The Boom of the Lula-Dilma Government Paralyzes the Popular Front Left
Brazil Prepares for Militarized Olympics
By Repressing the Poor and Working People
Military police under the command of the murderous governor Geraldo Alckmin fire on residents in
the eviction operation in the favela Pinheirinho in São José dos Campos (São Paulo, January 22.
The following article is translated from a May 2011 supplement to Vanguarda Operária, the newspaper of our comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (Fourth Internationalist League of Brazil).
The year 2011 around the world was one of explosive popular uprisings, of workers’ struggles, of rebellions by students and youth in general. Contrary to the propaganda of the bourgeois press and the opportunist left, however, the hard reality is that it was not a year of revolution. Protests and revolts can break out in a spontaneous and unplanned way, generating a great deal of enthusiasm. But in order to win, what’s needed above all the preparation and intervention of a proletarian vanguard, forged in the class struggle, with a revolutionary program.
The windstorm of revolt which shook the Near East and North Africa, also gusted on the southern coast of Europe (the movement of the “Indignados,” or Outraged), in Latin America (the student struggle in Chile) and North America (the Occupy movement). The winds of class struggle extended from Egypt to Spain (a general strike in March) and even the United States (struggles against union-busting attacks in Wisconsin and Washington). But in the final analysis, the capitalist classes have preserved their rule and are preparing to intensify their assault on the exploited and oppressed.
The bourgeois media present Brazil as an exceptional case. The government of Lula and his successor Dilma Rousseff has made use of the raw materials boom to dish out a few crumbs to the poor, using its welfare programs to reduce extreme poverty. They are silent about the fact that 16 million people, the large majority of them blacks, still live with a monthly income of less than R$70 (US$35); that they have only managed to raise the poorest to the level of a brutal “normal” poverty; and that the programs Fome Zero (Zero Hunger), Bolsa Familia (Family Stipend) and Bolsa Escolar (School Stipend) are financed by slashing health care and pension programs.
On this May Day, amidst the worst world economic crisis in three-quarters of a century, the struggle of the working people against wage-gouging and intensified attacks on their rights continues worldwide. In a situation of great social volatility, with the ebb and flow of the class struggle, more than ever a leadership is required that can go beyond the merely “democratic” bourgeois program, to intervene in events with a program aiming at international socialist revolution.
Carnival: The Imperialists and Their
Since 2008 the capitalist world has been jolted by a financial crisis that led to great turmoil in the leading powers. It shook the economic foundations from Wall Street to the European Union, spilling over into North Africa and other areas around the globe. It is the biggest crisis since the counterrevolutionary wave that destroyed the former USSR at the beginning of the 1990s, which the imperialists celebrated as the “end of history” while inaugurating their “New World Order” with a bloodbath massacring the population of Iraq in 1991. In 2003 U.S. imperialism invaded that Mesopotamian country, while naming Lula’s Brazil sheriff for Latin America.
The so-called “Washington consensus” was nothing more than a pact among the imperialist powers led by the U.S. in the post-Soviet period to do away with or slash the rights and gains of the working class around the world. Particularly in Latin America, a sharply limited critique of “neo-liberalism” was expressed in bourgeois populist governments with a social-democratic pink hue and various types of popular fronts. But they barely masked the deep poverty of the working class with cosmetic reforms while seeking to co-opt their leaderships. The government of the Workers Party (PT – Partido dos Trabalhadores) in Brazil was the archetype.
From 2000 on, in Latin America south of the Equator this “left” policy was used to gain favor with “popular” sectors using nationalist and ethnic appeals. Thus in Brazil, the “worker” Lula (who Obama called “my man”) launched his career as a “fireman for the IMF” (International Monetary Fund), as we in the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (LQB) dubbed him. Next came Evo Morales in Bolivia, boasting of his indigenous roots in order to divert the discontent of the indigenous working people in the “gas war” which took the country to the brink of revolution. Once installed in office, “Evo” made a few nationalist gestures while repressing the workers and peasants who elected him.
brigade in Pinheirinho, São
José dos Campos, resists
police attack, January 22.
In the U.S., the election of Barack Obama and the arrival of the first black president in the White House caused even more sensation. With his famous appeal “yes, we can,” he appealed to the discontent of an American population tired of years of war in the Middle East and alarmed by the fall of the stock market that heralded a new economic depression. He put a new face on the imperialist monster. Then came the election victories of the ex-guerrilla Dilma Roussef in Brazil and the populist Peronist Cristina Fernández de Kirchner n Argentina. Despite their populist appeals, they all applied the same bitter medicine as their predecessors, foisting the dictates of the IMF on their misled electorate.
Inheriting the mantle of Lula and the popular front of the PT, PMDB (Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement) and others, Dilma currently enjoys around 70% approval ratings according to the bourgeois polling institute IBOPE. The secret of her success is her continuation of the program guided by the IMF. This program, first implemented by Fernando Henrique Cardoso followed by Lula, offered a basket of basic necessities to the roughly 10 million impoverished Brazilians who continue to live (or more accurately, survive) below the poverty line. Although the population living in “extreme poverty” (monthly incomes below R$70 [US$1 a day]) has fallen, according to data from the United Nations Development Program, the numbers who live in “normal” poverty have increased, reaching one-third of the population, around 47 million people.
Another axis of Dilma’s “secret” is the provision of credit at relatively low rates of interest (compared to the recent past, when Brazilian interest rates were among the highest in the world). For whole layers of the working people, particularly public employees, this produced the illusion of prosperity due to a growing indebtedness of the population. At the same time, along with profits from the world “boom” in raw materials, the policies of the Lula-Dilma government produced a paradise for the bankers in context where roughly 20% of Brazilian companies are in default.
In the countryside, the powerful agribusiness sector of large landowners, armed to the teeth, keeps on murdering peasant leaders. In the northern state of Pará alone, there were 219 killed in the last decade, according to O Globo (22 June 2011). Meanwhile the agribusiness lobby in Congress keeps chalking up victories. While the bodies keep piling up, the MST (Landless Workers Movement) has become one of the main electoral canvassers rounding up votes for the PT. The pseudo-Trotskyist followers of Ernest Mandel, who had managed to get themselves a minister’s portfolio to supervise Brazil’s land reform, have long ago given up their plans for brokering class collaboration between the PT and agribusiness on lands soaked in blood.
Militarization Against the Oppressed and Exploited
For the working class, life in the city has been no less cruel. Lula-Dilma have treated the exploited and oppressed as “police matters.” Brazilian troops trained in Haiti and in the favelas and hilltop slums (morros) of Rio de Janeiro with their UPPs (Police Pacification Units), under the command of the Palácio do Planalto (Brazil’s presidential palace) and the Palácio de Guanabara (seat of government of the state of Rio), have occupied large swaths with the intention of subjugating or expelling the (largely black) poor people.
The UPPs are being replicated daily in new variations, extending the militarization against the workers movement throughout the states of Brazil. They brutally repressed student demonstrations at the University of São Paulo. Meanwhile the UPPs ride herd over the workers’ and students’ movement, the exploited and oppressed of the cities. The most recent victims of this expanded militarization were the squatters in Pinheirinho in São José dos Campos (São Paulo).
At bottom, the popularity of Dilma and her “boom” which has so unnerved the Brazilian left is based on four pillars: (1) the social programs of bolsas (cash grants); (2) reduced-rate loans (empréstimos consignados) deducted from paychecks; (3) militarization against the movements of the exploited; and (4) cooptation of the leaders of these movements. In addition, they showered billions on the big capitalists in preparation for the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, offering very little bread and lots of circuses.
The reformist left with its (bourgeois) democratic policies has been left speechless by the economic policies of Lula-Dilma. With their horizons limited to the capitalist framework, all they can think of is to ask for “more.” And concerning the militarization offensive, they only seek to “democratize” the repression. After supporting the “strike” of the military firemen of Rio de Janeiro in June 2011, earlier this year the PSTU (United Socialist Workers Party, Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado) and its ill-fated Left Front went all-out to support the mutinies by firemen and military police.
A “strike” of the
military police of Bahia? No, it
is a mutiny in the military-police
repressive apparatus, the armed
fist of the bourgeoisie.
The LQB and the Comitê de Luta Classista have resolutely opposed the movement of the armed firemen, many of them linked to the militias that terrorize the Rio favelas (see “Brazil: Reformists Tail After ‘Strike’ By Militarized Firemen in Rio de Janeiro,” The Internationalist No. 33, Summer 2011). For us, this is not a new or accidental position. From our beginnings, we have insisted that police of any sort are the armed fist of capital. Moreover, we translated this Marxist and Trotskyist understanding into practice when our comrades, elected to the leadership of the Volta Redonda Municipal Workers Union (SFPMVR), removed the municipal guards from the union.
The pseudo-Trotskyists of the PSTU, PSOL (Socialism and Freedom Party) and similar reformist groupings became rudderless more than a decade ago with the election victory of the bourgeois popular front of the PT and PMDB and the arrival of President Lula in the Palácio do Planalto. Having grown up in the PT and sharing its parliamentarist outlook, all of them gave “critical” support to Lula in the 2001 elections. Centrists like Causa Operária (PCO) and the LBI (Liga Bolchevique Internacionalista) gave thinly veiled support, calling to defend Lula’s victory when in fact key sectors of the ruling class supported his election, after the candidate gave his guarantees to capital in his “Letter to the Brazilians.”
Ever since, the various components of the opportunist left have been unable to put forward a genuine opposition to the Lula-Dilma government. On the contrary, they always try to push the PT in power to the left, or in the absence of a positive response, to form an alternative popular front. Centrist groups like the LER-QI (Liga Estratégia Revolucionária-Quarta Internacionalista), even when they criticize the reformists for their positions on the police and other issues, come back to the same “strategy,” trying to push the PSTU and PSOL to the left. In both cases, their efforts have uniformly resulted in failure.
A genuine opposition to the popular front and the PT social-democratic managers of capitalism must intervene in the class struggle, seeking to mobilize the working people to defeat the “firemen for imperialism.” While the PSTU, PSOL, PCO, LER-QI, etc. all politely asked the government to withdraw its troops from Haiti, the LQB and CLC have fought to throw the military police out of Haiti and out of the Rio slums by the action of the workers. This policy of class-struggle opposition has been repeatedly supported by the Teachers Union of the State of Rio de Janeiro (SEPE-RJ) and by the national teachers union, the CNTE.
The hapless reformists, who play on the same field as the PT, seeing the most impoverished sectors of the population shrink a bit, are left without a compass, lacking direction or goal. They cannot manage to propose anything different between their minimum program of minor reforms and their “socialist” maximum program which they confine to Sunday speechifying. Bound hand and foot by their left social-democratic vision, they get fewer and fewer votes in the elections and don’t advance one bit in their political project, which we could sum up as “another popular front is possible.”
“Authentic Trotskyists put forward a transitional program of measures which take aim at key elements of capitalist domination. We respond to the global capitalist crisis, which has also affected Brazil, with demands such as a sliding scale of wages and working hours, to distribute work to all and fight inflation. In calling for worker-neighborhood defense of the poor districts, linking the factory to the favela, to drive out the police and militias, we seek to mobilize the “heavy battalions” of the proletariat to defend and strengthen the resistance of the poor.
the central task is the struggle to
build a revolutionary workers party
based on the Trotskyist perspective of
permanent revolution. A generic workers
party or party of the working people,
such as proposed by those who falsely
claim to be Trotskyist, would at most be
a new edition of the “original” PT. But
the experience of PT government
underlines the impossibility of winning
fundamental democratic demands such as
national liberation from the grip of
imperialism, agrarian revolution and
democracy for the oppressed and
exploited without fighting for a workers
and peasants government to carry out
international socialist revolution. This
is the program of the LQB, and of the
Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917. ■
 The Democracia Socialista current in the PT.
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