At this year’s Committee for a Workers International Summer School in Leuven, Belgium Comrade Maria Clara from Liberty Socialism and Revolution (LSR), the Brazilian section of the CWI gave an engaging account of the significant turn of events in that country culminating in the recent parliamentary coup by the traditional right wing parties ousting the Workers Party (PT) President Dilma Rousseff.
The background economic conditions that contributed to creating conditions for the “coup” were explained. The Workers’ Party was created in the midst of the pre-1985 dictatorship and despite having fundamentally reformist politics, built up a massive standing among the working class leading to the election of Lula Da Silva as President in 2002. However to the disappointment of many who supported them, Lula and his successor Dilma never threatened the rule of capital. This situation however was contained for a time in the context of an economic boom fuelled by commodity exports to China.
However, the Chinese slowdown has had a catastrophic effect on living standards. GDP declined by 3% over the last year. Unemployment has grown by three million climbing to a total of 11 million corresponding with the 25% decline in industrial output over the last three years. One quarter of those at work earn less than the statutory monthly minimum wage, equivalent to €240 per month.
But even this is not enough for the capitalist class who are determined that austerity be stepped up so that profitability be restored at the expense of the working class and rural poor. The major capitalists and the traditional conservative parties concluded that Dilma’s government could not be relied upon to deliver this accelerated austerity.
2013 represented a turning point when a mass movement of discontent exploded in the run up to the 2014 world cup when working class people could see massive resources going into vanity infrastructure for the tournament when at the same time public services were being starved of resources.
Dilma managed to cling on to power in the 2014 elections, not because the masses thought hers was a good government but rather because a government of the traditional right, some of whom have links to the old dictatorship, would be worse.
Her position became further undermined when corruption scandals involving the PT came to light which gave the PT the appearance of being as corrupt as the rest. “Operation Carwash” saw the imprisonment of company executives and party officials leading one minister to call for the investigations and trials to end because everybody in the parliament was implicated.
In the face of a growing protest movement this time made up more of the middle class, impeachment proceedings were pushed through parliament by politicians as corrupt as the PT leading to Dilma’s movement from office and her replacement by Temer, who previously served as a junior ally in the government over the previous thirteen years.
That his new cabinet was composed entirely of white men was emblematic of the reactionary turn this government wanted to take. The Ministries of race relations, women and culture were all abolished, though direct action protests by artists and musicians forced a retreat on the latter.
Key counter reforms the bosses want this government to introduce such labour reforms making easier to sack people and the raising of the retirement age won’t be straightforward. The reality is that though the wave of protest that formed the background to Dilma’s overthrow was anti-government and predominantly middle class it cannot be concluded that there has been an overall shift to the right in Brazilian society with people clamouring for the anti-worker policies that the boss class desire.
There is a big social dimension to the opposition to this new government which is intent on attacking LGBTQ rights as well as restricting the availability of the abortion pill. These factors and the recent brutal gang raping of a teenage girl which went unpunished has driven a revolt among women.
A four month-long education strike has coincided with a parallel protest movement of school students leading to school occupations, numbering 200 in Sao Paulo alone, forcing a back tracking on threatened school closures.
Struggles have likewise broken out against outsourcing at Volkswagan and General Motors.
The various struggles are, so far, fragmented and the government, while nervous, does not yet feel the pressure required to force a total retreat.
Fearful of a repeat of the protest movement that dogged Dilma’s government during the World Cup, the Federal Government has introduced emergency laws to clamp down on protests for next month’s Olympics.
The LSR in the midst of these developments had to adopt a correct position of opposing this parliamentary coup while at the same time not letting Dilma and the PT off the hook for the fact that they have done the bosses’ bidding in government.
By contrast, another significant organisation of the revolutionary left, the PSTU, adopted a crude position that both the old and new government were essentially the same cutting themselves off from the emerging struggles in opposition to Temer. They went as far to say that Dilma’s removal was a victory for the working class even though it was patently obvious that it was not the product of extra parliamentary struggle. This mistaken position was an important factor which led to a major split taking place in the PSTU.
The LSR is working in cooperation with a number of other left and workers organisations in opposition to the coup under the banner of the “People without Fear”. The Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL) in which the LSR is a participant has seen its poll ratings increase as it is seen to stand apart from the generalised corruption in Brazilian politics. They are poised to now make serious gains in Mayoral elections in key cities around the state.
The fall of Dilma corresponds with a general trend of the reformist and ex-reformist left with former left Presidents in Latin America losing office as in the case in Argentina and could be the case in Venezuela where there is a serious social crisis.
The fundamental lesson is that winning political office means little if a government that describes itself as left is not prepared to challenge capitalism as a system and fight for socialist change.