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Brazil: the left and the PT dilemma

Rico Rodriguez

5 May, 2015

In the face of recent protests and the general political situation, the Brazilian left faces a dilemma. On the one hand, there have been mobilisations of hundreds of thousands for the impeachment of the president, Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers’ Party, PT, led by groups like “Movimento Brasil Livre”, “Vem para rua” and others, which are utterly reactionary. On the other hand, the left does not want to support and defend the PT government.

Because of this, a large part of the radical left, including the PSOL, the Party of Socialism and Freedom, the PSTU, the United Socialist Workers’ Party, the PCB, Communist Party of Brazil, and the LER-QI, the Revolutionary Strategy League, Fourth International, did not participate in the mass demonstrations on March 13 which were led by the CUT, the biggest union federation, with strong links to the PT, the MST, the movement of landless rural workers, and UNE, the national student union, and were directed against both the reactionary mobilisations and some of the government plans.

The argument for not participating in the demonstrations was that this could be understood as support for a government that does not deserve support, a government that defends capitalism, rules in favour of the bourgeoisie and is now implementing tax changes that will mean new attacks on the working class. Thus, large parts of the left were off the stage in the largest demonstrations since June 2013.

Even though these events took place more than a month ago, it is necessary to discuss the issues raised because the dilemma will continue to face the labour movement, and not only in Brazil. In Latin America, most of the so-called “left” or “centre-left” governments are headed by popular fronts, creating situations similar to that in Brazil.

We believe it was a mistake not to participate in the demonstrations on March 13. This is not because we have any illusions in the CUT or PT, or because we thought it was necessary to defend the government in the current situation. Nor do we think a military coup is being prepared by the right.

There is no doubt that the working class needs a strong response both to the mobilisations of the right and against the attacks from the PT-led government. However, the majority of the working class, and even its vanguard, does not look to the weak forces of the radical left for that, rather, it turns to the strongest trade union federation and the leading organisations of the poor masses.

The key issue is the balance of forces in the working class and the prevailing strength of its reformist leadership. The CUT, MST and the UNE, among other organisations, were able to mobilise masses of their members on March 13, proving that they saw the necessity to go to the street against the right wing mobilisations. In São Paulo alone, for example, 50,000 took to the streets.

However, these masses, whose first impulse was to defend the government of Dilma against right-wing attacks, are confronted, at the same time, with the contradiction that they oppose that government’s policy. This is currently very clear in the protests against the legal decrees MP 664 and MP 665 dealing with tax changes. As a result, the CUT’s national leaders face problems in simply “defending” the government as much as they would like. So the official demands of the demonstrations were not “defend the government” but demands for political reform, the defence of Petrobras as a nationalised oil company, the repeal of the tax changes etc.

Was the real intention of the leadership to mobilise in defence of Dilma? Undoubtedly. However, that does not automatically mean that joining in the demonstrations would achieve that intention. On the contrary, left organisations should have had a strong presence on these demonstrations, visibly and loudly denouncing the Dilma government and agitating among the base of the mass organisations present. Not to participate in the mobilisations of the CUT and Co. at that time simply meant leaving the field open for the the pro-government leaderships, the “governistas”.

Although the Left organisations we have mentioned were united in their absence from the demonstrations, their reasoning and justification for this varied. The LER-QI simply denounced the demonstrations as pro-government and declared that what was needed in this situation was an independent front organisation:

“Therefore, we are not participating in the demonstrations of March 13 that only serve to wash the government’s face, its policy of cuts and corruption, as we also will not participate in the anti-government demonstrations on March 15, which is part of the political opposition of the PSDB (Social Democratic Party of Brazil) which just wants more attacks, more withdrawal of rights and more privatisation. Instead, we need to build a workers’ policy based on mobilisations and strikes, such as those that are demonstrated by the teachers, on a national scale, starting with organising meetings at the level of the federal states to prepare the struggle and pressure the large trade union federations to call for a nationwide strike of workers against the government’s attacks”.

It is certainly correct that we need to build a “workers’ policy based on mobilisations and strikes”. Probably no one on the left would reject that. However, the article completely misses the central issue that confronts the revolutionary left: How can we actually break the leadership of the so-called “governistas”, the reformist leaders from the PT and CUT, over the organised base of the working class? The fact is that these organisations, under these leaders, can mobilise thousands on the street, they continue to lead the most significant sectors of the working class in Brazil, and it is necessary to apply tactics when faced with this situation. Why not agitate amongst this CUT base, on the streets, to “organise meetings on federal state level” and “to pressure the large trade union federation to call for a nationwide strike of workers against the governments attacks”?

The PSTU showed a much more practical perspective than the LER-QI, issuing a call on the leaders of the CUT, MST and UNE to break with the government and to organise a general strike against the cuts. Now all leftists will shout: The PSTU has illusions in the CUT! We always knew that they really want to align with them! But to call on these leaders to finally break with the government does not have to mean having illusions in these leaders. Nor does it mean that one thinks these leaders are really sympathetic to this idea.

What it does mean is that the PSTU rightly recognises that the support for the government by the leaders of those organisations brings them into sharp contradiction with their own members. There are thousands of workers in the CUT and the MST who want to fight the increasingly neoliberal policies of the government. In this situation, if the PSTU, and the left in general, calls for a break with the government and for the organisation of joint resistance, those leaders could be forced to argue openly why they are not willing to do that. Given the balance of forces, this would probably not be immediate but that does not invalidate the argument, it emphasises the urgent need to agitate for this among the rank and file at every opportunity.

Unfortunately, the PSTU did not follow the logic of its own argument and also declined to participate on March 13, placing them in a sharp contradiction; if you want to call on the leaders to break with the government, what better time and place could there be to reach their rank and file than on the demonstrations? The PSTU declared:

“We could and should come together to build a process of struggle to defeat the economic policy of the PT government, Congress and right-wing opposition? Yes, but for demonstrations to counter Dilma and the Congress and not to protect the government. Unfortunately, the latter is not the reality at the present. They are not interested at all in fighting in defence of our rights.”

This contradiction is even sharper in the face of the demonstrations that were called on April 15. This time, all these organisations did call for participation in demonstrations organised by the same leadership. Of course, they now say that the situation is different. The PSTU stressed that this was a “National protest against the outsourcing law and the decrees from Dilma!”.

Now, as was the case on March 13, this was not the official slogan of the demonstration. Does the PSTU think that the same sectors that mobilised for these protests and strikes, the CUT, MST, UNE and other “governistas” will not defend the government the same way as they did on March 13? The fact that they now raise the unifying demand against the out-sourcing law, “PL 4330”, does not change anything in the fundamental problem of leadership. The PSTU could have intervened with a similar slogan on March 13.

The PSOL, the largest left-wing party beside the PT in Brazil, is also mobilising now, but again without offering a critical evaluation of not participating in March. Rather, PSOL concluded:

“Thus, we consider the position of the PSOL correct, not to take part in the demonstrations in defence of the Dilma government, a government that cut workers’ rights and applied a brutal fiscal adjustment or, on the other hand, not to participate in the demonstrations sponsored by Rede Globo that propose reactionary solutions, while the simple replacement of the current president will also not promote any positive change in the content of policies against the workers.”

In fact, the same argument is also true for the demonstrations on April 15. Do they think they are not intended by the CUT as a defence of Dilma’s government? That the leader of the CUT, Vagner Freitas, and his like will not get out to proclaim that “now it’s time for Dilma’s rule” (because Dilma is presenting the PL4330 as being forced through by her government coalition partner PMDB against the PT)? The balance of forces remains the same and a good part of the leadership, and also the protesters, will continue wanting to defend Dilma’s government in mobilisations this week.

What has changed is that, after the great right-wing mobilisations on March 15, nobody wants to stand aside now. Now, nobody can propose that it would be better to stay at home and wait for the ideal mobilisation of the left and the working class, which could express “real working class militancy”. The sad truth is that no such force has yet taken to the stage in the current clash of political forces.

The defenders of non-participation on the March 13 demonstration will say that the protests of April 15 had a different character. Yes, they had. They were, indeed, much more critical of the Dilma government. That was not least because the left mobilised such sentiments on the protests. Also, not least because forces like the homeless movement, MTST (that also stood aside on March 13), Conlutas/PSTU and PSOL were now present. If all these forces had been present on March 13, those demonstrations could also have gained another character.

Now the PSTU agitates for: “… a national day of work stoppage in the whole country against the outsourcing law and the decrees of Dilma”. How will the “governistas” who participate in the mobilisation react to this widespread sentiment? As it happened, Vagner-Freitas, the president of the CUT, at the action in Sao Paolo declared that the CUT would make “a national strike if necessary” to stop PL4330. It is now essential that the rank and file mobilises to make this true, to get rid of the leadership and also get rid of the neoliberal policy of Dilma. This is the direction the revolutionary left has to take, defeating the policy of the governistas against their own base, instead of just denouncing it.

We defend the unity in action of the left and the tactics of the united front against the reformist leaders. There are many demands that all the left shares that must be defended against the enraged right-wing, as well as against the government. We need to challenge the leaders of the CUT, MST etc. to break with the government and to mobilise the workers against the attacks, whether they are from the “conservative” congress (PL 4330) or from Dilma’s government (MP 664 and 665). We need to put them in a difficult position, forcing them into the fight they actually do not want to wage. That would be the correct tactic for the revolutionary left in the current situation.

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