Brief commentary on the PT program

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The party's program lacks an indication of the contours for the recomposition of progressive forces in the country


The basic or essential difference between the method of critical social theory and the methods (motivational understanding, principled systematization, idealist or materialist typology) prevailing in the so-called social sciences (anthropology, political science, economics, linguistics, sociology) consists in the position of the former in leaving aside, at the starting point of his presentation, the aspiration to any principle. This means that critical theory abandons the terrain of belief discourses – whether theistic or theological beliefs, whether deistic or idealistic philosophical beliefs, whether anti-deistic or materialistic philosophical beliefs.

According to Max Horkheimer (1983, p. 117), the traditional theory operates basically from principles, while the critical theory “in its entirety is a single developed existential judgment”. But one does not advance in this difference, we say, if one reads the starting point of the critical theory of society still in the philosophical approach of presupposition (the owner of the products), supposition (commercial relations) and position (capital). If the first meanings are brought by a “synthetic judgment beforehand”, does not substantially change the philosophical function of this proposition in making reasoning possible, preserving the truth, but without thereby providing the real knowledge of the first notions, since they are supposed.

The solution found by Karl Marx, in The capital, was, at the starting point of scientific discourse, combining empirical observation with the best philosophical theory available, producing the simplest term of analysis for the discipline, in this case, political economy or economic science. Remember the opening paragraph of The capital: “the wealth of societies where the capitalist mode of production dominates appears as an 'immense collection of commodities' and the individual commodity as its elementary form. Our investigation begins, therefore, with the analysis of the merchandise. (Marx, 1983, p. 45).

For another approximation of the meaning of critical theory or non-axiomatic theory, see Merton (2013) on the meaning of “organized skepticism”. According to the author, the method of organized skepticism allows us to put the principles of a doctrine in parentheses and pushes us to the ground of a theory free of axioms or beliefs.

Thus, the critical analyst of law adopts the maxim of methodological a-juridicism, exempting himself from the task, typical of the philosophy of law, of finding the basis for human rights. But this methodical skepticism does not mean restricting oneself to an institutionalized view of human rights, which would lead the analyst to become trapped in the enigma of the law. It is about moving from the philosophical way of knowing (axiomatic demonstration) to the scientific form (non-axiomatic demonstration), in the research of the legal phenomenon.

Critical or scientific knowledge acquires the specificity of moderating the ethnocentric inclinations, typical of historical forms of collectivity, relativizing their beliefs about the meaning of human life, while at the same time not ignoring the struggles in these and these collectivities for the hegemony of the meaning of humanity (Lévi-Strauss, 1996).



The pedagogy of the oppressed (Paulo Freire) and liberation theology (Gustavo Gutierrez) have the see-judge-act method in common. This is due to the fact that the starting point of knowledge (wealth in the capitalist mode of production) and faith (the God of Jesus Christ) is reality. Thus, seeing – the real or true perception in contemporary society – is connected to the condition of oppression (the despotism of the State) experienced by the poor (the exploitation of the workforce); judging – the criterion for evaluating this double oppressive and extortionary condition of rural and urban workers – refers to socialized belief systems; and action – the programmatic form – intervenes in the contemporary world to materialize just aspirations (practice of the subordinated class) or disguise such aspirations (practice of the class in power).

One finds in Clodovis Boff (1978), a reflection on the moment of “seeing” in liberation theology. His analysis will be acute and suggestive, because it places the Marxist tradition at the center of the social sciences. Soon, Marxism will be read as social science. Although Clodovis Boff does not make this explicit, his operation will lead to two consequences of renewal for contemporary social thought.

On the side of social science, the result of Clodovis Boff's reflection will be the detachment of critical theory from principled theories – idealist or materialist. Social science cannot be constructed even in the idealistic style of the social contract of Rousseau, nor according to the materialist form of Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels.

If theology assumes that knowledge of the human world is based on principles whose meanings depend on the presupposition of divinity, it would have to face the possibility of an instrumentalization of its basic principle – the god – for pragmatic or political purposes, as in practice proceed Hobbes, in O Leviathan and Rousseau, in the social contract.

On the other hand, it would be inconsistent for the theologian to accept, even at the moment of analyzing the social phenomenon, a materialist principle, since, in doing so, he would run the risk of ruining his thesis of the independent condition of the supersensible world, of essences, of ideas. .

On the side of liberation theology, the inference of Clodovis Boff's exposition will consist in the reinforcement of theology in the face of philosophy, since the theological principle of revelation proves to be simpler and clearer than the philosophical principles of the postulate or the axiom - since these still depend on the dubious concession to the last word of empirical proof – which does not mean that religious knowledge is necessarily superior to scientific, critical knowledge.

If so, the near future will be one of possible polarization between two giant systems of human knowledge: modern theology and critical science. Clodovis Boff's perspective emphasizes the complementary relationship between the two systems, according to which theology judges what science sees.

We can, however, glimpse the antithetical opposition: while theology tends to indicate the primacy of acting-valued-by-faith over critical-seeing, social science tends to conceive the precedence of the theoretical-defetishizing over instituted practices.



Let's move on to a brief comment on two points contained in the Program of the 6th National Congress of the Workers' Party[I] – comment that seeks to operationalize the methodological discussion outlined above.

(a) About the strategic guideline

This world cannot be understood or overcome, if we do not undertake a radical critique of capitalism and the defense of democratic socialism, replacing this perspective as the engine of our actions (p. 9).

This section of the document contains the assertion, with which we agree, that the objective of democratic socialism is the product of a critical analysis of capitalism. On the one hand, this criticism is based on philosophical discourse, the materialist philosophy of history or historical materialism. If the dominant class, the bourgeoisie, needs the belief in the idealist philosophy (the right of the subject form, etc.) to reproduce its domination (the wage labor contract), it remains for the dominated class, the proletariat, to adopt the materialist philosophy (the freedom as illusion, etc.), in order to confront the values ​​and interests of his antagonistic opponent.

It is not enough for the salaried working class to move towards the values ​​of idealism in a humanist (rational) way, abandoning mystical forms (revelation); because the interest in abolishing its subjection to a social minority leads this class to a radical demand for a rupture of values. A consequence of this requirement in the formation of the proletarian class was the publication of the The Manifest Communist in the first half of the XNUMXth century.

While grounded in the principles of materialism – historical and dialectical – democratic socialism ceases to be, therefore, an ideal and becomes a realistic aspiration. But, on the other hand, knowledge about capitalist society is also constructed from scientific discourse, that is, from non-philosophical or non-principled demonstrations. So far, little has been recognized about the difference between materialist philosophy and critical or non-principled science; as the most powerful fraction of capital tends to align itself with discourse in mystical form, as it produces more stable effects in political institutions, do subordinate fractions lean towards discourse in rational form? Has the progressive task thus been to secularize – separate from mysticism – the field of politics?

However, 150 years after the publication of The capital, in which Karl Marx established the science of the historical process, and after a century of left-wing (progressive) secularized politics, symbolized by the Russian Revolution of 1917, perhaps the time has come for the socialist left to develop its program based not before on philosophy materialist – distinct from liberal humanism –, but above all in the science of history – different from the philosophy of history. This last aspect was one of the most acute themes pointed out by Louis Althusser in read capital: theoretical a-humanism, differentiated from theoretical anti-humanism. This was also one of the most incisive suggestions by Ruy Fausto, in left paths: “it is thus, respecting an anthropology that is neither humanist nor anti-humanist, that a policy for the left must be constructed” ((Fausto, 2017, p. 105).

What is the program for the immediate and what is the program for the future in Brazil? The hegemony of domestic banking capital is associated with the neoliberal-fascist program, in a historical context of declining capitalist citizenship. The tendency is to radicalize the anti-neoliberal program of the political left. Socialist or transitional measures to communism are on the order of the day.

Such measures do not point to state capitalism, as Brazil is no longer a pre-industrial country. More concretely: the nationalization of financial capital does not solve our social question. Because this question is not one of capitalist investment, but of redirecting the objectives of the economic enterprise: the passage from the search for surplus value to the purpose of satisfying social needs.

Well, the main collective need today is decent employment, which not only satisfies material needs, but also fulfills the aspirations of not being subjugated to the despotism of others. The drastic reduction of the working day, making possible the multiplication of teams of employees, together with the socialization of ownership in large companies, initiating the process of self-government, constitute the central measures for renewing the program of our political left.

(B) On the field of socialist and progressive forces

The congressional documents summarize the course that our party proposes for the working classes and progressive forces in our country. They are a tool to advance in the unity of the popular field, in its fighting capacity, having as its central objective the reconstruction of a democratic alternative against the native oligarchies and their international partners.

lacks in Notebook of Resolutions of the 6th National Congress the indication of the contours of this recomposition of progressive forces in the country. Now, in Brazil today, there are disputes within the class in power, in various dimensions of its division. First, there is the competition of industrial (developmental) capital with (neoliberal) banking capital. Second, there is the dispute between big capital (authoritarian) and medium capital (democratic). Third, there is opposition between national capital (independence) and foreign capital (imperialist). Last but not least, there is the conflict of private capital (individualist) and state capital (collectivist). Consequently, space is opened for tactical alliances with industrial, medium, national, state capital.

Left-wing analysts, such as Renato Janine Ribeiro, Ruy Fausto and others, draw attention to the proposed tax reform. In Brazil, there is no tax on profits and dividends from shareholders as individuals. According to the leader of the Homeless Workers Movement, Guilherme Boulos (2017), the left must be united in proposing “a democratization of the tax system in the country”.[ii]

* Francisco Pereira de Farias is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Piauí and a postdoctoral researcher at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Reflections on the political theory of the young Poulantzas (1968-1974) (Ed. Lutas anticapital).



BOFF, C. Theology and practice: theology of the political and its mediations. Petrópolis: Voices, 1978.

BOULOS, G. “For a new left-wing pedagogy”. In: FORNAZIERI, A. & MUANIS, C. (eds.). The Crisis of the Left. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2017.

FAUSTO, R. left paths: elements for a reconstruction. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2017

HORKHEIMER, M. Traditional theory and critical theory. In: HORKHEIMER, M.; ADORNO, T. (Org.). Chosen texts. São Paulo: Cultural April, 1983.

LEVI-STRAUSS, C. Race et histoire. In: Anthropologie structurale deux. Paris: Plon, 1996.

MARX, K. Capital: critique of political economy. Vol. 1. São Paulo: Cultural April, 1983.

MERTON, R. Science and the democratic social structure. In: Sociology of Science Essays. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2013.



[I] Workers Party. Notebook of Resolutions of the 6th National Congress. Brasilia, June 2017. Available at

[ii] This text is part of an article published in the book by Marcelino Fonteles; Elmo Lima; Maria José Sales (eds.). Popular education and the political formation of the working class. Rio de Janeiro: Quimera, 2022.

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