From the November-December 2018 issue of News & Letters
On Jan. 1, Jair Bolsonaro will assume the office of President of Brazil. He is widely recognized as a racist, misogynist and homophobe and is an admirer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship. He calls for the police to murder suspected criminals in the favelas—the barrios of Rio, whose majority populations are Afro-Brazilian; for abolishing protected Indigenous lands; and for eliminating “communists,” meaning any Leftists including the former ruling Workers Party (PT).
STATE-CAPITALISM VERSUS FREEDOM
The origins of this disaster stretch back decades. Brazilian capitalism has struggled to join the major capitalist powers. In the process the country has experienced military dictatorship, the development of imperialist relations with its neighbors, and become one of the most unequal societies in the world. Significant parts of the Amazon have been destroyed for “development purposes,” and mega urban centers have become difficult places to live.
When Inacio “Lula” da Silva, the union leader who headed the PT, was elected president in 2002, millions hoped for significant change. Lula sought to alleviate extreme poverty. But he did not seek to change the social-economic structure of Brazilian capitalism. The state entered into capitalist enterprise, strengthening Brazil’s place in the world market, but increased its dependency on the market’s uncertainties.
When export prices crashed in the 2010s, so did the economy. Added to this was out-of-control corruption between the government and various private and state enterprises. A deep recession turned a large section of the population against the PT government (aided by a right-wing coup with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, who succeeded Lula).
When Lula was convicted and jailed on manufactured charges, and barred from running for president, the path was opened for Bolsonaro’s fake populism, with his calls for “order” threatening fascism. The coming months will tell whether that will come to pass or whether the masses will mount a crucial resistance.