Since Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidency in 2002, Brazil has experienced one of the most dramatic shifts in political consciousness in recent years as a result of President Lula’s rightward turn.
Lula has completely accepted the dictates of the IMF, allocating over half of Brazil’s federal budget to repaying debt and interest charges, while simultaneously betraying his roots in the Brazilian working class with policies of retreat and broken promises.
He has also cut education, surrounded himself with representatives of big business and banks, and has completely turned on the very same forces that had put so much into the building of the PT since its inception, particularly the landless masses of Brazil and federal employees. When Lula took office in early 2003, his approval ratings were over 80%. By the summer of 2004, those numbers had dropped to under 30%.
When four members of parliament (MPs) were expelled from the PT for speaking up against Lula’s betrayal, it proved to be the last straw for many working-class activists and leftist politicians throughout the country. The subsequent formation of a new left party, the Socialism and Liberty Party (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade – P-SOL), has become increasingly attractive to growing layers of Brazilian society, reflected in the swift collection of 500,000 signatures to obtain party status in Brazil.
P-SOL, which is at this point a broad formation of many different political tendencies, is clearly one of the most significant left parties to have been formed worldwide in more than a decade. As one of the MPs involved in the formation of P-SOL, João Babatista (a.k.a. Babá), explains, the new party is a big step towards the establishment of a new mass workers’ party. However, the development of P-SOL will be determined by events and, crucially, the policies and tactics that it adopts.
André Luiz Ferrari of Socialismo Revolucionário, a leading activist on the Executive Committee of P-SOL, explains that there are still many concerns to be dealt with: “The party is still very fragile. Within it, there is an openly reformist wing with a mainly electoralist view of the political struggle.” That is to say, there is a wing that believes socialist change can be achieved through gradual steps and elections, rather than the arena of mass struggle. One of the expelled MPs who founded the party, Heloísa Helena, is one of the most popular left figures in Brazil. Many of the reformist currents are “adopting positions with an electoralist bias on the issue of Heloísa Helena’s candidacy for presidency in 2006 that tend to pose P-SOL as mainly an electoral instrument.”
The CWI and Socialismo Revolucionário argue that the considerable Marxist forces within P-SOL should link the party program with day-to-day demands of the working class. These demands must be transitional in character, paving the way for a socialist transformation of society. The party must build itself from the bottom up through strikes and struggles, laying the basis for it to play a leading role in the future revolutionary struggles of Brazil’s workers and peasants
Heloísa Helena’s candidacy can play a key role in the building of the party by presenting a socialist platform to a mass audience in the 2006 presidential election. But it would be a mistake to put all the energy and resources of the party into the 2006 presidential campaign, rather than combining the election campaign with building the party through intervening in the class struggle.
However, as P-SOL begins to develop, these issues will be debated and the arguments of the Marxists will increasingly gain support among the best activists.