The far-right threat that looms in Brazil

October 12, 2018

The far-right Jair Bolsonaro came to the verge of winning power after a strong showing in Brazil’s presidential election last weekend, but he will face the candidate of the Workers’ Party in an October 28 runoff. Below, Todd Chretien provides an analysis of the first-round result as an introduction to a statement by Resistência, a revolutionary socialist current within the Party for Socialism and Freedom. The statement analyzes the Bolsonaro threat and argues for the need to build social and class struggle as the best defense against the rise of the neo-fascist right. The statement was originally published at Esquerda Online and translated into English by Susan Carroll.

FAR-RIGHT presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro won a shocking 46 percent of the vote in the first round of Brazil’s elections on October 7, setting up a runoff with second-place finisher Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT), which will take place on October 28.

Bolsonaro’s meteoric rise represents a dramatic lurch to the right in national politics. He won almost twice as many votes as opinion polls suggested he would just two months ago.

Like Donald Trump, Bolsonaro is a racist, homophobic and anti-democratic provocateur whose victory will embolden most treacherous elements of Brazilian society. During his years in Congress, he took pride in his litany of vile attacks. He once threatened a federal deputy of the PT, Maria de Rósario, saying she was “not worthy of being raped,” and he openly opposes equal wages for women.

Jair Bolsonaro
Jair Bolsonaro

A former captain in the military reserves, Bolsonaro has repeatedly praised the ruthless military dictatorship that ruled Brazil for two decades until 1985. He even dedicated his vote in favor of impeaching the former PT President Dilma Rousseff to the infamous Col. Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, who headed the military torture unit that brutalized tens of thousands of left-wing activists, including Rousseff herself.

In 2011, he claimed that he “could not love a gay son,” and he constantly disparages same-sex marriage, abortion and immigrants.

Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) catapulted from the extreme edge of Brazil’s political spectrum, going from just one seat in the national legislature to 52 seats as a result of the October 7 elections. It is the second-biggest party, just behind the PT with 55 seats.

Worse, the PSL has begun amassing supporters in the military and police, as well as in far-right militias that often include active-duty police and soldiers and act with impunity. These groups are widely believed to be involved in the assassination of Rio de Janeiro City Councilor Marielle Franco of the Party for Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) in March 2018. No one has ever been held accountable for this crime.

Bolsonaro’s path to power was paved by a coordinated right-wing offensive, backed by the Brazilian bourgeoisie, state bureaucracy and military.

It began with Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016, gained steam with a string of murders of left-wing activists and culminated with the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on trumped-up charges.

Despite bureaucratization and corruption in the Workers’ Party, Lula consistently ranked high, if not first, in opinion polls, and may well have defeated Bolsonaro handily. Lula pledged to run for president even after he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but the Supreme Court barred him from the race just weeks ago.

Lula then anointed Haddad, a former Education Minister, to be the PT’s standard-bearer in a last-ditch effort to carry the party into the second round of voting against Bolsonaro.

Meanwhile, to the left of the Workers’ Party, several candidates polled a combined 2 percent, demonstrating the balance of forces at the national level.

The most dynamic of these campaigns was the Party for Socialism and Freedom initiative, headed by Guilherme Boulos, a leader in the Homeless Workers Movement, and Sônia Guajajara, a leading Indigenous and environmental activist.

Although polling less than 1 percent, or 617,000 votes, in the presidential election, PSOL candidates fared better down the ballot, winning more than two dozen federal and state legislative positions under Brazil’s proportional representation system.

After years of fragmentation, this vote demonstrates the potential to give a radical voice to Brazil’s still-powerful union movement and an increasingly assertive range of social movements, including a feminist movement that mobilized hundreds of thousands in the streets against Bolsonaro last week, an anti-racist movement that could upend Bolsonaro’s offensive and a powerful LGBTQI movement that exhibited its strength in the wake of Marielle Franco’s assassination.

But in the coming weeks, the top priority will be defeating Bolsonaro by taking to the streets and getting out the vote for Haddad — even by those who remain critical of the Workers’ Party.

Statement from Resistência

The first round of elections is over. While the results are still be tabulated, Jair Bolsonaro of the PSL is in first place and Fernando Haddad of the PT is in second. Bolsonaro narrowly missed winning enough votes for an outright victory in the first round.

Now there will be a faceoff in the second round, with a far-right neofascist candidate on one side and, on the other, a candidate that represents Lula’s legacy. This is a battle in which neutrality is not an option. The socialist left can only take one side in this fight: the side that aims to defeat the neofascist threat in the second round of elections.

We must make an accurate assessment of what is at stake. Danger is knocking on our door.

Bolsonaro’s ascendency to the presidency means the victory of the most barbaric projects of capitalist oppression and exploitation in Brazil.

Bolsonaro in power means that the fundamental rights of working-class people — both social and labor rights, such as retirement and the traditional year-end bonuses — will be guillotined, and conservative President Michel Temer’s neoliberal counterreforms will be radicalized.

Bolsonaro in power means escalating threats to the lives of women, Black people, LGBT people, Indigenous people and immigrants — and an unprecedented acceleration of extermination campaigns against Black and poor populations of our country.

Bolsonaro in power means an imminent danger for already meager democratic guarantees, particularly for left-wing political organizations, unions and social movements.

Bolsanaro in power means a return to nostalgia for the former military dictators, and it means conspirators and torturers in command of the government.

Bolsonaro speaks out against corruption to win votes, but his main supporters are corrupt politicians and big businessmen. The old snakes who ran the centrist Social Democracy Party (PSDB) or took advantage of the PT governments are now embracing their new commander.

Bolsonaro’s mission is to do what Temer failed to do — that is, to completely liquidate the rights of workers. He wants to impose an authoritarian regime to crush any attempts to resist. In short, Bolsonaro is a captain at the service of the bankers and the corrupt in order to massacre the working class.

For all these reasons and more, we say: No to Bolsonaro! Not him! Never again to the dictatorship! We will defend our rights!

The women who took to the streets on September 29 led the way. We are the majority. The working class and the oppressed are a giant. We can still defeat neofascism in the streets, and defeat its main representative at the ballot box. We will vote for Fernando Haddad in the second round to prevent Jair Bolsonaro from becoming president.

We have, of course, significant differences with Lula’s party. We represented the left opposition during the 13 years the PT held the presidency [2003 to 2016] because, among other reasons, we opposed Lula’s strategy of conciliating to the rich, the powerful and the corrupt — the same people who led the coup in 2016.

Frustration and disillusionment on the part of Lula’s own supporters paved the way for Bolsonaro. Unfortunately, even now, the PT seems not to have learned the lessons. They insist on the same mistakes.

In these elections, the PT shored up alliances with people known to have participated in the coup, such as Renan Calheiros and Eunício de Oliveira, both of the Democratic Movement (MDB). In the first round of elections, Haddad appealed to the ruling class, suggesting that he would maintain agreement and programs based on Temer’s counterreforms, even if implementing them more gradually and softly.

We cautioned before the vote that in the current context of deep social and political crisis, with the far right influencing tens of millions of people, electoral con games like those pursued by the PT may have even more tragic consequences, opening the door, perhaps, for a new and more dangerous coup.

This grave error cannot be repeated. It is necessary that Haddad, in the second round, publicly pledge to the working class that he will revoke all of Temer’s reforms, that he will not support any reforms that repeal working-class rights, and that he will break all alliances with the right and the corrupt bourgeoisie.

Haddad must defend a program that includes reversing measures designed to speed privatization and increase repression, such as the anti-terrorism law sanctioned by Dilma Rousseff. Haddad must put an end to bailing out the banks must, and he must ensure the rights of women, Black people, LGBT people and Indigenous people.

And Haddad must open all state archives in order to expose the dictators and bring the torturers and murderers of the military regime to justice. They must not continue to enjoy impunity, using elections to come back to power.

An organized and mobilized working class has the power to undo the measures imposed by the parliamentary coup against Rousseff and defeat the far right. “Governability” must be guaranteed through our own force on the streets, and not through spurious deals with the corrupt and employer-controlled politicians who dominate the National Congress.

In the first round, we took pride in helping organize Guilherme Boulos and Sônia Guajarara’s campaign, backed by PSOL, the Communist Party, the Homeless Workers’ Movement and the Indigenous Peoples Articulation coalition. We put forward an anti-capitalist program for a Brazil by and for the workers, the oppressed and the youth, without any alliances with the right or the bourgeoisie. We fought, and will continue to fight, fascism with all of our strength.

The project of strengthening a new left alternative did not collapse on October 7. Based on the valuable experience we gained in our campaign-movement, we will continue the battle to reconfigure the left.

We are PSOL and we are for the construction of a socialist and revolutionary strategy for Brazil. We will vote for Haddad on October 28 to defeat Bolsonaro. We will take part in a militant campaign on the streets, sparing no efforts, speaking directly with workers, young people and the oppressed, not only to stop the neofascist far right’s victory, but also to build struggles that cannot be postponed until tomorrow, until after the elections.

We must hold our heads up and take our fight into the streets, factories, universities, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods. Defend our democratic liberties and our rights — we will defeat Bolsonaro!

On October 28, vote Haddad! No to Bolsonaro! #NotHim #EleNão. Never again to the dictatorship!

First published at Esquerda Online and translated into English by Susan Carroll.

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