Millions in the Streets Against Bourgeois Governments of the Popular Front and the Right
Police strike at protesters at the doors of São Paulo city hall, 18 June.
Transform the protests into a working-class revolt pointing to a struggle for power
Form self-defense committees based on the power of the workers movement
Push for councils of workers and working-class neighborhoods!
Forge a revolutionary workers party! The goal: international socialist revolution!
RIO DE JANEIRO, June 25 – For nearly three weeks, huge, explosive mobilizations against the policies of capitalist governments have shaken Brazil. Beginning with protests against a 20-cent increase on bus fares in São Paolo, the movement broadened rapidly to include issues of corruption, the preparations for the World Cup and the Olympics, and the sharp increase in the cost of living. Above all, the main common denominator was popular rage against police violence. For decades, the police and militarized firemen1 have imposed a racist state of siege on the black and poor population of the favelas (slums) and working-class neighborhoods. But this time, instead of retreating before the deadly violence of the uniformed thugs of the bourgeoisie, the protesters did not give in! Quite the contrary.
Outrage over the brutal attacks on the initial protests, and the fact that the masses resisted and even counter-attacked the killer cops gave even greater impetus to the protests, which rapidly grew massive. Thus, although they arouse over various different points of conflict, the militant protests converged to constitute a grave political crisis of the capitalist state in Brazil. President Dilma Rousseff was booed in the stadium at the opening of the FIFA Confederations Cup. The protesters also turned their fire on state governors like Geraldo Alckmin (São Paulo) and Sérgio Cabral (Rio de Janeiro), and the mayors of the state capitals (Fernando Haddad and Eduardo Paes, respectively). In Rio, where the number of demonstrators on June 17 reached 100,000, when the Military Police attacked, the crowd chased the cops all the way to the state legislature and briefly occupied the building. In the national capital of Brasilia, hundreds danced on the roof of the Congress.
Hatred of the police is growing increasingly intense, even among the depoliticized population watching their cowardly aggression on TV. We in the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista have insisted, against the great majority of the left (PSTU, PSOL2 and others) that “police of any sort are not part of the working class, but are the armed fist of capitalism.” Today we see the flames of revolt encircle the seats of government as the youth stream into the streets from all sides, and anything at hand is used as a weapon against the mounted police, armored cars (caverões), dogs and weapons of the killer military police. Trained in the massacre of Carandiru (in 1992 when police killed over 100 prisoners in the state of São Paulo), they impose racist terror on the black population. As we demanded in the leaflet of the Comitê de Luta Clasista (Class Struggle Caucus) distributed at the June 17 protest in Rio, “Drive the invading [Brazilian] troops out of Haiti, military police out of the slums and away from the demonstrations of the oppressed and exploited!”
From the Palácio do Planalto in Brasilia, where President Dilma Rousseff heads the popular-front government of the Workers Party and its reformist and bourgeois allies, to the Palácio dos Bandeirantes, seat of the state government of São Paulo, to the city governments of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, to the state houses from Rio Grande do Sul in the south to Bahia in the northeast, to Curitiba, Fortaleza and other states, all these government palaces have come under intense, white-hot siege by the masses of enraged youth, who began by demanding lower bus fares and received overwhelming support from the population, which brought its solidarity and its own demands. But despite their magnitude and militancy, these mobilizations suffer from a great weakness: the organized working class has not yet taken the stage and lacks a revolutionary working-class leadership, that is up to the tasks before it.
Eventually, the bourgeoisie came to realize that it would have to retreat. On June 19, the governments of Rio, São Paulo and other states and cities simultaneously withdrew the public transit fare increases. The organizers of the initial protests, the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL, Free Fare Movement) declared victory. But the masses were not satisfied. On the evening of June 20, in almost all of Brazil’s main cities, up to 1.5 million people took to the streets to demonstrate their outrage. At the same time, the bourgeois right-wing intervened, trying to capitalize on the protests. It seeks to divert the goal of the struggle towards fighting corruption, a favorite banner of corrupt reactionaries. Groups of fascists burned red flags and attacked leftist contingents, which responded by ceding ground to the provocateurs and finally (in Rio) leaving the streets.
The rightists, along with police infiltrators, play on the political vagueness of the protests and the “anti-party” sentiment of the masses who, echoing the propaganda of the bourgeois media, identify all parties with the thieves who make the Congress, the presidency and state legislatures into bazaars for influence peddling. The surprised reaction and the capitulation of the reformist and centrist left are rooted in the fact that they accept the framework of bourgeois “democracy.” Upon hearing the chant “the people united need no parties,” these champions of the “people united” are at a loss for words, and even, in some cases, cowardly furled their banners when they were asked to, when the main task is to massively mobilize the workers movement which can easily sweep the fascist scum off the streets, and then turn its superior class force on the police.
Intervene With a Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution
The media is trying to turn public opinion against the rebellious protesters, labeling them “vandals” and “rioters.” Against the truly violent ones, the police, who kill thousands of people every year in the cities and the countryside, we defend the youths who fight their oppressors in the streets. The pacifism of the bulk of the left only feeds the aggression of the military police (PM), the Special Operations Battalions (BOPE), the Shock Battalions and the São Paulo ROTA elite military police. The real barbarians are to be found in the offices of big business and the government, at the stock exchange (Bovespa) and in the barracks. We demand immediate release of all those detained during the protests, and that all charges against them be dropped. And if on occasion the anger of the exploited and oppressed masses is expressed by breaking a few bank windows, we call on the youth and workers to direct their will to struggle against the capitalist system that oppresses them.
In this situation of massive, politically contradictory protests against the governments of the oppressors and exploiters, proletarian revolutionaries must intervene with a program of transitional demands, to transform the popular mobilization into a revolt of the working class pointing towards a struggle for power. First of all, it is urgently necessary to ORGANIZE A GENERAL STRIKE for a zero transit fare – free public transit for all – by means of occupations of the companies by the workers themselves to impose their expropriation under workers control. The fact that the leaderships of the main union federations (CUT, Força Sindical, UGT, CSP-Conlutas Intersindical, etc.) were forced to call a National Day of Struggle on June 27 indicates that the pressure exists to carry out such a strike.
At the same time, to prevent these bureaucrats from derailing the struggle in the interests of capital, it is necessary to form elected strike committees, chosen by the ranks and recallable at any time. This could provide the framework for creating workers councils in the factories, industrial zones and working class neighborhoods. Against police attacks, we fight to expel the police from the unions. Police of all kinds (including private security guards) are the armed fist of capital. And for the protection of the movement against police assault and rightist provocateurs, we call for the formation of self-defense committees based on the power of the workers movement, linking the street with the factories and the slums. To counteract the ravages of inflation, we seek to impose a sliding scale of wages tied to inflation and to form neighborhood price control committees.
The primary fuel for the fires has been the empty wallets of the youth in precarious conditions, who when they find work at all receive temp job wages. They can’t go to the Confederations Cup or the Olympics, and don’t even think about the upcoming World Cup, whose extravagantly rebuilt stadiums are “for English eyes only,”3 or only for show, closed to the youth and the poor fans. And this in the country where for over a decade the bourgeois Popular Front (PT-PMDB-PCdoB)4 government has boasted of its social programs that offer the poor “stipends” of various sorts that hardly cover the basic necessities of millions of families left behind by the “boom” of the Lula-Dilma era. Thus, to combat unemployment and job insecurity we call for a reduction in the working day without loss of pay, to create full-time jobs for all.
To broaden the struggle to the countryside, rather than proposing one more agrarian reform, as does the MST and the great majority of the Brazilian left, we of the LQB fight for agrarian revolution, for the expropriation of the haciendas and the big agribusinesses by the agricultural workers and poor peasants themselves. All this necessarily points to a struggle for power. As the great internationalist Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky underlined, a real general strike (not one of those festive parades that the pro-capitalist bureaucrats organize to let workers blow off steam) raises the question, who is the master of the country. Trotskyists fight for a workers and peasants government, which as the Transitional Program insists, can be nothing other than the dictatorship of the proletariat, to bring down the present dictatorship of capital.
Above all, the indispensable instrument for the realization of this task is a revolutionary workers party, forged on the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution, which insists that today democratic demands have no solution short of the working class seizing power and proceeding to an international socialist revolution.
The focus of the great majority of the left is far different. They aim to form another popular front, an alternative to that of the Lula-Dilma PT, and call for a series of slightly-more-leftist reforms that would be completely compatible with capitalist rule. Instead of struggling for a workers general strike against the government of capital, they dream of another Fora Collor movement from the early 1990s,5 a popular-frontist mobilization together with bourgeois political currents. With what result? The government of Itamar Franco, followed by Fernando Henrique Cardoso! At most, the opportunist socialists want a “government of the working people” within the framework of capitalism, through bourgeois elections. But we already have such a government, headed by the Workers Party of Lula and Dilma, which has brought us the present situation.
The bourgeois perspective of the reformist left is reflected in all of its demands. Thus the PSTU only called for repealing the fare hike, which after some hesitation, the capitalist governments accepted. Only now does the PSTU call for “free fares for all.” Instead of calling for workers mobilization in self-defense, the PSTU considers police to be “workers in uniform” and even organizes unions for these professional oppressors. (This dangerous perspective, contrary to the Marxist understanding of the class nature of the capitalist state, is shared by other pseudo-Trotskyist reformists, among them O Trabalho6 in the PT and various currents in the PSOL.) In place of the transitional program for a sliding scale of wages and hours, they call for a n increase in the minimum wage.
While in Brazil the masses and the working class played a decisive role in bringing down the military dictatorship and the liberal governments of Collor de Mello and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in the belief that the PT, its Popular Front and its “government of the working people” would improve their lives, there is a striking similarity between what is happening now in Brazil’s major cities and the current revolt against the Islamist government in Istambul, Turkey. There are also references to the populist Occupy Wall Street movement, the Indignados (Outraged) of Portugal, Spain and Greece, and the “Arab Spring.” But beyond the similarities, the great breadth and explosive outpouring of the mobilizations, we must ask, what has been the result of these movements? The undeniable fact is that in none of these places have the capitalist regimes, with their policies of starvation and exclusion, been brought down. In the Middle East and North Africa, the regimes of “secular” dictators based on the military have been replaced by authoritarian Islamist regimes also based on the military. In Europe the policies of capitalist austerity continue across the board.
The only force with the power and the class interest to sweep away the rot, violence and poverty of capitalism in its decay is the working class. Experience internationally teaches us that the key is revolutionary leadership. In France in 1968, a revolt of the student youth was transformed into a general strike in which ten million workers seized the factories and raised the red banner, because they wanted a head-on struggle against the bourgeois order. Nevertheless, lacking a revolutionary, genuinely Leninist-Trotskyist party with roots in the working masses, and without organs of proletarian power such as soviets (workers councils), the struggle was betrayed by the Stalinists who dominated the workers movement.
In Brazil’s Hot Winter, the task of the LQB and the Comitê de Luta Classista is to contribute to the resolution of this crisis of revolutionary leadership, which as Trotsky emphasized, sums up the crisis of humanity. There is no time to lose. ■
- 1. In Brazil, the militarized firemen (bombeiros militares) are a police organization. See “Brazil: Reformists Tail After ‘Strike’ By Military Firemen in Rio de Janeiro” at http://www.internationalist.org/brazilfiremen1107.html.
- 2. PSTU: Unified Socialist Workers Party, a reformist party, one of the largest on the Brazilian “far left,” with significant presence in the labor movement, which follows the political line of the late pseudo-Trotskyist Nahuel Moreno. PSOL: Party for Socialism and Liberty, a reformist parliamentary alliance, including followers of Moreno, the late Ernest Mandel, Peter Taaffe and other purportedly Trotskyist currents, which usually (but not always) positions itself slightly to the left of the ruling Workers Party (PT).
- 3. The Brazilian expression “só pra inglés ver” referred to a law passed in 1831 supposedly freeing African slaves who arrived in Brazilian ports. But this law was only for showing to the British, who for their own commercial reasons had declared a ban on the slave trade. In fact slavery was not abolished in Brazil until 1888, the last country in the hemisphere to do so.
- 4. PMDB: Party of the Democratic Movement, a bourgeois party. PCdoB: Communist Party of Brazil, once pro-Albanian Stalinists, now social democrats.
- 5. “Collor Out,” mass protests in 1992 that forced the resignation of the corrupt, unpopular president Fernando Collor de Mello, who was then succeeded by two other bourgeois presidents carrying out the same anti-worker policies.
- 6. “The Worker,” part of the social-democratic phantom “Fourth International” of the late Pierre Lambert. Their U.S. co-thinkers are Socialist Organizer.