Brazil’s presidential elections amidst the Ukrainian War
One of the effects in Brazil of Russia’s military operation against the Kiev Government in the Ukraine is a sudden subsiding of attempts to represent this fall’s presidential elections as a face-off between extremes. Claiming Lula vs. Bolsonaro embodies any such tension has always been richer in farce than in tragedy. Neither is Lula da Silva a left-wing “populist”, nor is Bolsonaro particularly fascist.`
Lula now stands not just for the “third way”, but the fourth, the fifth and the n-th. Should he be elected, his main challenge will be to set Brazil on a course of reindustrialization. Likewise, Bolsonaro is neither extreme, alt nor uber right. Should he be re-elected, short-term gains through privatizations, disempowerment of workers and professionals, the destruction of Brazil’s higher education system and environment as well as ruthless loyalty to his authority will stretch into a bleak future.
While his family members may turn out not to have been directly involved in the assassination of Rio de Janeiro state Representative Marielle Franco, they are allegedly behind the punishment of those who broke ranks and took care of business without following orders to desist. Her assassins put a dent in the newly elected government’s reputation and legitimacy – an unforgivable act within the behavior of most kleptocratic principles of governance.
Investigators have mainly followed the lead of high-level conspiracy. However, one cannot exclude her assassination resulted from a personal vendetta. As the hitmen were linked to Bolsonaro’s circle, they jeopardized both the president and his three son’s political ambitions.
Bolsonaro may stand for military ultra-conservatism on an ideological level, but his heart strives for the caste-like privileges his generals reap. Unlike in the U.S., Brazil’s military only defends the interests of latifundiários, whose ranks are filled by their four stars. Its allegiance to the American neoconservatives is steeped in hindering the national economy from developing.
Bolsonaro’s fascist posturing has next to nothing to do with the working-class based movements that bolstered either the Nazis, Mussolini’s Blackshirts or more recently Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front. The transformed party now led by the latter’s daughter Marine lies much closer in posture and policy to Bolsonaro than Hitler.
Replete with vacuous cynics alike, their only objective is to preserve caste privileges. Their ancestors once ruled French Algeria under the fist of apartheid, or the agricultural economy of imperial Brazil built on the broken backs of enslaved West-Africans.
By contrast, the orders Bolsonaro’s finance minister follows have emerged from what, John Mearsheimer dubs in The Great Delusion, “liberal hegemony”. As the story of international affairs since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991, the notion of liberal hegemony is not far off from what Toni Negri and Michael Hardt had already theorized as “Empire”.
Much broader than NATO, liberal hegemony names the rules-based international economic order, whereby the privilege of being a geostrategic ally is to have one’s nation’s assets stripped and being forced to back off from well-structured industrialization. Liberal hegemony names the twenty-first century unipolar world order.
Austrian-school economists may swear free markets are determined by the utility commodities bring to consumers, their knowledge falls tragically short of accounting for the extractive and punitive practices exerted against market economies by liberal hegemony when they become too successful. England, Japan, Canada and, more recently, Brazil, can vouch for what market success costs.
As for Socialist and Marxist economists, they might uphold the duties of government to preserve and protect the will and wellbeing of the commons. Yet as they struggle to include workers’ rights into an international legal framework, they often lose sight of how nationalism can stave off liberal hegemonic advances. Socialists seldom perceive how molding nationalism through public trust is what most often secures autonomous industrialization at the level of the nation-state.
As Brazil strives to regain its industrial strides, the alt-right turns out not to be its main enemy. The faction of aggression is the same as it ever was: Canadian and American neo-conservatives. Their members are ideologues and bureaucrats, revolving through the doors of think tanks like the Rand Corporation, the belated Project for the New American Century and the Open Society Foundation, and to a different extent, Americans for Prosperity. The Atlantic magazine is their preferred tabloid. Their backers stem from big oil and the logistic surveillance and data mining sectors. While they might shed a tear for climate, they throw billions against measures for change.
For the neocon mind, escalating the war in Ukraine is the most intense fix for its obsessive Russophobia. The profits of the corporations for which they lobby have no bounds. Significantly enough, the IMF – the asset stripping financial arm of liberal hegemony – refuses to postpone Ukraine’s debt repayments when obviously a third of the country’s workforce is deprived of the means to work.
The contradictions do not stop there either: the US keeps buying gas from Russia while forcing the E.U. to stop. For its appreciation of such contradictions, the neocon mind has often been decried as “academic”. Ivy-league applied social scientists for the most part, they harbor a mathematician’s dream of proving the existence of large cardinals.
Who leads the pack of supercomputing such multiple infinite sets is still the oldest of the Russophobes, George Soros. Today, one of his agents controls the Canadian government at the second-to-highest rank, ensuring the bombs Canada sends to Ukrainian neo-Nazis are coated in maple syrup.
To diminish representations of Bolsonaro as either far or alt-right is not to suggest the latter wields no power in Brazil. In 2018, it was coercive enough to launch threats against the opposition similar to what has been part of the far-right’s playbook in Europe, whether with Le Pen’s racist National Front or Orban’s so-called illiberalism.
But wars do strange things to ideology. Le Pen and Orban’s populism now stand as the bully’s expression of European autonomy against North-American neoconservative attempts at getting Germany and France to submit further to its “rules”-based vision of international order and trade.
This raises the question about what really maintains the American single two-party system in a viable musical-chair format: is it the vast white supremacist far-right popular movements of the disenfranchised? Or, is the neocons, uniting both the Republicans and Democrats for a more unipolar world? If your preferred option is for the second, then you’ve already given up hope for American democracy.
Before natural gas prices begin to scream across the sky or the Euro plummet faster than a Russian Sarmat missile, the future cohesion of the E.U. is what they now seek to undermine. Fending off the threat they pose requires for Germany and France to immediately enter into secret negotiations with Russian Foreign Secretary Sergueï Lavrov in order to force Zelensky to capitulate – and call it a gesture of peace while they are at it.
French economist Thomas Piketty has brought to the foreground how the rise of wealth concentration threatens democratic social governance. Meanwhile, his associates, Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez have decried the false flag of capital flight as to why profits, capital and inheritance should not be heavily taxed. Tax havens fester from tax avoidance even more than evasion.
The Wall Street corporations running liberal hegemony reproduce their wealth offshore as part of, and not due to, national tax laws. Notwithstanding the insight these French economists bring to understanding what ties together the oligarchs of Brazil and Russia to those of the Ukraine, U.S. and Canada, we still need Michael Hudson’s deeper knowledge to see the structure at work.
In Super Imperialism, he draws up the type of sovereignty required to ensure that a country’s industrialization produces wealth aimed primarily at recycling its own economy by which to lift its entire population to well-being.
With its upcoming presidential elections, Brazil now stands at a crossroads. Once celebrated for its ability at keeping economic gains insular, the apostles of liberal hegemony made sure its population, now ebbing at roughly 215 million, would not see their wealth rise further. In applying a typical scenario of liberal hegemony’s austerity measures, as soon as Dilma Rousseff was removed from the presidency in 2016, the first law passed by the impostor and traitor who succeeded her capped public spending for twenty years.
A devastating slew of deindustrialization and asset stripping would soon follow: two labor reforms, tens of billions of dollars slashed from scientific research and higher education, an accelerated string of bargain basement sell-offs of public utilities, airports, shipbuilding and the country’s offshore oil reserves.
At one point, Brazil had even been deprived of its burgeoning aviation industry, which was reverted due only to Boeing’s momentary financial meltdown. Sped up has been the unscrupulous selloff of subterranean land under First Nations territories in the Amazon Forest in addition to the forest itself, required to increase cattle and beef yields.
As the mixed-owned national oil corporation Petrobras was broken up into subsidiaries, its record breaking profits continued, though they now benefited only those living beyond the national borders. Meanwhile, Brazilian television networks, concentrated by private interest, criminalized Presidents Lula, Dilma and the Workers Party until they risked entirely discrediting the judiciary, already up to its knees in dirt for itself warranting the 2016 coup.
The destruction of national assets brings us to the role “color revolutions” play in the war on national autonomy waged by liberal hegemony. Capitalist deindustrialization and financialization of Brazil’s public wealth was already at work by the time of the massive 2015 yellow-green street protests. The upshot is that insisting on associating the 2013 Brazilian “Spring” (autumn in the southern hemisphere) with the popular Occupy and Springtime revolts of the time spins a misguided political narrative. In fact, the events of the past decade in Brazil bear a striking resemblance to those in Ukraine.
The steps leading up to the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine cannot be considered merely, let alone especially, through a progressive’s lens. Seconding geostrategic realism in the name of inalienable rights of autonomy and self-determination works hand-in-hand to escalate the war – and supports the objectives of liberal hegemony.
Do not get me wrong: no one can be left indifferent by the suffering millions of Ukrainians have had to endure. While we do not know yet how many civilians have been killed or injured, there can be little doubt that a new way of legally defining a civilian is in order, lest we include the Western NATO advisors and private contractors currently hauled up in the Azovstal iron and steel works industrial complex.
And this is the point. As of 2015, NATO was already integrating Ukraine. We mourn the dead and wounded, including the thousands of neo-Nazi Azov battalion soldiers. However, there are sufficient grounds to consider they are victims of NATO and the neocons’ plan to draw Russia into a war.
What does this have to do with Brazil? The combination of each country’s color revolutions is revealing. Hardly revolutionary in structure, these popular uprisings rather quickly yield to armed factions and kleptocrats alike. The initial protest movements of the Arab springs all ended up overthrowing governments, whether they were autocratic or not. In Ukraine, the Maidan insurrection morphed into a coup d’état. In Brazil, while Dilma Rousseff’s government withstood the 2013 movement, managing even to get re-elected in 2014, the president was unable to govern until she was ousted in a lawfare orchestrated coup in 2016.
When the USSR was dismantled, Ukraine was its wealthiest and most productive republic. President Mikhail Gorbachev no longer had the opportunity to negotiate the borders of what would become the new Ukraine. As it had never existed before as an independent state, few could object to the configuration it had acquired during the Soviet era.
By the time Boris Yeltsin took power, he showed no interest in the question of Ukraine’s borders. The hour was for economic shock therapy – and getting superrich doing so. As Yeltsin and the Western financial powers filled the pockets of those who would become the oligarchs, the Ukrainian multi-ethnic nation was stripped of much more than its nuclear warheads.
Throughout the 1990s, the country was plunged into a fierce process of deindustrialization, the likes of which drove over ten million of its residents abroad, prior to any single shot being fired. By the turn of the century, Ukraine was considered by Western investment banks as one of the most corrupt of the former Soviet republics, and headed toward economic collapse.
When the 2004 color revolution broke out, the population could barely figure out what had hit it. Massive street protests brought victory to the pro-Western banker Viktor Yuschenko in a hotly contested second run-off election forced by the U.S. and Canada against the so-called pro-Russian Victor Yanukovych.
Irony would have it that, in the following election in 2009, the candidate impeded by the color revolution would be swept to power. Still, Yuschenko had time to deepen the financialization of the economy, as well as its crisis. Before he ceded power to Yanukovych, Yuschenko did something more: he honored Ukraine’s Nazi legacy by crowning Stepan Bandera a national hero.
Meanwhile in Brazil, the Days of June 2013, as they are commonly referred to, saw massive demonstrations sparked by grassroots protests in Porto Alegre against a hike in public transport fees. In São Paulo, similar demonstrations got bloody. Soon demonstrators would snub the threat of police violence, despite growing awareness the movement had been infiltrated and deviated by similarly nostalgic templates of dictatorial torture.
In the capital city of Brasilia, demonstrators attempted to invade the Presidential Palace and Foreign Ministry. Despite how many claims and complaints were voiced in those days, the common ground for protest was for greater redistribution of national wealth and upgrading public services to G7 standards. Brazil’s nominal GDP was ranked 7th in the world with one of the fastest growth rates recorded. Yet its 0,1% still concentrated more wealth than any other country, including the Gulf States.
Whenever the shift actually occurred, the Brazilian “spring” tilted toward condemning corruption. This recurrent rallying cry was again fed to a hungry population too angered to perceive the manipulation. Meanwhile in Kiev, the 2014 Maidan insurrection had also begun as an outcry against political corruption.
To add to the fire, Yanukovych’s democratically-elected government then declared a moratorium on negotiations to join the E.U. Despite his aim to get the best deal for his country, Yanukovych was suddenly threatened by organized neo-Nazi groups dapperly appearing in Maidan to take hold of a popular uprising that had been peaceful.
A number of French scholars enjoy stressing how Maidan was a formative experience for the Ukrainian “nation”. They seem to forget that at best Ukraine is a multi-ethnic state. These scholars go on to diminish the importance of neo-Nazi groups in parliament, seemingly unaware that even in functional democracies effective power stems from special interest groups and lobbies.
As we know from Brazil, when a handful of Nazis assume commanding ranks in the military, the entire corps starts to wear the black and red. Such scholars are often the first to decry how national autonomy is disregarded by the realist school in international relations.
When it comes to perceiving the suffering of the people of the Donbas, shelled regularly since 2015 by Ukrainian neo-Nazi battalions, despite recognition of their own autonomy by the Minsk Accords, their analysis shrinks to silence. The double standards at play amongst the fanatically Russophobic defenders of Ukraine cleanses its map of the asperities of autonomy, when intentionally omitting that of others.
In Brazil, the generals threw their weight into ensuring their chosen one, Jair Bolsonaro, would win the elections democratically. Sprouting up amidst the Yellow and Green color revolution was a network of neo-Nazi sympathizers meeting and organizing in gun clubs spread across the southern States, where real Nazis have left offspring.
Connections to Ukrainian groups like the Right Sector and Svoboda have been long standing in this region. Some key Bolsonarist Nazifeminists had also received post-2013 training in Ukraine from Femen, a group with loose ties to Pussy Riot and now clearly the women’s league of the Azov movement.
Needless to say, Bolsonaro has screwed everything up since then. The post-2018 coup plans were almost perfect. The advance of liberal hegemony in South America has made China’s Belt and Road initiative strap a starving body and spin in a whirlpool. A revolution is taking place in Chile, but its own future depends on how the new government will fend off the predators from extracting lithium reserves in the Atacama desert (40 percent of planetary reserves). Argentina faces a similar plight, coincidentally being the only regional entry into Belt and Road, although only through its southernmost tip.
Bolsonaro’s abstention from condemning Russia in the U.N. has less to do with autonomy and everything with Trump and undermining Biden. Case in point: Bolsonaro has never been called to allegiance. The recent visit of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, notwithstanding, Bolsonaro has not broken ranks at all.
This brings us back to reinforce how Brazil’s current government has forsaken its alt-right credentials for complete subservience to liberal hegemony. The national currency, the Real, would collapse were the government even to dream of unpegging it from the dollar.
Bolsonaro jettisoned Brazil’s participation in the BRICS years ago. Now, it is out as observer state from the G7, and how the G20 treats it is anyone’s guess. What lies behind his government’s U.N. abstention is his planned disruption of the presidential elections. If it fails, Putin can always be blamed.
At stake in these elections, then, is the task to make Brazil’s economy industrially productive again. Should Lula da Silva be elected and actually form a government, liberal hegemony may be even more determined to crush him than it did in times when liberalism proclaimed it had brought History to an end. Until then, the time calls for realism.
Norman Madarasz, Ph.D., is professor of political philosophy and economic history at the Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (Porto Alegre).