In the history lab



The revolutionary left in Brazil and Argentina

Who are the revolutionaries? What should be the criteria for classifying the different currents in the Brazilian left? Some simple parameters can help us to define what is enough to win the revolutionary medal.

Having a revolutionary position in the polemics about what happened elsewhere in space-time, for example, in Russia in 1927, in Germany in 1933, or in Argentina in 2002, is not enough. The story counts a lot, but it can't be what decides. Those who use this rule are the museum parties. They live in the past. We can be better than that. There are three possible broad parameters for answering this question.

(a) The simplest is to accept the self-declaration. Revolutionaries are all those who define themselves as such. It doesn't sound very Marxist, because we shouldn't make judgments based on what individuals or organizations think of themselves. But it's the simplest.

(b) The most restrictive is that each current, militant or intellectual classifies as revolutionaries only those who agree with its criteria. That is, who has identity with their positions. Nor does it seem very reasonable, because each tendency would only be romanticizing its self-proclaimed political solitude.

(c) The third is stricter than the first and less sectarian than the second, and perhaps more useful. Revolutionaries would be those collectives that, in the key moments of the class struggle in Brazil, passed the tests of the laboratory of history, therefore, defended a policy of class independence, even if with tactical differences with each other.

Next, the first criterion is used. Three strategic bets divide those in the Brazilian left who present themselves as revolutionaries. There are three distinct projects: the refoundation/renewal of the PT, the construction of a homogeneous and independent revolutionary organization, and the PSol as a broad anti-capitalist project. There are Marxists from different traditions engaged in all three: Trotskyists, neo-Stalinists, neo-Maoists, Gramscians, Lukatians, and others. The differences are not limited only to the program, which is very important, but also to the location of political space. Which one has so far shown the most promise? It's because?

(1) The project that the PT could interrupt its crisis dynamics was a plausible hypothesis, and it still remains alive, albeit weakened, due to various factors. It would not be the first time that a reformist party was able to make a left turn after a major defeat. It seemed more encouraging in 2018, when Lula's political authority, even in prison, was demonstrated to transfer support to Fernando Haddad, and take him to the second round against Bolsonaro. It was confirmed that the experience with reformism had not been exhausted, but interrupted. Two years later, it seems unlikely, or much more difficult, although not impossible, that the majority current in the PT will split, freeing up forces for a new direction, a condition sine qua non of an internal revolution;

(2) The project of Marxist organizations to build an independent revolutionary party or front, inspired by the Argentine experience that culminated in the FIT, and which is based on the premise that the experience of breaking with the PT opens, without the need for mediation, the path for revolutionary politics to gain mass influence has not been confirmed. On the contrary, it seems to be stagnating, perhaps at a dead end, with the groups that made this bet growing weakened, as revealed by the invisible electoral performance of 2020;

(3) The project to build the PSol as a broad anti-capitalist party uniting revolutionary currents, radical reformists and intermediate tendencies was, so far, the one that managed to advance more solidly, gaining respect among working youth with secondary and higher education, in the movements women, blacks, LCBTIQ's, human rights environmental, indigenous, human rights and anti-prohibitionist.

The failure of the tactic of building an independent revolutionary party or Front leads us to the parallelism of economic, social and political evolution in the two most important countries of the Southern Cone. In Brazil, in comparison with Argentina, when we think in a historical perspective, this project not only did not advance, but also receded. Why?

There are two fields of analysis to answer this problem. The first is that the explanation would be subjective. But the “Argentinization” of the analysis of the situation of the Brazilian revolutionary left favored unproductive comparisons. The Brazilian left is no less revolutionary, less proletarian, or less Marxist than the Argentine one. Nor is it, sadly, any less sectarian. The most complex or mature explanation leads us to differences in objective conditions, that is, in the peculiarities of each country. In Brazil, the mediations were much greater, therefore, more adverse situations:

The first is that, at the decisive moment in the struggle to end the military dictatorship, Argentina experienced defeat in the Malvinas war, which spurred mobilizations that radicalized the popular masses and spurred an incomparably deeper democratic rupture. The leaders of the military dictatorship went to trial and were convicted. In Brazil, the end of the military dictatorship was only possible with the greatest political mobilizations in our history, but the leadership never escaped the hands of representatives of the liberal bourgeois fraction, and a concertation prevailed that kept the military apparatus intact. In this context, Peronism was in relative decline in Argentina, and the PT was on the rise. Those on the Brazilian left who did not join the construction of the PT were condemned to marginality in the most dynamic reorganization process.

The second is that, in Brazil, the stabilization of the electoral-democratic regime was less turbulent. Or, from another angle of analysis, the long decay of Argentine capitalism was always more accelerated, intense, and continuous. In both countries, the bet of the more structured revolutionary organizations was that the crisis of semi-peripheral capitalism would be so acute that the opening of a revolutionary situation was on the strategic horizon. This hypothesis, which was based on the concept that democratic regimes in nations on the periphery of capitalism could not have the longevity of democracies in central countries, was not confirmed.

It was not, of course, a linear process in either country. The final crisis of the government of the liberal Radical Party led by Alfonsín culminated in a semi-insurrection that anticipated Menem's inauguration in the late 2002s, bringing Peronism to power more than a decade before the PT won the elections in 1989. The first government elected after thirty years in Brazil in 1992 lost legitimacy in two years, and was displaced by Collor's impeachment in XNUMX. In neither of the two processes was it possible for the revolutionary left to make the leap from vanguard organizations with implantation country for mass influence. But in Brazil, after hesitations, the PT was in the forefront. And in the following ten years, there was no political space on the left of the PT in opposition to the FHC and PSDB governments.

In Brazil, a pre-revolutionary situation did not emerge after the terrible decade of the nineties, and in Argentina, yes. At the end of 2001/02 – a year after the fall of Menem's Peronist administration – Argentina experienced a semi-insurrection. In parallel, in 2002, Brazil experienced the election of Lula and the formation of the first PT government, which later won the next four presidential elections.

The different nature and influence of Peronism and PT, or even Lulism.

Peronism was a national-developmentalist bourgeois current, which allows comparisons with Getulism, although more radical, because both maintained influence in the union movement linked to the State. But Varguismo succumbed, politically, as the main current among the workers, after the 1964 coup, even though Brizolismo was its heir. The PT occupied the place of hegemonic party among organized workers since the eighties.

Peronism, on the other hand, survived, after Perón and the experience of the military dictatorship of 1976/82, but in the form of a movement divided into several wings and, comparatively, less powerful than the PT. The political space for the construction of an independent Marxist left in Argentina was, during Kirchner's governments, comparatively much larger than the space for construction in Brazil by the left and outside the PT, where the reorganization assumed greater dynamics in the trade union and popular movements.


Another big and decisive difference, although of the opposite sign, was the change in the Brazilian situation with the June 2013 conferences, a profound watershed. The PT-led government was challenged by the greatest mass mobilization since the struggle for the Diretas Já in 1984. June 2013 was an explosive wave, however, headless and fleeting that took to the streets a new generation of wage earners with higher education, but, also, the middle strata exasperated with the erosion of their living conditions. Progressive momentum prevailed, but it was brief and confused. The will to fight quickly ran out, long before the revolutionary left could take a stand. Dilma Rousseff still won the 2014 elections. But in 2015/16, it was the most reactionary forces that gained hegemony in the streets.

In Argentina, the government of Cristina Kirchner ended, melancholy, with an electoral defeat that took Macri to the presidency. In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff was overthrown by an institutional coup, the PT began to be criminalized by a judicial operation, Lula was convicted, arrested, and prevented from being a candidate in 2018. This unfavorable outcome, dialectically, allowed a containment of the PT crisis , although it did not block the space on the left. But it disqualified those who imported the 2002 “Que se vayan todos” from Argentina, in the form of “Fora Todos” at the height of the crisis in 2016.

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


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