With the radically polarised process of Brazil's presidential elections and the victory of an openly neo-fascist candidate, an important concept emerges that needs to be better understood within the Brazilian and international activist community: The Anti-Workers’ Party (PT) rage.
The formation of the PT and the New Republic
To better understand this subject, it is important to return to the first half of the 1980s, when Brazil was reaching the end of the military dictatorship period and going through the process of re-democratization. This period is known as the “New Republic” period. The end of the dictatorship in Brazil occurred in a scenario of economic crisis and at the same time of the collapse of various dictatorships in Latin America. In Brazil, this decline was accelerated by a great rise in social movements despite their repression in the dictatorship. One of the most prominent social groups was composed by the metallurgic workers known as “the metallurgical belt of the ABC” (metropolitan region of São Paulo). Numerous strikes and protests led by the group spread through the most diverse social sectors of the country, overcoming the power of repression by the police and the barrier imposed by media censorship. Other groups followed: from landless peasants to students, as well as the progressive wing of the Catholic Church, intellectuals and artists, community movements and workers from the most diverse categories.
The political impact of this struggle was enormous, boosting a historical reorganization of social movements in Brazil. Workers from various factories and categories rejected the rotten union structures (usually linked to the dictatorship) and created new unions such as the CUT (free translation: Central of Workers). From this shift of power and reorganisation of the unions, came the idea of creating a new political party. An independent party from the bourgeoisie, and that unified the diverse social and popular struggles that the country was going through. The Workers' Party (PT) was therefore created under the leadership of Lula da Silva, a metallurgist from the Northeast of the country, who was at the forefront of the social movements and became a political prisoner multiple times during the military dictatorship.
Throughout the 1980s, the PT was consolidating itself as the main leftist party of the New Republic. Its strategy was to get to power via the democratic electoral route. In the first elections in the country after the military dictatorship ended, in 1987, Lula reached the second round of the process, being defeated by Fernando Collor. Collor would undergo Impeachment two years later due to a corruption scandal. Lula later ran again and lost to Fernando Henrique Cardoso the 1994 and 1998 elections. With the impact of the economic crisis of the late 1990s and early 00s, Lula was finally elected president in October 2002.
The 13 years of PT governments
During the 1990s, PT was already beginning to gain space in the political scenario winning various local and national elections. In many cases, the elected representatives put in practice the social welfare policies and the democratic participation of the population in decision making, such as the participatory budget currently used in several countries. They also launched changes in public healthcare such as the unified system of ambulances (SAMU), inspired by the model used in France, launching in Porto Alegre first and expanding nationwide after 2003.
However, months before the election that led Lula to the presidency, PT released a document entitled "Letter to Brazilians". In this document, PT committed itself not to alter the pillars of the economic agenda that had been applied by the previous conservative governments (for example, from the party PSDB), calming down the fears that leading economic groups could still have regarding an eventual PT government.
Now in government, PT continued to broadly apply the social-democratic agenda but with some adjustments. During Lula's second administration, the world commodities market experienced an unusual boom. The Brazilian economy, strongly based on this type of product (oil, gas, minerals, etc.), had grown significantly. The PT government took advantage of the economic growth and increased investments in social policies. The measures did not change the country's economic structure but allowed the social inclusion of millions of families who were living below the poverty line. It gave access to consumption and goods that a large part of the population had never dreamed of. Sectors of the middle class consequently began to develop an Anti-Workers’ Party rage based on the traditionally retrograde mentality shared by this social class. They struggled to tolerate "poor people in airports and universities", both seen as privileges reserved to the few. But this new economic scenario of the country went from strength to strength, which left the middle class feeling politically marginalized. Yet the “Cansei” (I’m fed up) marches, a movement of the upper-middle class of São Paulo, typically dressed in green and yellow and protesting against Lula’s presidency, did not reach 100 attendees.
The economic crisis and June 2013
However, the economic growth reached an end. The great global economic crisis of 2007 changed the landscape in Brazil. The commodities market, especially oil, gradually returned to pre-growth levels. Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor, was then in charge of the government. Lula had already served two consecutive terms - the maximum allowed by Brazilian law.
The population was beginning to feel the decline in living standards and to realise that the government was failing to maintain the same economic growth from previous years. There was a feeling that the bill was being paid by the population. The mega-events planned for the country (World Cup and Olympic Games), turned from a source of pride to an example of waste of public funds. All that while the basic needs of the population were not being met. In June of 2013, a student mass protest against the increase of the bus fares in São Paulo was harshly repressed by the Military Police. However, it quickly gained momentum and spread throughout the country. It was the beginning of the so-called “Jornadas de Junho” (Journeys of June), the greatest social mobilization in Brazil’s history: tens of millions of people took the streets demanding further social changes. The protests were very diverse and composed by people from all parts of the political spectrum. In general, the protests of June had in common a progressive agenda. However, the far-right took advantage of the political moment and infiltrated in the process instigating the Anti-Workers’ Party rage, blaming the left for all the social discontent and lack of perspective for a better future.
The 2014 Elections and the Impeachment of Dilma Rousseff
In the 2014 electoral process, Dilma reached the second round against the PSDB candidate in a fiercely contested election. Large part of the upper middle class had adhered to the Anti-Workers’ Party rage. In the second round, PT adopted an anti-austerity speech, more to the left, and reversed the rejection to its policies. At the end of the elections, Dilma adopted a very different agenda from what had been defended in her campaign up to that point, disappointing many of her supporters.
The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, wanted an even stronger pace of fiscal adjustment. It encouraged and radicalised the Anti-Workers’ Party rage, giving support to Dilma Rousseff's impeachment.
In the current elections, with the failure of the traditional conservative parties (such as PSDB), the space was occupied by a neo-fascist alternative: Jair Bolsonaro. To enable his rise, the campaign supported by the international fake News industry (with the participation of Stephen Bannon, former Trump aide) and hate speech. Quickly the campaign took surreal proportions. The far-right took advantage of the desperation and lack of perspective of large sectors of the population to inflame hatred against their "enemy within": the black, the poor, the women and the LGBTQ. And the left activists fighting the rise of extremism were all labelled as "PT supporters." The far-right encourages an unhealthy Anti-Workers’ Party rage to facilitate its policy of brutal repression to the social movements, finally making it possible to consolidate their political project.
In this delicate political moment, we understand that the role of the left is to fight the reactionary and neo-fascist president. It does not mean embracing PT with its past mistakes and current limitations. It does not even mean supporting a possible new government from this party. The PT's alliances, manifesto and recent practices show that the party has not yet realised the need to reinvent itself from within - as for example the UK Labour Party has. It is necessary to overcome the limitations of PT in the future, but today the priority is to fight the neo-fascism.
The post-election period
The far-right in Brazil used the Anti-Workers’ Party rage as an ideological basis for its strength. Brazil has elected a neo-fascist government. Parallel to that, social movements gain strength and resist, the left reorganizes itself.
A movement of more than 4 million people and led by women stood up to this political threat without defending PT and its alliances. The #EleNao campaign fought the rise of fascism.
No matter what the Bolsonaro government will be, the work of building a new political scenario that goes beyond the polarisation focused on very few parties continues and the task of defending basic democratic rights will be the order of the day. The #EleNao campaign has already shown the way.
We have a long road ahead of us, and we have confidence and willingness to keep fighting.■
Márcia Alves, feminist-socialist activist from Sao João de Meriti, Baixada Fluminense ( peripheral area in Greater Rio de Janeiro).
The presidential elections in Brazil ended with the victory of the neo-fascist candidate Jair Bolsonaro of the far-right party Social Liberal Party (PSL), with just over 55% of the valid votes. After a necessary period of recovery and reflection, we as the Brazilian Women Against Fascism UK group would like to outline what we believe are the next stages of resistance and forms of mobilization that will need to be articulated before the government begins in 2019, but whose weight we already felt in that transition period.
We would like to thank everyone who joined us on October 28 in front of the embassy. Our demonstration was very moving and filled us with strength and affection. The solidarity of all those present, the work done collectively, the Brazilian food, the music, the drums, the dances, the hugs, the hail rain and the occupation of the streets ... Our immense gratitude to all those involved!
Our victory is knowing that we are fighting on the right side of history. Despite the electoral defeat, the campaign against fascism gained a lot of momentum in the last week of the campaign, especially among women. Even though the elected candidate had the broad support of companies and the financial market, as well as much of the mainstream media, the repercussion of the #EleNao (#NotHim) campaign showed that the path of resistance is possible and will become a reality.
Since then, we have received many messages of support and solidarity from other activist movements, unions and academic groups, offering support and solidarity, and invitations to participate in activities and demonstrations to debate and protest against the advances of fascism in Brazil and in the world. We understand the rise of the far-right as a global corporate phenomenon, based on privileges for the few and the suppression of the rights of the people. Because of this, we believe in the importance of forming a global opposition.
Our movement is a part of and helps build the wider front of resistance of all who oppose Bolsonaro. We are a non-partisan group of women with diverse ideological leanings, but we all have something in common: the strength and the will to fight against the growth of fascism in Brazil. We will not be answerable to the politics of any party, personality or leadership, and we will point out the limitations and responsibilities of each of these. Our main objective is to add and contribute to the resistance, especially of women, in Brazil and internationally.
We are very sorry that Brazilians living in London have also mostly chosen to elect Bolsonaro. It will be necessary to confront this, as we cannot allow his hate speech to be normalized. After the first round of the presidential elections, we saw a wave of violence and attacks on women, blacks, indigenous peoples, the LGBTQ+ community, teachers and people in general demonstrating against the elected candidate. Such a wave did not cease, nor has it diminished with his election. On the contrary, it has increased. Teachers and students were exposed and threatened in various university settings within Brazil, Quilombola communities and Social Movements are being attacked, as well as the entire LGBTQ+ community, among many other attacks. The dangers that Bolsonaro presents are not limited to minorities and human rights, but they cover a wide range of issues, including the environmental issue and the old colonial social structures. His policy proposals are aimed at keeping the lower social classes ever lower, so that upper classes maintain their exorbitant profits and absurd privileges, dramatically increasing the giant social abyss in which Brazil has been for so long, with direct attacks on those who oppose and denounce the government.
We understand that it is the task of all social movements in Brazil to form a united front of resistance against the Bolsonaro government. For this to happen, the connection with the international press and social movements is of crucial importance, to denounce the government and to exert pressure against the path of authoritarianism. This is the role that the collective Brazilian Women Against Fascism UK will seek to play. We have a long and arduous road ahead of us and we will need the help of all who are willing and able to build a grassroots base to disseminate information and a support for our fellow Brazilians.
Please get in touch if you want to get more involved and/or have some idea to offer - we need reinforcements as we plan to schedule an open meeting in January in London to work closely with groups and individuals interested in organising an international boycott campaign against Bolsonaro’s government.
No one will stop our fight for equal rights for all. We will not be silenced. ■
Não Passarão! EleNão!
BWAF UK (Brazilian Women against Fascism UK) is a non-partisan group of Brazilian women living in the UK, organised in reaction to the rising fascist threat to the democratic ideals of freedom, equality and social justice in Brazil and in the world. We are always open to the arrival of new comrades.