Latin America's biggest left party

Issue 

Brazil Carnival of the Oppressed: Lula and the Brazilian Workers' Party
By Sue Branford and Bernardo Kucinski
Latin American Bureau, 1995. 120 pp.
Reviewed by Roberto Jorquera
Since its formation in August 1980, the Brazilian Workers' Party (PT) has grown to become the largest left party in Latin America. Its membership is estimated at around "600,000 militants distributed between 2,304 regional directorates, as its local groups are known". Though it lost the 1994 elections, the PT received 17 million votes, up 5 million from the 1989 elections.

Branford and Kucinski provide a very useful companion to the earlier book by Sader and Silverstein, Without Fear of Being Happy.

Branford and Kucinski begin by providing a background to the political, social and economic conditions that Brazilians have had to endure, particularly over the past decade. In the chapter "A Nation Divided", they outline the "social apartheid" that exists in Brazil today:

"Poverty in Brazil is not only relative but absolute. According to government figures, about 20 million people, out of an economically active population of 62 million, are either unemployed or earn less than the minimum wage of US$70 a month. Including these people's dependents, this means that there are about 70-80 million Brazilians — about half the population — who are too poor to give their children an adequate upbringing. According to some economists, about 32 million of this deprived population suffer from chronic malnutrition."

The character of the Workers' Party is probably the hardest question to answer. There has been much debate, often heated, over how the PT should define itself ideologically. "One of the Party's first documents declared: A party that wishes to create a socialist and democratic society must itself be a democratic organisation, respecting the rights of minorities to diverge and to dissent, but with the understanding that only individuals (and not organisations) can affiliate to the party".

In Kucinski's interview with Lula, which makes up the last chapter, Lula states: "There are two opposing views in the Workers' Party. One, the more orthodox view, is that we should go on holding the same opinions as before as if nothing has happened at all in the world, and that we should even use the former socialist countries as models. The other view is simply that socialism is dead." Lula comments, "You don't even need to call it a socialist project; call it a Christian project, or an ethical project ... For me the label is unimportant; what matters is the content."

While the avoidance of "labelling" may have played a role in the party's ability to gain mass support, it has also meant that its future direction is unclear. For example, in relation to alliances, the PT has had much debate over what criteria should be used to determine what alliances should be entered into; many criticise the PT for not entering into a broader alliance for the 1994 presidential elections.

The main challenge facing the PT is the strategy for state power. According to the authors, the PT has chosen a Gramscian approach, opting for a stance were "positions should be gradually conquered on the political chessboard". They quote a resolution passed at the first party congress: "The working class must develop a long term policy of accumulating forces, which means disputing hegemony. Winning hegemony is a fundamental part of the strategy for the revolutionary transformation of Brazilian society."

This issue is raised among some PT militants in regards to the validity of socialism. Tarso Genro, PT mayor of Porto Alegre, state, "The left must have the humility to realise that it lacks a socialist project capable of winning over a broad majority, of achieving hegemony over them". Genro proposes "a moratorium on utopias" and concludes, "Scaling down our program is the only way to confront the barbarity of social apartheid".

This book provides a good analysis of one of the most important political developments in Latin America.