Pedro Serrano: For a mass, radical left in São Paulo, PSOL should back Sâmia Bomfim

As of July 9, Brazil is reporting 1,713,160 confirmed coronavirus cases and 67,964 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.

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.

Pedro Serrano is a leader in the Left Socialist Movement current within PSOL (MES/PSOL). This text was published in Forum and is a response to an article written by Valerio Arcary (Resistência-PSOL) backing Guilherme Boulos as PSOL’s São Paulo mayoral candidate. Translated by No Borders News.


The Party for Socialism and Freedom is on the eve of party primaries in São Paulo to elect its candidate for city hall in 2020. On July 18 and 19, party activists will choose between Sâmia Bomfim, Guilherme Boulos, and Carlos Giannazi to decide who will represent the party in the hard fight to come.

Elections in the biggest city in the country are always important, but this time we are in the middle of an unprecedented crisis of national and international scale, one that is also playing out on the municipal level. Unemployment, hunger, disease, violence, and many other traumas are plaguing millions. At the federal level, we are governed by a Covid-19 denialist, a proto-fascist president, while our state and local municipality are controlled by the “traditional” right, which shares responsibility for the ongoing genocide in the country.

At this juncture and facing the challenges it carries with it, I believe, along with a large part of PSOL activists, that Sâmia Bomfim – now accompanied by her running mate Alexya Salvador for deputy mayor – will best represent the party in the 2020 elections. The truth is that Sâmia is best placed to lead a broad movement, built from the bottom up, and to expresses a program capable of posing PSOL and our allies as a mass alternative.

There are many reasons that back up this choice. From an electoral point of view, Sâmia previously received a record number of votes as a PSOL candidate and everything suggests that her support will continue to grow; she can become a candidate who can win a majority and leverage support for the party as a whole. In terms of our political profile and the “idea” motivating her campaign, Sâmia’s candidacy will be best way for PSOL to connect with the most dynamic movements of workers and oppressed sectors of the population. Finally, politically and programmatically, there are plenty of reasons to trust that Sâmia will promote a radical program, collectively constructed, capable of dialoguing with the concrete demands of the people, one that renews the slogans of the left beyond the “limits of the possible” that has generated so many defeats in the past.

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Sâmia and Alexya’s campaign will raise the historical possibility of affirming PSOL as an independent and strategic project for profound transformations, one based on an anti-system perspective. A project, in turn, that can definitely transcend a left marked by class betrayal and the defeats that delivered us into the current political labyrinth.

These dynamics are what seem to be missing from Valerio Arcary’s (an important historian and leader of the Resistência/PSOL current) recent text in Forum. As a supporter of Guilherme Boulos’ candidacy in the party primary, Valerio muddles a debate in which, he supposedly recognizes Sâmia and Giannazi’s strengths as candidates, but then insinuates that both should withdraw their candidacies. At the core of his argument, he writes that “PSOL is not a platform for launching solo political careers.” This borders on slander against the candidates he opposes.

And it is an absurd accusation, beginning with the fact that, among the three candidates, Valerio’s choice has been building PSOL for the shortest period of time. He was also the last to join in the primary and debate with the party’s activists, and he is least organically linked to the party. Furthermore, we know that Valerio himself and his political current have not accumulated sufficient experience in PSOL to purport to safeguard the “truth” of its project.

But this is not the main issue. Rather, as Valerio himself affirms, the real debate is about political profile, program, and strategy. In other words, what should a socialist party, even in a tactical battle, such as elections, be striving to achieve?

Valerio and Resistência are right in stating that there are differences in how we understand this political project. Particularly when it comes to how we should pose PSOL as an independent pole while building up the necessary unity against Bolsonaro. The camp to which Valerio belongs, in practice, permanently subordinates PSOL’s own actions to moves and negotiations with the Workers Party (PT), be it through convention, by electoral calculation, or by believing that this is the only way to build a united front.

This policy expresses itself in the dispute over municipal preliminaries, starting with the public and notable fact that Guilherme Boulos only agreed to enter his name in the running after having confirmed that Fernando Haddad (the 2018 PT presidential candidate) would not be a candidate, leading to a disruption of the calendar PSOL had established to open debates over this campaign with its base. In the logic of those who seek to dissolve PSOL into broader projects, the political space for which we should contend revolves around the spoils of the PT’s legacy. This misconception hinders the promotion of an independent and mass project.

Valerio has affirmed in various articles and in different forums that unity with the PT would not only better serve the struggle against Bolsonaro specifically – which incidentally, requires a much higher level of unity – but that “reunifying the left,” including the PT, should be a strategic socialist task in this period in general. In other words, Valerio proposes accepting the PT as a party that is capable of sharing the political space in a common front, with Lula as the main referent of this “left united front,” and this is the strategy, more or less defined, that Resistência suggests for PSOL. This orientation dilutes PSOL’s standing as a vector for the reorganization of the left, transforming it into a satellite of the left’s “big family,” with the PT as the biggest star. Therefore, Valerio’s point of view sees PSOL as a merely tactical party while aiming for something bigger, of a different nature, with more hybridity in relation to the PT. Therefore, PSOL should advocate a less stringent program and adopt a more forgiving balance sheet with respect to the historical experience (or tragedy) of the strategy that guided most of the mass movement over the past three decades.

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In this regard, it is worth remembering that the principle recent division in PSOL was not linked to any of the events that Valerio reviewed in his text, but rather to the demand to impeach Bolsonaro in March 2020. At that time, as there was still no agreement with the PT, Guilherme Boulos, Resistência, and the majority of the national PSOL leadership opposed the initiative to file impeachment charges and even publicly denounced it, all in the context of the pandemic and Bolsonaro government! Weeks later, they reversed their position.

Differences over the nature of our political project are also expressed in programmatic differences. What should PSOL propose for São Paulo in 2020? A rehash of the reformist “limits of the possible”? Simply a return to good “management” measures previously implemented in the city, measures that would be, at any rate, difficult to consider in the current historical period, at least without high levels of confrontation? The occupation, by PSOL, of the “PT’s electoral space” without any project in mind for an anti-systemic rupture?

Moreover, how do we want to build our program? In conjunction with the leadership of the party’s militant base and the city’s dynamic movements, or through supposed panaceas such as the defunct “Vamos” campaign from 2018, which, in addition to being external to PSOL, ended up producing setbacks in the party’s political formulations, for instance, regarding the topic of the public debt?

These are the real debates that should guide PSOL members’ choices in the up-coming primary election.

Beyond these deeper issues, we also have immediate considerations. One of the main ones asserted by Valerio – that of Boulos supposedly scoring highest in electoral polls – is simply not sustainable. By the way, it is noteworthy that he insists on a more “political” (as opposed to electoral) assessment of the 2018 campaign led by the PSOL majority (the Boulos/Guajajara presidential ticket), but then makes “electoral” promises for 2020.

In fact, everyone knows that Guilherme Boulos’ electoral performance in 2018, which in turn was the result of a specific policy, was PSOL’s most disappointing, even though the campaign was the most expensive. This does not erase the many merits of Guilherme’s campaign, but it is an objective fact. Taking this into account, aside from hopes and promises, why should we assume that his electoral performance would be more promising than that of Sâmia?

It also sounds absurd to attribute the supposed intention of dividing the party, instead of unifying it, to the other candidates, except for Boulos. Additionally, although the primaries are usually contests between the top of the ticket, Valerio’s candidate, from the beginning, subverted this logic (by naming his running mate prior to the primary election), moving in the direction of hegemonism and not of composition (that is, the majority current choosing the composition of the ticket rather than jointly negotiating with other currents and candidates after the primary results). Recently, they also vetoed the possibility of online voting in the primaries, demonstrating their concern with the expansion of participation by the membership, which, in turn, also reflects a conception of party, which only reinforces bureaucratic problems that have existed for years and both divide and obstruct PSOL.

For our part, we are sure that Sâmia and Alexya are most capable of producing the best electoral and political result ever for PSOL in São Paulo, taking our party and our project to another level. Unlike Valerio, who praises Sâmia as “a young feminist who established a bridge between PSOL and a new generation of women,” the political project built around Sâmia – a PSOL political figure in her own right for almost 10 years – goes far beyond that.

It is a project aimed at winning, but not following the same rules and conditions that have historically led the left to betray the class and produce defeats. Sâmia’s campaign is designed to win by expressing the struggles of our time, the self-organization of the class and the movements, and politics as a collective project, not a personal one. Her campaign poses PSOL as a strategic wager, a program that can reach far beyond our current limits.

Finally, democratic primaries, when they are legitimate and conducted in the spirit of party loyalty, can serve to unify and not to divide the party. Whoever gains a majority amongst the rank and file will win. And, all together, we will build PSOL and support the ticket chosen by our members.

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