Permanent Crisis of the Popular FrontLula Against the Workers –
Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party!
Public workers go out on strike against “reform” of the social security system
ordered by the International Monetary Fund and imposed by the Lula government,
julho de 2003. (Photo: AP)
–Translated from Vanguarda Operária No. 9, May-June 2006, the newspaper of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, section of the League for the Fourth International
A wave of disgust is spreading across Latin America. The “lost decade” of the 1980s caused by the “foreign debt bomb” was followed by another ten years of regimes which applied the prescriptions of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to the letter, deepening hunger and poverty throughout the continent. This gave rise at the beginning of the 21st century to so-called “center-left” governments in several countries, installed after populist election campaigns denouncing “neo-liberalism.” First among them is the popular front headed by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil. Yet these regimes soon turned out to be loyal servants of their imperialist masters in Washington, who followed the same economic policies as their predecessors. Then last year, beginning with the overthrow of Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador in April 2005, followed by the fall of Carlos Mesa in Bolivia in June, convulsive protests broke out, raising hopes of radical change.
Meanwhile, on the world stage U.S. imperialism finds itself in an increasingly difficult situation. After the blitzkrieg (lightning war) of 2003, its colonial occupation army is sinking in the quicksand of Iraq in the face of deeply-rooted insurgency and communalist conflict (set off by the invaders) between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Inside the U.S., the civilian leadership of the Pentagon and White House confront a growing opposition in the population against their military adventure in the Near East, and now a rebellion by the generals who have had to implement their failed strategy.
At the same time the consequences of Hurricane Katrina – when the authorities abandoned more than 100,000 people to their fate in the flood, almost all of them poor and black – has graphically exposed not only the incompetence of the Bush administration, but also the plans of the bourgeoisie to impose racist police-state measures and undertake “ethnic cleansing” in the ghettos of the United States. Now the mobilization of millions of mainly Latin American immigrants in the streets of virtually every U.S. city has exposed the empire’s weak point.
Treated by the imperialists in Washington and New York as their “back yard,” Latin American countries are always profoundly affected by the winds blowing from the north. If the unrest of the 1960s, with coups d’état and guerrilla wars all over South America, was in large part due to the U.S. getting bogged down in the swamp of Vietnam, the sinking fortunes of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq today weakens its stranglehold on the Western Hemisphere.
Lula with his imperial godfather.
The situation of its allies and competitors is no better. The entire European continent is beset by extremely low economic growth rates, with an aging population and growing tensions over immigration. A rebellion against police repression by youth in the immigrant neighborhoods on the outskirts of the large French cities during October-November 2005 was followed by the recent revolt of the youth and working class against the “first job contract” that mobilized millions of demonstrators in the streets and threw the country into turmoil. Together, they indicate a sharpening of the class struggle that requires a Bolshevik leadership to take it forward in the direction of the workers revolution necessary to put an end to mass unemployment.
In Brazil, the Lula government was shaken by the scandal of the mensalão (the fat monthly payoffs to legislators in nominally opposition parties to get their votes for the government) and the revelations of large-scale corruption in the Workers Party (PT). The right-wing press, beginning with Rede Globo, wanted to cut the ground out from under the feet of the president and they found an instrument in the person of an unknown parliamentary deputy who confessed to letting himself be bribed. This undercut the PT’s claim to represent “ethics in politics.”
Suddenly the most corrupt politicians on the planet were falling over each other to express their indignation about the corrupt dealings of the president’s slate. Trailing along behind them was the reformist left, seeking to profit from the situation. But what was truly scandalous about the situation – that a government of a party “of the workers” was bribing right-wing politicians to vote for its anti-working-class laws – hardly merited attention from the manufacturers of bourgeois public opinion. Lula’s political operators are now trying to get out of the crisis by “democratizing” the buying of votes, minimally raising the minimum wage and extending the miserable subsidies of the Bolsa Familia (Family Fund) program to some millions of people.
The Palácio do Planalto (Brazil’s White House) sought to protect Lula’s government by extending the coalition beyond the original partners, the PT and the Liberal Party (PL – now the Party of the Republic) of the “king of the T-shirts” and boss of the Universal Church of the Reign of God, José Alencar. Men who had the confidence of the imperialist bankers were placed in key positions, notably Henrique Meirelles (former president of the Bank of Boston) at the Central Bank and Antônio Palocci as minister of finance. The government survived the fall of José Direceu and José Genoino [Lula’s two top political aides], but when the crisis recently reached Palocci, Lula’s protection shattered. So the big capitalists who have benefited from the popular front government (the Itaú and Bradesco banks booked record profits and the five largest companies in Brazil enjoyed a 49 percent rate of return on their assets in 2004) undertook an operation to shore up their man in the presidential palace.
Today Lula is clearly seen to be the front man for the São Paulo bankers, for the Bovespa stock brokers, the captains of industry, for Wall Street high finance and the masters of U.S. imperialism in Washington. Sectors of the working class may still vote for the former metal worker, without enthusiasm, in order to block the return of the right. But his support is extremely weak and can be broken. Yet far from mounting a revolutionary opposition to Lula’s bourgeois government, the left “opposition” is presenting a slightly more left version of today’s PT.
Lula Government: Popular Front in the Service of the Bankers
On taking office, Lula was celebrated as the first president to represent the people. Buses arrived in Brasília from all over the country, a crowd of 150,000 danced in the Mall of the Ministries, many splashed in the fountain outside the Congress. In the intellectual left as well, euphoria reigned. Michel Löwy, a professor in Rio de Janeiro and Paris, wrote an article in the first issue of Margem Esquerda (May 2003) titled, “The Dance of the Stars, Or Another Brazil Is Possible.” In it, he wrote:
“For the first time in Brazil and the Americas, a worker has been elected president of the republic. And if we add that it is a militant worker and leader of a party that stands for socialism, perhaps it is the first time in history….
“This victory is the historical revenge of the exploited and oppressed, after 20 years of military dictatorship and another 17 of the neo-liberal ‘New Republic.’ Or better yet, if we do our accounting right, after four hundred years of oligarchic domination, in the framework of colonial/dependent capital.
“Hence the popular joy, the dance of the stars, the hope. An immense popular hope in radical change, in a new path, in a break with the policies of the past…. The hope that, finally, for the first time, a government will not be the instrument of the privileged, of the exploiters, the owners, the corrupt, the millionaires.”
In the left that was formally outside of the popular front as well, expectations were spread that Lula’s victory would set off a wave of struggles. And everyone, even those who criticized the coalition with the rightist Alencar and abstained from voting for the PT/PL candidate, wanted to identify themselves with the “Lula phenomenon.” The Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (Fourth Internationalist League of Brazil) took a unique position in calling for “No Vote for Any Candidate of a Class-Collaborationist Alliance” and opposing popular-frontism on principle. In the headline of our bulletin of 25 September 2002, we called “For Proletarian Opposition to the Popular Front! For International Socialist Revolution!” The front-page of our newspaper after Lula took office which proclaimed, “PT/PL Government: Fireman for the IMF” (Vanguarda Operária No. 7, January-February 2003) caused an outcry at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. Yet soon came evidence that our theses were correct.
“PT/PL Government: Fireman for the IMF”
In reality, there was proof long beforehand. In the first place, the coalition with sectors of the bourgeoisie was nothing new for the PT. In the 1989 elections, the Workers Party formed the first Frente Brasil Popular with second-rate bourgeois figures like Lula’s vice-presidential running mate, João Paulo Bisol. Going back to when they were the municipal leadership of the PT in Volta Redonda, the founders of the LQB opposed a vote to the Lula/Bisol slate, and then were expelled from the party. In 1994 and 1998, the PT again formed alliances with lesser sectors of the bourgeoisie, what Leon Trotsky called, referring to the Popular Front in Spain in the ’30s, “the shadow of the bourgeoisie.”
The independence of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie is the fundamental principle of all Marxist politics, and any coalition with capitalist sectors constitutes a crime against the exploited. In the Spanish Civil War, the Popular Front government repressed the workers of Barcelona and thus opened the door to the victory of Franco’s hordes. Also in France, both before and after World War II, in Italy in 1945, in Indonesia in 1965 and in Chile in the early ’70s, the popular front has led to disaster for the working people. Trotsky wrote:
“The modern history of bourgeois society is filled with all sorts of Popular Fronts, i.e. the most diverse political combinations for the deception of the toilers. The Spanish experience is only a new and tragic link in this chain of crimes and betrayals.”
–Leon Trotsky, “The Lessons of Spain: The Last Warning” (December 1937)
Lula’s commitment to the economic policies of imperialism was already made explicit in his “Letter to the Brazilian People” of June 2002, in which he pledged to maintain “consistent fiscal equilibrium” (a balanced budget) and a “primary surplus” (in the government’s budget for operating expenses, before deducting debt payments) at the same time as he accused the government of his predecessor Fernando Henrique Cardoso of “exchange rate populism”; and in the letter he signed together with the other presidential candidates submitting to the conditions demanded by the IMF for the “preventive loan” of US$30 billion negotiated by Cardoso, whose purpose was to tie the hands of the PT candidate.
Submission to the dictates of imperialist high finance and its junior partners in Brazil was also evident in the actions of the municipal government of Porto Alegre (in the state of Rio Grande do Sul) in the hands of the left wing of the PT. Its famous “participatory budget” maintained a wage freeze for municipal workers and cut back on outlays for social programs but paid off the debt to the bankers. In this manner, the PT fully participated in the offensive against social and trade-union gains carried out by all capitalist governments following the counterrevolution that destroyed the degenerated workers state in the Soviet Union and reestablished capitalism throughout East Europe.
Contrary to the claims of virtually the entire Brazilian left, the imperialists who imagined themselves the masters of a “new world order” were not shaken by the election of a popular front in Brazil in 2002. As we wrote at the time, it was clear that Lula (with Alencar) “will preside over a bourgeois regime that will govern the country not in the interests of the ‘people’ but in favor of the profits of the São Paulo stock exchange (Bovespa) and Wall Street,” that behind the mask of welfare programs like “Zero Hunger,” “he will implement the starvation policies of the International Monetary Fund.” We continued:
“The owners of Brazil have conferred on Lula the task of getting the working masses to swallow the anti-working-class ‘reforms’ that his rightist predecessors were unable to foist on them.
“Lula was chosen for head of state this time around, in his fourth presidential bid, primarily due to the generalized economic crisis which encompasses most of the countries of Latin America, due to his ‘moderate’ program, and due to the fact that the working people who voted for him would be firmly chained to their class enemies. As in his previous campaigns, the PT formed a class-collaborationist ‘popular front’ coalition as a guarantee of its ‘good intentions’ toward capital.”
–“Brazil: Lula Government, Putting Out Fires for the IMF,” The Internationalist No. 18, May-June 2004
As a São Paulo economic analyst noted, big capital was looking for a victory by Lula, the sooner the better, to avoid the explosion of the “bomb” of economic turbulence: “It is also for that reason that both Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the IMF were pushing for the election to be decided on the first round. Preferably with the victory of the most popular candidate,” i.e., Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (José Martins, “Waiting for Mister Lula,” Crítica Semanal da Economía, September 2002, quoted by Osvaldo Coggiola, Governo Lula: da esperança à realidade [Xamã VM Editora, 2004]).
The Latin American historian and professor at the University of São Paulo Coggiola remarks:
“The rise of the Lula/PT government was seen in this political-historical context with hope among the popular sectors, but also with the consent of representatives of the government and the establishment in the United States. The new government of the main Latin American nation was clearly structured as a popular-front government, with a capitalist program, and with important representatives of the financial bourgeoisie in it, as a class-collaborationist maneuver to create a factor to hold back the emergence of the workers and peasants movement in Latin America.”
Later on Coggiola adds:
“Denying the evidence, the left assured people that Lula’s victory would encourage the entire Brazilian people and would generate a process of a rising mass movement…. Part of the press and the left took refuge in a conventional phrase in calling the 39 million votes for the PT on the first round as a historic event. In reality, it was the abortion of a historic event, because along with the PT a reactionary faction of the Brazilian bourgeoisie also arrived in the government.”
Correct. It’s just that his comrades in the current led by Jorge Altamira (of the Partido Obrero [Workers Party] in Argentina) and the Partido Causa Operária in Brazil were among those who at the time were proclaiming a rise in the mass struggle with the arrival of Lula in the government.
The services rendered to imperialism by Lula began even before he took office, in December 2002, when he sent an emissary to Caracas to pressure Hugo Chávez to give in to the lockout called by the bosses who only a few months beforehand had backed a coup d’état to oust him from power. Later on, in May 2003, when the U.S. army was surprised by an insurgency in Iraq and needed the troops it had sent to Haiti to kidnap President Aristide, Lula offered to send Brazilian troops as mercenaries to maintain the colonial occupation of the first black republic of the Americas. While centrist currents called for the withdrawal of the troops from Haiti, the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista fought in the unions to mobilize the working class to aid its class Haitian brothers and sisters in driving out the Brazilian expeditionary force.
On the eve of the first round of the Brazilian elections, the London Economist (5 October 2002) gave instructions concerning the tasks of a future Lula government. it stressed in particular the importance of “cut the entitlements of the better-off and concentrate state spending on the poor…. Yet the PT opposed Mr Cardoso’s efforts to do this, for example by cutting civil-service pensions. Lula's party draws many of its members from civil-service unions and public universities.” Lula commented in a speech to the Commercial Association of São Paulo in March 2003: “Why did I say during the campaign that only I could do the reform?... It was because I knew that the reform would have to confront a very organized rank-and-file, and many of them voted for me” (cited by Coggiola, Governo Lula). Thus Lula proposed to do what Fernando Henrique Cardoso didn’t manage to carry out.
The object of the reform of the social security system was not, as was claimed, to clean up public finances and cover an alleged R$ 20 billion gap in the Social Security system, but instead it was to hand over to the control of the banks some R$ 70 billion that would be “contributed” by the workers from their incomes following privatization. It would put an end to retirement at full pay, and would transfer billions from the public coffers to the banks. Variations on this program were already introduced in Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship and in Mexico where it paid for the rescue of the privatized banks which crashed following the financial crisis of December 1994. It was facilitated by the fact that the unions of the CUT (Unitary Labor Confederation) did not oppose this looting of the state. This, in turn, was partly due to the presence of eleven former leaders of the CUT is ministers in the government, and another 66 ex-CUT trade-unionists in high positions in the new government. Even more scandalous, the CUT itself formed a pension fund so that it (or its leaders) could benefit from privatization the same as the banks.
President Lula with his
minister Antonio Palocci, in a seminar with bankers, investers and
businessmen in New York, June 2004. (Photo: Celso Junior/Agência Estado)
So then the Lula government went to work. Chamber of Deputies Bill 40/3 which incorporated the social security reform was pushed through to a vote at full steam. The eight PT deputies who refused to vote for this brutal attack on workers’ rights were suspended from the parliamentary fraction and later four were expelled from the PT. On 9 July 2003, federal government workers went out on a national strike. They were joined by the landless peasants and urban homeless movements. Up to 50,000 workers marched on Brasília. They were attacked by police with tear gas and beaten, including by Military Police inside Congress. The strike lasted an entire month and was accompanied by land occupations, but it ended in defeat.
In the countryside, the PT’s talk of agrarian reform has produced zero results. The structure of rural property, one of the most unequal in the world, hasn’t changed one bit: of the 600 million hectares of cultivable lands, the big landowners, who make up less than 1 percent of the owners, have 285 million hectares, 46 percent of them unproductive (not used for crops or livestock). On the other hand, there are almost 5 million peasant families without land.
A national land reform plan elaborated by Plínio de Arruda Sampaio (director of Correio da Cidanía, now in the PSOL) in October 2003 foresaw one million families in land reform settlements during Lula’s presidential term. More modestly, the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) asked the Lula government in January 2003 to settle 400,000 families in the land reform. The measure was accepted by agrarian reform minister Miguel Rossetto (of the pseudo-Trotskyist grouping in the PT, Democracia Socialista1), and the president himself agreed to carry out this goal when he received a delegation of the MST in May of last year.
Nevertheless, the reality is quite different: in the first three years of the Lula government, only 127,000 families received land from the government, and of them only 27,000 were settled as part of the land reform, considerably less than under the previous government of Cardoso. On the other hand, in 2003 some 31,000 families were evicted from their land. Some 170,000 families of landless peasants are still camped out on the roadsides or in occupied estates (figures from Brasil de Fato, 13 April 2005).
The failure of land reform under a supposedly left government supported by the MST is no accident. It is in a direct line with Lula’s favoring the growth of agribusiness with the aim of increasing exports, maintaining the primary surplus of 4.5 percent in the federal budget and paying off the foreign debt. At the same time, the fazendeiros (ranchers) have stepped up violence against the landless, forming veritable private armies of jagunços (paramilitary white guards). Leaders of the MST like José Rainha and his companion Diolinda de Souza and many other members of the organization have been imprisoned. And ten years after the massacre of Eldorado dos Carajás (in the Amazonian state of Pará), where 19 landless peasants were murdered, 144 soldiers and officials who participated in the slaughter were absolved, only two were found guilty, and no one is in jail today.
At the height of the mensalão (Congressional payoff) crisis last year, a news bulletin of MST Informa (9 August 2005) noted: “The Brazilian people elected the Lula government to carry out changes…. We no longer have the same government that we elected in 2002. We do not have a government of the left, or even the center-left…. the right controls the economic policies. We must say goodbye to the PT and its historic commitments.” Yet what are the political conclusions of this simple statement of fact? The MST declared: “The Lula government will find an ally in the people to fight its enemies, but it needs to show which side it is on…. This choice can be made by clear changes in the current economic and social policies.”
This is the line of the disillusioned “left” in the PT and CUT, which only asks for “changes” in the government’s economic policies. This position was reiterated by MST leader Pedro Stédile in an interview in which he predicted a year of demonstrations “in order to bring about a process of pressure for change in the economic policy” of the government (Prensa de Frente [Argentina], 11 April). “We have entered a long period of accumulation of forces,” he concluded. So after a quarter century of mobilizing, Stédile condemns the landless to another “long period” of waiting for the day of their liberation.
The Payoff Crisis: Lula Opens the Road to Revenge From the Right
The first consequence of the fraying of the PT as a transmission belt for the Lula government was the expulsion of the parliamentary deputies who voted against the social security “reform” and for the formation of a “new party” of ex-PTers in June 2004. Led by Senator Heloísa Helena of Alagoas, the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL – Party of Socialism and Freedom) wants to “return to the main banners of the PT before it entered government.”
Thus the PSOL reflects the calls to return to the “original PT,” a slogan also taken up by various currents that are still inside the government party. In practice, they are trying to create a “substitute PT,” with all the social-democratic vices the party suffered even before entering government (see ““We Don’t Need a Social-Democratic ‘New Party’ of Disillusioned Lulistas,” The Internationalist No. 20, January-February 2005).
The PSOL is an electoral party par excellence, where statements by a “charismatic” candidate and the parliamentary deputies determine party policy. For a considerable time its main activity was collecting the 438,000 signatures necessary to register their presidential candidacy. The PSOL does not characterize the Lula government as a popular front, and not by accident: it also wants to form a mini popular front with “progressive” elements in the church and “trabalhista” (laborite) sectors of the PDT (Democratic Labor Party, the heirs of populist leader Leonel Brizola). To Lula’s frentão popular (mega pop front) Heloísa responds with a frentinha popular (mini pop front).
Ultimately, the government got through the crisis of the expulsions from the PT with a loss of some hundreds of intermediate cadres, intellectuals and union bureaucrats, particularly among government workers. It then went on to the next crisis of the popular front: the scandal of corruption in the PT, the party which vowed to moralize public affairs and introduce “ethics” into the constant horse trading of bourgeois politics. According to the fable narrated in the newspapers, everything began with the discovery in May 2005 of a modest tip of R$ 3,000 received by a post office director….
Lula with his “gray eminence” José Dirceu.
When the Rio de Janeiro deputy Roberto Jefferson, former president of the PTB (Brazilian Labor Party), was confronted about the case and he wasn’t defended by his godfather, José Dirceu, Lula’s civil affairs minister, Jefferson decided to spill the beans (or a good part of them). He revealed that the government was buying the support of deputies and whole parties of the (bourgeois) opposition with sums in the millions that were extracted from the public treasury and major companies. The money, R$ 30,000 (roughly US$13,000) per deputy per month, was transferred in suitcases.
The PT treasurer “defended” himself by admitting that there were money transfers and loans, but insisted that these were “unaudited” funds for the “caixa dois” (cash box two, secret funds) for the PT election campaigns, which all the Brazilian parties have.
The bourgeois media and capitalist politicians reacted with feigned horror. They conveniently forgot that the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso bought votes on important issues (reelection, social security). The role of Rede Globo in the election of Fernando Collor de Mello in 1989 was so notorious that it led to his impeachment. In this case, the president of the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB – the party of former president Cardoso), Eduardo Azeredo, leader of the opposition in Congress, “knew” because he himself received some of this money and because his party had been using the same “suitcase man,” the advertising executive Marcos Valério, to finance itself years ago.
The innovation of Lula’s government was to convert the “presents” into a monthly subsidy, in order to “rent the allied parties” that the government relied on in Congress, as Jefferson put it. This was the direct result of the government’s lack of a parliamentary majority, and was part of an effort to extend the popular front to include notorious rightist elements such as Antônio Carlos Magalhães [leader of the Northeastern landowners], Orestes Quércia and Paulo Maluf, dinosaurs left over from the military dictatorship, all of them accused of corruption and under investigation by parliamentary commissions (which were then dismissed, when they reached agreement with the PT leadership). The mensalão (fat monthly payoff) was the counterpart of the “frentão popular” (the expanded popular front).
Corruption is a constant in bourgeois politics. It is the axle grease that makes the gears of the capitalist state machinery function, so that the government of the day can serve as the executive committee of the ruling class, meshing the interests of its different factions. It particularly annoys the “proper” petty bourgeoisie and social-democratic reformists because it reveals the dirty reality behind the mythology of the “neutrality” of the state, providing concrete proof of how this state defends the interests of capital, not of “everyone.”
They all reacted like the French police inspector in the movie Casablanca who in a famous scene remarks: “I’m shocked, shocked, that this kind of thing [gambling] takes place in Rick’s Bar,” and then issues orders to “pick up the usual suspects.” Revolutionaries are not shocked by corruption in politics, because we know that this is an integral part of the capitalist system that we combat in all its facets. We denounce all capitalist financing of a workers party, whether illegal or legal under bourgeois law, as well as opposing “public” financing, which is nothing but a mechanism for controlling the recipients of the funds.
Corruption in politics isn’t a personal “sin” but a social phenomenon. It assumes grandiose proportions in periods of tension between the various clans and cliques of the bourgeoisie, or when a reformist workers party gets into office lacking its own bloated funds that a big bourgeois party would have. The reality is that no party based on the working people in semi-colonial countries can pay out of its members’ dues the enormous expenses of a successful electoral campaign with its costly television ads and shows. An electoral party, as the PT has been for decades, will be financed, one way or another, by the various capitalists or the capitalist state.
And not only “Lula knew.” Everyone knew, and well before Jefferson’s revelation. Plínio Arruda Sampaio wrote in an article in Brasil de Fato (5 January 2005): “It’s on this level that one finds, without a shred of doubt, the worst results of two years of Lula’s government. The political leadership of the government is entirely submissive to the traditional schemes of the corrupt Brazilian elite: the influence-trafficking, the private deals, the illegitimate alliances and obscure financing of the election campaigns.”
Corruption is also a constant in bourgeois political scandals, and a favorite theme of rightist forces, because it lends itself to mobilizing the enraged petty bourgeoisie without going beyond the limits of capitalist politics. In France in the 1930s, for example, fascists and monarchists used the Stavisky affair and discontent over the corrupt “democracy” of the Third Republic (where all the newspapers and politicians had been bought) to organize a movement toward bonapartism, a “strong government” of the military/police state variety. This led to the events of 6 February 1934, when hundreds of King’s Cavaliers, Patriotic Youth, right-wing leagues (Cross of Fire, French Solidarity) and fascist groups imposed a right-wing government (headed by Doumergue).
In the face of this threat, the Socialist and Communist parties united forces to mobilize a week later in a large workers united front. Trotsky wrote:
“It is precisely this disillusionment of the petty bourgeoisie, its impatience, its despair, that Fascism exploits. Its agitators stigmatize and execrate the parliamentary democracy which supports careerists and grafters but gives nothing to the toilers. These demagogues shake their fists at the bankers, the big merchants and the capitalists….
“The petty bourgeoisie will reject the demagogy of Fascism only if it puts its faith in the reality of another road. That other road is the road of proletarian revolution.”
So how did the Brazilian left respond to mensalão scandal? Did it organize a response pointing toward proletarian revolution? Not at all. The main left organizations, including those who claim to be Trotskyist, parroted the words of the right, tacking on a few abstract “socialist” slogans and above all trying to organize the disillusionment of the insulted petty bourgeoisie. They evidently wanted to repeat the “Fora Collor” (Collor Out) movement of the 1990s2.
Senator Heloísa Helena of the PSOL positioned herself as the prime mover of the Parliamentary Investigative Commission (CPI) in the post office affair. Recently, in a polemical exchange with the PSOL, the PSTU (Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado – United Socialist Workers Party), followers of the late Argentine pseudo-Trotskyist Nahuel Moreno, criticized those who say, “It’s enough to win elections and have ‘ethics in politics,’ getting rid of corruption, in order to effect change.” But what did the PSTU itself do at the height of the uproar over the payoff scandal? It mounted a whole campaign around the slogan “Lula knew,” and then, according to a PSTU press release: “At 4:30 this afternoon, Thursday, July 4, the PSTU handed in to the president of the CPI on the post office affair, Delcídio Amaral, a request that the Commission investigate Lula.”
The PSTU supported the Parliamentary Investigative Commission. That is, they appealed to the Congress of the corrupt, this den of thieves, virtually every one of whom has their own “caixa dois” and who traffic in secret funds received from capitalist sources. The CPI was set up in order to wipe the mud off the bourgeoisie’s face and to come up with a scapegoat who can be sacrificed, preferably a couple of inoffensive Lutheran pastors. To call on Congress to pass judgment on the “mensalão” affair is class collaboration, and more than that, it is playing the game of the right wing.
Not only does this mean calling on senators of the PFL (Liberal Front Party, representing large landowners), the PSDB and other reactionaries to pass sentence on Lula, the betrayer of the workers movement; in their demonstrations, the PSTU made common cause with bourgeois sectors (including ultra-rightists). Thus in the rally on 18 August 2005 called by Conlutas (National Struggle Coordinating Committee), led by the PSTU, deputies of capitalist parties spoke from the sound truck, including João Fontes of the PDT and Augusto de Carvalho of the PPS3. Also present was Enéas Carneiro, deputy of the ultra-rightist PRONA4.
The PSTU is evidently aware of the meaning of its policies. In a meeting of Conlutas the night before the August 18 demonstration, it put forward a new slogan, “Fora todos” (Throw them all out). The next day, according to an account in the PSTU’s Opinião Socialista (19 August 2005), demonstrators chanted, “Out with Lula, out with the Congress, the PT, the PSDB, the PFL…” (but not with the PDT, PPS…). In the second national meeting of Conlutas on the afternoon of the 18th, the PSTU argued for its new orientation: “We can’t leave the decision to this corrupt Congress,” said a PSTU member in the leadership of Sindsef (public workers) of São Paulo. Yet that is exactly what these fake Trotskyists did with their call on the CPI on the post office to investigate Lula.
The Tailist Policy of the (Not Very) Far Left
The payoff crisis has not ended. The verdict of the CPI on the postal affair is pending. But the empiricist leftists who last year argued that the government was “on the ropes,” now think that Lula could be reelected.
And still, the permanent crisis of the popular front continues. The succession of splits, Congressional deputies breaking away and scandals is the result of the fact that, for the bourgeoisie, putting in a class-collaborationist government whose main base of support lies among the working people is an emergency measure. “‘People’s Fronts’ on the one hand –fascism on the other: these are the last political resources of imperialism in the struggle against the proletarian revolution,” wrote Leon Trotsky in the Transitional Program. He goes on: “A merciless exposure of the theory and practice of the ‘People’s Front’ is therefore the first condition for a revolutionary struggle against fascism.”
PSTU: However, it is precisely this “merciless exposure” of popular-frontism that the main organizations in Brazil claiming to be Trotskyist have studiously avoided. Practically the entire Brazilian “far left” capitulated during the 2002 election campaign to Lula’s popularity, either voting for him directly, or expressing indirect support or sympathy. The PSTU was the most flagrant: after running José Maria Almeida as its presidential candidate on the first round, it came out for voting for Lula on the second, decisive round. Even admitting that they “don’t believe that a possible Lula government would improve the lives of the people,” they wrote in a leaflet:
“Since the workers believe in Lula and, above all, they want to defeat Serra [candidate of Cardoso’s PSDB], the PSTU will join with the working class and help call for a vote for Lula and to elect him.”
This inveterate tailism helped deepen illusions in the Lula-Alencar ticket. Having made that commitment, the PSTU is responsible for the government that was elected.
The PSTU knew. It called for a vote for Lula (and his vice president, the capitalist Alencar) knowing that he wouldn't break with the IMF, in October 2002.
Four years later, the PSTU, having “joined with” the workers’ illusions in Lula, now wants to accompany and organize their disillusionment. It sought to mobilize the masses on the lowest possible level, against the corruption of the “mensalão.” However, when the political marketing experts in the Palácio do Planalto counterattacked by raising the starvation-level minimum wage to a miserable R$350 (roughly US$160) a month and extending the “Family Fund” welfare program to 10 million people, the president’s score rose again in the polls. That was when the PSTU issued a call to “unite the left” in a “socialist class front.” In reality, it amounted to an attempt to unite the disillusioned Lulistas.
But disillusionment does not add up to a program – it is a retreat, an internalization of defeat, an escape. And the PSTU’s new campaign serves precisely as an escape valve to channel the discontent generated by the anti-working-class policies of the government that it helped elect. In practice it consists of begging the PSOL to grant them a few crumbs from the parliamentary table in exchange for its extra-parliamentary support in the unions and on the streets. They are offering to be the best builders of the campaign of Heloísa Helena in exchange for a few federal and above all state deputies. But Heloísa’s comrades aren’t interested. They are nominating their own candidates at every level, seeking to ally not with the PSTU but with the PDT and other bourgeois and petty-bourgeois sectors.
The PSTU is squabbling with the PSOL, insisting that an electoral front doesn’t have to be electoralist, that “we don’t have to repeat the PT’s traditional discourse of ‘ethics in politics,’” and instead can be “a pressure point for the immediate struggles of the workers” (Opinião Socialista, 13 April). But isn’t that what the PSTU did last August, when it made a parliamentary bloc with the same reactionary and corrupt bourgeois forces who are now maneuvering with the PSOL? The PSTU opines that “participation is important – and so is the election of parliamentary deputies,” but only in the service of struggle. But when, rather than accept the PSTU’s “Zé” Maria as Heloisa’s running mate, the PSOL instead named its own César Benjamin, the PSTU declared: “The Front in Danger” (Opinião Socialista, 26 April). So who’s electoralist now?
PCO: The Workers Cause Party (PCO), which in the elections of 1989, 1994 and 1998 called to vote for the “worker candidate” Lula, declined to vote for Lula on the second round of the presidential elections in 2002, although it thought that there would be an upsurge in struggle due to the “revolutionary tendencies of the masses” who voted for him. Now it criticizes the front that the PSTU is seeking to build. An article by the leader and ex-presidential candidate of the PCO, Rui Costa Pimenta, under the title “Neither a Front, Nor Leftist, Class or Socialist” (Causa Operária online, 26 April), observes that this hypothetical front doesn’t call for a workers government nor even for a “government of the working people,” but only criticizes “the democracy of the rich.”
The author makes some organizational criticisms of the imposition of Heloísa Helena as presidential candidate, which is rather ridiculous since the whole purpose of the “front” is to take advantage of the popularity generated by the bourgeois press for the senator from Alagoas. But we have arrived at the center of the PCO’s wailing lamentation when we read that “In the PSTU’s formulation, the ‘left’ – and on top of that ‘class’ – front then excluded the Workers Cause Party.” This is the lament of those who were left out.
For the PCO leader, the problem with the PSTU’s imaginary “front” is that it only serves to mask its lining up behind the PSOL’s election campaign rather than following the “conception of fronts put forward by the revolutionary Marxists.” And just what might this “Marxist conception of fronts” be? According to Costa Pimenta, this conception consists of having an “agreement between parties around candidacies, a program and an electoral tactic.” But for genuine Trotskyists, the united front is an episodic tactic that can be used to join forces for common action. In contrast, electoral coalitions between leftist groups and parties have nothing to do with unity in action against the class enemy – in a strike or for defense against fascist attacks, for example. Rather, they serve to mix up the banners in a propaganda bloc, based on the search for the lowest common denominator. As Trotsky wrote about this:
“But it is precisely in the sphere of propaganda that a bloc is out of the question. Propaganda must lean upon clear-cut principles and on a definite program. March separately, strike together. A bloc is solely for practical mass actions. Deals arranged from above which lack a basis in principle will bring nothing except confusion.
“The idea of nominating a candidate for president on the part of the united workers’ front is at its root a false one.”
–Leon Trotsky, What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat (January 1932)
The PCO’s “conception of fronts” does not originate in the Marxist and Trotskyist program. It grows out of the practice of Argentine pseudo-Trotskyism, where Rui Costa Pimenta’s former mentor, Jorge Altamira, and the late guru of the PSTU, Nahuel Moreno, fought for years over who would be the highest bidder with the best proposal for an electoral front. If Moreno called for an “anti-imperialist front,” Altamira countered with a “socialist anti-imperialist front”; if the Morenoites put a “workers front” on the market, Altamira reacted by launching a “revolutionary workers front,” etc. But the workers’ cause will not be advanced by this kind of Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi-Cola competition, nor by the electoral unity of the opportunists. All the more so in Brazil, where the “pseudos” want to recreate the “original PT.” Instead, what’s needed is a determined struggle to forge a revolutionary workers party on a Leninist-Trotskyist programmatic basis.
LER-QI: A small group that orbits around the PSTU is the Liga Estratégia Revolucionária Quarta-Internacionalista (LER-QI), linked to the Argentine Partido de Trabajadores por el Socialismo (PTS – Party of Workers for Socialism) and its international organization, the Trotskyist Faction (FT). In general terms, one could say that the LER criticizes the PSTU for its program of pressure to make the PT (or more recently the PSOL) fight, whereas the LER-QI pushes to make the PSTU fight. Its rhetoric repeats the conceptions of the Morenoite PSTU, talking endlessly of the need to struggle “against the democracy of the rich.” The LER-QI’s proposals are so tailist that it went so far as to criticize the PSTU for an “ultra-leftist turn” when the latter temporarily raised the demand, “Throw Them All Out.” This recalls the “ultra-leftist groups that proliferate around the country,” the LER-QI remarked oh so prudently.
The LER-QI wants to build “a national anti-bureaucratic and anti-government pole” as a faction within Conlutas. It calls for an “Independent Workers Party led by rank-and-file workers out of the unions, as a mass alternative to the bankruptcy of the PT.” All the programmatic components put forward by the LER-QI for its hypothetical ‘anti-bureaucratic’ poll and its “independent workers party” are purely democratic in character. Not only in its proposals in Conlutas, the LER-QI presents everything in a “democratic” framework. Soviets, for example, are described as the basis for a “state based on mass democracy.” They thereby disguise the proletarian class character of the Soviet power and the October Revolution, which established a regime based on workers democracy, not undifferentiated “masses.”
The main slogan of the LER-QI during the payoff crisis and today (as well as in the past and just about everywhere else) is for a “Free and Sovereign Constituent Assembly,” a goal which doesn’t go beyond the bounds of bourgeois democracy. The same demand was raised by Coggiola (in his article “Corruption, Crisis and a Workers Alternative,” Rebelión, 6 August 2005). When in Bolivia Evo Morales’ MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) called for a constituent assembly, the LOR-CI (the affiliate of the FT) called for a revolutionary constituent assembly and a “popular” assembly.
The LER-QI and its comrades of the FT and the Argentine PTS criticize Nahuel Moreno for his conclusion, based on the experience of China, Vietnam and Cuba, that “the revolution can do without soviets and even a party inspired by Bolshevism.” They admit that this abandonment of fundamental elements of the Trotskyist program leads the PSTU to a policy of “pressuring reformist sectors of the workers movement.” But they fail to mention the fact that their own monomania for the demand of a constituent assembly is a direct legacy of Moreno. Where he called for a “democratic revolution” and a stage of “February Revolutions” in Latin America, we Trotskyists of the League for the Fourth International call for new (proletarian) October Revolutions.
The neo-Morenoite centrists of the LER-QI/PTS/FT are using the old Menshevik schema (later adopted by the Stalinists and renegades from Trotskyism like Moreno) of a two-stage revolution, in which the initial “democratic” stage is never followed up by a later “socialist” stage, because very frequently what comes in between is a massacre of the revolutionaries by their former “democratic” allies. The democratizing program of this tendency condemns it to a dependent existence, of being “fellow travelers” of larger reformist forces (like the PT, PSOL or PSTU in Brazil) or petty-bourgeois forces (like the Bolivian MAS), just as Moreno was a satellite of bourgeois Peronism in Argentina. It’s not surprising, then, that the LER-QI has suffered a hemorrhaging of members heading toward the PSOL. It’s a logical conclusion to their program: if the objective is to pressure forces to their right and to induce them to fight, it’s better to do this from within the ranks of the larger opportunists.
LBI: Another formally centrist group is the Liga Bolchevique Internacionalista (LBI – Internationalist Bolshevik League) which criticizes the PSTU for being popular-frontist and capitulating to Lula’s popular-front government. But the LBI does not oppose popular-frontism on principle. As oppositionists within Causa Operária they did not oppose the call to vote for Lula’s popular front put forward by the PCO in 1994; for them, this class-collaborationist alliance was merely a tactical question.
In the 2002 presidential elections, due to the ostentatiously rightist character of the PT/PL alliance, the LBI called for a blank ballot (voto nulo). But on the eve of the first round, it issued an appeal, in a 4 October 2002 communiqué, warning of “the greatest fraud in history, to ensure that a second round is held.” They called upon “all class activists…to vigorously denounce the fraud being carried out, and if this comes to pass, as everything indicates, to launch a broad national mobilization, culminating in an active work stoppage against the electoral fraud.”
Feigning an independent position, the LBI gave extra-parliamentary support to the Lula-Alencar popular front, calling to struggle in the streets against fraud even before it occurred and insisting, along with representatives of Wall Street and [then-president] Fernando Henrique Cardoso, that Lula should be elected on the first round.
During the crisis of the mensalão last year, the LBI criticized the PSTU for supporting the parliamentary investigative commission pushed by the PSDB. It called attention to the presence of bourgeois parties in the leadership that organized the August 18 demonstration in Brasília. But what did the LBI do in the face of this alternative (not very) popular front? After noting that the PDT and PPS managed to speak from the sound truck, they report: “The LBI spoke from the sound truck during the Conlutas march, as the only political tendency to denounce the presence of the bourgeois parties (PPS and PDT) in the demonstration” (Jornal Luta Operária, September 2005). In other words, the LBI was part of – the “critical” part, if you wish – this anti-Lula popular front.
The reality is that these pseudo-Bolsheviks themselves want to join in the “anti-corruption” agitation set off by the bourgeois right-wing, vituperating against the “PT government of the mensalão.” And now that the PSTU is trying to organize a “socialist class front” along with the PSOL and the PCdoB (Communist Party of Brazil – ex-Maoists become social democrats), the LBI is calling for a “revolutionary workers front” rather than a “electoral front with left social democracy.” Evidently, they have learned well the rules of the Morenoite-Altamirista game of opportunist “frontism.” One only has to ask, who is supposed to make up this “revolutionary workers” front?
The LBI raised this demand in the CONAT, the national conference of Conlutas, which far from being a new trade-union confederation is a condominium between the PSTU and the PSOL. How are these inveterate “left social democrats,” masters of constant maneuverism, going to turn into revolutionaries? The genuine Trotskyist policy in the face of this situation must be, as Trotsky himself outlined in Germany, to fight to forge a genuinely revolutionary workers party and to unite in action in a powerful class struggle against the bourgeoisie.
Beyond their formal program, we must note that the Liga Bolchevique Internacionalist is an adventurist outfit which in its frenetic twists and turns blithely trips across the class line.
In 1996, the elected leadership of the Union of Public Employees of the Municipality of Volta Redonda (SFPMVR), a majority of whom were members and sympathizers of Luta Metalúrgica (Metal Workers Struggle), the precursor organization to the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, undertook a struggle to separate the municipal guards from the union, for being part of the police, the “armed fist of the bourgeoisie.” The LBI intervened in a ruinous manner in this fundamental struggle, backing the main supporter of the cops, a certain Artur Fernandes, advising him on how to combat the Trotskyists.
Today the LBI pretends to criticize police “strikes,” but when for the first time in the history of Latin America there was a struggle to throw the police out of the SFPMVR, they opted for the pro-police elements. As we pointed out in our article, “The LBI’s Dirty Popular Front with the Bourgeois State” (Vanguarda Operária No. 1, July-September 1996), the LBI published in their newspaper a leaflet by Fernandes, “On the Campaign ‘Police Out of the SFPMVR’,” in which he said that this “is the most idiotic campaign that Volta Redonda municipal workers have ever seen.”
The LBI advised Fernandes by fax that he should denounce us for “undertaking campaigns of a merely superstructural character (campaigns in defense of gays and lesbians, blacks).” They were referring, among other things, to the fact that we were the ones who brought to Brazil the international campaign to save the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the journalist and ex-Black Panther sentenced to death in the United States for his revolutionary declarations. Mumia wrote an article specially for the SFPMVR newspaper explaining that the police are not friends but enemies of the exploited and oppressed.
The LBI supported the pro-cop elements when they went to court to remove Geraldo Ribeiro as president of the SFPMVR precisely because of the campaign to remove the police from the union. And then the same Fernandes appeared as a member of the trade-union grouping of the LBI in a congress of the CUT.
Not only in their frenzy against the Trotskyists do these adventurers cross the class line. In the case of Venezuela, the LBI supported the bosses’ “strike,” backed by imperialism, against the regime of Hugo Chávez. In a statement dated 16 December 2002, it characterized this lockout as a “workers strike with mass support” and denounced Chávez for his “threat of a state of siege and military repression against the workers,” accusing those who defended the government against this counterrevolutionary attempted coup of being “lumpens.”
Contrary to the claim of the LBI, the Trotsky policy was to fight to smash the bosses’ pseudo-“strike” with every possible means, as the League for the Fourth International called for (see “For Revolutionary Opposition to Pro-Imperialist Coup Attempt in Venezuela!” The Internationalist No. 15, January-February 2003). In this case, these political zigzaggers acted as running dogs of imperialism. On other occasions, in the guise of a simulated “anti-imperialism,” they follow an anti-Marxist policy of justifying indiscriminate attacks against U.S., British and Spanish workers, in contrast to the League for the Fourth International which called for a proletarian policy of struggling for the defeat of imperialism and its lackeys, whether in the imperialist countries or in the so-called “Third World,” from Iraq to Haiti, Brazil and within the United States.
Against the Popular Front, Fight for a Revolutionary Workers Party
The experience of multiple popular-front governments shows that these class-collaborationist coalitions go through different phases. If at the beginning they enjoy the sympathy of the working masses, after a certain time passes of experiencing the left in government, it becomes evident that they are not going to carry out the masses’ expectations. A period of struggles generally sets in, in which the workers go up against the government they helped elect.
Frequently, popular-front governments resort to violence to smash these struggles, as was the case in Spain in the 1937 May Days in Barcelona, and in France that same year when the Popular Front police shot strikers in the town of Clichy. In Salvador Allende’s Chile, the Unidad Popular government confiscated the arms in the hands of the unions and the cordones industriales (industrial belts), organizations which could have turned into genuine workers councils.
When the proletariat is sufficiently demoralized, then comes the moment when the right-wing overthrows the “progressive” government, frequently by means of massacring the workers. That is why we say that popular fronts open the way to the revenge of the right, and they are paid for with workers’ blood.
In the case of the Brazilian popular front around the PT, it appears that Lula is speeding up the process and wants himself to play the hangman, doing the bourgeoisie’s dirty work. The battle over the social security “reform” took place almost immediately, and the massacres are already under way, as we analyzed in our article, “Lula’s Brazil: Land of Massacres” (The Internationalist No. 22, September-October 2005). But in order to accomplish this, he will have to carry out an operation to shift the base of his government, substituting petty-bourgeois and even bourgeois sectors for the workers. In fact, Lula is attempting such a shift, but it won’t be an easy matter. He could lose his working-class base without winning over the petty-bourgeois base he is looking for.
In any case, the life expectancy of popular fronts is rather short. Big struggles are approaching to determine the direction of the largest country of Latin America, a matter of great international importance. The imperialists who placed Lula in his post as sheriff of the southern continent certainly will make their weight felt. They want him to keep on repressing the working and poor people of Haiti and to exercise his influence over Morales in Bolivia.
The workers have to organize in the direction of forming workers and peasants councils. This struggle will take place not on the electoral terrain, where at present no candidate represents the interests of the working people and a class opposition to the popular front.
To lead this struggle, a revolutionary leadership is needed, which must necessarily be a workers party forged on the basis of the Bolshevik program of Lenin and Trotsky. Through its intervention in the class struggles and programmatic struggle with left-wing tendencies, the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista seeks to bring around it and educate cadres to constitute the nucleus of this indispensable instrument of the struggle for a workers and peasants government, to begin the socialist revolution which then must be extended internationally into the very heart of imperialism. As Trotsky wrote in his essay, “The Revolution in Spain” (January 1931): “ For a successful solution of all these tasks, three conditions are required: a party; once more, a party; again a party!” n
1 Linked to the United Secretariat formerly led by the late Ernest Mandel.
2 In 1992, President Fernando Collor de Mello was charged with corruption and impeached by Congress. The PSTU played a leading role in organizing “Fora Collor” demonstrations, but who profited from the outcome were other sectors of the capitalist ruling class. Collor was replaced by his vice president, Itamar Franco, who proceeded to carry out key privatizations, including of the National Steel Company (CSN).
3 People’s Socialist Party, a bourgeois party formed by the remnants of the Brazilian Communist Party after the fall of the Soviet Union which joined with agribusiness capitalists such as Blairo Borges Maggi, the governor of Mato Grosso state, who is the largest producer of soy products in world.
4 Party of Reconstruction of the National Order, an ultra-rightist party derived from the fascistic Brazilian Integralists of the 1930s.
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