It is necessary to go beyond electoral politics and build a movement from below that can mobilise all those who intend to combat austerity and the threat of fascism, argues Leonardo Pericles


The Brazilian activist, Leonardo Pericles, is a member of the national steering committee of the Movimento de Luta nos Bairros, Vilas e Favelas (MLB), a national social movement that brings together thousands of homeless families in the struggle for an urban reform and the human right to live with dignity. They organise occupations of empty buildings and abandoned land.

He is also the president of the Popular Unity for Socialism (UP) – a broad coalition of left-wing organisations.

In this article, first published in Portuguese in Midia Ninja, Pericles argues that it is necessary to go beyond electoral politics and build a movement from below that can mobilise all those who intend to combat the austerity measures of Temer’s government and the threat of fascism and military coup and not simply to win elections and “return to government to keep the same ruling classes in power.”

The institutional coup that toppled President Dilma on 31 August 2016 established a republic of bankers in our country. It is true that we were already living under an economic policy that guaranteed enormous privileges for the super-rich, for the bourgeoisie, and crumbs for the working class as a whole. However, the situation has undeniably become worse, as the coup was directed against the workers. And new coups, including military ones, are not to be discarded in the near future, as we have seen in recent statements by the high command of the armed forces.

But why, even under a coup government that destroys historic rights with the so-called labour reform or with the Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) that froze investments in education and health for 20 years, is there no widespread revolt that overthrows the current illegitimate government of Temer and of the PMDB?

Some will respond: “it is necessary to change the correlation of forces”; in other words, those from below, the exploited, need to become aware, unite, go for it and have more power than those who dominate. But why, even with so many demonstrations, occupations, strikes, has  this not happened?

We will try to answer this question with a brief analysis of the positions presented in the social movement in the most recent post-coup period.

We have lived through two important moments in which there was a real possibility of changing this correlation of forces.

The first was during the impeachment process in 2016, when demonstrations had been growing across the country until the day of the vote in the Senate. If, on that day, a coup was being consummated, then, in addition to the demonstrations, more daring actions were required, such as the occupation of the National Congress, the resistance of the battered president Dilma, the radicalization of confrontation against the coup. But the position of the majority of the leadership of the demos, the Workers’ Party (PT), Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), among others, was another: to watch the voting on a big screen and discourage radical actions. Result: a reflux in demonstrations and general mobilizations. But in spite of all this, in order to demonstrate the willingness to fight, let us not forget that after the vote of the institutional coup, the cultural community unleashed occupations in dozens of spaces linked to the Ministry of Culture throughout the country, carrying out a great process of resistance that managed to prevent the extinction of the ministry.

The second moment was when, in October and November of 2016, high school students from 22 states occupied more than 1,400 schools. The movement began in the state of Paraná and even received support from university students who occupied more than 100 universities. They fought against the reform of high school and the PEC of public spending, a struggle that encouraged other social sectors to follow this path. During this same period, women, especially in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, carried out important struggles for the overthrow of Eduardo Cunha (the then Speaker of the Lower House).

The concrete effect of this enormous example from the youth and women happened as early as 2017, when a major national education strike was called. March began with large demonstrations on International Women’s Day, followed by the events of 15 and 31 March, when millions of people took to the streets for the “Fora Temer” rallies and marches and against the labour and welfare reforms. This was followed on 28 April by the largest general strike in the history of Brazil, with 40 million workers put down their tools, and then with the march to Brasilia on 24 May, with more than 200 thousand people. From then on, it became clear that there was a great willingness by the working class to fight back and a new general strike was called for 30 June by the trade unions centrals.

However, instead of advancing these struggles and securing the strike on 30 June, several sectors began to prioritise the campaign for direct elections. We know that direct elections are more democratic than indirect elections, but much worse is what happened. The tactic of prioritising electoral politics represented the abandonment of the general strike and the struggles against the labour reform, and ended up allowing Temer to stay until 2018. Some trade union centrals even participated in a meeting with Temer in the Presidential Palace. Consequently, the great possibility of a new gigantic strike that could, among other things, have prevented the approval of the labour reform and made the Temer Government unsustainable or, at least, led to a greater radicalization of the struggles of the working class, resulted in a general strike much smaller than the previous one. From there came a new reconciliation with part of the PMDB, more precisely with Senator Renan Calheiros and Senator Sarney, and a sequence of misconceptions, that took the focus off the struggles.

Unfortunately, this absurdity cannot simply be credited to a tactical error, but must be seen as part of a policy aimed at class reconciliation.

This policy implemented in the last 12 years has had other harmful effects, for it ended in practice, without modifying the structure of the armed forces, its formation nor its command. Neither were the recommendations of the truth commission carried out. That is, none of the torturers and murderers were punished for the state terror and the crimes they committed during the period of the military dictatorship (1964 to 1985). The impunity of the past, generates impunity in the present and a certain repetition of history as we now see  before our eyes as “farce.” And the result is, as we have seen in recent months, several declarations of militaries belonging to the high command of the armed forces wanting to reissue a military coup in our country. And for those who defend a supposed institutionality of a “military intervention” or coup in plain language, we ask the following question: is torture, including children, institutional? Rapes? The “pau de arara”? The hiding of corpses? Political persecution? What happened in Brazil during the dictatorship?

Break with the illusions

It is necessary to break with the illusions that only with elections can we stand up to this situation.

This does not mean that we do not participate in elections, because if we do so, the people will only be under the influence of right-wing parties. We say so for various reasons. One of them is beyond our borders. We need to see the international situation, as shown by a possible imperialist military intervention in our neighbouring Venezuela, despite the great resistance of the people and their government. Furthermore, nowhere in the world are societies moving towards a full democracy, on the contrary, the trend is towards much more repression and even greater limitation of popular participation. In addition, the governments of the rich point to the dismantling of social rights and the world’s neoliberal guidebook points to the same path, reducing labour rights and social security, while increasing interest payments, transforming workers into slaves.

The attacks made by the great bourgeoisie and its government are the way to further harden the repression, with the objective of furthering  enriching these sectors, which are no more than 1% of the population, but who own the banks, the big companies, the land, energy and telecommunications. In other words, they call the shots in our country and want to take even more of the fruit of the work of millions and millions of workers, of our natural wealth and privatize Eletrobrás (electric utilities company) and the Post Office.

This policy “produces accumulation of wealth at one pole” and an increase in “poverty, misery, toil slavery at the opposite side”, as Karl Marx teaches us, creating more than 14 million unemployed people and true social chaos throughout the country. It will not be by embracing these exploiting classes or their politicians, asking them to “please exploit the workers less” that better days will come to our class.

Furthermore, this 1% seeks to further deepen this state of exploitation. In this way, we see in our country (and in some parts of the world) an ongoing process that in practice is a kind of fusion of the most reactionary political power, that is, anti-people, opposed to social transformations in favour of the working class, with the power of large monopolies, large corporations and banks. This policy became known throughout the world as Fascism. This occurs when the traditional politicians can no longer guarantee the maintenance of the policy of extreme gains for the big bourgeoisie, in our case because of the great demoralization they are in, mired in cases of corruption and daily scandals, prompted by a press that has no social commitment .

And let’s not fool ourselves, attacks on art exhibitions (which are not mere smoke screens to conceal larger attacks, but are part of the same extreme right-wing conception that attacks the working class and advocates the extermination of black youth), increased intolerance to certain religions, social movements, and the left, together with the loss of perspective of large sections of the working class of the possibility of changing the situation they live in, are favourable environments for the advancement of fascist ideas and practices.

Building a popular national and left-wing alternative

In order to face up to this policy of gestation of fascism in our country, we must resort to history and how the peoples of the world in the past defeated this policy. And in this analysis we see that the only possible way is not to be afraid, and to promote a broad mobilization of the working class and the most impoverished sectors of the population, combined with the mobilization of all sectors that intend to combat this policy, especially artists and intellectuals, to fight against the military coup and defeat it at his birth.

And for its implementation, another measure is fundamental, the articulation of alternatives that seek to regroup the left, but not with the objective of reissuing class conciliation. The current left-wing parties do not want any profound change, but only to return to government to keep the same ruling classes in power.

It is necessary to create an alternative that can promote a ruthless struggle against opportunism of all kinds and that has moral credit with the working class to be heard and respected.

In this sense, about a year ago several social movements took the initiative of creating the Popular Unity for Socialism – UP. It is a left-wing party that is born in this scenario of confrontation and radicalization and proposes to be one of the unifying poles for new forces that allow us to move forward. We can and must create the conditions to win, and for this, the need to develop even more boldly, a movement from below in the favelas, occupations, working-class neighbourhoods, schools and universities, work places and factories, carrying the message of hope, with humility, self-confidence and combativeness.

Leonardo Péricles

Leonardo Péricles is a Brazilian black activist, president of the Popular Unity for Socialism (UP) and member of the national steering committee of the Movimento de Luta nos Bairros, Vilas e Favelas (MLB). MLB is a national social movement formed by thousands of homeless families.