National Sections of the L5I:

Brazil: the Dilma government and the offensive of the Right

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After a phase in which populist and Bolivarian movements gained strength and won government office in several Latin American countries, there is now a new development. Right-wing political forces are on the rise and are fighting to return to power. This can be seen in the recent electoral defeat of Kirchnerism in Argentina, the defeat of the Maduro government in Venezuela's parliamentary election and now the opening of impeachment proceedings against the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party (PT).

These developments are not entirely surprising. When they came “into power”, these left populist and reformist parties, formed governments, including coalitions, as in Brazil, whose aim was, at best, the introduction of minor reforms rather than the mobilisation and self organisation of the population. They preferred to demobilise their supporters and to “takeover” the machinery of state without attacking the existing social relations of capitalism.

So, what does the attack by the right in Brazil constitute and how should the Left respond to the impeachment process against Dilma?

An attack on the Brazilian working class

Brazil's recent move to the right is not only a result of the ever sharper effects of the economic crisis on the country. The policy pursued by Dilma's government since its re-election has really only differed from that of its main opponent in the election, Aecio Neves, in its rhetoric. In reality, it is the same, although during the election campaign Dilma spoke very differently. This policy, with its attacks on the social position of the working class and the poor, is driving them into opposition to “their” government. This can be seen by the increase in social protests but also in the strengthening of right-wing political forces.

In order to prevent social protests against its “necessary” reforms, the PT-led government is using its strong basis in the working class. In this, the trade union bureaucracy, above all the CUT bureaucracy, is playing an important role. Strikes have been prevented either by bureaucratic manoeuvre or by police and legal repression by the government and the authorities.

At first, the bureaucracy tried everything to prevent strike actions altogether but, when this was not successful, it undermined mobilisations and attempts to coordinate strike action. In contrast to that, the union bosses are actively working in the “trilateral commission” with representatives of government and employers. One example of this is the “programme for job security” in which the strategy of the bureaucracy can clearly be seen. It wants to keep control over all discussions within the class while at the same time pursuing its own interests rather than the interests of the membership.

Nonetheless, not every movement could be so restricted or kept under the control of the PT and CUT bureaucracy. Recently, in the state of São Paulo, under the governor, Geraldo Alckmin of the Social Democratic Party, a programme was adopted for the restructuring of the public education system. This would have an impact on more than 90 education institutions and 300,000 school students. Those students, however, did not waste any time and began to occupy their schools. The first reaction of the government was to attack the occupations in order to clear the schools and put them back under the control of the authorities. The reaction to that, however, was the spreading of the occupations to 205 schools, winning the support of the teachers' trade union. In the end, this forced Alckmin to retreat and withdraw the proposed restructuring plans.

This was one of the biggest successes for the student movement in the country in recent years. The Brazilian youth movement showed the whole country that resistance can be victorious when it is united and uses strikes, occupations and street mobilisations.

However, it is not only the attacks on the working population by the government that have become sharper. The strengthened right-wing movement is also making itself felt in the National Congress against the parliamentary and government left. The best-known attack is the opening of the impeachment process against the president. How has the left reacted to this direct attack from the right? Do they defend the government or are they standing aside from the process? Have they participated in the mobilisations by the PT and fought for a united front with the party?

The Left and the impeachment process

As we have already said, the policy of the government does not really differentiate itself from that of its opponents. The attacks on the working class mean that it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that one should remain neutral in this confrontation and not defend Dilma against the attacks from the right.

Although that would be a major mistake, it is one which many organisations on the Brazilian left have made. We recognise that the impeachment process is a direct attack on the Workers' Party as a party and thus on the working class in general. In the struggle against it, the Left should do everything possible to unite with the workers of the PT, taking the movement onto the streets by participating in their mobilisations.

This does not mean making any political compromises with the PT leaders or giving up the right to criticise their policies. Neither a sectarian distance nor opportunist accommodation can produce any results in this situation.

The PSTU has maintained its position that “All of them” should be forced out of Congress. Instead of a right-wing putsch, it would be better for Dilma to mobilise the working class and youth and on that basis call new elections. According to the PSTU, the working class already has all the means necessary to take government into his own hands and build a government from below which could govern the country in the interests of the workers.

Sectarianism and opportunism

Although this position appears radical, it ignores the fact that the working class is lacking the two most important prerequisites for building a successful workers' government from below. First, they are lacking even the most embryonic fighting organisations upon which the class could support itself. Secondly, they are lacking a revolutionary workers’ party, based on a revolutionary programme.

Thus, the PSTU position really comes down to nothing more than a left radical sectarianism which avoids the most important question facing the Brazilian radical left: how can the links between the working class and the PT be broken and how can the class be won to the building of a revolutionary party? The struggle for a united front with the PT, while at the same time posing demands on the government and formulating a critique of its politics, is the only way forward here.

The PSOL is essentially singing the same tune. For it, collaboration with the protests organised by the PT are either not necessary or are counter-productive. There should be no pacts with the present government because its politics are aimed against the interests of the workers and the poor. For them, the only way out from this crisis is through mass mobilisation to bring down the whole corrupt system. How exactly that is to be done and who should organise such a movement the PSOL cannot say.

As always, such ultra left politics are only apparently left. What PSOL ignores is that the impeachment process against Dilma is by no means an attack on any ordinary bourgeois politician. It is an attack on one who, despite her arch-reformism, is a representative of the mass party of the working class.

The downfall of Dilma would have an impact first of all on the workers and if the right-wing were successful in forcing it through, it would be a significant defeat for the working class. To counterpose “down with all of them” to the impeachment process is purely abstract. In effect, it means refraining from any concrete position and keeping your distance from one form of the class struggle, even if it is not the central one. Here, sectarianism shows its clearly reactionary consequences.

While the PSTU and the PSOL, alongside several others, have taken their sectarian position, the Marxist Left (IMT) have taken an opportunist one. They correctly oppose the impeachment process as well as the offensive of the Brazilian right-wing and declare their support for all struggles of the workers and social movements against it. Unfortunately, they forget that alongside their support for the PT they have also to be critical and to pose demands on it. As a result, their welcome attempt to seek the unity of the working class and the supporters of the PT results in an empty tailing of the workers, the youth and the poor without confronting their illusions in the policy of the PT or challenging its leadership in their eyes.

What to do?

The left must support Dilma and the PT against the attack from the right. Unlike the sectarians of the PSTU and PSOL, we understand the consequences of defeat. It would mean first of all a strengthened ultra reactionary government in office and, at the same time, a totally demoralised PT as well as an unorganised left opposition. That would help nobody! Of course Dilma's government must be made responsible for what it has done, for its attacks on the rights of the working class, for the privatisations, the destruction of the public sector, the sale of public property in the interests of debt reduction and for its austerity policy.

Obstructing the impeachment process, however, does not in any way prevent us from making the PT responsible for these policies during and after a joint struggle alongside her working class supporters. Participation in the social movements which are supporting the defence of the Dilma government is an effective way to gain a hearing for our politics. Within these movements, we call for the working class to come onto the streets and through their mass mobilisations oppose the right-wing both in the streets and in Parliament. In these struggles we should raise the following demands;

Oppose the attacks on the working class!

Repeal all the laws by which these attacks have been made.

For land reform without compensation and under workers’ control!

Nationalisation without compensation of all the corrupt corporations and their future leadership under workers' control!

Transformation of Petrobras into 100% state ownership under workers' control

No repayment of the state debts!

For a government which implements the above demands, breaks from the capitalists and the imperialists and bases itself on the action committees and mobilisations against the right and the self defence of the class. The PT must break from its bourgeois coalition partners!

The struggle for such demands can both stop the putsch and at the same time test the illusions of the working class in “their” party. It will also show that a political alternative to the PT is needed. For us, this means taking up the struggle for a new party and learning the lessons of the history of the PT – and that means building a revolutionary socialist and internationalist workers’ party.