Petismo´s sunset (Part 2). The tasks of the Brazilian left

The "Kick them all out" and "Elections now", are what the moment in Brazil calls for, but come up against the lack of popular organization that would support them. Español Português

José Carlos Freire
7 April 2016

Protest in support of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, March 31, 2016. Andre Penner /AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Worldwide, the left always has many enduring tasks ahead. However, in some contexts, such as that of Brazil today, these take a more urgent form. 

These could be summarized as three major tasks. The first, the need to strive to see things in a critical light. The second task is to preserve the original experience of the grassroots PT and at the same time overcome the Lula myth. The third task is to place an emphasis on political education, create networks for a collective struggle, and commit to the youth.

Striving to see things in a critical light

“Finding the real identity underneath the apparent differentiation and contradiction, and finding the substantial diversity underneath the apparent identity, is the most delicate, misunderstood, and yet essential endowment of the critic of ideas and the historian of social development.”

(Antonio Gramsci)

Faced with the avalanche of information presented to us every day, almost every hour, it becomes difficult to understand who is who in this Brazilian political game. This difficulty becomes greater the greater the isolation of leftist militants. I emphasize only three elements that seem urgent to encourage debate, but there are many others.

First, it seems essential to overcome the apparent association made between an opposition to the PT government and a denial of the gains made since 2002 in the social sphere. Being opposed to the government does not equate to denying the progress that the inclusion of poor and black youth in the University, the expansion of the pubic higher education, debate and action around the sexual and gender diversity, confronting the violence against women and the demarcation of indigenous lands and quilombos represents. While recognizing these measures, we can also say that they were insufficient. These achievements can be attributed not only to government but also to the historical struggle of the various movements that worked for them. Parsing out this confusion of ideas allows us to understand that the correlation of political and economic, national and international forces allowed for this progress at a given time. But now, despite all the struggle rhetoric  employed by Lula, the same correlation of forces has changed and no longer allows for it. And this is not solely about the immediate present: the change has been growing increasingly evident since the first term of Dilma Roussef.

A second point is the  (almost religious) insistence by government sectors to oppose the PT and  PSDB programme, classifying them as opposing extremes. Leaving aside the origin of both parties and their composition, programmatically both parties defend the same bourgeois order. This confusion spurs proposals led, but not monopolized, by actors such as the Central Workers Union (CUT) and the National Union of Students (UNE): supporting the government and requesting a change of economic model to favour workers, as if these were convergent and not opposed actions. The case of the Movement of Landless Workers (MST) is the most painful, not only for its delay in breaking with Lulismo, but because it preserves in their grassroots an experience of formation and organization that can bring to bear a huge weight to the struggle. The way out of this confusion is the need for class positioning and not power positioning first. Once having done this, it will be seen that, in essence, the PT and the PSDB are quite similar.

Third, generically, I refer to the concept of the "historical bloc", understood as the way through which the economy, politics and ideology is articulated within a society in a given historical period. When making a hasty reading, we incur the risk of stating that the arrival of Lula as president inaugurated a new historical bloc, the historical bloc that the Brazilian elite and its media are now determined to put to an end through seizing power. However, if we focus on the fact that, in order to come to power, the PT, as Mauro Iasi has shown in detail in his studies, had to negotiate its programme and abandon its socialist character, thus we conclude that the brief petista interval did not alter the bourgeois post-64 chapter. In other words, the post- military coup historical bloc in Brazil consolidated a type of dependent capitalism even re-democratization and the PT's ascension to power failed to alter. Moreover, Lula was a necessary agent, then, to combine the reduction of internal social inequality managed by social benefits and increases in credit - the same measures that the government of Dilma criticised - with large profits for big national,and especially international, capital.

It happens that within a historical bloc, there may be small intervals that do not invalidate the dominant logic. When an interval ends ("It's already tomorrow, gentlemen"), it does not mean that there is a new bloc, but instead the continuation of what was already consolidated. The supposed break that the PT would have represented in Brazilian society – a break sold by the ideology of new-development and related concepts – did not mean more than a change in the mode and intensity of the way the Brazilian bourgeoisie has been managing the country since 1964, a date that marks the beginning of a historic bloc that is not, now, even remotely threatened. This wil happen only when popular organisations actually confront bourgeois domination, and when there is an effective discussion of our structural problems. If it is not like that, if it is Lula, or Dilma, Aécio or Temer, it is just a different line-up of the same team. Lula, once striker is then defender, and finally, is invited to retire from the field and the stadium. The match will go on, and now, better without him. But the football market turns villains into heroes. In the labyrinth of Brazilian politics, will he be hired again? I think not. He seems to think so. In any case, ironically, the fans of this great show wear the shirt of the straight-laced and highly respected Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). The Brazilian people remain outside the stadium, collecting trampled cans.

Conserving  the original experience of the grassroots PT and overcoming the Lula myth

“ Aufheben was the word that Hegel preferred, of all the words in the German language.  Aufheben means, at the same time, preserving and annuling, thus rendering homage to human history, which dies being born and in destroying creates”

 (Eduardo Galeano)

The Brazilian left must undertake, with courage and gravity, to overcome the myth of Lula as a messianic leader who will solve all problems. Myths are overcome through proper historical reading. Although the Lava Jato case may avoid appearing in court, in the most important tribunal case for us,  that of the worker's concrete struggle, Lula already lost in all instances, which must be analyzed, despite having come in with many resources. It will be the process of overcoming a myth, and it will not be easy. But not a thousand speeches inflamed by Lula can put in doubt the conviction of those who, earnestly, without demagogy and without political pragmatism, seek effectively social transformation in Brazil. Listening to Lula, it's true, he is always daring. As a good alchemist of politics, Lula enchants.

However, Lula is not the be-all and end-all of what was the PT. In that sense, the original base experience of the party is something we need to revisit critically. Although it is considered that, from the outset, the union leadership always followed the model of reconciliation, the truth is that in the communities, in the core bases, the experience of the party as a popular construction was rich and represents one of the two most significant moments in our history. This did not occur only in the industrial regions, in the proletarianised sector of Brazilian workers. It also happened inside Brazil in land-struggle initiatives, in rural union organizations, in cadre training institutions that resist even today regardless of the leadership of the PT. The party included various social forces, movements, church groups, etc., before becoming a party "of the capital", in rural situations, not simply in Lula's speech, it was the party of "workers". This experience must be preserved and recreated under new symbols.

Political education, linking collectives for struggle and investing in the youth

“History is the time of possibility and not of determinism […] The future is not inexorable, the future is problematic.”

(Paulo Freire)

Leftist militancy always requires a superhuman effort: beyond the struggles, beyond work, beyond survival, it is still necessary to study, to educate oneself. The moment demands, in a particular way, the ability to understand where we came from and how we got to this point. Without this, it will be difficult to draw feasible proposals for the future.

The times ahead will not be easy. They require much personal conviction and the necessary commitment towards collectives for struggle or else towards strengthening those that have already fought. Now, it does not matter so much from which party or movement we pursue a path of rupture – although it may take a long time - and not of conciliation. We will also have to adapt, as the left, to what will come with a move from government to opposition: without funding, without government help, no buses or travel passes, without the slightest structure for organizing events. We will return to general conditions for the struggle that will be very difficult. In the more than probable veer to the right, not only in Brazil but in Latin America, we have to strengthen ourselves both in our theory and in our practice, within the possibilities and constraints of each movement, each region or situation.

What we cannot do, in this context, is to confuse difficulty with impossibility. What should move a militant leftist in the days that come is the belief expressed by Geralso Vandré in one of his songs: "I sing the song, I fight the fight, because I'm strong and I'm right." Strength and reason will be greater to the extent that we manage to break the isolation and the difficulty of dialogue within the left, so often a prisoner of scholastic discussions and linguistic definitions.

As long as the path may be, it demands the conviction of the most experienced and investment in the youth. Spaces need to be created or strengthened. What cannot be lacking is hope, critical hope as Paulo Freire spoke of. This does not imply a comfortable stagnation, but a radical immersion in the process itself, knowing that the results may not be immediate. In the words of Peter Casaldáliga, "to know how to wait, knowing at the same time to force the hours of that urgency that does not allow waiting".

The immediate: and now?

“It may be that the time for a new socialist left for the masses has not arrived, but it will never come if we remain trapped in the old amphorae, which will bring us together to the depths of the sea”.

 (Fabio Nassif)

These brief considerations do not resolve the central question that troubles us: what to do in the days ahead with increasingly aggressive actions by the right to kick the PT from the scene, through legal and media arms, the old combination of force and consent of which Machiavelli spoke. It is clear that, in response to protests against Dilma, and against the formal reinstatement of Lula in government, there will be demonstrations of support across the country. The story does not allow us to have a global view of things, and only then to position. The story is happening, without waiting for anyone.

It is very difficult that in a protest against the media and the arbitrary actions of the Federal Police, summed up in the idea of "counter coup", a spontaneous movement of support for the government, and, directly, for Lula, would not occur. Is it possible to denounce these real threats to the rule of law and at the same time position itself against the government waging a fierce neoliberal offensive? It is something that the organizational bases of each protest should discuss. It would be unreasonable to propose a valid response for all cases.

The two proposals that were made by the most combative sectors of the left, the "Kick them all out" and "Elections now", are in theory  what the moment calls for, but come up against the lack of popular organization that would support them. The outlook, despite changing every hour, seems to point to a favorable vote for Dilma's impeachment, placing power in the hands of the PMDB and surely, putting a passing brake on the force of the investigations. Once removed the PT from power, it will be difficult for the Lava Jato case to maintain its momentum. The historic bloc will accommodate itself, and will return to normal. This indicates that the idea of new elections comes up against not only the lack of grassroots organizations, but also resistance from the right.

Without a crystal ball, without magical powers, we have much patience and dialogue as a way of reacting to intolerance, acting together with comrades to resist isolation, and together drawing coherent paths towards a popular, democratic and socialist project. It will not be easy. But it is not impossible.

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