The Antifascist Front

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In what situations can the left ally itself with liberals and even conservatives without diluting its historic program? Should you only do it if you have hegemony?

By Lincoln Secco*

The period 2013-2016 marked the end of the “New Republic”. The June Days were appropriated by far-right movements with internal and external corporate funding that three years later took their own masses to the streets in support of a parliamentary coup.

The decline of social policies began with the PT government itself, which tried to assuage the opposition's anger with fiscal tightening, but it was Michel Temer's interregnum that made the destruction of the Social State a strategic program. His defeat in the pension reform and the recovery of party preference for the PT showed, however, that the parliamentary wing of the coup alone would not be enough to prevent Lula’s return in 2018.

Lula had his conviction brought forward to January 24 of that year and on April 7 he was arrested. From then on, a victory for Bolsonaro in the elections became quite likely, as this author recorded even before Lula's arrest.[I]. It is true that most political analysts did not believe this because the extreme right had no recognizable backing in the elites or any program. Leftist leaders even preferred to face Bolsonaro in the second round.

It is impossible to know if there would have been another outcome if a left front had been formed. Reverse engineering and counterfactual history don't work well in these cases. But the fact is that no one prepared for the scenario that actually took shape. The victory of neo-fascism finally made the opposition front a necessity, as at other times in history.

Historical situations are never the same. Although there are common processes, unexpected circumstances change the course of events. Who can say what role the knife played in 2018? Still, history reveals problems whose duration goes well beyond their genesis. They may be the same even if the solutions are not. Without historical knowledge there is no strategy.

Brief history of the fronts

The divergences already start in the name: popular, democratic, unique, national, left, etc. Each denomination corresponds to a different strategy.

At the end of the XNUMXth century the Millerand question[ii], in France, divided international social democracy on the relevance of socialists joining governments of other parties. It was so impressive that Rosa Luxemburgo devoted long and brilliant pages to the subject.[iii]. In Germany the reformists[iv] they advocated a policy of alliances with small landowners (Vollmar) and even with German imperialism (Schippel, Auer); and advocated limiting the program to union demands (David)[v].

The agreements then proposed were specific and aimed at obtaining reforms, positions or influence in the program of an electoral coalition. These tactical objectives constituted an alliance and not a front. From the 1920s onwards, the retreat from the revolutionary perspectives of 1917-1921 led the Communist International to identify a period of stabilization of capitalism and to debate a united front that would not cross the borders of the left itself, except in the so-called colonial and semi-colonial countries.

Only the victory of Nazism in Germany in 1933 led the communists to adopt a much broader front that came to power in France, Spain and Chile. The formation of post-war coalition governments and the popular democracies of Eastern Europe seemed to consolidate the strategy ratified at the VII Congress of the Communist International in 1935, at least until the beginning of the Cold War.

The Communist Party of Brazil (PCB) had examples of an electoral front in its history, such as the Bloco Operário in 1927 and the following year, as a worker-peasant block, when it elected 2 councilors for the Federal District. And in 1935 the National Liberation Alliance united broad sectors of the left, but was soon outlawed and ended in a military insurrection.

It is in the period 1945-1964 that the PCB implemented electoral alliances as a political routine, although not yet a front. The party always maintained one or more elected representatives in the Federal Chamber through other acronyms. In a rather imprecise calculation[vi], between 1958 and 1962 the party went from 93 to 180 thousand votes (taking into account the sum of the votes of state and federal deputies, even those who were impeached). It was exactly in 1958 that the March Declaration laid the programmatic foundations of a frentist conception with the national bourgeoisie.

MDB

At the time of the 1964 coup, the PCB had around 30 members. Communists participated in the first elections under the dictatorship within the MDB. In 1966, the PCB elected Fernando Perrone (subsequently impeached) and in 1970 Alberto Goldman to the São Paulo Legislative Assembly. The 1974 elections were the turning point. In them, the PCB acted as an effective political operator[vii]. Its social capillarity allowed that, even reduced to a few thousand members, it could obtain more than 200 thousand votes. He elected a federal deputy (cassado) and state deputies.

There were many cases in which the PCB supported non-communist candidates as long as they assumed its minimum program: amnesty for political prisoners; direct elections; extinction of AI5; return of Habeas Corpus for crimes described in the National Security Law; abolition of censorship; convening a Constituent Assembly; end of intervention in trade unions; and repeal of decree-law 4777[viii].

The data revealed two characteristics of the communists: a remarkable ability to maintain the structure underground; and a political performance far beyond what one would expect from an organization of modest size (between 6 and 15 thousand militants in 1973)[ix]. The party gained considerable support from sectors of civil society for its minimum but not its maximum program (supposedly socialism). Why?

Eclipse

One should not underestimate the role played by the Eurocommunist ideology in the PCB. It made communist parties identical to any social democratic party, except for their rhetorical allegiance to the Russian Revolution. The secretary general of the Italian CP Enrico Berlinguer justified the Eurocommunist policy in terms of a South American event: the 1973 coup in Chile. Allende's defeat made it clear that winning elections was not enough, but it was necessary to form a front with Christian Democracy and definitively accept “democracy as a universal value”. Expression he used and was successful in the Brazilian political debate.

The emergence of the PT was marked by the accusation of breaking with the opposition to the dictatorship. It was at odds with pre-existing groups in part because the Trotskyists who participated in its founding drew on Trotsky's views on the popular fronts of the 1930s.[X]. Evidently the determining factor was another.

The PT encouraged opposition across the country against the former union boards and the prevailing union structure. The communists defended that structure and remained within the “tough” union leaders. Obviously, they had been savagely repressed long before the PT was formed. Its company cells were dismantled and many union leaders arrested and tortured. But that does not fully explain their loss of union influence. The party was worried much earlier about its withdrawal from the working class[xi]. And despite the repression, its union presence was still important in the 1980s.

In addition to its opposition to the “new unionism”, it is undeniable that the PCB chose to subordinate its organization[xii] on a democratic front led by the MDB while the PT grew in the midst of workers' radicalization with a discourse of class independence.

It was not easy for communist leaders who endured years of clandestinity to abandon a true political culture built around the ideology of frentism.[xiii], according to the expression of historian Eduardo Chammas. The attacks carried out by the military and attributed to the left and the outrageous accusations of arms trafficking by communists seemed like pretexts for a political backlash.[xiv]. In addition industrial sectors[xv] timidly distanced themselves from the dictatorship.

PCB policy stuck to the minimum program and no one remembered why the party was still communist. This was the case for parliamentarians. Already in 1979, the legalization of the party was being debated.[xvi], but most of them preferred to leave before that happened. Without a strong connection with the final objectives, all that patient electoral construction fell apart in the following years.

Electoral strength and political fragility

And it was not a party to be disregarded. In 1982, it elected a group that was larger than the PT and much more regionally diversified. The PT elected eight federal deputies in 1982, but won 72% of the total vote in São Paulo[xvii]. The PCB's influence rose sharply in the period 1974-1982.

Voting of Federal Deputies of the PCB (MDB) in the Military Dictatorship
Deputy 1974 election 1978 election 1982 election
Marcelo Gatto (SP) 100.746 (revoked)   54.428
Alberto Goldman (SP)   101.000 106.844
Fernando Santana (BA)     37.942
Modesto da Silveira (RJ)   73.680  
Jackson Barreto (SE)   24076 19.992
Tidei from Lima (MG)   35588 85.965
Roberto Freire (PE)   47.024 27.402
Marcelo Cordeiro (BA)   42628 41795
Myrthes Bevilacqua (ES)     46604
Domingos Leonelli (BA)     27761
Nelson Wedekin (SC)     49933
Marcello Cerqueira (RJ)     45160
Total   280.668 543.826
  Sources: TSE, IBGE, OESP, Portal da Câmara

Electoral influence can be an expression of hegemony, but the opposite is not true.

The PCB insisted on an alliance with the (P)MDB until 1985, when it was legalized. Even in 1989, it had an impressive 128 members, but it never resumed its leading role on the left. The working class has recovered from its historic defeat[xviii]1964 with a new political organization.

The failure of the PCB was one of the causes of the survival of the dictatorship for more than twenty years and, certainly, of the model of democratic transition that was imposed. With military tutelage and maintenance of the police structure of the previous regime. There was no political subject to radicalize the “New Republic”. The communists left the scene and the PT, despite its social importance, was little more than a hope.

The front is a necessity in the anti-fascist struggle, but it has always been difficult to get your timing, its program and its breadth[xx]. In what situations can the left ally itself with liberals and even conservatives without diluting its historic program? Should you only do it if you have hegemony? Or accept being subordinated if democracy is in danger? But what kind of democracy would it be in which the left could not be an alternative power? This has always been the historic challenge.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP.


[I]Le Monde, Paris, April 5, 2018.

[ii]Millerand was a French socialist who joined the bourgeois cabinet of Waldeck-Rousseau.

[iii] Luxemburg, Rosa. Complete Oeuvres, T.III. Marseille: Smolny – Agone, 2013, pp. 91-167. Rosa attacks the fallacies of the “defense of the Republic”, the implementation of reforms and the evolutionist conception of socialism, used to justify Millerand's adherence, as opportunistic.

[iv]They were just practical opportunists and not revisionists like Bernstein, as theoretical discussions did not interest them in general: Rovan, J. Histoire de la Social-Democratie Allemande. Paris: Seuil, 1978, p. 95.

[v]Droz, J. General History of Socialism. V. 4. Lisboa: Horizonte, 1979, p.56. It is clear that the presence of German nationalism in the SPD did not appear in 1914 like a bolt from a blue sky.

[vi]Secco, Lincoln. The Battle of the Books. São Paulo: Atelier, 2018.

[vii]Souza, José Milton Pinheiro de. The PCB and the rupture of tradition: from the impasses of the formulations of exile to the exile of politics in Brazil (1971-1991). Doctoral thesis. PUC-SP, 2014.

[viii]Decree-Law 477 of February 26, 1969 “defines disciplinary offenses committed by teachers, students and

employees of public and private educational establishments”. Brunelo, L. “1975: The Marumbi police-military operation in Paraná. Proceedings of the XIV Regional Meeting of the History of Anpuh”. Campo Mourão, State University of Paraná, October 2014.

[ix] According to the US State Department survey. The number could be higher because there were a few thousand communists prosecuted and exiled. According to Milton Pinheiro in a message to the author, the number of processes in the files of the Military Justice identifies a group of more than 15 thousand militants, even after the ruptures of the ALN, PCBR, etc.

[X]Hobsbawm, E. “Fifty Years of Popular Fronts”, in: Strategies for a Rational Left. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1991, p.133.

[xi]The PCB implemented the Placcompe (Plan for Construction and Consolidation of the Party in Companies). Ricardo Rodrigues Lima, The PCB Lives and Works: From the Crisis of Stalinism to a New Cycle of Clandestine Struggle against the Dictatorship (1956-1976). UFG, Doctoral Thesis, 2014.

[xii]ID ibid. On the transformism of the PCB see: Paula, Paulo Winicius Teixeira de. The trajectory of the PCB between amnesty and legality through the newspaper Voz da Unidade (1980-1985), UFG, 2014.

[xiii]Eduardo Chammas considers the hypothesis that there was a frenzy and not a front. In other words, a proposal that was not implemented. Flames, Edward. A Weaving of Democratic Frontism: the MDB, Intellectuals and the Left in the 1970s. São Paulo, USP, Doctoral Qualification Report, 2019.

[xiv]The State of S. Paulo, March 19, 1981.

[xv]See Lessa, C. “The discovery of the Totalitarian State”, Mercantile Gazette, 29/4/1980. The industrial business community had not become democratic. Its removal was partial, tactical and even regressive, as it centered on criticizing the economic role of the State. More left-wing groups in the 1970s criticized the PCB for conceiving capitalism “as a predominantly national factor”, which resulted in the erroneous belief that “democracy can be founded on the struggle against the foreign enemy”. Apud Chammas, Eduardo. The Weaving of Democratic Frontism: the MDB, Intellectuals and the Left in the 1970s. São Paulo, USP, Doctoral Qualification Report, 2019.

[xvi]Ramos, Charles Alexander. The Democratic Question and the change of “voices” in the Brazilian Communist Party, http://www.semacip.ufscar.br/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/A-Quest%C3%A3o-Democr%C3%A1tica-e-a-Mudan%C3%A7a-de-%E2%80%9Cvozes%E2%80%9D-no-Partido-Comunista-Brasileiro..pdf .  Consulta em 11 de  dezembro de 2019.

[xvii]Anuário Estatístico do Brasil 1983. Rio de Janeiro: IBGE, 1984. I am grateful for the help of historian Milton Pinheiro in identifying some names. Responsibility for any misattribution is certainly mine alone.

[xviii] Arcary, Valerio. “Have we suffered a historic defeat or not?”. https://revistaforum.com.br/rede/sofremos-ou-nao-uma-derrota-historica/ Accessed on February 10, 2020.

[xx]Even the characterization of the government and the regime makes it difficult to form a front. Bolsonaro is fascist, but the regime is not.

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