MES/PSOL (Brazil): Lula's victory was a great democratic triumph against authoritarianism
First published in Portuguese on Revista Movimento on November 4. Translated by MES/PSOL, edited for clarity by LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
The victory of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Workers Party, PT) in the 2022 Brazilian elections was the most important democratic triumph since the fall of the military regime (1964-1985). Celebrations took over the country on Sunday night (October 30), harking back to the best traditions of the Brazilian people's struggle. There were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets taken as a whole, with the epicenter of celebrations on Avenida Paulista; the moving scenes of the opening of a voting school in Bahia, where hundreds of people waited with enthusiasm and confidence for the moment to vote for Lula, also expressed this feeling.
It was a victory with a democratic character and popular content. A very tight, difficult victory, with only 2.3 million votes difference, a margin of less than 2%, something unheard of in any presidential race. Also unprecedented was the defeat of an incumbent president running for re-election. It was also the largest absolute vote for Lula in history, with more than 60.3 million. The country experienced its greatest polarization.
It was a victory that recalled the nearly 700,000 official victims of the pandemic — a terrible trauma that has passed into the country's history and that marked the situation and the campaign itself. It recalled the destruction of the country and the Amazon; it recalled those who suffered from the cruelty of the government, those who entered the ranks of the hungry, those killed by the brutality, direct or indirect, of the government's actions, like young Genivaldo, killed asphyxiated by the Federal Highway Police (PRF), commanded by the scum of Bolsonarism.
Lula, who was coming from a prison arbitrated without due legal process and had been removed from the race in 2018, faced off against the current president, Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party, PL), under a political context never seen in the New Republic. Bolsonaro put the public machine at the service of his re-election in a criminal way and with the support of the majority of the National Congress. He managed to approve a provisional measure to release R$27 billions of Auxílio Brasil on the eve of the elections, and moved at least R$48 billion in Caixa Federal, the main public bank in the country, in social benefits and credit for women in the run-up to the elections, in a clear electoral stultification with the purpose of boosting his own popularity among sectors where Lula has greater organic adherence. He forcefully lowered the price of fuel and distributed funds via a secret budget, which, in short, is the use of public resources by parliamentarians without transparency regarding the use of such funds.
In addition to the appropriation of public money for his re-election, Bolsonaro had set up a gigantic machine for the production and dissemination of fake news on an industrial scale, using evangelical churches as tribunes to further amplify the strength of his narratives in social networks, a fundamental environment in the dispute for votes, where Bolsonaro's effectiveness is admittedly greater than that of left-wing groups. There are almost 60 million followers of Bolsonaro against 25 million of Lula, considering only the profiles of the two presidential candidates on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok, according to a CNN Brazil survey. It has used several maneuvers, including the use of the PRF to curtail the people's right to vote in regions where the PT has the most votes, such as the Northeast, and electoral harassment in countless workplaces, where Bolsonaro's bosses have tried to discipline the working class vote. According to data from the Public Ministry of Labor, there were more than 2,400 denunciations of this type of harassment and attempts to manipulate the popular vote.
It was a dirty and broad war
There were huge expectations of victory among the right wing. Instead, there was a historic fall, a demoralizing one for the Bolsonarists, even though, throughout the dispute, there were elements that made defeat more probable than the maintenance of the current government, the representative of the extreme right in Brazil that embraced extremists, anti-PTers, opportunists and adventurers as part of the global wave of the rise of the right.
Lula's victory is due to a conjunction of factors:
I) the organized resistance during the four years of [Bolsonaro] administration, which united important democratic sectors: the strength of youth and of women who in their majority were against Bolsonaro; the struggle of the people — such as the education tsunami movement, the anti-racist and anti-fascist struggle; the struggle for science and for the right to vaccine; along with sectors of the state apparatus, the media that is not tied to Bolsonaro, having as its flagship Rede Globo, and to a lesser extent the Folha de S. Paulo, and cultural and art sectors. Even so, it is worth noting that the PT — due to its strategy — channeled the resistance into the electoral terrain, emptying the "Fora Bolsonaro!” sentiment from the streets. For its part, the mass movement also did not have a massive irruption;
(II) the division of the bourgeoisie as an expression of the division of society helped guaranteed the possibility of electoral victory for the opposition, even with Bolsonaro having the machine in hand;
(III) a bourgeois division at the international level, in which the defeat of Trump was the beginning of the defeat of the Bolsonarist project, and a sector of imperialism, such as the Democratic Party, Biden and European imperialism, indicated that they would not accept any coup adventure and supported Lula;
(IV) the weight of Lula's leadership, the only one capable of defeating Bolsonaro, fruit of the accumulation of his trajectory as the main workers' leader in the country, the memory of partial improvements in his governments, and the enormous popular identity that he is capable of establishing in broad masses
(V) the victory in the Northeast, which was decisive, and not only in the "territorial Northeast", but in the enormous strength of the "Northeastern nation" spread throughout the country, rooted in sectors of the class, like Lula himself, in the large urban centers, which fights with strength against xenophobia, prejudice and the backwardness of the Brazilian elites;
(VI) the good performance in the capitals and the victory in strategic cities, such as Porto Alegre and the capital São Paulo, even in states where Bolsonaro won.
On the balance of power
The correct definition is of an important and democratic triumph in the midst of a still defensive situation. A triumph that buries Bolsonaro's attempt to perpetuate himself in power, dividing his allies from the "centrão” (super-centre) and others who are beginning to abandon ship, but still unable to destroy the neo-fascist forces that are the core of the Bolsonaro project.
It is a different situation from that of 2003. There is a strong extreme right, the anti-capitalist consciousness is weaker, but there is, in this division of the bourgeoisie and in the politicization that the confrontation between two political poles has produced, room to create a vanguard with class consciousness and to demand from the government more democratic mechanisms of popular participation.
Lula will evidently have an even more liberal administration than in 2002, when the PSOL was founded from the rupture of parliamentarians that did not want to liquidate into the so-called leftist bloc that inertly watched the government's actions engineered by the bourgeoisie. But the situation now is different. To understand this is fundamental to think about how we got here. Brazil is different, the world is different, and the relationship between the social classes has also changed.
The ultra-right has not been crushed. Bolsonaro had a high vote, in addition to the positions accumulated in the first round, such as a significant parliamentary bench. He sustains important positions of strength (in the Army, in the police and in the governments), with a solid social base. Bolsonaro was elected as a phenomenon, combining an outsider in the face of the political crisis, the decision of a sector of the bourgeoisie to strike a blow against the PT, and the growing articulation of the extreme right in the world. This led, as we reinforced in one of the first documents, to a government with traces of improvisation and, even from the leader himself, Bolsonaro, of unpreparedness.
Of course, this lack of qualifications was known all along, but it took the government's attacks on the interests of part of the bourgeoisie (or the government's incompetence to manage them) for this sector of society to start acting to stop it. Neoliberal progressive sectors, as defined by Nancy Fraser — including Rede Globo — which do not agree with obscurantism, do not attack science, culture, nor want to impose a way of life and liquidate democratic freedoms — even though they defend a liberal economic policy — shaped the path for Bolsonaro's defeat. They followed in the footsteps of groups of neoliberal progressive bourgeoisie around the world in relation to authoritarian or neo-fascist projects — or however one wants to define them — such as the opposition of some US bourgeois sectors to Trump in the United States. Trump's failure preceded Bolsonaro's downfall and, in many ways and with some nuances, they resemble each other. Trump's own defeat sapped international support for Bolsonaro. There, as here, the division of the bourgeoisie was fundamental to electorally overthrowing the neo-fascist project and guaranteeing that the electoral result would be respected, of course with some confusion and violence, as is usual among the mass of supporters of the extreme right.
In this quagmire of capitalist crisis, whose stable development becomes more and more difficult, Lula was chosen by this portion of the bourgeoisie to defend its interests. Why Lula? Because another crisis is superimposed on the liberal bourgeoisie, that of representation. There is no other leadership that brings together the capacity for popular mobilization and management of bourgeois interests in Brazil today if not Lula. The PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party) crumbled — or at least survives on life support — and the MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement) has long since lost its leading role in the so-called centrão. This is the Brazilian expression of what we call "organic crisis", when there is a rupture between the immediate interests of the class and its direct representatives, appealing to hybrid or unusual formulas.
So, naturally, it turned to the PT, which has accepted to carry out governments of class collaboration since its first national experience with the Lula government in 2002, and which knew how to adapt to the demands that the reconstruction of the New Republic imposed. The progressive neoliberal bourgeoisie of the world recognizes Lula as a competent manager of this policy, just observe the almost euphoria with which some heads of state received his victory over Bolsonaro.
The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, minutes after the confirmation of the result, was one of the first to greet Lula. He even released a video on social networks showing the moment of the congratulations. Joe Biden, President of the United States, sent his congratulations via official White House memo and said he was "looking forward" to working closely with Lula.
The recognition of Lula's victory is international, and the agenda of foreign relations is a key point in the president-elect's agenda, due to international agreements, the protection of the Amazon and the strategic role of Latin America for the world economy. Therefore, international politics should be further debated at the MES/PSOL (Socialist Left Movement/ Party of Socialism and Freedom), especially considering the challenges that the new Brazilian government will face. The international debate returns to center stage: both because of the role of the extreme right in the world and the fact that the five main Latin American economies — Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and Chile — will be governed by so-called progressivism. And unlike the wave of the 2000s, this new progressivism is less radical and less anti-imperialist. This is related to the turn that Venezuela (post-[Hugo] Chavez) has taken towards an authoritarian vision, of which the [Daniel] Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua is the maximum expression of degeneration.
The massive mobilizations after the election results in Brazil showed a part of the population celebrating with relief, in a post-trauma catharsis imposed by Bolsonarism. In the streets, we saw a social sector that awakened to the danger of the extreme right and that became politicized and radicalized behind the banners of defense of liberties, social equality, the environment, defense of education, and against the hate speech of Bolsonarism, which represents barbarism. There has been a change in the mood of the country; we don't know how far it will go, but it is a new climate in which our ideas may well be welcomed. At the other end, anti-PTism has shown its resistance, but lacks the necessary support to advance a coup project, since the bourgeoisie that is with Lula has organized itself to protect well the institutions of bourgeois democracy.
Behind the democratic triumph, there are two aspects. One is the bourgeois sectors that want a return to institutional normalcy and that reject the extreme right. The other are the exploited sectors that see in Lula the possibility of recovering better living conditions. The bourgeois sectors, the center parties and the so-called centrão, which is physiologically institutional (that has already acknowledged the victory), will negotiate their weight in parliament in order to maintain privileges and positions. For its part, the bourgeoisie will push for Lula's government to be a continuation of the liberal plans with some necessary welfare concessions. On the other hand, it was an electoral political movement that, contradictorily and necessarily, raised progressive social demands. It lifted social improvements from the previous government and proposed a series of progressive measures in the field of wages, women's demands, housing, health and education. Lula tenuously supported elements of a tax reform that taxed large fortunes. This is what the people aspire to.
With the inauguration of the new government, two contradictions will unfold in the midst of the economic crisis that the world is experiencing and that also affects the country. The action of the extreme right, although defeated at the polls, is strong. It has 14 state governments and heavy representation in parliament linked to significant sectors such as evangelicals and agribusiness. On the other side are the exploited and oppressed sectors that want Lula to keep his campaign promises. The government will be caught between these two forces amidst a situation that is not that of the beginning of the century, with the wind of the world economy blowing in its favor. The clash of contradictions is inevitable, and we cannot yet know what its pace will be. How long will the honeymoon last? Nor can we know exactly how far the government will keep its promises and how the economic plan will be outlined. But we must wait a while and see the composition of the government and its first moves.
Confronting the extreme right, without truce
Bolsonaro may momentarily take a hit but his perspectives will not disappear. Bolsonarism will continue. Its leader has demonstrated a certain impotence in the face of the results of the polls, but he is far from being annihilated. He won more votes than in the previous election, he counts on the support and willingness of the most reactionary part of the bourgeoisie (including the one that financed the roadblocks throughout the country as soon as the election results came out) and managed to elect a body aligned to his politics in the National Congress. So the central point of the politics of the MES/PSOL will be to defeat the extreme right. There is no way to carry forward an anti-capitalist process without confronting the extreme right.
The extreme right has a mass base— in a social sector that rejects bourgeois democracy and openly defends a coup/military dictatorship. During the last few days, there has been a sharpening on the part of a more coup-plotting sector, linked to agribusiness and the hard core of the extreme right, which had already raised its head in September 2021, counting on the collaboration of sectors of the state apparatus, notably the PRF, but which was far from producing the “Brazilian capitol”. Another sector, with Lira and Ciro Nogueira, has already begun negotiating the transition. Bolsonaro gave brief statements, orienting to end the blockades. His biggest concern now — according to the press in Brasilia — is to have an accommodation with the PL, to stretch the rope to negotiate his political future in better terms, so as not to be arrested and to continue being the leader of the extreme right-wing opposition with his clan.
The place of the PSOL
In the battle to defeat neo-fascism and elect Lula, the leadership and militancy of the PSOL made the difference, positioning itself as a strong voice against Bolsonaro's neo-fascist project and reinforcing the trenches of social movements to defend the interests of the people. The election result demonstrated the growth of the PSOL and located the party at the forefront of the struggle against Bolsonarism, even though it is not structural strong enough to represent an alternative for power.
In the PSOL, there will obviously be a discussion about the new government. Our position is for the party's independence from the government — to defend it against the extreme right and its counterrevolutionary methods, but not to join the government.
To clarify the steps for this task in front of the new government, it is valid to resume the circumstances of the foundation of the PSOL and compare them to the present moment, highlighting the contradictions that are posed, the programmatic shortcomings of the PSOL, and its challenges.
In 2003, the core aim was to affirm the need to build an anti-capitalist alternative on the basis of the frustration caused by Lula's quick turn to the right, represented fully with the vote on the Social Security Reform, denouncing the government's character to shape an alternative to the left of the PT and of the national political spectrum, that could become viable and with some influence in mass sectors. Today, the challenge is to embody the enormous programmatic demands that appear in Brazilian society, confronting the extreme right and building a pole in society with an anti-capitalist perspective that fights to change the relation of forces so that this project can be realized.
Thus, it is necessary to mobilize for the most deeply felt demands and for the structural demands that the country needs. To join the government, on the other hand, would mean PSOL accepting the role of manager of the interests of capital. This is, therefore, a position of principle. Furthermore, the best position to fight from is to be in the bunkers of civil society, not in the governmental state apparatus. It is necessary to have freedom of criticism and organizational independence, which we already have, but also political freedom, which integration into the government would limit by the need for command discipline.
PSOL exists and has grown a lot in the elections. It is very well seen by the wide vanguard that was in the last street actions and with respect and prestige among the social sectors that voted for Lula. In this scenario, the MES has to join members and organize them. Our political task is to demand that Lula's government carry out the promised agenda and make it a tool to strengthen itself against the extreme right and to solve the most urgent problems of the poor people of the country. We must avoid falling into extremes when claiming these points.
At the same time, our politics needs to dialogue with the anti-regime sentiment that has fueled Bolsonarism, because merely defending institutionality will be the role of government. A discourse of subversion in defense of the needs of the people is a fundamental part of building a revolutionary left. An example of this is not to join in the pure and simple condemnation of the method of blocking roads. Our opposition to these mobilizations is for their coup content, for their refusal to accept the will of the majority of the people expressed in the ballot box, for their defense of military intervention.
Our role will be to advance with the politicization of the sectors that are in the streets, that condemn the extreme right and that place hope in a better life. They are millions, among young people, women, the working class, Black people, indigenous peoples, small businessowners, liberal professionals, the LGBTQIA+ community, public employees, and the most heartfelt layers of the people.
We must also seek to root ourselves among sectors that are disputed by Bolsonarism, such as the lower ranks of the security forces, military and civilian police, armed forces, firefighters, private security guards; the most backward sectors of the working class in the country's industrial centers; gig economy workers and, in the future, even with the truck drivers. It is important to highlight that, in Rio Grande do Sul, Luciana Genro (PSOL State Deputy of Rio Grande do Sul) was the deputy most voted by the military police, because she stood by them in the fight for the career and in the denunciation of the commanders' abuses, and that Glauber Braga (PSOL Federal Deputy from Rio de Janeiro) has an important support from the Army sergeants. This is part of the fundamental struggle to prevent Bolsonaro from consolidating a popular base.
Our orientation will be to strengthen the MES and seek dialogue with the PSOL as a whole to present a programmatic way out of the country. We will be in the vanguard of the struggle so that economic and social measures approved at the ballot box are put into effect. The PSOL has to be in the vanguard in pushing forward the struggle for better wages for workers, jobs, housing, and land. The economic policy that the liberal bourgeoisie demands from Lula, and that, everything indicates, will be carried out by the government, has fiscal adjustment as one of its points, which makes some of these commitments difficult, if not impossible. Besides this, some of the measures approved at the polls clash with the bourgeois interests that don't want to pay for the way out of the crisis. All the more reason to fight for such measures, which are necessary to improve the lives of the people and mobilize in a perspective that strengthens the working class organizations that are involved in them. Some of these measures are as follows.
1) Adjustment of the minimum wage above inflation
2) Emergency aid of R$600 plus R$150 per child up to 6 years old, adjusted annually to at least match inflation
3) Income tax exemption for those earning up to R$5 thousand
4) Renegotiation of debts of people who are in Serasa (in this case we should defend the cancellation of payment for poor and middle class families)
5) Tax on large fortunes and tax on profits and dividends
6) End the spending cap
7) Equal pay for equal work between men and women, with effective oversight
8) Fight against corruption, strengthening the mechanisms of investigation and punishment of the corrupt, strengthening the institutions that have the function of inspecting, such as the Federal Police, and broad transparency through the end of the 100-year secrecy imposed by Bolsonaro
9) Revision of the Labor Reform, which made jobs more precarious and removed rights
10) Strengthening public universities, with policies of access and permanence for low-income students
11) Restructuring IBAMA and ICMBio, and resuming operations against aggressions in the Amazon
12) Reconstruction of FUNAI and recovery of actions against illegal mining in indigenous lands, in general, and in the Yanomami in particular.
Furthermore, we believe that it is necessary to defend a measure that was not presented by Lula in the campaign, but which is necessary so that the country does not continue to be dominated by bankers and speculators: the auditing of the public debt, so that society knows what is legal and what is not in the debt, whose payment has drained the wealth of the state for a tiny privileged minority. The link with CADTM (Campaign to Abolish Third World Debt) will help to explore the debates about this demand.
Our program of democratic measures must also be a priority, given the nature of the electoral triumph. The democratic achievement of preventing Bolsonaro's reelection must be consolidated with measures. The first of these is the breaking of the 100-year secrecy and the investigation of crimes committed by the government, specifically by the president himself. It is clear that the most appropriate punishment is the arrest of Jair Bolsonaro. “Neither forget, nor forgive” should be our banner. Investigation and punishment for Bolsonaro and the criminals. It was the impunity for the crimes of the dictatorship one of the elements that composed the emergence and strengthening of this political strand expressed by Bolsonaro, which defends torturers, coups and political violence. No to impunity!
Our challenges are enormous. To invest in the formation of cadres and in the rooting together of youth and class organizations and social movements are fundamental to rescue the need for association, to dispute the advance of conscience, and to prepare actions of self-defense.
As an immediate policy, we defend that the PSOL launch a campaign for the punishment of all those responsible for the obstruction of the roads and so-called coup plotters, whether it be the sectors linked to the financing or execution of these anti-democratic acts. That this also involves, in the campaign, the investigation and punishment of the businessowners linked to the electoral harassment in the second round, which, with excellent work in the MPT (Ministério Público do Trabalho), reached more than 2 thousand denunciations.
The PSOL is facing new historic challenges, we trust in the Brazilian people, who have just won a "hard-fought" victory, like many battles of our people. With this strength, we continue to defend our anti-capitalist proposals, building an independent pole that fights to crush the neo-fascists and put Bolsonaro in his rightful place: the trash can of history, doing justice to his condition of genocide.
MES National Executive, November 3rd, 2022