Bolsonaro's Trial



After the election, the big question will be the fate of Jair Bolsonaro

“Those who make half revolutions, only dig a grave where they will be buried” (Antoine de Saint-Just, Report to the Convention, March 3, 1794).
“No freedom for the enemies of freedom” (Antoine de Saint-Just).

PT has had several tactical successes, but insists on a wrong strategy. The tactic of unity in action for the next 11th of August with all the social and political forces, including Fiesp and Febraban, which bring together the most powerful fraction of Brazilian capitalists, who signed the manifestos in defense of the legitimacy of the electoral process, is correct. . The orientation of dispute in the streets of supremacy against the neo-fascist mobilization that supports Bolsonaro's coup blackmail for the 7th of September is correct, too.

But a left for the future needs a new strategy. The real test of the institutions of democracy will be the decision on Bolsonaro's trial. This conclusion is dire and immediate, but inescapable. It is not enough to defeat Bolsonaro in the elections. This is the tactic challenge. It will be necessary to guarantee conditions for the crimes he committed to be investigated and judged. It will be necessary to break with the “at any cost” collaboration strategy.

After losing office Jair Bolsonaro should be convicted and arrested. This is the strategy challenge, and it refers to the unavoidable danger of a Bolsonarist movement with influence over millions in frontal opposition to a probable Lula government. Jair Bolsonaro should not get away with it.

It so happens that Jair Bolsonaro still maintains majority support among the “mass” of the bourgeoisie. The most powerful fraction of GDP that broke with Bolsonaro is willing to show respect for the results of the polls, preserving the liberal-democratic regime. But nothing beyond that. The big question posed is the fate of Jair Bolsonaro. As in the US, the big question remains the judgment of Donald Trump.

When one doesn't want two, they don't understand each other, and the conflict is inexorable. The cost of a “great deal” that preserves Jair Bolsonaro from going to trial would be an unforgivable capitulation that the left must not commit. A “peace and love” Lula strategy will have no room in 2023. Because it would also be pure illusion to imagine that the regime's institutions – Public Ministry, Superior Courts, Congress – will not be manipulated to prevent progressive reforms. The defense of democratic freedoms depended and will depend on the social mobilization capacity of the left and social movements.

Tactical defeats require tactical swings. What we experienced between 2015 and 2018 was not just a succession of tactical defeats. The PT governments disregarded the malaise of the middle class with inflation in services, the increase in taxes, the drop in average wages for highly educated students, and paid a huge price: the impeachment of Dilma, which paved the way for Michel Temer and for Lula's arrest.

Strategic defeats impose strategy swings. It is about intellectual honesty. The paradox of the Brazilian situation is that the Brazilian bourgeoisie broke with the PT's class collaboration government, and not the other way around. It didn't have to be like this.

When the PT, under the guidance of Lula, after twelve years of consultations, won the presidential elections for the fourth time in 2014, and Dilma Rousseff nominated Joaquim Levy to be Minister of Finance, it was signaling the willingness to make the adjustment tax that was demanded by the heavyweights of the ruling class. A year later, in December 2015, Joaquim Levy resigned and “Avenida Paulista” turned to support the impeachment.

Dilma Rousseff was not overthrown only because the middle class was enraged by the Lava Jato conspiracy on corruption. The government was displaced because the broad mass of workers and oppressed people did not have the awareness and willingness to fight to defend the PT-led government. If they had, the dynamics that began in June 2013 would have been the prelude to a pre-revolutionary situation. Brazil would have been “venezualized”. But these are lessons from the past.

August 11, 2022 will take place under very different conditions than the now distant August 11, 1992. Impeachment was foreseen in the 1988 Constitution, but it was an “atomic bomb”. It was not to be used. However, thirty years ago, the campaign for Fora Collor was victorious.

The 2021 Fora Bolsonaro campaign did not have the same outcome. Collor's resignation was a democratic victory. The defeat of Fora Bolsonaro left us in serious danger. It should not surprise us if the same bourgeois fraction that today published the manifesto in defense of democracy, tomorrow comes to position itself for a great agreement “with the Supreme Court, with everything” against Bolsonaro’s arrest. An armored Bolsonaro, legally, and at the head of an extreme right opposition to a future Lula government will be functional for the big capitalists.

Anyone who thinks that the 2018 election defeat was a tactical accident is wrong. Unfortunately, it was confirmed that the rejection of the neo-fascist was less than the rejection of the PT, after thirteen and a half years in government. In Marxist language: a very unfavorable social and political relationship of forces. This was the unavoidable contradiction of 2018: we were in a reactionary situation, deeply defensive.

From the perspective of history, the main lesson since 2016 is that it will not be possible to transform Brazilian society through negotiations of a reform project with the ruling class. This strategy has not passed through the laboratory of history. It was irretrievably buried. It's cruel, but that's how it is. It won't be any different in 2023.

Insisting on the same strategy and expecting different results would be obtuse stubbornness. Magical thinking is believing that the power of desire is enough to change reality. The Brazilian bourgeoisie, after almost four catastrophic years of Bolsonaro government and, in the face of a coup ultimatum, finally divided. But it is not willing to agree on a project for structural reforms.

Neither emergency recovery of the minimum wage, nor agrarian reform, nor repeal of the labor reform or the spending cap, nor criminalization of fires in the Amazon, nor legalization of the right to abortion.

It tolerated the PT in the context of the very exceptional and unprecedented situation of a mini-boom of economic growth, boosted by the demand for commodities, boosted by the Chinese rise, between 2003 and 2015. But the alignment with US imperialism was never ephemeral . And in the conditions imposed by the fracture of the world market after the war in Ukraine, and the willingness to face Beijing in order to preserve world hegemony, the pressures will be overwhelming.

Those who do not know who they are fighting cannot win. The Brazilian bourgeoisie's strategy to pull semi-peripheral capitalism out of prolonged stagnation is to attract foreign investment and impose “Asian” patterns of super-exploitation. No less than that. Therefore, it is not willing to grant “civilizing” reforms. It is a reversal of rights agenda and not an extension of reforms. It was never just a plan for a four-year Bolsonaro government. We are facing a project of global repositioning of Brazil in the world market and in the State system.

Two programmatic lessons, therefore, emerge after the strategic defeat. The first is that there will be no social transformation in Brazil without tensions and ruptures. The second is that the future of the left depends on its ability to implant itself among workers and the oppressed, the vast majority of Brazilian society who, sooner rather than later, will set in motion.

The objective factors that determined the defeats of the last five and a half years deserve to be remembered: (a) economic stagnation, with a bias towards a drop in income, with the impact of service inflation, and the increase in taxes, which pushed the middle class to on the right; (b) the perplexity among a wide range of workers that life was getting worse with unemployment, aggravated by the ideological poisoning that PT governments were corrupt; (c) the increase in urban violence, homicide rates, and the strengthening of organized crime that shifted large popular masses to the extreme right; (d) the reaction of a more retrograde sector of society, more racist, misogynistic and homophobic, to the impact of society's urban, generational and cultural transition; (and) last but not least, the turn of the bourgeoisie towards a savage fiscal shock and, finally, towards support for Bolsonaro, in the face of chronic stagnation, even after two years of Michel Temer’s “gradualist” government.

The ruling class relied on the middle class to impose the reactionary situation that culminated in the election of Jair Bolsonaro. He will again manipulate this social “mattress” in the face of a Lula government from 2023 when necessary. The extreme right with neo-fascist rhetoric will remain an instrument to try to intimidate the working class.

Jair Bolsonaro could still be useful, if not arrested. The sword in the hand of the captain who has "the hand that does not tremble". It turns out that it is pure illusion to imagine that a historic defeat similar to that of 1964 can be imposed “cold”. Therefore, Bolsonarism's discourse is the implied threat of civil war. Victory at the polls will have to measure strength with the fight in the streets, it's a matter of time.

Looking at the likely new situation that will open up if Lula wins, no one should underestimate the social strength of the new Brazilian working class. She is a social giant in a fractured society, but fully urbanized, more concentrated, better educated, even if grotesquely unequal and unfair. This error can be fatal. We are not in the sixties. A left for the future must trust the working class. One does not deserve the confidence of the class who does not trust it.

History has left us a cruel lesson. The PT was overthrown because the ruling class was no longer willing to tolerate a government of class collaboration, after the resignation of Joaquim Levy. If the PT had radicalized to the left, the bourgeoisie would have turned to the opposition sooner. The methods would not only have been reactionary, they would have been openly counterrevolutionary.

PT governments should have advanced with tougher measures against capital. Had it done so, in the heat of the June 2013 mobilizations, it would have preserved and expanded support among the working class and among the oppressed. The fight would have been fierce. But the winning conditions would have been much better.

* Valerio Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of No one said it would be Easy (boitempo).

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