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Brazil: The failed coup - a warning to the working class

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Thousands of supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the Congress, the Supreme Court and the Presidential Palace in the federal capital Brasilia on 8 January. The mob occupied and trashed the buildings for hours. Their goal was clear; to encourage the Brazilian armed forces to launch a a coup d’état overthrow of the Lula/Alckmin government and restore Bolsonaro to power.

The next day hundreds of thousands of Lula supporters, mainly from the Workers Party (PT) , trade unions, social movements, and the left groups, demonstrated across Brazil against the right, demanding the punishment of all coup plotters, their political supporters and financiers.

However, the reactionary putschists never really stood a chance of success andits all ended after a few hours, when the federal and military police finally cleared the buildings and arrested about 300 would-be coup plotters, a figure that has since risen to around 1,400.

From the beginning, it was not even clear who was supposed to take power. Neither Bolsonaro himself, who had decamped to Florida, nor any senior military figure,wanted to take the lead in an action they were convinced from the outset was a hopeless adventure .

Bolsonaro even condemned the attacks, saying they violated the "rules of democracy" ; not without adding the lie that under Lula’s presidency the latter’s supporters had acted in a similar way. His distancing - spread via Twitter - should not hide the fact that his goal remains the forcible overthrow of the Lula government. He continues to receive daily visits to his hospital bedside, from supporters, including members of parliament and governors. Recently, he also received the former head of security of Brasilia, the man who let the mob run riot for hours and is now under investigation.

Since the former president's election defeat, which his supporters claim was stolen anyway, they have been demonstrating "peacefully" in front of barracks, calling for a military coup. In November, they organised motorway blockades, financed by right-wing businessmen. The backers of these actions come from the big capitalists, especially from the agricultural sector. At the end of December, a few days before Lula was sworn in, a bomb attack was foiled in Brasilia, which was meant to cause chaos and provoke an intervention by the military.

The storming of the parliamentary and presidential buildings will certainly not be the end of such provocations. However, even more clearly than previous actions, the failed coup demonstrated the more or less open sympathy of the police and the repressive parts of the state apparatus. The local forces were not "caught off guard" or merely "incompetent", but let the mob have its way. Police forces welcomed the arriving right-wingers, took selfies with the protesters, and made videos expressing their sympathy with them. No wonder, then, that the mob was able to storm and trash Congress, the Senate and the Presidential Palace with ease.

And of course, it is not just the "failure" of the lower ranks, but supporters of the ex-president are at the top of the police apparatus. The head of security in Brasilia, Anderson Torres, was justice minister under Bolsonaro. According to the media, he ignored demands from the Senate to send additional security forces after the plans of the demonstrators organised in a telegram group became known.

On 8 January, Torres was dismissed and the capital's public security was placed under federal supervision by Lula's decree. In addition, the governor of the capital region was removed from office by a federal court for 90 days.

Even if the scare has ended, the danger still posed by the right should by no means be underestimated. On the contrary, the fact that only a few thousand hardcore reactionaries were abale to break into parliamentary and government buildings indicates what can threaten if the social situation continues to deteriorate, the class confrontation intensifies and Lula and the PT disappoint their own voters with pro-capitalist policies.

At the moment, not only the workers, the urban and rural poor, the racially oppressed and indigenous, the women's movement and the environmental movement are counting on a Lula government, but so too are important sectors of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, which Vice-President Alckmin represents in the PT-led government. This is the real reason the “coup” never had a chance of success. But this alliance of opposing class forces and interests is no guarantee against further coup attempts, but a danger for the future.

To meet the right-wing danger, as they did in the election campaign, Lula and the PT are counting on an alliance with the "democratic" bourgeoisie. Bu these are the very people including Alckmin himself, who organises the 2016, congressional and high court ’ coup against PT President Dilm Rousseff, that eventually led to Bolsonaro’s 2018 election victory . In the face of the right-wing danger and the actions of the Bolsonsaristas, Lula and the PT are relying on the military and police apparatus, from which the ex-president came, and which will only support Lula as long as he defends the interests of Brazilian capital and is able to keep the working class and the oppressed quiet.

This also applies to the support for Lula/Alckmin expressed by the leaders of the democratic imperialisms; US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the EU Council President Charles Michel, and Britain’s Rishi Sunak. More sincere perhaps, was the support of the leaders of Mexico and Argentina, Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Alberto Fernández who strongly condemned the "attack on democracy", thinking perhaps of their own futures.

Of course, Biden and Co are oblivious to such attacks on democracy when they come from their own allies in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Turkey. In fact, they will defend Lula/Alckmin for just so long as the new government carries out policies approved of by US, EU and the IMF and providing it avoids any serious concession to the working class, the landless workers, the people of the favellas, which would have to come at the expense of the landowners and the multinational corporations. Commitment to the "rule of law" and "democracy", will have precious little to do with it.

Key Lessons

The wage earners, urban and rural poor, favela dwellers, indigenous people, women and LGBTIAQ people must draw their own conclusions from the failed coup. This is especially true for the supporters of PT, PSTU, CUT, MST (Movement of Landless Rural Workers), MTST (Movement of Homeless Workers) and other organisations of the workers' movement. These lessons are;

1. Bolsonaro's supporters will re-form and radicalise. Even if they do not have enough immediate support to overthrow the government, they will continue to build a radical, petty-bourgeois reactionary movement, which can, through provocations an terrorist acts develop into a mass fascist mass movement in the course of social polarisation. Even if it demagogically presents itself as a force mobilising against the liberal establishment, it is above all directed against the workers' movement, its parties and trade unions, which it imagines as "elite" and "parasites" on the hard working (mainly white) middle classes. On this basis, it is available as a reserve of capital, a function it already performs in agribusiness and in the plunder of the forests .

2. Even if the military police and the tops of the army and other state institutions are currently defending the government, this is only today’s snapshot. The fact that Bolsonaro and his party found, and still find, a lot of support in the repressive apparatus and among military officers is no coincidence. After all, the repressive forces have acted as brutal agents of the ruling class for years, including during the Lula and Dilma administrations. The indigenous communities and the favelas were and are regularly attacked by them - up to and including many murders.

3. All links between the police, military police and armed forces and the storming of parliament and the presidential palace must be widely publicised and investigated. This must not be left to military courts, corrupt professional judges or a parliament in which the Bolsonaro’s Liberl Party and allies are the largest faction. Not only must all the files be made public, but workers' tribunals must also be set up to investigate and judge the involvement of the state and repressive apparatus in the right-wing actions, but also in the attacks on indigenous peoples and favelas and their collaboration.

4. by continuing to rely on the existing state apparatus in the struggle against the right-wing threat, Lula and the PT are making themselves dependent on it, hostage to it in the event of major class struggles. Given the inflation, the economic stagnation, the terrorism of the big landowners against indigenous people and the environment - to name but a few - these are inevitable if the oppressed are not to bear the full brunt of the misery.

5. we should not rely on the apparatus of repression against the right-wing movements and police violence. It is not enough to purge the apparatus of criminal and putschist officials. The trade unions, the MST, the MTST, the PT, the PSOL and other left organisations must build self-defence units of the wage-earners and the oppressed masses to protect their neighbourhoods, against any coup plotters, paramilitaries and criminal gangs. We must demand from Lula and the PT to actively promote this and to disarm the reactionary units. In the armed forces, democratic soldiers' committees must be established to break the command of the officers.

6. When he took office, Lula promised a whole series of reforms, including ending the regulation allowing for the clearing of the forest, strengthening the rights of the indigenous population, reversing neo-liberal counter-reforms of the Bolsonaro government regarding pensions, working hours, minimum wage as well as anti-union laws. The fight against the has been declared a main goal of the government. But these reforms will not be enforceable by parliamentary means in the face of a massive increase in national debt, economic stagnation, the strength of the right in the state apparatus and in parliament, and the dependence on bourgeois coalition partners in government.

7. Such a programme, like the disarmament of reactionary forces, can only be implemented if it is combined with a mass mobilisation of the trade unions and social movements. The current mass support against the putschists must be used to launch an offensive for the immediate implementation of all the reform promises of Lula and the PT as well as an immediate programme against inflation, poverty, crisis.

8. It can only be realised if we challenge the privileges of the ruling class, their private property. It is impossible without cancelling the foreign debt, without massive taxation of the rich, without expropriating agribusiness, big industrial groups and financial institutions without compensation. Without the pooling of the country's resources under workers control, an emergency plan in the interests of the wage-earning masses, the landless and indigenous, and the environment cannot be enforced.

9. Just as the police and army function as guarantors of private property in the state apparatus, Alckmin and other openly bourgeois forces function as guarantors of private property, the ruling class and imperialism in the government. In a coalition with Alckmin, an emergency programme for the masses will be just as unworkable as arming self-defence units of the oppressed. We therefore demand from Lula and PT a break with the bourgeois ministers and the formation of a PT/PSOL/CUT government based on the working class and enforcing an emergency programme. Such a government must be defended by all means against any coup attempt, be it by Bolsonaro and his wildcat supporters or by other bourgeois forces.

10. Lula and the PT leadership (and probably also parts of the PSOL and CUT leadership) will undoubtedly do all they can to avoid a break with Alckmin and the bourgeois state apparatus - just as they were already counting on a popular front with capital in the election campaign. However, it is not enough to criticise this policy and warn of its fatal consequences. Revolutionaries must also propagate means and tactics that enable the masses who today follow Lula and the PT, who defend "their" president against the threats of coups, to free themselves from the illusions in Lula and his policies. To do this, it is necessary to force Lula and the PT to go further than they want - that is, to push and support the building of self-defence organs and to break with the bourgeoisie.

11. Of course, it is unlikely that Lula and the PT leadership will take this step, so such demands allow to start a common struggle with his supporters against the right and reaction, they allow to harness the contradiction between the class conciliatory compromise politics of the bureaucratic leaderships of PT and CUT on the one hand and the class interests of the mass of their supporters on the other. On the one hand, by putting these leaderships to the test in practice, and on the other hand, by preparing the class for future struggles and, where possible, starting to build organs of struggle.

12. In order to make such a policy practical, a systematic united front policy towards the PT and CUT must be linked to the struggle for a new, revolutionary workers' party.