The following article was originally published in Proletarian Revolution No. 70 (Spring 2004).
Brazil: Workers’ Party Betrays
Latin America’s economies are collapsing under the weight of huge foreign debts, and its living standards are under assault from austerity programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The continent has been rocked by a wave of mass rebellions, including the toppling of pro-IMF governments in Ecuador, Argentina and most recently Bolivia by mass protests, strikes and uprisings.
In this context, since the end of 2002, the attention of Latin America has been fixed on the electoral victory and resulting government of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT: Workers’ Party) led by the former metalworker and union leader Luis Inácio da Silva, popularly known as “Lula.” Brazil’s economy is the size of the rest of the continent’s combined, and it is home of the region’s most organized and potentially powerful working class.
The PT is a party based on the working class, which in the past had proclaimed socialism as its aim and promised to repudiate Brazil’s massive foreign debts as well as radically redistribute the land. Millions throughout Latin America hoped that its rise to power would show a way out of the capitalist crisis. These illusions were fed by many prominent self-proclaimed socialists, who celebrated the PT victory as a turning point in the struggle for democracy and socialism and even “the end of neo-liberalism”—the imperialists’ free market ideology.
In its first year the PT government has already betrayed its promises to the
workers and poor. It implemented IMF-backed austerity measures that the
previous, openly capitalist, government could not have hoped to get away with.
The Brazilian masses’ fate for years to come, and to a great extent that of the
rest of the continent, will be determined by whether the working class can break
from the PT’s grip and lead a successful struggle against it and the capitalist
system it represents. The key will be whether revolutionaries learn the lessons
of the PT’s betrayal and build a genuinely revolutionary party to lead those
The PT’s Pro-Capitalist Evolution
The PT grew out of the massive struggles of Brazil’s working class and
peasantry in the 1970’s that forced an end to the military dictatorship that had
ruled the country since 1964. Mass strikes drove the rise of a powerful new
trade union movement, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT: United Workers’
Central) independent of the state-sponsored corporatist unions of the
Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores (CGT: General Workers’ Federation). In the
countryside, 4.5 million landless peasants scratch out a living while a small
number of capitalists own most of the land and leave much of it uncultivated.
There grew a movement of peasant land occupations, led by the Movimento dos
Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST: Rural Landless Workers’ Movement).
At its formation in 1979, the PT had deep roots among the masses. Local
unions and other mass organizations served as its local structures, and its
first electoral campaigns proclaimed the decisive importance of mass struggles
and not elections. The party’s program was anti-capitalist and in favor of some
vision of socialism. But while centrist self-styled Trotskyists played a role in
the PT from its earliest beginnings, there was no genuinely Trotskyist force in
Brazil fighting for a revolutionary program. Thus the PT was from the beginning
dominated by reformist socialists in alliance with liberation theologists and
less radical reformists.
The PT won an increasing vote in elections throughout the 1980’s and ‘90’s;
it won the governorships of several important states as well as the mayoralties
of many cities. Once in power, it accommodated its policies to capitalist
interests while trying to maintain its mass working-class support. Its
“participatory budgets” became a hallmark of these efforts. In them, local
communities would have the opportunity to vote on a range of budget decisions.
But because the overall budget limits were set by the national capitalist
government, this increasingly meant the masses “participating” in deciding how
to spend an ever smaller budget.
Through a series of electoral campaigns, the PT leadership signaled the
ruling class and imperialists that it would not challenge the system. But
pressure from the ranks continued to force the leadership to promise radical
reforms that the capitalists could not tolerate, like repudiating the country’s
foreign debt. Until the PT leadership had proven its ability to truly dominate
its members and millions of working-class supporters, it would be strongly
opposed by the capitalists.
As the capitalist crisis deepened, PT state and city governments increasingly
implemented privatization and cuts in spending on social services, and used the
police and army against strikes and land occupations. In the election that
brought Lula to power in 2002, by which time the masses had had the experience
of the PT in local office, the vote for local PT candidates fell. Thus while
illusions in Lula led to him winning 61 percent of the popular vote overall, in
local elections the PT did miserably.
Lula’s Battle for Bourgeois Support
By 2002 the Brazilian ruling class was facing a political crisis. Local
capitalists were increasingly dominated by the imperialists through the opening
up of the economy by free trade measures, and profits were falling sharply. The
previous Cardoso regime had advanced neo-liberal austerity measures as far as it
could. The economy had deteriorated, mass unemployment and poverty were growing,
and the government was embroiled in corruption scandals. Meanwhile, mass
struggles were erupting across the continent. When Argentina’s pro-IMF
government was pushed from power, Brazil’s ruling class feared it could be next.
Lula saw his opportunity and launched a new campaign to win bourgeois
support. The PT leadership offered to use its remaining prestige and power over
the masses to push further neo-liberal reforms. Seeing the capitalists’ fear of
the growing upheavals and of the prospect of Brazil defaulting on its debts, the
PT leaders planned to win imperialism’s backing by promoting themselves as the
only alternative to growing radical nationalism and socialism throughout Latin
America. The PT leaders planned to offer to continue to pay the country’s debts
in order to negotiate a lowering of U.S. barriers to Brazilian products.
But to win the support of the local bourgeoisie and the imperialists, the PT
leadership understood that it would have to prove that it was ready to rule by
overturning every one of the party’s important commitments to the masses. All
references to socialism and anti-imperialism were purged from the party program.
The demand to repudiate the debt was junked, replaced by a call to audit and
re-negotiate it. Then Lula and his advisors decided to forge an electoral
alliance with the openly capitalist Liberal Party; its leader, textile magnate
José Alencar, joined Lula as his running-mate and vice presidential candidate.
This deal proved that the PT campaign was for a class-collaborationist popular
front, an alliance with openly bourgeois parties designed to carry out a
During the election campaign, in a move designed to pressure the PT from the
left, a referendum was organized by the CUT, the MST, left organizations and
churches on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the foreign debt. Ten
million people participated, with 95 percent voting in favor of repudiating
both. In response, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick arrogantly warned
that Brazil would have to choose between keeping the FTAA or trading “with
Antarctica.” Lula had in the past condemned the FTAA as a “type of economic
annexation of Latin America by the U.S.,” and the outraged masses expected him
to hit back at this arrogant imperialist. Instead, he rejected the referendum
and committed the PT to paying the debt and renegotiating the FTAA with the Bush
Administration. “We have a number of things to settle with Comrade Bush,” Lula
Then, when incumbent President Cardoso signed an emergency $30 billion loan
to prevent a default on the debt, Lula rushed to embrace the deal. When the MST
occupied the estate of Cardoso’s son, Lula condemned the occupation. He further
demanded that the MST cease all occupations for the duration of the electoral
campaign. The MST leadership dutifully agreed in the hope of receiving places
and influence in a PT government.
To maintain popular support, the PT did promise some reforms, including
raising the minimum wage, implementing a modest and gradual land redistribution,
and launching a “Zero Hunger” campaign that would provide food subsidies for
Brazil’s millions of malnourished poor. But the PT leadership’s campaign for
bourgeois support was strikingly effective. Soon leaders of various business
associations were rushing to endorse him. Soon even the IMF’s Managing Director,
Horst Köhler, had words of praise for Lula, calling him “really a leader of the
how Lula’s presidency could be so advantageous for imperialism: “The key is that
the [neo-liberal] reform momentum gets the benefit of the enormous credibility
that the president brings.” (Financial Times, Jan. 27, 2003.)
The PT’s First Year in Power
Upon coming to power, the PT wasted no time in making its commitment to the
capitalists clear. Lula’s ministerial appointments included big businessmen and
Cardoso allies. A few peripheral ministries were awarded to left-wing PT, CUT
and MST figures, but with no power over funding; their job was to implement the
real power-holders’ cuts and other betrayals.
The PT leadership understood that the crisis of capitalist profit-making
demands significantly escalated attacks against the masses’ living standards.
Facing the danger of explosive struggles in response to its betrayals, the new
PT government moved with breathtaking speed to catch its opponents off guard and
launch historic attacks against them.
Brazil’s foreign debt now accounts for fully 65 percent of the country’s
Gross Domestic Product. Thus Lula’s decision to continue to pay it condemned the
masses to endless poverty. But Lula was not satisfied by earlier agreeing to the
IMF’s demand that the government maintain a 3.75 percent budget surplus to pay
bond holders, and increased the promised surplus to 4.25 percent. This meant an
additional transfer of $2.4 billion to foreign capitalists. The government also
announced moves toward privatizing the Central Bank.
Not surprisingly, Lula slashed the federal budget by $3.9 billion. The PT
went back on its promise to increase the minimum wage to as much as $100 a
month, raising it instead to just $67; adjusted for inflation, this is less than
the minimum wage under Cardoso. Even Lula’s “Zero Hunger” campaign had its
budget slashed by $10 million, leaving each malnourished Brazilian with an
insulting 2.5 cents a day worth of food subsidies.
Having avoided any definite promises on land redistribution before the
election, Lula announced that in 2003 his government would settle 5500 landless
families on 200,000 hectares of unused land, a plan that amounts to one-tenth
the number of families settled by the Cardoso government and just one-twentieth
of what the MST was expecting. And Lula has continued Cardoso’s use of the army
to violently evict squatting peasants from unused lands, and has jailed
The Great Pension Struggle
The PT government launched an immediate attack on the organized working
class. Lula announced constitutional reforms that would drastically reduce
public sector workers’ pensions, attacks that Cardoso had tried but failed to
The PT’s attack triggered a massive fightback, culminating in a month-long
nation-wide strike by public sector workers in July 2003. But the CUT leadership
succeeded in isolating the public sector workers and preventing private sector
workers from joining the struggle. The government eventually succeeded in
defeating the struggle and passing (in slightly modified form) its pension
reform legislation with little parliamentary opposition.
This victory has emboldened the PT to launch more direct attacks on the
entire working class. It is planning changes to labor relations laws that strike
at its trade union allies in the CUT. Lula has already introduced legislation
that would exempt private companies from legally established standards of
employment, thus opening the way to starvation wages and dangerous work.
Further, Lula has introduced another law that eliminates payments by private
capitalists into trade union funds and ends obligatory payments of union dues.
In the countryside, the government’s official crackdown on land occupations
is encouraging the landowners’ use of private militias to terrorize and murder
peasant militants, looking to break the MST. All these attacks make a united
fightback both necessary and possible. For this to be successful, militant
workers will have to break the grip of the PT and pro-PT bureaucrats that
dominate their mass organizations.
Revolutionary Policy in Brazil
As capitalism slides toward ever deeper crisis with competition for profits
intensifying and national debts rising, the PT leadership, like reformists the
world over, can find no alternative but making the masses pay for the
capitalists’ crisis; for within the limits of the system there is none. Genuine
revolutionary communists must take this understanding as the starting point in
raising their fellow workers’ revolutionary consciousness. To truly put an end
to the attacks and win the masses’ demands for jobs and a living wage,
healthcare and education, land for the landless and a generally improving
standard of living, the capitalist system will have to be overthrown. The entire
economy will have to be redirected away from producing for private profit and
toward producing the needs of the working class and poor. Further, the
classless, communist society free of all forms of exploitation, oppression and
want will only be able to be built when imperialist capitalist rule is
overthrown the world over.
It is always crucial for revolutionaries to combat workers’ reformist
illusions that their demands can be won without overthrowing the capitalists’
state. Revolutionaries must always seek to explain that only a revolution that
smashes the capitalists’ state power of soldiers and police—putting in its
place a workers’ state based upon the armed working class and committed to
defending the rule of the working class—can open the road to communism.
Straight talk on the class nature of the capitalist state and its “armed
bodies of men” is a hallmark of the authentic Marxism of Marx, Engels, Lenin and
Trotsky. It is especially necessary under conditions of a popular front
government. For a key function of popular fronts is to present the state as a
source of compromise and unity between the classes, masking its true nature as
the violent enforcer of capitalist rule.
An Action Program for Brazil
Revolutionaries recognize that masses will only come to revolutionary
consciousness on the basis of their own experience of successful struggle
against the capitalist attacks, and the active participation of the vanguard
revolutionary party in those struggles, leading them forward and teaching the
The starting point for any successful working-class struggle is
independence from the capitalist class, its political parties and state. In
Brazil, that means above all no support to the popular front PT
government. The longer popular fronts like the PT’s remain in power, the
more they weaken the workers’ struggles and pave the way for greater capitalist
attacks and the rise to power of more right-wing political forces. The working
class cannot afford to restrain its struggles for fear of toppling the PT from
power. The working class can defend its interests from the capitalists only by
relying on its own power to struggle.
With the masses increasingly the target of broad attacks from the PT
government and bosses, revolutionaries must advocate tactics that can unite the
whole working class. With class struggles still in an overall state of decline
and the bourgeoisie becoming bolder in its attacks, the key to agitation must be
arguments and calls for a general strike. Revolutionaries would of
course support every working-class struggle, no matter how small. But they must
seek to link them with broader struggles, explaining the need to unite them all
in a general strike. The working class can only prepare itself for power in the
course of mass struggles in which they regain a sense of their class power and
learn revolutionary political lessons.
Revolutionaries recognize that the trade unions organize only a minority of
the working class and that their structures are often too narrow and
bureaucratic to adapt to rapidly changing conditions in struggle. Therefore, we
would advocate the formation of new mass action organizations of the working
class, from strike committees to workers’ councils, to most effectively organize
the struggle and take it forward in the event of betrayal by the reformist union
While the course of the mass struggle will ultimately be determined by the
urban and industrial working class, the struggles of the peasants for land are
of tremendous importance. Although the working class remains in the grip of the
PT-aligned union bureaucrats, the MST bureaucracy is comparably weaker, and the
landless remain very militant; their fight could re-ignite the workers’
struggle. In the face of the PT’s betrayed promises to redistribute land,
revolutionaries would fight within the MST for a massive campaign of land
seizures. In the face of the state’s armed forces and the landowners’ militias,
revolutionaries would advocate the formation of mass armed self-defense guards
and demand that the MST leaders support them. In fact, such a demand should be
fought for throughout the workers’ movement in preparation for attacks on
strikes and other struggles.
Exposing the PT in Practice
While revolutionaries give no political support to the PT government, they
also recognize that many workers retain illusions in the PT. To expose these
illusions in practice, wherever significant groups of workers mistakenly hope
that pressuring the PT can force a halt to the attacks or even win improvements
in their interests, revolutionaries must not hesitate to raise specific demands
on the PT government. Aiming to expose illusions in the PT rather than raise
them, revolutionaries would always seek to explain to their fellow workers that
the struggle will prove that the PT government is the enemy of the working
class, and that to secure all its demands the working class will have to
overthrow the capitalists and seize state power.
The greatest obstacle to a united working-class fightback, as was shown in
the pension struggle, is the PT-aligned union bureaucracy. Revolutionaries must
explain to their fellow workers that the union bureaucracy will try to hold back
and betray the mass struggle in the interests of maintaining social stability
and defending their privileged position in the system as brokers between the
capitalists and workers. The union bureaucracy can be forced to launch
struggles, but will ultimately turn against them. The most advanced workers must
establish revolutionary communist party groupings in all the mass organizations,
to advance a united struggle while fighting to replace the established reformist
leaders. These groups will demand that those leaders organize the struggle the
workers need while always warning their fellow workers that the bureaucrats will
betray; only a revolutionary communist party leadership can be relied on to take
the struggle to victory.
Reformists and centrists will typically cheer on the workers’ struggles
without fighting for the decisive actions necessary, and without demanding that
the workers’ current leaders back them and put the unions’ power behind them.
Typically, they say that criticizing the PT-aligned bureaucrats will only
alienate them and make them less likely to lead such struggles. Some sectarians,
knowing no other way to address the working class than by lecturing it from the
sidelines, argue that raising demands on the reformists only encourages
illusions. But there can be no avoiding the pro-PT CUT bureaucracy. If the
working class is to launch the mass struggles it needs to defend itself, there
will have to be a fierce battle in the unions to expose the PT bureaucrats. But
the working class will only join a struggle against the bureaucrats when they
have been able to test them in practice, and that requires raising demands of
struggle on them to expose them in practice. That was the method of Lenin and
Centrist Left Fails Test of Popular Front
Tragically, at this point the groups in Brazil claiming the banner of
revolutionary communism have learned none of these lessons. Rather, they act as
barriers to radical workers finding the genuine revolutionary perspective that
can lead to victory over imperialist capitalism. As we have noted, in its
earlier years many different socialist groups operated inside the PT. But most
of the more left-wing reformist organizations as well as the
pseudo-revolutionary centrists were expelled years ago; others remain by virtue
of their utter capitulation to the PT leadership. These groups trace their
political ancestry to the pseudo-Trotskyist tendencies led by the now-deceased
Ernest Mandel and Nahuel Moreno.
The most appalling role has been played by the Democracia Socialista (DS:
Socialist Democracy) tendency of the Mandelite,
barely-revolutionary-even-in-words, United Secretariat of the Fourth
International (USec). The DS had eight members elected to parliament on the PT
ticket (six deputies and two senators). It hailed the PT victory as “a great
shift in the relationship of forces in Brazilian society. … a popular victory
and a serious defeat for neoliberalism.”
But in fact the DS has gone along with the PT’s worst capitulations to
neo-liberalism. For example, before the elections it went so far as to justify
the PT leadership’s abandonment of repudiating the imperialist debt. DS members
are on staff in a number of government ministries. Most prominently, one of its
leaders, Miguel Rossetto, is the Minister for Agrarian Reform. It is a principle
of the Marxist movement to never support, let alone join, a bourgeois
government. But the USec’s journal International Viewpoint has defended
his role, saying that from his ministerial position, Rossetto could “help the
self-organization of rural workers.” (May 2003.) This helpful “Trotskyist”
minister has denounced the peasants’ land occupations and sent the police to
attack them and arrest their leaders.
The main test of the DS came with the PT government’s pension reform. During
the parliamentary votes on the pension bill, their six deputies and two senators
split three ways—pro, con and abstaining. Some members voted differently on
different readings of the bill. Only one, Senator Helo“sa Helena, consistently
voted against; she then dared the PT leadership to expel her, which they
eventually did. The rest of DS, far from leaving the PT, voted unanimously at
their national congress of November 21-22, 2003 to stay in, and hailed its
minister Rossetto as a hero.
A New Reformist Party to Follow?
Senator Helena was not entirely alone among PT parliamentarians in voting
against Lula’s pension bill. Two other prominent leftist PT members also did so:
deputies Luciano Genro of the Movement of the Socialist Left (MES) and Joäo
Batista Babá of the Socialist Workers Current (CTS). In an outrageous attack on
the democratic rights of PT members, Lula immediately moved to expel them from
the party, a move which became finalized in October.
These PT leftists’ opposition to the pension reform and expulsion from the
party has no doubt raised their profile among workers looking to fight Lula’s
betrayals. But in reality these reformist socialists offer no real alternative,
having succeeded in staying in the PT as long as they did because they never
raised a principled fight against the leadership’s policies. The DS as a whole
always favored remaining inside the PT no matter what the political cost. The
more left-wing, centrist, Morenoite tendency broke from the PT some years ago;
the MTS and CTS were formed as splits in order to remain inside the PT. The
majority Morenoite grouping went on to become the Partido Socialista dos
Trabalhadores Unificado (PSTU: Unified Socialist Workers Party) outside the PT.
The PT was never going to really represent the masses’ revolutionary
communist interests—mass reformist parties are too bureaucratic and the class
struggle too explosive for that. What was needed inside the PT was for
revolutionaries to clearly explain that the leadership represented the class
enemy and to mobilize the most class-conscious workers against the PT
leadership—to prove that the party could not be reformed and thus break as many
workers as possible from the PT in order to build a vanguard revolutionary
In particular, this perspective meant prioritizing the working-class struggle
against the PT, both now in the national government, and before when the PT was
in local governments. But the PT leftists always sacrificed the workers’
struggles to the aim of reforming the PT, or at least pushing it to the left.
Thus in the 2002 election that brought the PT to power, they criticized the
leadership’s alliance with the Liberal Party but went along with it. They ran on
the same popular-front slate rather than split over the issue and prepare
workers to fight the new pro-capitalist government. Similarly, their votes
against the pension reform bill were more in the spirit of criticism than of
rallying workers against the government. While they supported the public
workers’ strike, they in effect accepted defeat in advance and did not use their
prominent positions to call for a general strike against the government’s
These left reformists’ passive approach was founded on a cynical attitude
toward the potential of working-class struggle. It continued after their
expulsion in their call for the creation of a new socialist party. They
discussed a joint effort with the PSTU, but soon fled in horror from the
latter’s identification with militant struggles and its revolutionary rhetoric.
At a meeting at the end of last year they declared themselves the Movement for a
New Party (MNP). But they made clear that this party will be founded on the
perspective of reformist electoralism, not of mobilizing the masses in militant
Implicitly blaming their passive perspective on a lack of militancy among
workers, they declared that “great social conflagrations are not on the
political horizon.” In fact they practically pledged to do nothing to change
this supposed state of affairs: they proclaimed that “great struggles are not
announced” and asserted that “the task of this new party is to present an
electoral alternative in 2006.” But the masses, from the huge strike against
Lula’s pension reforms to land occupations, are trying to launch great struggles
but are not finding a revolutionary leadership prepared to lead an all-out fight
against the capitalists and their PT government. Thus the MNP is in reality an
attempt to create a new party to trap radicalizing workers breaking to the left
of the PT, to prevent them from going too far and advancing beyond radical
The League for the Revolutionary Party and the Communist Organization for the
Fourth International have long warned against such moves to create new reformist
parties. (See PR 63.) The established reformist parties, under
conditions of capitalist crisis, are less able to deliver reforms to the masses
and turn more and more to implementing austerity measures on behalf of the
capitalists. As the working class becomes disillusioned with the mainstream
reformists, the centrists are increasingly drawn into the vacuum, using
revolutionary rhetoric to give cover to their attempts at reviving reformism.
Such developments are a grave threat to the potential development of mass
struggle and revolutionary consciousness of the working class, acting as they do
to revive reformist illusions and create a barrier to militant workers drawing
revolutionary conclusions from the struggle. Revolutionaries must oppose the
centrists’ attempts to initiate such parties. If these efforts do gather
significant support, revolutionaries would join the new parties only for the
purpose of exposing their leaders’ reformist programs and winning workers away
from them and to the task of building the revolutionary party.
PSTU: Left Tail of the PT
The major party to the left of the PT that claims to represent revolutionary
Trotskyism is the PSTU. In reality, it represents only the most radical version
of reformist capitulation to the PT. It too raises illusions in a reformist road
to socialism and in the possibility of the PT acting on the side of the workers.
Typical of most centrists, while the PSTU says it favors socialist
revolution, it never spells out that this means a violent revolution in which
the armed working class rises up, overthrows and smashes the capitalist state
and creates its own workers’ state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, to
repress the capitalist armed force. Rather, they raise all sorts of illusions in
the possibility of reforming the capitalist state.
For example, in Brazil the police and soldiers have a certain tradition of
struggle for their own interests that has led many workers to
mistakenly think they are a legitimate part of the working-class and union
movement. While revolutionaries may favor police strikes at certain times if
they will temporarily disorganize the capitalist state, we always warn that the
fundamental role of the police is to be violent enforcers of capitalist rule.
Revolutionaries fight for the absolute independence of the working class from
the police, including driving them out of the unions.
The PSTU, on the other hand, reinforces the illusions that the police are a
part of the working class that can be made to serve its interests. In its 2002
electoral program, the PSTU called to raise the salaries and working conditions
of the police and even improve their equipment! Further, far from explaining the
counterrevolutionary nature of the police and how they will have to be
suppressed and defeated by the armed working class, the PSTU’s electoral program
calls for subjecting the Brazilian police and army to “democratic control” by
the population—a deadly illusion to spread.
Nonetheless, the PSTU does engage in revolutionary rhetoric, and has made a
point of strongly criticizing the PT’s alliance with the bourgeoisie and its
anti-working class policies. In the first round of the national elections it ran
an independent campaign against the PT, and received over 400,000 votes—a
considerable achievement. But in the second and decisive round of the election,
it turned around and advocated a vote for the PT-Liberal alliance.
Under many circumstances, when the masses have illusions that voting for
bourgeois workers’ parties like the PT will advance their struggle, it is
appropriate for revolutionaries to go through the experience of voting for the
reformist party, in order to prove to their fellow workers that the reformists
will betray the struggle by putting them to the test of office. However, with
the PT running in an alliance with the capitalist Liberals, use of such
“critical electoral support” was ruled out. Encouraging a vote for a cross-class
alliance can only undermine workers’ sense of class independence. Indeed,
blurring the class line between the capitalist class and the working class, and
uniting the two in the cause of populist national unity, is the aim of popular
fronts; revolutionary communists have always opposed giving them any form of
The PSTU’s support for the PT-Liberal alliance in the second round of the
election shows that its differences with the popular front are tactical, not
principled. But as Trotsky explained:
The left centrists seek to present this question as a
tactical or even as a technical maneuver, so as to be able to practice their
little business in the shadow of the People’s Front. In reality, the People’s
Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for
this epoch. It also offers the best criterion for the difference between
Bolshevism and Menshevism. (Writings 1935-36, p.
And practice their little business in the shadow of the popular front the
PSTU does! It utterly failed to prepare the masses for the fact that in office
the PT would represent the capitalists against the workers—and that the masses
would have to prepare to launch mass struggles against the PT government. On the
contrary, the PSTU acted as if it couldn’t tell whether the PT government would
be on the workers’ or capitalists’ side! PSTU leader and presidential candidate
José (Zé) Maria said in a television interview reported by the PSTU’s British
Certainly, the electoral win of Lula is going to mean many
fights in future. Because of this, we are going to support him in the second
round. What we will need is to analyze if these fights will be “with” Lula or
“against” Lula. (www.socialistvoice.org website, undated.)
Supporting the PT-Liberal popular front alliance meant viewing the future PT
government as a gain of the workers to be supported against the possibility of
other capitalist parties coming to power. But this necessarily means that in the
current struggles against the PT government the PSTU must hold back from
proposing tactics of mass struggle, like the general strike, that would threaten
to topple the government and even challenge the capitalist state. Instead, the
PSTU supports current struggles only with vague encouragement for more
militancy, not with the key tactics of mass struggle necessary to win.
Similarly, in the case of the landless, the PSTU criticizes the MST bureaucracy
for restraining the struggle. But its alternative is only encouraging more land
occupations; like the rest of the left, the PSTU fails to advocate the mass
armed self-defense groups needed in the face of bloody attacks.
The PSTU’s perspective is typical of most of the centrist left
internationally. Rather than fight for an authentic revolutionary program, it
seeks a shortcut to popular support by promoting militant reformism and ditching
revolutionary policies that it fears might “scare away” the workers. Thus the
PSTU from the time of the PT’s election promoted the idea of the formation of a
new mass socialist party to rival the PT. It hoped that by aligning with
prominent PT-left leaders, it could rally increasing numbers of workers to its
banner when disillusionment with the PT government grew. Thus it muted its
criticisms of PT leftists like the DS’s Helena, MTS’s Genro and CTS’s Babá,
promoting the idea that they could play a role in building a revolutionary
alternative to the PT.
As we have explained, the only new party these dyed-in-the-wool reformists
could build would be a new reformist party to entrap radicalizing workers. In
the end, however, the PT leftists were too scared of the PSTU’s mildly radical
rhetoric and support of mass struggles to ally with them; the PSTU was
bureaucratically excluded from the formation of the Movement for a New Party.
Left out in the cold, the PSTU can only complain about this undemocratic
maneuver and criticize the MNP’s electoralism. But centrists, vacillating
between revolutionary rhetoric and reformist practice as they do, are incapable
of conducting an independent policy for long, and the PSTU will continue to look
for opportunities to unite with the left reformists.
The Struggle Ahead
Lula’s PT government has already sought to go further in attacking the masses
than the neo-liberal regimes that proceeded it. The acceleration of the
international crisis of capitalism can be measured by the time it has taken
social democratic and populist mass parties to fully embrace the policies of
free market austerity. Where it took Britain’s Labour Party five decades of
gaining and losing power and internal struggles to fully embrace such policies,
and South Africa’s African National Congress less than five years, Lula’s PT has
begun implementing them in less than a year.
The struggle against the pension reform and the continuing struggles of
landless workers are only an indication of the struggles that lie ahead. The
PT’s further attacks on the workers, urban poor and peasants will demand a
massive fightback. The key to its success will be whether revolutionary-minded
workers succeed in building a genuine vanguard revolutionary communist party
leadership capable of breaking the working class from the PT leaders onto the
road of the struggle to overthrow capitalism. The deepening crisis of capitalism
means that there is no time to waste.