"Bolsonarismo" After Bolsonaro: Lula's Return and Antifascist Organizing in BrazilRoundup
tags: far right, South America, Latin American history, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazilian History
Sean Purdy is an independent socialist activist who teaches the history of workers’ and social movements in the Americas at the University of São Paulo.
Lula da Silva narrowly won the Brazilian presidential elections against Jair Bolsonaro on October 30 (51-49%). Yet, Bolsonarismo—the far-right ideology punctuated by fascist traits and enthusiastically supported by the higher ranks of the Armed Forces—continues as strong as ever. The left won this electoral battle, but not yet the war against the most destructive right-wing threat against democracy, human and social rights, and the environment in the world.
Forty-nine percent of eligible electors—fifty-eight million people—in the second-largest democracy in the Americas voted for a candidate whose chief campaign slogan was “God, Fatherland, Family and Freedom,” literally copied from Brazilian Integralism, the homegrown fascist movement in the 1930s, and from German Nazi and Italian fascist rhetoric. Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party (PL) and smaller, allied parties will control up to half the seats in the upper and lower houses of Congress while fourteen of twenty-seven state governors support Bolsonaro. The three largest states—São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais—will be governed by fierce Bolsonaro allies.
Voting is compulsory in Brazil resulting in a relatively low twenty-percent abstention rate. Lula won handily among the poor, women, Blacks and Indigenous peoples, as well as in many large cities such as São Paulo and Belo Horizonte and in the entire Northeast region of the country. Bolsonaro won a large majority in the southern and midwestern states and narrowly took the remaining regions of the country, including his home base in the city of Rio de Janeiro where allied paramilitary militias control large swaths of the poor urban periphery. His main supporters were middle-to-upper-class men and older voters in mid-sized cities and rural areas, but a significant proportion of the working class also voted for Bolsonaro in all regions of the country. Small wonder that on election day, the Federal Highway Police, headed by a family friend of Bolsonaro, actively tried to prevent voters in the Lula-dominated Northeast from arriving at the polling booths.
While they are not yet formally organized, Bolsonaro’s violent shock troops will continue as a disruptive, anti-democratic force. They are ably assisted by the “Hate Cabinet”—composed of hand-picked operators from Bolsonaro’s inner circle—who bombard social media with horrendous fake news. The most hard-core Bolsonaro supporters, including independent owner truckers and bosses of large trucking firms (some of whom forced their employees to participate) organized over five hundred blockades of highways around the country in the first three days after the elections, calling for military intervention against the election results. They were denounced by several truckers’ unions and roundly condemned by politicians and the media but received formal support from many Bolsonaro cronies. The media have reported numerous cases of the Federal Highway Police assisting the blockaders and Bolsonaro himself, who only tacitly accepted defeat two days after the election, declared that he completely understood his supporters’ frustration with “electoral irregularities.” He only slapped them on the wrist for their “methods” insisting that these were characteristic of the left. Three full days after the election there are still almost two hundred highway blockades.
Popular resistance against the anti-democratic blockades and the lack of formal actions by the PT, allied parties, the trade unions and established social movements are portents of the conflicts to come between the top-down parliamentary approach and radical, grass-roots mobilizations. Reluctant state police have broken up most of the highway obstructions after they were ordered to by the Supreme Court. Yet at least seven barricades in four states were taken down by concerted mobilizations of dock workers, poor local residents and left-wing football fan clubs, including two blockades in São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil. Initially calling on its members to forcibly unblock the highways, the Homeless Workers’ Movement ended up signing an accord with other PT-supporting social movements and all the main trade union federations to merely “accompany” the actions of Bolsonaro’s shock troops, but not to intervene to rout them.