Will Lula Mount a Sufficient Challenge to Bolsonaro and the Far Right in Brazil?

Brazilians will vote in their first round of elections on Sunday. The results will be viewed around the globe. Jair Bolsonaro, the incumbent president, has seen his support drop amid a devastating coronavirus epidemic, rising inflation, food costs, and severe deforestation of the Amazon. His most recognized challenger is the former president and Workers’ Party leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Several representatives of Brazil’s capitalist class have embraced the Lula campaign amid the many crises facing Bolsonaro’s government. Among them are many leaders of the impeachment process (in reality, an institutional coup) against Dilma Rouseff, Lula’s successor. The largest party to the left of the Workers’ Party, the Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL), has also decided not to run its own presidential candidate and will instead support Lula in the first round. This despite Lula’s promise to maintain all the privatizations and labor reforms enacted under Bolsonaro. Yet there does exist an electoral force which maintains class independence and calls for the revocation of all Bolsonaro’s measures, the Socialist Revolutionary Pole (PSR). Left Voice spoke with Marcello Pablito and Maíra Machado, two members of the Revolutionary Workers’ Movement (MRT) party who are running for seats in the national legislature on the PSR slate.

Left Voice: How do you characterize the national situation in the midst of this year’s elections?

Marcello Pablito: This year’s elections in Brazil will take place in a deeply polarized political scenario. Jair Bolsonaro is the current president. He is a representative from the Brazilian extreme right wing, which detests women and Black people as well as the LGBTQ community. On the other side is Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, the former president and leader of the Workers’ Party (or PT). A highly anti-democratic Supreme Court ruling prevented Lula from running in the last elections. Lula, who is currently ahead of the polls in these elections, is running on a ticket alongside Geraldo Alckmin. Alckmin is a representative for Brazilian neoliberalism. It’s important to note that Bolsonaro came to power after the institutional coup of 2016, spearheaded by Congress and the judiciary. After approving measures such as a labor reform, welfare reform and the unrestricted outsourcing law, the same sectors that were in favor of the completely authoritarian measures that brought Bolsonaro to power are now standing against him and demagogically calling for “defense of democracy.” They are united with Bolsonaro, however, in their defense of all the ultraliberal and anti-worker economic measures of recent years.

Maíra Machado: Bolsonaro’s government was not only responsible for more than 700,000 deaths in Brazil during the pandemic but also brought more hunger, unemployment, and misery to a country that has been battered by economic crisis since 2013. The pandemic caused a worsening of all social indicators for poor people, who were also subjected to numerous economic austerity actions by the coup government led by Michel Temer and later by Bolsonaro. Brazil is suffering from a severe economic crisis due to the global inflationary crisis, the increase in food prices and the conflict in Ukraine. This directly impacts the Brazilian elections. Despite a partial recovery, the structural problem remains. This is felt by millions who work in low-paid jobs and are being affected by rising food prices. It is striking that Brazil is experiencing its lowest meat consumption since 1994. There are 33 million people who are hungry and 120 million people who are insecure about their food.

Lula, however, promises to bring back the country to its 2000s economic glory. It’s a total illusion in the face of the current economic projections. The situation is drastically different than when Lula took office. Two decades ago, the price of raw materials was high and there was an inflow of dollars into the country, due to both the growth of the Chinese economy — which has since slowed considerably and is now growing at its lowest level in 30 years — and investments from Western capital. Lula already warns that if he wins the elections “he will not be able to perform miracles,” a euphemism for continuing many of the same economic policies enacted since the 2016 coup, like the labor reform and social security reform, an agenda he shares with the liberal Right.

Why did MRT launch candidacies in this year’s MRT? How would you define the MRT’s main ideas and proposals?

Maíra Machado: We have decided to present our candidacies in order to promote a left-wing viewpoint across the country. We have been in the front lines of the struggle against the institutional coup, while always organizing independently of the Workers’ Party. Our candidates are running on a ticket of Socialist Revolutionary Pole. It is composed of several organizations from the Brazilian left such as the PSTU and the CST, as well as other left-wing activists. We’ve come together in these elections, alongside other left-wing allies and intellectuals, to advance our revolutionary and class independent positions.

Marcello Pablito: Both Maíra and I are running in the state of São Paulo but in other states we are putting forward the same proposals. Our comrades Flávia Valle in Minas Gerais, Carolina Cacau in Rio de Janeiro and Valéria Muller in Rio Grande do Sul, along with others, are standing as candidates in order to amplify the fight against Bolsonaro and the Right, and fight back against the labor reforms, privatizations, and other attacks on workers. As part of the Socialist Revolutionary Pole, which brings together various socialist organizations that defend class independence, we are calling for a vote for Vera Lucia of the PSTU for President and indigenous activist Raquel Tremembé for Vice President. We draw inspiration from the Workers’ Left Unity Front (known as the FIT-U) in Argentina, which won seats in Congress for our comrades Nicolas Del Caño, Myriam Bregman and Alejandro Vilca from our sister organization, the Socialist Workers’ Party (PTS). Like the FIT-U, we believe that the capitalists must pay for this crisis and we will use our candidacies to build the strength of the workers’ movement and the youth. In this sense, we intervened in these elections to prepare for the clashes which will inevitably occur in the next period. Lula and Alckmin will likely rule, but the extreme right will continue, despite the election results.

Maíra Machado: We have identified some aspects of a program we believe are necessary to address the current situation. It is one in which the Brazilian working classes (especially Black people, women, and LGBTQ people) is suffering greatly. More than 33,000,000 people are starving, millions are unable to work or are in precarious positions, and young people have less hope for a better future. Our program calls for the revocation of all counter-reforms since the institutional coup. This includes the labor reform and social security reform. Also, the spending cap on education and health must be removed. We are fed up with corporations and banks making profits while working people suffer. Our program calls for the non-payment fraud international debt. This fraudulent debt eats away at our education and health budgets in order to increase foreign capitalists profits. We demand a radical agrarian overhaul that challenges the power and causes of agribusiness and addresses the root causes of hunger. We support radical urban reforms that address the problems of housing costs and real-estate speculation. We demand that precarious jobs, Uberization, outsourcing, and other forms of urbanization be ended. We also demand the regularization and entitlements for all workers, gig workers included, including those who are employed as freelancers. This program cannot be implemented without an independent political organization of working class, based at the workplaces, schools, and universities. We continue to call on the National Union of Students, the union federations, and youth organizations, to break the paralysis, confront Bolsonaro, and to take action against the Right. The far Right will continue strengthening itself by waiting and channeling their money into elections. If we do not challenge them, they will win the streets.

Why is it important for candidates to be launched independent of the PT?

Maíra Machado: Many young workers and workers have a strong hatred for Bolsonaro’s extreme right and want it to be defeated. However, it is impossible to seriously confront Bolsonaro by by forming alliances with sectors of the right wing like former São Paolo governor Geraldo Alckmin (now running on a ticket with Lula) or former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso or institutions like the Supreme Court. These are the people and institutions that paved the way to Bolsonaro’s rise to power and support all his neoliberal attacks. We need a class-independent program to unify workers against big business, the banks, in order to seriously confront the extreme right.

Just look at who Lula’s supporters are. Besides having Alckmin as his vice-president, who is a symbol of the neoliberal right-wing that repressed the teachers, subway workers, and university workers when he was governor, Lula has supporters like Fernando Henrique Cardoso who applied the austerity measures dictated by Washington in the 1990s and repressed the historic 1995 oil workers’ strike. Henrique Meirelles is also a former representative for international finance capital. Meirelles was Finance Minister under Michel Temer and stated recently that his support of the Lula-Alckmin ticket depends on their government maintaining labor reforms. Lula also received support from many leaders of Operation Carwash and the institutional coup against former President Dilma Rafaff.

The victory of the Lula-Alckmin ticket in these elections will not be the end of Bolsonaro’s legacy or the authoritarian political regime. Reactionary opposition will maintain at least 30-35% support throughout Brazil, and the military as well as the judiciary will continue playing key roles in Brazilian politics. It is enough to note that the Armed Forces recently was given the right of evaluating the election results. This is an extremely anti-democratic interference into the political process. As our historical tradition shows, strikes and mass mobilisations are the only way to defeat the extreme right. The Integralismo movement in Brazil, for example, was only defeated with a strong workers’ united front, with the Trotskyists organizing and uniting other forces of the Left in the famous battle of Praça da Sé in 1934.

What role does social movements like the black, indigenous and student movements play in defeating Bolsonaro as well as the far right?

Marcello Pablito: The misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric of Bolsonaro and the extreme Right serves to further subordinate oppressed people and to deepen the attacks against the entire working class, the women’s movement, the Black liberation movement, LGBTQ liberation movement and the youth. This rhetoric appeals to his social base which includes the most reactionary sections of society: agribusiness, the military and the evangelicals. It was not by chance that the symbol of Bolsonaro’s rise was the stabbing death of the Black capoeira master Moa do Katendê. A Black woman who was a domestic worker was also burned to death because she didn’t have enough money to purchase gas for her home.

It is a government that incites hatred against immigrants and humiliates Venezuelans trying to escape their country to live in Brazil. The murder of Moise Kagambe, a Congolese immigrant who went to collect unpaid wages, was a symbol of the hatred of this extreme right-wing. The far Right also targets women who are demonstrating for abortion rights. In addition to the barbaric killings of indigenous people, the quilombos also do this. [communities of the descendents of escaped slaves — Ed.] and activists for indigenous rights like Bruno Araújo Pereira and Don Phillips, who were killed after denouncing the brutal violence carried out by mining interests against native peoples.

What are the next steps following October? What steps are necessary to organize youth and working class for the next period?

Maíra Machado:The elections are a crucial moment in our struggle. They are a moment in which it’s possible to debate and to put forward political proposals with many more people than we can on a daily basis. That’s why we understand the elections as a space that we need to be in to strengthen the struggles of the working class, the poor, the youth, and all those who want to confront and defeat the extreme Right. We must be prepared for the possible attempts at austerity by a Lula or Alckmin government. Recent evidence in Chile showed that class conciliation only serves to strengthen the right wing. Lula and Alckmin have suggested a strategy of conciliation that will not solve the country’s structural problems. Lula has already stated that he will not revise the reforms implemented by the Bolsonaro, Temer and Bolsonaro governments. He also rejected the possibility that privatizations could be reversed. Only through struggle and organization can we secure our democratic rights as well as take on the structural issues of Brazilian capitalism.

The DSA is a United States law. Jacobin and other sections of the Left have defended Lula’s candidacy against Bolsonaro as an important step in defeating the extreme right. What is your opinion?

Maíra Machado: We have already said that various sections of the Brazilian political system are currently trying to channel all the dissatisfaction towards Bolsonaro to a path to class conciliation and neutralize any force to its left. It is regrettable to see that a large part of the Brazilian Left has disintegrated in coalitions built on class conciliation. A large portion of Brazil’s PSOL, which was founded on broad parties like Syriza and Podemos, has been programmatically disintegrated in the coalition of Geraldo Alckmin. As if all this wasn’t enough, the majority PSOL leadership have plunged the party in to a dead end, forming an alliance with Rede Sustentabilidade [the Sustainability Network party — Ed.], Marina Silva’s bourgeois party, which receives funding from the bank Itaú and is a fierce opponent of abortion rights. This turn to the right of the PSOL leadership led to the defection of major parliamentary figures from the party to the PT or the PSB (like the PSOL’s former leader Marcelo Freixo, who’s now in the same party as Alckmin), but also splits to the left, like an important group of activists and intellectuals. The PSOL has been a party that is detached from class struggle. It doesn’t have a vision for the working class as revolutionary subject and has a broad party concept that blurs the line between reform and revolution. Despite differences with the PSOL the crisis of New Anticapitalist Party in France sheds light upon the failure of the broad party vision. The PSOL crisis is an important aspect in the electoral scenario and an opportunity to the revolutionary

What would you have to say about American youth and workers, who have been awakening to the benefits of union activity and political activism in recent years?

Marcello Pablito:Brazil has been following with great enthusiasm the struggles in America against racism and for abortion rights. These mobilisations that took place in the heartland of global capitalism were for us very inspiring. We know that revolutions can turn into revolutions and defeat the most powerful bourgeoisie of the world. It is essential to have a revolutionary program and strategy that prepares for victory and builds a new future. We are encouraged by the new wave of American unionization struggles. These struggles link capitalist exploitation to patriarchal oppression. These open up space for the emergence of a new workers’ force in the heart of imperialism, which by taking political power into its hands, could open a new chapter in history, one free from all exploitation and oppression.

Translated by Paul Ginestà