Brazil after 7 September and the challenges of the left

In this editorial, we present three aspects of the national political situation after 7 September and a proposal for a unified struggle for impeachment.

The Bolsonaro government has grown politically and socially weaker in recent months, but on 7 September fascism bared its teeth. It is preparing for a coup attempt because it knows that electoral defeat is the most likely outcome for it. The country is in danger: all freedoms are under threat. It is possible to defeat and overthrow Bolsonaro. For this, large and plural mass democratic rallies must be held across the country, which would demonstrate that the vast majority of our people want an end to this government of destruction and death. We are facing a historic moment in the country. Only in struggle can we win.

Bolsonaro showed his strength

Never before in the history of the country has a day of fascist demonstrations been so well prepared. The federal government, the president, the Bolsonarista business community, Trump’s advisors, mafiosa pastors, and other criminals all worked hard for two months, and with a lot of money, to carry out these ‘golpista’ (pro-coup) demonstrations. There was no actual coup as some predicted, nor were there the conditions for it. There was no Military Police (PM) and Army insurrection, nor were there any bloody confrontations, as touted by some who helped to spread panic. But Bolsonaro did manage to bring hundreds of thousands to the streets in large demonstrations, especially in São Paulo, Brasília, and Rio de Janeiro.

In effect, Bolsonaro has demonstrated a capacity to fight and an accumulation of forces. This is a government that is increasingly isolated and has suffered an erosion of support among all social classes in society. But Bolsonaro has shown that he is capable of mobilizing the sector of the masses that supports him. We know that it is a social minority, but it is a significant minority of millions. A minority of the masses willing to follow a fascist leader into struggle is a huge danger, and we must not underestimate it. And let’s not kid ourselves, the danger became even greater after 7 September. At this point, Bolsonaro does not have the conditions for a victorious coup, as was evident on the day, but he is preparing his troop of fanatics for that goal. In that sense, he chalked up a victory with his mass fascist demonstrations.

Two days after these demonstrations, Bolsonaro signed a letter written by former president Michel Temer, a tactical move that put a damper on things. It was a humiliating retreat that produced crisis and confusion among Bolsonaro’s most radicalized support base. Faced with pressure from big business, frightened by the economic impacts of the political crisis, and fear of the lawsuits that are progressing against his children and allies, Bolsonaro chose to take one step back after taking two steps forward on 7 September. Let’s make no mistake, it was a move of obfuscation, of ‘morde e assopra’ (‘bite and blow’ – good cop, bad cop), as he has done so many times over the past years. With this tactical retreat, Bolsonaro also aims to contain the crisis in his relations with the parties of the right and the ‘centrão’ (center parties) in Congress, and prevent the pressure for starting the impeachment process from gaining momentum. Let us not deceive ourselves, sooner or later Bolsonaro will bite again.

The political and institutional crisis worsens

Bolsonaro’s decision to become increasingly radical – and directly confront the Federal Supreme Court (STF) and Superior Electoral Court (TSE) – has led to an unprecedented institutional crisis, something not seen since the end of the military dictatorship. The president is threatening the justices of the Supreme Court, calling on his followers to take part in a coup, and affirming that his fate will either be victory (for the coup), death or prison. Backed into a corner by a continuous fall in popularity, the COVID Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) and the encirclement of judicial inquiries, and threatened from all sides, Bolsonaro has reacted by appealing to the greatest strength that he holds in his hands: fascist mobilization.

This Bolsonarista counter-offensive sees the serious political and institutional crisis getting worse every day. The general context? Alarming social data, escalating inflation, massive unemployment, poverty, hunger, and growing misery. And importantly, the pandemic continues to claim lives: 585,000 Brazilians have already died among the over 20 million officially confirmed COVID cases.

The serious political and institutional conflicts contaminate the already run-down economy and undermine expectations of economic growth. Discontent and fears are rising among the big business community and the financial markets. Capital is fleeing the country and the US dollar is rising against the Brazilian real. Sectors of the big bourgeoisie may not be openly advocating impeachment. But they are seeing the uncontrolled crisis damage their businesses, and sending out stronger signals that they are disembarking from the ship of government, supporting the Federal Supreme Court (STF), and seeking to build a third way to the Lula versus Bolsonaro polarization. Internationally, the isolation of the Brazilian government has never been so resounding.

It is due to these factors that sectors of the traditional right, those which respond to the most powerful factions of the ruling class, are beginning to shift to more open opposition to Bolsonaro and are even talking about impeachment. However, also of note is the lukewarm response of the main institutions of the regime (Senate, Chamber of Deputies, Attorney General, and Supreme Court) to the scale of Bolsonaro’s ‘golpismo’. Even the pronouncement by STF president Luiz Fux, the harshest reaction from among these powers, fell short of what was needed.

The government still retains the support of the ‘Centrão’ (center parties) in the Chamber of Deputies, but only at a very high price. There are also many deputies of the traditional right, especially those based in the most Bolsonarista regions of the country, which continue to support the president. However, Bolsonaro does not have a majority in the Senate. The possibility of starting the impeachment process is, because of the protection provided by the ‘Centrão’, not an immediate one. But the qualitative worsening of the institutional and economic crisis will see impeachment return on the radar.

The left cannot just think about elections

From May through to July, Bolsonaro experienced an undeniable process of political and social weakening. Popular rejection of his government skyrocketed, the COVID CPI was established, and the left occupied the streets in four large national rounds of demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of people in a clear expression of the social majority. But from August, the government prepared a counter-offensive, marking out its threats of a coup across the country and preparing for its fascist demonstration on 7 September.

A majority of the left underestimated Bolsonaro. Seeing only his attrition in the polls, they forgot that Bolsonarismo is, first of all, a fascist mass movement, and therefore, not just an instrument of electoral struggle but of counterrevolutionary struggle. It is not enough for Bolsonaro to be worn down: as long as he preserves the capacity for mass mobilization and direct influence in the military and police circles, the danger will be posed with extreme seriousness. As history has taught us, fascism is defeated – above all – in the fight on the streets, with mass struggle. To bet everything on the electoral calendar is an appalling error, one which could open the way to a historic defeat.

Unfortunately, Lula did not call for people to join the left’s demonstrations on 7 September. In fact, he has not been to any ‘Fora Bolsonaro’ (Bolsonaro Out) demonstration so far. Lula’s agenda is fundamentally electoral: he is preparing for his presidential candidacy, and making agreements in the Northeast with leaders of the 2016 coup and the ‘centrão’ for national and regional platforms in 2022. While Bolsonaro calls his base into struggle, Lula only makes candidate’s speeches. Thus the leader of the Workers’ Party (PT) does not realize the enormous danger in sight: there may not even be an election, or the election result may not be accepted. To ensure that the Brazilian people can vote and determine the next president next year, it is first necessary to defeat Bolsonaro’s coup d’état as soon as possible. And this can only be done with mass struggle. Lula must change his stance and call working people into struggle.

The Fora Bolsonaro Campaign correctly held to the demonstrations of 7 September, and did not succumb to the climate of terrorism sown by Bolsonaro and reproduced by the mainstream media and even by left and center-left public figures like Marcelo Freixo and Ciro Gomes. The unbridled alarmism made the left’s demonstrations smaller, and they fell far short of their potential. A large number of people were afraid to go for fear of bloody confrontations. Nevertheless, they were valuable demonstrations that kept the banners of the left aloft and revealed that the terrifying threats were unfounded. All those who courageously went to the demonstrations deserve congratulations. Also worth mentioning is the role of the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL), the People without Fear Front (Frente Povo Sem Medo, FPSM), and Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) leader Guilherme Boulos, who all fought to hold these demonstrations in the face of this negative campaign.

It is time for the broadest unity for impeachment: there is no time to lose!

Bolsonaro has demonstrated that he is not playing around. He is preparing for ‘golpista’ action. If conditions allow, he will try to carry out a coup. He has shown that he can move hundreds of thousands for that purpose. If he feels that he has no chance in the elections, he may make an attempt before or during the elections. If he feels that he has a chance of winning by going to the second round, he can wait for the final result; but, if the outcome is defeat, he can attempt a coup at that time. Therefore, underestimating Bolsonarismo is the worst mistake of all.

The longer Bolsonaro remains in power, the more suffering he will bring to working people. The task is to overthrow this government before the election, not to wear it down until the day of the polls. The solution is impeachment. The method to achieve it is mass mobilization in the streets – the only effective way to pressure the ‘centrão’ (center parties) to break with Bolsonaro.

The most immediate central task is to transform the social and political majority that exists in society into a majority in the streets. For this, unity in action of the forces of the left with the forces of the right and center opposition that are willing to fight against the government is fundamental. The call for impeachment must be the unifying motto. The construction of a day of mass demonstrations with all these sectors, for the end of September or beginning of October, should be the total priority at this time. The ideal is that Lula, Boulos, FHC (former president Fernando Cardoso), Dória (São Paulo governor João Dória), Ciro (center-left politician Ciro Gomes), Eduardo Leite (Governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul), Requião (former governor of the state of Paraná Roberto Requião) and all others who argue for impeachment are on the same platform. Everything else separates us from the right, but this point can unite us momentarily on the basis of concrete action: the overthrow of Bolsonaro.

This one-off unity does not imply any erasing of the differences between the left and the right. The Left must maintain its intransigent defense of the interests of the working class and the oppressed, and affirm its struggle against neoliberal reforms, the removal of rights, and privatization; an agenda that the bourgeois right is in favor of. It must continue to enthusiastically defend the interests of the exploited and oppressed (employment, income, health, education, etc.) through a United Front. But this can be done without adversely affecting the tactical unity with sectors of the dominant class that are in favor of removing the fascist from power. We must ‘golpear juntos’ (strike together) with the right-wing opposition against Bolsonaro, but pursue separate electoral, political, and programmatic paths.

With regard to the 12 September demonstrations called by the right-libertarian Free Brazil Movement (MBL), we consider the joining of these demonstrations by sectors of the left to be a mistake. First, because these demonstrations have not been built in broad unity. The demonstration leaders of the MBL, part of the neoliberal right-wing that campaigned for Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and supported the 2016 coup, have called these demonstrations with the slogan, “Neither Bolsonaro nor Lula”. A last-minute communiqué that tried to disguise the anti-left character of these demonstrations in no way solves the problem. The unity of action for impeachment – that we need so much and that must involve all sectors – presupposes its joint construction. The Fora Bolsonaro Front has played a leading role in the struggle against this genocidal government. It can and should be willing to work for a broader unity for impeachment, but it needs, at the same time, to preserve the space and the prominence of the organizations linked to the working class. In addition, time is needed to build really big and representative demonstrations. This is not possible in just a few days.

Finally, we wish to reemphasize what is absolutely vital at this time: the need to alert the working class to the danger. To alert the youth to the danger. To alert and convince the masses that we cannot wait calmly until the end of 2022 to remove the fascist. To seek to build spaces for discussion and organization for ‘Fora Bolsonaro’ in workplaces, schools, and homes. To stitch together the broadest possible tactical alliance for this purpose. With the struggle of the majority, with the fight of the masses, we can and we will win! ‘Fora Bolsonaro’ (Bolsonaro Out)!

This article is an English translation of “O Brasil depois de 07 de setembro e os desafios da esquerda”Esquerda Online (EOL), 10/09/2021.

Translation: Bobby Sparks