Brazil: Movement for a new workers’ party launched

Just one year following the Presidential election victory of Luiz Inácio da Silva (or Lula as he is popularly known), of the Workers’ Party (PT), a new movement has been launched by former PT activists, trade unionists, and socialists to begin the task of building a new workers’ socialist party in Brazil.

An article by Tony Saunois, cwi, followed by a translation of the declaration by ‘Left Democratic Socialist Movement for a new party’ of Brazil

Movement for a new workers’ party launched

On 19 January 2004, in Rio de Janeiro, representatives of various left-wing and socialist organisations, including Socialismo Revolucionario (SR – Brazilian section of the CWI), together with trade union leaders, intellectuals, and four former PT parliamentarians (three deputies and one senator), met and launched the ‘Left Democratic Socialist Movement’ (see declaration below). The four MP’s were expelled from the PT for voting against the government’s pension “reforms”.

The objective of the new movement is to begin the task of organising a new workers’ socialist party throughout the country, as an alternative to the pro-capitalist neo-liberal programme that the Lula government and PT leadership has implemented since coming to power. One of the first aims of the Left Democratic Socialist Movement is to collect 500,000 signatures required to legally establish a new party.

The Democratic Socialist Movement for a New Party represents an important new phase in the struggle of working class activists and socialists in Brazil. It has important lessons for other countries where new mass socialist parties of the working class are needed.

The launch follows a protracted swing to the right by the PT and its leadership and a rapid decline in the PT’s active membership. Lula’s election victory was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm and high expectations by Brazilian workers. It was, after all, the first time the PT had won a Presidential election.

Moreover, Lula, a former metal worker and street ‘shoe-shine’, was the first President to come from a working class background. This alone gave hope to Brazil’s oppressed. “He is one of us – he understands what we need and what we want,” was a common sentiment felt by millions throughout the country.

Activists around the PT had opposed the rightwing shift by the PT leadership and were concerned about what it would mean for the new government. Many workers and poor, however, hoped that this was just an ‘electoral tactic’, and that once in power, Lula would revert to the radical socialist policies historically defended by the PT. They voted for the PT, not because of the rightward turn by the leadership but to reject the neo-liberal policies of the former President, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, or FHC, as he is known. However they have ended up with FHC’s policies implemented by Lula.

The new PT government immediately set about demonstrating not to the poor but to the capitalists, IMF, and World Bank that it could be trusted. The government signed an agreement with the IMF giving it more concessions than it actually demanded. The PT in power also supported giving greater independence to the central bank. Henrique Meirelles, a former executive of the Bank of Boston, was appointed as the director of the central bank.

A vicious pension reform was introduced, which raised the age of retirement and attacked all the conquests made by the federal state employees. This reform, originally proposed by FHC, was previously opposed by the PT!

As well as this, university fees are to be introduced and the government wants to introduce a labour reform programme attacking the unions and workers rights. Even FHC could not get away with some of the proposals being considered by the PT government, including withdrawing additional 13th month holiday pay, which is given to workers each year. The PT leaders also want to weaken the right of trade unions to organise in the work places.

But such is the mass opposition that is likely to develop to against these proposals the government has postponed implementation until 2005 – after the next round of regional and local elections!

The PT in government has become more and more ‘New Labourised’, a process which had begun before the election. This development has a twist of historic irony. Peter Mandelson, one of the architects of the New Labour ‘project’ in Britain, visited Brazil during the first Presidency of Cardoso between 1994/98. He denounced the PT as representing the past and supported the capitalist Cardoso.

As David Fleischer, a political commentator at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Brasilia pointed out: “It is like Britain in 1997 when old Labour became New Labour. New Labour did a lot things that old Labour would be shocked to think about.”

The rich elite – Brazil has one of the world’s largest gaps between rich and poor – have been fully reassured by Lula’s first year in office. In an editorial in the Spanish daily, El País, (5/1/04) Lula was praised. Under the title, “The Lula surprise”, the piece expressed nothing but satisfaction at the “strict fiscal and monetary policies” carried out by the PT government.

A rich shopper, leaving the elite fashion store Daslu (where designer shoes sell for US$1,500), in Sao Paulo, followed by half a dozen servants, expressed her relief at the policies of the PT. “Lula seems to have come to his senses. I thought I was going to have to move to Miami” (Financial Times, 31/12/03).

The fears of the ruling elite of a Lula government have proved unfounded. Lula immediately sought to reassure the ruling class and imperialism that his government would be safe for them. For the working class and oppressed, the first year of Lula has meant disappointment and many are angry. Lula’s promise of 10 million new jobs within the first four years of government has been abandoned. In the first twelve months, unemployment rose by over 800,000, to 13% nationally. In the largest city, Sao Paulo, joblessness has reached 20%. In Rio de Janeiro, 160,000 people applied for 1,000 job vacancies as rubbish collectors. The queue of applicants stretched for miles!

Explosive land struggles

At the same time, the standard of living of those in work has declined. The level of real wages has fallen by 15% during the first twelve months of Lula’s government.

One of the most explosive conflicts is over the question of land. Amongst the landless poor organised in the MST, Lula’s victory aroused some of the greatest expectations. By the middle of 2003, 150,000 families were organised in 1,297 camps, either preparing to occupy the land owned by big land owners or awaiting for land expropriation by the government.

However, these expectations have been frustrated by government policies. By the end of 2003, only 13,000 families had been settled – a far cry from the 60,000 settlements promised by the government. It is even further away from the 120,000 settlements demanded by the MST for 2003. The demand of the MST for one million settlements by 2006 will remain a distant dream if left to the government. At the end of 2003, the government appointed a commission to make proposals to resolve this crucial question. It was headed by PT left-winger Plinio de Arruda Sampaio. It proposed a target of resettling one million families by the end of 2006 and was accepted by the MST. The government immediately rejected it and agreed a target of settling only 355,000 families by the end of 2006!

The struggle for land has provoked armed clashes between land owners and the landless in many states, like Rio Grande do Sul. The MST organised a march to Sao Gabriel and became the victim of a viciously racist campaign against rural workers. Over 60 workers have been killed during these clashes. Activists have been arrested, creating the scandalous situation where political prisoners – MST activists – are held in Sao Paulo and other state prisons under a PT led government. The experience of military police dictatorships in Latin America makes this a particularly explosive issue for socialists and activists. It has provoked outrage amongst socialists and activists.

The attacks by the government have begun to provoke struggles by sections of the working class. The most significant of which was the strike of 600,000 federal employees whose bitter strike against pension reform lasted more than one month. Other sectors, such as the metal workers and 24,000 car workers from the ABC industrial belt around Sao Paulo, have also been involved in struggles. The scene is now set for major struggles against the introduction of university fees and the teachers in Sao Paulo are preparing an important wages campaign.

The explosive situation which is developing in Brazil is marked by the speed these events have unfolded – within a year of Lula wining the election.

It is against this background that the ‘Left Democratic Socialist Movement for a New Party’ was launched by socialists, activists and trade unionists in Brazil. In December 2003, 7,000 activists, union leaders, and intellectuals signed a petition concluding that a new socialist party is necessary and that it is no longer possible to fight for socialism inside the PT.

Lula still enjoys the support of over 60% in the recent polls. His working class origins, and the hope that things will change, is still giving Lula a diminishing fund of goodwill to draw upon. He is also trying to present more radical credentials on international questions – especially by linking up with the populist President of Argentina, Kirchner, to make a limited challenge to US imperialism during the recent all-Americas trade negotiations.

However, Lula’s support is declining with each new anti-working class measure announced by the government. Amongst the federal state employees and other layers of working people, there is already a burning anger at the betrayal of the PT government. Amongst these workers there is widespread support for the idea of forming a new party and the union leaders are supporting the new movement.

The decision of the PT leadership to expel the four MP’s who voted against the pension reform left socialists and activists no alternative but to rapidly take the necessary steps to begin forming a new party. Many socialist groupings from the PT have supported the steps taken to begin the formation of a new party.

USFI in government

However, some have not, including the ‘Socialist Democracy Tendency’ – the Brazilian grouping linked to the nominally Trotskyist international, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI). Amongst those expelled is a socialist fighter and very popular Senator, Heloísa Helena, who is backing the new movement. She is also a member of the Socialist Democracy Tendency (DS).

The DS has opposed the expulsions but is not supporting the formation of a new party and has only agreed that members of the DS can also be outside the PT. The DS has not waged a determined struggle against the rightwing policies of the PT leadership and government.

The DS has a member, Miguel Rossetto, who is the Minister of Agricultural Development, with responsibility for agricultural reform in the pro-capitalist Lula government, which includes representatives of other capitalist parties. The Vice President is from the Liberal Party. Recently, Lula has also included representatives from the main capitalist party – the PMDB.

Rossetto, is the Minister of Agricultural Development. He is responsible for agricultural “reform” in the pro-capitalist Lula government. Miguel Rossetto holds this position with the support of the DS. They justify this on the basis that he can support the struggles of the landless workers. But Rossetto did not show much support for the landless labourers when commenting on the physical confrontations in Sao Gabriel. He said: “We will not tolerate violence from landless labourers or landowners’ militias…the government have to have laws and rules obeyed” (O Estado de Sao Paulo 4/7/03).

Accepting a position in a pro-capitalist government like Lula’s is against the ideas and policies defended by Trotsky and genuine Trotskyism. Doing so inevitably means becoming a prisoner of a capitalist regime and will be used to strike blows against the working class and the left. Trotsky, for these reasons, fought against accepting positions in capitalist governments; for example, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

Trotsky warned the POUM (a party which claimed to defend Marxism) against joining the coalition Popular Front government in Catalonia. He explained that such governments inevitably act as a “striking breaking conspiracy” against the working class.

Genuine Trotskyism fights for an independent, policy, and programme for the working class. To do this it is necessary to be free from the imprisonment of capitalist governments, which will ultimately act to defend the interests of the employers and landlords.

This issue has important lessons for the international workers’ movement and, especially, for active socialists. Many activists are looking with anticipation to see if the French section of the USFI, the LCR, makes a breakthrough at forthcoming local and European elections in France. All socialists will welcome the largest vote possible for the LCR/LO list.

However, it is a warning of future dangers, that the LCR in France has not expressed any criticism of the DS participation in the government in Brazil. They have argued that it is a ‘Brazilian question’. But this is against the idea of shared collective international experiences of the workers’ movement being openly debated and discussed.

The participation of the DS in Lula’s government has provoked opposition in the USFI, including in the DS in Brazil, and the LCR in France. Unfortunately, those who opposed this policy were not allowed to move a resolution at the LCR congress.

The DS, at the eighth congress of the CUT (The Brazilian TUC), also refused to support a left list, and supported a right wing PT faction, Articulacion. In doing so, the DC joined forces with those in the PT who supported expelling Heloísa Helena.

The DS has opposed the expulsions but is not supporting the formation of a new party. It has only agreed that members of the DS can also be outside the PT. The DS has failed to put up a determined struggle against the right wing policies of the PT leadership and government.

There will be big opportunities for the new party to develop as opposition to the pro-capitalist policies of the Lula government increases. The next phase of the process of building the new party is to get nucleuses established at work places, universities, and in the working class communities. Local assemblies are planned in the states throughout Brazil. Local branches are beginning to be formed in offices, factories, and at universities.

A national meeting of trade unions is also planned. The Left Democratic Socialist Movement for a New Party, has correctly agreed that the new party will be open to all who, “…reject being seduced by the palace privileges and who defend the independence of the working class in the face of the bourgeois…It is open to all those who are clear of the absolute incompatibility of satisfying the demands for social justice and the radicalisation of the democratic process within the limits of the capitalist system. It is open to all who define themselves as being ‘left’ and identify with socialism and democracy as a strategic, explicit and permanent objective.”

The new party will be formed by activists who have broken from the PT or are not members of it. It will, however, also appeal to those on the left of the PT and to PT voters who are waiting until after the local and regional elections before deciding what to do. There is the prospect of another wave of splits from the left of the PT during 2005, following regional and local election during 2004.

The new party, when established, will be inclusive, and the right for all tendencies and factions to openly operate within it is clearly established. There are many obstacles still to be overcome. Achieving the necessary 500,000 signatures in order to legally register the party to be able to fight elections will be a big test. It will not be possible to do this before the local elections later this year for legal reasons. However, the first attempt to launch a new party represents an important step forward for the working class in Brazil. It also has many important lessons for socialists internationally.

Socialismo Revolucionario, the Brazilian section of the CWI, is playing a significant role in helping to establish this new party and, at the same time, Socialismo Revolucionario, fights to win support for its own revolutionary socialist programme and polices.

Declaration by:

’Left democratic socialist movement for a new party’ of Brazil

"On the 19th January 2004 a meeting took place of invited representatives of political currents, personalities, leaders of social movements, intellectuals and the MP’s Heloísa Helena, Luciana Genro, Babá and Joao Fontes who have been expelled from the PT because the continued to fly the historical banner of the working class.

Amongst the various well known personalities present were Milton Temer (former federal Deputy), Professor Carlos Nelson Coutinho and the journalist Cid Benjamin. The writer Leandro Konder could not be present but sent his support to the meetings and the resolutions which were adopted. Also present at the meeting were trade union leaders from various sectors which included the leaders of the university lecturers Luiz Carlos Lucas, Robert Leher and Marcelo Badaró.

The meeting unanimously agreed to build a movement for a new party. The document entitled’ For a Socialist and Democratic Left’ provided the basis for a lengthy political debate for all those activists who are prepared to build a new political alternative around the political and programmatical ideas and anti-capitalist concept of a new party which began to be developed at the meeting in Rio De Janeiro. A further meeting had also taken place of intellectuals who have broken with the PT in December 2003 which discussed these issues.

The meeting agreed to convene a series of plenary assemblies at state level with the participation of the parliamentarians and activists who agreed to the framework established in the document ‘Democratic Socialist Left’. In addition to an intense agenda of state plenary meetings the programme of activity will also include participation in al struggles, community meetings and activities of the social movements such as intervening on International Women’s Day on 8 March. The meeting also agreed to launch a web site, and where possible the opening up of local offices, pointed to the need to establish a youth organisation and develop a policy towards the trade unions. It was agreed to call a trade union meeting and aim to have a national trade union meeting in May and call a meeting to legalise the movement which will need 101 founders to establish what will be the programme of a provisional statute to plan a campaign to collect the 500,000 signatures necessary to legalise a new alternative party.

Finally it was agreed to establish a commission to ensure that these agreements are implemented composed of the following members: Heloísa Helena, Luciana Genro, Babá, Joao Fontes, Milton Temer, Júnia Gouveia, Edilson Silva, Martiniano Cavalcanti, Silvia Bianchi, André Ferrari, Reginaldo Schemerann and Roberto Robaina. The first meeting of the commission will take place next Thursday in Basilia.


Political Declaration:

‘Left Democratic Socialist Movement for a new party’

Who are we?

We form a part of those who:

We reject the disgraceful subordination to the financial system and consequential predatory speculation that Brazil was subjected to under the imposition of the neo-liberal model during the 1990’s.

We will never passively accept that the incessant profits of the international moneylenders should be greater than the national, just and democratic development of the Brazilian people through the accounts of supposed external debt that has never been audited and that was multi-plied many times during the application of this economic model.

We loudly oppose the privatizations that have handed over our inheritance of public companies to the big multi-national corporations almost always financed by BNDES.

We defend the consistent history of struggle, with the banners and demands of the working class, which allowed the victory of Lula in the elections of 2002, when the Brazilian people showed their rejection of the neo-liberal model.

We give continual support to the struggles of the workers and youth, to the marches and occupations of the landless and the homeless, to the strikes and mobilisations for better wages, employment, land, education, health and in better conditions of life.

We have been in the front line in the struggle against pension reform, of the mobilisations and strikes of the federal state employees and oppose the dismantling of the public pensions and benefiting the private pension funds.

We are not prepared to see this victory transformed into another episode that frustrates the interests of the Brazilian people.

We are those that defend socialism, democracy and liberty.

How we see the actual picture today

We do not accept the premise that there is no alternative to the unquestionably "bad inheritance" that exists due to the continuation of this rejected neo-liberal model even for a so-called transitional period. Above all there can be no transition to democratise a model when the dynamic applied is founded within the paradigms of conservative orthodox monetarism. This was even confirmed by the Minister of the Economy when he spoke to the federal PT parliamentary group and affirmed that the absurd recessionary fiscal surplus must be maintained for the next 10 years.

We do no accept that a government, whose majority is made up of the Workers’ Party, can present as great conquests those things that only serve the interests of the market speculators and make totally unacceptable constitutional amendments. They do not take into account that such ‘virtual indices’ are published simultaneously with the tragedy of the real economy with record levels of unemployment and the fall in the value of wages. We also eject the so-called Pension Reform and the Taxation Reform which were even part of the plans established by the IMF. These initiatives would have been concretised under the government of FHC but for the mass resistance of those involved supported by the PT.

We consider, therefore, that Lula’s government is determined to undertake the task which was done in the past by institutional social democracy – to do for big capital what the traditional right wing was not able to achieve.

This scenario has led us to conclude that:

It is clear that the PT, in an irreversible form, has moved dropped its founding principals. It is already moving in the municipal election campaign of 2004 and the Presidential campaign of 2006 to establish alliances based on the support of the the PMDB, PTB, PL and whoever is prepared to participate in "giving and taking" in the buying of parliamentary votes. Even the PP of Maluf is now given space to demand front line posts. The PCdoB, PSB and PPS after making a noise here and there has ended up supporting and consolidating this broad front of the centre-right – leaving it open that evidently it could not leave a vacuum.

What we want

We believe in the struggle of the working class, the youth and the poor as an instrument that can result in conquests being made for employment, wages, land, health and education. We defend the right the right of the most oppressed against the atmosphere of fear and threats that is developing as a result of the policies being applied by the government.

We do not support the turn of the leadership of the PT and its government. We have the right, if not the obligation, to build a party political alternative, to occupy the ground which they have abandoned. An alternative party of struggle, against the neo-liberal model and the government which is applying it, in defence of the demands and banners of the working class. This alternative of the masses is plural, democratic and internationalist, free of whatever doctrinaire attitude or sectarian spirit, which methods that guarantee the active participation of the membership with full right for all tendencies, respect for minority opinions and opinions. The party will be open to members who break from the PT and to those that have not been members of it, along with other left parties that reject being seduced by the palace privileges and who defend the independence of the working class in the face of the bourgeoisie. It is open to all those who that are clear of absolute incompatibility of satisfying the demands for social justice and the radicalisation of the democratic process within the limits of the capitalist system. It is open to all who define themselves as being ‘left’ and identify with Socialism and democracy as a strategic, explicit and permanent objective.

We defend the building of an alternative party with all those they do not accept the continued submission of the country to the interests of the banks and the IMF: oppose ALCA (FTAA): support non payment of the foreign debt: oppose the autonomy of the Central Bank: oppose the reduction of workers rights laid down in the trade union reform and labour laws of the Lula government and policy of destroying public universities outlined in the university reform.

This is what we want to build following this first meeting. These are some of the ideas which we want to discuss with thousands of comrades in order to build together a new political tool for the Brazilian people. We believe that only with a full democratic discussion can this new political alternative develop, It is for this discussion that we call upon all those who believe that another world is possible and necessary to participate.

Rio de Janeiro 19 January 2004.

Heloísa Helena (Senator), Luciana Genro, Babá, Joao Fontes (Federal Deputies), Agnaldo Fernades (Socialismo e Liberdade), André Ferrari (Socialismo Revolucionario), Carlos Nelson Coutinho, Cid Benjamin, Démerson Dias, Edílson Silva (Pólo Resistendia Socialista) Elídio Marques (Movmiento Esquerda Socialista) Francisco Affonso Henrique Acker (Movimineto Terra y Liberdade), Iranilson Brasil, Jadiel Messias dos Santos (Sintrasef) Jefferson Moura (Movimineto Terra e Liberdade), Leandro Konder, Luiz Carlos Lucas, Marcelo Badaró, Marco Antonio Figueiredo, (Nosse Temo e Hoje), Maria de Souza Lima, Marlene Moreira (Assibg-SN), Martiniano Cavalcante (Movimineto Terra e Liberdade), Miguel Leme (Socialismo Revolucionario), Ney Nunes (Uniao Cminista), Nilo Sergio Aragao (Nosse Temo e Hoje) Miguel Malheiros (Correinte Socialista dos Trabalhadores), Pedro Fuentes (Movimineto Esquerda Socialista), REginaldo Schenermann (Nosso Tempo e Hoje), Robério Paulino (Movimiento Terra e Liberdade), Roberto Leher, Roberto Morales (Movimineto Esquerda Socialista) Silaedson Juninho (Corriente Socialista dos Trabalhadores) Tostao (Socialismo Liberdade), Welington Cabral (Corrente Socialista dos Trabalhadores).

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January 2004