. This book is the first important summary of the process that brought Bolsonaro to power.

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