Brazil: a new illegitimate right-wing government stepping up austerity

March against Temer – with a banner signed by several socialist groups

Marcio Musse writes about the the illegitimate right-wing government of Temer which is stepping up austerity. He also outlines  the challenge for the left to present an anti-capitalist and anti-austerity alternative.


Was there a coup in Brazil?

Dilma Roussef, the elected President, has been impeached in a process based on very weak foundations. Two days after the final vote against Roussef in the Federal Senate, the alleged irregularity – a financial manoeuvre largely performed by politicians at all levels – was voted legally acceptable by the same Senate. Evidence has been published about the organisation of a plot, led by right-wing politicians who had lost the elections (including the main players of corruption scandals), the Judiciary and media groups. The Judiciary was clearly playing as a political role, leaking critical information about the “Car Wash” (Lava Jato, the Federal Police operation) to TV channels and taking biased decisions – at all strategic moments and in a coordinated way. Undeniably, the impeachment of Dilma and the handover to Michel Temer is an institutional coup, aiming to intensify the attacks against the working class and the poor in Brazil.

A brief history about the Workers’ Party (PT)

The Workers’ Party (PT) was created in 1980, from the struggle against the military dictatorship. In 10 years it became the biggest left-wing party of Brazil and an important international reference point. Lula, a metalworker and one of the PT founders, became the party’s most important leader. Throughout the 90s, the PT started a gradual move to the centre-left. It changed its profile and programme, attacked internal democracy (including the expulsion of some Trotskyist organisations) and occupied positions in local governments – frequently disappointing its supporters and sometimes clashing with the social movements. Despite that, it was the main opposition to the Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC) government which promoted a decade of social expenditure cuts, privatisations, transfer of large amounts of money to the banks and all the well-known neoliberal recipes.

The 2000s crisis dismantled the “new world order” propaganda. People had realised the actual effects of the neoliberal program, and Lula and PT were the “natural” alternative. A new decade was about to start.

In June of 2002, Lula launched a “Letter to Brazilian People”, a document guaranteeing to big business and banks that no structural changes would take place under his government. In other words, confirming to the bourgeoisie that he was the perfect leader to promote “social peace”, and was able to calm down the unions, demonstrations and strikes. A wide coalition had been built, including some traditional bourgeois parties and giving the Vice Presidency to the owner of a big textile group. In October 2012, after three defeats (1989, 1994 and 1998), Lula was elected President of Brazil.

Lula’s government: 2003 – 2010

The first Lula government started in 2003, with absolutely no changes in the economic and political systems. Actually, Lula announced some neoliberal reforms that FHC could not finish but in a slight different format. During his second year in office, a huge scandal (Mensalao) erupted which implicated the main people of PT government (excluding Lula), revealing some agreements with traditional parties to build the governmental coalition. The government seemed weak at that time, but the trust that people had in Lula and the PT, and the fact that most leaders of unions and social movements were supporters or members of the government helped to sustain the president.

However, the situation underwent a major change. The global market became extremely positive to commodities, boosted by the Chinese growth, and the economy took off. Lula was able to drive this economic momentum to promote social inclusion, creating a wide range of social benefit programmes targeting the poorest part of the population. Around 30% of Brazilians were directly assisted with increases in the minimum wages, a huge credit expansion and consumption incentives which were the main pillars of Lula’s government. All that in the midst of an unseen economic growth. In Brazil, where poverty and inequality have always been enormous, this is something very significant. At the same time, banks and several big businesses (construction, energy, mining, metal) were breaking profit records year by year.

Around 2010, the commodities boom was over. Profits in oil, gas, mining, steel and others could no longer sustain that situation. The government had not changed the political and economic infrastructure, and that growth was not sustainable. The stability was apparent, but not real. A countdown to a huge crisis had begun…

Dilma’s first term: 2011 – 2014 and the June 2013 uprising

At the end of his second term, Lula nominated Dilma Roussef to be PT’s candidate for the 2010 presidential elections. Dilma was almost unknown as a political leader,. She was a minister in Lula’s cabinet, but had little political exposure. Her candidacy was Lula’s personal choice (despite of party and other potential candidates). The coalition for the election was wider than the previous ones, including even more traditional (and right-wing) bourgeois parties.

Dilma’s government was, in a nutshell, the “transition from heaven to hell”. The economic situation was clearly going down hill, and the government could not keep the social benefits at the level they used to be. The credit expansion became a debt, compromising the budgets of families. The internal consumption bubble was breaking down. Money to the banks was being sent religiously, in form of public debts. Who was going to pay that bill?

In June of 2013, the public transport companies were allowed to raise the price of ticket. A student demonstration against the ticket price rise, led by a social movement (the students’ union was a government supporter), was violently repressed by the police. The images of the repression circulated throughout the country and, despite the campaign of the mainstream media showing the demonstrations as “vandalism”, they rapidly got national support. More than that, in the following weeks the country saw the biggest wave of mobilization in its history, with protests everywhere, almost every day, with people raising a wide range of demands. For example, on 20 June 2013, there was around 500,000 people demonstrating in each city of Rio and Sao Paulo, and in the capital Brasilia the Government and Parliament Houses were besieged by the demonstrations. Again, these definitely were the biggest demonstrations in Brazilian history.

That process did not have a clear political leadership. It had an anti-austerity profile, as most demands were against corruption and cuts in social benefits, and defending social rights. Most unions, controlled by the PT and government supporters, did not take part. Others, with socialist-left or independent leadership supported it very well, as the remarkable example of MTST (Homeless Workers Movement). The attendance was very plural – with a majority of young working-class people. Right-wing groups (including fascists and far-right) also participated, associating corruption with the “left-wing” (PT). After June 2013, the number of strikes per year more than doubled compared to the period before the demonstrations. There was also a spectacular national schools occupation movement, carried out by the students against education cuts last year.

The economic crisis increased in the second half of 2013. New corruption scandals were being published on a weekly basis, especially by right-wing tabloids. Dilma approved laws to increase the repression against new demonstrations, including one comparing these to “terrorist actions”. There were new elections in 2014 and, based on Lula’s popularity, the social achievements of the previous PT governments and a “shift to left” in her campaign speeches (not linked to reality), Dilma was re-elected with a very narrow margin (51% of the valid votes in the second round).

Dilma’s second term: 2015 – 2016 and the impeachment

Just after the elections, Dilma launched an austerity programme very similar to the one that she had accused her opponent would implement. The ministers appointed for the new cabinet were, according to this policy called “Fiscal Adjustment”, protecting the banks and the big businesses and cutting spending from health, education and social benefits. The corruption scandals were escalating very quickly and the left-wing opposition was not able to lead the response. From March 2015, the right-wing opposition, heavily supported by the main media groups, organised huge demonstrations “against corruption”. The attendance was different from those of June 2013 – older, “whiter” and richer – but it still very significant. The agenda was also fundamentally different, more anti-social and with a notable presence of the far-right asking for the return of the military dictatorship. The popularity of Dilma was very low, and the government was no longer able of doing anything, including the “fiscal adjustment” reforms.

It was clear that since June 2013, the PT had lost its capacity to control and calm down the social movements. The main banks and big businesses that were getting the better deals were supporting the government which was implementing the austerity program. Others were in fierce opposition, but did not want the rupture with an early impeachment – preferring to weaken the PT to guarantee their traditional representatives victory in the next elections. This position has been publicly defended by the former president FHC, the defeated PSDB candidate and some of the biggest Brazilian bankers and big bosses. However, lots of business groups that were not taking advantage of the government measures were pushing for an immediate new government which would be able to deepen and accelerate the austerity reforms and took advantage of the massive demonstrations. In December 2015, the bourgeoisie unified its position for the immediate removal of PT government.

Then, without even any evidence of any crime having been done by the President, they moved the impeachment process forward. The plan was that the Vice President would take the Presidency, supported by the Congress and the Judiciary (and of course, the Media) and implement austerity at a higher pace. They launched a programme, called the “Bridge to the Future”, organising seminars to promote that document during the process.

In April, the Congress voted for Dilma’s suspension. Temer became “Acting President”, but changed the cabinet and government profile. In August, the Senate voted for the final impeachment, and at that stage of the coup had been completed. The next step will be, again without any criminal evidence, to convict and arrest Lula to prevent his candidacy in 2018 (he leads all polls). This is happening now.

The government has absolutely no legitimacy, and its level of acceptance is even lower than Dilma’s (on her lowest scores, despite of all media propaganda). Huge demonstrations were taking place on a daily basis after the Senate vote, and in late September there was a national day of struggle with some strikes going on. Temer is heavily booed wherever he faces the public and, so far, has not found the needed stability to apply the intended reforms. The working class movement, and the social movements unleashed in June 2013 have not been defeated. However, Temer has the support of the congress, the bourgeoisie, the media, and the judiciary, and are announcing severe “reforms” at high-speed. The game is definitely not over in Brazil, and the socialist left can be the decisive factor.

The socialist left

The challenge for the socialist movement is to intervene with the correct policy: struggle against the right-wing coup without giving any support to the PT and its pro-austerity government. The challenge is to organize the working class and the people to create an independent alternative and to popularise the call “Don’t allow Temer to govern”, and for “General Elections now”.

The left must unite to intervene in the local struggles, to fight against the government and the austerity reforms towards a general strike; The left, united, should to be in every process, denouncing the government policies and the coup, without supporting the return of PT, Lula or the old government. The left, united, should build and present an anti-austerity, anti-capitalist alternative and defend women, black and LGBT rights. There are several ongoing processes, such as strikes, feminist struggles, school occupations and others that can be unified towards a common target.


Fora Temer (Get Temer Out)!!!

Eleições Gerais Já (General Elections Now)!!!

Por uma Frente de Esquerda Socialista (For a Socialist Left Front)!!

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