show of force

Image: Görkem Dalgıç


Sunday's mobilization shows that the social relationship of forces has not reversed. The country remains fragmented, and the extreme right maintains more weight in the politically active part of society

“Getting started is half the action. Think slowly. Act quickly.” (Greek folk wisdom).

The mobilization this Sunday, February 25th, was very large. Strictly speaking, let's be strict, it was immense. It was astonishing, quantitatively and qualitatively. Bolsonarism put more than one hundred thousand very excited people on the streets, for more than three hours, in scorching heat. The social composition was not surprising: it was white middle class, middle-aged, furiously, anti-communist, dragging popular evangelical sectors. But the dimension and the ardor, yes.

The uniform of yellow CBF t-shirts, the countless Israeli flags, the hatred against Lula, the resentment for the electoral defeat, the explicit adherence to the coup project, the excitement with Michelle's emotional speech, the boss's adulation, the excitement with the Silas Malafaia's extremism, the somewhat overwhelming and apocalyptic scenario. The morale of neo-fascism was on the rise. They took to the streets to fight. Paulista may have been just the beginning of a campaign. This Sunday's momentum should fuel new demonstrations.

They didn't react when Jair Bolsonaro became ineligible, when he was very cornered, but now they're back with force. They occupied Avenida Paulista in the biggest act since September 7, 2021, when he was president. But in an incomparably more difficult context: an avalanche of evidence is being gathered by the Federal Police since Mauro Cid's plea bargain, confirming his commitment to preparing a coup d'état.

The presence of four governors – from Minas Geais, Santa Catarina, Goiás and none other than Tarcísio de Freitas, more than a hundred federal deputies, hundreds of mayors, including that of São Paulo, in addition to countless councilors, reveals that there is support huge institutional. They felt victorious.

This willingness to unconditionally public solidarity seems appalling, a dangerous calculation of risks, when it is conclusive that the investigation into the crimes of Jair Bolsonaro, and his circle of four-star generals, has already gathered irrefutable evidence of guilt. But they were all there. Why? Because their destinies are indivisible from Jair Bolsonaro’s. Everyone who went to Paulista, on the ground and on the platform, were accomplices in the coup. The cry that united them was one: don't arrest Jair Bolsonaro. Let's not fool ourselves, we heard it well. They came out reinforced.

The police-legal siege on Jair Bolsonaro tightened since the operation at the house in Angra dos Reis in mid-January and, a month later, when it hit the generals, and the far right decided to go on the counterattack. Because now? Because they trusted they could do it. It was not just a call from its social base to “take a photo”. It was a show of strength in a defensive situation. What are your goals? He doesn't want to be arrested, so he disguised the blackmail with the Amnesty formula.

Jair Bolsonaro showed his teeth to prove that, if necessary, he knows how to bite. He threatened the Superior Courts and the government, supported by the strength of social networks, on the streets and in Congress. He wants the guarantee of preserving the legality of his movement. The center of the tactic, for those who still hesitated or doubted, is: prison for Jair Bolsonaro and the coup generals.

Reducing the impact of the concentration of the ultra-right, along the “denial” lines of part of the left – the act does not “change anything”, Alexandre de Moraes “will not back down” – is not just a superficiality. It is not just a biased analysis of Jair Bolsonaro's objectives. Sums up strategic myopia. It is never “all or nothing” and “now and now” in the social and political struggle. The fight against Bolsonarism will be a complex and, perhaps, long process of political-ideological struggle that has an international dimension, and the outcome remains uncertain.

The underestimation of the social shock force of the neo-fascists is an error of analysis and, tactically, mistaken, because it disarms the need to build mass mobilizations on the 8th and 24th of March. It only serves to maintain the current “hibernation” of the left-wing people and, also, of the majority leadership. Neither do the “psychologizing” conclusions that aim to explain the mobilization initiative because Jair Bolsonaro is “afraid” of being arrested. Mocking the enemy is legitimate, and even fun, but it's not serious. Jair Bolsonaro is a monster with an “instinct” for power, but he still has strength. He is injured, cornered, defensive, but no less dangerous.

Being arrested would be a defeat, but not an irreversible one, if he manages to preserve the mass influence he has achieved. The line of speech was a maneuver betting on the possibility of expanding alliances with the liberal right. We already know that there is a consolidated position in fractions of the liberal bourgeoisie, which defended the third way in the elections, which denounces Alexandre de Moraes for the “excesses” of the long prison sentences against the “rioters” of January 8th.

Amnesty, political pacification, and defense of the legitimacy of the extreme right as an electoral current were Jair Bolsonaro's flags in Paulista. Explore a delicate loophole. He cannot be condemned without the four-star generals who were by his side until the end also being put in prison. In Brazil, coup generals were never tried and convicted.

The ultra-right is carrying out a tactical turn or political repositioning, since the electoral defeat and, above all, since the failure of the uprising on January 8 last year. Its project is to guarantee a legal presence of the “movement” that guarantees the right to participate in this year’s electoral disputes, and the accumulation of forces to compete with Jair Bolsonaro for president in 2026, as Donald Trump is doing this year in the United States. Even if he is arrested, therefore qualitatively weakened, Jair Bolsonaro wants to be a candidate. The Act follows the calculation that it has social and political strength to try to escape from prison. Jair Bolsonaro wants to negotiate, but from a position of strength.

The situation placed the challenge of fighting for the arrest of Bolsonaro and the coup generals in the hands of the left. The biggest danger now would be the division of the left. The left cannot retreat from the No Amnesty flag without irreparable demoralization hitting us. Those who argue that the fight for Jair Bolsonaro's arrest is a trap, because going to jail would “martyrize” him are wrong.

The social basis of Bolsonarism has several layers. There is a “hard core”, around 10% neofascists in the country, something around 15 million people, which is impregnable. But less ideological sympathy for the extreme right reaches more: 15% or even 20%. The impact of the trials will produce erosion among tens of millions of people, especially among the popular classes. Jair Bolsonaro's arrest will not just be a legal battle. It cannot rest solely on the authority of the STF. It will be a campaign for popular consciousness. We can never give up on the part of the working class that was attracted to Bolsonarism. The conviction of Jair Bolsonaro and the generals would be the greatest democratic victory since Lula's electoral victory, or even since the end of the dictatorship.

On the left, we must have the lucidity to understand that the social relationship of forces has not reversed. The country remains fragmented, and the extreme right maintains more weight in the politically active part of society, more activist on the networks and also on the streets. But the political relationship of forces changed, favorably, because Lula won the elections. It evolved for the better with Alexandre de Moraes' firmness against the coup plotters. But nothing remains static, and what doesn't advance, retreats.

When was the last time the left put so many people in Paulista? Lula's victory day, in 2022? Education tsunami in 2019? Not him, in 2018? It's gonna be hard? The only honest answer is yes. But Bolsonarism cannot continue to maintain hegemony on the streets and networks indefinitely. The worst defeat, we already know, is one without a fight. All left-wing parties, popular social movements in the countryside and cities, women and black people, students and culture, LGBT's and environmental movements are called to take a step forward and organize the response on the 8th and 24th of March.

* Valerio Arcary is a retired professor of history at the IFSP. Author, among other books, of No one said it would be Easy (boitempo). []

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