If one judges by the narrative presented in the world’s corporate media, it’s not hard to see why the political crisis in Brazil appears to resemble a particularly convoluted soap opera. Indeed, the learned gentlemen (and women) of the press in London and Washington regularly refer to it as such, either explicitly or implicitly.
Politics as soap opera
All the elements of addictive daytime drama are present in the media’s carefully packaged version of events: scandal, farce, corruption, bribery, greed, subterfuge, nepotism … and, of course, an evil supervillain who hides a grand masterplan for world domination behind his deceptively charming exterior (the cad).
The main plot points of the Brazilian political soap opera go something like this. President Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, a thug with a silver tongue, got himself elected back in 2002 on a populist ticket, promising to lighten the burden of the poor, but his wild popularity amongst the uneducated and dispossessed (simple folk on whom the complexities of political life are lost) masked a secret plan to destroy Brazil’s economy by raising wages and benefits and generally scaring away sensible investors.
He was helped in this evil intent by the discovery of lots of oil, which he foolishly insisted should be explored by (inexperienced and inefficient) local companies and whose revenues were frittered away on vanity projects like infrastructure, education, and science and technology projects. Not to mention instituting such wasteful practices as minimum wages and benefits for poor families.
He was further helped in his desire to run Brazil’s economy into the ground by a strong demand for Brazilian commodities from that other evil supervillain, the People’s Republic of China (boo, hiss). Lula became (inexplicably) more popular and, believing himself to be untouchable, naturally took the opportunity to make himself and his family filthy rich (although he has been clever enough to hide all evidence of these ill-gotten gains).
Despite the warnings of their betters, the poor kept voting for Lula, short-sightedly falling for the idea that a bit of wealth redistribution in their favour might be a good thing.
They even went on to vote for Lula’s protégé Dilma Rousseff, a politician who has the temerity to be both a woman and a former terrorist insurgent. In 1970, at the age of 22 (old enough to know better), Ms Rousseff was imprisoned for three years for her part in a (criminal and unjustified) guerrilla war against the good generals who (reluctantly) at that time held the reins of power in Brazil, having been forced to step in and save the country from another lot of dangerous commie-loving lunatics back in 1964.
Luckily, the generals had the help of their partners in the US and Britain, who were only too happy to share their vast experience of dealing decisively with such miscreants. In this way, Brazil’s people were protected from themselves and all was well for 21 stable and prosperous years.
With such ne’er-do-wells as Lula and Dilma in the presidential palace, things couldn’t but end in disaster. The economy nose-dived owing to the total incompetence of the silly Ms Rousseff, who was clearly out of her depth in a man’s world. At the same time (and quite coincidentally), wide corruption that implicated almost every member of the present and former Workers’ Party (PT) governments was uncovered. The politicians, it seemed, had been getting rich, and now the people were paying.
As recession hit and prices soared, the put-upon people of Brazil finally woke up and smelled the coffee, taking to the streets in their millions to protest against Ms Rousseff’s incompetence and the rampant corruption of the Workers’ Party. Dilma’s main coalition partners started to back away from her (not a day too early), and it was revealed that even people’s hero Lula had been on the take from the start.
This fortuitous discovery was made just in time, as it had been looking rather likely that continued support from simple provincial folk might have swept Lula back to the presidency in 2018, with who knows what dreadful consequences.
The only way to avoid that disaster would seem to be to kick the fallen idols into the jail cell where they quite obviously belong. The long-awaited dénouement will take place; the pretenders will be removed; a properly educated, respectable politician will take over as president of Brazil; investor confidence will return and things will once more fall back into their proper place.
The poor may have to tighten their belts for a while, but it will only be in the interests of preserving profitability, which, as any fool knows, in the end benefits us all.
What the papers don’t say
Of course, the key to good bourgeois journalism is never to let facts get in the way of a good story, especially if that story happens to serve the aims of international finance capital. Such rent-a-quill scribbling (or rent-a-gob wittering) is a cornerstone of the capitalist machinery of state control, and we underestimate it at our peril.
This is especially true in conditions of bourgeois democracy, where mind control plays a greater part than outright physical coercion in maintaining the rule of a tiny minority over the rest.
Here are a few of the facts that our worthy scribes routinely ‘forget’ to mention.
1. The economic crisis is endemic to the capitalist system of production and is affecting every country where that system operates.
The present recession is not peculiar to Brazil; it is not the result of local incompetence, but stems from the global overproduction crisis. Every corner of the capitalist world is intricately connected with every other in the sprawling labyrinth that is the world market; when one corner falls into recession, every other part is affected.
In Brazil, the “slowdown has become a brutal rout, with gross domestic product shrinking 3.8 percent in 2015, the deepest plunge in 25 years”. (Brazil’s President Rousseff, facing impeachment effort, is deluged by more bad news by Simon Romero, New York Times, 3 March 2016)
The Financial Times pointed out last autumn that “the recession has pushed up unemployment while inflation is rising – a double whammy for the PT’s core voters in the unions and working classes”. Needless to say, allowing an IMF-trained finance minister to try to cure the crisis through austerity measures proved as unsuccessful in Brazil as it has elsewhere. (Lula and Rousseff square off in Brazil’s austerity soap opera by Joe Leahy, 25 October 2015)
This capitalist crisis, like every other, has come about because while capitalism needs constantly to expand production, the purchasing power of the world’s masses does not expand at nearly the same rate, and they are increasingly unable to buy all the goods that have been produced. World markets are glutted, businesses are going under, workers are being thrown out of work, wages and conditions are being pushed down, public services are being slashed and debt burdens are piling up. Over $120bn of the Brazilian government’s budget presently goes to pay interest on public debt and Brazil has officially been pronounced ‘toxic’ to global investors.
Each of these negative consequences of the crisis exacerbates the others still further, so that we are pulled into a downward spiral of constantly deepening poverty, declining spending power, tightening austerity and burgeoning debt. Unemployment is high, standing officially at 8.2 percent and climbing rapidly. Some 1.5 million jobs were lost in 2015 and another 2.2 million are expected to go this year. (See The photo that’s become the emblem of Brazil’s political turmoil by Stephanie Nolen, Toronto Globe and Mail, 14 March 2016)
As part of a concerted attempt to regain the power and influence they have lost there in recent years, not only in Brazil but across Latin America, US imperialism and its local allies have seized the opportunity to hit the workers when they are down, using every means in their power to exacerbate the crisis.
In Venezuela, for example, this is being done through hoarding goods and manipulating prices so as to create shortages, increase inflation and generally make everyday life more and more difficult. In Brazil, the ongoing corruption investigation is being used to paralyse two vital sectors of the economy – oil and construction, which together account for more than 10 percent of the country’s GDP – and to cut the ties of both with the state and the national economy, opening them up to imperialist control.
The aim of this campaign is to combine these economic pressures with a media barrage that will persuade workers that their economic troubles are the result of incompetent management by progressive governments rather than a built-in and inevitable result of living under the capitalist system of production.
2. The media have a class agenda and use their influence to protect the interests of their billionaire owners.
Just like the media in Britain, Brazil’s media are almost exclusively owned by a few families, all of whom belong to the country’s super-rich elite. The corruption scandal presently hogging column inches and air time in Brazil embraces politicians from all political parties, not only – and not even mostly – the Workers’ Party. Moreover, no evidence has been found to link either Lula or Dilma to corruption, while there is plenty of evidence against many of their right-wing political rivals.
This you would never guess from reading most of the newspaper coverage or listening to the television news anchors, however. According to Telesur: “It appears there is an unholy alliance seeking to exploit a corruption scandal to try to drag the country’s politics rightwards.
“The efforts to link the Workers’ Party to the Petrobras scandal have, so far, been the main strategy followed by right-wing parties and politicians to justify an impeachment of Rousseff. They were also the main strategy used to attack Rousseff in the 2014 presidential campaign.
“Despite not having enough votes in congress to initiate an impeachment process, the media campaign, together with repeated calls for impeachment by opposition parties, have helped create negative public opinion.
“Even though no evidence has been found linking the president to the Petrobras scandal, polls have shown large numbers believe Rousseff herself was responsible for the corruption scandal.
“This is, in part, because the media have gone to great lengths in trying to portray the governing Workers’ Party as a corrupt, bureaucratic party that has poorly managed the state company.
“Lincoln Secco, a historian and Workers’ Party expert from the University of Sao Paulo, told Telesur in 2015 that the media play a key role in the current situation by exclusively targeting the Workers’ Party and not necessarily the government’s right-wing allies.
“‘Scandals involving the PT (Workers’ Party) are shown every day on television. (But) there is barely any criticism to the PSDB [Brazilian Social Democratic Party] government in Sao Paulo,’ he explains.
“However, the investigations so far into the Petrobras corruption scheme show that politicians from many parties – not only the Workers’ Party – were involved in the illegal network, including some from the main opposition party, PSDB, and others ….
“But the focus remains on the Workers’ Party. The raid of Lula’s home came just a few days after he said he could be a candidate in the 2018 presidential election. With many believing that Rousseff has been fatally wounded by the baseless allegations, will Lula increasingly become the right’s target?” (Brazil’s right wing seeking regime change?, 16 March 2016)
In order to destroy Lula’s reputation and stop him running for president again, the ruling elites and their imperialist backers will do almost anything. Sacrificing a few of their own loyal servants to make the highly politicised corruption enquiry look ‘unbiased’ is a small price to pay for the opportunity of presenting any and every ‘development’ in the case as an indictment of the man and his party, past and present.
Wall-to-wall emotive coverage of the corruption investigation in Brazil, and the continual ramping up of all kinds of spurious allegations, have created a feverish atmosphere in which speculation passes for fact and the objects of the ruling class’s ire – Lula and Dilma in particular – are convicted in the public mind without a shred of evidence on the basis of a string of colourful but baseless assertions.
Hence the dramatic televised (and legally questionable) 6.00am abduction of Lula by police and his detention for four hours on 4 March … to answer questions he had answered many times before, in the light of no new evidence, and despite the fact that he presented no risk of flight.
Image is all, and the image presented to the people by the stage-managed ‘emergency arrest’ production was that of a dangerous criminal hunted down by the long arm of the law. Not for nothing are the TV schedules so full of cop dramas … now we recognise a criminal when we see one.
Lula was saved from a longer detention by the prompt action of supporters in the PT and the PCdoB (Communist Party of Brazil), who mobilised en masse and converged on the airport where he was being held. This, of course, was not given serious coverage in the corporate media’s soap opera.
3. The Brazilian ruling class is hand-in-glove with US imperialism in preparing all the elements of yet another ‘colour revolution’.
According to Jack Rasmus: “there is yet another US policy shift underway that is perhaps not as evident as the refocus on China or the US new ‘cold war’ offensive against Russia. It is the US pivot toward Latin America, begun in 2014, targeting in particular the key countries and economies of South America – Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina – for economic and political destabilisation as a fundamental requisite for reintroduction of neoliberal policies in that region.” (Neoliberalism raises its ugly head in South America, Information Clearing House, 6 January 2015)
That a more or less ‘peaceful’ coup is in preparation can be seen in the highly effective coordination between the allegedly ‘independent’ courts, parliamentary bodies, police, media, NGOs and corporations that has brought the crisis to its present pitch in Brazil. It can also be seen in the ‘popular’ demonstrations against the government, which on closer inspection turn out to be nothing of the kind.
Those taking to the streets have been portrayed in both local and imperialist media as representing the will of the Brazilian masses. In fact, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is overwhelmingly Brazil’s small and privileged upper-middle class that has been so effectively mobilised. News anchors, judges and even state police have been openly calling for people to join the demonstrations and agitating for the fall the government.
On 13 March, the turnstiles of the São Paulo metro, which are under the control of the state government, were left open, in order to allow maximum numbers to participate in a major demonstration that had been called to protest against Dilma’s government.
“Last weekend, when massive anti-Dilma protests emerged in most Brazilian cities, a photograph of one of the families participating went viral, a symbol of what these protests actually are. It showed a rich, white couple decked out in anti-Dilma symbols and walking with their pure-breed dog, trailed by their black ‘weekend nanny’ – wearing the all-white uniform many rich Brazilians require their domestic servants to wear – pushing a stroller with their two children.
“As Stephanie Nolen [of the Toronto Globe and Mail] noted, the photo became the emblem for the true, highly ideological essence of these protests: ‘Brazilians, who are deft and fast with memes, reposted the picture with a thousand snarky captions, such as “Speed it up, there, Maria [the generic ‘maid name’], we have to get out to protest against this government that made us pay you minimum wage.”’ (Brazil is engulfed by ruling class corruption – and a dangerous subversion of democracy by Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Fishman and David Miranda, Information Clearing House, 20 March 2016)
These demonstrations, whose tech-savvy organisers have been trained and funded by US-based ‘democracy-promoting’ organisations (all generously funded by the usual imperialist suspects), are being presented as proof of the government’s illegitimacy, thus softening up workers at home and abroad to accept the planned ‘regime change’ as a natural and justified event.
The US hopes by these means to force apart the present coalition, ousting the Workers’ Party and leaving its former partners in the PMDB to form a new government in alignment with new, right-wing partners. The PMDB has made its readiness to cooperate with this plan clear by joining in with the stream of invective against Lula and Dilma. As we go to press, the party has left the government, although some of its individual ministers have refused to resign, effectively giving its blessing to the impeachment process by which the ruling class seeks to cover the planned coup.
The PMDB has also “quietly released an economic platform that is farther to the right than its historic party line. About concrete changes we’re likely to see, ‘the right would like to have less labour regulations’, says political scientist Celso Barros. ‘They would love for unions to be less powerful.’” (Regime change in Brazil? Right-wing protest movement funded by US billionaire foundations, training in US by Catherine Osborn, Global Research, 17 March 2016)
As the government’s supporters rally workers against the coup in cities across the country, Latin America’s progressive leaders, from Cuba to Bolivia and beyond, have also denounced the coup plotters and expressed their solidarity with Dilma and her government. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has warned of a repeat of Operation Condor, the CIA-orchestrated wave of right-wing repression across the continent that killed tens of thousands in the 1970s and 80s.
“The right is seeking revenge because it has been more than 10 years since the last time they were able to just pick up a phone and tell a sitting president what to do,” Mr Correa said. (Left leaders call for unity against attacks on Dilma Rousseff in Brazil by James Tweedie, Morning Star, 21 March 2016)
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela tweeted: “We raise the voice of worldwide solidarity with Dilma and Lula before the media-justice coup in Brazil.”
According to Telesur, President Maduro “encouraged social movements to strengthen across Latin America to face the attacks against the two politicians.
“‘Rise up Popular and Democratic Movement of Our America to face to the coup in Brazil,’ he wrote. ‘It is the time to fight!’
“Maduro warned that the attacks on the Brazilian government form part of the imperial offensive trying to bring down the revolutionary and progressive forces of the region.
“‘No one should be fooled, it is an imperial offensive that tries to put an end to the progressive and revolutionary forces … fight and win,’ he added.” (Venezuela’s Maduro calls for worldwide solidarity with Brazil, 17 March 2016)
Cuba’s ministry of foreign affairs warned: “The outrageous manipulation of the Petrobras corruption case is aimed at discrediting and criminalising Lula da Silva, an emblematic leader of Our America, defaming one of the region’s most combative political organisations, overthrowing the legitimate government led by President Dilma Rousseff and putting an end to progressive processes across the region …
“With these underhand tactics, sectors of the police, legislative and judicial systems in certain states in our region, in close alliance with transnational media groups, oligarchs and imperialists, are attempting to impose by force what they have been unable to win in elections.
“Compañeros Lula and Dilma Rousseff have shown admirable courage and determination in the face of these attacks.
“The government of the Republic of Cuba has no doubt that the truth will out and the hardworking people of Brazil will close ranks in their defence, as well as to safeguard the political and social advances achieved by the Workers’ Party governments.” (Ministry of foreign affairs denounces attacks on Brazilian leaders, Granma, 7 March 2016)
4. The US in particular wants to destroy efforts by Brazil and other developing countries to free themselves from the grip of imperialist control.
Another motivation for the attempted coup is provided by the moves towards economic and political independence that have been made by Brazil and other Latin American countries in the last 14 years.
Not only have progressive governments introduced social measures that direct revenues away from boosting superprofits, but Brazil has also played a key role in establishing the Brics diplomatic and trade grouping.
Brics consists of some of the world’s largest developing countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and aims to provide mutual assistance for development and trade. The group has also initiated its own independent bank and has aspirations of establishing a new reserve currency that could replace the dollar, thus breaking the bonds of debt and technology dependence – on the imperialist powers in general and on US imperialism in particular.
As Brazilian journalist Pepe Escobar explained recently: “‘Brics’ is the dirtiest of acronyms in the Beltway/Wall Street axis, and for a solid reason: the consolidation of the Brics is the only organic, global-reach project with the potential to derail Exceptionalistan’s grip over the so-called ‘international community’.
“So it’s no surprise the three key Brics powers have been under simultaneous attack, on many fronts, for some time now. On Russia, it’s all about Ukraine and Syria, the oil price war, the odd hostile raid over the rouble and the one-size-fits-all ‘Russian aggression’ demonisation. On China, it’s all about ‘Chinese aggression’ in the South China Sea and the (failed) raid over the Shanghai/Shenzhen stock exchanges.
“Brazil is the weakest link among these three key emerging powers. Already by the end of 2014 it was clear the usual suspects would go no holds barred to destabilise the seventh largest global economy, aiming at good old regime change via a nasty cocktail of political gridlock (‘ungovernability’) and dragging the economy to the mud.” (Lula and the Brics in a fight to the death, Information Clearing House, 9 March 2016)
Alongside the global scope of the Brics are regional integration projects such as Mercosur and Unasur, in which Brazil plays a central role, which aim to promote trade, development, mutual defence and diplomatic partnerships between Latin American countries, providing mutual assistance that can gradually reduce the scope for imperialist control of the participating countries’ economies.
Signs that both Brazil and China are taking these partnerships seriously can be seen in such developments as Brazil’s decision to build internet infrastructure that would connect South America directly to Europe and Asia, bypassing the network access point of the Americas in Miami, and in China’s doubling of its investment in Latin America in the last year.
In 2015, Chinese investment in the region soared to $29bn, while a further $35bn has been made available in development funds to enable Latin American countries to build infrastructure such as roads, bridges and railways. Meanwhile, and no doubt as a result of the measures listed above, US ‘aid’ and investment in the region has been declining steadily. (See Latin America: China’s power play right under the US, Asia Times, 12 February 2016)
5. The imperialists want to privatise Brazil’s massive oil wealth.
Brazil is home to a wealth of natural resources, all of which have the power to make investors salivate, but one, in particular, has a geopolitical importance that cannot be ignored – oil.
The Brazilian Petroleum Corporation (Petrobras) was partially privatised in 1997, but the government retains the controlling stake. The corruption scandal that has recently been raised to centre stage centres on kickbacks and bribes paid over many years to large numbers of politicians and officials by multinational bidders hoping to gain lucrative supply contracts with Petrobras.
In a world that was already plunging into crisis, the discovery of huge reserves of oil in the pre-salt layer just off the coast of Brazil sent investors into a frenzy and made Petrobras, already the largest company by market capitalisation in Latin America, a target for the profit-hungry. This targeting has been made all the more urgent by Lula’s decision to invite China’s Sinopec to cooperate with Brazilian companies in oil exploration while excluding big oil conglomerates such as ExxonMobil and Chevron.
As the crisis of overproduction has deepened, any large enterprise that is not already (or not entirely) profit oriented is finding itself under increasing pressure from monopoly capitalist investors, who are desperate to turn their surplus capital to profitable account. Today, when ever more surplus capital is chasing ever fewer investment opportunities, the competition over existing opportunities and the pressure to create more (by any means necessary) is becoming vicious in the extreme.
This drive is also behind the destruction of our health service here in Britain and its transfer, piece by piece, to the hands of the profiteers.
According to Pepe Escobar: “A top priority of the Empire of Chaos is to prevent the emergence of regional powers fuelled by abundant natural resources, from oil to strategic minerals. Brazil amply fits the bill. Washington of course feels entitled to ‘defend’ these resources … [See, for example, the recent reactivation of the US navy’s fourth fleet in the South Atlantic in 2008.]
“Petrobras used to be a very efficient state company that then doubled as the single operator of the largest oil reserves discovered in the 21st century so far; the pre-salt deposits. Before it became the target of a massive speculative, judicial and media attack, Petrobras used to account for 10 percent of investment and 18 percent of Brazilian GDP.
“Petrobras found the pre-salt deposits based on its own research and technological innovation applied to exploring oil in deep waters – with no foreign input whatsoever. The beauty is there’s no risk; if you drill in this pre-salt layer, you’re bound to find oil. No company on the planet would hand this over to the competition.
“And yet a notorious right-wing opposition maggot promised Chevron in 2014 to hand over the exploitation of pre-salt mostly to Big Oil. The right-wing opposition is busy altering the juridical regime of pre-salt [on the pretext that Petrobras doesn’t have sufficient capital to explore the reserves alone]; it’s already been approved in the senate …
“The meticulous dismantling of Petrobras, Big Oil eventually profiting from the pre-salt deposits, keeping in check Brazil’s global power projection, all this plays beautifully to the interests of the Empire of Chaos. [Mr Escobar has any number of colourful euphemisms for US imperialism, but, to our mind, none of them does the job so well as the original.] Geopolitically, this goes way beyond the Hollywood blitz [the high profile arrest of Lula] and the Car Wash [‘Lava Jato’ corruption] investigation.
“It’s no coincidence that three major Brics nations are simultaneously under attack – on myriad levels: Russia, China and Brazil. The concerted strategy by the Masters of the Universe [US ruling class] who dictate the rules in the Wall Street/Beltway axis is to undermine by all means the Brics’ collective effort to produce a viable alternative to the global economic/financial system, which for the moment is subjected to casino capitalism. It’s unlikely Lula, by himself, will be able to stop them.” (The Brazilian earthquake, Sputnik, 6 March 2016)
Capitalism cannot be cured
At the root of all this drama is a vital lesson for workers everywhere; one that all of us who are striving to free ourselves from poverty and insecurity must take to heart: capitalism cannot be cured.
Despite all the wealth at its command, the capitalist system is incapable of delivering even the most rudimentary essentials to all (clean water, sanitation, a roof), never mind such fripperies as universal health care, education provision and secure jobs.
The progressive gains in Latin America in the last decade and a half came about as a result of a very particular set of circumstances. On the one hand, militant struggles against US imperialism’s comprador dictatorships, already declining with the progress of revisionism in the USSR and the consequent disarray in the world communist movement, suffered a major blow with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This blow was both ideological, as many workers lost heart in their socialist future, and logistical, as progressive forces lost an important source of material support. As a result, neither imperialism nor local bourgeoisies felt that the capitalist system was in immediate danger.
On the other hand, US imperialism took its eye off its back yard to a certain extent as its main focus shifted to the Middle East. With so much manpower and materiel sunk into the war in Iraq, the US had a greatly reduced ability to intervene militarily when Latin American countries started to strike out for independence.
It was not for nothing that President Hugo Chávez ascribed a major role in Venezuela’s progress to the strength of the Iraqi resistance. (SeeWorld Social Forum meets in a country of resistance by Chris Bamberry, Socialist Worker, 4 February 2006)
After more than a century of brutal repression of the continent by US imperialism, and at a time when China’s demand for raw materials was steadily growing – and the terms it was offering for trade and development were fraternal rather than exploitative – a window of opportunity opened up for a progressive alliance between the working masses and the nationalist section of the local ruling classes against imperialist domination.
Electoral politics, democratic reform and the creation of rudimentary welfare states became the order of the day. The workers benefited by a transfer of wealth from the super-rich, which was used to pay for housing, education, health provision, basic infrastructure, minimum wages and so on. The nationalist bourgeoisie benefited by being able to make profits in areas of the economy that had previously been dominated by imperialist corporations as well as from the general growth in the region’s economy.
But such a state of affairs has its limits. Capitalism does not cease being capitalism because the government of the day has a somewhat more human face. Along with production for profit and the anarchy of the market come all the other ills of a capitalist society: wealth disparity, corruption, class antagonisms, speculation, overproduction crisis, and, most importantly, the continued and ultimately self-interested rule of the capitalists.
While economic conditions were in their favour, large sections of the ruling classes of Latin America went along with the progressive anti-imperialist project, respecting the rule of law and mostly abiding by the decisions taken at ballot boxes and in parliaments. Thus it appeared to the masses that the system really could be changed by voting and from within.
Since the economic climate has changed, however, the interests of nationalist capitalists (to stay in business) and of the Latin American masses (to retain and build on the advantages they have gained) have begun to diverge. Even the most progressive of capitalists in Latin America, faced with economic downturn, now need social spending, wages and benefits to be cut. Austerity has become the watchword of the day, by which is meant: let the poor take the brunt of the crisis so that we can remain in business and our system can remain intact.
Into the space created by the crumbling of the economic and political conditions that had allowed the Lula and Rousseff governments to implement their progressive measures has leapt US imperialism, with its most rabidly reactionary local allies at the front. Once again, it is becoming clear that it is not parliaments that rule in even the most progressive of capitalist democracies but the capitalist class.
Hence the manipulation of electoral processes and of various levers of the ‘free’ market by business owners, media and other state organs in several key Latin American countries, aimed at undermining the people’s faith in the popular governments and destroying those governments’ abilities to pass progressive legislation. Hence the sudden inability of Brazil’s parliament to operate, the manufacturing of a ‘crisis’ and the intensified presentation of Brazil’s political life as a grand entertainment.
Brazil’s parliament is being sabotaged by the combined efforts of the judiciary, the media, the police, business owners, political parties and civil servants. The twists and turns of the soap opera narrative that is being served up to the people are aimed at distracting them from a simple fact: when the government is no longer to the liking of the majority of the ruling class, the government will be got rid of. The aim at present is to prepare the groundwork so that when the move comes to overthrow Dilma’s government, the progressive forces are unable to mobilise the masses in its defence.
Take the corruption scandal itself. Corruption has long been identified as being part of the ordinary workings of capitalism, and the offering and taking of bribes is a standard part of the contracting process in every capitalist country. This practice is well understood by all concerned and causes our rulers no sleepless nights. Business is business, after all.
Evidence of such activity is, however, extremely useful for those occasions when mass outrage needs to be provoked. Media commentators and politicians alike feign shock and horror at such nefarious goings-on, the people’s attention is sucked into the story and those trying to defend their position are pushed onto the defensive.
As Glenn Greenwald et al put it: “To believe that the influential figures agitating for Dilma’s impeachment are motivated by an authentic anti-corruption crusade requires extreme naïveté or wilful ignorance. To begin with, the factions that would be empowered by Dilma’s impeachment are at least as implicated by corruption scandals as she is: in most cases, more so. [NB, We must here remind Mr Greenwald that in actual fact there is no evidence to suggest Dilma is implicated at all!]
“Five of the members of the impeachment commission are themselves being criminally investigated as part of the corruption scandal … Of the 65 members of the house impeachment committee, 36 currently face pending legal proceedings.
“In the lower house of congress, the leader of the impeachment movement, the evangelical extremist Eduardo Cunha, was found to have maintained multiple secret Swiss bank accounts, where he stored millions of dollars that prosecutors believe were received as bribes. He is the target of multiple active criminal investigations.” ( Brazil is engulfed by ruling class corruption, Information Clearing House, 20 March 2016)
The present economic crisis, by weakening the basis of the national alliance, is bringing the question of state power starkly onto the agenda for Brazil’s working people. Faced with the blatant shredding of the country’s constitution by the imperialist-backed opposition and with a rise in overtly political policing and political violence, the PCdoB, Brazil’s biggest communist party, has stated that the question facing Brazilian workers now is: ‘Do we want democracy or fascism?’. This question leads quite naturally to another: ‘Democracy for whom?’
While supporting the progressive, anti-imperialist gains of the Latin American project, communists also need to be building the forces that will be capable of carrying that project forward towards socialism. It is our job to help workers to learn from the present situation that democracy is not an abstract concept, but always has a class content, without which it is meaningless. Capitalist democracy is democracy for the capitalists and dictatorship over the rest, and this is true even in the most democratic and anti-imperialist bourgeois state.
The case of Brazil proves once again that it is not enough simply to capture parliament. The capitalist class rules through its control of the media, the judiciary and prisons, the civil service and NGOs, school curricula and history books, culture and the arts, the police and the army. Marxism teaches, and life continues to confirm, that no change in personnel can change how these institutions operate to strengthen the rule of the capitalists. While they remain in place, gains made by workers when their movement is strong are always liable to be lost when the balance of class forces shifts.
We in the CPGB-ML offer our solidarity to the progressive forces who are struggling to prevent a vicious, imperialist-backed coup in Brazil and to defend the gains of the last 14 years. They are facing a mighty enemy in the form of imperialism and local big capitalists combined, but the masses, once awakened, will be mightier still.
We wish the communists of Brazil every success in building revolutionary consciousness amongst the masses, thus creating the forces that will be finally propel Brazil out of the grip of capitalist crisis and forwards to socialism.
Hasta la victoria siempre!