Valerio Arcary: PSOL and rebuilding the left, Boulos/Erundina for São Paulo

As of July 8, Brazil is reporting 1,668,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and 66,741 Covid-19 deaths, figures which undercount the actual toll and place it second only to the U.S. Depending on the progress of the disease, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s positive test for coronavirus may remove him from the political scene or, if he survives, he may pursue even more radical measures attacking public health as Brazil races towards 100,000 dead with no end in sight. After months of tension in which talk of coups and counter-coups dominated Brazil’s headlines, Bolsonaro appears to have come to a temporary truce with the mainstream conservative opposition and the military. Meanwhile, Brazil’s social movements and left-wing parties have begun to mobilize in the streets in opposition to Bolsonaro’s proto-fascists, and pandemic frontline app delivery workers launched a national strike to demand better pay and working conditions.

One indicator of the growing movement against Bolsonaro will be results from this fall’s São Paulo mayoral election with the very real chance that a candidate from the left-wing Party for Socialism and Freedom may get into the second round of voting. The selection process for who will represent PSOL has provoked an important debate within the party over strategy and tactics, as well as differences over how to assess the balance of forces and the role of PSOL itself in organizing united campaigns against Bolsonaro. While international readers may find it difficult to assess the contending sides, the general outline of the debate should be clear enough and may provide a model for social movements and socialists in other countries in terms of conducting intense, yet civil and productive debates.

The first contribution to this debate comes from Valerio Arcary, others will follow. Valerio Arcary is the author of several books including O Martelo de História (History’s Hammer) and a leader in the Resistência current of the Party for Socialism and Freedom. Here, he argues that PSOL members should back Guilherme Boulos and Luiza Erundina for mayor and vice mayor (prefeitura) based on Boulos’s leadership in the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) and that organization’s role in the fight against Bolsonaro. For her part, Erundina is a long-time leftist elected official who has served at the city and federal level, including a stint as mayor of Sõu Paula from 1989 to 1992. Published by Forum and Esquerda Online and translated by No Borders News.


Bolsonaro’s fate involves direct mass action on the streets. We do not know when the public health conditions will improve sufficiently to be able to initiate this confrontation and measure our forces openly to bring him down. But the fight against Bolsonaro will also pass through elections for city halls. It would be a serious mistake – despite the torments of the pandemic, the prospect of a social crisis triggered when emergency aid to families (about $100 per month) is suspended, and the political turmoil created by the arrest of Bolsonaro confidant Fabrício Queiroz in connection with corruption linked to the president’s son – to minimize the electoral arena. Defeating Bolsonaro and his candidates in the country’s main cities presents a tough electoral battle.

The fight in São Paulo will be, perhaps, among all capitals, the most important. After the withdrawal of popular TV host José Luiz Datena, the race is wide open and includes, for the time being: Joyce Hasselmann (Social Liberal Party – PSL, Bolsonaro’s far-right party), Levy Fidelis (Brazilian Labor Renewal Party – PRTB, Vice President Hamilton Mourão’s far-right party), and Artur do Val, aka Mamma Falei (Patriotas – also on the far right) are running for the far right; Felipe Sabará (Novo, New Party), Celso Russomano (Brazilian Republican Party – PRB), Bruno Covas (Brazilian Social Democratic Party – PSDB), Andrea Matarazzo (Social Democratic Party – PSD) are running for the liberal right; Marta Suplicy (Solidariedade), Márcio França (Brazilian Socialist Party – PSB, Democratic Workers Party – PDT, the Sustainability Network – Rede, and the Green Party – PV) are running for the center left; Jilmar Tatto is running for the Workers Party (PT), Orlando Silva for the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB ), Antonio Carlos Mazzeo for the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), Vivian Mendes Popular Unity (UP); and, finally there will be one candidate from the Unified Socialist Workers Party (PSTU) and one from the Party for Socialism and Freedom (PSOL).

While we will have about fifteen candidates, there will only be three major political camps. Bolsonarism, the liberal opposition, and the left opposition, but only two out of three of these camps will go to the second round. No one knows, for now, who Bolsonaro will support. On the far right, the berserk Joyce will face the madman Levy and the delusional Mama Falei. Halfway between the hard right and the liberals, due to their conservative opposition to Bolsonaro, will be the demagogic Russomano and the millionaire Sabará. Covas will compete with Matarazzo to lead the liberal opposition and halfway between Covas and the left, França and Marta will vie to see how can claim the middle of the road. Finally, there will be five candidates on the left.

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These elections will be different from all other elections since 1986 because a neo-fascist is president and his strategy centers on a self-coup (e.g., disbanding Congress and ruling under martial law) to concentrate as much power as possible in his hands. We will have to explain to millions of voters why Bolsonaro is responsible for the pandemic, mass unemployment, and growing poverty are responsible. These are disasters caused by Bolsonaro, not accidental misfortunes.

The challenge for the left is to carry one our candidacies into the second round, a difficult, but not impossible, task. And for the first time in its history, in São Paulo, PSOL can earn that honor, but the party must also assume the responsibility for representing the entire left behind the Guilherme Boulos/Luiza Erundina ticket in a second round.

But first, PSOL is likely to have primary elections in São Paulo conducted by assemblies of party members, unless health conditions worsen further. There are three campaigns in the running: Boulos/Erundina, Sâmia Bonfim (and Alexya Salvador), and Carlos Giannazi. Each deserves our respect and admiration. Sâmia is a young feminist who established a bridge between PSOL and a new generation of women at the forefront of the struggles against Bolsonaro. Giannazi is a leader in the teachers’ movements who built links between PSOL and the defense of public education.

Contending for PSOL’s nomination is a democratic right. But exercising that right means making a choice. PSOL is not a platform for launching solo political careers. PSOL is a left-wing socialist party that recognizes the right to organize internal currents.

And although PSOL’s members and currents have right to dispute the internal primary elections, it seems excessive to ask thousands of activists to carry out voting assemblies in the middle of a pandemic. Moreover, there is a danger that this dispute will rile feelings and irreparably compromise a unified campaign, which would be very serious. So, why do we have three primary tickets? The explanation lies in the existence of substantive differences among PSOL’s political currents.

PSOL presented a clear left-wing opposition to the Lula and Rousseff PT-led coalition governments, but it did not hesitate to stand united against Rousseff’s impeachment by the right. This political stance increased PSOL’s political authority on the left. However, a serious difference arose about how to assess the Lava Jato (Operation Carwash corruption investigations): a majority denounced the role of Sergio Moro (the conservative prosecutor) while a minority supported him.

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Since 2017, with the onset of a reactionary political situation in Brazil, and as a result of the differences over Lava Jato, PSOL has been divided into two major political camps, most clearly concentrated around a sharp controversy. That is, what should be the nature of PSOL’s relationship with the PT, considering the place that Lula’s party occupies in the opposition to governments led by Michel Temer (president 2016-2018) and, even more seriously, Bolsonaro?

Was PSOL right or wrong to defend a Left United Front for action in the social movements, especially uniting with the PT against Temer and, in the last year and a half, against Bolsonaro? Was PSOL right or wrong in fighting for Lula’s freedom in 2018/19? These different balance sheets underpin the dispute over the candidacy for São Paulo’s city hall.

But it was affirmative answers to the questions noted above that opened the door to the alliance that was built around PSOL backing Guilherme Boulos and Sonia Guajajara (one of Brazil’s most important indigenous leaders) for the presidency of the Republic in 2018. This campaign, and the visibility of a leftist ticket linked to the social movements, put PSOL in a position to target Bolsonaro as the main enemy, thus winning over a national audience and the election of ten PSOL federal deputies and more than two dozen state offices.

PSOL and the Boulos/Guajajara campaign was an expression of movements that have grown more powerful since 2013: popular struggles like the MTST, Black and marginalized community movement such as the national Who killed Marielle Franco? campaign, the women’s  movement #EleNão (#NotHim) against sexual violence, human rights campaigns such as Where is Amarildo? (a poor worker detained by the police and never seen again), youth protests like the high school occupations, LGBTQ fights like Fora Feliciano (Out Feliciano, calling for the resignation of homophobe Marco Feliciano from the Commission for Human Rights and Minorities), along with environmentalists and indigenous peoples defending the Amazon.

The Boulos/Erundina candidacy is a legitimate heir to these battles, both owing to their roles in the political struggle and to their political credentials. But their campaign also has the greatest political and electoral capacity to help the Brazilian left accumulate strength while it reorganizes itself because it unites the strength of two generations of fighters. Luíza Erundina defeated malfeasance and corruption in São Paulo in 1988 when she ran for mayor in what was one of the greatest electoral feats of the Brazilian left. And Guilherme Boulos has established himself as one of the most important leaders of the Brazilian left. This is why Bolsonaro threatened Boulos with persecution and identified him as one of his principle enemies on video in the first speech after being elected.

Boulos and the MTST assumed responsibility for calling, alongside PSOL, the first street demonstrations in front of the São Paulo Museum of Art after Bolsonaro’s election in November 2018. Boulos and MTST were also, alongside PSOL, the first to join to anti-fascist soccer fans in the first street demonstrations against Bolsonaro after the start of the pandemic. Boulos is the best choice to represent us. No should we underestimated the fact that the Boulos/Erundina ticket is best positioned in the polls. It took many years of struggle to get here.

[For international news and analysis in translation from working-class, oppressed peoples, and socialist points of view, read No Borders News.]

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