EN 40 years – The crisis of the 40s

Franco Angeli, Stelle (1961; Private Collection)

By Valter Pomar*

Fighting, organizing, regaining a majority in the working class: this is the way to overcome the “crisis of the 40s” of our Workers' Party. And the workers.

In the middle of Carnival, at lunch with friends, someone said that Bolsonaro, in addition to being a fascist, was a total nutcase, because he lives to fight communism, something that “no longer exists in Brazil”. And he added: “nobody is more communist today!”

Out of politeness, I did not open my mouth, but raised my finger, hand and fork (not the knife, which remained prudently lying on the table). Surprised, the interlocutor replied emphatically: “What a communist, you're from the PT!!”.

This episode reveals the political and ideological confusion we are in, all of us on the Brazilian left.

On the one hand, we are attacked by an extreme right that sees a communist behind every democratic slogan. On the other hand, we have a left that, for the most part, fails to understand that the extreme right is right.

After all, throughout history, a lot of blood and sweat had to be shed to conquer national sovereignty, social rights and democratic freedoms. Contrary to the legend spread by some, what ensured all that was not Fordism and much less liberalism, but the struggle of the working class, especially the socialist movement.

In addition, the neoliberal capitalism that is contemporary with us is experiencing more and more difficulty in coexisting with social well-being, democratic freedoms and the national sovereignty of others, which makes historically reformist and social-democratic policies today, in fact, still more “threatening” than before.

And in Brazil, as in much of Latin America, the ruling classes continue to operate in a slave and colonial manner. For a patrimonialist, democratizing politics even a little bit is like expropriation.

For all these reasons, whoever wants to consistently fight for those “reformist” policies needs to be willing to face an apparently unreasonable reaction. You want peace, prepare for war; you want reform, prepare to make a revolution.

Deep down, the astonishment of the lunch colleague is directly related to the defeat suffered by the PT and the rest of the Brazilian left, between 2016 and 2018: the belief that if we were moderate, they would be too.

Life confirmed otherwise. And it did so because capitalism remains increasingly resistant to reforms, including those reforms that in other times helped to save capitalism from itself. It is worth mentioning that in general these reforms were imposed on the capitalists. Perhaps for this reason, it is said that Vargas accused the Brazilian bourgeoisie of being a bit stupid; if true, this has never prevented it from profiting like never before, throughout every period of our country's history.

One of the conclusions to be drawn from all this is that, whether or not it is “communist”, the entire Brazilian left is and will continue to be the target of a fierce anti-communist campaign. And the main target of this campaign is the main party of the Brazilian left, the Workers' Party, which completed its 10 years of age on February 2020, 40.

Like many people, I directly and personally followed most of this trajectory. My first effective act of PT militancy was in the 1982 election campaign. The actual affiliation to the Party only took place in 1985. Since then, I have done a little of everything: I militated in the base nucleus, I was part of the zonal directorate, municipal directorate and state directory. In 1993 I took over the Communications department of PT São Paulo, the direction of the magazine Theory and Debate and the bulletin Direct line. I also worked in the Party's political training area, especially at the Cajamar Institute, between 1987 and 1991. In 1997 I joined the national directory, was elected to one of the vice-presidencies and, in 2005, to the PT's International Relations secretary (until 2010) and for the executive secretary of the São Paulo Forum (until 2013).

Within the Party, I was active in the Articulação dos 113 and, in 1993, I participated in the creation of the Articulação de Esquerda, a tendency that I still belong to today and on behalf of which I disputed the national presidency of the PT in 2005, 2007, 2013 and 2019.

It is worth mentioning that I was never a parliamentarian, not even a candidate. My government experience was limited to advising, between 1995 and 1996, the then mayor of Santos (SP), David Capistrano; and to be secretary of Culture, Sports and Tourism in the administration of Izalene Tiene, in Campinas (SP), between December 2001 and December 2004.

Before joining the PT, I participated for a brief period as a militant in the “secondary base” of the so-called left of the Communist Party of Brazil, where, among many others, José Genoíno, Tarso Genro, Wladimir Pomar, Ozeas Duarte, Carlos Eduardo de Carvalho, Maurício Faria, Humberto Cunha, Alon Feuerwerker, Igor Fuser, Celeste Dantas and Maria Luiza Fontenelle.

Several of these left the PCdoB to create the Revolutionary Communist Party, from which they acted in the PT and also in the PMDB. Others opted from the beginning to build the PT directly, rejecting the proposal of having a “party within the party”.

At that time, my decision to become a member of the PT had two fundamental reasons: a) the PT built, in practice, an alternative to the strategy defended by the two officially communist parties (PCdoB and PCB); b) the PT was home to most of the militancy that led the great workers and popular struggles of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The first of my fundamental reasons for joining the PT remained almost entirely valid until 1995. However, since then the Party has been changing its political line, moving closer and closer to the positions that, in the 1980s, were defended by the official communist parties and similar organizations. In other words, the defense of a strategic alliance with a sector of Brazilian capitalists, an alliance translated into a program that intended to combine a stage of capitalist development with increased levels of democracy, social welfare and national sovereignty.

To those ideas, in the 1990s the PT added another one: that our objectives could be achieved through governments elected according to the rules of the game. This addition constituted a metamorphosis of the original notion, defended by the PT itself in the 1980s, according to which the construction and conquest of power included contesting elections and exercising institutional mandates, combined with social struggle, class organization and the strengthening of a mass socialist culture.

Since 1995, the defense of the PT's original strategy has continued to be made by some tendencies, but no longer by the majority of the Party. Some of these trends continue in the PT to this day; others gave up on the PT and contributed to the emergence of the PSTU, the Popular Consultation and the PSOL. But none of these organizations (not even the PCO, which emerged earlier) managed to escape the gravitational pull of PTism, neither from a political point of view, nor from an ideological point of view.

On the other hand, the change in the political line of the PT, starting in 1995, converted to PTism many militants who defended such a strategic alliance with sectors of the capitalist class and/or who saw the electoral struggle and institutional action as the maximum limits of party political action.

The aforementioned conversion was greatly facilitated by the neoliberal offensive, which brought back the dilemmas of the 1930s, but also by the collapse of Soviet socialism, which many considered as the end of all socialism, at least that based on a revolutionary strategy of conquest of power.

The electoral gamble and the strategic alliance with a sector of the capitalist class seemed to give their best results between 2006 and 2010. But the “B side” of that political line showed all its strength during the final phase of the Dilma Rousseff government, in the 2016 coup, in the conviction and imprisonment of Lula, in the fraud that elected Bolsonaro.

Lowering the strategic objective (replacing socialist anti-capitalism with an anti-neoliberal discourse and confusing the struggle for power with the electoral conquest of governments) brought, as side effects, the practical renunciation of trying to carry out the so-called structural reforms, the belief in the democratic commitment of the ruling class , the bet on “republicanism”, the growing dependence on state and business funding, the weakening of militant organicity and the subordination of the Party (and movements) to governments.

All this, plus the turn taken in 2015, when President Dilma Rousseff summoned Levy to be Minister of Finance, made it impossible for the PT to prevent, resist and defeat the coup. Everything could have been different, but the fact is that few sectors of the Party realized that we had entered “times of war”. Incidentally, for a large number of PT leaders, it took time for “the penny to sink in” that Congress would approve the “impeachment”, that the Judiciary would condemn and arrest Lula, that the elites would support Bolsonaro; and even in 2018, our candidate Fernando Haddad thought it was a case of praising supposedly positive aspects of the work of Moro and Lava Jato.

At the PT's 6th National Congress (2017), the PT rehearsed a self-criticism of the strategy adopted since 1995, in particular the mistakes made from 2003 onwards. But, in Fernando Haddad's campaign and at the 7th National Congress (2019), it was evident a significant portion of the Party simply cannot visualize the possibility of adopting another strategy, other than the one already adopted against the toucan governments of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. This is the real reason for some who, against all evidence, continue to refuse to make a self-criticism of the strategy adopted since 1995: the fear of the practical consequences that will come from the recognition that the policy of “class conciliation” was wrong.

If the moderate portion of PT is right, sooner or later history will repeat itself, we will win the elections, we will return to the federal government and we will then be able to implement public policies that, once again, will improve the lives of the people, expand democratic freedoms and rebuild the foundations of national sovereignty. And the coup d'état was just a hiatus, a point outside the curve.

It is worth mentioning that, if this scenario becomes reality, the justification will be given for the PT to conclude its metamorphosis, ceasing to be a socialist party (which fights to overcome capitalism) and becoming a democratic party (which fights only for “democratization of capitalism”). This is because the aforementioned scenario would demonstrate something that, as I have already explained, I consider very unlikely: that contemporary capitalism, especially Brazilian capitalism, would be capable of coexisting democratically with structural and long-term reformist policies. In this case, the struggle for socialism would metamorphose into the struggle to reform capitalism. And my lunch colleague would, after all, have every reason to be astonished at the existence of “PT-communists”.

But if the moderate portion of PTism is not right, if the coup is not a hiatus, but a defect; if Brazilian capitalism in particular and contemporary capitalism in general are not able to coexist and assimilate strong reformist policies (such as those proposed by Jeremy Corbins and Bernie Sanders, for example), then anyone who insists on a tested and outdated strategy will be contributing to the extension of the defeat suffered between 2016 and 2018, a deepening defeat throughout 2019.

It is worth remembering that this defeat was not just for the PT, nor just for all the leftist parties. It belonged to the entire working class and can be objectively measured by the worsening of living conditions, the reduction in freedoms and sovereignty.

Faced with this defeat, each sector of the PT and the PT as a whole are called upon to choose one of three fundamental alternatives: a) or completely reorient the strategy, in increasingly difficult conditions and with less and less chance of success; b) or to adapt more and more, lowering horizons and practices to the level of degeneration; c) and/or experience serial defeats, until, sooner or later, a party emerges that will overcome us on the left, as the PT itself did with the pre-existing left parties.

Detail: what party would this be, capable of, in the worst of the aforementioned alternatives, overcoming PTism? Most likely, none of those out there applying for the post. First, because a catastrophic destruction of PTism would create a toxic cloud that would suffocate all leftist organizations for a long time. Second, because for a party to replace the PT, a tsunami of social struggles would be necessary, similar to that of the 1970s and 1980s. , in an environment of rising mass struggle.

Therefore, the strategic problems facing the PT are immense. No wonder many people don't want to think about it. No wonder, too, that others simply freak out, give up, capitulate, get tired of “punching a knife”, abandon active militancy. Just as it is not surprising that some people mortgage their soul to a commissioned position (or similar) and let “life go on”, driven by the inertial belief that what we did against FHC will work against Bolsonaro.

As a personal reaction it is understandable and, in many situations, inevitable, although in some it is not pleasant to see, much less to smell, as is the case of some absolutely irrecoverable characters, who could contribute by doing like Vaccarezza, Palocci and others: leaving formally of a Party to which they no longer really belong.

But, from a political point of view, none of the attitudes mentioned above contributes to facing and solving the strategic problem posed. Just as leaving the PT in search of a utopian and non-existent bubble without problems does not contribute, an attitude adopted by many who do not realize that the PT's problems are not just the PT's problems, but the problems of the immense majority of the vanguard of the Brazilian working class. . Reason why many people leave the PT, but the PT does not leave them; reason why many leftist parties act, in practice, as if they were “external tendencies” of petismo.

One thing is certain: the working class will come back sooner or later. And if we want this to happen as quickly as possible, if we don't want a scenario like that of 1964/1980 to be repeated, then it is necessary to work to avoid the catastrophic destruction of PTism.

This is one of the reasons why, 40 years later, I continue to bet on the PT. This is also the reason why some of those who bet on other party projects, aiming to overcome the PT, are now changing their line and getting closer to the PT.

In other words: only under the leadership of the left will the working class be able to defeat neo-fascism and ultra-liberalism; and as far as the eye can see, there is no way for the left to do this, without the PT or against the PT. But if this is true, it is also true that the PT will only be able to contribute in this sense if it changes its political orientation and, mainly, if it manages to materialize this new political line, in a new political practice. Because it will not be the coup of selfies and tweets that we will be able to recover political majority and militant organicity, for leftist positions, in the working class.

This brings me to another reason why I joined the PT, in the 1980s, a reason that remains valid until today. In 2010, upon completing 30 years, the PT was not just the Party in which most of the vanguard of the Brazilian working class militated; it was also the party favored by most of the Brazilian working class.

Today, ten years later, the situation has changed in two ways: the number of non-PT militants has grown significantly; and the share of the working class that does not vote for the PT has also grown considerably, quite the contrary. However, all formal and informal surveys indicate that petismo remains the option of most conscientious workers. 

In addition, even in cities and states where the PT has weakened a lot – and for this reason it is being overcome electorally by leftist competitors – these supposedly alternative parties to the PT already incur many of the defects of PTism, sometimes (unfortunately) without incurring the qualities.

In other words, even where the PT's formal structure and electoral strength are in poor shape, most of the working-class vanguard remains “PT”. And to conquer this social base, the parties that emerged criticizing the PT ended up adopting positions (and attitudes) that mimicked those of the PT. As a result, some (and sometimes several) of the problems that weakened the PT are still present in its supposed alternatives. One of the examples of this is what we see, for example, in Rio de Janeiro: the PSOL overcame the PT electorally, but the left as a whole is smaller today than it was before, which is why the right has so far been swimming by the armful.

This is, therefore, another of the reasons why it is still necessary to dispute the paths of the PT. Because if the PT does not succeed in overcoming its own problems and limitations, the left and the working class as a whole will pay dearly for this; and if, after a more or less prolonged period of defeat, an alternative emerges, this alternative will face many of the same dilemmas that the PT faces today; and if the PT has not been able to face and overcome these dilemmas, it will be much more difficult for our eventual successors to succeed. Avoiding an “infinite loop” like the one mentioned above is another reason why, 40 years later, I consider it necessary to remain in the PT.

And here we return to the starting point of this text: a good part of the gravitational force of the PT, in the 1980s, came from the conviction that it was possible and necessary to build a mass revolutionary party. That is, to engage tens of millions of people in a political and cultural movement against everything that is there, in an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, socialist, revolutionary course, capable of turning Brazil upside down.

We have not yet shown that this is possible. The Brazil of 2020 is, in many aspects, worse than the Brazil of 1980. But whether in what we have been partially successful in (relatively improving people's lives) or in what we have not yet been successful in (changing the country's structures, defeat the ruling class and prevent its reactionary movement), in any case, the inescapable need for an organized movement of tens of millions of workers, men and women, willing to fight radically against the status quo was confirmed.

Also in this sense, the reasons that led us to bet our lives on building PTism remain fully valid. And to those who are flooded by that defeatist pessimism so typical of times of political reaction, I can only say that, if Bolsonarism has shown that it is possible to convert millions of people in favor of reactionary positions, absolutely despicable and criminal, for what reason would it be impossible to win millions of people to revolutionary positions, in favor of the widest happiness and equality?

This is not about believing in the influence of the trade winds on the blue butterfly's menstruation, but simply about fighting. Studying, fighting, organizing, regaining a majority in the working class: this is the way to overcome the “crisis of the 40s” of our Workers' Party. And the workers.

*Valter Pomar he is a national leader of the PT and professor of international relations at the Federal University of ABC.

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