Interview: Why the Brazilian Marxists joined the Socialism and Liberty Party

The government of Brazil, headed by Michel Temer of the right-wing PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), is deeply unpopular. Meanwhile the PT (Workers’ Party), which has traditionally been the main Left party in Brazil, is mired in corruption scandals.

As class struggle is developing in Brazil, and with presidential elections coming up in 2018, I spoke with Caio Dezorzi from Esquerda Marxista (Marxist Left), the IMT in Brazil, about which way forward for the Brazilian Left.

“For a long time the PT was the focal point for the working class in struggle,” he told me “and the Marxist Left within the party was a focal point for a layer of the most radical people. But the June Days of 2013 were a real turning point.” The June Days were mass protests, initially sparked by rising transport fares and police brutality, but which soon developed into demonstrations against the PT government as a whole. “Young people in particular have no experience of the old PT fighting against the government. All they know is the PT in government behaving just like every other administration. So, the party became the focus of a lot of anger during those protests.”

Caio explained that this was reflected in the 2014 presidential election, even though this election was won by Dilma Rousseff – the PT candidate. “Although Dilma won, that election represented a serious warning to the PT that they were losing the support of young and working class people”, Caio said.

The 2014 election was between Dilma and an openly right-wing, bourgeois candidate whose public profile was predominantly that of a wealthy drug baron. The PT vote collapsed in key areas that have been traditional strongholds of the PT, including the cities where the party was founded and where Lula (the former PT President of Brazil) had once been the leader of the metalworkers’ union. The result was that, even against a drug baron, the PT only just scraped a win in the presidential election.

Despite having campaigned in 2014 using Left rhetoric, Dilma immediately stuffed her cabinet with ministers who would not have been out of place in the government of her opponent. “For us this was the last straw,” explained Caio. He told me how the Marxists in Brazil began preparations to break away from the PT, which they did in early 2015.

“We understood that a layer of the people alienated by the PT was now turning to the PSOL,” Caio said. He explained that the PSOL is a political party to the left of the PT that was founded in 2004/05 by a group of senators who split from the PT under Lula’s presidency over the question of pension reform. “We argued in 2004/05 that the Left within the PT should remain united inside the party, along with the ranks of the working class,” said Caio, “because back then there was still a battle to be fought inside the party, as long as the working masses still trusted it. But now the situation has changed, and we’re keen to build the PSOL on a Marxist basis as a point of reference for the working class and young people in Brazil who are looking for a solution to the crisis.”

The Marxist Left officially joined the PSOL in February 2017. I discussed with Caio what the future holds for the PSOL. “It’s a small party,” Caio said, “similar in size to Syriza, pre-2009. But the development of the party is uneven, as you would expect in a country the size of Brazil.” He goes on to explain that in Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city in the country with six million inhabitants, the PSOL has done very well electorally, winning council seats, parliamentary positions and coming close to winning the election for mayor of the city. The story is the same in Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre and Campinas – all important urban centres.

“One of the most noticeable things”, Caio went on, “is that where the PSOL presents a radical, solid left-wing programme and rhetoric, it does well. As far as the Marxist Left is concerned, this is what we’re pushing for in the PSOL – for the party to base itself on a clear, consistent anti-capitalist and revolutionary socialist platform. In a word, we want to Bolshevise the party.”

I asked Caio about how the comrades of the Marxist Left in Brazil had been received when they joined the party. “There’s a delicate balance of forces in the PSOL at the moment,” he answered, “the left wing and the right wing carried almost exactly equal weight at the last congress of the party in 2015.” Caio explained that this meant official approval for the Marxist Left to enter the PSOL was delayed for many months by long debates on the leading bodies of the party.

“But now that we’re officially part of the party and attending meetings, it’s been excellent working with PSOL members,” Caio told me. The Marxist Left in Brazil has for a long time been heavily involved and strongly associated with the Occupied Factories Movement that swept the country in the early 2000s. Many in the PSOL are optimistic that the Marxist Left’s roots in the proletarian struggle will bring the party closer to the more radicalised layers of the working class.

“We have a reputation for taking the study of Marxist theory very seriously,” explained Caio, “and for successfully applying the theory to the struggle of workers and young people in Brazil. It’s this method and tradition we want to bring to the PSOL, and our experience so far is that members are enthusiastic about our approach.”

Caio concluded by saying that we can expect sharp turns and sudden changes in Brazilian society in the coming months and years. “The Left has to rise to this situation with a strategy for overthrowing capitalism and building socialism,” he said. “For this we need a solid industrial strategy to build on the recent general strike, and a revolutionary political outlook. But the PSOL mustn’t see itself as the left wing of the PT, or as the PT’s critical conscience. It has to be the party which is implacably opposed, in its policy, image and rhetoric, to the entire establishment. There’s potential for the PSOL to make a success of a programme like this and that’s what we in the Marxist Left are fighting for.”