Socialist Worker

Brazil's Lula clamps down on his left wing

Issue No. 1852

LULA, THE former socialist and leader of the Workers Party who was elected president of Brazil last year, is turning on left wingers in his own party who oppose the pro-business policies he is pursuing in office. Three Workers Party deputies in Brazil's Congress are being threatened with expulsion from the party for opposing Lula's tax and pension plans which will hit workers.

It is a clear sign that Lula is determined to show his right wing governing coalition allies and international bankers that they can rely on him to look after their interests.

Lula has made some gestures to his base among Brazil's workers and poor since he took over the presidency in January. He has initiated limited programmes to tackle hunger in the poorest areas and he has agreed to give some land to landless rural workers organised in the radical MST movement.

But the thrust of Lula's policies have been to show the country's rich and international bankers that he is no threat to them. He has set an austerity budget and is planning to cut public sector worker pensions. Lula's policies were even praised by US Treasury Secretary John Snow on a recent visit to Brazil.

Incredibly Lula's budget targets are even more austere than those demanded by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF demanded money be pumped out of Brazil to pay international bankers as a condition for agreeing new loans last year to stave off a collapse of the country's currency.

The three congress deputies threatened with expulsion from the Workers Party are echoing the growing discontent among party members and those who voted for Lula. That direction is summed up by the Financial Times business paper - though it underestimates the degree of opposition Lula faces within the Workers Party. 'The rift between a minority of hardliners and the more market-friendly moderates in government has deepened since the Workers Party accelerated its move towards the political centre after taking power in January. The government has not only adopted orthodox economic policies the PT used to criticise, but is now moving to cut pensions benefits of civil servants, among its core supporters.'

Luciano Genro, one of the deputies threatened with expulsion after joining recent trade union protests against the pension cuts, says, 'We cannot accept pleasing new allies to break with our old allies.' Joao Batista de Araujo says of the expulsion threat he and the others face, 'We are being used as an example to show international investors the government can approve whatever reforms they want.'

In an echo of the kind of language those familiar with attacks on the left have faced in European-style Labour parties, Workers Party president Jose Genoino argued, 'We have the obligation to ensure the viability of this government. 'The comrades went too far. They engaged in systematic opposition.'

The three facing expulsion have won wide support in the Workers Party. The opposition to Lula's policies is likely to lead to bigger and sharper clashes between workers and the poor and his government in the months ahead.

No end to instability in Argentina

THE CONFIRMATION of Nestor Kirchner as Argentina's new president is unlikely to end the bitter infighting inside the country's ruling class. Argentina's deep economic crisis sparked the uprising which in December 2001 toppled the country's government. Since then the ruling class has not succeeded in fully reimposing the kind of stability it wants in the face of continuing crisis and of resistance by social movements.

Kirchner was confirmed as president last week. His rival, former Argentinian president Carlos Menem, withdrew from a run-off after the two headed the polls in the first round. Many blame Menem for creating the crisis.

He withdrew when it became clear that in the run-off he would get even less than the 24 percent of votes which put him in first place in the first round. The effect of the withdrawal though is to deny Kirchner the strong electoral mandate he was hoping for. He got only 22 percent of votes to come second in the first round.

The first round of voting showed the continuing strength of Peronism, a nationalist movement with support among the country's organised workers and which dominated Argentina for decades since the 1940s. Kirchner and Menem are both from rival wings of the Peronist party and Peronism still has a strong hold among wide sections of the working class. The split between Kirchner and Menem represents a deep division within the Argentinian ruling class.

One section, represented by Menem and others like him, wants to throw its lot in completely with the US, and also believes it can move quickly to confront the country's still-powerful protest movements.

Another section, represented by people like Kirchner and ex-president Duhalde, looks more towards Brazilian capitalism and the regional Mercosur trade bloc. This section also believes there are risks in moving too quickly to confront the country's protest movements.

There are still up to 200 factories being run by workers either as occupations or co-operatives. Kirchner and his backers are nervous that a too speedy assault on these movements could provoke renewed unrest.

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Sat 24 May 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1852
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