North America

Valerio Arcary: Trump out, Bolsonaro next? Insights from the U.S. elections

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 in Brazil. This commentary was first written on November 5 and 6.


November 5. The Brazilian left has conducted a passionate discussion in recent days regarding what each of us would do if we were in the United States. Who would we vote for? This is not a simple dilemma. The central question for understanding the exceptional intensity of the 2020 electoral dispute in the American elections is whether Trump’s leadership in the Republican Party indicates that a fraction of the imperialist bourgeoisie has come to the conclusion that a Bonapartist turn is needed in the liberal-democratic regime.

It seems incontrovertible that Trump’s strategy, since the electoral victory in 2016, has been to defend a repositioning of the U.S. in order to ensure its supremacy in the international state system in the face of the strengthening of China.

But it also seems incontrovertible that this turn in foreign policy has been associated with an expansion of the role of the presidency in domestic politics, a hardening of the regime, a radicalization of the petty bourgeoisie, and public demonstrations by neo-fascist groups. Threats to democratic freedoms have changed along with the mobilization of the repressive apparatus, especially after the mass Black Lives Matter mobilizations.

If the Bonapartist danger associated with Trump is real, then the best electoral tactic for the Marxist left would be to vote for Biden, even though he is an imperialist party’s candidate. However, if this danger is not real, but merely demagogic rhetoric, the vote would be a mistake.

[Read next, Michael Löwy: there is no greatness in Stalinism, a reply to Slavoj Žižek.]

In the Marxist tradition, candidates and campaigns are judged by their class character. The criteria for assessing which class interests a party advocates are varied. But making this characterization is essential. Of course, parties and leaders may contradict the opinions of the class or fraction of class they represent because it is a political struggle. When this happens, and it is not that exceptional, an internal dispute takes on more intense forms.

But parties, in terms of their social character, are not up for grabs. Bourgeois parties are still bourgeois parties, even when they are convulsed, politically, by internal struggle. Their function is to defend the capitalist system. Socialists advocate the necessity of independent political organizations of workers. Yet advancing the need for an instrument of independent struggle is a strategy, while in the field of electoral tactics there is room for many mediations.

The two parties of the American ruling class are bourgeois. But we must not be indifferent to the differences between them if what is in dispute is something as serious as a threat to democratic freedoms. The socialist left must defend the higher form of liberal-democratic regime against the lower authoritarian Bonapartist form.

This problem was posed in Brazil, unavoidably, during the military dictatorship between 1965 and 1979 because, while there were elections, only two parties were permitted to run candidates. Thus, the question was: should the left campaign in and call for votes for the mildly oppositional (yet officially recognized) Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), or abstain and advocate a null or blank protest vote? Looking back, those who argued that it was right to campaign against the candidacies of the conservative, pro-military Arena party were right. And those who defended the use of the MDB ballot for the presentation of workers’ and socialist candidacies were also right.

It was with this understanding in mind that I participated in the campaign that managed to elect the president of the Santo André metal workers’ union, Benedito Marcílio, as a federal deputy in 1978, while Aurélio Peres, a metal worker from São Paulo, was elected by the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdB). I think we did the right thing. For this reason, it is understandable how socialist campaigns are using the Democratic Party label as they seek to organize themselves in the Democratic Socialists of America in order to accumulate forces and advance towards the construction of an independent working-class party.

[Read next, Donna Murch: Black Lives Matter won the ideological war.]

Reasoning that concludes that all governments at the service of capital are equal (and disregards changes in the political regime) is misleading. It is too hasty, superficial, and even frivolous. In a very high degree of abstraction, it is, of course, correct. But we must be more rigorous. The analysis must be concrete. Churchill and Hitler, Roosevelt and Mussolini were all at the service of capitalism, but defended very different regimes of domination. And the difference between regimes is not limited to the opposition between fascist dictatorships and electoral democracies. Concrete intermediary forms are important, as we can see today in India, the Philippines, and Hungary.

World War II sounded the alert. It was not just a struggle to achieve supremacy in the world market. It was a relentless fight between imperialist powers over two political regimes. On the one hand, the most advanced regime yet conquered by civilization (with the exception of the regime of the October Revolution), that is, the bourgeois republican democratic regime. On the other hand, the most degenerative, the most aberrant and regressive, Nazi-fascism. After all, its political project went far beyond the crushing of the socialist revolution in Germany – in addition to the destruction of workers’ organizations, the fascist Third Reich demanded the enslavement of entire peoples, such as Slavs, and the genocide of others, such as Jews and Gypsies, in addition to glorifying the most repulsive homophobia, all transformed into the state’s repressive and official policy.

There are many different types of regimes, even liberal-democratic regimes, with greater or lesser degrees of freedom and the relations between state institutions can take different forms. Different degrees of authoritarianism may prevail. In other words, the elements of Bonapartism may be more or less potent, the armor of power can be stronger or weaker.

The Bonapartist danger posed by Trump does not appear to be a bluff. It has to be defeated.


November 6. What has happened in the past few days in the United States is of the utmost seriousness. 

While looking at the voting patterns, I focused on Trump’s tactic of sabotaging the polls. He announced it months ago, and did so with impunity. He was not confronted the way it ought to have been, which reveals how the leadership of the Democratic Party is unable to fight in the face of the Bonapartist, authoritarian, and extremely dangerous threats of the extreme right.

However, there were no mass mobilizations across America in support of Trump’s rhetoric claiming electoral fraud. The signal was given, but the spark didn’t catch fire. And even though Trump will insist for some time on the tactic of questioning the fairness of the elections through legal remedies, his coup maneuver was defeated.

[Read next, To Chi-kuen and Promise Li: “We just had the heart to fight the boss,” a Hong Kong leftist’s story.]

Yet I do not think that it is an exaggeration to qualify his attempt to improve upon his results last Wednesday and Thursday by the most underhanded means as the operations of a coup. The aim was to set the reactionary masses afire. Yes, he was a wannabe coup maker, and it is good to learn the lessons. In the end, it was derailed by several initiatives, and we will not know the full story, if we will ever know, for some time with respect to what took place off stage inside the American state’s institutions during those forty-eight hours of maximum tension.

In the first place, the divisions within the Republican Party were not secondary considerations. Nor was it irrelevant that the three main open TV channels interrupted Trump’s babbling speech. And it is no less important that Fox News disassociated itself from the Trump campaign, Facebook announced it was canceling millions of fake accounts (more than five hundred million accounts were canceled this year), and Twitter suspended some of Trump’s tweets. And lest we forget, Bannon called for the beheading of Anthony Fauci.

Either way, Trump’s defeat in the big cities was overwhelming. It was the expression of a balance of power altered by Black Lives Matter.

But he lost by only a little, a very little.

Learning these lessons will be decisive for our fight against Bolsonaro.

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

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