Archive article from The Socialist Issue 333
Brazil - Movement For A New Workers' Party Is Launched
ONLY ONE year after the Presidential election victory of "Lula" (Luiz Inacio da Silva) of the Workers' Party (PT) a new movement has been launched by former PT activists, trade unionists and socialists. Their task is to build a new workers' socialist party in Brazil to act as an alternative to the capitalist programme that the Lula government and PT leadership has implemented since coming to power.
TONY SAUNOIS of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) reports on this important development.
ON 19 January 2004, in Rio de Janeiro, representatives of various left-wing socialist organisations, (including Socialismo Revolucionario, the Brazilian section of the CWI), together with trade union leaders, intellectuals and four former PT parliamentarians (three deputies and one senator, expelled from the PT for voting against the government pension reform) met and launched the 'Left Democratic Socialist movement'.
One of the first objectives of the new movement is to collect the 500,000 signatures required to legally establish a new party.
This movement represents an important new phase in the struggle of working-class activists and socialists in Brazil and has important lessons for other countries where new mass socialist parties of the working class are needed.
THE LAUNCHING of this movement follows a protracted swing to the right by the PT and its leadership and a rapid decline in its active membership. Lula's election victory was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm and high expectations by the mass of Brazilian workers. It was, after all, the first time the PT had won a presidential election.
Moreover, Lula, a former metal worker and street 'shoe-shine' was the first president to come from a working-class background. This alone gave renewed hope to Brazil's oppressed.
During the election activists around the PT had opposed the rightwing shift by the PT leadership and were concerned about what it would mean for the new government. Many workers and poor however hoped that this was just an 'electoral tactic' and that once in power Lula would revert to the radical socialist policies historically defended by the PT.
They voted for the PT, not because of the rightward turn by the leadership. They voted Lula to reject the 'neo-liberal' policies of the former President, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, or FHC as he is known. However, they have ended up with FHC's policies implemented by Lula.
Immediately the new government set about demonstrating not to the poor but to the capitalists, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank that it could be trusted.
The government even signed an agreement with the IMF giving it more concessions than it actually demanded! The government supported giving greater independence to the central bank and appointed Henrique Meirelles, former executive of the Bank of Boston, as its director.
A vicious pension 'reform' was introduced which raised the age of retirement and attacked all the previous gains made by the federal state employees. This 'reform', originally proposed by FHC was at that time opposed by the PT!
University fees are to be introduced and the government wants to introduce a labour reform programme attacking the unions and workers' rights.
Amongst the proposals being considered are withdrawing the additional 13th month holiday pay which is paid each year and weakening of trade union rights to organise in the work places. Such is the opposition that is likely to develop to these proposals the government has postponed them being implemented until 2005 - after all regional and local elections!
New Labour II
THE PT in government has become more and more 'New Labourised', a process which had begun before the election. This development has a particular twist of historic irony. Former New Labour minister Peter Mandelson visited Brazil during the first Presidency of Cardoso between 1994/98. He denounced the PT as representing the past and supported the capitalist Cardoso.
As David Fleischer, a political commentator at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Brasilia pointed out: "It is like Britain in 1997 when old Labour became New Labour. New Labour did a lot things that old Labour would be shocked to think about."
The rich elite (Brazil is one of the most unequal countries) have been fully reassured by Lula's first year in office. Lula was praised in the Spanish daily El Pa’s in an editorial (The Lula surprise - 5/1/04) for the "strict fiscal and monetary policies" carried out by the government.
A rich shopper followed by half a dozen servants leaving the elite fashion store Daslu in Sao Paulo, where designer shoes sell for US$1,500, expressed her relief and was quoted in the Financial Times (31/12/03): "Lula seems to have come to his senses. I thought I was going to have to move to Miami"
The fears of the elite of a Lula government have proved unfounded. Lula immediately sought to reassure the ruling class and imperialism that his government would be safe for them.
For the working class and oppressed the first year of Lula has meant disappointment and anger. Lula has carried out policies against the working class and acted as a capitalist government. The promise of 10 million new jobs within the first four years has been abandoned.
In the first twelve months unemployment rose by over 800,000 to 13% nationally. In the largest city Sao Paulo it has reached 20%. In Rio de Janeiro, 160,000 people applied for 1,000 job vacancies as rubbish collectors. The queue of applicants stretched for miles!
At the same time the standard of living of those in work has declined with the level of real wages falling by 15% during the first 12 months of Lula's government.
THE ATTACKS by the government have begun to provoke struggles by sections of the working class. The most significant of which was the strike of 600,000 federal employees whose bitter struggle against pension reform lasted more than one month. Other sectors such as the metal workers and 24,000 car workers from the ABC industrial belt around Sao Paulo have also been involved in struggles.
The scene is now set for major struggles against the introduction of university fees. Meanwhile, teachers in Sao Paulo are preparing an important wages campaign.
It is against this background that the 'Left Democratic Socialist Movement for a new party' has been launched by socialists, activists and trade unionists in Brazil. In December 2003, 7,000 activists, union leaders and intellectuals signed a petition concluding that a new socialist party is necessary and that it is no longer possible to fight for socialism inside the PT.
Lula still enjoys the support of over 60% in the recent polls. His working-class origins and the hope that things will change is still giving Lula a diminishing fund of goodwill to draw upon amongst a layer.
He is also trying to present more radical credentials on international questions - especially by linking up with the populist President of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner, to make a limited challenge to US imperialism during the recent all-Americas trade negotiations.
However, Lula's support is declining with each new anti-working class measure announced by the government. Amongst the federal state employees and other layers of working there is already a burning anger at the betrayal of the PT government. Amongst these workers there is widespread support for the idea of forming a new party and the union leaders are supporting the new movement.
THERE WILL be big opportunities for the new party to develop with the increasing opposition to the pro-capitalist policies of the Lula government. The next phase of the process of building the new party is to get nucleuses of it established at work places, universities and in the working class communities. Local assemblies are being organised in the states throughout Brazil. Local branches are beginning to be formed in offices, factories and at universities.
A national meeting of trade unions is also being planned. The 'Left Democratic Socialist Movement for a new party' has correctly agreed that the new party will be open to all who " ...reject being seduced by the palace privileges and who defend the independence of the working class in the face of the bourgeois... It is open to all those who are clear of the absolute incompatibility of satisfying the demands for social justice and the radicalisation of the democratic process within the limits of the capitalist system. It is open to all who define themselves as being 'left' and identify with socialism and democracy as a strategic, explicit and permanent objective."
The new party will be formed by activists who have broken from the PT or are not members of it. It will, however, also appeal to those on the left of the PT and PT voters to join it some of whom are waiting until after the local and regional elections before deciding what to do. There is the prospect of another wave of splits from the left of the PT during 2005 following regional and local elections in 2004.
The new party, when established, will be inclusive and the right for all tendencies and factions to openly operate within it is clearly established.
There are many obstacles still to be overcome. Achieving the necessary 500,000 signatures in order to legally register the party to be able to fight elections will be a big test. It will not be possible to do this before the local elections later this year for legal reasons. However, the first steps towards the launching of a new party represents an important step forward for the working class in Brazil and also has many important lessons for socialists internationally.
Socialismo Revolucionario, the Brazilian section of the CWI, is playing a significant role in helping to establish this new party and at the same time is fighting to win support for its own revolutionary socialist programme and polices.
The Left And Lula's Government
THE DECISION of the PT leadership to expel the four MP's who voted against the pension reform left socialists and activists no alternative but to rapidly take the necessary steps to begin forming a new party. Many socialist groupings from the PT have supported these steps.
However, some have not, including the 'Socialist Democracy Tendency' (DS - the Brazilian grouping linked to the Trotskyist international, the 'United Secretariat of the Fourth International' - USFI). Amongst those expelled is the socialist fighter and very popular Senator, Heloisa Helena who is backing the new movement. She is also a member of DS.
The DS has opposed the PT expulsions but is not supporting the formation of a new party and has only agreed that members of the DS can also be outside the PT. The DS has not waged a determined struggle against the rightwing policies of the PT leadership and government.
The DS has a member - Miguel Rossetto, who is the Minister of Agricultural Development with responsibility for agricultural reform - in the pro-capitalist Lula government, which includes representatives of other capitalist parties such as the PSDB. The vice-president is from the Liberal Party. Recently Lula has also included representatives from the main capitalist party - the PMDB.
Rossetto holds this position with the support of the DS. This, they justify on the basis that he can support the struggles of the landless workers. Rossetto, did not show much support for the landless labourers when commenting on the physical confrontations in Sao Gabriel. "We will not tolerate violence from landless labourers or landowners' militias... the government has to have laws and rules obeyed" (O Estado de Sao Paulo 4/7/03).
Prisoners of the right
ACCEPTING A position in a pro-capitalist government, like Lula's, is against the ideas and policies defended by Trotsky and genuine Trotskyism. Doing so inevitably means becoming a prisoner of capitalist regime and will be used to strike blows against the working class and the left. Trotsky, for this reason, fought against accepting positions in capitalist government, for example in the 'popular front' governments during the 1936-39 Spanish civil war.
Trotsky warned the POUM (a party which proclaimed itself 'Marxist') against joining the coalition Popular Front government in Catalonia and explained that such governments inevitably act as a 'strike breaking conspiracy' against the working class.
Genuine Trotskyism fights for an independent, policy and programme for the working class. To do this it is necessary to be free from the imprisonment of capitalist governments which will ultimately act to defend the interests of the employers and landlords.
This issue has important lessons for the international workers' movement and especially for active socialists. Many activists are looking with anticipation to see if the French section of the USFI, the LCR, make a breakthrough at forthcoming local and European elections in France. All socialists will welcome the largest vote possible for the joint LCR/LO list.
However, it is a warning of future dangers, that the LCR in France has not expressed any criticism of the DS participation in the government in Brazil. They have argued that it is a 'Brazilian question'.
The participation of the DS in Lula's government has provoked opposition in the USFI, including in the DS in Brazil and the LCR in France. Unfortunately, those who opposed this policy were not allowed to move a resolution at the LCR congress.
The DS at the eighth congress of the CUT (Central Workers Union confederation - roughly, the equivalent of the British TUC) also refused to support a left list and supported a right-wing PT faction, Articulacion, joining forces with those in the PT who have supported expelling Heloisa Helena!
The Battles Of The Landless
ONE OF the most explosive conflicts is over the question of land. Amongst the landless poor organised in the MST (Landless Workers' Movement), Lula's victory aroused some of the greatest expectations. By the middle of 2003, 150,000 families were organised in 1,297 camps either preparing to occupy the land owned by big landowners or awaiting for land expropriation by the government.
However, these expectations have been frustrated by government policies. By the end of 2003 only 13,000 families had been settled - a far cry from the 60,000 settlements promised by the government. It is even further away from the 120,000 settlements demanded by the MST for 2003.
At the end of 2003 the government appointed a commission to make proposals to resolve this crucial question. It was headed by PT left-winger Plinio de Arruda Sampaio. It proposed a target of resettling one million families by the end of 2006 and was accepted by the MST. The government immediately rejected it and agreed a target of settling only 355,000 families.
The struggle for land has provoked armed clashes between land owners and the landless in many states like Rio Grande do Sul.
The MST organised a march to Sao Gabriel and became the victim of a viciously racist campaign against rural workers. Over 60 workers have been killed during these clashes.
Activists have been arrested and are being held in Sao Paulo and other state prisons under a PT-led government. The experience of military police dictatorships in Latin America makes this a particularly explosive issue and has provoked outrage amongst socialists and activists.