Genocidal Bolsonaro, the Brazilian crisis and the Seventh PSOL Congress
After Trump’s defeat, Bolsonaro turned Brazil into a key showpiece for the global authoritarian right. Even if this same defeat, combined with election results in various European countries has weakened this process, in the midst of the current crisis of world domination, it is still a continuing threat.
It is for this reason that many throughout the world, and in particular, the broad democratic sectors, are now focussed on the situtation in Brazil. They follow the continuing anti-Bolsonaro mobilizations, which resumed with force on October 2, as well as the possibility of his electoral defeat given that Lula, with the charges against him dismissed, may return to government.
It goes without saying that the task ahead is to defeat Bolsonaro, whether this is achieved via the streets with mobilisation opening conditions for impeachment or with a vote for a future Lula government. Lula ranks first in all polls and would currently win against Bolsonaro by a large margin.
Amongst broad democratic sectors there is a strong feeling and expectation that Lula will return to power. Along with these expectations, the more left-wing vanguard, emerging from the last set of struggles and disposed to anti-capitalism, is looking toward the PSOL. These views are linked, although in the specific case of PSOL even though it is much smaller than the PT it is rightly seen as a more left alternative which does have an impact on national politics in the fight against Bolsonaro.
The fact that the two parties oppose one another confuses many regarding the role that each has played and will play in the future in national politics. We say this because common immediate objectives do not erase the qualitative differences that exist between these two parties.A decade and a half has passed since the PSOL was founded, after Luciana Genero, Baba and Heloisa Helena were expelled from the PT for not voting for reform in the retirement conditions of public sector workers. Today the PSOL has around 200,000 sympathisers through its affiliated organisations and is a growing party with 9 deputies parliamentary and around 20 thousand active militants.
The expulsion of the radicals was a measure consistent with the policy that the PT followed throughout its 15 years in government. Months before the election that would lead him to victory in 2002, Lula published a "letter to the Brazilian people", in reality a letter to the bankers, in which he promised to comply with all the agreements and requirements of the IMF. It was a government that from its inception included representatives of the big bourgeoisie in ministerial portfolios. An important soybean producer (Rodriguez) was minister of agriculture; a former member of the international board of the Boston banking system (Mierelles) managed the Central Bank; a manufacturing representative (Furlan) was secretary of industry and an industrialist from Minas Gerais, José de Alencar, was vice president. It was a period in which the banks accumulated large profits, and large construction companies became Brazilian multinationals that extended their reach throughout Latin America and Africa. One name says it all: Odebrecht, the construction company that dominated the building of large enterprises in Latin America and some countries in Africa and which is known for winning tenders through corruption.
Politically, Lula allied himself with two old bourgeois parties that have been part of every government since the fall of the dictatorship: the MDB (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro/Brazilian Democractic Movement) of Michael Temer, Dilma Rousseff’s running mate for Vice President who later headed the parliamentary coup against Rousseff; and the PP (Partido Progressista/Progressive Party) on which he lavished perks and positions. Beyond the manipulation of the Lava Jato scandal which was orchestrated by Judge Sergio Moro to take away Lula’s rights, corruption already existed on a large scale to such an extent that a number of governors-- permanently allied to Lula-- are all on trial or in jail.
The windfall that was experienced in the exporting countries due to the rise in the price of raw materials that lasted until 2011-2012 allowed the PT governments to make concessions to the most impoverished sectors of the population by creating an emergency aid fund known as the “Bolsa Familia” (Family Allowance) that gave close to USD50 dollars to needy families. It also opened access to universities for young people previously unable to afford the costs. These measures ended when the regional crisis began and the government of Dilma Rousseff initiated a policy of structural readjustment. With this, the government lost credibility with sectors of the mass movement.
The inability to take basic structural measures began to create disillusionment and scepticism combined with a rejection of the methods of a political caste accommodated to the advantages of power. These were the objective bases that explain the change in turn-around in the mass movement and which became the breeding ground in the search for a saviour who would present himself as anti-system. In this way Bolsonaro emerged. This process can only be explained by disillusionment with the degeneration of the PT and its consequent bourgeois government. What happened in many countries also happened in: the extreme right rises to power after the failure of progressive governments in which the workers and the people had placed their expectations.
A pro-fascist govenment in a country in crisis
The qualities of Bolsonaro’s pro-fascism are well-known and we will not repeat them here. Every day something new happens which stuns Brazilians and the world. Ever since taking power he has intended to impose an authoritarian dictatorship; as some of his most recalcitrant followers put it, “a military government presided over by Bolsonaro”, for whom the army is “his” army. Whilst Bolsonaro made progress in some areas such as the loosening of requirements to buy weapons, he could not take the qualitative step towards a dictatorial regime.
The government is reactionary, and he does want regime change by dissolving the other two powers (judiciary and parliament); he plots coups and he attempts to establish a dictatorship, but so far he has not succeeded and it does not seem that the current political conditions exist for him to do so. After all the coup bravado of the two large actions on September 7 in Brasilia and Sao Paulo when he harshly attacked the Supreme Federal Court, the very next he was forced to back down. Parliament and the judiciary reacted in self-preservation. In parliament he depends on the votes of the sector called centrão (the right-wing political parties), especially the PP /Popular Party to avoid impeachment. The PP had been an integral part of the previous PT government. The deputies who support Bolsonaro do so not only because they are from the right but also, more specifically, because they receive economic benefits and millions of dollars for projects in their cities and they do not look favourably on a dictatorship that would end their own privileges. If the country was in a revolutionary situation they would support him, however we are far from that today.
The government is weakened before the people. According to surveys it retains the support of 25% of the population. This downward trend is consolidating as the government is incapable of resolving anything and while prices rise wages continue to stagnate. The economic and social crisis is deeply felt and there will be no signs of improvement until the elections. But this generalized passive rejection has not yet been transformed into a more forceful outbreak of the mass movement. The acts of unity of the left parties and the unions are important but unlike in Chile there is no mass upsurge. The people seem to be waiting to defeat the right in the electoral field and the bourgeoisie, although it contains a very discontented constituency on the fringe, is not willing to play the impeachment card.
Neither does Lula, who prefers to wear down the government convinced that that with the elections he will return to power. Now, unpredictability is a Bolsonaro brand that permeates the situation.A new pro-dictatorship push may lead to the "Bolsonaro OUT" sectors jumping directly into action. As Roberto Robaina says in his notes after the events of October 2, “On the 2nd, despite the victory represented by the shouts of ‘Bolsonaro Out!’, when it returned to the streets after weeks without unified national actions, an impasse opened. It may signify that this was the last real mass mobilization to force Bolsonaro out of the streets, as well as being the first electoral mobilization. Or it could be a renewal, a new attempt to force Bolsonaro out.” That is the uncertainty we are talking about, with an increasing probability that, since there are no signs of the entry of the mass movement into action, we are facing the first option. An objective impasse, with pressure towards an electoral exit because the masses are unable to break through--an exit that Lula is betting on. Although we should also add that it is not only Lula who is “waiting for the elections”, but also the CUT, its unions and the PT structures which have lost the connection with the mass movement that they once had had decades ago.
This is the political context in which the PSOL held its seventh congress.
Unity in action and defense of an anti-capitalist programme.
It is in this political context of instability that the policy defended by the MES has been to take the lead in united action to remove Bolsonaro. It was the deputies of the MES who in 2019 were in charge of the first impeachment that gained one million signatures and had the support of important intellectuals but was unfortunately not supported by the rest of the PSOL and the PT. A year later a more collective demand from the left for impeachment would be arrived at; yet that sector of the PSOL that is the leadership majority wasted a lot of time forming an alternative. It is also worth noting that it was thanks to that action of the MES that the PSOL appeared at that time as a vanguard rather than as an appendage of the opposition parties that are part of the regime.
The MES maintains that together with as broad as possible unity in action under the slogan “out with Bolsonaro”, it is necessary to have an anti-capitalist program of propagandistic agitation. In other words, one cannot for a moment abandon socialist strategy. It is not about mass agitation with the whole program but with transitional slogans as felt by the mass movement in the face of the crisis that they experience. To be able to establish a system of slogans that respond to their needs that can only be resolved if the capitalist system itself is called into question. It is, for example, demanding a freeze on prices, without limiting ourselves to that. Slogans must be brought forward that show that the rich must pay for the crisis; that the wealth of the rich needs to be investigated; that speculative financial capital has to be ended; that banks should be nationalised under user control to dedicate resources to the construction of popular housing. Take power from banks – end their huge profits and put that money into the construction of popular housing; suspend payment of the public debt and carry out an audit of it.
Whoever is incapable of participating in an act with the bourgeoisie and reformists raising slogans that show our character as a class party ends up diluting their ideas. And since the anti-capitalists (in this case the PSOL) are a smaller party politically, numerically and socially in relation to the PT, the current course of the majority leadership can only end up with the PSOL as a junior partner of the PT. This leads to the total reimagining of the party--as it is only one small step from that to believing that the original larger version is better than the smaller copy.
Consistent with this policy, the MES, together with the left-wing bloc, brought to Congress the defense of an independent PSOL with its own candidates in the first round and to make this the policy of all the PSOL.
The congress showed a living party of two political blocs
The Congress was held on September 25 and 26.From that date on we have balance sheets of the different currents. This current text is based on that of MES leader Roberto Robaina, of September 26, entitled "PSOL: A necessary party under construction." In this case, it has taken on a more explanatory role both for the Brazilian vanguard and an anti-capitalist left interested in knowing what the consequences of the Congress were and what perspectives follow from that.
Taking place on-line, the Congress had 402 delegates nationally representing almost 51,000 members who voted at a municipal level. The previous congress, held when the country was not yet under the Bolsonaro government, brought together 27 thousand members in plenary sessions to debate various positions. This congress only had virtual plenary sessions with low attendance, some 5,000 members. This shows that the call by the Left Bloc and other currents to postpone Congress was correct and that holding Congress in these conditions was a mistake. On the other hand, despite this very low turnout, 51 thousand members physically voted at polling stations throughout the country.
This number shows that the party is growing. The congress could have been much more democratic and representative had it been held when health conditions made it possible to not just vote at polling stations but to hold physical plenary sessions in person rather than being a passive vote akin to that of the PT and the bourgeois parties. This rush to hold the Congress in such precarious conditions was a consequence of the policy of the leadership majority which wanted at all costs, as we will see later, to change the balance of forces and establish a new two-thirds majority (70%) in the party leadership.
A balance sheet has to be rigorous with the facts, above and aside from the different positions.This has not been the case with the balance sheet presented by the leadership majority. If we take the official page of the PSOL (www.psol50.com.br) we will see only some of the majority voted resolutions. It should be the duty of the leadership, (following the practice of socialist democracy and Marxism) to disseminate the votes of both the majority and the minority.
To obtain the complete voting results it is necessary to go to the reports of the various tendencies and currents, some of them biased, lacking in objectivity or consisting of half-truths, as they attempt to justify their various positions.
Two opposing positions. The majority already with Lula but the opposition still alive and kicking
First of all, the congress reflects a living party going through an intense debate that has yet to be fully resolved. Congress consisted of two opposing blocs: A majority bloc which obtained 56% in the vote on the most important question (to support Lula in the first round) against 44% for the anticapitalist bloc which argued for PSOL presenting “its own face” in the first round and to this end proposed the precandidature of Deputy Glauber Braga to defend an anticapitalist programme before the masses.
It is worth saying that those who defended the policy of supporting Lula with a left front did not place any programmatic conditions on this. Their resolution states that, “…we want a government of the left, committed to social rights, the environment, national sovereignty…”, and speaks of, “a rainbow of alliances and synthesis”, general statements such as "social justice" which are phrases that would be accepted to any center bourgeois party such as the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party), a faithful representative of the São Paulo bourgeoisie, the strongest in the country. Regarding the public debt, finance capital, investigating the huge profits of big business, not a word…. Before the congress, there were sectors such as the comrades of Resistencia who, writing on various occasions, conditioned the formation of a front headed by Lula on promoting an anti-capitalist program.
The majority position in the Congress was one of Realpolitik. They know that presenting things this way is a charade. They know that Lula does not defend in any way a programme of even the most minimal break with the system. He went so far as to say that "taxing big business is wrong because they would move to tax havens" as if a third of them, according to Credit Suisse, weren’t already there.
The policy of the united front can be carried forward systematically as long as there are real possibilities--some predisposition or "attitude towards the united front" as Trotsky put it in his writings on Germany. Without this, it creates illusions within the mass movement, sending confusing signals that end up strengthening the opportunists.
It is well known that Lula does not want a left front. He wants a much broader front that includes rightist sectors and has already taken steps in that direction in the Northeast where he made agreements with leaders of the MDB and the PP, the latter a fundamental base of support for Bolsonaro. He is looking for a bourgeois vice-presidential running mate and to that end he has reached out to Luiza Trajano, the owner of one of the largest networks of electrical appliances and Internet sales in the country.
The left-wing bloc made explicit its position that in the second round it will support the candidate who confronts Bolsonaro and if , as seems likely this is Lula, it will pull out all stops for his victory. Additionally, we argued that if there was a danger that the genocidal Bolsonaro would win in the first round, we would argue strongly for Lula’s candidacy.
The Bloc’s position has been consistent in its defence of an independent PSOL which can sustain the slogans and anticapitalist programme born of a confrontation with the crisis. Additionally, although not at the same level of importance in our view, the PSOL needs to rely on this independence in order to support its candidates who are running for positions at a state and national level. This means that PSOL needs to take into consideration that in order to access public funding, it is necessary to obtain at least 2% of the votes on a national level along with a minimum of 1.5% of the votes in at least eleven states. Not having a candidate at a national level can only dilute the chances of gaining electoral interest at the state level.
Despite the fact that the resolution postpones a vote on the candidacy to an electoral convention to be held in April 2022, "A national conference with the members of the National Leadership in order to make definitive conclusions ....", this paragraph is in contradiction with the entire resolution, leaving a small window open so that, as we shall see later, the bloc of two currents that make up the majority in congress remains cohesive. The reality is that this policy of support for Lula in the first round is already underway. Although there are some who clutch at straws to say that there is an ongoing discussion, the resolution is definitive. Lula is already a candidate, that is the undeniable objective reality, and the PSOL supports it, as the president of the PSOL said with full-page statements in the two most important newspapers (Folha de Sao Paulo and O Globo.) These openly stated that the PSOL had voted in support of Lula’s candidacy in the first round. (https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2021/09/psol-reforca-tendencia-de-apoiar-lula-e-diz-esperar-generosidade-de-partidos-por-boulos-em-sp.shtml)
Participation in a Lula government? The door remains open
If voting for Marxists is an important tactical problem, one ultimately possible because it does not harm our principles, participation in a class conciliation government is not the same. Here we face a problem of principles and of a break with class independence. Confusing the tactic of voting for a lesser evil with joining a bourgeois government is a qualitative leap. Managing a government with bourgeois sectors led to the degeneration of Marxism from the time of French social-democracy and its extension to all social-democratic parties. Something similar happened with the degeneration of the III International under Stalin: the policy of governmental coalitions with the bourgeoisie in a large number of European countries was called the Popular Front.
And in congress, just as the firm intention to vote for Lula was made explicit, the door was left open to join his government. In effect, the majority bloc that had already voted for Lula refused to vote for a resolution not to participate in a future Lula government, a government which will undoubtedly count on the participation of the bourgeoisie, as did the previous government.
The 56% who defended and approved the support for Lula in the first round presented a generic motion which states: "To reaffirm the position of neither orienting towards nor participating in governments of right-wing parties or which promote attacks on workers and reproduce the liberal / conservative agenda and / or authoritarian aspects.” A minority, in this case of 43% (one delegate stopped voting with the minority), put things more clearly: “To not participate in a Lula government.” The resolution approved by the learship bloc is an abstract generalisation which allows participation in a Lula government to take place. It can be said that a Lula government won’t be a right-wing one and that’s it. Of course, a Lula government will not be an openly right-wing government. It will be a government of the centre, using terminology from the French revolution, but from a social point of view it will be a government with and for the bourgeoisie whether it is very right wing or not so much. We have already said that Lula and his first government was "social liberal" and there is nothing to say that this has changed. The conclusion is obvious.The door is open to participate in such a government according to the wishes of the larger part of the block that had the congress majority.
A majority made of two currents
Nevertheless, why did the majority vote for such an abstract generalisation? It was one definition that allowed the entire bloc to remain united throughout all the votes. In effect the majority bloc is composed of two different groupings. On the one side is the Primavera Socialista [Socialist Spring] of Ivan Valente and the reelected president Juliano Medeiros along with Revolución Solidaria [Solidarity Revolution] which is the current headed by Guillermo Boulos, leader of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (MST) [Homeless Workers Movement].
Primavera Socialista is a current that, although having its origins in Marxism, has defended since becoming part of the PT, a non-anti-capitalist “popular democratic” programme. Until the “mensalão del 2007”, (a monthly payment that the PT government gave to deputies from the center and center right to obtain their vote in the chamber of deputies) Força Socialista (as the Primavera Socialista current was then called), was part of the PT government with senior positions in the Ministry of Education. Now they have the mayorality of the city of Belem where they have not differentiated themselves from the governor who is from Michael Temer's MDB party.
For its part, Revolución Solidaria, has a community popular solidarity action programme of popular community solidarity action: "Solidarity or death, solidarity must profoundly reorient society …" For a social movement that appeals to mobilization such as the homeless, demonstrators or the MTST, this may be enough, but for a political current within the PSOL it is even more subdued than the original PT programme. (In total Primavera Socialista have 26% of the delegates whilst Revolución Solidaria have approximately 18%.)
The other grouping that is part of the majority bloc are two currents that are part of the Fourth International (Insurgencia /Insurgence and Subverta/Subversion) and Resistencia/Resistance which broke from the PSTU Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado/United Socialist Workers Party, the largest section of the International Workers League, coming from the Morenoist tradition). Resistencia is the largest of the three components that in total gather around 12%. Semente/Seed is the current grouping that would represent these forces.
Our bloc, “For an Independent PSOL” has as its largest component the MES (Movimento Esquerda Socialista/Socialist Left Movement), an organisation of the Fourth International, that has 21% of the delegates, APS (Acción Popular Socialist/Popular Socialist Action with 5%), La Comuna (the Commune, also a Member of the Fourth International and also with 5%) and other currents -- in total 44% of the PSOL delegates and 43% of the party leadership.
A living party
Important elements flow from this description of the Congress.
A first is that we are dealing with a vibrant party, where a homogenous structured majority which is easily able to dominate the party, has not consolidated. Our 44% delegate strength means that Mariana Riscali, a comrade from MES, continues in the position of Party Treasurer, the second most important leadership position.
A second conclusión is that the force that does not retain a socialist strategy but rather calls for the expansion of democratic space as well as participating in bourgeois institutions (the Primavera Socialista and Revolución Solidaria currents) can count on less than 50% of the party.
On the other hand, this analysis also shows that the organisations claiming to be Trotskyist are divided. The four organisations of the Fourth International in Brazil, which are very important in the world movement, have taken different positions towards the crucial problem of the government. Subverta and Insurgencia together with Resistencia (a split from the Trotskyist PSTU which joined PSOL) all these continue to claim revolutionary Marxism. We sincerely believe that the policy of Semente (Seed) represents a commitment to that sector (Primavera and Revolución Solidaria), that has already decided to integrate itself into the future government, in order to overcome internal tensions, to stay within the majority bloc and continue via a path of inertia to continuing being part of the leadership apparatus that matters in the PSOL.
We say that we are facing a living party because we believe that the last word has yet to be said regarding the crucial problem of joining a future government. And because we have the great expectation, almost certain, that the Semente bloc will not give in to governmental pressures. That what happened with Democracia Socialista, the organisation of the Fourth International in Brazil, which took ministerial posts in Lula's first government in 2003, will not be repeated. At that time, programmatic reservations led to a sector of Democracia Socialista members together with the leadership of the IV International rejecting that policy and to join the construction of the PSOL. We hope that the flag of political independence will be preserved, and that for that reason new processes and new times can be lived through the PSOL to affirm and sustain itself as an anti-capitalist party in essence that is also a reference point for the construction and development of independent alternatives.
From these last paragraphs it might seem that this is a text dedicated only to members of the Fourth International. This is not our intention. The vanguard needs to know the role it has played and continues to play in Brazil, but the PSOL is not limited to these organisations; it is a broad anti-capitalist movement and we can wager that it will continue to be so. This is what we need it to be and this is what we need to build in every country that we can.
* Pedro Fuentes is a founder of the PSOL and national leader of the party and the Socialist Left Movement (MES). (Translated from Spanish by David Fagan).