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Brazil: Workers Party crisis shows limit of left’s strategy

This article is over 7 years, 10 months old
As the right moves to overturn left governments in South America, important political arguments have been raised, writes Dave Sewell
Issue 2497
Dilma Rousseff could face impeachment
Dilma Rousseff could face impeachment (Pic: Ministério das Relações Exteriores/Flickr)

Brazil’s judiciary is hounding former left wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva over corruption—and barred him from rejoining the government to escape trial. His successor Dilma Rousseff could face impeachment.

Up to three million people joined protests against Brazil’s government. Workers bear the brunt of its economic crisis, but it’s not their unions leading the resistance. It’s the right and the middle class.

Brazil represents the moderate end of South America’s “pink tide”. So did the Argentinian centre left that lost office in last November’s election.

The more radical end isn’t doing much better.

Bolivian president Evo Morales just lost an important referendum. In Venezuela, a right-wing majority in parliament is out to get Hugo Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro.

In all these countries the right is a serious threat. These are the bosses who bled workers and peasants dry, the dictators’ henchmen who called in death squads.

Though there are differences, there are common features to the left governments’ rise and fall that hold a lesson for the left.

Until recently, high oil prices and China’s demand for raw materials fed a commodities boom across the continent.

This created a space for left governments to help the poor with social programmes at the same time as appeasing the bosses.

The relative decline of US power and the diversion of the War on Terror limited its ability to crush opposition, although Hillary Clinton’s state department still backed the 2009 coup in Honduras.

Now oil prices have collapsed and Chinese growth is slowing down. Brazil is deep in recession. Argentina and Venezuela face spiralling inflation.


These economic crises expose a political weakness. The mass movements that once resisted the right have receded and today’s left can no longer call on them for help.

In 2002 and 2003 Chavez only survived a coup and a bosses’ strike through the mobilisation of workers and the poor. But in 2008 he set up the mass, top-down United Socialist Party of Venezuela to bring the movement under his control.

Its bureaucracy sought to build alliances in the ruling class and kept a lid on independent initiatives by the working class.

Morales turned on the poor and indigenous supporters who had defended him to repress protests to defend the rainforest from a new road.

Brazil has seen some impressive strikes and protests against Rousseff and her Workers’ Party. But workers there face pressure to back it to keep out the right.

Socialists are often told to mute their criticisms of progressive politicians. Campaigners against cuts implemented by Labour councils are running into this today.

They may not be perfect, goes the argument, but they’re better than the right.

We do need to fight the right, and there will need to be alliances in order to do so.

But the problem is that the manoeuvres of the “left” governents won’t stop the right coming back to wipe out whatever gains have been made.

Government supporters and trade unionists in Brazil have held their own rallies against any attempt at a “coup”. But to win means giving workers more to fight for than propping up a party that can no longer deliver.

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