The Preemptive Counterrevolution and the Rise of the Far Right in Brazil


Finally, the scum of bourgeois society forms the holy phalanx of order and the hero Crapulinski installs himself in the Tuileries as the “saviour of society.

—Karl Marx

Ricardo Antunes

n 1964, after a period of intense capitalist development that significantly expanded the process of industrialisation, Brazil suffered a lasting political trauma. Politically unable to ensure their interests within the demarcations of bourgeois democracy, the ruling class turned to manu militari. A military coup was set and the dictatorship lasted until 1985.

In 1989, the first direct presidential election took place since the end of the dictatorship. At the beginning of the 1990s, neoliberalism effectively began to be introduced in Brazil with the electoral victory of Collor de Mello (1990–92), a sort of unqualified civilian semi-bonaparte. Its main consequences—which, it should be noted, occur in all countries in which this nefarious pragmatic ideology is installed—were: the increased hegemony of financial capital, the rise in profits and gains for capital, the significant expansion of privatisation of state-owned companies, and the near total dismantling of workers’ rights and regulations. All of this resulted in a significant increase in the concentration of wealth in the country, especially during the presidency of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994–2002), since Collor was impeached in 1992.

In the 1990s, Brazil lived through a process I have called neoliberal desertification. Its state-owned productive sectors were heavily privatised, workers’ rights legislation was gradually deregulated, and the financial sector was monopolised, enormously expanding the hegemony of Cardoso’s government in the steering of economic policies. Not only was anticapitalist opposition gradually deconstructed, but so was reformism (which had emerged especially during João Goulart’s government between 1961 and 1964), which had been defending agricultural, urban, and tax reforms that were eliminated, little by little, from the Brazilian political scene. In this way, neoliberalism was consolidated in Cardoso’s two terms.

In 2002, all signs pointed toward Brazil changing its path. But when the Workers’ Party (PT) won the presidency in 2002, electing its main metalworker-union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (“Lula”), it was no longer the party it had once been. Transformism, a concept richly developed by Antonio Gramsci in The Prison Notebooks, had already hit what had been the strongest feature of the party: its popular and working-class social origins This complex mutation was the founding cause of the policies developed by the PT during the governments of Lula (2003–11) and Dilma Rousseff, known simply as Dilma (2011–16). But at their root, their actions were characterised much more by continuation, rather than rupture, with neoliberalism.

Almost thirty years later, Jair Bolsonaro took on the role of supposed underdog and, in the face of the collapse of the other center and right-wing bourgeois candidates, became the only one capable of countering the risk of the “PT and the reds’ victory. His bid for the presidency found its ideal moment in the international scenery: Trump in the United States, Brexit in the United Kingdom, neo-Nazism in Germany, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and Matteo Salvini, the all-powerful neofascist minister, in Italy. The list of aberrations perpetuated by the right around the world is extensive. We are then entering a new cycle of counterrevolution that refuses any form of conciliation. As a metaphor, it can be said that platform capitalism, the capitalism of the digital, information, and financial era, has some similarities with early forms of capitalism. There seems to be something in common between the capitalism of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, and the capitalism of the twenty-first century.

Will the left be capable of radically altering the political course it is currently on, which is mostly relegated to institutions and elections? If, throughout the twentieth century, the epicentre of the left’s actions was institutional and parliamentary action, the biggest challenge in this period will be found elsewhere, somewhere different from that which has dominated and exhausted the left until now. It is imperative to reforge the organic ties between the labor and social movements, with their mosaic of multiple tools and without previous hierarchical structures, taking as a starting point the concrete actions of the working class. If we are on the side of reason and revolution,an indispensable beginning is to ascertain, in a Lukácsian way, what are the vital questions of our time if we want to walk together, in solidarity, toward a new, emancipated way of life.


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