Israel Dutra (MES/PSOL): A week of polemics in Brazil


First published at Revista Movimento. Translated by LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

Those who followed the country’s political and parliamentary debate during the past week [starting May 15] would have identified some important polemics accompanying the situation of instability and political struggle across Brazil. Amid the new political situation that opened up as a result of [former president Jair] Bolsonaro’s electoral defeat and the inauguration of the new government, we have argued for a tactic of combining the struggle against the far right with defending the independence of the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (Socialism and Liberty Party, PSOL). This week, two important political events allowed us to put in practice, in a very clear manner, the need to combine and implement these tactics. As the Argentines say, these events graficaron [graphically displayed] our political orientation.

The extreme right mobilised its people to attack the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement, MST) and other social movements in the Parliamentary Commission (CPI) where deputy Sâmia Bomfim confronted the allies of genocide in the name of PSOL. The installation of the CPI was marked by strong clashes, with Sâmia standing out for denouncing the hypocrisy of [ex-environment minister in Bolsonaro’s government] Ricardo Salles, who is seeking to present himself as a candidate for São Paulo mayor. The other event was the vote on the urgent bill for a new fiscal framework, the “arcabouço”, which PSOL voted against and [PSOL deputy] Fernanda Melchionna interrogated finance minister Fernando Haddad over the fiscalist nature of the proposal. Each battle has its particularities and paths. What we want to do here is debate the correctness of our tactic and call on members to stand even stronger in defence of it.

Parliamentary Commission on MST: Defend those who struggle in the countryside 

Agri-Bolsonarism wants to go on the offensive against the MST and against rural and urban social movements. The combination of Salles electoral interests and the rise in attacks against the most harmful sectors of agribusiness explains the formation of the Parliamentary Commission. Electorally defeated, agri-Bolsonarism was to move forward with the expropriation of territories belonging to indigenous peoples and quilombolas [Afro-Brazilian communities], and maintain its development model based on reprimarisation and social regression. On the other hand, the Lula da Silva government wants to avoid conflicts by backing other agro sectors, such as agriculture minister Carlos Henrique Baqueta Fávaro, and working to contain occupations and social mobilisation. The recent crisis that led Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, PT) deputy Valmir Assunção to denounce the Chief of Staff of the Presidency, Rui Costa, for vetoing the MST’s participation in the launch of the Annual Participatory Plan, is an expression of these tensions. For an entire section of the government, the focus is on “pouring cold water” on the struggle against agri-Bolsonarism, and ignore the violence and persecution afflicting the Brazilian countryside.

The MST is one of the biggest social movements in the world. Despite certain differences regarding political viewpoints, we have no doubt that now is the time to defend them. And we share a key point of agreement with its political leadership in the current conjuncture: without street mobilisations and class conflicts, there is no way out of the current impasse in the country. The sympathy expressed by urban sectors and supporters of land reform has grown in Brazil, and is reminiscent of the 1990s. This is reflected in the support for the National Land Reform Fair, which attracted almost 400,000 people to Água Branca Park in São Paulo. This enormous sympathy is also tied to the struggle against poisonous agrotoxins, for healthier diets and for the distribution of food to combat hunger in the peripheries of the big cities.

Agribusiness moves fortunes, backed in part by public funds and based on the historic occupation of lands through violence for private ends. In practice, we have witnessed the outright theft of common, public and collective property. Because of all this, as Sâmia expressed in her confrontation with Salles, we call on the entire left to defend the MST and the dozens of important social movements struggling in the countryside.

Against the fiscal framework

The other burning issue of the legislative week was the correct decision by PSOL to vote against the emergency bill to put to a vote the new fiscal framework. The PT, the centrão [bloc of conservative clientalistic parties] and the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party PL) of Bolsonaro united to avoid any criticism and consolidate Haddad’s fiscalist project, which was given a makeover by Cláudio Cajado (Progressistas). The changes proposed so far worsen something what was already very bad by maintaining the essence of a project of fiscal austerity in order to continue directing funds towards rentism. On top of this, Cajado has proposes, for example, including with the new spending limits the Fundeb [Basic Education Development Fund], the minimum wage for nurses and the Bolsa Familia [a conditional cash transfer program], as well as establishing “triggers”, such as a prohibition on salary rises for public servants, which had already been capped by [former president Michel] Temer and Bolsonaro in the past few years, and a prohibition on public tenders.

In the debate in the Chamber, deputy Fernanda Melchionna outlined a series of threats contained in the new “spending limit” on the functioning of public services and even for the Brazilian economy should it go into economic crisis, with a limit on rises in public investment from only 0.6% to 2.5% annually. Fernanda also demonstrated how the proposed new limit on spending threatened education and healthcare, given that the floor on investment in these areas, an achievement enshrined in the Constitution, could place pressure on other areas of spending limited by the “framework”. This has already led to functionaries in the finance ministry, such as secretary Rogério Ceron, to affirm that the government hopes to eliminate the floor on spending in these areas. When asked if he would confirm such intentions, Haddad simply evaded the question and reaffirmed his pride in having proposed the “world’s strictest” fiscal rule and his confidence that growth would be led by “private investment”, repeating arguments once defended by people such as [Bolsonaro’s finance minister] Paulo Guedes and [Temer’s finance minister] Henrique Meirelles. Due to all this, the PSOL voted against the fiscal “framework” (tightening).

De-Bolsonarise Brazil by winning a social majority

This week of “polemics” demonstrates the need to maintain PSOL’s independence in order to struggle for deep changes in Brazil. We will not back down in our defence of social movements. And we have complete autonomy to not have to automatically agree with the government in Congress, especially on a project that will frustrate the expectations and needs of a population that demands changes and public investment to reverse the damage caused by four years of Bolsonaro and the economic crisis. Understanding the key aspect of the “framework” is much simpler than the calculations presented by economists: it will make the workers, middle classes and poor carry the burden for the crisis — precisely the social sectors we need to confront Bolsonarism.

The internal debate within PSOL, which Lula and PT are seeking to apply pressure on by threatening PSOL leader Guilherme Boulos with blackmail in the negotiations to decide a candidate for São Paulo mayor, needs to be carried out with the entire membership. We believe the line of maintaining our independence and not participating in the government is correct, as it enables us to act as organisers of social struggles and demands, while waging an implacable struggle, on all fronts, against the extreme right. This debate will continue throughout the VIII PSOL Congress, which has already begun with preparatory debates and will conclude in October.

The great task of de-Bolsonarising Brazil can only be achieve if we can put forward a project that seeks to win a social majority. The Movimento Esquerda Socialista (Socialist Left Movement, MES) [an internal current within PSOL] has been debating this with the whole of the activist vanguard: the victory by List 1 (composed of left activists from PSOL, the Partido Comunista Brasileiro (Brazilian Communist Party, PCB), independents and other minority sectors) within the national teachers union indicates that we are on a good path. Supporting strikes, for example by teachers in Federal District and Rio de Janeiro, is also part of this. The next week will be full of battles, guided by the two issues taken up in this article. The task of PSOL leaders and members is to implement this orientation.

Israel Dutra is secretary general of PSOL, a sociologist, and National Leadership member of PSOL and the Socialist Left Movement (Movimento Esquerda Socialista, MES).