Lula-Alckmin ticket – a preventive political strategy



When a tactic surprises our social base, fuels doubt in our ranks, undermines moral trust, and sows division, we lose.

“A soft answer to broken anger” (Brazilian popular wisdom).
“Those who do not act as they think begin to think as they act” (Portuguese popular wisdom).

The presentation of Alckmin as a possible vice president for Lula was a political maneuver. There is no political struggle without maneuvers. But a political maneuver is not a ruse, a trick, a hoax. A maneuver is an unexpected move that surprises. It is a resource of cunning to place the enemy in front of a trap. There is nothing wrong with the audacity of disconcerting tactical initiatives. It only works when subtlety is used in preparing the trap, but honesty is preserved. Tactical predictability can be a weakness.

But this maneuver, precisely because it was not a factoid, must be seriously considered. It was a mistake. Not everything is legit. If the objective was to remove a sector of the ruling class from supporting a “third way” candidacy, after two months we already know that it failed. If the goal was to lessen hostility toward a future Lula government, then we haven't learned the most important thing about the 2016 coup. Alckmin is a Trojan horse. The struggle for power in contemporary societies has reduced the margins for improvisation to a minimum. It is not uncommon for momentary tactical maneuvers to reveal themselves after strategic defeats.

A program is not the same as a political strategy. There are two levels of abstraction. The program results from a vision of the reality and interests that we intend to represent. A political strategy must respond to the conditions of struggle for power, and is based on a serious analysis of the balance of forces. There is a dialectical tension between program and strategy. The program is the ideas that help to enthuse the popular masses, and open the way to change the social and political relationship of forces. The objective of the strategy is to win, therefore, to create the best conditions to carry out the program. These conditions are implacably imposed on us by the reality of the class struggle. We didn't choose, period. But the electoral strategy is strictly indivisible from the program. To imagine that it is possible to separate alliance policy from the program, as if there were no tomorrow, is not serious. Tomorrow is now.

Sacrificing the program to secure a dubious wager on a preventive political strategy may diminish the chances of victory. In a Front, the program is defined by the common denominator, that is, by the most backward position. If Alckmin becomes the vice-presidential candidate on Lula's ticket, the limits are marked, and they are not symbolic. A lower program triggers less mobilization. Less popular enthusiasm lowers morale and cools down the will to fight, the main asset of the left to defeat Bolsonaro.

We already know, since September 7th, that Bolsonarism is able to set in motion an exasperated and exalted social base. The electoral strategy must comply with the most rigorous calculation of probabilities possible. Anticipating scenarios is vital in considering initiatives to be taken, and predicting enemy actions. Calculation of probabilities is a study of the trend of conflict evolution and the dynamics of the situation. Under current conditions, there is no data to indicate that Lula needs Alckmin's support to win. So this is a concession. But very dangerous. Because we need to defeat Bolsonarism in the streets, to win the elections.

The dialectical tension between program and strategy also divides the more radical left, but for opposite reasons. In the PT, the defense of the wide frontist strategy fuels the willingness to sacrifice the program. On the radical left, the defense of the program fuels the rejection of a Left Front strategy. The portion of the anti-capitalist left willing to support Lula in the first or possible second round has no illusions in the majority of the PT leadership, but has respect for the tens of millions who follow Lula, and aspires to be heard.

Electoral support for Lula is not the same as a commitment to participate in a PT-led government. But a portion of the more combative left disagrees that the Bolsonarist current is neo-fascist and also disagrees that the PT is a reformist left-wing party with mass support. Two fatal mistakes. Therefore, they disregard the possibility of supporting Lula in the first round, some even in the second round. In other words, they underestimate the danger that Bolsonaro represents. But they also underestimate the terrible isolation that the anti-capitalist left would plunge into, if it does not know how to be a useful instrument to defeat Bolsonaro in the elections. And nothing is more important than that.

But sacrificing the program by renouncing the repeal of all anti-popular measures justified by the neoliberal adjustments of the last five years would be a “Pyrrhic victory”. The challenges posed by defending the interests of workers, women, blacks, indigenous peoples, environmental movements, LGBTQIA+ are inescapable. The central issue is the relationship with the ruling class: collaboration or rupture? Should a left-wing government rely on popular mobilization, or should it rely on institutional governance? The more combative left defends the adoption of structural transformation measures, therefore, anti-capitalist measures, but it cannot forget that it is a very minority.

This dispute between the most reformist and the most revolutionary is not between equals. Lula and the PT are still much, much bigger, even after thirteen years in office. Defending these proposals and, at the same time, a Left Front does not mean having the illusion that the PT will agree with them. It is about fighting for the conscience of the most advanced layers among workers and youth who want to go further, but remain entrenched in supporting Lula against Bolsonaro.

Strategy and tactics are concepts elaborated by military activity and appropriated by the political struggle for power. In every fight, strategy formulation considers many variables, but the two most important are the characterization of the social and political forces in dispute, and the moves to be made within the framework of the available time. Nor is time an undefined variable, nor are social and political forces unlimited. Characterizing whether time runs in our favor or against is essential to define the intensity of the fight, the rhythm of the dispute, the cadence of the clashes.

Estimating whether we are on the defensive, maintaining positions or in conditions to go on the offensive is essential to know who is accumulating strength and who is weakening. The key to the strategy is to generate permanent mobilization capacity of our forces that favors victory. The aim of the tactic is to build confidence, excitement and enthusiasm in our social base and strengthen unity in our political field. When strategy lowers the expectation that changes are possible, and tactics spread perplexity, the struggle loses its meaning. The challenge is still to get off the defensive. Being number one in polls is an asset. But it is not enough to defeat the neo-fascists. The dispute in the streets is still to be done.

The objective of a strategy is the accumulation of forces that facilitate the conditions of victory. Strategy and tactics are relative and indivisible concepts, but they are not synonymous. A strategy must be understood as a line that organizes the planning of the end to be achieved, according to a time scale, and within the framework of a certain social and political relationship of forces. The tactic refers to the means that facilitate the way to win the fight. In pursuit of the same strategy, tactics alternate depending on fluctuations in the situation. A strategic turn is very different from a tactical turn. Tactical rigidity is a sectarian temptation. Volatile strategy is an opportunistic trap. When they walk together there is no danger that everything will go wrong.

One should not change strategy, unless there is a qualitative change in the situation. Tactics, on the other hand, are a transitory line. Tactics can and should be tested in action and verified. Tactical flexibility is not incompatible with strategic firmness. The objective of a tactic is to raise the capacity for social mobilization, increase the confidence of our social base, divide opponents from enemies, but tactics must be consistent with strategy. Everything is not fair in the political struggle. If a maneuver sacrifices a strategic objective there is a problem. When a tactic surprises our social base, creates confusion among the best fighters, feeds doubt in our ranks, undermines moral confidence and sows divisions, we lose.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).


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