DS: the end of the line – a necessary balance sheet
Inprecor (www.inprecor.org) published in its April edition two texts adopted by last February’s session of the International Committee (IC) of the Fourth International: a “resolution on the Brazilian situation” and a “Letter to militants of Socialist Democracy” by Daniel Bensaïd, Francisco Louçã and Michael Löwy, addressed one month earlier and which the IC approved the general line of.
Having, from the very start and then on many other occasions, denounced the participation of the DS in government and the betrayals which it implies, having then insisted on the need to defend the rebel members of Parliament expelled from the PT, and then supporting the P-SOL, we are obviously relieved that the leaderships of the LCR and the Fourth International have finally taken a clear position that “the occupation of positions to the Lula government, including at the ministerial level, and other posts with political responsibilities, contradicts the need to build an alternative in Brazil in accordance with our programmematic positions” (Resolution, point 5).
Parts of the adopted texts however indicate that the problems of a political, programmematic and theoretical nature at the origin of this matter are far from being completely resolved. But before tackling these questions - in the last part of this article - it will be necessary to place the stance of the International Committee in context.
The degeneration of the PT and the neoliberal orientation of the Brazilian government are plain for the international radical left to see, particularly in Latin America. The workers there see Chávez clashing with US imperialism, talking about revolution and even about socialism, and even Kirchner in Argentina is following a policy which in more than one way (for example on the question of the foreign debt) is definitely less obsequious than that of Lula towards Bush and international financial capital.
Under these conditions, the choices of the “Brazilian section of the Fourth International” have caused growing feelings of incomprehension, even of rejection, inevitably affecting the Fourth International itself, already very weak on this continent.
In Brazil itself, the counter-reforms of the Lula government are meeting the opposition of a growing sector - though still a minority – of the trade union movement and youth. Within this movement, a major role is held by the P-SOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty), a new class-struggle formation launched on the initiative of the radical members of Congress expelled from the PT(1). Its intervention in particular was decisive in the organization and success of the national demonstration which took place last 25 November in Brasilia (the seat of government and the ministries). 15,000 participants came from all parts of the country to protest against two counter-reform bills currently before Congress, dealing with trade union rights and higher education.
Its principal public figure, Senator Heloísa Helena, is moreover a member of the International Committee of the Fourth International, as is João Machado, also a member of the leadership of P-SOL. A substantial layer of comrades coming from DS (perhaps a hundred, and others – as many as possible, it is to be hoped) are active in P-SOL, organized in the “Freedom and Revolution” tendency(2) and, within the latter, as a “DS – Fourth International Collective”.
Moving to the right
But the majority leadership of DS has developed a policy which is opposed to this resistance movement. Lately, it has ever more clearly supported neoliberal counter-reforms.
What is the “trade-union reform”? According to Agnaldo Fernandes, opposition member of the national executive of the CUT and member ofthe provisional national leadership of the P-SOL: “The trade-union ‘reform’ package put forward by the Lula government and supported by the majority of the CUT leadership and by Força Sindical is a major attack on trade-union freedom and autonomy. It restricts the democracy and independence of the basic organizations, limits the right to strike, increases the State’s and employers’ power to intervene in trade union structures, increases the power of the trade union leaders, limits and divides the capacity of workers to resist with a top-down organizational model, and prepares the conditions for the next stage which the reform of the labour law would constitute, the true objective of big capital” (“The role of the CUT is to fight neoliberalism and the destruction of our rights”, April 22 2005).
DS entirely shares the position of the majority of the CUT leadership, in supporting this counter-reform while disputing for the sake of form some of its provisions (which according to the traditional terminology of the bureaucrats, are to be “modified” by “negotiation” supported by “mobilization”). The resolution passed by the extraordinary national conference of DS of April 21-24, 2005 states as follows:
“The PEC (proposed constitutional amendment) and the PL (bill) worked out by the government arising from the debates of the FNT (National Labour Forum) express a great part of these aspirations. Their approval would call into question trade unionism which, even where it has no representation or activity in defense of the workers, survives thanks to the closed shop and compulsory contributions. They recognize the right of organization of the workers in the workplace and the right to collective bargaining for the public sector employees. These proposals and others are clearly the expression of the proposals of the CUT in the FNT, in which the CSD(3) had an important and positive participation.
“However, being the outcome of tripartite debates [government-employers-trade unions], these projects also incorporate elements which contradict our aspirations, for example when the PL greatly increases the powers of the Ministry of Labour. That means that during the debate on the PEC and the PL, we should carry out a struggle to reinforce the positive points, to reduce the negative points and to ensure that conservative elements in society and Congress do not try to introduce new measures contrary to the collective rights of the working class.”
The counter-reform of the universities is of a piece with the neoliberal offensive against the education which is being carried out in all countries: financial disengagement by the State, opening of public universities to private financing and entry of employers into their management; strong restrictions on the right of public universities to choose their curriculum; public financing of private universities integrated in a “federal system of higher education”; restrictions on student access…
The DS leadership submitted to its 4th April conference a resolution on “the reform of the Brazilian University”. There we find not the least criticism or reservation. The support is enthusiastic and complete: “the preliminary draft of the university reform package that the Ministry of Education published on 6th December is, of all the projects set out by the Ministry, that which most closely approaches the platform for the Brazilian University defended historically by the PT. The preliminary draft enables us to foresee the possibility of recovering the public element of the Brazilian University and even outline a paradigm capable of rendering the neoliberal legacy obsolete...”.
This is what the so-called “dispute on the orientation of the PT and government” reduces to in practice. Under these conditions, the confrontation between DS and the Left Articulation Tendency as to which will represent the “PT left” in the internal elections for the post of party president (Raul Pont, whose candidature was launched at the time of this conference, or Valter Pomar for the Left Articulation), really resembles a fight between two special interest groups in competition for jobs. Both effectively have the same programme, expressed in their “Letter to PT comrades” (published in French in Inprecor, March 2005). However, Pomar is the subject of reservations in DS. “We agree on the proposals. It is the name which poses a problem”, Pont admitted (Folha Online, 22/04/2005, 9:04am).
The common orientation of the DS and Left Articulation tendencies(5) is so rightwing that various elements have proposed another name for this internal election: the considerable name of Plinio Arruda Sampãio. His candidature is supported by the “Left Bloc” recently formed by 15 federal deputies (including several members of DS) for the purpose of coordinating actions in Parliament in defense of popular interests, on the basis of a common statement of principles. It is not that this current would be opposed to the government; it remains a prisoner of a class-collaborationist policy. But it seems to take the “orientation dispute” seriously and to really want to try to modify the policy of the PT and government...
Miguel Rossetto and agrarian non-reform
The activity of the DS minister is of course particularly significant. The 2004 annual report of the Ministry for Agrarian Development (MDA) announces: “the National Institute of Colonization and Land Reform (INCRA) [an agency of the ministry] settled 81,254 families between January and December 2004. The number of families settled is higher than the annual average, 65,500, for the period ranging between 1995 and 2002. It represents the third best result of the history of land reform in Brazil. Adding on the results of 2003, there are 117,555 families which the federal government has settled in two years, that is to say 81% of the target of 145,000 families outlined in the National Plan of Land Reform (PNRA) for this period”.
Yes, but, according to the newspaper Brasil de Fato (www.brasildefato.com.br), linked to the MST, these figures were crudely fabricated. This is what comes out of the “exclusive investigation” published in its number 113 of April 28 to May 4, 2005, entitled “Secret numbers of the land reform”:
“Only a minority of the settlements in 2003 and 2004 were, in fact, the result of programmes launched by the Lula government. The majority of the 117,000 families reported by the INCRA were settled within the framework of programmes launched under other governments (like that of Fernando Henrique Cardoso), or they simply saw their legal situation being regularized” (in the case of owners deprived of their titles). Even discounting the latter, a substantial number would thus have been reported twice: once under Cardoso-Jungmann, then again under Lula-Rossetto!
“For 2004, the estimates of the Lula government envisaged the settlement of 115,000 families. The INCRA affirms that approximately 80,000 families (that is to say 70% of the target) benefited. But in fact, only 25,735 families (21% of the objective) fell within the framework of programmes launched by the Lula government. The others benefited from programmes of previous governments. There is no information making it possible to know if the families concerned were already settled and just saw their situation regularized. Nor is it revealed whether or not the people concerned replaced farmers who had given up their settlements due to hardship.”
Lula’s election promise of a million settlements had been reduced to 400,000 (to which were to be added 130,000 other families in the “Building and Loan Association” programme supposed to allow them to buy land) in the plan worked out for approval in 2003: 30,000 in 2003, 115,000 in 2004, 115,000 in 2005 and 140,000 in 2006. Brasil de Fato thus reveals “the true figures of the families settled in programmes launched by the Lula government”: 12,525 in 2003 and 25,735 in 2004, that is to say a total of 38,260 instead of the 145.000 envisaged and the 117,000 announced.
This situation is not likely to improve in 2005. In the last week of February, the Minister of Finance, Antônio Palocci, announced drastic cuts in the budgets of several “social” ministries(6). “For Miguel Rossetto, who saw his budget decreasing by 3.7 billion to 1.7 billion reais, the cuts are “heavy” and compromise “all the programmemes” of his portfolio. “Without any doubt, these cuts were severe. It is my responsibility to share this with President Lula of it, by saying to him that there will be consequences on the level of all the programmemes”, the minister declared (Folha de São Paulo, March 2 2005).
The national coordinator of the MST (Landless Peasants Movement), João Paulo Rodrigues, considered that the cuts “signified the end of the Lula government’s land reform” (O Globo, March 3), and asked the Minister and the president of the INCRA to present their resignations “as a means for them to protest against these cuts” (Folha, March 2). His call was obviously not heard.
In a March 5 interview with Folha de São Paulo, which had published extracts from the “letter to militants of Socialist Democracy” making an issue of the “discretion” of the minister vis-a-vis the “delays in land reform”, he denied “having publicly resisted the budget cuts under the pressure of the Fourth International”. He added: “This text says that our government is not able to make the necessary changes, and I disagree. The thing is that a very broad government such as ours has its limits, but there remains an agenda of changes still to be carried out.”
“My business is in Pará and not in Paris”, he further declared. Pará is the state where two homeless people had been just murdered by the police during its eviction of an encampment of 2,000 people. A few days earlier, the American missionary Dorothy Stang, a well-known militant in the landless movement, had been murdered in the north of the country.
Plinio Arruda Sampãio, the author of the national land reform plan which was supposed to be applied, denounced on this occasion the cynical use of what he called “the kit-massacre”. This “includes: indignant speeches by the president and his ministers; the arrival of ministers on the spot (attending the funeral if possible); promises of harsh punishment of the criminals; imprisonment of three or four suspects (then released for lack of evidence); and the announcement of “measures” intended to make public opinion believe that the government is acting. The average lifespan of a “kit-massacre” is 15 to 20 days. After this time, the affair leaves the main pages of the large newspapers and, consequently, the kit is kept in a drawer until the following massacre. The Lula government inherited this methodology and its application” (Folha de São Paulo, 23/02/2005).
The split is announced
At its meeting of 4 and 5 December 2004, the national leadership of DS officially expelled from its ranks all of its militants who had joined P-SOL: “Our organization has only one party project. The militants of Socialist Democracy are those who (...) seek to build common positions on the basis of democratically adopted resolutions...”
After the expulsion from the PT of Heloísa Helena (along with the federal deputies Babá, Luciana Genro and João Fontes) in December 2003, the DS leadership had required of her that she limit her political activity to appealing for readmission at the next PT congress (in the indefinite future); in other words, that she should commit political suicide. And this, after failing to mount any campaign against the expulsions: no public meetings, nor mass petitions, nor anything else of that type – the expelled comrades and their supporters had to get by on their own.
In the interview quoted above, Miguel Rossetto characterised the resolution of the IC of the Fourth International as a “typical resolution of these small organizations with no influence in the class struggle, full of abstract formulas “.
On February 24, the national leadership of DS condemned “the appropriation by a minority faction of DS militants DS and by militants who unilaterally left DS and are now in the P-SOL” of the “letter to DS militants”, denounced the draft Resolution in the same terms as its minister, and announced that as a result it would not take part in the meeting of the International Committee.
A little later, 150 members of the state DS of Rio Grande do Sul (among them Raul Pont and other leading figures) signed a text which declared: “Within the framework of our traditions of defense of a democratic and militant internationalism, the boycott by DS of the meeting of the International Committee was a necessary reaction to the breach of the International’s historical relationship with us. It was also a defense of the internal democracy of the Tendency against a crude attempt to encroach on the rights of the militants of DS, who have sole authority to deliberate on the policies of the Tendency and to decide who is entitled to membership in our current.”
This last point, which answers a passage of the IC resolution taking a position “for the maintenance of relations with all the components of the Fourth International in Brazil - all the components remaining full members of the International”, sounds like an ultimatum. At the same time, the few militants who dare to support the texts adopted by the International Committee are severely scolded and are implicitly invited to choose: with the DS and PT, or against them. “Pará or Paris”, the minister proclaimed demagogically. Everything indicates that for the DS majority leadership, the political split is already a fact, what remains being no more than a question of “forms”.
For the LCR and the Fourth International, the PT, DS and “the participative democracy of Porto Alegre” had served as paradigms since the early 1990s. One of the essential functions of the discussion on Brazil is to draw out the lessons which will allow us to avoid making - elsewhere and under other conditions - the same type of errors. It is a question of assessing the outcomes and seeking the roots of them, by drawing up the necessary critical balance sheet. So we do not to do the same thing as with the “models” of the previous decade - Nicaragua and the Sandinista revolution - which were never subjected to the least assessment.
However, the texts endorsed by the International Committee are not only far from going to the bottom of these problems, but they maintain confusion around the same “pragmatic” ideas which resulted in taking reformist positions (moreover without real reforms) for revolutionary Marxism, and encouraged serious (dis)illusions after the installation of the Lula government. Because, if it is true that “since the formation of the Lula government there had been reservations, doubts or disagreements in the International regarding the participation of the Socialist Democracy Tendency in the government” (IC resolution), one cannot be unaware of that there were also at the same time, and not only in Brazil, completely groundless hopes(7).
1) For a start, it would be advisable to identify the problems much more clearly.
We saw that the resolution states, in section 5, that governmental participation “contradicts the construction of an alternative in Brazil in accordance with our programmematic positions”. However, it does not specify anywhere which “programmematic positions” it means. However, at the same time, the letter voted for by the same IC affirms in section 12 that we would have a “common framework of programmematic reference points” with the DS leadership. But which ones? And is there therefore a “programmematic contradiction” or a”common programmematic framework”?
2) It would be wise to avoid the vulgar pragmatism which categorises the principles of Marxism as “dogmas” or “doctrinaire abstractions”.
“The International has, therefore, avoided putting the question of participation in the Lula government in dogmatic terms, without taking account of the characteristics of the country, history of the Workers Party (PT), of its ties to the social and trade-union movements” (Resolution, point 5).
“In discussions among militants of the Fourth International we insisted that the question should not be put in abstract, doctrinaire or timeless terms, without taking account of the characteristics of the country, the history of the PT, of its bonds to the social and trade-union movements. (...) We endeavoured to convince the comrades of our own sections, that the question of governmental participation should be logically subordinated to an assessment of the government’s orientation.” (Letter, point 3); “We gave each other time to understand things better rather than rushing to a judgement based on abstract criteria” (Letter, point 12).
But our “criteria”, i.e. in this case our principles, are not “abstract”, nor “doctrinaire”, nor “dogmatic”. They are political and very “concrete”, in that they proceed from the history of the struggles of the workers’ movement and the lessons that revolutionary Marxism has drawn from those struggles.
These criteria or principles teach us that a coalition government with sections of thebourgeoisie, defending private ownership of the means of production (the problem is not only “liberal” policies!), is a bourgeois government (the elementary question of the class nature of the Lula government is missing from the two texts voted on at the IC(8)!); and that such a government can therefore never have “governmental orientations” such as would justify “governmental participation” on our part.
Let us add that the Lula government is not just any bourgeois government: it is a government of this type which is praised and even fawned upon by the bourgeoisie, both Brazilian and international (and imperialist in particular). To take part in the Spanish Popular Front government was a serious error of the POUM - even in the midst of a civil war against Fascism. To take part in the Chávez government would in the same way constitute a serious error (but one that the revolutionary Marxists of the OIR, because they are consistent, are at absolutely no risk of making), although it is subject to with violent attacks from the bourgeoisie and imperialism. To take part in the Lula government, that is something else. There is no excuse, not the least “extenuating circumstance”.
Of course, Marxism is not a dogma, it is constantly evolving and particularly when major changes in the class struggle occur. If experience shows us that certain criteria should be modified, then let us modify them. It remains the case that in all history, we have never yet seen a bourgeois government defending the interests of the workers or moving towards socialism. DS does not pretend otherwise. It is content to answer that that is not the problem, by stigmatizing our criteria as “abstract”, “doctrinaire”, and “dogmatic”. Is it really necessary that at the last minute, this view still abounds in the leadership of the Fourth International?
3) To now be able to reorientate ourselves, it would thus be desirable to stop reasserting - as the letter does on several occasions in connection with the 7th conference of DS, in particular in section 11 - resolutions of DS which are located entirely within a framework of supporting and participating in this government, and whose inexorable political logic is thus to prepare a capitulation all down the line.
Likewise it would be it to better avoid presenting the policy followed by DS in the state of Ceará (Letter, point 7) and its capital Fortaleza (point 8) as a perfect example of an excellent orientation. Because in so far as these comrades are resisting to some extent, which is to their credit when compared with others, they have nevertheless continued, until now at least, to support the government and thus to endorse a policy of class collaboration(9).
4) In particular, it will be necessary to demolish the misleading fetish of the phrase “participatory democracy” - to be able to break with all the retreats which it involved or covered, and not to relapse into similar mistakes in the future.
Section 7 of the letter takes issue with the P-SOL by accusing it of “an infantile leftism (like the abstentionist position - or the absence of a position - on the Porto Alegre municipal election), neglecting the obvious fact that a victory of Raul [Pont] in the local elections in Porto Alegre would have been important for the city, for the internal situation in the PT, and for the global justice movement as a whole”.
This attack is not correct and its authors know it. The majority of the P-SOL leadership favoured voting for Pont, including its local organization as a contribution from the MES(10), its principal component in Porto Alegre, testifies. It argued that in a local election, unless there are particular reasons to the contrary, it is right to vote for a reformist candidate who faces a bourgeois candidate.
However, the policies of PT-DS local governments, in particular concerning the great teachers’ strike in Rio Grande do Sul, left many scars, so much so that many “independent” militants, not members of an internal tendency though often coming from the PT, favoured abstention. Under conditions where the P-SOL, just formed, was (as it still is) more a movement towards a new party than a finished party, to impose a majority vote on the minority would not havebeen democratic. The responsible attitude was thus to adopt in the name of the party (everyone being able to give their own position) the consensus position that the P-SOL made public: to call for no vote to the right-wing candidate, and to indicate that some of its militants would vote Pont while others would not.
But most important is here what the authors avoid and obscure: the disastrous consequences of PT-DS rule, in terms of rejection not only by the working-class vanguard, but also in the masses generally - as proved by all the subsequently lost elections. At the heart of this administration appeared the “participatory budget “, through which the inhabitants were invited to distribute among themselves the capitalist shortages, “to rob Peter to pay Paul”. It is in the name of this policy that reformist PT-DS managers, imposed austerity, froze the wages of state employees, fought and slandered through March and April 2000 the long strike of the 86,000 “privileged” workers in state education...
5) It is also necessary to manage to demolish erroneous interpretations – almost fantasies - as to the reality of the PT.
A “Labour Party” in the sense that Trotsky intended it (and proposed it for the countries without a tradition of mass working-class parties, in particular the United States), the PT was anticapitalist only in its earliest years, and still in a partial and inconsistent way. It was always led by a reformist bureaucracy tied to the Church and international social democracy, very, very far from the “revolutionary party in construction” that DS wanted to see it as.
When this bureaucracy began, especially since its first great electoral victories in 1989, to occupy an increasingly significant number of positions in the State apparatus, its combativity was quickly blunted, at least outside of election campaigns. Its “success” having coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disappearance of the USSR and the proclamation of “the end of socialism”, the former reformists who spoke about socialism on Sundays became reformists without reforms, increasingly open “social-liberal” defenders of capitalism. And after its accession to the federal government, the historic PT was definitively destroyed.
There is thus no reason to stress the fact that “PSoL is far from representing a credible statewide alternative to the PT, even with the PT more and more bureaucratized and corrupt” (Letter, point 7). The militants of the P-SOL know well that their party is not yet “a credible alternative”. Is the LCR a credible alternative to the PS and PCF? It fights to build such an alternative, and its fight for that is correct. One must on the contrary insist on the real and considerable asset which this still weak and fragile embryonic alternative represents. All the more real, considering the incredible state of political and moral decrepitude of the bulk of the “PT left”.
6) Finally, this experience requires us to renew our political and strategic perspectives on the bureaucratization of labour movement leaderships, their integration with the state and the means of fighting them (the next manifesto of the LCR, in particular, will have to take account of these points).
(1) The reader will find much information on the formation of the P-SOL and its positions in preceding issues of this bulletin. The provisional programme of the P-SOL is also available on our site (heading “texts”). In Portuguese, see the website www.psol.org.br and links to those of its various internal tendencies.
(2) Two websites are maintained by militants linked to this tendency: www.marxismorevolucionarioatual.org and www.palavracruzada.cjb.net. One can also find there documents relating to the positions of DS and polemics with its majority leadership. See also the site of DS, www.democraciasocialista.org.br, and that of its trade-union tendency in the CUT, www.csd.org.br. Unless otherwise indicated, the texts quoted in this article were published on one or the other (or several) of these sites.
(3) “Militant and Democratic CUT”, the tendency in the CUT union federation aligned with DS.
(4) Draft Resolution published in the April 2005 issue of of the newspaper of DS (available on its site). At the beginning of May, the text of the voted resolution had not been made public yet. Though there are very few doubts...
(5) Although, contrary to DS, the Left Articulation is opposed to the trade-union counter-reform!
(6) This was already the case two years ago. See Avanti! No. 3 (March 2003), page 14.
(7) Recall for example, in Inprecor of March-April 2003, the article “A revolutionary minister faces the press “, which - inter alia - presented the Lula government and the action of his DS minister as “the beginning of the road to workers’ power”.
(8) João Machado, on the other hand, stresses its importance. After having quoted “the observation that the government has a general social-liberal orientation”, made in the two texts endorsed by the International Committee, he adds: “But so that the conclusions which we must draw from this observation are clearer, it is important to remember a corollary of this observation: the fundamental class interests defended by the government are those of big capital, national and international, particularly finance capital. This is precisely the significance of a social-liberal general line.” And further: “It is important to repeat and underline: from the very start it was clearly that the Lula government is a bourgeois government. As it includes representatives of the popular classes, it is a bourgeois government and a government of class collaboration.” (“Questions for the socialist militants of DS “, 18/04/2005).
(9) The PT-DS federal deputy for Ceará, João Alfredo, is one of the spokesmen of the “Left Bloc” mentioned previously, and the PT-DS mayor of Fortaleza, Luizianne Lins, took part in the press conference announcing its formation.
(10) “Contribution to the political discussion of the P-SOL”, by the regional leadership of MES of Rio Grande do Sul, available on the site of the journal Movimiento (www.movimiento.com.br).
This article was first published in Avanti!,
a monthly journal produced by members of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire
in France (www.avanti-lcr.org).