Guilherme Boulos: How to stop the rise of fascism in Brazil

As of June 5, Brazil is reporting 614,941 confirmed coronavirus cases and 34,021 Covid-19 deaths, overtaking Italy for third place in total official deaths behind only the U.K. and the U.S. However, deaths in Brazil are significantly undercounted and the rate is rising faster than anywhere in the world, making Brazil the pandemic’s global epicenter, while the rest of Latin America is catching up fast, including a terrifying spike in Mexico which is now reporting 105,680 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 12,545 Covid-19 deaths — almost certainly undercounted as well.

In Brazil, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has fed the virus with systematic attacks on social distancing as he attempts to rally his neo-fascist base to save his government. Anti-fascists, despite the danger posed by the pandemic, have decided they cannot cede the streets to Bolsonaro’s supporters giving rise to a debate among the about whether or not mobilizing makes sense. Inspired by Minneapolis and the uprising in the United States, the tide seems to be moving in favor of protests, but important voices still advise caution. Here, vice-presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) and a leader in the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), Guilherme Boulos, warns that Luiz Eduardo Soares, an important and well-respected left-wing intellectual, is miscalculating the danger of letting the fascists own the streets. Boulos’ essay was originally posted on social media and subsequently published by Esquerda Online. Translated by No Borders News.


I have a lot of respect for Luiz Eduardo Soares, a first-rate intellectual and an extraordinary human figure. Like him, I am very concerned about the rise of Bolsonarist fascism and do not consider democratic freedoms to be formalities. They were conquered with the blood and struggle of an entire generation of Brazilians. But I disagree with him with respect to Sunday’s demonstrations. What we saw last week, protests organized soccer fans, was a critical step in resisting fascism, that is, showing that they do not own the streets.

[Read next, Ana Caravalhaes: Lessons from “The Battle of the Paulistas”.]

It is not enough to be a majority in society. It is not enough to sign joint manifestos, which I do believe to be important, in fact, I signed them all. But fascist hegemony, even if it remains a minority of the population, asserts itself in the streets. So it was with the Black Shirts of Mussolini and Hitler’s militias.

It could have been like that with the Plínio Salgado’s fascist Brazilian Integralist Action in the 1930s if the Communists had not chased them off the streets.

If we normalize far-right people defending AI-5 (a decree used by the military dictatorship to torture and repress) while attacking their opponents, journalists, and nurses in the public square, very soon we will not be able to protest publicly.

[Read next, Karine Afonseca: Fight like a nurse, facing off with Bolsonaristas in Brasilia.]

I know the issue is not a simple one. After all, we are in the middle of a pandemic. But in the conversations between the organizers of the demonstration next Sunday, June 7, at least in São Paulo, there will be an enormous effort to maintain social distancing and health precautions.

The People Without Fear coalition (PSM) have organized a street medic team for this with hundreds of volunteers. The Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) will be distributing 4,000 masks on Avenida Paulista (São Paulo’s main drag), made by the Movement’s seamstress cooperatives. The the event’s orientation will be a peaceful demonstration and it will work to prevent infiltrators.

Of course, there is always a risk. We must do everything to minimize it. But, let’s face it, the other side doesn’t need the pretext of us taking to the streets to harden their forces. And, if we stand still, we there are no guarantees. They have always produced their own pretexts.

Remember Riocentro in 1981, when hardline army officers who opposed democratization and the end of the dictatorship were going to explode bombs at the Labor Day festival in order to blame the left? They only failed because of incompetence.

Or the plan to blow up the São Cristovão gas storage tanks in 1968 and pin the blame on the Communists? This was only avoided because an Air Force officer exposed the plot. It is the old tactic that the Nazis pioneered with the Reischtag fire.

Bolsonaro is advancing towards an authoritarian escalation. I know the risks, but I don’t think that leaving the streets to them we can prevent his march. So MTST and People Without Fear will be on the streets on Sunday. And I will be there as well.

[For international news and analysis from working-class and socialist points of view, read No Borders News.]

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