Put Lula to test

The success of the candidate of the Workers Party (PT) in last week's first round of the Brazilian presidential elections has left ruling circles and international capital nervous, causing something of a run on Brazil's money markets. However, the election of Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva was not unexpected - indeed it had been a virtual certainty for months at least. Da Silva, the historic leader of the PT, which was founded out of a major radicalisation of the Brazilian working class and poor in the mid-1980s, was left just short of outright victory with 46.4% of the popular vote. His rightwing opponent, Jose Serra of the bourgeois Social Democratic Party, achieved just 23.2%. Two of the other losing candidates, who themselves were of broadly leftist political trends, are probably going to transfer the bulk of their votes to the PT candidate, thus making it as certain as one can ever be about anything in politics that da Silva will become president of Brazil after the second round of the election on October 27. At first glance, this would seem like a rather startling event, and to portend real political problems for both the home-grown Brazilian bourgeoisie and for US imperialism, since the opposition to the whole neoliberal project that emanates from the PT's working class and in part landless peasant base of support is tangible and deep. Over the past decade and a half Brazil has seen not only the growth of the PT as a new, essentially left reformist mass party of the urban working class and plebeian poor; it has also seen the equally world-renowned movements of the landless poor in conflict with the big landlords and transnational corporations. In addition, as in other parts of Latin America, there have been movements of indigenous peoples against their ever encroaching dispossession. Brazil is a country deeply marked by the legacy of black slavery under Portuguese colonial rule, in which the struggles of the former slave population for equality and human dignity still resonate. At the same time, like elsewhere in that continent, it is deeply marked by a history of repression, long periods of ruthless military dictatorship, and a bourgeois 'democracy' that has likewise been characterised by deeply pervasive corruption and brutality. Put this in the current context of the IMF's dictates of 'structural adjustment' (privatisation and attacks on the poor) - and remembering the enormous upheaval generated by this kind of exploitative economic shock in nearby Argentina - and it is hard to miss the social tinder that is fuelling the ascent of the PT into government. Should we then unconditionally welcome the election of Lula as a long overdue blow against the arrogant 'masters of the universe' who currently are wreaking ruin over large sections of the world? The victory of the PT would seem to herald a major defeat for these forces, and to usher in a real shift in the largest, most populous country (170 million) in South America, the ninth biggest economy in the world, against the purveyors of privatisation and starvation attacks on the poor. Unfortunately, though that is how it is undoubtedly seen by important sections of the Brazilian masses, it is not quite as simple as that. Lula has in fact largely sold his candidature to the capitalists in advance, by agreeing to run for president in tandem with an outright enemy of the Brazilian masses, an open representative of the landlords and the big bourgeoisie. Jose Alencar, a millionaire textile magnate and leader of the conservative bourgeois Liberal Party, is da Silva's running mate. The presence of Alencar on da Silva's ticket is essentially a pledge, made in advance, that Lula's presidency will not, despite all the rhetoric about opposing neoliberalism and defending the poor, be fundamentally different from his bourgeois predecessor, Cardoso. Indeed, a number of more canny international bourgeois commentators have taken note of Lula's crossing the Rubicon from metalworkers' leader and initiator of strikes against military dictatorship to 'respectable' front man for the neoliberals. The Economist observed that in terms of commitments already made even before taking office, Lula promises to be fairly amenable: "Mr da Silva and his advisers are trying hard to win investors' trust: far from threatening to rip up the IMF accord, as they once would have, they nodded it through "¦ Mr da Silva would continue with Mr Cardoso's public sector reforms, and some of his infrastructure and social projects. There would be less privatisation. But Mr da Silva would be prepared, for example, to let private firms run water services" (September 19). The Miami Herald had noted earlier that, "No matter who wins the October presidential "¦ a few things are pretty clear: he will be more nationalistic, more critical of free-market globalisation projects and more distant from the United States" (August 11). But just to underline that they are talking more about postures than reality, the Herald then went on to point out why a Lula victory will make little difference in real terms: "Whoever wins will have a minority in Congress and will need to seek wide-ranging coalitions to govern. While the entire 513-seat Congress and two thirds of the 81-seat Senate will be renewed, Brazil's presidential election winners have very short coat tails: most voters pick their legislators based on local political issues of their own regions "¦ The main problem with Brazil's next president - whoever he is - will not be ideological dogmatism, but political weakness." Thus, even before the ink is dry on Lula's accession declaration, it is clear to the bourgeoisie that his regime will be abortive in terms of any real challenge to capitalism and the world neoliberal offensive. The most likely result of such a presidency, tainted right from the beginning through running alongside a rightwing, openly bourgeois, pro-privatisation candidate, will be demoralisation for the masses who are currently being roused by the prospect of a PT-led government. This is not a candidacy that socialists and communists should welcome and recommend to the masses to support. On the contrary, such coalitions and class-collaborationist antics smell right from the start of betrayal and subservience. Our job is to warn the masses against da Silva and his running mate, and in particular to engage with the anti-capitalist mass base of the PT that is being currently led by the nose by the PT-Liberal bloc. On the other hand, it is necessary also to recognise that Lula's victory could give an impulse to the struggles of the working class, the landless peasants, the indigenous peoples struggling for their rights, etc. It is not that difficult to imagine a similar effect to the impact of the victory in France of the Popular Front coalition of socialists, communists and 'liberal' capitalists led by Léon Blum in the 1930s - a wave of strikes and occupations of factories, as workers tried to 'help' the Blum government to implement its left-sounding programme by direct working class action from below. It is also not difficult to imagine a similar sequel - the bitter disappointment and draining of confidence amongst the working class, as 'their' government turned on them and left them defenceless before a resurgent reaction. While this scenario is only one of a number of possibilities, nevertheless it illustrates the kind of dangers that come from this kind of class collaboration in the face of a workers' movement of considerable power and militancy. The left in Brazil needs to arm itself for struggle against this treachery. What is needed above all is a real opposition from within the ranks of the PT. There will undoubtedly be plenty of resonance - all Lula's affirmations of 'responsibility' and 'reason' as he dons his smart suits and swans around the cities and provinces with his bourgeois running mate must stick in the gullet of his most class-conscious supporters. In order for this base to be decisively broken from illusions in his once left, now rightward-moving type of reformism, the PT's mass support needs above all to have the real nature of their party and its shortcomings in power exposed. However, in present circumstances, with da Silva's coalition with Alencar and the Liberals, he has a built-in alibi for the betrayals he will carry out in office. Therefore the left must aim to force the PT into power without its coalition partners - this can only be done through a determined agitation within the party, and particularly among its base, to reassert the principle of class independence, of no coalitions with the bosses' parties, at the same time helping to establish a revolutionary left wing within the PT-led workers' movement. Only such a movement, initially raising the existing leaders of the masses to power on the basis of class independence, can ultimately lead to the transcendence of reformism and class collaboration and thereby offer a way out of capitalist enslavement. Capturing the executive functions of the presidency in a country like Brazil is hardly a strategy for progressive advance in any case. The whole structure of such dual constitutions is to frustrate the wishes of the masses, and keep power in the hands of a capitalist elite. The illusion of power via the presidency lessens the momentum of popular movements in terms of capturing the bulk of the Congress delegation, upon which the presidency is supposed to act as a check in times of crisis. When the presidency fails in this task, and more generally in ensuring that the masses stay in their place, then the army tends to step in. This whole structure, together with the economic power of the capitalist elites to which it provides a facade of democratic legitimacy, needs to be dismantled and the legislative and executive functions decisively subordinated to the democratic will of the workers and their allies. The presidency must be abolished, along with that other undemocratic institution, the Senate - all elected representatives must be instantly recallable by those who elected them. The call must go out for a people's militia to replace the standing army, in order to guarantee revolutionary democracy. This will not stop at the artificially demarcated 'political' sphere, as does the circumscribed democracy of capitalism, but will rather involve control and management by the collectively organised producers of all spheres of economic and political life. A start needs to be made by the left in Brazil in formulating such a revolutionary perspective, and creating the kind of united Communist Party necessary to carry it out - in opposition to the now disguised neoliberalism that Lula's coalition presidency promises merely to preserve. Ian Donovan