Chapter 10

PT Local Governments and Socialism

João Machado[1]


During the last century, the balance sheet of governments calling themselves socialist was a big disappointment. This goes for both those identifying with the Russian revolution and its various offshoots and those usually called social democratic. The outcomes of the former, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its former satellites, are catastrophic (however much we may value the efforts of those like Cuba to keep going). The results of social democratic governments, though more nuanced – after all in a number of countries they did carry out reforms that improved people's living conditions, and these achievements have not completely disappeared – should also be seen as negative. In recent decades social democratic governments have become social-liberal governments. There has been a rollback of the rights won after the Second World War, and it has become difficult to make any clear distinction between social democracy and the prevailing neoliberalism.


This disappointing balance sheet does not mean that the chapter of socialist experiences is closed, however. In a way this current period, dominated by governments fully identified with capitalism, its values and methods, has shown just how little this kind of society has to offer humanity.


For most of the 1990s, the idea was promoted that the world was entering a new phase of solid technical progress, free from the old recurrent crises: the so-called 'new economy'.  It is clear now that this claim was baseless. Instead the discussion is again going back and forth between how long the current downturn will last and how strong the next upturn will prove. True, the 1980s and 1990s were exceptionally favourable for the capitalist economy. Yet even its best years did not lead to an improvement in living standards for the majority of people on the planet. Even then capitalism offered most people very little.


Even before the latest recession there was worldwide pressure to cut back on social rights and make jobs less secure. At the same time demands on the workforce were increasing, for higher qualifications, more intensive labour processes and longer working days. Even then many jobs were being paid less than they had been before. Even then, in the name of competitiveness, more was being asked of workers, while less was being paid for their labour.  Everyone was being asked to run faster and faster, in the hope of, just maybe, staying in the same place. And what made the situation worse for the majority of the world's population in this epoch of globalised capitalism was that the gap between rich countries and poor countries was growing broader and deeper. Now, with the system's tendency towards recession taking over once again, these negative features of the capitalist economy have only grown sharper.


The deceptive nature of capitalism's promises shows that the search for alternatives has lost none of its relevance. However the double disappointment in the Soviet model and social democracy has made it very difficult to defend a socialist alternative. For Third World countries there is an additional factor to consider. In the years when neoliberal capitalism held greatest sway, there was a growing belief that one possibly progressive variant within capitalism – 'national developmentalism' – had also turned out to be a failure since the 1980s. Many people in Brazil asserted that the second National Development Plan, the last big attempt to promote a relatively independent, 'national' kind of Brazilian capitalist development, had been partly responsible for the debt crisis and the 'lost decade' of the 1980s.


The upshot is that, however little promise capitalism holds out today, it has been very difficult to argue for anything different, or even to propose changes within the dominant model.


In this context the different experiences of local government by the Brazilian Workers Party (PT), especially in Porto Alegre and Rio Grande do Sul, take on very great importance.


When the PT won the mayoral election in Porto Alegre in 1988, it was a party with very particular characteristics. It identified wholeheartedly with the socialist cause, yet was critical of both the Soviet Union and the experiences of social democratic  governments. At the same time it was convinced that the road to power would go through elections, depending on victories like its victories that year in a number of cities (and later in states). It believed that success would depend on demonstrating its administrative ability, whilst also showing that it could govern differently from Brazil's traditional parties or social democratic parties in other countries.


But the PT's commitment to a democratic road did not mean that its strategy was limited to standing in elections. Popular organisation and strengthening the social movements were also central to the PT's vision. Nor did the party idealise liberal democratic institutions. There was a broadly shared conviction in the party of the need to go beyond their limitations.


Furthermore the PT in Rio Grande do Sul had particularities of its own, linked to the state's traditionally high level of political awareness. On the one hand, party life was more active and organised than in most of the country. On the other, left currents were stronger here inside the PT than in most other states.


After 1989, the year the PT administration took office in Porto Alegre, the PT suffered from the international crisis of the left following the collapse of the so-called 'socialist camp'. This was felt in Rio Grande do Sul as well. But the relatively high level of political awareness in Rio Grande do Sul and the strength of the PT left wing, though undermined, remained.


Thus at the beginning of 1989 the PT in Porto Alegre had a clearer understanding of the challenge ahead than it did in other cities it was beginning to govern. It knew it had to find new ways of running things.[2] And when the proposal to hold a World Social Forum was first put forward in 2000, the PT in Rio Grande do Sul was more open to understanding its importance and giving it a decisive push forward.[3]


Other chapters in this book have analysed the innovations developed in Porto Alegre, and later in other cities and the state of Rio Grande do Sul, especially the participatory budget. My aim here is different: to consider how the experience of different PT local governments, especially in Porto Alegre and Rio Grande do Sul, can be connected to the attempt in recent years to renew the socialist project. The extent to which it can contribute to this vital task is probably one of the most important aspects of this rich experience.


This does not mean however that all those active in PT local governments across Brazil, or even in Rio Grande do Sul, share the ideas presented here. Even in Rio Grande, although those responsible for local administrations there share the concern with linking what the PT has achieved to proposals for renewing socialist thought, their views vary considerably. This chapter makes suggestions that go beyond what has been put into practice or even proposed by the PT so far in Rio Grande do Sul. Some of the questions raised below clearly could only be applied at the national level. They are therefore part of the debate the PT as a whole faces in its discussions of the Lula government.[4]


Nonetheless, there is a clear link between these ideas and the experiences of the various PT administrations. The link can be summed up in the following question: what would a socialist strategy look like in which these innovations in local government played a central role?


To put it another way: the starting point of the ideas expressed here is the conviction that a socialist party in government must never restrict itself to administering capitalism. This is true even when the balance of forces does not allow a break with bourgeois rule, even when the government in question is only a municipal administration, suffering all the limitations inherent in local government. Even at this level a socialist party's socialist objectives must inform its programme. Its programme must link up somehow with its socialist goal.


The neoliberal argument


After the collapse of the USSR and its 'socialist camp', it is clearly necessary to rethink the socialist project in the light of that experience. It is equally important – though less often remembered - to rethink the project in the light of the failures of social democracy. Social democracy may have contributed to important advances in a number of countries for several decades. But for the last twenty years or more it has not represented any real alternative. It has turned into 'social-liberalism', a variant of neoliberalism. In reality, even in its heyday social democracy never lived up to its most ambitious aims (or the aims of its most ambitious supporters); it was never a road for the transition to socialism.[5] It also never proved to be a viable current in the Third World. For our present purposes, the limitations of social democracy are even more important than those of the Soviet model.


Before exploring how we can renew the socialist project, we can examine briefly the criticisms that its opponents, especially neoliberals, have levelled at it. The kernel of recent neoliberal ideology is contained in the binary opposition: inefficient and anti-democratic statism versus the efficient and democratic market – as if these were the only two options available to society. From this point of view, any form of socialism (or developmentalism, or indeed anything besides neoliberalism) is seen as 'statist', and subject to all the attendant ills.


The fact that 'statism' has indeed been a central feature of most versions of socialism to date – the 'really existing socialism' of the USSR as well as social democracy – has contributed to the remarkable spread of this dogma. Despite their differences, both these major currents in the workers movement had a bureaucratic character, aiming to use the state to change society from the top down. In the first case, a new state apparatus was built, ultra-centralised, authoritarian and identified with the party in power. Any independent initiative by the people was seen as dangerous and subversive.


Social democratic currents, on the other hand, adapted to the existing, capitalist state apparatus. They made minor changes to it and aimed to use it in favour of the majority of the people, while avoiding any direct confrontation with capital. This meant rejecting any autonomous participation by the people, restricting popular participation to what is possible within the framework of bourgeois democratic institutions. Anything going beyond these limits has been repressed. Admittedly there has been much less direct state repression under social democratic governments than under Soviet-style regimes.[6] But social democracy has combined a relatively lower level of repression with the restrictions on freedom and democracy that flow from the operation of the market itself (a subject we will return to).


The two versions of 'social-statism' were thus both undemocratic. This was obvious in the Soviet model, though not for the reasons identified by the neoliberal critique. (For example, neoliberals argue that not recognising companies' property rights is fundamentally undemocratic.) As for the social democratic model, its undemocratic characteristics are largely the opposite of those indicated by the neoliberal critique. It has not been able to go beyond the liberal representative system. It shares the achievements and the limitations of this form of democracy, in particular the subordination of social choices to the rule of the market.


The argument about inefficiency is more questionable. True, both the Soviet and social democratic models were utterly inefficient ways of building socialist societies. But if we judge them by neoliberal critics' own criteria, in terms of their ability to promote economic growth, then their inefficiency is much more relative. For several decades, economic growth in the USSR was high. The same was true of social democracy. For our purposes, however, the main point is that both forms of 'social statism' involve fundamental limitations on democracy and are therefore of no use as alternative projects.[7]


On the other hand, the experience of the last few decades shows that the other side of the neoliberal formula, the 'democratic and efficient market', does not stand up. World economic growth in the 1980s and '90s, the decades in which neoliberalism held sway, was less than half that of the 'statist' 1950s and '60s. The 'social inefficiency' of neoliberalism is even greater than its economic inefficiency: unemployment is twice or three times as high as in the 1950s and 60s; income distribution has become more unequal; real wages have tended to stagnate or fall; there have been cuts in pensions, social security and social rights in general. None of this is accidental. The drive to be 'competitive' leads to a race to reduce labour costs, which produces permanent pressure to reduce workers' rights, make employment more precarious and cut pensions and social security.


The supposed ability of private companies to deliver public services more efficiently is not being borne out. And however hard dependent countries work to 'merit' the confidence of international markets, they not only fail to enjoy the 'fruits' of globalisation, they have ended up more vulnerable to crises, more dependent and less in control of their own affairs. The situation of Brazil leaves no room for doubt about this. In terms of efficiency, then, the balance sheet is clear: neoliberal capitalism is incapable of offering people what 'statist' capitalism gave them for several decades.


In terms of democracy, neoliberalism's performance is even worse. Far from favouring democracy, the growing dominance of deregulated markets leads to a greater and greater reduction in democratic rights. One of the guiding principles of neoliberal governments' theory and practice is the need to 'win the confidence' of markets in general and financial markets in particular. That is, neoliberal governments guarantee that nothing will be done against the markets' interests. Any whiff of a change in economic policies, any suggestion that measures might be implemented that are not in the interests of the 'financial community', provokes 'pressure from investors'. Apart from being wholly undemocratic, this rides roughshod over national sovereignty – without which, of course, there can be no progress towards democracy anyway.


The bill to be paid for 'winning confidence' is a hefty one. Public spending on social needs (education, health, sanitation, housing and infrastructure) is cut in order to increase governments' ability to pay usurious interest rates to domestic and foreign creditors. As if 'investors' pressure' were not enough, economic policy-makers are required to accept supervision by the IMF, an ever more direct representative of the interests of the great powers, especially the United States, and of finance capital.


Perhaps the most clearly undemocratic aspect of the neoliberal logic is its treatment of employment. Since neoliberal policies keep global demand stagnant, technical progress – which should allow everyone to work less, produce more, and therefore enjoy more leisure and higher consumption - ends up making some people work more without earning any more, whilst others lose their jobs. What is democratic about a worker with ten or 20 years in a company being laid off, without any discussion or vote, so that the company can maintain its profits and its 'competitive edge'?


The dictatorship of the markets is the chief enemy of democracy today. The characteristic neoliberal claim that the need to respond to the markets drastically reduces the room for political decisions represents a frontal attack on citizens' sovereign right to decide their own destiny.


Yet neoliberals do not, in reality, advocate weaker states. They want in theory to reduce states' economic role, without eliminating it – states should still guarantee the operation of the market, respect for property rights and contracts, etc., all of which are key economic functions. In reality the state remains an important source of subsidies and cheap credit for big capital, as seen in Ford's decision to leave Rio Grande do Sul when the new PT government refused to honour the exceedingly generous subsidies and tax breaks offered by its predecessor. The state is also assigned the role of handing over large chunks of public property to private interests, foreign and domestic, through privatisation.[8]


Even more obviously, neoliberals need states to be well armed in order to 'guarantee order'. It is no accident that the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and the Videla dictatorship in Argentina were pioneers of the neoliberal wave.


Renewing the socialist project


Perhaps the best way of organising discussion about a new project is to go back to the basic ideas that inspired the early socialists, especially Marx. They offer a good way of combining opposition to the now dominant ideology with a critique of the actual historical experiences that have called themselves socialist. They suggest that socialism must be built in opposition to both the state and the capitalist market. That is, socialism requires opposing regulation of the economy by the market, and in particular the exploitation of labour that occurs when capital and wage labour confront each other in the labour market.


This approach views the state as a power that restricts the self-organisation of society in a way that benefits the economically and politically dominant class, and the market not as a source of freedom but as an impersonal power that subordinates individuals to a logic beyond their control in order to constantly increase the value of capital. Both state and market restrict the liberty of all citizens. This restriction is asymmetrical, however: it hits workers and other popular sectors the hardest.


We therefore need to reject the choice on offer between state and market. We need to reject statism, because it is an attempt to bring about social change from the top down, with popular participation controlled by the state apparatus. And we need to reject the rule of the market, because it subordinates popular needs to an alien logic that favours capital. Socialism can only be based on human solidarity as a fundamental value and the ability of citizens to decide their own destiny – in other words, on self-government by workers and other citizens.


If we want to defend socialism as an alternative today, we need to understand it as the organised population increasing its control over the mechanisms of economic and political management in society, and creating the conditions for solidarity to replace competition as the basic form of relations between human beings. This means creating institutions based on the 'free association of producers' and people's autonomous, democratic and sovereign activity, which must occupy spaces currently taken up by the capitalist market and state.


For the long term, we can retain Marx's idea that a truly free society will have eliminated commodity production, along with the market and all mercantile categories and the state as a separate political apparatus. For the time being however our aim is a more limited one, even though it does lead in this direction. It is to develop all possible forms of popular self-organisation and social control over both state and market.


In this approach, everything that strengthens the awareness and self-organisation of workers and people in general; everything that escapes the dichotomy between vertical control by the state on the one hand and passive citizenship on the other hand; everything that contradicts the logic of competition and the market and instead favours co-operation and planning of shared interests and fosters values of equality, genuine democracy and solidarity sets us on the path towards socialism. The core of this process can be summed up in one simple idea – full democratisation of society – meaning citizens coming together to control everything that affects their common destiny.


Although we need to be clear about our opposition to both the capitalist market and state, the criticism cannot be made symmetrically. In the here and now it is possible to propose neither the disappearance of the state – that is obvious – nor its reduction. What we do need is to transform it, so that it is increasingly controlled by an organised and conscious population, and therefore increasingly becomes a genuine res publica, a 'thing of the people'. In this sense we do need to weaken the state – its domination over the body of society.


The PT experience: the local level


From this point of view it is possible to advance towards socialism even on the basis of local and state governments. This is one of the most important lessons of the experience in Porto Alegre and other PT administrations, even in a situation where the overall balance of forces did not favour the building of socialism. The concrete experience of developing forms of popular participation – especially the participatory budget – in various municipalities, spreading later to the state of Rio Grande do Sul, backs up this view.


In the first place, this experience has shown that establishing social control over the state is not only democratic but also efficient. As socialist theoretician Ernest Mandel liked to point out, changes in the field of communications and information technology have dramatically reduced the difficulties of practising participatory democracy. They make it much easier to take the discussion of key questions for every level of society (national, regional and local) to all citizens, making decision-making ever more direct.


Second, there is a very clear connection between this way of managing public resources and a renewed conception of socialism. It develops popular self-organisation and challenges citizens' passivity. It broadens people's awareness of the limitations of the state, of contradictions between classes and so on. All this goes towards reducing the state's domination over citizens.


Third, this experience helps train technical cadre in a popular and democratic conception of public administration – something that is absolutely vital for any eventual transition to socialism involving the re-absorption of the state by society.


Another way that PT local governments have pointed towards creating conditions for a socialist alternative has been the support given to all kinds of economic self-organisation and self-management. This includes different kinds of co-operatives and other forms of collective endeavour often referred to as an 'economy of co-operation and solidarity'.


The co-operative movement has been growing in Brazil in recent years. This has come from two directions. In the countryside, the Landless Workers Movement (MST) has encouraged those who obtain land to organise themselves in co-operatives; they see co-operatives as part of their long-standing commitment to link the struggle for land to the struggle for socialism. In the cities, unemployment has been prompting workers to seek alternatives to the companies they used to work for – including by forming co-operatives. One of the most interesting forms of urban co-operative is when workers take over companies that have gone bust and been abandoned by their owners. There is a countrywide organisation now giving technical assistance to such co-operatives, the Association of Workers in Self-Managed Enterprises.


Strengthening an 'economy of co-operation and solidarity' contributes in a number of ways to developing a socialist alternative. It raises the level of workers' organisation, develops their experience of management and makes them more capable of governing themselves, showing at the same time that bosses are not indispensable. It strengthens a co-operative, and therefore socialist, vision of the world. It also broadens the part of the economy outside the logic of capitalism; that is, it weakens the capitalist market logic and strengthens a logic of solidarity that points towards socialism.


Of course, within a capitalist economy co-operatives come under pressure to adapt to the market. Often they do not keep their anti-capitalist character.[9] Even genuine co-operatives can be pushed towards adopting a business mentality, and imitating the relationship between capital and labour. The big challenge is to demonstrate that efficiency is not to be confused with market  competitiveness. State support, or other kinds of public backing, for co-operatives (through granting favourable terms of credit and providing technical assistance and help with distribution) is one way of reducing the pressure of the market. Indeed this kind of support was an important policy of the PT government in Rio Grande do Sul, and has featured in other PT administrations as well. The CUT trade union federation has adopted the same policy.


The national level


The socialist strategy outlined above cannot be fully implemented at the level of municipal and state governments, even though it can begin there. The state must be democratised and participatory democracy developed at the national level too – even if it is not immediately possible to break with the domination of the bourgeoisie. The same goes, of course, for encouraging the development of an 'economy of solidarity'.[10]


One key socialist policy that takes place essentially at the national level is state co-ordination of economic activity. In direct opposition to the neoliberal mantra, we have to reject the idea that the economy should be regulated mainly by the market. In macroeconomic policy, a socialist approach can critically re-appropriate the Keynesian and developmentalist agendas that prevailed from the end of the Second World War to the 1970s. Keynes argued that the state needs to correct the workings of the markets, particularly so as to make up for the market's 'failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes'.[11] He recommended regular government intervention to sustain aggregate demand and therefore the level of employment, keep interest rates low, create jobs and reduce excessive disparities in the distribution of income and wealth.


In this way official economic policy was politicised. It became a matter of interest to everyone. Trade unions discussed it, not just bankers. It became clear that macroeconomic policy is not neutral, but can favour the interests of one class or another. In this respect the neoliberal wave that swept the world in the 1980s was a great leap backwards.


Besides macroeconomic policy, the national state needs to co-ordinate economic activity through a series of sectoral policies to ensure that economic activity matches social needs (which the market never spontaneously meets). While we may not be able to eliminate the market in the foreseeable future, we can control it socially. For the time being that must mean control by state bodies under popular control. From a democratic point of view, just as cutting back the state in order to give free reign to the markets takes away much of people's power to decide, there is no point in strengthening the state unless we extend the mechanisms by which society can control the state. On the other hand, strengthened state intervention accompanied by social control over state activity increases citizens' power to decide their own living conditions, and therefore increases democracy. In the long run it can even point towards the disappearance of the state – that is to its re-absorption by organised society.


Such state co-ordination of economic activity should ensure an ever-greater reduction in social and regional inequalities and encourage socialising technical progress.[12] This does not require nationalising the whole economy, but it does require a significant public sector. Given the privatisations pushed through in recent years, this means combining re-nationalisation of a number of companies with forms of social control. Especially in the big companies, relations must be changed inside capitalist firms themselves, extending workers' rights in the face of capital. One of the first measures should be to limit companies' unrestricted right to lay off workers.


Other key questions at national level are pensions, health care and social services, together one of the biggest challenges of the present period. All countries have come under heavy neoliberal pressure to cut back the space expressing values of solidarity and expand the space given over to the market by privatising services and pensions. On the contrary, strengthening the public character of social services and the spirit of solidarity should be a key axis of socialist strategy.


All these economic changes would imply a change in the class balance of forces, in workers' favour and to capital's detriment. They would open the economy to a process of conflict between the still-dominant logic of the market and the logic of social needs – a conflict that could put the economy's capitalist character in question.


The international level


Socialist strategy also includes an international dimension, of course. In recent decades, neoliberal globalisation has deepened dependent countries' submission to the imperial centres. A real process of recolonisation is under way. In this respect the historical retreat has been particularly brutal. Efforts made over several decades under pressure from popular movements, to give a more 'national' character to economic and political decision-making in the countries of the periphery, are being swept away.


The first international aspect of a socialist project in the Third World is thus the struggle for national sovereignty. This has several aspects: rejecting IMF and World Bank tutelage, fighting against foreign debt (for example by suspending payments and doing an audit of the terms on which the debt was contracted), controlling capital flows, reviewing privatisations (most of which have benefited foreign capital), and limiting repatriation of profits by multinationals.


Defending sovereignty needs to be combined with the struggle for a different international order. There is absolutely no possibility of dependent countries' participating in the current world order whilst preserving their sovereignty. To the globalisation of capital and markets we must oppose the solidarity and internationalism of peoples. International relations must not be surrendered to the logic of deregulated markets. They must be consciously built by each country, through bilateral agreements and appropriate forums for negotiation. 


This is precisely what the international movement against neoliberal globalisation that has emerged over the last few years calls 'another globalisation' or 'de-globalisation'. It is not by chance that this movement has found one of its strongest sources of support in Porto Alegre and the World Social Forums first held there. On the one hand, PT activists from Rio Grande do Sul and other parts of Brazil found in the movement a natural partner in their quest for a renewal of socialist strategy. On the other, activists from other countries saw initiatives like the participatory budget as a demonstration that it is possible to begin moving towards another kind of society.


Permanent tension


Any strategy that tries to advance towards socialism while starting from local, regional or even national governments, in conditions where an immediate revolutionary break with the existing institutions is not yet possible, runs a risk of adaptation and distortion. For this reason, even in the most favourable scenario of a simultaneous advance on all the levels mentioned above, there is an inevitable tension between the achievements realised and the still dominant logic of the capitalist market. In fact, the existence of this tension can serve as a barometer of whether the socialist impulse is still present or not.


This tension touches basic economic and social structures as well as the workings of state power. It cannot be a result of governmental action alone. There must be simultaneous pressure from within and from without. Just as important as winning elections therefore is forming what has become known in the PT tradition as the 'democratic and popular bloc'. Nor is it enough to develop this bloc as an electoral force, to win elections and occupy positions in the institutions. It also needs to achieve growing levels of organisation and mobilisation in society at large, in an ideological and cultural battle over the basic direction society is heading in.[13] Values of solidarity within the national community and the community of nations need to become dominant values. This fight over values will be decisive in counteracting the pressure to adapt to the capitalist economic order and existing state institutions. In other words, we need a socialist movement that can serve as an ideological and ethical framework and a source of social and economic support for all the different kinds of struggle .


At a time when neoliberal ideas seem to rule the world, with their cult of the individual, competition and 'looking out for number one', it may seem futile to try and base any proposal on the idea of increased solidarity. Nonetheless, we have an important example that shows these ideas can work: the success of the Landless Workers Movement (MST). The MST is built on solidarity, and it has proved that this is a solid foundation. It has won widespread sympathy both in Brazil and internationally. Part or all of that sympathy is precisely a result of the values that it defends and practises.


Curiously enough, the idea of advancing towards socialism while starting from local, regional or even national governments, in conditions where a revolutionary break with existing institutions is not yet possible, has been criticised in the PT from both the right and the left. The criticisms 'from the left' have taken various forms. Some have focussed on experiences like the participatory budget or overlapped with criticisms of the World Social Forums. Their basic argument seems to be a somewhat schematic insistence on the need for revolution and rejection of any kind of gradualism in the transformation of society. According to this view, prior to the establishment of a socialist state the task is simply to mobilise workers around their various demands.


In response to these criticisms it is important to emphasise that the vision laid out here is not opposed to the need for a revolutionary break with the present order. On the contrary, the accumulation of popular organisation and administrative experience through processes like the participatory budget greatly increase the possibility of such a break.[14] More important still, they greatly increase the chances of avoiding the kinds of deformation that have characterised many revolutionary experiences ever since the Russian Revolution.


Clearly socialist parties like the PT can win municipal, regional and even national elections and assume governmental responsibilities at these different levels, even when the balance of forces rules out an immediate revolutionary break. In this situation, we basically have three options. First, we can adopt an apparently radical stance that quickly makes it impossible to remain in government. Second, we can adopt a programme that accepts the restrictions of the capitalist framework. Or third, we can work with the situation as it exists, but seek to build bridges towards a socialist transformation.[15]


The third alternative makes the most sense. If a socialist party is able to win office even on the unfavourable playing field of bourgeois elections, then some space must have opened up for  change. In this case the best thing to do is to try to make changes that move forward in the direction of socialism – not just out of ideological preference, but because socialist policies are more effective and serve people's interests better.


This may not be possible if we think of it only in terms of a revolutionary break; but it may be perfectly possible if we define socialism as we did above, as the full democratisation of society. To repeat what we have already said: everything that strengthens the awareness and self-organisation of workers and people in general; everything that escapes the dichotomy between vertical control by the state on the one hand and passive citizenship on the other hand; everything that contradicts the logic of competition and the market and instead favours co-operation and planning of shared interests and fosters values of equality, genuine democracy and solidarity sets us on the path towards socialism.


[1] João Machado teaches economics at the Catholic University in Sao Paulo. A founding member of the PT, he was for many years a member of its National Executive Committee. He is the editor of Em Tempo, the newspaper of the Socialist Democracy tendency within the PT.

[2] Similar concerns were present in other cities too. Luiza Erundina, shortly after she became PT mayor of Sao Paulo in 1989, said her administration marked 'the beginning of the social revolution in Brazil'. That suggests what the prevailing mood was in the PT's new municipal governments.

[3] Although the PT as a whole supported the World Social Forum from the beginning, the real commitment to making it happen was always very uneven.

[4] This chapter develops ideas contained in the text 'Atualidade de um Programa Socialista', presented by Raul Pont, Heloisa Helena, João Machado and Joaquim Soriano to the PT National Meeting in 2001. An English translation of that text is in the pamphlet Lula President: A New Political Period in Brazil, which Pont distributed at the third World Social Forum. While this chapter does not aim to make a balance sheet of the Lula government, which is still quite new, it clearly expresses a point of view very different from that which predominates inside the PT national government.

[5] This should not be taken as referring to the Chilean Socialist Party at the time of Salvador Allende, which was not a typical social democratic party.

[6] 'Soviet' here refers to the former Soviet Union, not to the soviets of the earlier revolutionary period.

[7] 'National developmentalism' as well, though it produced several decades of rapid economic growth, never brought countries like Brazil real independence or went beyond a limited form of bourgeois democracy.

[8] In Brazil these privatisations were financed with public money through the National Bank for Social and Economic Development.

[9] There are also false co-operatives, which are nothing more than a way for big companies to renege on their obligations as employers.

[10] This perspective was clearly present in the programmatic texts adopted by the PT for Lula's candidacy in 2002. So far, however, it has had no clear impact on the practice of the new Brazilian government.

[11] John M. Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Collected Writings vol. 7, London: Macmillan, 1973, p. 372.

[12] What the neo-Schumpeterian school of economists calls a 'national system of innovation'.

[13] This means that electoral campaigns cannot depend on marketing techniques, as has become common in Brazil even in the PT.

[14] Historical experience to date is however not sufficient for us to tell exactly what form such a rupture may take in the circumstances of the new century.

[15] This approach has similarities with Leon Trotsky's 1938 Transitional Programme, whose method was first discussed by the international communist movement in the years following the Russian Revolution. The historical situation was very different then, however, in as much as the credibility of socialist ideas was much greater among wide layers of the population. Imagining a transition to socialism today requires a process that can restore that credibility. The question of how Trotsky's strategy then for a revolutionary break relates to the possibilities today of relatively peaceful electoral victories goes beyond the scope of this book.