Jair Bolsonaro at the Council of Ethics. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Jair Bolsonaro at the Council of Ethics. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The far right threatens to do well in Brazil’s elections this weekend amid a polarised climate of reaction and resistence, reports Orlando Hill

On Sunday, Brazilians will go to the polls to elect deputies to the national congress, the senate and president. Elections for the state assemblies and governors for each state will be held on the same day. This has been reported as the most uncertain and divisive elections since the country’s return to democracy in 1985. According to polls published on 3 October Jair Bolsonaro (PSL) is leading with 32% of voting intentions followed by Fernando Haddad (PT)  with 23%.

The other main candidates are centre-left Ciro Gomes (PDT) 10%, centre-right Geraldo Alckim (PSDB) 7%. There are 13 presidential candidates. As things stand it will most probably come to second-round standoff between Bolsonaro and Haddad. In an opinion poll published by Datafolha, the percentage of voters who said they would not under any circumstance vote for Bolsonaro was 45%, and those who would not vote for Haddad was 40% illustrating an extremely polarized country.  

This is the first time in Brazil’s recent history that a far-right candidate is leading the polls, and has a real chance of winning. Bolsonaro’s public comments make Trump seem tamed. He told the politician Maria do Rosario that he would not rape her because she didn’t deserve it. His solution to the increase in crime is to give the police licence to kill. He made his view on women clear when he said he had five children. ‘There were four boys, the fifth I got weak and a girl came.’ During a television programme he said that being gay is a lack of a beating. When asked his opinion on the assassination of the politician and black gay-rights activist, Marielle Franco he replied that he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. After all, she was just another black woman killed in Rio. During Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, he gave his vote to Colonel Carlos Brilhante Ultra, the man who tortured Rousseff during the dictatorship.

Jair Bolsonaro is a former army officer and has been a representative of the state of Rio de Janeiro in the national congress since 2014. His campaign manifesto, the Phoenix Programme, looks like a relic of Mccarthyism full of patriotic and religious images and a strong anti-communist message. Under the slogan ‘Our Flag is Green and Yellow’ he declares that ‘in the last 30 years cultural Marxism and its derivations such as Gramscism have joined corrupt oligarchies to undermine the values of the Nation and the Brazilian family.’ The specific focus on Gramsci goes unexplained.

He defends the right to bear arms with the same rhetoric of the American NRA, ‘guns are instruments, inert objects, that can be used to kill or to save lives. That depends on who is holding them: good people or bad.’ It seems madness to think that in a country that saw almost 64,000 homicides in 2017 the solution is more guns.

His economic policy is strongly influenced by Milton Friedman with promises of further privatisation and maintenance of the neoliberal tripod: fiscal responsibility, floating exchange rate, and inflation targeting. He promises to achieve a primary surplus in the federal budget by 2020. In other words, he is promising austerity at moment when Brazil is struggling to recover from the worst recession ever recorded with 13 million unemployed.

In the conclusion he proposes to classify ‘as terrorism the invasions of rural and urban properties in Brazilian territory.’ That would define the Landless Workers’ Movement and the Homeless Workers’ Movement as terrorist organisations.

The question is how after three and a half consecutive Workers’ Party (PT) governments Brazil ended up with the risk of such a candidate winning the presidency. How can a country that saw 29 million people lifted out of poverty and a huge inequality decrease turn to a candidate with fascistic language for leadership?

From the beginning Lula and Dilma Rousseff have, even before they were elected, suffered a barrage of attacks from the main media organisation Rede Globo. It was a daily feeding of anti PT news with the objective of undermining the party and the left in general.  

However, that explanation is not enough. In their book Brazil: Neoliberalism Versus Democracy, Alfredo Saad-Filho and Lecio Morais argue that contrary to what most people would think the PT governments did not represent a rupture with or an alternative to neoliberalism, but a lighter version similar to the European social-democracy. As mentioned in the book review, ‘Lula used the triangulation strategy, pioneered by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, to attract the support of a fraction of the bourgeoisie by promising to maintain stability and governability.’

Despite Dilma being elected with an anti-austerity manifesto when in government she shifted towards an orthodox neoliberal economic policy in an attempt to attract an increasingly hostile bourgeoise. The worsening of the macroeconomic indicators created fertile ground for slogans of law, order and stability promised by the right-wing candidate.

However, the country is polarized with 45% of voters rejecting Bolsonaro. Last Saturday, thousands of people led by women took to the streets in 114 towns in ten states in a unified demonstration against the presidential candidate. It started with the campaign #NãoEle (#NotHim) on social media and quickly went viral.  According to Céli Regina Jardim Pinto, author of the book “A History of Feminism in Brazil”, it was the largest demonstration of women in Brazilian history and the largest demonstration against a political candidate. The online magazine Carta Maior reported a conservative analysis that estimated 25 thousand in Rio de Janeiro and 100 thousand in São Paulo. Supporters of rival football teams participated with their flags.

According to Leonardo Pericles Vieira, president of People’s Unity for Socialism (UP),

‘it was a great demonstration that our people no longer tolerate setbacks or a return to the past. It was a great example of how women are decisive in changing the political situation. We must continue this struggle in the elections on 7 October, but also in all possible places, preparing new and great social struggles like today. Fascism is defeated in all fields, especially in popular struggles and in full unity with everyone who has this same goal.’

Some on the left criticized the demonstrations arguing that they were responsible for Bolsonaro’s supposed growth in the polls. To that Vieira replied that if

‘were it not for these gigantic demonstrations, the Bozo (Bolsonaro) would be in better condition than he is today. The mobilizations did not hinder but rather helped the intensification of the class struggle. And that forced a lot of people to show their faces…This is not bad, this is critical for the dispute to become more open, the confrontation of ideas become more objective and without illusions. Fascism is fought in all fields, including in elections, but its defeat only occurs with great demonstrations, strikes, mobilization and organization of the working class and the people.’

A group that took part in the anti-Bolsonaro demonstration would surprise most readers: The Anti-fascist Police. One of their members Orlando Zaccone   in an interview to Brasil de Fato said that

‘the anti-fascist struggle today in Brazil and in the world has represented a great field of resistance to a project of intolerance, of extermination of sectors of our population to guarantee the health and prosperity of the rest. Be it the extermination of refugees in Europe, the extermination of poor Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. And in the project that we have here in Brazil, and especially in Rio de Janeiro, of extermination of a significant part of our black and poor population, in the favelas and working-class neighbourhoods.’

In his opinion, Bolsonaro

‘is a candidate whose programme is literally the extermination of part of the population. So, we are hoping to mobilise along with other sectors of society, especially women, who have taken the front line in this resistance.’

The first step in this resistance is to defeat Bolsonaro on election day. That is achieved by uniting and voting for Haddad. But that is only the first step.

Orlando Hill

Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.