Interview with João Machado. This interview was conducted by Juan Tortosa of the Swiss journal SolidaritéS on 23 June 2013. Additional questions were asked on 27 June 2013.
From Europe the protests are hard to understand, since, aside from the higher public transport prices, isn’t it the case that there is today an economic and social situation in Brazil in full development? What do you think? Is this a manifestation of the middle-class that does not feel represented?
The truth is that the idea that there is an economic and social situation in Brazil of full development is false. The federal government tries to pass off that idea, and it is in the interests of the international bourgeoisie (and its mass media) to pass off that idea, but it is not true.
It is true that under the Lula government there was more growth of the economy than under the FHC government. But we look at this in the historical context of Brazil, or if we make the comparison with the whole of the world, Brazil’s growth is very mediocre. The growth rate of Brazil in the last ten years is one of the lesser rates in Latin America, it is less than the growth of the other called “emergent” countries and so on.
In addition, in both years of the Dilma government for which there is already data growth has fallen even more: 2.7% growth of GDP in 2011, and 0.9% in 2012. In 2013, in spite of the previous hopes of the government of a big recovery, the data already indicate that growth will again be mediocre. Of course this is explained, in a good part, by the reflection of the bad situation of the world-wide economy (in the same way that a good part of the better results of the Lula government is explained by the international boom in commodities, impelled above all by China), but the point it is that there is no process of significant economic growth in Brazil.
If we think in somewhat broader terms, more in line with the hypothesis of “development”, the evaluation is still worse. In the last ten years, Brazil has regressed from the point of view of its industry – there is a deindustrialization process – and above all from the point of view of its external economic relations. It has become an exporter of commodities, it has been exporting less industrial products than for 20 years. At that level, its dependency on the outside has increased.
But the problems from the economic point of view go still further. In recent months there has been a renewed process of inflation – limited, but perceivable (something around 6% in the year is expected).At the same time, there is a deterioration of the trade balance (explained, partly, by the over-evaluation of the real – the Brazilian currency – which is imposed in the name of control of inflation). Weak growth, with inflation and deterioration of the trade balance is a combination of circumstances that restricts much the margin of manoeuvre of the government. And as it is a very conservative government from the economic point of view, what it tries to do is to more forcibly control public spending and to give incentives to capital – with, until now, very little result.
There is an aspect of the question with which I agree more. It is clear that the mobilizations are not only explained, and perhaps not even mainly explained, by the relatively bad present economic situation (although the price of public transport really is high in terms of people’s purchasing power). The indignation against the repression of the demonstrations, support for the right to demonstrate, as I have already mentioned, has an important weight.
And that also has an important weight on what the question suggests, I would not raise it as “the middle-class does not feel represented”, but more as a lost general legitimacy of the political system. A great part of the population feels that the majority parties have policies which are very similar (which has been expressed clearly, for example, by the fairly similar and in general common performance of both the politicians directly responsible for the question of public transport in Sao Paulo, mayor Fernando Haddad, of the PT, and governor Geraldo Alckmin, of the PSDB).
It is true that the federal government has had clear majority support in recent years, and in particular in the elections. But there were surveys published shortly before the beginning of the mobilizations that have pointed to a significant fall in that support. And the sector that supports the government least is exactly the intermediary wage earning sector (a part of the proletariat, of course). The government has greater support among the more precarious wage earners, among the poorest, the sector that some analysts call “the sub-proletariat”. But even a part of that sector has rebelled – starting precisely from the initiatives of breaking into shops and banks, burning cars – and certainly feels exploited and oppressed.
Which are the social sectors that dominate the economy? Has the economic growth of Brazil benefitted society as a whole?
The Brazilian economy is dominated by an alliance between financial capital, big industrial capital and agro business (the big rural bourgeoisie), in all cases both national and foreign, with some contradictions among them. For industrial capital, for example, the policy of over-valuation of the real creates problems, because it makes it difficult to compete with imports. But as this capital accepts the neoliberal general framework of the economic policy of the government, it does not have much margin to make pressure for changes in the policy.
The economic growth of Brazil in the last years – which exists, although it is much less significant than is claimed by the propaganda of the government and the praise they have received from the international bourgeoisie – has benefitted mainly financial capital and agro business. But something has been distributed also to the poorest layers of the society, mainly by the big growth in social assistance (most important at this level is the well known “Bolsa Familia” programme) and also by the significant growth of the minimum wage (what also has implications for which those who receive pensions, which are indexed to the minimum wage). That is the big reason for the greater support the federal government has among the poorest layers.
In addition, although the situation of public education is in no way good, the federal government has expanded federal university public education and has a policy of bursaries that has extended the access of more popular sectors to private university education.
Intermediate wage-earners and those that receive higher wages have lost out, especially public employees. That is one of it reasons why those in what can be classified as average layers (this includes a part of the proletariat, including workers) have a much more negative opinion of the government.
Sectors like farmers and indigenous peoples (who are not numerous in Brazil) have also lost out as the government favours agro business, and not peasant agriculture. The federal government has allowed a real genocide of indigenous people – there are many murders of natives carried out by the great rural proprietors, and