What will the PT do?

Image: Alex Azabache


Will the PT follow Lula's leadership, which has much more prestige than his party, or will it remain faithful to the values ​​of its historic program?

The extreme right is advancing in Brazil and almost throughout the world. In the USA, Joe Biden's government went from dominating to becoming a victim of its domination in relation to the Israeli government that currently guides the North American government. The protests and demonstrations against the genocide in Gaza at major North American universities, as well as demonstrations across Europe, are a strong sign of Joe Biden's loss of electoral support. Military and political support for Israel's massacre of the Palestinians tends to favor Donald Trump, domestically, and Vladimir Putin, internationally. Donald Trump supports the far right everywhere, and Vladimir Putin supports the far right in Europe.

In Brazil, to guarantee governability, the Lula government made concessions to the right. The current government brings together the center left, without power, and the center right and the right, with power. It is a weak government, it achieved a few victories at the price of strong concessions to the market, the military and right-wing parliamentarians from the lower clergy, the so-called “Centrão”.

As Frei Betto stated in his excellent May 2023 article “Do social policies change the people’s minds?”, the answer to this question is no. The advances achieved with a progressive social policy do not necessarily translate into votes. In his article, he recalls that “Brazil experienced 13 years of PT governments that guaranteed the low-income population several benefits: Bolsa Família; minimum wage adjusted annually above inflation; Light for All; My home, my life; FIES; quota in universities; drastic reduction in misery, poverty and unemployment; increase in education, etc. However, Dilma Rousseff was overthrown without the people taking to the streets to defend the government. And Jair Bolsonaro was elected president in 2018. In 2022, he lost to Lula by a difference of just two million votes, out of a total of 156 million voters.”

After this article by Frei Betto, the news is that, as is the case in the Lula government and the Biden government, economic advances, as well as social advances, also do not translate into votes. Macroeconomic variables – GDP, income, employment, etc. – have little or no influence on the behavior of the electorate, which is more influenced by the price of food than by any other economic factor. It is mainly influenced by the rejection of the institutional political world, by criticism of the “system”, typical of the reductionist discourse of the extreme right. And Lula, now, is the “system”.

Thus, the economic and social benefits brought by the current government, in exchange for concessions to right-wing businessmen, military personnel and parliamentarians, do not necessarily generate electoral support. In the 2022 election, Lula had an electoral victory, but not a political victory. The Lula government implements a conservative economic policy and a progressive social policy, although repressing some popular demands.

Respecting the dogmas of neoliberalism, such as zero deficit and fiscal austerity, minister Fernando Haddad, with his classic PSDB profile, today fulfills a role equal to that of conservative ministers of the past. Fernando Haddad mainly defends the interests of the financial market and agribusiness, and denies salary increases for public employees and various categories, such as teachers. And the PT follows behind, in the name of fighting the extreme right.

In this situation that has been consolidating, does the PT tend to transform into that PSDB of the past that called itself social democrat, but supported neoliberalism? We will probably know after the next municipal elections with the predictable electoral superiority of the right across the country. This will put pressure on the Lula government further to the right, in search of support.

Frightened by the advance of the extreme right, the position of unconditional support for the Lula government against the threat from the extreme right tends to strengthen on the left, as the traditional right has been swallowed up by Bolsonarism. In the 2026 presidential elections, the tendency is for polarization between a center liberal candidacy, represented by Lula or Fernando Haddad, with support from the center left and center right, and a fascist candidacy, with support from the right and extreme right, represented by Tarcísio de Freitas, Ronaldo Caiado or whoever comes.

An important counter-trend is what occurs in the municipal election in São Paulo, where the PT supports Guilherme Boulos, PSol candidate. This is PT's big dilemma from now on: make an alliance with the left or follow Lula in his quest to win over the liberal right?

Given this, the left will not disappear, but it will weaken, divided into two main positions that are already visible on the horizon: (a) critical support for the Lula Government in fear of the extreme right, even with criticism that is sometimes greater than the support, and (b) coherence with its traditional agenda, rehearsing the first steps towards a left-wing alternative that, at least in the beginning, would be more ideological than political.

The path for the left to overcome this impasse has already been pointed out countless times by many analysts: the left in general, especially parties, social movements, unions and professional associations must leave their respective bubbles and go to the base, talk and politicize their traditional support areas, often abandoned. The same goes for the base of evangelical churches, where they are poor and oppressed, easy victims of right-wing pastors.

Here's the dilemma: Decipher me or I'll devour you! What will the PT do? Will you follow the leadership of Lula, who has much more prestige than your party, or will you remain faithful to the values ​​of his historic program? Will the PT transform itself into a social democratic party with liberal policies that are repressive in the economic and progressive in the social or, consistent with its political history, will it move away from Lula's path towards the center and center right?

This text is not intended to be affirmative, much less to exhaust the subject. The objective was to analyze some contradictions and explore trends. Some important features of the political situation already point in certain directions. But nothing is predetermined, everything depends on political action and the confrontation of political actors in defense of their interests. In the case of the PT, there are dissenting voices in the party. Polyphony is welcome.

*Liszt Vieira is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond). [https://amzn.to/3sQ7Qn3]

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