Brazil: Will elections mark the end of the PT government?

Space for Left alternative to win support

In contrast to recent years, the Brazilian elections in October 2014 are marked by a uncertainty. This has arisen from the new political situation following the mass street protests in June 2013, the worsening of the economic situation and the discrediting of the ’Workers’ Party’ (PT) which is set to complete 12 years heading the Federal Government.

The death in an aeroplane accident of presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, on 13 August, and his replacement by Marina Silva, as the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate, triggered an entirely new electoral situation. There is now a serious possibility that the PT will be defeated.

Campos was a Minister in the first PT government under Lula. He was also state governor in Pernambuco. He was also President of the PSB – a capitalist party that previously supported successive PT governments. At the same time, the PSB allied itself in various states – for example in Sao Paulo – with the right-wing neo-liberal parties, such as the PSDB.

Last year, Campos and the PSB broke with the PT government of Dilma Rouseff and decided to position itself as offering a “third way” in contrast to the traditional camps around the P, on the one side, and the PSDB, on the other side. These two blocks have stood against each other since 1994.

In the contest between Dilma (PT) and Aecio Neves of the PSDB, Campos had remote chances of scoring a victory. It was an investment for the future, on his part. With his death, Marina Silva is now seen as a serious candidate who has radically changed the election campaign.

Who is Marina Silva?

Marina Silva has a history on the left. She hails from the CUT (United Trade Union Centre) and the PT from the 1980s in the Amazonian region. She played a role, alongside internationally known environmentalist fighters, like Chico Mendes, who was assassinated by land owners in 1988.

More recently, Marina Silva was a Minister for the Environment in the Lula government between 2003-2008. Then she broke form the government and the PT and joined the Green Party (PV) to contest the 2010 presidential elections. In those elections, she came third, winning 19,33% of the vote – 20 million votes.

Following this, Marina Silva decided to try and build her own party. This was politically diverse and included forces from the right and the left – including from PSDB and P-SOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty) along with NGOs. It was called the ‘Sustainable Network’. However, it failed to be registered legally to contest the 2014 elections.

As a consequence Marina Silva reached an agreement with Eduardo Gomes. She joined, with all of her forces, the PSB. She was then selected as the vice-presidntial candidate on the list headed by Campos.

Marina Silva split to the right of the PT, despite maintaing an image of her radical left history. As presidential candidate in 2010 she made speeches calling for national reconciliation, calling for the “good side” of all parties – the PT as well as the PSDB – to come together. She, in essence, defended a neo-liberal policy. She took phrases from Fernando Henrique Cardoso in the 1990s, like supporting “monetary stablisation”. She also defended many of Lula’s social programmes. Her main criticism was the management of the PT under Dilma.

A large part of the voters who back Marina Silva do not see her support for neo-liberalism but identify her as someone from outside of the traidtional political system. Her preoccupation with the environment and her Left past, have allowed her to construct this profile. Another substantial part of her support comes from the more conservative sections of Brazilian society. She is an evangelical protestant and stands opposed to many struggles and demands of the struggle against women’s oppression, LGBT rights etc. Through her position on these issues she also manages to channel a large part of the most reactionary religious vote.

When the mass movement exploded in June 2013, an opportunity opened for an alternative to develop between the polarised blocks of the PT and the PSDB. The name of Marina Silva gained strength amongst big layers of the most discontented. But for the entry of Marina Silva a large part of the forces backing her would have opted for a ‘blank vote’, abstained or backed the left socialist alternative, mainly that of Luciana Genro of PSOL. With Marina Silva as a candidate the situation has become more muddled and unclear. She is channeling some of the left-wing and right-wing opposition voters to support her.

The polls today point to a large increase in support for her. Marina Silva and Dilma Rousseff are neck and neck on 34%-35%. Neves from the PSDB has lost support and is trailing on 14%. This would mean a second round, in which Marina Silva could win by a small margin.

This is not certain. Dilma and the PT have a massive apparatus within the political system which they can mobilise in her support. However, for the first time since it won the elections in 2002, the PT is facing a serious prospect of defeat.

Exhaustion of the PT cycle

What lies behind such a radical change in the possible outcome of the election which previously was seen merely as the guaranteed re-election of Dilma Rouseff?

The Dilma government has been damaged by an increasing deterioration of the economic situation, which previously ensured some stability and support to the PT in government. Economic growth, so far, is well below what it was during the two mandates of Lula. From 2003 to 2010, Brazil grew on average 4%. Under Dilma (as of 2011), the average is 1.8%, the lowest since the government of Fernando Collor de Mello, a government of crisis that was eventually brought down by a mass movement in 1992.

Dilma initially tried to adopt policies to stimulate growth, including low interest rates and fiscal exemptions for sectors of big business. However, this did not manage to revert the economic decline. Exports were affected by the global economic downturn, which now encompasses Asia. Internal demand had also reached its limits, fuelled by excessive indebtedness.

This led Dilma to modify her economic course, opening the way for higher interest rates and big cuts to public spending. Brazil is now in technical recession.

While in the face of protests, the football World Cup was presented as a factor which would stimulate growth, it has not played this role, and is now in fact used by the government as an excuse for low growth in 2014.

The end of the "Lulaist" social peace

The turning point in the economic policy of the government led to tensions developing within the sections of the ruling class that supported Dilma. A section of business and the banks lost the enthusiasm which it had for the PT governments of the last decade. These sectors know that from their point of view, 2015 will need to be a year of brutal cuts and anti-worker attacks, and they question the ability of the PT to implement these policies successfully.

The ruling class sees the end of the great triumph of "Lulaism" in previous years, which was its ability to, in a specific international and national context, temporarily implement a ‘social truce’ in Brazil, between the big bourgeoisie and the poorest sections of the population. The end of this situation was clearly shown in the protests of June 2013. The breakdown of this stability is the main explanation for this impressive mass movement.

It is not just a question of the worsening economic situation but also of the contradictions of the Lulaist model. The so called "full employment" was, in reality, ultra-precarious under-employment with poor wages. The credit-fuelled buying of electric domestic goods went alongside the absence of basic sanitation, and adequate health and education services. The collapse of living standards in the big cities is shown in the transport crisis, in housing and daily violence.

The inability of the political system to satisfy the demands of the people led to a huge rejection of the traditional parties and politicians. This was taking place at a time when the real left alternative was not up to the task of channeling this dissatisfaction.

These factors led to the protests of last year and explain the contradictions of the movements. In the situation following the June protests, the polls show that almost 80% want change, comparable with the situation in 2002, when Lula won the elections defeating, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the PSDB.

Despite this, the PT still maintains an important electoral base, especially among older people, in smaller cities and the poorest, who have seen an improvement in the last years due to social programmes, even though these programmes have been carried out in a neo-liberal manner. There is fear amongst some voters that a victory of the right would mean the elimination of these very limited gains. The Dilma campaign bases itself on this fear.

What are Marina Silva’s real policies?

In the struggle against Marina Silva, the PSDB candidate, Aécio Neves, brings up her past criticisms of agro-business in the name of the environment, and her past involvement with PT governments.

Dilma, on the other hand, repeats the PT ploy of using a Left rhetoric for a few months before the elections only to then govern with right wing policies for four years. The PT campaign cynically exploits Silva’s relations with ex-ministers and economists linked to the PSDB and her position against LGTB and women’s rights.

Marina Silva

Marina Silva presents herself as a representative of the struggle against the "old politics". She incorporates some of the slogans of the June 2013 protests, such as the demand for "free transport", though only for students in public schools. At the same time, Silva’s priority today is to win the trust of big business. She has therefore brought neo-liberal economists around her. Her programme defends explicitly the independence of the Central Bank and the so-called "macro-economic trio" (rigid inflation targets, fiscal rigour and fluctuating exchange rates) which the financial markets demand. In relation to privatizations, they promise to implement the Public Private Partnership programmes of the PT even more enthusiastically.

All doubts have been cast aside about the new hydro-electric plans being built in the amazon region (Belo Monte, Jirau, Santo Antonio) which destroy the environment and attack indigenous populations. In the same way, Silva has begun to explicitly defend agro-business.

In reality, she repeats the position of the PT, in the past, wanting to appear to be "realistic" to calm big business. And she has been successful. The stock exchange has risen in the last weeks due to the “Marina effect" and various banking representatives have accepted her.

This does not mean that big business is against the re-election of Dilma. In reality, the banks and big business are farily relaxed about the top three candidates in the polls. Their main worry is the new balance of forces created after the June protests and any obstacle to the policy of tough austerity which all three candidates would implement.

Analysis of the polls has found that the opposition to Dilma does not mean a shift to the right necessarily. Even the vote for the PSDB candidate is partially a vote against Dilma, not for the neo-liberal policies of the PSDB. The same goes for Marina Silva. For the bosses, this brings the worry that whoever is elected will have difficulty implementing the policies which are in their interests.

Left Alternative

The socialist Left emerged from the June protests with greater strength and social base. This is reflected in the growth of PSOL despite its internal crisis and the mistakes made by the majority of its leaders.

In Rio de Janeiro, PSOL is today a party with mass influence, present in the social struggles and with significant electoral weight. In other states, in an unequal way, the party is also a factor and should see some growth.

However, as a whole, the Left and social movements did not take advantage of the opportunities brought by the protests of June 2013. Despite the huge wave of strikes which followed the June protests in 2013 and before the World Cup in 2014, there was no conscious policy of unifying the struggles and building a united movement of struggle for the trade unions and social movements.

The teachers’ strikes in various states, protesters by street cleaners in Rio and other cities, state universities in Sao Paolo and especially the struggle of homeless workers and the Sao Paolo Metro strike could all have created the conditions for the involvement of other sectors and the building of a 24-hour general strike.

However, in the absence of a central body to articulate these struggles in a united fashion, they took place in a fragmented way. This, in addition to the World Cup, cleared the way for the government and bosses to respond. There was intense repression, especially during the World Cup, with attacks on demonstrations, persecution and sackings of trade unionists, court proceedings against trade unionists and the imprisoning of activists, on a scale not seen since the military dictatorship.

However, this did not succeed in turning around the general atmosphere or dissatisfaction and willingness to struggle. Sooner rather than later, this will be shown again in the streets.This could be reflected more sharply in the electoral process if the Left had presented a united challenge. For the presidential elections, each of the three parties which formed the Left Front in 2006 (PSOL PSTU and PCB) are standing their own candidate.

In PSOL, the candidate chosen – in a very questionable way – was Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, from the right wing of the party. However, Randolfe then stepped down as candidate and is now with one foot outside of PSOL, ready to leave, at any moment. This opens up a crisis within the majority of the party and changes the balance of forces, opening a space for the Left of the party, despite its contradictions, to make gains.With Randolfe standing down, the candidate chosen was the ex-MP, Luciana Genro, who stood against Randolfe for the party nomination with the support of the Left Block within PSOL.

The Luciana Genro campaign

Luciana Genro’s campaign has been one of struggle and has raised the banner of the mass protests in June 2013. It is clearly linked with this and the struggles of workers, students, the homeless etc, which continue. The programme that Luciana and PSOL puts forward includes the need for an audit and the suspension of payment of the debt, in order to invest massively, and to implement a "taxation revolution" by taxing the rich. The campaign puts forward public control of the strategic sectors of the economy, such as the energy sector and also the reversal of privatizations. It also stands for political reform, for mechanisms of direct democracy, the right of recall and the end to corporate financing of campaigns.

This programme also defends agrarian reform, free transport, more investment in public health and education and social housing. Moreover, it takes up the struggle against homophopia and racism, for womens’ rights, including the legalisation of abortion, and for the social control of the media. It also speaks out against the criminalisation of the poor and the social movements, for the demilitarisation of the police and the end of the "war on drugs".

While, unfortunately, not emphasising important points of programme, such as the nationalisation under workers’ control of the banks, and the need to point to socialism as the alternative, this programme takes up a great deal of the demands of the social movements and plays a progressive role.

One important negative aspect of the campaign is that Luciana and the candidate for governor of the state of Rio Grande so Sul, Roberto Robaina – with the support of the majority in the party – decided to accept a donation from a big business with a hand in agro-business and the financial markets. This provoked rejection and protest among many in the rank and file of the party, including LSR (CWI in Brazil).

Despite this, the campaign is far to the left of what it would have been under Randolfe, and is playing an important role in the electoral process. In the TV debates and in the general campaign, Luciana Genro unmasks the role of Marina Silva, as the "second road of the PSDB" and exposes the PT, PSDB and PSB candidates as siamese twins.

However, the media boycott of the PSOL campaign and the party’s limited resources in a campaign that will see billions of Real spent (it is estimated that total election spending will be equivalent to the costs of three World Cups) makes PSOL’s task difficult. The illusions which many have in Marina Silva also present the party with difficulty. However PSOL should still double or triple its number of MPs.

LSR (CWI) – the class struggle and the electoral campaign

LSR has systematically participated in the mass protest movements since 2013 and the strikes and struggles, consistently defending the unity of the movements in struggle, proposing a national conference of struggles and the preparation, from below, for a 24 hour general strike.

In the post-World Cup situation, with much greater repression, our proposal of a national day of "struggle for the right to struggle for more rights" was taken up by various organizations in the movement, such as the combative Trade Union centre CSP-Conlutas, the congress of metal workers in Minas Gerais and the National Education movement, which organizes more than 3,000 teachers and students in Rio. It is expected that this day of mobilisations will take place in the second half of October.

In the elections, LSR is standing candidates in six states, but is prioritising two campaigns. In Rio Grande do Norte, a state in the north east, which has seen strong mobilisations, the PSOL candidate for governor is Roberio Paulino, a LSR member and veteran militant of the socialist Left since the 1970s.

Despite all the obstacles in the way of a militant campaign without resources and battling against the regional oligarchies that have held power in the state for decades, there is a space for a Left alternative to win important support. This is also despite the confusion generated by the division of the Left in the state, where the PSTU (LIT) has also decided to stand its own candidate.

In Rio de Janeiro, LSR is concentrating on the campaigns of two alllies of our organisation; Paolo Eduardo Gomes, a national MP candidate, and Renatinho, a state MP candidate. They both received most votes in the city of Niteroi in council elections and have a real chance of being elected. As well as the LSR (CWI) in Brazil working with his organization, Reage Socialista, Paolo Eduardo has developed a closer relation with the CWI since last year. Paolo participated in various activities of CWI sections in Britain, Ireland and Belgium, and today supports the international work of the CWI.

If won, these positions in Rio de Janiero could represent a great step forward for workers’ struggle in Brazil and strengthen the revolutionary Marxist alternative.

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September 2014