What is the correct policy for Brazil’s current situation?

JUNE 5TH, 2017

Debate with parties PO and PTS, from Argentina
The political situation in Brazil is accelerating. At the time of writing this article, 100,000 people are marching in Brasilia demanding the resignation of President Temer and against the regressive Labor and Social Security reforms that the government presented to the Congress. After a plea bargain by the Batista brothers (owners of the giant slaughterhouse JBS) on the bribes to the main politicians of the country (including the President), the Temer administration is extremely worried.
By Alejandro Iturbe.
Fractioned and divided (with the decay of its political regime and its parties completely exposed), the Brazilian bourgeoisie is attempting to discuss possible alternatives to escape this impasse and avoid an explosion of workers and the masses that might worsen the crisis. In the Congress in Brasilia, deputies got into a fight, whilst outside workers tried to reach the buildings of the bourgeois power, confronting the repression.
In this frame, the Brazilian left (let’s not consider the PT) is at a stage of unity of action to stop the reforms and take Temer down. The bureaucracies of the main Federations (such as the CUT, pro-PT, and the Força Sindical) are trapped between their capitulating nature on one side, and the attacks of the bourgeoisie and the government and the pressure from the rank and file on the other. Hence, they are not managing to dismantle the struggles. Both things are positive, because they raise the potential from the actions by workers and the masses, like the great demonstration of March 15, the successful general strike of April 28, and now the occupation of Brasilia. Thus we need to maintain and maximize this unity of action until we achieve the common goal that can establish that base.
At the same time, the situation itself demands a development of the necessary debates among the left regarding two aspects that are linked to each other but are separate. The first is a balance of the analysis, characterization, and policies of each of these currents in the previous period. The second (to a large extent the main point), is which policy should be posed to workers and the masses to move the struggle forward.
This debate is taking place not only amongst the Brazilian left but in Latin America as a whole, especially in Argentina. We are talking about polemics that we have had and have with the two main Trotskyist organizations from Argentina (the PO – Workers’ Party and the PTS – Socialist Workers’ Party) who dedicated and continue to dedicate a lot of attention to Brazil through their publications.
An incorrect forecast
Regarding the balance, we do not want to overwhelm our readers with lots of quotations, so we will only use the main concepts that inform this debate.
Over the last few years, the PO as much as the PTS (like most of the Latin American left) characterized that there was a “reactionary wave” in Latin America. This means that the bourgeoisie and its different political expressions (mainly the rightist) were offensive and workers and the masses were defensive. The definition was mainly based on electoral results: Mauricio Macri becoming President Argentina; the harsh defeat of Nicolás Maduro in parliamentary elections; Evo Morales’ defeat on the referendum to authorize a new election; etc. So, new and stronger rightist governments were emerging with much greater capability to harshly hit workers through layoffs, suspensions, wage cuts, worsening working conditions, weakening the retirement’ system etc. Even if this analysis had partial elements of truth, globally it is incorrect, and led as we will see, to incorrect policies.
First, they consider electoral results – a superstructural phenomenon – as the main element of reality. Even in this case, they simplify the complex process of the workers’ and masses’ consciousness, which the bourgeois electoral system deforms and distorts. An essential problem, however, is that they did not consider that workers and the masses were not defeated in the class struggle field, on the contrary, they were showing a disposition to struggle (in fact they did struggle) against the attacks.
At the same time, it is completely true that the new right-wing governments emerged to deepen attacks on the masses. But to understand those attacks only as a consequence of the election of these governments means “embellishing” the Popular Front, or populist bourgeois governments in crisis that began the implementation of the attacks in the first place (Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, Dilma Rousseff in Brazil). A great example of this is Syriza, in Greece. So yes, there were harsh attacks, but these were implemented by all types of bourgeois governments, irrelevant of the differences between them.
From our perspective, we defended that the dynamics of any national political situation is determined by the class struggle, and we saw the masses resisting and fighting. Of course, there was a possible of the masses being defeated. But by deeply analyzing the reality, there was no reason to be pessimistic; on the contrary, we predicted the struggles. The result of those struggles would define the dynamics, not the elections. It is suffice to look at the situation in Argentina, with great and massive struggles and demonstrations and a government that cannot be defined as “strong”, and check both analyses and contrast with the reality.
Brazil: deepening the mistakes
These organizations’ characterization of the “reactionary wave” had a special refraction in Brazil: it was not expressed directly through the elections but through the “green-yellow” demonstrations demanding the impeachment of Dilma. Their conclusion was even more pessimistic: that the reactionary middle-class were on the streets winning sections of the workers’ movement, and that the majority of the working class were passive before the “coup” that was being “prepared” on the streets.
Dilma’s removal from office and the appointment of Michel Temer finally took place. As these currents could not talk about a classic military coup, they used a new category: “institutional coup” (same content but different form). The logical conclusion was that the bourgeois dominated regime had strengthened. In reality, these currents did not create anything: they just repeated the speeches of Dilma, Lula and the PT, who invented this category to hide their own failure and explain why the masses did not move a finger to defend their government – adding a touch of “red” for colour.
In several IWL and Brazilian PSTU articles, we debated this incorrect view. We pointed out that a parliamentary action framed in the Constitution itself that did not modify the bourgeois democratic regime in currency, could not be defined as a “coup”.
We said that what was happening in Brazil was not a “coup” but something completely different: it was a struggle between two bourgeois blocs (the PT on one side, the right-wing opposition on the other), to decide who should rule during the crisis and implement with more efficiency the bankers’ and bourgeois’ fiscal adjustment; a struggle that would be defined inside of the regime itself. We also said that, far for strengthening through Dilma’s impeachment and Temer’s appointment, the regime was now even more fragile and the new government was just as weak or weaker than Dilma’s.
This definition of “institutional coup” was not only disguising reality, it also had profound political consequences. First: before the impeachment it created a “bridge” to capitulate to the PT and its agonized government, because the center of the policy was to “defend democracy against the coup”. Therefore, it was a major mistake to call workers and masses to defeat Dilma’s government (and the corrupt Congress and right-wing bourgeois opposition) through their own struggle, as the IWL and PSTU were proposing. We were described as “functional to the right-wing” because of our policy.
After the impeachment and Temer’s appointment, these debates lost weight, as a period of unity of action in struggle began, to take him down. But the definition of “pro-coup government” remained, and continues to have consequences: while the PSTU and the IWL complete the program with “out with them all” (a slogan expressing the struggle against the regime as a whole, its corrupt parties and politicians), these currents limit the call to “Out with Temer”. Once again they act in accordance with the PT policy. They are more to the left than the PT in their speech, but they continue to capitulate to it.
It is necessary to make a precision: even if both currents’ policies match in essence, each pose it differently: the PO is an essentially national Trotskyist party, whose current has little to no presence in Brazil. In many cases, it is limited to extensive articles written by Jorge Altamira (main leader) giving “advice” on the situation.
The PTS alternatively, try to build an international organization (the Trotskyist Fraction – FT), whose expression in Brazil is the Revolutionary Workers’ Movement – MRT. Thus, they develop their positions further. For example, last year they split the FIT rally [Lefts and Workers’ Front] in Argentina on May 1st, to make their own separate demonstration “against the coup in Brazil”. During Dilma’s impeachment process, the moment that the deputies of the PSOL started acting like a “parliamentary base” to Dilma and the PT (without any criticism of the government), the MRT continued defending its policy of entering the PSOL. Once again, this is like a chain: the PSOL capitulates to the PT, the MRT wants to enter the PSOL… and so on.
Another central aspect: the CSP-Conlutas and the General Strike
With the international current of the PTS we had another debate: years ago in Brazil, they changed their name from LER [Revolutionary Strategy League] to MRT, and requested to be part of the PSOL (a frontist, reformist and electoralist party). Beyond the fact that entry did not take place due to the PSOL leadership’s refusal, it is very intersting to read the arguments that justify this orientation.
At the time they said: “The PSOL is a party which, above all, during the last elections, through the candidature of Luciana Genro and several deputies, appeared as an alternative to the left of the PT for a majority of the masses. Luciana got 1.6 million votes, an important expression of the combat against the most conservative segments of Brazilian politics.[1] Thus, the MRT proposal was to “fight for our revolutionary ideas inside the PSOL, to build a strong workers’ alternative”.
They added that, on the contrary “the PSTU, despite raising correct points of program, is resigning to present themselves as the true alternative, by each time being more restricted to a unionism that agitates for a General Strike in propaganda but does not give an answer to the crisis of the PT nor to the class struggle.” In a different text, the MRT characterized that because of the difference in votes obtained by both parties in the 2015 election, “what must remain clear is that the tendency is for the PSOL to appear as a political alternative before the crisis of the PT, and that the PSTU is consolidating as a big unionist sect disappearing from the political arena,” despite acknowledging that “the anti-government unions of the country are organized in the CSP-Conlutas”.[2]
So, for the MRT-PTS, what is important is to have political weight and “be an alternative” to obtain many votes and deputies. On the contrary, if you have leadership weight in the Federation that organizes the most combative unions (meaning structural and organizational weight amongst the working class) but you have few votes, the party becomes a “big unionist sect” with no political future. This current overlooked a “minor” point: Lenin’s conception that electoral results were very important, but workers’ strikes and struggles were “a hundred times” more important.
It’s good practice to put each organizations’ proposals through a reality check. Far from becoming “the big unionist sect”, the PSTU (essentially through its action with CSP-Conlutas) has been a main part (although a minority, a real part) of the recent class struggle events in Brazil, such as the demonstrations in March, the general strike in April, and the occupation of Brasilia. This is due in the main to the tireless agitation on the necessity of a general strike as a method of workers’ struggle, against most left currents who considered us as “crazy” (or “propagandist” as MRT-PTS did). Meanwhile, the MRT-PTS was nothing more than a “satellite” of the PSOL, which at the same time is a “satellite” of the PT through the People Without Fear Front. The role of the PO is even sadder: they limit themselves to “giving advice” that, furthermore, is wrong.
Today, the PTS and the PO have now abandoned the characterisation of a “reactionary wave” in Brazil, and completely support the General Strike. We are happy about this, but a bit of political honesty from them, e.g. “we made a mistake”, would not be out of place.
On the current situation
The PO abandoned the use of “coup”, while the PTS still use it (such as defeating the “pro-coup government”). Beyond the literary difference both parties agree on a proposal they made to the Brazilian workers and masses, for a solution to the crisis after defeating Temer’s government: to struggle for a Constituent Assembly.
On one side, the MRT leader Diana Asunção writes, in an article published May 18 on the Argentine PTS’ site Izquierda Diario, after analyzing the situation of deep crisis in the bourgeois regime and the deepening ascent process:
We need a strong general strike to defeat Temer and impose a Free Sovereign Constituent Assembly, that will question deeply the basis of this putrid political regime and change the rules of the game, not just the players. The only way to put the great structural questions of the country in to the workers’ and population’s hands is to impose, through struggle, this new Constituent Assembly, in which we can elect our own representatives and annul all reforms by Temer, Lula and Fernando Henrique Cardoso [FHC – Brazilian president before Lula]; struggle to stop paying the external debt; to nationalize under democratic workers’ control all the big State companies in the country; to implement radical agrarian reform; and for all judges and politicians to be elected and revocable, receving the same salary as a worker. We participate in the “Out with Temer” demonstrations with this perspective. We believe it is a process than can help workers and the youth to make a deeper experience with the bankers’ and bosses’ democracy, as well as with the democracy that revolutionaries propose: a workers’ government that breaks with capitalism; a democracy based on workers’ self-organized bodies, the only political form capable of turning the workers into the political subject for the entire functioning of the country…”.[3]
On the other side the PO (previously quoted article by Jorge Altamira, May 20) in a similar analysis proposes:
The current question in Brazil is to stay on the streets and encourage a new general strike. Under these conditions, the call for a free sovereign Constituent Assembly will become a superior stage of the workers’ political mobilization, posing the question of power: a workers’ power. In Brazil, as in the whole of Latin America, the solution to the question of a working class leadership is key to transforming the revolutionary crisis of power, and the possibility of a workers’ government”.[4]
Both reasonings differ. With MRT-PTS, a real necessity (for workers and the youth to make a deeper experience with the bankers’ and bosses’ democracy) becomes the argument to “countermand” a strange proposal: a Constituent Assembly would be, at the same time, a bourgeois democratic body and a disguised Soviet that would embrace the tasks of a workers’ power body, becoming some kind of “transition”.
In the case of the PO, the argument is that this proposal would be a lever for a superior stage of the workers’ political mobilization, and only then would it be possible to pose the question of power and the possibility of a workers’ government. Both are wrong, although in different ways, both lead to a highly dangerous policy: the struggle for a Constituent Assembly as the center of the program that revolutionaries should present to the masses.
The call to struggle for a Constituent Assembly (body of the bourgeois democracy) can be very useful at two moments: when there is a struggle to defeat a dictatorship of a repressive bonapartist regime, or in the immediate period after the old regime has been defeated and the masses have deep illusions in bourgeois democracy and its institutions, and want a new Constitution to replace the old one. But even in those two moments when this could be a really useful tool, it can never be the center of a revolutionary program.
Those two situations have nothing to do with Brazil’s current reality. The dictatorship fell three decades ago, its Constitution was modified in 1988, and workers and the masses are breaking at an exponential rate with the democratic bourgeois regime, whose institutions, parties, and leaderships are increasingly corroding and are in a deep crisis. All of this, in the framework of a growing ascent that continues to radicalize.
In this situation, the main tasks of revolutionaries is to help build the struggle and – in that framework, as the center of its activity – to encourage the creation of bodies of self-organization and workers’ dual-power. This is not a task for the future but for the present. The possiblity of defeating Temer through struggle deepens this current necessity.
It is true that in reality there is a strong contradiction: Temer can fall because of the struggle, yet these bodies do not exist. The task, then, is to seed these embryos and determine which bodies have in reality been leading and organizing the struggle, to be able to pose a proposal of workers’ power linked to the reality and comprehensible to the masses. It is precisely in a process of dynamic struggles that these bodies can emerge. Meanwhile, as Lenin said, we need to “explain patiently” what the real solution is (the seizing of power by workers and the masses).
The slogan Constituent Assembly, on the contrary, monopolises the process of struggle and leads it in to the trap of bourgeois democracy: universal suffrage. [Imagine this:] We defeat Temer’s government and also the corrupt Congress through struggle, and then we say to workers that they don’t have to seize power through their own bodies (and that they have the right to) but they need to call a Constituent Assembly to…. vote for a new bourgeois body. Basically, it means setting back what the workers have achieved through struggle. The proposal of Constituent Assembly as the center of the revolutionary program, in this framework, ends up being a mortal trap for the struggle, and a new capitulation of these currents to bourgeois democracy.
This criticism is valid for the PTS’ position (which attempts to cheat real the processes of experience and radicalization of the masses, with an artificial camouflage of a Soviet body through the inside of a bourgeois body) as much as for the PO’s, which tells us that we cannot call the workers to seize the power yet.
Why is it that the PO and the PTS-MRT (organizations that claim to be Trotskyist and revolutionary) continue to capitulate to bourgeois democracy? To us, it is because both are affected by a “disease” with a transparent name: electoralist opportunism. An evil that has already caused “mutations” to great part of the Argentine, Brazilian and worldwide left, which, those who consider themselves “super-revolutionaries” are not immune to.
This is the corrosive effect of imperialism and bourgeois policy that we have called the “democratic reaction”. On the one hand, it is destined to avoid or deviate the struggles and revolutions leading them to the dead end of electoral and parliamentary bourgeois democracy. On the other, it corrodes and co-opts revolutionary organizations that think they can “cheat history” by taking a shortcut that appears easier (votes and deputies) but actually transforms them into something else making them lose their revolutionary nature. It seems to them that life exists through elections and parliament, and everything is ordered from it, even when they still call for “struggle”.
Therefore, the center of their political program for the current Brazilian reality is the Constituent Assembly (ultimately a bourgeois parliament). Thus, the MRT want to enter the PSOL (because they have votes and deputies). This has an expression in Argentina, where the center of their policy is the electoral and parliamentary activity of the FIT, and in Brazil where they hope for such electoral success.
To avoid false debates we have no anti-electoral or anti-parliamentary “cretinism”. As Lenin, Trotsky and the III International defended, we are in favor of participating of elections with our own candidates to diffuse and popularize the revolutionary program among the masses. In the framework of this activity we want to get the highest number of votes we can for this program and, if possible, to choose deputies or parliamentarians to be tribunes of the working class in an enemy organization and help erode and destroy it. But we are completely against making this the main and central activity of a revolutionary party (much more “a secondary support point” – as Lenin said), or, to measure the advances and weight of a party only – or essentially – because of the votes it gets, and not for its structural construction and weight among working class organizations.
To us, the center of our activity goes through the growing workers’ and popular struggles in both countries, and it is from there that we want to build the true solution for workers and the masses.
Translation: Sofia Ballack.
[1]Revolutionary Workers’ Movement Manifesto, in campaign for the “MRTinthePSOL.” No translation available – translation by us.
[2] No translation available – translation by us.
[3] No translation available – translation by us.
[4] No translation available – translation by us.

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