Debates on the Revolutionary Left in Brazil and Latin America

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One of the speakers at the Latin American and United States Conference, called by the organizations of the Left Front in Argentina in late July, was André Barbieri — international editor of Esquerda Diário of Brazil and part of the leadership of Left Voice’s sister organization, the Revolutionary Workers’ Movement (MRT). Here we reproduce two of his interventions.

First Intervention

The explosions of mass movements in Latin America last year have extended farther than at any point since 2000–2005. In Puerto Rico, Honduras, Haiti, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, and Bolivia with resistance to the coup, the class struggle made its mark in the Latin America in 2019, just as it did on the other side of the Atlantic with the great workers’ struggles in France. This return of the class struggle in Latin America was not without contradictions, however, since there is also a reactionary pole represented by Brazil under Bolsonaro and the coup government in Bolivia. The pandemic changed the overall picture but did not eliminate any of the factors that caused it. On the contrary, it aggravated the economic and social crises, preparing the way for greater clashes.

All this must be seen in the general context of the poverty and desperation that are becoming more acute in this new historical crisis. Its only parallel is the Great Depression that began in 1929. Today, it is based on all the unresolved problems of the 2008 economic crisis.

Imperialism, especially the United States, subjugates and plunders the peoples of Latin America, just as China — not an imperialist country but having elements of one — attempts to gain niches of exploitation in the region. Our struggle here must be for class independence against imperialism, its coups, and against all the attacks of the bosses.

The bourgeoisie wants to restructure production and generalize the gig economy. The right-wing in the region — Bolsonaro in Brazil, Piñera in Chile, and Duque in Colombia — are all applying labor reforms and social security cutbacks that increase the precariousness of labor, under the indirect influence of Trump. They are open enemies of the working class and the people, and agents of U.S. imperialism. There’s Bolsonaro, who spent 2019 aiding Trump’s aggressions against the people of Venezuela, who already suffer from the authoritarianism of the Maduro regime, lending support to the coup d’état in Bolivia, and maintaining the criminal blockade of Cuba.

We did not support Chávez in the past, and we don’t support Maduro today. We didn’t support the government of Evo Morales in Bolivia or Castroism in Cuba. On the contrary, we have always fought them from the left. But we stand on the front lines when it comes to combating any attempts at right-wing coups against the Latin American people. It is therefore a disgrace that López Obrador in Mexico is collaborating with Trump against immigrants.

In recent decades, theorists such as Ernesto Laclau have gained influence. They argue for a progressive populism, or a so-called radicalization of democracy against the right. In these theories, the economic bases of capitalism, imperialist oppression, social classes, and class struggle all disappear. However, any fundamental democratic conquests in Latin America are unthinkable without emancipation from imperialism. The “national” bourgeoisies have abandoned any pretense when it comes to this. We see it not only in Bolsonaro’s ultra-neoliberalism, but also in the failure of the “post-neoliberal” governments in Latin America, which even in their most radical versions — such as Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales — were incapable of breaking from the model of subordination and dependency .

These post-neoliberal currents contend that it is a matter of avoiding class-struggle confrontations, of not provoking the right wing or imperialism. But as recent history shows, accepting the “lesser evil” and corralling mass movements ends up facilitating the rise of the Right. We have now seen that, in the final anaylsis, Evo Morales and the MAS legitimized the military-civic coup and turned their backs on the resistance. We had a similar experience in Brazil with the governments of the PT — under both Lula and Dilma — who supported the agents of the institutional coup: they managed capitalism for 13 years on behalf of agribusiness, finance capital, the evangelical churches, and the repressive forces of the state that terrorized the favelas and sent troops to Haiti to repress Black people. This all paved the way for the institutional coup. Although they lead the country’s main trade unions, the PT put up no serious resistance to the coup plotters.

These examples show plainly that these currents represent a dead end.

Through the debacle of “progressivism,”Latin America has proven the opposite of Laclau’s theses: namely, Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, according to which the full and effective resolution of democratic tasks is inseparable from structural transformations and a break from the chains of imperialism.

Hence the importance of the more advanced processes of the Latin American spring of 2019 and the lessons they leave us. Among these many lessons, I will mention three. First is the need to fight for worker hegemony. Ecuador’s revolutionary days against Lenin Moreno illustrated the importance of the alliance between workers in the cities and the indigenous peasant movement, an alliance that the CONAIE indigenous organization and the unions tried to prevent by every means.

Second, there is the necessity to concentrate all the power of the working class, which controls all the “strategic positions” that make society function and can therefore be the hegemonic subject of emancipation. This was shown in the heroic resistance against the coup in Bolivia, in particular in El Alto and Cochabamba, and embodied in the blockade of the Senkata fuel plant, a strategic position that left La Paz impoverished and that, if deepened, had the potential to take on a dynamic similar to the “Gas War” of 2003. But the leadership of the COB trade union confederation stood against the resistance to the coup and even supported it in its early stages. There was also the general strike in Chile last November 12, when dock workers, miners, teachers, and healthcare workers all mobilized to shut down the country and take up the demands of all the oppressed. This growing force has shown itself capable of defeating these sell-out governments and opening up the prospect of workers’ power. That is the very perspective that in Chile the reformists and union bureaucrats aligned with the Communist Party and the Frente Amplio put all their efforts into defeating.

Third, there is the struggle for self-organization of the masses with a view toward developing the power of the working class and the oppressed so they can confront the capitalist state. Hence the importance of developing coordinating committees and bodies of self-organization, which even in their initial forms are fundamental for uniting the different sectors of the working class. Hence the importance of strengthening tactics such as the workers’ united front (“March separately, but strike together,” as Lenin put it) as an alternative to the trade union bureaucracy. Hence the importance of articulating “strategic positions,” of territory, of joining the unions with the “movements,” the youth with the working class, and of organizing self-defense in the face of repression. The Emergency and Rescue Committee formed in Antofagasta, Chile — of which our comrades of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party (PTR) are a part — is one example.

All these battles are central to articulating a social and political force capable of enacting a revolutionary transitional program that responds to the situation. That was the perspective with which the Trotskyist Fraction intervened in Antofagasta, Santiago, Valparaíso, and other cities in Chile, with which the Revolutionary Workers’ League – Fourth International (LOR-CI) intervened in El Alto in Bolivia, and in each of the countries across Latin America and Europe where we intervene, along with the United States. Our great challenge is to build a strong anti-imperialist and revolutionary socialist left to wage these struggles. That requires a path of class independence.

Such a policy is the antithesis of shameful policies like those of the Bolivian POR, which during the coup d’état joined in “civic” mobilizations headed by the business leader Luis Fernandez Camacho. In Venezuela, a policy of independence also implies rejecting any position that either defends Maduro and the armed forces or, in simply denouncing the authoritarian Maduro government, ends up adapting to the pro-imperialist right wing of Juan Guaidó. .

In the case of Brazil in particular, the institutional coup was a trial by fire for the Brazilian Left. Here we have had an important debate with the comrades of the United Socialist Workers’ Party (PSTU), who in our estimation ended up playing into the hands of the institutional coup and supporting Operation Car Wash. Our group categorically rejects any support for police mutinies and police unions, both of which the PSTU defends. The Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL) comrades were represented by two wings in this process: the Socialist Left Movement (MES), which together with the Socialist Workers’ Current (CST), adapted to the coup. They haven’t corrected their policy. The MES continues to support Operation Car Wash even though they claim they don’t agree with Lula’s arrest; and the CST continues to put forward the slogan “jail for all the corrupt,” the banner raised by the Right. The majority of the PSOL, on the other hand, while correctly distancing themselves from the coup, gave in to PT reformism. The Workers’ Cause Party (PCO) here in Brazil has become totally subservient to the PT.

So, it is important to outline this political framework of polarization in Brazil between Bolsonaro on one side and Lula’s PT on the other. Between 2015 and 2017 in particular, in the face of a profound process of disillusionment with the PT, we witnessed the advance of the coup and the Right, which capitalized on the discontent with the party. Meanwhile, we in the MRT were calling for our entry into the PSOL, which is seen by the masses as the largest party to the left of the PT, to strengthen the fight against the coup and capitalism with a policy of class independence, and with the strength of our members and Esquerda Diario — with more than 2 million visits a month — to fight for the construction of a revolutionary workers’ organization.

However, the PSOL refused to allow our entry, precisely because the MRT has always maintained an uncompromising critique and struggle against the class-collaboration policies of the PSOL’s leadership, whether support for Operation Car Wash and the right-wing judiciary in the past, or its alliances today with the PT and even bourgeois parties, such as the Democratic Labor Party (PDT) or the (Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB ) in the elections. Plínio, a comrade from Contrapoder, the Left bloc within the PSOL, is here today. Contrapoder is waging a correct fight against this sort of adaptation. Without ever confusing it with any kind of political commitment, we’ve presented candidates on the PSOL’s open ballot lines — something that’s not possible in countries such as Argentina — and we did so despite the ultra-restrictive Brazilian electoral regime that prevents workers and “non-legal” organizations from running candidates.

The response to the crisis in Brazil cannot be through policies such as impeachment, which the PSOL and the PSTU defend, together with the PT and other wings of the regime. That would mean a government of General Mourão and maintaining the coup regime and the overall anti-worker program of Bolsonaro and Guedes. For this reason, we have placed the need to raise “Out with Bolsonaro, Mourão, and the Military” as the only political slogan that does not adapt to the institutions behind the coup such as the Federal Supreme Court, Congress, and the governors. We call for the end of this regime with a Free and Sovereign Constituent Assembly that will place decisions over the country in the hands of the people. A struggle for a Constituent Assembly can pave the way to overcoming this rotten bourgeois “democracy” and move toward a government of workers that breaks with capitalism. In support of this demand, we’ve organized people throughout Brazil, from the south to northeast, in the subways of São Paulo, in the workers’ union of the USP, in the factories of Minas Gerais and São Paulo, and among professors in the universities of Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, and the Northeast Region, to regroup the vanguard with a policy of class independence, to overcome the fragmentation of the Left, and to prepare a revolutionary workers’ party that surpasses the PT.

We have in front of us a question of which strategic path to take: either a Left that fights for class independence and builds an alliance of the working class and the oppressed, that fights for strategic positions, as in Chile and Bolivia and several other countries, and that develops a revolutionary and anti-imperialist transitional program, or a Left that ends up adapting to the limits allowed by bourgeois regime.

Finally, with respect to imperialism and the submission of Latin America, Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution is completely relevant for our region: only a government of the workers, allied with the poor, indigenous peoples, peasants, and other oppressed sectors can resolve the structural democratic tasks, such as the agrarian revolution and the expulsion of imperialism from our countries. The fight for a Federation of Socialist Republics of Latin America, and to build socialism at a global level, is the condition for advancing the integration of Latin America and is a lever for the expansion of world revolution. It is necessary to fight for revolutionary parties at the national and international levels for these great objectives, on the road to winning communism. I will stop there. Thank you very much, comrades.

Second intervention

I want to raise a few points from the debate, which is very good. First, we want to build revolutionary parties at the national level to destroy imperialism and liberate oppressed peoples.

The problem with the slogan “Out with Trump” is that, with elections in the United States three months away, this implies “Welcome Biden” and the capitalist Democratic Party. The battle for class independence requires breaking with every variant of the bipartisan imperialist regime. This is important. It is fundamental to expose the Democratic Party if we want to build a revolutionary workers’ party in the United States. As Jimena of Left Voice said yesterday, it is not a matter of saying “out” with one government or another at any given time and place and thinking that by doing so all is well. That’s what happens here in Brazil, with those who only say, “Out with Bolsonaro” — they leave out the bourgeois regime and its institutions. We have to fight against the entire coup regime here in Brazil.

That is why it is so important to attack the regime and not just governments. We have been calling on the Left to coordinate around “Out with Bolsonaro and Mourão” as an alternative policy to the demands for impeachment or general elections, advancing the debate over demanding a Free and Sovereign Constituent Assembly. That attacks the entire coup regime. I insist on this point, comrades, because we cannot be so naive in the face of this rotten institutional coup regime. 

A second point, a question to Giachello: Why has the PSOL leadership, in several congresses and meetings, rejected our entry? Why are you afraid of a combative organization such as the MRT, with an online newspaper read by hundreds of thousands of people, that each challenges the true leadership of the PSOL — which are its parliamentarians who run it from Brasilia, the nation’s capital. We openly denounce, for example, the PSOL alliance with the PT in Campinas, both in the open PSOL plenary sessions and in Esquerda Diario.

Our strategy is to build a Leninist combat party, and our policy is to call on the left of the PSOL and the PSTU to correct the mistakes they’ve made in their interventions and to establish a strong left pole of attraction as an alternative to the drifting populist front direction the PSOL has openly taken. We cannot forget that the PO was part of the São Paulo Forum between 1990 and 1995, along with all sorts of center-left parties and class conciliators. Our politics are very far from what the PO had with the São Paulo Forum.

La Izquierda Diario, our network of daily online newspapers, has 13 million hits a month. Its ambition is the same as with Lenin’s Pravda, the Bolsheviks’ newspaper in 1912. We’re reaching out to the masses, taking advantage of the best of today’s technology to reach them and build revolutionary parties. The FT is in 14 countries, in 8 languages, striving to do revolutionary agitation and propaganda every day. This is Leninism 2.0. Unlike the nostalgic newspapers of the sects of the 1990s, we share Lenin’s ambition with Pravda. We can fight better for the regrouping of the vanguard, reaching the masses and building an enormous militant force. The same cannot be said of organizations that do not have the same international ambition.

It also seems fundamental to me to think about how this discussion is reflected in the concrete action in each country. I want to dwell a little more on the battles the MRT has been waging in Brazil, since for any revolutionary current in Latin America it is strategic not only to comment on, but actually build the work in Brazil as part of a continental working class. We have been working in different unions, such as those of Metro workers, teachers, airline workers, healthcare workers, bank tellers, print workers, university workers, delivery workers, contract workers, and other sectors, fighting to take these ideas to the vanguard and the masses. That is why Esquerda Diario has become a powerful voice in the Brazilian class struggle and in this year’s largest strikes, such as those of the oil and delivery workers.

And in country with the largest Black population outside Africa, we fight with our spokespeople such as Marcello Pablito, Leticia Parks, and the Red Quilombo grouping, to connect the antiracist struggle with the class struggle, inspired by the revolt in the United States, and against liberal and postmodern permutations that turn the black struggle into a product. We do the same with Bread and Roses in Brazil, which is part of an international women’s group that fights for a socialist and revolutionary feminism. These are what we put forward principally in Brazil, together with the FT, to reach the vanguard and create a regroupment that makes a revolutionary workers’ party possible both nationally and internationally.

It is an enormous challenge to build a revolutionary socialist, and anti-imperialist Left that does not get caught up in all the schemes put forward by the bourgeois regimes. We cannot separate the struggle for certain democratic demands from the structural problems of imperialist oppression, the agrarian question, and so on in semicolonial countries like Brazil. The question is how the processes of class struggle, like those that have unfolded across Latin America, do not end up just as pressure on the regime or get channeled into national and popular and reformist deviations, or end in reactionary coups, but instead develop a set of hegemonic demands of the working class. In particular, they should move forward to establish bodies of their own class power, and self-defense, which include all sectors in the struggle. That is how to defeat the regimes, break the imperialist chains, and open up the possibility of constituting a new social order.

Earlier, I quoted Trotsky that only the unity of the working class, together with the exploited and oppressed people, can set itself up as a real alternative, achieving its own power to fully and effectively resolve the democratic tasks of national emancipation, linking its struggle with that of the working class of the central countries and establishing a new social order. Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution is today more relevant than ever before and makes clear that we must fight for this great communist objective. Thank you for the debate.

First published on August 2 in Portuguese on Esquerda Diário.

Translation: Scott Cooper

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