[WSMDiscuss] Fwd: The Extreme Right in Brazil and Lessons for Renewing the Left in Latin America By Alberto Acosta and Eduardo Gudynas

Ashish Kothari chikikothari at gmail.com
Wed Nov 21 05:32:21 CET 2018

Interesting piece on lessons from the Brazil disaster, especially on 
what the "left" (a term not quite defined here, but distinguished from 
'progressivists') can learn.


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-------- Forwarded Message --------
Subject: 	The Extreme Right in Brazil and Lessons for Renewing the Left 
in Latin America By Alberto Acosta and Eduardo Gudynas
Date: 	Wed, 21 Nov 2018 02:16:12 +0000 (UTC)
From: 	alberto acosta <alacosta48 at yahoo.com>
To: 	alacosta48 at yahoo.com <alacosta48 at yahoo.com>

  The Extreme Right in Brazil and Lessons for Renewing the Left in Latin

By Alberto Acosta and Eduardo Gudynas 
<https://www.americas.org/author/alberto-acosta-and-eduardo-gudynas/>  | 
20 / November / 2018


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The victory of the extreme right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil’s 
presidential elections and the fall of the Workers Party are having a 
profound impact on the rest of the countries of Latin America. These 
dramatic events require close analysis on the left– to learn from what 
happened and avoid being shut out as an option for change, and to 
prevent further victories of the ultra-right.

This article offers some reflections to this end. We won’t repeat the 
information circulating these days or the simplistic explanations of 
what happened in Brazil, whether it’s from those who see an imperialist 
plot allied with the most conservative forces in Brazil, or those who 
blame everything on the Workers Party, or those who naively believe that 
Bolsonaro’s victory was simply the result of propaganda. Our objective 
is, rather, to encourage reflection in other Latin American countries 
and to identify lessons that promote a renewal of the left and prevent 
similar phenomenon like Bolsonaro in neighboring countries.

*1. Progressivism and the Left: They’re different*

Throughout Latin America, diverse conservative political groups are 
actively maneuvering to discredit any alternative from the left. In 
Brazil, they blurred severe democratic–not just economic— crises, such 
as Venezuela and Nicaragua, with the crisis of government of the Workers 
Party (PT by its Portuguese initials). They hammered in the message that 
leftwing options are impossible, fatally stained with corruption and 
even blood, and a raft of other criticisms.

But the Brazilian crisis itself demonstrates the urgency of insisting 
that progressivism is different from the left. Progressivism is a 
different political regime, centered on developmentalism, in which 
intensive use of natural resources finance the State. The State then 
initiates compensatory social programs that reduce demands for economic 
justice to economic assistance, at the same time increasing political 
controls on civil society. Unlike the left, these and other objectives 
emphasize the role of “progress” as one of the main political pillars (1).

The PT brand of progressivism made a point of differentiating itself 
from the left, where it was born. The party never hid this change, but 
rather presented it as a positive attribute. The first crucial lesson 
then, is that the left and progressivism are not the same.

*2. Sensitivity to the Moods of the People*

The government of Lula da Silva repeatedly presented itself as the 
example of the so-called “new left” in all of Latin America and the 
world. Many groups in different countries viewed it as an example, 
especially in the global north. They claimed that electoral victories 
like Dilma Rousseff’s proved that the majority of “the people” were on 
the left. When, in a relatively rapid chain of events, the PT lost 
control of the government, Rousseff was removed from office, and a 
little-known and corrupt rightwing politician, Michel Temer, was 
installed in the presidency (who was also part of the PT coalition) they 
were left without explanations. Although the process was plagued by 
abuses of the court system on the part of conservative and corrupt 
groups, the reversal shocked participants and observers alike.

Bolsonaro’s victory dramatically accentuated the shift. His win revealed 
that Brazilian society is much more conservative than most thought, and 
that the same “people” who before applauded progressivism now rejected 
the PT. Many, in fact, openly celebrated a candidate whose speeches had 
a fascist tone.

Here is the other lesson: we must be cautious in using categories like 
“the people” and be sensitive in assessing prevailing thoughts and 

*3. An Outright Right and Progressivism Pretending to be Left*

Another lesson stands out: the risks of a program built on conservative 
sectors or ideas to win elections. This refers to strategies that posit 
that first you have to “win” the elections and then, once holding the 
reins of power, “change” the State and society. The PT employed this 
tactic, for example, when it built a political coalition with the 
center-right Brazilian Democratic Party Movement (Partido Movimiento 
Democrático Brasileño-PMDB) to achieve “governability” and lent its 
support to developmentalist extractivisim. This is precisely one of the 
aspects that characterize progressivism and differentiate it from the left.

Brazil fell into a trap where the governing progressivism sought to 
appear left, while the new right did not hide or pretend to be anything 
but what it was. Bolsonaro openly criticizes blacks and indigenous 
peoples, he is proudly homophobic and misogynist, he jokes about 
executing leftwing militants and defends torture and dictatorship.

*4. Developmentalism: Nothing New and Showing Signs of Senility*

Lula and Dilma’s strategy were called “new developmentalism”, based on 
the export of raw materials by expanding the appropriation of natural 
resources, depending on the exploitation of these as the central 
economic strategy and seeking to attract foreign investment. This is an 
idea repeated in all countries governed by progressivism, from Argentina 
to Venezuela.

Under the strategy, Brazil did become the major mining and agricultural 
extractivist force in the continent. To do so, it accepted a 
subordinated form of insertion in the global market and a limited range 
of action for the state in sectors like industry.

All this is exactly the opposite of the goals of the left, which has 
always sought to move nations away from dependency on supplying raw 
materials. Extractivisim also contributed to short-term profit-taking 
and encouraged clientelist practices, authoritarianism and corruption.

The limitations of these strategies were hidden in Brazil, like in other 
South American countries, by the juicy surpluses reaped during the 
period of high commodity prices. Although the social welfare programs 
took center stage, most of the bonanza was spent in other areas: 
subsidies and hand-outs to extractive industries, and support for some 
large corporations (the so-called national “champions”). This explains 
the fact that this “new developmentalism” was supported both by workers, 
who enjoyed access to credit, and by the business elite, who got state 
money to internationalize. Lula was applauded, for different reasons, in 
both the poor barrios and in the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The fall of international prices for raw materials revealed that the 
monthly stipends given out in Brazil to the poorest part of the 
population were undoubtedly important, but did not assure really 
overcoming poverty. The government didn’t confront the structures of 
inequality, the excessive concentration of wealth continued, and part of 
the financing to corporations was lost in corruption.

At the same time, the progressivist insistence on economic growth as the 
basis for development reinforced the myth of economic growth as a 
panacea that Bolsonaro took advantage of by presenting himself as the 
best man it. A Twenty-First Century left should dare to challenge the 
concept that economic growth is the key to development.

The lesson lies in recognizing that Brazil, like the rest of Latin 
American, suffered from a fundamental incapacity to transform its core 
development strategies. Brazil’s dependence on raw materials deepened, 
with China as the main partner, causing serious effects of 
deindustrialization and leading to severe economic and financial 
fragility. The “new developmentalism”, blinded by the idea of progress, 
isn’t actually new at all. It is as old as the colonialism that gave 
birth to extractivisim.

The left in the rest of the continent must assume the responsibility to 
seek real alternatives to developmentalism. It’s not enough to have a 
radical discourse–if development practices repeat old patterns, 
intentionally or not, they will produce conventional public policies. 
That conventionality is precisely what characterizes progressivism and 
allows us to identify it and differentiate it from the left.

*5. Clientelism or social justice?*

The “new developmentalism” imposes specific practices and uses economic, 
social and political instruments that are not neutral and indeed are 
contrary to the central precepts of the left. Probably the most 
well-known examples are the expansion of monocropping and mining. These 
practices cause a deterioration of democracy and rights. Clientelist 
social policies can relieve some aspects of this problem, but they do 
not build solid citizenship from which to defend basic rights.

In Brazil, the PT took advantage of circumstances to reduce poverty and 
attain other improvements, such as an increase in minimum wage, 
broadening formal-sector employment, expanding heathcare, etc., all of 
which are laudable. But much of this effort rested on charity programs 
and the commercialization of society and nature. Banking and credit 
exploded, and consumerism deepened, confusing having things with a real 
improvement in the quality of life (2). Progressivism forgot the basic 
principal of the left of de-commercializing life, a major concept in the 
protests against neoliberalism prevalent in the last century.

The idea of justice in Brazil was reduced to emphasizing certain forms 
of economic redistribution, while the rights of citizens of diverse 
communities, especially indigenous peoples, remained precarious. Brazil, 
for example, leads the world in assassinations of defenders of land and 
nature, according to Global Witness.

The left should not get stuck in these simplistic formulas. It is time 
to accept that social justice implies much more that redistribution, and 
that quality of life goes beyond economic growth. A renewed left should 
never tolerate the weakening, and much less the criminalization, of 
grassroots movements.

On the contrary, a true left should promote and strengthen autonomous 
popular organization within the framework of human rights and the rights 
of nature. And at all times and in all places– whether its Colombia or 
Peru or Venezuela or Nicaragua– it should defend those rights. This is 
even more necessary where the left holds power, even if that means 
losing an election since it is the only guarantee not only of conserving 
its democratic essence, but of retaking government.

*6. Conservative Countryside and the Need for New Agricultural Models*

The experience in rural areas and with development strategies in 
agriculture, livestock and forestry development also provide lessons. 
Without a doubt, Bolsonaro won the presidency with the support of the 
ultraconservative rural sector that responded to his speeches against 
indigenous peoples, peasant farmers and the landless and even justified 
the use of armed violence.

The problem is that this “rural caucus” that supports Bolsonaro today 
already had a place in government. Under Dilma Rousseff, they one of 
their leaders held a post in her cabinet (Katia Abreu). This example 
should be a warning sign to the left, since different conservative and 
ultraconservative politicians take advantage of progressivist 
governments to gain footholds in government. Progressivism opens doors 
for them with its discourse of plurality and governability and the need 
for stability and broad electoral support.

The defeat of progressivism also owes to its incapacity to promote a 
real agrarian reform or to transform the basis of agricultural 
development. Recall that the first Lula administration heavily promoted 
genetically modified soybeans, monocropping and the expansion of 
agroindustry for export, without protecting in the same way small and 
medium producers. Other progressivist administrations, especially in 
Argentina and Uruguay, promoted the same kind of agriculture.

In short, progressivism failed to explore alternatives for rural 
communities, insisting on the fallacy of supporting monocropping for 
export, sustaining the agribusiness sector and– if there was money left 
over– offering financial welfare programs to peasants. The left should 
propose a new vision of rural life, taking on not only land ownership, 
but also land use, and recognizing the role of food providers first to 
the nation and then to the global market.

*7. Radicalizing Democracy*

The political debacle in Brazil reminds us of the crucial task of 
radicalizing democracy, one of the goals the left pushed for years ago 
and that progressivism abandoned. That included, for example, assuring 
effective citizen participation in politics and improving the 
institutions of parties.

The PT instead concentrated power in the federal government and fell 
into practices such as using bribes to legislators, as see in the 
scandal of the “monthly bonusses” in the first administration. It 
maintained the vertical hierarchies of the party, for example, with Lula 
selecting his “successor”. Little by little, vigorous experiments like 
the participative budgets fell apart, and huge networks of corruption 
spread with public works. The boss culture in the party was replicated 
in other progressivist governments, such as Rafael Correa’s in Ecuador, 
and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s in Argentina.

It’s clear that a renewal of the left must be based on a clear 
understanding of this dynamic. It must not give up on democratizing 
society and its own internal party structures and practices. If the left 
fails to democratize, it facilitates the rise of opportunists. The 
political structures of the left should, once and for all, be dignified 
representatives of the base and not mere trampolines from which 
individual figures rise to power.

In sum, the left should base its renewal on self-criticism, whatever it 
costs, to learn, unlearn, and relearn from recent experience. Familiar 
challenges remain, and there are new urgencies. The Latin American left 
should advance in building alternatives to development. It should be 
environmentalist by searching for a harmonic relationship with nature, 
and feminist in confronting patriarchy. It must maintain the socialist 
commitment to overcome social inequity and it must decolonialize to 
overcome racism, exclusion and marginalization. And above all, it should 
be an anticapitalist and antisystemic left. All this demands more, never 
less, democracy.


1. About the distinction between left and progressivism see La identidad 
del progresismo, su agotamiento y los relanzamientos de las izquierdas, 
E. Gudynas, ALAI, 7 octubre 2015, https://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/172855

2. See as example the detailed analysis by Brazilian economist Lena 
Lavinas, such as The takeover of social policy by financialization. The 
Brazilian Paradox, Palgrave McMillan, 2017.

/Alberto Acosta was president of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador 
and candidate to the presidency for the Plurinational Unity of the Left./

/Eduardo Gudynas is a researcher in the Latin American Center for Social 
Ecology in Uruguay. (Centro Latino Americano de Ecología Social)./

This article sums up ideas published in Spanish in Voces (Uruguay), 
Página Siete (Bolivia), Wayka (Perú), Plan V (Ecuador) and Desde Abajo 

/Translation: Laura Carlsen/

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