Note on the activism of Hector Benoit (1951-2022)

Anne Redpath, The Field of Poppies, c.1963
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By RAFAEL PADIAL*

A Trotskyist since his youth, a teacher, researcher and Marxist, Benoit never left the political struggle

In addition to the recognized theoretical work on Plato and Marx, Professor Hector Benoit has an important career within the socialist movement as a revolutionary militant.[1]

Hector Benoit began his activism when he was around 16 years old, between 1968 and 1969, on Rua Maria Antônia, in the center of São Paulo, where the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of São Paulo was located. He was a high school student, but his school lacked political activism. Therefore, he attended assemblies and marches of university students.

Hector Benoit told us several times how the speeches of José Dirceu, Luis Travassos and Vladimir Palmeira impressed him at the time, thanks to the verve and radicalism of that student movement, superior in every way to the current one. Luis Travassos, for example, would climb into cars to speak and, at the end, throw his microphone on the ground. The movement on Rua Maria Antônia in 1968 was not only a political phenomenon, but also an aesthetic one, with a symbology of denial of capitalism that attracted young people.

It was the time of conflict with the Communist Hunt Command (CCC), which had a base at Mackenzie College. Hector Benoit told us about the death of high school student José Guimarães, murdered by CCC gangs, and about the protest march led by student leaders, with the young man's bloody shirt in his hands. On the occasion, the protesters walked along Avenida São João, Avenida Ipiranga and throughout the center of São Paulo, fighting battles with the forces of repression. Ammonia was used to chase away police dogs. Near Rua Barão de Itapetininga, young people played marbles to overthrow the cavalry.

Hector Benoit had a great interest in cinema. All these political events, however, made him choose to study at the Faculty of Philosophy at USP, which he entered in 1971 (and graduated in 1974). In that period, the faculty was, he says, “dead territory”: a politicized part of its professors was impeached, like Florestan Fernandes, Bento Prado Júnior, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and others; or she was arrested, tortured and then released, like Professor Luiz Roberto Salinas (who, by the way, later died of a heart attack, around the age of 50, thanks to the traumas caused by the torture). The situation was depressing.

At the end of 1973, with the beginning of his investigations on Plato, Benoit also began studies on Marx. At first, he intended to study Plato as a way to hide his political studies on Marx, due to the political persecution of the Military Dictatorship. So he could develop research in the field of dialectical thinking. However, little by little, Hector Benoit was increasingly surprised by the radical nature of the Platonic dialectic, which led him, even in the future, to reframe his reading of Karl Marx.

With the coup d'état in Argentina, in March 1976, several political activists from that country took refuge in Brazil. Some hid in Hector Benoit's small apartment, on Rua Martim Francisco, in downtown São Paulo, with whom he continued daily studies on the The capital. The Argentine militants of that period represented the intellectual elite of Marxism in Latin America.

As an undergraduate at the Faculty of Philosophy, Benoit did not organically participate in any political group in the student movement, because, he said, the students at the Academic Center were very closed, very distrustful; in practice, they impeded the process of student participation. However, Hector Benoit participated in assemblies and marches, especially after 1975.

In the second half of the 1970s, Benoit, already a Trotskyist, was close friends with members of the International Socialist Organization (OSI), known among students as Freedom and Fight, or simply Libelu. The Internationalist Socialist Organization was, at the time, linked to the so-called “Lambertist” international current of the Fourth International, since it was directed by the French section commanded by Pierre Lambert. Hector Benoit did not participate in the Internationalist Socialist Organization because, according to him, he considered the theoretical level of its staff to be low.

It was only in 1979, shortly before moving to Ribeirão Preto (to teach at FFCLRP-USP), that Benoit decided to join the Internationalist Socialist Organization. One of the reasons that weighed on the decision and made it resolute was the visit to Brazil of the French Trotskyist intellectual and historian Pierre Broué, internationally linked to the Internationalist Socialist Organization. Pierre Broué was already the main historian of Trotskyism in the world and the first researcher to have access to the Leon Trotsky archives.

Pierre Broué argued that the Brazilian Trotskyists of the Socialist Internationalist Organization were correct in being against joining the new political party that was being formed, the Workers' Party (PT). Pierre Broué argued that the militants of the Socialist Convergence (a Brazilian Trotskyist group, linked to the Argentine Nahuel Moreno) were wrong in defending the creation of the PT; that a social-democratic party could not be built in the XNUMXth century; that it was necessary to build a revolutionary party of its own, since the rise of the labor movement could lead to the opening of the duality of power in the factories and even in popular councils. Hector Benoit adhered to these theses by Pierre Broué.

Imagine his surprise when, at the beginning of 1980, he received information at a party cell meeting that his political leadership was guiding him to join the Workers' Party. The Socialist Internationalist Organization itself, until 1979, in the theoretical magazine of its Central Committee – called The class struggle –, was against the proposed construction of the PT and argued that this party would be controlled by a “trade unionism similar to that of the Peronist gangsters”. Hector Benoit protested from the beginning against the new orientation, developed in the first semester of 1980, of entry into the PT.[2] According to Hector Benoit, joining the PT would only block the construction of a revolutionary organization in Brazil.

The proposal to enter the PT came about through the influence of Luis Favre and the consent of the organization's general secretary, GA (code name “Xuxu”). Luis Favre, an Argentine Trotskyist (brother of the well-known Trotskyist Jorge Altamira), acted on behalf of Pierre Lambert, the top leader of the international organization. Pierre Lambert's leadership was going through a process of degeneration and political adaptation during this period. In France, for some years he had been leading an entryism in the Socialist Party, which was about to elect President François Mitterrand.

Pierre Lambert's tactics – which later characterized him for a long time – consisted of secretly entering political and union organizations and seeking to influence their governing body. Interestingly, thanks to the generalization of this “tactic” (making it almost a strategy), Pierre Lambert’s organization later adapted to the French party and union bureaucracies, providing great cadres to the French bourgeois government itself, such as Lionel Jospin, who became Prime Minister between 1997 and 2002. The same thing happened in Brazil, where Luis Favre, led by Pierre Lambert, applied the “tactic”, the supposed shortcut to party building.

Luis Favre and the secretary general of the Socialist Internationalist Organization argued that within the PT it would quickly reach two thousand militants. At the time, the organization had about a thousand militants, but thanks to its strong student movement, Libelu, it grew by almost 100 people a month. As is known, after joining the PT, the Socialist Internationalist Organization was liquidated in a few years and its main leaders became important cadres of the entourage lulista (such as Antonio Palocci, Clara Ant, Glauco Arbix, Luiz Gushiken and others).

Interestingly (and perhaps tragically), those primarily responsible for building the militant/party body of the PT, at the base, those who maintained the various nuclei across the country, were mainly Trotskyist militants from the Internationalist Socialist Organization, Socialist Convergence and Socialist Democracy. These, however, never conquered the PT leadership, always in the hands of Lula's group; they never managed to impress a revolutionary political line on the party.

In July 1980, the Congress of the Socialist Internationalist Organization took place to approve the entry into the PT. Hector Benoit, leading other comrades, wrote a 45-page political thesis during four days, practically without sleep, in which he took up Pierre Broué's positions; defended against joining the PT; stated that the PT, at best, would be a centrist party that would block the construction of a Trotskyist revolutionary party in Brazil; that the PT would tend to become a pillar of bourgeois domination and could even form the basis of an authoritarian (Bonapartist) process; defended the creation of a revolutionary party with its own program and organization, clearly defined in relation to the PT; advocated the resumption of Transition Program of Trotsky, the founding program of the Fourth International; defended the characterization that Brazil would not be a backward, colonial or semi-colonial country, and would be ready for a purely socialist strategy.

This text can be found, almost in its entirety, in the magazine added value number 2, published in 2008. His group's thesis was sabotaged by the leadership of the Socialist Internationalist Organization and was not circulated within the organization. With bureaucratic arguments – accused of violating party security by sending a letter by mail – Hector Benoit's political tendency, called the Left Opposition, was expelled shortly before the congress.

Thanks to the sabotage of political discussion by the leadership, few militants left the Socialist Internationalist Organization with the expulsion of Hector Benoit's group. However, they managed to bring together dissident militants from the Socialist Internationalist Organization and, after six months, formed a political group with about 100 people, called Transição, focused mainly on São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, Campinas and Uberlândia.

The new group was formed in general by new and inexperienced people; it lacked cadres for its direction and centralization; and it still had weakness in the application of the Leninist theory of the party. Hector Benoit recalls that he was forced to travel frequently between the various cities and even states where the militants were located. All this fragility led him and his comrades to close the group in a short time. In fact, they carried out an apparent extinction: the group was restricted to about 20 people and remained only as a clandestine organization, aimed at carrying out work of proletarianization and insertion of militants in factories. In the years that followed, Hector Benoit helped train these militants, especially the workers, with classes on The capital by Karl Marx.

After two years, thanks to the formation of the militants and with some internal strengthening of the organization, the group began a certain agitation of basic demands of the Transition Program of Trotsky, launching the “Mobile Pro-Scale Front”. The aim was to clarify, in public meetings, the importance of the claims contained in Trotsky's text, in the struggle to maintain the living conditions of the working class. 1983/84 saw the start of rapprochement between Hector Benoit's group and the International Committee of the Fourth International (CI-FI), an international Trotskyist current led by the Englishman at the time. Workers Revolutionary Party, by Gerry Healy.

The CI-FI had a long tradition of combating the so-called “Pablism”, a political current within the Fourth International that made an adaptation to Stalinism, social democracy and petty-bourgeois nationalist movements. Under pressure from the International Committee, Hector Benoit's group, in 1985, publicly legalized the Brazilian section of the IC, called the Revolutionary Party of Workers of Brazil, and began publishing a theoretical journal, called against current (of which two editions can be found).

Shortly before this public foundation, Hector Benoit's group began to reap the fruits of the patient work of insertion in metallurgical factories in the West Zone of São Paulo, holding meetings in the homes of several workers. Also in 1985, thanks to a professional militant, working in an auto parts metallurgical plant – called Colúmbia, with around 500 workers, which produced horns for cars –, the group managed to lead a strike with occupation of the factory. The struggle lasted a month and resisted the threat of police reinstatement. In the end, he achieved a great victory, with the creation of a factory commission with stability.

At that time, the factory commissions were not like the current ones, the so-called Factory Union Commissions, which are an arm of the bureaucratized unions within the factories. They were an independent, grassroots body of workers in the workplace itself. With the strike, Hector Benoit's group grew, with the entry of several workers. During the strike itself, an internal bulletin was published at the factory, initially called the bugle (in reference to the horns produced there). Then its name changed to the bugle.

From the distribution of the bulletin to several factories in the region and its extension, the bugle became a working-class newspaper, influential among metallurgists in São Paulo. the focus of the bugle was to cover the reality and the day to day of the worker. The heart of the newspaper were the various letters and complaints from workers about their workplaces, about abuses and the permanent dictatorship of management and foremen in the factories. The newspaper gave, in a broad and non-sectarian way, the “pawn's point of view”. Also in 1985, Hector Benoit's group opened headquarters for the newspaper in the working-class region of Vila Leopoldina.

Between 1985 and 1986, however, an international crisis broke out in the CI-QI, the organization on behalf of which Benoit and his comrades had just publicized the “Brazilian section”. The international division of the CI-QI disoriented Hector Benoit's young group. He and his comrades were visited by American Trotskyists from the CI-FI, dissidents from Gerry Healy's group. They are the leaders of the US section, the Workers League: David North and Bill Van Auken. These highlighted several elements of the degeneracy of Gerry Healy's leadership.

In May 1986, Hector Benoit traveled to England for a conference of the Fourth Healyst International and to better understand what was going on. There, he came into contact with Gerry Healy himself, but also Alex Mitchell, Savas Matsas, Vanessa Redgrave and others. The meeting with the other international sections was a disaster. According to Hector Benoit, the degeneration and disintegration of the international organization under Healy's leadership in the period was notorious, as well as their total ignorance of the reality of Latin America.

The only one who was interested in Brazilian work and defended Benoit's positions was Alex Mitchell, director of the daily newspaper NewsLine – but this one too seemed increasingly hopeless about the future of the organization. The work of the Brazilian group with the bugle was condemned by the majority of the English. Hector Benoit returned from the trip convinced that this was not an international political alternative. Upon arriving in Brazil and giving their reports, great discouragement befell the militants of the young organization.

Despite all this crisis, both international and internal to the organization itself, the work of the bugle, with ever greater participation and contribution from workers. The group made a serious self-criticism in relation to the previous period, especially in relation to the hasty advance towards publicity, which disoriented and undermined the foundations of the patient clandestine work they carried out. Properly disciplined work would have been exchanged for mere impatient and leftist agitation. The Brazilian section of the CI-QI was dissolved in 1987, but work with the workers' newspaper continued.

In 1987, again, the North American directors of the CI-QI, David North and Bill Van Auken, returned to Brazil for new contacts. His earlier criticisms of Healy and his group's degeneracy had been confirmed. However, as soon as the discussions began, his criticism of the newspaper became evident. the bugle, which would be “too much union”, supposedly adapted to the “backwardness” of the workers. The Americans believed that what was most necessary would be to have a newspaper with the totality of socialist thought, with analyzes of the world situation, that is, it was necessary to have “the Central Committee newspaper” to indoctrinate workers with “opinions” about socialism.

In addition, they argued that Brazil was at imminent risk of a military coup (under the Sarney government), and that the Brazilian group should soon join, as soon as possible, the international leadership of the North Americans. The prognosis, of course, was wrong. If carried out, it would result in the destruction of the patient workers' newspaper and lead to the complete liquidation of the group. An abstract internationalism then sought to impose itself on the Brazilian group. The small group was divided on what to do and the internal crisis deepened.

In 1987 and 1988 the bugle he was already well known in metallurgical factories; it even had contributions from a thousand workers in factories such as Braseixos, Cobrasma and Ford do Ipiranga. The group lacked militants for distributions, but the working force, the growing contributions and the direct participation of the workers kept the newspaper alive. There were cases of workers who left the night shift, at 5 am, and went directly to help distribute the newspaper in the morning shift, at 6 am and 7 am. However, with internal fragility and the absence of an international perspective, Hector Benoit's group was increasingly fragile. During this period, an important event occurred for the labor movement, a fact that Hector Benoit commented on several times, and which the bugle followed directly: the election for the Metallurgist Union of São Paulo and Region, in 1987.

That election, says Hector Benoit, divided the waters of the Brazilian labor movement to this day. There was a real possibility that the Central Única dos Trabalhadores would win the Metallurgist Union of São Paulo and Region, and thus have in its hands the ABCD and São Paulo unions (the largest metallurgist union in Latin America). This would undoubtedly have allowed for a unified strengthening of the labor movement's struggles and its rise. The candidate with a real chance of winning in São Paulo was Lúcio Belantani, representing the CUT. Belantani was the main leader of the Ford Factory Commission in Ipiranga, therefore, he directly managed about a thousand workers.

Hector Benoit commented, several times, that he learned a lot about the labor movement from Lúcio Belantani. The latter told Benoit in detail how they had sponsored the Ford Factory Commission among the workers, first clandestinely, and how they had then imposed it on the company (which had no choice but to accept it). Lúcio was in favor of a “grassroots unionism”, of factory commissions, and admired the bugle because, according to him, it was “the only newspaper that did not shit rules in the minds of the working class”. Really, that was the secret of the bugle: first and foremost, listen to the class; gain confidence before intending to drive. During this period, Hector Benoit got to know the São Paulo labor and metallurgist trade union movement from the inside and established relationships with its main leaders.

Lúcio and Benoit became close, and the Ford Factory Commission began sending representatives to The Horn. However, in 1987, the election of Lúcio as president of the union was sabotaged by the CUT group linked to Lula. He and his ABCD unionists feared that Lucio's election and his control of the São Paulo Metalworkers' Union would give him too much power, possibly weakening the group of ABCD unionists within the CUT and the PT. The CUT would run the risk of being dominated by the Belantani group, with a more combative tradition, which valued factory commissions and the direct participation of workers.

Lula and his team decided to launch a second slate from the CUT itself in the election in São Paulo, to compete with Belantani. Thus, they launched the slate headed by Chico Gordo, from Socialist Democracy (a group of Trotskyist-Pablist origin, which controlled the Asama factory commission, alongside Columbia). Chico Gordo, recently, in an interview, revealed that this was one of the main mistakes in his life. The division within the CUT itself allowed the victory of the official candidate, Medeiros, from Força Sindical.

Thus, the only real chance that the CUT had to lead the São Paulo and Region Metallurgists Union went down the drain. Until today, therefore, Força Sindical controls this union. As a matter of fact, shortly after the election, all the long clandestine work, of more than a decade, of the Metallurgical Opposition of São Paulo, went into decay and fell apart. This unfortunate situation continues to this day.

the bugle he continued to receive contributions from many workers, as well as working with the participation of important intellectuals, such as Florestan Fernandes, Maurício Tragtenberg, Valentim Facioli and others, with whom Benoit had a relationship. Date of this period the opening of the headquarters of the bugle in Barra Funda, in a space shared with a PT nucleus (which Benoit later learned was linked to Zé Dirceu). While many PT nuclei in the city of São Paulo were in frank decline (because the Trotskyists, who in practice built the PT nuclei and bases, were now persecuted or expelled from the party), the Barra Funda nucleus was rising.

Workers frequented the space to monitor the production of the bugle. In 1988, the bugle was discussed in CUT workers' seminars, at the Cajamar Institute, and promises began, in 1989, on the part of José Dirceu himself, that the bugle could become a PT daily newspaper, as it is a working-class newspaper. Florestan Fernandes, above all, would have pressed in this direction and scheduled a meeting between Hector Benoit, Perseu Abramo (then Secretary of Communication of the City of São Paulo, in the Luiza Erundina city hall) and Marilena Chauí (Secretary of Culture in the same government).

However, as Hector Benoit comments critically afterwards, this situation marked a period of political disorientation for the newspaper, due to the absence of Leninism in the political group and a certain adaptation to PTism. According to him, these were just empty promises from the PT members, which served to weaken the group and distance the newspaper from the reality of the workers. Like this, the bugle lost its reason for existence.

Therefore, due to all these elements – the group's internal fragility, international disorientation, distancing from Leninism, the decadence of the São Paulo labor movement after the 1987 election and rapprochement with the PT (throwing away base workers) –, Hector Benoit and his group decided to close the bugle in 1990 and paralyze the very functioning of the political group. Only a small nucleus was kept, for studies and looking for a new path.

The 1990s marked a period of reflection for Benoit on this political trajectory, which began with the fight against the Lambertist adaptation of the OSI to the PT. The central problem in this long period, Benoit argued many times, would have been, above all, the departure from the Leninist theory of the party; the dissolution or weakening, for various reasons (internal and international), of the serious and solid clandestine, patient work that the group carried out in the early 1980s with the working class. It was these weaknesses that ended up breaking the group, the newspaper the bugle and resulted in a certain rapprochement with the PT.

The main publication of articles by Hector Benoit also dates from the 1990s (many written in the 1980s, but aimed only at the internal training of militants), with his reading of Marxism (expository dialectic of The capital, dialectic of Transition Program, dialectic of Leninist party theory). The publication of important articles on the radical nature of Platonic dialectics also dates from there. During the period, Hector Benoit participated in the Editorial Committee of the magazine Marxist Criticism and helped found the magazine October. However, the question remained: beyond intellectual production, how to restart the construction of a properly Leninist group and overcome the theoretical fragility of the so-called Marxism?

In 2000, Benoit decided to restart a political work for the reconstruction of a Marxist group on Leninist and internationalist bases; he thus initiated systematic Marxist theory study groups, Marxist reading groups, The capital, study groups on Marxist dialectics and discussion groups on the application of The Transition Program from Trotsky to the Brazilian reality. These groups began to bring together a reasonable number of intellectuals and young people, with a view to resuming an organizational project.

The first properly political meetings of this group took place, in a relatively fragile way, in 2002. Shortly afterwards, the new organization was publicly founded, called Negação da Negação, in homage to the dialectic. In 2005, when the PT corruption scandal broke, the group expanded its street interventions, considering that the fall of the PT would mean reopening the possibility of building a revolutionary organization.

In 2006, publication of the newspaper was resumed. the bugle and its distribution in factories in greater São Paulo (which lasts until today). Hector Benoit founded the Marxist theoretical journal added value, which was published between 2007 and 2011, with 10 issues. The Negation of Negation organization, created by Benoit, existed until 2016.

*Rafael Padial holds a doctorate in philosophy from Unicamp, under the guidance of Hector Benoit.

Notes


[1] This text was written in 2017, after several conversations with Hector Benoit. Our purpose here is only to deal (briefly) with Benoit's political/militant experiences and not with his very rich theoretical heritage.

[2] Such protests can be found in documents internal to the Socialist Internationalist Organization, such as cell reports and minutes of the central committee, present at the Centro de Estudos Mário Pedrosa, of Unesp.

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