With the election of Dilma Rousseff the left has won a mandate in Brazil for the third time in a row. It is essential to understand the historical dimension of this victory, which is part of a context larger than the debate between two different philosophies, two different approaches to capitalist development in Brazil: the conservative and the democratic. And, since 1989, for a series of historical reasons – including the fragmentation of the bourgeoisie itself and the growth of political participation of the popular classes –, the democratic option has been favoured by the left, which has brought a popular and socialist outlook to the debate.
This debate has been at the centre of every election for the presidency of the Republic since the end of the dictatorship. And so, we saw the left lose in 1989, 1994 and 1998, win in 2002, 2006 and win again in 2010. Despite her relatively high electoral score, the candidacy of Marina Silva in the first round never really constituted a viable alternative. It would not be going too far to say that the rise of Marina Silva was one of the collateral effects of a campaign characterised, in the first round, by insufficient political and ideological debate, and, consequently, by the fact that the positions of the opposition programme never were publicly spelled out.
The battle of the next few years
From the point of view of the left in Brazil, and as far as the interests of the working class are concerned, it is essential that we can provide a government that is even more advanced than Lula’s. This means expanding the democratic and popular character of the development plan implemented in the country, enlarging the role of the state as a promoter of economic growth and achieving structural reforms that actually can redistribute wealth, power and rights. Among other priorities, we can point to the need for fiscal, agrarian, urban, political and educational reform, as well as the need to democratise the media, consolidate our universal health system (SUS), improve Latin American integration and reinforce our sovereign place in the world.
The right is still active
First of all, the electoral defeat of the right was relative. The fact remains that it won important state governments, including São Paulo and Minas Gerais, the two largest electoral colleges. Moreover, having mobilised and used ultra conservative and reactionary thinking to win votes, the opposition has found arguments and a social base that, with neoliberal ideas, can serve as a basis for its reorganisation and reconstitution, this time with a new image that is more clearly to the right.
And even if the right did not attain its principal objective, which was to regain the presidency of the Republic, it continues to hold other key elements of power. First of all, it controls the means of production, a good share of the wealth, major media, multiple means of cultural dissemination and important state institutions, like the judiciary. It should be emphasised that, in Brazil, the media has for some time been the main instrument that the right uses to try to influence public opinion and the political direction of the country, articulating their rightist ideas as if they were “scientific truths”, distorting facts and spreading values and opinions often under the guise of “neutrality”.
Right now, in Brazil, the media operate on two fronts. The first tries to create a “malaise” between the governments of Lula and Dilma, criticising her predecessor and saying that Dilma is more “responsible”, administratively and fiscally; or, in the context of foreign policy, praising her “pragmatism” and criticising the more “ideological” bent of the Lula administration in terms of international affairs. The second front aims to influence the government’s programme directly by giving considerable space to neoliberal ideologues, allowing them to defend a political and economic agenda that – in direct opposition to that sanctioned by popular vote in the ballot box – advocates reduced public spending and “budget tightening”. This is why the media issue is so important. It is impossible to speak of full-fledged democracy in a country where ostensible “freedom of expression”, far from being a universal right, is the privilege only of the press barons, a very oligopolistic sector in Brazil.
Contradictions in the coalition
The composition of Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet reflects the contradictions that result from a government coalition dominated by a left party but composed equally of parties of the centre. Besides having to face opposition from the right and contradictions from within, the Dilma government must meet a third challenge: the need to function in an unstable and hardly dynamic global economic context with, especially, the risk of higher commodity prices that will feed inflation, on the one hand, and, on the other, affect the growth of our primary production sector and our exports. In view of this situation, what can the left do to ensure that Brazil continues to advance and that the Dilma government does even better than the Lula government, to build, in this way, the forces necessary to go in the direction of a socialist project?
Key role for the PT
In practice, we know that it is not that simple. In the case of Brazil, it could be said that social movements seem to have learned the lesson – witness the recent conflict over the issue of the minimum wage, where the unions, including the CUT, fought for an increase higher than that proposed by the government. Unfortunately, a lower increase was adopted for fear that a hike in the purchasing power of a sizeable part of the population without a corresponding increase in the production of mass consumer goods would lead to inflation and “unbalanced” public budgets. The issue in this case is the choice of the old neoliberal formula: contain inflation by tamping down demand, despite all the well-known negative after-effects of such a policy. This same logic justified the recent interest hike in Brazil. To avoid this trap, the government must rapidly take steps to increase the supply of goods and services.
In the case of the PT, the debate over autonomy is even more difficult, considering the fact that it is directly identified as being the party of government. For a sizeable portion of the population, it is difficult to imagine that the party and the government could take different positions. Still, it is always necessary to remember that governments are contingent on politics as well as history. Politically, because a government is always contingent on the correlation of specific forces; and, historically, because it always functions within a precise span of time (even if the period can vary in different ways). Consequently, the decisions of governments, especially when they are the result of the electoral process, must necessarily take tactical dimensions into consideration.
In order to provide this strategic and programmatic orientation, the PT should be able to carry out an analysis of the social and class structure in Brazil, as well as of the characteristics and state of development of capitalism in the country. This aspect of political formulation is essential for a party of the left. Another challenge for the left in Brazil is to lead the ideological and cultural fight against the reactionary, sexist, homophobic and racist ideas that were forcefully expressed during the campaign, showing that – despite undeniable progress in the field of human rights, tolerance and social equality – there is still a long way to go. For the left, one of the lessons of the ballot box is that improved economic conditions for the people and the rise of what we call the middle class do not automatically guarantee improvement in the political and cultural consciousness of these same social classes. On the contrary, without a battle for hegemony and for political action around these categories, their social ascension tends to lead to a reproduction of the behaviour of higher social classes.