The following article was originally published in Proletarian Revolution No. 70 (Spring 2004).
Traducción en español
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 struggles.
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.
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 bourgeois program.
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 quipped.
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 21st century.” Germany’s State Secretary of Finance, Caio Koch Weser, summed up 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.)
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 occupation leaders.
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 implement.
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.
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.
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 lessons.
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 leaders.
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.
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 Trotsky.
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 Heloísa 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.
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 party.
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 policies.
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 mass struggle.
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 electoralism.
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.
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 political support.
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. 43.)
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 supporters:
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.
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.