National Sections of the L5I:

Elections in Brazil - the struggle enters a new stage

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The Brazilian economy has been in crisis for almost a decade. This formerly "emerging market" is plagued by stagnation, inflation, and unemployment. Far in excess of the official figures, more than 50 million Brazilians are out of work and another 30 million are precariously employed. Day to day survival has become sheer hell for a large section of the population.

This situation was exacerbated by the partial collapse of the health system during the pandemic. Not only did more than 700,000 people die from Corona, but the virtually non-existent pandemic policy led to such a scale of work absences that there was also a severe economic collapse. In addition to these economic, social and health crises, there was the aggravation of the ecological one which, apart from the insane deforestation in the Amazon rainforest encouraged by Bolsonaro, is also increasingly leading to disasters caused by climate change. The social division in Brazil also increasingly affects indigenous, non-white, women and LGTBIAQ+ people, who have suffered increased attacks on their rights, which did not begin with the Bolsonaro government.

Permanent political crisis
Since the fall of Dilma, the last president and government of the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores; Workers' Party), this situation has been compounded by a political crisis. The political system created with the "transition" from the military dictatorship in the 1980s only functions through a complex network of political parties that are linked to the various groups of capital through more or less open corruption. Their support for governments is mediated through this form of "cooperation".

During the economic boom of the early 2000s, the PT under Lula was able, for a time, to incorporate the working class into this system and thus contain and channel the social, ecological and political conflicts. Because it had a mass organisation, unlike most openly bourgeois parties, it was even to a certain degree a guarantor of stability for Brazilian capitalism, under the control of a reformist leadership.

However, with the onset of the crisis between 2012 and 2015, the bourgeoisie increasingly opted for a break with the PT and sought a radical neoliberal “cure” for the country’s economic ills, of course at the expense of the working class, the poor and the indigenous communities. The coup against Dilma enabled "reforms" of labour relations under Temer (extensive informalisation of employment contracts), drying up of public budgets, the incorporation of restrictions on structural budget deficits in the constitution and an acceleration of privatisation. Temer's unpopularity and the growing protest movement threatened to bring the PT back to power in 2018 - whereupon the bourgeoisie played the card of right-wing populism in the shape of the hitherto insignificant right-winger Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro and the bourgeoisie
Even though Bolsonaro's ideology and rhetoric have echoes of fascism, at the time of the election, he did not have a mass movement and fascist militias behind him on the scale necessary to actually establish a fascist regime. Even if forces in the armed wings of the state apparatus support his right-wing policies and the number of military personnel in the government was also increased, a fascist dictatorship was not established in Brazil to crush and atomise the workers' movement as a whole, even if the growing number of repressive actions and political murders must not be played down.

Bolsonaro's government has also been characterised by major contradictions between the various bourgeois forces that support this regime. He was never able to shape these divergent interests and centres of power into a unified policy. The result was an absurd chaos of half-hearted measures, culminating in the utterly confused Corona policy. It is no wonder that today large sections of the bourgeoisie no longer want Bolsonaro as president. In the run-up to the presidential election, there were clear statements opposing a second term for Bolsonaro at relevant meetings of entrepreneurs and representatives of the US administration, which initially led to the search for a "third" candidate. When this failed, the PT came back into play.

After the Dilma coup, attempts were made to marginalise, if not break up, the PT. Central to this was the trial and imprisonment of Lula himself on corruption charges. As if corruption were not at the centre of the entire political system of capitalism in Brazil. The PT, and Lula in particular, were declared to be at the centre of it and were put on trial as a proxy for it ("Operação Lava Jato" or "Operation Car Wash" because it was first uncovered at a car wash in Brasilia). But the PT survived and even remained at the core of protests against the Temer reforms and their continuation under Bolsonaro.

PT, Lula and Alckmin
The PT, and the trade union centre it leads, the CUT, also proved important in channelling the growing mass protests and steering them back towards alternatives in elections. Fear of further protests and dissatisfaction with Bolsonaro arguably led the bourgeoisie to see the PT again as part of the solution to their problems. Suddenly it was "discovered" that irregularities had happened in the trials of Lula. The Supreme Court annulled his conviction and restored his full political rights.

Lula then immediately began to play the "anti-Bolsonaro" card. Under the motto that the most important thing was to prevent another Bolsonaro presidency, the main goal of the PT and its supporters was not to take to the streets, but to forge a "broad alliance" for the coming presidential election. For this, one of the most important representatives of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, Geraldo Alckmin, was found as a "running mate" for the presidential candidacy (for which the Lula-Alckmin list is now supported by the PT).

Alckmin is not only one of the most prominent politicians of the most important party of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, the PSDB (even though he formally switched to a smaller bourgeois party for the election). He was not only a presidential candidate for them against Lula in 2006, but also a long-time governor of Brazil's most important region, Sao Paulo. In Sao Paulo, he not only brutally suppressed strikes (such as the big teachers' strike) and demonstrations (such as those against price increases in public transport), he was also jointly responsible for the "Pinheirinho massacre" in the forced eviction of one of the biggest favelas in the region.

Alckmin is not only known as an economic liberal, he also brings into the "broad alliance" a corresponding coalition of parties (or rather deputies) that will ultimately set the essential political limits for a Lula-Alckmin government, without their support, the PT would not have a trace of a majority in Congress. Moreover, as vice-president, Alckmin again embodies the possibility of repeating the Dilma coup, this time against Lula, in case of emergency.

Polarisation and the danger of a coup
The election is clearly polarised between Lula/Alckmin and Bolsonaro. Other candidates will not make it to the second round, unless Lula wins in the first round anyway. Of course, a second term for Bolsonaro is indeed a major threat, as he has accumulated considerable repressive potential. He has used his position in the state apparatus, and vis-à-vis its armed organs, not only to expand his following there, but also to build up large armed support organisations, ranging from retired military police officers to hunters' clubs, to bikers and armed militias of the agribusiness bosses. A Bolsonaro victory would therefore certainly mean an increase in repression.

In the likely event of their electoral defeat, there are now increasing reports of plans for a coup from the Bolsonaro camp. Given the lack of support from large sections of the bourgeoisie and the US administration, such a coup would indeed be pure adventurism - but it cannot be ruled out for that reason. Against this right-wing danger, the working class must build a united front to combat it with all its means (including, crucially, building its own self-defence forces and its own militias). If there is indeed a coup and a subsequent wave of repression, a mass movement, up to and including a general strike, would be needed to crush it swiftly.

It would be highly dangerous and complacent here to rely on the "democratic" parts in the army, parties, courts and state apparatus (as is now being suggested in the various open letters). The danger of such a semi-fascist coup could only be stopped by determined mass action. This would at the same time put massive pressure on the alliance of PT and CUT with the bourgeoisie, because Alckmin certainly does not want to see armed self-defence units of the working class on the streets. Of course, mobilised by councils of the workers, poor farmers, and the unemployed, it could be possible to win over the rank and file soldiers, as the popular supporters of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela did during the April coup of 2002.

Popular front and electoral tactics
A Lula/Alckmin government, on the other hand, would actually mean a continuation of Temer's "reforms". Even if Lula promises a revision of the labour market and budget decrees, it is clear in view of his alliance that this will remain cosmetic at best. This also applies to the continuation of the privatisation policy and, in view of the budget situation, does not lead us to expect any significant improvement in social benefits for the millions of Brazilians in need. In view of the expected further worsening of the economic and ecological crisis, disappointment with the next Lula presidency will thus set in very quickly.

At the same time, with Lula as president, the PT and the CUT will try to hold back growing mass protests even further to preserve his coalition. If the left then fails to build an alternative leadership to the PT/PCdoB, mass discontent will necessarily play into the hands of the pied pipers of the far-right (whether with Bolsonaro, his sons or whatever clown is at the helm).

As Trotsky demonstrated with regard to the Popular Front in France in the 1930s, tying the workers' movement to the parties of the bourgeoisie via electoral coalition politics represents the demobilisation of the fighting forces of the proletariat. Although it is "justified" by the threat of outright fascism, it is in reality the best preparation for the next wave of right-wing mobilisation, up to fascism. There can therefore never be even critical electoral support for such popular fronts.

However, as in France in the 1930s, this does not, of course, apply to the candidates of the reformist parties in the popular front, insofar as it is possible to vote for them without voting for and electing the openly bourgeois ones. In the forthcoming election, however, voters cannot distinguish between Lula and Alckmin, it is a joint candidacy. For this reason, revolutionaries cannot call for a vote for the Lula/Alckmin list. A vote for Lula/Alckmin would not only be a vote for Lula, but also for the bourgeois candidate, that is, the entire bourgeois coalition.

The situation is different with individual candidates of the PT, but also of the PCdoB or the PSOL, which are allied with it, when it comes to seats in Congress. For the election of these candidates, however, we call on their voters to force them to break with the bourgeois coalition, to resist the neoliberal government policies under whatever leadership and to support the mass protests against the crisis and the right-wing danger. We demand from PT, PCdoB, PSOL and CUT that they form a minority government based on the mobilisation of their supporters.

Brazilian Left
The Brazilian left has had an intense struggle over Lula's candidacy. Starting from the campaigns for his liberation, initiatives for "Lula Presidente", which wanted to combine this with mass protests and a purely PT candidacy, soon formed after his dismissal, for example, by the PCO, the Workers' Cause Party. In fact, this also unleashed resistance in the PT and the other parties (especially the PSOL) against the emerging Lula/Alckmin list. This did indeed resonate widely but the undemocratic manoeuvres of the party apparatus and Lula himself ultimately overcame it.

In the Party of Socialism and Freedom, (PSOL), its best-known leading figure, Guilherme Boulos (its last presidential candidate and candidate for governor of Sao Paulo), immediately came out enthusiastically in support of the Lula/Alckmin coalition. There was considerable resistance within the party, however, which culminated in the proposal for the party to put up its own candidate. Thus, one of the 25 tendencies within the PSOL, the "Esquerda Marxista" (in which the section of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) is active), argued that it was necessary to put up one's own candidate against the Popular Front in the first ballot, but then, in the second round, to vote for Lula/Alckmin against Bolsonaro.

On the other hand, the Movement for an Independent and Socialist Alternative (MAIS) which was formed after being expelled from the United Socialist Workers’ Party (PSTU) for criticising its failure to oppose the 2016 Temer coup and is now a PSOL tendency, argued that, because mass mobilisations were too weak, voting for Lula/Alckmin was necessary to ward off the fascist danger. In the end, the dispute was decided undemocratically at a "delegates' meeting", which was not actually legitimate for this purpose, with 35:25 votes in favour of supporting Lula.

The main "left alternative" to Lula/Alckmin, the PSTU, is running, as always, under the label of the "Revolutionary Socialist Pole". Its two women candidates, one of whom, Raquel Temembé, is the only indigenous vice-presidential candidate, have no chance, given the Brazilian electoral system. Parties that are not represented in Congress also have no access to the media and TV debates. The Brazilian Communist Party (PCB and Popular Unity (PU) will also remain below one percent of the vote. But not only are these parties insufficiently anchored in the class (even if the PSTU plays a role in the unions), they are also blind to the great illusions of the masses in Lula and the PT.

In this context, the PT plays a decisive role in organising and channelling all class-based protests in Brazil because of its role in the CUT, the main union federation. Thus, certain sections of the PT will naturally also be present in protests against a Lula/Alckmin government. Therefore, it cannot only be a matter of building an independent, new party (or presenting oneself as such, like the PSTU), what is needed is tactics to break the masses from their existing leaders.

Therefore, it is a mistake to combine such poorly rooted self-proclaimed candidacies (on what are ultimately still left reformist programmes) with a sectarian position towards the election of individual PT/TCdoB/PSOL candidates for the congress elections.

This is also true of the Revolutionary Workers’ Movement (MRT) the Brazilian section of the Trotskyist Fraction (FT), which, while making a correct critique of the Lula/Alckmin list (and also of the false "fascism" analysis which characterises a large part of the left Lula supporters), sees as an electoral position only the option of supporting the PSTU - and, of course, preparing the post-election struggles. The MRT vision of uniting all the forces of the MRT, PSTU, PCB, PU critical of Lula is not only unrealistic in this context, but also fails to recognise that considerable sections of the activist and vanguard elements who are now voting for Lula/Alkmin with disgust will be decisive in the struggle to build the protest movement after the election.

We also had to recognise the latter problem in the discussion with our own section, the Socialist League (Liga Socialista). Even though programmatically they are in complete agreement with us on the central demands of a revolutionary programme of action, there are tactical differences. After the struggle against support for the Lula/Alckmin list in the PT and PSOL was lost, they found that, despite all their misgivings, an overwhelming part of the workers' vanguard and the representatives of the socially oppressed are now determined to vote for Lula/Alckmin in order to stop Bolsonaro. In addition, in the polarised situation, the danger of a "fascist coup" on the left (especially by the PT) is so exaggerated that all those who do not want to vote for Lula/Alckmin are immediately branded as indirect supporters of Bolsonaro.

As correct as it is to recognise that the current polarisation has fostered mass illusions in the PT, organising large sections of the class as well as the vanguard, the comrades of LS were wrong to bow to this pressure and to advocate critical support for Lula-Alckmin. Even though they do warn of the certain betrayal of such a government and call for struggle against it, in the election, they are advising workers to vote for Alckmin. For the above reasons, we consider critical electoral support for a popular front to be a grave tactical error. Having failed to resolve this difference, the Liga Socialista resigned its membership as a section of the League for the Fifth International.

Nevertheless, we will continue discussion with the comrades and we hope that in the course of the post-election debates we can convince them that support for a popular front was wrong. Despite this important difference, we will work with them in the struggle against the right and the serious effects of the crises in Brazil and will maintain fraternal relations. We call for support for the struggle of Brazilian workers and oppressed against impoverishment and fascist violence worldwide before and after the election.