“Grassroots struggle is the only way to defend rights and improve the quality of life”

João Pedro Stedile on the election results in Brazil and the way forward

October 31, 2018 by Peoples Dispatch

The devastating victory of extreme right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential elections on October 28 left many across the world shocked and wondering how someone who openly preaches hate and violence could have won. Claudia Fanti, an Italian journalist, spoke to João Pedro Stedile of the national board of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST), about the elections and the way forward for the left in Brazil.

How is is it possible that millions of Brazilians voted for an openly fascist project? Does the manipulation of data and fake news through WhatsApp explain what happened?

We suffered an electoral defeat as progressive and people’s forces. This does not mean that the majority of people chose fascism. Bolsonaro received 56 million votes. Haddad 45 million, and 31 million did not vote or they cast a blank ballot. On the other hand, the country is divided. In the north and north-east we elected 12 governors, which is an area that will serve as our trenches, geographically. In the last week, a national coordination was formed with intellectuals, musicians, teachers, churches, pastors, progressives, in defense of democracy, that will remain as a bastion of society.

We lost electorally because the Brazilian bourgeoisie, dominated by finance capital and transnational companies, abandoned the Macron formula and opted for the Pinochet method. They propose a repressive government, with fascist methods, and with no state presence in the economy with ultra-neoliberalism. They put all of their economic weight and hegemony behind Bolsonaro. To win, they used bots and had support from outside Brazil, from Trump and Steve Bannon, in addition to the right-wing forces from Israel, to bombard the Brazilian people with systematic lies. It must not be forgotten that Brazil is the country in the world with most cell phones and the highest level of use of social media, with Whatsapp, Facebook, twitter, etc. They also were supported by a conservative network of evangelical pastors, and from the conservative sectors of the Catholic church.

They created an anti-PT, anti-left wing environment, as if we were the ones responsible for the crisis of capitalism.

On the other hand, they used the state apparatus in two ways: the principal and most fanatic militants of Bolsonaro were the military police, the people from the armed forces and members of the Stonemasons sect. They had a reach across the whole country. They also had the support of the judiciary, who since the coup against Dilma are loyal to the interests of capital. To give an idea, last week, the judicial authorized a search and arrest in 17 Brazilian universities.

They also used the judicial power to illegally prevent the possibility of Lula participating in the elections that he would’ve won in the first round.

Added to this was the organizational weaknesses of the left, and the its distancing from grassroots work, and of the poorest and the working class in general.

Bolsonaro presented himself as an anti-system candidate although he had supported some of the worst measures of Temer? How did he do it?

Bolsonaro’s campaign was based on lies and was a farce. He never once discussed a plan of government; he never wanted to participate in any debates on television or in other media. He hid behind a false image, of the courageous military man. He hid from the population that his government will be a government of military personnel, repressive, and one that would  further the imposition of the interests of finance capital and the transnational companies. The only two ministers that he announced during the campaign were Paulo Guedes, a banker and a ‘Chicago boy’, for Economic Minister and the retention of the current president of the central bank, who is an Israeli citizen and defers to the interests of Itau bank.

Today the declarations of Steve Bannon have been all over the bourgeois news. He was the campaign coordinator of Trump and was behind Bolsonaro, which shows just how important this campaign was for the global right wing, with all of the new methods of mass manipulation through social media. Here, we are confronting the interests of the global right, which has transformed us into an electoral laboratory, to apply this formula in the rest of the world.

Was the electoral strategy of the Workers’ Party (PT) correct? Could something else have been done, something different?

Well, there is always a lot of analysis and hypothesis, and everyone has their own evaluation. I think that the PT was more prepared to do a campaign with Lula, who is the central leader of the masses in Brazil. With his imprisonment and his being barred from even speaking to the people, the right-wing took away our principle force. Then, there was a weakness in not realizing the power and manipulation of the social networks, especially Whatsapp. They were sending messages from outside, millions of lies every half an hour. Imagine for example, that on the last day, they even spread the lie that Haddad was a pedophile…in the end, we lacked the will and time to do a campaign more linked to the people, to go house by house, a campaign that listened to the people.

In the PT, there were many people who trusted the power of the television, but they were proved wrong. The television is no longer a sufficient instrument to change an election.

Many say that it all started with the protests in June 2013. Following this came the many protests against the PT government, the illegitimate overthrow of Dilma, the persecution of Lula and finally, the unstoppable growth of Bolsonaro. If the PT had better understood the protest in June 2013, could history have been different?

Of course. However, behind all of this lies the strong and deep economic crisis of the capitalist way of functioning. When the economy grows, everyone can win. When the economy does not function, each class just wants to save itself. It is like what happened in the Titanic. The first class, the capitalists, took the life boats to save themselves alone, and the second and third class passengers drowned. The Dilma government and the left-wing parties did not have the clarity, the capacity and the political will to explain to the people the nature of the crisis, the nature of the corruption, the nature of all of the problems. By not explaining this, the advantage shifted to the right-wing who had more ability to put all of the blame on the Dilma government, then on the PT and then on Lula.

What comes next is a war on labor rights, on the black and indigenous population, on the environment, on the MST and all of the social movements. What will be the strategy ahead for the movements?

We are still in the moment of evaluation, debates and preparing for the next period, that will be a long one.

We will have a right-wing, fascist, repressive government but without a classic movement of fascist masses like there was in Europe. This is why we say that there will be a government more similar to Pinochet and to that of Duterte in the Philippines. They defend an ultra-neoliberal program to save the banks and the transnational companies, including the Europeans who support them. At the same time, it has also been proven that neoliberalism, the minimal state and complete freedom for capital, will not resolve the fundamental problems of the people. We have 14 million unemployed people and another 33 million with precarious work. We have almost 60 million workers outside the economy, the people need jobs, income, housing, school and land. In this respect, it will be a repressive government but the people will have to confront the contradictions and mobilize.

We do not have another option besides learning from the historical lessons in the struggle for humanity. First, we must organize a broad democratic front to confront this fascist government. We have a strong institutional base of opposition with 12 governors and more than a third of the parliament. And we have people’s organizations to resist.

We must, however, double down on our grassroots work, to explain to the people, listen to the people and organize people’s committees in all of the neighborhoods and municipalities around what we call the People’s Congress, to debate the project of the country, with the people.

We have to strengthen the political education work. The development of our popular media to communicate with the people, including through social media, in a much more organized way, is essential.

Lastly, engaging in grassroots struggle, that is the only way of defending rights and improving quality of life.

We have many years ahead of a right-wing, repressive government that does not have an organized social base. His central support base comes from a militarized, fanatic and sectarian grassroots base.

This also demands that the left works on the processes of renovation and bringing together the people’s forces.