In search of dignity

Image: Magali Magalhães
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By JEFFERSON NASCIMENTO*

The concessions to Centrão do not constitute electoral fraud, Lula was very clear in the second round, stating that he would govern with the elected Congress

Roger Eatwell and Mathew Goodwin wrote the book National populism – the revolt against liberal democracy (Record). In the work, they recognize that the social base is different, but they include Bolsonarism as a phenomenon associated with national populism, whose main exponents are Donald Trump (United States), Viktor Orbán (Hungary), Marine Le Pen (France) and the movement for Brexit (UK).[I]

The authors explain that the movement emerged from a growing revolt against the political system and the liberalization of customs and argue that the influence on other parties and the political system tends to be lasting. Considering that Roger Eatwell and Mathew Goodwin associate Bolsonarism with national populism, I rescue some arguments and project the Brazilian context for the coming years.

Roger Eatwell and Mathew Goodwin identify four social changes at the origin of this political movement. There is growing (i) distrust towards politicians and institutions,[ii] there is a strong rejection of the liberalization of customs due to (ii) fear of the possible destruction of communities, the historical identity of the national group and established ways of life; where national populism and associated movements grew stronger there was (iii) misalignment of traditional parties (in Brazil, the shrinking of the PSDB is related to significant changes in electoral disputes and in the behavior of the center-right and the institutional right); and, I highlight here, (iv) relative deprivation.

Psychologists call relative deprivation an individual's belief that they are losing out relative to others. The neoliberal globalized economy has strengthened this feeling due to growing income and wealth inequalities and the lack of expectation for a better future. This feeling relates to the way people think about immigration, identity and trust in politicians; and translates into the belief that the past was better and that the future will be even worse.

Roger Eatwell and Mathew Goodwin, however, found that in the United States the majority of supporters are not unemployed and dependent on social programs and are not even on the bottom rung, but they share the conviction that the current arrangement is harmful to them because it prioritizes other individuals. and social segments. This point does not explain it alone, but it helps to understand the massive support for Bolsonarism by segments of the middle class, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs and certain working segments (such as self-employed, informal workers, etc.).

There is a silent process in Brazil that favors the feeling of relative deprivation and that tends to strengthen the Bolsonarism camp and its allies in the next elections. And that is mainly what we are going to address, seeking to identify material causes for this sensation, without reducing the issue to psychological aspects. We are facing an apparently consistent reduction in unemployment/unemployment. Let’s look at the graph below:

However, the euphoria surrounding these occupation numbers hides the fact that the generation of jobs, despite the excellent numbers of formal jobs, according to CAGED, has been driven by occupations with lower salaries, with growth in more precarious modalities (intermittent , temporary and outsourced). In other words, the fall in unemployment is combined with a recovery in average monthly income that is very timid and lower than inflation. Let's look at the graph below.

Now, it is possible to argue that the recovery process is complex and takes time. I agree with this point, but it is necessary to identify the causes that tend to strengthen Bolsonarism and may be part of the Lula government's drop in popularity in the latest polls. To do this, it is necessary to highlight material problems and not the effects of misinformation and/or the clear oppositional bias of some media, such as Gazeta do Povo, Estadão e Folha de S. Paul.

Therefore, it is necessary to point out that we are only now returning to pre-pandemic average income levels and still lower than the first quarter of 2021. And there is an aggravating factor: in the period, accumulated inflation is 19,46%. That is, for purchasing power to be the same as in the first quarter of 2021, the average income should be R$3.574,34 (and we are not considering the peak in average income, above the R$3.139,00 between May and September 2020; which would mean a corrected average income above R$3.749,00)[iii]. This is also what relative deprivation is about: the euphoria and celebrations surrounding the growth of occupation hide the depreciation of workers' purchasing power. The celebration around isolated data as evidence of the economy's improvement reinforces the feeling among many workers that they are actually being left behind.

Research shows that these are not conclusions. Government approval has been falling considerably and the assessment of the economy is more negative than positive. In the research Portraits of Brazilian Society — Economy and Population carried out by the National Confederation of Industry (CNI),[iv] Despite 45% of the population admitting the economy has improved in the last six months, the negative assessment of the current economic situation is greater than the positive: 38% consider it bad or terrible compared to only 24% evaluating it as good or excellent. Another point is that 22% of the population believe the situation will worsen in the next six months and 21% believe that nothing should change. There is still a majority who believe in the economy improving in the next six months: 53%. The question is: how can these expectations not be frustrated if the government continues to act in the same way?

A simple projection exercise is the following: the new Lula government, more committed to the neoliberal prescription than its electoral advertisements said, tends to worsen the material conditions of the working class. Fernando Haddad's inexplicable promise of zero deficit threatens a series of social functions of the State and will promote disinvestment that contradicts the promises of a new PAC, such as a new induction of economic growth coordinated by the government. All of these material factors are aggravated by the poor management of the government's communication strategies with the people.

There is an error in the assumptions adopted. It is a fact that Bolsonarist voters, just like national-populist voters, are not transactional and that the pure and simple improvement of material conditions will not demobilize Bolsonarism. Therefore, it is a movement that prioritizes the culture and interests of the nation, strongly related to disbelief in the political system and aversion to the liberalization of customs. However, just like national populism, it promises to give a voice to people who feel neglected and/or despised by political elites.

And it is precisely at this point that the abandonment of even class conciliation towards complete neoliberalism and the inability to dialogue with people demobilizes a social base that could support Lula's government and scares away pragmatic voters who place in Lula the hope of a new 2003-2010 or, at least, a less worse option than Jair Bolsonaro's government. In short: if it continues in this way, the Lula government will be the biggest electoral leader of Bolsonarism and/or allies for the municipal elections of 2024 and the national elections of 2026.

Lula's choices are, for the most part, questionable. To begin with, Lula leaves the general public with the impression of having abandoned the leadership of government in favor of a consortium headed by neoliberals, making concessions to the Centrão and abandoning left-wing agendas that were campaign flags. Regarding neoliberals, we have already mentioned Fernando Haddad; and there is also Camilo Santana, heading the Ministry of Education, assuming the commitments that Izolda Cela had already made in Ceará with business entities interested in education, such as the Lehman Foundation.

The concessions to Centrão do not constitute electoral fraud, Lula was very clear in the second round, stating that he would govern with the elected Congress; The point is the ineffective communication favoring Bolsonarist rhetoric, which is notable for its dominance of communication on social media and has been reversing the harmful effects of the publicization of the Jair Bolsonaro-Centrão alliance. Finally, portfolios whose themes were intensely used as a strategy to counter Bolsonarism, such as the Environment, Racial Equality and Indigenous Peoples, are suffering from starvation, ostracizing Marina Silva (despite the affection done by Lula at the COP), Anielle Franco and Sônia Guajajara . In other words: Lula does not seem to govern.

The third term, so far, stands out for the actions of the head of State, notably in foreign relations. Lula repositioned Brazil prominently in major debates, such as the climate issue, the Ukrainian War and Israel's genocide on the Palestinians. Therefore, the success of the government, with Mauro Vieira and Itamaraty, is guiding Brazil towards the recovery of Brazil's historic prominence in foreign policies.

It is almost the opposite of Jair Bolsonaro, who concentrated his foreign policy activities on some strategic alliances, whether for ideological reasons (Trump, State of Israel, Orbán, etc.), or for economic interests of sectors supporting the bourgeoisie (Russia, leaders from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and others). In terms of major issues, Jair Bolsonaro has secondaryized Brazil's role. Including ideological and economic nods to his supporters on climate issues and health issues during Covid-19. Except for his attempt to link his visit to Russia and his conversation with Putin to the search for peace in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

In a different way, Jair Bolsonaro knew how to keep his social base active. He more directly ceded the management of the economy to market agents, through Paulo Guedes, and made major concessions to the Centrão to guarantee governability – even more evident than Lula. However, Jair Bolsonaro did not give up on putting his stamp on cultural elements dear to his voters. In education, despite the difficulty of advancing over Federal Universities and Institutes, due to the autonomy of these institutions, Weintraub and Milton Ribeiro implemented civic-military schools, spreading a vision of society and accommodating reserve military personnel in positions; also, it maintained lively debates on issues relating to history, diversity and social justice (gender, ethnic-racial themes, Military Dictatorship, etc.).

This agitation was complemented by the intense work of Damares Alves in the Ministry of Family, with access to an important network of guardianship counselors throughout Brazil. For all this to work, Jair Bolsonaro and his team took great care of communication, placing traditional media under suspicion, attacking institutions, such as the STF, and establishing a form of access to supporters without mediation (groups on Telegram, weekly lives, profiles on his social networks and those of supporting influencers). This way of acting guaranteed constant agitation and, given its non-transactional characteristic, Bolsonarism maintained a broad social base even in a scenario of very poor indicators with catastrophic management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even the appointments to the PGR and the STF were very coherent and generated favorable political conditions for Jair Bolsonaro among his base. Augusto Aras, by acting in tune with the government, improved the conditions for Bolsonarista communication to sell the idea of ​​a government almost free of corruption, in opposition to previous corrupt governments, and was aligned with conservative values ​​in moral agendas (against gender and against criminalization of homophobia). Kássio Nunes Marques and André Mendonça have systematically voted in favor of Bolsonarist ideas, bringing moral conservatism to the STF, expansion of the neoliberal base in the Supreme Court and commitment to Bolsonarist political leaders and their allies. Bolsonaro voters, staunch critics of the STF, began to see Jair Bolsonaro's nominees as resistance to the supposed dominant interests of the political system.

The Lula government is not even able to constantly mobilize its base on issues dear to the so-called progressive sectors. Representatives of these sectors, which were considered ideologically central (at least during the campaign), appear rarely and have few resources to act significantly. Furthermore, their appointments – as had already become the practice during the 13 years of the PT presidency – do not present clear commitments on moral issues or economic issues. Cristiano Zanin – supposedly nominated for being a guarantor – even pleased Bolsonaro supporters with his conservative moral positions and have voted against the workers. For the PGR, Paulo Gonet Branco – who was once a partner of Gilmar Mendes – has a technical background, but has a conservative profile with positions contrary to the groups that most support Lula (against quotas, against the decriminalization of abortion and against the criminalization of homophobia ). Even though he voted in favor of Jair Bolsonaro's ineligibility in both actions (meeting with ambassadors and use of September 7th), he will hardly initiate actions or give favorable opinions to minorities. It remains to be assessed how Flávio Dino will act in the STF.

We are facing very clear signs that conditions are favorable to Bolsonarism and its allies, or other leaders who come from a similar position between the extreme right and right-wing authoritarian populism. The maintenance of the core of its social base, which is not transactional and is not guided solely by economic issues, can be increased by a significant number of workers who lose quality of life, day after day, and are faced with poorly formulated propaganda. that celebrates data by cutting it out of its context.

The extreme right, national populists around the world and Bolsonarism in Brazil specialize in being anti-systemic and in nurturing utopias that left-wing politicians gave up when they joined the order. Defend the status quo and accommodating the rules of the game is giving the majority of the population over to the siren song: despite the apparently innovative discourse, it is a radicalization of current conditions. In Europe and trumpism, a nationalism opposed to immigrants; in Brazil and other Latin American countries, a neoliberalism or ultraliberalism accelerated by an increasingly repressive State, excluding political minorities and ethnic groups and politically subordinated genders.

I remember a phrase by Argentine professor Emilio Taddei in a class about political transformations in Latin America: neoliberalism has made debt a moratorium for the future. The richness of this phrase captures the problem of the debate about austerity and zero deficit, which sacrifice social functions of the State – vital for the massive majority of the population. In the same way, personal or family debt takes away the possibility of dreaming and turns work into a daily exercise of paying for yesterday.

On this last point, let's be fair, there are government actions that can revive the spirit of part of society (Development and payment of Minha Casa Minha Vida for families registered in the Single Registry). However, an important question arises: which actions address the centrality of work in people's lives in search of dignity?

If debt forgiveness can reduce the number of people who work daily to pay for yesterday, the reduction in average income still condemns a majority to not plan for tomorrow. If neoliberalism pawns its future and the left proposes accommodation, these strands of the authoritarian right are strengthened by not having the shame of putting forward anti-systemic fantasies.

*Jefferson Nascimento He is a professor of political science at the Federal Institute of São Paulo. Book author Ellen Wood – rescuing class and the struggle for democracy (Appris).

Notes


[I] The classification of Bolsonarism is still an open debate, some call it right-wing authoritarian populism, right-wing populism, neo-fascism, extreme right-wing, among others. The core of this text is not to participate in this debate to classify Bolsonarism, the rescue of the aforementioned book aims only to consider some arguments that fit the Brazilian case.

[ii] The elitist nature of representative democracy fuels the feeling that a large proportion of citizens do not have a voice in the national debate. It is a fact that liberal democracy has always sought to minimize the participation of the masses, as can be seen in the work “The Federalists” (Federalist Papers). Alexander Hamilton, for example, suggested that “merchants were the natural representatives of artisans and workers,” arguing for an economic filter in representation. The pressure prevented the idea of ​​this “founding father” from appearing in the Constitution; however, the institutional design of the Federal Republic of the United States imposed other obstacles to insertion in the political debate. The liberal representative democracy of the United States served as a model for a significant part of institutional designs, including in Brazil. However, it is worth highlighting that people's distance from power seems to continually increase with the advancement of neoliberal prescriptions, reducing the State's ability to respond.

[iii] Monetary corrections only by official indices provided by IBGE, without considering the unequal impacts on lower incomes from inflation in recent years which, especially between 2021 and 2023, was concentrated in essential products and services.

[iv] VIEW https://oglobo.globo.com/economia/noticia/2023/10/24/brasileiros-consideram-situacao-da-economia-ruim-mas-acreditam-que-ela-vai-melhorar-nos-proximos-6-meses.ghtml


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