Organize Resistance in Brazil and International Solidarity against the Neofascist Government of Bolsonaro

Executive Bureau of the Fourth International

January 3, 2019

Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in as president of Brazil on January 1, 2019. His government, an expression of the worldwide upsurge in authoritarian rightwing populism, is a menace to workers and the oppressed in Brazil and everywhere.

The Executive Bureau of the Fourth International (FI) adopted the following declaration on December 5, 2018, to help organize resistance by FI supporters and others in Brazil and around the world. The declaration appeared in English International Viewpoint here, in French in Inprecor here, and in Portuguese in Insurgôncia here. The version below is the International Viewpoint translation slightly revised on the basis of the Portuguese and French versions.

Demonstration against presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro at Largo da Batata in São Paulo, Brazil, September 29, 2018. Mark Hillary (Flickr)

Solidarity with Brazilian workers, Blacks, women, youth, indigenous people, peasants, landless and homeless people, the LGBTI community, teachers, professors, scientists and artists who will be the targets of the ultra-neoliberal, conservative and authoritarian policies of the new occupant of Planalto [Presidential] Palace.

With this turn to the ultra right, in the largest Latin American country, the social and democratic achievements of the last two decades in Latin America are more than ever under threat. The situation requires a broad mobilization of all the political and social forces in the world committed to democracy, to the struggle for the environment, against oppressions and inequalities of all kinds.

The final result of the presidential elections in Brazil last October catapulted to power the deputy and former army captain Jair Messias Bolsonaro. Just a year ago he was considered an outsider, with less than 10% in the polls despite his 28 years in parliament. The president-elect of Brazil was, in fact, an almost folktale figure, with his positions of undisguised defense of the military dictatorship (1964-1985) and of torture, his vehement defense of “shoot to kill” and mass incarceration as solutions for public safety, his clumsy bigotry against feminists and women, his flagrant prejudice against gays, lesbians, transexuals and all the marginalized, and his contempt for basic social environmental, personal and labour rights.

This ultraright figure, supported by the cattle agro-industry, part of the financial system, most of the neo-Pentecostal evangelical churches, the majority of the urban upper middle class, and large popular sectors, will be inaugurated on January 1, 2019 as the 38th president of the Federative Republic of Brazil. With 55% of the vote, Bolsonaro came to power after the most polarized and violent election campaign in the history of the political system inaugurated in 1985 with the end of the last military dictatorship, the so-called New Republic. The election was marked decisively by the manipulation of fake news through social media, with the very probable participation of foreign personalities and companies.

These were not elections like any other. The pre-electoral period began with a political assassination and the persecution of the figure who was leading the polls. It was another terrifying chapter in the thriller of the institutional coup of 2016, which brought down the government of the Workers Party (PT). The assassination, on March 14, 2018, was that of Marielle Franco, a Rio municipal councilor and a feminist, Black and LGBT activist of the Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL). Her murder, along with that of her driver Anderson Gomes, has still not been solved — a macabre message from the most reactionary forces to all Blacks, to all favela activists, to all feminists, to all LGBTs, who are experiencing a wave of unprecedented self-assertion. The persecution, perpetrated by the high courts of the judiciary, the traditional parties and Congress, and also by grassroots Bolsonarist groups (who even shot at a bus in the former president’s caravan in the south of the country), was that of Lula, the PT leader, a coup that was consolidated with his arrest on April 7, 2018, following a highly questionable judicial process.

In early September, Bolsonaro was stabbed by a “lone wolf” while campaigning in the city of Juiz de Fora (Minas Gerais). The attack took him to the operating theater three times, endangered his life, gave him the aura of a surviving hero, and yet gave him the pretext he needed to avoid debates — which he had already shown were difficult for him. Polarization has, since that episode, reached levels unknown in Brazil.

The first polls for the second round pointed to an overwhelming victory of the captain-candidate, which in the end did not happen because his victory in the first round imposed both unity and mobilization on the majority of the left and democratic forces, in united action which included millions of activists and people who first took to the streets in the race to “turn the vote.” The mobilizations for PT candidate Fernando Haddad in the last two weeks of October were strengthened by Folha de S. Paulo‘s revelation that Bolsonaro had used illegal business financing to pay for fake news in WhatsApp — a practice similar to that already used by Donald Trump in 2016 via Facebook.

Many Bolsonaro voters chose not to vote or to change their vote. But the fascist campaign did not fade: the candidate responded, in a speech on Avenida Paulista, promising to sweep from the map “the reds” and the largest newspaper in the country. The political climate was marked by physical aggression against pro-Haddad activists, rape, and even the murder of a capoeira [martial arts] master in Salvador (Bahia).

Nevertheless Bolsonaro finally won with a very significant advantage, 10 million more votes than Haddad (55% to 45%), with victories in most states — with the exception of the Northeast and Pará (Amazon). However, the PT managed to maintain the largest group in the Chamber of Deputies (56 MPs, against 52 for Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party [PSL]) and, with its allies, the governments in all of the Northeast. At the same time, the far right won the governments of the rich and strategic Southeast — Rio, São Paulo, Minas Gerais. The hard core of Bolsonaro’s backward coalition elected a group of 90 MPs, but their alliance could reach more than 200 votes of the total of 534.

How was Bolsonaro possible?

It is impossible to understand the rise of Jair Bolsonaro without going back a few years in the story and taking up the main characteristics and events that marked the 13 years of PT governments, overthrown by the institutional coup of 2016.

In the federal government, the PT benefited, between 2003 and 2013, from the global boom in commodity exports. Despite deepening the deindustrialization of the country, its policy based on export extraction allowed both Lula administrations (2003-2010) and the first one of Dilma (2011-2014) to guarantee extraordinary profits to financial capital and agribusiness and to finance, with public resources, major capitalist groups in construction, mining, telecommunications and meat.

But PT governments nevertheless promoted limited redistributive policies — with real impact on the most vulnerable urban and rural populations. They increased the minimum wage at rates higher than inflation, maintained the Bolsa Família Programme (monthly payment to families below the poverty line, conditioned on the maintenance of children in school), supported affirmative policies (quotas for poor, Black and indigenous students in universities and technical schools) and multiplied new public universities, public schools and scholarships in private universities. These measures, coupled with the widespread encouragement of domestic consumption through easy credit at public banks, made it possible for a wide spectrum of workers to buy a home and enter the mass consumer market for the first time in their lives.

Nevertheless, as early as 2005, with the scandal of parliamentary vote-buying by the Lula government (“mensalão”), the PT’s prestige began to fall. By this time, it was clear that the party, which had long since abandoned any class discourse, would not adopt any type of measure or policy to encourage popular and citizen participation in public life. Instead, in order to guarantee governability for the coalition regime, the PT made huge concessions to maintain in its base in Congress to groups of evangelical churches such as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and sectors of the Assembly of God (which in 2018 would be decisive for Bolsonaro’s victory).

These concessions to ruralists, neo-Pentecostals and to the “bullet group” (police and representatives of arms manufacturers) meant that the PT did nothing to advance feminist goals such as the decriminalization and legalization of abortion. The PT blocked demarcations of indigenous lands and adopted major programs of infrastructure and events that resulted in the expulsion of indigenous and riverine people from their lands. The PT did nothing to advance the struggle for a deep reform of the judicial, police and prison system or to end the drug war, mass incarceration, and the genocide of Black people (in particular favela youth). In 2013, under Dilma, the PT’s political-ideological decline would take a new and qualitative leap with the big social explosions of discontent that came to be known as the “June days.”

During the gigantic demonstrations for education, healthcare and better urban transportation, rightwing groups took to the streets to fight with the left and channel the movement against corruption, against all the political parties, and against PT in particular. June 2013 was not, however, as the PT states, an explosion of a reactionary nature — far from it. It demonstrated, it is true, to an important part of the country’s economic and political elite that the PT was no longer as useful as before in keeping the masses “passive.” And the right and ultra-right have counted, since then, on the decisive support of the mainstream media in the political and ideological struggle for mass mobilizations, as we saw in 2015 and 2016 in the broad protests around the impeachment of Dilma.

The role of the “Lava Jato” scandal and economic stagnation

Political-social discontent with the government intensified greatly with the long economic stagnation starting in 2014. The stagnation imposed a drop in income on the sectors that formed the basis of Lulaism and provoked the explosion of urban and rural violence. A decisive contribution to Dilma’s deep discredit was that she made her second presidential campaign (August to October 2014) to the left and, in less than two months, started to apply an economic program that went counter to everything she promised, choosing a minister from her opponents, the neoliberal Joaquim Levy, who will now be part of Bolsonaro’s government.

The PT’s crisis became more acute thanks to the impact on the workers’ consciousness of the biggest corruption scandal in terms of amount of money and infection of the whole political system: the Petrobras scandal, unveiled by “Operation Lava Jato” [car wash], which involved a network of millionaire bribes in virtually all the parties of the Republic. Sometime between the end of 2014 and early 2015 (probably when Dilma fired Levy), with hundreds of thousands of “yellow-greens” (the main colors of the Brazilian flag) on the streets, mobilized by the right against “corruption,” fundamental sectors of Brazilian capital broke with the support they had been giving to the PT’s project of class collaboration and joined the coup conspiracy.

After Dilma’s impeachment, between April and September 2016, while the PT lost voters, activists and militants (and was only able to respond by talking of persecution), the right and its most ultra version grew in society. Desperate factions of the bourgeoisie and a broad sector of the middle class, traditionally more reactionary (racist, misogynist, homophobic and fearful of the socially progressive mores of the new generations), embraced the ultraright.

The persecution of the PT was real: the judiciary and federal police were selective. Coup forces appealed abusively to the “plea bargain” mechanism. Lula was accused without clear proof and later condemned without a fair trial. The media published Lula and Dilma’s audios without official authorization. Judges arrested various PT leaders without any obvious need to do so. The impeachment was politically and legally unjustifiable. However, the party never made any self-criticism of the “bad deeds” (to use Dilma’s expression) of so many leaders. The official orientation of the leadership was to forbid Haddad from making such a self-criticism in the 2018 campaign. The problem, for the PT leadership, was a lot of individuals’ “mistakes” — a large part of these individiuals today in prison. No word on the “PT’s way of governing,” so much adapted to the political system’s rules that the party caught their worst habits from its oligarchic partners.

This was how a strong rejection of the PT was born and grew in a large part of Brazilian society. In more impoverished sectors, which had benefited from the Lula years, this did not consolidate. Among the more informed and active youth and leftwing sectors of the working class, this questioning of the PT may have favored Ciro Gomes [candidate of the Democratic Labor Party (PDT)], Marina Silva [candidat of the Sustainability Network and the Greens] and the PSOL. But in broad sectors of the urban middle class, particularly its upper strata (and especially in the Southeast and South), this became, with the help of the media, “Lava Jato” and rightwing parties, a blind hatred of the PT. A blind hatred of the left, of social policies, of the idea of human rights valid for all, of the idea of solidarity with the dispossessed, of the notion of belonging to the world, of science and of truth. A hatred that extended to the color red, Cuba, Venezuela, feminism, gays, trans, environmentalism and anything but pure egocentric individualism, based on belief in the God-market, “opportunity for all,” and contempt for the different.

It was the combination of this reactionary anti-PTism with the justified disappointment of millions of workers with the party (which had brought so much hope) that elected President Bolsonaro.

So, Bolsonaro was not (or should not be) exactly a surprise

Although Michel Temer will leave the government with unprecedented levels of unpopularity, unable to bring the economy out of stagnation, he did the groundwork for capital and helped in the election of Bolsonaro. The radical program of freezing public spending and withdrawing labor rights, applied by Dilma’s former vice president, has deepened the economic crisis. The explosive combination of that crisis with the strong conservative, patriarchal and authoritarian slaver base, always latent in the country which was the last to abolish slavery on the globe, fertilized the soil for the growth of the far right. In any case, the most important sectors of the Brazilian bourgeoisie wagered not on Bolsonaro, but on Geraldo Alckmin (Brazilian Social Democracy Party [PSDB] of São Paulo). The sectors that bet on Bolsonaro from the outset were the arms industry, retailers and the majority of agribusiness.

We must also remember that there was a real political-ideological crusade against corruption, fueled by the “holy alliance” of judges and prosecutors who operated the “Lava Jato,” the mainstream media, and — it is now well known — a large part of the Armed Forces. This four-year campaign was decisive in reinforcing exhaustion with the political system, with the old parties and figures — as well as the illusion of the supposedly anti-system “savior” whom Bolsonaro incarnated — in public opinion. The traditional ruling parties, the PSDB and the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), were seen as representing the old- system and took a beating at the polls, getting 34 and 29 MPs. Alckmin would never been elected.

Internationalized media manipulation

The successful manipulation of WhatsApp groups by the Bolsonaro campaign indicates a dangerous internationalization of Brazilian elections and heralds a worldwide trend. There is likely to have been international campaign advice from marketing firms linked to Steve Bannon, Trump’s strategist, who is now engaged in organizing an “international” of ultra-right “populism.” This molded the foreign intervention in the Brazilian electoral process. It is important to note that the production centers of the digital data that influences the elections in this surveillance capitalism are globally located in the USA. Another sign of farewell to national sovereignties.

The candidate of the far right surfed on the high waves of discontent with the corrupt and unpopular Temer government, with recession and unemployment, with traditional politics and with the PT, and thus Bolsonaro managed to give himself an “anti-system” image. His rise, therefore, fits perfectly into the scenario of unpredictability and global ungovernability drawn by the document “Capitalist Globalization, Imperialisms, Geopolitical Chaos and Its Implications,” approved at the last Congress of the Fourth International. Sectors of capital in Brazil, even quite globalized ones, such as banks, insurance companies and agribusiness, have completely given up “mediations” in dealing with the democratic regime and the subaltern classes, opting to embrace an alternative that offers them more facilities for deepening super-exploitation and plunder.

There is a new global capitalist restructuring whereby public funds — all of them — and all common goods, territories, forests, energy and water, should be used by the system. No such project can survive without putting an end to all transparent debate in society. It is the same context in which racist, xenophobic and nationalist groups are growing in the United States, France, Germany and India, and in which they are coming to power in Hungary and the Philippines. In fact, the difficulties in returning to the rates of profit obtained up to 2007, before the financial tsunami of 2007/2008, have pushed the world bourgeoisie to:

  • seek a global project of increasing expropriation of the rights of the working class and of the peoples of the “Global South,” which includes (re)taking absolute rights over what should be commons, like the land itself, water (aquifers, rivers, oceans), mineral deposits, energy sources;
  • attack more and more national sovereignties and bourgeois-democratic regimes, which represent obstacles to the implementation of the neoliberal plans of adjustment, austerity, privatization, indebtedness and recapture of territories and property imposed by the system and its international organizations;
  • opt, at least in part, for far-right solutions, with nationalist-protectionist overtones in industrialized countries, and characteristics more ultra-neoliberal on the economic front in the Global South, with strong conservative discourse on customs and policies that are punitive, anti-human rights, and of bloodthirsty war on trafficking and crime in general.

Period of turbulence in the struggle over regime change

In addition to being rather dark and difficult, the times ahead for the exploited and oppressed in Brazil will be intensely turbulent.

Although the election of a neofascist government in Brazil is a hard defeat for the social and democratic movements of Latin America and the world, this is not an historic defeat. The leap from the current reactionary situation to an openly counterrevolutionary situation has not occurred and may not occur: this depends on the outcome of clashes and struggles yet to be fought. The radicalization of the political situation in Brazil will depend on the unfolding of the world economic crisis and its impact on the Brazilian economy, on the capacity of Bolsonaro and his government to resolve the internal contradictions of its block of support, and on the resistance force of the country’s workers and oppressed.

The hard core of the government has a project that leads to the closing off of the regime, to a political system less permeable to popular pressures. Another question is whether there is at present the correlation of forces for this change of the political system and at what pace Bolsonaro and his first echelon will be able to execute his project. The government is, in essence, authoritarian, racist, misogynist, LGBT-phobic, militarist, anti-left, unconcerned with democratic institutions, and tending to operate in the logic of creating internal and external enemies. In a word, neofascist. All this in the service of an agenda of ultra-neoliberalism, privatization and withdrawal of rights, averse to the protectionist nationalism of classical fascism.

In addition to its military and ultra-neoliberal nucleus, the support block of the new government comprises neoliberal religious fundamentalism (in which the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God stands out), factions of the judiciary (like Sergio Moro), agribusiness, ultra-neoliberal economists and bankers of the Chicago School, and machine-patronage politicians deserting the traditional parties — an important part of the bloc that made the coup of 2016. This sum of forces has contradictions among its agendas and projects. The future of government will depend on the ability of its nucleus to cohere this bloc around its political project.

Depending on the development of these internal and external questions, the hard core of the government will or will not move towards the radical implementation of its project, which is that of a less democratic political system. Some important tests of the resurgence are already planned for 2019.

Where the attacks come from: the “tests” of neofascism

The international conditions do not seem promising for a new growth for the Brazilian economy. The prospect is of a world recession in 2019. And Bolsonaro announces a messy alignment with U.S. and Israeli interests (with the stupid proposal to move the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem), as well as cozying up to Piñeira’s Chile to the detriment of Argentina and Mercosur as a whole.

These alignments unbalance relations with key economic partners for recovery. China is Brazil’s main trade partner, with the trade balance strongly positive for Brazil. Chinese companies have direct investments in the country, such as in electricity. Arab countries are the main buyers of the chicken and beef of agribusiness… To err in international policy, in this unfavorable global context, could make unviable a minimum balance of public accounts and keeping the industrial sector out of recession.

The “School without a party” project aims to control what is said in the classroom — with special concern about gender issues, sex education and criticism of the government. The president-elect, through social networks, calls on parents and students to denounce teachers who politicize historical issues and address gender issues in the classroom. The oldest son of the president-elect, Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal deputy for São Paulo, has already announced a bill to criminalize “apologizing for communism.”

Still in the field of education, the promise is a brutal attack on public and free education, particularly in the upper sphere. Bolsonaro directly interferes with the choice of rectors. At the same time, he lavishes praise on the advantages of “education at a distance” [online], including at the elementary level (the first five years!), and suggests adopting the voucher model so that the population has access to private schools, as in Chile, or a way to transfer public money to the privately owned schools.

The second test will be the criminalization of the land and housing occupation movements (Landless Workers Movement [MST] and Homeless Workers Movement [MTST]) through the amendment of the Antiterrorism Act (tragically and ironically enacted by Dilma in response to 2013), already quickly provided by the new reactionary groups.

Another fundamental test, demanded daily by the voices of the “God-market” and the media quickly converted to bolsonarismo, is the reform of the social security system. The president-elect has already negotiated with Temer not to vote this year [2018] on any change in the Social Security system. The superminister of the Economy and Chicago boy Paulo Guedes promises an even more radical reform to 2019, based on the precepts of the Pinochet Social Security (in which each worker saves individually for his retirement), that, as is known by means of real news, resulted in a social disaster in Chile. Debate and struggle are certain.

In the background, in deep Brazil, there will be an intensification of the war on drugs and the poor, which means that the new government will intensify the genocide of Black people. This attack will occur through the freedom to carry weapons, through a green light to the brutal military police and municipal guards to, in doubt, shoot to kill, and through continued mass incarvceration. This set of measures could be extended to restrictions on the functioning of trade unions, associations, parties (Bolsonaro and his followers promised war on the PT and PSOL leadership), and on freedoms of press, expression and organization.

Bolsonaro, in addition, proves to be a major threat to the global environment by promising, in the wake of Trump, to break with the fragile Paris Agreement on CO2 emissions. And, to top it off, he promises to end the demarcation of indigenous lands, in an obvious signal to the cattle landowners, in particular (but also to the soybean and other crop producers on the Amazonian agricultural frontier), that gives a green light to the devastation of the rainforest. If the great rainforest had already been threatened under the reign of the PT’s extractivism, much worse will be the situation of this world’s lung and guarantee of some climate equilibrium in South America under the baton of this ally of the chainsaw and agribusiness.

Organize international resistance and solidarity

In Brazil, the fundamental task is to organize resistance to the attacks of the new government on the democratic freedoms and social rights of the people, through the unified fight of all those who want to defend democracy and the rights and achievements that the neofascists will attack. In this struggle, we will work towards the creation of an antifascist united front in defense of democratic and social rights — capable of articulating and unifying sectoral and regional initiatives against attacks by the government and capital. The militants and sympathizers of the Fourth International will be in these fights, in defense of democracy and all social and human rights.

We will also be part of the organized movements and entities of workers, youth, Blacks, women, and LGBTs, indigenous people and all sectors of the population, present more than ever in workplaces, poor neighborhoods, universities, schools, cultural groups of precarious and radicalized youth, occupations of the poor and landless, in order to resist together with the Brazilian people. We attach special importance to the movement of young women, who have been gaining momentum since the spring of 2016 and have taught so much to everyone with the organization of #EleNão.

For Latin America, where Bolsonaro’s election has had such an impact, it must be very clear that every little struggle, every victory, however sectoral, against Macri [Argentina], against Duque [Colombia], against Piñeira [Chile], against Ortega [Nicaragua] and their plans, is also a victory of the resistance against Bolsonaro. No step back! Resistance in Brazil depends on the tenacity of all of Latin America and the progress of the struggle throughout the world.

That is why it is also vital that in Europe, the United States, Asia, Africa and Oceania, we be very attentive to carrying out a broad campaign of denunciation against the attacks that the new Brazilian government will attempt against democracy, environmental legislation and international treaties (the Amazon is in great danger!), and the social and political rights of workers.

The Fourth International calls on all those who struggle, all environmentalists, all democrats, to unite their forces to denounce the Bolsonaro government and demand:

  • Hands off the landless and homeless in Brazil! For an international campaign to repudiate the Anti-Terrorism Law and its macabre enhancements! All solidarity with the MST and the MTST and all the activists.
  • Hands off the Amazon rainforest! Hands off the indigenous lands! Maintain the legislation that guarantees the demarcation of lands for the original peoples. For the continuation of Brazil in the Paris Agreement!
  • Hands off the social security rights of Brazilian workers! No reform of the pension system without first a radical audit and publication of Social Security debtors!
  • Hands off the Brazilian public universities! Hands off academic freedom! No interference in the elections of rectors (deans).
  • Down with the “School without a party!” No cell phones in the classroom! Maintain the education budget and face-to-face education in primary and secondary education.
  • End the war on drugs and the poor! No liberalization of gun permits. No to the reduction of the penal age, proposed by the future justice minister Sérgio Moro. Youth need schools, not prisons. For the legalization of marijuana. For a combined effort by the judiciary to speed up the trials of the 200,000 prisoners who are incarcerated without a conviction.

Bolsonaro’s electoral victory is in fact part of a global resurgence of authoritarian regimes that are strangling the democratic gains of recent decades, with Putin in Russia, Orban in Hungary, the PiS regime in Poland, Erdogan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines, Trump in the United States, Netanyahu in Israel, and far-right parties in government in Austria and Italy… An international anti-authoritarian and anti-oligarchical movement is necessary, because the situation requires a broad mobilization of all political forces committed to democratic rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, environmental and climate preservation, freedom of movement of people, in short, against oppression of all kinds. Building such a global movement is a task on our agenda.