The victory for far-right Bolsonaro is a dangerous development and it is now a critical moment for the left to unite and win the streets, argues Orlando Hill
It was an upward battle from the beginning, and despite the left making big gains in the last week, it proved too difficult to win. The right-wing strategy of a constant campaign against the left and accusations of corruption, in the end, won. Jair Bolsonaro is Brazil’s next president after winning 55% of the votes. Fernando Haddad managed 44%. Around 10% of voters either invalidated their votes or left it blank. Around 21% abstained from voting, which is quite a lot for a country in which the vote is mandatory.
Those who voted for Bolsonaro, clearly a fascist, did not all vote for fascism. The over 57 million voted mainly for security and against corruption. A fascist in office is not the same as fascism in power. However, the left should not be complacent. Last night in Niteroi, a city just across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, armed soldiers in open trucks paraded in the streets while being applauded by the public waving national flags.
In his acceptance speech, Jair Bolsonaro seemed exhausted. He looked like someone who had come from a fight. He did not make any of his usual spontaneous hate speech, but read from a script. He sounded more like Macron than Trump. He mentioned truth and freedom a number of times. He swore to respect the constitution. In terms of his policies, he promised to deregulate the economy so that the “entrepreneur has more freedom to build his future.” He plans to strengthen the federation by giving the states and municipalities greater power.
The focus on guaranteeing the rights of private property is part of an attack on the Landless and the Workers’ Homeless Movements. He says that the priority of his government is to reduce public debt so that the country can grow. “The primary deficit needs to be eliminated as soon as possible, and converted into a surplus.”
In terms of foreign policy, we can expect a radical change. He promised to free Brazil from the agreements it has been subjected to under PT governments. Brazil will make bilateral agreements with developed countries that can add to its prosperity. In other words, under his government, Brazil will move away from Mercosur and regional/BRICS integration, and towards the USA. This will most certainly weaken the ties with Venezuela.
So, what we can expect from Bolsonaro’s agenda is more austerity and a liberalisation of trade and natural resource exploitation agreements with the US. This is why Brazil’s elite were more willing to accommodate fascism than the mild social democracy of the PT, and why the US capitalist class and media, including the Wall Street Journal, backed Bolsonaro. This point was exemplified by a CBC article that incredibly said:
“For Canadian business, a Bolsonaro presidency could open new investment opportunities, especially in the resource sector, finance and infrastructure, as he has pledged to slash environmental regulations in the Amazon rainforest and privatize some government-owned companies.”
Jandira Feghali, communist federal deputy, called for unity:
“We have to forget our differences for we now have a common enemy in fascism. Congress is not the main front in our battle. It is important, but it is not the most important. Our main front is outside in the streets. We have to build on what we have built during this campaign, strengthen the social network we have built. Let’s not forget that over 45 million Brazilians voted for a more tolerant, inclusive and democratic project for Brazil.”
Erika Kokay, president of the Workers’ Party (PT) and federal deputy, in her post-election rally reminded the crowd that the Workers’ Party was forged in the streets and factories in the struggle against the military dictatorship. “Those who came out of the closet will never go back into it. Women will never return to the kitchen. This country will never be a country of fascism.” The crowd answered by chanting “ele não” (not him). Ele não was a campaign mainly organised by women on social media; a protest against Bolsonaro’s misogynistic, racist and homophobic comments. It grew in popularity and became the shouting call that united the progressive forces against his candidacy.
At the beginning of Fernando Haddad’s press conference in the city of São Paulo, a minute of silence was held in memory of the three activists who were murdered at three different points during the campaign, Marielle Franco, Mestre Moa Katendê and Charlione Albuquerque. Haddad reminded those present of the obstacles they had to overcome starting with Dilma Rousseff's impeachment, then Lula’s imprisonment and finally the repeal of his candidacy. What is being challenged at the moment is labour, political, civil and social rights. “Our commitment has to be to defend democracy.”
There is still hope for the left and for the fight against fascism. The PT, with 56 representatives, is the largest party in the lower house. Left-wing parties have over 100 representatives combined and Haddad won in the north-east region of the country, which was hotly contested during the campaign.
The challenge for the left is to strengthen the united front that was forged in the weeks of campaigning in the second round. It will not be easy. Ciro Gomes, the defeated presidential candidate of the Democratic Labour Party (PDT) did not give Haddad his support in the second round saying he would not campaign for the Workers’ Party. There will be some parties competing for the role of the main opposition party.
The challenge is not to lose focus on the austerity policies and the loss of political and labour rights which the government will try to push. It will almost certainly mean a radical rupture with neoliberalism - which the PT, while in office, did not do, by insisting on maintaining the neoliberal tripod of flexible exchange rates, inflation targeting and budget deficit reduction.
It will also mean expanding and strengthening the labour and trade union movements, which played a minor role in the electoral campaign. Most of the demonstrations were organised by the radical-left parties and spontaneous participation of the public, mainly women. There are demonstrations planned for tomorrow across the country with the slogan: “No fear, we will have resistance”. This is a time for the radical left to take charge of the streets and direct the anti-Bolsonaro movement to limit the damage his government can do and ultimately to remove him from power sooner than later.
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.
More articles from this author
- Bolsonaro under pressure from within and below
- The London working class have not forgotten Grenfell
- Tsunami da Educação: students stand up to Bolsonaro
- What happened in the Venezuela coup attempt, and why the threat remains
- A People’s History of the Portuguese Revolution - book review
- Building Power from Below: Chilean Workers Take on Walmart - book review
- O efeito Bolsonaro: e agora Brasil?