The last days of one of the most turbulent election campaigns in recent Brazilian history are clearly showing the political polarisation in the country.
The far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, an ex-army captain, defender of the military dictatorship and its methods of torture and extermination of the Left, is still leading the polls with between 28% and 30%. However at the same time the levels of rejection of Bolsolaro are also huge. Between 42% and 46% of the electorate say they would not vote for him under any circumstances.
His electoral growth has served as a provocation for big sections of the population repelled by his right-wing, anti-working class policies and his misogynistic, racist, anti-LGBT rhetoric against the interests of the working class. His rejection ratings are 52% among women compared to 38% among men.
The risk of an electoral victory for Bolsonaro led to the growth of a massive campaign under the slogan of #EleNão (#NotHim). On 29 September, demonstrations took place around the country around this demand. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in all the state capital cities and thousands more in other municipalities. It is estimated that overall one million people, in their majority women, youth and workers, took to the streets.
The social base of Bolsonaro is mainly made up of older men from the middle classes and richer strata of society. His support is also mainly concentrated in the south and south-eastern regions of the country, where there is a bigger middle class. As well as among women, rejection of Bolsonaro is also very high among the poorest sectors (55% of those who make less than double the minimum wage) and in the north-east of the country where he is rejected by 61%.
On 6 September, when he was campaigning in Juiz de Fora (in Minas Gerais state), Bolsonaro was attacked with a knife in his stomach. The commotion generated by this attack helped Bolsonaro and had an impact on the dynamic in the polls. Bolsonaros enemies within the bourgeois camp had to hold back in their attacks and criticisms. Bolsonaro also used the attack as an alibi to not participate in debates with other candidates.
During this campaign, Bolsonaro has adopted a more explicit neoliberal rhetoric leaving his economic programme in the hands of an ultra-neoliberal banker/economist. Thus, Bolsonaro has distanced himself from a certain ‘strong state’ nationalism which was typical of a sector of the Brazilian military, including during the 1964-1985 dictatorship.
However, despite being a candidate backed by the rich, reactionary and a defender of deeply anti-people measures, Bolsonaro is still seen by a wide section of the population as an “outsider” in terms of the establishment. Despite having been an MP for 28 years, he has built an image of one who is outside the games of the professional politicians, big business and establishment media.
This “anti-system” profile is coupled with a radically anti-PT (former rulilng party of Lula and Dilma Rousseff), making a direct relationship between the “Left” and corruption, together with a moralist and anti-communist rhetoric. He adds to this an image of someone who will confront the problem of “security” with an iron fist. He uses corruption and violence, two real problems, to capture the electoral support of the middle classes which are more and more filled with fear and hatred.
The sentiment of opposition to the system has until now been predominantly captured by the Brazilian right-wing. This is mostly due to the limits and the slow pace of the process of building a new radical anti-capitalist and socialist Left. The camp of opposition to Bolsonaro is still dominated by the PT and the general Lulaist camp, which is characterised by the defence of class collaboration and institutional actions which are not differentiated from the rotten political system.
Fernando Haddad, Lula and the PT
In second place in the polls is the candidate of the PT, Fernando Haddad, ex-mayor of Sao Paolo and ex-Minister for education under Lula. He was presented as the PT candidate after Lula was blocked from standing by the judiciary. Lula remains imprisoned since April.
His conviction was processed in record time in a politically-motivated attempt to remove him from the electoral contest. In the latest polls which included his name he wins almost 40%. Haddad, who is presented as Lula’s candidate has jumped from nearly 2% in initial polls to 22% currently. This growth can only be explained by the support transferred to him by Lula.
The Sharp decline of the PT as a consequence of the corruption scandals and convictions linked to the “Lava Jato” (car wash) case, has been stalled and reversed among some sections of society. The main reason for this turnaround is the total disaster which the Temer government has been. Temer overthrew Dilma Rousseff in 2016 following a coup-style impeachment manoeuvre and has applied a tough programme of cuts and attacks to social rights in the context of deep recession.
The comparison between the terrible current situation with high unemployment, poverty and worsening living standards with the years of boom with Lula in power, when the commodities boom allowed for great economic growth in Brazil, allows Lula to win great popularity. On top of this, his persecution and imprisonment have reinforced his image as a martyr and people’s leader attacked by the elite.
The PT responded to the 2016 coup in a moderate way. They prioritised negotiation among the elite to try and recompose their support in congress and in the other institutions. Their attempts at resistance were very limited. They were dealing with great popular opposition to the austerity measures imposed by Dilma. But they also feared losing control of the situation. This has been their approach in both the struggle against impeachment and in the ‘Fora Temer’ movement against the new government’s attacks.
Still today, the PT approach is to struggle to convince the ruling class that the road of Bolsonaro is too risky for them. In fact, the Brazilian bourgeoisie did everything it could to establish a more trustworthy candidate more organically linked to the ruling class with a clear neoliberal programme: a form of Brazilian Macri (the Argentinian President). However, they failed in this project. Geraldo Alckmin from the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party – the traditional right-wing) currently has about 10% support in opinion polls, with only days to go.
If the current dynamic remains in place, we can expect a second round election run-off between Bolsonaro and Haddad. The PSDB, main party of the Brazilian capitalists, has lost the place of main opposition to the PT. Since 1994 all elections have been a direct dispute between the PT and PSDB. This time, the anti-PT elements are represented by Bolsonaro, who has attracted the big majority of PSDB voters.
Despite the “modern” conciliatory line of the PT, polarisation is becoming extreme. In this scenario, fighting Bolsonaro, who despite everything has a real chance of winning, will become the priority for millions of workers, women and youth. In this process, these sectors will become politicised and this will offer an opportunity for ever-greater numbers of workers to understand the limits of the PT and open up greater opportunities for a consequent socialist Left which is not soaked in class collaboration, to make big gains.
Boulos and Guajara campaign for PSOL
The campaign which is standing Guilherme Boulos, leader of the Movement of Homeless Workers (MTST) for President and Sonia Guajajara, indigenous people’s leader, for Vice-President, for PSOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty – in which LSR, CWI in Brazil, participates) in alliance with the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) and various social movements has helped to plant the seed of a Left alternative.
The campaign has involved thousands of activists and supporters of social movements, the women’s movement, youth movement, trade union movement etc. It has given visibility to a Left alternative to the PT and will help the process of re-organising the Brazilian Left in the next period.
The campaign has suffered from the enormous pressure for a pragmatic “useful vote”, or lesser-evilism, to defeat Bolsonaro. A big part of the potential vote for PSL has gone towards Haddad of the PT or even to Ciro Gomes, a capitalist ‘centre-left’ candidate from the PDT (Democratic Labour Party). The fear of a Bolsonaro victory has tended to outweigh the enormous sympathy which exists for the PSOL candidates.
Despite the probable lower-than-anticipated vote in the Presidential elections, PSOL may increase its presence in parliament both on national and state level. The party should come out of the campaign with a wider base and in better shape to rebuild the Brazilian Left while learning from mistakes and degeneration of the PT in the last period.
Only a few days from the voting, Brazil is passing through a period of extreme instability and volatility in the political and social spheres. Sudden changes can occur. However, this will be the scenario not only for the electoral process but also for the next period. The revolutionary socialist Left and the CWI in Brazil in particular, must prepare for the great battles which are approaching.