Subscribe to our weekly newsletters for free

Subscribe to an email

If you want to subscribe to World & New World Newsletter, please enter
your e-mail

Energy & Economics

The Bolsonarism could return to power

Curitiba, Paraná, Brasilien, Bolsonaro gadgets in Independent Day in Curitiba, 09.07.2022

Image Source : Shutterstock

by Valerio Arcary

First Published in: May.28,2024

Jun.17, 2024

Political loyalty to PT-led governments has garnered support among the poorest. However, the Brazilian center-left has lost its hegemony over its social base.

Can Bolsonaro return to power in 2026? Yes, he could. We must consider the existence of powerful objective and subjective factors to explain the resilience of the far right, even after the defeat of the semi-insurrection in January 2023. But, first of all, it is wise to recognize the international context of the phenomenon, in which the far right plays an instrumental role: (a) the turbulence in the system of states with the strengthening of China and the strategy of U.S. imperialism to preserve the supremacy of the Troika, for which a tougher protectionist orientation is useful; (b) the disputes caused by the emergence of the environmental crisis and the energy transition, which temporarily disadvantage those who decarbonize more quickly; (c) the shift of bourgeois factions towards the defense of authoritarian regimes that face popular protest and embrace a national-imperialist line; (d) the trend towards economic stagnation and the impoverishment and rightward shift of the middle classes; (e) the faltering crisis of the left, among others. But there are Brazilian peculiarities in the political fragmentation of the country. These are essentially five: (i) the hegemony among the military and the police; (ii) the gravitation of the vast majority of Pentecostal evangelicals towards the far right; (iii) the weight of the Bolsonarism in the most developed regions, the Southeast and South of the country, especially among the new middle-class property owners, or those with very high levels of education who hold executive positions in the private and public sectors; (iv) the leadership of the neo-fascist current within the far right; (v) the support base of the far right among the salaried middle classes with wages between three and five or even up to seven minimum wages. The first four peculiarities have been widely researched, but the last one less so. Studying it is strategic because it may be the only one possible to reverse in the context of a very unfavorable situation of still reactionary social power relations. There are objective factors that explain the distancing, division, or political separation between parts of the working class and the poorest, such as the inflation of private education and health plans, and the increase in income tax, which are threats to a model of consumption and living standard, and subjective factors, such as social resentment and moral-ideological rancor. Both are intertwined and may even be indivisible. But that was not the case when the final phase of the struggle against the dictatorship began, forty-five years ago. The PT was born, supported by metalworkers, public school teachers, oil workers, bankers, and other categories who, compared to the reality of the masses, had more education and better salaries. Lulism, or political loyalty to the experience of PT-led governments, allowed for support among the poorest. However, the left, although it maintains its positions, has lost hegemony over its original mass social base. This tragic reality, due to the fracture of the working class, requires that we analyze it from a historical perspective. The post-war period (1945-1981) of intense growth, during which GDP doubled every decade, and which favored absolute social mobility in Brazil, accompanying accelerated urbanization, seems to have irretrievably passed. Full employment and increased schooling, in a country where half of the active population was illiterate, were the two key factors in improving the lives of this layer of workers. But they no longer exert the same pressure as in the past. It is clear that in the last decade, Brazilian capitalism has lost momentum. It lost 7% of its GDP between 2015/17 and, after the Covid pandemic in 2020/21, it took three years to return to the 2019 levels. Despite all the anti-social counter-reforms - labor, social security - aimed at reducing production costs, the investment rate did not exceed 18% of GDP in 2023, despite the authorization of the Transitional Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) to breach the Public Spending Ceiling. Brazil, the largest industrial park, and consumer market for durable goods in the periphery, has become a nation of slow growth. The increase in schooling has ceased to be such a powerful driving factor. Improving life has become much more difficult. The Brazil of 2024 is a less poor country than in the 20th century, but not less unjust. Of course, there is still a lot of poverty: tens of millions or even more continue suffering from food insecurity, despite the ‘Bolsa Familia’, depending on the economic cycle. But there has been a reduction in extreme poverty without a qualitative reduction in social inequality. The functional distribution of income between capital and labor has experienced variations in the margin. The personal income distribution improved between 2003 and 2014, but it has increased again since 2015/16, following the institutional coup against Dilma Rousseff's government. Extreme poverty has decreased, but half of the economically active population earns no more than two minimum wages. A third of wage earners earn between three and five minimum wages. Inequality has remained almost intact because, among other reasons, the position of middle-income wage earners with higher levels of education has stagnated with a downward bias. Numerous studies confirm that the increase in average schooling is not related to employability, and IBGE surveys paradoxically confirm that unemployment is higher as schooling increases. Most of the millions of jobs created since the end of the pandemic have been for people earning up to two minimum wages, with very low educational requirements. To assess the greater or lesser social cohesion of a country, two mobility rates are considered: absolute and relative. The absolute rate compares the occupation of the parent and the child, or the first activity of each one with their last job. The relative mobility rate checks to what extent the obstacles to accessing jobs - or opportunities for study - that favor social advancement could or could not be overcome by those in a lower social position. In Brazil, both the absolute and relative mobility rates were positive until the 1980s, but the former was more intense than the latter. In other words, we experienced intense social mobility in the post-war period due to the pressure of urbanization and internal migration, from the Northeast to the Southeast, and from the South to the Midwest. But this is no longer the case. This historical stage ended in the 1990s when the flow from the agrarian world was exhausted. Since then, poverty has decreased, but middle-class workers have experienced a more hostile reality. What explains this process is that the social mobility trajectories of the last twenty years have benefited millions of people who lived in extreme poverty, but very few have ascended significantly. Many have improved their lives, but they have only ascended to the step immediately above to the one occupied by their parents. Relative social mobility has remained very low because the material incentives to increase schooling have been lower in the last forty years than they were for the generation that reached adulthood in the fifties or sixties. The rewards that families receive for keeping their children out of work for at least twelve years until they finish high school have decreased compared to the previous generation, despite the greater ease of access. A country may start from a situation of great social inequality, but if social mobility is intense, social inequality should decrease, increasing social cohesion, as happened in post-war Italy. Conversely, a country that had low social inequality compared to its neighbors occupying a similar position in the world may see its situation deteriorate if social mobility becomes regressive, as is evident in present-day France. In Brazil, contrary to what is commonly thought, most of the new jobs in the last ten years have not benefited the most educated sector of the population. Studying more has not reduced the risk of unemployment. In the forty-five years since 1979, average schooling has increased from three to over eight years. But two transformations have occurred that have had a lasting impact on the consciousness of the working youth. The first is that Brazilian capitalism is no longer a society of full employment, as it had been for half a century. The second is that, even with the sacrifices made by families to keep their children studying and delaying their entry into the labor market, employability has concentrated in activities that require little schooling and offer low wages. For the first time in history, children have lost hope of living better than their parents. Unemployment among those with higher education is proportionally higher than among those with lower education, and if the inequality of personal incomes has decreased in the last fifteen years, it is because the average salary of those with middle and higher education has been decreasing. The dizzying expansion of uberization is not surprising. The monthly employment surveys by IBGE in the São Paulo metropolitan region indicate a very slow evolution that, at best, only approximates the recovery of inflation. Nearly forty years after the end of the military dictatorship, the economic and social balance of the liberal democracy regime is discouraging. The reforms carried out by the regime, such as expanding access to public education, implementing the SUS (Unified Health System), the ‘Bolsa Familia’ for the extremely poor, among others, were progressive but insufficient to reduce social inequality. The hypothesis that a more educated population would gradually change the political reality of the country, driving a sustainable cycle of economic growth and income distribution, has not been confirmed. One form of gradualist illusion in the perspective of social justice within the limits of capitalism was the hope that a more educated population would gradually change the social reality of the country. This brings us to the limits of the coalition governments led by the PT, which bet on conciliation with the ruling class to regulate “wild" capitalism. Although there are long-term correlations between schooling and economic growth, no direct effects that are incontrovertible have been identified, even less so if we include the variable of reducing social inequality, as confirmed by South Korea What is incontrovertible is that the Brazilian bourgeoisie was united in 2016 to overthrow the government of Dilma Rousseff, despite the moderation of the reforms carried out. It should not surprise us that the ruling class had no qualms about going to the extreme of manipulating the impeachment, subverting the rules of the regime to take power for their direct representatives, such as Michel Temer. The challenge is to explain why the working class was not willing to fight to defend it. At the beginning of the 1990s, wages represented more than half of the national wealth, and in the last thirty years, they fell to just over 40% in 1999. Despite the recovery between 2004 and 2010, they still remain below the 50% level of 2014. This variable is significant for an assessment of the evolution of social inequality because Brazil in 2024 is a society that has already completed the historical transition from rural to urban (86% of the population lives in cities), and the majority of those under contract, 38 million with labor contracts and 13 million civil servants, receive salaries. Another ten million have an employer but no contract. It is true that there are still 25 million Brazilians who live off self-employment, but they proportionally fewer than in the past [ii]. In summary, the functional distribution of income between capital and labor has not improved. The bourgeoisie has no reason to complain about the liberal regime. Nevertheless, a fraction of the bourgeoisie, such as agroindustry and others, supports neo-fascism and its authoritarian strategy. The data indicating that social inequality has decreased among wage earners is convincing. But not because injustice has decreased, although misery has. This process has occurred because there have been two opposing trends in the labor market. One is relatively new, and the other is older. The first was the rise in wage floors for less skilled and less organized sectors. The minimum wage has been increasing above devaluation slowly but steadily since 1994 with the introduction of the real, accelerating during the years of the Lula and Dilma Rousseff governments. This is a new phenomenon, as the opposite had occurred in the previous fifteen years. The minimum wage is a key economic variable because it is the floor for INSS pensions, which is why the bourgeoisie demands it to be delinked. The economic recovery favored by the global cycle of increased demand for commodities allowed unemployment to fall from the second half of 2005, culminating in 2014 in a situation of almost full employment. The widespread distribution of the ‘Bolsa Familia’ also appears to have exerted pressure on the remuneration of manual labor, especially in less industrialized regions. The second trend was the continued decline in the remuneration of jobs that require middle and higher education, a process that had been occurring since the 1980s. In conclusion, the available data suggest that increasing schooling is no longer a significant factor in social upward mobility, as it was in the past. The political loyalty of the popular masses to Lulism is an expression of the first phenomenon. The lives of the poorest improved during the years of PT governments. The division among wage earners earning more than two minimum wages expresses a social resentment that has been manipulated by Bolsonarism. If the left does not regain confidence in this sector of the workforce, the danger for 2026 is significant.

Jacobinlat The article was translated and licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 ES (Atribución-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 3.0 España).

First published in :

La Haine / Spain


Valerio Arcary

Historian, activist of PSOL (Resistance), and author of O Martelo da História. Ensaios sobre a urgência da revolução contemporânea (Sundermann, 2016) 

Thanks for Reading the Journal

Unlock articles by signing up or logging in.

Become a member for unrestricted reading!