Interview. A fan of the previous military dictatorship and of fake news, Jair Bolsonaro took 46 percent of the vote in the first round of voting in the Brazilian presidential elections. We spoke with a Rural Landless Movement leader about how we got to this crossroads for democracy.

In Brazil, it’s time to ‘organize hope, ride the storm’

Fernando Haddad doesn’t just stand for Lula. Haddad stands for democratic Brazil, and for so much more. Haddad doesn’t just stand for ‘the Left’—that is something else entirely—but is the last bulwark against the worldwide offensive by capital, which knows no borders, against the working class, which the far right would like to trap within increasingly narrow confines.

Haddad is, in short, a democratic response against the neo-fascist impulse everywhere—including in Italy, where vice-prime minister Matteo Salvini responded to the results of the first round of the Brazilian elections exactly as one would expect: “The political winds are changing everywhere. I don’t understand why some Italian journalists give the ‘Nazi-racist-xenophobe’ label to anyone who just asks for more order and security for citizens.”

On the topic of the danger posed by Jair Bolsonaro after Sunday’s vote and the country’s prospects, we spoke with Ernesto Puhl, from the leadership of the Rural Landless Movement, which, in its over 30 years of struggle, has managed to turn an army of outcasts into a strong, conscious and combative political force.

What do you think about the results of the first round?

These results are surprising and frightening. Brazilian society finds itself facing a historic crossroads—civilization or barbarism, the revival of democracy or the return of dictatorship—to a degree that is unprecedented since the return of democracy to the country. In the climate of extreme polarization that currently reigns in society, Jair Bolsonaro’s extreme right has been pushing its own narrative on social media, using them as the base for a campaign of hate built on fake news. In this way, it was able to secure a strong presence in Congress, winning the support of the landowners’ lobby, the evangelicals and the arms industry. The Left was much more present in the streets, trying to give visibility to their own national project—however, even though they won the largest number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, they did not manage to stop the fascist wave in the south and center-west of the country.

How is it possible that Bolsonaro is being seen by people as an anti-system candidate?

Bolsonaro is the tragicomic expression of the ultraconservative wave in Brazilian society, which thinks it can solve the country’s problems by burning everything down and ruling with an iron fist. He presents himself as the champion of social morality and the traditional family, and as an outsider to the clique of corrupt politicians. In reality, he is a figure that stands for nothing in particular (in his 27 years in Congress, he only managed to pass two laws), someone coming from the darkness of a past that seemed to have been overcome for good. He is a puppet being manipulated by the imperialist right to serve the interests of big capital.

The growth of the far right had already begun while Dilma Rousseff was in power. Were mistakes made that favored this phenomenon?

The far right began to make itself heard from the 2015 protests against Dilma Rousseff—an effect of the recession caused by the international economic crisis—under the banner of the fight against corruption, with a highly conservative, moralizing, anti-democratic and anti-popular approach, pushed by the Brazilian elites and supported by the middle class. The fact is that while it was in power, the PT forgot some of its historic positions, starting with the task of training militants to organize the working class and to make structural changes: political reform, agrarian reform, urban reform, the reform of the media and that of the justice system. However, the hate campaign against the PT was not triggered by its shortcomings, but by its achievements: by the fact that it implemented the greatest social policy program in the history of Brazil.

Why, then, has Bolsonaro’s approach broken through even among the lower classes?

The PT-led governments have focused on public policies, on the growth in consumption levels and on the development of the internal market, on the basis of a model of class conciliation that has also given great advantages to the financial, agro-industrial and infrastructure sectors. In carrying out this project, however, the PT renounced the notion of class struggle, ignoring the issue of the political, ideological and cultural education of the Brazilian population. The result was the de-ideologization of society.

If Haddad succeeds in his task to overcome Bolsonaro’s gains in the first round, within what limits will he be able to govern?

The highest priority now is to win the runoff in order to defeat the offensive of capital against the working class, blocking their attempt—which is occurring everywhere in the world—to offload the costs of the international crisis onto the workers. Haddad can do it, but what government will he be able to form with a Congress that is so reactionary? The challenge is to build a structure to govern based on a concept of participatory democracy, so that the people feel part of a project that they helped develop. We must fight the conservative and fascist impulses within society by re-establishing the democratic rule of law, recovering Brazil’s sovereignty over its natural resources and its energy sources. And that can only be done by mobilizing the people in defense of the popular democratic project.

What is the role of the social movements in all this?

As part of the resistance against this neo-fascist wave, the popular movements, the most progressive sectors of the churches and the trade unions are all called to respond to the challenge that the country is facing, by organizing society and doing the work of education. If we don’t go out and talk to people in the neighborhoods, in the streets and on the social networks, getting out of the bubble where we are preaching to the converted, we won’t be able to defeat fascism and stop its takeover of society. Because, who is actually taking over the suburbs? The evangelicals. The Rede Globo, delivered every day to peoples’ homes. We on the Left need to take back this space that we have abandoned. In the words of the poet Pedro Tierra, we must “organize hope, ride the storm, break through the walls of the night.”

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