Brazil: Workers' Party leads the polls

Submitted by AWL on 7 August, 2002 - 5:54

Leftie football pundits reckon that defeats on the pitch lead to a good kicking for those in power.
Brazil's neoliberal president Fernando Henriquez Cardoso was hoping Brazil's World Cup glory might give his right-wing coalition a leg up in the forthcoming presidential elections. But all recent polls show Luis Inacio da Silva (Lula) the Workers' Party candidate as clear favourite.

The first response of the international money markets was to warn against instability if Lula's elected, leading to a run on Brazil's currency, the real. The IMF then publicly stated any help in propping up the economy would be dependent on all candidates agreeing to their conditions. It would prefer an openly neoliberal victory, but since their preferred right wing candidates are mired in corruption allegations, it will make do with economic pressure.

So will Lula's election be the first step in dismantling global capital's grip on Latin America?

Brazil is Latin America's largest economy with a vast internal market. It was Argentina's inability to export to this market, when the peso was pegged to the dollar, which contributed to their economic crisis. Whatever happens to Brazil's economy will affect the whole continent, which is already in turmoil: not just Argentina, but general strikes and rioting in Paraguay, Uruguay, and Peru, civil war in Colombia and the recent attempted coup in Venezuela. In trading terms, Brazil is capable of generating an export surplus, but 90% of its export earnings now go to service the $250 billion debt.

Lula, a metal workers union leader with still a strong popular base is looking for support that breaches class lines. He's named multimillionaire Liberal leader, Jose Alencar as his vice presidential candidate, and has promised to honour Brazil's debt. When questioned about the PT's priorities 'to fight misery and hunger' he was quick to point out that he would keep within tight spending limits set by the IMF. In other words say what the people want to hear, do what the market tells you.

Alencar represents the domestic manufacturing bourgeoisie as against international financial capital. Lula's strategy seems to be a return to pre-monetarist national economic development: 'combat speculation with production. Every investor will look to Brazil when there is an infrastructure that supports the flow of production, a highly trained workforce and a market that really consumes because there are strong wages.'
To readers old enough to remember Labour governments before Thatcher, this may have a familiar ring - the jam tomorrow of reformist ('socialist' 'communist') workers parties. Accept wage cuts, tighten public spending, till we build a strong economy when we can afford the good things of the earth.

But this is 2002. Global capital plays hard ball. There's a superpower on the doorstep ready to enforce what the markets can't. Brazil's workers and landless people can not afford to pay off the debt incurred by corrupt dictators and doubled by the interest burden. Lula has promised to put into place policies of democratisation, increased public investment, and land reform. He wishes to introduce "participatory management of state" an extension of the way the Workers Party had run areas of Brazil which they already electoral control. But participation in alliance with capitalist ownership is just a way of making workers take responsibility for cutting their own living standards. Who is going to pay for the massive literacy drive, or the entirely laudable School Scholarship programme which subsidises poor families keeping their children in education?

Porto Alegre, in Workers' Party-run Rio Grande do Sul, hosted the World Social Forum, where thousands gathered to begin elaborating an alternative to global capital. Brazil's economic crisis (and of the whole of Latin America) make it urgent that this moves beyond talk to building an effective global alternative. Economic nationalism will not solve Brazil's crisis. The millions of workers and the landless in the MST (Movimento Sem Terra) who look to the Workers' Party to solve the crisis will not allow its take-over by business interests without a fight. The Workers' Party is always described as lively and factional. We must be prepared to offer active solidarity to those within the Workers' Party who want it to remain a party for the workers in the interests of the workers.

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