Remedied and poor

Dora Longo Bahia. Revolutions (calendar design), 2016 Acrylic, water-based pen and watercolor on paper (12 pieces) 23 x 30.5 cm each


When we consider proportional weights, there is more loyalty to Lulism among the poor, and greater consolidation of reactionism among the poor, a historical inversion

“Schism is worse than a disease” (Portuguese popular proverb).

The presentation by the evangelical bench, supported by Bolsonarism with the complicity of Centrão, of a project that levels the criminalization, even of abortion, which is considered legal, after 22 weeks of the murder, ignited a national mobilization of repudiation that was capable of holding the largest marches of 2024 in big cities in 2024. It was spectacular. The feminist movement revealed a social force of impact. It was a blunt response to an ultra-reactionary provocation. Showed a way.

But within the framework of a defensive situation, and with the appeal of a humanitarian democratic flag. The left, especially the anti-capitalist left, should not be fooled that a vital problem remains intact. The extreme right has deeply fractured society because it has gained a powerful mass base in the working class. Without regaining the majority, uniting “remedied” wage earners with or without a formal contract, with the poorest part of the people, it will not be possible to socially and politically defeat the neo-fascist current. This should be our strategy: building a social majority among the exploited and oppressed.

But it is not the Lula government's line. The Lula government's orientation is to stubbornly try to repeat, in 2026, the electoral tactic of 2022, with the economic-social strategy of 2006: maintain the Frente Amplio, if not in the first round, at least in the second round, dragging the votes of liberal bourgeois fraction. It will be possible? Yes, but it probably won't be enough, and we will lose the elections.

Why? Because Brazil has changed and the 2022 electoral victory was circumstantial, largely due to the impact of the pandemic. It is not likely to be repeated. The traditional political representation of the ruling class, since the end of the dictatorship, has always had the support of the majority of the middle class, which was divided between MDB and its ruptures and the heirs of Arena. But they managed to attract the vote of the majority of the “people”, due to customer relations, in the rural interiors and in the extreme urban outskirts.

That has changed. After thirteen years of class collaboration governments led by the PT, a very progressive electoral political change occurred. The impact of some progressive reforms – Bolsa Família, increases in the minimum wage, reduction in unemployment, quotas in universities, expansion of the SUS, among others – guaranteed the consolidation of mass electoral support among the poorest for Lulism. Before 2002, the left did not win elections among the poorest, for various reasons.

However, in the last ten years, another major qualitative change has occurred, this time reactionary: the extreme right has gained positions among the middle layers of the working class. It's a tragedy, but a “division” separates two parts of the working class: the poor and the poor. While a majority of those condemned to poverty “turned to the left”, at least half of those condemned to poverty “turned to the right”.

At the root of this process we find profound social transformations. The historical “cruelty” is that social inequality among those who make a living from salaried work has decreased, because the extreme poverty floor has risen, but the remuneration of the middle classes of workers has stagnated with a downward trend. The functional distribution of income between capital and labor only fluctuated, without moving from place to place.

In these two installments there are people on the left and on the right with irreconcilable world views. But a dangerous optical illusion fuels shortsighted conclusions. It is not correct to conclude that the majority of educated people, who studied more and live a little better, still lean towards the left today. Or that the poorest have a preference for reactionism.

In fact, when we consider the proportional weights, there is more loyalty to Lulism among the poor, and greater consolidation of reactionism among the poor, a historical inversion. Myopia is more serious when we associate Pentecostal religious preference in the analysis. Bolsonarism is largely a majority among evangelicals, but a minority among the poorest. The perception of this division becomes even more biased when we integrate the racial divide in the evaluation. The majority of those who are eligible are not self-declared black, or the majority of the poorest are not white. Fear and prejudice poison the understanding of this paradox.

Prosperity Pentecostalism continues to grow. But the idea that religious reactionism is essentially concentrated on the poorest part of the people does not correspond to reality. Lula maintains majority support among the population who earn up to two minimum wages, not only in the Northeast region.

There is a correlation between low education and the influence of large evangelical churches, but there is no causality between poverty and Bolsonarism. The hard core of the social and electoral strength of the extreme right rests on the well-off, salaried or “entrepreneurs”, not among the dispossessed. As soon as income allows, working families hire domestic work, enroll their children in private schools, buy health plans for their parents, rent a beach house for a week for vacation, buy cars and so on: they imitate the pattern of consumption of the middle-class owners or those with high education in executive functions.

They do not just assimilate a lifestyle, but the ideas of a worldview: they repudiate taxes because they do not use education and public health, they hate the State because they were poisoned by Lava Jato that everything is corruption, and they embrace the perspective that in social life it is “every man for himself”. The stagnation of social mobility and the inflationary pressure on services pushed a portion of those who had recovered towards Bolsonarism. But unfortunately, it's even more complicated. The portion of those who support Bolsonarism have political resentment against the left because they believe that massive income transfers for extreme poverty are unfair. A gap was opened between the poor and the very poor.

Lula won among women who are the hard core of the Pentecostal current, but have, on average, more education than men. Lula won among blacks, who are the poorest among blacks, but have, on average, the lowest level of education among the people. It is therefore not possible to identify direct causality between people's educational-cultural level and political preference for the extreme right.

It wasn't like that. The left, essentially the PT, was the majority among workers earning between three and five minimum wages between 1978, when the final phase of the fight against the dictatorship began, until at least 2013. It became the majority among the poorest , who earn even minimum wages, after Lula's first term between 2003 and 2006, guaranteeing re-election.

Dilma Rousseff was elected in 2010 and re-elected, in a tight second round, in 2014. Lula won by a dramatically narrow margin in 2022. But Fernando Haddad lost to Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. What was the decisive social shift? The conquest of the vote of the poor by the extreme right, due to Pentecostal support? Or the loss of influence among the remedied?

Summary of the opera: why does it seem so difficult for the left to regain trust among the resentful workers who voted for Bolsonarism? Because the Lulista project to win in 2026 is betting on “more of the same” and it is wrong. It will not be possible to repeat in 2026 what worked in 2006, twenty years ago.

The victory formula, in 2006, was essentially: (a) reduction of unemployment through economic growth boosted by the export of commodities with prices boosted by Chinese demand; (b) control of inflation through the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves, and real interest rates among the highest in the world; (c) income distribution through public policies focused on extreme poverty.

This strategy ignores that Brazil is no longer the same. It won’t work, “even if it works.” Can the economy grow despite the fiscal framework? It is not the most likely, because without public investment it seems difficult for the internal market to maintain the dynamics of 2023, but no one can know because it depends on the demands of the world market. Will inflation remain below 4% per year? No one can be sure, it is even unlikely, but not impossible, if the Central Bank maintains interest rates among the five highest in the world. Will the boosted Bolsa-Família with a minimum price of R$600,00, something around US$120,00, guarantee the loyalty of the poorest to Lulism? Probably yes. It still won't be enough. Because this strategy does not allow us to recover what the left lost among the remedied workers.

Would another strategy be possible? Yes, there are always alternatives. But it would have to go through a “revolution” in public education that makes schools attractive, not only because they are free, but because they offer quality education at least equivalent to the average of private schools. A “revolution” would have to go through in the SUS, so that scheduling even a simple appointment is not just for two or three months later. There would have to be a substantial reduction in income taxes on those remediated.

This will not be possible without taxes on large fortunes, inheritances and income, for example. A courageous political struggle would be essential. But also ideological. the defense of the legalization of abortion, which is already half a century behind compared to central countries. The defense of bolder anti-racist policies such as 50% quotas in public tenders. The defense of drug decriminalization as a response to the power of organized crime and public insecurity.

Political struggle, including, to guarantee the expropriation of farmers who are expanding the agricultural frontier so that fires in the Cerrado and Amazon do not happen again, and catastrophes such as the floods in Rio Grande do Sul do not fall into oblivion.

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

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