The big capitalists in the electoral campaign

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By ARMANDO BOITO JR.*

Why are these economic agents and even powerful business associations moving away from the Bolsonaro government?

Throughout this month of July, at least one big businessman published an article in the press declaring that he will vote, for the first time, for Lula and he will vote despite being against the policies proposed in the PT's government program; the Federation of Banks (Febraban) signed a manifesto in defense of democracy and the Brazilian electoral system, without saying anything substantive about agreement or disagreement with economic policy; Fiesp published a document in which, in addition to defending democracy and elections, it criticizes the ongoing economic policy and hints at being nostalgic for the neo-developmentalism of the PT governments; the National Confederation of Industry preferred, immobilized by its own gigantism, to stay on top of the wall, favoring the Bolsonaro candidacy.

One of the portal editors Brazil247, Leonardo Attuch, recalled that this political shift on the part of the big capitalists could have a favorable impact on the Lula candidacy in the middle-class electorate – in fact, in the latest poll Data Sheet, Lula reduced by a few points the advantage that Bolsonaro has among voters whose family income is between five and ten minimum wages.

How to explain this movement? To provide some elements of answer to this question, we have to consider, at least, four unknowns: (a) the relations of the capitalist class with Bolsonarist neo-fascism,[I] (b) the different relations that the different fractions of the bourgeoisie have with the Bolsonaro Government, (c) the political situation of the popular movement and (d) the orientation and most recent initiatives of the electoral campaign of Lula and the PT. Observers and commentators have highlighted the first and last term, ignored the second and neglected the importance of the third.

In this text I will only analyze this movement of the great capitalists. I will not go into considerations about the tactics that the democratic and popular movement should adopt.

 

Conflicts of the bourgeoisie with Bolsonarist fascism

There are conflicts between the bourgeoisie and the neo-fascist government of Jair Bolsonaro. The Bolsonarist social movement, like the classic fascist movements, is not a bourgeois movement. He was and is socially seated in the upper middle class, in the petty bourgeoisie and in broad sectors of the landowners. It is true that farmers belong to the dominant class, but they do not constitute the fraction of the capitalist class that holds hegemony in the power bloc, that is, the fraction of the capitalist class whose specific fractional interests are prioritized by the economic, social and foreign policies of the Bolsonaro government.

This prioritizes the interests of large international financial capital and the fraction of the Brazilian bourgeoisie associated with this capital. It prioritizes, that is, it does not fail to contemplate the interests of other bourgeois fractions – the alterations in labor legislation and the neoliberal reform of the social security are enough to show this – but it gives priority to foreign capital and its internal associates. Therefore, there is a gap, conducive to generating conflicts, between, on the one hand, the class that occupies state power and the hegemonic bourgeois fraction and, on the other, the social base faithful to Bolsonarism.

Examples: (a) Bolsonaro's grotesque political gymnastics in order, above all to serve the interests of foreign and national shareholders of Petrobrás, not to lose the militant support he enjoys among self-employed truck drivers; (b) Bolsonaro's silence and almost omission in the face of the social security reform that also punished part of the middle class and whose implementation Bolsonaro, very cleverly, left in the hands of the former president of the Chamber of Deputies, the neoliberal Rodrigo Maia of the Democrats; (c) dissatisfaction on the part of the bourgeoisie with the Bolsonarist objective of establishing a dictatorship at a time when that bourgeoisie itself sees no threat from the popular movement. In the 2018 electoral process, the big bourgeoisie decided, for the most part, to co-opt the Bolsonarist movement, given the electoral unfeasibility of candidates from the traditional bourgeois parties, but this was a political operation that involved risks – the fascist movement serves the bourgeoisie, but it is not a mere passive instrument that the bourgeoisie could manipulate at will.

The manifestos and texts of big businessmen and business associations who speak only in defense of democracy and elections may be exclusively motivated by this conflict with Bolsonarist fascism.

 

Conflicts of the internal big bourgeoisie with economic policy

A part of the business community, however, is dissatisfied with the economic policy of the Bolsonaro government. As I said, this government represents international financial capital and the fraction of the Brazilian bourgeoisie associated with it and, to that extent, relegates it to a secondary level or goes against certain interests of another fraction of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, which is the internal big bourgeoisie.[ii] The latter had achieved political hegemony during the PT governments, but was displaced by the impeachment coup in 2016. Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro resumed the neoliberal economic policy of the 1990s, in a more radical and targeted version, now mainly against what still exists in Brazil of the Welfare State, unlike the FHC Governments whose neoliberalism was directed, mainly, against the developmentalist State.

The internal big bourgeoisie gained with a large part of the Bolsonaro Government’s social policy, but lost with economic policy. Depending on the facts of the conjuncture, the heart of this bourgeois faction may lean towards one side or the other of these poles of attraction and rejection. Lula da Silva’s electoral campaign, his broad favoritism in polls and his proposal for increasingly broad, flexible and conciliatory alliances activate the ambition of the internal big bourgeoisie to recover the political hegemony that it lost in 2016.

Notorious examples of how this conflict of fractions is leading some bourgeois segments to move away from Bolsonaro occur with the positioning of the large national commercial banks, the shipbuilding industry and Fiesp itself. That last association is making a 180-degree turn. After being presided over by a Bolsonarist agitator, Fiesp repositions itself and presents, in a public document, criticisms of the economic policy of the Bolsonaro Government.

The presence of large national banks in this list of examples may be strange. After all, if the Bolsonaro government is neoliberal, how could financial capital be against it? What many who use the concept of financial capital do not realize is that this capital is crossed by the division between the internal bourgeoisie and the associated bourgeoisie. Investment banks whose business is to raise funds abroad, designated in journalistic language by the metonymy “Faria Lima”, are with Bolsonaro, but the large national commercial banks, which were also with him, are now moving away.

Jair Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes threaten the dominant position of these banks in the Brazilian market. Guedes spoke more than once, including in Davos, against the “enslavement of the Brazilian economy by half a dozen banks”, he pressed for the reduction of the banking spread and Bolsonaro transferred to a Central Bank bureaucrat the competence, which belonged to the Presidency of the Republic, to authorize the entry of foreign banks into the national market. It is a reissue of the policy of FHC and Pedro Malan, against which, by the way, Febraban took a stand in the 1990s. Naval construction also follows the same movement.

It is claiming the neo-developmentalist policy, which guaranteed it a market reserve in the supply of rigs and ships for Petrobras and subsidized and abundant financing from the BNDES, to get out of the crisis in which the national shipyards find themselves. The policy of Temer and Bolsonaro reduced the BNDES budget, ended the subsidized long-term interest rate (TJLP) and suppressed the local content policy – ​​they spoke of flexibility, but what they did was suppression.

Opera summary: the internal big bourgeoisie, unlike the associated big bourgeoisie, may therefore have two reasons for moving away from the Bolsonaro government – ​​neo-fascism and radicalized neoliberal economic policy. As stated in the Fiesp document, there is a lack of infrastructure works, cheap credit, investment in science and technology, etc. The associated big bourgeoisie must, in general, remain with the government, although some of its segments may, due to neo-fascism, also distance themselves from it. The State and the government play an active role in organizing hegemony in the power bloc. It follows that the hegemonic fraction of the bourgeoisie can present conflicts with the government that seeks to organize its own hegemony, although these conflicts are of different modality, intensity and frequency from those that separate the government from the subordinate bourgeois fractions.

In this regard, it is worth remembering the recent moves by the Joe Biden government in relation to the Bolsonaro government. Just as the Jimmy Carter government, with its human rights policy, undermined the Brazilian military dictatorship, which, however, represented a hegemonic alliance of multinationals with the internal bourgeoisie, so too did the Biden government, involved in a more complex and more importantly with China and Russia, he has taken initiatives that distance him from the Bolsonaro government and its coup-mongering position. Part of the associated bourgeoisie can be neutralized due to the US position.

 

The popular movement Lula's electoral campaign

Two background elements that help explain this political displacement of big businessmen, and I have taken them into account throughout this text, are the defensive situation of the popular movement and the ever-increasing range of alliances that are being established by Lula's electoral campaign.

I explain. I think that the bourgeoisie as a class has a preference for the bourgeois-democratic political regime. It resorts to dictatorship only in times of crisis. Democracy allows the bourgeoisie a broad and institutionalized participation in the decision-making process of the State, something that does not happen in regimes of bourgeois dictatorship, and that is why the bourgeoisie only gives up this democracy when it assesses that there is a real threat from the popular movement to its domination of class.

Now, on the one hand, the Brazilian popular movement is on the defensive, segmented into demanding movements and devoid of a viable political project and alternative to both neoliberalism and neodevelopmentalism; and, on the other hand, Lula's electoral campaign only promises to resume the program of his first two governments – without considering with due care the difficulties and obstacles that he will now face and that he did not face in the period 2003-2010. In this situation, theoretically, the bourgeoisie can give up the neo-fascist government, which does not mean that it will necessarily do so because, in addition to class determination, as we have tried to show, fractional determination also counts.

The dominant trends should be the following: the associated big bourgeoisie remains mostly loyal to the government, while the internal big bourgeoisie, having been contemplated after 2016 with a new round of neoliberal reforms contrary to the interests of the workers, moves away from the government and resumes the struggle for its hegemony within the power bloc. The flight of big businessmen must continue. [iii]

*Armando Boito Jr. is professor of political science at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of State, politics and social classes (Unesp).

 

Notes


[I] I justify the characterization of the Bolsonaro government and the Bolsonarist movement as neo-fascists in two or three articles that I published last year and the year before. See, for example, “The Brazilian path to neo-fascism”. CRH notebooks, volume 34, 2021. Accessible at: https://periodicos.ufba.br/index.php/crh/article/view/35578; “Why characterize Bolsonarism as neo-fascism”.  Marxist Criticism, no. 50, 2020. Accessible at: https://www.ifch.unicamp.br/criticamarxista/arquivos_biblioteca/dossie2020_05_26_14_12_19.pdf

[ii] I have analyzed in detail the conflicts between bourgeois fractions and changes in hegemony in the power bloc in Brazil's recent political history in two books. See Armando Boito Jr. Reform and political crisis in Brazil – class conflicts in PT governments. São Paulo and Campinas: Editora Unesp and Unicamp. 2018; Armando Boito jr. Dilma, Temer and Bolsonaro – crisis, ruptures and trends in Brazilian politics. Goiânia: Editor Phillos, 2021. Available on websites I Academia.e e SearchGate.

[iii] This text was motivated by the interview that Eleonora and Rodolfo Lucena from the Tutaméia website conducted with me on July 28th, when we addressed the recent political movements of the big capitalists in the electoral process.

 

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