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