Who governs Brazil?

Image: Elyeser Szturm
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By Jorge Almeida*

Bolsonaro is not a “queen of England”. She is part of the game within the power bloc and still represents important social, political and bureaucratic sectors.

On April 6th, the market dawned happy in Brazil. The main stock exchanges in the world had risen in the previous week, excited by the large injection of money by the main states, to cover the losses of large capitalists and cushion the economic crisis, and with the announcement of an agreement between Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US to raise oil prices. Meanwhile, the subject at the turn of the week was a big rumor saying that Bolsonaro was under the command of military commanders.

But joy turned to happiness on the 6th, shortly after the media announced, before the opening of the Bovespa trading session, that the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia, would not proceed with the impeachment requests of President Jair Bolsonaro. He would neither proceed nor file. They will stay in the drawer, like a sword of Damocles. The Stock Exchange opened shooting upwards.

On the same day 06, more or less at lunchtime, new “leaks” revealed that Bolsonaro was going to dismiss Minister Mandetta, which would prove him as plenipotentiary in the presidency. Soon, the stock began to fall, showing the voluble mood of a stressed market. But then, before the Bovespa closed, Mandetta left the meeting with Bolsonaro alive. The market calms down and the stock market rises again. And so it was for the next few days. The cheerful market anticipated Hallelujah Sunday and entered Good Friday accumulating gains of 11,71% for the week.

The market wants state support to minimize the effects of the crisis, it wants rational actions to fight the pandemic and it wants to control Bolsonaro. But he does not, at least for now, want Bolsonaro to fall. Much less through ways that deepen political instability, as an impeachment would now be.

Bolsonaro, despite his diatribes, has fulfilled his role at the service of big capital, which could not have been done without the more objective and rational action of the National Congress and its leaders (especially Rodrigo Maia), the support of the mainstream media and the support from the FFAA, Mourão and the STF.

The big bourgeoisie and its political, bureaucratic and military elites have not yet built a consensus on what to do in the post-pandemic, in the sense of providing answers to the brutal economic crisis that is ongoing, in the world and here. Therefore, he still hasn't decided what to do with Bolsonaro, definitively. He does not want to remove Bolsonaro immediately, but to keep him controlled in a political straitjacket so that his ideological discourse and his personal and family political and material interests do not overlap with the “management of the common affairs of the ruling class” that should guide the state ( Marx).

But he is a complicated figure and the moment is one of impasse, doubts, vacillations, indecisions in the power bloc. At the moment, he is more concerned with surviving than carrying out a self-coup d'état, even if that temptation circles around in his head. He struggles not to lose base within the power bloc (State, civil society and economic base) and not to lose mass political support. His tactic is defensive, even if, because of his aggressiveness, it can appear offensive.

On the other hand, the workers and the left do not have the conditions to, immediately, have a decisive influence on the situation. And the main political forces considered left-wing opted for a passive attitude. Therefore, if there is a fall of Bolsonaro in the short term, by whatever means, his departure will only happen as a result of a great agreement in the ruling class and this with its agents in the political elites, in the top of the State bureaucracy and of the coercive legal apparatus, FFAA, mainstream media and Churches, particularly neo-Pentecostals, etc.

Agreement that, in theory, may or may not involve Bolsonaro himself. But his profile is not one of retreating and making deals that sacrifice the principal. Except in a desperate situation. Like the day the captain was robbed and handed over his motorcycle and pistol without reacting. The environment exudes conspiracies on all sides and he sees traitors wherever he looks. He makes agreements and, at the same time, encourages his most reactionary, fundamentalist and individualist bases to act against the agreements.

The FFAA gained a lot of weight in the tutelage of the State and governments, advancing qualitatively since the second term of Dilma Rousseff and passing through Temer. With Bolsonaro, they assumed numerous positions, which bring political influence and personal benefits to those who occupy them. In addition to guaranteeing material and political interests of the corporation. They're not going to give up all that easily.

Economic conditions for an exit from the political crisis

The economic crisis is being very hard and will get deeper and the ruling class still doesn't quite know what to do. It is groping pragmatically while building consensus among its hegemonic factions. At the moment, it is breaking some discourses of neoliberalism, with a view to a greater presence of the State to cover the immediate gaps of large companies, to mitigate the social crisis - preventing part of predictable social explosions with compensatory measures - to allow the basics for the reproduction of the force overexploited workspace, and provide better conditions for maintaining and recovering production and consumption in the next moment.

It is a worldwide trend, but it does not necessarily mean a more lasting neo-Keynesianism, much less a welfare state. All this complicates an agreement in the power bloc for a way out of the political crisis. With Bolsonaro, without Bolsonaro or as long as he continues. That is, knowing what to do in the post-pandemic to circumvent the structural crisis of capitalism is a condition for the ruling class and its agents to decide on a possible dismissal of Bolsonaro, what is the best path for this and who is the best substitute.

Meanwhile, the market of rumors grows and the president is being tutored. But, without ceasing to be a government, she is not a “queen of England”, as some have hastily concluded. She is part of the game within the power bloc and still represents important social, political and bureaucratic sectors.

Bolsonaro lost base in all classes, sectors and social groups that supported him in the 2018 elections, both in the first and second rounds. Even among big capital, the political elite, the media and the corporations of the state's coercive legal apparatus. He lost support from significant figures and groups on the liberal and ultraliberal right and extreme right, who played a decisive role in the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and in her election.

But it still has significant strength within the state, civil society and the economic base. An important base in the military officers (difficult to measure), in sectors of the big business community and the state bureaucracy, especially in the corporations of the coercive legal apparatus, of a part of the great media (Record, SBT, and several radio and TV programs and columnists and analysts, entertainers on variety shows, on religious shows, etc.). and a machine fake news which continues to be oiled and working at full steam.

In civil society, it maintains support in neo-Pentecostal fundamentalist churches, a myriad of extreme right groups, with various neo-fascist, ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal identifications, acting mainly on social networks. A support difficult to measure in the small and middle business bourgeoisie, who feel economically harmed by the isolation policy, and part of the workers who are also being convinced to break the quarantine.

It is all this that gives him active support – or, at least, passive acceptance – from 25% to 30% of voters and many others who remain in a position of doubt. But it is unable to impose its will against the other spheres and leaders of the power bloc. Strictly speaking, he never managed to do that, since the beginning of his government.

He hasn't been able to decide anything relevant without their acceptance. And it is defeated when it goes against what is relatively consensual in the fractions of the power bloc. Much less is he in a position to organize a coup d'état under his leadership and in his favor. At the moment, he is struggling even to fire a minister. But he still manages to derail the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and other policies and feed his base by encouraging virtual and street demonstrations.

Bourgeois civilian military tutelage

Bolsonaro is a neo-fascist as are some of the members of his government, especially those in his family circle and his closest court. The government is extreme right-wing, ultra-liberal, conservative, marked by authoritarianism, deeply anti-popular, reproducing national dependence. However, its contradictions do not allow for a common action of a neo-fascist nature.

If the government is not neo-fascist, the regime even less so. This remains a liberal bourgeois representative democracy. More authoritarian and marked by arbitrariness, but where, even if in fits and starts, the National Congress, the Judiciary, governors and mayors maintain their relative autonomy. Everything, evidently, as in previous governments, under the hegemony of big capital, but without those social liberal nuances and class conciliation.

No illusions about what a bourgeois state and its representative liberal democracy are. Even more so in the current historical period, when the world trend of ultraneoliberal capitalism is the narrowing of democratic life and social rights. This general understanding also helps us to understand the more specific situation of the main member of the government who, in a presidential republic, remains the president.

Bolsonaro tried to impose himself on the government and all spheres of the State, placing some more extravagant ideological conceptions above the more general interests of the fractions of big capital (as in the case of relations with China). He placed individual and family political and material interests above the interests of various fractions of the ruling class and political elites, including those traditional and more organic of the bourgeoisie.

He tried to impose himself in an authoritarian and voluntary way on parliament and detonated the so-called “coalition presidentialism” (when the president shares decisions with a parliamentary majority, even if formed after the elections). And he took on big business media outlets.

The result obtained was a civil bourgeois military tutelage that is limiting its presidential powers. It is being tutored by a contradictory coalition of social and political forces that are decisive in the power bloc. He governs, but he cannot decide anything that goes against the more or less consensual interests of the hegemonic fractions of capital, the military corporation and the political elite. Bolsonaro tried to be a Bonaparte, but failed. The intention and ideas of a leader do not, by themselves, determine the character of a government or regime.

The current situation, then, challenges some current leftist characterizations: (1) that the government or even the regime is neo-fascist; (2) that there is a Bonapartist government or regime; (3) that Brazil is being governed by a military junta; (4) that the bourgeois regime has failed.

The possibilities of a development of this government towards a neo-fascist government or a Bonapartism with Bolsonaro being the Bonaparte (which could not be ruled out a priori at the beginning of his government), have not been realized so far.

Hegemony and resistance

The assertion that Bolsonaro is over, that he has become a “queen of England”, that neoliberalism is not coming back, that the system has rotted, that the regime has gone bankrupt, that bourgeois democracy is in a terminal phase, etc., are not supported.

Despite the deep crisis of capitalism and its neoliberal and social-liberal neo-developmentalist versions, the demoralization of many of the bourgeois and social liberal leaderships, bourgeois hegemony remains strong. And the dispute is taking place mainly within the power bloc, between the right and the extreme right. With the social-liberal “left”, which is no stranger to this bourgeois hegemony, running on the outside.

And, as we know, a thing only ends when it ends. And, in this case, it will only end when there is a political-social counter-hegemonic force with radicalism and breadth to do this. And this strength of the working classes still needs to be built in Brazil based on popular resistance.

Resistance that will only become a real alternative if it takes on an offensive tactic, defending social reforms and emergency measures in defense of life, Fora Bolsonaro and Mourão, impeachment and general elections, and pointing to a democratic and popular anti-imperialist, anti-monopolist program and radical democratic, under the hegemony of the workers.

* Jorge Almeida He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at UFBA.

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