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ESF Report: The Brazilian Workers Party and the Fourth International

Joe Craig

27 October 2004

This is a report of some of the discussions at the recent European Social Forum in London around the experience of members of the Fourth International (FI) in the Brazilian Workers Party. It is comprised of notes take at two meetings addressed by João Machado of the PSOL, which is a new formation initiated by members of the FI.

The first part are  notes taken from a speech by João Machado at a rally organised by the FI on Thursday evening before the beginning of ESF and the second part notes of a meeting organised as part of the ESF and devoted solely to the question of Brazil.

The Brazilian situation is a complicated one. After two years it is clear that the Lula government is not a government of change, or a left government, but is a neoliberal government. Its economic policy has been designed with the IMF, which has praised the Lula government for its policies including, for example, its reform of pensions and trade union law. Brazil’s left and social movements have not been ready for what the Lula government is doing.

Since the early 1990s there has been a right wing turn in the Workers Party (PT) reflecting the international crisis of the left and pursuit of electoral success by the PT and this right wing turn has gone much further than anyone could have imagined. One reason for the surprise in the left and social movements was Lula’s public presentation of his positions, which were of the left. He did not do what Blair did, which was change programmatic positions before the elections. Before 2002 the leadership of the PT could not do this because it did not have a majority inside the party, although it had said it would like to abandon the commitment to socialism. These attempts had been abandoned because of opposition and the attempt to delete socialism had not been put to the party. Lula’s candidacy was able to change policy in the elections through the alliance with the bourgeois Liberal party and after this Lula accepted a deal with the IMF.

After the elections the left and social movements had illusions that they would be able to debate inside the party and use their weight to prevent these bourgeois measures. This was an illusion – Lula’s line is clearer and clearer now and there is a crisis in the line of the left and social movements. Inside these there are four perspectives.

The first is opposed to the measures of the government and is made up of some of the Socialist Democracy Tendency (DS), which is the Brazilian section of the Fourth International, and which has gone on to form a new party PSOL – the Party of Socialism and Liberty. (Of which João Machado is a member) Our base is primarily in the public sector workers and youth.

The second line includes comrades inside the PT fighting Lula’s orientation who have not wanted to be excluded from the PT. Some have stood against the PT in elections.

The third includes those who have adapted themselves to Lula’s line and are focusing on the next Presidential elections in 2006.

The fourth perspective includes comrades in the landless workers and social movements who want to build a new left movement from the bottom upwards but do not want to get involved in elections.

Comrades in the Fourth International are in the first three of these currents and the whole of the left is split along these four orientations. The situation is complicated and difficult. There have been strikes e.g. of public sector workers. The next World Social Forum will present an opportunity to debate and clarify the way forward.

Second Meeting

The next day a meeting was arranged as part of the ESF proper which was devoted to a more extensive presentation by João Machado of the situation in Brazil. The following are the notes from the speech by João Machado and the debate which followed:

The PT was set up in 1979 as a pluralist alternative to social democracy and the election of Lula in 2002 was greeted enthusiastically.

There are significant contradictions in the Lula government; the economic part of it is very conservative but there was a sector committed to the old programme of the PT. This contradiction has decreased and people are not expressing their concerns so much now, over not just economic but also environmental issues. There were many disputes within the government between ministers but now we have seen the debate shift to one between more or less liberal members, with the greater predominance of the most liberal positions.

For example at the last World Trade Organisation meeting Brazil aligned itself with the position of the imperialist countries. Although Brazil was more critical of certain free trade positions, in negotiations with the EU it has taken up a pro-imperialist position. It is impossible now to identify a left position in the whole government although some of our friends are striving to find some good positions in the government.

In the municipal/mayoral elections the PT candidates stood against a right wing bloc in the first round and the second round is about to take place. Both blocs basically defend the same political proposals and in many cases there are alliances between them. In the ‘left’ bloc that includes the PT there are clearly parties of the right.

How did we get to this situation?

Lula’s section of the party is the main section with strong connections to the trade union movement; this has moved from the left to the right. This section has no significant Marxist background. For those with a Trotskyist background we may describe them as having an empirical approach and their consciousness represented the general consciousness of the movements. One of the reasons for the creation of the PT was that no one represented the interests of the workers. This section had a workerist position, representing the interests of the trade unions.

During the 80s Lula’s section consolidated its position, identifying more and more with Cuba rather than with the Soviet Union, although during the fall of the Berlin wall a group of PT people were talking to the ruling East German party. Many had confused Stalinist positions but predominantly the position was a socialist one, but the defeat of the Sandinistas had a strong effect on the PT.

In the party there was no change in the official position but contradictions developed and a clear political differentiation developed in the 1990s with growth of a obvious liberal wing. In 1991 the PT Congress faced an attempt to move the official position to the right. Lula’s group – the majority – was not explicitly liberal. There was a right wing group and a centre group (Lula’s group which had some strong liberal tendencies and was called ‘Articulation’. It had a more centrist position but moved towards a more liberal one). At the 1991 Congress the left and the left part of Lula’s group blocked the changes proposed by the right wing although Lula never entered the discussion personally. In 1994 another attempt to adopt a social liberal position was not put to the vote because even in Lula’s group there was resistance. The participatory budgets were an initiative of the left and Lula was not initially involved. In Porto Alegre many people from the majority group refused to join saying it was a Trotskyist initiative.

The 2002 election meant Lula’s emancipation from the constraints of the left inside the PT but this occurred also because of the overall balance of forces inside the party. Many people in the PT thought in the beginning he was making concessions and in time would adapt more to the left. This is a wrong analysis. Lula was freeing himself not from the right but from the left.

Many on the left and in the social movements have had the PT as their major reference. Now the left has four currents, all originally from the PT.

The first are those who have left the PT and are building a new party led by prominent Senator Heloísa Helena who has central importance to the new party, the PSOL. The second current continues to build opposition inside the PT and recently had an important electoral victory, entering the second round in an important Brazilian city. The third current projects low intensity resistance to Lula but is prepared to support the government in the 2006 elections. The fourth current is connected more directly to the social movements and cannot support Lula’s government but is avoiding a straightforward opposition, staying within the activity of the social movements.

A section of the left is not in the PT and is composed of two Trotskyist groups, the PSTU and PCO. Both have tried to place themselves in elections and have gained no more than 0.2% of the vote. It is easy to make left criticisms but reality is much more difficult. The PSTU has a certain trade union influence and is preparing to form a new trade union centre, and it is a disaster.

The Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), with a Maoist background, has a majority that supports Lula and has less of a left character than the left of the PT, but a section of it is further to the left.

The left must unify itself towards an alternative although it is now smaller than it was, but if there is a social outburst it will be possible.

Meeting opened to the Floor

The meeting was then opened to the floor for questions and contributions, some of which are recorded here:

The first question asked what the objective processes were that allowed this process to happen.

The second question asked what differences there was in key conditions between working people and PT officers and what difference did this have in the evolution of the PT.

The next contribution argued that the evolution of Lula’s government was entirely predictable beforehand and that the Fourth International should not have had a minister in the capitalist government. The FI had previously expelled the Ceylonese section for participating in a capitalist government.

The next contributor said that the workers had suffered from neoliberalism during the 90s and that this was a contributing factor to the evolution of the PT and that it was clear by the mid-90s that Lula was making deals with imperialism.

The next speaker asked what the strategies of the new party are for building itself and what are its policies. What lessons have been learnt? It should be clear from the experience that capitalism can’t be reformed and that we need a revolutionary strategy.

The following speaker stated that the landless workers movement had asked the DS to join the government and that it was correct to fight within it.

The next said that the PSOL documents he had seen were not clear on many aspects. There was no clear orientation and, for example, the party did not support a woman’s right to choose on the question of abortion. The PSOL was characterised by electoralism. Lula’s politics were clear 10 years ago not 2 years ago but this was not clear in the PSOL documents.

A speaker from the Socialist Party stated that the Brazilian group in solidarity with its international movement was collaborating in building the new PSOL and had left the PT. There are gaps in the programme but they were positive about how it can go forward. Its programme is to the left of the Scottish Socialist Party and Rifondazione in Europe. But PSOL will face pressures in the future.

The final speaker from the floor was a member of the British section of the FI and said that her organisation was willing to debate the experience of participatory budgets, which had come under criticism. She stated that the claim – that the PT experience proved that broad anti-capitalist parties were finished – was premature and we had to be careful.


João Machado then responded to the discussion from the floor.

Two influences were important in the development of the PT. First were international developments and second was the domestic neoliberal offensive, which put the working class on the defensive and can be seen in the decline of the metal workers. In a period of unemployment having a position derived from PT membership has had an effect, but this can also be seen in the hundreds of thousands of landless peasants dependent on State support for food and Lula can use this to retain influence. The union confederation CUT suffered a process of bureaucratisation during the 1990s. Workers achieved victories less and less and the influence of the CUT centre increased. State support for professional education of trade unionists and for co-operatives also had an influence.

The Lula government is much more capitalist than the popular front governments of the 1930s and, for example, and Lula/PT has had a much more left wing image than the Blair and Jospin governments both domestically and internationally.

Participation in the government at the beginning was an excusable error.  Now the question is – how could this happen? The left thought there would be some changes and that pressure from the social movements would force a change. The left thought there would be a turning point in the policy of the government. The key argument of those who supported participation in government was that this was the most favourable place to intervene in this process. It would be the place most visible to the masses that there was a left that could fight for changes. In the first months of the government there was a little bit of this.

After 2 years it is now clear that this was an illusion. To participate in government does not help rupture but creates difficulties in achieving this. Today it is foreseeable that there will be not a split of the right but of the left.

To draw a balance sheet: what should have been prepared was not that we should have had no illusions in the right wing of the PT or Lula, but the bigger error that was that a government under Lula would allow a favourable environment for the mobilisation of the masses. The majority of the FI was not in favour of participation in the government but there is no mechanism in the International to impose this discipline on the Brazilian section.  The majority of the FI thought that the election of Lula was a good thing – also many other currents such as the PSTU, they also celebrated widely.  The consequence of this is a big crisis of the Brazilian left and it is not clear what will happen.  In this crisis there is a close relationship between people in and out of the PT.  The key question is, do you still support Lula in 2006.  Many of those still in the PT think that this is not possible.

The PSOL is a positive step but many difficulties are in the way.  Our goal is to build a bigger party than exists today, a party that the left of the PT could join and which should also include the left of the Communist Party of Brazil and some sections of the social left.  If this happens we could have a new period of growth of the left with lessons learnt and greater political clarity.

SOL is not yet really a party, more a movement for a party.  Heloisa Helena uses an expression – it is a shelter for the left that cannot recognise Lula’s government.  Today in the Sol there are many perspectives of what the party should be – but all from a Trotskyist tradition.  On the debate on the programme there are many gaps and in my personal opinion it is best to keep it open for a while for others to come in.  It is important to realise therefore that the programme is not finished.

The main activity of SOL is collecting signatures to legalise the party; 400,000 are needed and it is going well as we have 300,000.  Our task is also to take activists to the social movements to unify struggles against the Lula government.  There is some good experience of working with the left of the PT and PCB and PSTU despite the latter’s decision to create their own social movements.  The second round of the elections are at the end of the month but after the elections the process of clarification will go speedily.  The WSF will be a good opportunity for debates and initiatives.  PSOL is organising its second congress in Porto Alegre.



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