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Brazil: Workers' Party and Social Democrats go into the second round

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The first round of the Brazilian presidential election on October 5 produced only one surprise. As widely expected, the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party came first but, with only 41.6 percent, could not claim victory. However, although polls had predicted 30 percent for Marina Silva of the Socialist Party, she actually saw much of her support evaporate, coming in third with 21.3 percent. Second place and, therefore, a place in the second round run off, went to Aecio Neves of the Social Democrats who gained 33.6 percent.

At first sight, it might have seemed that Silva would benefit from the great wave of demonstrations and protests last year. As an indigenous former rubber tapper, who worked with the assassinated environmental campaigner Chico Mendes and joined the Workers' Party in its early and most radical days, she was made Environmental Minister in Lula's government but later resigned when it failed to implement more than a tiny fraction of its promised programme to protect the rain forests.

However, subsequently, after leaving the Workers' Party, she moved to the right, became an evangelical Christian, opposed abortion rights and same sex marriage and eventually stood as the vice-presidential candidate of the Socialist Party which, despite the name, has no links to the working class movement and is a neo-liberal party. When the SP's presidential candidate, Eduardo Campos, was killed in a plane crash shortly before the election, she was his replacement.

Election campaign

As a candidate, Silva proved unable to attract support either from disillusioned Workers' Party supporters or from the right wing, especially from the Social Democratic party, whose policies sometimes echo the "Third Way" of Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder but which has no ties to the workers' movement, even in the form of the Socialist International.

Her campaign was marked by the most empty phrase mongering and her appeal for a "new politics" convinced neither those looking for an alternative to the "polarisation between the Workers' Party and the Social Democrats" nor organised capital, who recognised that she had insufficient political support and lacked both stringency and staying power. Rousseff and Neves both exploited these weaknesses and easily outshone her in the TV debates.

Although second in the ballot, Aecio Neves, of the Social Democrats, gained most from the campaign. Having been registering a mere 15 percent for months in the opinion polls, his actual result represented a big swing and puts him in a strong position for the run-off on October 25. In the first opinion polls after the first round, he was neck and neck with Rousseff.

Setback for Workers' Party

Above all, it was the Workers' Party that was most punished at the ballot box, losing 4 million votes as compared to the last election in 2010. The party also lost ground in the elections for parliament and state governors. At the national level, its number of seats fell from 88 to 70 and at state level from 149 to 108. In the elections for state governors, it had only one success, gaining Minas Gerais and, while it held Bahia, in Rio Grande do Sul, its sitting governor has been forced into a second round. In Brasilia, the party's sitting governor was reduced to third place and in Rio de Janeiro hammered into fourth.

By contrast, the Social Democrats did well not only in the sense of higher percentages than predicted but also again winning the parliamentary election outright with 57% in the economically most important state of Sao Paulo. Nonetheless, the party was not able to increase its total number of votes, it was the massive loss of the Workers' Party support that gave it a relative victory.

Luciano Genro, of the left reformist PSOL took a distant fourth place in the presidential election, with 1.6 percent. However, that represents a doubling of the previous result and a gain of some 800,000 votes. The PSTU, to which we gave critical support, attracted 90,000 votes, as it had in the previous election. All the same, given an increase of 3 million in support for the Socialist Party and of 4 million who abstained, it is clear that no left party was able to benefit qualitatively from last year's protest movement.

Second round

As Marxists we realise that elections are only one arena in the class struggle, and not the most important. The outcome is heavily influenced by the support of the biggest capitalists and their media. The rankings in the first round results, for example, are directly proportional to the sums spent in the campaign. It is important that PSOL was able to increase its vote by 800,000, whether that can be sustained over the next four years will be decided on the streets and in the factories and universities, in demonstrations, protests and strikes.

In the second round, the Left is divided between voting for Rousseff and abstaining. We will urge workers to abstain; although the Workers' Party is a bourgeois workers' party, that is, largely proletarian in its origins and its membership but bourgeois in its actual politics, and it would be principled to vote for it, we cannot recommend that in this election.

Rousseff is standing as part of an electoral alliance with a range of bourgeois parties including, most importantly, the Party of the Democratic Movement, PMDB. Since the end of the military dictatorship, this has become the principal party of the Brazilian bourgeoisie and a vote for Rousseff would also be a vote for Michel Temer, the PMDB's leader and vice-presidential candidate.

In this situation, critical electoral support would be the same as calling for a vote for a bourgeois party; unprincipled and unacceptable. We reject the argument of the "lesser evil" which some on the left use to justify such a vote. The first round results already show how the Workers' Party has lost working class support, especially in its former stronghold of Sao Paolo where it was founded. For the first time in a long time, the Workers' Party lost votes to the Social Democrats even there.

No doubt many workers will vote for Rousseff in order to stop Neves. While understandable, that is no way out for the working class. Particularly in the coming period, in which we can expect a sharpening of Brazil's economic difficulties, a possible further period of government by the Workers' Party will see it forced to launch even greater attacks on its own supporters.

Therefore, both to Rousseff's remaining supporters and to those who have either supported other left parties or abstained altogether, we will argue that, whoever wins the presidential race, Brazilian capital is preparing an offensive against you, organise to fight!