The Double-Death of Brazilian Democracy


The Brazilians definitely know how to return a favour, and not just when it comes to soccer. Early last month, when protests broke out in the major cities of Turkey in response to the attempt by the Islamist government to privatize one of the last remaining green spaces in Istanbul, the former were quick to oblige with shipments of tear gas to the latter to deal with the insurrection. Whether or not the tear gas had to do with it, within weeks the infection in Turkey spread to the major cities of Brazil, in response to a ten-cent rise in bus fares. There are interesting similarities and contrasts between the Erdogan and Rousseff governments, as well as the central issues which have given rise to the uprisings in both countries, uniquely misunderstood by the mainstream media. Both the AKP and the Workers Party governments came to power in 2002, their countries ruled by military dictatorships in the first half of the 20th century, though it must be said that what the Turkish military lacked in terms of continuity (the military dictatorship in Brazil ruled uninterrupted from 1964 to 1985), it made up handsomely by intervening repeatedly (three times: 1961, 1980 and 1997). After the restoration of democracy in both countries in the late 1980s, there was a succession of corrupt civilian governments which carried on the neoliberal programs dictated by the IMF and the World Bank and put in practice albeit in a limited way under dictatorship, and which brought both countries to the brink of bankruptcy post-2000. The disillusionment with the political class handed victory to the Islamist Erdogan in Turkey (who went on to win two more elections) and the leftist Workers Party, then led by Lula da Silva. Both the governments have in their own way tried to boost social spending in health and education, not really tried to break away from the capitalist system in any serious way, and pursuing adventurous foreign policies (Turkey in Syria and Brazil in Haiti and at the UN); of course this course is set by the earnest desire of both not to stray too far from the good books of Washington. And of course, Brazil’s beloved novelist, the communist Jorge Amado, who was jailed by Getulio Vargas, Brazil’s own Ataturk, re-imagined the origins of Brazil in his witty novella The Discovery of America by the Turks – in reality Arabs – when according to Amado, “the Turks finally discovered America, landed in Brazil, and became Brazilians of the best kind.”

Indeed, the new young Turks now demonstrating on the streets of major Brazilian cities have been inspired by the best kind of model provided by their Turkish comrades. Ironically, while Erdogan’s Turkey provided an attractive if unviable model for the fellow Islamist rulers in power in Tunis and Cairo following the overthrow of dictators, Brazil’s social-democratic rulers failed to learn from the one model which has been on offer in Latin America following the disastrous failure of neoliberalism in that continent throughout the 1990s – the rise of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarianism in Venezuela, which was adopted subsequently in Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina, and has led to a redefinition of the relationship of the people not only with their rulers, but with the regional hegemon, the United States. Though both the presidents from the Workers Party – Lula more so than Rousseff – have been occasionally prone to the odd lip-service or two to Chavez and the Bolivarian model now and then, whether out of genuine conviction or an instinct for self-preservation it is hard to tell.

Irrespective of the fact that the Brazilian soccer team won the Confederation Cup final against Spain in Rio earlier today, the model Brazil’s rulers seem to be following has been pithily summarized by Humberto Ortega, one of the leaders of the Sandinista Revolution which overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua in 1979, of “society as a soccer stadium”. According to him: “There’s a hierarchy. One hundred thousand people can squeeze into the stadium, but only 500 can sit in the boxes. No matter how much you love the people, you can’t fit them all in the boxes.” According to this recantation then, any and every inequality can be justified. This in a country which has one of the most unequal distributions of income and land in the world.

As in Turkey where the bourgeois media has produced the dominant narrative of ‘secularism vs Islam’, in Brazil too, the real context of the revolt has been hijacked by the exclusive focus on soccer and FIFA’s shenanigans. Of course, the Workers Party government first under Lula and now Dilma Rousseff has privileged the holding of the soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, despite the fact that there have been noticeable improvements in hunger reduction, the minimum wage, provision of employment and health since 2002. However, between the triumphalism of Brazil as one of the members of the BRICS club and its global power pretensions marked by its attempts to secure a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, no doubt helped by its successful bidding for the World Cup and Olympics, what is missing is the explanation that it is the refusal of the Workers Party to break away more decisively from the neoliberal model in its attempts to please both the Brazilian ruling elite as well as Washington that has produced the discontent in the streets and has distanced it from some of the most powerful social movements such as the landless peasants movement, the Movimento Sem Terra (MST).

It was not always like it however. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the military coup which ousted the regime of Joao Goulart, the radical social democrat who not unlike Lula in 2002, came to power on a radical platform of redistribution of wealth and land reform in 1961. Having worked to increase the minimum wage by 100% as the previous Minister of Labour under Vargas, Goulart moved to address the other inequalities in Brazilian society. His Basic Reforms Law attempted to institute radical reforms in education, took on the multinational corporations siphoning off Brazil’s wealth, extending voting rights to the disenfranchised and land reform, allying himself with the Communist Party. Unlike Lula, he was himself a wealthy landowner whose appeal cut across Brazil’s notoriously racist divide; he distanced the country from its quest for nuclear weapons; and only assumed far-reaching presidential powers after winning a popular plebiscite in 1963. But even these far-from-revolutionary reforms were too much for the country’s generals who overthrew his regime just a year later. Goulart’s reforms in his short-lived three years of government now appear far deeper than what the Workers Party has managed to achieve in a decade of power since 2002. And unlike the corruption and vote-buying scandals which characterized the last years of Lula’s second presidential term (but not him personally), Goulart was a remarkably honest and clean politician. It is this legacy which Rousseff and her advisers need to ponder, rather than the aftermath of the World Cup.

The protesters on the Brazilian streets so far have not come up with a political and social program; they do not belong to any political party, but their demands are firmly geared against neoliberalism. So far the notoriously-divided Brazilian left – a legacy of the Cold War and the years of the armed struggle, crushed first by Vargas and later by the military dictatorship – as well as the powerful social movements of the MST and those which produced the ubiquitous World Social Fora in Porto Alegre are not visible in these insurrections. The spontaneous movement of the youth is also in danger of being swayed by those for whom even a leftist government in however capitalist a clothing is unbearable. Dilma Rousseff, a survivor of the tortures inflicted by the military dictatorship, and her comrades need to make a quick and comprehensive post-mortem of their predicament, maybe even compare notes with Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor in Venezuela rather than Erdogan, who might yet crown himself the new sultan of Turkey and be thwarted by the still-powerful military. In Brazil, which like Turkey ushered in a republic by deposing a monarch and where a hopeless people might have more of a chance now than the military to deliver another come-uppance to a leftist government, Dilma Rousseff should take time out to read Amado’s popular novella The Double Death of Quincas Water-Bray, in which the protagonist’s family attempt to give him a respectable burial, having tired of his shenanigans for a whole decade.”Let everyone see to his own funeral; nothing is impossible”, says Quincas before plunging to his ‘second’ death. There might yet be enough time to save Brazilian democracy from another such death, without having to resort to dress it up in ugly second-hand clothes for a funeral like poor Quincas.

Raza Naeem is an Arabic-speaking Pakistani social scientist, literary critic, translator and political activist (of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party) He has been trained in Political Economy from the University of Leeds in UK, and in Middle Eastern History and Anthropology from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, USA. He is presently working on a history of pos-Arab Spring Yemen. He can be reached at: razanaeem@hotmail.com

November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate
Julian Vigo
A Brief Genealogy of Disappearance and Murder
John R. Hall
Stuck in the Middle With You
Barbara Nimri Aziz
McDonalds at 96th Street
David Rovics
At the Center of Rebellion: the Life and Music of Armand
Weekend Edition
November 20-22, 2015
Jason Hirthler
Paris and the Soldiers of the Caliphate: More War, More Blowback
Sam Husseini
The Left and Right Must Stop the Establishment’s Perpetual War Machine
Mike Whitney
Hillary’s War Whoop
Pepe Escobar
In the Fight Against ISIS, Russia Ain’t Taking No Prisoners
Ajamu Baraka
The Paris Attacks and the White Lives Matter Movement
Andrew Levine
The Clintons are Coming, the Clintons are Coming!
Linda Pentz Gunter
Let’s Call Them What They Are: Climate Liars
Paul Street
Verging on Plutocracy? Getting Real About the Unelected Dictatorship
Nur Arafeh
Strangling the Palestinian Economy
Patrick Howlett-Martin
The Paris Attacks: a Chronicle Foretold
Vijay Prashad
Rebuilding Syria With BRICS and Mortar
Brian Cloughley
Why US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is the Biggest Threat to World Peace