Order Reigns in Rio
The footage speaks volumes. Middle class protesters, waving the flag of the Brazilian Republic and dressed in the national colours, cheered as truck loads of soldiers rolled through the streets. The soldiers wave - like an military parade of old, the army marching off to war.
These were the scenes in Rio de Janeiro following to the election of Jair Bolsonaro, candidate for the Social Liberal Party, to the position of the presidency. After a hard fought race between Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad, candidate for the Worker’s Party, the outspoken racist, sexial and arch-reactionary Bolsonaro rode a wave of popular anger to win by ten points, easily establishing his claim to power and jeopardising Brazilian democracy in the process. Many liberal outlets have professed shock at how a fascist movement could arrive at the gates of the second largest nation in the Western Hemisphere, while others have fallen into line supporting the new opportunities for business in a conservative-dominated Brazil. However, for the outside observer, it can be difficult to grasp both the seriousness and the danger of this current moment.
The Prelude: A Fledgling Democracy with a Fascist Past
Brazil is a relatively young democracy. Following decades of military dictatorship, where extreme repression and violence maintained a social order that served the capitalist elite in Brazil and their allies in Washington, Brazil slowly transitioned towards democracy in the 1980s. In the years that followed, the military - formerly the rulers of the country - have maintained a wary eye on the political landscape, and much like many other Latin American nations, serve as a powerful right-wing force in national political life - even in a nominally democratic state.
For much of its post-dictatorship history, Brazil has been ruled by the Worker’s Party (PT), firstly under the leadership of the beloved President Lula de Silva (a former radical factor worker), then by his successor Dilma Rousseff (a former guerilla fighter). The Worker’s Party, while it had its origins in radical movements for social transformation and in the Marxist guerilla movement, governed as a party of social democracy and development - hoping to use oil revenues to lift people out of poverty and develop Brazil into a internationally competitive economy, rather than pursuing a policy of social revolution.
This has earned the Worker’s Party criticism from its left, and several parties have formed from those in its base to challenge its dominance in the social movements - including the Party for Socialism and Freedom (PSoL). This came to a head when the Worker’s Party, feeling the pressures of global economic downturn in 2014, abandoned its opposition to certain key austerity measures, causing waves of working class rebellion against the party. Radicals argued that the party needed to move decisively against the capitalist class and the reactionary political parties to reorganise the economic and social order - or face an inevitable backlash from the right.
Despite these misgivings - and several uprisings against the PT government from the left - this period of increasing living standards for the poorest people in the country guaranteed some stability and a large base of support for the government. This began to shift when a major corruption scandal rocked the PT government of Dilma Rousseff: allegations that politicians from many political parties had been receiving kickbacks from various development projects funded by the state-owned oil company. While this process indicted much of the political establishment, the right was able to capitalise on the anti-corruption fervour, and soon masses of protesters filled the streets. The base of these protests, which were right wing from the outset and in some cases called for the intervention of the military and the United States, was primarily middle class and originated from Brazil’s privileged white communities.
What followed was a soft-coup, where Dilma Rousseff was impeached and Lula imprisoned. The government that followed, under Michel Temer (who many have compared to a vampire), quickly eroded the gains made under years of PT rule, and instituted a wave of austerity measures designed to crush the poor. This initiated a wave of strikes and demonstrations by the left.
The Rise of Bolsonaro
In this shadow of these chaotic times, the violence and militancy of the right grew. Killings by the police started to rise, including the gunning down of a local councillor, member of PSoL, and black lesbian militant Marielle Franco and her comrade Anderson Pedro Gomes in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year. This led to an outpouring of anger at her murder, but it only emboldened the fascist right-wing of the country, who saw the post-PT political landscape as ripe for the taking.
In the lead up to the elections, it soon became clear that the race was between the candidate of the Worker’s Party, Fernando Haddad and the radical right-wing congressman Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro was running on a platform of fascist authoritarianism, the purging of the country from communists and other leftists (so-called “Red Bandits”), social cleansing in working class communities, the privatisation of all public assets and the institution of a bloody “law and order” regime that he claimed would need to kill tens of thousands in order to restore social order.
This fascist politics was accompanied by many personal statements by the pig Bolsonaro, including homophobic threats, open anti-black racism, violent misogyny and his open glorification of the military dictatorship.
Despite his obvious disdain for democracy, Bolsonaro’s policies have been met with bashful support by the organs of the ruling class, who know that a violent fascist regime that promises to burn and level the Amazon rainforest and destroy indigenous sovereignty will greatly benefit their profits. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation twitter account even celebrated the rise of the fascist demagogue, saying that it could be a profitable time for the corporate masters of the imperialist, colonial state of Canada.
In the lead up to his election, the situation in Brazil became increasingly dangerous. Multiple violent assaults occurred on leftists and supporters of the PT, including attacks where fascists carved swastikas onto their victims. The Brazilian police, operating with military level equipment and often without any warrants or authorisation, have begun to raid universities, interrogating left-wing academics, pulling down anti-fascist posters and confiscating equipment, shutting down lectures and even destroying memorials to Marielle Franco and others murdered by fascism. This has been seen, rightly, as the first shot across the bow at the left, who have historically had a strong presence in the universities.
Now the elections are done. The evidence is clear - Bolsonaro was elected on a wave of anti-crime and anti-corruption sentiment amongst the middle classes of Brazil - the divides between the richest and poorest are nowhere starker than in their voting patterns. The situation now looks grim - as Bolsonaro and his crew of military men look to assume power.
Order Built on Sand
However, as with all oppressive regimes, resistance is building. The working class and oppressed people of Brazil have a strong history of struggle, and already there is talk of strikes and mass demonstrations to meet the new government.
A powerful movement led by women has already been building a feminist resistance to the rise of fascism, even in the period leading up to the election of Bolsonaro.
The Landless Workers Movement (MST), Brazil’s largest social movement that fights for land and freedom for the poorest of Brazil’s rural people, stated:
“The situation will be very difficult because it will further incentivise violence via paramilitaries, media attacks and the criminalisation of dissent.
We have resisted coups, dictatorial governments, neoliberal governments and, without doubt, we will resist a fascist government if it comes to power.
We will have to adapt our security measures and our strategy of continuing to occupy land, but at the same time we will continue to produce food while protecting life, the environment and the territories we have won through land reform.
We also hope to be able to count on a lot of solidarity from Latin America and the world.
I remember what the coup in Honduras in 2009 was like and a song that the Honduran resistance sang, which said: “They are afraid of us because we are not afraid.”
We are not afraid of confronting a fascist government.”
Meanwhile the group known as Brazilian Anarchist Coordination, has called for a general strike and generalised insurrection against any attempts to implement the agenda of the fascist ruling bloc.
It is important in times like this that we send our solidarity and support to our siblings in Brazil as they fight on another front in the global struggle against fascism. In times of a emboldened global right-wing, progressives need to stand together against fascism and dictatorship, and for democracy and social justice.
Anni McAllen is a latter-day Bolshevik, communist organiser, trans woman and mediocre blogger. She writes about political economy, revolution and queer, working class lives. You can read her work at Subterranean Fire and follow her on twitter @communa161.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons