Have we learned nothing from the 2016 coup?



The extreme right, especially its neo-fascist wing, does not accept anything. Its limits are those determined by the social and political relationship of forces

“Thus, paradoxically, the deepest cause of the revolution lies not in the mobility of men's minds, but in their innate conservatism. This is the lesson that the history of the Russian Revolution teaches us: the great upheavals in society automatically follow the decay of an old order; generations can live in a decaying order without being aware of it. But when, under the impact of some catastrophe like war or economic collapse, they become aware of it, there is a gigantic explosion of despair, hope and activity” (Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky: the banished prophet, P. 241).

What is the future of democracy in Brazil and Latin America? One of the central themes of the current situation is the problem of the instability of liberal-democratic regimes that emerged from the processes of overthrowing dictatorships forty years ago. The evolution in the last five years is not very encouraging.

After losing four presidential elections in a row, the Brazilian bourgeoisie turned to coup d'état in 2016, and ignited an exasperated petty-bourgeoisie movement that provided the social basis of neo-fascism. The denialist management, or the genocidal rigor of the pandemic, produced a fracture in the ruling class, and a sector moved to the opposition.

But it would be naive and superficial, considering the perspective of an electoral polarization between the left and the extreme right, to bet that a future Lula government, if it wins the elections, even if moderately reformist, will not have to measure forces with a radicalized Bolsonarism with implantation in the police and the Armed Forces. Conflict will be inevitable. The bourgeois fraction that supports Bolsonaro is not impressed by “reassuring” electoral coalitions for the “market” in 2022, whatever the vice-presidential candidacy.

The extreme right, especially its neo-fascist wing, does not accept anything. Its limits are those determined by the social and political relationship of forces. History has already shown that a regime is not democratic because it admits elections. The decisive question is whether or not the ruling class is willing to respect democratic freedoms, and even the legal rules of access to power, when they discover their interests threatened.

Even if a possible Lula government restricts itself to an anti-cyclical strategy to resume domestic consumption, articulated with the promotion of social inclusion programs for extreme poverty. There is only one sensible answer: maximum social and political tension. Haven't we learned anything since 2016?

A part of the Latin American Marxist left, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, maintained an orthodox defense of the elaboration of the Third International, which considered that the economic conditions of the subcontinent's dependent insertion in the world market, and the consequent social ills, a factor with the aim of enhancing political instability of such a nature that it would prevent the consolidation of democracies. Chronic poverty would be incompatible with the new democratic regimes. Political domination was to take the form of dictatorial regimes.

In the historical period of the post-war period, this prognosis was confirmed. After the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the barracks established military dictatorships throughout the Southern Cone: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile. But the last forty years, after the capitalist restoration in the former USSR, also seem to demonstrate that this prediction was relatively transitory. Capitalism, even in dependent countries, is not incompatible with any political regime, whatever it may be.

Before the 1980s, hope was deposited in the perspectives that the political crisis that the agony of the military dictatorships prepared. It was assumed that the interval between February and October, to resume the historical analogy, would be brief, as it was in the crisis of Tsarism in Russia, and that the democratic struggles against dictatorships would be a prelude to the struggle for power for the workers. A "Russified" interpretation of the theory of revolution held enormous influence.

This hypothesis, of course, was not confirmed. Two schematic and dangerous conclusions can be inferred, however, on this topic. The first would be a “democratist” illusion about the future of Latin American democracies, or perhaps better South American ones, because the situation in Mexico is special (as they themselves like to remember, “poor Mexico, so far from God and so close from United States"). Current democracies in peripheral countries under “semi-colonial” pressures are, some more than others, in a serious crisis. Brazil, in addition to Honduras and Paraguay, experienced a new form of “institutional” coup.

The South American political regimes find it difficult to achieve a minimum of stability, in such a way that the democratic alternation, that is the succession of mandates (after the “honeymoon” of the elections that followed the success of the monetary stabilization plans inspired in various forms of dollarization in the 1990s) do not turn into chronic regime crises. Strong Bonapartist pressures, whose extreme expressions were Uribism in Colombia, Fujimorism in Peru and, recently, Bolsonarism in Brazil, were manifested.

The other mistake would be to think that this “democratic interval” of a generation, almost an exception in the troubled history of the subcontinent, would be a confirmation that a new stage had opened. The hypothesis that a majority of the ruling classes would be converted to the virtues or advantages of democracy, and convinced that this would be the best regime to preserve their class domination does not hold up. No social class in history has entered into an “indissoluble marriage” with a form of political regime. The future of South American republican democracy therefore remains uncertain and doubtful.

At the turn of the century, a wave of mass mobilizations precipitated revolutionary situations in Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela and Bolivia that opened the way for governments that relied on unions, popular and indigenous movements and elected Chávez, Lula, Evo Morales and Pepe Mujica. Twenty years later, the context is very complicated. A reactionary wave reached the continent, and had its most grotesque form in Brazil. But, fortunately, it did not manage to consolidate itself for the time being.

Chile elected a Constituent Assembly in 2021, two years after mobilizations of millions and the experience of a general strike, to bury the Pinochet debris, but the fate of this process is uncertain. Presidential elections tend to be polarized between Frente Ampla candidate Gabriel Boric and a neo-fascist. Bolivia experienced a coup break with a police-military group that succumbed in a short time, with a new electoral victory for the MAS. In Venezuela, the Maduro government survives, despite the imperialist siege and permanent coup threats. In Peru, the surprising election of Pedro Castilho opened a window of hope, although a strong reaction through parliament threatens to usurp the expectations of the indigenous popular masses.

But it is also unavoidable that no revolutionary situation in Latin America, after Cuba in 1959-61, went beyond capitalism. Even in Venezuela, which has known the most radicalized experience. The answer rests on many factors. Among them, the political orientation that prevailed on the left must be underlined, which embraced a strategy of reforms to establish regulation of the conditions of capitalist exploitation and oppression. The experience of the PT in Brazil or the Frente Ampla in Uruguay is unequivocal.

But the role of the ruling parties does not exhaust the historical explanation. Why did the broad working and popular masses not raise “explosive” mobilizations to go further, putting pressure on class collaboration governments, even more so when the objective situation was dramatic?

The “clock” of history can be cruel. The issue of linking objective and subjective factors is more complicated than it might seem. A revolutionary situation obviously requires objective conditions. But they can be ripe for decades, they can even have rotted from being so mature, without a revolutionary situation having opened up.

Deutscher's passage, commenting on Trotsky, helps to clarify this issue: “Dying on the link between the factors “constant” and “variable” demonstrates that the revolution cannot be explained simply by the fact that social and political institutions have been there for a long time. time, in decay and ready to be overthrown, but by the circumstance that many millions of people realized such a thing for the first time. In social structure, the revolution was already mature well before 1917; in the minds of the masses, she only matured that year”.[I]

The “blind, deaf and mute” struggle of the masses, that is, in adverse or unfavorable political conditions, due to the absence or weakness of revolutionary organizations, leads to the dissipation of the energies of the ascent very quickly, and the opportunity is lost. The masses can pass from extreme activity to prostration and, when exhausted or demoralized, lose confidence in their own strength, thus opening the way for the ruling class to seek a political alternative from the right, or the extreme right.

The dialectic of the dispute for leadership, between the various parties that operate within the workers' movement, is expressed in countless upheavals, whose meaning is uncertain, and which also translate the fluctuations of relations of forces that are not immovable. Trotsky problematizes: “Marxist thought is dialectical: it considers all phenomena in their development, in their passage from one state to another (…) The absolute opposition between a revolutionary situation and a non-revolutionary situation is a classic example of metaphysical thought, according to the formula: what exists, exists; what does not exist, does not exist, and the rest is a matter of sorcery. In the historical process there are absolutely non-revolutionary stable situations. There are still notoriously revolutionary situations. There are also counterrevolutionary situations (we must not forget that). But what exists above all in our era of decomposing capitalism are intermediate, transitory situations: between a non-revolutionary situation and a pre-revolutionary situation, between a pre-revolutionary situation and a revolutionary… or counter-revolutionary situation. It is precisely these transitional states that are of decisive importance from the point of view of political strategy… A revolutionary situation is formed by the reciprocal action of objective and subjective factors. If the party of the proletariat proves incapable of analyzing the trends of the pre-revolutionary situation in time and of actively intervening in its development, a counter-revolutionary situation will inevitably arise instead of a revolutionary situation.”[ii]

What would be the use of using this conceptualization of transitory situations? It responds to the need to seek a more precise approximation to reality, and this requires, above all, understanding the dynamics of processes in which all factors evolve unevenly, and in varying proportions, but reciprocally affecting one another. others. Transitory situations account for most political circumstances, especially in dependent countries, where degrees of economic and social instability are higher.

We are in a transitory situation. But we still don't know where we're going. Our hope must be to help prepare for a revolutionary situation.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).



[I] DEUTSCHER, Isaac. Trotsky: the banished prophet, Rio de Janeiro, Civilização Brasileira, 1984, p. 241.

[ii] TROTSKY, Leon. Where is France going? São Paulo, Editora Desafio, 1994, p. 70.

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