A dead man without a candle

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By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL*

Among the many deaths in Brazil in recent months, there is one for which it is not worth shedding a single tear: the “broad front” for democracy

When the perverse conduct of the fight against the pandemic exposed the nature of the current government, even scandalizing many of its partners on occasion in the “civilized” right, it seemed that it was inevitable to remove Bolsonaro from office. Reasons would not be lacking, since its management constitutes, from the first days, as a showcase of crimes – common and of responsibility.

The idea of ​​a broad front was born, then, from the recognition on the part of conservative politicians, businessmen and journalists, in the context of the health crisis, that the services that Bolsonaro could provide to their interests did not compensate for the insanity that it was to keep him at the forefront. from the country. And support for it by many, in social movements and on the left, convinced that our fate would be to repeat the path that led to the end of the military dictatorship.

A first sign came in the unified – and virtual – celebration of the First of May by the trade union centrals. In the name of the common fight for democracy, notorious enemies of the working class were invited to speak, from Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Dias Toffoli to Rodrigo Maia, João Dória and Wilson Witzel. Most of them ended up not recording their messages, due to the negative repercussions, but the episode already signaled that, for the union leaders, it was time, once again, to exchange class claims for the defense of “democratic freedoms”, accepting to embrace those who they had carried out the 2016 coup and destroyed labor rights.

At the end of the same month of May, the newspapers printed the “Juntos” manifesto, with a wide list of signatories that included people with their feet solidly planted in the center-left or even in the left, to Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Cristovam Buarque, Roberto Freire, Armínio Fraga, Luciano Huck, Lobão and Tábata Amaral. The text did not mention impeachment and did not quote Bolsonaro.

Ostensibly, it was a call to national unity. “We claim that party leaders, mayors, governors, councilors, deputies, senators, prosecutors and judges assume the responsibility of uniting the homeland and rescuing our identity as a nation”. “We call on parties, their leaders and candidates to now set aside individual power projects in favor of a common country project”. "It's time to put aside old disputes in search of the common good". “Left, center and right united to defend law, order, politics, ethics, families, voting, science, truth, respect and appreciation of diversity, freedom of the press, the importance of art , preservation of the environment and responsibility in the economy”.

The conservative tone was denounced here and there. The very idea of ​​national unity is, classically, a call to abandon the demands of the working class. In addition, there were references to defending “order”, “responsibility in the economy”, etc. Many wanted, however, to see the kickoff of a broad movement to overthrow Bolsonaro and restore democracy and the rule of law. A reference in the manifesto to the Diretas Já movement reinforced this reading: all for democracy.

The historical parallel, however, was wrong. Diretas Já was a broad movement in search of a specific objective, the return of direct presidential elections, which aimed to broaden and democratize the political dispute, not hide it in the name of an elusive “common project for the country”. On the other hand, Juntos boasted abstract and vague “ethical and democratic principles”, but was incapable of enunciating what it actually proposed. Judging that it was Bolsonaro’s removal from office was at the discretion of each customer. The guise of defenders of democracy looks bad on so many who had just come together to strike it down with the illegal removal of a president and the judicial and media persecution of the entire left.

As usual in this type of manifesto, the price the left was expected to pay, for the “civilized” right to make a common front against fascism, was to give up its own discourse. Desperation with the situation led many to this path, but experience shows that it turns out to be a very bad business. By making left-wing leaders give up the project that defines them, it reinforces the position of the dominant ideology as common ground and the final frontier of political dispute. It reduces the horizons of political dispute and weakens the demand for a profound social transformation. The democracy it proposes to defend is, from the outset, severely limited.

The “breadth” of the front required erasing the line of continuity that linked Bolsonaro to the 2016 coup. lawfare against Lula and the PT. The process of criminalizing the left would be reversed, perhaps, as the left ceased to be. The McCarthyization of the public debate, with the veto of the expression of so many positions, would be softened as the dissident voices opted for self-censorship. In short: we would have democracy again, as long as there is a commitment not to use it to confront the prevailing patterns of domination in society.

The big problem with the coup has always been how to find the way to normalize it. That is, how would it cease to be the act of force that it was and would have its legacy (in the retreat of rights, reduction of the State and disruption of egalitarian policies, denationalization of the economy) incorporated once and for all into national life. In the dream of the coupists, normalization would take place with the election of Alckmin in 2018: a conservative who embodied the program of setbacks, but who would receive the approval of the polls. The electorate, however, was unwilling to fulfill its role in this script.

The “broad front” then appeared as a new opportunity to normalize the coup. By making the Brazilian left accept being in the wake of the “civilized” right, giving up its entire agenda in the name not even of representative democracy, but simply of a less illiberal regime, Bolsonaro would fulfill his last service to the coup leaders of 2016: be the goat in the room.

After some time, including a failed virtual demonstration for “democracy” that had even programmed intervention by Michel Temer, the front withered. There was vigorous opposition from sectors of the left, including, notably, former presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff. But, above all, it ceased to be useful for the part of the right that had animated it – for having fulfilled a good part of what it was intended for.

Bolsonaro's downfall was never the only expected result of this movement. The other option was to tame the former captain. Less than two weeks after the release of the manifesto, the national president of the PSDB already ruled out the possibility of impeachment – then he, who had been rescued from the lower parliamentary clergy by chance of having cast the decisive vote in the impeachment fraud that removed Dilma Rousseff. More than this siren song, what moved Bolsonaro in the desired direction was the arrest of Fabrício Queiroz, which weakened him and made him tone down his disputes with the Legislature and the Judiciary. In September, on the eve of ending his embarrassing mandate as president of the STF, Dias Toffoli enshrined the great national agreement, declaring: “I have never seen Bolsonaro’s attitude against democracy”.

The president speaks a little less. The positions for the Centrão are released. In particular, he seems to be understanding that the mandate is not his alone, but the set of forces that allowed him to get there.

But nothing in the government's concrete policies has changed. The pandemic continues uncontrolled, and while the promised vaccine – Russian, Chinese or English – does not come, the only thing holding it back is the decrease in the stock of potentially infected people. Environmental devastation is at its peak. Evidence of Bolsonaro's and his family's corrupt practices continues to grow. The boycott of education and science is permanent. Grotesque attacks on the rights of women, indigenous peoples, the black population, the LGBT community, occur every day.

But it seems that we have arrived at a new “normality”. Even the press organizations hostile to Bolsonaro, a president who has (as is evident above all in the case of Grupo Globo) working to undermine them financially, take care in the first place not to harm the government’s “positive agenda”: ​​privatizations, destruction of the State through administrative reform, generalized precariousness in labor relations.

Resistance to the Bolsonaro government will be led by the working class and other dominated groups. Dissatisfied sectors of the ruling classes can provide occasional support here and there – the support is as punctual as their dissatisfaction is punctual. Linking our strategy to theirs, subordinating our agenda to theirs, is the sure way to defeat. The death, announced from the beginning, of the “broad front” serves as a lesson.

* Luis Felipe Miguel He is a professor at the Institute of Political Science at UnB, where he coordinates the Research Group on Democracy and Inequalities (Demodê). Author, among other books, of Domination and resistance: challenges for an emancipatory policy (Boitempo).

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