Second round

Image: Marcio Costa


Why and how to vote left

The main newspapers were quite homogeneous in their assessment of the results of the November 15th municipal elections. All pointed to a strengthening of the political “center” (or centre-right), in relation to the extreme right and left. The most important data was abstention, which reached the highest rate in the last quarter of a century. In 2016 we had 144,1 million voters, with an abstention rate of 17,58% (total votes to be considered: 118,8 million). In 2020, for 147,9 million voters, abstention was 23,48%. If we add up the blank and null votes, these numbers are even more impressive. In São Paulo, the sum of the votes for the two winners barely exceeded 2,82 million; abstentions, annulments and blank votes totaled… 3,66 million.

The historic parties of the so-called “center”, the MDB (which conquered 777 municipalities) and the PSDB (which conquered 519), also suffered setbacks. The Centrão that advanced electorally is a cluster of acronyms (PP, PSD, PL PSC), usually electoral business tables. In Brazil there are 35 political parties with electoral legality, of which 32 presented candidates. A good part of them are “acronyms for rent”, used by front men of “organized” (and also “disorganized”) crime. In this context, it is also significant what was pointed out by analysts of the Folha de S. Paul: “If the last elections were marked by a movement to the right of the electorate, this year's tended to a movement to the left”. The PT's percentage of votes in 2016 was 6,8 million – 5,7%; the same percentage in 2020 was 6,97 million – 6,2%. PT disputes the second round in 15 of the 57 largest cities in the country, having occupied the first place in seven. In 2016, the PT elected only one mayor in the group of major cities, in which, this year, it obtained a 20% increase in votes compared to 2016.

Bolsonarism did not suffer a setback, but a real disaster. All the important candidates explicitly supported by Bolsonaro, with the presence of the president in his electoral propaganda, were defeated. Bolsonaro and his supporters immediately attributed him to hacking. Its candidate from São Paulo began the electoral campaign with polls that gave him 30%: at the polls, he barely surpassed 10%. The PSL, Bolsonaro’s vehicle to reach the presidency in 2018, when he elected the president, three governors, 52 federal deputies and 76 state deputies, foundered in 2020 in the main cities of the country. Although naturally limited in scope, the municipal elections demonstrated that Bolsonaro's is a government adrift. In 85 cities, however, the PT appeared in coalitions with the PSL …

The balance of the first round of municipal elections was unequivocally a defeat for Bolsonaro, with no party and no winning candidates in any of the capitals. Let it be said, in passing, that the Bolsonarist clique, after leaving the PSL for cash reasons, took refuge to run for Republicans, the party founded by José Alencar, when Lula's vice-president. The blow against the government has been so extensive that the candidates who were once champions of Bolsonarism are now making an effort to dissociate themselves from the president-feet-cold. Bolsonaro campaigned for 59 candidates, of whom only nine were elected. Among the 13 mayoral candidates who had votes requested by Bolsonaro, only two reached the second round (Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza) and two others were elected in cities in the interior of Piauí and Minas Gerais. The electoral act was also marked by a Bolsonarism operation, carried out from abroad. Through an unprecedented hacker attack on electoral justice systems and a furious campaign on social media, Bolsonaristas prepared the ground to question the reliability of electronic voting and revive demand for printed voting.

Bolsonaro explained his plans on Monday morning, November 16, tweeting that “with a better voting system” he will win re-election in 2022. Politically devalued, he relies on the police apparatus and the inspection difficulties that the printed vote would provide, to attempt a gigantic fraud operation, a card he had already played in 2018 when, to Trump, announced that he would only recognize a winning outcome. The dress rehearsal for this operation was the election in Rio de Janeiro, where the militias – who, as a recent study showed, control 57% of the city’s territory – conditioned the votes in the communities, in favor of Crivella and Paes, based on intimidation at hand armed. The strategic objective of the militias' policy is to establish the conditions for a permanent system of fraud, based on political violence. In fact, this first round has been one of the most violent elections in the country's history, with at least 90 candidates murdered and more than a hundred injured.

Among the winners of the first round, the Centrão parties stand out. In the wake of the “fight against corruption” cycle, the most venal parties in the country were among those that made the most progress compared to 2016: the PP went from 495 to 682 city halls, and the PSD from 537 to 650. The other major beneficiary was the DEM, which went from 272 to 440. From the point of view of the general political situation, the result means for the government, which already depended on the Centrão, to be, from now on, totally hostage to the material demands and power of this sector. Concrete political movements must wait for the definition of the second round, but Ricardo Barros (PP), leader of the government in the Chamber, expressed the ambition to take control of the ministerial cabinet. Trump's defeat had already devalued the price of Ernesto Araújo's head at Itamaraty and Ricardo Salles at the Environment, but Centrão is also looking for large budgets, such as Health, Mines and Energy, and Infrastructure, currently under the control of the military . The big question is the fate of Paulo Guedes, with a ministerial redesign that would leave the balance of power in the government clearly in favor of the “interventionist” wing, centered around the Minister of Regional Development, Rogério Marinho.

The PT struggled to recover after having lost almost 400 mayors in 2016: it presented 1.234 candidates for mayor, 27% more than in 2016. It won in 178 municipalities, an expressive number, but low compared to the 628 mayors it won in 2012 , and also down from the 256 in 2016 (which were the result of a political disaster, 100 mayors left the PT after Dilma’s impeachment). Its most notable failure was in São Paulo, governed three times by the PT, where its candidate, Jilmar Tatto, barely surpassed 8% of the votes, opening a crisis, with sectors of the PT left accusing Lula of having abandoned the candidacy of his own party. The most symbolic and electorally optimistic candidacy supported by the PT, that of Manuela D'Ávila (PCdoB) for mayor of Porto Alegre, began the electoral campaign with polls that already pointed to her as the winner in the first round: she reached the polls in second place.

The great sensation of the “advance of the left” was the arrival of Guilherme Boulos, from PSOL, in the second round of the election in São Paulo, with just over 20% of the valid votes (almost 1,08 million), against 1,75 million (almost 33%) by Bruno Covas, from the PSDB. A good part of the PT electorate turned to Boulos; most analysts link the phenomenon to the image of a young left (Boulos's 38 years old, against Lula's 75), untainted by corruption. The phenomenon was national: with 17 candidates for mayor in the second round, PT and PSOL advanced electorally in the 100 largest cities. PSOL won four municipalities (there were only two in 2016) and 88 councilor positions across the country, going to the second round also in Belém do Pará, the most important city in the north of the country, with chances of victory. In Rio de Janeiro, the PSOL won seven councilors (one more than in 2016), with the most voted candidate for councilor, far surpassing Carlos Bolsonaro (the most voted in 2016), a performance superior to that of his ticket for mayoralty , which had a Colonel of the Military Police as vice-candidate.

In other words, PSOL tried to advance “to the right” and ended up advancing to the left. His successful election to “proportionate” positions in Rio was linked to candidacies linked to struggle movements, not to “humanitarian” police officers. The same happened in São Paulo, where Boulos' image, not his program, is linked to the fact that he is the main national leader of the homeless movement (MTST), one of the most active in Brazil in the last decade. Boulos got tired of explaining that the MTST's action was always limited to land or public housing, abandoned or in an irregular situation. In no case, including those involving fighters (especially female fighters, in the case of “collective candidacies”), PSOL candidacies were presented as classist or linked to workers' struggles. These, which were numerous in the last year and under the pandemic (metallurgists from São Paulo and Paraná, Correios, health workers, app service providers) were not present in the electoral campaign, they were not mentioned in electoral propaganda on TV.

Boulos' program proposes improvements in education, health, transportation, access to housing and the environment, without proposing any major change in the tax structure. The São Paulo Chamber of Commerce applauded Boulos for his visit to it, and several capitalists lent material support to his campaign. Keeping the budget structure basically the same is remarkable due to the regressiveness of Brazilian taxes, including municipal taxes, in a city that, in addition to being an international paradise for real estate speculation, has nothing less than the third largest budget in the country. In spite of all this, the public demonization of Boulos by the triumphant Bolsonarism in 2018 allows his vote in 2020 to be characterized as an anti-Bolsonaro political demonstration.

Certainly, a large part of the electoral flow in Boulos is due to the displacement of PT votes. A good part is recruited in the poorest outskirts, where there are fights for housing, but their most important percentage vote was in the middle class neighborhoods, surpassing 30% in Perdizes, Bela Vista and Pinheiros. It is not a class vote (which PSOL does not even claim), but a “progressive” vote within the limits of “redistribution of wealth”. The presence of “Trotskyist” groups within the PSOL (or supporting it from outside), with no other political delimitation than the punctual criticism of the most scandalously bourgeois candidates, reveals that these groups, despite their “ideology”, lost, even with a “anti-capitalist” or socialist positioning, the class political compass.

The PSTU collapsed electorally, despite its significant presence in the class trade union movement and in some significant workers' struggles. His candidacies in Rio and São Paulo barely exceeded three thousand votes, the equivalent, in São Paulo, to 0,05% of the valid votes. His candidacy in Rio, a classist banking unionist, doubled this percentage, reaching 0,1%. Their absence from electoral propaganda on TV is the reason given, along with the difficulty of conducting a campaign on the streets in pandemic conditions. With exceptions, the PSTU candidates yielded to the wave of “identity” candidates (“the party with the highest percentage of female or black candidates”), placed in the foreground, a terrain where open defenders of anti-classist identity always prevail. Let's remember that the PSTU suffered, a few years ago, a split that took a good part of its members to the PSOL.

Rodrigo Maia assessed that the result of the first round showed that the cycle that elected Bolsonaro in 2018 should be repeated “only in 30 or 40 years”, echoing a political shift that multiplies among the spokespersons of the big bourgeoisie, moving away from from Bolsonaro. A replacement is beginning to take shape that would aim at the re-edition, under other conditions, of the PSDB-PMBD-DEM block, which supported the FHC cycle, whose axis is manifested in Bruno Covas' campaign under the motto "against radicalism". This perspective is echoed in the Armed Forces, where there is a growing demand to distance themselves (and wash their hands) of the Bolsonaro government, claiming that “the country votes against extremes”. The bet to collect the widows of Bolsonarism between the bourgeoisie and the military apparatus and, with that, improve this reheated dish involves negotiating the inclusion of Sergio Moro in the clique, possibly with an “outsider”, like Luciano Huck, as the flag bearer.

On the left, the electoral result ratified the political breakdown of the working class bases. The left's analysis of the result oscillated between a superficial and depoliticized triumphalist balance, on the one hand, or attributing Boulos' passage to the second round to a mere media phenomenon. The fact that Boulos emerged as a new figure with national projection shows that for something new to emerge on the left, it had to be linked in some way to mass mobilization. Even if in a distorted way, Boulos represents an emergent of the main popular struggle movement (the MTST) that emerged in the context of the PT cycle and its attempt to integrate all mass organizations into the capitalist state. The MTST only managed to awaken the real interest of sectors of the working class in the fight for housing by differentiating itself from the PT. Having achieved a political tribune from that experience, Boulos now strives to be palatable to the bourgeoisie dissatisfied with Bolsonaro’s excesses (“we occupied properties to defend property”).

From a historical perspective, the “phenomenon” Boulos and the PSOL are the result of the silencing of the working class in the political arena and its replacement by the “excluded”, the “poor”, the struggle for “citizenship”. In other words, the process of depoliticization promoted in the PT cycle by the strategic bet of the PT's leading core on suffocating and neutralizing any tendency towards class independence in Brazilian social life. The supposed overcoming of the PT that PSOL intended to embody reinforced this process and complemented it with the dominance of identity politics over any class expression. It cannot be forgotten that this election takes place in the midst of a profound social, health, economic and political crisis, with a reactionary government that is bogged down and aimless. In these conditions, the working class is absent as a political expression in the electoral dispute, even in conditions in which the second largest party in the country (PT) controls the largest trade union center in Latin America (CUT).

Brazilian workers' organizations are still standing, but they do not have any political structure, which is the result of an entire conscious trajectory of Lulism in the last 30 years. The blocks conquered by PSOL in the city councils of São Paulo and Rio are dominated by candidates of an identity nature, with democratic claims and without workers or class candidates. As a reflection of this whole process, the PSTU, which controls CSP-Conlutas, a central that brings together several important unions at national and regional level, had a marginal vote, indicating that it obtained few votes from its immediate influence in the workers' circles.

Boulos' candidacy, going to the second round in São Paulo, certainly the most significant fact of the election, is not a class candidacy, due to its program or social content. However, it is necessary to analyze whether voting for Boulos can represent a mobilization channel in the fight against Bolsonaro. In a context of disorientation and weakness of the historical organizations of the workers' and popular movement, it is evident that the immense majority of the fighters nurture an expectation of Boulos's victory. With the particularities of the São Paulo election, it clearly represents a candidacy against Bolsonaro, and a victory for her would give a new impetus to the government’s crisis.

With different nuances, a similar reasoning can be carried out in relation to the second round in Belém, with Edmilson Rodrigues (PSOL) against a militia candidate; in Porto Alegre, with Manuela D'Ávila (PCdoB); and to some extent in Recife, with Marília Arraes (PT). A completely different case is that of Rio de Janeiro, where the second round between Crivella and Eduardo Paes features two Bolsonarist candidates (one explicit, the other contraband) who must be equally rejected. Crivella was Bolsonaro's original candidate, but the prospect of defeat led the rank and file of Bolsonarism (the militias) to openly operate for Paes' victory. The record number of abstentions and null votes in Rio reflected a widespread awareness, among the most politicized layers of Rio workers, that a rotten trap was set, which only deserves a strong political repudiation.

Understandably, the scenario for the second round opened a debate between classist and youth union activism; there are many who defend null voting in all cases, arguing that voting for left-front-populist candidates does not constitute a class vote. From a methodological point of view, however, the definition in relation to voting must start from the characterization of the political situation, and not from a simple doctrinal issue. The electoral framework, in the context of the crisis, indicates that we are in a transition phase towards a 2021 that augurs (with the gradual “normalization” that will come as vaccination is developed) a scenario of great mass struggles.

On the agenda will be the dispute over who pays the bill for the generous subsidies received by banks and companies and, also, the materialization of the immense popular dissatisfaction with the crimes of Bolsonaro and his government, contained this year by the limits imposed by the pandemic. The question of voting in the second round must be answered from this angle. The political preparation of the fight for Bolsonaro Out, more effective than ever, requires a vote subordinated to this objective. To annul the vote is to put yourself on the sidelines of the problem, and remain oblivious to the aspirations of the majority of workers and fighters. This does not mean any support for the eventual governments of Boulos, Edmilson or Manuela, but just a necessary step in the transition to a grouping of fighters around an independent program. For big capital, it is about taking advantage of the remaining years of a politically weakened Bolsonaro, but with his parliamentary allies strengthened, to impose all kinds of reactionary reforms. For the labor and popular movement, it is about taking advantage of this fragility to organize the fight against them.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Contemporary history issues (Book workshop).



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