Trotskyists and Liberalism

Image: Lara Mantoanelli


Liberals love a nasty anecdote that claims that anyone who wasn't a socialist in their twenties has no heart, and that anyone who remains a socialist after their thirties has no sense.

“Two fight if one wants to. Vanity is talkative; silent pride” (Portuguese popular wisdom).

In Reinaldo Azevedo's interview with Lula there were passages of good humor, such as Lula's intrigue about the rivalry between Fernando Henrique and José Serra, or Paulo Guedes' lack of credibility and Friday night indoor soccer. But also a malicious moment from the interviewer about Trotskyists and liberalism.

Lula laughed, but he didn't slip on a banana peel just to please the interviewer, and “noblesse oblige” was careful and honest, and even defended that the Trotskyists, with whom he had many differences over the decades, are “good at politics”.

Liberals love a nasty anecdote that claims that anyone who wasn't a socialist in their twenties has no heart, and that anyone who remains a socialist in their thirties has no sense. It is directed against the entire left. It is not uncommon for some militants and, eventually, even left-wing leaders to “regret” their positions in their youth, and turn to the right. Nor is it surprising that they are rewarded for it.

But it is not true that this phenomenon is more common among Trotskyists, when compared to other currents on the left, in particular, the Stalinists. On the contrary, when minds are not poisoned by ideological prejudices, Trotskyists are widely recognized, even by their enemies, as militants of great abnegation, personal detachment and moral integrity.

It so happens that Trotskyism, on an international scale, although it has remained a politically minority current, attracted talented personalities to its ranks who gained visibility in their professional careers, and had erratic destinations, or even crossed class boundaries.

In Brazil and in the world, the Trotskyist movement is very fragmented into rival currents. The Fourth International did not survive the terrible pressures it came under intact. He suffered the consequences imposed by political and social marginality. But, if we consider the last forty years in historical perspective, without diminishing the importance of the many mistakes, the political balance of the Trotskyists, when compared with the hard core of those who came from Stalinism, is enviable.

Between 1977/1984, for example, two major strategic orientations divided the left. The vast majority of trends that came from the PCB tradition defended support for the MDB and bet on the tactics of the Frente Ampla, accepting the hegemony of the liberal wing led by Ulysses Guimarães, Franco Montoro and Tancredo Neves.

Trotskyists defended the perspective that the dictatorship should be overthrown by mass mobilization, with no illusions in the slow, gradual and safe opening, and any confidence in the MDB, and they bet on the political independence of the class, therefore, on the foundation of the PT and the CUT. This did not prevent them from defending unity in action when, finally, the MDB and Brizola joined the campaign for Diretas Já, after the PT organized in São Paulo the November 1983 rally in Pacaembu.

Between 1984/1989, again, two lines divided the left. The communist parties declared support for the election of Tancredo Neves in the Electoral College and, therefore, for the transition from above and the defense of the New Republic. Trotskyists in the PT defended the boycott of the Electoral College, and the construction of a firm opposition to the Sarney government.

In 1992, the dilemma was to overthrow Collor or wait for the electoral calendar in 1994. The Trotskyites were in the first trench of the Fora Collor campaign. Most of the old “Partidade”, not some intellectuals in solo flight, had already renounced Marxism and even founded a party that evolved, uninterruptedly, into a liberal-democratic satellite of the PSDB.

Between 1995/2002, after the election of Fernando Henrique Cardoso in the wake of the real plan, once again, two orientations fractured the left. “Improvement” advocated harm reduction, for example, “propositional” negotiation of pension reform, and “quietism”, or waiting for the next elections.

Trotskyists were at the forefront of defending the 1995 oil workers' strike, committed themselves to preserving the CUT as a Central of irreconcilable opposition to the government, and defended the preparation of a campaign by Fora FHC. Where have most of the Stalinists been?

Between 2002/2013, when the Brazilian left came to government for the first time, Trotskyists were dramatically divided between support and left-wing opposition. But they engaged as always in the struggles of youth and workers, defending that the Lula and Dilma governments should break with the bourgeoisie in the fight for anti-capitalist structural reforms. Some did it inside the governments, others inside the PT, and others outside the PT. The vast majority of Stalinists settled comfortably into office. They were unrecognizable.

Between 2013/2014, the left fractured between the support and dispute of the June days, and those who were unable to understand the impulse of the new generation that took to the streets and, from the beginning, saw only a conservative danger. Trotskyists were in the streets and in the fights.

Between 2015/2021, in the face of the overwhelming reactionary offensive, which included demonstrations by millions in support of the institutional coup against the Dilma Rousseff government, Temer's inauguration, Lula's conviction and imprisonment, the immense majority of Trotskyists, including those who positioned themselves in left-wing opposition to the coalition governments led by the PT, they did not hesitate to denounce the danger posed by Bolsonaro's election.

Since 2018, Trotskyists have engaged in resistance with the Left United Front line against the majority of Stalinists who either disregarded the neo-fascist danger, or hastily concluded that a historic defeat had occurred, and then capitulated to the Broad Front line. , accepting the legitimacy of the liberal leadership in opposing the far-right government.

Intellectual honesty is important. It is the cement of moral strength. Brazilian Trotskyists committed many and varied political mistakes and, also, because of this, they are fragmented. All currents inspired by the tradition of Leon Trotsky are still in the minority and imperfect. Its history reveals its fragility.

But there is also greatness.

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

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