Brazil: Analysing the Bolsonaro government

Almost 2 months since he came to power, Jair Bolsonaro has confirmed all the worst expectations in relation to his government.


He has waged war on the workers, the poor, women, black, indigenous and LGBT people. They are taking rights away, stamping on democratic freedoms, increasing violence, and handing over the country’s resources to the multinationals, worsening the conditions of the vast majority.  

The project for pension counter-reform presented by the government is the peak of this reactionary agenda. The approval of this law is the government’s most important immediate and strategic aim.   

Previous President, Michel Temer, did not manage to get that far. He was contained by the contradictions within his corrupt government of coup-plotters, but also by the pressure of the masses, for example through the April 2017 general strike.   

The situation today is not the same. The wealthy now have at their disposal a far-right government which is radically neo liberal and won an electoral mandate and has built a certain social base of support.

This is a rare opportunity for the elites and they don’t want to lose it. They will give everything.  To defeat this government we must understand where its social base comes from, examine its contradictions and work to expose them.

False “novelty” and contradictions
It is true that the electoral victory of Bolsonaro was marked by manoeuvres and repression, including the imprisonment of Lula, the candidate who was leading the polls and the main opposition to Bolsonaro. We also saw “fake news” on social media illegally financed, and the manipulation of the attack on Bolsonaro in Juiz de Fora. However, this doesn’t explain everything.

The social layer which is most consolidated in support of Bolsonaro is made up of mostly the reactionary elements of the middle classes, fed by the politics of hatred, violence and reactionary values – elitist, racist, sexist and LGBT-phobic etc.

However, the victory of Bolsonaro came about as a result of the broadening of his base of support, especially among sections of the poor population understandably dissatisfied with the situation in the country and who were attracted by the apparently “anti-system” profile of Bolsonaro.

The fall of the PSDB (traditional capitalist party) in the midst of the political crisis, made worse by its participation in the Temer government, allowed a reorganisation of the right wing on a more extremist basis. The political space of the PSDB was taken by Bolsonaro.

The same reorganisation did not take place on the Left which remained under the hegemony of Lula and the PT with its legacy of class collaboration and total adaptation to the political system.

The rhetoric of “change” with an anti PT anti Left emphasis, against corruption and defending an “iron fist” on public security, allowed Bolsonaro to grow and win the elections.

The vote for Bolsonaro was not a blank cheque for austerity

Bolsonaro did not wage his campaign based on the ultra neoliberal agenda of Paulo Guedes. He did not go into public rallies defending a minimum retirement age of 65, or the lowering of pensions and subsidies for widows. The vote for Bolsonaro was not necessarily a vote for the pension reform.

An important part of the reactionary agenda of Bolsonaro does not have popular support. Datafolha polls indicate that 60% of the population are against privatisations and 57% reject the labour reform, despite the campaign of lies that it will create jobs. As well as this, 66% disagree with the prioritisation of relations with the USA, which has been Bolsonaro’s policy.

In times of laws of political persecution against teachers 71% support political discussion in schools and 54% support sex education.

Bolsonaro’s victory provoked much confusion and a retreat in consciousness but this is not irreversible.

Bolsonaro’s full adoption of the ultra neoliberal programme of Paulo Guedes was fundamental to be able to convince the bankers and big businessmen in Brazil and internationally that his government would be a stable instrument of capital.

Bolonaro was not initially the “Plan A” of the most conscious sections of the Brazilian ruling class who have a more strategic vision and would prefer a less unstable and unpredictable candidate, one more organically of the ruling class.

However, none of the “sober” bourgeois candidates was able to get 57 million votes like Bolsonaro. The ruling class was able to adapt to this situation and try to take as much advantage as possible.

The expectations and illusions in Bolsonaro against corruption and for real changes, will not be sustained with an agenda of neoliberalism. They will clash with reality.

The rhythm of this process will depend on various political, economic and social factors, but mostly on the ability of the organised workers’ movement and all the oppressed to take the initiative.

This includes the reorganisation of the Left on a more combative, radical, anti-system basis rooted in the working class.

Corruption and a headache for the government

As a political phenomenon which arose without an organic link to bourgeois Brazilian politics, Bolsonaro-ism brings great instability and risks in government.

This was clear during the government’s first big and crisis which led to the fall of Minister, Gustavo Bebianno, who coordinated Bolsonaro’s election campaign and was the 4th most leading figure in government as Minister General Secretary to the Presidency.

The scandal of “orange” candidates of the PSL (Bolsonaro’s party) which were created to divert public money in Pernambuco provoked a clash between the clan of Bolsonaro and other opportunist politicians who are part of the government’s base of support.

The fall of Bebianno produced friction in the government’s parliamentary base of support. On the eve of the announcement of the pension reform (which will need a two thirds majority) Bolsonaro suffered his first defeat in Congress.

The government decree which restricts the ‘Law of Access to Information’ was defeated in a clear sign that the life of the government will not be so calm as it seemed.

The corruption scandals in the PSL go well beyond Bebianno. The Tourism Minister, Marcelo Álvaro Antônio, is being investigated for involvement in diverting resources from the PSL campaign in Minas Gerais state, in a case which even involves armed threats against the puppet candidates which were used by the party.

These scandals are only the tip of the iceberg. Even before the inauguration of Bolsonaro, there was the public case of Fabricio Queiroz, driver and security man in the office of then State MP Flavio Bolsonaro.

As well as the theft of public money, the case of Queiroz also exposed the relations between the Bolsonaro clan and the militias of Rio de Janeiro. Among those implicated in the scandal in the cabinet of Flavio Bolsonaro are the mother and wife of an ex-policeman who is a fugitive from justice due to his participation in the “Crime Office”, one of the most dangerous militias in Rio, connected to the barbaric murder of Marielle Franco, councillor of PSOL.

With Bolsonaro as President, a new layer of corrupt figures and people linked to the world of crime and militias rose to power. The new instability and explosiveness that this provokes will be seen more sharply in the future.

Careerists, corruption and right wing fundamentalists

Beyond the careerists and proto-fascist figures, like the sons of the President, and a new generation of career politicians who want to fill their pockets, the government is also made up of other groupings, in a mixture of forces which are not always compatible with eachother.

There is a more ideological wing made up of the disciples of the ex-astrologist Olavo de Carvalho and right wing religious fundamentalists. In this camp, for example are the Ministers for Education (Velez), Foreign relations (Araujo) and Families (Damares).

The Minister for the Environment, Ricardo Salles, is a mixture of right-wing ideologue and pragmatist in the service of profiteers who destroy the environment. Alongside him is the Minister for Agriculture, chosen by agro-business bosses, Tereza Cristina.

Though they may seem ridiculous, these sectors are very dangerous and are pushing forward attacks on women’s rights, LGBT people, black people, indigenous, peasants, students and teachers. As well as this is the absurd alignment of Brazil with the attacks of imperialism against Venezuela.

Guedes, Moro and the Generals

The most conscious representatives of big finance capital work through Paulo Guedes, the Super Minister of Finance. He is the key figure in the government. He is the bridge between the government and the banks and the guarantee that, despite the peculiarities, the Bolsonaro government can be trustworthy and useful for the big bourgeoisie.

If Guedes is not able to deliver what he promised to big capital, starting with the pension reform, his could lead to a new level of crisis and instability in the government which could bring about more divisions and difficulties.

The role of Sergio moro as Super Minister for Justice and Public Security is also vital for the government and interests of the ruling class.

The illusions that a big part of the population have in Sergio Moro as a judge who fought against corruption and crime – a totally false idea – helps to create expectations in the Bolsonaro government.

Moro ignoring the corruption scandals in the government and Bolsonaro family show, however, that these illusions cannot last long.

However, despite this, Moro has a significant task in relation to public security which was a key element in Bolsonaro’s campaign and a grave social problem. The so-called “anti crime” package defended by Moro would represent a big step backwards. It would, in line with Bolsonaro’s campaign promise, to give police licence to kill, worsening the extermination of the poor black youth.

The pretext of the fight against crime and organised crime can allow the government to militarise society even more and worsen the criminalisation of poverty and social movements.

Together with Paulo Guedes and Sergio Moro, the other element which gives a more solid base to the government is the wing of military chiefs who are gathered around Bolsonaro.

There are at least 46 soldiers in at least 21 different parts of Bolsonaro’s government. The hardcore of this military wing is made up of generals who work directly from the Presidential palace: Augusto Heleno, Hamilton Mourão, Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz and Eduardo Villas Bôas. To them we must now add general Floriano Peixoto Neto who replaced Bebianno as General Secretary to the Presidency.

Trained in Haiti

These generals all have in common their experience as commanders of UN troops in Haiti, where the Brazilian army was part of imperialism’s strangling of the popular rebellion in the country in the midst of social chaos.

Their presence in the government reflects the choice made by the upper army echelons in recent times to try to control Bolsonaro to try and avoid bigger crises and conflicts caused by the irresponsibility of the President and his allies.

This is what they tried to do in the Bebianno case, trying to maintain the Minister in place, avoid a crisis and diminish the influence of the President’s sons in the government. However, they failed in this.

In the event of a deeper crisis, which could result in difficulties for Bolsonaro to remain in office, the presence of General Mourao as Vice President serves as a guarantee that there is a right wing alternative even more reliable than Bolsonaro for the ruling class. This is the profile which Mourao is building.

Risks and a Left alternative

With all its problems, divisions and contradictions, the Bolsonaro government still has the strength to impose defeat and attacks on the Brazilian working class.

The most important and immediate task for the organised working class and all oppressed sectors is to organise resistance to the attacks of the government and its allies in the state and local governments.

However this task can only be done effectively id it is linked to the building of a Left alternative to the crisis.

In the event of a deeper crisis for the government, which could also result from working class resistance, we have already seen how the ruling class can build new alternatives within the reactionary camp, qualitatively increasing the Bonapartist and repressive elements which already exist in the situation.

Unity in action against the government must be complemented by the building of a new radical, combative, anti capitalist and socialist Left, built from below.

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March 2019