Organising the left in the PT is the key, says Paul Hampton
Luiz Inacio Da Silva of the Workers' Party (PT) comfortably won the presidency of Brazil on Sunday, gaining over 52 million votes - 61% of the total. Da Silva, known universally as Lula, becomes the first working class president of the world's fifth largest country, in an election of continental significance.
The Workers' Party (PT) was formed in 1980, after a great wave of strikes. The military dictatorship that ruled Brazil had presided over the rapid industrialisation of the country, resulting in a working class concentrated in the cities. PT leaders were central to the founding of the militant union centre, the CUT in 1983.
The founding of the Workers' Party was a massive step towards working class political independence. The party includes different socialist currents, with an open, democratic regime. Lula stood in 1989, gaining 12 million votes in the first round (31 million in the second), 1994 (17 million) and 1998. This time he received almost 40 million votes in the first round.
However the PT has moved to the right over the past decade. It has not been immune from co-option and corruption in local government, and in the current campaign Lula adopted Jose Alencar, a multi-millionaire businessman as his running mate. With promises to the IMF on debt and macroeconomic policies, the PT has barely distinguished itself from the bourgeois parties.
The thinking of international capital is that the PT can be contained. In 1994, The Economist called Lula "a man of moderate left whom any Western European social democracy would recognise". It is sober about his victory, believing that the absence of a left parliamentary majority, together with pressure from financial markets, will keep Lula in line. Certainly Brazil's $250 billion public debt, depreciating currency and high interest rates limit his room for manoeuvre - and his cabinet is likely to feature politicians acceptable to business.
However the bourgeoisie also recognise the pressure from Lula's own base. Within the PT there are numerous Marxist tendencies. One of the most influential is Socialist Democracy, which includes supporters of the international current represented by the LCR in France and the ISG in Britain. Its candidates received 15-20% in internal PT elections, giving some indication of the relation of forces between the leadership and the left.
Socialist Democracy is critical of the evolution of the PT, but it rightly believes that the party "remains the unavoidable reference point for Brazilian workers". Despite its criticisms of the PT's direction, the tendency acts as a left face for opportunism - for example presenting the participatory democracy of regional governments such as Porto Alegre as models for "reorganising" the Brazilian state as part of the "transition to socialism".
The Unified Socialist Workers' Party (PSTU), whose candidate received over 400,000 votes in the first round (0.5%) called for a vote for Lula in the second round. The PSTU is part of the ex-Morenoist LIT (represented by Socialist Voice in Britain), and has all the deformations of "orthodox" Trotskyism, with few redeeming features.
The other organisation that stood in the first round, Workers' Cause (PCO), which gained 0.05%, is linked to Politica Obrera in Argentina. Its politics are even worse - Lula is described as the "candidate of capital" and his victory as an "historic abortion". The PCO even declined to vote for Lula in the second round - a register of the sectarianism of sections of the Latin American left.
Although Lula will govern on behalf of the bourgeoisie, the PT is still a working class party, despite its bureaucratic and reformist character. It is right for Marxists to work within the PT and to put Lula to the test of office. Workers' expectations of a change of direction are high. It will be essential for unions to press Lula to carry out the PT's policies on welfare spending and poverty, and to fight for improvements in pay and conditions.
These conflicts will be the test of the PT's evolution and a laboratory for socialist strategy in Latin America.