May 29: Lula
2022 Campaign and the “Broad Front” in the Streets,
The Bourgeoisie in Deep Trouble Over COVID Catastrophe
Brazil: “Bolsonaro Out” Is Not Enough
for a Workers and Peasants Government!
Indigenous protesters in Brasilia call for "Out Bolsonaro!" in massive demonstrations on June 19.
All – For Workers Control of Public Health!
Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Revolutionary Party
The following article is translated from a June 18 supplement to Vanguarda Operária, newspaper of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has catastrophically increased the number of victims, now close to half a million dead, demonstrations against the bonapartist government of Jair Bolsonaro were held on Saturday, May 29 in more than 200 cities and 20 state capitals and the Federal District (Brasília). Those protests brought out more than 100,000 demonstrators centered on the call for the impeachment of the pandemic president with the slogan “Fora Bolsonaro!” (Bolsonaro out).
Endless posters, banners and flags called for acceleration of the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in Brazil. Many also demanded raising emergency aid to R$600 (US$117) a month. Other demands included defense of educational institutions, targeted by brutal cuts in the federal budget, and an end to police violence. The emblematic case of this plague was the massacre in the Jacarezinho favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro on May 6, where 28 people and one police officer were killed by police bullets.
The euphoric crowds that took to the streets on May 29, far larger than the numbers of Bolsonaro supporters who paraded on May 1 at Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, surprised not only the bonapartist government (of a military/police character) of Bolsonaro but also the organizers of the Brazil Popular Front and the People Without Fear Front. Everyone thought that the terror caused by the pandemic carnage, and the fear of losing their jobs, would intensify the #ficaemcasa (stay at home) appeals. It didn’t turn out that way.
The popular-frontist left just wanted a bland, amorphous movement. Nothing too radical that would scare off the right-wing “opposition” to Bolsonaro. Anything at all radical could get in the way of building the “Broad Front” that is forming with the appeals and coaxing from Lula (ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) in the context of the COVID-19 Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) led by the old fox, Senator Renan Calheiros. Now the labor federations, which were silent on May 29, along with the two popular fronts have called for a “Bolsonaro Out” day of protest on June 19, with the same insipid program.
On the streets on May 29, the mood was different. Aiming to get even, the “Bolsonaro Out” demonstrators hit the streets to contest the domination of the so-called “bolsominions” (Bolsonaro minions). But what the CPI masks is that the coronavirus pandemic is just one of the crises of capitalism. We can see how the bourgeoisie has been profiting greatly from this pandemic, first by brutally driving down the value of labor power. In Brazil, one of the worst minimum wages in the world was cut in half, as emergency aid of R$600 has now dropped to R$300. It’s an outrage, and it will be hard to contain the fury of the mobilized masses.
Not since Bolsonaro’s inauguration, and more precisely since the “#EleNão” (Not Him) protest of 29 September 2018, have demonstrations of such size been seen.1 However, as was the case then, it’s not enough to demand the removal of the COVID death president, and in particular to call for his impeachment by the Congress that in 2016 ousted President Dilma Rousseff. In order that the racist general Hamilton Mourão (the vice president) occupy the presidential chair? Or, if he too is impeached, new elections for this den of thieves and murderers that legalized slave labor?2 No, what we need is class struggle to overthrow this rotting system.
Whether it is Bolsonaro’s federal government, the state governments of the right-wing “opposition” or the popular front, all the capitalist governments have failed to protect the population from the deadly plague and the unemployment that has resulted. This is in stark contrast with tthe Chinese workers state which, while bureaucratically deformed, with its planned economy was able to contain the virus. The experience of the coronavirus pandemic proves that capitalism means death for millions around the world. We must fight for a workers and peasants government, as part of an international socialist revolution.
“Bolsonaro Out” Reflects the Needs of a Bourgeoisie in Deep Trouble
On June 12, Bonapartist President Jair Bolsonaro (centre) headed an ominous motorcycle in São Paulo organized by shooting and cycling clubs and members of the “bullet bench” of pro-police parliamentarians.
On March 8, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) approved the ruling by Justice Edson Fachin, which nullified the rigged trial of former president Lula. After being imprisoned for 580 days, the former metal workers leader and two-time president for the Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT) is now free and can again run for the Palácio do Planalto (Brazil’s White House). The 2016 indictment and his arrest two years later were intended to prevent him from being elected for a third term in 2018.3 Now his release opens the way for his candidacy for 2022, since Lula was always at the top of the electoral preferences in the polls.
It’s a turn of events that reflects the shifting interests of the bourgeoisie, which has been shaken by the COVID crisis. And not just in Brazil. The charges against the leader of the Workers Party were part of “Operation Lava Jato” (Operation Car Wash), in which Judge Sérgio Moro headed the “anti-corruption” offensive of U.S. imperialism aiming at privatization of the state-owned petroleum company Petrobras. The Democratic administration of Barack Obama (with Joe Biden as vice-president) thought that it no longer needed the services of the PT, which had governed the country since 2002 in the framework of a coalition with bourgeois parties, a “popular front.”
In fact, Lula has always placed himself at the service of the bourgeoisie. It was in 1989 that for the first time he formed the Brazil Popular Front with the long-since social-democratized Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) and the bourgeois Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB). (The following year the leaders pf the PT leaders in Volta Redonda, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, were expelled for refusing to support a popular front in the “Steel City.” In 1996, they formed the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, section of the League for the Fourth International.) At that time (1989-1992), as a consequence of the imperialist-led counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union and the bureaucratically deformed workers states of Eastern Europe, U.S. rulers proclaimed a “New World Order,” inaugurated with a bloodbath in Iraq (the 1991 Gulf War) with a toll of more than 100,000 dead.
Ten years later, in 2002, Lula again ran for president heading a new popular front, this time with the Liberal Party of textile entrepreneur José Alencar. As proof of his submission to the dictates of Washington, the PT leader wrote a Letter to the Brazilian People (in reality to Wall Street investors) in which he promised to pay the foreign debt. He then served as sheriff in the Caribbean for the U.S. government by occupying the black republic of Haiti (with Brazilian soldiers in U.N. blue helmets). When the bourgeoisie needed to pull him out of the game, Lula accepted his arrest, limiting “resistance” to legal defense. And now that the bourgeoisie needs his services again, he is offering himself as the candidate of a “broad front” with those that only yesterday he denounced as “coup plotters.”
The “New Order” withered and died in the devastating crisis of 2007-2008, but the PT remained. The capitalist governments of the PT-led popular front served imperialism and the national bourgeoisie by stifling protests from below, just as other populist governments of the “pink wave” in South America did, or Syriza in Greece. With leftist rhetoric, many applied “neoliberal” policies as previous governments did. Soon the “popular” regimes were replaced by rightists, in Brazil by the would-be Bonaparte Bolsonaro. With Donald Trump in the White House, the retired captain rules with generals and admirals nostalgic for the military dictatorship. Together with Congress, they approved almost all the anti-worker “reforms” that PT governments were unable to impose.
However, the hard core of the bourgeoisie, the centrão (the “broad center” of the traditional right-wing parties) led by the PSDB,4 was defeated four times in a row by the PT and its Brazil Popular Front. Recall that the PT and its administrations did nothing more than give a left gloss to the “social” programs of FHC and his gang. The Bolsa Família,5for example, is a program that didn’t even originate in the PSDB; it was the intellectual brainchild of the American ultra-right-wing economist, the neoliberal Milton Friedman, according to whom one should give the hungry something to eat while slashing programs that entitled working people in general to certain rights. Since the right wing failed to win by the vote, the owners of Brazilian capital had Rousseff removed, Lula imprisoned and beginning in 2014 they launched a “Fora PT!” (PT Out) campaign in the mass media, led by the Globo TV Network. To finish the job, they plucked Bolsonaro from the catacombs.
For seven years now, the Brazil Popular Front and its components have faced one brutal attack after another, subjecting PT leaders to public execration. Its pallid reforms vanished like ice cream in the sun. Under the Bolsonaro government, the price of gasoline and fuel in general, including cooking gas, skyrocketed, pushing the overall cost of living into the clouds. Millions of people were left jobless, homeless and landless. As if all this were not enough, unemployment produced millions of starving people and a mountain of dead, devoured like flies by COVID-19, which was criminally denied by Bolsonaro. Now it is revealed in the CPI, which hundreds of thousands are following live on Senate TV, that the denialist government was offered, but refused to buy, 70 million doses of vaccines against COVID-19 from the Pfizer pharmaceutical company.
But Bolsonaro’s management of the COVID crisis has been so chaotic that the Brazilian bourgeoisie has had enough of the comic opera bonapartist who is impeding economic recovery and may provoke an explosion of popular protest. May 29 indicates that the masses are beginning to overcome fear, and consider the virus less deadly than the government. The ruling class again needs a guarantor of the capitalist order, which could be the Lula 22 candidacy. As Leon Trotsky, Lenin’s partner in the 1917 October Revolution and founder of the Red Army, wrote in the Transitional Program (the founding document of the Fourth International), “‘People’s Fronts’ on the one hand – fascism on the other: these are the last political resources of imperialism in the struggle against the proletarian revolution.” The capitalist hard core feels it must act preemptively, and soon.
COVID Parliamentary Inquiry, Just Another Maneuver – Fight for Revolution!
Mass burial site for COVID-19 victims in Manaus. The Amazon city was the hardest hit in the country, with an estimated 76% of the population infected with the coronavirus until last December. Then came a third wave of pandemic, and thousands more died there. Thus revealed as a lie the claim of Bolsonaro that “herd immunity” would prevent the pandemic.
The new soap opera that has the population mesmerized is the COVID-19 CPI. It only gives proof of what everyone already knew, although there are always new revelations. The rapporteur Calheiros is undoubtedly the master of political maneuvering, with a graduate degree in juggling. As president of the Senate at the time of Rousseff’s impeachment, after holding back as long as he could, when finance capital said it had had enough of Lula and Rousseff’s PT, Calheiros did not hesitate to strike the right blow at the right time and place. Now, in the pandemic hour, he is trying to build a national salvation movement, like Diretas Já,6 to eject Bolsonaro by impeachment.
But there will not be a second edition of Diretas Já. At the time (1984), the movement in favor of democratic elections for the presidency of the republic crystallized opposition to the military dictatorship. It gave rise to large rallies of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators and managed to subordinate the militant metal workers’ unions to a bourgeois leadership (of the Brazilian Democratic Movement). In this way it prevented the struggle to bring down the dictatorship from leading to a revolution. However, the current crisis is much deeper – it precedes the pandemic and the Bolsonaro government. The onslaught of privatization, militarization and attacks on workers cannot be solved by “democratic” reforms within the bourgeois regime.
The current process of privatizing the state-owned power company Eletrobras, the largest electricity generating company in Latin America, as well as the preparations to hand over Petrobras to imperialist investors, is not simply a policy choice by Bolsonaro and his minister of the economy, the Chicago boy Paulo Guedes, a disciple of the father of neoliberalism Milton Friedman and admirer of the Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile (which Friedman advised). The privatizations, together with “reforms” to social security, public health, education and labor laws, are a reflection of decaying capitalism and falling profit rates. They are a matter of the survival of this system of exploitation and oppression.
We have not forgotten that the previous popular-front governments initiated many of these attacks on workers – and also the extreme militarization of the country, with the formation of the National Security Force by Lula and military occupation of the favelas of Rio at the time of the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016) by Dilma. But the PT failed to impose most of the anti-worker “reforms.” That’s why the bourgeoisie ordered her impeachment and his arrest.7 Now freed, Lula advocates the privatization of Eletrobras and Caixa Economica Federal, by converting them into mixed capital companies, like Petrobras. Simultaneously he is seeking to collaborate with the “coup plotters,” from Rodrigo Maia to Eduardo Paes. And in this he is accompanied by the former spokesmen of the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), Guilherme Boulos and Marcelo Freixo.
We now know with an abundance of evidence that none of the left forces, much less the PT, nor the union leaderships have the slightest intention of breaking bourgeois institutionality. On the contrary, they all are looking to the 2022 elections. While in the streets people are shouting “Bolsonaro Out,” the left is moving in the other direction and trying to build a broad front, a new version of the popular front. As the pieces begin to move on the electoral chessboard, the PT and PCdoB are calling on the PSDB, MDB, PSB and PSD and others from the center and even the extreme right (DEM) to join the horse-trading.8 The PSOL, which is a small break-off from the PT, calls for “unity of the left” with a “ongoing dialogue roundtable,” and the PCO,9 with its one-note song, shouts “Lula presidente.” What does this all add up to if not the formation of a bourgeois broad front?
Within the PSOL, a multitude of internal currents have already indicated that they would vote for Lula in 2022, either in the first round or the second round of voting, or they want him to put together a “single left front.” A smaller current, Esquerda Marxista (EM – Marxist Left),10 has positioned itself to the left and mildly criticizes Lula (for not showing up on May 29), but insists, like all the other currents, on the slogan of “Bolsonaro Out.” It brags that it was “the first organization in the country in 2019 to raise the slogan Fora Bolsonaro, against all the left-wing organizations that were trying to boycott it.” However, today “Fora Bolsonaro” is the cry of almost the entire left and even large sectors of the bourgeoisie.
EM insisted for a long time that “Bolsonaro Out” should be the only slogan, without additives, that “Only the working class and the youth can consistently lead the struggle for ‘Fora Bolsonaro’.” But now that the slogan has “taken the streets,” EM switched gears and is now calling for “Down with Bolsonaro! For a Workers Government Without Bosses or Generals!” However, even as reworded and “putting an accent on the second part” of the slogan, these would-be Trotskyists march with banners of “Bolsonaro Out,” the slogan of all the popular-frontists, which opens the gate to another bourgeois government.
A bit to the left of Esquerda Marxista’s shame-faced popular-frontists, is another current that claims to be Trotskyist, the Movimiento Revolucionário de Trabalhadores (MRT, Revolutionary Workers Movement11), with its “virtual newspaper” Esquerda Diário (Left Daily), which is now calling for the slogan “Bolsonaro, Mourão and the Military Out.” The MRT criticizes the “group of parties that present themselves as left alternatives to the PT (PSOL, PSTU, PCB, UP and PCO)12 for centering their politics around the impeachment of Bolsonaro.” It also criticizes the different components of the PSOL for their orientation to a broad front around Lula. However, the MRT does not criticize the popular-frontism of the reformist PT and PSOL left as such. Instead, it proposes other kinds of fronts, and above all, its “alternative” program is always (bourgeois) “democratic.”
The MRT calls, “against the policy of adaptation of the left to the coup political regime,” for “the policy of a Free and Sovereign Constituent Assembly, imposed by mobilization, which will discuss the major problems of the country.” The constituent assembly is the favorite slogan of the Trotskyist Fraction in almost every country and at all times. However, such an assembly would be a bourgeois institution, being held within the framework of the capitalist state. Such was the National Constituent Assembly of 1987-88 in Brazil, “imposed by the mobilization” of “Diretas já.” Trotskyist revolutionaries would have intervened in this mobilization against the dictatorship, even advocating the slogan of a revolutionary constituent assembly, but with the main call to fight for a revolutionary workers and peasants government.
Even if one adds a mention of “moving towards a government of the working people that breaks with capitalism,” what the MRT proposes is a stageist scheme, in which the first stage would be the constituent assembly (democracy).13 As for the “government of the working people” (as the PT calls its bourgeois popular-front governments), these would-be Trotskyists do not insist that this government can only be based on organs of workers power – soviets. For Trotsky, on the contrary, “The slogan, ‘workers and peasants government,’ is thus acceptable to us only in the sense that it had in 1917 with the Bolsheviks,” that is, as “a popular designation for the already established dictatorship of the proletariat” (Transitional Program). Furthermore, the idea that the expropriation of the bourgeoisie would be resolved in an assembly that “discusses the major problems of the country” with representatives of the PSDB or DEM is absurd.
In the more than half a century since the Cuban Revolution, the bourgeois rulers of Brazil have alternated in power between military dictatorship and democracy by popular vote. With the end of the USSR, imperialist capitalism imagines itself the master of the world and financial capital wages its Game of Thrones-like infighting with abandon. Imperialism has multiple masks. Now it adorns itself with the woman’s face of a Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel, now with the black face of Obama or the whacked-out Trump, or the swashbuckling Captain Bolsonaro. Capitalism wages both hot and cold wars. Recall World Wars I and II, and we cannot rule out that a dynamic may already be underway pointing to a World War III, this time primarily targeting the deformed workers state of China. As necessary, the capitalists when in trouble dress up as democracy, military dictatorship, popular front, or as bonapartists with militias and pastors.14 Whatever: anything goes!
We recall the “Ficha Limpa”15 (Clean Record) campaign, which the PT embraced, ending up being the main one devoured by it, via the Lava Jato Operation.16 Today we observe in the pseudo-left the search for institutionality through the CPI of COVID-19, and a discourse on morality. Recall that before he came up with the plan for the PT to join the neoliberal rich man’s club, Lula said that in Congress “there are more than 300 picaretas” (crooks). Clearly he was right about thatdvlknfdasdkfm But one point he really screwed up on: capitalism itself, anywhere in the world, is the main generator and source of corruption. Whether the PT, PSDB, DEM or MDB are the managers of the bourgeois state, they cannot survive without maintaining this rotten system. We can only end corruption if we put an end to capitalism!
After months of paralysis due to the terror spread among the masses by the terrible COVID-19 deaths, it is quite possible that there will be an awakening of the fighting spirit of the masses. We will soon see. However, in order to be able to break the infernal cycle of military/police-type regimes and corrupt bourgeois democracies, to get out of the nightmare of the COVID pandemic and the pandemic of police terror, it is essential to break the “Bolsonaro Out” framework in order to attack the roots of these capitalist plagues, by fighting for a revolutionary workers and peasants government.
On this path, authentic Trotskyists call for a series of transitional demands that point to socialist revolution. In the municipal elections of November 2020, the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, section of the League for the Fourth International, the Class Struggle Committee, and the Union of the Working Class of Southern Rio de Janeiro State launched a Workers Power Candidacy Against Capitalist Rule,17 which demanded:
Against the contempt for the lives of workers and the poor in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: free, rapid COVID-19 tests for all. Today we add vaccines for all, now. Also: immediate expansion of the public health care system to provide high-quality hospital care to all the sick, under workers control and led by medical professionals.
Against poverty wages and insufficient welfare grants: a huge increase in the minimum wage (to more than R$ 4,200 monthly) and a sliding scale of wages adjusted by inflation.
Against the constant killings of the population (particularly those with black skin) by the police and the militias: Military Police, Military Firefighters, all armed agencies out of the slum districts, and police of all kinds out of the unions.
Against attempts to destroy public education: control of the schools by councils of teachers, students, parents and school workers, under union leadership.
Against privatizations: full state ownership of the oil and energy industry and the imposition by the workers of workers control of production, to sell gas to the population at R$1 per liter.
Against the harassment of the superexploited immigrant population: full citizenship rights for all immigrants, and against all Brazilian participation in imperialist aggressions and occupations (Haiti, Bolivia, Venezuela) that cause the flow of refugees.
Above all, the main task is the struggle to forge the nucleus of the Leninist and Trotskyist revolutionary workers party that must be built to lead the working class and all the oppressed. ■
- 1. See “Brazil Elections: For Workers Action Against the Election Fraud and the Militarist Danger,” The Internationalist No. 53, September-October 2018.
- 2. The 2017 “Labor Reform” declared that rural workers could be paid “in wages or reumuneration of any kind.” An accompanying bill specified that this “remuneration” could be food and housing, including in barracks. The government then cut the budget of the Labor Ministry agency investigating slave labor in half. Under Bolsonaro, the Labor Ministry was abolished altogether, along with the National Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor.
- 3. See “Brazil Elections: For Workers Action Against the Election Fraud and the Militarist Danger,” in The Internationalist No. 53, September-October 2018.
- 4. Party of Brazilian Social Democracy, the main conservative party, of former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC).
- 5. Family Stipend, a social welfare program that provides small monthly payments (currently averaging US$50/month) to the poorest families. It was the PT’s expansion of the Bolsa Escolar (School Stipend) of Henrique Cardoso, and was financed by slashing health care and pension programs
- 6. Direct Vote Now, a mass movement against the military dictatorship of 1964-1985.
- 7. Brazil: No to Impeachment – For Workers Mobilization Against the Rightist Bourgeois Offensive – No Political Support to the Bourgeois Popular Front Government,” in The Internationalist No. 43, May-June 2016.
- 8.Party of Brazilian Social Democracy, see footnote 4. MDB: Brazilian Democratic Movement (formerly PMDB), heir to the opposition party tolerated by the military dictatorship, which is based on civil servants and provides the main bourgeois component (and greatest recipient of bribes) in popular-front governments. PSB: Brazilian Socialist Party, a bourgeois party whose main leader for many years was the cacique (political boss) of the Northeast, Miguel Arraes; a component of almost all popular-front governments. PSD: Social Democratic Party, composed mainly of defectors from other parties, until recently aligned with Bolsonaro. DEM: Democrats, formerly the Liberal Front Party, successor to ARENA (Aliança Renovadora Nacional), the official party of the military dictatorship.
- 9. Partido da Causa Operária, Workers Cause Party, which in the distant past originated in the tendency of Argentine “Trotskyist” Jorge Altamira.
- 10. Internationally affiliated with the International Marxist Tendency of Alan Wood.
- 11.Internationally affiliated with the “Trotskyist Faction”; in 2015 it sought to join the PSOL but was turned down.
- 12. United Socialist Workers Party, of the LIT (International Workers League), the main tendency of followers of the late Argentine pseudo-Trotskyist Nahuel Moreno. PCB: Brazilian Communist Party, a traditioinal Stalinist party. UP: Popular Unity, a reference to Salvador Allende’s Chilean popular front of the 1970s.
- 13. See “The Electoralist Campaigns of the Brazilian Left” in The Internationalist No. 53.
- 14. Bolsonaro and his family have close ties to drug-trafficking “militias” in the Rio slums and with powerful evangelical pastors.
- 15. The 2010 “Ficha Limpa” law calls for judicial panels to rule on the eligibility of all candidates to run for office based on whether they have been found guilty of corruption, even if their cases are still in the courts. This law (supported by the PT and PSOL and praised by the MRT as a “popular conquest”) was used to bar Lula from running in the 2018 elections.
- 16. Operation Car Wash, the judicial investigation of kickbacks on contracts of Petrobras, the semi-privatized Brazilian oil company which Wall Street has heavily invested in; the earliest cases involved payoffs at a car wash. The Lava Jato task force was headed by the judge Sérgio Moro, who then expanded its targets to include ex-president Lula, whom he convicted on bogus corruption charges unrelated to the original investigation.
- 17. See “Brazil: Workers Power Candidacy Against Capitalist Rule” in The Internationalist No. 61, September-October 2020.