Brazilian presidential election – a setback for the masses

Only communists have the power to shatter workers' illusions in bourgeois democracy and help them to see that voting will never solve their poblems.

Jair Bolsonaro, the 63-year-old right-wing reactionary and former army captain, has won the Brazilian presidential election, having secured in the final round 55.1 percent of the votes. His opponent, Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT) received 44.8 percent (45 million voted for him).

Bolsonaro gained notoriety for his absurd, nauseating and extremist rhetoric rather than for anything he has accomplished during his seven terms as a congressman for the misnamed Social Liberal Party. He has routinely hurled insults at women, blacks and homosexuals, encouraged the police to kill suspected criminals, and portrayed the military junta that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985, perpetrating repression and violence on an industrial scale, as a role model.

An ultra-reactionary tool of imperialism

He is pliant to the agribusiness lobby and was backed by the latter to undermine efforts to preserve the country’s exceptional biodiversity. He will not, his supporters say, give one centimetre more land to the indigenous communities claiming traditional land. He has railed against what he calls “shi’ite ecologist activism” and has threatened to take Brazil out of the Paris climate accord.

He is pro-gun, pro-torture, against rainforests and the rule of law, saying that the “police who shoot most criminals dead should be decorated not punished”. His chief economic adviser, Paulo Guedes, is a freemarketeer who wants to cut pensions and privatise state-owned enterprises. Mr Guedes is, incidentally, under investigation for fraud.

At an October meeting in New York at the Council of America, Bolsonaro outlined his basic plan for a small state, privatisations and lower taxes. No wonder then that formerly sceptical business leaders, in Brazil as well as abroad, were won over to Bolsonaro’s side, regarding him as a ‘defence of last resort’ against the PT, especially the highly popular former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula).

Not surprisingly then, no sooner was he elected than US president Donald Trump called Bolsonaro to congratulate him on his electoral success, with both of them expressing strong commitment to working together, according to the White House.

Equally unsurprisingly, on the Monday (29 October) following his election, stock markets in Brazil registered significant gains.

To give the reader an idea of the character and thinking (thoughtlessness would be more appropriate) of the president-elect of Brazil, we reproduce below his choicest utterings:

• In 1999 he called for the Brazilian congress to be closed, adding that the former military regime “should have shot some 30,000 corrupt people, starting with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso”.

• In 2003, he told a fellow legislator in front of television countries: “I am not going to rape you because you do not deserve it.” He repeated the comment on the floor of the congress in 2014, resulting in a formal reprimand and a $3,000 fine.

• In 2011, on being asked what his reaction would be if one of his sons turned out to be a homosexual, he said: “I would be incapable of loving a homosexual son. I’d rather he died in a car accident.”

• On being asked what he would think if one of his sons married a black woman, he shot back to say: “That will never happen because my sons are well brought up.”

• In 2016, he dedicated his vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff to an army colonel who tortured progressive people during the Brazilian junta’s rule.

• He characterised Brazilian communities known as Quilombos (founded by descendants of slaves) as people who “don’t do anything – they’re not even good for breeding any more”. A federal judge condemned Bolsonaro for his offensive words and fined him $15,000.

• In 2017 he said: “A policeman who does not kill isn’t a policeman.”

• Also in 2017, he said: “I have five children. Four are men, and then in a moment of weakness the fifth came out a girl.”

‘Anti-corruption’ narrative

The question that must be answered is: How could a person like Bolsonaro, bigoted and ignorant in equal measure, get himself elected as the president of the largest country in Latin America?

He was able to do this through a mixture of utilising the legitimate concerns of the electorate and arousing the basest sentiments and playing on the prejudices of significant sections of the population.

Brazil (like most other capitalist countries) is characterised by the prevalence of large-scale corruption, and many of its politicians have gaily partaken of it. Every politician is now perceived to be corrupt by the Brazilian masses.

This is epitomised by Operation Car Wash (operação lava jato), an ongoing criminal investigation into $5bn in bribes to company executives and political parties. The investigation was used as a cover for the coup against the former progressive president Dilma Rousseff (Lula’s PT successor), but it also exposed a vast and intricate web of corruption involving company executives and politicians. While railing against corruption, Bolsonaro was able to portray himself as an honest man above all this.

Then there is the question of widespread violence, for which Brazil is notorious, with 60,000 homicides a year. Nineteen of the 50 most violent cities in the world are in Brazil. Unemployment stands at 12 percent, and since 2014 the economy has shrunk by 10 percent a year.

Bolsonaro made skilful use of these statistics, promising in his campaign to give people jobs and guns to fight crime: “With me you will get a job, a gun and be able to walk the streets at night.” What is more, he was able, no matter how tenuously, to link corruption and violent crime, as though there were a direct link between the two.

Last, but not least, with his anti-working-class policies, he was able to win domestic and foreign business lobbies to his side and to produce a reactionary rebellion by the conservative, mainly well-off Brazilians who long for order, old customs, a more organised society with clearly-defined hierarchies, discipline and authority – a desire to return to the past. He played on the grievances of the petty-bourgeois sections who complain about blacks ‘jumping the queue’ and feel excluded by ‘identity politics’.

He successfully portrayed himself as an honest, selfless figure fighting for the common man while actually espousing the interests of domestic and foreign capital. He was helped to victory by the successful attempts of the business lobby to keep Lula out of the race by ensuring he stayed in prison on trumped-up corruption charges.

Had Lula been allowed to contest, he would have won handsomely. Fernando Haddad was no match for Lula; in addition, he entered the race rather late. All the same, he polled 45 million votes.

In the congressional elections, meanwhile, the PT has emerged the strongest, thanks to its strength in the poor northeast, although Dilma Rousseff lost her race for a senate seat in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais.

The broad masses of Brazilian people gained enormously during the presidency of Lula, with tens of millions lifted out of poverty as the Workers’ Party government redirected a larger proportion of the country’s wealth towards the toiling masses than imperialism found acceptable.

Even a progressive, anti-imperialist government cannot prevent capitalist crises of overproduction, however, any more than can any other capitalist government, and when the latest one erupted, causing a devastating reduction in demand for Brazil’s export commodities, no government would have been able to shelter the masses from its negative consequences.

The PT government did better than most, but imperialism and Brazil’s reactionary rulers took advantage of the crisis to accuse it of bringing on this crisis and to direct the anger of the masses against the government on the basis of allegations of corruption, which encouraged people to believe that their political representatives were living the high life on ill-gotten gains while they, the masses, were suffering.

Lula and his successor Dilma Rousseff, though demonstrably innocent of any corruption, were thrown into jail.

Bolsonaro, however, will be equally unable to satisfy the masses, yet he will find it difficult to ignore them, or the 45 million who voted for Haddad.

With the Brazilian economy in dire straits, Bolsonaro will not be able to deliver on his campaign promises. The honeymoon will not last, and those workers who voted for him will rebel aginst him as surely as they were lured into his trap.