By Zachary Medeiros
Originally published in The Socialist with a new post-electoral update:
Since Bolsonaro’s victory, which was quickly greeted with warm wishes from Washington to Beijing, the forces of reaction in Brazil have wasted no time in pushing their offensive forward. Sergio Moro, the US-backed judge who put former president Lula in prison, is now the new Justice Minister, a cushy reward for his blatant corruption and defiance of Brazilian and international law. Confident in his impunity, the Army Chief of Staff recently admitted threatening Brazil’s Supreme Court so they would keep Lula behind bars. The fascist government is promoting a project called School Without Political Parties, which would ban “leftist” material, language, or debates in the name of combating “communist indoctrination” in education. Most recently, Bolsonaro sabotaged a Cuban medical program that provided essential care to poor, underserved parts of Brazil, threatening the lives of countless people.
Only a few decades removed from military dictatorship, Brazil is on the verge of becoming a fascist state once again. On October 7, Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain under the old US-backed military regime, won 47% of the vote in the presidential election’s first round. Bolsonaro’s triumph, which was almost enough to win him the presidency outright, was the result of a number of factors.
First, Brazilian democracy is on life support, and arguably nonexistent. Since the parliamentary putsch of 2016, which removed president Dilma Rousseff from office on a budget technicality, the Right has only escalated its multitiered attacks on democratic society. As in Venezuela, their inability to implement their Wall Street-approved policies through electoral means has led it to abandon even the pretense of democracy. Nostalgia for the “law and order” of the dictatorship are common, as are calls for military intervention. Long afflicted with pervasive racism, sexism, and class inequality, Brazilian society itself has lurched further into a fascist fervor, bolstered by dismal economic conditions. This madness is exemplified by the brazen assassinations of people like Marielle Franco, the army occupation of Rio, and the bloody attacks of Bolsonaro’s supporters on women, leftists, journalists, and black and LGBTQ+ people. Lynching is becoming the order of the day.
Second, the Brazilian left is in a crisis of its own. The Brazilian situation has demonstrated the enduring truth of George Jackson’s observation that fascism “emerged out of weakness in the preexisting economic arrangement and in the old left.” The dominant party, the Worker’s Party (or PT), is hobbled by a lack of leadership, an exaggerated reputation for corruption, and its inability to break with the prevailing logic of Brazilian capital. Its most prominent figure, two-term president Lula, was convicted and imprisoned on a ridiculous and evidence-free charge, most likely in coordination with the US government, and prevented from running for president in direct defiance of international and Brazilian law. While Lula posed no revolutionary threat to Brazilian or international capitalism, he was insufficiently committed to the hard-right, neoliberal agenda that the Brazilian ruling class and its foreign allies desire, and far too popular among the masses. His designated replacement, Fernando Haddad, is ill-equipped to combat, let alone defeat, this fascist resurgence, and trailing in the polls. The PT still enjoys a notable mass base, but the tide is against them, and the PT seems unwilling to move beyond the confines of electoral politics.
Lastly, we have the foreign element. The rapid rise of Bolsonaro and his party to the cusp of power would not have been possible without the aid of the United States. Steve Bannon, who has become something of a global fascist whisperer since leaving the Trump administration, appears to be a key figure in Bolsonaro’s campaign, offering him advice on social media and data manipulation. His influence, and perhaps the influence of organizations like the CIA, has helped Bolsonaro rise from a minor candidate to one who commands a decisive majority. To the shock of no one who’s ever read the Wall Street Journal, the Wall Street Journal has given its blessing to Bolsonaro, continuing its longstanding tradition of backing dictators to keep the Third World rabble in check. Even the less brazen organs of the US ruling class, like the New York Times, have enabled Bolsonaro’s campaign by framing him as little more than a crude populist, instead of calling a fascist spade a spade.