Posted November 23, 2021
Brazil is the largest country in Latin America by land area, population. and economy. Its 2003-2011 government, led by President Luiz Inácio da Silva (Lula) of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party), was the quintessential Latin American “Pink Tide” government.
Using revenue from high commodity prices, the government instituted the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger), Bolsa Família (Family Allowance) and other antipoverty programs, and the Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (Growth Acceleration Program) to build infrastructure and promote economic growth.
The government also instituted neoliberal measures to balance the federal budget, to make employment more “flexible” for capitalists, to limit strikes, and to strengthen the union bureaucracy against the rank and file.
The PT had a minority in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate and governed in coalitions with capitalist parties. Its governmental maneuvers led not only to neoliberal abandonment of its program, but also to corruption. PT politicians were caught violating election finance laws and giving and taking bribes.
The commodity boom ended with the 2008 Great Recession and never really resumed. The government cut back on social spending. Its working-class base became demoralized and disillusioned. The PT managed to elect Dilma Rousseff president in 2010 and 2014, but its time was running out.
In a “soft coup” the Brazilian Congress impeached Rousseff and removed her from office in 2016. The judiciary convicted Lula of money laundering and corruption in 2017 and sentenced him to nine and a half years in prison. Lula spent most of 2018 and 2019 in jail, which prevented him from running for president in 2018, an election he very likely would have won.
Instead, misogynist, xenophobic, ex-military right-winger Jair Bolsonaro was elected. “They say he’s the Donald Trump of South America,” said the real Donald Trump in 2019. “Do you believe that? And he’s happy with that. If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t like the country so much. But I like him.”
Bolsonaro was elected as a “strong” leader who would rid Brazil of crime and corruption. In office, he has failed to deliver and has become increasingly unpopular. The economy has stagnated, and poverty, corruption and police violence have increased. Bolsonaro blew off the Covid-19 pandemic as no worse than the flu, while upwards of 600,00 Brazilians died. Hundreds of thousands demonstrated against him in August 2019 and June and October 2021.
The PSOL electoral discussion
Revolutionary socialists in Brazil would like to see Bolsonaro forced out through mass demonstrations and strikes. They’d like to see him impeached and removed from office. Unfortunately neither seems likely. Lula and the PT and trade-union leaders want to replace Bolsonaro through elections. They know that Congress won’t remove him, and they fear the popular mobilization that would be required to force him out.
Brazil’s next elections for Chamber of Deputies, Senate and President are scheduled for October 2, 2022, with a second round on October 30, if necessary. Polls suggest that Lula will defeat Bolsonaro. He’s expected to come close to winning in the first round and, if he doesn’t win there, to win in the second round.
The 2022 elections confront the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL, Socialism and Liberty Party) with the question of whether to run its own candidate in the first round of the presidential elections or to support Lula in the first round. In past elections it has run its own candidate. Proponents of both courses in PSOL favor supporting Lula in the second round, when he and Bolsonaro face off.
PSOL was founded in 2004, after its parliamentary leaders were expelled from the PT for voting against a neoliberal pension “reform” proposed by the Lula government. PSOL is of particular interest to Solidarity because we’re affiliated to the Fourth International (FI) and the four Brazilian groups affiliated to the FI are in PSOL. Under PSOL rules members are free to organize tendencies with their own publications and international affiliations. The four FI groups are such tendencies.
PSOL held a congress on September 25-26, 2021, to discuss its policy in next year’s elections. The electoral discussion has begun now because for the next year Brazilian politics will be dominated by the debate over how to remove Bolsonaro and what comes next.
The congress decided by a vote of 56 percent to 44 percent not to launch a PSOL candidacy now and to hold another congress in April 2022 to decide what to do.
Comuna (Commune) and the Movimento Esquerda Socialista (MES, Socialist Left Movement), two of the four Brazilian groups affiliated to the FI, favor PSOL’s running its own candidate in the first round of the presidential election. Their argument is essentially that PSOL needs to present an alternative to the PT’s neoliberalism in order to show a way out of Brazil’s crisis, even if it has to vote for the lesser evil in the second round, when it has no candidate of its own.
Insurgência (Insurgency) and Subverta (Subvert), the other two Brazilian groups affiliated to the FI, favor supporting Lula in the first round. Their argument is essentially that the priority in this election is to defeat Bolsonaro, and running a candidate against Lula in the first round would weaken him in the second. PSOL should seek to build left unity around a single candidate, which would have to be Lula, since he has far more support than any other possibility.
Some supporters of this position want PSOL to use it as leverage to get into Lula’s government and influence policy from there. PSOL has just nine deputies out of 513 and no senators, but Lula might still welcome it into his government to silence critics to his left. He brought Democracia Socialista (DS, Socialist Democracy), the FI Brazilian section at the time, into his 2003 government. As a result, DS split, with a majority remaining in the PT and quitting the FI, and a minority leaving for PSOL.
Below is a dossier of excerpts from statements by the four groups about the PSOL congress and whether PSOL should run its own candidate in the first round of the presidential election. We publish the excerpts because of the intrinsic importance of the Brazilian situation and the general political problem that the election raises.
Comuna is a component of the Brazilian section of the FI. Here is an excerpt from As eleições de 2022 e o futuro do PSOL (“The 2022 elections and the future of PSOL”) by João Machado and Gilson Amaro, translated for this dossier.
Many sectors of PSOL question the need for the party to have its own candidacy in the first round of the election for president scheduled for 2022. There are at least two variants of advocacy of PSOL support for Lula in the first round…
The first variant (advocated basically by supporters of the “PSOL Popular” thesis — Primavera Socialista [Socialist Spring] and other currents) says that, after supporting Lula in the first round, and his possible election, PSOL should also participate in the future government — repeating the illusion that sectors of the left of the PT had that it would be possible to fight the Lula government “from the inside.” By this hypothesis, PSOL would commit to a class-conciliation government, and all its history to this day, all the sacrifices made in its construction, would be thrown in the trash, making the PSOL a “party of order” [establishment party].
The other variant (advocated by the PSOL Semente [PSOL Seed] thesis — Resistência [Resistance] and other currents — where this view is explained in the thesis itself) is to say that after supporting Lula in the first round, PSOL should refuse to participate in the future government, which would be a class-conciliation government, therefore, a government that would promote the subordination of the exploited classes and oppressed sectors to the capitalist order. PSOL, after supporting Lula in the first round, would oppose his possible government. The reason for advocating such a tortuous line is the assessment that lack of support for Lula by PSOL in the first round would not be understood by the masses of workers and the popular sectors, who want to defeat Bolsonaro and believe that, for this, it is necessary to elect Lula.
The above position is marked by confusion, and it’s necessary to ask why, if that were so, refusal to participate in the government (from the beginning) would later be understood? It makes much more sense to say that, for the position of the sectors that defend PSOL’s remaining on the ground of class political independence to be well understood, the position must begin to be enunciated now, without fear, vacillation or doubts…
We can explain our differences in a calm way, while expressing our view on which type of government would be best for Brazil. And, at the same time, we can make it clear that if PSOL is not in the second round, we will advocate voting against Bolsonaro, either with Lula or with another candidate. A frank conversation about the PT and its governments would be much more pedagogical, and would contribute much more to raising the level of consciousness of the popular electorate, than supporting an organically big business program or inflating Lula’s messianism.
Insurgência is a component of the Brazilian section of the FI. Its website has no article on its views of the decisions of the PSOL congress. Like Subverta, it’s a member of the PSOL de Todas as Lutas (PSOL of All Struggles) platform. Here are excerpts from the platform’s manifesto Carta à militância: Os desafios do PSOL no seu VII Congresso (“Letter to militants: The Challenges of PSOL at its Seventh Congress”) translated for this dossier.
The serious moment we live in requires firmness and responsibility from the entire party. Political differences in a plural party like PSOL are legitimate, but we must have the maturity to concentrate our debates on building a project for Brazil, on an emergency platform to confront the dramatic crisis that the country is in, in street mobilizations to make possible not only defeating Bolsonaro, but also uniting the forces against Bolsonaroism (much larger and socially rooted).
We need to present concrete proposals of ways out for Brazil, to focus on dialogues with parties and social movements on what should be the emergency platform to get the country out of the quagmire. We believe that this platform should begin with the repeal of the infamous spending ceiling and all counter-reforms approved since the coup (labor, social security and administrative reforms, privatizations). It is necessary to restore and strengthen social programs to combat hunger, invest in job recovery. And discuss a new development model that overcomes neocolonial agro-extractivism, that guarantees an energy transition to a fossil-free matrix, with decarbonization of the economy.
Electoral debate is also fundamental. The 2022 elections will be one of the most important in the history of the country. We believe that PSOL should propose the unity of the left, seeking a program to confront the far right and the neoliberal agenda, proposing forums and roundtables for dialogue and debate among parties, social movements, intellectuals in search of this unity and the elaboration of this program. But we should not put the debate on the definition of electoral tactics at the center of our tasks now. The time is to fight to overthrow Bolsonaro! To define PSOL’s electoral tactic for 2022, we advocate that it be decided at an Electoral Conference to be realized in the first half of 2022.
Movimento Esquerda Socialista (MES)
The Movimento Esquerda Socialista (MES) is a a sympathizing organization of the FI. Here is an excerpt from PSOL, um partido necessário e em construção by Roberto Robaina, republished by International Viewpoint in English as PSOL, a necessary party under construction.
At this congress there were almost 50,000 participants. Its result is contradictory. On the one hand, the party is growing. On the other hand, it is still far from being an instrument of intense politicization. Debates are weak, if they exist at all. About 5,000 people participated in the virtual debates. The party manages to be a parliamentary expression of progressive social demands and supports social movements, but it has not, as a rule, been an operator of workers’ and popular struggles.
The Congress had a fundamental merit: the unity of the party in advocating the mobilization for the overthrow of Bolsonaro. The unity of action with all those who want impeachment is a common point of the whole party. This is expressed in the willingness to turn all forces to the call for the national day of struggles on 2 October. This unity must be emphasized. It was also expressed in a unanimous position in the electoral field, that, in the case of a second round, the PSOL, in advance, makes it clear that it will support any candidacy that faces Bolsonaro, which concretely means stating support for Lula’s candidacy.
But this is also where the main controversy of the Congress took place: 44 per cent of the delegates argued that the party should have its own candidacy to present in the first round. The name of Glauber Braga was proposed. This need was defended by the fact that Lula and the PT have already made it clear that they intend to make an alliance with sectors of the bourgeoisie to govern Brazil. The PSOL was founded to build an anti-capitalist and socialist project, not to participate in a government with the capitalists. Nevertheless, the pressures to adapt were clearly present in the Congress…
This pressure was seen in the decision of a 56% majority not to launch its own candidacy. This sector proposed a conference in April to decide whether the party should launch its own candidate or support Lula in the first round. The predominant tendency in this part of the leadership has been to support Lula, even if the PT leader defends a bourgeois liberal programme and builds a ticket with direct representation of the big capitalists.
The main pressure from the political regime on the PSOL is that a section of the party leadership wants to be in this campaign from the first round precisely in order to negotiate, under better conditions, participation in an eventual new government. Our position has been to denounce this policy as opportunism. Forty-four percent of the delegates have already perceived the opportunism behind this policy of waiting and then joining. In a party like the PSOL, a well-organized 44 per cent is a strong current. This strength will be organized in a national leadership for the defence of class independence and building a PSOL whose axis is defeating Bolsonaro, but which also stands with its own banners and independent organization. The organization of this 44 per cent in a bloc, whose firmness was seen in the Congress, may even mean that the position of support for Lula’s campaign could be in the minority. After all, among the 56 per cent who opted for postponement, there are many sectors who do not accept the defence of and participation in a list that defends a bourgeois programme in the presidential elections, nor, logically, do they accept participating in a bourgeois government. For this reason, the PSOL Congress was inconclusive, and the class struggle will continue to influence strongly the course of the party.
Subverta is a component of the Brazilian section of the FI. Here is an excerpt from Breves Notas sobre o 7° Congresso Nacional do PSOL (“Brief Notes on the 7th National Congress of the PSOL”) translated for this dossier.
The party still more clearly delimited its political, organizational and ideological contours, without, however, turning its back on the necessary construction of left-wing unity to defeat Bolsonaroism. Two resolutions stand out in this regard. One that limits the financing of PSOL candidacies by segments of the ruling classes, approved by 98 percent of the delegates present. Thus, putting an end to an old problem that often embarrassed the party with donations from companies such as Gerdau, Taurus, Klabin… and, after the prohibition of donations from legal entities by Brazilian law, the receipt of donations from individuals such as Armínio Fraga (banker and strongman of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s neoliberal policy). A resolution was also adopted that prevents the participation of PSOL in class-conciliation governments or governments that apply anti-popular programs.
This delimitation of the ideological, political and organizational boundaries of PSOL is in no way in contradiction with the deliberation considered the most important and controversial of Congress. On the one hand, the comrades who believed that PSOL should immediately approve the name of comrade Glauber Braga as our pre-candidate for the presidency of the Republic; on the other, those who defended the wager on the construction of unity of the left and the definition of electoral tactics in early 2022. With 56 percent of the votes, those who defended the second hypothesis, built by PSOL de Todas as Lutas (PSOL of All Struggles, a political bloc composed of Subverta, Primavera Socialista, Revolução Solidária, Resistência, Insurgência and a series of regional organizations) won.