Brazil between caesarism and oligarchic rule

Image: Tim Mossholder


The coup d'état that dismantled the PT government deepened the organic crisis and paved the way for a regressive caesarism

The general elections that took place in Brazil in October 2022 were an important episode of the organic crisis that affects bourgeois domination, not only in these areas. The organic crisis is in fact one of capitalist accumulation, particularly in the imperialist core (United States and Europe) and in Latin America, as a subaltern zone of this clearly declining core. In the imperialist core, social contradictions and divisions between the bourgeoisies are accentuated. The response to the crisis is the defensive condensation of hegemonic forces around conservative and reactionary ideologies, which see migration from Africa and the Middle East as an existential threat and, especially in China's growth, as a risk to the survival of capitalism centered on financialization.

Latin America has oscillated between loyalty to US rule and the search for a way out of the imposition of policies fueled by neoliberal ideology. The oscillation also occurs between the liberal oligarchic domain and the caesarist tendency. The awareness and strength that this exit is only feasible with the detachment from the United States and the complete defeat of the internal forces that benefit from the dominance of banking and financial capital is very limited. Thus, this oscillation occurs more due to the division in the dominant classes and the weakening of the American political economic power than due to an autonomous organization of the subordinate classes.

The bet, in Brazil, on a bourgeois liberal democracy with social rights, partially inserted in the 1988 Constitution, disappeared in the 1990s, with the PSDB/PFL governments, and did not recover in the 2000s with the PT/PMDB governments. The particularity of the Lula governments, with a progressive caesarist tendency, was the ability to unify the ruling class and guarantee notable popular support – especially from the 'working aristocracy' and the state's salaried petty bourgeoisie – thanks to a situation of a very relative resumption of of capitalist accumulation.

“Affirmative policies” and “compensatory policies” replaced the struggle for fundamental universal rights, but they were still sufficient to garner a very significant base of popular support. At the same time, the commitment to pay the interest on the public debt (a false debt to the banks, let it be clarified) demonstrated fidelity to the imperialist ideology of neoliberalism.

The strong impact of the 2008 crisis in the United States and Europe seriously affected the entire world, albeit in different ways. Imperialist aggressiveness increased in the expanded Middle East and Latin America, always with the aim of guaranteeing its interests, which revolve around the plundering of natural resources and other riches. The crisis once again divides the dominant classes and in Brazil the issue is the exhaustion of the PT's experience. Between controlling the government in Dilma Rousseff's second term or removing the PT from the government through an institutional coup d'état, the second choice won.

It was essential to block the movement of young workers for more rights and face the crisis with the opposite, with a greater withdrawal of social and political rights. It was time for groups with a fascist tendency to enter the scene (seen as the use of force against the proletariat outside bourgeois law) present in civil society and also in the State. The government of coup leader Michel Temer and Operation Lava Jato launched a concentrated attack against the workers and against the PT, which in one way or another represented them. The coup movement managed to mobilize a large mass of the petty bourgeoisie and culminated in Lula's arrest, in a clearly illegal action.

The way was paved for him to assume a coalition government formed by heirs of the old agrarianism, of integralism, of conservatism, of extreme neoliberalism. The novelty was the mass base organized by the pastors of Pentecostal evangelism, imported from the United States. The external reference was the United States and Israel, internally the power would be with the big agrarian bourgeoisie and with the imperialist finance capital. It is important to consider the merger that took place between agrarian, industrial and banking capital, which became the tip of the Brazilian economy. The industry itself suffered heavy losses.

But what was really remarkable was the effort to privatize public / state assets and the attack on education, health, science, culture, the environment, in an unprecedented regressive effort, which, at its limit, aimed (and still aims) at establishing of a regressive Caesarist regime built with the help of repressive State forces, of militias formed almost at random and a theological discourse that penetrated the subordinate classes.

The monumental tragedy of the covid-19 pandemic, the tragedy of hunger and deprivation created enormous disbelief. The persistent division in the ruling classes and the institutional conflict, with pockets of resistance, did not allow Jair Bolsonaro to establish his much-desired “clerical-fascist” dictatorship and have to face the polls. Despite the scorched earth he had left behind, the chances of victory were great. In case of defeat, there would still be a very strong social and political base, in the streets (or better in temples and barracks) and in the National Congress capable of obstructing the undesirable government that should follow.

There was organized resistance, but it was very weak. The movements to remove Jair Bolsonaro did not have the necessary strength, largely due to the lack of will of the union leaders and opposition parties, the PT in particular, who decided to invest in institutional resistance and in the possible victory in the elections. The undeniable prestige before the large masses and also the intelligentsia would certainly not be enough for a resounding victory. It would be necessary to unify the area posted on the left with the argument that the reappointment of Jair Bolsonaro would be the evident persistence and deepening of the national tragedy. Most of the groups that could be called left (with great generosity) agreed, but there were parties that understood that in the first round it would be valid to defend a revolutionary program.

The expansion of alliances towards the center and the right took a decisive step with the nomination of Geraldo Alckmin as vice president. The alliances forged were regional and sectoral, seeking to dispute part of Jair Bolsonaro's social base. In the final stretch, with the prospect of winning in the first round, there was significant popular mobilization to defeat the horror that threatened to perpetuate itself. The awaited victory came in the 1st round, but without avoiding the second round. The 2nd round guaranteed Lula's victory, even if by a hair's breadth, demarcating all the difficulties that lie ahead and also the strength of the right-wing forces.

Jair Bolsonaro and his crazed followers are unpredictable, but Lula's inauguration seems guaranteed, as well as the quick accession of a large part of the “centrão”. The year 2023 will be very difficult in several aspects: contemplating in the government and in parliament the broad political front that made the victory possible, obtaining resources to start facing the ills left over in recent years, such as hunger, unemployment, social assistance, but what what turns out to be the most important thing is to guarantee the support (or tolerance) of the dominant classes and the hope of the subordinate classes.

The bourgeois revolution in Brazil took place in the form of a passive revolution with a strong Caesarist tendency, which established a weak bourgeois hegemony, always in need of violence by the State and private groups. Democratic liberalism never consolidated itself in common sense. The “democracy” established in 1988 has already presented itself in the midst of an organic crisis of capital and the neoliberal ideology that accompanied it. It could only be a democracy of the oligarchy with a regressive caesarist tendency, without accepting the protagonism of the masses (except in legally manipulated elections).

Political difficulties of the dominant classes, identifiable as an oligarchy (those who govern for themselves) and the adhesion to the order by the PT and CUT, made it possible for Lula to rise to the national government in 2003. The cesarist tendency manifested itself quite visible at that time , however a progressive cesarism. It was a government that strengthened and expanded bourgeois hegemony by contemplating the basic needs of subordinate sectors.

However, the coup d'état that dismantled the PT government deepened the organic crisis and paved the way for a regressive caesarism that unleashed a real war against the working class, with the support of a lumpenproletariat and a rancorous petty bourgeoisie, which went wild with the destruction and delivery of national wealth.

On the horizon we have the tendency, with the electoral victory, of a progressive cesarism, characterized by Lula's leadership over the oligarchy with which he will govern and will make an effort to lessen the suffering of the popular masses. The defeat of Jair Bolsonaro was an important tactical victory, however educating and organizing these masses with a view to defeating the oligarchy and its pseudo-democracy, raising the subordinate classes to the level of establishing the struggle for workers' hegemony, will not even be imagined.

This fight will only be possible with the awareness that the organic crisis of capital is unavoidable and that only with the creation of new social relations antagonistic to the State will it be possible to generate a new hegemony and a new civiltá beyond capital, the only way around the destructive barbarism that plagues us.

*Marcos Del Roio is professor of political science at Unesp-Marília. Author, among other books, of Marxism and the Orient: When the Peripheries Become the Center (Icon).

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