Brazil: A Turning Point in the Political Situation

The struggle for the reduction of public transport fares, which began in Sao Paulo, has sparked a change in the political situation in the country. The Marxist Left (Esquerda Marxista) was one of the initiators of this ongoing struggle back in May. Here Serge Goulart provides a balance sheet of that movement – originally published in America Socialista.

The popular protests against the increase in public transport fares were initially dealt with by the government using sheer repression. Violence against protesters during the demonstrations of 13th June 2013 reached its peak in Sao Paulo (where the PT is in charge of the council and the bourgeois party PSDB, of the state) where the police carried out a brutal war-like repression against the population. However, instead of hijacking the demonstration, police reaction was met with impressive resilience and solidarity amongst the people. The next day, the government and bourgeoisie were forced to change and face up to the situation in a different way.

The awful police suppression was powerful enough to make the population rise up simultaneously across all states in the country. Initially, the PT mayor and the PSDB governor attempted to justify the police brutality, and the Justice Minister, Jose Eduardo Cardoso (from the PT) offered federal troops to be used against protesters in Sao Paulo ‘whenever needed’. These statements were aimed at showing that EVERYONE was together in the repression against protesters in order to suffocate the movement.

Nevertheless, the popular reaction was outstanding and four days later enormous demonstrations took place, where citizens took to the streets of entire cities and forced the authorities to step back. The ruling class and the repressors were isolated and the police could not function so openly. In Sao Paulo, Mayor Haddad and Governor Alckmin declared the reversal of the newly imposed increases in public transport fares, which had already been announced by other mayors and was subsequently followed by many others. In the following days, even bigger demonstrations took place to celebrate this victory.

The fear of the bourgeoisie and the reformist leaders who abandoned the workers and youth

The social malaise, the lack of prospects, the anxiety of living in a capitalist hell that only produces catastrophes, have all come to the surface and are not going to go away with demagogic speeches from the government. The hatred towards this system, which has nothing to offer to the masses other than endless suffering, has been reflected in the uprising of the youth with popular sympathy. The 20 cents increase in the transport fares was only the straw that broke the camel’s back. But capitalism has no way out.

The right wing parties have nothing to say to the workers and youth. The left-wing parties such as the PT rule in a very similar way to the capitalists. Who can blame the youth for not trusting the existing political parties, for not feeling represented by these parties and the bourgeoisie who are trying to manipulate them, wanting precisely to derail the movement away from the necessary political solution?

The government, the bourgeoisie and the media, the reformist leaders and trade unionists who collaborate with the ruling class, all of them were in panic and disbelief. The Prime Minister, Gilberto Carvalho, stated: ‘It would be wrong to think that people understand what is happening’. And he was right: they do not understand anything that is going on in the streets.

Until recently, they never got tired of telling over and over again the same old story about Brazil being the fifth most powerful economy, that the GDP continued to grow, that there weren’t any more people living in poverty, that the poor and the workers were ‘turning into middle class’, and that capitalism equals happiness. They praise the advance of international capitalism over the country and the working class, and distribute the public money and continued with privatisations. Meanwhile, they boast about having helped 40 million Brazilians out of poverty only because their monthly income increased by R$70 (about 30 US dollars). Outrageous!

That was until the world crumbled beneath their feet.

The character of the demonstrations, the reaction of Fascist groups and the reality behind the smokescreen

The protests were mainly made up of working class and petty bourgeois youth. They reflected the radical rejection of the masses towards the political parties who say one thing, then do another, who speak about socialism but work hard for the capitalists. But this does not change the widespread popular support for the movement. The protests reflected the failure by the capitalists to meet even the most basic needs of workers and youth.

The bourgeois media attempted to put protesters off through a ‘campaign against violence’, criminalising the youth as ‘troublemakers’. President Rousseff joined in with the peaceful chant as her personal motto.

The involvement of anarchist groups, along with the conspicuous absence of trade union participation and the lack of an organised programme for change, gave the demonstrations no direction to go in and open to the influence of antagonistic forces.

This cleared the way for the media to impose labels on the movement, such as ‘apolitical’, ‘with no banners’ and ‘pro-Brazil’, etc. After the military operation that expelled working class organisations and parties from the protests of June 20th in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, there was a fuss over the Internet warning of an imminent fascist coup. There are some who think that the fascists actually took over the demonstrations. If this had actually happened, Brazil would have immediately gone into a turbulent period of reaction and civil war. However, this is far from true.

The dirty work was done by the Military Police disguised as protesters

In both Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro it was not the fascists groups that expelled the left from the demonstrations. It was an organised operation carried out by the military police. With hundreds of policemen and women dressed up as protesters, and with the support of fascists and nationalist groups, the military police penetrated the demonstration in Sao Paulo, first as a human chain behind the left block and then by blocking it from the front with another chain, so that they were able to isolate the left and push it out of the main column. It was a truly organised military operation.

There is not a single fascist group in Brazil with the ability, experience, militancy or organisational capacity to ‘push the left’ out of a demonstration. There are no fascist mass organisations in Brazil that are even remotely capable of removing the left from a demonstration with such surgical precision, especially in a protest the size of those seen in Sao Paulo on the 20th June. On three separate occasions, reaction managed to push out the working class and left wing organisations, MST, CUT, PT and PCdoB first, PSTU, PSOL, PCB, PCO, etc. afterwards, and finally the Pase Libre Movement and the anarchists at the front of the demonstration. Even Hitler only managed to form fascist organisations capable enough of confronting the left on the streets after many years of struggle which undermined the morale of the masses facing the policies of the Social Democratic Party and splits within the German CP.

Nevertheless, this operation was only successful because the leaders of the PT, PCdoB, the CUT and MST, had not shown up. Not only were they not there, they did not even make an effort to organise and mobilise the masses. The trade unions are still obeying the rules against using loudspeakers, avoiding coordinating and orientating the masses, which allows for breaches in the organisation of the protests and infiltration from the outside. Who can believe that in a demonstration where the heavy battalions of the working class have mobilised along with the powerful workers’ trade unions and parties, the fascist gangs and police could impose themselves?

It is for this reason that the Esquerda Marxista has defended from the beginning the unity of the organisations who support freedom of speech and democratic freedoms, fighting against political demoralisation. In every place where a unitary and democratic committee was formed, the protests could not be disorganised by fascist and right wing groups and the banners of the Left waved aloft. There are numerous examples of this across the country.

The dust will not settle easily

The CUT and others were forced to call out a wave of ‘demonstrations, strikes and events’ for July the 11th. The most popular demands have not yet been met and nothing will be solved by continuing capitalist policies in the face of a deepening crisis. The Dilma government’s policies are a finished recipe for a future explosion which could seriously harm the PT.

We live in a very similar world to that of the 1930s: a deep economic crisis from which the bourgeoisie can find no way out and an open rebellion from the masses across countries. The most important feature of this situation is that the masses impose themselves and are widely supported by the international working class.

Moreover, the bourgeoisie has no party that is able to defeat the masses and turn the situation into a counter-revolutionary one. The old state apparatus that controlled the working class, effectively preventing it from bringing capitalism down during the 1930s, as well as the old Stalinist apparatus and the social democratic international do not exist anymore or otherwise have no ability to stop the masses.

The absence of mass revolutionary parties is the main issue in the present situation and it is the task of the Marxists to change that. This task must be carried out at this stage, strengthening the Marxist groups and recruiting more members, attracting new layers of youth and preparing for future revolutionary waves.

At all times we reaffirm our Marxist idea that the working class is the most powerful and revolutionary class in present-day society. Moreover, we reiterate our analysis that the youth is a barometer for future revolutionary movements. The gigantic demonstrations that took place in June were a frightening experience for the bourgeoisie and the reformist leaders of the mass organisations, as well as for government officials. The next demonstrations, when they erupt with the heavy battalions of the working class, will make the whole of Brazil shake.

In Brazil, after the huge protests, the police repression and provocations from the extreme right wing, only the call for a general strike on 11th July by the trade unions was able to remove the police infiltration and agent provocateurs from the streets. The bourgeoisie is right to fear the indignation of the masses. Even though initially they tried to stir up the workers ‘against the reds’, they changed their strategy and disappeared from the streets when they saw the masses of resistance organising themselves. The Brazilian working class has not been defeated and is still feeling encouraged by the victories achieved.

A political tsunami has hit Brazil

The Marxists were able to correctly analyse the situation in Brazil and dealt with it properly, in particular with the launching of the weekly newspaper Hammer and Sickle (Foice & Martelo) about the perspectives for the political situation. The launching of the newspaper turned out to be a right move and helped to keep unity and action amongst the Marxists during the riots all around Brazil. The ‘Resolution about the bimonthly magazine and a weekly newspaper’ stated:

  • We are living through a new turn in the situation both in Brazil and the rest of the world. The world crisis has deepened with a slump in the European crisis. China, India and Russia see their economic growth significantly decreasing. The attempt by the US to concentrate their efforts in the military and industrial compound as a strategy to come out of the crisis has no future, in the face of their gigantic debt. Meanwhile Brazil reached a 0.9% GDP growth in 2012. The future does not seem bright in any country and the capitalists are losing hope, with even the optimists expecting the crisis to last for decades.
  • The bourgeoisie knows that it has no way out of this crisis. As we already said in the Marxist Left National Congress on the 29th March 2013, ‘as a result of this fact, the crisis is sharper in countries affected by the crisis, with the political meltdown of bourgeois parties and their inability to implement the reforms needed for the survival of capitalism. The main feature of the international situation is, on the one hand, the struggle of the masses and, on the other, the divisions amongst the bourgeoisie and their institutions. ‘The result of this will be a tendency for the bourgeois leaders of working class organisations to abdicate to capitalism and more violence on the part of the bourgeoisie.’
  • The international crisis is also being felt in Brazil. Dilma’s is an austerity government that supports cuts to social spending and attacks on public services, the privatisation of nationalised industries and natural resources, as well as attacking all the gains of previous struggles.
  • This will help to intensify the class struggle and will mobilise whole new layers of workers and youth. A new situation has emerged that will require more militant action and the will to strive. Marxists have the task of building the Bolshevik organisation by explaining at every step of the struggle in a clear and appropriate manner that there is no way out for the aspirations of the masses within capitalism, while participating in and organising the struggle. We need to prepare for this using all necessary tools.
  • In this situation the Marxists need to become more involved into the tasks of the organisation with eyes on the future, when the situation could change dramatically.
  • In order to build the movement, we need to establish a weekly routine which would help with the political training and cohesion of the organisation.

The Brazilian working class has yet to reach its full potential for struggle. But the uprising of the youth, firstly against the transport fares’ increase and then against state repression, showed its strength on the streets and the potential for a revolutionary explosion. The working class and its organisations did not fully participate in this movement; however, it is undeniable that the demonstrations were extremely popular and the working class sympathised with them.

Political crisis, splits in the bourgeoisie and a clumsy attempt to take the initiative

Without political parties able to handle the situation, the bourgeoisie is increasingly divided over how to proceed. Their organisations are still in crisis, and they tend to look for solutions that are often contradictory. A section of them still intend to continue collaborating with the leaders of the workers’ organisations in order to form a cross-class coalition. Another section, however, aims to annihilate the workers organisations and is constantly looking for the way towards totalitarianism, criminalising working class organisations and the struggle of workers and youth.

Aecio Neves, leader of the right wing opposition party and presidential candidate, announced that Rousseff's fall in popularity affects all politicians. A feeling of panic filled every political arena after the June demonstrations. But the bourgeoisie not knowing what to do does not mean that they are ready to accept what the leaders of the PT are trying to do. On the other hand, the leaders of the PT do not know what to do either and the way they are taking will only lead them to their own demoralisation, presenting reformist policies as the only way out. They have attempted to take the political initiative that had begun on the streets in order to channel the movement back through their political institutions.

However, this proposal did not even last 24 hours. Dilma had to take a step back publicly in order to make a deal with the rest of the bourgeois parties about the referendum for reforms proposed as part of their 'taking the initiative'. However, after their initial deal with the PMDB towards reform, they backed away from their own proposal with the excuse that it would not be approved in time for the general elections of 2014. And because their main political allies, the PMDB, holds important positions in Parliament they would make sure that, indeed, it is not approved in time.

At the same time, with the streets in turmoil, Dilma attempted a deal with the leaders of all political parties, that is, another attempt at a 'national unity' deal, whose main goal is to maintain the status quo. This proposal includes:

  • Fiscal responsibility from the government at all levels (i.e. local, federal and national)
  • Political reform, including a referendum on this issue and to prevent corruption
  • With regards to health care, the 'importing' of foreign doctors and health care professional into interior regions of the country
  • With regards to public transport, the introduction of more resources in the cities in order to improve the quality of transport
  • With regards to public education, again the introduction of more resources coming from the oil revenues.

Marxists know the meaning of these proposals and will not be fooled by them. They are not going to solve anything, especially with a government in coalition with the bourgeoisie. The present situation, which brought millions out to the streets, will only get worse.

Rousseff asks for 'fiscal responsibility and stability': the federal agencies must make an effort to keep inflation and spending under control.

Everyone knows what austerity means. 'Fiscal responsibility' is a policy made up by the IMF and the Tucans (bourgeois party in opposition to PSDB) in order to attack public services. In this way, they intend to pay for their massive debt to the financial markets.

He talks about 'accelerating the spending on health care'. (???) What could this possibly mean in a system which privatises everything? Perhaps to equip hospitals with public resources to then hand them over to businesses through so-called 'social organisations'?

Of course not a single word is mentioned about nationalising what has been privatised in order to guarantee a public and good quality health care system.

With regards to public transport, the same: increasing fiscal benefits for businesses. Another $50 million for the 'urban mobility', oriented to improve the quality of privatised transport and make the exploitation of public transport by private corporations easier. Not a single word about nationalizing transport to prevent individuals from profiteering from it.

Education: more resources, but for public schools or for private schools funded with public money? Will they help to introduce a universal and good quality public education for all, or will they rather make a profit out of education?

In fact, the demonstrations pushed the government even further to the right, and Rousseff is preparing the biggest package of austerity measures ever introduced in Brazil so far, auctioning off the exploitation rights for oil, ports, airports, electric and water resources, railways, roads, hospitals and other public services.

The question is one of “Reform or Revolution”

Not only are the uprisings unlikely to stop, but Dilma´s policies will tend to make things worse. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie cannot hope to maintain any stability in the situation for much longer.

The bourgeoisie does not know yet whether they will accept Dilma´s proposals and whether to carry out political reforms or to call out for a referendum on the matter. Within the PT, however, all tendencies agree on political reform as the only solution in the present situation. This is wrong and unlikely to solve anything. Moreover, their proposals for the funding of election campaigns exclusively with public money will only make things worse, as parties tend to inactivity and ignore the most basic needs of the workers and youth.

Even the left of the PT has decided to support political reform, the public funding of the election campaigns, reforming the justice system, and so on. The PSOL and PSTU also agree with the public funding of election campaigns. Only the Marxists defend class independence and the funding of the election campaign exclusively through the support of members and sympathisers. Only the Marxist Left rejects these reforms, for they serve to prevent the development of the political line of the parties through the public funding of political campaigns, as we have always rejected public funding to support the party.

They want to 'reform' the Brazilian bourgeois state, which still keeps intact the old forces of repression from the military dictatorship, and which still protects dictators and torturers. These are the same people who are oppressing the youth and workers, and they dare to criminalise the social movements.

The only way out is to remove the government and the capitalists in order to form a government made of the majority of the population. Only the working class can solve its own problems, including the uneasiness and suffering that brought millions onto the streets and that will bring many more millions out next time the movement sparks off in the country.

People are already fed up with capitalism, but its historical leaders do not wish to offer any alternatives. However, the revolution will impose itself despite of all the reformist arguments, because what truly makes the masses move is always their material circumstances.

No reform of the current system and the bourgeois state can possibly hope to solve the problems facing the workers and youth. Marxists do not want to reform the bourgeois state or the capitalist system. What is really needed is a revolution that can establish new and truly democratic institutions through which the majority of the population can express their concerns and rule for the good of the whole of society in order to solve its problems. We strive to crush the bourgeois state and capitalism and move towards establishing a Republic of Workers’ Councils, the democratic management of the nationalised and planned economy of the majority and for the majority of the population. More than ever we face the dilemma of 'socialism or barbarism'. Only a socialist revolution will do for the progress of humanity.

The Marxists in the present situation

The task of Marxists right now is to patiently explain what is actually going on, and to keep flying the banner of:

An end to the auctioning of the oil, the right to paid retirement for all workers, the rejection of the debt (internal and external), the re-nationalisation of all privatised services, including transport, airports, ports, roads, electricity, energy, etc., land reform and the nationalisation of the economy, pharmaceutical companies and health care.

Our main goals are reflected in the slogans from the protests, such as:

Public, free and for all! Transport, health and education!

Out with the capitalists!

This struggle is also reflected in our participation in the internal elections of the PT with the demands for “moving further to the left and towards socialism”. The only conclusion is that Marxists need to build a strong revolutionary tendency, the Marxist Left, a section of the CMI, able to attract workers and youth, on whom our efforts are focused at the moment.

July 2013