EN 40 years – The challenges of the present

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Despite the PT in government promoting policies that allowed the social ascension of various poorer segments, it lacked consolidation of popular adherence to a new nation project

original virtues

“Life begins at forty”, they say: accumulated experience would give us the tools to, mature, deal better with the challenges of existence. For the ephemeral party organizations in Brazil, reaching forty years old is rare – most die prematurely, due to artificiality. Completing this age is valid in the sense of renovation – or even refoundation, in certain cases.

In 1995, I composed a very bad samba, except for the melody that Dudu Botelho, composer of Acadêmicos do Salgueiro, put on. One of the verses said: “PT has been here for years, I sing, after all, a party here doesn't last that long…”. I was active in the legend and we were fifteen years old.

Amateur samba was precarious but contained some truth. The history of political parties in Brazil is relatively recent. Legends of a national character, with some doctrinal scope, only emerged among us after the Estado Novo, with the democratization of 1945 – with the exception of the Communist Party, which, founded in 1922, survived amid persecution and clandestinity. And movements such as the Brazilian Integralist Action (AIB) and the National Liberating Alliance (ANL), in the 1930s, a version here, with its singularities, of the rise of Nazi-fascism and the popular resistance fronts in Europe.

Before, what we had were gatherings of interests, without organization and programmatic statutes, like the “Brazilian Party” and “Portuguese” at the time of Independence, the similar “Liberal” and “Conservative” of the Empire, the localist republican parties of the Old Republic . They were an expression of nuances or dispute between sectors of the same dominant class.

The Workers' Party, born in 1980, 40 years ago, was a novelty in the usual pattern: it came from the squares to the palaces, it was not a pact of political elites. A novelty also on the left: it was born criticizing the authoritarian and bureaucratic experiences of “real socialism”. He claimed to be committed to popular interests and to the organization of the dispossessed. He didn't want to be a mere caption for electoral contests, he didn't want a mere delegation, he didn't accept replacing conscious citizenship, but representing and encouraging it.

Anti-capitalist by definition, the PT proposed a society where social relations would be based on cooperation, where the public interest would prevail over those of the market, where diversity would assert itself over consumerist uniformity (including thought), where the relationship with nature would be one of integration, where work becomes viable as everyone's right to personal and social fulfillment

The socialism of the PT program would only be so if it were the work of millions, fighting all class inequalities. And gender and ethnic discrimination. An egalitarian, libertarian, critical and creative party. with that ethos grew and gained influence.

Thanks to this clarity, it has become, until today, the most recognized party in the mass of fantasy legends, despite the rising tide of anti-politics. According to all opinion polls, after the overwhelming “none” (around 70 to 75%), the party that has the most sympathy among the minority that prefers one is still the PT.

stones on the way

The growth of the PT's insertion in institutions brought contradictions. An expressive part of its summit was losing zeal for practices that supported and stimulated social, associative, cultural and union movements, without instrumentalizing them. With the PT reaching parliamentary prominence and conquering governments, sectors of its leaderships stopped considering it an actor among other actors, with different roles and a text of collective elaboration to be staged – in different public scenarios – in the social theater: that of the construction of a new system, that is to say, a new way of thinking and acting in politics. The PT hegemonism loomed.

The PT, occupying increasing spaces in the state machine, reduced its dimension as a pedagogical party. Pedagogical is that which speaks to the masses, interacts with them, converses with the people on a daily basis. Pedagogical party that – and this is a challenge for all leftist organizations – reworks its language and, with less bureaucracy, gives collectivist meaning and political power to popular concerns and anxieties, which are in the heart and pores of each militant. Educational parties that learn to use the new instruments of the tremendous revolution in communication that the internet has brought, without wanting to tame rebellion – tragically channeled by the extreme right (not only in Brazil).

The PT built a beautiful interface of approaching social movements with insertion in institutional spaces. This was reflected in the social policies he developed when he was in central power, with Lula and Dilma. Structuring, democratizing, profound reforms were lacking. From the State, from politics, from the tax system, from the land, with an ecological bias, from the city, confronting speculation. From the economic model.

Just when it faced the biggest challenge in its history, that of being the government of the Republic, the PT became entangled in an environment of ambiguities, loss of references and even forgetting of principles: it implemented measures that it never proclaimed in the campaign, it made alliances - as is imperative in the policy – ​​without establishing ethical boundaries, out of mere pragmatism. There was a kind of “programmatic corruption”. The former minister and former governor of Bahia, current senator Jaques Vagner (PT/BA), publicly acknowledged that the PT was “smeared” with systemic, structural corruption, five hundred years old – which the victorious right now viralizes as having been inaugurated by PT.

The late Chico de Oliveira (1933-2019) defined a “new class” as a leading group born in the PT era: moderate capitalist, formed by former union leaders and political professionals who, from pension funds, financial institutions and State apparatuses, he became a manager of the market and a mediator of political tensions in favor of conservative institutions. Talking about a “new class” seems to me to be an exaggeration, but it is worth considering the fact that a section of the PT “nomenklatura”, far from the base militancy, adapted to the dynamics of the system, cooling down the fight against its ills.  

From the South, where the PT programmatic identity has always been strong, comes the criticism of Olívio Dutra and Tarso Genro, recognized leaders, who have already occupied the state government and the city hall of the capital, in addition to national ministries. Tarso says that the PT “cannot be pre-dated hegemonic”, even in party instances (where he, Tarso, was almost always marginalized, due to his more critical and independent stance). He emphasizes the urgency – which is valid for the entire left – “to learn to speak with this new world of work in these times of networked social relations”.

Tarso goes further: “it's no use promising to renew and preach the restoration of the CLT. Work processes were fragmented and today there are freelancers, hourly workers, PJs, precarious, intermittent... In this case, it is about organizing another public protective system that involves those growing excluded from labor legislation (...) In addition to absorbing demands of social tension resulting from questions of gender, culture, racial prejudice and sexual condition”. He concludes, poking all progressive forces: “we are talking in vain, with discursive forms that broad sectors of society no longer pay attention to”.

The Dark and Lights of the Future

The tendency is for the PT to continue to be a reasonable acronym for voting, even if somewhat “peemedebized”. His removal from power perhaps revitalizes his rigor with public ethics, his commitment to grassroots work and even – who knows? – its socialist mystique. There are demands of your militancy in this direction.

The PT was a historic milestone for the Brazilian left, which failed to radically democratize power relations in government and root politics as a citizen role that improves people's lives in the popular imagination. Born to enchant, it generated, in various sectors, different degrees of disenchantment. But it is also undeniable that it brought advances. Faced with the dismantling of social policies and continued manifestations of truculence, hatred of the poor and ignorance of the power now controlled by the extreme right, a kind of “saudosismo” for the PT era is also growing, especially for the Lula governments… But the imperative in order not to have a fatal disaster, you have to look forward, not take comfort in the rearview mirror.

Thrown into the common grave of the other large and medium-sized parties, with many of which it made electoral and government alliances, the PT saw the growth of an “anti-PT” that has a strong reactionary, elitist, prejudiced character. That barely disguises a rejection of the policies that allowed the social ascension of several poorer segments. With the PT, popular sectors reached the shelves of consumption, white goods, cars. What was lacking was the consolidation of a new political and citizen awareness. There was also a lack of consolidation of popular adherence to a new national project, which welfare or charismatic leadership, however brilliant and intuitive genius it may be, do not guarantee.

The Workers' Party, like any other that wants to be change, has to understand the changes that time promotes: its working base is no longer, neither numerically nor qualitatively, the same as in the 1980s. Brazilian society has changed a lot in the last 40 years ! Several functions were extinguished and categories such as metallurgy and banking – to cite two examples – suffered a drastic reduction. Today the “precariat” looms large, and the “neo-Pentecostal reception”, with a strong popular insertion and conservative bias, is expanding. The left has not been able to dialogue with these social phenomena.

Another fact for analysis by the “forty-year-old”: young people aged 18, 20 and 25 only knew about the federal PT, with all the stress that being a government brings. Political power, which is not all power, eludes and accommodates. The left was slow to recognize the crisis of participation and mobilization – of which it is also a victim. A political party will no longer be “the vanguard of the proletariat”, much less the “ingenious guide of the peoples”. It remains fundamental, but there are new forms of representation and expression. Any profound social transformation will only happen if promoted by a myriad of movements, which have a point of convergence, which today does not exist.

The challenge of the moment is to seek, in solidarity with all other organizational forms in society, including non-traditional ones, linked to the arts and religions, ways and means of overcoming apathy and lack of interest in the direction of society. Reenchant around collective projects.

Do not self-criticize others. But that good tradition of the left needs to be revitalized, in all progressive organizations, there it needs to be. It would be socially useful, and just as important as constituting a democratic, progressive, anti-neo-fascist front. In order, with her and with the humility of someone starting over, to rediscover the addresses of the people.

*Chico Alencar is a professor, writer and former federal deputy for PT and PSOL

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