There has been much debate about the emergence of new forms of protest under neoliberalism. The Brazilian mass movements in June-July 2013 have been shown to be highly complex, but a class analysis of their sources and forms of expression can shed light on the enormous demands upon the state which have emerged after the ‘twin’ transitions to democracy and to neoliberalism. They have led to the extensive evacuation of political democracy, significant changes in the country’s class structure, and the decomposition of most left parties and trade unions. These transitions, and their social and economic implications, have supported the emergence of a neoliberal type of protest in Brazil, which is lumpenized and facebookized. The tensions related to these forms of protest contributed to the social explosion in the country during June-July 2013 and gave it a peculiar character, and they have influenced significantly the outcome of the 2014 elections, which Dilma Rousseff won by a very narrow margin.
Those new modalities of mobilization are highly plastic. They can support a left-wing platform of restoration of collectivity and confrontation against neoliberalism, but they also offer fertile grounds for the emergence of fascism. The consolidation of a new generation of mass movements along progressive lines requires new forms of mobilization, participation and delegation, fostering a new modality of democracy. These are difficult challenges fo the left, since it has become extensively disempowered and disarticulated as a result of the neoliberal transition. Indeed, the severe obstacles faced by Lula’s and Dilma’s administrations suggest that a more ambitious agenda would have been feasible only through the mobilisation of the working class to confront the traditional elites and the aggressive deployment of public resources to fund faster welfare gains and deliver strategic investments. These transformative options were never considered by these administrations, which have chosen, instead, a gradualist strategy supported by minimal legislative and regulatory changes. The scope for continuing along this path has narrowed down significantly since the 2014 elections, and it remains unclear how the second Dilma administration will respond to this constraint.
Recent events in Brazil show that the economic, social and political fragilities of the ‘new’ working class can allow right-wing platforms to overwhelm the emerging social movements with individualistic and destructive forms of mobilization. In Brazil, these risks have been tempered by the combination of organized mass pressure, mature left organizations and a progressive federal administration. These elements may not be in place indefinitely in Brazil or elsewhere, and the challenges for the left may, correspondingly, become even greater in the future.