Necropower and Genocide


By Juarez Guimaraes*

The fight against the coronavirus pandemic can only be carried forward, with a minimum of possibility of reducing its enormous damage, if it is combined with the fight for the democratic end of the Bolsonaro government.

By taking a stand against building an immediate democratic end to the Bolsonaro government, including publicly against a possible impeachment, the majority of the PT leadership is committing the biggest mistake in its history. More serious, even, than the one that was to appoint Levy to command the economy, dismantling a popular political and social base to fight against the coup leaders.

As the largest opposition party, as a potential nucleator of the left and the popular democratic movement, the PT's position politically becomes, unconsciously, an anchor for the continuity of the Bolsonaro government. If neither the PT nor the majority of the PSOL or the PC do B defend the democratic end of the Bolsonaro government, why would the neoliberals who are part of the coalition that elected Bolsonaro defend it?

The proposal to first defeat the coronavirus and then defeat the Bolsonaro government is made in the name of defending the lives of the Brazilian people must come before any calculation of political tactics. But this proposal lacks the slightest understanding of health culture: it is not possible to defeat the coronavirus with Bolsonaro in the government of Brazil!

If the PT were in government today, on a left front, gathering all the country's health intelligence around it, it would already be very difficult to stop the advance of the coronavirus and avoid a catastrophe. In these last five years, there has been a great destruction of the social protection network: the Family Doctor Program network (which covered 65 million Brazilians), the massive withdrawal of investments from the SUS, the Unified Social Assistance System, the Bolsa Família; aggravated by a radical increase in unemployment, informality, the increase in street populations, the most vulnerable sectors. Health intelligence already spoke, through the voice of one of its most authoritative intellectuals, Gastão Wagner, of the risk of “sanitary barbarism”. This, before the pandemic.

What the Bolsonaro government has been doing – in a totally contradictory, disjointed, backward manner and mainly with its anti-sanitary and neoliberal bias – is absolutely ineffective in stopping the escalation of the pandemic in Brazil. With the pandemic already in place, Bolsonaro continues to defend the holding of evangelical services! The Minister of Health, who comes from the privatist area, has already decreed that there will be a collapse of the health system in the face of the expected increase in cases at the end of April! And the economy minister mobilizes resources to help businessmen, while attacking workers!

At the last meeting of the National Directorate of the PT, held in the middle of the pandemic and acute economic crisis, as a “shadow cabinet” (a parallel government), the majority approved lines to face the pandemic and the crisis. Are they recommendations to the Bolsonaro government? Are they position markings to build up strength in a future election race? In fact, in practice, a policy of “opposing” the Bolsonaro government prevails, preserving its mandate.


When asked about a relief for the Brazilian prison overpopulation in the face of the threat of contamination by the coronavirus, Minister Sergio Moro soon said that this would be a threat to society. In speech, the fascist denounces himself: so the 812 prisoners in Brazil, 41,5% of whom have not even been tried, according to the National Council of Justice, are not part of society?

We owe to Achile Mbembe, updating Franz Fanon's discourse denouncing colonial violence, the concept of “necropower” to denounce a power that, in its own logic, discards, rapes and kills. Slavery would have been an experience of necropower, as well as colonial violence in general in America, Africa, and Asia. Fascism and Nazism would be experiences of necropower. The population of Palestine – and in so many war zones in the contemporary world – lives under necropower. Neoliberalism, in its expansive form, has a necropower rationality.

The Bolsonaro government is a government formed and directed by a dynamic of necropower in at least seven dimensions.

1. Explicitly defends torture, military dictatorship and the use of violence in politics, even frequently preaching the “extermination of opponents”.

2. Acts to legitimize, legalize and increase police violence against poor populations. As has been documented, the lethality of police actions has increased dramatically.

3. It encourages femicide, as an expression of its policies, which are at the same time weaponizing and aggressively contrary to women's rights. Again, the statistics point to an increase in these crimes.

4. Practices, going beyond the limits of cruelty, serial cuts in policies of great social repercussion, directly affecting the most vulnerable and impoverished populations. In addition to being more unequal, Brazil has already returned to the Hunger Map.

5. It attacks the very foundations of funding and organization of the SUS, itself deficient, despite all its historical achievements. The massive cut in funds, the disorganization of the Family Medical Program, the privatization plans create a context of “sanitary barbarism”. Infant mortality, in decline for decades, rose again in Brazil.

6. Encourages violent attacks against rural social movements, quilombolas and indigenous populations, legitimizing an exponential resumption of unspeakable crimes committed by large mining companies and agrarian entrepreneurs. The CPT has registered an inventory of these murders.

7. Finally, the very militia nature of the government, its close contact with the dynamics of the militias, certainly open a channel for contagion between institutions – before in Rio, now throughout Brazil – with organized crime, which operates with the currency stream of violence.

One cannot, nor should one, nor is it inscribed in any democratic logic, simply oppose a government of necropower, accounting for its electoral weariness for a victory at the end of its mandate. Based even on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes a civilizing minimum, it would be necessary to put a democratic end to a government of necropower. When it conforms to the daily violation of human rights, it is the democratic political identity itself that is lost. Even the democratic struggle turns into an empty space.

Build a democratic way out

The Brazilian left, from the beginning, due to difficulties in characterizing the Bolsonaro government, confusion and, mainly, its institutionalist bias, which prevails even in the context of a coup and permanent constitutional violation, adopted an oppositional tone in relation to the Bolsonaro government. as if he had been formed and guided by the principle of respect for democracy.

This position is based on three arguments. The first concerns the legitimacy of the Bolsonaro government: after all, it was elected by a majority of Brazilians. This is a demoralizing argument: he can only be elected because of a coup against President Dilma, due to Lula's illegal imprisonment, due to illegal and massive, unaccounted for, investment of money by companies in fake news. In a minimally constitutional democracy, Bolsonaro, with his fascist rhetoric, could not even be a candidate!

The second argument follows the path of alliances and has been defended mainly by the PC do B. Faced with the fascist enemy, the left should form a political front, not necessarily an electoral one, with the neoliberals who are now in charge of the Chamber of Deputies, in the PSDB and in the PMDB, in parties of the so-called “centrão”. Now, these neoliberal “allies” have repeatedly supported the Bolsonaro government in its most important measures of cutting social and labor rights and in its anti-national policies of privatization.

Without forming their own frontist identity, the left submerges in the “neoliberal swamp”, of semi-oppositional accommodation to the Bolsonaro government, dividing their social bases and disorganizing their democratic path. It would be necessary to form a broad democratic and popular unit and to relate, in precise and delimited circumstances, with the contradictions of the neoliberal coalition that sustains Bolsonaro.

The third argument, endlessly repeated, is Bolsonaro's political strength, considered impossible to defeat in the current situation. The correlation of forces would be unfavorable to any democratic movement that aims to put an end to the Bolsonaro government. Well, the opposite is evident: the Bolsonaro government, due to its factional character and its strongly anti-popular economic policy, is unable to stabilize a parliamentary base and sees its base of social support continually dwindle. The only period in which this trend was suspended – not reversed – was at the end of 2019, when a deafening chorus from across the neoliberal media sold the population the idea that the economic recovery had begun. But this new illusion soon dissolved like foam.

The defense of a democratic policy to put an end to the Bolsonaro government was the main banner of the PT’s left in preparation for the party’s 7th Congress. But it was defeated, with the undiscussed assumption that it is time to wait for the 2022 elections. Now, it returns through the voice heard in pots and pans and a sharp worsening of the crisis in the Bolsonaro government.

Making mistakes in politics is common, even more frequent when decisions are formed and taken without listening and debating reflectively and democratically with different opinions. The best of the PT's 40 years has always been its internal democracy and its sensitivity to listening to the voice of the streets.

But there are political mistakes – due to the tragedy they contribute to generating – that cannot be repaired. We are facing such a situation. The fight against the coronavirus pandemic can only be carried forward, with a minimum of possibility of reducing its enormous damage, if it is combined with the fight for the democratic end of the Bolsonaro government.

*Juarez Guimaraes Professor of Political Science at UFMG.

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