Brazil under rubble – challenges for the Lula government to rebuild the country



Article from the recently released collection, organized by Juliana Magalhães and Luiz Felipe Osório

Brazil 2023: margins of coups and fights

Lula's inauguration in his third presidential term, after defeating Jair Bolsonaro and finally taking power even under the threat of a coup, reveals his quest to immediately rescue the political pattern that already existed in previous PT governments. This change is presented with some urgency, given the scenario of social regression promoted and bequeathed by the extreme right. The attempt to undertake such a political change now takes place, however, in a context of Brazilian social reproduction that is increasingly acute and belligerent in its affirmation and social, institutional and ideological demarcation.

It is necessary to think about the present moment from the perspective of the structural level on which it is established. In the book crisis and coup, I propose that the forge of contemporary Brazil comes more decisively from 1964 than from 1988. The military dictatorship consolidated the specific arrangement of economic exploitation, class control and powers, institutions, groups and dominant apparatuses of Brazilian capitalism. The exit from the dictatorship, symbolized by the Federal Constitution of 1988, was not the overcoming of the previous moment, but its continuity, albeit in another pitch.

Since then, the maximum limit of change has been established: a partial economic distribution without attacking the accumulation of fractions of the national and international bourgeois classes; inclusions without destroying traditionally placed controls; necessarily a policy of conciliation, with no expressive margin for confrontation and struggle. Political, military and institutional powers remain untouched. Blocked the affirmation of leftist ideas and the mobilization of the masses, the affirmation of capitalist ideology is also protected and untouched.

In this framework of social dominance stabilized for some time, the third Lula government will seek to resume political navigation along the left banks of that same riverbed of the Brazilian social formation, forged in 1964 and partially rectified in 1988. In the governments elected in the post-dictatorship – all neoliberal –, the left margins of Brazilian governance, represented by the Workers' Party, configured a liberal, institutional policy and without major statements of struggle and tensioning of contradictions.

In Lula's first two terms and in the two governments of Dilma Rousseff, unlike the others in that period – Collor, Itamar, Cardoso, Temer and Bolsonaro –, there was a brake on privatizations, but not on the resumption of privatized companies; there was a greater distributive investment to more vulnerable classes and groups, but no class confrontation; there was openness to inclusion and declarations of respect for human rights, but not the possibility of asserting any socialist struggle. From Collor to Bolsonaro, the natural margin of right-wing neoliberalism; from Lula to Dilma and back to Lula, the fragile and always battered margin of left-wing neoliberalism.

What remains of the blow (and the blows)

If for decades it has been clear that 1964 was perpetuated in 1988, it remains to be asked what of 2016 is perpetuated today. The optimistic discourse of right-wing and left-wing liberalism sees, in recent years, substantial victories against the ills suffered by the coup in the mid-2010s. Such discourse is mainly focused on the field of law: lavajatismo seems buried; the STF, which supported the 2016 coup by a majority, later played a decisive role in blocking the excesses of Bolsonarism.

If so, the institutions are safe again, and then it would follow that the coup is over and that the left and the new Lula government should take the immediately preceding period as an unfortunate exception. Once again, the possibility given and encouraged to progressivism would be to agree with the institutions, defend them and not put tension on them. The “Leninism” of investing against the system would only belong to the right. On the left, the defense of order.

Another standard is the critical investigation – concrete and material – about what happened in 2016. If 1964 surpasses 1988, then 2016 is more a necessary effect of the cohesion pattern of the political-economic-institutional-ideological domain of 1964 than an unexpected fissure. or even patchable of 1988. The 2016 coup, symbolized by the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, represents the reiteration of the prevalence of the same dominant bourgeois fractions of the country, rentier, agrarian and subordinated in relation to imperialism.

The antigetulism of the Brazilian bourgeoisie of the mid-twentieth century, which forged the military dictatorship, is, with due circumstantial variations, the same pattern maintained in antipetism. The ideological, evaluative and cultural framework is also the same: anti-communism; technical education against criticism; religion against secularism; conservatism against the progressivism of customs; mass media controlled by right-wing business groups. Institutionally, the State remains as it was awarded in 1964: in legal terms, a fighter for the left and disadvantaged classes and groups and, in political terms, domesticated by the chain of immediate capitalist businesses.

Finally, military dominance: 1988 did not subdue 1964; 2016 laid bare the full continuity between the open and insubordinate power of arms in both dictatorship and democracy, without any expressive name condemned since the dictatorship until today and without any change in the direction of the ideology and orientation of the Armed Forces as a privileged institution of oppression of the internal enemy. From Costa e Silva to Sylvio Frota until reaching Augusto Heleno, the structure of military power, according to the extreme right margin given by the dictatorship, is maintained.

Economically preserved under relentless neoliberal policy; ideologically subordinate, without any capital confrontation in the battle of ideas; politically and legally hostage to institutional terms; militarily subjugated; the Brazil of 2023, of the third Lula administration, did not win 1964 or 2016: it added one blow to another.

The departure of Bolsonarism

The Bolsonarist government and its historic disaster was only possible due to a long and induced social decantation that, in the end, generated sufficient far-right cohesion in the country. In the XNUMXst century, the politicization of the Brazilian people was and has been fully right-wing. Ideas that are proudly asserted and massified through ideological devices are conservative/reactionary.

There was not and there is no capital speech by leftist governments in favor of socialism, such claims being restricted to very residual groups; there is only the affirmation of capitalism as a political horizon. And the amalgamation of such a right-wing formation takes place in full consonance with the specific interests of the national bourgeoisie, landowners, financiers and regressives in industrialization.

Institutionally, the fight on the left is also the enjoyment of the victory of the opportunist assertions on the right – Rousseff's impeachment for “fiscal pedaling”, but the shielding of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro; arrest of Lula through lurid legal theater, but derisory costs to the agents of the Lava Jato operation after the exposure of his crimes through the disclosure of the files of his conversations, the so-called Vaza Jato. The State, window of opportunity for various political and criminal businesses, amalgamated from speculators to deforesters and militiamen.

Militarily, a plan, logistics, threat and armor were given to the entire regressive movement resulting from the 2016 coup. , prosecutors, militia and religious, also spreading in significant portions of the middle and working classes. Such cohesion overthrew Dilma Rousseff, supported Michel Temer, elected, idolized and shielded Jair Bolsonaro even under dire economic, social and cultural regression and after hundreds of thousands of victims died from the pandemic.

It was the side effects of such a combination that were responsible for allowing some partial detachment of the extreme right political margin and, later, Lula's victory. Although the contribution of the valiant resistance of left-wing jurists – more concentrated in advocacy – is recognized, it was effectively with Vaza Jato that Lava Jato was dismantled, not with an eventual opening of the legal conscience of the courts and prosecutors. Lula becomes a candidate not because of a correction of the course of the coup resulting from the struggle, but because of the unexpected rejections of violent and illegal institutional oppression. However, if coup-acting politics and law embittered collateral contradictions, other coup-acting sectors that did not suffer them remained dominant and untouched in what is substantial, such as the military and religious reactionary groups.

Two sectors organic to the 2016 coup experienced relative changes that led them to a partial exit from the extreme right bank. Some mass media that led the overthrow of the PT governments were opposed by Bolsonarists, with the Globo network his most obvious case, so that, provisionally, at the end of the 2022 elections, he placed himself in unstable alignment with Lula. At the international level, the change of government in the United States – from Donald Trump to Joe Biden – misaligned the immediate engagement of Jair Bolsonaro and the Brazilian extreme right with the fractions of US government power. The Brazilian coup, submitted to imperialism and fully in agreement with it on an implicit and mediate level, suffered a setback in the context of explicit and immediate support.

And, providing a harmonic counterpoint to the symphony of the side effects of the coup, the left. The PT operated during the years of the coup without systematically naming it as such, without expressive mobilization of resistance or social awareness. The struggles were announced against the effects of the coup – unemployment, inflation, hunger, high prices, fuel and gas prices –, not against the coup itself or economic, political and military domination. The deliberate strategy of not naming the political phenomena that took place meant that the 2022 elections were contested by the majority left in depoliticizing terms, resorting to contrasts in quality of life and consumption as a metric for voting – picanha and beer from leftist governments against the misery of right-wing governments.

In contrast, the mass of those politicized directly and explicitly by the right was enormous. The right's claim is not opposed by the left, which, being liberal and anti-socialist – in favor of order and the institutions of capital – does not find an immediate line of discourse at times when it suffers a coup.

Not to speak against the order that persecutes it, on the left there remain only the affects of disappointment, incomprehension and the feeling of its betrayal by the bourgeoisie and by the institutions, so that, as a proposition of horizons, there is only the affirmation of the good effects of its public policies. Thus, 2022 ends with the victory of the left by a narrow margin, with the right expressively politicized and mobilized and with the left ideologically depoliticized. Without society's weapons of struggle and ideological cohesion, the left is left with eventual good deliveries of public policies, in a scenario of Brazilian and global neoliberal economic crisis that allows it a narrow space for good deeds based on the system of exploitation and accumulation already given – and which it seeks to maintain and defend.

The third Lula government

The way in which the PT and the majority lefts at the institutional level resisted the 2016 coup was also the way they won the 2022 elections and set in motion the beginning of the government in 2023. betting mainly on comparing the virtue of its agents and the qualities of its governmental actions in the face of the debacle of the extreme right, seeking to expand the arc of alliances to dilute eventual contradictions and conflicts under an arbitrated confluence at the center, the third Lula government sought to mold itself , fundamentally, under the banner of a broad front.

The confluence at the center, maintaining both liberal right and liberal left ends, lays bare a strategy of articulation between dynamics and maintenance. Excluding any hypothesis of revolutionary structural change in society – the institutional and governing left blocks once again, since the end of the dictatorship, any effectively more leftist outcry –, it is also intended to eliminate from the scenario the residues of the extreme right manifested by the 2016 coup , though not its causes. The politically most astonishing nomination of Lula's ministry reveals both the purpose of temporizing and the practical unfeasibility of a progressive institutional affirmation through the continuity of such a pattern.

José Múcio Monteiro, chosen Minister of Defense for the military pleasure, sees his deliberate policy of not confronting the Armed Forces fade away a week after taking office, when the serious crisis of the coup attempt that took over the government palaces of Brasília on January 8 . In the general framework of the new government, the core of bourgeois rule remains. Politicians, jurists and the military will not be penalized by the 2016 coup, and their institutions will not be reformed. There will be no substantive ideological dispute against the right.

Ministries vital to capital, such as Agriculture, remain under the direct control of the bourgeoisie. Those in the economic area are Solomonically divided between left and right neoliberal positions, allowing decisions and adjustments according to dispute dynamics, given that there is no demarcated ideological guideline; pragmatism, not a consistent program, will be the hallmark of the construction of economic policy. After years of easy victories and even wider addictions to the bourgeoisie and rentiers, there will be substantial difficulties in changing the economy from the right bank to the left bank of neoliberalism.

On the other hand, already positioned at the center of the third Lula administration, defenses such as the environment: combating deforestation, but not its cause, agribusiness. And on the left, then, are the ministries directly linked to public policies in the social area. In more open terms of dispute, without great fear of conservative contradiction, some of the liberal institutional struggles of the left are asserted – human rights, gender, race, native peoples.

Such polarization of individual rights to the left will even allow the third Lula government to present itself with some progressive clarity in the face of comparison with social rights whose struggle will be less cherished by the government in an expressive way – such as the non-repeal of the fundamental labor reforms and neoliberal social security changes that occurred with the coup.

On the economic front, the Lula government blocks future privatizations, although not concessions or public-private partnership instruments. And, most crucially, it does not revive privatized state-owned companies or sovereignly reconfigure assets such as oil. At the level of economic arrangements, it will not carry out agrarian reform, remaining dependent on the moods of agribusiness, with a reactionary landowner profile.

Industrialization is declared desired, but the policies used for such a change in the bourgeois economic pattern are of low intensity, residual or even negligible. In terms of finance, fundamentally, the instruments of neoliberal governance and the appropriation of the budget by speculation and rent-seeking remain untouched. Thus, it is a government that seeks to outline itself, if it succeeds, on the left bank of neoliberalism. It maintains the post-Fordist, neoliberal capitalist accumulation regime. Does not expand your scourge and, on a success, counters some of its effects.

It is possible that the years of the coup destroyed some of the illusions of the Brazilian liberal left. Until 2016, there was, ideologically, a full consecration of republicanism and respect for legality and impartiality and a neutrality of institutions on the part of the governing lefts – what I call the philosophical path of juspositivisms. For reasons of survival and minimal political realism, such a vision tends to be partially broken – incidentally directing itself to non-juspositivism and Marxist criticism –, although Lula’s nominations of Armed Forces commanders – who follow the seniority list – reveal still strong persistence of legal ideology in the PT.

It is true that the coup tends to be absorbed and processed by the Brazilian liberal lefts with some degree of criticism more than that existing until 2016, but not enough to break with the very defense of capitalism, liberalism and the bourgeois order. Pacification and national unity tend to be the immediate ideological substitutes for republicanism.

With the inauguration and beginning of Lula's government, under open opposition from the extreme right, there is now a quantitatively greater dominance of the waters of one river over another, in the meeting of the Negro and Solimões of Brazilian politics. Liberal left and extreme right run side by side in the course of a wide Amazon basin of the national majority political space whose margins they demarcate.

The river of Brazilian politics in the second and third decades of the XNUMXth century has shown few waters other than that of an ever battered, weakened and idealistic liberalism of the left and the constant and revived mud of the extreme right. The geography of capitalism lacks the rain of socialist struggles. The course of the different political waters of current Brazil, which meet and run in parallel, is both dynamic and stable: its different original rivers, which fight each other, at some point mix and practically no longer specify each other until their necessary outlet in the mouth of the reproduction of capital.

*Alysson Leandro Mascaro He is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among other books, of State and political form (Boitempo).


Juliana Magalhães and Luiz Felipe Osório (eds.). Brazil under rubble: challenges for the Lula government to rebuild the country. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2023, 176 pages (

The launch in the city of São Paulo will take place on April 28th, Friday, starting at 18:30 pm at Livraria Tapera Taperá (Av. São Luís, 187 – 2nd floor, store 29 – República).

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