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Bolsonaro’s Win Brings Big Dangers, but Brazil’s Left ‘More United Than Ever’

Brian Mier, editor of Brasil Wire and Voices of the Brazilian Left: Dispatches From a Coup in Progress, spoke to Federico Fuentes about the victory of fascist candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential elections, and what it means for the coming period.

Much of the media has portrayed Jair Bolsonaro as a kind of “Trump of the Tropics”, but what does Bolsonaro’s victory really represent?

The only thing that Bolsonaro and [US President Donald] Trump have in common is that they’re racist and Steve Bannon apparently worked on both campaigns.

Bolsonaro is not a “Trump of the Tropics” because, although Trump has used racist, homophobic and sexist rhetoric to generate controversy and ratings, he’s essentially a conman. He’s not someone that you get the feeling grew up believing this sort of stuff.

Bolsonaro, on the other hand, is literally a neo-fascist who comes out of Brazil’s neo-fascist tradition.

[US academic] Noam Chomsky and others coined the phrase neo-fascist to describe the dictatorships of Latin America, especially in Brazil, in the 1960s and ’70s.

That’s the time in history Bolsonaro values most highly.

He has appointed into top cabinet positions three military generals who were active during the dictatorship and his vice president is a military general.

He’s also not someone who inherited a lot of money; he is petty bourgeois.

And he has talked openly about killing large amounts of people in Brazil. In the week before the final round of elections, he spoke of about arresting or expelling leftist from the country. He uses the kind of myth-building that fascists use. Fascists have always accused leftists of being corrupt.

So there is enough in common between Bolsonaro and fascist rulers of the past to say he’s an actual fascist and not a racist demagogue like Trump.

What can we expect from a Bolsonaro government? Well, we can expect that the current polarisation and political crisis will be considerably aggravated.

He will probably respond to any challenges to his government, or to governability, with threats and repression instead of dialogue. This could be enough to push Brazilian democracy over the edge and spell the end of democracy.

In terms of the economy, he has appointed Paulo Guedes as his economics chief. Guedes was an advisor to the [Chile’s] Pinochet regime.

Guedes is already talking about copying Chile’s failed pension model, where they only get 40% of the minimum wage. In Brazil, pensioners are guaranteed a pension equivalent to 100% of the minimum wage.

We’re looking at an extreme sell-off of all of Brazil’s natural resources, probably at below market rates, building on a process that started under Michel Temer [who was installed as president following the parliamentary coup against former Workers’ Party (PT) president Dilma Rousseff in 2016].

He’s talking about eliminating indigenous reservations. He has no qualms about wanting to sell off as much of the Amazon rainforest as possible, along with privatising public banks and other public companies.

These kinds of extreme austerity measures have never worked in the developing world, and they’re not going to start working now.

Brazil’s role on the international stage, which was built up during the PT administrations, as a player in BRICS [the bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa], reaching out to other countries like China and Turkey, countries in Africa; not depending entirely on the US for everything; getting more involved in the United Nations system. This kind of stuff is all completely out the window under Bolsonaro.

He’s been mistakenly built up as a nationalist, but he’s not a nationalist at all. He worships the US and he’s going to hand over everything he can to the US.

Also, the fact that he never condemns fascist mob violence means we can expect more violence against gays, Blacks, women.

What do some of the voting patterns in these elections tell us about what is happening in Brazil?

The overall voting patterns show, first, that all of the political parties that were involved in the 2016 coup were decimated: the MDB [Brazilian Democratic Movement], Democratas, which used to be the official governing party in the dictatorship, and the PSDB [Brazilian Social Democracy Movement].

This is the first election since the 1980s where the PSDB did not finish either first or second. PSDB’s support plummeted: they dropped from almost winning the elections in 2014 to not even getting 5% this time.

These three parties, which are generally considered to be centre right — although Democratas is neo-fascist — lost about 50 seats in Congress between them. They’ve essentially been wiped out of as a factor in Congress. Bolsonaro’s tiny PSL [Social Liberal Party], which had eight MPs, now has 52 deputies and four senators.

What has happened is that the so-called centre right, led by the PSDB, has spent so much time and energy attacking the PT for the past 15 years, instead of putting forward solid proposals, that it got to the point where the conservative electorate said well if you’re going to go this far, why don’t we go all the way against them and side with the real fascists?

These elections represent blowback against the parties that orchestrated the coup. Unfortunately, this did not translate into the PT retaking power; it translated into a further right-wing party rising up to the point where it is now the second largest party in congress, after the PT.

The left was seemingly divided under the PT, but largely united in the second round against Bolsonaro. What has been the response of the left to confront what many call a fascist government?

With the 2016 coup, they illegally imprisoned the PT’s most popular candidate [Lula], who was leading in all the election polls and was predicted to win in the first round; that the PT was forced to come up with another candidate at the last minute, one who was not well known on the national scale, due to the legal persecution of other, more well-known candidates; it’s really impressive that the PT even made it to the second round.

This is now the eighth election in a row that the PT has come first or second. This means that they are still a powerful party — except the worry now is Bolsonaro is going to try to outlaw the PT.

He’s promised to arrest all leftists. He’s using the old neo-fascist technique of declaring an internal enemy in order to declare war on it. The internal enemy is the PT, which just won 47 million votes and still represents a large section of the population.

It’s kind of a testament to its base, which is the unions and the social movements, representing about 15-20 million people, who campaigned the old-fashioned way: knocking on doors, talking to neighbours.

It’s a testament to it that, with all of the anti-PT campaign, it still managed to do that well.

But more generally, the left is in shock. It’s in shock, but they’re talking about regrouping and taking to the streets. I think a lot of this was expected after the first round, but it’s still a shock to a lot of people.

The left is more united than at any time in the past 23 years that I’ve lived in Brazil. [This comes out of] the immediate response to the 2016 coup, when these two big popular fronts were formed — People Without Fear and Popular Brazil Front. I think the left is very united right now.

One problem is that some elements of the Anglo left have been feeding into conservative, anti-PT arguments, which has hampered solidarity with the Brazilian left by buying into some of the myths.

For example, accepting the corruption accusations and not challenging them. Hitler attacked the German Socialists on corruption, Mussolini attacked the Italian Socialists on corruption, the Brazilian military dictatorship attacked social democrats on corruption.

Given the history of fascists using corruption as a way to attack the left, some sections of the left really did a disservice to the Brazilian left by not challenging these accusations.

Now that all the evidence is out, everyone who’s looking into it knows that Lula didn’t do anything. That’s why Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky, why most of the trade unions in the world, are standing in solidarity with him. They know that Lula didn’t do anything.

I feel that sometimes in the Anglo world, it almost looks like some people on the vanguard left are rooting for more fragmentation on the Brazilian left instead of unity.

At this moment, in which Haddad gave his concession speech last night, with Guilherme Boulos from PSOL [Socialism and Freedom Party, founded by a 2004 split from the PT] and Manuela d’Ávila from the Communist Party of Brazil standing right next to him, the left is more united than it ever has been.

And it’s going to have to be if it’s going to fight this fascism.

This article originally ran in Green Left Weekly.

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