Six notes on the new situation and a problem

Image: Stela Grespan


The starting point for an honest interpretation of the Brazilian situation is that most of the left, including the most influential political forces, have been underestimating Bolsonaro.


The starting point of an honest interpretation of the Brazilian situation is that most of the left, including the most influential political forces, have been underestimating Bolsonaro, some more than others, at least since 2017. Explaining this disdain is complicated. The simple but insufficient answer is that the moderate left underestimated Bolsonaro because understanding the appeal of the far right's discourse, after more than thirteen years in power, would require a profound self-critical revision. There is a grain of truth here. After all, something very wrong must have been done. But the problem is not to conclude that Bolsonaro dragged, for various reasons, the majority of the middle class, the challenge is to discover why the majority of the organized working class, the social anchor of the PT since the 2022s, did not mobilize to defend the Dilma Rousseff government. This absence was disturbing. As a result, the moderate left embraced the quietist tactic of betting on defeating Bolsonaro in the XNUMX elections, calculating that an inevitable wear and tear would accumulate.


The simple answer of the super-revolutionary left is that Bolsonaro was, essentially, an electoral accident: the forces of the working class would be intact, and the overthrow of Bolsonaro is still to be achieved, because the most influential leaderships lack the will. There is also a grain of truth here. After all, the position of governors of institutional collaboration as a far-right government is unjustifiable. But it diminishes the reactionary significance of the parliamentary coup, and conceals its confusion in the face of it, and of the bourgeois offensive after December 2015. precipitation of a pre-revolutionary situation. Summary of the opera: there is still a lot of difficulty in accepting that we are facing a dangerous enemy: a neo-fascist political force with a social base.


The situation changed with the pandemic in March/April. From the beginning it was clear that the difficulties would be multiple and of all kinds. There were no conditions even to guarantee masks. The prediction that the pandemic would take the form of a humanitarian calamity was consensual. But, if the challenge weren't big enough, Bolsonaro's positions turned the health crisis into a political crisis. The government downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic; two ministers of health were ousted; a fraction of the bourgeoisie, the majority of the middle class, and the governors of the most important states broke with Brasilia's policy; and, finally, Bolsonaro mocked the need for a quarantine, even if partial, incorporated thousands of Armed Forces officers into the government; initiated an assault by the Federal Police, forced the resignation of Sergio Moro, favored mobilizations that advocated a self-coup.


When the pandemic hit the country, the majority of the left, moderate and radical, considered that it would be an enormous and unprecedented challenge to implement a health strategy and harm reduction policy on the scale necessary to contain such an accelerated contamination. The share of the population that is economically active with contracts is restricted to less than half: just over thirty million in the private sector, and twelve million in the civil service. Another forty million would not even be able to survive without state support. The construction of a strict quarantine would not be possible, because the bourgeois majority was against it. The analysis was that the combination of a humanitarian calamity and an economic crisis would weaken the Bolsonaro government. There would come hundreds of thousands of deaths, tens of millions of unemployed, an acute social crisis and, therefore, an opportunity. This prediction was confirmed during the first four months. But in the last month, the situation has changed, and Bolsonaro has recovered. There are good reasons to think that this is a temporary, ephemeral, transitory oscillation. There are trends and countertrends. Factors that push in one direction, and others that partially neutralize them. The truth is that uncertainty still prevails.


Many factors influenced the inversion of the conjuncture trend: (a) the distribution of emergency aid from R$600,00 to 65 million, the most voluminous and comprehensive public assistance policy in history; (b) a retreat by Bolsonaro from the self-coup strategy after the arrest of advisor Queiroz, the dismissal of Weintraub, and a repositioning before the STF in the face of investigations against his sons, a deputy and another senator, from the cabinet of hate, fakenews and corruption in the crack; (c) the renegotiation of the arc of alliances in the National Congress, incorporating most of the Centrão into the government base; (d) the renegotiation with the bourgeoisie of the emergence of a budget for 2021 that maintains the expenditure ceiling, of an administrative reform that introduces the trigger to reduce civil service salaries, and a tax reform that simplifies collection, but does not increase the tax burden; (e) the impossibility of the left to rely on mass mobilizations in the streets due to the pandemic, even though valiant defensive struggles have taken place, such as the brake of delivery workers, Renault in Curitiba, subways in São Paulo, and resistance to back-to-school ; (f) finally, the tendency to trivialize the pandemic in an important part of Bolsonaro's social and electoral base.


Among all these factors, the least understood is the naturalization of the pandemic, especially among Bolsonaro supporters. Turns out they make up a third of the population, at least. It is a problem. A problem, in science, is a question to be solved. Different surveys have identified that there is a strong correlation between those who are not afraid or who are less afraid of the danger of the pandemic, and those who support the government. He has more support among men than women, among the elderly than among the young, among the less educated than among the more educated, and more in the south than in the northeast. The trivialization of the pandemic translates, roughly speaking, the tendency to dismiss the responsibility of governments for the health calamity, and rests on many factors, and it seems difficult to discern the specific weight of each one, but we can consider that: (a) there is a lot of confusion about what is the disease, and distrust of scientific information; (b) there is a perception that it is a fatality that punishes the elderly and sick with death; (c) the victims themselves are held accountable, because they would not be able to take care of themselves; (d) there is pressure to reactivate economic activity, much more intense among small business entrepreneurs and informal workers; (e) there is quarantine fatigue after five months and anxiety about returning to a normal life routine; (f) there is a perception that the peak of the pandemic has passed and the risks are acceptable.

Even if these and other factors are considered, the growth in parts of the population of doldrums, apathy, indifference and insensitivity in the face of a human tragedy as devastating as the pandemic must be enough to provoke us. After all, why? The trivialization of death is not normal. But the truth is that the brutalization of life is not a surprise in Brazil. It is a social and political routine. It rests on the dehumanization of the poorest, the black, the underprivileged, and has deep roots that distinguish Brazil: slavery and social and racial inequality. Therefore, it is sustained by an ideological force. There is a worldview that supports the trivialization of the pandemic. Referring the economic forms of contemporary social organization to the characteristics of an invariable human nature – man as a wolf to man –, Brazilian reactionaryism bases the justification of capitalism on natural inequality. The rivalry between men and the dispute for wealth would be an unavoidable destiny. We are bad. A selfish impulse or a lazy vocation, an insatiable ambition or an incorrigible avarice would define our condition. This is fatalism: individualism would finally be the essence of human nature. And political and social organization should conform to human imperfection. And resign. A humanity dominated by pettiness, ferocity, or fear would need a disciplined, therefore repressive, political order that would organize the limits of its internal struggles as a form of “harm reduction”. Summarizing and being brutal: the right to enrichment would be the reward of entrepreneurs, or more courageous, or more capable and their heirs. Private property would not be the cause of inequality, but a consequence of natural inequality. It is because the abilities and dispositions that distinguish men are very varied that, according to the defenders of a rigid and inflexible human nature, private property exists, and not the other way around. Diversity among individuals, innate or acquired, would be the foundation of social inequality. Consequently, capitalism would be the possible historical horizon and the limit of what is desirable. Because with capitalism, in principle, anyone could dispute the right to get rich.

Marxism never claimed that the human condition would be generosity or solidarity. Nor did he argue that it would be impossible to recognize the characteristics of a human essence. What distinguished Marxism from other egalitarian tendencies was its insistence on the idea that the human condition could only be understood as a process of historical evolution of social relations. Social relations immersed in a process of change. A process that leaves many possibilities open. Humanity transformed its relationship with nature, and transformed itself through work. Recognizing that human nature could only be understood from the standpoint of social relations, he agreed that there are determinations that change, and others that remain more or less constant for a historical period, which can be more or less long, until these too, evolve. Saying that the human essence is conditioned by the form of dominant social relations means recognizing that, if these favor envy and stupidity, then a majority of human beings will behave greedily and brutally. But this does not mean that these actions respond to innate impulses. Collaboration and conflict have always been present in social relations, to varying degrees, throughout the evolutionary process. Not only are we social beings, we are one of the most social forms of life. If the capacity for collaboration did not exist, we would not have survived.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).



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