The Brazilian working class has suffered greatly under the government of Bolsonaro. The government has incessantly attacked the working class in the interests of the bourgeoisie. This policy has been very clear during the covid-19 pandemic. In this article we look in more detail to the conditions that led Bolsonaro to win the elections, the policies during his term and the possibilities for emancipation of the Brazilian workers.
The end of the ‘’Workers’’ Party government and the intensification of liberal reforms
The Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers party) is since its foundation a political operator of the bourgeoise, that meaning that it is a bourgeois party that has consistently worked against the interests of the exploited class. The ‘popular-democratic’ strategy adopted by the PT had the goal to adapt the “left” to the interests of the bourgeoisie. Lula started his presidency with a ‘letter to the Brazilian people’ where he made clear that his policies would be one of class conciliation. He promised the elites to defend their profits. Under Lula, the banks broke all records when it comes to profits, while the agrarian reform that was promised to the landless workers was never fully realised. These are measures of a liberal government that does not represent the proletariat and only keeps its promises when it comes to maintaining the profit of the capitalist class.
In the second turn of the Dilma Roussef presidency, the effects of the global capitalist crisis started to hurt the profits of the capitalist class in Brazil. The working class as always, paid the price. In 2013 millions of workers took the streets to protest. The demonstrations were a reflection of the deep discontentment with the policies of class conciliation . This moment could be seen as the start of ‘anti-petismo’, a deep sentiment of displeasure with the politics and politicians from the workers party.
The right wing and the bourgeoisie profited greatly from this sentiment. The communist movement in Brazil was not strong enough to organize the working class for a revolutionary response. The result was a strengthening of the right-wing opposition to Roussef’s government. The demonstrations were also co-opted by this political discourse. These conditions and the fact that the bourgeoisie, affected by the crisis, needed to remove some of the concessions they had made with the working class lead Dilma to begin liberal reforms in the economy. That became clear when tax adjustments were done by Joaquim Levy, a banker nominated by Dilma to as minister of economy.
But this was not enough to please the ruling class and Dilma was impeached in 2016. For an impeachment process to be legitimate, a president must commit ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’. Dilma did not commit any but was unseated from the presidency anyway. This impeachment process was articulated by some of the most nefarious figures in Brazilian politics, including Jair Bolsonaro. His vote in favour of Dilma’s impeachment was followed by a tribute to colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, head of the Brazilian intelligence and repression agency (DOI-CODI) during the military dictatorship, infamous for torturing thousands of people, including Dilma herself.
Dilma was replaced by Michel Temer, a corrupt right-wing politician who acted as the vice-president. Under his government from 2016 to 2018 Brazil saw the intensification of the liberal reforms. The consequences were a massive increase in unemployment, privatisations and a slowdown in economic growth. The most infamous measures were the labour reform that undermined the rights of workers in the name of the ‘flexibilization of the labour market’ and the ‘’spending ceiling’’ that limits the spending in health and education for 20 years. Temer ended his presidency with a record 90% of rejection
Fraudulent elections and the entry of Bolsonaro
The crisis in the PT only grew larger with the arrest of Lula during the USA backed ‘Carwash Operation’. Judge Sergio Moro sentenced Lula to 9 years and a half in jail for corruption. The accusation was baseless and the carwash operation was later proved to be a farce. Sergio Moro actively worked together with the persecutors to arrest Lula. At the time, Lula led polls for the election with 39% of the vote intentions but was not allowed to run for president because of his arrest. As a gift for his services, Sergio Moro was later granted the position of minister of justice in the Bolsonaro government. This left the path open for Jair Bolsonaro, a rather unknown low-clergy politician to be the favourite to win the elections.
The 2018 elections were not only fraudulent because of the unfair arrest of the leader in the polls, but also because of the huge fake news network set up and financed by bourgeois elements in favour of Bolsonaro. This network was present in different social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp and was used to attack the workers party and their presidential candidate Fernando Haddad with absurd lies and anti-communism. These conditions led Bolsonaro to win one of the most fraudulent elections in the history of Brazil.
The Brazilian ruling class needed a higher rate of surplus value to be extracted. This necessity is in contrast with class conciliation, because conciliation means making some concessions to the working class while maintaining the rule of the capitalist class. Bolsonaro was the alternative to this. His presidential rule promised to be one that removed the few rights gained by the workers during the PT era. So the ruling class gladly stood behind him during the elections. Some parts of the working class and the petit-bourgeoisie also supported Bolsonaro. The broken promises by the PT, the rise in urban violence and the lack of a revolutionary, communist alternative were the causes of that.
The Bolsonaro government
Unsurprisingly, the government of Bolsonaro took over from where Temer’s government left off and increased the anti-workers measures. The Social Security reform and the extinction of the ‘ministry of work’ being the most important one. These measures sought to defend the interests of the monopolistic and finance capital against the proletariat. To maintain the capitalist system intact, the government increased the violence against proletarian communities and neighbourhoods, against black workers and against the social movements and communist and workers organisations. The support of the army is one of the foundations to this government. His rule started with more army members in key-positions of the government than the military dictatorship.
In the first year of government, the GDP grew merely 1,1%. Unemployment grew immensely reaching more than 13,5 million Brazilians and informality hitting 41% of jobs. Almost 5 million Brazilians gave up on searching for a job. The government also accelerated the process of privatizing state-owned companies. Recently the public post offices have been also privatised, leaving small towns in Brazil without this essential service.
Bolsonaro also made the news worldwide. The destruction of the Amazon rainforest increased 30% reaching the highest level of deforestation in 10 years. This is no surprise coming from the government that nominated Ricardo Salles, a man accused of environmental crimes, to the Ministry of the Environment.
The facts mentioned above describe a government formed by criminals that actively works against the working class. But the genocidal potential of this fascist-like administration was fully unleashed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst I’m writing this article, Brazil has surpassed 600.000 deaths. The public health system came on the verge of collapsing in most cities and states. It is not by mere coincidence that Brazil has reached such high numbers. Bolsonaro has mocked the pandemic in many occasions. He has spread a negationist discourse over the pandemic, discouraged the use of masks, has manifested himself against the sanitary measures, has spread fake news about ineffective measures to combat the virus and has actively worked against vaccination. To investigate the anti-scientific measures adopted by Bolsonaro, a Parliamentary Investigation Committee was called.
The investigation has revealed that Bolsonaro’s negligence towards acquiring vaccines for the population, did not come purely out of ignorance for science, but also because of corruption scheme lead by the leader of Bolsonaro’s government in the chamber of deputies. Bolsonaro knew of it and did nothing.
The sanitary crisis hits the working class the hardest. Inflation, unemployment, and a hard access to vaccination makes the life of the workers very difficult. While the government advances these pro-capital reforms, the working class risks its life for the profit of the capitalists. This hellish reality faced by the population lead to a decline in the popularity of Bolsonaro, with an approval of only 28% and a rejection of 64%. This means that the working class does not support the genocidal rule of Bolsonaro and wants an alternative. But what are the options available for the working class to defeat Bolsonaro and reach its emancipation from the capitalist exploitation that is the cause of their misery?
In the face of a disastrous management of the Covid-19 crisis, the opposition to Bolsonaro grew from both the reformist left and the ‘moderate’ right. Both sides of the political spectrum defend a ‘broad coalition’ to win the 2022 elections.
The reformist left sees in Lula their hope for the elections. Lula was released from jail after The Intercept (an online newspaper) released information about the ‘Carwash Operation’ that proved that Sergio Moro acted as a biased judge in the process. Recently, Lula regained his political rights, making it possible for him to run for president again. Lula currently leads the polls for the election in 2022. It is important not to have any illusion with a possible victory by Lula. Historically, the workers party has in its time in power done nothing but class conciliation. Which means massive profits for the capitalists in exchange of very little gains for the proletariat. During the government of Bolsonaro, the head figures of the party have done almost no real opposition to the government with the idea of waiting for the elections while the Brazilian people die, of covid, hunger and urban violence. A new Workers Party government would mean at least the maintenance of the pro-capital reforms started by Dilma and intensified by Temer and Bolsonaro. In a recent interview with the right wing journalist Reinaldo Azevedo, Lula promised to consider privatizing state companies like the Caixa Econômica Federal, one of the biggest state owned banks in Latin America.
The situation described above show the problems of the opportunist reformist left and their broad coalition for democracy. The economical projects behind the PT is essentially the same of the one that Bolsonaro represents, because it leaves the rule the monopolistic bourgeoisie in Brazil untouched. The left coalition gathers behind Lula who cannot even call himself a reformist anymore, but rather a manager of capitalism in Brazil. Another problem with this tactic should be very clear for us communists. Relying on a ‘broad coalition for democracy’ just means changing the oppressor. We must understand that a coalition for ‘democracy’ means a coalition for bourgeois democracy. As Lenin says, ‘’ It is natural for a liberal to speak of “democracy” in general; but a Marxist will never forget to ask: “for what class?’’. To really defeat Bolsonaro, you must end the system that allows fascistic politicians like him to come to power.
The system that allows this is capitalism. Brazil’s social formation is developed and monopolistic. Bourgeois hegemony is fully consolidated in Brazil. The conditions in the country are ripe for a proletarian revolution with a socialist character. To reach this a strong communist party is necessary to be the political operator of the proletariat in the struggle against the ruling class. It needs to be present in the daily struggle and the social movement, not in only bourgeois institutions. By working together with the masses, the communist movement will be able to create a proletarian hegemony in opposition to the current one, that is petty bourgeois and reformist. This way a broad coalition of proletarians (not of bourgeoise politicians) can exist and in that way, a true resistance to the government can be built, with an anti-capitalist and socialist horizon.