Brazil: Cardoso defeated at the ballot box

At the end of the second round of the Brazilian municipal elections the result is clear: the defeat of Cardoso’s allies and the growth of the PT. Try as they may, the bourgeois commentators attempt to whitewash the defeat of the government’s allies cannot hide the huge growth of the opposition in the state capitals and major cities.

In January 2001, the PT will take office in 6 state capitals – São Paulo, Porto Alegre, Belém, Recife, Goiânia and Aracaju, which include the most important of Brazil’s 5 major regions.

In all, the PT will be running (i.e. have the mayor of) 187 cities around the country. In the large cities (over 200,000 inhabitants), the PT jumped from 5 to 17 municipalities.

We will have a real red belt around Great São Paulo, with PT city halls in most of the ABC region (predominantly working class areas where the PT was founded), in Guarulhos and the state capital, São Paulo itself, and in Campinas, the second largest city in the state of São Paulo. As Lula has said, the PT won even where it lost. Even coming in second place in Curitiba (state capital of Paraná) had the feeling of victory in the face of a scandalous campaign against the PT from the right. On the other side, the big losers in these elections were the parties that have supported the Cardoso government. The PFL was defeated by the PT in Recife, home ground of Brazil’s vice-president Marco Maciel, and also lost unexpectedly in Rio de Janeiro.

The PSDB came third in São Paulo, despite controlling the state government and using all the weight of the state machine in its favor. It was reduced to running the smaller cities. Paulo Maluf and the PPB limped into the second round in São Paulo but was defeated by Marta Suplicy of the PT thus bringing out the limits to reactionary Malufism for the near future.

The anti-corruption vote is also an anti-Cardoso vote.

As soon as it became clear that the PT would grow enormously in the elections, the government tried to shirk its responsibility for its election results. Cardoso recognized the growth of the PT, but did not relate it to dissatisfaction with his government and the terrible situation facing most of Brazilian society. The election result for him was due to a widespread "neutral" sentiment in favor of more honesty in municipal and public services.

There certainly was anger because of the corruption scandals, and this was an important factor in the victory of the PT, mainly in São Paulo. The party was seen by most people as the only one capable of carrying out a clean up of municipal governments.

In São Paulo, the PT was the main opposition to the Malufist stooge government of Mayor Celso Pitta who was up to the neck in corruption and local mafia-like networks. There were situations like the town of Embú, where all the council members were legally removed from office for corruption and the PT member was the only one not involved. He ended up winning the elections there. There was a similar situation in Guarulhos, where the mayor was removed and the PT went on to win the elections. However, the corruption issue is not politically neutral. People related corruption to the current situation in the country, economic policy, unemployment, collapse of public services, etc.

The Cardoso government itself was directly involved in some corruption cases. Former-secretary-general to the presidency Eduardo Jorge Caldas is at center of countless corruption scandals traced to the time he occupied an office next to Cardoso’s.

The government vetoed a parliamentary committee of Inquiry to investigate the relationships between the corrupt Judge Nicolau dos Santos, now a fugitive from justice, and leading members of the government. Not to mention banker Cacciola (also "on the run") who illegally got funds from the central bank to avoid his own bank going broke. The anti-corruption vote was also an anti-Cardoso vote and one directed against right-wing politicians locally.

Did the PT win because it went "pink"?

The media is plugging with all its might the idea that the growth of the PT was due to its turn to the right. It was the pink PT that won, not the red one, they say. The red PT had no chance elect orally. Or, they say, the PT’s growth was due exclusively to local, specific issues and not related to the federal government or the situation in the country as a whole.

This interpretation does not hold water. It is true that since the beginning of the 90s, the PT has been moving toward the right. But it has not gone as far as the European social-democratic parties. The PT still has a worker and people base and organizes the immense majority of advanced workers and activists in the social movements. The moderate line of most of its election campaigns was nothing new. But this had no direct relationship with the growth in votes. The PT’s 1996 local election campaign, in São Paulo, was even more moderate than the current one. The PT candidate (Luiza Erundina, at that time still in the PT) did not even have a PT identity. She literally changed red to white in her TV time and in campaign materials. The election result was a fiasco!

On the contrary, Lula’s best electoral result in the presidential race was in 1989. Exactly when the PT had a line that was clearly more to the left than today’s. At that time, Lula made the second round against Collor and lost by a tiny difference. His program then included suspension of payment of foreign debt and the possible nationalization of the banks. But in 1994 and 1998, with a more moderate line, Lula did not make the second round against Cardoso.

What explains the growth of the PT is mainly the political mood of bitter dissatisfaction with the Cardoso government, the crisis, unemployment, poverty, destruction of education, health, etc. So in fact the PT grew not because of its turn to the right, but in spite of its moderation.

Moderate campaign and program

The PT leadership’s line and program in the local election campaigns were in general quite moderate. Administer capitalism with more democracy and social concern; this is usually the essence of the PT’s policy. There was a clear emphasis on combating corruption, democratization of administration through mechanisms as the " participative budget" (participation in allocating municipal spending within the limits of the available funds) and compensatory social measures against poverty, such as the guaranteed minimum income program, school student scholarships, etc.

Faced with bankrupt city finances, the PT’s position is to renegotiate debt. Marta Suplicy in São Paulo, for example, rejected the idea of suspending repayment debts to the big capitalists. She thinks that financing the city’s social programs will come form ending corruption and through partnerships with state and federal governments and with the private sector!

In relation to social movements, the PT stressed its independence and autonomy. The relation between the PT and the landless workers (MST) was raised by all the right-wing candidates throughout Brazil. The PT’s response was usually a bit lukewarm. Marta Suplicy, for example, said she understood the MST despite disagreeing with a certain tendency to radicalism.

Despite this, Lula declared after the elections " the PT did not hesitate to defend the social movements, in spite of anti-Communist attacks on the PT in the Northeast."

In Recife, Pernambuco, one of the main cities in Northeast Brazil, the PT responded to a radicalized strike of the state police force by attempting to avoid being connected with it. Whereas in some cities, the situation led the PT to adopt a more openly anti-Cardoso line, such as in Recife, Belém and Porto Alegre, in general, the position of the party was not to prioritize attacking the federal government.

In São Paulo, Marta Suplicy went as far as holding an event together with state governor Mário Covas (PSDB) when he declared his support for her in the second round against right-winger Maluf. Marta Suplicy symbolically gave Covas a big kiss that caused nausea among the union and student activists that still have fresh in their memory the cowardly attacks by the governor’s police force in São Paulo during the last teachers’ and state employees strike.

The left in the PT reelected the mayor in Belém (capital of the state of Pará, North Brazil) and elected some meneers in other cities. In general, they also moderated their line in the campaign. In Porto Alegre (capital of Rio Grande do Sul), the incumbent mayor, Raul Pont (of the PT tendency Socialist Democracy, linked to USec) was defeated in the primary and was not elected by the party rank and file to contest the election. He was replaced by Tarso Genro, from a more centerline in the party, who won the local elections there.

PT leadership disaster in Rio de Janeiro

The elections in Rio de Janeiro were the most outstanding example of the disastrous politics of the PT leadership. The PT candidate did not even make the second round, thanks to a policy that almost led to the destruction of the PT in Rio.

The origin of the crisis in Rio goes back to 1998, when traumatic intervention by the national leadership annulled the democratic decision of the state PT conference (with a left majority) to presenting a PT candidate in the elections for state governor. The national leaders imposed support for the bourgeois PDT candidate Garotinho.

He won the election and the PT right in Rio joined his state government, with support from vice-governor Benedita da Silva. After more than one year in Garotinho’s government with corruption scandals and right-wing policies, even the right line in the Rio PT ended up accepting the need to break with the government. But the damage was already done.

The PT right won in the internal primaries (fraudulently) and stood its candidate for mayoress, Benedita da Silva, who is directly connected to the Garotinho government and this did nothing to encourage the active PT membership. The result was an electoral fiasco and a profound party crisis in Rio. The dispute between PT left and right in Rio is heading toward a critical situation. Threats of expulsion of the left are nothing new.

The bourgeoisie and the PT

In spite of all the moderation of the PT, Brazil is in an extremely serious situation and the ruling classes are not always so moderate. When the PT looked close to victories, the right moved to a "no holds barred" attitude.

Marta Suplicy was the target of an intense reactionary campaign that raised issues related to her defense of the right to abortion, gay rights, human rights for prisoners, etc. Populist TV stars, reactionary priests, etc aided the bourgeois right wing campaign. It tried to provoke panic in the face of the supposed imminence of landless laborers invading the cities where the PT was about to win elections.

But the attacks didn’t stop there. There was a wave of attacks against candidates and PT members in several areas of the country. In Suzano, in metropolitan São Paulo, PT and MST member Netinho was decapitated in a clear attempt to intimidate the left. In Caruaru (state of Pernambuco, Northeast Brazil), PT member José Ribamar was shot fourteen times. The president of the PT in Cuiabá (state of Mato Grosso, Center-West Brazil), Sinvaldo Dias, was shot in the head. Countless other cases of less successful attacks and death threats were recorded all over Brazil.

The rights’ attacks on the PT show that the bourgeoisie is still divided and doesn’t totally trust the PT as ally rather than enemy. These attacks contrast with the position of some of the most important representatives of the bourgeoisie. Horácio Lafer Piva, chairman of FIESP (São Paulo employers’ association) stated, " no businessman will be leaving São Paulo because the PT has won the elections." This was a reference to a former FIESP chairman’s notorious statement in 1989 when he said that 800,000 businessmen would leave the country if Lula won the elections.

The growth of the PT has been getting attention from the international bourgeoisie. In the last days, Merrill Lynch and Standard & Poor’s executives met the PT to get to know its intentions for the 2002 presidential elections in relation to maintaining the fiscal adjustment Cardoso on the orders of the IMF and the possibility of a moratorium on foreign and national debt.

The perspectives for 2002

The elites now recognize that the PT has become stronger for the 2002 elections but this does not mean it accepts or is passive in the face of a possible PT government in Brazil. The scenario for the presidential elections is not still totally clear for either the government or the opposition. The PT is due to clarify its position in the first half of next year. Lula will probably be PT candidate again. However, the PT leaders want to broaden alliances around the candidate.

There is a move underway toward uniting around the name of Itamar Franco (bourgeois populist features, governor of the state of Minas Gerais) with sections that formed an alliance with the PT in the last presidential elections, such as the PSB, PDT, etc. But this move is unlikely to succeed.

Another candidate will be Ciro Gomes, a dissident from the PSDB who tries to come over as more of an effective opposition to Cardoso, but maintains the essence of his politics. His aim is to gain credibility as the bourgeois alternative in the vent of a Cardoso collapsing or in the absence of a viable candidate being fielded by the current government. Ciro Gomes was weakened by the defeat of his candidate for mayor in Fortaleza, capital of his state of Ceará, but he recovered partially with the victory of an ally in Rio de Janeiro.

Cardoso and the PSDB still have no clear candidate for president. There is an operation underway to attempt to resuscitate Covas, São Paulo governor, but it won’t be easy. Another possibility is Ceará governor Tasso Jereissati, but his defeat in Ceará in these elections will not help. In any event, the 2002 presidential elections will depend fundamentally on the economy and the class struggle next year. Even a more serious crisis shortening Cardoso’s term of office cannot be ruled out, although this is not in the plans of the PT leaders.

Cardoso and mass struggles

Cardoso expected his government to regain its credibility with an improved economic situation. But there is a saying here that even when the economy seems to be doing well, the people continue to fare very badly. The only effect of this relative pick-up in the economy in the second half year was an explosion of labor struggles to compensate losses accumulated over the last five years. There is a unified wages campaign in course involving some of the heavy battalions of the Brazilian working class, such as metallurgists, oil, bank, chemicals and plastics workers, mailmen, etc

MST is preparing a new offensive against the government. More occupations of land and public buildings are foreseen in the face of the government’s refusal to grant more credits for families it has settled on land. Cardoso also lost a decision in the courts and will have to pay private sector workers an enormous amount of accumulated inflation losses affecting funds composed of wage deductions that workers can withdraw when unemployed. Mass struggles are being prepared to force the government to pay the workers.

To worsen the situation for Cardoso, the Argentinean crisis threatens to spread to Brazil. Although there has been a slight pick-up in growth, the fundamental contradictions of the Brazilian economy remain. This year alone, it is forecast that 150 billion Brazilian reais (US$ 80bn) will be spent on interest charges and rollover of public debt.

The perspective for the PT city governments

The six capitals that the PT will be running as of 2001 owe 16.2 billion reais (nearly US$ 8 bn) , or some 52.3% of the total debt of all municipalities. São Paulo alone owes around US$ 6 bn, with much of it due next year and new loans are not allowed. In practice, if rollover of debt the agreement is executed, the PT’s first year will not be viable. The Law of Fiscal Responsibility, voted in Congress under orders from the IMF, bans debt rescheduling and it brings in prison sentences of up to four years for mayors not complying. In São Paulo and many other municipalities, the PT will be under strong pressure to cut public spending and apply the fiscal adjustment policy imposed by the IMF and adopted by the governments of Covas and Cardoso. This will unavoidably create situations similar to that faced by PT governor Olívio Dutra of Rio Grande do Sul in the recent state teachers strike. His government did not meet the workers’ demands due to its commitments to payment of state debt. The strike caused serious damage to the PT government.

With the practical experience of PT governments limited to the logic of capitalism in crisis, a layer of more conscious workers and youth will draw anti-capitalist conclusions. The only way forward for PT city and state governments is lead a mass movement for a break with the policies imposed by the IMF and international bankers. This movement can only win by bringing down the Cardoso government and replacing it with a workers and socialist alternative.

More than never, the slogan of " Out with Cardoso and the IMF " is on the agenda. Non-payment of foreign debt and it interns to the big capitalist loan sharks, state ownership of the banks and a government of workers and rural workers is the anti-capitalist alternative that we should pose. As the strategy of the direction of the PT is not to fight for an immediate end to the Cardoso government, but to prepare for the elections of 2002, the perspective is instability and clashes between PT governments and increasingly wider sections of workers.

Cardoso was defeated in the urns, now it is time to defeat him in the streets. The socialist left within and outside the PT has to be in the front line in defense of workers’ interests and a socialist alternative in Brazil.

Intervention of Revolutionary Socialism

Revolutionary Socialism, the Brazilian section of CIO/CWI, works as a Marxist tendency in the PT. We not only took part in the elections, defending a combative left line for the PT, but also organized struggles. In São Paulo, we helped elect a PT left council member, Beto, a teacher union activist from the east zone of São Paulo who was elected with almost 25,000 votes. We will fight for his mandate to be an organizer of workers’ and youth struggles and strengthening the PT left. While the PT leaders granted Cardoso a truce during the elections, SR militants organized the Movement of the Excluded from Education (MSE) which held an anti Cardoso protest rally on the day of the election in the place where the president voted and got some live TV and the radio coverage.

In the town of Embú we also helped elected the new PT mayor Geraldo Cruz and we will front line fighters for measures such as free transport for students and the unemployed, even if the PT mayor wavers. In the town of Cotia, SR militant Heitor campaigned for council member and gathered an important section of the youth around our socialist positions. This will strengthen our fight against the bourgeoisie in the city and our clash against the PT leaders in Cotia who have been adopting pro-bourgeois positions.

In the next period, SR can strengthen the Marxist left in the course of the struggles that will take place.

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