Fourth International Newsletter N° 37 (Old Series No 308) November 25, 2014
Elections have just been held in Brazil. How has the Brazilian section of the Fourth International, the O Trabalho current of the PT intervened? This is what a comrade of the leadership of the Brazilian section explained during a Marxist study conference in Paris, which met on November 13th. The main excerpts are published here in Fourth International Newsletter.
You have heard about the results of the elections that have just taken place in Brazil. The election concerned members of both houses and the president.
I'll start with the results of the PT candidate for the presidency, Dilma Rousseff, in the framework of a broad coalition with parties that have nothing in common with the PT and its essential values, won the election with a rather narrow 3.5 million-vote margin. This was the fourth victory in a row of a PT candidate, which is rather uncommon throughout world for a left-wing party, even though it is a badly run-down one and having made alliances against its nature. The bourgeoisie sometimes accepts the victory of a working class party, but with the intention of recovering its grasp on things as quickly as possible.
The election differed from the previous ones in the sense that it was uncommonly polarised, with imperialism engaging its forces and the means that it can muster, and even means that can be called putschist, such as media manipulation and so on. Such things had not been witnessed since the heroic times when Lula stood for the first time (the PT candidate had been defeated then)
Because of this, the climate in the country was totally different from the one prevailing during the two last elections.
After this year's elections, PT activists and sympathisers and people of every political horizon who are not politically engaged consider they have won, contrary to the leadership and those who are called “allied” parties.
This victory can and should be assessed as a defeat for imperialism. It should be compared with the recent electoral results in Bolivia with the victory of Evo Morales, and in Uruguay with the anticipated victory of the candidate of the broad front regrouping “Popular Front” organisations.
As far as Brazil is concerned, the Financial Times explained that this polarisation was actually a war to win a market counting 200 million consumers. The word “war” is used in the figurative sense, but it gives an indication on the means that they have used to reach their ends, and the fact that they have been defeated.
On the other hand, in the discussion within the PT and outside its ranks, there is some “anxiety” springing from the fact that the president was defeated in a majority of working class strongholds in the country. Polls conducted in factories of the ABC region (Sao Andre-Sao Bernardo-Sao Caetano, the industrial belt of Sao Paulo and birth place of the PT) show that the PT reaped only 60% of the votes when it is a known fact that winning a city means a 80% to 90% favourable vote in the city's factories. This has caused some damage.
The PT still retains its majority among workers but, from a strictly parliamentary angle, it has sustained a defeat. While it remains the party reaping a majority of votes and the largest group in the national assembly, it has shrunk by some 20%.
Why this result? Because despite the gains reaped during the 12 recent years, which have been secured through direct class struggle or measures that the government has had to take, such as social programmes, the country is frayed by social unease. In June 2013 protests erupted by the thousands and then millions against the 20-cent increase of public transport fares. People protested against run-down public services, victimised by the “debt payment” (which has now largely become an “internal debt” of the federal State with the 27 States making up the Federal Republic of Brazil). Those protests have now become protests against the institutions, especially the national Congress and politicians who are resented as foes.
This is also social disruption caused by the PT's failure to react to rigged accusations against some of its main leaders who are still in prison. Only a fortnight ago, Dirceu, the best known among them was let out of the total isolation regime he had been sentenced to. And, during that time, he has constantly been depicted as a criminal.
And finally the party’s maintaining its alliance policy with corrupt bourgeois politicians, which means that any accusation levelled at the PT, be it true or false, has sounded true, especially for youth, has caused this.
The situation was therefore deeply marked by the June 2013 events, by class struggle. And after the elections, activists do not consider they are defeated but they feel they have won and can take initiatives.
This helps understand what the leaders explain.
In her victory speech, the newly re-elected president called for reforming political institutions and took up the idea of a plebiscite on that point. It is however not the axis of her campaign but one among several items. It gives the feeling she would have shifted towards the left at the end of the campaign. What is still more surprising is that during the first executive committee meeting of the PT, a resolution was voted which sounds very much like a working class party (when the documents released by the PT leadership, especially during the run-up, were very far indeed in their content from those of a working class party). If the PT remains a working class party it is not thanks to its platform or what it utters. It is because it is rooted in the working class and, still today, its social basis is largely working class.
This is consequently an astonishing situation. The resolution voted right after the victory does not say one word of the “coalition”. It toes the line of the CUT's agenda and of its – incomplete but correct – demands on public healthcare, reducing the length of the working-day and, above all – this is the rupture point – it takes a stand for political reform with a plebiscite on a Constituent Assembly as a pre-requisite.
How have we come to this?
This question of the Constituent Assembly has not come out of the blue. When confronted with the June 2013 protests, the President herself made the proposal of a Constituent Assembly. Her major ally, the PMDB, a bourgeois party, immediately refused. The president backed off within 24 hours.
But the CUT (the Unified Workers’ Central), the Landless Movement and other popular organisations, and some sectors of the church happened to take up this slogan. A year ago, these organisations and others – we among them – launched a campaign for a popular - not official – referendum. This is not like what happened in Catalonia where it was organised by the local government, even if it was not recognised by the federal government. With us, the popular referendum has been organised by people's organisations themselves. Therefore they took charge of all the organisational details, poll boxes, and voters’ lists on the following question: “Are you for or against an exclusive sovereign Constituent Assembly?”
This is how eight million Brazilian people voted one month before the official elections and gave a 97.05% majority vote for an exclusive sovereign Constituent Assembly. That is a political force. Before the elections, a delegation of the organisers went to Dilma - who at the time was standing for her re-election. We were not sure that we would be received. Finally she gave us an interview which was video recorded. It was shown on TV during the viewing time which the PT was entitled to. This is how, in a way, Dilma gave voice to this demand, and this certainly carried weight in the final lap of second round of the elections. And this helped in getting a larger turn-out of people who would not have voted for the PT, or people who would have voted for the PT but would not have campaigned, even layers of parties such as the PSOL (comprising former PT members and among them those linked to the French NPA – T.N) who stood in the opposition for the elections and who nearly abstained in the second round. This resulted in a broad united front reaching way beyond the elections themselves.
A demand runs like a common theme through the elections and it comes from June 2013; it has re-emerged today. Otherwise the reason why the leadership has just adopted a “left-leaning” position cannot be understood. Even though one should realise that they know perfectly well, better than we do, how rickety their position is at the moment in factories. From that angle, some would undoubtedly accept being “sacrificed”, others would not. One thing is certain: if the leadership keeps on this “left-leaning” orientation, not the whole party will follow. Broad layers of the party bureaucracy are so corrupt and so closely linked to the bourgeoisie that it is unthinkable. The result is that tensions inside the party are running high.
In 2013 protesters were said to have highlighted the rift between the institutions and the people, between “representatives” and the “represented”. The election results have widened the rift. For the new Congress is more reactionary that the previous one, with an additional 30% large land-owners and 44% less trade unionists among the deputies. Therefore, the question of the Constituent Assembly for a political reform is more relevant than ever before.
Should be added the 8 million voters who took part in the popular referendum to say that things cannot continue as now, even if their awareness of the problem is still hazy. People perceive that the Congress is a corrupt body and stands in the way of popular reforms in favour of the underprivileged. And even within the bourgeoisie, there are those leaders who will say that the system of a “coalition executive body” (a mix of prevailing executive and legislative) cannot last any longer. They cannot rule as they used to. And at the same time, there is no alternative formula for the regime. This shows the need for a Constituent Assembly.
We are campaigning for an official, institutional plebiscite legally and formally valid based on a bill that has already been presented, a detail on the difference in Brazil between a referendum and a plebiscite. A referendum means that the Congress takes a decision and then asks the people whether they agree or not with the decision. The Congress by itself cannot possibly call for a Constituent Assembly – that would be sheer suicide. But in a crisis situation, under the pressure of the masses, it may be compelled to call a plebiscite to say whether or not the people want a Constituent Assembly to be convened.
Having such bill passed by the Congress is very difficult, unless the conditions of a plebiscite be negotiated or even the election of a Constituent Assembly which would guarantee the perpetuation of the present or similar majority. This is the root cause of the diverging opinions of the different currents campaigning for the plebiscite on the Constituent Assembly.
Some leftists and some sectors of the church consider that everything boils down to the private funding of the election process – which is indeed a genuine scandal – and the under-representation of some sections of the population (meaning that there are not enough women, Blacks, youth and so on.). The point for them is to negotiate and make a deal. This can be achieved without a Constituent Assembly or even without a plebiscite.
It is true that in Brazil there is no Indian deputy, few Blacks and few women. But the problem is not that some layers of the population are “under-represented” but the fact that the nation itself is not represented because it is subjected to institutions that have been inherited from the dictatorship. So the first requisite of a sovereign Constituent Assembly is that it should be elected by proportional representation (one voter = one vote), which is not the case today.
Private funding should be banned. What we need is a vote by lists and not on a single figure (today any well-known sportsman or TV announcer can be elected with no platform whatsoever). What we need is a vote for a single house, no senate.
To conclude, what is going to happen? We do not know. Sometimes in history, things combine in such way that we have to wait a few weeks to see how things will turn out.
If the party continues on the “left-leaning” orientation that has been adopted, it is going to completely explode. On the other hand, if it moves back, many people will not accept, not because they agree with us, but because they are engaged on the path to secure the people's sovereignty through the plebiscite for a sovereign Constituent Assembly.
And this was not achieved by Trotskyists only. It is because the CUT decided to act. If we and the Landless Movement had been the only initiators as it was at the start, the impact would have been nil. With the CUT, the Landless Movement, other organisations joined. If the President moves back, it will be worse for her. The form it will take cannot be anticipated. The bill which has been presented is one of several possibilities.
Knowing how long the “left-leaning” orientation will last is a matter of guess-work but in line with it, the leadership of the PT is calling to mobilise far and wide towards the inauguration of the President on January 1st. It is the first time since the PT came to power that it has decided to mobilise on inauguration day.
Brazil is a vast country and Brasilia is its centre. Bringing thousands of people to the centre, as we have no railways means hiring buses, coaches, cars, etc., is complicated and expensive. To achieve this, the bureaucracy must mobilise. They need the mobilisation because the right wing act as if they had reaped the victory and they demand the implementation of their programme as if they had won.
A section of the right wing is even trying to introduce an impeachment procedure against the president. The whole right wing supports a procedure to denounce corruption before courts of justice based on the major firms working for Petrobras, in a case that reaches way beyond Penal Action 470 which got PT leaders sentenced to prison, as I have already mentioned.
The PT leadership needs support from the people and cannot obtain it without a political fight justifying this support. Because today, chanting the name of Lula is not enough. Thus the conditions are ripe for a “red” inauguration with much space devoted to the Constituent Assembly. We'll see.
Last point: the leadership of our section met last week-end and the main decision we took was to reach the objective of recruiting new members which we had set at our June congress. This is feasible thanks to the quite new space we are occupying in a country going through an institutional crisis.
We had some influence on the campaign for the plebiscite. Never, even during the heroic period of the '80s, had we achieved this. This must bring some concrete results, organisation-wise, through a whole range of forms: campaigning for broad united front for the plebiscite, or through the transitional body which we have organised which is called “Petista Dialogue and Action”, which started acting publicly in the street only three weeks ago. This might seem self-evident, but it is not.
O Trabalho, section of the Fourth international, is a current of the PT (Workers' Party). We will normally march under the banners of the PT. Sometimes we sport banners of our current to be well marked. But at the same time we regroup far and wide under a banner that is neither ours nor the banner of the party. For the time being, it works. Where will this lead to? We are Marxists and do not read tea leaves, so we do not know. But we well know what we have to do as I have tried to explain in those introductory remarks.
At the end of the discussion the comrade came back over several points
On the question of the social content which indeed is an essential point.
The demand to “demilitarise the police”. This is a special concern with youth and is directly related to the June 2013 events. In Brazil, police forces are a military body. They shoot first and ask questions after, as if they were at war, that is how they were trained. It is what we have inherited from the dictatorship and the so-called “democratic transition” has not in any way altered this aspect of “civilian life”. Demilitarising the police is therefore one of the most important demands.
Another point of our platform is the agrarian reform. The Congress actually adopted a host of measures restricting any possibility for an agrarian reform. The government is increasingly influenced by large land-owners, who today are called agribusiness, private large scale agri-food business. Those are not the old latifundia; They are more “modern” companies but quite as reactionary and exploitative as the old ones.
Third point is renationalisation, which, according to Brazil's tradition is called “re-statization”. In other words, all the companies that were privatised before Lula's presidency. He rather slowed down the process of privatisation but did not put an end to it. This is linked to the change in the articles of the Constitution to make it possible to privatise former state monopolies, but also other measures making the handing out public services to private companies possible and on that point Lula is responsible.
Finally the most important question concerns “primary fiscal surplus” because it is linked to the question of the debt through a mechanism too complex to be fully explained here. In 1998, under the Cardoso government, the IMF imposed an agreement that organises the payment of the debt through a mechanism called “primary fiscal surplus”. It has nothing in common with the compulsory budget balance required by the Maastricht Treaty, it is worse. The mechanism aims at prioritising the payment of the debt. It is as if when a wage earner comes back home with his pay package, he subtracted what it takes to pay the debt and tried to survive with what was left. From the mayor to the State governor and the President of the federation, whoever fails to abide by the mechanism, may be sentenced to prison. It means withholding the money at the source for the benefit of banks and speculation.
Another question: “how can a Constituent Assembly be convened?”
Several ways. First Dilma, in her January 1st inauguration address can repeat what she said on the day she scored her victory: “The mother of all the reforms is the political reform, constituent plebiscite”. Technically, 185 deputies have already presented a bill. The PT now has only 80 deputies. It means that several deputies, even right wing parties, endorsed it, which does not mean that they are going to pass it. “The most economic” possibility as Lenin would say if he were alive, would be that the President, who has been elected and inaugurated, whose responsibility it is and whom the masses still believe in - though not so much as previously - should do what she has to do.
Another possibility would be that people should shortly mobilise on a scale comparable to June 2013, in other words, a popular uprising. After the popular plebiscite which came as the conclusion of a discussion process within trade unions, student organisations, community organisations to muster enough power to organise it, thousands of activists devoted their energies to organising 20 000 polling stations across the country. This was not done by the State but by activists. This is a force. So, if the masses swamp the streets even spontaneously, such force can help the masses forge a platform for a Constituent Assembly, now. And, under pressure, the Congress could convene it. Many other ways are possible.
But I am not over-worried about which of these possibilities will be implemented. We are for the proletarian revolution, for the power of councils. And the revolutionary democratic demand of the Constituent Assembly is very important to get there. It is not a problem in itself.
The Constituent Assembly is not the narrow way through which all the historical process should necessarily pass. It is a political slogan that seeks to express the needs of the masses, making use of all the contradictions of the institutions. For the rest, the Transitional Programme already said that what is important in the fight for the Constituent Assembly is that, at one point, soviets can and will arise.
That is why the campaign for the plebiscite on the Constituent Assembly is so important because of the links it has brought, the committees which have been formed which are not soviets but something that is in the way of the unity of popular organisations on the question of power.