Let us distinguish between the ultra-Right and the Right. Generally, commentators tend to use the designation “ultra-Right” for political figures that adopt hate speech against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, gays, and women. There are, however, other differences as well. The Right likes to maintain the fiction of democracy, whereas the ultra-Right tends to override the pretense in favor of repressive measures against leftist organizations, political activists, minorities and gays. Moreover, the Right endorses neoliberal economic policies, whereas the ultra-Right, at least in rhetoric, endorses an economic nationalism that defends the industry of the nation.
Following this distinction, it can be said that Bolsonaro is for the most part ultra-Right. He has a history of using hate speech, making openly fascist, homophobic, misogynist and racist declarations; and he professes admiration for Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1976 to 1989, having declared that “Democracy is good for nothing,” and that the only way to solve Brazil’s problems is through a new dictatorship.
However, he professes support for neoliberal economic policies, which if implemented, would place him in alliance with the forces of the Right, in Brazil and in the United States. Therefore, the Bolsonaro victory in Brazil, as Fiona Edwards observes, “strengthens the US project in Latin America to attack the sovereignty, independence and democracy of the continent’s left governments including in Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.” The U.S. goal is to attain regime change in key countries in order to reestablish domination of Latin America.
But the Bolsonaro victory is a political setback for the Brazilian Right, which used the tactic of accusations of corruption against PT to end its thirteen-year rule. The strategy backfired, for it led to a popular rejection of both the Left and the Right, resulting in the rise of Bolsonaro, an anti-establishment political figure of the ultra-Right. However, given his orientation to neoliberal economic policies, the Right and Bolsonaro could arrive to an accommodation.
From 2003 to 2016, the Workers Party governments of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (“Lula”) and Dilma Rousseff registered important gains. As Brazilian commentator Marcelo Zero observes, “Despite much resistance and prejudice, the Lula and Dilma governments managed for a time to promote social inclusion for vast segments of the population and substantially reduced poverty and inequality, in a context of fierce opposition but relative democratic stability.” On the international plane, the PT governments pursued a policy of alliance with progressive and socialist governments in Latin America and Eurasia. Lula served two terms, and he finished his second term with record high approval ratings; his tenure was followed by the election of Dilma, and her electoral victory for her second term was by record-breaking margins.
During this period, the PT governments made important accommodations to finance capital, including low taxation of the rich and high interest rates (which has the effect of attracting capital to finance rather than to investments in production). Such accommodation to finance capital make political sense, for it nullified the opposition of finance capital to the PT governments, thus facilitating political stability and making possible international alliances that would lead to mutually beneficial South-South commerce and industrial development in the long term. As long as commodity prices were high, the country would possess resources for funding significant social programs, enabling socioeconomic gains in the short time. The strategy could be viewed as a politically intelligent first step toward more fundamental structural transformations in the long term.
However, when the commodity price boom ended, preservation of the socioeconomic gains required adjustments in the accommodation to finance capital. Accordingly, the Rousseff government moved to reduce the absurdly high rates of interests, which provoked an attack by finance capital on the PT government, involving an assault on democratic structures and not merely on the Workers Party.
The attack was centered on accusations of corruption, on two fronts. First, a media and parliamentary coup d’état against Dilma, described by Zero as involving a coup against an honest president in order to put in power a band of corrupt politicians. It was accomplished by the abandonment of the PT parliamentary coalition by the Brazilian Democratic Movement (BDM), which joined with the opposition in parliament to impeach Dilma on unsubstantiated charges, bringing the Vice President and BDM leader Michel Temer to the presidency. Temer immediately began imposing neoliberal austerity measures, which have deepened the economic crisis and led to greater unemployment and underemployment.
The second front was the arrest of former President Lula, in order to block his return to power via a presidential bid in 2018. Noam Chomsky has noted the baseless character of the charges. “The primary charge against Lula, based on plea bargains by businessmen sentenced for corruption, is that he was offered an apartment in which he never lived. Hardly overwhelming.” With the support of the judiciary in these trumped up charges, Lula was barred from running in the 2018 presidential elections, even though polls showed him to be the favorite candidate by far. Zero notes that “according to all polls, Lula was the clear favorite and would have beaten Bolsonaro by a wide margin if he had been allowed to run.”
Inasmuch as corruption is rampant in the world, no head of state or ruling political party, no matter how committed, can completely eliminate it. So corruption becomes fair game for cynical politicians to undermine the credibility of their political opponents. As Chomsky writes of corruption in Brazil, “singling out the PT for demonization is pure cynicism, considering the escapades of the accusers.”
The cynical political game of accusations of corruption is played on a global scale, with the North seeking to undermine the legitimacy of progressive and leftist governments of the South with charges of corruption. As Chomsky points out, corruption is far more rampant in the North, but most of it is technically legal. Such corruption includes absurdly low cash settlements for criminal behavior by corporations, manipulation of wage payments to workers, offshore tax havens, and exemptions from taxes, all of it technically legal. In addition, there are legal campaign contributions, through which elected officials are placed in the debt and obligation to wealthy big contributors.
The only remedy to the manipulation of the political process by cynical accusations of corruption is the political intelligence of the people. Our initial reaction to any charge of corruption against any government official ought to be suspicion, not of the conduct of the accused, but of the motives of the accuser. And we should maintain this principled position, , which is consistent with the due process principle of innocent until proven guilty, until we are provided clear evidence of wrong-doing. The disciplined political intelligence of the people would put an end to the manipulation of the political process though accusations of corruption by cynical politicians and actors.
In the case of Brazil, the entire affair of the unfolding media-parliamentary-judicial coup d’état of 2016-2018 directed against the two principal PT leaders provoked disgust among the people, deepening distrust for traditional political parties, in which the PT, in power from 2003 to 2016, was implicated. The BDM, principal actors in the coup, fell sharply in electoral support; and support for the PT fell, although not as much as the BDM. Apparently, the false accusations against Dilma had some effect in undermining her prestige among the people. Lula, who completed his two terms before the dishonorable coup was carried out, was exempted from the popular rejection, but he was excluded from the elections by a corrupt judicial process.
In disgust, the people turned to a marginal political figure from the ultra-Right, whose rapid rise was surprising to all. The attack on democracy by the Right was successful in dethroning the Workers Party; but it backfired, because it brought to power an ultra-Right political figure not of the political establishment.
There are important lessons to be learned from the loss of political power by the Left in Brazil. Of primary importance, the Left has to be more effective in political education. It is not enough to mobilize the people for demonstrations and to put forth slogans. Leaders and members of political parties and movement organizations of the Left have to be educators, developing the people in political, social, and scientific consciousness. The Brazilian theologian and intellectual Frei Betto has been critical of the Left in the regard. He writes that “the political literacy of the people has not been addressed. A progressive government is not maintained on the basis of slogans.”
In addition, inasmuch as the media of communication are in the hands of corporate interests, the Left has to pay attention to the democratization of the media of communication and the development of alternative media. Related to this, the Left has to become more effective in the use of social media, which the Right and the ultra-Right has mastered.
Although Bolsonario can reasonably be understood as a figure of the ultra-Right, his victory should be viewed as part of the counterrevolutionary counterattack of the Latin American Right, which has been unfolding with renewed intensity since 2014. In the first place, his electoral victory was a consequence of the parliamentary-judicial-media coup d’état launched by the Brazilian Right against the Workers’ Party. And one would presume that the Brazilian Right acted with the support of the political Right of the United States and sectors of international capital. Secondly, Bolsonario’s professed economic neoliberalism makes possible an alliance with the Right in the United States, given its commitment to neoliberal imperialist penetration of Latin America. Brazilian finance capital also has a particular interest in such Brazilian subordination to U.S. imperialist interests.
Two things strike me about the counterrevolutionary counterattack of the Latin American Right. First, its gains have been based on the deception of the people. In Argentina, Mauricio Macri won the presidential elections of November 2015 by falsely presented himself as a progressive candidate in defeating the candidate put forth by Christina Kirchner’s party. In Venezuela, the electoral victory of the Right in the December 2015 parliamentary elections was made possible by the strategic position of the Right in the economy, enabling it to wage economic war in order to undermine the economy, and to blame the Chavist government for the consequences of their own misdeeds. In Ecuador in 2017, Lenin Moreno was a Trojan horse, a candidate of the Nation Alliance of Rafael Correa, pretending to seek to push forward its progressive agenda, but in reality a representative of the Right.
Secondly, in the political space that was attained through such deceptions, the Right has conducted itself in a blatant anti-popular manner. The Venezuelan parliamentary majority had no plan to offer as an alternative to the Chavist project. Its strategy was the removal from office the constitutionally elected president Nicolás Maduro, and it was outmaneuvered by Maduro’s convoking of a Constitutional Assembly. In Argentina, Macri adopted anti-popular and anti-national measures in accordance with neoliberal recipes, provoking serious economic problems and mass demonstrations. Similarly, Temer in Brazil took decisive anti-popular neoliberal steps, which combined with its odor of corruption, led to the victory of an ultra-Right candidate.
In short, in the space attained recently, the Latin American Right is demonstrating that it has no politically viable plan to offer. The Right returned to power has not conduced itself in a politically intelligent manner. It has not formulated some kind of clever “post pink tide” political posture that pretends to make improvements in the popular measures of the progressive governments as it in reality serves the interests of international capital. The Right back in power does nothing other than to return to the neoliberal policies that were rejected by the people, which in the past fueled the rise to power of the progressive and leftist parties.
It seems, therefore, that the counterrevolutionary Latin American Right does not come armed with a viable political strategy, which does not bode well for its capacity to attain popular legitimacy. It is reasonable to project that the revitalized Right will not be able to maintain itself in power on the basis of popular support, and that it would only be able to maintain itself in power via popular repression and military dictatorships, backed by U.S. military power, which is to say, by an ultra-Right turn.
The situation in Latin America mirrors the world-system as a whole. Imperialism and neoliberalism have been based on deceptions of the people. During the course of the twentieth century, imperialism presented itself as democratic, when in reality its interests were in raw materials, cheap labor, and markets for its surplus goods; a fundamental deception that has been exposed by anti-imperialist movements. In the 1980s, neoliberalism invoked an ideological attack on the state, absurdly presenting the state as the source of underdevelopment and global economic problems; a deception exposed by the observable gains of the socialist and progressive governments (and the Asian tigers), in which states successfully promote economic development through direction of and engagement in the economy. In essence, the neocolonial world-system is based on untruths and deception, and it is not sustainable in the long run; while socialist and progressive governments of the world are demonstrating a politically and economically viable alternative road.
Therefore, in my view, the correct reading of the situation in Latin America and the world is that recent gains of the Right are temporary and unsustainable. The Right must give way either to the ultra-Right, political repression, and militarized governments, the inevitable contradictions of which could result in the fragmentation of the world-system and/or worldwide chaos; or to the progressive and leftist governments and movements that are seeking to construct a more just, democratic, and sustainable world-system.
We find ourselves in a historic moment in which humanity confronts the option of barbarism or socialism, as Rosa Luxemburg understood. Fidel taught that ideas are the most important weapons of revolutionaries. In order to prepare ourselves to be effective soldiers in the battle of ideas, we must study the historic and unfolding process of popular and socialist revolutions, in order that, on the basis of the teachings of the contemporary prophets of humanity, we can develop the ideas that we need. These prophets are the leaders of various revolutions and movements of the last two hundred years: the Haitian Revolution; the Latin American independence movements of the early nineteenth century; the mid-nineteenth century movements of workers, artisans, and peasants in Western Europe; the October Revolution of 1917; the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cuban revolutions, which have evolved into politically stable and economically viable pragmatic socialist projects; the Non-Aligned Movement and its demands for a New International Economic Order; and socialist and progressive governments of recent years in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, and Argentina. They have left us an important legacy of humanity: a political culture that has been developed not on the basis of deception but on the basis of truth and science; and that has been driven not by particular interests but by the common interest of humanity in a just and sustainable world.
In this important historic moment, revolutionaries must be above all students and popular educators. Our duty is to study the revolutionary cultural heritage of humanity, and to patiently and effectively teach our peoples, so that the people can block the pending turn to fascism, and can strengthen the possibilities for the more just and democratic world-system presently being developed by the governments of China, Russia, Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, and by international organizations of the Third World like the Non-Aligned Movement and the G-77 plus China.
Chomsky, Noam. “I Just Visited Lula, the World’s Most Prominent Political Prisoner.” October 2, 2018.
Edwards, Fiona. “Brazil’s Presidential race 2018.” eyesonlatinamerica.com, October 8, 2018,
Zero, Marcelo. “International interests and the destruction of Brazilian Democracy.” New Socialist, October 24, 2018.