Brazil presidential election: Back to the streets to win on October 30!

First posted on Revista Movimento on October 5. Translated by ESSF and edited by LINKS.

The left candidate Lula da Silva won the first round with 48.4% of the vote (57,259,504 votes) against 43.2% for his right-wing opponent Jair Bolsonaro (51,072,345 votes): an advantage of about 6 million votes. However, what marked the result - contrary to the expectation created by all the opinion polls - was that Bolsonaro did much better than predicted. From Lula’s point of view, the polls stayed within the margin of error, only 1.6% short of what he needed to win outright in the first round. But Lula’s team was wrong about the reasons people vote for the incumbent president Bolsonaro and, above all, Lula’s team didn't understand the dynamics of the state contests for governor and Senate.

What explains, in some respects, the presidential result is the last-minute migration of votes to Bolsonaro, a kind of ’useful’ or ’tactical’ vote of the most backward sectors of the electorate, who were expected to remain loyal to [presidential candidates] Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labor Party, PDT) and Simone Tebet (Brazilian Democratic Movement, MDB). There was also an intense mobilisation of Bolsonaristas on the day of the vote, in social networks and in the streets. As a consequence, Bolsonaro in the first round mobilized (almost) his maximum forces, which is why it is important to understand exactly what has happened. Lula will need to focus on Simone and Ciro’s 4% of political preferences to consolidate his victory. Lula also needs to boost a strong street movement, which we will discuss further below.

The phenomenon of voters going against the pollsters’ predictions has already occurred in other elections involving extreme right candidates, such as with Trump in the United States, the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, etc.

Brazil’s electoral map shows a divided country. In the North and Northeast, the scenario was a victory for Lula and his candidates; on the other hand, in the Midwest and in the interior of the country, the strongholds of Bolsonarism carried him far. Another significant result is the strong vote in state capitals like São Paulo and Porto Alegre for Lula, and also for Freedom and Socialism Party (PSOL) candidates to the legislature.

We are convinced that Lula’s chances of beating Bolsonaro are greater than the reverse. Lula’s lead, and the large number of people who reject Bolsonaro’s politics obliges activists to go into the neighbourhoods, into the cities of the interior, into their families, into their WhatAspp groups, to consolidate and increase the vote for Lula. Victory is not only possible but necessary. The support for Lula declared on Wednesday 5th October by Ciro and Simone also indicates that there is space to guarantee victory on the 30th. This is our chance - we must take it.

The struggle continues over the coming weeks and our electoral achievements will contribute to Bolsonaro’s electoral defeat, which will be decisive for the coming years.

Weeks that are worth years

More than any other task, it is necessary to expand our effort at the base of society, calling and coordinating political and electoral actions that engage with the majority of the people who reject the Bolsonaro government. To this end, our electoral results serve as a support point for the action of the working class, youth, women, black people and the poor as a whole. We must articulate an anti-fascist front to challenge the mobilised social force [of Bolsonarists] on the ground, in the peripheries, and among the youth.

The first round was marked by certain apathy and little mobilisation by society. Unlike previous elections, there was no commotion and no large demonstrations even in the universities, although there were strong events in some cities like Porto Alegre, Curitiba and Salvador, as well as rallies in the south and east zones of São Paulo.

In the spirit of “get out the vote”, we call on the whole of activism, especially the electorate of the PSOL, to be the volunteer vanguard in the activities of expansion and defiance to ensure that there is a final effort for the election of Lula. Only in the streets will we be able to confront and curb any escalation of political violence - of which there were already some regrettable episodes in the first round - and discredit the coup narrative which is spreading in the networks of Bolsonarism. We need to dialogue openly with the people, debating concrete issues in relation to everyday life. This is the pressing and immediate challenge.

Where the extreme right has grown stronger

Bolsonaro grew in the final stretch, responding to every opportunity, and he will continue his efforts to beat Lula in the second round. We saw some important victories of the extreme right, which we want to identify and understand.

The most relevant were the victories for the Senate, where former ministers and leading figures of Bolsonarism stood as candidates, starting with Vice President Hamilton Mourão (RS), Marcos Pontes (SP), Rogério Marinho (RN), Tereza Cristina (MS), among other abject figures, elected with Bolsonaro’s support, such as Damares Alves (DF), Magno Malta (ES), Claitinho (MG), Seif (SC). At the level of state governments, Bolsonaro also had important victories with Ibaneis Rocha (DF), Claudio Castro (RJ) and Romeu Zema (MG), who liquidated their opponents in first round disputes in strategic states.

The good results of Onyx Lorenzoni (RS) and Tarcísio de Freitas (SP) - contrary to the pollster predictions - also illustrate the complex picture.

These results confirm that there is a social movement of an important layer of society, that goes from sectors of the middle class that earn between two and five times the minimum wage and extends to the wealthier middle class and the bourgeoisie. This social movement operates below the superstructures of traditional communication outlets and organisation: in these spheres we have seen the consolidation of far-right ideology (anti-feminist, racist, anti-scientific, anti-communist) very similar to Trumpism and to the right-wing movements in Europe. This rightist movement has its own mechanisms, benefiting from the state apparatus, and with its own communication network that spreads its parallel truths (the “alternative facts” of Steve Bannon, Trump’s former advisor).

In the poorer middle classes, this movement is highly organised by the evangelical churches. This fundamentalist movement showed great mobilisation capacity on September 7 and was consistently alive in all of Bolsonaro’s campaign activities. This mobilization was undoubtedly contagious, impregnating this social sector in a silent way, in such a way that the phenomenon did not appear clearly in the polls of voter preferences.

We cannot define this as a fascist movement, because it does not face situations of revolutionary offensive by the workers, as European fascism did in the 1920s and 1930s. But this movement contains all the potential elements of fascism, which can unfold differently in the current period, or rather, it is already unfolding as a neo-fascism. This movement becomes more and more reactionary wherever it renews its mandate, and this will happen in Brazil if Bolsonaro wins.

Our election

The PSOL experienced important electoral growth, reaching the minimum vote to be elected in several locations, and placing itself among the most voted lists in important cities and states. We grew as a party, with PSOL winning 12 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 14 if you include candidates from the federation we ran as part of. The PSOL won more votes than the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party) and PDT, consolidating itself as the second largest force on the left and presenting new protagonists of the central agendas that have gained strength in recent years. It is, more than this, a party that continues to struggle - for the time being, as a minority alternative - and despite the adaptationist course that the leadership has been opting for. The PSOL continues to maintain its own personality and profile.

The PSOL also elected 22 state deputies, including some important victories for the Socialist Left Movement (MES) [current within the PSOL]. We renewed our federal presence, with Sâmia Bomfim (226 thousand votes) in SP, and Fernanda Melchionna (200 thousand votes) in RS, elected; as well as seven state deputies, where we entered with Luciana Genro (111 thousand votes) in RS, Mônica das Pretas (106 thousand) in SP; Professor Josemar (28 thousand), in RJ; and Fábio Felix (51 thousand), in DF.

Vivi Reis greatly expanded her vote in relation to 2018, jumping to more than 53 thousand votes and being the most voted of the party in Pará; with a combative campaign, which mobilized youth, Blacks and women. Unfortunately, as a result of the discrediting of the PSOL leadership in the state, we could not retain the Pará seat that the PSOL had until today in the Federal Chamber.

The PSOL is the most voted party in Porto Alegre, with Luciana Genro as its spokesperson. She was the second most voted deputy in the State, with Fernanda getting a record vote, despite the strengthening of conservatives. Fábio was the most voted candidate in history in DF; Sâmia got 226 thousand votes with an “organic” election, in the most competitive race in the country, with very interesting personalities and dynamics; while Josemar and several black women candidates made a leap forward, especially for Black-centred politics (’negritude’) and for grassroots work in the urban periphery.

The PSOL federal deputy candidates obtained almost 4 million votes (3.57%), ahead of parties such as Podemos, PDT and PSDB. It is worth highlighting the candidature of Boulos, who won one million votes - the second most voted deputy in the country. In Porto Alegre the PSOL won almost 20% of the votes; and PSOL deputies were among those winning most individual votes in Rio and DF.

MES should focus primarily on encouraging the construction of women and black leaderships. This strategy has already contributed to our current’s growth and electoral record. As we do not limit our action to the struggle for civil rights, as we are supporters of the universal interests of the proletariat; we do not make this criterion absolute, of course. But it remains a fundamental criterion for our construction, and one that must be strengthened because it responds to a structural factor of the social formation of the Brazilian working class and is part of the development of the consciousness of hundreds of thousands, even millions, who put their hope on this construction. These sectors - even if they do not have an anti-capitalist consciousness and do not currently defend a revolutionary programme - have reached an awareness of the importance of defending the struggles of women and black people.

The anti-machista and anti-racist causes taken to their ultimate consequences will pull down the system of capital, since capitalism is structured on the oppression of women and negritude. These struggles must be recognised as decisive for the universal defence of the interests of the proletariat and as an essential part of our programme. Indeed, this point of our programme is engaging an embryonic mass consciousness, which must be strengthened and find leadership, within a socialist perspective.

In this sense, it is worth highlighting the election of Josemar as a state deputy of Rio de Janeiro. He is one of the few Black leaders of the PSOL, the only Black man among the elected deputies who lives in the urban periphery, in the powerful and convulsive São Gonçalo. His 28,000 votes may soon turn into much greater support for him once he is known in his new capacity, not limited as he was during his work as city councillor. In a state where Freixo suffered a crushing defeat, after an opportunistic turn, perhaps a larger gap will open up for the construction of new leaderships. The phase of white, middle-class leaders with no Marxist background needs to be overcome.

In São Paulo, more than 100,000 votes went to Monica Seixas, one of the Black women (Pretas), re-elected now with a clear mandate alongside six other Black, peripheral women (Ana Laura, Rose, Leticia, Pollyana, Najara and Karina), in line with the strategic role of Luana Alves’ mandate in the capital.

Fabio Felix, also recognised for his work on LGBT and Black causes, entered DF history as the most voted district deputy, with almost 52,000 votes, multiplying the 2018 vote by four. This is a leap for the PSOL and the MES in the country’s capital.

Other MES militants standing for election include Professor Angela for the government of Paraná; Karol Chaves in Tocantins; Danniel Moraes in Rio Grande do Norte; Sara Azevedo as candidate for the Senate of Minas Gerais (more than 100,000 votes). MES was also present in Maranhão, with Antonia Cariongo; in Alagoas, with Mário Agra; in Rio Grande do Norte, with Freitas; and in Paraná with Laerson Matias. In Rio Grande do Sul, we tried to win positions in the Senate, with Olívio Dutra (PT) and Roberto Robaina (PSOL), fighting against Mourão, as well as Pedro Ruas as vice-president. Edegar Pretto, was only about 2 thousand votes short of what he needed to pass to the second round.

It is also worth noting the campaigns of candidates that we supported and/or are part of the left wing of the PSOL, with some important victories, such as Glauber Braga in Rio de Janeiro; Renato Rosseno in Ceará; Hilton in Bahia; and Camila Valadão in Espírito Santo.

We salute the elected representatives of the PSOL. At federal level, besides Fernanda and Samia, we will have Boulos, Erika Hilton, Sônia Guajajara and Luiza Erundina for SP; Tarcísio Motta, Taliria Petrone, Chico Alencar, Glauber and Henrique Vieira for Rio; Célia Xakriabá for Minas Gerais. At state level, as well as the MES deputies, Livia (PA), Linda (SE), Hilton (BA), Camila (ES), Dani (PE), Max (DF), Bella (MG), Matheus (RS), Giannazi (Bancada Feminista) Ediane and Gui Cortez (SP), Renato (CE), Renata Souza, Flavio, Dani Monteiro and Yuri (RJ) and Marquito (SC) were all elected.

Polarisation was expressed in the benches

The PT and the PL grew in the legislative sphere, while the so-called “centrons” maintained their positions. It was an election marked by the contradiction of a billionaire’s campaign fund and a low participation of society.

We shouldn't forget some more general elements of the picture: the growth of the Black caucus in the new parliaments, in which the PSOL is one of the main agents, although not the only one; the election of trans women (Erika, Duda and Linda Brasil) as a response to the LGBTQphobia of the Bolsonarists ; the election of MST cadres, with two national and four state deputies; and the election of indigenous leaders, such as Sônia Guajajara (SP) and Célia Xakriabá (MG)

The extreme right elected its own, with Carla Zambelli, Eduardo Bolsonaro, Eduardo Pazuello and Ricardo Salles, all from the PL, as stars of Bolsonarism in the Chamber of Deputies. We saw many deputies and police officers riding the wave of the aggressive discourse.

The PSDB had its worst election, eliminated in the first round in SP, falling from 22 to 13 federal deputies. This is one more chapter in that party’s exhaustion as the main project of the Brazilian liberal bourgeoisie. This is illustrated by the defeat, after numerous mandates, of José Serra, in addition to the challenges wherever the PSDB managed to enter the second round.

It is important to note that some important parties did not reach the minimum votes to continue participation. Significant formations such as PTB, Solidarity, PROS and Novo won fewer votes than the PSOL/REDE federation, demonstrating the strength of the party.

The role of Lula and the PT

Lula’s campaign was less successful than the Bolsonarists in mobilising its activists during the first round, and especially on election day. As mentioned above, there were important events here and there, but this was not the overall tone of the first stage of the Lula campaign. The PT managed to elect 68 federal deputies, coming close to the PL as the largest parliamentary fraction, but this is far below its peak in 2002, when 81 PT candidates were elected as federal deputies.

In this election, the PT won important states in the Northeast, with Rafael Fonteles (PI) and Fátima Bezerra re-elected in RN. The party also managed to defeat Ciro Gomes in Ceará, with the PT candidate Elmano Freitas elected as Governor. In the second round, there are still opportunities for the PT to win the governments of SP, SC, BA and SE, after seeing allies win in Pará, Amapá and Maranhão in the first round.

However, faced with a situation of general passivity and lack of mass mobilisations, the PT cannot mobilise broad sectors on its own. This is also because of its bureaucratism and the weakening of the trade union apparatus.

As a candidate, Lula wavered. He had good moments, like on Ratinho’s TV show, where he managed to attack Bolsonaro naturally and convincingly, and in the Globo debate, but he faltered at times when his attempt to portray himself as the candidate who “already won” disarmed the necessary fight against Bolsonarism.

Since the beginning of the campaign, Lula presented himself as the saviour of the New Republic. For this, he won support from important representatives of capitalism (notably Henrique Meirelles). However, Bolsonaro’s growth brings more doubts and more demands. After all, [Bolsonaro can] win by a vote rather than a coup. It is not necessarily the case that big business rejects Bolsonaro. Not least because if elected he can be trusted to implement neoliberal policies, without the political instability that would be generated by a coup. Still, since international capital prefers Lula, the tendency of the upper bourgeoisie is still to negotiate with the PT. At the same time, an important part of the bourgeois social base of Bolsonarism has been strengthened, especially with the victory of Tarcisio in Sao Paulo.

An orientation to fight and win on the 30th

Within this complex picture, which requires extensive evaluation and debate on the political situation - starting from the international level - our orientation is resolute: go to the streets in large numbers and with combativeness to ensure the victory of Lula on the 30th. Lets join forces in all kinds of initiatives so that this can be achieved.

There is a limited consciousness in the mass movement, still capable of commenting, lamenting, but not producing strong counter-reactions. This consciousness denounces reactionary, racist, misogynist, anti-communist brutality, but does not generate large mobilisations. This would change if there were a coup, but this does not seem to be the most likely prospect.

We have to put ourselves at the forefront: encourage new elements to emerge to continue the campaign, win the streets - starting tomorrow; go out and talk to people without fear, without complexes, without expecting only meetings of ’leaders’.

The challenge is for a vote against fascism. For this, all support is welcome and should be sought. We do not do this by seeking positions in government. On the contrary. Our party was born to be an independent left and we advocate that it remains so. We cannot just comment on our results. They are good in a context in which there is the danger of a further advance of the reactionary wave that will deepen if Bolsonaro wins. And this can be avoided.

The PSOL must take advantage of its accumulated political capital to act in a unitary way. As an important reference point for the radical left, the party needs to be in the front line against the extreme right in this second round, giving an example of mobilisation that collaborates in the defeat of Bolsonaro and making the party visible as an alternative of construction for those broad sectors that seek a coherent left, both in the anti-fascist fight and in the fight against neoliberalism.

We bet on the strength of the people and we will be engaged in mobilisations nationwide, seeking to win the social vanguard for the PSOL, and carrying out a wide campaign to recruit supporters.

By the end of this week, we will have developed proposals on how to advance further in the unified activity of the MES, with all its instruments, for the electoral struggle. The destiny of the coming years is being played out now, and the militants of the MES will not be absent in this moment.