Elections in Brazil: Lulaism and Bolsonaroism
On the surface, the Brazilian presidential election seems complex. Despite the coup and Lula’s arrest, the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers’ Party) will face in the second round a fearsome creature of the dictatorship – Bolsonaro. What is in dispute in this election? Who is the candidate for large capital? What is the strategy of the bourgeoisie? And the answer from the left? I will now address these issues.
For the Brazilian bourgeoisie, the economy is not in dispute in the elections: whoever wins will confront the problems of neoliberalism, with more neoliberalism. Whether through the utopian way of an ‘inclusive neoliberalism’ preached by the PT, or by the ultraneoliberalism of Bolsonaro.
What the bourgeoisie contests is the political form to manage Brazilian crises: what institutional, legal and cultural arrangement is to replace the New Republic that followed dictatorship (1964-1985), and which is now definitively condemned.
On the immediate plane, there are two paths.
In his own words, Lula offers credibility and stability. The credibility of which he speaks is not with those from above, but with those from below: what Lula says, society will accept. In other words, Lulaism offers its capacity for persuasion and popular neutralisation, as a path for order. If Dilma Rousseff was the shadow of Lula, Fernando Haddad, the PT’s candidate, is projected as the avatar of this policy.
At the opposite, complementary pole, is Bolsonaro. How to understand him? Bolsonaro is the frightening response of a frightened society. Those who are out of work are afraid of hunger, and those who work are afraid of unemployment. Everyone is afraid of violence, and also afraid of the police.
In a context where collective forms of struggle are discredited, Bolsonaro promises order through truculence like Trump in the United States, Erdogan in Turkey, Modi in India, Uribeism in Colombia or fascism in Italy – all currently in power. Therefore, Bolsonaro is not alone: he is a tendency, not an aberration.
In synthesis, these are different ways to manage the colossal Brazilian crisis: the PT offers stability through conversation, while Bolsonaro proposes the same through violence.
Seeing the impossibility of their own men winning, which of these routes is preferable to capital?
If Haddad wins, he will have a hard time governing. The dilemma of power will be how to deal with the snake of anti-PTism. How to persuade those who embarked on the impeachment and Lula's imprisonment, to accept that all this leads to Haddad?
A Bolsonaro win will be a problem for the governed. His base among the powerful is fragile, his rejection rate is high and his character unpredictable. The question is: who will discipline the disciplinarian?
Haddad and Bolsonaro are provisional and necessarily unstable responses of a bourgeoisie in a phase of reorganisation.
Beyond the immediate, the bourgeois trend is moving toward Bolsonaro. The ruling class is incubating a Bolsonaroism without Bolsonaro.
In France, the fascist Marine le Pen complains of those who came together to defeat her in the second round. Why, after all, says a discontented Le Pen, did they elect someone who implements her policies, but without making noise?
Beneath the dust of the next elections, the Brazilian bourgeoisie forges its Macron.
Between the collapse of Lulaism, configured in the rebellion of June 2013, and a reliable Bolsonaroism that is in the oven, the Brazilian bourgeoisie updates itself. This rearrangement is expressed in the dispersion of candidates, as in 1989, when the New Republic began. The bourgeoisie is again looking for a way, but now to bury it.
Any government that comes will necessarily be unstable – as was Collor’s, who was impeached in 1992.
In this context, the Toucans, who polarised with the PT for the past decades, are self-critical: it would have been better to let Dilma bleed, than to conspire for the coup and form a government with Temer. They were overanxious for power, and as they have no chance in this election, they are condemned to patience.
The bourgeoisie and the Toucans calculate who is most useful to burn and be burned, in the expectation of founding on this scorched earth a new order in its likeness.
And the left in all this?
Paradoxically, it shows more difficulty in understanding the changes. To the right, it's been clear since June: the time of inclusive neoliberalism is gone. It has moved from conciliation to class warfare. This is the background of Lulaist agony.
Lulaism is a policy that navigates in the waters of system. At this moment, only the rise of the masses can resurrect it as a bourgeois alternative. The paradox is that this will only happen if the ties of Lulaism are broken – as it happened in June. But when that happens, the rioters will ask: all this effort, to have Lula back in charge?
If the snake of anti-PTism is difficult to control, street politics beyond the PT’s control will be much more difficult. That is why not even Lula is interested in people on the street.
Envisioning a bridge between PTism and the left, the Boulos candidacy from PSOL is constrained by the agenda of the first. In the process, Boulos risks corroborating the kidnapping of the left in the magic lamp of Lulaism. In addition to its internal contradictions, this policy has lost its bearings in history: therefore it will not be repeated, except as a farce.
Lulaism is not the antidote to fascism, but a drug that hinders the understanding of what is happening. Only through struggle will Brazilians escape barbarism, not with morphine.
Regardless of the outcome, the winner of this election is already Bolsonaro. Because it was he who set the debate. The axis of debate shifted to the right, further distancing debate over structural issues. On the other hand, the left had already lost this dispute, because it didn’t even enter the game.
To go back to the first division of politics, they will need to update diagnosis and strategy. In the meantime, we will see defeats accumulate, without their even disputing the course of history.
(Fabio Luis Barbosa dos Santos is a professor at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) and author of “Beyond the PT: The Crisis of the Brazilian Left in Latin American Perspective”).