by Gloria Trogo and Henrique Canary, published in esquerdaonline.com
A response to the article “Three ways to confuse the vanguard”
There has been intense debate among the organizations of the Brazilian revolutionary left for several years now. Sudden changes in reality have occurred, and with this have come new polemics, new tensions, and different interpretations. This is normal and healthy. The problem is that, haunted by marginalization, pressures from the electoral and trade union apparatus, and self-proclamation, it is all too common for these debates to have a very low political level.
These polemics are often marked by mutual attack, the stigmatization of positions, and the destructive idea that the greatest enemy is the one who is the closest. Contrary to what it often seems, filling polemical articles with misplaced quotes does not always serve to “raise the level” of the debate. All too often, it only serves to remove the debate from the terrain where it should take place: concrete reality. Instead of “raising the level,” such a method turns discussions into scholastic and dogmatic repetition, into more of the same. When faced with this method of many organizations, the best and most worthy activists become disheartened and turn away. It is therefore a destructive and sectarian method.
Unfortunately, in the most recent debate occurring in the lead up to the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) congress, Resistência (Resistance) has been accused of all manner of absurdities, such as having negotiated positions for itself in a supposed future ‘petista’ (PT, Workers’ Party) government, of liquidating itself within PSOL, of defending reformism, and other grotesque attacks. In a long and recent article titled “Três formas de confundir a vanguard” (Three ways to confuse the vanguard), the Movimento de Esquerda Socialista (MES, Socialist Left Movement), an internal tendency within PSOL, develops the idea that the party is facing a historic fork in the road, and that Resistência represents the danger of adhering to ‘Lulismo’ while the MES represents the defense of a strategic heritage. Let us see if this is indeed the case.
Brazil: concrete analysis of the concrete situation
Despite its initial methodological considerations, the article completely disregards the concrete conditions of the class struggle in Brazil. The MES article can cite Lenin’s harsh and extensive polemic against Hungarian leader Bela Kun in 1919 but is unable to analyze the concrete situation in Brazil in 2021. The word pandemic is mentioned only once, and only to make a supposedly democratic criticism of PSOL for holding its Congress this year. There could not be a more illustrative example of the logic that permeates the article: its removal from reality.
Analysis of the living conditions faced by the working class must be at the center of any Marxist assessment of Brazil. 549,000 deaths; 14.8 million people unemployed; 33.3 million people unemployed or under-employed; a three-decade setback in the participation of women in the labor market; a record number of police killings; new levels of job insecurity, and a lengthy ‘etc.’ are all part of the objective reality of the Brazilian working class today. It is impossible to do politics – at least revolutionary politics – without understanding this reality.
The subjectivity of the working class also deserves attention: the growing rupture with the Bolsonaro government is undoubtedly one of the most important positive factors. Fortunately, there is a social majority against Bolsonaro which has formed in response to the tragic experience of the pandemic, but Bolsonarismo still maintains influence among a considerable, albeit minority, sector of the masses. The significant amount of young people who identify as black, who see themselves as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, or as feminists, also make up this positive subjectivity. However, it is undeniable that racism, machismo, and LGBTQIA+phobia violate and divide the forces of the working class every day. The left’s experiment with ‘petista’ reformism was interrupted by the right-wing parliamentary coup of 2016. Many of the public policies of these governments, which we as Marxists criticize from the left, were harshly attacked by the far-right. The terrible social crisis and Bolsonaro’s genocidal pandemic policy have imposed a lowering of expectations. Survival is a daily mission for our class.
It is in this context that we need to frame our strategies and tactics for the period. The overthrow of the Bolsonaro government is an urgent necessity, but the paths to reach it are a little more complex than a contest of parliamentary tactics in the National Congress, or even how many days must elapse between one demonstration and the next in July 2021. It is not the number of dates in a timetable of struggle which divides the revolutionaries from the reformists, and amazingly, not even the analysis of the correlation of forces between the classes. The idea that traitors always want to wait and revolutionaries want to advance indefinitely is a childish simplification.
Lula: why don’t the MES comrades explain what their vision of ‘anti-petismo’ is?
One of the key points in the polemic between the MES and Resistência centers on how to interpret the coup, Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash), ‘anti-petismo’ (anti-PT / Workers’ Party sentiment), Lula’s imprisonment, and now the return of his political rights. But this key point to the interpretation of contemporary Brazil is not developed in the article.
In the theoretical part of their article, they mention that we cannot mechanically transpose classical concepts of Marxist theory such as Bonapartism to the current Brazilian reality. What would this transposition be? Would it by any chance be our interpretation of Lava Jato as a juridical-political operation with a clear Bonapartist strategy? For us, this became evident, not by any ahistorical comparisons with abstract categories, but by the very development of the plans for the coup, a development that the MES refuses to acknowledge.
A few years ago, not so many, the MES comrades were hedging their bets on Lava Jato judge Sérgio Moro as opposed to Lula. As a “progressive” force, so to speak. For them, Lava Jato had republican and progressive aspirations, and the demonization of the PT could open up space for the socialist left. They even claimed at the height of Moro’s popularity that the judge’s victory in a possible presidential contest would be “a distorted victory of the masses”. MES leader Luciana Genro’s post “Viva a Lava Jato!” (Long live Lava Jato!) is now very well known. It is difficult to understand how this schema can be sustained after Bolsonaro’s election, but it is nevertheless quite easy to understand why these issues are not dealt with in the comrades’ article.
The MES, along with a part of the left, and bourgeois party figures such as center-left Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labour Party, PDT), bet on ‘anti-petismo’ being potentially fertile terrain for the ideas of the socialist left. This flirtation with the ‘verde-amarelinhos’ (‘green and yellows’, conservative Brazilian flag-wavers), based on an objectivist assessment of reality, resulted in opportunist politics and went all wrong. Without understanding why this occurred, it is impossible to get the right politics for defeating the government and Bolsonarismo (neo-fascism).
‘Anti-petismo’ was born reactionary, it gave birth to neo-fascism, and it is a right-wing ideology with a strong base in the bourgeoisie and the anti-working class, anti-left sectors of the middle class. This unquestionable fact is also part of the break in the experience that the working class, and the vanguard, has had with ‘petismo’ and ‘Lulismo’. Today the broad base of activism and the most conscious sectors of the masses are making a very straightforward account of matters, that is, we need unity to defeat the Bolsonaro government, both in the struggles and the elections. And this path for us does not mean either dissolution or ‘adesismo’ (opportunism). The road to constructing PSOL passes through our party putting itself, as it did during the coup, on the right side of history.
The United Front: history and the present
Exactly 100 years ago, around 600 delegates met in Moscow at the Third Congress of the Third International. The Congress took place between June and July 1921 and after an intense political struggle approved the “Theses on the Unity of the Proletarian Front”, or the “Theses on the United Front”. The name of the “theory of the offensive” did not appear in the articles of Resistência, but in the theses formulated at that Congress. It is difficult to draw parallels with that time, when the revolutionaries were numbered in the millions, had seized power in Russia four years earlier, won the civil war, formed the USSR, and founded the Third International. Precisely because of this, we do not share the fever of self-proclamation that afflicts some currents who believe themselves to be a smaller-scale version of the Bolshevik party.
We have studied John Riddell’s brilliant work entitled “To the Masses”, which has recently been published and contains the detailed interventions of all the reports of the Third Congress of the Communist International. For Lenin and Trotsky, unity was never synonymous with capitulation. The concept had a solid class character. For the revolutionaries of the Third International, social democracy, namely, the bureaucratic and traitorous leaderships, should be part of this unity, precisely because in many European countries they were the leaders of the majority of the class. One essential detail is that even in the countries where the communists were in the majority, the tactic of the United Front was applied.
Unfortunately, answers as to the best policy for overthrowing the Bolsonaro government and the best electoral tactic for PSOL in 2022 cannot be found in the annals of the congresses of the Third International or the writings of Lenin and Trotsky. These answers must be sought in today’s Brazil. But by the use of what reference points?
For us, the “Theses on the United Front” is indeed a reference point, because the leadership of the International, even in the much better conditions of political contest as the leadership of a workers’ state and with the social and political weight of the masses, nevertheless did not shy away from class unity when the capitalist offensive was imposed. Social Democracy (the reformists of the time) was no better than the reformists of the 21st century. They had in large part supported their bourgeois states in the First World War, betrayed the German Revolution, participated in the brutal murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and demonstrated the counterrevolutionary character of their program. The criterion of Lenin and Trotsky was not what had happened in the past, nor the set strategic differences: in the face of a reactionary situation and the ebbing of the revolutionary tide, unity should be between all parties, movements, and organizations of the working class.
United Front, Electoral Front, and participation in a possible ‘petista’ government
A United Front and an Electoral Front are not the same, they are distinct tactics. There is no manual in Marxist literature on how to use them – and if there were it would not be truly Marxist. They can be used together, they can be used separately, it depends on the concrete conditions. The view that flatly opposes practical unity in struggle to electoral unity is dogmatic and is based solely on loose phrases and scattered ideas from the classics, never detailed or developed in depth. The currents which take these quotations as a tablet of commandments end up transforming Marxism from a method for the analysis of reality into a method for the analysis of texts. In other words, they distort its very essence. In fact, the political practice of the parties of the Third International shows how these two tactics (United Front and Electoral Front) were in permanent dialogue and interaction with each other. But the analysis of reality is not the strength of the MES comrades’ article.
What is clear in Marxist theory is that the problem of who or which party should govern is not something to be underestimated by revolutionaries. The United Front is not only a tactic for the trade union or economic struggle, it is a tactic for the defense of the class and also a tactic for power. It is not by chance that the theme of the workers’ government, or the tactic of workers’ and peasants’ government, is part of the theses on the united front.
The MES brought the United Front into question on the practical terrain of Brazilian politics, as it sought to break away from the Comitê Fora Bolsonaro (Bolsonaro Out Committee) to build the Povo Na Rua (People in the Street) group, an act which can only be explained by the MES’s search for space and political prominence. Some sectors had already split and formed the Povo na Rua front. For us, the existence of a Committee that brings together the People without Fear Front (Frente Povo Sem Medo, FPSM), the Popular Brazil Front (Frente Brasil Popular, FBP), the Black Coalition for Rights (Coalizão Negra por Direitos, CND), the indigenous movements and various other popular organizations is one of the greatest achievements of the recent political struggle. It is this unity that explains the success of the main mobilizations for ‘Fora Bolsonaro’ that have taken place to date, and which has seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in four major rounds of national demonstrations.
The best tactic for PSOL in the coming elections cannot be discussed in a disconnected fashion from the analysis of the class struggle in Brazil. For the MES everything is tactical, except a front with the PT. They have already defended support for Marina Silva (Sustainability Network, REDE), for Baleia Rossi (Brazilian Democratic Movement, MDB), flirted with Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labor Party, PDT), made broad alliances in the mayoral race in Porto Alegre, and received money from steelmaker Gerdau (which they justify with references to the Bolsheviks receiving money from the liberal industrialist Morozov, for God’s sake). The MES is without a doubt a very flexible current in the electoral field. Why is there now such a strong rejection of the need for a Left Front to defeat Bolsonaro? This issue is directly related to the MES’s characterization of ‘anti-petismo’, and their continued wager on the battle for a left-wing ‘anti-petismo’.
For us, PSOL must be part of a battle for the Left Front and present this unity on an anti-capitalist program. This is the best policy for building towards the defeat of the ‘Frente Ampla’ (Broad Front) strategy, and for bringing to the fore the debate on the class character of the alliance that must be made to govern Brazil.
The article deliberately mixes up the debate on the Left Front and participation in governments of class conciliation, two absolutely distinct things. Our position is clear and has been consistently applied. We do not take part in any PT municipal government, nor do we advocate that PSOL does so. It should be noted that our tendency does not hold any position in the PT’s mayoralty in Belém in the state of Pará, unlike the MES, which has always adopted a position of broad flexibility in its relation to the bourgeois state. We can state in advance that we will not participate in a potential Lula government, nor do we advocate that PSOL should do so. In their article, the comrades raise the specter of the possible participation of Resistência in a PT government. Where did they get that from? From a Resistência article? From our political practice? This is clearly a polemical maneuver, and one of the most dishonest.
In our opinion, the electoral calculations that the comrades present as a tactic for PSOL do not serve to correctly position the party. The MES’s proposed formula is one of semi-neutrality: “If Bolsonaro is strong in the lead up to the elections, we should support any candidate that can defeat him. If Bolsonaro is weak, we should present an anti-capitalist program that gives answers to the concrete problems of the people, maintains a separate pole, and differentiates ourselves from opportunism.” What kind of dangerous game is this? When will this assessment (of whether Bolsonaro is strong or weak) be made? On the eve of the first round? Or of the second round? It’s illogical. PSOL must position itself in Congress for the best policy to defeat neo-fascism, which is the fight for a Left Front in the struggle and the elections.
A Left Front in the elections would function as a real catalyst for the popular aspirations of the majority who want to defeat Bolsonaro. This Front would be seen by a huge portion of the population as the antithesis of fascism in power. It would excite and organize the most courageous, most conscious, and most combative sectors of our class. Instead of building PSOL within this tremendously progressive movement, one that is capable of further projecting PSOL on a national scale, of placing our militants in dialogue with ‘petista’ militants, and placing PSOL at the center of the national debate – instead of all this, the comrades prefer to either isolate themselves with their own candidacy that would in fact be outside the great national political debate, or seek unity with people like Ciro Gomes with the justification of needing to “support any candidate” “if Bolsonaro is strong.”
Leninist politics is not quoting telegrams from Lenin to Bela Kun, because anyone can do that. Leninist politics is the concrete analysis of the concrete situation, the analysis of the living and real forces in society, not the analysis of supposedly sacred texts.
It is ironic that a current that maintained (and to some extent still maintains) an opportunist policy regarding one of the most recent and tragic phenomena in Brazilian history, the Lava Jato operation and the reactionary mobilizations for Dilma’s impeachment, now criticizes Resistência for a supposed capitulation to ‘petismo’.
We want to remind comrades that the PT is no longer in government. In fact, it was overthrown five years ago in a coup implemented by the movement of anti-petista ‘verde-amarelinhos’, with whom the MES tried so hard to dialogue with. To make your politics as if the PT were the government is to make politics for an outdated reality, and therefore it is not Leninism.
Today any reasonable person who opposes Bolsonaro looks at reality (not the sacred texts) and asks themselves: how can he be overthrown? What force can take that lead? Evidently, the answer of the masses is Lula and the PT, and that does not rest on our desire. By denying this, the MES’s proposal in practice ends up delivering this entire section of the population into the arms of the PT leadership, without any battle for the enormous and extremely progressive political space that will open up.
For our part, we want to contest this space. This means fighting the PT leadership’s proposal for a Broad Front, and instead imposing the unity of all the left parties and organizations of the working class exploited and oppressed into the struggles and the elections. It is curious that precisely on this point (‘Frente Ampla’), the proposal of the MES resembles the proposal of the PT leadership. But that is not surprising. Opportunism is the logical result and the other face of objectivism, dogmatism, and sectarianism.
Bruno Magalhães and Israel Dutra, “Três formas de confundir a vanguarda: um debate com a Resistência/PSOL”, (Three ways to confuse the vanguard: a debate with Resistência/PSOL), Revista Movimento website, 23 July 2021 [https://movimentorevista.com.
This article is an English translation of “Sem a análise da realidade, não chegaremos a lugar nenhum – Uma resposta ao texto: Três formas de confundir a vanguarda”, [https://esquerdaonline.com.
Translation: Bobby Sparks
*Gloria Trogo and Henrique Canary are Members of the national coordination of Resistência/PSOL