Brazil in Turmoil: The Temer Tapes

On May 17, a political bomb exploded in the capital city of Brazil, Brasilia. One of the big media networks broadcast a tape that proved that President Temer was not just one of the many corrupt bourgeois politicians in Brazil, but that he was obviously at the centre of the best known of the country’s corruption scandals.

Just last year, Temer and the political establishment came to power on the wave of “anti-corruption protests” and the impeachment of the elected President, Dilma Rousseff from the Workers’ Party (PT). Her impeachment was not based on any concrete evidence of corruption, but was supported by the majority of the parties and journalists of the establishment because her replacement by Temer was the only way to push through the measures that they saw as “necessary political and economic reforms”.

Now, the published tapes prove that Temer was present at a meeting with Batista Joesley, one of the big donors of money in the corruption affairs and the boss of JBS S.A., the biggest meat-packing company in the world and, among other things, one of the most important suppliers to McDonalds. At that meeting, it was agreed to pay 2 million Real to Aecio Neves, one of the principal leaders of the PSDB, the most important bourgeois party in Brazil, for his defence in the famous “jet wash” scandal (the mother of all corruption affairs in Brazil).

Additionally, payments were agreed to Eduardo Cunha, then the President of the Congress and, in this position, the main architect of the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. In the tapes, Temer is clearly in full agreement with these acts of shameless bribery.

Attacks on the working class

This affair has exploded in a situation where the so called “necessary reforms”, like the labour market reform, which lowers the legal conditions on contract work, and the “pension reform”, that is, the raising of the age of retirement, as well as a range of other cuts in the social and educational system had already made this government extremely unpopular.

The protests began last year, initially in the education sector, in the schools and universities, but then the work and pension reforms prompted an increasing resistance from the whole working class under the leadership of the trades unions. The high point of a series of growing protests was the general strike on April 28, that brought up to 40 million out on demonstrations and strikes.

In reaction to this new revelation, there were immediate spontaneous mass demonstrations. Temer simply rejected all demands for his resignation, declaring that the tape as it was played on TV contained a lot of cuts which meant that his “opposition” to the bribery could not be heard. In any case, he argued, it was more important for the country to press on with his reforms than concern itself with such “minor affairs”. To a greater or lesser extent, the political establishment and its main parties have taken the same position, something that has inflamed the protests of the workers and the poor even more.

At the same time, because this affair is only the latest in a long series of corruption allegations against Temer, the Supreme Court could not be prevented from starting investigations that would inevitably open a new process of impeachment; this time against the impeachers. This, however, is not without its own dangers for the popular movement in Brazil; according to the constitution, if the President, who was Vice-President under Dilma, were impeached, there would be no automatic replacement as President and the Supreme Court would have two options; either to allow the Congress to indirectly elect a President from its own members, or to hand over power to the army for a “transitional period” before new elections.

On May 25, one could already see the danger of the army again playing an increasing political role when the trade unions, especially the CUT, called for mass demonstrations in Brasilia against the reforms and for the resignation of Temer. With 200,000 it was one of the biggest demonstrations this city has ever seen. Immediately, the police attacked the demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets, and the whole situation immediately escalated.

In the course of the actions, several ministries were stormed and the police increasingly lost control of the city. During the day, Temer called on the army to suppress the demonstrations. For the first time since the military dictatorship, soldiers again confronted protesting workers. Given the whole context of the crisis and the constitutional manoeuvres of the ruling class, the real danger exists that the army will be used for some kind of “state of emergency”, under an indirectly elected replacement for Temer. This is made more likely because recent developments have led to a complete discrediting of the existing party system and its institutions but the ruling class and its backers in the USA are totally determined to break the protest movements against their “reform policy”.

Which way forward ?

The working class and the poor in Brazil, on the other hand, have clearly proven their determination to resist. In their millions, they have shown their power to fight back, but it is now time to go onto the offensive. It is no longer enough to organise one day national strikes or mass demonstrations, no matter how militant. It is now necessary to prepare an indefinite general strike until all the reforms are defeated and the government is forced out of office. In the event of a “state of emergency”, it will be necessary to defend strikes and demonstrations. Right now we need not only the strike committees and regional committees that have organised the protests but to form councils of the workers and the poor that can replace the corrupt and treacherous parliamentary organs at all levels.

At the moment, the movement is clearly under the leadership of the trade union bureaucracies, mainly that of the CUT. It is also clear that the PT has regained political trust in some parts of the movement and presents itself as the only viable political alternative, with Lula da Silva being again one of the most likely presidential alternatives to Temer, if there were free elections. On the other hand, the radical left in Brazil is still weak and divided into several organisations, all lacking a clear programmatic alternative.

In this situation, it is necessary to demand from the PT and the CUT leadership that they break with the bourgeoisie and all its coalition ambitions and instead build a workers’ government, based on the protest movement and its organisations, in a coalition with all the forces of the left, the unions and the social movements like the landless and homeless movements, MTST and MST.

We know that the PT will do everything to avoid having to take this path but, in fighting for it, the necessity for a revolutionary alternative will become much clearer for the masses. In this fight, it would be possible to build from the revolutionary forces a truly revolutionary party based on a revolutionary action programme and rooted in the mass movement.