Meet Deborah Fabri, nineteen years old, a student in São Paulo. Proudly sporting her university jacket, she met up with friends on Wednesday to protest the parliamentary coup in Brazil that impeached Dilma Rouseff.
Deborah was peacefully protesting with more than twenty thousand protesters around the slogan “Fora Temer!” (“Out with Temer”), when police tried to corral demonstrators and suddenly opened fire. Deborah was hit in her left eye either by shrapnel from one of the dozens of tear gas canisters or rubber bullets fired by the police. Her doctors have said she will likely completely lose sight in the eye.
The demonstration in which Deborah participated was one of dozens in major cities across Brazil in the days before, during, and after the farce of the impeachment of Rousseff. Largely organized on social media networks by left-wing collectives of young people, the militant demonstrations have attracted tens of thousands.
Since Monday August 29, the principal cities of the country have witnessed such protests, including concerted actions by a minority of black bloc militants and the widespread smashing of banks and car dealerships. Hundreds have been injured and arrested.
On Sunday, one hundred thousand demonstrated peacefully in São Paulo. Minutes after the demo ended, the police attacked, firing tear gas into a subway station, injuring dozens and arresting twenty-seven protesters.
The corporate media and politicians who support the coup have forcefully defended the police repression, labeling the demonstrators a “minority” of violent “troublemakers.” This despite the fact that journalists from the main newspapers and television stations were physically attacked by police who then smashed their cameras.
During Sunday’s demo in São Paulo, BBC Brasil reporter Felipe Souza recounted in detail how he was physically attacked by police despite identifying himself as a journalist. Even key judicial authorities have called for punishment of the police and the necessity to respect the constitutional right to protest.
Yet post-coup president Michel Temer and his ministers, currently on a trade mission in China, have cynically downplayed the protests, joking that they are tiny demonstrations of “forty people who only want to destroy cars.”
It is abundantly clear that Brazil has entered a “state of exception,” that is, a state that is not only willing to illegally remove the duly elected president, but also disrespect basic civil liberties. Indeed, Temer has promised that, if necessary, he will send in the army to deal with demonstrations.
The largely impromptu protests of this week will be joined in the next few weeks by nationwide actions organized by the two large coalitions formed against the coup. These include the PT-controlled trade unions and a wide range of independent social movements, including the militant homeless workers’ movement (MTST).
The impeachment process was a veritable horror show that demonstrated all the rottenness and hypocrisy of the Brazilian ruling class and the right-wing parties. Mass actions in the last few weeks are a significant step forward in the struggle to repudiate and resist the new antidemocratic and hyper-neoliberal government. By all accounts, demonstrations will continue to grow in the following weeks around the country.
Yet it is crucial to unite the social movements, unions, and the Left against not only the ousting of Rousseff, but against the neoliberal attacks as a whole. In the June Days of 2013, the massive rebellion of workers and youth against transit-fare hikes and poor-quality public services, the Left missed a chance to unite young workers, the trade unions, and social movements against the corporate agenda.
In the absence of a viable alternative, many militants either returned to the compromised politics of the Workers’ Party (PT) or retreated in demoralization. As Henrique Canary rightly argues, the return of workers and activists to the streets has provided the socialist left with a second chance that should not be squandered.
To do this, several things are necessary:
- Demand immediate general elections. The only legitimate position of the socialist left is to demand new presidential and congressional elections. The traditional political class in Brazil, including the PT, mired in corruption and embracing of the neoliberal agenda, needs to repudiated and subject to popular scrutiny. A plebiscite for the convocation of general elections can legally be added to the nationwide municipal election ballots in mid-October.
- We must widen the demands of the movement to focus not only on the antidemocratic actions of the coupsters in the impeachment of Dilma, but on the widespread attacks on workers’ and social rights. The Temer government has promised drastic cuts to pensions, labor rights, and social spending. To broaden the struggle, we must involve the majority of the Brazilian people who will be affected by these cutbacks. “Fora Temer” also needs to mean “Fora the neoliberal attacks.”
- Support and build the municipal election campaigns by the left-wing parties outside of the PT. The growing militancy on the streets has been reflected in successful campaigns for city councilors and mayors by the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL). In four capital cities, including the country’s two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, PSOL mayoral candidates have fighting chances to advance to the second round of elections, providing a clear-cut choice for voters between an austerity agenda on the right and the extension of workers’ and social rights on the left. Parliamentary campaigns can provide a useful platform to publicize the nature of the attacks and advance resistance.
- We cannot count on the leaders of the PT in this struggle. We must not forget that the latest austerity program and attacks on workers’ rights began with the PT government of Dilma itself in 2015. Their opposition is strictly parliamentary and limited to the confines of respectable bourgeois politics. Without a direct confrontation with capital by workers mobilized in their unions and social movements, we risk squandering the growing militancy on the streets.
- Prepare for job actions. It is imperative that the Left, and workers’ and social movements, build not only militant street demonstrations against the coup and the drastic austerity agenda of the new government, but prepare in the medium term for a general strike. Street demonstrations will not continue forever and can relatively easily be ignored, censured, or repressed by the ruling class. The next step needs to be job actions that hit at the very heart of the capitalist system.