The cycle of PT governments and class commitment

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Francisco P. Farias* and Octávio F. Del Passo**

The books The senses of lulism, by André Singer, and Reform and political crisis: class conflicts in PT governments, by Armando Boito stand out in the context of Brazilian political science for seeking the meanings of the practices of the Workers' Party (PT) and the governments of Lula da Silva (2003-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016) from the relations of classes.

According to Singer, the detachment of the “subproletariat” from the conservative parties and its adherence to “Lulismo” and the PT marked a cleavage of social classes in Brazilian politics, in the language of rich and poor, especially in the 2006 and 2010 elections. XNUMX.

Armando Boito, in turn, mobilizes the categories of “social class” and “class fractions” as influential forces in political life, at the same time that they are aggregated and articulated by the effects of State policies. According to him, the relationship between, on the one hand, the PT governments and, on the other, the ruling classes, was characterized by the rise of the “internal bourgeoisie” (a term borrowed from Nicos Poulantzas) and the construction of “neodevelopmentalist” politics – policies of a developmental nature applied within the limits of neoliberal macroeconomic policy.

Our analysis of the PT's policy of alliances is largely based on these analyzes by Singer and Boito.

During the transition to industrial capitalism in Brazil (1930-1964), the socialist left camp was led by the Communist Party of Brazil (PCB), which emerged affiliated with the Third International, soon under the influence of the CP of the USSR. In the Soviet model, the state was in charge of controlling ownership of the means of production and planning the economy. The predominance of centralized plans extended from the economy to culture. The division of technical and social labor was intensified, and the single party became the supreme organ of the state apparatus. Thus, the Communist International and the PCB were committed to a strategic conception that, by inverting the socialist program, began to defend the interests, so to speak, of a new ruling class, the state bourgeoisie.

However, since its founding in 1922, the PCB has maintained a coherence of tactical objectives, sustaining, in the historical conditions of Brazilian society, a program of a national-democratic character, and not yet “socialist”. Although it changed its method regarding the pursuit of immediate ends, adopting, depending on the political situation, a practice that was sometimes insurrectionary, sometimes legalistic, the party proposed to make capitalist development viable in the country through industrialization on a private and national basis and a broad agrarian reform. against the traditional latifundia.

But, during the process of industrialization in Brazil, the industrial bourgeoisie was not in favor of an alliance with the salaried class. Given the ambiguous condition of the industrial fraction in having its own accumulation base and, at the same time, being monetarily dependent on agromercantile capital, this fraction preferred to turn its back on the thesis of national-democratic capitalism.

As it did not have enough strength to supplant the interests of the agro-mercantile economy within the ruling bloc, the industrial leadership adhered – not without moments of hesitation, as in the War of 1932 and the overthrow of President Getúlio Vargas in 1954 – to the compromise of balance political, submitting to the national-developmentalist governments. With the advance of the industrialization process, the industrial bourgeoisie began, however, to organize itself to conquer political hegemony, made possible after the civil-military coup of 1964.

In the process of democratic opening, at the end of the 1970s, several factors converged to the formation of the PT as an expression of interdependence between party organization and social class: (1) the emergence of trade unionism less subordinated to the institutionality of the State; (2) the mobilization of urban social movements; (3) the renewal of traditional Catholicism with Liberation Theology and the Base Ecclesial Communities; (4) the reorganization of the militancy of socialist left groups.

The hegemony of the industrial bourgeoisie contributed to the emergence of this new left-wing party force (Cf. Décio Saes, State and social classes in Brazilian capitalism in the 70s/80s). During this period, the economic growth rates were increased, without making possible, however, the expanded reproduction of the workforce. This fraction of the bourgeoisie benefited directly from the repressive state regime, which, however, led to the emergency conditions of strikes by salaried workers, such as metallurgists, oil workers, electricians, etc.

The PT was born as a manifestation, in Brazil, of the “new left”. He claimed a critical view of the so-called socialist experience, opposing to this experience the control of the means of production by workers, decentralized planning, party pluralism; and proposed winning the leadership of the bourgeois State based on the “popular-democratic” program, driven by trade unions and social movements. In the space of a decade, it became the main party force in the field of the Brazilian left, due, in part, to the crisis of the PCB, provoked by the civil-military coup of 1964, which discredited the “national-democratic” program and, in on the other hand, the rise of struggles for claims and opposition to the military regime (1964-1985).

The aspirations of the electoral majority that gave victory to Lula's candidacy in the 2002 Presidency of the Republic election were presented in documents whose contents of guidelines in economic and social policy pointed out measures such as: honoring contracts and preserving the surplus primary; protect domestic production and reduce high interest rates; regulate the entry of foreign capital; encourage exports; protect employment and expand social policies (Cf. Martuscelli, Political crises and neoliberal capitalism in Brazil). In fact, the economic policy of the first years of the Lula government assumed a transitional profile, combining the maintenance of monetary stability measures with initiatives in the industrial and social areas.

Under the pressure of the so-called “Lula risk”, the expectation of financial market agents was that the speculative attack of capital flight that started during the election campaign would continue, even after Lula had exposed his government intentions in the Letter to Brazilians. Faced with this scenario, President Lula appointed an economic team that adopted conservative measures, such as fiscal adjustment and pension reform, under the allegation of avoiding inflationary risks. At the same time, the reinforcement of lines of credit by the BNDES, encouraging productive investment, began to favor the base of support for the government of industrial groups, in the same way that the reorientation of part of the State budget to the reinforcement of social programs did in relation to to the poorest sectors of the population (Cf. André Singer, The senses of lulism).

Then, the change of the economic team, abandoning the conservative orientation of economic policy and replacing it with a development model that articulated economic growth with income distribution policies and monetary stability, would have shown the “intuition” and “pragmatism” by President Lula.

The data point to a positive performance in the country's economic and social indicators. The inflation rate decreased, recording rates of 9,3% in 2003 and 3,1% in 2006. At the same time, the government managed to reduce interest rates by almost half; the Selic rate, which reached an index of 2003% in May 26,3, ended 2006 with an index of 13,2%. In turn, there was a gradual increase in the minimum wage, which went from R$ 302 to R$ 402 in the period. Although spending on health and education has not progressed at the same rate, there has been a significant increase in the area of ​​social protection, which rose from the level of 13,7% to 20,5% between 2003-2006.

These results were, to a certain extent, produced by a front of social and political forces, which managed to reverse the pattern of socioeconomic development of previous governments under the guidance of neoliberal thought. On the one hand, the PT (Lula) and PL (José de Alencar) coalition induced a tacit agreement between workers' leaders, such as CUT and MST, and national business sectors, such as FIESP and Febraban, around a new economic and social development policy. In 2005, after extensive discussions, the government initiative committed trade unions, social movements and employers' associations to the National Development Agenda, structured around six axes: the fight against social inequality, the intensification of infrastructure logistics, public safety, justice , regulation and supervision, the elimination of regional inequalities (Cf. Bresser Pereira and Ianoni, Class coalitions in a new democracy: the case of Brazil).

On the other hand, joint initiatives by business leaders and workers had repercussions within the government apparatus, such as the Council for Economic and Social Development (CDES), whose operation involved negotiation between employers and employees. Several legislative measures adopted by the National Congress originated from diagnoses and guidelines formulated by the CDES, such as the institution of the National Labor Forum, the protection of Micro and Small Enterprises, the expansion of resources for Professional Education.

The victory of this new political coalition presupposed two conditions. In the first place, the condominium of interests in the hegemonic system between the banking segment and the industrial segment of national capital; such a balance of position should clash with the guidelines of neoliberal policy – ​​monetary deregulation, high interest rates, privatizations, etc.–, which favored the interests of finance capital with international monetary dominance.

Second, the hegemonic business sectors should actually grant gains to the working classes; which implied a new standard of labor and social policy, which would make possible an expanded reproduction of the salaried work force. As one union leader declared, “it was necessary to break through the opposing sides and build alliances. At a CDES meeting, I defended employment and wages to strengthen the internal market as a way of facing the crisis”.

In summary, the PT and the CUT practiced a policy of class alliance, whose global results indicate real gains for the interests of the social majority, without ceasing to privilege the hegemonic interests of capital; everyone won, but not to the same extent. After all, the left or center-left government was installed without revolutionizing the structures of the bourgeois State, which, due to its values ​​and its institutionality limited to such values, invariably imposes the convergence of state policy to the interests of the ruling class or its fraction hegemonic.

More specifically, the Lula-Alencar and CUT-FIESP alliances produced effects that actually increased the well-being of the social majority, in a context in which fractions of the bourgeoisie (multinationals, big business, foreign banks) sponsored the adoption of regressive policies of social rights; at the same time, these alliances gave rise to political stability to achieve a neo-developmentalist program.

A common point between the different analyzes of the cycle of PT governments is perhaps this question of social commitment involving, on the one hand, the representatives of big capital and, on the other, the leaders of the working classes. In some works, the PT cycle appears shaped by the practice of “class conciliation”, implying the “co-option” and “depoliticization” of the working class leaders and involving the fraction of underpaid workers, due to their class disorganization, as the base of political-electoral support.

This discussion, in our view, would advance if we took into account the distinction proposed by André Gorz, in the book Workers' strategy and neocapitalism , between the normal reproduction of labor power and its expanded reproduction. Wouldn't the expansion of social policy aimed at impoverished sectors contain a sense of unemployment protection, since the Bolsa Família Program has a minimum-income dimension? In this context, wouldn't the Program be in part an extension of minimum material conditions, already guaranteed to unemployed workers by other social protection measures?

In any case, the generalization of the analysis of the impoverished sector to the working classes as a whole would not seem founded. The policy of real increase in direct and indirect wages (with the expansion of SUS, secondary and higher education and others) would be within the expanded reproduction of the workforce and, in this case, would mean an improvement in its civilizational conditions in the Brazilian capitalist formation .

*Francisco P. Farias Professor of Political Science at the Federal University of Piauí (UFPI)

**Octávio F. Del Passo is a doctoral student in Political Science at Unicamp

This article is part of the Presentation of the dossier “The PT cycle: reflections from the Social Sciences” published in the magazine Themes, no. 53 (2019).


BOITO JR., Armando. Reform and political crisis: class conflicts in PT governments. Campinas, Unicamp, 2018.

BRESSER-PEREIRA, Luiz Carlos & IANONI, Marcus. Class coalitions in a new democracy: the case of Brazil. In: MAGARA, H. & AMABLE, B. (orgs). Growth, crisis, democracy: the political economy of social coalitions and political regime change. London and New York, Routledge, 2017.

GORZ, Andrew. Workers' strategy and neocapitalism. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1968.

MARTUSCELLI, Danilo. Political crises and neoliberal capitalism in Brazil. Curitiba, CRV, 2015.

SAES, D. State and social classes in Brazilian capitalism in the 70s/80s. First version, n. 2, Campinas, IFCH-Unicamp, 1990.

SINGER, A. The meanings of Lulismo: gradual reform and conservative pact. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2012.

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