Originally Published by the PSTU-Brasil, March 31, 2022
By: Eduardo Almeida
Many socialist activists who identify with the PSOL (the democratic-socialist Socialism and Liberty Party) are experiencing a crisis. The next party conference in April is expected to endorse the Lula-Alckmin ticket in the first round. The left-wing candidate of the PSOL, Glauber Braga, is already considered defeated by his own supporters.
It will be the first time that the PSOL will not launch a presidential candidacy. The party federation with Rede, a bourgeois party, which has as its main financial backers Neca Setubal, one of the owners of Itaú, and Guilherme Leal, owner of Natura, will also likely be approved. This would change the class character of the PSOL itself. These steps would only be the foreshadowing of something even more serious: participation in a future Lula government.
This has already had repercussions in the states. In Rio de Janeiro, the PSOL is going through a crisis after the departure of Freixo, its biggest public figure, to the PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party). Freixo is applying in Rio the same tactic of a broad front with the bourgeoisie. Regardless, the PSOL is likely to support Freixo for the Rio de Janeiro state government. The candidacy of Milton Temer, from the left of the PSOL, will probably not reverse the support of the majority of the leadership for Freixo.
In São Paulo, Boulos withdrew his candidacy for governor, pointing to support for Fernando Haddad of the PT (Workers’ Party, presidential candidate who lost to Bolsonaro), who is not only Lula’s candidate, but also Alckmin’s, and who governed the state for 12 years for the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party, considered as centrist to center-right). This is the very same Alckmin who repressed workers in the Pinheirinho and the teachers’ strikes.
It is rumored that Boulos’ support for Haddad would include a promise from the PT to support his candidacy for the mayor of São Paulo in 2024 and a ministry spot in Lula’s government.
There is a candidacy from the left of the PSOL, by Mariana Conti, presented after Boulos’ withdrawal. But the possibility that her candidacy will be endorsed by the party is small. Even if it were to be victorious, it would only amount to a São Paulo minority within the larger Lula and Alckmin ticket.
This data demonstrates a clear strategic crisis in the PSOL. Founded in 2004 as a breakaway from the PT, the party has remained to the left of the PT over the years. This is over. The political and electoral reconstruction of the PT with Lula’s candidacy has engulfed the PSOL. The party, of course, will continue. But now it is being reduced to a position of supporting the PT.
It is not by chance that the PSOL is losing several parliamentarians, such as Freixo, Jean Wyllys (to the PT), Isa Penna (to the PCdoB), and many others.
For the majority of the PSOL leadership, these are “just a few tactical steps.” However, for socialists who continue to defend class independence, this is a crisis of a strategic nature. It is important to reflect, in Marxist terms, on its meaning.
The international examples of “anti-capitalist parties”
The bankruptcy of the PSOL is not an isolated case. It has been frequent at the international level, as were the cases of other “anti-capitalist parties” that sought to occupy the space left by the crisis of European social democracy after its transition to social-liberalism.
These parties emerged from a place of reformism, where the traditional political parties both attempted to defend the “welfare state” while also managing capitalism and implementing neoliberalism in Europe.
As a result, these parties suffered erosion and crises, and to occupy this political space, the so-called “anti-capitalist parties” emerged: Communist Refoundation (Italy), Die Linke (Germany), NPA (France), Syriza (Greece), Podemos (Spain), and Bloco de Esquerda (Portugal).
Despite being very different from each other, these new parties have some characteristics in common. In general, they are based on middle-class sectors, without the working-class base of the old social democracy, and try to appear as “more left-wing” and against neoliberalism.
But on the whole, they continue to be reformists. In their programs, there is no advocacy of socialist revolution, only reforms to capitalism. Nor do they defend the political independence of workers. They consider it normal to govern together with the bourgeoisie. It is no accident that they do not even call themselves socialists, but “anti-capitalists.”
Revolutionaries also advocate reforms, such as wage increases, etc., but always within a revolutionary socialist strategy. The reformists, by not having socialist revolution as a strategy, seek only reforms in capitalism. In fact, these parties are not really even anti-capitalist.
They also have the same structure as the social democratic parties, “without centralism.” Which is apparently democratic and attracts many activists opposed to the bureaucratic centralism of Stalinism. But just like the social democrats and the Stalinists, these parties are also ultra-bureaucratic because the base doesn’t decide anything. For example, Boulos, by withdrawing his candidacy, is bypassing the decision of the last state conference of the PSOL. Edmilson Rodrigues, mayor of Belém for the PSOL, governs as he wishes, in alliance with the bourgeoisie, without any consultation with the bases.
There are left wings in these parties, which sincerely advocate socialist revolution and class independence. But the dynamic is always determined by the parliamentarians and the governors. For example, the tendency of the PSOL to support the PT and then enter the future government is being determined by the parliamentarians.
The big test of the anti-capitalist parties came when they had the opportunity to get into government. Syriza, in 2015, won the elections in Greece after the crisis of the country’s social democracy arousing enormous expectations. But it applied the same IMF plan, even after its rejection in the plebiscite.
The Italian Communist Refoundation Party was part of Romano Prodi’s bourgeois government from 2006-to 2008. Its parliamentarians voted in favor of Prodi’s neoliberal economic plan and the participation of Italian troops in the occupation of Afghanistan. The Communist Refoundation went into crisis, almost disappearing from Italian politics.
Podemos recently joined the PSOE government in Spain, and is now in full decline. The Bloco de Esquerda in Portugal participated in the government of the Socialist Party, and is also going through a major crisis.
The evolution of the PT and the PSOL
The PSOL was founded during the first Lula administration with the expulsion of four members of the PT for voting against the Social Security reform. The logic was apparently simple: repeat the strategy of building an electoral reformist party like the PT, but “without the mistakes of the PT”.
Simple logic, but mistaken. The PT was repeating the evolution of European social democracy. Imperialist monopoly capital does not allow reforms that give important concessions to the workers. Reforms were quickly forgotten, and the PT started to apply the same neoliberal plans of the bourgeoisie previously imposed by the right.
The PT followed the blueprint of social democracy in government. At the beginning, taking advantage of the commodities boom, Lula made some concessions within the framework of capitalist economic growth. Then came the crisis and the erosion of Dilma Rousseff. With the PT weakened among the working class, the bourgeoisie decided to get rid of Rousseff with the impeachment maneuver and put Temer, her vice president, in the presidency.
Weakened, the PT could not even mount a mass mobilization against the impeachment. Not even in the ABC (an industrial region in São Paulo), the cradle of the PT. Thus, it was defeated as a consequence of its bourgeois management in 13 years of government, something similar to what happened with European social democrats.
Bolsonaro, the worst president in history, was elected because of the strong distaste that existed among workers and the people for the PT governments. The bitter experience of these four years has allowed the PT to capitalize on the hatred against Bolsonaro, That strong distaste for the social democrats has been weakened in the mind of many workers. Most of the youth, who did not live through this period, want to get rid of Bolsonaro by any means necessary.
But revolutionary socialists have the obligation to understand reality from an analysis of social classes. A possible Lula government will be one of the big national and international bourgeoisie. To support Lula-Alckmin is to be the left-wing of a bourgeois national unity government against Bolsonaro. With the failure of the third way, it is possible that the majority of finance and industrial capital, as well as US and European imperialism, will support Lula. To be the left-wing of this kind of alliance is a serious mistake, which will forever mark any current that participates in it.
The likely accession of the PSOL to a Lula government is not only an irony of history, it is a tragedy for the socialists who have dedicated 18 years of their lives to building yet another disappointment. It is time to reflect.
Why will the PSOL support Lula-Alckmin and possibly enter a future PT government?
In the PSOL, class independence is not a problem of principles. One can govern together with the bourgeoisie, as the PT did. The majority of sectors within the PSOL leadership do not criticize the PT governments by this class criterion. They only criticize the “corruption of the PT” or the “neoliberal plans”.
When it came to municipal governments, the PSOL followed the same PT blueprint. It was like that in the mayoral campaign of Macapá (2013), with Clecio Luis, elected with the support of DEM (Democrats) and PSDB. It is the same in Belém, where Edmilson is tied to the state government of Helder Barbalho, of the MDB (the centrist Brazil Democratic Movement).
The PSOL follows the examples of the “anti-capitalist” parties. It now supports the Lula-Alckmin ticket, and later may enter his government. For the socialist activists of the party, to continue in the PSOL is to accept being the left wing of an electoral front that goes from the PT to a portion of the national and international bourgeoisie.
It is not possible to change the country, to advance towards socialist revolution, with a reformist “anti-capitalist” party like the PSOL. History teaches that it is necessary to build a revolutionary party for this, with a revolutionary program and a centralized and truly democratic structure.