The sweeping demonstrations taking place in Brazil since June 13, 2013 are reason for both celebration and optimism. Brazil, Dilma's government and the leftist parties taking part in the Brazilian government, starting with the Workers Party - PT, needed this jolt, since it ushers in the possibility of our moving forward and more speedily in the process of political and social reforms. Yet for this we must make a thorough reflection about these events, which is why we submit the contribution that follows.
The events over the past weeks do not constitute a lightning in a clear blue sky, at least for those who had been following the shift in the country’s conditions since the beginning of Dilma's government. A number of sectors of the Brazilian left had already signaled the limits of our strategy, the growing contradictions of our politics, the sociological and generational shifts in the country, a change in the posture of big capital, the ideological and political offensive by the partisan and right-wing media, the growing gap from the social and electoral bases and, mainly, the fact that the economic policy has fallen short of meeting the needs and demands of the popular masses. The Workers Party National Directorate itself had already underscored, in the call for the 5th Party Congress (http://www.jptrn.com.br/2013/05/convocatoria-para-o-v-congresso.html), the need for deeper structural reforms in the country, including in communication, education, and culture. Yet even as this criticism surfaced in the speeches, in practice it was not the prevailing interpretation and stance. Thus, it is necessary and pedagogical to recall a few facts that occurred prior to June 13, 2013.
Some sectors of the left, spurred by the opinion of a specialist in electoral marketing, believed in polls that pointed to a reelection of Dilma in the very first round, a wrong assessment that had already been made in the 2010 elections. Today, new polls point to the obvious: just like in 2002, 2006 and 2010, the elections will be decided in the second round.
In the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the Lula and Dilma governments, acknowledgement of the mistakes, shortcomings, and contradictions were often buried under self-serving rhetoric, which can still be found in recent publications on the theme. We have no doubt that today we are better off than in the FHC era and that we are better off than we would be under Serra and Alckmin. But we would be much better off had we implemented the whole PT platform, which is why we must acknowledge the limitations of what was done and what is still to be done.
Across wide sectors there was a constant arrogant attitude that downplayed the political and ideological strength of our enemies, as well as the negative outcomes of the kind of governability adopted, among which the influence of PMDB and the rising presence of right-wing fundamentalists in the government’s power base, epitomized by Marcos Feliciano, composing a National Congress (Brazilian House of Representatives) that has defeated the vast majority of progressive bills.
It has become a habit to say that the right-wing opposition “had no platform”, “had no proposals”, “was split”, “was unable to influence public opinion”, “only” relied on the right-wing, coup-plotting media (the PIG, the ‘Party of the Coup-Plotting Media’ as dubbed by some) and so forth. Political blindness and intellectual laziness, incapable of realizing the outcomes of what has been happening in Brazil for years – a brutal ideological offensive by conservatism, disguised in new forms and contents, for example through agitation and propaganda in the new and old media. An offensive against which the government and PT failed to put up the fight it called for. On the contrary, at the Ministry of Communications, in the office of the Chief of Staff (Casa Civil), and other ministries, frequent practical and rhetorical concessions emerge in favor of right-wing theses.
Lastly and most importantly, it has become the rule to mistake the photograph with the film. The photograph of the opinion ratings was favorable. Yet the film portrayed a reality in motion, a change in the posture of big capital in relation to our government; a rise in the political and ideological radicalism by the middle sectors against our leftist positions; growing discontent in traditional working class sectors; and ambiguity in the support by the “new middle class”. It also showed great generational novelties: a higher rate of youth and young workers as a proportion of the population, with access only to precarious and poorly paid jobs, splitting their time over work, study, and transportation, which helps us understand why the quality of transportation and fare prices are such sensitive issues.
These and other elements were clearly perceptible even before June 13, 2013. Taken in isolation or as a whole, the meetings held by party leaders, our Congress delegations, our social and intellectual leadership, all pointed to such problems. Still, the Party as a whole, and the government in particular, was unable to synthesize this in an alternative orientation. This reinforces what we all know: we must change the party’s dynamic, as well as the relation between the party and the government, without falling prey to the temptation of personifying the problems, as we cannot afford to overlook collective mistakes, some of which have been accumulating since 1995, others since 2003.
As from June 13, 2013 quantity was converted into quality, in a process of social mobilization that we should analyze with extreme care. It is up to PT, and to us all, to gather all the information and interpretive material on this process and produce a synthesis to enable us to better guide our political struggle. Offhandedly some variables can already be pointed out.
Firstly, it is necessary to focus attention on the heterogeneity of the process. Not only the existence of the multiple movements and social and political sectors involved, fighting and being fought over, but also the existence of distinct phases in the process, each one with a unique direction and hegemony. For example, it is clear now that the movement started as a struggle against urban transportation fares; that it grew as a solidarity movement against police repression; entered a third stage in which the right-wing forces started to keenly fight to lead the movement; then there was a reaction by the government and the leftist forces, mainly in the form of a proposal for a Plebiscite on a political reform; several demonstrations have been called for the next days, from a lockout called by sectors of the right for July 1st., to a rally by Brazil’s trade union confederations scheduled for the 4th and 11th of July. It is of critical importance, therefore, to make a concrete analysis of the concrete situation.
Secondly, it is important to point out the predominance of young people. It is imperative to analyze more deeply the profile of the social sector that took to the streets. And to bear in mind the fact that the youth, especially in city outskirts, is the target of a predominantly negative agenda: State violence, curfews, lower criminal age, and with 30,000 black youths dying each year.
Tentatively we can say that, at least in a first phase, those who took to the streets were young working people or the children of workers, with an average age of 25 years, mostly college educated, precisely the social and generational sector that our own surveys and analyses indicated were moving ahead PT.
Actually, it calls one’s attention that those who hitherto celebrated the “entrance of millions into the middle class”, now criticize the demonstrations because they are “mostly composed of middle class people”: both the earlier celebration and the later repulse are rife with misconceptions, both sociological and political (http://www.pt.org.br/noticias/view/artigo_marilena_e_a_turma_do_farol_por_valter_pomar). The truth is that the intense youth mobilization, of a generation that was born after the Direct Elections Now! campaign, shattered two myths: that the youth would be naturally leftist and progressive; and that this youth was alienated and not interested in politics.
Thirdly, it is necessary to recognize the general progressive orientation of the demands and the process (a fact recognized by the resolution approved by the Workers Party National Directorate). Broadening of social rights and change in the country’s political system are and have been the banner of PT, the leftist forces, and Brazil’s progressive sectors. Free fares, as well as public education and health, are not right-wing, big capital, and conservative platforms, even if these sectors seek to opportunistically appropriate these banners in an effort to try to direct a movement whose content is ultimately contradictory with its class interests. As many have pointed out, the streets are in marked contradiction with the desire of the markets.
Fourth, it is crucial to realize that we are dealing with an originally spontaneous movement. It is curious how outstanding leftist leaders, they themselves having come from a similar background in the 1970s (“many new actors go into the scene”), find it hard to recognize or accept that others can do the same. Freud can explain that. Surely in every spontaneous movement there is incoherence and confusion, organized people, political struggle, right-wing meddling, ebb and flow, uncertain outcomes. And that is exactly what a spontaneous movement is: the sudden eruption of hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, people who begin to want to engage in political action, at times outweighing and knocking down even organized social actions and forces that, for example, were present since the beginning of the Free Fare Movement.
Fifth, it is decisive to understand that, without a strong shift in the correlation of forces, we would be defeated either in the election or in steering the government. A defeat that somehow had already been coming because, notwithstanding the interest rate battle, the government was no longer able to run the pace of change, making ever increasing concessions to big capital and right-wing sectors. And thanks to the popular eruption, since June 13 the possibility of shifting the correlation of forces to the left is now open.
Sixth, it is prudent to notice that the outcome is still unknown. The consortium between the media and the right-wing parties is fighting for the people’s mind, the demonstrations’ agendas, and the movement’s general orientation. They are seeking to transform a moment of pressure for more public policies and more political democracy into a movement against PT and against the government. Albeit with distinct purposes, sectors of the leftist opposition have the same goal, believing that it is possible to outflank PT from the left, though the latest events have shown again that a PT defeat would pave the way for a defeat of the whole left.
Thus, we hail and join forces with the many initiatives for anti-fascist and democratic unity by the different forces of the political and social left. And we warn against the fact that sectors of the right-wing opposition are betting on economic destabilization, including by resorting to lockouts.
All these variables point to the way we are to follow: fight for the course of the process, not against it but, rather, by leveraging the mobilization climate in order to implement more social and political changes in Brazil, deepening the path opened in 2003. It is worth clarifying that fighting for the course of the process is not the same as “fighting for social movements” that we know and with which we are familiar. And also bearing clearly in mind that the political climate in Brazil has changed: the Brazilian right has decided to adopt a destabilization tactic similar to that of the Venezuelan right, coordinating the media and partisan opposition with street fight. The attempt to stage a general strike on July 1st. based on Facebook, truly a lockout in disguise, is another instance of that.
Strictly speaking, this does not constitute any novelty. In Allende’s Chile, in the aforementioned Venezuela, in Bolivia, and in other countries the right has also sought for legitimacy from the streets. In 1960s in Brazil, the right took the streets. And, over the last years, the Brazilian right had once again been following this tactic whether in conservative churches, whether by backing movements like the “I’ve had it” (“Cansei”). Just recently there was a wave of rumors about a “blackout”, “inflation”, and the “end of the Family Allowance” [cash-transfer program]. Now they are trying to free- ride a spontaneous social movement. For that they are using techniques and technologies adopted in other countries worldwide, but also traditional far-right procedures, among which are police infiltration, mobilization of criminals and lumpen, fascist shock troops, religious prejudice. Yet these techniques just operate within the movement and are not responsible for its eruption.
Here too, it is up to PT to make a self-criticism. In the 1980s and 1990s, PT was the main conduit for dissatisfaction with Brazil’s political and social problems. Those were the days when Lula referred to the “300 swindlers” that dominated the National Congress. As we became part of the institutionality, we steadily reduced that critical dimension of our activity. And, as we have said so many times, the per se positive institutional growth was accompanied by a taming of the Party, while growing PT sectors adhered to the Americanization of politics (money, media, electoral marketing).
The 2005 crisis should be seen in this context, and our difficulty in solving that issue has helped the right to win broad sectors of the population to the thesis according to which PT was a party “as corrupt as the others”. To make things worse, the taming and institutionalization of the Workers Party was compounded by a bureaucratization and emptying not only of PT, but also of many organizations rooted in the social movements. Especially in the youth, a vacuum was opened that was not filled by the non-PT left. It is in this vacuum that the various right-wing opposition sectors seek to operate.
Either we recover our capacity to voice our outrage against “all that is wrong”, giving up the misconceived idea that by being the government we would not be able to adopt such attitude, or in the medium-term we might be swept away. That which is called “anti-political” sentiment should be the basis for another kind of politics and used against conservative, traditional, right-wing politics and politicians. The sentiment expressed in the phrase “does not represent me” should prompt the political and social left to open up our organizations to the new activism arisen in this process; and to adopt a new functioning dynamic linked to social bases, present in the people’s everyday life, participating in the cultural and ideological debate, recovering critical sentiment and programmatic radicalness.
To do this also entails fighting against the signs of generational prejudice present in some of the analyses made by sectors of the left on the mobilization that started on June 13.
There are many historical experiences showing what happens to a left that seeks to live off past glories. We recall that what constitutes a “conquest” for one generation is “part of the landscape” for the generations that come next. And that will continue to be so especially if the previous generations become bureaucratic and at the same time prove to be incapable of ensuring mass communication, public education, and political and ideological education for the new generations.
Many of those who took to the streets as from June 13 are the fruit of the country we helped to build. That the demonstrations were held for more rights and not for curtailing them or slashing wages and jobs is a sign of that. However, it is worth recalling that Brazil is an extremely unequal and contradictory country, where neoliberalism is still ideologically and economically hegemonic, whereas the left seems to be politically hegemonic. This contradiction, a quasi paradox, is at the heart of many of our problems, and the political coalition with the center-right adopted by PT increases the difficulty, for in the eyes of the youth and other sectors, it seems we are merely an integral part of the system.
The analysis that it was the “facebook generation” who took to the streets, reinforced by multiple slogans in the style of facebook murals, holds some truth. Yet it is worth recalling that the traditional leftist organizations have also submitted agendas with fragmented demands. On the other hand, we should not overestimate the role of networks: without the impact of the traditional corporate media, especially television networks, the demonstrations would not boast the same strength. At any rate, it is great that the youth took to the streets, overcoming even the physical limitations of the virtual social networks. This is a pedagogical process, for them and for all, for those who went to the streets and those who didn’t; besides stimulating a certain accommodated left to move, even if just in self-defense; in addition to fostering a quite useful reflection about the risks of a certain nationalist rhetoric and a certain shallow criticism of the parties, both attitudes present in sectors of the organized left itself.
The pedagogy of the process includes learning how to neutralize lumpen vandalism and to fight against the presence of organized crime. It is also necessary to learn how to deal with the attitude of radical groups like anarchist punks. At the same time it is critical to stop the movement from being captured by the right. Hence, it is important to identify and defeat the neo-fascist sectors, the skinheads, and the right-wing paramilitary groups and, foremost, to prevent the movement from being captured by the right-wing agenda. Without making the mistake of patronizing the movement, in order to accomplish these goals the traditional working-class organizations, the role of the old school, of the organized left, of militants seasoned in old struggles, all play a key role. On this regard, with all the care that the situation requires, our position is clear: the streets belong to all and we won’t be kicked out of them by the heirs to fascism.
Nor will we accept the criminalization of the social movements and the violent crack-down unleashed by the military police under the orders of PSDB right-wing governments. And we make a warning that some of the later police attitudes, like adopting a “passive” attitude or “tardy reaction” against vandalism, seem to be in the service of creating an atmosphere of fear and poor governance in order to justify and legitimate a subsequent call to “the forces of order”.
It is worth saying that the generation that took the streets in the first phase of the movement, basically people with a left-leaning feeling, was taken by surprise by the attitude of some PT-affiliated authorities. Their disparate attitudes have contributed much to confuse, in the eyes of certain sectors of the population, our positions with the positions of PSDB. Let us imagine what would have been the course of events had the PT Mayor Fernando Haddad, from day one, suspended the fare hike in the city of São Paulo. Or had Minister of Justice Cardozo criticized police violence from the very first day. Or if PT en masse had acknowledged that the free fare abides by the same inspiration guiding public health and education, namely, different ways of ensuring a social right. Thus, we welcome the legitimately Workers Party attitude of activists, bodies, lawmakers, and executive authorities linked to PT who were able to understand the message from the streets and interacted with them adequately.
Yet, the June events as a whole confirmed that part of the Brazilian left has adhered to technocracy, treating the people as a “patient”, in that the people are “objects” and not “subjects” of the process. And “patient” in the sense of being patient.
For those who adopt this more technocratic attitude it is very hard to understand the role that social struggle can play in social transformation. Historical conditions led the Brazilian left’s majoritarian sector, especially PT, to fight for the government under the auspices of capitalist order and a conservative State. Precisely because of that, this left cannot dilute itself in the institutions and become a champion of the status quo; on the contrary, it must preserve its anti-systemic, popular, democratic, and socialist nature, so that its presence in the State acts as a counter-spring that resists, alters, and transforms.
In our concrete case, the ongoing demonstrations can help us further broaden social rights against fiscal orthodoxy; help us carry out the political reform, against the conservatism of the incumbent Brazilian parliament; help us introduce structural reforms in the country’s political agenda. As a matter of fact, one of the outcomes of this process is to make us, all of us, remember that the country’s correlation of forces and political agenda can be changed and that mass struggle has such capacity.
As the popular saying goes, it is time to make lemonade out of the lemons. Let’s build on the present setting in order to deepen the changes and carry out the political reform. In this regard it is worth stressing that without political reform and democratization of communication, the Workers Party strategy is doomed. Put in other words, there is no room for changing the country without altering Brazil’s state institutions. And this cannot be done from inside out: social pressure must come into the scene. Unfortunately, in spite of the efforts of the grassroots organizations, the recent pressure was not led by us; yet, fortunately it did happen. Thus, we believe it has been absolutely correct to acknowledge the legitimacy of the demonstrations and their demands, as well as pointing the Plebiscite and a Constitutional Assembly as roads for the institutional translation of the social pressure. But also because of that, we find it essential to set the working class in motion: it is this and the coordinated action of our organizations that may defeat the right’s moves.
Surely the right repudiates the Plebiscite and the Constitutional Assembly. Confirming the divorce between capitalism and democracy, it fears that the pressure from the streets will lead to a political reform that will undermine its power. To this we respond: all the power to the people, hail to the people’s sovereignty and democracy. Surely, too, the right intends to channel social discontent against the leftist parties, especially PT. The right is capable of doing that because, to it, political parties are a totally secondary part of its power apparatus (among which stand out media oligopoly, but also its bunkers encroached in the State apparatus). Our answer must be to defend politics and parties of a new kind. That is, not political parties in general, not politics in general, but politics and political parties aligned with the interests of the majority of the people. Sure the right will seek to manipulate the movement against Dilma's government. To this we shall respond by defending and strengthening our government, starting with backing President Dilma, who in this crisis has proved her capacity of reaction, leadership, and political skill.
Likewise, we must defend and reaffirm our past and the accomplishments of our administrations, defend our present action, yet acknowledging the contradictions, mistakes, and weaknesses. But above all we must place the emphasis on the future of Brazil, on the Brazil we aspire for. And clearly point out the source of our hardships, i.e., the financial capital, the transnational corporations, agribusiness, traditional latifundia, the oligopoly of the media, control by private sectors over broad sectors of the State apparatus, the commodification of politics. This is why today more than ever our agenda must be guided by sweeping structural reforms, along with the tax, agrarian, and urban reforms, the democratization of the media and of politics, and the broadening of public policies and the role of the State.
Along the same line we must reorganize our social/political bloc: governments, movements, parties, intellectuality, social and electoral bases. The Workers Party, in particular, must review and further strengthen its relations with the social and grassroots movements. This includes, for example, hold plenary meetings – sectoral, municipal, state, and nationwide – of PT militants acting in the social movements. And reorganize, in line with the new setting, something similar to the “national forum of struggles”, by bringing together parties and social movements from the popular camp. But foremost this must include dealing in a novel way with the various issues that are the root of the conflicts with the people’s forces: the demands by national trade union confederation CUT, the oil auctions, the land reform, the social security factor, respect for indigenous groups, in defense of LBGT causes, gender policies, the World Cup expenditures, the mass transit policy, the control by the right of the Ministry of the Cities, unbearable alliances and so forth.
It is also imperative to make the Party works as a Party and be able to react as swiftly as the political struggle calls for. In this crisis, as in many others, we see confirmed the fact that we often operate as a “rearguard party”, predominantly operating in even years (when elections take place in Brazil).
As part of the struggle in the streets, PT must participate in the activities called by national trade union confederation CUT on July 4th; and also in the activities called by all the national trade union confederations on July 11th. Our emphasis should be on backing the CUT agenda against Bill 4330 on outsourcing/subcontracting, which suppresses rights of Brazilian workers and further undermines work relations in Brazil. We should also make sure that reductions in mass transit fares are not followed by any cuts in social spending; that 10% of the Union’s budget is earmarked for public health; that 10% of the GDP is earmarked for public education, “public funds only for the public sector”; that the social security factor be extinguished; for the 40-hour work week without a decrease in pay: land reform; suspension of the oil auctions. We will also back up the Plebiscite proposed by President Dilma, the political reform, the democratization of communication, and the Constitutional Assembly.
The struggle in the streets begins right now on television screens. The Brazilian government is urged to immediately alter its communication policy. The ministry must be headed by someone committed to the democratization of social communication.
The struggle in the streets begins, too, by changing the Party’s communication policy and by setting up a newsroom capable of providing contents to our newsletters, electronic pages, radio programs, interviews, and speeches across the country. And by rebuilding our social networks, especially by supporting our militants on this ideological and political front.
The core of the tactic now is to fight for and win the plebiscite. This will require a strong political and social alliance, the contours of which are presently being drawn, between all those in favor of reform. Among other tasks the Party shall, as of now, contribute with the essential debate of which questions will be asked to the population. Proposed for September 7th, the plebiscite may create the institutional conditions necessary not only to reelect Dilma, but also to lead to a second term that is better than the first.
In order to win the plebiscite, democratic conditions are imperative, starting with the definition of clear rules, radio and TV electoral programs, caps on campaign funding, and broadcasting democracy.
It is also critical to set the themes that are to be debated and voted during the Plebiscite. For a start, it is important that the content and phrasing of the questions may dialogue with the popular sentiment, today marked by a denial of the present way of doing politics. Thus, just as important as the electoral system’s alternatives (district, list, list-district voting) and party loyalty are themes like the introduction of direct democracy mechanisms, extirpating the source of corruption, namely corporate funding of electoral campaigns, ensuring proportionality in the election of parliamentarians, gender parity in partisan delegation composition, the end of the Senate with the introduction of unicameralism and so forth.
Foremost, the call for a National Constitutional Assembly, a banner that is not only correct but also one which has been approved and reaffirmed by PT, the only banner fully aligned with the need to completely and democratically change the Brazilian institutionality. In this regard the government should have maintained its proposal for a combined Plebiscite and “ad hoc” Constitutional Assembly in order to carry out the political reform.
It is against this background of intense political and social struggle that the next Workers Party board direct elections, the so-called PED, will take place. This is a most fortunate coincidence because it will allow the militancy to build, through debate, a new strategy for a new age of greater political and social conflicts, whose positive outcome calls for structural reforms. It is also a befitting setting for the Party to review its organization thoroughly, from top to bottom, by rebuilding its basic spheres and bodies, its methods of functioning and action and, especially, by electing a board that may prove capable not only of acknowledging the new times but also and, most importantly, capable of acting accordingly.
These are new times, regardless of the perils. The upcoming weeks may confirm the process’s potential for change or may result in a conservative reversal as dreamed by those celebrating the results of the latest opinion polls. It is up to us, leftist militants, to uphold the red banners of hope and socialism.
Member of the Workers Party National Directorate
July 2nd, 2013