"Não Nos Representam!" A Left Beyond the Workers Party?
Date Written: 2013-07-18
Publisher: The Socialist Project
Year Published: 2013
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20491
Larrabure identifies why the participatory budgeting strategy of Brazil's Worker's Party and the city's government failed to decentralize unequality in land ownership and the economy, resulting in mass protests and demonstrations by the public.
It started as a good idea. Rather than taking the path of the old Latin American left, in the form of the guerrilla movement, or the Stalinist party, Brazil's Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT), aided by strong union and social movements, decided to try something new. The challenge was to somehow combine the institutions of liberal democracy with popular participation by communities and movements. The answer eventually became participatory budgeting (PB). Introduced in the city of Porto Alegre in 1989, PB was a highly innovative experiment in co-management and de-centralization (Weyh, 2011). It allowed communities of diverse political stripes to democratically manage a small portion of their city's budget. Not only did this result in more and better services for poor communities, it also opened a space where people could learn new democratic skills and build new solidarities. In PB, a virtuous cycle of democracy was unleashed: the more people participated, the more people learned to participate. Add to this, a number of poverty reducing programs at the national level, such as Bolsa Familia, and you suddenly had a new path to social transformation: peaceful, gradual and pluralist.
It wasn't long after the PT acquired power at the national level in 2003 that cracks in its political economic model began to show, however. Agrarian reform, the key demand of one of its most important early allies, the Brazilian Landless Workers' Movement (MST), was effectively dropped from the PT's program. More accurately, the PT re-articulated the MST's demand of agrarian reform by strengthening the productive capacities of existing MST lands, rather than addressing Brazil's highly unequal land ownership structure, in which the top 1 per cent own 50 per cent of the land. In other words, of the three key elements of the MST's program, namely "occupy, resist, produce," the PT opted to act only on the last point. It did so by, for example, opening avenues for the sale of products produced by MST run cooperatives, as in the case of Cooperdotchi, an agricultural cooperative in the state of Santa Catarina. This re-articulation of the MST's goals has created ongoing conflict between the government and the MST who has itself re-articulated its demand for agrarian reform as, "food sovereignty," focusing instead on the government's alliance with agribusiness.