Just a few days after Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in as Brazil’s new president, following his narrow victory over the far-right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil has been plunged into a continued political and social crisis.
Thousands of Bolsonaro’s supporters marched in Brasilia, the capital, and stormed the Congress, the Presidential Palace, and Supreme Court. For a time, they took control of these centres of power, although without any clear plan or objective. After some hours, they were ejected from these institutions.
This significant development is a pointer to the struggles which lie ahead in Brazil. The electoral defeat of Bolsonaro, as the CWI warned, does not mean either the end of him or the powerful far right-wing forces, including fascistic elements, encompassing his movement.
Lula won the election by the narrowest of margins. The right is the largest block in Congress. Twenty-one of twenty-seven governors is in the hands of the right. It was only in the northeast where Lula won a clear majority victory. Bolsonaro, despite leaving the country, and currently residing in Florida, like his buddy, Donald Trump, never has conceded defeat in the election. His supporters initiated roadblocks following the election throughout the country. Encampments of Bolsonaro’s supporters were set up outside military barracks demanding that the army intervene and carry through a military coup; a demand repeated by those who stormed government buildings.
These dramatic events are an anticipation of the upheavals to come under Lula’s government. The struggle against the far right in Brazil is far from over. Bolsonaro’s family is known as the “familícia” because of its proximity to the militias of Rio de Janeiro. These are armed gangs with a long history of increasingly close links with the police and the armed forces – forged largely around the sale of drugs. Under Bolsonaro, the militias were strengthened. He also encouraged the formation of CACs (‘collective shooters and hunters’ groups) and made arms sales to them much easier – to groups of “marksmen, hunters, and collectors”. Around 700,000 are organized in such groups – more than in the armed forces (360,000) or the police (406,000). Most are supporters of Bolsonaro.
Lula, hated by Bolsonaro supporters, put together a coalition of the PT (workers party), left parties, and sections of the ruling class and bourgeois parties. His government is divided and diverse. However, despite promising some reforms it is wedded to remaining within capitalism. Lula has pledged to “focus on attracting foreign investment” especially direct investment.
Arousing the opposition of the ruling class he has argued his government would use Petrobras, the state oil company, and the national development bank as engines of economic growth. Divisions are certain to rapidly open up in the new government. The right may block these measures. The PT remains distrusted and is tainted with massive corruption scandals.
Trying to prove its reliability for capitalism, Lula, in response to this crisis denounced the protestors as “fascist” and threatened them with a prosecution. At the same time, he has given the military free reign in Brasilia and called for calm. The military, with many links to Bolsonaro and the right, cannot be trusted. Rather than launch a call for mass protests and mobilization of the working class, the poor, and the mass of the population Lula and the PT simply called for calm! They do not want the masses on the streets.
Brazil faces massive social inequality and polarization. An estimated 33 million people face hunger and 125 million face varying degrees of food “insecurity”. Unlike the first term in office for Lula, when a massive boom in commodity prices took place, there was a certain room to introduce some reforms and give concessions. This option is far narrower today against the background of a global economic downturn and recession threatening in 2023.
The need to build a mass socialist alternative is more urgent than ever. Unfortunately, PSOL (The Socialism and Liberty Party) has mistakenly voted to allow its members to join the Lula government rather than oppose the far right and build an independent working-class socialist alternative. Unfortunately, it will now become trapped within a capitalist government. This will threaten the future of this party.
Explosive battles lie ahead in Brazil, as these events have already demonstrated. The need to rebuild a mass socialist alternative to confronting the far right is more urgent than ever. This is the road forward, not compromising and building alliances with the ruling class and capitalism.