Congress discusses growing opposition to neo-liberal Lula government and Left regroupment
From 2- 4 November, Socialismo Revolucionário (SR – CWI in Brazil) held a very enthusiastic and successful 9th congress, with over 50 participants. It marked an important step towards the building of a national organisation. Previously, SR was mainly based in the state of São Paulo, but now Socialismo Revolucionário has an important presence in Rio de Janeiro, where the section had rapid growth this year, as well in the state of Sergipe, in the north-eastern region of the huge country.
The presence of representatives from two groupings within the PSOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty), the broad left party SR participates in – CLS (Socialist Liberty Collective) and ARS (Revolutionary Socialist Alternative)– which Socialismo Revolucionário has been working with to build a strong left block in PSOL, was also a very positive feature of the congress.
Also attending the congress were Peter Taaffe, a member of the International Secretariat of the CWI, who made a three-week visit to Brazil with Linda Taaffe, a member of the Socialist Party of England and Wales and a member of the national executive of the NUT (National Union of Teachers) in Britain.
During lead up to the congress, there were several successful meetings organised with Peter and Linda, from Belém, in the far north of Brazil, where there were discussions with the ARS, to a meeting with 50 teachers, headmasters and students in Taboão da Serra (São Paulo), and with 70 nurse students in Rio de Janeiro, Campinas and São Paulo. The meetings also saw the launch of the Portuguese edition of Peter’s book, ‘Marxism in Today’s World’.
A high level of debate marked the Socialismo Revolucionário congress, with virtually everybody contributing to the discussion. The presence of members of the CLS and ARS helped raise the political level, as both agreements and differences were debated in an honest and open way.
The congress started with a discussion about world perspectives, introduced by Peter Taaffe. A main feature of this discussion was the processes taking place in Latin America, especially in Venezuela and Bolivia. One of the themes was what attitude revolutionary socialists should have towards Chavez, and the pitfalls of sectarianism and opportunism. On the one hand, there are those on the left that simply reject in a crude manner Chavez as "bourgeois", closing the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with the mass of the working class who support Chavez. On the other hand, there are those who lend totally uncritical support to Chavez. While we agree and support the concrete steps forward, and important reforms of the Chavez regime, socialists must also show how they are not enough to ensure the complete eradication poverty and the other social ills of capitalism. This can only be achieved by breaking with the capitalist system. Chavez is still trying to find a ‘middle way’, and that means that the private capitalists still have a grip over the economy, and the state apparatus is still in the hand of the bureaucracy.
New situation in Brazil
The debate about the situation in Brazil was very rich, showing that the country is going through an important new period. While Lula could count on enthusiastic support after he came into office as president of the Workers’ Party (PT), in 2003, the opposition is now growing. There was initially enormous hope amongst workers and the poor that Lula’s government would bring change, but instead he continued neo-liberal "reforms". In the 2006 election, Lula managed to win again, but many people voted for him as a ‘lesser evil’, to stop the right-wing candidate coming to power. While there has been opposition towards his "reforms" from a politically advanced layer of workers and youth, and several corruption scandals have damaged the government, there has been some economic growth that helped stabilize the situation for Lula.
This year, there has been a growth in movements against Lula’s policies, expressed in several days of actions, a referendum about the re-nationalisation of the biggest mining company in the country, and against a new pensions ‘reform’. All these protests were organised from below. Around 15,000 people marched in Brasilia, on 24 October, from all over the country. This shows that pro-government organisations, like CUT (the trade union federation led by the PT) or UNE (National Union of Students, which is led by the pro-Lula Communist Party of Brazil) is not capable of holding back the opposition against the government in the same way as during Lula’s first mandate. Indeed, they have been forced to participate in actions against the government, because of mass pressure from below.
So, what we are seeing is the end of the so –called "PT cycle", where the Workers’ Party has gone from being a mass workers’ party, which developed from the upsurge of struggle against military dictatorship in the 1980’s, to a pro-capitalist party that implements vicious neo-liberal attacks. This led to an important process of re-groupment of the left. This can be seen in the political field, with the founding of PSOL, but also in the trade union field, with several splits from CUT, like Conlutas, and Intersindical, in which PSOL members participate.
One major theme in the Socialismo Revolucionário congress discussion was SR’s our work within PSOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty) since its foundation.
During the 2006 elections, and during PSOL’s first congress earlier this year, the party lowered its socialist profile and adopted a more ‘electoralist’ approach. The party is led by currents that have MPs on federal and state level, and who make the municipal elections next year, contesting then with an ethical "anti-corruption" profile, the priority. While Socialismo Revolucionário believe it is right to take up the fight against corruption, it must be linked with a fight against this system that breeds corruption and the social struggles that are now taking place.
During the SR congress, there was agreement that despite the direction of the PSOL leadership, the party has shown its capacity to attract votes, with almost 7 million votes for the party’s presidential candidate, Heloísa Helena, in 2006. The party is not picking up new activists with the same rate, but that could change, especially when the class struggle picks up.
There is still room to challenge the course of PSOL, which was shown during the party’s congress, when the left slate, that SR participated in, got 25% and came second. There was widespread optimism at the PSOL congress about the possibilities for the left bloc SR is helping to build within PSOL, along with other left currents, like CLS (Socialist Liberty Collective) and ARS (Revolutionary Socialist Alternative) and also AS (Socialist Alternative). The CLS, ARS and AS are new currents that show re-groupment is taking place within PSOL. These three currents are splits from other tendencies, as a reaction to the opportunism of the leadership of PSOL.
The congress also discussed how those currents can work more closely together in the future, not only within the party, but also the trade unions, and in the student field and social movements.
Building, trade union, student, young workers and women’s work
A qualitative change at the SR congress was the presence of a delegation of 11 comrades from Rio. There is no doubt SR has entered its most favourable period since the foundation of the CWI section in Brazil, in 1988. In the congress hall an exhibition displayed most of our section’s papers since 1988, giving a great panorama of the struggles we have participated in.
Because of the new situation and mainly through the new people in PSOL interested in SR, we are taking steps to build a national organisation, which is a huge task in an enormous county – a continent within a continent. It was stressed in the discussion on party building how we must develop our party finances and the newspaper. We aim to increase the production of the paper next year, from 4-6 editions, a year, to 8.
There were also very rich discussions about trade unions, student work, young workers and women. In every discussion there was a lack of time, reflecting the enthusiasm of the delegates to take part in discussion, as well as the wide spectrum of work we are involved in.
In the trade union discussion we discussed regroupment of unions, including splits from the CUT union federation. The most dynamic union formation is Conlutas, which has about 100 unions affiliated to it, plus trade union oppositions and social movements. This regroupment is still amongst the most politically advanced layers, while the big majority of organised workers are still behind the CUT federation and the other big federations. But Lula’s government is continuing its attacks on working conditions and trade union rights, leading to a growing discontent. The SR has its strongest trade union base amongst teachers in São Paulo, a very important section of workers. In almost every big movement in Latin America, over the last few years, teachers played a key role.
The student discussion during the Socialismo Revolucionário congress also reflected the fact that SR has a presence in many universities now, and also that there has been an increase in movements in the universities, this year, especially in the public universities, against attacks from the government. Currently, several federal universities are occupied by students.
The discussion on young workers centred on a new movement called the ‘Movement of Young Workers’. In São Paulo it has concentrated on call center workers, where there is enormous discontent over low wages and bad working conditions, and a great response to Movement leaflets and petitions. Although most call centre workers do not stay long in their jobs, there is huge potential for explosive struggles.
The SR congress discussion on women was very inspiring, with many new young female comrades wanting to speak, but also many young male comrades contributing. The main issue now is the debate about abortion. SR is participating in the building of committees for the legalisation of abortion, and there is the possibility that there will be a referendum on the issue. During PSOL’s congress there was a big victory for the proposal that the party must be in favour of the right to abortion, despite the opposition of the party’s main public figure, Heloísa Helena, who is against abortion, and who did everything to stop the decision.
The Socialismo Revolucionário congress voted for a resolution protesting over Heloísa Helena, after the PSOL congress, participating in campaigns against abortion rights, without making it clear she did this in a personal position. The issue of abortion is of big significance in Brazil, as many women suffer terribly from clandestine, unsafe abortions.
All the comrades who took part in the excellent Socialismo Revolucionário congress understand the responsibility of the Brazilian CWI section to help build the CWI throughout the whole of Latin America. An important upcoming event is a Latin American CWI School that will take place from 14-19 February 2008. This event will be crucial to bring together CWI members and supporters from Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile and other countries, to discuss a socialist alternative to the exploitation, war and chaos of capitalism, and to strengthen the building of powerful sections of the CWI on the continent.