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Brazil: Will The Workers' Party Live Up To Its Name?
NOW FORMER metalworker Lula, leader of the Workers Party (PT) has won the election for Brazil's presidency, a new era of class struggle is opening up.
The working class and poor's high expectations will clash with the country's (and the world's) crisis-ridden capitalist system.
ANDRÉ FERRARI, a member of Socialismo Revolucionario in São Paulo, the Brazilian section of the CWI, the international socialist movement that the Socialist Party is affiliated to, reports.
LULA WON the largest vote in Brazil's history, easily beating the former Cardoso government candidate Serra, who was backed by big business, bankers and the IMF. The PT won more seats in congress and state legislative assemblies and now has the biggest parliamentary group in states such as São Paulo.
Lula was as an immigrant to São Paulo from the Northeast, he knew hunger and unemployment, was exploited in a factory, and watched his first wife and new-born baby die in a public hospital.
The PT's past record was of the incorruptible party of the common people, the only one not blamed for the current situation. People expected profound changes. Lula's victory was due to the PT's combative past not its current moderation.
But in the state elections PT's candidate for governor and current mayor of Porto Alegre was defeated by the capitalist PMDB, which was actively supported by all the local conservative forces, in Rio Grande do Sul.
This defeat reflects some decline in support for the PT state government, which created expectations of major changes but couldn't deliver. In many cities run by PT mayors, Lula's vote went below the national average, reflecting frustrated expectations when they govern within the narrow limits imposed by capitalism.
Lula won because voters rejected the politics of the ''free market' but these defeats show that PT won't be able to meet the masses' huge expectations unless it breaks with Cardoso's capitalist policies and the IMF.
The PT national president says that Lula must look for support from state governors from many different parties. In congress, the PT block and its allies have no majority and are looking to broader alliances with capitalist parties, maybe even some in Serra and Cardoso's PSDB, which will lead the opposition to Lula.
Despite PT's recent moderation of their positions and alliances with sections of big business, Lula's victory shows most Brazilians' powerful desire for change.
This was a vote against eight years of 'neo-liberal' 'free market' policy under Cardoso, against unemployment, falling real wages, degraded public services, the effects of privatisations, the rising level of violent crime due to the economic crisis and also against Cardoso's tolerance of corruption.
Lula's election was a setback for capitalism and a step forward for Brazil's working class. A new stage in the class struggle is opening up.
Mood for change
THE PT didn't win the elections because it became more ''moderate' and dropped its socialist perspective. It won because its 22-year history of struggle or resistance made it the channel for this mood for change. But the PT top leaders' main concern over the last period has been to convince international investors.
Not a word was said in this electoral campaign without weighing up the likely impact on investors' mood. Lula committed to Cardoso's agreement with the IMF, and repeatedly said that all existing contracts will be honoured and no unilateral steps taken.
'Peace and love'?
Politically, PT's leadership allied itself with the traditional parties and regional bosses of Brazil's capitalist class. Lula's vice-president was Alencar, one of Brazil's biggest bosses and former presidents Sarney and Franco supported him.
In the second round he even got support from an ex-minister of the military regime Delfim Netto whose anti-working class measures caused the metalworkers' strikes led by Lula in 1978.
Lula's programme is based on economic growth and a 'social pact' of workers, bosses and government. The Social Pact became the great magic wand to let the government solve the enormous social problems while still meeting the demands of the financiers and IMF.
Lula's "Peace and Love" policy curbed the energies of PT members, particularly the youth. But Lula had the support of the main mass organisations of workers, youth and students. In the last phase of the campaign particularly, there was more involvement among activists for Lula.
The Cardoso government and its policies were in crisis. Serra oscillated between identifying with the Cardoso government and distancing himself from it.
The PSDB tried to sow panic around the 'Argentinisation' of Brazil under Lula but this had less effect than in 1998, when Cardoso still had some support for axing hyperinflation. In 2002, "Hope won out over fear," as Lula said.
The PT victory came from its past of struggle and consistent opposition to previous governments. In fact the PT's 'no controversy' policy threatened to damage the image of consistency built during two decades. Lula could have won in the first round, but all his opponents exploited his vague approach.
Many working-class and youth voters just closed their eyes to the PT's moderate policy in the campaign. Many thought it was just a tactic to win the election - that once in office Lula and the PT would return to its previous combativity.
The PT isn't just an electoral phenomenon. It is still the political leadership of the workers' and people's movement. Lula's victory and his future government with capitalist allies will test this authority and could encourage a reshaping and reorganisation of the left.
A world champion of inequality
LULA'S POLICY wasn't just an electoral tactic. PT's strategy and programme are not socialist - they seek to run capitalism better than the capitalists themselves.
So inevitably the masses' enormous expectations will clash with the limits imposed by the economic crisis and the PT's moderate programme today.
Nothing was solved by September's agreement with the IMF. After eight years of Cardoso, average GDP growth was 2.3% and unemployment was higher than ever. Average income fell and social inequality remained obscene. Violent crime is at alarming levels.
Public services were wrecked and privatisations only made things worse, as proved by last year's electricity rationing crisis. Land is still controlled by a tiny minority leading to violent clashes.
52 million people live in absolute poverty. Hunger, endemic diseases of poverty, semi-slave work, etc, all make Brazil a world champion of social inequality.
Even with US$90 billion coming in from privatisations, Brazil's public debt jumped from 30% to 60% of GDP during Cardoso's government, to reach £260 billion now, from about £20 billion in 1994 when Cardoso was elected.
Dependence on foreign capital means the constant threat of 'defaulting' on the debt haunts the country. In recent months, only a new IMF agreement and loan averted a moratorium (suspension of debt payments) but this problem will return.
80% of the public debt is in the hands of domestic creditors. As in Argentina a default would mean banks and business failing and enormous social costs.
In September's IMF agreement the foreign banks tried to prepare for a future moratorium. Most credit lines are blocked due to the international economic crisis so the Brazilian Central Bank pushed up interest rates and the currency has been very heavily devalued.
The IMF target was a budget surplus (before interest charges) of 3.75% of GDP for 2003. This would mean scarce funds for social spending. But even this target is insufficient and was only adopted to get the presidential candidates to agree it. Lula committed to the target but is willing to increase it.
The finance market wants blood - some talk of a 6% target. Crisis-ridden capitalism would merely be deciding which social costs were less evil: those of spending cuts or those of a collapsing Brazilian economy.
Lula hopes to avoid this dilemma between maintaining Cardoso's monetarist policy and seeing the country collapse by economic growth through higher exports gradually increasing income to expand the domestic market.
In fact, Brazil has had trade surpluses recently, but these were due to recession reducing imports and a weak currency not to big increases in exports. During an international recession, the perspective of higher exports will meet with serious obstacles. If the IMF agreement is kept to, not even a limited national-development policy is possible in Brazil.
Socialism not social contracts
ONE SECTION of big business thinks that PT's broad social basis means it can easily demand a social pact and sacrifices from the people. But PT's base did not elect Lula for more sacrifices but to end them.
Urgent measures to combat hunger have already been announced and some limited palliative measures will be taken to mitigate the gravest effects of the crisis.
At present many workers see a social pact as a way of getting 'concessions' from bosses and bankers without provoking more turbulence in the economy. But when it becomes clear that the workers will carry most of the burden, any honeymoon period will end. The social movements have an enormous backlog of demands.
One of Lula's first challenges will be the minimum wage, now a miserable 200 reals (about US$54). PT parliamentarians are calling for an increase to around US$100 by 1 May, which is not the intention of PT members in government.
If companies are closed and large-scale layoffs follow, there could be sharp conflicts. The struggle against unemployment hasn't reached the level of Argentina but the potential is there. Also the demand for land and credit to plant crops will mean heavy pressure from the landless.
New state governors will also press for debt rescheduling and more social spending. The PT in federal government will tend to avoid rescheduling at least during 2003. But a financial crisis in the states could complicate the situation.
The first struggles may not be directly against Lula's government, but to press the local elites for concessions. Lula will try to balance between the two sides but over time could lose the support of both of them. At that point, a capitalist opposition would try to recover their strength.
Lula wants to avoid scaring investors or clashing with the IMF. But in a worsening crisis when society is polarised, the government may be pushed into unorthodox measures, regardless of his intentions.
Lula says he won't "betray the expectations" of those who voted PT expecting real change. But to do that, he needs a policy which can tackle the economic crisis without punishing still more the workers and poor.
The current PT programme does not consistently pose such a policy. No party can meet the expectations of Lula's social basis while at the same time satisfying the financial market and the IMF.
How the Left could grow
WORKERS' EXPERIENCE of Lula in government could help Brazil's left grow as sections of the PT ranks will see that Lula's "peace and love" policy is his long-term strategy and will look to an alternative.
Only great mass struggles will provide the conditions for the growth of a left and socialist project. The left should explain that voting in Lula was important, but just the first step - the workers and youth must be mobilised to conquer our rights through struggle.
Lula promises to govern for all sectors of society through negotiation. But there is no way to tackle the crisis without making some part of society pay for it.
The balance of forces will determine if working people again bear the burden or if this time workers defeat the national and international elites, even if this means overcoming the PT leaders' limitations.
The left should denounce the agreement with the IMF and demand a government without capitalist parties or capitalist politicians.
A workers' government faces a stark choice. Does it stop paying off debts merely because Brazil's economy is on its knees? Or does it stop paying off debt to the big capitalists in a purposeful manner, mobilising the workers around an anti-capitalist programme?
This programme should pose nationalisation of the banks and finance system under democratic workers' control, renationalisation of privatised companies and all those needed to implement an economic development plan to raise the minimum wage, reduce the working day to create jobs and meet the organised social movements' demands.
The PT in government will make the leaders adapt even more to capitalism but it will also lead to opportunities for a consistent PT left.
A settling of accounts between the PT's two sides is inevitable. The construction of a new mass workers' party, a left-wing socialist one, may be posed at some stage. The PT left should build towards such a socialist political project and seek unity in action.
PT's fighting history won the election
IN MAY 1978, during the military dictatorship, metalworkers at Saab-Scania in a São Paulo industrial complex walked out in a strike that spread throughout the industry, echoing throughout Brazil and opening a new stage in the country's workers' movement.
That strike started the mass struggle that toppled the military regime and heroically resisted the anti-working class policy of governments that followed.
In 1980, the Workers Party was founded to "create a channel of political and party expression for the urban and rural workers and all those exploited by capitalism" (PT Political Declaration, 1979).
The PT attracted all the most combative elements to fight the dictatorship. It refused to submit its policy to the dictatorship's capitalist opponents such as the MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement).
In its 1979 Charter of Principles, the pro-PT Movement emphasised that the new party would "refuse to affiliate representatives of the exploiting classes, (...) the Workers Party is a party without bosses! "
It adopted a critical attitude both to reformist and Stalinist regimes, and supported solidarity with revolutionary struggles in Latin America. PT's deep working-class roots, its mass basis and its class and anti-capitalist positions, made the party a pole of attraction for the combative left.
After the enormous mass mobilisation in 1984 throughout Brazil for "Direct Elections Now" the PT campaigned against voting for the capitalist opposition to the military regime.
The PT stood Lula as candidate for president in 1989, in the first direct elections after the 1964 military coup but lost narrowly.
This electoral defeat and the impact of the collapse of the Stalinist USSR, the defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and capitalism's ideological offensive in the 1990s all pushed the PT leaders toward more moderate social democratic positions.
Sections more to the left took a majority in PT in 1993 but did not constitute an alternative. This only deepened the rightward turn when the old leadership returned.
The PT lost an opportunity to win the presidency in 1992, when a mass movement toppled Collor's regime but the leadership supported vice-president Franco instead of demanding new elections.
During the Franco government the capitalists launched the Real Plan for economic stabilisation with Cardoso as candidate for president. Illusions in this and the end of hyperinflation gave Cardoso victory in the 1994 and 1998 elections.
Cardoso's second government though was marked by permanent crisis leading to PT's victory in the 2002 presidential elections.
Today's PT still retains much of its authority. Workers' experience of a PT government may be a decisive milestone on the road to building a mass left alternative to the party leadership's programme.
In The Socialist 8 November 2002: