Brazil: Fall of President Dilma Rousseff unleashes offensive against working class

The impeachment process and historic crisis of the PT (Workers’ Party)

André Ferrari, LSR (‘Freedom, Socialism and Revolution’ – CWI Brazil)

Brazil is living through the deepest economic and social crisis in its history.Together with this, a massive political crisis has arisen. This flows from the undemocratic manoeuvres of the traditional right and big capital against workers’ rights. At the same time, it is the product of the total failure of the conciliatory model of “class collaboration” adopted by the PT (Workers’ Party) in its 13 years in government.

President Dilma Rousseff of the PT was removed from her post on 12 May by the Federal Senate. In her place, the former Vice President, Michel Temer, of the PMDB (The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), has taken over.

At the time of the votes to impeach the president, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate were being presided over by parliamentarians who are personally implicated in corruption scandals. Eduardo Cunha (PMDB), president of the Chamber of Deputies, had his mandate as a Deputy removed by the Federal Supreme Tribunal, only a few days after the vote to initiate impeachment proceedings against Dilma Rousseff.

The fall of Dilma Rousseff was the result of a change in the political position of some of the traditional parties of the Brazilian right-wing, supported and egged on by the most important sections of big capital.

Until the end of last year, the economic and political elite expected that Dilma Rousseff would be able to carry out the attacks and counter-reforms against the rights of the working class that they demanded to get the country out of its economic crisis.

Dilma Rousseff’s position was also to promote a neo-liberal agenda. This is exactly the opposite of what she defended in the 2014 elections, when she defeated by a narrow margin the right-wing candidate Aécio Neves of the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party). She wanted to buy the support of the elite for her remaining in the Presidency.

However, the weakness of Dilma’s government proved to be too much given the severity of the situation. The worsening of the economic crisis, where growing unemployment, has already passed 10 million, together with the adoption of recessionary fiscal adjustment policies and attacks on workers’ rights, made Dilma one the most unpopular Presidents in the history of Brazil.

In this context “Operation Car Wash” (Operacion Lava Jato) investigating corruption scandals, particularly involving government figures from the PT, featured by the Judge, Sérgio Moro and his prosecutors running the Operation, had an explosive effect on public opinion.

The economic crisis, the government cuts and the corruption scandals meant that Dilma lost support amongst every section of society. The passive dissatisfaction which existed in society allowed the right-wing to step in and mobilise big sections of the middle class in demonstrations of hundreds of thousands. These were the first mass demonstrations that the right has been able to organise in decades in Brazil.

Given these factors, Dilma’s government did not have the strength to apply the anti-working class polices expected by the big sections of the ruling class. Mainly from the beginning of this year, the central nucleus of big capital decided to take to the road of impeachment.

Every conceivable type of undemocratic manoeuvres was used, including totally spurious practices by the corrupt President of the chamber of Deputies, to guarantee the right result. The formal charge made against Dilma Rousseff – the crime she was responsible for to justify impeachment – was her involvement in corrupt schemes, presiding over excessive public costs and hiding how these were shown up in the budget.

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The PT’s record in office

Up until the last moment, Dilma Rousseff tried to convince the big capitalists that her government would be capable of implementing the neo-liberal policies they were demanding.

Her policies included opening up the economy to foreign companies for oil exploration and renegotiations of the state debts, which included brutal cuts, privatisations and attacks. It was also the case with the “anti-terrorism” law, which has opened the way for the criminalisation of social movements.

Despite this, big demonstrations against impeachment took place, mainly driven the by view that a state coup was underway, which represented an attack on democracy.

The PT used this and exaggerated its rhetoric to try and compensate for the fact that it was virtually impossible to defend the Rousseff government’s record in office. At the same time, the undemocratic manoeuvres utilised to remove the government are leaving a serious precedent which can open the road to harsher, anti-democratic attacks on the rights of the working class and oppressed peoples.

When former PT President, Lula, the principle leader of the PT and one of the main historic leaders of the workers’ movement in Brazil, was threatened with imprisonment there was a certain radicalisation, more in rhetoric, of the leaders of the PT and social movements under its control, like the trade union federation, CUT (Central Única dos Trabalhadores – Unified Workers’ Central).

Lula publicly declared that it was the end of the “peace and love” approach he had previously adopted. A wave of enthusiasm for the historic struggles swept the thousands of older activists and reflected the historic social roots of the PT.

However, this only lasted a few days. At the mass demonstration in Sao Paulo, on the 18 March, Lula provoked a wave of anti-climax when he announced he would join Dilma’s government as a minister to “re-negotiate a new pact” with the PMDB (the party of Eduardo Cuhna and of the Vice President Michel Temer – now the President – to stop the impeachment process in the Congress).

Despite the mass demonstrations against “the coup”, the governments of Dilma, Lula and the PT show they are incapable of taking this struggle through to a conclusion. This would mean adopting a programme completely opposed to the policies implemented by Dilma’s government, even if Dilma’s impeachment was rejected by the congress.

The main obstacle to fight against the right-wing and its undemocratic manoeuvres was the character of Dilma’s government and the PT leadership.

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Temer Government

One of the factors that led a section of the capitalist class in Brazil to maintain Dilma in power, until the end of last year, was the fact that Michel Temer has no social base. The conditions for him to head a stable government are minimal. Temer was always less popular than Dilma. His name is linked to corruption and he is under investigation by “Operation car wash”.

For this reason, some sections of the ruling class defended a position demanding the resignation of both the President and Vice President, elected in 2014, due to financial irregularities in the election campaign. This would result in new elections, opening the opportunity for the election of a new President with a wider base of support to carry out the programme of counter reforms the ruling class demands.

This option of new elections can be used in an extreme situation, such as the collapse of the Temer government. At the moment, the Brazilian ruling class, in its entirety, along with US imperialism, has put all its cards on Temer’s government.

The fact that Temer has no social base and has no pretensions to stand in the elections in 2018 is not a problem for the ruling class. In a certain sense, it is the opposite. The ruling class, at this stage, does not want a government that is going to mediate between the class conflicts that are developing. They used the PT for that. What they want now is a strong hand to apply the tough attacks which the gravity of the crisis demands for them, from their class standpoint.

The first days of the Temer government were marked by an avalanche of policy announcements, i.e. new attacks against the living conditions of the working class and poor. The short term plan is to carry out massive counter-reforms. Measures that will finish compulsory financing of health and education, at federal level, will allow drastic cuts to be carried through.

There will be a revision of policies to tackle working conditions that are analogous to slavery, which is something that still exists in parts of Brazil. There will be the opening of a new cycle of privatisations. The government also announced the cancellation of projects to build 10,000 social houses, which have already begun.

Following the Machiavellian doctrine of “apply the worst only once”, the government is trying to carry through the most that it can with its counter reformist programme and attacks in the first few months in power. The problem is the reaction of people is already explosive.

In contrast to the 1990s neo-liberal Latin America governments, such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s in Brazil, there is no popular support for the proposed measures, such as privatisation or dilution of the public sector. The new governments of the right in Latin America are assuming power due to the weakness and lack of alternative offered by the “centre-left” governments. They are forming governments which will be extremely unstable.

On the first day of Temer’s government, 12 May, the Frente Povo Sem Medo, headed by the movement of homeless workers – MTST – called an assembly of thousands in Sao Paulo, under the slogan: “Temer, Never! Take to the streets to fight for our rights!” This was followed by demonstrations in all the states over the following days.

Youth, including school students, occupied schools recently and are taking to the streets. They are becoming more and more politicised in the struggle against Temer. Workers in the public sector are already in struggle in various states against cuts being implemented at state level. Soon such cuts will also confront federal government employees.

The abolition of the Ministry of Culture by the new government will result in an explosion of struggle by artists, intellectuals and big sections of the youth. The offices of the now closed-down Ministry of Culture are occupied by student artists.

The seriousness of the situation is such that it cannot be excluded that the trade union federation, CUT, and other union federations, after years of doing nothing, will be compelled to call a general strike against Temer’s policies.

The slogan of the day to unify all these mobilisation is “fora Temer” (‘Temer Out!’) The CUT and those organisation closest to the PT, are insisting on the demand “stop the coup” with the indirect implication that the return of Dilma is on the horizon.

However, many other organisations are calling for new elections arising from the ‘Temer Out’ struggle. They also call for new presidential elections and a general election for the whole Congress.

The problem is that the political system established in the 1988 Constitution is fixed and does not really offer even the minimal conditions for an electoral challenge from the point of view of the socialist left. For this reason, there is a debate around the idea of demanding a Constituent Assembly, but only to reform the political system.

PSOL and the left

PSOL (Party of socialism and Liberty) has increased its authority greatly during this crisis as a result of the position it adopted during the impeachment process against Dilma Rousseff. It re-iterated its opposition from the left to the Dilma government. It attacked the policies of Dilma but its members of Congress correctly voted against Dilma’s impeachment.

Although in many situations PSOL public figures could have differentiated themselves more from the PT, PSOL is likely to gain greatly during the local elections in October. However, there is a risk that it will then form alliances with the PT, which would be incorrect.

Despite all the weaknesses shown by the PT leadership, the mobilisations against impeachment allowed a certain opportunity for the PT to present a new image of itself as a more combative party. However, this does not represent any real change in the policy or character of the PT.

It is essential to build an alternative socialist left to the PT. If this is not done, it may allow the vacuum which exists to be occupied by another political force which will not be able to take the struggle against Temer forward to a victory. The PT’s idea is to build an alliance with other “left” parties or centre left parties and some social movements. They hope to do this through the Frente Brasil Popular, with the aim of Lula contesting the Presidential elections in 2018.

However it is the building of a socialist left front and workers uniting the parties and social movements that did not participate in the PT governments, that is crucial in the struggle for a socialist left alternative.

Other sectors of the socialist left ending up being isolated from the recent processes and struggles. The PSTU, for example, which claims to be Trotskyist, adopted the slogan, “Fuera Todos” (“Out with them all”), including Dilma Rousseff. In doing so, they failed to differentiate themselves from the right that strove for the impeachment of Dilma. The PSTU do no see that the impeachment of Dilma has changed the situation and opened the prospect of even more attacks against the working class. Their priority was to criticise and attack parties and movements that, while not supporting Dilma, joined the struggle against the right-wing attempts at impeachment.

One of the consequences of this sectarian policy was the isolation of CSP-Conlutas, a trade union organisation led by the PSTU. It has great potential for growth but has now failed to advance and taken steps back, due to this policy. The PSTU has suffered many splits and is going through an intense debate over its leadership’s policies.

A new stage of class struggle has opened up. These conflicts will create the opportunities for the building of a new socialist left, stronger than PT-Lulaism. The LSR (CWI Brazil) is fighting for the building of such an alternative.