Rightwing demagogue Jair Bolsonaro wins Brazilian Presidency, Left Organizes Resistance

Peter Solenberger

November 21, 2018

On October 28 rightwing demagogue Jair Bolsonaro was elected Brazil’s president. On November 11 the National Directorate of the Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSOL) adopted the resolution Organize Resistance and Popular Unity against Bolsonaro outlining PSOL’s tactics for the next period. Brazilian supporters of the Fourth International (FI) participate in PSOL, which makes it a sister organization of Solidarity.

The Solidarity Webzine has published articles on the developing situation in Brazil since the murder of PSOL leader Marielle Franco in March. This is the fifth. The four previous ones were:

Our Comrade Marielle Franco Murdered
Brazilian Women Unite Against Far-Right Presidential Candidate
The Bolsonaro Effect
#EleNão (not him): Defeat Bolsonaro and defend rights!

We’ve published these articles because of the importance of Brazil, the largest country in Latin America by area, population and economy, but also because the Brazilian experience sheds light on the the U.S. experience. Brazil is economically less developed than the U.S., but politically more developed.

From 2003 until 2016 the Workers Party (PT) governed Brazil, first with Lula as president and then with Dilma Rousseff. The PT enacted many reforms but kept Brazil within the neoliberal capitalist order. The PT leaders kept their promises to the capitalists more faithfully than they kept their promises to the workers.

With the Great Recession Brazil’s economic expansion ended. Poverty deepened, inequality grew, crime worsened, and PT leaders, including Lula, became tainted with corruption. The PT’s working-class base became demoralized and withdrew. This allowed the right to carry out a “soft coup” to remove Rousseff as president and then to jail Lula to prevent him from running again. Very likely Lula would have beaten Bolsonaro, if he had been allowed to run.

With the failure of the left, many Brazilians, including sectors of the working class, turned to the right. They saw Bolsonaro as a strong man who could end the chaos and “make Brazil great again.” He won’t, but he may do a great deal of damage before the Brazilian working class can turf him out.

The resolution shows a revolutionary socialist party seeking to find its way in an even more polarized situation than the one we face. We can learn from their experience.

Against persecution and violence: in defense of social movements and leaderships

Organize Resistance and Popular Unity Against Bolsonaro

Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL)

November 11, 2018

Resolution on tactics for the period

1. Many uncertainties surround the future government of Jair Bolsonaro. On one hand, he is surrounding himself with establishment names to gain the confidence of the elites – Paulo Guedes, Onix Lorenzoni, Alberto Fraga, Sergio Moro. On the other, he continues to threaten the press, social movements and opposition political forces, signaling a willingness to carry out an authoritarian escalation.

2. Thus there are two hypotheses at the moment, both of which are dangerous. The first is that Bolsonaro postures as a kind of “Brazilian Trump”: a man who espouses disgusting positions but acts more or less within the limits determined by the institutions and agenda of the ruling factions of the bourgeoisie. Another hypothesis is that Bolsonaro implements an agenda similar to that implemented in Turkey: a government resting on a conservative mass base that promotes a slow and gradual constriction of the democratic regime, with persecution of opponents, prisons and increasing militarization of society. This would be a scenario with even more dire consequences.

3. Of course, in Brazil 2018 no one can implement a dictatorship by decree. The strangling of the already limited democratic system in Brazil could only occur as a result of a protracted political struggle. In this struggle, the market will seek other victims first, such as the pension system and strategic state companies (Petrobrás and Eletrobrás). At this moment, all signs, including the exchange rate with the dollar and the value of the shares on the Stock Exchange, point to a period of understanding between the Bolsonaro economic team and the dominant factions of the market. There is no doubt that the candidate of the Partido Social Liberal (PSL, Bolsonaro) was not the preferred name of the financial elite, which had Geraldo Alckmin as its authentic representative. But the ruling classes have no attachment to names and may reach a quick understanding with Bolsonaro, if he is able to attend to their interests.

4. Given this scenario, we must recognize the difficult correlation of forces in the confrontations to come. There is a mixture of distrust and discrediting of politics, fueled by cases of corruption involving parties of the old left and by the juridical-media circus promoted by Operação Lava Jato (“Operation Car Wash”). Despite this, Haddad’s nearly 47 million votes show that it is possible to organize a camp of broad popular and democratic resistance. Among social organizations, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (MTST, Homeless Workers Movement) and the Frente Povo Sem Medo (FPSM, Fearless People’s Front) are strengthened, which is why they may be priority targets of the reactionary offensive. They will count on our total and unrestrained solidarity. Among the parties, PSOL has credibility to collaborate in the organization of a left pole in the process of resistance.

5. In the traditional right there are still uncertainties, although the most likely scenario is a gradual convergence of parties like PSDB, MDB and PPS with the base of the Bolsonaro government. As the parties of patronage they are, their survival is closely linked to their ability to occupy spaces in the state apparatus. On programmatic issues, such as pension reform or privatizations, these parties will join the government bench. In other battles, such as changes in the law for buying and carrying weapons or changes in the penal code, the government’s ability to win a majority will come down to our ability to prevent it from succeeding. In the case of constitutional amendments – such as pension reform – the government will need at least 308 votes, which can only be achieved with the support of these parties.

6. We cannot rule out even greater political violence. On the night of October 28, after Bolsonaro’s victory was announced, there were more than 50 acts of political violence carried out against his opponents. The year 2018 already marks an exponential increase in attempts against political leaders – among which the greatest expression was the assassination of our comrade Marielle Franco. The spread of hate speech and intolerance may empower groups that operate in parallel to state actions. This calls for a full discussion in the left in general, and in PSOL in particular, on the tasks of self-defense and the need for a change in the political culture of the popular forces to adequately address a possible scenario of increased conflicts and violence.

7. PSOL’s tactics in the last period were oriented toward the possibility of composition of a broader camp to the left of the PT. The crisis of social-democracy and its national variants is a world phenomenon, a product of the new stage of capitalist accumulation, which makes impossible the promises of social gains without conflict. In this context, the emergence of new political forces critical of the limits of class conciliation is a reality in different countries. In the case of Brazil, this bet was correct within the historical conditions we have faced so far. However, the arrival of Bolsonaro to the Presidency of the Republic will require of us a greater appreciation of united-front action. This is not to say that we abandon, as a party, the perspective of the reorganization of the left with a view to forming a new pole of the socialist left. It only means that we understand that this task needs to be balanced with the need for a democratic united-front policy to avoid setbacks.

8. The policy that must predominate in the scenario that is approaching, therefore, is one of a democratic united front in the defense of the rights of the Brazilian people. This means bringing together all progressive, democratic and national sectors around a front against the government of Jair Bolsonaro, fully preserving our political independence. Within the united front, we will work with MTST, Partido Comunista Brasileiro (PCB) and others to create a pole on the left which guarantees our identity and strengthens our project to confront the elites.

9. For this, two tasks take precedence. The first is to maintain the political alliance we built in the 2018 presidential election. This is today the sector capable of expressing an independent and combative politics in the mass movement. It is through this alliance that we can strengthen the FPSM, articulate joint actions with other sectors of the social movement and respond to the enormous militant disposition of thousands of Brazilians, especially young people, who took to the streets in the second round to fight the far right. We must, therefore, encourage the creation of spaces of rank-and-file action, such as committees of youth without fear, women without fear, LGBTs without fear, in addition to existing spaces.

10. The second task is to reinforce our combative action in parliament. For this, we will have a broader parliamentary representation with young women, Blacks and experienced parliamentarians. The alignment between party and bench must be even greater in the next conjuncture, with regular meetings of the national leading bodies and leadership and joint analysis of the most effective tactical moves in each moment. At the beginning of the next legislature the dispute over the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies and of the legislative assemblies will be important moments to affirm our policy of unity and combativeness.

11. In addition, there are organizational tasks that we need to address. For example, it is a fact that we are not sufficiently prepared for an escalation of political violence. Our culture as a party – although we count among us valiant exponents of the struggle against the Military Dictatorship – is totally adapted to democratic normality. We have not developed a mindset capable of providing the minimum conditions for self-defense, which needs to be rapidly ensured. The situation is even more serious for our allies, since the parties are often the last victims of a process of constricting the political regime. Before us, social movements, trade unions, human rights activists, and others will fall victim.

12. Another key aspect concerns communication. Although we have important influence in social networks through our elected positions, we will need to hone a communication policy able to confront the slander network led by Bolsonaro. During the truckers’ strike we had an indication of the attacks we would face in the elections, as we were targeted by the trial run of the messaging machine imported by Bolsonaro and his followers, possibly with direct foreign support. The operation was repeated in the elections with overwhelming effect, without any party being able to face it.

13. Finally, it is the task of PSOL to deepen the discussion on two very important issues, the first on the fight against corruption. The Brazilian state, historically subordinate to the ruling classes, has become a mechanism by which these classes use the state apparatus to divert and corrupt public officials. But at the same time, this reality generated the conditions for the discourse legitimizing a judicial system which promotes the persecution of political enemies, condemning without proof and making a spectacle of the judicial process with the justification of the struggle against corruption. It is therefore necessary to return to this discussion with the depth it deserves and to find a balanced position.

14. The other theme concerns the political use by the far-right of the agenda of civil liberties and customs. It is necessary to develop a tactic able to confront the ideological offensive of the reactionary agenda of restriction of rights and persecution of women, the LGBT population and Blacks, among others. Realization of good sectoral meetings and seminars in 2019 could be a decisive step in this task, as well as encouraging meetings of categories of workers, especially in public service, which is the central target of the dismantling that the next government intends to implement. Unrestricted privatization and outsourcing and pension reform are the main measures against the working class that the next president intends to carry out. In the defense of democracy and freedoms, foster encounters and discussions with sectors of the intelligentsia, magistrates, inter-religious sectors involving progressives of the Catholic and Evangelical churches, as well as African-Matrix religions.

15. The murder of our comrades Marielle Franco and Anderson is a measure of the escalation of political violence in our country. We will continue to emphasize and give importance to this in our action to combat the Bolsonaro government and the wave of hatred and prejudice. PSOL will propose joint actions with other democratic sectors in a broad pressure campaign for the investigation of the crime, not only discovering the murderers, but also those who ordered the killings.

16. It is time for resistance. The election of Bolsonaro is a blow to the already limited democracy we have lived with in the last three decades. We must not underestimate the impact of this defeat. However, we are the ones who did not give up the socialist project when many bowed to reasons of state; we are those who struggle to reorganize a left pole able to liberate the transforming energy of our people; we are the ones who have not chosen the easy side of history. We will fight in political and juridical institutions, but especially in the streets, to prevent Bolsonaro from imposing his program of hatred and suffering on the Brazilian people.

This resolution was originally published in Portuguese here.

PSOL National Directorate approves tasks to face the Bolsonaro government

Germany update:
Greens and AfD Gain in Hessian Elections, the Left Faces a Shapeshifting Center

Ron Lare

November 21, 2018

Where is the real progress in Germany?

Political reporting on Germany should still be seen in the context of the Oct. 13 march of 240,00 in Berlin against attacks on immigrants (as well as for other social justice causes). Before an update on elections and political parties in the state of Hesse, here is a reminder of some real action by real people.

“Get out of coal now!” Photo: dw.com

The Oct. 13 Berlin march came following right-wing thuggery in the streets of the city of Chemnitz, an outrage inspired by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and their fellow movement, PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West). Given the US and German population sizes, the Berlin march following Chemnitz was equivalent of a million people marching in Washington, D.C., following Charlottesville.

There are more signs of life, including rebellion of Social Democrat (SPD) youth who know where their party came from historically; environmental action to stop coal and save forests; various union strikes; and pressure for higher minimum pay and job security. These present openings for Die Linke and Aufstehen (Rise Up). International Viewpoint covers such developments.

In Hesse, big gains for the Greens and semi-fascist AfD, modest gains for the far left Die Linke

On Oct. 28, elections in Hesse paralleled those on Oct. 14 in Bavaria. The Greens and far right AfD did a lot better than before. On the far left, Die Linke gained slightly in the popular vote while increasing representation in the legislature from 6 to 9 seats — much better than in Bavaria.

In Hesse, the Greens’ gains balanced the decline in votes for their governing coalition partners, the CDU (Christian Democrats, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s national party). Thus, the CDU-Green coalition can continue governing Hesse with a one-seat majority, but could add a partner.

Party Color 2018 results Change Seats Change
CDU Black 27.0% -11.3% 40 -7
SPD Red 19.8% -10.9% 29 -8
Greens Green 19.8% +8.7% 29 +16
AfD Blue 13.1% +9.0% 19 +19
FDP Yellow 7.5% +2.5% 11 +5
Die Linke Purple * 6.3% +1.1% 9 +3
Other 6.5% +0.9%
* Parties are frequently identified by color. Die Linke officially claims red, but purple is customary to avoid confusion with SPD.

Merkel responded to the decline of her CDU by ruling out another run for CDU national parliament fraction leader this December. She aims to remain Chancellor until 2021 federal elections (contrary to traditional unification of the Chancellor position and party leadership). In the contest to succeed Merkel as CDU leader, she is neutral, but her sometime protégé Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is a leading contender.

The Greens’ progressive come-on is blunted by their willingness to enter conservative coalitions, as in Hesse and nationally. On the other hand, many Green voters are sincerely motivated by their progressive goals around environment and immigration. The pro-business liberal FDP has ruled out a “Jamaican flag” coalition (by party colors, FDP-Greens-CDU = Yellow-Green-Black).

The SPD and CDU in Hesse tend to blame their parties’ coalition in Berlin for their regional decline.

CSU gets voters’ message, distances itself a bit from AfD

Meanwhile back in Bavaria, voters’ have seen an impact from the election there two weeks earlier. Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer’s domestic security minister, Hans-Georg Maassen, had already been reassigned for denying that fascists beat immigrants in Chemnitz, adding to his history of far-right sympathies. Then on Nov. 5, Seehofer suspended Maassen for saying there is a “radical leftist” element in the SPD. Seehofer had heard voters’ message: Moderate CSU rhetoric — or find no coalition chair to sit in when we stop the music.

Predictably, the AfD defended Maassen’s red-baiting, as they did his Chemnitz-denial. AfD’s message boils down to: “If you coalition with Commies, why not Nazis?” For now, this further isolates the AfD from governmental power. In parliament, all other parties reject its vision of Germany overrun by immigrants. Not that all these agree — a Die Linke speaker in parliament said the governing coalition has prepared the way for the rise of the AfD. The AfD remains a real threat.

International fight over an AfD speaker

Recently, AfD leader Alice Weidel turned down an invitation to speak at a University of Oxford debating society in London — after a mass mobilization campaign sprang up against her, including over 250 Oxford students from Germany who signed a petition against her.

Weidel, unlike Richard Spencer in the US, withdrew without a fight partly because the AfD wants acceptance as a governing coalition partner. Yet the AfD want to keep their appeal to voters who include a Nazi element.

Left and movements still contend with “centrist hammerlock”

I interviewed a leftist activist in Germany for this article. He described a “centrist hammerlock” on German politics. Voters desert the parties of the “center” represented by the national Grand Coalition government of CDU and SPD. These voters go either to the Greens, far left (Die Linke), far right (AfD), or business-conservative (FDP). But center coalitions reassemble as the Greens, SPD and CDU, and possibly the FDP maintain or form coalitions.

Some members of both Die Linke and AfD want above all to make their parties centrist enough to be seen as regierungsfähig (“capable of governing”) in the eyes of voters and potential partners.

These center realignments ignore what the interviewed activist identifies as the elephant in the room: growing income and wealth inequality in Germany. Sahra Wagenknecht of Die Linke and Aufstehen could be describing my city, Detroit, in pointing to Germans who need three jobs to survive.

The Greens’ compromises blunt, for example, the political impact of environmental mobilizations such as the heroic direct action to save the Hambach forest from coal development. An International Viewpoint article on that struggle is here

As in the US, falling unemployment but rising oppression

German unemployment is at its lowest since reunification. But as in the US, that is a poor indicator of wages and job security. The AfD uses this demagogically with workers. The Greens seem too taken with electoral success and the SPD too depressed at electoral failure, and both of them too enmeshed in coalitions with conservatives, to take on inequality. A Green leader proposed a guaranteed monthly income without a work requirement, but coalition partners quickly opposed that.

An overwhelmed NGO national food charity excluded immigrants in one city. The NGO’s national leadership acknowledged that this was wrong, but asked why a country as rich as Germany has so many in food lines. Even the national ARD news service headlines an article called “The Unfair Republic Favors the Rich and Disadvantages the Poor”.

Die Linke and the rest of the far left have not yet found a hearing for their answer to this.

“Your luxury is our poverty” Photo: dpa