In a highly polarized Latin America, Brazil has held out for a little more than a decade as an island of moderation. The leaders of Venezuela and Bolivia strive for the creation of “21st Century Socialism” and lead a continental anti-imperialist movement. Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and other Latin American countries have joined them in an anti-imperialist “Bolivarian” bloc that stands in opposition to western neoliberal capitalism.
The few countries in Latin America that remain solidly in the US camp are becoming more repressive than ever. They are also marked by rising chaos, poverty, and crime. Trade union activists and progressive forces in Colombia remain under the gun and face severe repression, even as peace negotiations with the rebels continue. The 2009 right-wing coup in Honduras has unleashed years of violence and repression, with activists and journalists frequently assassinated amid severe poverty. Political repression is also rising in Mexico, as communities struggle to defend themselves from drug cartels armed with US-made weapons. Much of Mexico still writhes with anger over the socialist students who were “disappeared” in Ayotzinapa.
The leading figures of Brazilian politics in the current period have attempted to remain neither Marxist nor neoliberal. Lula Da Silva and his successor Dilma Rousseff have led the country as nominal socialists. They are members of the Workers’ Party (PT). But their “socialism” is more akin to the socialism of British Labour than that of Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, or Nicolas Maduro. It is a “socialism” that does not directly enter into conflict with western or domestic capitalism, and views foreign investment from monopolist cartels as potentially positive.
Barack Obama has proclaimed himself to be “a great admirer of the progressive, forward-looking leadership that President Lula has shown.” His admiration for a moderate, pro-US “socialism” has continued as former guerrilla fighter Dilma Rousseff is now the head of state. Obama and Rousseff have clashed about NSA spying, but on matters of economic policy and the general global direction, they seem to be in line with each other. Western commentators often contrast the “sensible” approach of the PT in Brazil to the “totalitarian” and “extreme” approach of the revolutionary governments in Venezuela and Bolivia.
While Brazil has maintained a modest social safety net, capitalist property relations are untouched. Western corporations continue to do business in Brazil without any hindrance. Under these “center-left” policies the conditions for many of Brazil’s people have not improved. There is not a vast redistribution of wealth or upsurge of democratic participation — as has been seen in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. As tensions rise globally, Brazil’s leaders have managed to maintain friendly relations with both the Bolivarian countries, the Russian Federation, and the United States.
A Rise of Wall Street Fascism
Though Rousseff undisputedly won the recent elections, her path of moderation seems to be entering its final stages.
Brazil is now rocked by right-wing protests. With the slogan of opposing corruption, the hard right wing has gotten millions of supporters into the streets to call for blood. In the aftermath of several political scandals, many right-wing demonstrators are rallying around the slogan “Intervencao Militar” (Military Intervention). The right-wing protesters openly call on the military to depose the elected government, as has happened previously in Brazil’s history.
The right-wing protesters have attempted to blame the widespread problems of corruption in Brazilian politics and the poverty throughout much of the country directly on Marxism and socialism. They equate Dilma’s politics of moderation with communism. They call for a right-wing revolt to smash the Workers’ Party (PT) along with the rest of the left. The hope is to put Brazil firmly into the US camp, alongside Mexico and Honduras. Furthermore, the right wing and its Wall Street backers would make Brazil a base area for the widening US-backed campaign to destroy Bolivarianism.
This method of political trickery is common in extreme right-wing politics. When Hitler took office as Chancellor of Germany, he proclaimed: “Fourteen years of Marxism have ruined Germany.” He blamed the woes of the Weimar Republic on the influence of the moderate German Social-Democratic Party. The message of Hitler in 1933, Pinochet’s supporters in 1973, and now the extremist right-wing in Brazil is “the moderate left has failed, now give the extreme right wing a chance.” One even thinks of how FOX news commentator Glenn Beck informed his viewers that rising unemployment, home foreclosures, and other hardships in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis took place because “Barack Obama is a socialist.”
Among the right-wing protests is Brazil’s rising movement of skinheads, who call themselves “nationalists.” In addition to being associated with organized crime, these organizations of both impoverished and middle class Brazilians generally admire Adolph Hitler. They consider the PT and the Bolivarian movement to be a Jewish conspiracy. They renounce the concept of class struggle and call for a system of state-controlled capitalism to revive the “Brazilian Nation.” They reject any notion of solidarity or unity with the rest of Latin America, seeing Brazil as superior to its neighbors. Their politics are essentially a Latin American version of what is espoused by groups like the Right Sector in Ukraine.
The main targets of Brazil’s rising skinhead street terror has been homosexuals. If the nationalist right wing in Brazil is able to rapidly grow, it will likely expand the scope of its terrorism.
The skinhead fascists in Brazil — like the ultra-nationalists in Ukraine, the US-backed insurgents in Syria, or the Tea Party in the United States — do not have the support of anything near a majority of the population. Like other fascist movements throughout the world, they depend on the support of the wealthy, and of leading figures within the military and police apparatus. They terrorize their opponents with highly visible acts of extreme violence. They capture the energy of those angry at the status quo, and portray themselves as the real force of power and change.
Dilma Rousseff is facing a dangerous, violent right-wing opposition. If it is allowed to succeed, she may soon share the fate of Salvador Allende and Jacobo Arbenz. However, there is a way that she can defeat the right wing and escape such a fate.
The Real Strength Behind Anti-Imperialism
Hugo Chavez, considered to be one of the greatest pioneers of the Bolivarian movement, faced a similar situation in 2002. The right-wing forces even successfully deposed him. But Chavez was able to defeat this coup by US-backed right-wingers because he used one very powerful thing: people’s power.
In response to the 2002 coup, the rank-and-file soldiers who loved President Chavez rose up on his behalf. A mass movement in the streets deposed the right-wing coup makers. The country was shut down with strikes and uprisings of the people. Chavez returned to office triumphantly. The strength of every leader who has succeeded against the wishes of the Wall Street profiteers and their fascist stooges has been a powerful mass movement.
Chavez’s 1999 electoral victory, much like that of Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, was seen as a referendum on neoliberalism. The mass uprisings of the peoples of Latin America against Wall Street’s tyrannical plundering of the continent had found electoral expression. These electoral victories were able to withstand military threats from CIA-directed coup plotters because of a mass base of progressive activists. The movements that created Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales did not begin at the ballot box, and they will not end there.
The strength of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela is not simply his electoral popularity, but also the vast network of revolutionary activists and organizers he has maintained. All across Venezuela, Bolivarian Circles have been organized to defend the government. Communes have sprung up. 125,000 young Venezuelans are part of the Bolivarian Militias, armed groups independent of the standing army, that swear to defend the process of building socialism with their very lives.
Much of the peoples’ movement in Brazil has offered critical support to Dilma Rousseff. Trade unions, unemployed organizations, the communist party and various other Marxist-Leninist, Trotskyist, and socialist organizations have aligned with or even joined the Workers’ Party. Though they have criticized its moderation, the progressive forces have seen Rousseff as a barrier against the extreme right wing.
Dilma Rousseff has not embraced these forces the way the Bolivarian leaders have. She has not begun to lead them in the process of transforming the country. She has not encouraged mass uprisings in the streets against corporate power and western neoliberalism, and she has not moved to alter property relations or begin constructing socialism. After decades of supporting Da Silva and Rousseff, a dangerous feeling of discouragement has begun to unfold in Brazil’s anti-imperialist circles. This is very dangerous, and has created an opening for fascism.
With the right wing of Brazil on the march, the only hope for Rousseff and her supporters is for their style of moderation to end. Those in Brazil who do not want their country to fall into the hands of Wall Street — and thus be turned into a launching pad for war against Bolivarianism — must embrace the power of the region’s growing opposition.
Moderation in the face of right-wing extremism appears almost as a defense of the intolerable status quo. Calm words of consolation as poverty and corruption are rising cannot defeat the thunderous rage of the extreme right-wing. The anger against corruption and economic decline must not be surrendered to the fascists skinheads and other puppets of neoliberalism. The revolutionary anti-capitalist movement that seeks to build a new Brazil, a new Latin America, and a new world must be unleashed.
To avoid falling into the hands of fascism, Brazil must begin, like many of its neighbors, to move toward the construction of 21st Century Socialism.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.