Brazil: competing protests on 7 September – where next in the fight against Bolsonaro?

On 7 September, competing demonstrations were held in Brazil, both for and against the Bolsonaro government. We publish two reports from our Brazilian comrades about these protests and what they indicate about the political situation in the country.

On the one hand, Bolsonaro’s strength has diminished, and he lacks the confidence of the main part of the bourgeoisie. However, he retains the loyal support of his hardcore base. On the other hand, the diminished scale of the Fora Bolsonaro protests evidence a crisis of reformism, with the left leaders directing all their energies towards the 2022 elections rather than leading the workers in a concerted fight to immediately topple the regime.

Only the workers and youth, united in struggle, can bring Bolsonaro down and begin the task of building a socialist alternative that will meaningfully improve their lives. Bolsonaro Out!

Bolsonaro and 7 September protests

Michel Goulart da Silva 09/08/2021

Originally published in Portuguese |

On Tuesday 7 September 2021, a series of demonstrations called by Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters took place in several cities across the country. Although significant and clearly benefiting from state support, the demonstrations were smaller than those seen five years ago in support of Rosseff Dilma's impeachment. This is indicative of the shrinking of Bolsonaro’s political base that led him to the presidency in 2018. What at first glance may seem like a demonstration of strength is actually a desperate attempt to muster support, at a time when Bolsonaro and his government are finding themselves increasingly isolated, destined to ruin and imprisonment after the end of their term. However, the demonstrations showed that Bolsonaro still maintains a loyal support base for his policies, despite the visible decrease.

These demonstrations had multiple objectives. The first was to divert the attention of the population away from real problems, in particular the increase in famine, widespread misery throughout the country, high unemployment rates and the persistence of the pandemic due to the government’s disastrous mismanagement, all of which serves to thicken the smokescreen that we denounced in our previous editorial. But this political performance also aims to divert attention from the judicial investigation of the Bolsonaro family currently taking place. The protests called by the left failed to oppose those in support of Bolsonaro, due to the treacherous role of the leadership, which was unable to mobilise against the pro-government forces despite the deep dissatisfaction felt by the overwhelming majority of the population.

It was also an attempt to manufacture a political cohesion from the social base that still maintains support for Bolsonaro. Despite agitation on social media, Bolsonaro still needs to organise his supporters around a political programme and a goal. The demonstrations served to identify a common enemy, which, in this case, was the ministers of the Supreme Court, particularly Luís Roberto Barroso and Alexandre de Moraes. “Either this minister fits in or he asks to leave,” Bolsonaro said in a speech in São Paulo, referring to Moraes. On the other hand, aspects of Bolsonaro's demagoguery have more precise targets, while remaining quite abstract, centering on criticism of the way elections are held, and demanding a “printed vote and public vote counting”. Bonapartist slogans appeared on posters in some of the demonstrations, such as: “Military intervention with Bolsonaro in power!”

Therefore, Bolsonaro demonstrated that he still maintains a certain layer of support and that has a social base willing to defend his presidential term. However, this is not sufficient to defeat other social forces, let alone for the consolidation of a Bonapartist government. Trotsky recalled, in his discussion of Bonapartism: “a government that rises above the nation is not suspended in the air.” The central element for a Bonapartist government would require, at least, tacit support from the bourgeoisie. The scenario after the mobilisations shows the opposite. In various organs of the bourgeois press, the term “coup” was widely used. In the ‘National Journal’ edition of Globo on 7 September, William Bonner repeatedly warned against the danger Bolsonaro posed to the constitution and accused him of breaking the law in his speeches. In an editorial published today, the newspaper Estado de São Paulo wrote:

“President Jair Bolsonaro exhibited yesterday exactly what he has shown since the beginning of his term: his irresponsibility and his political isolation. In recent weeks, treated as a national priority by the Presidential Palace, the Bolsonaro demonstrations of the 7th of September will be interpreted by the president as proof that the ‘people’ support him, but a really strong president does not need to call protests in his favor or intimidate other wings of government to demonstrate power; he only exercises it. Thus, Bolsonaro reiterated his weakness, already attested by several surveys that indicate the melting of his popularity”.

In another passage, the editorial states:

“The president's disregard for the reality of the country is clear. Just see that, in the face of rising inflation and low employment, Bolsonaro is interested only in remaining in power and protecting his offspring and himself from Justice. He continues to intensify tensions with the other wings of government and risks the possibility of an institutional rupture. In his lexicon, there is no solution.”

Even one of the main bourgeois press spokespersons is drawing attention to the limits of the government’s support. They also emphasise the fact that Bolsonaro has no interest in solving the problems faced by the country, preferring instead to secure permanent political power. In addition, he highlights the role played by Bolsonaro in maintaining political instability. This attitude is also echoed in the editorial of another bourgeois  newspaper Folha de São Paulo:

“The president, as noted, became a prisoner of the logic of agitation by agitation. You need to create one factoid per minute in order to keep your circle of idolaters mobilised. It is not fair, however, that it carries in this vortex the institutional energies of a nation devastated by a deadly epidemic, famine and unemployment.”

The text also emphasises:

“The Independence Day protests showed a Jair Bolsonaro increasingly linked to his cordon of fanatics and isolated from institutionality and the majority of the population.”

This editorial also calls for the resolution of the problems that affect the country, which, from the point of view of the bourgeoisie, involves the expansion of state incentives to maintain the profits of the capitalists. This is the programme that two of Brazil's leading bourgeois newspapers defend, and argue that the Bolsonaro government should prioritise, criticising the recent political smokescreen.

Therefore, the conclusions to draw from the recent protests is that, despite the maintenance of a certain political base, Bolsonaro's adventurism found no support among the bourgeoisie. While Bolsonaro may gain time to remain in government, he puts at risk the negotiation room necessary to direct and approve the reforms required by the bourgeoisie that allow for the further flow of state resources into the pockets of the ruling classes. The editors of the State of São Paulo are clear in this evaluation:

“The Bolsonaro government is very bad. He has not fulfilled what he promised and does not work to improve the living conditions of the population. As seen yesterday once again, his tactic reaches unprecedented patterns of irrationality, with proposals having the tone of a coup: threatening the other wings of government and contesting in advance the result of the next elections.”

Bolsonaro, although he has gained breathing room for his government, at best maintains the institutional crisis in its current state, without presenting to the bourgeoisie solutions to the economic crisis and raising tensions with the other wings of government, especially the Judiciary. For the workers, there is no alternative besides overthrowing the government immediately and fighting for a workers' government, without bosses or generals.

Bolsonaro, Moraes, the bourgeois press and representatives of employers, despite immediate disagreements, are allies in the exploitation of workers and the destruction of their rights. The reformist left continues to try to channel the dissatisfaction of the population through institutional routes, even if it means defending the ministers of the Supreme Court and allying themselves with the right that criticises Bolsonaro. Workers must rely only on their strength, building their organisations and always looking towards the horizon of the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of socialism.

The events of 7 September and the crisis of reformism

Pedro Bernardes Neto 08/09/2021

Originally published in Portuguese |

On 7 September, protests were called all over the country both for and against the Bolsonaro government. After the demonstrations, it was clear that the pro-government rallies were greater in size than those against Bolsonaro, especially in the city of São Paulo, the national centre of the confrontation. While the “Grito dos Excluídos” or “Cry of the Excluded” demonstration in Anhangabaú Valley, São Paulo, brought together around 15,000 demonstrators, the Bolsonarists occupied 11 blocks on Paulista Avenue. What are we to make of this?

The “left” demonstrations

84 protests were registered by the Fora Bolsonaro movement on 7 September in all 26 of Brazil’s states. In contrast, there were 179 demonstrations in favour of the government in the 26 states and also the Federal District. This article will be centrally concerned with those against the government, the pro-Bolsonaro demonstrations have been covered elsewhere.

Fora Bolsonaro 7 Sept Image Isaac NóbregaThe left leaders should be organising a general strike, using the collective strength of the working class to overthrow the Bolsonaro government and offer a real way out of the crisis of the system / Image: Isaac Nóbrega

The Brazilian Marxists of Esquerda Marxista helped to organise protests in many states and capitals. The biggest one took place in Anhangabaú Valley, in the city of São Paulo. The protests had an organised and militant character, composed of various unions and social movements, however they lacked mass support from an independent social base. The slogan of “Bolsonaro Out” resonated with many, however the speeches made from trucks carrying loudspeakers did not concretely address the problems faced by the Brazilian youth and working class. Instead, they took a narrow, electoral approach and fostered illusions in the 2022 clash between Lula and Bolsonaro. At best, there was talk of the possibility of impeachment, a solution that, despite pointing to the need to remove Bolsonaro from the government, delegates the task to the rotten National Congress, ignoring the crises of institutional corruption of the political establishment.

The fact is that, even from the initial calls to protest, many speakers were focused solely on the building and consolidation of support for Lula, the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate, in 2022. As such, many of the protest leaders’ speeches featured calls for an abstract “unity.” In reality, this meant nothing more than unity for Lula's candidacy in next year's elections and unity in defence of bourgeois democracy, which is diametrically opposed to the interests of the working class.

What is the meaning of the protests against Bolsonaro on 7 September?

It is essential to understand why these demonstrations on the 7 September against the government were smaller than those that took place in previous months, or even smaller than those that took place in 2019, given that Bolsonaro's popularity today is much lower than it was two years ago, having been roundly rejected by the Brazilian working class.

To analyse this situation, it is necessary to look at the role of the movement's leadership (PT, PCdoB, PSOL, CUT, UNE, etc.) and their policy. The absence of mass participation by the workers and youth in the demonstrations is a reflection of the leadership’s lack of confidence in the masses. The fact is that despite calling for demonstrations they refuse to meaningfully mobilise their bases.

Another element for the low participation in the recent Fora Bolsonaro protests was the fear-mongering propaganda that suggested that any mass action would result in chaos and physical confrontation with the Bolsonarists. Therefore, it was argued, the best course of action was to not compete with pro-government protests, so a different date should be selected. This represents an unacceptable retreat from a weakened enemy.

The truth is that the strategy of the left is one of class collaboration. They put their trust in (bourgeois) democracy or, in other words, in bourgeois institutions (STF, National Congress, Public Ministry, elections, etc.). Its leaders have no confidence in the masses or the class struggle. These institutions that the left calls to be defended are the very same institutions that imprisoned Lula without proof and carried out Dilma's impeachment. Even after being the victim of so many attacks, Lula and the PT remain faithful servants of bourgeois democracy. That's also why Lula, instead of calling and participating in the events, is guarding himself for the 2022 elections.

This system and the institutions that support it are ultimately responsible for the current misery of the Brazilian working class. We are in the midst of the greatest crisis of capitalism and its solution does not depend on the competence of the politicians at the top. Although the majority of the Brazilian people indicate that they do not approve of the Bolsonaro government, a significant sector does not trust the system itself, but neither group took this anger to the streets in the recent demonstrations. The fact is that the majority of the Brazilian working class was not encouraged to participate in any of the 7 September protests. Either due to the greater visibility of the demonstrations in support of the government and a fear of physical confrontations with the Bolsonarists, or because they did not trust the reformist leadership that refused to advance the movement in a militant direction.


There is a growing hatred for the Bolsonaro government, which is directly responsible for the attacks that the working class are experiencing. If this hatred was not expressed forcefully in the streets yesterday, the responsibility rests with the movement's leadership, which is incapable of presenting a political programme and methods of struggle capable of mobilising the masses. The leadership should be organising a general strike, using the collective strength of the working class to overthrow the Bolsonaro government and offer a real way out of the crisis of the system.

Our tendency participated in the anti-government protests by distributing a Manifesto demanding: DOWN THE BOLSONARO GOVERNMENT! FOR A WORKERS’ GOVERNMENT WITH NO BOSSES OR GENERALS! In it, we offered a platform for struggle that is capable of mobilising the entire working class in a general strike. The only way that we can get out of the crisis is by confronting the government and the system itself.

However, as we can see, this is not the plan of the Unified Workers’ Central (CUT) and the PT, who simply explain to workers that they need to manage their hunger and misery until the 2022 elections. To be clear: the 2022 elections, with or without victory for Lula, will not fundamentally change the reality faced by the Brazilian working class.

Based on the aforementioned manifesto, we are forming Action Committees throughout the country raising the slogan: “Down with Bolsonaro now!” This is necessary to reach the workers and youth who do not trust this system and are not willing to wait until the 2022 elections.

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