As of June 8, Brazil is reporting 691,758 confirmed coronavirus cases and 36,455 Covid-19 deaths, widely-understood to significantly undercount the pandemic’s real toll. Inspired by the anti-racist uprising in the United States, and under threat from neofascist supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, sections of Brazil’s left and social movements called for street demonstrations across the country on Sunday, June 7 to break the far right’s hold on the streets. Although modest, numbering in the low thousands depending on the location, the rallies marked a willingness by thousands of young people to fight back.
Valerio Arcary is the author of several books including O Martelo de História (History’s Hammer) and a leader in the Resistência current of the Party for Socialism and Freedom. Here, he assesses the meaning of Sunday’s protests and reviews a debate among leftists with respect to how to confront Bolsonaro. Published by Esquerda Online and translated by No Borders News.
Three notes on the first Sunday in June
1 – Sunday’s protests were an unequivocal victory in the streets. They strengthened the fight against Bolsonaro. Those who persisted in their calls to organize rallies on this first Sunday in June were right. We should remember that. And although this was a tactical question, it was very controversial and delicate due to the high risk of contagion. The left was divided. The Party for Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) was in favor, while the Workers Party (PT) was divided publicly, and the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdB) did not support the initiative. Other organizations such as the Unified Socialist Workers Party (PSTU), the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), and Popular Unity (UP) were present. However, many people belonging to organizations that did not endorse decided to attend as individuals.
A mature attitude prevailed amongst the protesters, on guard against the danger of provocations. Honest balance sheets should be based on what actually happened. And not what everyone thought might happen before the events. These were demonstrations of the advanced guard, generally speaking, mobilizing a few thousand young activists.
What criteria should we use to judge whether the protests were positive and contributed to strengthening our forces in the great struggle to overthrow the Bolsonaro government? I suggest four: (a) they weakened Bolsonaro by demonstrating that neofascists do not have a monopoly on the streets; (b) they united the anti-fascist struggle with the anti-racist struggle, guaranteeing the presence and visibility of the black movement’s banners at a time when a wave of antiracist struggle is rising internationally; (c) they raised the morale of those who participated, a critical point because the willingness to fight will be one of the decisive factors in what is to come; (c) they raised the spirits of those who supported the protests, but did not personally attend, because they helped raise the expectation that it is possible to win.
Defeating Bolsonaro will be very difficult, but it is possible. A full understanding that protests require discipline because of the pandemic is incomplete, but health concerns were not ignored. The rallies confirmed that a new young generation wanted to, and did, take to the streets, either with the organized left or without it. So it is better the left goes with them. The protests also illustrated that we have to be careful not to think that the left has more authority than it has, a very common sentiment. In some capitals and cities like Belém and São Carlos, repression prevented the rallies from taking place, signaling the extent to which democratic freedoms are already being destroyed.
2 – The rallies strengthened the consensus that Fora Bolsonaro (Bolsonaro Out) should be the baseline demand for building broad, united action. Nothing more, but also, nothing less than that will do. It will not be possible to mobilize behind an ambiguous, dubious, imprecise, abstract, indefinite slogan, such as the “defense of democracy,” which the bourgeois opposition proposes in their manifestos. These rallies took the initiative out of the hands of the liberals and placed it with the left. This was an important symbolic development and it is not irrelevant because it is important to fight for the leadership of the opposition.
3 – The protests confirmed that the struggle against Bolsonaro’s threat of a “self-coup” (for instance, if he tries to dismiss Congress with the help of the military) will be powerful. The “biding our time” position advocated by some left-wing forces designed not to provoke Bolsonaro, and to wait as long as necessary in preparing to defeat Bolsonaro in the elections in 2022, proved to be wrong. The protests also revealed that a permanent offensive (advocated by other left-wing forces) is wrong. The point was made explicit when some groups decided to break off and go to São Paulo’s main drag, Avenida Paulista, by themselves. Lastly, the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) and its leader Guilherme Boulos played a key role, in fact, a giant role in the mobilizations.