Brazil: From the June protests on the streets towards the path of electoral illusions?
Report from Corrente Comunista Revolucionária (RCIT Brazil), 11.1.2014, www.elmundosocialista.blogspot.com and www.thecommunists.net
The mass demonstrations in the streets of the main cities in Brazil in June 2013, in which the people expressed their disgust with the traditional political elite and the widespread corruption in Brazilian politics, marked the end of two decades of lethargy and certain political stability. In other words, an entire period without large popular mobilizations ended and the system was seriously shaken.
In late 2002 Lula da Silva – historic leader of the social democratic PT (“Workers Party”) – was elected as president. In his eight years in office, Brazil faced a certain economic stability and a strong growth of its GDP. The country has become one of the main economies of the South and part of the famous BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). This stability allowed Lula to his successor of the PT, Dilma Rousseff, elected as president. But with the bursting of the global economic crisis starting in 2008 – with its epicenter in the U.S. and spreading around the world – the political triumph of PT governments in power ended.
The June Days
This was symbolized in the presence of millions of people in June 2013 in the streets of all major urban centers against the regional governments (regardless of which party was in power), the federal government and the repressive state apparatus. Millions demanded in medium and large cities the end of corruption and impunity and a stop of the theft of public money into the pockets of politicians and businesses. People also expressed their disgust about the massive spending for the Football World Cup, the neglect of public health, rising inflation and the price rise of public transport tickets. The demonstrators demanded radical changes and the improvement of the public services as well as more investment in health and education.
The leftist parties were present with their militants at the beginning of the protests. But they were soon practically expelled and sidelined. The attempt of the left parties – mainly PSTU and PCO – to assimilate with the thousands of demonstrators encountered enormous resistance because most of the protesters were from sections of the middle class or lower middle class. Trade unions and popular movements were not present. The ruling PT and the trade union federation CUT (which is linked to the PT), which could mobilize thousands of protesters when they were opposition in the old times, became one of the targets of the angry protesters this time. It was in this context that leftist groups and parties were harassed and assaulted on 19th June. Everyone who showed up with their red flags (PSTU, PCO and other smaller groups) was continuously followed by a group of protesters shouting "No Party". There was pushing and shoving, exchanging insults, beatings and shatter of the red flags, which were then burned. Thereafter the parties and social movements continued their participation but without red flags.
The protests were partly successful insofar as they led to the reduction or cancellation of the price increases announced earlier on public transport in some cities. At the same time, the federal government of Dilma Rousseff (PT) responded to the streets with the promise of political reforms and proposed some social reforms.
On the political level, the President calls for constitutional reforms and by this, she tried to shift the political responsibility for the economic and social problems of the country to the National Congress, which is mainly composed of industrialists and especially landowners. Congressional leaders felt the blow and promptly rejected the proposal. The PT government of Dilma Rousseff had no alternative but to retreat because it rules in alliance with some traditional parties of the bourgeoisie, i.e. it constitutes a kind of popular front government. Instead of a change in the constitution, the National Congress implemented a failed project of political reform. This policy reform had the official goal to increase the transparency of the elections by opening a discussion about who should fund political parties, the national companies or public funds.
The “More Doctors” Program
On the social level, Dilma deployed the "More Doctors" program. Launched on July 8, 2013 it was designed to meet the shortage of doctors in the cities of the interior regions as well as in the poor periphery of the large cities in Brazil. The program aims to bring 15.000 national and foreign doctors to these poor areas. This program will not permanently solve the problem of public health in Brazil, which would require three times as much investment. The purpose of this project is rather to palliate the problems of the health sector and to give an emergency response to the street demonstrations.
Brazil had 388,015 physicians before the arrival of foreign professionals. This is about 1.8 per 1000 citiziens. In comparison this ratio is 3.2 in Argentina. However, the distribution of these professionals in Brazil is very uneven. In big cities there are more doctors, while the regions which are most distant of the industrial and commercial centers lack medical coverage. While the Federal District (Brasilia) and the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have rates well above the national average – 4.09, 3.62 and 2.64 doctors per thousand respectively – the states of Maranhão, Pará and Amapá only have rates of 0.71, 0.84 and 0.95 doctors respectively. In the Amazon region the situation has also worsened considerably. And even small municipalities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro State lack professionals. There is the same situation of lack of medical surveillance in the peripheries of the big cities, i.e. the poorest neighborhoods, where many doctors do not want to work.
In late July, a series of demonstrations and strikes were called by associations of doctors in protest against the governments program. On 23 August 2013, theBrazilian Medical Association (AMB) and the Federal Council of Medicine (CFM) filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court to suspend the program. However, the Supreme judged the "More Doctors" program a constitutional project.
The "import" of doctors from other countries, mainly from Cuba, was also the target of harsh criticism from medical students associations. In addition, the parties in opposition to the federal government – especially the PSDB – reacted againt the project with a hostile campaign full of reactionary and xenophobic ideology. This became obvious in the speech of the representative of the Regional Council of Medicine of Ceará State who said that the Cuban doctors came to Brazil as "slaves" in the service of Castro and that they are even "incompetent, because the medicine in Cuba is the most precarious". A journalist from Rio Grande do Norte exposed his racism and class arrogance whe he said that the Cuban physicans "have the appearance of maids" (some female Cuban medical are black).
This reflects the higly privileged status of physicans and academis in general. According to a report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) about the percentage of graduates in the population 25-64 years, this country of 200 million people is ranked at the last place in a group of 36 countries. The report tells us that in 2008 only 11% of the Brazilians in this age group have college degrees. Most of the medical gratuades are from the white elite and the deeply reactionary bourgeoisie. Even with programs of positive discrimination of black and mulatto people, like the United States did, there are few blacks who enter the universities – particularly in the disputed areas as medicine, engineering and similar studies.
Shameful Capitulation of the PSTU
It was therefor outrageous that the PSTU (leading section of the LIT, which stands in the centrist tradition of Nahuel Moreno) opportunistically supported this reactionary protests led by the CFM against the arrival of foreign doctors. The PSTU’s support for this reactionary movement of the medical elite proved completely disastrous when at the end of August in Fortaleza Cuban doctors were greeted by a crowd of angry doctors yelling and cursing, denouncing them as “slaves” (1). Soon after this, the PSTU was forced to recant its support for the CFM movement on its website. It had to explain that it is not a reactionary and xenophobic party. But it was too late. Its support for the right-wing and elitist movement of the doctors put the PSTU in the same camp as the most reactionary political parties in Brazil (2). Later the PSTU itself had to recognize that 74% of the population supports the "More Doctors" program.
We reiterate that the program does not in any way solve the health situation for the Brazilian people. No doubt, this is an electoral project of the PT government. Medicine in Brazil is first and foremost an extremely lucrative business. The rich have at its disposal easy access to hospitals both for treatment of cardiovascular problems or cancer diseases for example. But such treatments are expensive and are not available to the largely poor population. Medicine in Brazil is essentially curative, generating more profit for the pharmaceutical corporations and the hospitals. Unlike in developed countries and even in Cuba there is not as a project of preventive medicine. To this one must add that public sanitation is poor in certain remote regions of the country and in the urban slums.
Since the reflux of the mass demonstrations, both the parties which support the federal government as well as the opposition have made opportunist speeches in which they poase themselves as heirs of the June events. They claim to advocate the same demands of millions of people who took to the streets.
Brazil’s Economy in Crisis
Brazil’s economy was for years one of the shining stars of globalization. Not accidently bourgeois economists speak about the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – to name the most important countries of the South. Brazil experienced relatively high growth rates for a number of years – about +3.7% per year between 2000 and the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008. This economic growth helped the ruling class to keep a certain level of social peace.
However, Brazil could not escape the effects of the global crisis of capitalism. It has entered a recession in the past half year. Its GDP shrank by 0.5% in the third quarter 2013 compared with the previous three months (and minus 1.9% on an annualized basis). According to the investment bank Nomura, GDP might decline further in the fourth quarter. (3)
Inflation stands at 5.8% and is predicted to rise further to 5.92% in 2014, and to 10.5% at the end of that year. (4)
The rise of China as an imperialist power is also reflected in Brazil’s trade. China has already overtaken the USA as Brazil’s main trade partner and has become the number one country both for Brazil’s exports as well as imports.
While Brazil is a relatively industrialized country, is remains a semi-colony, i.e. a country which is dependent on the imperialist Great Powers and super-exploited by the North American, Western European, Chinese and Japanese monopoly capital. Currently foreign capital provides 15.1% of Brazil’s annual capital formation. (5) In addition Brazil has to pay nearly 1/5 of its export income to pay for its debts to foreign banks. (6)
Brazil’s bourgeoisie will do everything in its power to put the consequences of dependency as well as of its current recession on the shoulders of the working class and the poor peasants.
The Football World Cup 2014 as cover for anti-working class policy
The year 2014 will be atypical for Brazil. Several events will take place which the ruling class will try to utilize to deviate the masses’s focus from protests and mass demonstrations. Next year Brazil will host the Football World Cup; there will be elections for governors and the president as well as for the state and federal parliaments. It is tradition in Brazil since the late 1950s when it did win world championship for the first time that the federal govern seizes the chance to get political dividends. This became abundantly clear when the military dictatorship used the victories of Brazil in Mexico in 1970 to strengthen its popularity as thousands of political opponents were tortured and killed. Since then the people's passion for football has been used by politicians as a powerful instrument of political alienation.
The World Cup is organized by FIFA but it is paid with billions of dollars of public money to build fabulous stadiums. In this way the state is subsidizing the bourgeoisie of the construction sector with the working class tax payer’s money. The hotels industry will benefit from this event too.
Thousands of people are being driven from their homes to create the space for these stadiums, which after the end of the World Cup will be a real white elephant. There is also a public debate about the usefulness of spening billions on stadiums when this money is much more needed to build hospitals, kindergartens, schools, sanitation, better public transportation, etc. The controversy deepened with the declaration of the world famous soccer player Ronaldo Nazario, known as Ronaldo "the phenomenon", who is also a member of the Board of Directors of the FIFA`s Local Organising Committee (COL). The former football player was asked about public spending for the World Cup and if he agrees with the huge amount of money used for stadiums for the World Cup. He replied: "Money is spent on safety and health, but without stadium we will not have the World Cup. We can not make the World Cup with hospitals." This statement had a strong negative impact on public opinion. Another famous world champion, Romario, now a congressman from the PSB (Socialist Party of Brazi), declared that "I am not against the Cup; I am against excessive spending being made for this. FIFA will make profits of billion Brazilian Real (tax free), and almost one billion Brazilian Real will enter the coffers of the COL. I am no part of either of these corrupt and unscrupulous entities. The Cup is already 5 billion Brazilian Real more expensive since the first Union budget and you know what is worse? A lot of the plans to improve the transportation system and hence urban mobility, which would be a great progress for the people, were removed from the agenda, i.e. they will never be achieved.” The federal governments own website points out that the costs of the World Cup so far are more than 25 billion Brazilian Real or 12.5 billion dollars. (7)
The government fears demonstrations during the World Cup and therefore wants to pacify the protest movements. Gilberto Carvalho, minister of the Presidency’s General Secretariat, said that "the government will work together with social movements in the host cities of the 2014 World Cup, to resolve problems that may arise as a result of the event. The government's intention is that people have less reason to protest. We hope that social movements can contribute for negotiations, for example, in removing families. We know that in some cities, when people were forced to remove from their homes, to carry out the projects, some treatments of people were not appropriate. We want to fix it. We will continue working to ensure that the population has less reason to protest“.
The Presidential Election Campaign of 2014 has already begun
Elections are an opportunity for the bourgeoisie to appease the discontent and the protests of the working class. Both government and opposition unite to deflect the legitimate protests and the desires for change by focusing the attention of millions of people to the ballot box. Elections in Brazil take place every two years. After the presidential election in 2014, in 2016, along with the Olympic Games, there will be elections for councilors and mayors in more than 5000 cities around the country.
Recently both parties supporting the government as well as those who are in opposition to it appeared on TV where they presented themselves as natural heirs of the demands of protests of June. In the most opportunistic way, they presented images in advertisements which were assembled as if those parties were among the masses on the streets with their colorful flags making the same demands. This is obviously a scam, because all parties were driven from demonstrations. Of course many members of these parties were present but did not identy themselves as such and were not present in an organized manner.
The race for the presidential election in Brazil which will take place in October 2014 has already begun more than a year before. The former environment minister of Lula da Silva, Marina Silva, who did already run for president in 2010 and got almost 20 % of the vote, left the Green Party and tried to found a new party calledRede Sustentabilidade (Sustaintability Network). However she was unsuccessful in this due to the refusal of the Supreme Court. The PSB (Socialist Party of Brazil) has broken with the federal government of Dilma Rousseff and its party president Eduardo Campos (who is also the governor of Pernambuco) announced himself as a probable candidate for president. He also indicated that Marina Silva might be his candidate for vice-president.
The main opposition party is the PSDB (Social Democratic Party of Brazil) which was defeated in the last three presidential elections. Again it is faced with the problem that its rival, President Rousseff, has recovered from the crisis in June and has currently approval rates of 43%. The PSDB lacks support in the social movements and the trade unions. The main campaigning banner of the PSDB candidate, Aécio Neves, against PT was the fight against corruption. But the corruption scandal that has exploded at the end of the first term of Lula da Silva has not prevented him from being reelected. And to make matters worse for the PSDB, the trial of the corruption scandal of the "Toucan corruption" (toucan is the nickname which PSDB is known) by the Supreme Federal Court will begin in 2014 (8). This corruption scandal hits the PSDB at the same moment as former leaders of PT, who are accused of corruption, have gone to jail. The truth is that both the PT government of Dilma Rousseff as well as the biggest opposition party PSDB are deeply involved in corruption.
Furthermore, unlike the presidential election in 2010 the PT lost one of the greatest advantages for the next presidential campaign against the PSDB in 2014– its image as a party opposed to the privatization of the state industry. During her last election campaign Dilma categorically stated in her TV advertisments that it would be a crime against Brazil to privatize the pre-salt oil fields. But in fact Dilma extended the privatization of federal highways initiated under Lula da Silva government, privatized major airports and finally in October 2013, the Dilma government mobilized the police, Army and the National Security Force to ensure the auction of Libra pre-salt oil fields. A consortium with Shell (Dutch, 20% share), Total (France, 20%) and the Chinese CNPC and CNOOC companies (10 % each) and Petrobras (which by law will also have a 10% share) won the auction. According to estimations of the National Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels Agency (ANP), Libra is able to generate approximately 300 billion US Dollar in revenues in the next 30 years of production. Under the agreement, the consortium agreed to pay a signing bonus of $ 15 billion Brazil Real to the federal government. President Dilma Rousseff said in an interview that the auction of the pre-salt oil field in Libra was a success and that this can not be characterized as privatization. The president said there was a „fair balance" between the interests of the State and the companies that will explore and produce oil. It's what she calls a Public Private Partnership as opposed to privatization. What an understatement! These are demagogic words to hide the truth.
CUT, the trade union federation linked to PT, made some half-hearted protests against the privatization of the Libra oil fields, including its support for the strike of the oil workers in October 2013 which lasted a week. This strike coincided with the auction of Libra. However, on the very day of that auction they criminally failed to mobilize their rank-and-files militants, including oil workers in strike, to participate in the protests in Rio de Janeiro to prevent the privatization auction.
The experience with the item of corruption shows that both PT as well as the strongest opposition party PSDB are very similar. This became clear when the famous “Mensalão” scandal came into the public during the first term of the Lula government. (This scandal involved huge illegal monthy payments for deputies in parliament which the PT bribed.). Meanwhile another “Mensalão” scandal emerged in 2007 in which the Government of the State of Minas Gerais with Governor Eduardo Azeredo from the PSDB was involved. In both cases the charges were related to the financing scheme with irregular illegal public funds and private donations.
After nearly eight years of judicial proceedings in the Supreme Court, the principal leaders of the Workers Party (José Dirceu, José Genoíno) and other politicians of bourgeois parties are stuck in a rhetorical remorsefulness. The trial was controversial, as in the case of Dirceu his conviction was achieved based on the assumption that as Minister for the Civil House of the Lula government at that time he “was aware of and had responsibility for criminal acts committed by his collegous”. The members of the Brazilian Supreme Court used the theory of the famous German Jurist Claus Roxin in the sense that even without concrete evidence against an accused, the “domain of the fact” would allow a condemnation. The leaders of PT reacted to this theory stating that it was a political trial, and thus the convicted José Dirceu and José Genoino are political prisoners. What the leaders of the PT can not hide is that the diversion of public money of "Mensalão" was precisely to ensure passage of the Pension Reform of public sector workers in order to increase the life-long working time for the right to retirement while decreasing the value of pensions. These events showed the working class that it is difficult to distinguish which of these parties is worse. What is clear is that both serve the bourgeoisie.
One of the major centrist parties to the left of the PT, the PSTU, announced on December 16 that Zé Maria will stand as its candidate against the candidacies of Dilma Rousseff (PT) and Eduardo Campos / Marina Silva (PSB). On its website the PSTU analyzes its opponents as follows: "These two political camps, however, represent the same economic model and the same project for the country, which favors banks, corporations and agribusiness at the expense of the needs and demands of the workers, the poor and the youth." At the same time the PSTU calls the PSoL and PCB for "the constitution of a Left Front joining the PSTU, PSOL and PCB around a working class and socialist program and to head it we present the candidacy of Zé Maria for the presidency." (9)
PSOL is a party formed by politicians which have split from the PT. Its goal is to revive the original project of the Workers Party, which has now become the preferred government party for the Brazilian banks and companies. However, in its policy PSoL has nothing to do with socialism. To give one example: In 2012 it won the mayoral election in Macapa, capital of northeastern state of Amapá. For this purpose it entered an alliance with both the DEM (the successor of ARENA, the official party of the military dictatorship which ruled Brazil for 20 years) and the PSDB, the right-wing main opposition party of the country. Since then PSoL has continued this alliance which repressed strikes of teachers and other public employees. Characteristically Zé Maria and the PSTU omitted this fact in their call for a Left Front.
The PCO (Workers Cause Party) traditionally launches its candidate for president without alliances. Its participation in the elections as a legal party serves more as party propaganda and it receives less than 1% of the vote in the polls.
For which perspectives should the workers vanguard fight amongst the masses?
The ruling class – with both the PT government and the official opposition parties – will try everything possible to deflect the attention of the working class and the poor towards the football world cup and the electoral process. How should the workers movement fight against this? How can the working class vanguard utilize the electoral events during this year to advance the interests of the workers and oppressed?
The Corrente Comunista Revolucionária (CCR) considers it as a central task of the workers vanguard – the progressive activists in the trade unions, social and popular movements, the landless peasants’ organizations etc. – to oppose the governments attempt to pacifiy the protests before and during the football world cup. (10) Quiet the opposite; the coming months are an excellent opportunity to put pressure on the government by drawing the attention of the world public opinion to the burning problems of the popular masses. For the revival of mass demonstrations and strikes to demand higher wages, to fight inflation, to improve the conditions in the health sector, to abolish corruption, etc.!
For this it is necessary to build action committees in the enterprises, neighbourhoods and schools to unite all activists for the struggle. Equally it is necessary to drive forward the formation of a rank and file movement in the trade unions against the privileged trade union bureaucracy. During the June days there have been attempts to build “assembléias populares” (popular assemblies). Such progressive attempts of organizing the workers, poor, youth and the lower middle class should be broadened to build such assemblies in all enterprises, neighbourhoods and schools.
While revolutionaries fight against the bourgeoise’s attempt to channel the popular anger into the electoral process, they certainly do not ignore this terrain of struggle. Quiet the opposite; they will try to utilize eclections to put forward a revolutionary perspective.
The CCR proposes to the workers vanguard militants to utilize the mass mistrust against the official parties of the bourgeoisie in order to advance the discussion amongst the working class about a political program as well as an alternative party. An important part of this discussion must be the formation of a new and authentic Working Class Party created out of their midst of the workers and poor and controlled by them.
For popular assesmblies of the workers, poor and youth to discuss a program for the elections as well as to elect candidates from its midst! Similarly they should call to have a similar process inside the trade unions. The unions should break with their slavish subordination under the PT bureaucracy as well as other bourgeois parties! Revolutionaries should fight for a revolutionary Action Program as the basis for such a new Working Class Party without making it a precondition for its participation.
Revolutionaries should oppose the government’s plans to either hold a referendum about political reforms or to elect a “selective” Constituent Assembly. If there are issues concerning the constitution to decide, the CCR proposes that the workers movement fights for a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly!
The task of revolutionaries is to elaborate and spread a revolutionary Action Program which deals with the most important issues of the class struggle – wages, inflation, poverty, oppression of women as well as black people, corruption, etc. – and links them with the perspective of expropriation of the bourgeoisie, nationalization of the industry and banks under workers control and the formation of a workers and poor government based on workers and popular councils and militias.
Most importantly, the workers vanguard must build a revolutionary party as part of the Fith Workers International. Without a revolutionary combat party, the working class can never succeed in overthrowing the bourgeoisie via a socialist revolution. But without such a revolution, the people can never end the misery of capitalist exploitation and oppression!
As a first step, authentic revolutionaries should unite today in a Bolshevik organization on the basis of a revolutionary program. This is what the CCR and its international comrades of the RCIT are fighting for. Join us!
(1) Médicos cubanos são vaiados por manifestantes em Fortaleza, 27.8.2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_n_HF4ukmJo
(2) PSTU: Capitalismo, crise social e barbárie, 4.9.2013, http://www.pstu.org.br/node/19980
(3) See Economist Brazil’s economy: The deterioration. Slow growth, stubborn inflation and mounting deficits, Dec 7th 2013,http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21591196-slow-growth-stubborn-inflation-and-mounting-deficits-deterioration
(4) See David Biller: Brazil Economy Shrinks More Than Forecast on Investment Fall, Dec 3, 2013, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-03/brazil-economy-shrinks-more-than-forecast-on-falling-investment.html
(5) World Investment Report 2013: Annex Tables 05, http://unctad.org/en/pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Annex-Tables.aspx
(6) World Bank: International Debt Statistics 2013, p. 82
(8) Dilma diz que é um crime privatizar a Petrobrás e o Pré-Sal, 17.9.2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIuKNgyBWx0
(9) PSTU: Zé Maria's presidential candidacy statement, 2.1.2014 http://www.litci.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2400:ze-marias-presidential-candidacy-statement&catid=8:brazil&Itemid=61
(10) For our assessment of the class struggle in Brazil in 2013 we refer readers to our past articles:
The Fight for the Right to Public Transportation - Free and With Quality - Under Control of Workers in Brazil, 14.6.2013, El Mundo Socialista,http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/brazil-fight-for-public-transportation/; Brazil: Solidarity with the Popular Uprising! Statement of theRevolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) and Blog El Mundo Socialista (Brazil), 19.6.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/brazil-solidarity-with-popular-uprising/; Brazil: Before the General Strike on 11th July, 2.7.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/brazil-general-strike-on-11-7/; Brazil: Trade Union Bureaucracy limits Workers’ Resistance to symbolic Actions. A report on the National Day of Struggle on 30 August, 2.9.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/brasil-national-day-of-struggle-on-30-8/; Brazil: Indefinite Nationwide Strike of Bank Workers!, 20.9.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/brazil-bank-workers-strike/