Build a third round of struggles
The current president and candidate of Workers Party (PT) for re-election, Luis Ignácio Lula da Silva, won the second turn of the Brazilian presidential elections on Sunday 29 October with 60,83% of the valid votes (disregarding blanks and no votes).
Lula defeated the candidate of PSDB (the party of the ex-president Cardoso, Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy) and ex-governor from the state of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, who gained 39.17% of the valid votes. About 6% of the votes were blank or no votes and, of the total of voters registered, 19% didn’t vote, although voting is obligatory in Brazil.
Lula didn’t succeed do winning in the first round as the opinion polls were indicating, due to the impact of the imprisonment of PT members who were trying to buy a file with material compromising the PSDB from notorious corrupt businessmen. This scandal led to the fall of the President of the PT, Ricardo Berzoini, the second president forced to go due to corruption during Lula’s government.
During the campaign for the second turn, Lula was force do adopt, although very carefully and moderately, rhetoric aimed at winning those who voted for Heloísa Helena, the candidate for PSOL (Party for Socialism and Liberty) in the first round.
Against the background where 70% of Brazilians are against new privatisations of state companies, Lula accused his opponent of planning to privatise Petrobrás (oil and gas) and Banco do Brasil. The threat of the return of the PSDB to government was used as a huge scarecrow that made many workers vote for Lula as the lesser evil, against the return of the right, etc.
If it is true that the PT totally lost its left character during the last four years, it is still true that there is a deep rejection of what "Cardoso’s era" represented, with its eight years of PSDB government and attacks on workers. The weakness of the rightwing opposition to Lula was even more evident with the fact that the candidate Alckmin got less votes in the second round than on the first, a quite unique accomplishment since the introduction of election in two rounds.
No profound programmatical differences
This campaign was the most depoliticised in Brazil’s recent history. The conversion of the PT to a party of the elite, of the administration of capitalism, meant there were no profound programmatical differences between the candidates. Lula’s past as a left figure was used in the campaign, but this "past" will not return. As a Brazilian journalist put it, "Lula was elected to change the country, but only changed himself".
If the PSDB privatised state companies while in the federal government and still does it on a state level, Lula’s government implemented the system of Public – Private Partnerships (PPPs), more known as "the PT way of privatising", privatised state banks that were under federal control, like the banks in Maranhão and Ceará states, and implemented a so called "university reform" that put priority on giving public money to private universities. More importantly, Lula implemented the pensions reform that Cardoso failed to do (mainly because of the opposition of the PT in opposition), besides attacking workers’ rights, and only favouring the private pension system.
The financial policies of the government were mainly aimed at ensuring the income of big financial capital. All the annual costs of the well known programme called "Family Allowance" that benefits the poorest families, is only the equivalent to what the government pays every two weeks in interest rates on the public debt to the bankers and speculators.
At the same time, the Brazilian economy is growing much slower than other Latin American countries or emerging economies. The average growth of GDP during Lula’s government is practically the same compared with Cardoso’s period. This leads to permanent mass unemployment, poverty and social chaos that is reflected, for instance, in high levels of urban violence.
The lack of profound differences regarding the direction of the financial policies of Lula and Alckmin became evident with the declarations of the second biggest Brazilian banker, Olavo Setúbal, to Folha de São Paulo (August 13): "There was a big doubt if the PT was a left party, and Lula’s government turned out to a extremely conservative government… The perspective was that Lula would lead the country in a socialist direction. There were tensions in the financial system, but as he |Lula] became a conservative, he’s now about to win the next election and the market is calm… There is no difference from a financial point of view. I think that the choice of both is the same… Both are conservatives".
In this situation, a sector of the ruling class still thinks that only Lula is capable of acting as a break on the mass movements and through this implementing the neoliberal reforms that still haven’t been concretised, as the labour rights reform and a new step in the reform of the pensions system.
During Lula’s government, in contrast to Cardoso’s, there hasn’t been any major international financial crisis and there was a very favourable external environment for Brazilian exports. This helped avoid an acute crisis, and this gave space for a sense of stability and gradual recuperation. But, the scenario during Lula’s second mandate will be more complicated.
The corruption theme, that characterised the whole period of Lula’s government, wasn’t seen by the majority of the population as something exclusive to the PT and therefore was not a reason to reject Lula and opt for Alckmin. Corruption is seen as a cancer that is generalised in Brazilian political institutions. Much of the corrupt practises of Lula’s government, such as the "buying" of MPs in the scheme called "the big monthly allowance" were practises that began in the previous government and were also used in many states and councils. During the climax of the crisis of "the big monthly allowance", the PSDB limited its investigation and toned down it’s accusations against the government, afraid that their own MPs would be proved to be involved. The national chairman of the PSDB, senator Azeredo, was suspended because of his involvement in the so called "the big monthly allowance".
The extreme weakness of the PSDB and the fact that Lula still used the remnants of his past as a left assured a relatively easy victory in the second round.
Regional alliances with right wing oligarchs
The elections at state level were characterised by victories for many candidates that were supported by Lula, even if the majority were right wing. The victory of PT’s candidate in Bahia state, Jacques Wagner, defeating a group from the local oligarchy, made a big impact. But, in most of the states, Lula made dozens of agreements with traditional right wing elite politicians.
An extreme example of this situation is that the former president Fernando Collor de Melor, elected senator for Alagoas state, is now one of the MPs and senators supporting Lula’s government! Collor defeated Lula in 1989 in the first direct presidential elections after the military regime but ended being impeached in 1992 after a mass movement that demanded the fall of his government. The fact that Collor now is back in Brasília as an ally of Lula is a signal of the PT’s complete degeneration.
But, Collor is just a small example. Lula and the victorious candidate for governor in Pará state, Ana Julia Carepa (member of the Democracia Socialista tendency, the section of the so called Fourth International that remains in the PT, although another section is now in PSOL), allied themselves with a traditional right wing politician in the state, Jader Barbalho (PMDB – Brazilian Democratic Movement Party). In Maranhão state, Lula supported the re-election of the governor Roseana Sarney of the right wing PFL (Party of the Liberal Front) and daughter of the ex-president José Sarney, who also supported Lula. However, Roseana lost the elections.
In the state of Santa Catarina, Lula supported the candidate of the right wing Partido Progressista (Progressive Party), the heir of the party that was the support base of the military dictatorship, Espiridião Amin, who was also in the end defeated.
Of 27 Brazilian states, the PT increased from 3 to 5 governors (Pará, Bahia, Sergipe, Piauí and Acre). It lost again the elections in Rio Grande do Sul, where the capital Porto Alegre used to be the symbol of the "PT way of governing", this time to a candidate from PSDB, Yeda Crusius. The PSDB won six governors, three of them in some of the most important states in the country (São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul).
A second mandate of attacks on workers
The neo-liberal logic prevailed during Lula’s entire first mandate, but a layer of workers still cling on to the hope that the second mandate will be different. Howereve, there isn’t any concrete reasons to imagine that this would be possible.
"Don’t swap the certain for the doubtful", was a slogan in Lula’s campaign for his second term. But, if there is one thing that will be certain about Lula’s second term is that support for him will continue to consist of conservative parties and that the logic of the financial policies will be mantained.
Soon after Lula’s victory, minister Tarso Genro and some PT leaders announced an end to the so called "Palocci era", a period when the ex-finance minister Antonio Palocci (brought down by corruption scandals and now elected MP after he spent millions on his election campaign) promoted a financial policy of high interest rates, low growth and big cuts in the budget to guarantee the servicing of the debt.
Immediately Lula and other ministers publicly denied this, defending the financial policies that have been implemented till now and insisting that there will be further cuts and that the primary budget surpluses of the first mandate will be maintained.
Lula’s ministers have already stated the necessity to renew the "DRU", the legal mechanism that allows the government to cut 20% from the education and health budget which is supposed to be guaranteed by the constitution.
As part of its policy of budget cuts, the government is preparing a new phase in the reform of the pension system. This time they plan to raise the minimum age for retirement to 65 years and break the link between the minimum wage and the pension.
One of the main aims of the government will be to implement a labour rights reform as soon as possible, to attack workers rights, in the name of "job creation" and "development".
During Lula’s government, the jobs created have had a precarious character, with 64% of them in the last two years paying only up to the minimum wage (about $160 a month). The government had already sent a proposal to Congress that allows small firms not to give basic labour rights to their employees. This is just an anticipation of what is to come.
Political reorganisation of the elite
To maintain his second term, Lula is trying to build a support base amongst the right-wing conservative parties. Besides relying on small parties that maintain their position by trading support for positions in the government and demanding bribes such as the "big monthly allowance", where monthly bribes are paid to MP’s in return for their political support for the Lula-led government. The PMDB is split between those in favour and those against the PT-led government. In the last analysis however, the PMDB do offer important backing to the government.
Moreover, Lula announced publicly the necessity for a "national agreement" concerning the necessity for coming to agreement about economic development. By this, Lula means to involve even the most conservative opposition in implementing neo-liberal attacks that the government thinks are necessary for the "development of the country".
But Lula also is working to come to agreements with the PSDB, especially the re-elected governor in Minas Gerais, Aécio Neves. Part of this discussion is the issue of the 2010 elections and the question of who will be the successor after Lula. As Lula can’t stand in the elections in 2010, he is working to build an alternative that involves sections of the PSDB. In the PSDB, Aécio Neves is competing against José Serra, newly elected governor of São Paulo, over who will be the party’s candidate for president in 2010. Facing a possibility of being defeated in his own party, Aécio is leaving the door open for a future closer relation with Lula and the PT.
All this points to a broad and complex process of political reorganisation within the ruling class in Brazil. The crisis of political representation for the ruling class, the fragility of the regime’s institutions and the conversion of PT to a party of the established order, are the central factors that push this process forward.
Perspective for mass resistance
As in 2003, when he implemented his first pension reform, Lula will try and use the "honeymoon period" to implement new attacks. But this time the government will be weaker and broad layers now have a much more concrete experience of the PT. This means that the chances for victorious struggles against the government are greater.
One example of this potential is the fact the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), whose main leaders give critical support to Lula, has already announced a plan for action and occupations of land for April 2007, in what is likely to be an extended version of the "Red April" of 2004, when more than 100 occupations took place at the same time around the country.
Leaders of the MST have even stated their support for the idea of organising a general strike with sections of the most combatitive trade unions, against labour rights and pension reform.
The CUT, first set up in 1983, initially united the most combative and left wing sections of the trade union movement in Brazil, is today nothing more than a transmission belt for the interests of the government. In the middle of the crises around the "big monthly allowance", the chairman of the CUT was taken into Lula’s government as Minister of Labour.
That are at least two trade union initiatives beginning to organise as an alternative to CUT, the National Coordination of Struggles (Conlutas), headed by trade unionists from PSTU (United Socialist Workers’ Party, the biggest group of coming from the Morenoite tradition in Latin America), but also with involving PSOL (Party for Socialism and Liberty) members; and the Intersindical, an initiative developed by PSOL trade unionists and independent trade union activists, a majority of whom have already left the CUT, but also some who are still in the federation.
A unified conference between those two initiatives will probably take place at the beginning of next year and draw a common plan of action against the government’s reforms and financial policies. Even if a general strike is unlikely in the short term, an intense process of struggle can take place which will have a major impact on the destiny of the government and the working class.
PSOL and the second round
The Party for Socialism and LIberty (PSOL), together with the PSTU and the PCB (Brazilian Communist Party), formed a Left Front that contested the first round of the presidential election with Heloísa Helena, a PSOL senator as the candidate.
Heloísa Helena got almost 7% of the votes, coming third. These votes were what Lula needed to win in the first round and were also vital for him in the second round. To win these votes, Lula began denouncing Alckmin’s policies of privatisation, talking of Latin American integration and other important issues for left voters.
The day after the announcement of the results in the first round, PSOL’s National Executive declared that it’s position on the second round was of no support to either Lula or Alckmin. The Executive did not give any direction to PSOL supporters as to which way they should vote while forbidding any public support from Party members for either candidate.
The two biggest currents within PSOL that were not part of the party and who joined in 2005, the Socialist Popular Action (APS) and Enlace ("Links", which includes members of the former Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International) had a different position. The majority of its members opted for a critical vote for Lula. In some states, such as Pará, its members, including a state MP, even appeared on TV supporting PT candidates.
A section of the party defended the idea that demands should be made on Lula by the left, with the expectation that he would reject them. On this basis they argued that it would be easier to justify why not to support his candidature in the second round. The problem with this position is that it would lead to illusions being sown in the possibility of winning Lula over to a more left wing position.
The position of members of Socialismo Revolucionário (SR), Brazilian section of the CWI and a tendency in PSOL, was for a no-vote on the second round and that the priority should be the preparation for the "third round of struggle against the government". We explained that a vote for Lula, with the argument that this would be the "lesser evil", would only serve to help the government regain a false left profile which they would use to try to confuse the working class during the next governmental term.
At the same time, we took a very critical stand towards to posture of the National Executive regarding internal democracy. The decision of the Executive was made without all its members being consulted and without even the minimum of debates within the party. During the whole campaign the base of the party was neglected and the party’s structure were dissolved. SR members called for the necessity to rebuild the party politically and organisationally, from the base upwards.
Where we could, we attempted to encourage internal debates about the election campaign and the tasks for the next period. In São Paulo, a membership aggregate of the party, had 150 in attendance and 80% of those present voted for a no-vote in the second round.
In the debate, we questioned the simplistic analysis that the elections meant a turn to the right in society. This argument was used to moderate PSOL’s political positions in the election campaign. We explained the the election marked an important step in the process of the recomposition of the left through PSOL’s and the Left Front’s candidature. However, there was a turn to the right within PSOL which led to a watering down its programme and a weakening of its structures. This process was undertaken by more reformist tendencies within PSOL and does not reflect a weakening of the support for socialist and revolutionary ideas amongst rank and file party members and sympathisers.
The future of PSOL is now linked with its capacity to be an active and leading part of the struggles and resistance against attacks from Lula’s new government. This will only be possible if it is based on a socialist programme and a militant and democratic internal structure.