Capitalist Economic Crisis Behind the Rightist Offensive
Struggle Against the
Bonapartist Threat in Brazil
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in rightist protest against the popular-front government of Dilma Rousseff at the starting point of the rally in front of the headquarters of the São Paulo State Federation of Industry (FIESP) on the Avenida Paulista, São Paulo, March 13.
Translated from Vanguarda Operária No. 13 (May 2016) published by the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, Brazilian section of the League for the Fourth International.
In the present acute political crisis which is shaking the country, a string of explosive revelations, shifting parliamentary alliances, arbitrary actions by the repressive apparatus and huge street mobilizations are presented in the bourgeois media as a struggle over “corruption.” Yet the latter has been a constant in Brazilian capitalist politics for the last century, especially during the “democratic” periods. The idea that there is a moral “cleansing” underway among the rulers is an illusion and a pretext. In reality, there are three main elements of the crisis: first, a political struggle marking the end of the popular-front government that has been in office for the last 13 years; secondly, a blatant attempt by the judicial and police organs to free themselves of all civilian control on the road to an authoritarian regime; and third, underlying it all, the consequences of the world capitalist economic crisis.
The economic crisis of the capitalist system which exploded in 2007-2008 is the deepest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The falling rate of profit on productive investments led to a series of speculative “bubbles” which exploded, one after another. In the imperialist centers, a new depression (not a cyclical recession) broke out which will take years – probably more than a decade – to be overcome by the destruction of capital (either through bankruptcies or war) and heavy blows against the working class which in combination would restore the profitability of capital. As a result of the crisis, not only industrial workers but sectors of educated youth were suddenly thrown into unemployment. These were the ones who initiated the 2011 protests in North African countries (Tunisia, Egypt), which a few months later crossed the Mediterranean and appeared in the “movements of the squares” (the so-called Indignados, or “Outraged”) in Portugal, Spain, Greece and later in Turkey, and subsequently in the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States.
In the case of Brazil, after a year of an abrupt decline in economic activity followed by an equally rapid recovery, that depression wasn’t immediately felt due to the enormous expansion of raw materials exports to China, which as a deformed workers state with an economy still subject to (bureaucratic) planning was able to defend itself against the capitalist economic crisis. But little by little, with the declining economic growth in China, the effects of the crisis finally affected Brazil. This was seen in the explosive street protests in 2013, initiated by students in São Paulo and the South which later extended to broad layers of the workers and poor throughout the country. Now the addition of the steep fall in the price of oil has led to the biggest economic crisis in decades. The traditional bourgeoisie wants to throw the blame on the government of Dilma Rousseff. The Workers Party (PT), for its part, enlisted Lula to supposedly return to the golden years. But no politician and no policy can substantially alter the capitalist crisis. Only workers revolution offers a way out for the working people.
Throughout the world, the revolts of 2010-11 by the youth and other sectors hit by the crisis have achieved nothing. The bankers, who unleashed the collapse of the financial markets, came out ahead thanks to the trillions of dollars which were given too them for free by the imperialist governments and central banks. Meanwhile, the rest of the population (including important sectors of the previously well-off petty bourgeoisie) is suffering unemployment, many of them have already lost their homes, their retirement savings have gone up in smoke, etc. Due to the submission of the trade-union leaderships to the demands of capital, the workers movement either has not put up major resistance (in the case of the U.S.), or ended up capitulating after first initiating defensive protests without a perspective of defeating the capitalist offensive (workers struggles in Europe, or in Wisconsin in the U.S.). As a result of these defeats there arose a series of bourgeois populist electoral movements, like SYRIZA in Greece or the current candidacy of Bernie Sanders in the U.S. But populism cannot combat the capitalist system, and thus it leads again to defeat, forcing the masses to swallow the poison of “austerity,” as we saw with the spectacular about-turn by the Tsipras government in Athens last year.
Movements Evolving to the Far Right
The result of this panorama of defeats is the rise of a new wave of reactionary protests, expressed in support for fascist forces (the National Front in France) or violent racists (the Trump candidacy in the U.S.). In Brazil, the street protests over the last year have the same rightist character, resulting from the defeat of the struggles of the “hot winter” of 2013 and of the struggles against the World Cup (against repression, cutbacks in education, public health, etc.). But the current mobilizations have the specific character of being directed against the dying popular-front government, and its main force, the reformist PT of Lula and Dilma. The big rightist mobilization of March 13, although its main slogan was “against corruption” and while it came off peacefully, was marked by clear hatred against anything leftist.
Begun by the traditional conservative parties calling for the impeachment of Dilma, the marches have evolved in an authoritarian direction, with calls on the judges, the police and military to clean out the dens of corruption. In turn, this is the “popular” reflection of a sinister bonapartist revolt brewing in the repressive organs of power against civilian authority. The PT left (PT, PCdoB, PCO and smaller groups) has identified the offensive against President Dilma Rousseff as a “coup.” In itself, impeachment does not signify a break in the bourgeois democratic “order.” The impeachment of Fernando Collor (in 1992) was not a coup. However, in the last month things have changed: what was latent in the past is now dominating political developments. The order for the search, detention and “coercive transfer” of the ex-president to the Congonhas Airport to be interrogated by the Federal Police on March 4 was a notification on the part of the judicial and police apparatus that they were placing themselves above the representative and executive powers of the state.
If the repressive organs gain autonomy in order to effectively dominate a government, whether by a coup d’état or behind the façade of a “technical” or “transition” government, this would be de facto a bonapartist regime, a “state of exception” which is anti-democratic, even within the bourgeois framework. Not every popular front ends in a Pinochet-type coup d’état (Chile) or civil war (Spain). The twilight of Léon Blum’s popular front in the 1930s was marked by a succession of governments, first of the bourgeois sector of the front, the Radical Party, and later by increasingly rightist and authoritarian governments ending up with the French State of Marshal Pétain. As the Popular Front was decaying, despite its attacks on the workers, the Trotskyists called for workers resistance at every step of this downward spiral without giving support to any of the parties of this bourgeois alliance, including the SFIO (socialist) and PCF.
Beginning in March 2015, the PSDB (Party of Brazilian Social Democracy) of Geraldo Alckmin, Aécio Neves and José Serra began a series of large-scale mobilizations around the country in an offensive to bring down the government of Dilma and the popular front by parliamentary means. From the beginning, the marches have had a presence of fascist elements, who were also present in the 2013 protests without determining the character of those mobilizations. However, the March 13 march showed a notable evolution. In addition to the Nazi and monarchist elements, among the ordinary demonstrators the mobilization was one of praise for the “hero” judge Sérgio Moro, the theatrical director of Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), as the savior of the nation. There were cries of “Super-Moro,” t-shirts with the image of Moro, placards proclaiming “Moro: Pride of the Nation,” “Pride of Brazil,” etc. In Brasília there was an enormous banner saying “We Are Sérgio Moro.” In São Paulo and Goiânia and elsewhere there were identical printed banners with a photo of the judge saying, “We Are All Sérgio Moro,” followed by “Put Lula in Jail.”
Judge Moro, for his part, issued a declaration thanking people for the praise, highlighting the close collaboration of the Federal Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and saying that the politicians should listen to and obey this supposed “voice of the people.” The March 13 mobilizations calling for the impeachment of Dilma and the jailing of Lula brought over a million people into the streets, quite a bit less than the 4 million claimed by the organizers, but still a very large number. According to all reports and videos, the demonstrators were overwhelmingly white, with very few workers. Datafolha reported, based on a survey in Sao Paulo, that almost two thirds (63%) had incomes of more than five times the minimum wage: a well-to-do petty bourgeois and bourgeois crowd. Above all, its political purpose had little to do with a struggle against “corruption” but was rather aimed at throwing the PT out of the Palácio do Planalto (Brazil’s White House) before the next regular elections in 2018.
This is an inter-bourgeois dispute between the right-wing opposition and the governing popular front. We politically oppose both of the squabbling camps because there are capitalist forces carrying out anti-worker policies. The question of political corruption has always been a battle cry of ultra-rightist and fascist forces, as in the famous affaire Stavisky in France in the 1930s. At that level, revolutionaries are mainly interested in revealing the details of how capital gets the government to defend its interests, both individually and as a class. Whether it buys influence wholesale, as in the United States with its huge political action committees financed by big business, or at a retail level, as in Brazil, or even if the capitalist state finances electoral campaign costs, these are all are methods to guarantee that capital controls elections. We are against the impeachment of Dilma not because the president and her coalition are supposedly more progressive, but instead because it is above all a settling of accounts and political vengeance being pushed by reactionary forces whose victory would aggravate the attacks on democratic and trade-union rights of workers and the oppressed.
Interestingly, when the PSDB politicians Alckmin and Neves arrived at the demonstration where they expected to receive an enthusiastic greeting they were booed as “opportunists” and “assholes.” When the pair approached the tent of the Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL – Free Brazil Movement), people shouted out “you’re thieves, too.” And when instead of climbing atop the sound truck of the MBL they decided to leave, even then they were accompanied by shouts of “fora” (get out). The same happened with Serra of the PSDB and Marta Suplicy (currently of the PMDB, the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement, the main bourgeois component of the popular-front coalition government under Rousseff) during their lightning visits. On the other hand, the ultra-rightist DEM (“Democrats,” continuation of Arena, the political vehicle of the military junta that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985) is now formally participating in the leadership of the protests. Another confirmation that the “anti-corruption” commotion is evolving toward the far right were the many favorable references in interviews with demonstrators about Jair Messias Bolsonaro, the former parachutist congressman of the “bancada da bala” (the “bullet fraction” of parliament), notorious for his praise of the military dictatorship and torture, and for supporting the rape of congresswomen. A typical commentary by a businessman was, “There’s only Bolsonaro, but the Army would be better” (Folha de São Paulo, 14 March).
The MBL, the main organizer of the São Paulo protests, is part of the racist far right. It was founded by a group, Students for Freedom, financed by the Charles Koch Fund in the United States, which is also active in Venezuela and Ukraine. In the National Congress, on March 22, the spokesman for the “Democrats” asked that MBL coordinator Fernando Holiday speak on behalf of the DEM against the celebration of the International Day of Struggle for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which commemorates the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa on 21 March 1960. The MBL representative ripped up a piece of paper with the Hymn of Negritude, saying that it “belonged in the trash.” Last year,these on 15 March 2015, the calls for military intervention were so insistent and frequent that the MBL had to pretend to distance itself from them, and in fact they were less frequent this year. Which doesn’t mean that this scum changed their views, only that they know how to disguise them and that they have a new savior, Judge Moro (and his armed wing, the Federal Police). Even so, on March 13 in Rio there were banners like “Only a new military intervention can reestablish order, morality and dignity to the Brazilian people.’ Earlier, on March 4, the day of the temporary detention of Lula by the Federal Police, in the anti-PT march in São Paulo there was a banner “Federal Police, Pride of the Nation.”
Beyond that there is the noteworthy presence of the Military Police (PM) in support of the protests (to “monitor” them for their “protection”), its acts of solidarity with the demonstrators and vice-versa. On March 13 there was a photo of PMs ostentatiously saluting on the Avenida Paulista (São Paulo’s main business thoroughfare) while showing off their brand-new armored trucks imported from Israel. There was also a video of São Paulo military police saluting in support of the protests and being applauded by the demonstrators. It’s not only the Military Police. Another video of the same march shows representatives of the Federal Police (PF) speaking from a platform full of cops on Avenida Paulista, calling for “autonomy” for the PF vis à vis the government, a slogan which the crowd massively took up. On the same occasion, a policewoman explained in detail for more than five minutes the content of PEC (Draft Constitutional Amendment) 412 which calls for “autonomy [of the police] to investigate, without limitations, the corruption in the country.”
But they not only salute and whip up the public in support of the anti-Dilma protests, they also act against those who oppose impeachment. Two days before the mega-march in São Paulo, on March 11 according to a report on Telesur, Military Police armed with a machine gun and revolvers invaded an event supporting Lula in the hall of the Union of Metal Workers of Diadema in the ABC industrial area. And once again, on the night of March 21 at the Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo, when several hundred students made a counter-demonstration against a pro-impeachment protest, the PM intervened to protect the rightists. And when the leftist counter-demonstrators began to chant, “I want to end the Military Police,” the cops unleashed tear gas grenades, pepper gas and rubber bullets against the left-wing students (article in Folha de S. Paulo, 22 March).
Judicial/Police Action: A Bonapartist Offensive
Operation Car Wash is an investigation by the Federal Police which was later handed over to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office specializing in money laundering, dating back to 2009 and whose public phase began in March 2014. From the outset it has been a media production, with leaks to media eager for a scoop and dramatic made-for-TV police actions. In fact it resembles a telenovela (television soap opera), already in its 27th installment, each one baptized with a dramatic name. Its 24th installment, called Aletheia, began on March 4 at 5:50 a.m. when a caravan of Federal Police vehicles, armed with a “search and detention” order authorized by federal judge Sérgio Moro, entered the garage of the building where Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva lives in São Bernardo do Campo while others secured the perimeter. The ex-president was taken in “coercive transfer” to the Federal Police post at the Congonhas Airport to “make a deposition” (i.e., to be interrogated by the police).
The target was Lula. At the same time 43 other “search and detention” orders were executed against family members of officials of the Lula Institute. The accusations, as we have already indicated, were absurd, which he countered with documented proof and in any case are of little import, even according to bourgeois laws. The real crimes of Lula against the working people are different, and there are many, notably of chaining the workers to their capitalist class enemies through the popular front, to serve as a sheriff for Yankee imperialism in the Caribbean, providing mercenary troops for the occupation of Haiti, and then after ending his presidential period, turning into a kind of ambassador of the giant construction contractor Odebrecht, notorious for safety violations in its construction sites and “labor in conditions analogous to slavery” in one of its projects in Angola. But whether or not the ex-president and PT leader was guilty of any crime was not what the judicial and police authorities were interested in. Even though Judge Moro said later that he “didn’t anticipate guilt” (then why so much theater?), the clear objective was to produce the image of “prisoner Lula,” like the giant puppet-balloons of him in a prison uniform that floated above the March 13 demonstrations.
However, there are indications that in reality the intention went beyond that, to possibly arresting him and taking him as a prisoner to Curitiba (Moro’s set of operations), and that the rapid arrival of furious PTers around his house and the presence of hundreds protesting noisily in the airport convinced them not to try this. A video of the G1 chain (part of the Globo Network) shows a Brazilian air force plane ready to receive passengers parked just opposite the Federal Police post at the airport, which according to the journalist was totally cut off, with supporters of Judge Moro blocking the entrance. The next day, March 5, Judge Moro attacked the PT protests as “acts of violence.” On March 9, São Paulo state prosecutors denounced Lula on the same grounds cited by the Car Wash judge, and the next day they called for the ex-president to be placed under preventive arrest on the basis of their indictment. It’s notable that all this occurred after Lula declared that he would again be a candidate for the presidency in 2018. “Operation Aletheia” was a political show and a demonstration of repressive force.
If the temporary detention of Lula on March 4 was the prior notification, authorizing wiretaps by the Federal Police of conversations between the ex-president and the current president of the republic, and then publicizing the March 17 conversation these on the grounds of “public interest,” was the announcement by Judge Moro of the independence and supremacy of the judicial/police apparatus under his command. In just about every capitalist state, the actions of the super-judge, his prosecutorial task-force and the police would have led to loud calls to begin a process of removal of the judge and for the immediate firing of the head of the Federal Police and all those involved in the wiretapping. But Dilma did nothing, because she couldn’t, she has already lost a large part of her control over the machinery of state. Meanwhile, when the government announced it was looking for a new director of the Federal Police, and the new minister of justice who theoretically controls the PF announced that he would replace the entire team if there was an information leak (as there was in this case), a judge of the Superior Court of Justice gave him 72 hours to produce an explanation. And when Lula was indicated as chief of staff of the presidency, the Federal Supreme Court justice Gilmar Mendes, a political operator of the PSDB, suspended the action and sent the case to Car Wash judge Moro.
Evidently, the overbearing actions of the “Republic of Curitiba” have led to certain worries in the higher levels of power in Brasília. Marco Aurélio Mello of the Federal Supreme Court declared that wiretapping the Palácio do Planalto “harms the Constitution and constitutes an assault on national sovereignty.” The justice who is managing the Car Wash case in the high court instructed Judge Moro to send all relevant material about investigations involving Lula to the Supreme Court. Two weeks later, a plenary session of the Supreme Court upheld the decision and declared the recording and publication of conversations to be illegal, recalling the excesses of police and judges who carried out illegal bugging of telephones on the pretext that it was accidental. But while the justices in their black robes want to prettify the image of justice, the bonapartist impulse continues. The wheels of Operation Car Wash are spinning at top speed, as is the maneuvering in Congress. The indications of preparations for an anti-democratic “strong state” are in full view of all, and it will not be prevented by any kind of “democratic” struggle which is limited to the bounds of bourgeois domination.
In the face of the impeachment procedure already underway, the popular-front government is seeking to give evidence to the bourgeoisie of its reliability. Treasury Minister nelson barbosa announced new budgetary amendments, with more drastic cutbacks and a wage freeze for public workers, including a freeze of the minimum wage. Dilma announced in her “breakfast chat” at the beginning of the year in January that she would once again try to legislate pension “reform.” In February, the PT, PMDB and PSDB together voted in the Senate to approve the bill of José Serra which would eliminate the requirement for participation by Petrobras in the oil exploration in the pre-salt layer in the Atlantic, which will mean opening the huge oil reserve to the imperialist monopolies. And in March, Dilma signed the new “anti-terrorism” law. Even if the government is paralyzed in the face of the judiciary and the police, we can be sure that they are already preparing to use this draconian measure to smash any protest against cutbacks, reforms and privatizations.
We repeat: the struggle against corruption is only a pretext. In Brazil as in Europe and other parts of the world, the rightist and bonapartist offensive is a product of the economic crisis. Its main targets are the exploited and oppressed, and there is no solution to this crisis in the interest of the workers under capitalism. The rulers in Brazil are imposing the same policies as the European central bankers imposed on the Greek people, and that the International Monetary Fund demands of all the countries under its domination. They want unrestricted powers in order to smah any working-class resistance to the “emergency” measures they are preparing to impose, “to clean up the state and resolve the economic crisis” in the interests of capital. To fight this scourge, what’s needed is a powerful class struggle, led by a revolutionary workers party capable of mobilizing the power of the proletariat against the anti-working-class attacks coming from all wings of the bourgeoisie. ■