The Landless Movement of Brazil (MST), one of Latin America’s largest social movements, brings us in depth analysis of progressive groups uniting around former President Lula da Silva to defeat Bolsonaro and the far-right in the October 2022 presidential elections, and the political context of the biggest battle-ground against the far-right globally.
By the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST)
The end of the year 2021 was marked by record inflation, by the tragedy of the rains, especially in Bahia, Minas Gerais and now in São Paulo, and by the spread of diseases, the influenza variant (H3N2) and the omicron strain of COVID-19. Fear and insecurity with rains, diseases and social crisis started a decisive year in the political struggle, with the presidential elections.
Opinion polls point to a scenario of great advantage for the former president Lula, with more than 40%, while the current president, Jair Bolsonaro is around 25% and the “third way”, divided, is stuck with less than 10%. The expectation of Lula’s victory in the elections has the positive effect of feeding the hope in the progressive camp of imposing a defeat to the current of neo-fascism and the forces of neo-liberalism.
There was a change of situation in 2021, with the rehabilitation of Lula’s political rights and with the retaking of the streets by the democratic and popular forces, in parallel to the erosion of Bolsonaro’s government, but the correlation of forces continues to be unfavourable for the popular forces and the working class. In the last eight years Brazil has been going through a neoliberal and conservative wave, which has had effects on politics, the economy and the State.
Faced with this offensive, the progressive camp did not have the political and social strength to avoid defeat in the coup of the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff, which resulted in the arrest of Lula and the election of the expression of the extreme right in the country, Jair Bolsonaro. The sections of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, supported by big international capital, formed a unity around the ultraneoliberal program, which has advanced rapidly in the last six years. Big capital reached paradise with the approval of the spending ceiling, the labor reform, the pension reform and the dismantling of public enterprises, among other measures.
The country went through the “shock doctrine” with the 2016 coup and the Bolsonaro government, which deepened political instability and social crisis, with impact on society as a whole. There were mixed reactions from the ruling class and the upper middle class. The political-ideological leadership of the government of Jair Bolsonaro, with emphasis on his stance against the pandemic, generated political contradictions in the bourgeoisie, which is divided between the candidacies of the current president and the so-called “third way”.
However, the political differences in the right-wing camp did not provoke displacements in relation to the ultra-neoliberal programme underway. Therefore, the occasional winks of businessmen and their spokesmen to Lula do not imply support for his candidacy. It is an attempt to build bridges with the favourite candidate, moderate his program and preserve economic interests in case of victory of the Workers’ Party (PT).
The capacity of the progressive forces to call mass demonstrations, mobilise the working class and carry forward the ideological dispute in society is still quite limited. It was possible to resist and win victories in the confrontations in which there was unity with segments of the non-Bolsonarist right in Congress, institutions and the media. However, there was not enough strength to stop the unity agendas of the right, especially in the economic area.
Lula’s return to the political-electoral game with a wide lead in the polls strengthened the progressive forces to the extent that it unified the left and repositioned the perspective of retaking the federal government. The political capacity of the greatest popular leadership of the country with its electoral strength provoked a change in the conjuncture favourable to the working class, even under an adverse correlation of forces. Therefore, the election of Lula is the central task, because it opens a new conjuncture and can accumulate for a change in the correlation of forces.
President Jair Bolsonaro went through the most difficult moment of the government last year, with institutional erosion (with the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) of COVID-19 in the Senate and the position of the Supreme Federal Court (STF)) that confronted him with the “printed vote war”, with the support of the Armed Forces and the connivance of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The outcome of this phase of the political-institutional crisis occurred after the Bolsonarista demonstrations of September 7, which inaugurated a period of greater institutional stability. The operation to co-opt the National Congress paid off, blocked the impeachment trial and gave room for the approval of projects of interest to the government.
Bolsonaro maintained a level in the polls around 25%, according to the polls, with a high degree of loyalty that gives him a significant margin in relation to the candidates of the so-called “third way”. This valuation will be favoured in 2022 by the approval of the Auxílio Brasil Program, with the extension of the value of the benefit to R$ 400,00, and with the fall in unemployment, which reached the lowest rate since January 2020, before the pandemic. The millions released in amendments, with privileges for the parliamentary base of the most pro-Bolsonaro centre, will make resources flow this year for works and programmes. The presidential pen, which re-elected all the presidents in the “New Republic” cycle, cannot be underestimated.
The non-Bolsonarist right, baptized as the “third way”, arrived in 2022 with two positioned candidates, the governor of the state of São Paulo João Dória, who won the PSDB primaries, and the former judge and former minister Sérgio Moro. Nine months before the elections, both are below 8%, despite the preference of the bourgeoisie and the support of the big media. While Dória faces a diaspora of historical toucans (nickname for PSDB supporters), such as former governor Geraldo Alckmin, mentioned as vice-president in Lula’s ticket, Moro faces difficulties to build his candidacy within the Podemos Party and is considering switching to the União Brasil Party.
The year began with Bolsonaro and non-Bolsonaro right-wing candidates raising the tone against Lula, which marks the level of the campaign in the coming months. The dispute in the right-wing camp will take place under strong attack from the left, with the resumption of the Dilma government’s line of bankrupting the economy, the PT’s corruption accusations and the conservative agenda against women, blacks and LGBTI. The open debate at the end of 2021 on the repeal of the spending ceiling and labor reform anticipated the role of the ideological debate around the agenda, which will unite the right against the proposals of the left.
The presidential campaign will be very tough and requires a broad unity of progressive forces, capacity for grassroots organisation, willingness to fight ideologically around the program and a leap in quality in the area of communication, with a series of initiatives in different fields, under a shared coordination with division of tasks to provide answers to the questions that will arise in the political process.
The initiatives for the construction of popular committees, under debate in the PT, Central Única de Trabajadores (CUT) and Movimiento Sin Tierra (MST), express the challenge of making the electoral campaign a process of organization, mobilisation and reconnection with the popular strata, especially in the big cities. The erosion of traditional campaigns, which leave the role of militancy in the background, and the formal shortening of the time of the elections raise the need to promote a previous process that provides a political debate on the Brazilian crisis and organizes initiatives on concrete problems in order to arrive at the elections with consolidated committees and with a working method.
The unity of the broad progressive camp, forged since the creation of the “Out Bolsonaro” campaign, with parties, unions, popular movements and society organisations, provides an important level for political and ideological confrontation this year. Now, the debate on unity gained institutional frameworks among the parties, with the approval of the legal institute of the federation of parties, involving the PT, PSB, PCdoB and PV.
The unity of the progressive camp needs to be expressed in the process of organization of the popular committees and in an agenda of street mobilizations against the federal government and in defense of a programme of changes, maintaining the spirit of social and ideological struggle in the first semester to create a favourable climate for the elections. The transition from the struggle against the current government to the electoral struggle contributes to make the campaign-movement line effective, with a greater protagonism of grassroots work, popular struggle and programmatic debate.
The ideological dispute will take place, above all, in the debate on the diagnosis and the program to face the Brazilian crisis. In the ideological field, the right wing has greater unity, both in the fractions of the bourgeoisie, in its political expressions and in the media, around the neo-liberal program. Therefore, it is necessary to build a social force through committees and articulate a political movement in society around a program of social change, bringing together sectors with influence, as in the university, in the cultural field, in the legal field and in the interreligious movement.
The evolution of the political scenario in the last period represents a change of juncture for the popular organizations, especially in view of the expectation of a resumption of the federal government. Thus, the central task is to win the elections, electing Lula and candidates from the progressive camp to parliaments and regional governments.
However, in order to change the correlation of forces, the challenge is to take advantage of the electoral battle to gain organizational muscle, make the ideological dispute in society and support a program to face the neoliberal pressure and that of the conservative forces to block the necessary changes even from the campaign.
- This article was originally published in Portuguese by Resumen Latinoamerico here, and was translated into English for Labour Outlook by Dr Francisco Dominguez, Head of Latin American studies at Middlesex University.
- The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra/Landless Workers Movement (MST) are one of Latin America’s largest social movements, with over 1.5 million members. They campaign against income inequality, land inequality, racism, sexism, and have been key force in the resistance against the far-right in Brazil.
- You can show your support for Lula and the resistance against Bolsonaro by signing the Brazil Solidarity Initiative “Brazil Elections 2022” public statement here.