Brazilian elections: a political discussion

Part 2

This is Part 2 of an exchange between Manual Raposo, Portuguese left communist and editor of Mudar de Vida, and Fred Goldstein of Workers World Party in the U.S. They are discussing Trumpism and fascism at the time of the election in Brazil. Raposo’s text was translated by WW Managing Editor John Catalinotto.

Manuel Raposo

Oct. 23 — When the process of removing Dilma Rousseff from the presidency of Brazil began, and even when it was brought to a conclusion, the Portuguese right-wing and the “institution-respecting” democrats said that this was nothing like a coup, but only the normal functioning of democratic rules. When people denounced the invisible hand of the United States in trying to change the direction in Latin America to the right, they said again that this was an illusion of the anti-imperialist left.

Now that the former puppet, Michel Temer, leaves the scene and gives place to an open fascist, alerts are already heard against the danger of a new dictatorship and the return of military rule. Now that it has been openly stated that the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. secret services (long before Trump) provided the Brazilian coup plotters with the data to persecute and blame the Workers Party (PT) leaders, people already say that Bolsonaro is a Trump, but worse.

It is this same behavior that leads cautious democrats to classify European or U.S. fascists only as “extremists” and “populists” — just because they act, for the moment, within democratic norms.

Democracy in imperialist countries, however, is in itself an apparatus to beat back workers’ interests while running the country — and therefore deserves this name: a dictatorship of the bourgeois minority over the majority of the people. That’s true even though a ritual vote consecrates bourgeois rule. The extreme right’s use of democratic institutions is merely tactical and is really just the first step in a long road to smash any attempt to represent popular voices.

The “democratic” tolerance towards the fascists repeats, under today’s conditions, the connivance of European and American democracies with the rise of Hitler and Mussolini after World War I, as well as with the crushing of the Spanish Republic. This was followed by support for António de Oliveira Salazar [dictator of Portugal, 1932-68] and Francisco Franco [dictator of Spain, 1939-75], the Greek colonels [1967-74] and the Brazilian generals [1964-85], Augusto Pinochet [Chile, 1973-90] and Jorge Videla [Argentina, 1976-81], etc.

There’s a reason for the parallel. Then, as now, the bourgeoisie fears above all the revolt of the masses and that the working class could be in power. Faced with this possibility, the bourgeoisie finds fascism acceptable, if not preferable.

The bourgeoisie can also find fascism useful in dealing with criminality and insecurity of the population. The bourgeois democratic system becomes more and more incapable of overcoming these blights, because it generates crime and insecurity every day by increasing material inequalities. Once the capitalist root of these crimes is hidden, capitalism and the bourgeois system are absolved of responsibility. All kinds of false justifications are made possible, whether on the basis of “race,” ethnic and religious differences, or simple “human wickedness.”

Police brutality — against “the bad guys,” of course — is presented to the popular strata (who are usually the first victims of that criminality) as a solution to make order out of chaos. And that is how many people accept police brutality, not only in the Philippines or Brazil, but also in Europe and even here in Portugal.

Bourgeois apparatus rotting from within

Social revolution is nowhere in sight in any part of the world. But the capitalism of today is creating the conditions for social revolution to mature.

The current stagnation has shaken not only the economy and business, but also all state institutions and all bourgeois beliefs. This includes belief in the virtues of democracy as it presently exists –- which is the “real existing democracy,” or the “possible democracy.” The bourgeois democratic apparatus is rotting from within, accompanying the decline of the economic system.

We must ask what effective content the parliamentary democracies of today can have. Today, the whole economic force is in the hands of an increasingly restricted bourgeois layer that monopolizes political power. No one else, even broad bourgeois groups, see their class interests represented.

The democracies humans have experienced have been based on the accumulation of wealth in capitalist-imperialist metropolises. Until recently, these democracies owed their stability to continuous economic growth. Only this way could the ruling bourgeoisie have the financial means to buy the support of the petty bourgeoisie and part of the working masses for their regime. With this growth missing, as it is now, the base supporting the bourgeoisie is weakened and the institutions of formal democracy lose practical effectiveness and even symbolic value.

If the bourgeoisie is unable to guarantee progress and an improvement of living standards for the mass of the population, this shows the majority that the bourgeoisie is a useless, parasitic and undesirable class. The social foundation of bourgeois power is therefore shaken, because that class loses the arguments capable of convincing the masses that capitalism, on which its domination rests, is better than anything else.

Under those conditions fascism can gain adherents among the ruling classes, as the fascists express their preference for the “argument” of force — all-powerful police and military, a manipulated judicial apparatus, laws that restrict individual liberties, cutting social rights, etc. This is the class response of the bourgeoisie to the crisis in which the capitalist social system, in all its aspects, is mired.

The fascists use the denunciation of corruption and crime as a weapon. Or they might use nationalism, hatred of immigrants, whatever — this only concerns the methods of propaganda that they put in place to regiment the population. This population is up to its neck in bad living conditions and does not envisage another social system besides one where the bosses hold power. But this situation in no way allows the bourgeoisie to gain “legitimacy” to exert power or restore the capacity of capitalism to generate a new surge of progress.

On the contrary, the fascist drift shows a bourgeois world in its death throes, with no chance to return to a prior healthier existence. Thus to fight against fascist forces we must go beyond raising demands that use bourgeois democratic formulas like “deepening democracy,” as the followers of the “just compromise” would like.

Among the left wing of democratic regimes, the idea of promoting democratic reform stems from a false assumption: that it is possible to return the globalized, monopoly-imperialist capitalism to a capitalism with a national dimension, with which it is possible to negotiate, in concert, the terms of the social progress of the masses. But the objective conditions of present-day capitalism are closing off this path.

If the left binds the proletariat to this falsehood, it in effect depoliticizes the working class. It erases its class boundaries. It reduces it to a force that is limited to making demands on those in power.

Insisting on this lie also confuses the proletariat about the nature of the change of course the world bourgeoisie has undertaken. This change is in the direction of forcing a class confrontation. The illusion thus makes the proletariat a docile mass when faced with the drift to the right.

Bourgeois democracies have always lived in a contradiction between the inequalities that capitalism creates and from which it lives, and the equality that a true democracy presupposes. This contradiction has now reached the extreme: To a maximum of inequality corresponds a minimum of democracy.

Bourgeois democracy, which is limited and obsolete, has to be not “perfected” but overcome. This overcoming can only be achieved by a full democracy that is truly representative of the vast majority of the population — that is, the working classes. And this requires a change of which class is in power. Instead of the dictatorship of a bourgeois minority over the working majority, what is needed is a dictatorship of the working majority over the capitalist, minority bourgeoisie. As long as there are inequalities, this is what democracy looks like.

Goldstein’s response

Now the fascist Bolsonaro has been elected. No surprise. The international monopolies and Brazilian agribusiness got behind the rest of the Brazilian bourgeoisie to throw their weight behind him. They cannot wait to get their hands on the rest of the Amazon rainforest and to cash in on wholesale privatizations.

Although your document is an analysis of the present situation in Brazil, this analysis can also be applied in Europe and the U.S.

I fully agree with it.

As you wrote, maximum inequality brings minimum democracy.

You excellently explain that capitalist democracy has been associated historically with capitalist growth, expansion and enough surplus value to maintain a regime of concessions. The British parliamentary system, the French Republic, U.S. capitalist democracy have all been based on expanding global empires.

These conditions are vanishing. Capitalism is at a dead end for both internal and external reasons. The historic stage of growth and prosperity, which allows the masses to look forward to some life improvement, is over. The quality of life for the workers, as well as large sections of the middle class, is declining.  In the absence of a revolutionary socialist alternative, political reaction is on the rise everywhere.

Your analysis also applies to the developing right-wing politics of Trump and his growing relations with finance capital. He is in a constant stage of testing how far he can go to the right and appeal to neo-fascist elements in the ruling class and the population. He is feeling out how many democratic norms he can disregard and how much seizure of authority he can get away with.

Your explanation of the Brazilian crisis is illuminating. As you point out, capitalism generates crime and corruption. The masses are the prime victims — and after decades of crime and corruption and in the absence of a socialist alternative, they can easily fall victim to right-wing and fascist demagogues — e.g., Bolsonaro, Duterte, the League in Italy, etc.

You importantly point out the extreme centralization of capital and the massive growth of inequality as the irreversible economic background to the present political crisis and the growth of fascism as an alternative for the big bourgeoisie. Ten years after the economic collapse and the failure of the system to revive, the ruling classes know better than the working class that this general crisis of capitalism is irreversible.

Finance capital knows that the best they can hope for is to stave off collapse for the time being. The attraction of fascism and authoritarian use of force against the people is an anticipation of social upheaval, which they fear will result from the collapse of the system.

Those who are living on the illusion of the return to the “old” capitalism are engaged in self-deception and at the same time the deception of the masses. This kind of politics disarms the masses at the moment the bourgeoisie is preparing to take a reactionary offensive. As you said, “The bourgeois democratic apparatus rots from within, accompanying the decline of the economic system.”

The Brazilian masses have a tradition of struggle against reaction. Hopefully Bolsonaro’s win will reawaken this tradition. Because we observe the events without illusions, we see this is the best we can hope for in the present situation.

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