Brazil: Fight the three plagues — Bolsonaro, the pandemic and inequality!

Brazil is moving quickly towards the abyss. We are the victims of three plagues that terribly affect the lives of workers and the Brazilian people — the pandemic, the authoritarian and genocidal escalation of the Bolsonaro government, and the dramatic deepening of the economic and social crisis and the inequalities that mark the country, including structural racism.

To contain the catastrophe, we must pull the emergency brake immediately. This means first of all, overthrowing this government that has chosen to cause the deaths of tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands in the name of its authoritarian project, in the service of the big capitalists.

This genocidal project was exposed with the release of a video of a disgusting ministerial meeting on 22 April. They bet on chaos and want to take advantage of the shock caused by the pandemic to accelerate their coup plans and their policies in the interests of the super-rich.

They want to arm their far-right supporters, intervene in the federal police to benefit their family and friends, and use the current crisis to change environmental protection legislation, consciously wreck small businesses, take away the rights of public sector workers and so on.

The best summary of the essence of this government came with the statement of the superintendent of SUSEP (Superintendence of Private Insurance), Solange Vieira. According to Estadão (05/28) news, at a meeting at the ministry of health in mid-March she said: “It is good that the deaths are concentrated among the elderly. This will improve our economic performance, as it will reduce our social security deficit.”

It is clear that the fall of Bolsonaro is a necessary condition for effectively confronting the pandemic. Each day with Bolsonaro in the presidency means thousands more lives lost and suffering for millions of Brazilians. Fighting to overthrow this government by any means necessary is the central task of the workers’ movement and of all the Brazilian people!

The plague of the virus

Brazil is already in the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic and the contamination and death curve continues to rise. We already have on average one death every minute from Covid-19 in the country. The official number of deaths has surpassed the 35,000 mark and will continue to grow in the coming weeks.

The scenario is even more terrible if we take into account the enormous underreporting of deaths. An example of this is the fact that the number of deaths from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the country, recorded during the pandemic, increased 20 times compared to last year (from 349 to 6994 deaths). It is clear that this 1904% increase is related to Covid-19.

Serious projections indicate that by August, the number of deaths from Covid-19 could reach 125,000 people. Nevertheless, the ministry of health does not play any serious planning role in combating the pandemic. It is in the hands of military personnel who have no commitment to, or knowledge of public health and whose main skill is censoring data and obscuring the role of those responsible.

Many of the state governors and mayors who clashed with the irresponsible and genocidal policy of Bolsonaro in relation to the pandemic are now capitulating shamefully in the face of pressures from the economic elite, and are beginning to “reopen” the economy and relax quarantine measures, precisely at the peak of the spread of the virus. The result will be tragic and they must also be held accountable.

The plague of inequality

In the midst of the pandemic, Brazil is heading for what is likely to become the worst economic and social crisis in its history. There are realistic forecasts that point to a fall that may even exceed 10% of GDP.

If we take into account the first quarter only (which only partially reflects the effects of the pandemic), according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, there was a loss of 4.9 million jobs (a 5.2% drop in the number of jobs compared to the previous quarter). We know that the situation is much worse today and it will be difficult to recover.

The pandemic was a central factor in the crisis, but it is not its fundamental cause. Brazil has never fully recovered from the crisis which peaked in 2015. The neoliberal policies of the Dilma (PT), Temer and Bolsonaro/Guedes governments only aggravated the situation, despite having guaranteed huge profits for bankers and speculators.

The economic crisis and government policies only exacerbate the already terrible structural social inequality in the country. This inequality is reflected in the data of the pandemic itself. In Brazil, the groups at risk from the disease are basically the poor, the majority of whom are black.

They are those who have no access to prevention measures, and who do not have decent housing, basic sanitation or access to clean water. They are those who do not have access to public health and who suffer from pre-existing, poverty-related diseases. Those who are forced to leave their homes every day to earn a living, taking all kinds of risks in public transportation, in the streets, in workplaces, etc.

Those who are dying in Brazil are mainly the workers, including those in services considered essential, the poor in the periphery of the cities and the favelas, and the black population who are the majority in these sectors. Studies indicate that 55% of the black people treated in hospital for Covid-19 die, while among white people, this rate is 38%.

In just one month, during the pandemic, the 20 poorest districts of the city of São Paulo saw a 228% increase in deaths due to Covid-19, a number much higher than in the rich neighborhoods.

The pandemic has also not contained the massacre of black youth in the peripheries of big cities, quite the contrary. In the month of April, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, 177 deaths occurred as a result of police and public agents’ interventions, 43% more than in the same month last year. The scenario in other regions of the country is similar.

This is a conscious policy of extermination, by hunger, by the virus, by the murderous and criminal repression of the police. It is a policy of extermination that especially affects black people.

The plague of the far right government

While we have one death per minute as a result of the pandemic, we also have a president who conspires every second against our democratic rights.

The new context of the pandemic and the economic crisis has forced Bolsonaro to anticipate and accelerate his original coup plotting and authoritarian plans. He knows that the chances of reelection are much lower now and that the coup planned for 2022 will have to be done now, while he still has some room for manoeuvre in the midst of political, social and health chaos.

The aggressiveness shown by the government in the last period does not represent a demonstration of strength. In fact, it is the opposite. Bolsonaro has bet on chaos: he hopes that chaos will create the conditions for a real authoritarian offensive and consciously works towards this.

The posture of the government has deepened the divisions within the bourgeoisie and the middle classes who previously supported it. Bolsonaro is losing popularity on a significant scale.

At the same time, his radical profile makes his hardcore social base more committed to his far-right project. This is true for sectors of the petty bourgeoisie, radicalized by the right and for some popular sectors, subjected to the most reactionary influence of evangelical churches.

Along with this social minority, there are significant portions of the base of the armed forces, the military and civilian police, private security companies (a contingent of many thousands, who are armed) and criminal paramilitary groups, such as the “militias” in Rio de Janeiro and similar groups in other states. This base can be leveraged by already organized or by newly organized fascist groups.

The position of the army leadership has shown itself to be as nefarious as possible. Even if they have sought to contain Bolsonaro here or there, generals in the government (and outside it) have been accomplices in his policies and may still prop up (directly or indirectly) his adventures and authoritarian escalation.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the aggressive rhetoric of Bolsonaro serves fundamentally to dissuade sectors of the bourgeoisie itself and of the more traditional right, in Congress, in the Judiciary, in state governments, etc, from any initiative which could lead to the loss of their positions. The message that Bolsonaro wants to give is: ‘if you bring an impeachment process against me, there will be much more conflict and tension and you have a lot to lose’.

But this posture, which is basically defensive, can turn into an offensive one and result in a coup adventure, even in the short term, if there is no effective opposition.

The bourgeois and right-wing opposition to the government (Globo and Folha in the media, and the PSDB and DEM politicians, etc.) is sensitive to the threats of Bolsonaro. They are essentially cowards and incapable of fighting Bolsonarismo to the end. They were together with Bolsonaro until yesterday in the implementation of neoliberal counter reforms and in the fight against the left and the workers’ movement. They fear radicalization.

The only possibility that they will take a firmer stance against Bolsonaro is if a powerful social force is mobilized from below. The fear that Bolsonaro will provoke a social upheaval and mass struggles, like what has happened in Chile recently, could lead them to more strongly oppose Bolsonaro in an attempt to preserve their own positions.

Occupy the streets with strength and responsibility

The key task for the Left and the movements of the working class and the oppressed is the construction of mass struggle against the government, and not to make deals and concessions with the traditional right wing that has recently come out in opposition to Bolsonaro.

Instead of inviting right wingers like Rodrigo Maia, FHC or João Doria to their 1 May activities, the trade unions and Left parties with some base in the working class should mobilize their own forces independently. This would also be the only way to force parts of the bourgeois opposition to Bolsonaro to overcome their lethargy and cowardice.

To assure that the working class is playing the central role in the struggle against Bolsonaro, it is necessary to raise the central demand of the fall of the government: ‘Fora Bolsonaro’ (Down with Bolsonaro). The bourgeois opposition is not prepared to raise this slogan. We need to prepare ourselves for big mass mobilizations on the streets. In the present context this should be done with care and prudence.

It is clear that building street mobilizations at the peak of the pandemic is not easy and it involves great risks. But there is no longer any other choice, this process is already taking place. Since Sunday 31 May there have been street demonstrations. These are growing, independent from the positions taken by the big organizations of the working class and the oppressed people.

The great example comes from the US, where a large mass movement exploded in the streets following the racist murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Like a gunpowder fuse, these street demonstrations spread through the entire country and to various parts of the world. We have seen mass mobilizations in many European countries and other parts of the world.

In Brazil, where the oppression of the black people is as severe, or more severe, than in the US, the example from the North brought thousands onto the streets immediately. Even in areas tragically affected by the pandemic, like Manaus, Rio and São Paulo, the mobilizations took place. The tendency is for them to expand and strengthen.

The central task of the working class movements and the oppressed sectors of our people is to strengthen these mobilizations and offer them a consistent strategy for the struggle, a coherent program, built from bottom up, and which takes into account the lessons from past struggles.

It must seek to build a united front and democratic structures to organize our struggle, which will be a long and difficult struggle, but which can be victorious. The building of a working class united front to fight Bolsonaro, the pandemic and inequality, is a fundamental task.

This united front must find expressions through the existing organizations, but it must also be organized by the rank and file, with committees of struggle in the neighborhoods, workplaces and schools. These committees must meet as often as possible, even virtually, to have plan a return to street protests and occupations of public spaces.

In this united front, unity in struggle must not prevent the socialist left (PSOL — the Party of Socialism and Liberty, in which LSR participates — and other forces) to articulate its anti-capitalist and socialist project, in opposition to the policies of class conciliation defended by big parts of the leadership of the trade unions and other movements.

The demonstrations on 7 June were a significant step forward in this struggle. Occupying the streets in a responsible way is a vital part of the struggle against the Bolsonaro. And overthrowing this government is a vital part of the fight against the pandemic.

It is fundamental that we demonstrate superiority in the streets in relation to the proto-fascist manifestations of the extreme right. It is also decisive that the workers and oppressed mark their independent class position in this struggle and do not remain in the background to the bourgeois opposition to the Bolsonaro. This is the only chance for victory that we have and the only possibility that the overthrow of the Bolsonaro will open a new stage that will lead to the defeat of all neoliberal policies.

It is very important that we take all the necessary measures to protect the health of demonstrators, that we protect the most vulnerable layers in the face of the pandemic, and that we take all necessary precautions against provocations by the police or the extreme right. The fight against the plagues of the pandemic, Bolsonaro and inequality can only be carried out in a combined struggle. Going back to the streets to protest is a fundamental part of this struggle. We are part of this process and as such we will raise our demands: down with Bolsonaro, Mourão and their authoritarian and neoliberal agenda! For an alternative of the workers and poor people to save lives, to come out of the crisis and rebuild the country on anti-capitalist and socialist basis!