Following its narrow defeat in Brazil's 1989 presidential elections the Workers Party (PT) believed that outright victory in 1994 was possible. But though the PT significantly increased its initial vote in comparison with 1989, it was not enough to prevent defeat at the first hurdle. Incoming President Fernando Henrique Cardoso was able to present himself as the more credible alternative to the corruption and fraud which had characterised Collor de Mello's administration, without for all that proposing any changes in economic direction.
In excerpts from the document below, the national committee of the influential Socialist Democracy tendency (which identifies with the positions of the Fourth International) of the PT opens the post-election debate. This selection is taken from the British paper Socialist Outlook. The full text is available in the November issue of International Viewpoint.
The Brazilian people and the left have suffered an important defeat. The bourgeoisie are now better placed than before to advance their project of "development" for a third of the population (and increasing the exclusion of the other two thirds); they want to make Brazil part of the neo-liberal "normality" of present-day capitalism.
However, neo-liberal adjustment will meet with widespread social resistance. The role of the PT in the organisation of this resistance will be crucial to preventing Brazil becoming aligned with the dominant international economic, social and political bosses.
These elections have been not just a great battle but a decisive test for us. We have ended them on the defensive, having committed many mistakes. The PT turned out to be incapable of winning central government on the basis of [presidential candidate] Lula alone. It underestimated the degree of resistance which would be shown by the bourgeoisie. It also neglected aspects such as building the party, the ideological battle, coordination and encouragement of the social movements and the linking of our work in municipal apparatuses with the global political battle.
Given the structure of Brazilian society and the existing conditions of class struggle, we will win central government only with a much more cohesive and better organised party, which has the support of a larger, more active and more politicised social movement.
We cannot minimise the defeat by pointing to how many deputies were elected ... The potential for intervention in the political battle which they represent can be achieved only by a strengthening of the party and the social movements.
The most important factor in our defeat was the Brazilian Social Democratic Party [PDSB]. Led by Cardoso, it built a solid conservative alliance.
A resolution passed by the PT's eighth national meeting defined the PDSB as a party in which neo-liberal ideology predominated, but which also included some progressive sectors. The latter have turned out to be marginal in importance. The party has undergone a qualitative change, moving from the centre to the right to strengthen the leadership of the bourgeoisie.
Today the PDSB represents the modern, dynamic and pro-active right, with the most coherent anti-popular project and the ability to take the initiative.
The PT must stand in clear opposition to the new government if we are to gain support for our program. It will be an even more dangerous adversary than the previous government, due to its more organic links with the bourgeoisie and its greater legitimacy in the eyes of a party which is larger and more influential than that of Collor. From now on [the PDSB] is to be regarded as a right-wing current even more dangerous than the traditional right.
Throughout May and June the PT believed that the political situation was more favourable, when this was not the case. The bourgeoisie were completely occupied in forming an alliance.
But in the PT a triumphalist atmosphere prevailed. Speeches predicted a first-round victory, and increased the pressure for our campaign to be stretched to the maximum at the earliest possible moment. Much energy was wasted in preparing for a future Lula government.
The campaign carried out by most of the party was not within the framework of the resolutions made at the eighth and ninth national meetings — which were centred on structural reforms, the confrontation between the different projects for society and the proposal of a democratic revolution in Brazilian society.
Our campaign wavered between the line agreed at the last two national meetings and a (vain) attempt to present the party as a party of the poor while also trying to engage the confidence (or at least the neutrality) of the rich. This wavering was decisive in demobilising militants.
Yet Cardoso also denounced the social system — even the calamitous state of public health care, which he himself helped to create.
We were incapable of putting forward a Lula proposal for fighting inflation at the most favourable moment, when he was ahead in the opinion polls and the currency had not yet been changed. We did not recognise inflation as one of the most important issues of the campaign.
This underestimation was coupled with differences and errors of analysis concerning the short-term effect of the introduction of the new currency. The predominant vision foresaw a number of short-term problems for the real [the new currency], notably that it would lead to recession and a serious loss of purchasing power.
Up until the end of July, and even into the beginning of August, it counted upon a change of opinion on the part of the population when they received their salaries for July (the month when the real was introduced).
This was the main point of conflict between the left and right wings of the party. It is completely untrue that, under the leadership of the left, the PT would have had only a narrow policy on alliances! In these elections all possible alliances were made.
There was also discussion of the type of alliance where we would abandon our political project and place ourselves in the position of subordinate partner to bourgeois hegemonic currents.
The confusion in our relationship with the PDSB challenged the entire project of the PT. Yesterday's "ally", rapidly transforming itself into today's enemy, was a decisive factor in disarming us.
Cardoso was already the main proponent of PDSB entry into the Collor government and became Lula's chief adversary from the moment when he became finance minister. He gained in strength before our very eyes, yet the PT did not combat this, continuing to treat him as a privileged partner. Affirming the necessity to broaden our appeal amongst the middle class, by moderating our proposals, ignores the figures.
We have lost because, once again, we have been incapable of addressing ourselves in a meaningful way to the majority of the electorate, the "shirtless ones", the unorganised popular mass which brought Collor to power in 1989. It was this majority of the excluded who, deceived by the real, allowed Cardoso to be elected.
The electoral battle has revealed a dilution of the socialist perspective of the party.
The real majorities, women and black people, and important minorities, such as lesbians and gay men and youth, did not appear in the project which we put forward for society. Finally, the concessions made to conservative forces, such as the Catholic Church and the armed forces, revealed an ambiguous approach.