Two years of misgovernment – ​​the social foundations of Bolsonarism

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By LUIZ BERNARDO PERICAS*

The national elite, however, will hardly give up their privileges, regardless of who is in the presidency.

Different scholars and analysts from the press and academia, in Brazil and abroad, have recurrently focused on the possible ideological character of the current government, its main characteristics and its similarities and differences with political experiences in other countries. In addition, there is also an attempt to identify and classify the different groups of supporters and allies of President Jair Bolsonaro, as well as to seek to understand the role of the left in the current context of the country. After all, the president managed to enlist the support of various sectors of the conservative camp, which include high-ranking military, evangelicals, slices of the middle class, police and even extremist groups with leanings towards fascism.

In this sense, the support of the uniforms has been emblematic and fundamental. By mid-July 2020, according to a survey by the Federal Court of Auditors (TCU), 6.157 active and reserve military personnel had been appointed to administrative functions, distributed by various ministries and occupying paid functions or commissioned positions (2.643, in the latter case ), the vast majority, from the Army. It is worth remembering that by mid-March 2021, ten ministers from the barracks had passed through the government (including the inept and neglectful Eduardo Pazuello, from Health, who, in turn, appointed 17 officials to key posts in his portfolio, of which 16 had no training in the medical field).

Generals, admirals, captains and lieutenant colonels are ministers, executive secretaries, general secretaries, chiefs of staff, advisors, directors and chairman of councils. Not to mention MPs officers, also occupying relevant positions in the federal government (in the General Secretariat of the Presidency, for example, there is a major from that corporation).

This picture reflects the great mistake of not having exemplarily sanctioned, after redemocratization, the military responsible for arrests, torture and murders during the lead years. Unpunished, nostalgic sectors of the regime of exception remained active behind the scenes, issuing anti-democratic public communications (without even having been the target of disciplinary proceedings or, at least, reprimands from officials at the top of the hierarchy) and threatening in a veiled way the institutions, something that could be more clearly verified at least since Lula's first term (it is worth remembering here the ill-fated episode of 2004 that led to the resignation of the then Minister of Defense José Viegas), but which intensified in the Dilma Rousseff governments, winning strength in the mandate of Michel Temer.

The supporting role of the FFAA in recent years, their resentment with the dynamics and developments of the National Truth Commission (CNV) and their discomfort with the permanence of the left (or “center-left”) in the Planalto Palace (even if they characterized as presidential coalition governments, with a wide spectrum of political alliances), made those from the barracks yearn for a return to the position of command.

The uniforms would consider Bolsonaro's electoral victory an opportunity to once again occupy and equip the state machine. They can be classified as a revamped “old” right, which uses a democratic and technical (or technocratic) façade, part of the time, but which seems to adhere ideologically (at least, some of its representatives) to the current administration. If at the rhetorical level, sometimes, they present themselves as defenders of the institutions, at other times, what we see are veiled (or even explicit) threats to any possibility of changing the course of the country or of controlling the State apparatuses ( the case of the talkative ex-army commander, General Villas Bôas, is notorious, as well as that of the equally mouthy Augusto Heleno, an officer of the same rank and head of the GSI, in addition to the different manifestos and petitions released by military clubs). The fact is that the Armed Forces have profusely occupied the federal administrative structure (in first and second level positions) and hold the weapons.

We cannot forget that Bolsonaro is a retired army captain and his deputy, Hamilton Mourão, a four-star general. Even with an apparent more measured speech in recent months, the latter cannot be seen as a moderating factor, but of concern: it has the potential to serve not only as the president's guarantor but even, in case he came to occupy the Planalto, to be as or more rigorous with the opposition than his current boss. On the other hand, there is also a “legalist” sector within the Armed Forces that feels uncomfortable with the manipulation, instrumentalization and political use of the Navy, Air Force and Army by the President. Many believe that the president demoralizes military institutions and pressures officers to take actions that are not consistent with their role. That is, they reinforce its position as an institution of the State, and not of a government. Support among uniforms, therefore, is not unrestricted. Those who consider themselves guardians of the Constitution are more moderate and are beginning to show signs of dissatisfaction with the president's aggressive, erratic and authoritarian attitudes.

The social base of “Bolsonarism” continues, with some fluctuations, in the range of 30% of the population, although various surveys show that this support may be even lower (between April and May 2020, according to Atlas, it had 58% of support). disapproval and 23% approval; Forum, 39% disapproval and 26% approval; and Quaest, 49% disapproval and 19% approval; that is, its effective size would possibly be between 8% and 12%). this is due in part to the departure of former Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio Moro (who took the so-called “lavajatistas” with him) and in part to the disastrous and incompetent way in which the new coronavirus pandemic is being dealt with. A survey carried out by Datafolha between June 23 and 24 of the same year showed that 15% of adults were unrestrictedly loyal to the president, a group mostly composed of women (in this case, around 60%) and “whites”.

These would be the “devotees”, those who would be unlikely to change their minds and who would support the president in any situation. A survey carried out by Instituto Travessia and published by the newspaper Valor Econômico on July 17, 2020, in turn, indicated that Bolsonaro's standard supporter would, in fact, be a man (55% of respondents), "Caucasian", resident of the Southeast, over 45 years of age, with income above of ten minimum wages and evangelical (54% of the defendants; Catholics were only 24% of the total). This specific poll among “root” supporters of “Bolsonarism” (according to that institute, between 12% and 15% of the population), showed that 45% of them defended greater State intervention in the economy, as opposed to 42% against this premise; that 62% were against a self-coup, against 33% in favor of more authoritarian actions; that 95% disapproved of the actions of the National Congress; and that 90% criticized the Supreme Court. In addition, 55% said they were in favor of measures to make policies for the preservation of the Amazon rainforest more flexible, 98% thought that the police should act tougher and more rigorously against “criminality” and 75% agreed with releasing the use of guns by citizens.

There are also even more extremist and aggressive individuals and groups, with clear sympathy for fascism and neo-Nazism (as is the case of the self-styled “300 of Brazil”, who claim to have paramilitary training and carry weapons, and who are currently absent from daily news. ), without, however, indicating any capillarity or greater social representation. The same can be said of the more radicalized wings of the military police (generally the lower officers), in addition to the militias.

The National Federation of Entities of State Military Officers (Feneme) estimates that Bolsonaro got around 14 million votes from PMs in 2018, mostly from soldiers. According to Leonardo Sakamoto, in an article published on March 31, 2021, “a survey released by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, last August, pointed out that 41% of PM soldiers participated in Bolsonarist groups on messaging networks and applications, 25% defended radical ideas and 12% defended the closure of the Federal Supreme Court and Congress”.

The “extended” group, on the other hand, is more flexible. That is, those who do not fit into “Bolsonarism” uncompromising (circumstantial adherents), may still, at some point, abandon ship. This broader base is also made up, to a large extent, of “evangelical” and conservative voters, elements of the Lumpen-bourgeoisie and traditional lumpesinate, and strata of middle sectors linked to retail trade (in April 2020, 70% of the “entrepreneurs” represented by shopkeepers, owners of small industries and businesses in shopping malls, for example, still expressed its support for the government in commissioned polls).

Evangelicals, of course, are an important part of support for the ruler. They massively supported Bolsonaro in the elections, even though they are quite heterogeneous. In the last election, the then PSL candidate (currently without a party) had 70% of the votes of this group. On the other hand, in a survey carried out at the end of March 2020, only 37% of believers approved the action of the representative in relation to the pandemic of the new coronavirus. That is, it is possible that a part of this electorate is moving away from the government.

Despite this, Bolsonaro still maintains the support of bishops and pastors of powerful Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal churches who, over the years, have diversified their businesses and built business “empires” that have huge religious temples, newspapers, internet pages and channels, radio stations. , publishers, record labels, television stations and even their own political parties. They defend, to a large extent, the “prosperity theology” (popularized in the country from the 1970s and 1980s by North American televangelists) and have a clear power project, having a strong ascendancy over the evangelical benches of Congress and the state legislative assemblies (these sectors are identified with the so-called centrão, represented by physiological right-wing parties, rental acronyms that promote conservative customs guidelines and exchange of support for funds and positions).

Among Pentecostals, the largest churches are the Assemblies of God (with 12,3 million believers), while in the field of Neo-Pentecostals, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), founded in 1977, stands out with an estimated eight million of faithful (in addition to this, it is possible to mention the International Church of Grace of God, with one million faithful; the Renascer Apostolic Church, supposedly with the same number of followers; and the World Church of the Power of God, with 800 thousand members) . Some of the leaders of these organizations, by the way, are among the richest citizens in the country, with assets ranging from US$ 65 million to US$ 950 million (several of them have already been arrested and are being prosecuted in court). It is good to remember that there is an intense penetration of evangelicals in the favelas and peripheral communities, and that they are allied with drug trafficking and the militias.

All those mentioned above (with the exception of the military officers) have in common, in general, a low or medium education (there are also elements formed in private universities of little prestige and dubious quality), having gone through a process of impoverishment in the last decade, losing privileges, descending on the social scale and blaming the PT especially for its problems, after intense ideological propaganda promoted by the major media and the actions of “Lava Jato”, both linked to hidden interests of sectors of the internal bourgeoisie.

This hard core of “Bolsonarism” has no greater political preparation or intellectual sophistication, acting, on the streets or on social media, from traditional right-wing flags, among which, notoriously, the fight against corruption and using as tactics, the dissemination massive of fake news, verbal attacks, demonstrations and threats against journalists and authorities who disagree with the president's political line. In this sense, they believe that the country will only improve after the closure of institutional environments where allegedly wrongdoings occur, such as the National Congress and the STF. Thus, attacks on parliamentarians and members of the Judiciary have been constant.

In other words, individuals who support the current president have a clear authoritarian and anti-democratic bias, in addition to being against any kind of pluralism and diversity. In some cases, their admiration and loyalty to the “great leader” borders on fanaticism. Many have recently advocated a “military intervention” (i.e. a sort of “coup d’état” or “self-coup”), keeping Bolsonaro in the presidency and giving him unrestricted powers to govern as he saw fit.

In practice, however, none of them has a nation project. On the contrary. The main idea of ​​the president and his team is the “deconstruction” of the entire political-legal and economic framework erected since the end of the military dictatorship, throughout the New Republic, in the fields of foreign relations, customs, education, culture, environment , labor rights and finance, together with a rapid re-equipment of institutions to serve the personal interests of the president and his gang in power.

The “anti-globalist” discourse, the defense of so called values ​​of the Judeo-Christian Western Civilization and the struggle against an imaginary “cultural Marxism” are important elements disseminated by the ideologues of “Bolsonarism”, among which, the best known and most influential of them, the astrologer and youtubers, residing in Virginia (USA), Olavo de Carvalho, along with his virtual militia disseminators, especially the so-called “hate office”.

The current administration has shown enormous hostility towards media outlets considered oppositional, indigenous communities, quilombolas, social movements and anyone who is not aligned with the president. An ultraliberal economic policy, which assumes, as a counterpart, the withdrawal of social benefits from workers, however, is still supported by the traditional Brazilian bourgeoisie, linked to large industry, contractors, banks, the corporate media and agribusiness, even though it observes all this picture with a marked degree of concern, considering that the current health, political and environmental crisis that Brazil is going through affects the image that the country has abroad and results in significant losses in commercial transactions.

There are already dissensions and ruptures within some of these groups, such as, for example, in the Brazilian Rural Society, from which its vice-president Pedro de Camargo Neto resigned last year, when he refused to accept the entity's support for the Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles (allied with the logging and mining extractive sectors, as well as with all those who promote illegal predatory activities in the Amazon), which has caused great damage to the country internationally. In turn, the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (Fiesp), through its president, Paulo Skaf, flirts more and more with the government, giving constant demonstrations of public support, at least until now.

In any case, the ideal for the ruling class would be to maintain the economic policies of Paulo Guedes and the line followed by some ministers (such as Teresa Cristina, from Agriculture), while the president himself and his closest associates, the “olavist” ideological field, were removed from the scene, thus, removing the “extreme right” (excessively exotic and dangerous for business), by operating an intraclassist arrangement “from above” (as always occurred in the country), thus guaranteeing a transition of power to a “classic” right-wing government, headed by traditional sectors of the Brazilian bourgeoisie. The March 2021 letter from entrepreneurs, economists and bankers is an obvious sign of this. With more than 500 initial signatures, this manifesto shows the high degree of dissatisfaction of the Brazilian financial elite with President Bolsonaro and indicates that it wants profound changes in the country's direction as soon as possible...

The national elite, however, will hardly give up their privileges, regardless of who is in the presidency. It is worth remembering that, according to the 2019 UN Human Development Report, Brazil is the second country with the highest concentration of income in the world, where 1% of the population holds 28% of national income and the richest 10% own 41,9% of the national income. As former secretary general of the Itamaraty Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães recalls in his article “Guedes, Bolsonaro and the video”, 334 Brazilians declared to the IR a monthly income of more than R$ 300, while 40 have a monthly income of more than R$ XNUMX thousand. According to the diplomat, citing the magazine Forbes, there are around 200 billionaires in the country.

On the other hand, there are 14 million families (or 56 million people) with an income of less than R$178 per month, 35 million below the poverty line (income less than R$750 per month), 13 million below the poverty line extreme (less than BRL 420 per month), 100 million without sewage, 35 million without treated water, 66% with wages below BRL 2.100 and 30 million people earning more than two minimum wages. This means, once again according to Guimarães, that of the 150 million Brazilians over 16 years of age, 120 million earn less than two monthly minimum wages. These distortions are unlikely to be corrected in the short term. On the contrary. After all, according to a 2020 Oxfam report, only during the first months of the Covid-19 outbreak, the fortune of the 42 biggest Brazilian billionaires, as a whole, grew by US$ 34 billion.

This trend of inequality continued. In April 2021, the magazine Forbes included 20 new Brazilians in the ranking of billionaires, making the total of the so-called “super-rich” in the country on its list rise to 65. significant growth compared to the US$ 219 billion (R$ 1,225 billion) in the previous year.

In addition, the economic crisis, which had already been taking shape since the Dilma government and had been accentuated during Temer’s term, has now, because of the new coronavirus pandemic and the irresponsible measures promoted by Bolsonaro, worsened significantly. According to official statistics released by the IBGE, in June 2020, the country registered (in the moving quarter ended in May), 12,7 million unemployed (an “official” formal unemployment rate of 12,9%), 32,3 million of informal workers, 30,4 million underutilized workers, 5,4 million discouraged workers and 2,5 million job losses with a formal contract.

Around 12 million people had their contracts suspended, wages and working hours reduced and 53,9 million Brazilians requested aid of R$600 from the government, which only agreed to implement the measure after being pressured by Congress. The continuous dismissals, the overexploitation of low-skilled labor, the precariousness of work and the increase in the climate of tension and repression can be catalysts for future protests, strikes and stoppages.

The left, in turn, has been fragmented and ineffective in the fight against the current government. She still works primarily in traditional institutional spaces and through political parties. Its strength, however, is not significant. Generally a minority in municipal, state and federal parliaments, it serves as a means of containment, critical awareness and resistance to the authoritarian outbursts of the right and extreme right. In other words, it still operates within the electoral logic and based on negotiations and alliances, sometimes programmatic, sometimes circumstantial.

In several cases, however, these sectors do not even manage to do this, proving to be incapable of uniting around a single candidate, dispersing the progressive votes and resulting in defeats at the polls for conservative politicians (in the last scrutiny for mayor of São Paulo , the largest and most important city in Brazil in economic terms, PT, PSOL and PCdoB each launched their own candidates, which reduced the chance of victory for any one of them; this phenomenon could be found in other metropolises, and also included “center-left” associations, such as PSB and PDT, for example).

According to the bulletin Ponto Newsletter (edited by Lauro Allan Almeida Duvoisin and Miguel Enrique Stédile), of October 9, 2020, the elections of last November should confirm the conservative wave. The article showed that “the number of candidates with military titles jumped by more than 300% among mayors and 56% among councilors. Candidates with religious ties in the title grew by just over 10% among candidates for mayors, but there will be 4.500 candidates among councillors, an increase of over 40%. In other words, weapons and the cross are presented as a strong solution for a country that drags on in a prolonged crisis. Among the political parties, the PSL was the one that launched the most military candidates for municipal councils (308) and the Republicans was the one that launched the most with religious titles (367). The two parties are also the parties with the largest number of candidates across the country: each has around 3.000 candidates for municipal legislatures in the 95 largest cities in the country, an average of more than 30 per municipality”.

Last year, the organized supporters of football teams also stood out, which occasionally met with “antifa” groups, students and social movements to promote demonstrations for democracy and against the government, a clear reaction to contain the constant weekly provocations by Bolsonaristas in the streets. With this attitude, they managed to curb the extreme right-wing acts that took place every Sunday in some Brazilian cities. Even though there was no greater political and intellectual preparation among its members, nor a defined program of what they wanted beyond Bolsonaro's removal from power, they, at least, showed that there was some mobilization around democratic agendas, which can be seen as a start, albeit a timid one, for a further reaction against the far right, even if those events were, apparently, punctual.

There is also an identity and postmodern left, equally little prepared in theoretical terms. Many of these young people from the internet generation are followers of intellectual fads and segment struggles by themes and agendas related to ethnic, gender and sexual orientation issues. Postmodern concepts imported from the political and academic circles of Europe and the United States are constantly used by these “millennials”. The word “socialism”, on the other hand, is rarely mentioned. Deep down, even without admitting it, they struggle mainly to include marginalized segments of the population in more favorable conditions to compete for social ascension and better placement in the labor market within the system (which is criticized for its inequalities, but which, they believe, if pressured, it may become, perhaps, more humane and fair, which is not something feasible).

The “Marxist” left, in turn, has very little influence both in the electoral field and in relation to society in general. It is restricted to small parties, independent publishers and academic intellectuals, mostly from public universities.

Manifests and petitions were other expressions of the discontent of progressive sectors in 2020, in general, representatives of the “intellectualized” urban middle class, who tried to give a plural character to the resistance to the current president. The best known were “We are together”, “We are 70%”, “Pact for life and for Brazil”, “For democracy and for life”, “Rights now!”, “Enough!” and “Antifascist Unity”. In this sense, they called for the union of heterogeneous forces, in a broad arc that could encompass the most radical of the left to “moderate” elements of the right.

In fact, they follow a “cosmopolitan” and “globalized” bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, but they never express in their documents a clear classist character of the struggle, much less the protagonism of workers. This strategy came to receive criticism, including from former president Lula, who did not accept the idea of ​​alliances with characters who a few years ago harshly criticized the PT governments and supported (or even promoted) the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff (there were those who wanted to include names like Fernando Henrique Cardoso and even former Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio Moro in this large heterogeneous coalition, something that met with enormous resistance from the traditional left). This, in itself, shows that there is no project to overcome the current political model, much less the system itself.

There was only one more significant proclamation in favor of an exclusively left-wing class front, the “Manifesto for the united front of the left in Brazil”, which had the support of some unions and higher education professors. But this is a document that had less media coverage. Anyway, he proposed a minimum program that included demands such as the defense of state-owned companies; the renationalization of privatized companies; the annulment of the delivery of national riches (mainly the pre-salt); the uncompromising defense of national sovereignty and the interests and rights of the people; the application of public funds to the needy population, pointing to the insufficiency of the so-called “emergency aid”; making public funds available to save small businesses, avoiding bankruptcies due to the pandemic; a mobilization against all provisional measures, bills and constitutional amendments aimed at restricting freedom of expression and organization, whose objective was to criminalize and intimidate social movements; workers' control of banks and the financial system; the non-payment of the internal and external debt, responsible for the fiscal crisis, preserving the savings of active or retirees; the immediate recovery of the State's biggest debtors; the application of a tax to financial institutions, proportional to their net income, to be used for the construction of hospitals and the free supply of food and medicine to all who need them; a general tax on the country's great fortunes, with a view to constituting a public fund under the control of the proletariat, to combat the pandemic by all means; a maximum working day of 30 hours, without salary reduction; land regularization in all popular neighborhoods of low-income population properties; the end of large estates and the realization of the “agrarian revolution”; the repeal of labor and social security reforms; the nationalization and centralization of hospitals to meet the immediate needs of the population; the control of the SUS by its employees; and the construction of a popular government without representatives of capital.

In any case, the discussion around the creation of a possible “broad front” to combat Bolsonarism and, who knows, remove the representative from power or else to build possible electoral coalitions for 2022 between sectors of the left comes up again and again. , center-left and center-right, alliances that could even include the support of elements linked to banks and business. It is necessary, however, to wait for the dynamics of events, which are constantly changing in Brazilian politics, to have a clearer idea of ​​the direction these actors will take in the coming months.

* 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).

 

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