Brazil: the plans of the right

Submitted by Matthew on 11 May, 2016 - 3:24

On 10 May the acting speaker of the lower house of Brazil's parliament, appointed after the previous speaker was forced out on charges of corruption and money-laundering, declared the 17 April impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff invalid. The chief of the upper house, the Senate, however, declared that a Senate vote to confirm the impeachment and force out Rousseff would go ahead.

On 4 May, Alfredo Saad Filho, a Brazilian Marxist economist working in London, spoke to Solidarity about the political turmoil in Brazil.


At the level of the institutions of the state, and from the point of view of the right, things are going well. There is a lull in right-wing mobilisation on the street: they get tired, distracted, and their level of motivation to keep on mobilising is low. Effectively the state is doing their job for them.

There has been an increase in activity and extra-parliamentary mobilisation from the left. But I expect it has been less than what they were hoping for. They are still trying to build up a coalition that can bear the tension that exists within the left between the defence of the PT [Workers Party, the party of Rousseff], of Lula [president 2003-11], of the President, and being critical of them from a left perspective.

The MST [landless movement] has stepped up occupations of land, they ve done road blockades. The movement of the homeless, which is an urban parallel to the MST, has been occupying spaces and doing road blockades too. But there have not been organised protests led by trade unions including political strikes. The left organisations are divided in terms of how they perceive the situation and what should be done; and mostly they are not in a strong enough position to lead mobilisations.

On 11 May, the Senate will vote on the impeachment process which comes from the Chamber of Deputies. If the senate votes in favour and it is inconceivable that it will not then the President will have to leave office for a period of up to 180 days, and the Vice President becomes the President of the country. He can appoint a new government and continue in that role, as the Constitution says, until the next elections in 2018.

For the right, the next step is to put Lula in jail, and demolish the possibility that he might become a candidate in 2018. To trigger early elections would need a constitutional amendment. There is a debate in the left about whether that would be a good strategy or not.

The positive side of this tactic would be the possibility that Lula might win. I think that the country would explode well before that happened. But there is a downside, and I think this outweighs the positive side: that it would almost certainly lead to a victory by the right. It would give legitimacy to their government to do what they want.

The right don't want early elections because they believe that Lula might win and also because they do not have a candidate. The right is tremendously split. The main opposition party, the Social-Democratic Party, is split into three. The PMDB, the party of the Vice President, does not have the strength to launch a candidate, it has not launched a candidate for more than a decade because the party is essentially a federation of local interests and thieves, essentially.

A right-wing government will drive to privatise everything they can: infrastructure, airlines... It will go for the transformation, or more likely the extinction of Mercosur [the customs union of South America], and an alliance of Brazil with the United States. There will be a contraction of social policy not the extinction, but the limitation of social programmes, in the name of fiscal restraint. Changes in labour law to make the labour market more flexible.

The right have announced that there will be no tax increases, but they cannot deliver that because they need tax increases. So the measures that Rousseff tried to introduce and which the right blocked in the Senate, they will need to introduce now for their government.

The PT has not revived. My evidence is anecdotal, but a large number of members of the PT have essentially abandoned political life in disappointment. People on the left of the party are still active, but the mainstream of the party, aligned with Lula, has essentially been neutralised and dismantled, I think. The description that the right makes is that the PT became a criminal organisation. That is incorrect, but it did become a mainstream organisation.

A lot of the efforts of the party were directed at doing deals with individual members of that cohort of capital which I call the internal bourgeoisie, and using some of the proceeds of growth to finance social policy.

The PT has now lost everything at the same time: lost the support of capital, lost growth, lost the resources to do social policy. The party is adrift, quite badly. It has become an organisation trying to defend Lula personally. By internal bourgeoisie I mean the bourgeoisie which is oriented towards the internal market, towards infrastructure in Brazil, or to exporting but with the grounds of accumulation based in the country itself. Meat exporters for example, or even agribusiness: their accumulation strategy is organised around export, but they are grounded in the domestic market. Durable consumer goods firms are not. Their capital comes from abroad, and the strategies of these firms auto-makers as well are decided abroad.

Foreign-owned firms directed towards the internal market are mostly aligned with the neoliberal platform too. They benefited from the rise in domestic consumption under PT governments, but they flipped very quickly. The whole focus of the corruption investigations is on domestic capital, is on infrastructure firms, the oil sector groups that were close to the PT.

The investigations have selectively targeted the PT and businessmen funding the PT. Evidence against everybody else which is abundant has been ignored. This, in my opinion, has been an organised political attack on the PT, a really carefully-structured operation. The left wing within the PT is the minority, and has been so for a long time. It has been disarticulated to a large extent. They lost most of the positions they held within the organisation, and they lost the narrative. That's because they could not really criticise the policies of the government, and now they find themselves tainted by the corruption scandals.

As for PSOL [a left split from the PT, dating from 2004], my impression is that for several years they have concentrated on the issue of corruption. It was not even class politics as such. There were precedents. The PT grew [in the 1990s] on that basis; after it abandoned its transformative aspirations, it grew on the back of the corruption issue. PSOL did a similar thing, but criticising the PT as well.

When it became clear after the elections in 2014 that there would be a conspiracy to overthrow the President, PSOL came closer to a broad umbrella of the left and worked together with them. But it is a party without a significant base outside of parliament itself and outside of the political circles of the left. So it has not benefited from this crisis, it has not captured the left of the PT. I have not heard of any special growth in PSOL. PSOL performed well in Congress in this impeachment process. In moments when the PT could not control its own deputies, could not come up with a narrative, could not lead the resistance, it was the PSOL and the Communist Party that did it, in a way that was completely disproportionate to the number of deputies that they had.

In 2006, PSOL got 7% in the Presidential election; in 2014 they got 1.5%. I think the 2006 score was the candidate they had, Heloise Helena, who was popular because of television and the corruption issue. I don't think she was a good candidate overall she was very closely associated with religious forces and overtly religious but she was popular.

Following that I think there was a left-right polarisation, and the PT absorbed the entire vote of the left. This did not have to happen, because, as in France it is a two-round electoral system. To the left of the PT and PSOL the biggest group is the PSTU [a would-be Trotskyist group of the Morenist stripe]. They say is that there is no coup, and their slogan is general strike to get rid of them all.

I think that is nonsense. There is a coup. It is the biggest defeat of the left in 50 years. There is no prospect of mass insurrection on the left. There is no way that the radical left is going to polarise around anything other than the defence of the government. To go out campaigning to get rid of them all and to call early elections is a fundamental political mistake.

There is a real dilemma here. The PT government was bad. The government was implementing neoliberal policy, trying to ally itself with capital. On the other hand, the only realistic alternative is much worse. What do you do?

Sadly, there is no radical, consistent, revolutionary mass left in Brazil. To the extent that it is emerging through the MST and the homeless movements and other organisations, it is not aligned with political parties The real world is one in which the right is stronger and gaining strength; the left's strength is draining way. There is a huge fog on the political struggle because of the corruption issue, and the external environment is extremely hostile. There is no prospect, no programme, no revolutionary aspiration amongst the masses, there is no vision of a reality beyond neoliberalism. We are discussing shades of neoliberalism here. It is a shame to be in this position, but I think this is the reality.