Pablo VIVANCO: Latin America’s Right-Wing Turn – Alfredo SAAD -FILHO: Brazil: The Collapse of Democracy?; Jacobin, Oct. 2018

Dear all,

many are stunned faced with Latin America’s right-wing turn – in particular the mass support for Jair Bolsonaro, an incompetent Brazilian fascist.

Pablo Vivanco (former director of TeleSUR English) and Alfredo Saad-Filho (professor of political economy at SOAS, University London) are pointing out key aspects of this development.

Below extracts of both articles; complete see attachment (7p, pdf).

Martin Zeis

27.10.2018 —

Latin America’s Right-Wing Turn

By Pablo Vivanco

Pablo Vivanco is the former director of TeleSUR English.

The far right is on the rise not only in Brazil but across Latin America — driven by the middle class that left-wing governments helped create.


Unfinished business

The decade and more of so-called “Pink Tide” governments made undeniable social progress in the world’s most unequal region. Nevertheless, many of those who attained a measure of social mobility during this period have turned against that political project and the policies that defined it.

Whether a “Brown tide” is imminent or not, Walter Benjamin’s assertion that “behind every fascism, there is a failed revolution,” holds true for the Latin America today, Boron argues.

“It is a punishment, I wouldn’t say that it is not for having made revolution, but rather for not having completed a process of reforms that had to be radicalized, and through this, having suppressed the possibilities of the emergence of fascist political movements,” Boron said, emphasizing the absence of political education and organizing by most of the left-leaning governments in the region.

“Unfortunately, they fell into a kind of economic determinism, a certain economism, on the part of the governments of the progressive era, thinking that improving material conditions was enough to generate awareness of the need to fight against capitalism.”

This also holds true in the case of Brazil, where a popular movement fought a dictatorship and then elected PT candidates like Ignacio Lula da Silva to the presidency. “There was a lot of potential when Lula got elected, with a lot of popular support, to mobilize people and push for more, and people were very much hopeful that the government would be more than what it was,” Fernandes said.

The Left may have failed to organize a sufficient base of support to sustain its project, but it will now have a much harder fight to ensure that the reactionary Right isn’t able to do so either. This is motivating left-wing activists like Fernandes, who were critical of the PT government, to campaign for Fernando Haddad in the second round of presidential voting. “It’s now a question,” she says, “of trying to stop this in any way possible.”

27.10.2018 —

Brazil: The Collapse of Democracy?

by Alfredo Saad-Filho

Alfredo Saad-Filho is a professor of political economy in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS, University of London.


The Improbable Rise of Jair Bolsonaro

Five years of political tensions and degradation of democracy culminated in the 2018 presidential elections. The electoral process revolved around the confrontation between two political phenomena of great historical significance. On the one hand, the extraordinary political talent of Lula, who, even from jail, managed to put together an alternative candidate and outsmart his potential competitors in the center-left, paving the way for Fernando Haddad’s exponential growth in opinion polls.

However, Lula’s political acumen was unable to stem the tide of a far right mass movement led by an obscure Deputy who emerged far ahead in the first round of the elections. Despite frequent comparisons with U.S. President Donald Trump (who had a successful career on TV, if not in business), Jair Bolsonaro stands out for having failed at everything he tried to do before the elections, whether as a military officer (frustrated career), terrorist (amateur) or Federal Deputy (ineffective). Despite this history of fiascos, Bolsonaro made enormous gains, both among capital – desperate for any viable alternative to the PT – and among the workers (especially the informal working class), who flocked to Bolsonaro in the millions during the campaign.

Mass support for the incompetent fascist was supported by four platforms: the fight against corruption (the traditional way in which the right gains mass traction in Brazil, for example, in 1954, 1960, 1989 and 2013); conservative moralism (pushed by the evangelical churches); the claim that ‘security’ can be achieved through state-sponsored violence (which resonates strongly in a country with over 60,000 murders per year, in addition to tens of thousands of other violent crimes), and a neoliberal economic discourse centred on slashing a (presumably corrupt) state, that is parasitical upon the ‘honest’ citizens. The rupture of the progressive alliance and the haemorrhage of poor voters toward Bolsonaro is the Brazilian version of the process of consolidation of an electoral majority for authoritarian neoliberalism in other countries.

Defeating the PT and overthrowing Dilma Rousseff were, then, part of a wider process of displacement of the political center of gravity in Brazil upwards (within the social pyramid), and to the right (in terms of the political spectrum). These shifts have created, for the first time in more than half a century, a far-right mass movement with broad penetration in society. This not only drained the potential support for the PT candidate, but also led to the implosion of the traditional center-right parties, which were devastated by the rise of Jair Bolsonaro. Political chaos has seized the country.

The Impasse

In the short term, the Brazilian political impasse implies that the administration to be inaugurated in 2019 will be inevitably unstable, and over time, the 1988 Constitution is likely to become unviable, leading to the disintegration of democracy.

Any elected president would have serious difficulties governing with a sluggish economy, a hostile Congress, an overly autonomous Judiciary making a habit of trespassing into the other republican powers, excited Armed Forces, and a Constitutional amendment setting a ceiling on fiscal expenditures for the next 20 years (which will slowly throttle public administration). At the level of popular mobilization, since 2013 the streets are no longer the monopoly of the left; they now include large masses on the far right, surrounded by a violent fringe.

A centre-left president would find a state in worse situation than Lula found it in 2003, because of the institutionalization of the neoliberal reforms imposed by the Temer administration. These constraints would make it difficult to govern without a constitutional reform; however, a constituent assembly would inevitably be dominated by the right, which would seek to impose an even worse Constitution than the current one: the left is discredited, disorganized, and institutionally immobilized.

A far-right president, with no experience of government, without the support of a stable party structure, and unprepared in every way, will have to confront History: Presidents Janio Quadros and Fernando Collor were also elected by elite alliances that had traded common sense for a victory at the polls; both administrations were cut short. In a decentralized political system, authoritarian leaders face grave difficulties to govern, regardless of their legitimacy or social basis. Further, the ‘coalition presidentialism’ instituted by the Brazilian Constitution demands continuous negotiations in Congress, always running the risk of breaking the law, especially when the President has few reliable allies at the top, or is being challenged by a mass opposition.

In addition to these broad principles, the 2018 elections have led to five specific lessons.

  • First, the political centre of gravity in Brazil has shifted to the right. From the south to the centre-west, passing through the prosperous south-east, the right-wing electorate has achieved a solid majority. Given the importance of these regions, the left is electorally hemmed in.
  • Second, Bolsonaro’s rise derives from the combination of class hatred in a society bearing huge scars from centuries of slavery, recent right-wing insurrections, and transparent U.S.-led intervention in the Brazilian political process.
  • Third, since 2013, Brazilian politics has been defined by a convergence of dissatisfactions that has consolidated a neoliberal alliance around an economic and political programme that is economically excluding and destructive of citizenship.
  • Fourth, the Brazilian right is deeply divided. While the left, in defensive mode, can unite under Lula’s shadow, the right – surprisingly, given its hegemony over the institutions of the state and its ability to overthrow Dilma Rousseff – cannot generate leaders worthy of note, nor unify around its own programme of radical neoliberal reforms. Its traditional political parties are imploding, leaving in power a rabble of inexperienced, inept, idiosyncratic, and reactionary politicians.
  • Fifth, the worst economic contraction recorded in Brazil’s history and the most severe political impasse in the past century have degraded profoundly Brazilian democracy, and made it impossible for any plausible composition of political forces to stabilize the system of accumulation. The tendency, then, is for these impasses to be resolved by extra-constitutional means. This will be an inglorious end to a democratic experiment that has marked two generations, and that achieved unquestionable successes. Unfortunately, it has proved impossible to resolve the conflict between neoliberalism and democracy in Brazil, inside the political arena built in the transition after the military dictatorship.


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