[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Tue, 19 Mar 1996 06:51:38 -0600
From: L-Soft list server at MIZZOU1 (1.8b) <LISTSERV@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>

--> Database ACTIV-L, 9107 hits.

> print 09065
>>> Item number 9065, dated 96/03/15 20:53:08 -- ALL
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 1996 20:53:08 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
From: Alex Chis <achis@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Brazil: Strategic perspectives for the Workers Party

Strategic perspectives for the Workers Party (PT)

By Joaquim Soriano, [15 March 1996]

As we enter a new historic era the moving tides of this passage engulf Brazilian society and redefine its place in the still incipient new world order. [1] As a part of this re-organization we've seen an important shift within the Brazilian bourgeoisie, not merely in response to the international recomposition, but the result of a long-running political dispute - a crisis of leadership - which lasted from the end of the military dictatorship through to the government of Itamar Franco.[2] Now this situation has been overcome with the achievement of a new hegemony within the ruling class. After several years of challenging for a democratic and popular solution to the national crisis, we suffered an important defeat in 1994. The bourgeoisie succeeded in creating more favourable circumstances for imposing its project of capitalist reorganisation, of destroying the nation and recolonising the country. We now face a right-wing government which seeks to transform the electoral alliance of conservative forces into an organic power block capable of pushing through a complete reform of the Brazilian state. This conservative alliance around the PSDB [3] and the PFL [4] today unites almost the entire ruling class.

The government led by Fernando Henrique Cardoso represents the re-articulation of a strategic bourgeois nucleus much more in line with the imperialist decision-making centres than the military dictatorship, and indicates an unprecedented internationalisation of the ruling class. We have once again to accumulate forces, gather allies, reorganise strategic references, mark out the political and ideological terrain which will allow us to demonstrate to the majority of the population the link between their falling living standards and these neoliberal policies. All these are conditions for us to be able to take up once again the struggle for power in Brazil.

Structural instability of neoliberalism

In many dependent countries the state played the part of a partial counterweight to the logic of the world market, permitting some limited autonomy for national decision-making centres and support for national development policies. Globalisation, deregulation, and the strengthening of market mechanisms have unleashed a renewed colonisation of the countries on the periphery The dynamics affecting Brazil and the world are not merely conjunctural; they suggest a change in the very character of the period, both nationally and internationally. It is not only political and social movements which are being reorganized, but the whole of society.

In Brazil, neoliberalism has replaced the national-developmentalism which shaped the country from the 1930s through to the 1980s.

Internationally, the world moulded under the impact of the 1917 Russian revolution and rearranged at the end of the 2nd World War has ceased to exist, whilst capitalism is undergoing a mutation comparable with that which marked its passage from the competitive phase of the 19th century to the monopolist phase of theme costs on the capitalists in order to maintain the political unity of the nation, and build up and integrate the different sectors of the domestic market. All this is called into question by globalisation and governmental campaigns against labour costs and the costs of the public sector. The least internationalised sectors of the ruling classes suffer, in many countries, a process of destabilisation, but those most penalised are the workers.

In Brazil, this crisis has been nonviolent, though with acute contradictions. The experience in countries like Argentina and Mexico, with much more unfavourable conditions for the left, shows that the impoverishment and marginalisation of whole sectors and regions can lead to rebellions, as in Chiapas, or it can trigger spontaneous explosions of popular revolt, as in Santiago del Estero in Argentina.

In Brazil, adjustment did not assume the brutally deindustrialising form it did in Argentina, nor the degree of anti-national pillaging which occurred in Mexico. But the opening of Brazilian markets is already provoking the collapse of some sectors of agriculture and industry, and may impoverish whole regions. What's more, neoliberal stabilisation is subject to crises caused by frequent ups and downs in the world economy. In the case of Brazil, although there is little likelihood of an exchange crisis is the short term, this cannot be ruled out; the continuing large current-account deficits, the growing dependency on short-term capital, and a fresh increase in the foreign debt, could all put this back on the agenda, threatening to cast adrift the current economic policy and undermine the government's legitimacy. ...

Thus the neo-liberal model's internal contradictions and structural instability create potential spaces for the left to struggle and develop alternative proposals.

The present challenges.

The complete subordination of the media, the considerable degree of unity within the bourgeoisie around the neoliberal proposals, and its control of the institutional terrain (Congress, state and municipal governments, judiciary and the armed forces), mean that any efforts based on negotiating the lesser evil or trying to exploit secondary contradictions within the enemy camp, simply end up reinforcing government policies and undermining our own proposals.

To change the situation we need to revitalise social struggles and restore their legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the population. We need to develop proposals for popular and democratic reforms which can galvanise popular mobilisations and challenge the official agenda, creating pressure outside of the institutional domain which then changes the balance forces established within it (as the MST [5] did in the struggle for land reform). One basic aspect is denunciation of the whole process of neoliberal reorganization, trying to break through the monolithic media blockade on this question. One of neoliberalism's greatest victories is when it manages to eliminate all alternatives, establishing itself, in spite of its economic and social failure for the majority of the population, as the common point of reference for both defenders and opponents of the status quo. The reaffirmation of a global alternative, based on the interests of the workers, is a fundamental condition for confronting neoliberalism in the economic, political and social fields.

New agenda

In other words, a new political agenda is needed for the PT and the Brazilian left in general. This would involve:

Strategic Problems.

Globalisation, deregulation, open markets, privatisation, the crisis of public welfare and social security systems, the rapid introduction of new information technologies and new management methods, structural unemployment, the rolling back of state functions, everything that is associated with capitalist restructuring and neoliberal adjustment, redefines the stage on which we project our strategic action. The new problems we face fall into three broad categories.

Firstly, the changes in the relations between state and society in a situation where the social formation itself is in mutation, and hence the reorganization of bourgeois power structures. The power of the capitalist class is more concentrated than ever on both a national and world scale, but it is exerted through a redefinition of the tasks of the national state and through a considerable strengthening of the private economic and political power of big firms and the political-ideological power of the media.

This results in two kinds of problem: firstly, the fact that the state can no longer be the all but exclusive focus of political struggle, as it has been to date; the struggle for popular power has deal with the non-state structures of private power with their increased relative weight. Secondly, the growing social diversity within the popular camp. On the one hand the rural population is thrown off the land into the cities, where most of them fail to gain access to the formal labour market, whilst structural unemployment mounts, resulting in a huge mass of the 'excluded', surviving by the most varied means alongside the proletariat. On the other hand, there continues to be a numerical growth of the proletariat, but with the weight of the industrial working class (ie. wage-earners in industrial employment) considerably reduced; deregulation, flexibility, contracting out and other initiatives to increase the rate of exploitation, alongside the questioning of the 'social wage' represented by state-supplied social services, are resulting in considerable differences opening up between the social conditions of those who are within the formal labour market.

Three further kinds of problem result from this. Firstly, it becomes much more complicated to bring together the conditions needed for the proletariat to become the central social and political subject of the revolution and the building of a new society. Secondly, the ability of the industrial working class, and even the proletariat, to bring together all the popular sectors and polarise the immense majority of the 'excluded' is put into question; in the popular imagination there is an erosion of the revolutionary role of the proletariat (sometimes confused with the industrial working class), and this failure of imagination itself helps to destructure the proletariat's own sense of social and political identity.

Thirdly, there is the change in the place a country like Brazil occupies in the world, a redefinition of its insertion into the new world capitalist system where the perspective of national and social development is no longer present. Transnational corporations, international communication networks, as well as regional and international political and economic organisations, come to play an ever more important role, to the detriment of national states.

These problems in turn have at least three kinds of implication: Firstly a burning need for increased internationalism in all practical areas of revolutionary struggle. Secondly, the difficulty of building a political project whose development is posed solely within a national framework. Thirdly, the need to rethink the revolution, so far understood as a seizure of power (essentially state power) which begins within a national framework, and which now has to take on board the qualitatively increased weight of international tasks (both regional and world-wide).

These three kinds of problem demand a reworking of the Brazilian and international left's strategic project.

In a future issue of International Viewpoint, we will publish Joaquim Soriano's analysis of the evolution and present situation of the Workers Party (PT) itself.


This article is based on discussions of strategic perspectives, the situation of the PT and of the left in the PT, and the situation of the tendency itself, at the Socialist Democracy congress, which took place on 9-10 December 1995.

1. See article by Daniel Bensaid, 'Points of Reference for Analysing the New World Situation', in Em Tempo No. 282 June 1995

2. Brazil's twenty years of military dictatorship finally ended in 1984, although the military's withdrawal from the forefront of politics had been in preparation for several years before that. However the pact between different pro-military and opposition fractions of the bourgeoisie which enabled a controlled transfer to civilian rule quickly went into crisis, with mounting internal divisions and plummeting credibility. Aggravated by the growing strength of the Workers Party (PT), this instability of bourgeois rule continued through the impeachment of Fernando Collor de Melo on corruption charges in 1992 to the elections at the end of 1994 which brought to an end the government his successor Itamar Franco. government at the end of 1984.

3. The PSDB, the party of the current president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, was originally a left split from the main bourgeois opposition party which led the opposition to military dictatorship, the PMDB. As the latter lost credibility in government, the PSDB gained ground with its seemingly progressive social democratic positions. When victory in the 1994 presidential elections seemed very likely to go Lula of the Workers Party, the Brazilian bourgeoisie shifted all its support to the former left-wing sociologist, Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

4. The PFL is the party of some of the most traditional sections of the Brazilian ruling class, including many politicians tie 20th century. These changes have been described in greater detail elsewhere, and we shan't repeat them here.

5. The Movimento dos Sem Terra ('Movement of Those without Land'), or MST, is an organisation of landless peasants which has carried out hundreds of active land seizures and occupations in its struggle to promote land reform and justice for Brazil's rural poor. As such it has become perhaps the most dynamic force in Brazilian social struggles in recent years, with industrial and trade union struggles at a relatively low ebb. The MST has traditionally been strongest in the south of the country, but has now become significant force throughout the country.