Fight for class independence

As confidently predicted by most observers, Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva, presidential candidate of a class collaborationist bloc between the Workers Party (PT), and the Liberal Party of his running mate, rightwing industrialist Jose Alencar, won the second round of the Brazilian election on October 27. The PT/Liberal ticket won convincingly, polling 61%, as against the opposing candidate, Jose Serra of the bourgeois Social Democrats, who polled 38%. The result led to mass celebrations, singing and dancing in the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Sà£o Paulo by large numbers of jubilant Lula supporters. This election result is the first time an ostensible leftwing government has held the reins of power in Brazil for over 40 years. The contradiction in this situation is quite stark. Lula is someone whose political record - as a working class opponent of military dictatorship and the founding leader of the PT, the first truly mass working class party in Brazilian history, and as a perceived opponent of neoliberalism - could create a number of difficulties for the new government and for capital in Brazil. These leftist credentials are one thing - the deals Lula has made with the bosses and their parties, which mean that in practice any substantially pro-working class or egalitarian programme from his administration is ruled out in advance, are quite another, and the clash between them among his mass base could lead to big problems. It is quite within the realms of possibility that Lula's election could lead to a real crisis of expectations of the masses, a rapid disillusionment leading either to a rightward demoralisation of the PT's mass base or, on the other hand, conceivably a radicalisation of that base to the left. An article by Jonathan Steele in The Guardian - which mocked the contemptuous attitude of Tony Blair and New Labour towards the aspirations of the Brazilian working class and poor (no surprises there!) in refusing to even meet Lula on a trip to Brazil last year - in its own way accurately characterised the treachery behind Lula's elevation to the bourgeois mainstream: "The irony is that Lula is more New Labour than old. After losing three previous presidential elections, the candidate of the Workers Party has won this time as 'Lula lite'. He has modified his policies and his image. He chose a rich businessman who belongs to a small rightwing party as his running mate. He signed a joint declaration with the Brazilian stock exchange, pledging to develop Brazil's private pension funds. "Promising financial orthodoxy, he rules out any default on Brazil's huge foreign debt and is committed to the deal that the outgoing centre-right president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, made with the International Monetary Fund. It is rather like Gordon Brown's pledge to maintain the Tories' level of spending in the first two years of Labour's first term. Lula may even follow Brown's example and free the central bank from government control. One of Lula's top economic advisers recently visited the Bank of England to find out how the switch was made ..." (The Guardian October 29). Steele notes that Lula has been propelled into power by a wave of class sentiment by the working class and the Brazilian poor. Yet they will be frustrated by both the class collaboration of the PT leadership and the constitutional set-up in Brazil. People who are impatient for change have high expectations, but are likely to be disappointed. Lula's party has no majority in Congress and will probably join forces with outgoing president Cardoso's party, giving Brazil a kind of grand coalition. Whatever the expectations of the masses, Lula has, for reasons of electoral opportunism and the desire for office at any price, sold himself to the capitalists by choosing to run on a joint ticket with the bourgeois Alencar. That bloc, which was the real political basis and programme that Da Silva stood on in the elections, was a violation of the very purpose for which the PT was formed in the 1980s - to give political expression to the Brazilian workers as a class. This betrayal of class independence meant that genuinely class-conscious elements - those who refuse to capitulate to the illusions of the masses and defend instead the historic necessity for independent working class politics - could give no support to the Da Silva/Alencar presidential ticket. There was no way Lula could be distinguished from his running mate in electoral terms - a vote for Lula was a vote for the whole PT/Liberal electoral ticket. Indeed, Lula is only one man - he is now set to govern Brazil not as the president of the PT, but rather of the PT/Liberal coalition. Since it was not possible either to distinguish between the presidential and vice-presidential candidate, or to split the unified presidential candidate 'Lula' into two pieces, one working class and one bourgeois, a vote for Lula was also a vote for the bosses. No matter what feverish illusions may exist at the base of the PT, this is the political reality. When Lula's working class supporters realise the real implications of his promises to govern 'responsibly', and particularly to honour Brazil's agreements with the IMF and the World Bank, and demand change, Lula will be able to point out that he was elected not as the candidate of the working class, but as part of an alliance with Alencar and the bourgeoisie. Therefore, the prime task of the genuine left in Brazil is to force the PT to break this alliance and reassert the independence of the working class, which was the whole point of forming an independent Workers Party in the first place. If an opportunity emerges, in some future electoral contest, to force the PT into power without its coalition partners, and thus hold it responsible in front of the masses for its own class betrayals, the left should jump at the chance to so provoke a showdown with the treacherous PT leadership. If, one way or another, a break with class collaboration is not made, then major defeats are likely, indeed at a certain level inevitable, for the Brazilian working class movement. Since the formation of the PT in the 1980s, it has evolved very much on a parallel track with traditional social democracy, to the point where it has moved from the 'parliamentary road to socialism' of some of the more leftwing trends in traditional social democracy (not least, of course, those in Latin America, of which Chile's Salvador Allende was the personification) to now making overt compromises not merely with the bourgeoisie in parliamentary terms (as did Allende) but also of adopting elements of the neoliberal project as its own. There must be a political struggle against all these varied trends of betrayal: reformism, class collaboration and this kind of neoliberal 'social-ism', which in a country like Brazil, rife with extreme inequalities and mass poverty, can only bring ruin to millions. The struggle against the Lula/Alencar presidency and the PT/Liberal coalition must be a lever for the formation of a consistently revolutionary current within the mass base of the PT. There is a crying need for a genuinely working class party in Brazil, a party that will fight consistently for the interests of the poor, of the landless, of the indigenous peoples - above all of the powerful and growing Brazilian working class. Exactly how such a party can be born is a matter that can only be determined by concrete experience. At this point it is not clear how the mass base of the PT will react to the experience of Lula in this coalition of class betrayal. Will the PT be consolidated as a bourgeois workers' party analogous to the social democratic parties of more conventional stamp that have misled and betrayed the working class, particularly in Europe, for most of the past century? Or will there be a mass reaction against the inevitable attacks and betrayals, a reaction by the base of the PT that, channelling itself through the party itself, will force out the initial, now corrupted, leadership? Such a reaction could put the PT on the road to becoming a genuine working class party, a party capable of developing a revolutionary outlook and programme - a genuine Communist Party that can unite all the real class fighters in Brazil into one political fist. This question has not yet been decided by history. But it is certainly on the agenda. In any case, whether or not it arises from the current situation regarding the PT, Brazil needs such a party. One that defends a revolutionary programme and digs deep roots in the masses, one that bases itself on the watchword, 'Freedom of criticism, unity in action'. With the emergence of the PT as the mass party of the proletariat and the oppressed in Brazil over the last couple of decades, its evolution has now become the strategic question for the whole left. Lula's presidency poses that question, as well as the question of the popular front and class collaboration in general, in a particularly sharp form. There are dangers for socialists and communists. On the one hand that of being sucked into the political wake of the PT leadership, of giving it a left cover - those sections of the left who, enthusing over the illusions of the oppressed in Lula, have simply posed the key task in this period as fighting for a Lula victory in the current elections are in danger of sacrificing the real programme of class independence for the sake of being part of the 'movement'. On the other hand, a symmetrically wrong error would be to write off the real potential of the PT's mass base to embrace a consistently revolutionary, working class programme and perspective. The left needs to develop its strategic coherence by uniting around a revolutionary programme, and to elaborate a tactical approach that steers between these opportunist and sectarian dangers to take advantage of the opportunities that the experience of the Lula/Alencar presidency will undoubtedly bring for the growth of a consistently socialist, revolutionary current in Brazil. Ian Donovan