Is it possible to defeat Bolsonarism in São Paulo?



The far right ruthlessly exploits all the fears and anxieties that fragment society


The latest DataFolha survey, carried out in the first days of July, did not bring any important variations in popular moods, especially because 55% of the population has not yet decided who they could vote for. The mayoral elections have so far not attracted the attention of the absolute majority. The main novelty of the campaign was the confirmation of the former commander of Rota (PM-SP's elite troop), Colonel Ricardo Mello Araújo as Ricardo Nunes' deputy and the alignment with Bolsonarism.

This did not prevent Pablo Marçal and José Luiz Datena, two pre-candidates competing for space on the right and extreme right, from rising 3%, scoring 10% and 11%, still within the margin of error. It is unlikely that Kim Kataguiri, who scored 3%, one less than in the previous survey, as well as Tabata Amaral, can run because Milton Leite controls União Brasil, and has already signed support for the current mayor Ricardo Nunes.

The mystery about Datena remains, but it is unlikely that she will run, not only because she has already given up four other times, and has just undergone two surgeries, but also because the PSDB, although divided by the municipal leadership of José Aníbal, has participation in the Nunes government, which has already received support from its parliamentarians.

Without the presence of Datena and Kim, Nunes would have 26%, Boulos, 25%. The most important information seems to be three: (a) a polarized dispute remains between Nunes and Boulos, because the other candidates are at such a lower level, qualitatively, that they will not even be able to dream of a ticket to the second round.

(b) However, although in the second platoon, Marçal, 12% and even Marina Helena do Novo (which could be an accident, due to confusion with Marina Silva, minister of the environment) 7%, both, explicitly, of extreme right, they will not be harmless, they will be able to play an unbalancing “triangular” role, concentrating fire as informal supporting actors; or, directly, as Nunes' subtitles.

(c) The candidacy with the greatest growth potential is that of Boulos because it attracted only 44% of the votes of Lula's voters in 2022, and it could grow a lot as it only scored 15% among those earning up to 2 minimum wages, a group which accounts for 42% of the sample, and in which the PT, Marta Suplicy and Lulismo have a lot of influence.

The main political-electoral variables are, therefore, relatively encouraging: (i) the division in the extreme right seems to be here to stay and Marçal and Marina Helena, two adventurers, will probably not withdraw, trying to fulfill an auxiliary role; (ii) the division of the right between Nunes and Datena, if, surprisingly, the PSDB confirms support by August 5th; (iii) the emptying of the center, devoured by the right with the pendulum tilt of Bruno Covas's heir to the hard right, and the difficulty of Tabata Amaral, on the center-left, submerging with 2%, alongside invisible super-revolutionaries ; (iv) and the unity of the left, the most important factor driving Boulos. It seems clear that Boulos, in this context, although a PSol candidate, will not be able to run a campaign strictly aligned with the radical left's program, as in 2020.


The Left Front is being built around a program in accordance with the accumulation of the city's most important social movements, such as feminist and black, popular and trade union, environmentalist and student, but, above all, with the PT and other parties. A program whose common denominator will be, as always happens when Fronts are created, around the most moderate position. The more combative left must be aware of this commitment. Without this unity, in the situation we are in, it would be impossible to compete with minimal chances.

Therefore, one should not demand from Guilherme Boulos a role that he cannot occupy. Agreements are made to be respected. At the same time, it is Boulos' authenticity, built on twenty years of the MTST's struggle for popular housing, that legitimizes him as a candidate who unites the left. Being authentic means being simple, honest and clear.

Marxist-inspired analyzes must conclude with predictions. Analysis, on the left, is not limited to interpretations of conflicts. They must guide a political bet considering the calculation of probabilities. They are not, “technically”, neutral or inconclusive. They must be as rigorous and objective as possible, without self-deception. But the ability to anticipate scenarios puts us in a position of relative advantage, because they allow a serious assessment of possibilities and also risks.

Even though analyzes consider trends and counter-trends, it is inescapable to present which, among the hypotheses considered, is the most likely. A prediction is not a prophecy. Marxism does not authorize oracles. A prognosis is always a hypothesis. The argument of this text is that Boulos is actually in contention, for a fundamental reason: it is more than likely that Boulos will be in the second round, as in 2020.

And, in the second round, the conditions of the political struggle change qualitatively. Second round is a fight between two bounce rates. Bolsonarism has a very high rejection rate in São Paulo. This variable does not allow us to conclude that Boulos is the favorite. But it's not fair to say that it's impossible to win either. Skepticism is not realism. “Intuitive” fatalism is a bad criterion.

A question of method arises when we think about the electoral perspective in São Paulo in 2024. Prognoses for the future are like counterfactuals for the past. The past was a field of possibilities. What happened has a lot of force, but it does not cancel out the fact that other outcomes were in place. A counterfactual is a hypothesis of what could have happened. A forecast is a hypothesis of what might happen.

In Brazil, the margins for error are large, especially more than three months in advance. It is necessary to measure, consider, adjust and calibrate the strength of different factors that exert pressure of the first, second or third degree. If the same social relationship of forces is maintained, the possibilities will be limited to a narrow scenario. It turns out that the social relationship of forces can change. It will probably fluctuate. Brazil is not a Scandinavian country, and there is no place for boredom.

We have to consider constant factors in forecasts. We cannot consider the impact of the random, accidental, contingent, as was, for example, the stabbing episode in Juiz de Fora in September 2018. “Gigantic” events can happen, of course. It is not possible, at this moment, to have an idea of ​​what the short-term situation will be in the last month of the campaign in September. We don't know whether the approval of the Lula government, a qualitative factor, will be greater or lesser than today.

But for now, it is still the majority. We do not know whether, with the Federal Police investigations into Jair Bolsonaro, the legal siege will tighten, to name another essential unknown. Are the margins of error, at this moment, therefore large or small? They are immense. The time variable cannot be ignored, because we are in opposition, and the broad masses focus their attention on the elections only in the final stretch, strictly speaking in the last two weeks.


Therefore, we are in a hurry to campaign. The margins of uncertainty exist. Marxism must be inspired by good science, that is, prudence in predictions. And the social behavior of classes is very unpredictable. But regularities exist. And they respond, firstly, to the primacy of fears. Which fear will be greater? We have already learned, bitterly, that the performance of the economy is not an “absolute” variable.

The extreme right mercilessly exploits all the fears and anxieties that fragment society: It scares the middle classes of workers with public insecurity, it alarms evangelicals against imaginary persecutions, it terrifies small landowners against the danger of communism, it terrifies the conservative middle class against feminism, black and LGBTQI movements, haunts the elderly with the denunciation of disorder and poisons the entire society with the denunciation of corruption. In short, it carries out a relentless ideological struggle: it lies, confuses and intoxicates.

But the performance of the Lula government will be important in the context of the municipal elections. What will be the most likely economic-social scenario in September? (a) all available indicators suggest the continuation of an economic recovery, which should not exceed 2,5% of GDP in 2024, but after four years that resulted in a decline in GDP of more than 8%, and a reduction in unemployment; (b) we are in an external context of slow growth in the world economy, both in the USA, Europe and Japan, which is reflected in semi-peripheral countries, but with revaluation of commodity prices, which protects foreign exchange reserves and, even considering the limits imposed by the fiscal framework do not suggest recession.

(c) The drop in inflation to less than 4%, although much higher in food, did not nullify the growth in family consumption, even though the Selic rate, still at 10,5%, inhibits debt for durable goods; (d) a speculative exchange rate attack is very unlikely because Brazil was the second main destination for Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in 2023, receiving US$64 billion only less than that received by the United States (US$341 billion).

The elections will be a two-round process. But social and political shifts will occur between the first and second. The class lines in the capital of São Paulo for the first election, on October 6th, are being defined: (i) unlike Lula's campaign in 2022, with the presence of Alckmin in the vice candidacy, no bourgeois fraction will support Boulos in the first round, even with the presence of Marta Suplicy, and a Bolsonarist in Nunes' vice position.

(ii) The modern middle class in São Paulo – highly educated professionals in executive roles in the private or public sector, liberal professionals such as economists, engineers, doctors, architects, lawyers – is the largest and most prosperous in the country and, historically, hostile to the left , but divided by the extreme right; (c) the traditional middle class that owns small businesses and real estate moved in the majority to support Bolsonarism.

(d) Informality is lower in São Paulo, in proportion to the national average, but it is very large, and is subdivided into three segments: salaried workers without a contract, such as domestic workers and street vendors, self-employed workers without companies, such as uberized, or the “do-it-alls” in the neighborhoods – electricians, for example – and small family businesses and, although divided, are, in the majority, attracted to neo-fascism. (e) The working class with contracts, formal employment contracts or civil servants, the historical social base of the PT and the left in the city, metalworkers and workers in large and medium-sized companies, teachers, bank employees, employees of public companies is also divided, but most lean left.

(f) The poorest in the extreme peripheries lean to the left, due to loyalty to Lulism, and a political memory of the administrations of Luiza Erundina, Marta Suplicy and Fernando Haddad. In short, it will be difficult, but by uniting the world of work, the exploited and the oppressed, the left can win the social majority. Yes we can.

* 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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