October 31/2022: Brazilian election/Western Liberal Democracy/ Tailing Soc Dems

“The entry of a socialist into a bourgeois government is not, as it is thought, a partial conquest of the bourgeois state by the socialists, but a partial conquest of the socialist party by the bourgeois state.” – Rosa Luxemburg (1899)

I'll start off by stating that I'm writing in direct response to reactions we so often see to the outcomes of elections abroad. Elections such as the Brazilian presidential election which recently (at the time of writing) wrapped up on October 30th/2022, Chile's election of Gabriel Boric and his left coalition, the United States choosing of Biden over Trump, or any other election which has been clearly distilled to the public as a kind of final showdown between good and evil, or left and right. Often the reporting strips away nearly all nuance, in favour of a picture depicting two “great individuals” facing off in a battle of whit and ideas. The lens we look through (which in my case looks upon Brazil from Nova Scotia, Canada) is very limited. The knowledge we receive is restricted in many ways; by the news outlet reporting, by the nature of the increasingly commodified distillation of information, by the restrictions of online platforms, or even by the writing style employed to convey the information. When trying to make sense of the world, or even to make sense of our own backyards via news media, we simply aren't being given a full deck of cards by which to play with. Many are inevitably left with the impression that the end of an election means the end of the struggle against Right-wing Liberalism, or Fascism. To speak directly to Socialists in North America (whom this writing is for), I fear these events give us the false impression that it's all over in Brazil, Chile, or the USA once the reported “left” wins. An impression that can allow us to feel as though we can exhale and shift our focus elsewhere for “our” next victory. As if socialists in Canada have somehow been meaningfully engaged with a struggle elsewhere. Worst, in my view is when we conflate the perception of a left victory elsewhere as being successful. I fear that we come to believing that we can simply vote in Socialism within a Liberal Democractic framework. As if voting was all that happened in Brazil, Chile, or Bolivia, and that people aren't currently fighting and literally dying in these countries for such a chance to even have progress as a serious option on the ballot. Elections are not revolutions, especially when those elections involve Social Democrats at the helm of their coalitions. To be clear, I'm glad to see one of the world's most reactionary right-wing governments lose the election in Brazil, but let me suggest we make an effort to be kind to our own individual and organizational well-being by tempering our expectations of positive progress via Social Democratic governments. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will not deliver the moon, and we shouldn't expect that he could.

As is the case with any such example within “Western” Liberal democracies, the same structure which both compelled and held the reigns of the previous Brazilian government (in this case, Bolsonaro's government) is still in play. The Capitalist superstructure which drives the extractive industries and highly inequitable qualities of life that Brazil has become internationally known for will remain every bit as real under the incoming administration as it was before. The Brazilian election was a very close call, and signals a divided country on the question of the direction of Liberal Capital. Lula's Social Democratic leadership of the “workers party” (PT) will need to quickly signal toward the appeasement of all camps, including the coalition of left parties at it's foundation, in order to maintain enough stability to govern effectively. Even if successful in their efforts for appeasement, in structural governmental terms, those sympathetic to Bolsonaro still control the lower house, hampering the Lula coalition's ability to get anything passed. Much in the same way Obama Democrats blame the Republican control the House of Representatives at the time for any failing of the Obama administration. Lula may not be as immediately in the pocket of those who hold an interest in preserving and entrenching Brazil's current status quo as Bolsonaro was, but he and his government will still very much be at the mercy of a deeply established privatized economic order if they want to get anything done. Brazil (like Canada) is an emerging middle-power country which over the past decade has increasingly positioned itself closer to the interests of Imperial core on the world stage, and those who hold an interest in maintaining that path aren't going to simply lay down on their backs if Lula tells them to. Most of us are not experts on the in's/out's of the current Brazilian condition, but we don't have to be in order to understand the broad forces at play, and how similar they are around the world. Under the “International rules-based order” no single country which subscribes to it, or is controlled by it is particularly unique.

Recognizing that nothing fundamentally changed when Justin Trudeau took over from Stephen Harper, or when Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush and Donald Trump being replaced by Biden afterward, we shouldn't allow ourselves to get too excited about the prospects for progressive outcomes within Western Liberal democracies. The structure is restrictive to progressive anti-capitalist movements. This restriction exists by design. Governments under this structure are expected to allow small changes to the social order or modes of expression which serve as “pressure release valves” when the societal pressures of discontent necessitate, but never (if rarely) in the form of foundational material economic progression. We are taught that our system of “checks and balances” is meant to preserve a most-equal people's democracy where “... nobody is truly happy with the outcome...”, but in reality these structures exist solely for the preservation of our society's collective relation to the means of production. Which is to say that it works to keep the control of the means firmly in the hands of private owners, and not the public itself comprised of the workers who create the value of said ownership.

The fight for a more just society, with equal access for all to the ladders of prosperity doesn't start and end with elections within the bourgeois Liberal democratic system. To keep my Leninist interpretive hat on for a moment, the governmental structure we interact within was created, installed, and is managed by owning-class interests. Our governments manage the inherent and ever-present conflict that exists between the owning and working classes, acting as a buffer zone to keep the foundations of the towers of profit safe from the pick-axes of a conscious working class who understands the nature of their exploitation, their value, and potential. It is the government's job to ensure the working classes do not revolt, remaining productive instead. It is the government's job to ensure that those who own can continue to own as they see fit and that their private property and proprietary knowledge remains safely intact. In the view of a Bourgeois government, it is their job to protect the interests of Capital from the misplaced reactionary emotions of the workers who sustain it. Any party elected under this electoral system can only be elected if that party generally intends to maintain this tenuous social order.

For Left-Liberal and Social Democratic governments (Lula's PT party), this usually simply means affixing a public facing mask of progression while the gears of the status quo continue turning in a productive direction for the owners of said production. They may deliver rebates for electric cars, a carbon-pricing program, or strong words in regard to a “reconciliation” between settlers and Indigenous peoples, but nothing truly changes and the posturing is only amenable as long as the foundations of those aforementioned towers are not shaken. Historically and currently, Social Democratic governments attempt to appease both camps (the owners and those who do not), ending up to ultimately work on behalf of the owning-class when push comes to shove in order to maintain legitimacy under their system. This is why, so often, the real work for sustained and materially tangible progress begins between and outside of elections to win progress which cannot be easily reversed by a pendulum swing back to the right-wing of Liberalism. Be it in Brazil or Canada, sensationalist media reports of “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” “EVIL WANES!” serve to deflate the sense of urgency held only hours before, which we cannot afford. In recent times, this mechanism has never been so clear as it was after the electoral defeat of Donald Trump. The Obama-era sentiments of “HOPE!” rose over the crowded stadium bleachers and into the surrounding streets where growing encampments of the huddled unhoused masses listened with confusion just a few blocks away. What positive change has been delivered that can be broadly accessed and benefited from? Has America been less aggressive abroad? No. Have conditions of the majority of Americans improved? Again, no. Hell, are there fewer children in cages along the American border? Once more, no. Actually, as of the time of this writing it has been reported that the Biden administration is seriously mulling the option of placing Haitian refugees in holding cells at the illegally (still occupied) Guantanamo Military Prison in Cuba! (1)

Sticking with Haiti (a country continually oppressed for hundreds of years), in the case of Lula during his last term in office he was compelled by Brazilian military leaders (many of which, to my knowledge, still hold their positions) to participate in a foreign-led coup in Haiti early in his mandate in 2004.

“When there’s a need to gain national prestige, curry favor with imperial power, or seize the opportunity to train your soldiers to occupy other people’s countries, why not try Haiti. To prove it can play with the big imperial boys, the United States and France, Brazil took on a major role in imprisoning the Haitian nation. “Brazil is participating in the usurpation of Haitian sovereignty – and the usurpation of Haitian sovereignty is an affront to the sovereignty of all Black People. ” (2)

Social Democratic governments are routinely eager to appease the unelected ruling powers with the perverse intention of converting that appeasement into material relief primarily for the professional working class which they view as their base. Social Democrats have a habit of taking care of those who have in order to take care of those who don't. Do Brazilian actions in Haiti during Lula's last time in office mean that a government led by Lula is to be completely written off this time around? No. No of course not. The outcome of this election is a good thing. Additionally, we shouldn't forget the fact that this victory, and every victory of a left coalition is a collective effort. Lula was not elected on his own, he and his Social Democratic PT party gained a victory upon the foundational support of a multi-party coalition which includes ML Communists and Centre-Left environmentalists. The current “pink wave” trend where we are witnessing South Americans both electing and re-asserting their own Socialist and left-leaning governments in an effort to elbow for more autonomy from the US, reflects a testing of the reaction time of US Hegemony while growing and multiplying fractures within the imperial core are increasingly evident around the globe. The election of Lula in Brazil IS a win, but we should make a conscious effort to understand what it is and when it is in order to best take advantage of these wins around the world to inform our organizing efforts at home.

In closing, so often when these highly sensationalized elections come to a close, there are all-or-nothing positive/negative expectations thrown to the front pages “HOPE RETURNS/FADES!” “SOCIALIST VICTORY/RUIN!”. The election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva DOES represent a possible progression toward a more fair and more just Socialist society in Brazil, but similar election outcomes within any Capitalist country can only live up to their promise if the pressure remains focused upon the end goal which is not met by an attempt at appeasement of the material interests of the owning-class, but the direct democratization of the material gains themselves. Let's try to be good to ourselves and true to our goals by not getting too caught up in the intangibles put forward by a flawed media, and by avoiding actively tailing Social Democratic political figures.