By PSTU Brazil, translated to English by Carlos Jara
Bolsonaro’s government is an authoritarian government that rose to power in the middle of a crisis of the economy, of society, and of Brazil’s political institutions, calling for the return of a dictatorial regime supported by the military, despite lacking sufficient political forces to make good on this regime change threat. For this reason, we can call Bolsonaro’s government a crisis government.
Presently, Bolsonaro’s government is in an even deeper crisis than when he first took office. The pre-existing economic and social crises have only gotten worse thanks to the pandemic. The crisis has economic, social, and political dimensions. It is important to remember that on top of the general state of crisis for global capitalism, Brazil has endured a long process of deindustrialization and recolonization thanks to its position as part of the subaltern in the global division of labor, a process which has been abetted by all of the previous governing political parties, including Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT), continuing the legacy of Brazil’s former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (in office 1995–2003). Bolsonaro came to power in the wake of this disaster, an establishment politician hoping to restore the old political regime, albeit without a balance of forces that would allow him to fulfill such dictatorial hopes.
Cornered, his poll numbers falling, and with even the business community and sectors of the military distancing themselves from Bolsonaro’s government, all of the institutions of the bourgeoisie are trembling in fear. The centrist bloc controls the National Congress, ministry appointments, and splits the government’s executive authority; governors and mayors break with the central government in their own cowardly and hypocritical ways; the Supreme Federal Tribunal (judiciary) is in total disarray and can’t give anyone a straight answer.
Finally, the crisis, as we predicted at the outset of this militarized government’s term, has reached the military.
Bolsonaro and his sons are suffering one of their greatest defeats, forced to remove Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo and to appoint Flávia Arruda (of the center-right Liberal Party) as the Secretary of Government. Arruda is the wife of former governor José Roberto Arruda, who lost his post following impeachment on corruption charges, and is allied to the leader of the centrist bloc and president of the Chamber of Deputies, Arthur Lira (of the center-right Progressistas party), and her new appointment will put her in charge of authorizing parliamentary amendments.
At the same time, seeing that he was losing power in the military sphere, Bolsonaro decided to challenge them head on, interfering with the leadership of the Armed Forces, the federal police, and at the same time trying to control the military police and to expand his paramilitary forces.
A government in crisis
This game of musical chairs that Bolsonaro has initiated is a symptom of a deepening political crisis, resulting in increasing fragmentation and isolation of his government. In order to placate the centrist bloc, Bolsonaro had to dismiss Ernesto Araújo, not only his most loyal minister but also a figurehead of his extremist base. Furthermore, he had to appoint Arruda, a deputy who is directly allied to the centrists, to a key chokepoint within government. All of this while the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate, and the Executive branch are embroiled in an undeclared war over parliamentary amendments and the 2021 budget.
Even at the best of times, the resignation of Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo, the sacking of the high command of the armed forces (an unprecedented event!), and the nomination of a member of the Federal Police for a judicial position would raise questions about Bolsonaro’s intentions. Even more so on the eve of the 57th anniversary of the military coup.
What is behind this serious political and institutional crisis is, as we have already said, the deindustrialization and deterioration of Brazil’s economy, the ravages of the pandemic raging across the country, with the healthcare system in a state of collapse and a daily death toll of around 4,000, which, according to experts, may reach 5,000 per day in the coming weeks. At this rate, Brazil may see a death toll of 500,000 by mid-year (and this is going by numbers that are likely underestimates), a veritable massacre. The crisis also shows its face when we look at the dramatic situation in the hospitals, where thousands wait for vacancies in the ICU, and where patients face shortages of critical medications such as sedatives (necessary for intubations) and oxygen.
The terrible situation hits the working class and the poor (including the unemployed and those who work under the table) hardest of all, who on top of everything else are facing both falling wages and rampant inflation for basic goods. An emergency stimulus package, which provides from R$ 150 to R$375 (~$28–$66 USD), fails to cover even half of what people need, and is only expected to arrive in April. Small businesses are also facing destitution, as they have been forced to close up shop in the absence of any aid whatsoever.
This reality is affecting Bolsonaro’s popularity, and is eating away at his support in other sectors as well. More and more big businesses and even representatives of the financial sector are calling for change, putting pressure on the National Congress, the Supreme Federal Tribunal and even the armed forces. Not because they are suddenly worried about the fates of the poor people who are dying in line at the hospital or facing destitution, but because such an all-encompassing crisis also puts their own wealth and privileges at risk.
A weak government can be defeated, but it should not be underestimated
Once again, Bolsonaro plays with threats of a coup, a self-coup, or a state of emergency. Since the beginning of his presidency, Bolsonaro’s government has openly defended an authoritarian regime, continuously dangling threats of attacks against civil liberties as tactical blackmail, but Bolsonaro has never had, nor does he have now, the necessary forces to follow through on his threats.
If on one hand we see that Bolsonaro’s ministerial shakeup presents a government more and more under the control of the centrist bloc, his changes to the military command display a different development.
First of all there is the sacking of the high command, which never granted the support that Bolsonaro was looking for to allow him to harass and blackmail the rest of the government with threats of attacks against civil liberties. This was the case because this sector of the armed forces shares the political perspectives of the business owners, and also because Bolsonaro’s popularity among the social base of the military police has fallen. There is also the fear that the demoralization within the government could infect the military, such as what happened with the resignation of General Pazuello from the Ministry of Health.
Pazuello is the public face of the armed forces, as is Bolsonaro himself. The generals of the Army in particular are deeply intertwined with this government, and support it with the participation of thousands of soldiers. For the bourgeoisie, and for the military itself, the armed forces could be overextended and unable to respond in the moment when they most hope to use them, to once again set them against the people of Brazil in the event of a rebellion. The military, like all other parts of the political superstructure, is not sitting in the clouds, detached from society, but rather reflects the attitudes of society, and signs suggest that the military is getting tired of the de facto genocide that the country is experiencing.
But, if all of this shows a weak government, cornered and barely hanging on to life, it does not mean that the government is already dead, and we should not underestimate our enemy. There are factions within the political opposition that talked about the government as if it had unlimited strength (as if it would be fascism from the get-go, or that it would be invincible). Now, other sectors only see weakness within the government, and narrow their sites on elections within the bourgeois-democratic system. At the same time as they point out the imminent collapse of the government, they do absolutely nothing to actually force it out of power already. They are happy to let the genocide continue and for the far-right to continue to reorganize itself, and are content to wait until the 2022 elections.
Bolsonaro has already given more than enough indication that he hopes to organize a sector of the military to merge with the far-right and become his “private military”, calling for the formation of paramilitary groups in a manner reminiscent of Chavismo in Venezuela, or more recently of Trump in the US. This is his objective when he rails against social-distancing measures, when he threatens violence against protestors and other political opponents, or when he says that he will not accept any electoral outcome where he loses the election.
In the National Congress, this strategy takes the form of “antiterrorism” laws and the attempt to push through projects such as the “national mobilization law” proposed by Major Hugo of the Social Liberal Party (PSL), which in practice would allow Bolsonaro to declare a state of emergency, putting the military police at his direct disposal.
It’s time to make a move. Where is the opposition? Bolsonaro and Mourão must go already!
Bolsonaro’s weaknesses should serve to mobilize the popular opposition to remove him and his cronies from power as soon as possible. Bolsonaro’s government is the number one culprit for putting us on a genocidal death march and turning Brazil into an open-air cemetery.
It’s time to demand that Bolsonaro and Mourão must go already. And we must also raise demands for a nationwide lockdown, economic aid of R$600 (~$106 USD) per person (which should really be a minimum wage at the least) and support for small businesses until a vaccine has been distributed. And in order to distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible, to stop this delay that kills more people each passing day, we need to break international patents and mass produce the vaccines for distribution.
We also need to get rid of Bolsonaro and Mourão to stop the spread of militias which are being organized by a far-right faction within the armed forces. With this topic in particular in mind, the state governors’, National Congress’s, and opposition parties’ hypocritical, cowardly defense of Bolsonaro’s ongoing mandate to rule is totally ridiculous.
Ciro Gomes’s position of dismissing the authoritarian threat posed by Bolsonaro, just like Marcelo Freixo’s decision to prioritize the 2022 election, give Bolsonaro free reign to impose his genocidal and authoritarian project across the country. The same can be said of the PT, which is currently trying to once again become the bourgeoisie’s chosen party to lead a “national unity” government.
Neither can we trust the defense of our civil liberties to supposedly “democratic” bodies of the military, as do the PT and PSOL. Let’s not forget that General Azevedo, to name one example, was not just a passive supporter of Bolsonaro’s candidacy, but rather actively campaigned for it. On the contrary, we need to have faith in our own forces to fight against this government and to stop both the ongoing genocide and the backslide of our civil liberties.
We’ve hit a point where 4,000 people are dying per day, it is necessary to get rid of Bolsonaro now and to fight for a proper emergency program. In order to do this, we need to organize the working class and poor people from below. We need a general strike for health. The opposition needs to be helping to organize this strike and to force a national lockdown, while calling for vaccines for everyone, which will be possible if we break patents and retool factories to produce the necessary vaccines, just as we need to force the government’s hand to provide emergency aid now.
If we do not mobilize, we will be left with hypocrisy, half-measures, a dribble of vaccinations, and piles of the dead. The wavering of the business class, the politicians and the military that are supposedly fed up with Bolsonaro is cowardly and hypocritical. Just like Bolsonaro, the genocider-in-chief, we need to get rid of them too.
The original article can be found here in Portuguese.