The reconstruction Universe of the Brazilian left
Sunday 20 September 2009 by Antoine
The emergence of PT (The Brazilian Workers Party) represents a historical process of re-aggregation of the left in Brazil, bringing together different social sectors in a common project. It represents a vigorous process that led to the reconstruction of a combative labour movement. The PT was also rooted in the liberation theology – a religious perspective that made preferential option for the poor people. Hence, PT was a space that converged different Marxist traditions and intellectual criticism into a project that aimed to build a new type of socialism (that would overcome the experience of social democracy and Stalinism).
Given the virtuosism and the innovative aspects of this history, an analysis of the Lula Government and the choices made by PT in recent years will undoubtly lead us to raise the following question: what went wrong in this process?
This question has not an easy answer and maybe it will require the socialist revolutionaries in Brazil a few years more of reflection and debates. This reflexive process may bring up some insights and clues on how to build broad anti-capitalist parties, which are complex by its nature and full of contradictions, without losing our horizon on the socialist revolutionary perspective.
The fallen of the dictatorship and the rise of the star
Since the late 1970s, during the process of decay of the Brazilian military dictatorship, the constitution of the PT has led to the development of a new political expression of the Brazilian working class. In other words, it represented a movement toward political independence, in a period of social empowerment, when others instruments were constructed or re-constructed: the labour union (CUT), the student union (UNE), the landless movement (MST).
PT has established itself as a party with a plural and reasonable internal democracy, claiming to be a socialist party. The plural character that it assumed made it possible to host several streams of the Brazilian left. Moreover, it showed an ability to compose with other important left forces, a fact which helped to avoid unnecessary fragmentation (an aspect very often present among the Left-wing during the years of military dictatorship). As a consequence, the PT became the hegemonic force among the Brazilian Left Wing.
It is true that PT, since its formation, has always had important weaknesses, especially regarding a shallow depth discussion of the meaning of socialism and its organizational structure rather fluid. Nevertheless, it was able to develop and consolidate itself as the main reference of the Brazilian left-wing until 1989, when Lula almost reached the presidency as a candidate clearly left.
It is useful to remember that, during the 1980´s, the positive evolution of the PT occurred against the experience of the most part of the international left, which was already facing the neoliberal offensive and was suffering a process of weakening. Thus, the PT of the 1980´s became an international reference as well. The strength of the PT as an international reference was so hard, that the Brazilian Left underestimate the weaknesses of the Party and did not spend efforts trying to project a future out of PT.
The 1990’s: Something starts to change
The year 1989 represented the beginning of a drastic change in the International Left Tradition, with the collapse of the so-called "socialist camp" and the great crisis of the left-wing that followed. Thereafter, the neo-liberalism deepened in the world, including Brazil. It had economic and political-ideological impacts, as well as profound social consequences: the weakness of working class organization and social movements.
At the same time, since 1988, in the case of Brazil, there has been a significant growth of the PT in the institutional level. This fact brought, of course, greater pressures to the Party in order to adapt itself to the institutionalism conditions. Given the relative political-ideological weakness of the PT, it was more difficult to the Party to find out ways to resist to those pressures.
The defeat of Lula’s candidacy in 1989, parallel to the start of a major international crisis of the Left, represented a turning point in the trajectory of the PT. Lula and his group were gradually creating the idea that it was possible for PT to win the presidential elections through a moderate program and by the expansion of political alliances. In fact, over time, the absence of framing on class antagonisms (inevitable in the capitalist society) became the core of the PTs electoral strategies. As a consequence, an alternative route to win the elections was rejected: a strong commitment to a greater grassroots’ mobilization, compared to what had already occurred in 1989, as a result of understanding that a national election is a time when we are faced with alternatives of class.
So, PT began to lose his rebellious nature and started to follow a path of gradual integration into the order, establishing strong ties with bourgeois groups. Many neo-liberal ideas began to infiltrate among its leaders. At the national level, in each electoral contest, the PT was placed less at the left. Each Lula presidential candidate’s defeat was interpreted as the "moderation" and "enlargement" of the alliances have been insufficient to win the election.
This political evolution has been matched by the organizational perspective of the Party. While in the early years of PT there was a concern to the organization of grassroots’ groups and the ‘activist face’ of the party, since the 1990s, however, it was gradually winning the party`s conception of organization just in terms of elections. Those changes led to a clear polarization process between the right and the left inside the PT.
The sector more on the left have been also impacted by the process of international crisis of the left and the larger institutional pressures - but not on the same way. Although those difficult circumstances, it predominated among the PT left the resistance to the neo-liberalism and the maintenance of socialist ideological references.
The left of PT continued to have a significant weight and influence in the broad definitions of the party. The opposition condition to the neo-liberal government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, also forced the PT as a whole to build up its political project against the neo-liberal ideas, so staying on the side of workers and popular sectors. However, the core leaders of the PT were not able to formalize those positions within the party. Could not have done it before reaching the government, yet they wantede: the correlation of forces inside the PT would not allow it.
Thus, at the National Party Congress in December 2001, which built the programmatic basis for the 2002 election campaign, the PT still stood officially as a party of the left, once the Guideline Document approved in the occasion stated the need to break with the current economic model.
2002: Lula´s Government the fading of the star
The electoral campaign of 2002 marked a qualitative change in the official political direction of the PT, making it more close to the beliefs of the leader group. The turning point of this change was the imposition - by Lula - of a coalition with the Liberal Party. For the first time, the PT built alliances at the national level with a clearly bourgeois and right-wing party, with a great businessman as vice president candidate.
The traumatic nature of the change on the direction of PT made it well clear by an intervention of the Party National Bureau in the state of Alagoas, on the northeastern of the country, in order to establish an alliance with the Liberal Party (PL). This decision was not just against the position of the PT left sector and the Senator Heloísa Helena, candidate for the Alagoas Government, but also against the consensus of the Party in the state.
The core of the political project of Lula and his group to the presidency was to improve the living conditions of the most disadvantaged people, seen as possible to be conciliated with the implementation of a very broad alliance with the ruling classes and, therefore, the acceptance of all restrictions imposed by the “big business” sector and, particularly, by the financial capital. The main idea was that without this strategy it would be impossible to win elections, and even more important, it would be impossible to govern. A central element of the project was the desire to show that a Lula government could be equally or more reliable for the “big business” sector than the neoliberal governments that preceded it.
Hence, easily the election campaign expressed the character of class conciliation, which confused and demobilized the popular class. As a result, it made it more difficult to build up a huge social pressure in order to demand the promises of change.
The weakness of the most left positions within the coalition was made explicit as early as the new Government was assembled, when there was almost no opposition to the constitution of a very wide and conservative bloc to support Lula (both in Parliament and within the civil society). This fragile situation was revealed in early political decisions as well. For instance, there was almost no resistance to the symbolic indication of an ex-official of the Bank Boston (the biggest owner of the Brazilian debt) for the presidency of the National Central Bank. In this case, the exception was the position of Senator Heloísa Helena, which represented the sole attitude of resistance that got public attention.
Thus, with the election of Lula, many people who previously opposed the neoliberal policies began to actively support it, or accepted to be subject to them. Lula’s government was able to implement neoliberal policies, in general the same set of economic policies adopted during the previous government, which were diametrically opposed to the interests of popular sectors. As a consequence, this position led to divisions among the working class and a crisis situation throughout the popular sectors, leading workers to suffer losses in Lula’s Government that the previous government had failed to impose.
The sectors that resisted the abandonment of a socialist project within the PT lost power, given the fact that pressures to adapt to the “order” grew enormously. Although this adverse situation, fractions of the left in the PT resisted to the Party`s new directions. This resistance culminated in a vote in the Parliament against a law proposed by Lula government during its first year (2003), which aimed to increase the privatization of the national retirement system. This “dissident” position led to the expulsion of three PT Deputies and also the Senator Heloísa Helena.
2005 : The second crisis The sunrise
The shift to the right of the PT in the early years of Lula’s government has made its internal crisis to continue. The emergence of corruption scandals involving distinguished deputies receiving money to vote with the government bloc in Law projects, proved that the PT has acceded to the traditional forms of Brazilian politics.
Although some sectors frontally challenged the hegemonic orientation of President Lula in its first Government, very soon they realized the complete impossibility to change the overall PT from inside. Most of these sectors left the party in 2005 and joined the activists who left the PT in 2003 in order to build the PSOL.
Some lessons from the PT experience
A more comprehensive evaluation of the significance of PT cycle is still to be built in Brazil. However, we can already point out some lessons from this historical experience:
1 – Building, and being part, of broad anti-capitalist parties represents a right choice. It open ways for dialogue with thousands of people about the need to overcome capitalism. Hearts and minds can be won for democratic socialism! Although those benefits, there is always the risk that the party become adapted to the formal order.
2 - The intensity of our dilution/differentiation within the broad anti-capitalist parties should be subject to the political profile of this party and its democratic structures as well.
3 - The institutional struggle must be linked with social struggles. We must be vigilant to ensure that election purposes will never become the priority number one of our organizations!
4 – We should establish anti-bureaucratic policies. Particularly, with efforts to strength the work on youth. It means prevent the bureaucratic body to grow up massively, so replacing the activism and democratic life within our organizations!
5 - The Internationalism is a great antidote against the softness of our organizations!
2007: 1st National Conference of PSOL, The moralist agenda
The rupture of parliamentarians and activists with the PT has not meant an automatic shift for the social movements as well. Most of them still remained connected and under the influence of the PT and its Government. For instance, important directors of the main Brazilian Trade Union (CUT) joined the Government, occupying positions in different Ministries. Hence, they also endorsed social-liberal policies pushed by the Government, such as the counter-reform of the social security. It led the CUT to left behind its class struggle orientation, even for the economic demands of the working class. It opened a period of outputs for the CUT, making some sectors to constitute a more left-oriented organizations (such as CONLUTAS and INTERSINDICAL) and also leading some political parties to design their own trade union apparatus, as in the case of the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B).
Regarding the students organizations, there where important resistances against the counter-reformist agenda of the Government. In the educational sector, the current Government is supporting a sort of “reverse privatization” by proposing the expansion of enrollment on public universities without expansion of resources (which means reducing the quality of higher education), and also by allowing tax exemption for private universities that grant scholarships for young students from lower classes. Important sectors of the Student Movement have opposed to this policy, raising the flag that the state must increase spending in higher education, in order to improve the access of youth from popular classes to public universities, not to the particular univerties, with less quality. In order to make their voices heard, the students occupied rectories in several universities in the country, in many cases with the absence of the National Student Union (UNE).
The Movement of Landless Rural Workers have a situation a little bit more dubious. It still remain supp the fight against landowners and agribusiness, which are part of the government basis. Makes radical critics to the poor Government policies regarding land reform. Although those critics, it does not mean that the MST broke definitively with the government and PT. This is the contradiction of MST: if from one side the economic and political support needing from the PT, given their vulnerability to face by themselves the strong opposition of right-wing sectors (including the big farmers) and the media, the Government of PT on the other side, with the support from the same right wing sectors, advance towards a deep conservative modernization of the countryside, which in a few years can mean the impracticability of land reform in Brazil (and even the MST disappearance).
However, the MST also maintains important links with the socialist left, especially in large demonstrations against the consequences of economic crisis. This connection can mean for both the radical left and the MST an effective political alternative to make the land reform returns to the highest levels of the Brazilian political agenda.
Other movements, such as Women, LGBTT and Anti-Racists are very institutionalized and dependent of Government resources. This condition lead them to uncritically support the Government actions in those areas, even tough the policies established are more symbolic than effective in their purposes.
An important sector of the new borned PSOL, after understanding the difficulties of building an anti-capitalist party rooted in social movements (in descence and in support to the social-liberal government), concluded that the parliamentary struggle, linked to the social projection of Heloisa Helena charisma, would be the privileged way to build a political radical alternative in Brazil. In this strategy, complains against corruption would be the axis of opposition to be made against the Government, which adopts traditional methods of political dispute and alliances with corrupt oligarchy.
This formulation represented the majority among those that participated in the First National Conference of the PSOL in 2007, and also was the axis of the presidential campaign of Heloisa Helena in 2006, when she surprisingly reached 7 million votes.
2009 : New times to PSOL A possibility of becoming an eco-socialist, feminist and popular alternative
If it is true that criticism to the government corruption opened space in the media to the PSOL parliamentarians , and even some electoral gain, on the other hand, it has not helped people to realize how different are the political projects proposed by those opposing Lula government: the radical left and the traditional right wing.
This means that the PSOL has not been able to influence the social movements, in order to make them more critical to the social-liberal government. Also, the Party has made little to contribute for the reorganization of the socialist left in Brazil.
Moreover, little has been accumulated since the First Congress of PSOL in terms of strong activism and internal democratic structures. Two episodes may offer an illustrative picture of the face that the Party is taking. The first one occurred during the local elections for Porto Alegre mayor in 2008, when one of the PSOL´s majoritarian tendencies (MES) received money from multinational companies to support their candidate – an action forbidden by PSOL statute. All the other tendencies, that are part of the national leadership of the Party, were contrary to this attitude, yet MES let the funds to be used during the campaign. Another traumatic episode was when Heloisa Helena contradicted one resolution approved during the 1st Congress, which positioned the Party in favor of the decriminalization of abortion in Brazil. Heloisa, in turn, engaged in the campaign against abortion, while she did not made it clear in her public speeches that the party has a different position of her.
The second Congress was held with a difficult balance of power regarding the Party structure and its on going building process. A new majority proposed measures towards a more democratic party, with regular work of the higher instances, and a distinct orientation for the Party, in which the focus on social movements are to be the priority. As a consequence, other policies, such as the fight against corruption, should take a character subordinated to the social struggles.
In this sense, we should highlight the importance to understand the foundational principle of the Party: the need to reorganize the Brazilian working class, in order to build a combative and strong Trade Union, with groups both inside and outside of the PSOL. Because of that, resolutions about feminist struggle, eco-socialism, and anti-racism, were approved on the National Congress and should subsidize the Party to intervene in these movements.
The new majority leadership has important internal differences regarding the strategic hypothesis for the overcoming of capitalism, which includes the role of the State in the reproduction of capitalism, witch includes the structure of political alliances to be held during the elections. Therefore, this new leadership has the responsibility to maturely deal with their differences and not hinder the construction of the necessary convergence: the democratic structure of the PSOL and its profile, which are issues much more important on the every day existence of the Party.
However, challenges still exist on the way. The ancient majority, that still has 40% of the Party, threats to build a fraction in PSOL, anchored on the social projection of Heloisa Helena, who support this group. If it is confirmed this factional struggle within the party, the PSOL is threatened to fail as a credible political alternative for the whole population.
What adds a big challenge to PSOL is the presidential campaign for 2010. Heloisa Helena, although representing a strong reference for votes in PSOL, gives signals that she prefer to run for the Senate in her state. Moreover, the candidature of Marina Silva (newly split from PT), as a presidential candidate for the Green Party (a Brazilian Party without a coherent political identity), may takes electoral space from Heloisa Helena or other PSOL candidate.
To sum up, new possibilities will be open to the Brazilian left on the next period, and some questions are still to be answered:
Will PSOL be able to present itself as a credible alternative?
Who will be the Party’s candidate in the 2010 elections?
Marina Silva will be a eco-capitalist candidate or a eco-reformist that opens dialog spaces dialog with the ecossocialists?
What will be the reaction of social movements in Brazil if the PT candidate is elected in 2010, a government that can be even more conservative and more allied with the right-wing?
If the right-wing return to the government in 2010, witch role will PT perform as opposition Will it move to the left? And what is the role of the PSOL on this conjuncture?
Eduardo d´Albergaria Freitas – Specialist in Public Policy and activist of ENLACE (IV International) - PSOL
Collaboration: João Machado – economist, activist of ENLACE (IV International) and from PSOL leadership.
This author's articles
The reconstruction Universe of the Brazilian left16 June 2010, by almokatel
Wonderful article and very interesting