Cast a Blank
Ballot and Take to the Streets to Mobilize a
Class-Struggle Response to the Bourgeoisie
For Workers Action Against the
Election Fraud and the Militarist Danger
General strike against labor and social security reform, 28 April 2017, in São Paulo. Today we need strong workers’ actions against electoral fraud, the militarist drive and the attack on workers’ rights.
The following article is translated from Vanguarda
Operária No. 14, October-November 2018, published by the
Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, section of the
League for the Fourth International. In the first round of
the elections on October 7, the ultrarightist militarist
Jair Bolsonaro led with 46% of the votes, while Fernando
Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) was second with 29%, out of
a field of 13 candidates. The second round of voting, a
run-off between the two front-runners, was held on October
28, in which Bolsonaro won by a margin of 55% to 45%.
The current general elections in Brazil are already the most explosive since the birth of the “New Republic” under the 1988 Constitution, and the tension will only grow. The blatantly undemocratic nature of the electoral process begins with the veto by the judiciary of the candidate who, by all indications, would have won the presidency: former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, historic leader of the Workers Party (PT – Partido dos Trabalhadores). At the same time, calls are mounting for intervention by the army, supposedly to fight against corruption. Military intervention in Rio de Janeiro has already led to the murder of councilwoman Marielle Franco, due to her criticism of the escalating massacres by the police. The incendiary rhetoric of the impeachment campaign that removed President Dilma Rousseff from office and Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash)1 has translated into armed attacks on Lula’s caravan. And following the stabbing of Jair Bolsonaro, the candidate of the armed forces, the top army brass has multiplied its threats of military intervention to maintain “governability”.
But the verbal and physical violence of the election campaign is only a reflection of the social violence against those at the bottom emanating from the top levels of capitalism. The electoral contest is polarized between two negative poles: on the one hand, those who seek to prevent at all costs the return of the PT, whose candidate is Fernando Haddad, to the Palácio do Planalto (Brazil’s White House); and on the other hand, those who want to go all-out to defeat the deadly danger represented by the misogynist (anti-woman) racist Bolsonaro. We warn that the bonapartist danger – that is, of an authoritarian regime based on the repressive forces of the capitalist state – is very real, but it will not be banished through the ballot box. In addition, we caution that the danger does not come solely from Bolsonaro supporters. The reality is that the entire Brazilian bourgeoisie is determined to impose by force its policy of “austerity” that aims to drastically slash workers’ rights. The bourgeois alliance of the “popular front” around the PT will also be obliged to apply these anti-worker “reforms” in one way or another. Unless we stop them.
In the face of these fraudulent elections, manipulated by the judges and under military tutelage, the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brazil (LQB – Fourth-Internationalist League of Brazil) calls to mobilize the power of the working class and of all the oppressed in powerful workers actions to:
- shred the labor “reform” with militant strikes in the metal and auto plants;
- shut down schools and hospitals to break the spending cap on social programs imposed by Constitutional Amendment 552
- answer Operation Lava Jato and Petrobras’ privatization auctions by oil workers occupying the refineries and imposing workers control; and
- fight for a workers and peasants government.
I: Well-Planned Electoral Fraud
Fraud goes hand in hand with bourgeois elections almost everywhere on the entire planet. It is committed wholesale by gerrymandering of election districts, the influence of corporate money and large donors, the monopoly of the media, restrictive regulations designed to obstruct the participation of revolutionary organizations, and many other devices. In countries like Mexico, fraud at the retail level is so traditional that typical practices have names: stealing ballot boxes (operation raccoon), multiple voting (the carousel), electronic altering of results (system crash), vote stuffing (pregnant ballot boxes), etc. In Brazil, however, this time we have a special operation from the right, planned long beforehand, to kick the PT out of the presidency and ensure that it never again takes office. This began on the very night of the second round of voting in the 2014 elections, when Aécio Neves, the candidate of the PSDB (Party of Brazilian Social Democracy, the main conservative bourgeois party), refused to accept that he lost vote (by more than 3 million votes) to Dilma Rousseff of the PT and demanded a recount.
Beginning in March 2015, the mass mobilizations initiated by the PSDB and financed by FIESP (Federation of Industrialists of the State of São Paulo) and other organizations of top-level Brazilian capitalists began. For them, Dilma’s crime was that, for fear of alienating the PT’s base, she did not cut enough social programs benefitting the poor, and dragged out the labor and social security “reforms.” In the impeachment process, the main charge against her was that she used budget stratagems (the famous “pedaladas”) to avoid cuts in the Bolsa Familia (family stipend) and Minha Casa, Minha Vida (subsidies encouraging home ownership) programs. The street protests were marked by sharp social differences: the right-wing, upper-middle-class demonstrations (“coxinhas”) vs. the left-wing demos, more plebeian in character (“mortadelas”), organized by the PT. But as the conflict escalated and intensified, the right-wing mobilizations were increasingly dominated by ultra-rightist, fascistic elements (such as the Movimento Brasil Livre) and marked by calls for intervention by the armed forces. At the same time, Judge Sérgio Moro focused his Operation Lava Jato on indicting, convicting and sentencing Lula in order to prevent him from running for president again in 2018.
Judge Sérgio Moro, a puppet of US imperialism, trained by the FBI in Washington, was honored by Time magazine in New York as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. His wife, Rosangela Wolff Moro, is a lawyer representing Shell oil in Brazil. Moro serves as the spearhead of a politicized judiciary that has been running roughshod over democratic rights on the road to rule by “dictators in black robes.”
The charges against the former PT president are absurd, based on statements by suspects in exchange for leniency in plea bargains (delações premiadas) lacking any concrete proof. They refer to events that occurred in 2013 and 2014, that is, after Lula’s presidency, and therefore are not in return for supposed favors to the companies (OAS and Odebrecht). The charges have to do with a three-bedroom apartment in Guarujá, on the São Paulo coast, and another in Atibaia, in the São Paulo interior. In the first case, it is alleged that the apartment was owned by Lula and his wife Marisa Letícia, although there is no documentary evidence of this, plus the fact that they never occupied it. The accusation is that the contractor OAS upgraded the apartment as a form of bribe, and that this amounted to “passive corruption” (since the accused, Lula, had not actually done anything). In turn, the fact that Lula denied receiving any monetary benefit was the evidence of “money laundering.” In the second case, the fact that Marisa Leticia bought a couple of small pedal boats (pedalinhos) for use by her grandchildren in the neighboring lake was supposed proof that this apartment as well was owned by the couple.
So here we have “pedaladas” and “pedalinhos”: in much of the rest of the world, such accusations would be laughed out of court. But in Brazil of Lava Jato they were enough for a corrupt Congress to throw out a president elected with 54 million votes, and to sentence a former president to 12 years in prison and a fine of US$8 million. Why? Because it is in response to drive by the bourgeoisie to accelerate its attacks on the working class. It’s even possible that Judge Moro isn’t particularly concerned about definitively winning the case against Lula: the main thing was to ensure that he would be under arrest during the 2018 elections. In fact, in an IPSOS poll published on April 14, a few days after Lula turned himself in to the police, 73% of those interviewed said that “the powerful want to keep Lula out of the elections.” In addition, 66% thought that now that Lula is jailed, the politicians would try to put an end to Lava Jato, and 55% agreed that “Lava Jato amounts to political persecution against Lula.”
For our part, we demand that Lula be freed and the ridiculous charges against him be dropped. In addition, we denounce the Supreme Court (STF) veto of Lula’s candidacy and insist that the population has an unrestricted right to vote for whomever it wishes. Far from being apologists for Lula, the LQB never called for a vote for the PT ever since it first formed a popular front with sections of the bourgeoisie in the 1990s. In the eyes of revolutionary workers, the crimes of Lula and the PT were that they made political alliances with the enemies of working people; that the mensalão (monthly payoffs) were used to buy votes from bourgeois allies in parliament3; and the favoring of Odebrecht’s projects, which employed near-slave labor in Angola, and of construction companies in Brazil that practiced industrial homicide with dangerous working conditions.
The Bottom Line: No Lula There in the 2018 Election
Lula surrounded by supporters at the ABC Metalworkers Union, April 7. Despite the mobilization of thousands, the leader of the PT accepted the decision of the bourgeoisie, as in the past.
But despite massive support for Lula among workers and the poor, reflected in election polls where he had twice as much support as any other candidate; despite blockades of highways around the country by the MST against his arrest warrant; despite several thousand supporters rushing to São Bernardo do Campo (Lula’s home base) to be with him, and notwithstanding illusions among some union and left sectors that “He will not surrender” (Vagner Freitas da CUT) and “Lula did not surrender! There will be no arrest!” (Diário Causa Operária, 6 April), despite all this and after some theatrics at the Metalworkers’ Union hall, Lula finally surrendered, predictably. In his farewell address, he explained: “Do not think that I am against the Lava Jet, no.... I will comply with their warrant.... I want to prove that they are the ones who have committed a crime, a political crime.” Lula summed up: “If I didn’t believe in the judicial system, I wouldn’t have formed a political party. I would have called for a revolution in this country. But I believe in the justice system, in a just justice “(Brazil de Fato, 7 April).
Any revolutionary Marxist knows perfectly well that to believe in Brazilian bourgeois justice is an idiotic, dangerous illusion. But Lula is neither a Marxist nor a socialist, much less a communist (as the ultraright claims) and revolutionary. He says so himself. From the outset he was a trade-union bureaucrat, whose dreams, as he spelled them out at that emotional moment, were petty-bourgeois and bourgeois, to make progress within the framework of this capitalist society: for the poor to have a home and education, to travel, to be prosecutors or judges. Lula began his career in the pelego (corporatist) pseudo-unions of the dictatorship and was part of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), the pseudo-opposition party tolerated by the military. Like another pro-capitalist trade unionist with whom he had a certain resemblance, Lech Walesa (of the anti-Soviet nationalist Solidarność movement in Poland), Lula always followed the imperialists’ orders. Walesa led a counterrevolution that soon destroyed the shipyards where he originated. Lula acted as a sheriff for the U.S. in the Caribbean, sending Brazilian troops to occupy Haiti and imposing “neoliberal” policies in Brazil: slashing workers’ rights while setting up welfare programs for the poor.
So Lula got the message that the Brazilian bourgeoisie did not want him to be president of the country again, and he accepted its verdict. He would be arrested, could defend his honor and, depending on the outcome of the elections, he could go free in a short time, or not. In any case, the essential thing was that there be no “Lula lá” (“There’s Lula!” a favorite chant in PT election rallies) in 2018. All the drama of launching his candidacy even though he was jailed and then, at the last moment, transferring votes to Haddad, the Lula Livre (Free Lula) festivals and the rest were just stagecraft to improve the PT’s score in the election race. Now the PT is equipped with a very “moderate” program: revoke the labor reform, yes, but there will be another “reform” to “ensure the economic sustainability of the system,” and in particular “the balancing of social security accounts.” Reform of the justice system, but no mention of Lava Jato, and so on. With this and a feel-good slogan approved by the political marketeers “Brasil, feliz de novo” (Brazil happy again) harking back to the PT’s hit election jingle from 1989 – “Sem medo de ser feliz” (Without fear of being happy”) – Lula’s successor can negotiate whatever alliance he needs with sections of the bourgeoisie.
Thousands of PT posters proclaimed: “An Election Without Lula is a Fraud”. So what does the PT do in this situation? It fully participates in the fraud. Yes indeed, the judicial ban on the candidate with far more popular support than any other is a denial of the democratic right of the population to vote freely, and thereby ensures that the result, any result, will be fraudulent. So what would a workers party that really fights for the interests of the working people do? It would unleash tumultuous mobilizations in the streets and in front of Election Board offices, it would trigger political strikes, the whole works. The contradiction is that an electoral boycott would be fully justified, but there are currently no conditions in Brazil to make it possible. It would require a high level of working-class combativeness, plus revolutionary leadership, and both are lacking. More than lacking, the Workers’ Party formed a popular front subordinating the workers to their bourgeois “allies” precisely in order to constitute a barrier to avoid revolution. As we wrote on the eve of the 2002 election:
“The Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (LQB), section of the League for the Fourth International, and the Class Struggle Caucus (CLC) fight for the revolutionary political independence of the working class against all bourgeois candidates, parties and alliances. We warn that the popular front led by the PT will act to discipline the working class for the benefit of the bankers and industrialists .... We Trotskyists call for a blank ballot (voto nulo) and proletarian opposition to the popular front. We emphasize that to achieve the most basic democratic rights, an agrarian revolution, freedom from the imperialist yoke, and the emancipation of all those exploited and oppressed by the poverty produced by the capitalist system requires international socialist revolution.”
–“For Proletarian Opposition to the Popular Front! For International Socialist Revolution!” The Internationalist No. 14, September-October 2002
Today, electoral fraud is continuing on a daily basis. September 24: The Superior Election Tribunal (TSE) canceled 3.4 million voter ID cards for not having been updated with biometric data. Of these voters, 1.5 million are in the Northeast, where the PT is strongest (70% voted for Dilma Rousseff in 2014). This could tip the scale of the election. September 25 : Federal Police in Rio de Janeiro and in the Northeast confiscated election fliers with the likeness of Lula. September 28: Justice Luiz Fux, president of TSE, banned Folha de S. Paulo from interviewing Lula in prison, a serious violation of the right to information. September 29: It was revealed that a judge from Goiás planned to issue an injunction on the eve of the balloting ordering the army to collect electronic voting machines. October 1: less than a week before the vote, Judge Moro released excerpts from a statement by Antônio Palocci in which the former minister alleges, without proof, that the PT received bribes in the campaigns in 2010 and 2014. October 2: Judge Moro’s wife posted repeatedly on Instagram against “voting for a thief”; the daughter of army commander Villas Bôas campaigned against having an “inmate in command” of the country.
Throughout this process, the leading role of the judiciary has been notorious. In June, Justice Fux even threatened that the TSE could overrule the outcome of the election if it was determined that it was influenced by fake news. In civic education courses, justice is portrayed as “neutral” and “independent.” The image is that of the woman blindfolded, with a scale and sword in her hands. Marxists, on the contrary, insist that the courts are part of the repressive apparatus along with the police, armed forces and prisons, which form the hard core of the capitalist state. Currently in Brazil, the judiciary has played a prominent role in the offensive of reactionaries pushing for a bonapartist strong state. This is the product of an effort by U.S. imperialism to impose its domination in a more sophisticated manner than military coups. And in this, the PT is deeply involved. Not only have most of the judges of the STF and the TSE been appointed by Lula and Dilma, but also in the National Constituent Assembly that produced the 1988 Constitution, the PT played a prominent role in the creation of a Public Prosecutor’s Office and a judiciary with practically unrestricted powers.4
The Fraud of Bourgeois Democracy
Posters of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil and the Comitê de Luta Classista in huge #EleNão (#NotHim) demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, September 29. The LQB and CLC fight for women’s rights against anti-woman rightists and also against the popular front, which in 13 years of office did not legalize abortion. Poster in the center has front pages of CLC tabloid with the headline, “Workers Revolution Will Avenge Marielle Franco,” the black councilwoman murdered in March for her denunciation of police massacres in the favelas of Rio.
However, electoral fraud is not limited to abusive and authoritarian actions by judges and courts or military threats. It is also reflected in the ways in which “representative democracy” manages to not represent the interests of working people. For example, a Datafolha survey (1 May 2017) found that 71% of respondents are against social security reform. However, none of the larger parties and any of the main candidates oppose social security reform as such. The PT only says it rejects the “reform of [unelected president Michel] Temer and Bolsonaro.” But when an economic adviser to the PT, Marcio Pochman, commented that “Pension reform will not be a priority,” he was refuted by Haddad. To calm the markets, the PT candidate said that “we have a fiscal problem” and that “this reform of Temer (...) has useful things. The pension schemes for government workers should be the initial object of the reform” (Folha de S. Paulo, 17 September). So in order to satisfy capital, Haddad attacks the interests of the workers: the universal experience is that individual retirement accounts (IRAs in the US, Afores in Mexico) lead directly to the destruction of pensions with guaranteed benefits.
The same goes for Petrobras (Brazil’s oil company), the target of attacks from the right and Lava Jato, whose campaign against corruption is facilitating the penetration by imperialist companies to the detriment of the former state enterprise. Another survey by Datafolha (26 December 2017) shows that the vast majority (70%) of the public is against privatization of Petrobras; even a majority of conservative PSDB supporters are against that. Yet a statement from the Federation of Oil Workers (FUP) on September 28 revealed that, after the fifth round of auctions in the production sharing regime, “In all, 13 multinationals have already appropriated 75% of reserves” of oil fields of the pre-salt layer.5 What’s to be done about it? The FUP has held demonstrations, gone to court, without result ... and now it is calling to vote for the PT. But the PT’s government program, after a few sugary words about “strengthening Petrobras,” says: “the sharing regime in the pre-salt area shall be maintained.” So, even with an overwhelming majority of the population against to the policies of all the main parliamentary parties, there is no way to put that opposition into effect.
The right to abortion? None of the major parties calls for it. In fact, PEC 181 would make abortion a crime in all cases, including anencephaly (when a fetus lacks a major part of the brain or skull) or when the pregnant woman’s life is threatened. Capitalist and reformist politicians, even if they are supportive, won’t challenge the power of the evangelical caucus in Congress and the Catholic Church. They cite surveys that shows that 75% of the Brazilian population is against the right to abortion. But when asked who should decide whether or not to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, almost two-thirds say the decision should be by the woman herself. Yet in current conditions, there is no electoral route to legalize or even decriminalize abortion – it will depend on the mobilization in the streets of the defenders of women’s rights. In the huge demonstration of the #EleNão movement on September 29 against Bolsonaro, a protest manipulated by the various bourgeois forces, the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil and the Class Struggle Caucus carried a sign saying: “For the Right to Free, Safe Abortion on Demand – Against the Right (Bolsonaro, PSDB, DEM, etc.) and Against the Popular Front (PT, PCdoB, PSB and PSOL), Enemies of Women’s Rights – For a Revolutionary Workers Party.”
In short, the inherent electoral fraud of bourgeois “democracy” and its parliamentary system includes diluting, deflecting and preventing the expression and carrying out of the will of working people and the oppressed. Its democratic pretensions and even our most basic democratic rights are denied by the power of money, the influence of lobbies and all the tricks like the “separation of powers”, which only serve to defend the interests of capital. To combat and defeat this electoral fraud and the fraud of bourgeois “democracy” as a political system of capitalist domination, we must mobilize the power of the proletariat at the head of all the oppressed in a struggle pointing to the need for international socialist revolution.
II: Militarization of Politics on the March
Every election in Brazil since 1988 has seen a face-off between two bourgeois poles: conservatives, gathered around the PSDB, and “progressives,” united in a popular front around the reformist Workers’ Party. This time, however, as a result of the polarization produced by Operation Lava Jato and the battle over the impeachment of PT president Dilma Rousseff, the anti-PT pole was dominated by retired army captain Jair Bolsonaro, candidate of the PSL (Partido Social Liberal), with an ultra-rightist and militarist program. Bolsonaro, who boasts of being an ex-parachutist, openly defends torture and calls for a return to the military dictatorship that dominated Brazil for more than two decades. His vice-presidential running mate, retired general Antonio Hamilton Martins Mourão, has called on numerous occasions for intervention by the military. Although some deluded leftists treat them as “fascists”, the reality, which is no less dangerous, is that the Bolsonaro-Mourão slate is the new military party, an ARENA in gestation.6 Warning: this military party will not be defeated at the polls.
For 26 years in Congress, Bolsonaro was part of the “lower clergy” (back benchers), part of the “allied base” of bourgeois support for the popular-front governments, even though he was a far-rightist. As one of the main mouthpieces of the “bullet caucus” (of active or retired military members of Congress), he chaired the lower chamber’s defense and public safety committees. He was successively affiliated with eight different parties (PDC, PPR, PPB, PTB, PFL, PP and PSC) before joining the PSL. This party, formerly a minor outfit, reneged its liberal past and turned to ultra-right nationalism after being taken over by Bolsonaro earlier in the year. Its motto now is “Brazil Above All” – reminiscent of the words of the first stanza of the German national anthem appropriated by the Nazis, “Deutschland über alles.” And in order to satisfy the religious proclivities of the Brazilian right the PSL adds, “God Above Everyone!” Bolsonaro uses social networks more than almost any other deputy, pitching himself as a ferocious anti-communist and defender of the “Rule of Law,” the police and judiciary in particular.
Bolsonaro is famous for his praise of the coup of 1964 (“imposed by the people”) and his justification for the military dictatorship (the coup-general “Castelo Branco was elected by Congress”). Asked in 2015 if he would support the installation of a dictatorship today, he answered “yes”. In 2016, in casting his vote for Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, the retired captain praised Colonel Brilhante Ustra, commander of the military intelligence center where the future president (Rousseff) was tortured. Bolsonaro not only praised coup plotters, in 1988 he was jailed for 15 days and expelled from the military academy for having two years before drawn up plans (later published by Veja magazine) for an “Operation Dead End.” The operation consisted in placing bombs in several military installations and in the main water supply plant of Rio de Janeiro to protest against the low salaries of the troops. Despite this clearly terrorist plan, the high command allowed him to transfer to the army reserve. Taking advantage of his notoriety, Bolsonjary promptly began his political career as a city councilor of Rio.
The misogynist and racist candidate has constantly played around with threats of violence, especially against women, homosexuals, blacks, indigenous people, communists and the left in general, but not only against them. In 1999, in an interview with TV Bandeirantes, he insisted that it would be impossible to make changes in Brazil through elections. “You’re only going to change, unfortunately, when we start a civil war here,” he shouted. He added: “And doing the job that the military regime didn’t do. Killing 30,000 people, beginning with FHC [the right-wing then-president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso].”7 In 2002, Bolsonaro told congresswoman Maria do Rosário, “The only reason I don’t rape you is that you’re not worth it”; he repeated this threat on the floor of Congress again in 2014. In the current campaign, when asked about the deaths of people in shootings between police and drug traffickers, he replied: “If [a police officer] kills 10, 15 or 20, with 10 or 30 shots each, he should be decorated, not prosecuted” (G1, August 28). And it’s not just opinions. Threats have an effect. Bolsonaro elected president could result in a reign of terror against poor people, blacks, women.
“Self-Coup” and a Military Takeover in “Successive Approximations”
Unelected president Michel Temer and General Eduardo Villas Bôas, commander of the Brazilian Army, review military parade on Army Day, April 18.
Immediately following the stabbing of Bolsonaro in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais on September 7, his running mate made explicit his bonapartist-militarist intentions. That same night, the PSL candidate for vice president, General Mourão, stated in an interview with GloboNews that “the country is experiencing a breakdown of social norms, with generalized anarchy, there is no respect for authority anymore, with armed bands roaming in the streets.” He threw in that “in order to ensure that the country continues to function,” the president, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, “may decide to deploy the armed forces.” He added: “But this is a self-coup.”8 In 2015, General Mourão was removed from the post of commander of the Southern Military Command for his criticism of President Rousseff and his provocative remarks about a “controlled fall” of the president, “discontinuity” in government or a situation of “chaos” in the context of the political crisis.9
A year ago, the general went back on the offense, this time against President Temer, who was installed by the impeachment of Rousseff, saying in a speech promoted by a Masonic lodge in Brasilia that “Either the institutions solve the political problem” – that is, “withdraw” the politicians accused by the judiciary of “illicit acts” – “or else we will have to enforce it.”10 Regarding possible military intervention, Mourão said that “We have plans, quite well laid out,” but for the moment let “the powers” solve the situation. “If they cannot, the time will come when we will have to impose a solution. And this imposition will not be easy.” His view, he said, “which coincides with my colleagues in the Army High Command,” is that a military takeover could be through “successive approximations.” In this vision, a Bolsonaro-Mourão government could be a first approximation to the bonapartist military regime that they aspire to. Elected, or imposed.
Another senior military official who in 2016 insinuated that “the army could be called upon to intervene,” General Eduardo Villas Bôas, the commander of the army, caused a commotion in April with his intervention to prevent Lula’s candidacy. As the Supreme Court deliberated on whether Lula was to be jailed, the military chief warned in a tweet that the army “shares the desire of all good citizens to repudiate impunity” (El País [Brazil edition], 4 April). The ministers duly saluted, and Judge Moro ordered the arrest of the former president. Recently, a day after Mourão’s statement about a “self-coup,” Villas Bôas raised the spectre that a new Bolsonaro government could “have its legitimacy questioned” (O Estado de S. Paulo, 9 September). “The worst case scenario,” he said, would be that of “someone sub judice” (whose case is in the courts) – i.e., Lula – confronting the Constitution and the Clean Slate Act,11 “throwing out legitimacy, making it difficult to establish stability and governability” and “further dividing Brazilian society.” Asked if Bolsonaro was the candidate of the military, the army commander replied that “obviously” the captain “has appeal for the military public, because he seeks to identify with the issues that are dear to the Forces.”
Concern is growing in certain imperialist sectors about the militarization of politics in Brazil. A few months ago, the New York Times (22 July) published a detailed report titled “Brazil’s Military Enters Politics, Stirring Fears of a Dictatorship.” It wrote that “Retired generals and other former officers with strong ties to the military leadership are mounting a sweeping election campaign, backing about 90 military veterans running for an array of posts – including the presidency – in national elections this October.” In fact, the military electoral mobilization is far larger. A UOL news agency report (Sept. 21) with data from the TSE shows that 214 retired military personnel are running for office this year, in addition to 82 active members of the armed force and 594 members of the military police When you include firefighters (who in Brazil are party of the armed forces), there are 990 military personnel up for election, almost a battalion of candidates in combat fatigues. Bolsonaro’s party, the PSL, has 135 candidates who listed their military ranks, and the Patriota “party” of Corporal Daciolo is running 37.
After Mourão’s statements about military intervention, the controversy did not stop. He ranted against women (families without fathers, with only a mother and grandmother, are just “factories to produce misfits” who then go into the drug trade, he said), Indians (“lazy”) and blacks (“hustlers”). He proposed to eliminate the “13th month salary” (Christmas bonus), saying that this is just some “Brazilian jabuticaba” (exotic fruit), and to impose a new constitution, designed by “notables” (“the Constitution does not have to be made by delegates elected by the people”).
To calm spirits, the minister of defense issued assurances that the “Armed Forces will guarantee results of the polls” (Folha de S. Paulo, 22 September). But who decides the outcome of the polls? Not to worry, he replied, the military will “follow to the letter” what is prescribed by Article 142 of the Brazilian Constitution, which he described as the “bible of the Armed Forces.” So what does that constitutional provision say? The text specifies that the mission of the Armed Forces, besides “defense of the Motherland”, is to be a “guarantee of constitutional powers and, on the initiative of any one of them, of law and order.” On the initiative of any of these powers means that the president (Temer) or the judiciary (STF and TSE) could summon the army to impose “law and order.” And who is saying this is General Joaquim Silva e Luna, the first defense minister since the founding of the New Republic in 1988 who is not a civilian. In another novelty, the president of the Supreme Court now has an “advisor” installed by the military, General Fernando Azevedo e Silva. The militarization of politics in Brazil is advancing in giant strides.
III: The Spectre of Bonapartism
Meanwhile, we are witnessing a notable growth in the influence and control of armed institutions at all levels of society. It has already reached public education, where we see a dramatic increase in the number of schools run by the military. Not military academies, but “normal” public schools administered by military police officers, with military discipline. In those schools, parents are required to pay 75 dollars for uniforms, students are organized into platoons and student councils have been abolished. In the state of Goiás, the number of schools under military police administration increased from eight to 46 in the last five years; there are 122 throughout the republic, according to a report in the magazine Época (23 July). The justification of the state government is that it is a “measure to counteract the high rates of violence in the periferias [outskirts of the cities, i.e., slums].” A spokesman for the Union of Education Workers of Goiás commented: “A uniformed policeman inside a school with a gun on his waist is coercion.” But the union is barred from even entering schools run by the military police.
Militarization of the streets is already in full sway in Rio de Janeiro. In February, the unelected president Michel Temer decreed military intervention in the state of Rio, claiming the need for “extreme measures to put things in order.” The justification was “disorders” that occurred during Carnival. But the most notable incidents were the police dragnets and the political content of the sambas, which were highly critical of the Temer government. Supposedly intended to combat “violence,” the military takeover has in fact led to an escalation of killings by police. Thus the Legislative Observatory of Federal Intervention in Public Security of Rio de Janeiro recorded that the number of deaths due to police intervention rose from 80 per month in 2017 to 895 people killed in the first eight months of this year, or 112 per month on average. Of these deaths, 105 were in massacres involving clashes with police, especially in favelas like Lins and Rocinha, according to the data lab Fogo Cruzado [Crossfire] (G1, 20 August). As always, the overwhelming majority of the victims were black and poor.
In short, in order to combat violence, the first step would be to expel the military police and soldiers from the favelas and moros (hilltop areas) of Rio, and from the outskirts of all the metropolitan areas of the country. So where are the mass demonstrations demanding “military police out of the favelas, army and navy out of Rio”? There aren’t any. Instead, the left is focusing its activity on these bogus elections, manipulated by the judiciary and monitored by the military. In particular, there has been a crescendo of calls for a “useful vote”, in other words, a vote of fear, in favor of the PT’s slate of Fernando Haddad as president and Manuela D’Avila of the PCdoB12 as vice president, in order to block a Bolsonaro victory. In a possible second round of voting, we can be sure that virtually the entire left will be calling to vote for the PT slate, which would be the continuity of the popular front that ruled the country from 2003 to 2016. But militarization did not begin with Bolsonaro, or with Temer or the alleged “coup” of impeachment. The federal intervention decree in Rio is new, the first under the Constitution of 1988, but it was preceded by numerous military interventions in states ordered by Lula and Dilma from 2006 on.
Police invade the Maré favela, 27 March 2014.
Let’s not forget the brutal occupation of Rio de Janeiro during the 2014 World Cup, and the Olympics in 2016, when the military – dispatched by Dilma – terrorized the favelas of Rio. Or that the repression of the explosive protests of 2013 was also the work of the PT government, in collusion with the PSDB state government in São Paulo. In fact, the number of deaths by police in Rio has constantly risen from 2013 (416) to over 1,000 in 2017 (UOL, 9 March and 18 December 2017). The escalation this year is only the latest chapter in this bloodbath. We also recall that the National Security Force (FNS), which mobilized to crush oil workers protests against the pre-salt auctions, was created by Lula in 2004. The reality is that in order to combat the slaughter, it is necessary to organize worker and peasant self-defense, as we called for at the time of the massacre in the Baixada Fluminense outside the city of Rio de Janeiro in April 2005.13 During the massive street demonstrations of 2013, 2014 and 2016, the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista and the Class-Struggle Caucus fought to mobilize the power of the working class, getting the teachers union of Rio de Janeiro, SEPE-RJ, to approve a motion calling to:
“– Mobilize the working class and its power, and in particular the trade unions, to defend against police attacks!
“– Form workers defense committees based in the unions to protect protests and the favelas!
“– Tear down the walls of steel around Maré!
“– Drive out the pro-imperialist occupation troops from Haiti, the favelas and social movements!
–“Brazil: No to the World Cup of Repression!” The Internationalist No. 37, May-June 2014
Fascism: What It Is, And How to Fight It
Such class mobilization requires a political struggle not only against the fascist and militarist right, but also against the popular-front left that has run the affairs of the bourgeoisie for 13 years. Although the LQB since the 1990s called for a voto nulo (blank ballot) and a political fight against the popular front, the overwhelming majority of the left succumbed to the pressure of that class-collaborationist front, calling to vote for PT in the second, decisive round of voting, while a large part of the left supported the police in the “strikes” by military police and military firemen. Marcelo Freixo of the PSOL (Party of Socialism and Freedom), who now heads his party’s slate for the federal Chamber of Deputies, even asked for more UPPs (Police Pacification Units) in the favelas.
As the election race heats up, we are hearing calls to vote “against the fascists and the coup.” Many identify Bolsonaro with fascism: Haddad compares the ex-captain Bolsonaro with the ex-corporal Hitler. They use the Stalinist/liberal definition of fascism as any markedly repressive government or movement. Thus leftists such as Diário Causa Operária (3 October) consider that the PSDB candidate for governor of São Paulo, João Doria, would be “even more fascist than Bolsonaro” because he says he would order police to shoot to kill. By this criterion, the coup leader General Pinochet in Chile is labeled fascist, when in reality the Pinochet regime was a military dictatorship (supported, naturally, by the genuine fascists like Patria y Libertad). Fascism is not an idea but a movement of enraged masses, especially ruined petty bourgeois, used by big capital to crush the labor movement. As the Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky, co-leader together with Lenin of the October Revolution and founder of the Red Army, defined it:
“At the moment that the ‘normal’ police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium – the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie, and bands of the declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat; all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.”
–Trotsky, What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat 
It is not simply a matter of definitions. Behind the talk of a supposed fascist danger represented by Bolsonaro there is a program, also of Stalinist/liberal origin: to form an “antifascist” or “democratic” front with sectors of the bourgeoisie. In some cases, it is in the form of a call to vote for Haddad of the PT, that is, for the popular front, already in the first round of voting. In other cases, the call is for a much “broader” front. One such appeal argues that “#EleNão should a mega-front.” The candidate of this front would be Haddad, they say. “The candidate is of the moderate left; the front would be even more moderate” (“Without a Broad Democratic Front, It Will Be More Difficult to Defeat Bolsonaro and the Coup in the Second Round,” The Intercept Brazil, 2 October). They want to clamp on a lock to prevent radicalization of the left. In doing so, they would be helping the real bonapartist danger, of a military-police-judicial regime seeking to repress the struggle of the workers and the oppressed. As we have said, the popular front is no barrier to the militarists, and they will not be defeated at the polls.
As Trotsky wrote in the Transition Program (1938): “‘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 purpose of this program of the Fourth International was to help the workers in the process of their struggles to constitute a “bridge between present demands and the program of socialist revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the working class.” This requires a sharp struggle to throw out the pro-capitalist bureaucracy of all the trade-union federations: right-wingers such as Força Sindical, the semi-pelego (corporatist) UGT, the CUT led by the PT, but also the Intersindical and Conlutas. In this vein, the LQB and the CLC call today to cast a blank ballot in these counterfeit elections and to take to the streets to organize powerful workers actions against electoral fraud and the bonapartist danger.
–For a national education strike to demand: military out of schools!
–Occupy the refineries to impose workers control on Petrobras!
–For workers mobilization to demand: military police out of the favelas, soldiers out of Rio!
–Prepare a general strike to revoke the labor “reform” and prevent pension “reform”!
The spectre of a fully bonapartist regime has not yet materialized. Perhaps it could arrive “by successive approximations” as suggested by General Mourão in his speech at the Masonic Grande Oriente of Brazil lodge. Those who prematurely scream “coup” run the risk of not recognizing it when the danger is really at hand. But the possibility is there in the framework of the capitalist economic crisis which has lasted ten years without overcoming mass unemployment, precarious employment in temporary and part-time jobs, the fall of workers’ wages, the bankruptcy of large sections of the petty bourgeoisie, the explosion of debt and other scourges. In the absence of revolutionary leadership, this crisis provides the social basis giving rise to racist and fascist movements, right-wing populism, anti-immigrant xenophobia and the incitement to a military-police “strong state” with an iron fist to crush those sectors in struggle against the calamitous rule of capital.
The advance of militarist and ultraright forces goes hand in hand with attacks on workers’ rights. It is an international phenomenon, from nearby Argentina, where rulers pay the imperialist bankers while casting more workers into poverty and denying women’s right to abortion, to far-off Europe, where imperialist rulers condemn the Greek population to abject poverty and let immigrants drown at sea. In the imperialist colossus of the United States openly fascist forces are growing in the shadow of the regime of Donald Trump. But there is also a struggle by the revolutionaries to mobilize the labor movement to crush this plague before it is too late. The main task on all these battle fronts of the class war is to form the nucleus, in the heat of bitter struggles, of genuine revolutionary, Leninist/Trotskyist workers’ parties, which in a reforged Fourth International fight for international socialist revolution. This is the “election program” of the Trotskyists of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista. ■
- 1. A mammoth investigation, instigated by a judicial “task force” trained in Washington, supposedly intended to root out corruption among Brazilian politicians but primarily used as a club against the PT, a reformist workers party, and its popular-front government with sections of the bourgeoisie. See “Brazil: No to Impeachment! For Workers Mobilization Against the Rightist Bourgeois Offensive – No Political support to the Bourgeois Popular Front Government,” The Internationalist No. 43, May-June 2016.
- 2. See “Brazil: Mobilize the Working Class to Smash the ‘End of the World’ Laws,” The Internationalist No. 47, March-April 2017.
- 3. See “Brazil: Lula Against the Workers – Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party!” The Internationalist, May 2006, and “Brazil: The Election Racket of the Bourgeoisie,” The Internationalist No. 38, October-November 2014.
- 4. “[We] are creating another organ in the scheme of the three powers [executive, legislative and judicial]. It is an oversight body that does not hang on any of the branches of the Montesquieu scheme. Why propose the financial, political and administrative autonomy of the body? Because we want a strong prosecutor of the law” (Plínio de Arruda Sampaio of the PT in a meeting of the Subcommittee on Judiciary and Public Prosecution in the 1987/88 National Constituent Assembly).
- 5. A layer holding large petroleum and natural gas deposit at great depths (4 miles or more) in the South Atlantic between Brazil and Africa.
- 6. The National Renewal Alliance was created in 1965 to back the military dictatorship installed by the coup d’état of March 1964, and to oppose corruption and the “communist menace” that it identified with the populist bourgeois government of President João Goulart.
- 7. “Bolsonaro Has Already Proposed to Kill FHC and Another 30,000 Brazilians, “ O Povo (Fortaleza), 19 November 2017.
- 8. In 1992, Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, backed by the armed forces, staged a coup d’état in which he dissolved the congress and the judiciary. This move against the “separation of powers,” common to many bourgeois constitutions, became known throughout Latin America as an autogolpe or “self-coup.”
- 9. See “The Role of Imperialism and the Military in the Brazilian Political Crisis,” The Internationalist No. 44, Summer 2016.
- 10. “General Speaks of the Possibility of the Army ‘Imposing a Solution’ to Crisis,” O Globo, 17 September 2017.
- 11. 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.
- 12. The thoroughly social-democratized Communist Party of Brazil, which has acted for years as a left satellite of the PT.
- 13. See “Slaughter in the Baixada Fluminense: Mobilize the Power of the Working Class!” (in Portuguese), Vanguarda Operária bulletin, April 2005. See also,” Lula’s Brazil: Land of Massacres” and “How the Opportunist Left Embraced the Capitalist Police,” in The Internationalist No. 22, September-October 2005.