Third shift

Image: João Nitsche


The omission of the public debate on what to do to face the coronavirus epidemic and the economic depression, leaves the working class unarmed to face the new cycle of capital’s offensive

With the world of fantasy reigning during the election period closed, the harsh reality of a society in the midst of a civilizing crisis is imposed. The omission of the public debate on what to do to face the coronavirus epidemic and the economic depression – central problems of the national situation – leaves the working class unarmed to face the new cycle of capital’s offensive.

For fear of touching on thorny topics that could go against common sense, the candidates criminally concealed the seriousness of the coronavirus epidemic. Even though, since the second week of November, doctors and epidemiologists have repeatedly warned that the number of infections and deaths from the coronavirus was systematically increasing.1 The consequence of ignoring reality is that the health crisis has turned into a real time bomb scheduled to explode during the end of the year festivities.

In the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where the availability of ICU beds was dangerously close to saturation point, irresponsibility and imposture were explicit. As soon as the polls for the second round had cooled down, rulers who until then had denied the vertiginous resurgence of infections and the urgency of limiting the movement of people announced, with an apologetic air, improvised measures to expand hospital beds and timid measures to restrict the agglomeration of the population.

In the federal government, incompetence and impudence are unbeatable. With twenty-two states recording a reproduction rate of coronavirus infections greater than 1 – seventeen of them with an accelerating trend – the Ministry of Health refuses to recognize the urgency of adopting social isolation measures. Even betting all the chips on “herd immunity” as a health strategy, the Bolsonaro government does not even have a national vaccination plan. Before taking care of the population's health, the President of the Republic is dedicated to the inglorious "vaccine war" with his enemies and to instigate his supporters to mock death with the campaign #VaiTerNatalSim.²

By hiding from the population the seriousness of the economic crisis and its catastrophic effects on public finances, a very convenient expedient for those who promised worlds and funds to voters, the electoral debate left the population completely bewildered to face the storm that was coming. Even with the partial recovery of losses caused by the quarantine measures, which led to a drop of almost 12% in GDP in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period of the previous year, the Brazilian economy remains depressed.

The injection of more than 8% of GDP into public spending, financed by the war budget voted by the National Congress, did not prevent the level of activity from remaining 5% below that observed in the same period of the previous year in the third quarter, nor did it that the labor market remained depressed, leaving nearly one in three members of the workforce unemployed, underemployed (working less than they would like) or simply discouraged (giving up looking for a job).

To everyone's surprise, the recession was accompanied by a significant increase in the cost of living. Even with the official inflation index stabilized at around 3,5 to 4% a year, the sharp devaluation of the Real against the dollar and the displacement of food supply to the foreign market led to an increase in the prices of the components of the basic basket of food to double-digit percentage levels, drastically eroding the already weakened effective purchasing power of families.

Contrary to what the priests of the order suggest, who year after year predict a resumption of growth that never takes place, the recession in the Brazilian economy is deep and has no end date. As long as the global health crisis is not overcome, which, according to the IMF's baseline scenario, should only occur at the end of 2022, there is no possibility of a somewhat more sustainable resumption of growth in the world economy.3

But even after the end of the pandemic, the recovery of the Brazilian economy will not be guaranteed. The ongoing crisis is not a linear continuation of the stagnation that has dragged on since 2015, but its metastasis in a structural crisis that calls into question the very stability of the economic model.

The huge imbalance of public finances and the growing vulnerability of the external sector call into question the macroeconomic assumptions of the inflation targeting and fiscal austerity regime that guide economic policy. The deepening of the social crisis reinforces the risk of a rebellion by the subordinate classes. Unfortunately, none of this was the subject of the electoral debate.

The worsening of the health, economic and social crises puts into perspective a strong intensification of the class struggle. This is what we saw last week, for example, in Guatemala and India, where workers staged unprecedented demonstrations against the neoliberal adjustment. Supporting resistance struggles against capital's offensive against labor, debating the urgency of a project of labor's offensive against capital, and building revolutionary organizations that are up to the historical challenges are the fundamental tasks of the next moment.

* Plinio de Arruda Sampaio Jr. is a retired professor at the Institute of Economics at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Between nation and barbarism – dilemmas of dependent capitalism (Voices).



2 covid19

3 world-economic-outlook-october-2020

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