Right sets left’s agenda

Victory for pale pink Lula would represent the defeat of Trump’s ally, Jair Bolsonaro, writes Eddie Ford - and therefore would be welcome news for Joe Biden

Some on the left are eagerly anticipating the second round of Brazil’s presidential elections on October 30, imagining a progressive leap forward if it is a victory for Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party.

After the first round of the presidential election on October 2 many Lula supporters were in near despair when he did not win outright, as widely expected - some polls had reported a 15% lead over Jair Bolsonaro. In the end, Lula got 48.4%, while Bolsonaro secured 43.2%, confounding the pollsters and official opinion. There were many other presidential candidates, of course, but they trailed far behind the two ‘star’ candidates. As for the far left, or nominally revolutionary organisations, the Brazilian Communist Party (not be confused with the Communist Party of Brazil) got a miserable 0.04% and the Trotskyist United Socialist Workers’ Party (the largest section of the ‘Morenoist’ International Workers’ League) did even worse on 0.02%. Lula and Bolsonaro will be vying for the votes cast for the eliminated candidates, of course, which is precisely why Lula seems likely to win - though it is not a certainty, some Bolsonaristas believing that their hero has the momentum. Elections these days tend to throw up surprises, wanted and unwanted.

One conclusion you can draw from the October elections is that in Brazil, as in America and Britain, there are a lot of shy rightwingers. Donald Trump’s vote in 2019 was better than expected, even if he was not too happy with the results himself, and the Tory vote is usually higher than pollsters predict, because Tory voters feel - quite understandably - some sort of moral pressure to keep their politics to themselves. Presumably there is the same phenomenon in Brazil too.

Another crucial thing to understand is that Bolsonaro did well in the south-east of the country, where there are several major commodity exporters, whilst Lula got better results in the poorer north-east. Allies and supporters of Bolsonaro were big winners in the congressional and gubernatorial elections (also October 2), with nine of Bolsonaro’s former cabinet ministers getting elected to congress. In Brazil the lower house is the Chamber of Deputies, with 513 members elected by proportional representation, and the upper house is the Federal Senate of 81 members serving eight-year terms (elected by first past the post and block voting systems). This is where the very worst reactionaries congregate, just like in upper chambers elsewhere. In the Senate, Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party picked up eight new seats out of the 27 available, bringing its total to 13. Lula’s Worker’s Party, meanwhile, got four more senators, bringing its total to nine. In the Chamber of Deputies, Bolsonaro got 99 seats and Lula’s electoral coalition, Brazil of Hope, got 80. Bolsonaristas won governorship races in Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais and are ahead in the polls going into the run-off in São Paulo state. Given the balance of forces, it need hardly be said that Lula will find it extremely difficult to pursue his legislative agenda.


Perhaps this is going out on a limb, but we can be pretty sure that there will not be a military coup in the event of a Lula victory. Objective conditions are not in place. If it had been anytime in the 20th century, well until the 1980s, then the election of a ‘left’ president would have been intolerable. With the help of the CIA, the army would launch a bloody coup. That has been the history of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and, of course, Brazil. But we are not in those times any more and, among other things, the left in Latin America has become ever less radical.

Having said that, Bolsonaro - like his friend and ally in the US - has made many allegations of electoral fraud, repeatedly declining to say whether he will accept the final result. After he cast his vote, he hinted at a possible future challenge to the results, saying: “I am sure that in a clean election we will win with at least 60% of the vote.” If he does lose, many of his opponents fear that he will try to carry out a ‘self-coup’. But doubtlessly he will sing a different tune if he pulls a rabbit out the hat and wins.

Despite the power presidents in Brazil have - just like in France and the US - they need a majority in both houses to get legislation through. And, as reported above, Lula’s WP does not have that - far from it. So a Lula presidency will be far from radical. Making that certain, there is his vice-presidential running mate. Geraldo Alckmin was for 38 years a member of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party. He ran for president in 2006 and again in 2018. He changed his affiliation this year to the Brazilian Socialist Party purely to become Lula’s vice-presidential candidate.

You can take the man out of the BSDP but you cannot take the BSDP out of the man. As the third largest party in the National Congress, the BSDP was the main opposition party from 2013 to 2016 to the WP administrations of both Lula and Dilma Rousseff. Perhaps rather ironically, both parties’ formal programme or constitution prohibit any kind of coalition or official cooperation with each other at any government levels - we shall see!

Anyway, Alckmin’s significance is that he has not given up the politics of the BSDP - not an organisation with roots in the Marxism of the Second International. No, the BSDP was formed in 1988 and legalised the following year, as the military regime gave way to civilian rule. At a push, you could say that BSDP’s politics are middle of the road, but that would not be truly accurate. It is solidly rightwing: a pro-business party of the financial establishment.The BSDP’s self-declared ideology is “third way”, which can mean anything you want - precisely why Bill Clinton and then Tory Blair adopted the label, which is, in fact, a cover for neoliberalism. The same goes for the BSDP whose support base lies firmly amongst business owners, conservative Catholics, middle class professionals, farmers, etc.

What all this means, pitifully, is that Lula and his Workers’ Party - which has its origins in the trade union movement of the 1980s and the courageous fight against the military dictatorship - are running alongside a pro-business, rightwing vice-president. Welcome to the dream team. They have come together on the basis that they are both determined to put a stop to creeping fascism. Jair Bolsonaro is a reactionary shite, a climate crisis denier, with a hankering after the strong state and doing away with indulgences such as democracy. True, true, true - but that does not make him a fascist. Even if he was that does not excuse WP unity with an unmistakable representative of the boss class and capitalism. The vice-president will certainly help set the ideological and political limits of what president Lula and the WP can do. That is the function of the right in a popular front, which is, of course, what the Lula/Alckmin joint ticket is. In this case Lula will use the excuse that doing x, y, or z is unacceptable to Alckmin and therefore, in the name of maintaining unity, preventing the return of Bolsonaro, etc, cannot be done. A very convenient excuse for going to the right and betraying the hopes of the working class.


Let us go back to the question, how will Lula get legislation through both houses? Some WP members have had the honesty to admit that, since it never has had a majority, there is no choice but to resort to ‘exceptional measures’, in other words bribery. But, hey, we in the WP aren’t as bad as the Liberals, the Progressistas, the MDB and PDT, who are totally corrupt. In reality that is how the Brazilian system operates and it is not going to change any time soon.

In other words, we have yet another example of the ‘pink tide’. All you need to ask is: if and when Joe Biden sends his congratulations to Lula, will he mean it? Yes, as what Biden will see is the defeat of an important Trump ally - therefore one up for the Democrats in their struggle against the GOP and the possibility of Trump running for a third time in 2024. By contrast, Lula - and those like him in Chile, Columbia and Peru - are the palest of pink politicians, and represent no threat to the US imperialism or global capital.