In order to defeat Bolsonaro and fascism, the workers must break with the PT and the Popular Front and defeat the trade union bureaucracy: the example of education and public pensions
It is not possible to combat Bolsonaro, fascism and imperialism, supporting the PT (Workers Party) and the Popular Front. After the workers said NO to the neoliberalism of the FHC (Fernando Henrique Cardoso) government in the 1990s, they elected Lula and the PT in hopes of a better life. The PT spent more than 13 years in power ruling with the bourgeoisie and applying the neoliberal policies of imperialism. Bolsonaro’s victory and the threat of fascism show that the Popular Front is incapable of defending workers’ rights and fighting fascism, on the contrary, it demobilizes and demoralizes the struggle and paves the way for attacks against the working class!
While the commodity sales boom, especially for China, brought a flood of money, and as Lula said: “never before in that country did the bankers make so much money,” the PT was advancing in privatizations, in the dismantling of public services, of forestry, built the notorious Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, implemented education reform, auctioned pre-salt oil, etc., etc.
The financial market crash in 2008 marked the beginning of the biggest capitalist crisis in history. Capitalist crisis means that the bourgeoisie can not maintain its rates of profit and needs to attack the working class hard. These attacks have generated resistance on the part of the workers not to pay the price of the crisis, the Arab spring being the largest to date. However, there is no country in the world today that is not experiencing economic, social and political crises. On the other hand, fascism grows throughout the world as the only way for the bourgeoisie to crush the working class and make it pay the price of the crisis.
In Brazil it was no different, while Lula said that the crisis was a “marolinha”, he made appropriations of billions of reais to save the big companies like JBS (Brazilian meat-processing corporation) and GM. When Dilma assumed the presidency in the second term, the country already suffered with the end of the economic boom of commodities sale and the country went into recession; her government did not resist the crisis. Of the alms and credit that the PT gave to the working class, only the debts remained. The opposition bourgeoisie also did not speak of the global crisis of capitalism and its campaign to overthrow the government declared that the PT was the cause of the crisis.
Now the far right has come to power with their anti-PT discourse, but obviously the economic crisis is not over. On the contrary, the country has a high rate of unemployment and the public accounts do not balance, causing a risk of a crash. Bolsonaro’s populist government, which is rapidly advancing its Bonapartism, is a necessity for the bourgeoisie to crush the working class and ensure that it pays the price of the capitalist crisis. For the workers there is no other way forward than to end illusions in the bourgeois elections and capitalist state, no other way but to step up the independent struggle of the class to destroy capitalism and the construct the workers’ and socialist state.
The Bolsonaro versus Popular Front polarization is a trap for the working class because it puts before it two bourgeois options and eliminates a class independent alternative for the workers.
The neo-liberal reform of education: from FHC to the PT and the current government
In education, the subservience of the PT governments and their bourgeois allies to the plans of the World Bank and imperialism were no different. For decades education has suffered neoliberal attacks with small reforms that have been condensed and legalized in the National Education Plan (NEP). The National Education Plan, which represents imperialism’s plans to transform education into a commodity, was approved in 2014 under the Dilma government. Bolsonaro’s offensive against education and public universities can only be fought if workers are aware that it is necessary to combat all the neoliberal measures of the last years, including those of the PT, which have paved the way for the current attacks.
No doubt education workers have been among the most attacked in recent decades. The scrapping of schools and the precariousness of the teachers is felt by all. Every year education suffers from budget cuts. The education cuts carried out by the current government are the same as the left government made to comply with the Fiscal Responsibility Law or the “fiscal adjustment” Rousseff made in 2015.
It was in the PT governments that pushed the ‘Educational Reform’ the most. The private education college has grown exponentially, possible only with the billion in public money intended for entrepreneurs of the education sector, known as the “school of sharks.” Government programs that finance jobs in private institutions created the world’s largest education company in the world! Lula has created several new federal universities and institutes, which is the biggest rhetorical claim of his government. However, existing public universities continued in the process of scrapping and “reform”, while the new Universidades and Federal Institutes created by PT governments were born into the new system, where the curriculae and funding are geared to meet the private sector’s needs: low cost for school maintenance and the preparation of cheap and qualified labor to supply the markets. The fact is that universities remain an elite space that few have access to and the new universities created by Lula were part of the implementation of educational reforms dictated by the IMF and World Bank established in the NEP.
Bolsonaro has announced the cut of funds of 30% for the public universities. One of the arguments against government attacks is that public universities generate the most research and technology in the country. This is true, but it is important to remember that in recent years these researches are increasingly dependent on external funds, that is, on the foreign companies and multinationals that control and define what will be researched, according to their interests.
Another argument used by the PT government’s naysayers against the current government is the lack of democracy and autonomy in universities, when the chosen elector of the Triple List is not the one that received the most votes in the elections. However, it is worth remembering that before the PT came to power, one of the great promises was to end the Triple List, which includes the three names most referred by the university community, and from which the government chooses one name. During his thirteen years in power, the PT never ended this undemocratic method of choosing the rectors; what it did was to choose the one with the most votes, while the system remained the same!
High school reform is another example of the educational reform demanded by imperialism from semi-colonies like Brazil. It transforms secondary education into vocational education, with the justification that young people leave ready for the job market. This reform removes training and broad knowledge of secondary education and channels the training of young people to specific areas as a way to generate cheap and specialized labor for the market. On the other hand, it benefits private educational institutions, which lower their costs and increase the demand, since the young person who does not get space in the labor market needs to go back to school and retrain. The PT spoke against the reform of high school when this was approved by Temer, but were silent when this same reform of the NEP was approved by their government or when it was implanted in the states by PT governors, as happened in Rio Grande do Sul during the Tarso Genro government.
In universities, the same privatization logic and training of skilled and inexpensive labor for the market is observed. The old, long and comprehensive courses of entire areas of knowledge have been dismembered in several degree programs. Thus, the basic cycle was created, lasting 2 years, where students matriculate in these various courses. After completing the basic cycle, the student has to do two more years of the course he has chosen. For the student who in the old model leaves college with broad training, she or he now comes out enabled to work only in one branch of the area of knowledge chosen. For private initiative, it means that you no longer need to fund a long and comprehensive course, but only the basic cycle, or the specific modules of each course. It also means a greater demand, because every module that the student wants or needs to do, requires them to go back to the educational institution for it, and obviously to pay for it!
Before the arrival of the PT, the trade unions and the National Union of Students (UNE) fought hard against this reform that had already been demanded by the World Bank since the 1990s! In 1998 the federal universities engaged in a 90-day strike against the University Autonomy of FHC, which was nothing more than autonomy to seek financing in the private sector! This practice began with the foundations of private initiative within the universities, which not only has not been reversed, but made great strides with the PT governments.
What about basic education that suffers from the scrapping and immense precariousness of schools!? One of the main focuses is the attack on education workers, which serves both the interest of private Capital and the end of public servants. The “National Education Floor” was the great tool to end the careers of the teaching profession. While the government was promising a salary floor, which was actually the CEILING, the same floor law established the end of teachers’ career plans. The state of São Paulo is one of the most advanced in the privatizing reform of education. There, the teachers already “won” the floor so much defended by the PT and its syndicalists, but they lost their career plans and other benefits. The state is known for the precariousness of teachers, who worked on a temporary contract, with no ties to the government and earn by the hour, true day laborers! With different stages of implementation, this is the reform applied in ALL states and municipalities of the country. In this sector, the presence of the private initiative dates back to the FHC governments and has remained in the Lula and Dilma government. Private-initiative foundations, such as the AirtonSenna Foundation, Bradesco Foundation, etc., elaborate, apply and control pedagogical projects in public schools, taking away the autonomy of teachers in the classroom.
In Rio Grande do Sul, education has suffered the same dismantling for decades. The hardworking servants of education like doormen, lunch servers, etc., were almost all replaced by private initiative workers through outsourcing; there are only the few waiting for retirement. In recent years, the number of teachers hired under the new scheme equals the number of veteran teachers, whose indefinite period contracts are now the government’s target. The government attack advances to the privatization model already implanted in São Paulo. And during all these years of dismantling, the union policy directed by the CUT (Unified Workers’ Central) / PT is to deceive the masses claiming that the Law of the Floor and the NEP were the solution to all problems of education!
The example of Public Pensions
Today, the media, business people and the government are engaged in a massive campaign for the approval of the Pension Reform. They say it’s the only way out of the crisis. Social security is the largest income distribution in the country, which is one of the most unequal in the world! Reform is a requirement of the financial market, as it is from pensions that the country can draw more money to pay its debts to the bankers. Dilma in 2016, during her “fiscal adjustment” spoke of the need for reform. Temer’s “A bridge to the future” program identified pension reform as its main objective. The “democratic” bourgeoisie and its regime of the 1988 constitution were never able to meet the demands of the workers properly at any time. The different governments that operated under the constitution of 1988 have slowly withdrawn all the rights conquered in 1988. Like education reform, pensions have undergone several reforms since the Collor administration, with further reforms under Lula and Dilma.
The reform presented by the Bolsonaro government to Congress foresees the end of the current policy of public pensions replaced with a private capitalization scheme; the new scheme increases the time of service required, the amount of the contributions and includes a reduction of benefits. Several populist measures of the PT governments were instrumental in reaching the proposed reform of today. In the boom period of the international economy and sales of commodities and credit during the Lula government, the campaign of “valorization of the minimum wage” was launched. The untying of the increase for retirees earning more than one minimum wage led to a flattening of wages paid by social security. The pension ceiling had already led many workers to turn to private pension plans to try to keep their salary level in retirement. In practice, the private sector workers retain very little of the rights of the current pension system. The civil servants were targeted by Lula’s pension reform in 2003, but they are the ones who have managed to maintain most of their rights and are now the most threatened by the current reform, which foresees the end of public servants’ pensions for a single pension scheme. It is worth remembering that the public servants, while they were able to maintain their rights, unfortunately lacked solidarity with the workers of the private sector and the defense of their social security system. This balance is fundamental so that public servants can receive support from other workers in the face of the attacks they are suffering from the bourgeoisie and the Bolsonaro government that wants to end public service and advance privatizations.
The media and government say the country will collapse if the reform is not approved. To deceive the population, they compare the expenses of social security with those of health and education, showing that for the latter the expense is much lower. But they do not show that spending on debt repayment for bankers is astronomical. The workers should have no illusions, the money the government intends to take out of pensions will not go to health and education, but to the bankers!
It is not possible to defeat Bolsonaro’s final coup against public services and pensions by defending the PT and the Popular Front as “lesser evil”
Undoubtedly, the reforms of the last decades in education, health and social security follow the logic of privatization: increasingly scrapped, these services will remain public only for the very poor who can not afford to pay, the others will have to look for these services in the capitalist toilet. It is worth remembering that private does not mean quality, because in Brazil we know the poor quality of private schools, universities and health care and that we pay dearly for them!
After Lula’s first election, all workers’ struggle and awareness against the privatization of education project suffered a great setback. The unions and militants began to be integrated into the state institutions and defend this project, giving a “democratic” face through the “National Conference of Education,” a tripartite sphere with businessmen, government and workers, where this project was endorsed. Educational reform was implemented through the co-optation of trade unions and workers’ organizations by the Popular Front.
The capitulation of the Left to the Popular Front is general, as can be seen during the bourgeois elections, when most currents called for voting for the PT against Bolsonaro and Fascism. Even organizations that had stood in opposition to PT governments, such as PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party) and PSTU (Unified Workers’ Socialist Party) took this position.
PSOL, PSTU and combative unions such as ANDES (National Association of Teachers of Higher Education), who in the past were against the NEP, all denounced the maneuvering of the ‘Law of the Floor’ and tried to unite the struggle of teachers demanding the full rights of contracted teachers who have been in the public service for more than 3 years. Now they have NO policy different from that of the PT and the Popular Front. Instead, they are part of the National Conference on Education and are agents in the application of these neoliberal attacks.
The global crisis of capitalism and the resistance of the working class
The deepening of the crisis shows that the impeachment of Dilma was only the beginning of a great instability of the institutions of the Brazilian bourgeois state. After the fall of the PT and the unpopular Temer government, we went through a stark and growing crisis of the State institutions, with disputes between the powers and within the Bolsonaro government itself, which show that not only the executive power, but the bourgeois democratic regime is not able to carry forward the interests of the bourgeoisie and imperialism. Bolsonaro needs to deepen his bonapartism more and more, putting himself above institutions, with populist and authoritarian measures. Unlike the PT and the reformist left, we say that the fascist methods and military blows of the bourgeoisie remain the same that the impeachment of Dilma was a maneuver of the bourgeoisie to overthrow her government, and that Brazil suffers with a threat of a real coup. The PT narrative helps demobilize, misinform and disarm the working class for this fight.
The global crisis of capitalism demonstrates the destructive character of this system. The decadence of American hegemony and the intensification of the dispute with the imperialist bloc of China/Russia lead the great world powers to another imperialist war. Obviously Bolsonaro has no sovereignty allegiance and has already shown himself to be the doormat of Trump and American imperialism, even willing to go to war to defend imperialist interests, as in the case of neighboring Venezuela. But the PT governments were never “anti-imperialist.” What the PT and the popular front did was to bring the country closer to Chinese and Russian imperialism through the BRICS. For workers, there is no difference in being exploited and paying debt to the IMF or the BRICS bank.
The PT, PCdoB (Communist Party of Brazil) and its allies are traitors to the working class. Contrary to what they claim, the workers and the youth have staged a great resistance. Youth in 2013 in the fight against rising public transport fares mobilized millions who went to the streets asking for health and education, andtoday the PT accuses them of having been a fascist movement! Teachers have for years held strikes in every state and municipality in the country. The need to unify these strikes forced the CUT / CNTE (Teachers Union) to carry out 3-day general strikes in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. All of them serving the trade union bureaucracy to destroy the movement from the inside, controlling and diverting it into illusions in the elections and programs of the PT government. In 2019, in the face of all the Bolsonaro government attacks, the CUT / CNTE was forced to call another general education strike for May 15. The question is: why do the trade union centrals that have been talking about “building the general strike” for years not unify all workers, taking advantage of this moment of the struggle of the education workers? They will certainly answer us: because the general strike against the Pension Reform will be June 16.
We do not sing the chorus with the ultra-leftists and centrists who criticize the trade union centrals over how much “time is needed to build a general strike. For the working class that has listened to the Bureaucratic Block of Trade Union Centers (of which Conlutas is a part) that it is necessary to “build” the General Strike for 30 days, this is not the question. Our critique is the role of bureaucratic misdirections in intervening in the movement to bar it, bureaucratize it, and divert it to the interests of its opportunist parties and its strategies of Popular Front and bourgeois elections. We warn workers that this example shows how opportunist mis-leaderships try to divide the working class. Why can’t other workers make a general strike in defense of education and the specific demands of each sector? Why can’t the General Strike against Social Security Reform unify with the other branches of the movement? We have come to answer those questions: because the PT, CUT and its allies do not want to bar the pension reform, as exposed by their governors and parliamentarians; they want a “better” reform. They want to exhaust the government before the upcoming elections and they fear that the strike movement will get out of their control. These are the reasons why the workers’ reformist leadership does not advocate an INDEFINITE General Strike.
We support and will be part of the general strikes of education and against pension reform. But we warn workers that the strike and movement is in the hands of a union bureaucracy and reformist parties who want to divert our struggles to their interests in elections and in Parliament. We say that a united front (UF) is required among workers and left-wing organizations, including opportunistic ones. We do not ignore the fact that the CUT/PT are the majority leaders of the Brazilian working class. But UF means that they are a part, and not the only leaders; that also the rank and file has its leadership role. That is why we call the Central bloc a bureaucratic front, in which only the leaders decide between four walls the direction of the movement. We regret the fact that CONLUTAS are part of and sustain this bureaucratic bloc and we call on it to break with the union bureaucracy. Only the indefinite general strike, organized and controlled by the rank and file committees and self-defense organs of workers is able to defeat the government, imperialism and put in check the bourgeoisie and capitalism in Brazil!
The strategy of dividing the movement of the working class is also carried out in the international field of class struggle. It is no wonder that social democrats, Stalinists, “RT socialists” and faux Trotskyists when faced with the biggest economic, social and political crisis worldwide, with mass upheavals and openly revolutionary processes such as the Arab Spring and the Syrian revolution, with support for bourgeois regimes, ultimately abandoning the struggle for socialism.. They have not advanced an independent struggle to support and provide class solidarity. The only way out for them is the Popular Front, that is, alliance with “progressive” sectors of the bourgeoisie, supporting dictatorships such as Assad in Syria or Maduro in Venezuela. These opportunistic and reformist directions are said to be “anti-imperialist”, but only when imperialism is American. They are allies of Chinese and Russian imperialism, in a large popular front, taking sides in the inter-imperialist dispute.
Faced with the deep capitalist crisis in which the bourgeoisie needs fascist methods to crush the working class to “solve” its crisis, the growth of fascism in the world shows that only the struggle of the workers and the socialist revolution is capable of defeating fascism. Socialist revolution is required to prevent the recurrence of inter-imperialist wars and to save mankind in the face of the destruction of the environment caused by the capitalist mode of production. For this it is necessary that the workers, leftist currents, militants and activists break with the opportunist leaderships and the Popular Front and advance in the direct struggle of the working class and in the construction of the World Party of the Revolution.
red rave is the loud mouth of members of the Communist Workers' Group of Aotearoa/New Zealand, committed to building a new communist international to lead workers to the revolutionary overthrow of global capitalism. Since 2010 we have been in a Liaison Committee with the Communist Workers' Group (USA), the Revolutionary Workers' Group (Zimbabwe) and the Revolutionary Workers' Group (Brazil).