Comparing the Workers Party (PT) today and ten years ago, would you say that the PT is gaining or losing strength in Brazil?
I would say that the PT is gaining strength. If you analyze the election results, the PT has grown after each election since its founding in 1980. In the 1996 elections, the PT was the most-voted party in Brazil's 100 largest cities. In seven cities we competed in the second round and lost because everybody united against us. Obviously, there is a substantial difference if you compare the PT ten years ago and today. Ten years ago, the PT was more present, more active in the social struggle. In 1997, the party is more present in the political struggle. Now, we have to combine the two things, the social struggle and the political struggle.
There was a strong relationship between the PT and the labor movement when the PT was founded 17 years ago. How would you describe this relationship today?
The relationship is not as strong as it was in the beginning. The PT was born from the labor movement, from the strikes of 1978, 1979 and 1980. Then there was a strong linkage. As the party,grew, it opened itself to other social segments. The labor movement is no longer the only one. There are other social segments and the labor movement no longer has the same influence that it had at the beginning. But it continues to have a privileged and I would say priority linkage with the PT.
Does the government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, which combines neoliberal policies and reformist initiatives, help or hinder the growth of the PT?
The government of President Cardoso has helped the PT formulate better policies and better proposals. I confess that the Cardoso government has been the most difficult government to confront. First, we had to confront an authoritarian military regime that was opposed by everyone. After that, we confronted the government of President Sarney, that was opposed by everyone. Next we confronted Collor, who was also opposed by everyone. Now we are confronting Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was able to gain a great deal of support in the university, to divide the intellectual base of our party, and who has a positive image due to his political history. He demands more competence in the art of being an opposition movement and in the art of formulating alternative proposals for the country to show clearly the difference between our policies and his neoliberal policies.
At first, we had difficulty because the president built a powerful coalition in the political arena. Now the party is agreeing that the political struggle by itself does not solve the problem. The social struggle is also necessary.
During the governments of Presidents Sarney and Collor, the press portrayed the PT as a progressive party During the government of President Cardoso, the press has painted the PT as a conservative party a party with old ideas. What is happening?
What is happening is that Cardoso is achieving a certain hegemony around neoliberal ideology. Today you cannot find a single newspaper in Brazil that opposes the neoliberal policies, only a few journalists. There is a general agreement with neoliberal policies--the opening of borders, the privatization of all companies, the reduction of the role of the state. This doctrine predominates today in the media and those against it do not have spaces. Cardoso, who came from the left, was drawn to the neoliberal project, and was able to make an alliance with the conservatives. What conservatives attempted unsuccessfully, Cardoso is achieving through this hegemony. By the way, I have never seen the Brazilian press as subservient as it is today.
Since the PT was founded, it, along with the labor movement, has led the progressive movement in Brazil. Is this situation changing with the emergence of the Landless People's Movement (MST)?
The struggle of the Brazilian people is cyclical. There was a time when the unions were the most important actors in the process of redemocratization. We even built the largest labor confederation in Latin America, the Central Federation of Workers (CUT). Today it is the MST. When we obtain agrarian reform, it will no longer be the MST. It may be the homeless people's movement, the human rights movement, or another. The PT has always been in favor of agrarian reform. Landless people are concerned specifically with agrarian reform and our role is not to compete, but to show solidarity with the struggles of the MST. Tomorrow, if a homeless people's movement emerges, our role will be to demonstrate our solidarity with them. If afterwards a movement against forced labor emerges, the PT should not want to be the vanguard of the movement. We will show our solidarity with the struggle if it is just and improves the quality of life of the Brazilian people.
Are there many ties between the landless people and the PT? How is this relationship?
Yes there are many ties I would say that 85% or 90% of the persons participating in the landless movement are sympathetic to the Worker's Party, but the movement is autonomous.
What are the main objectives of the PT in the short and in the long term?
The PT's main long-term objective is to build another model of society in which the people receive a fair share of the fruits of their work. The objective in the short run is to prevent the government of President Cardoso from destroying Brazil as a nation. We want to prove that Brazil can participate in the global economy without submission. We want to prove that it is possible to formulate an industrial policy, an agricultural policy, a health policy an education policy--policies that are from the existing ones. This must be accomplished soon, because the people cannot wait a long time. We need policies that can result in more jobs for the Brazilian people.
The main difficulty is that the PT did not win the presidential election in 1994. We will not stop because we did not win. We have to pressure the Brazilian government to ensure that it fulfills some of the promises it made during the campaign, even if it doesn't do all the things we would like.
You said that the party has become more open and enjoys the participation of different social groups and movements other than the labor movement. How mobilized are these groups and movements compared to a decade ago?
We were much more mobilized then than we are today. I would say that in the beginning we were constantly mobilized. We were more mobilized because the social movements were also more mobilized than they are today. It is important to remember that there is a difference between the world in which the PT was born and the world today. In the world in which the PT was born, Cardoso was on the left. Today, he is not. Brazilian society remains the same, but Brazilian politics is different. The progressive church, for example, does not have the strength that it had in the 1980s. The struggle against the military regime, which unified everyone, no longer exists. The popular movement no longer has the same strength. It is not only that the PT has lost ground in the social struggle, but that the social struggle no longer has the strength that it once had. The PT has to resume that social struggle.
We are planning to start a campaign against unemployment. The objective of this campaign is not only to critique the neoliberal policies which cause unemployment, along with the globalization of the world economy, but above all to present proposals to create jobs.
Is the PT well connected with progressive groups and parties in Latin America?
Yes, we are. We created the Sao Paulo Forum, which brings together the Latin American left. We will hold our sixth meeting soon in Porto Alegre. The CUT and the labor movements in Argentina,Uruguay and Paraguay are unified and have concrete proposals for Mercosur. In Brazil, we are now forming a bloc in the National Congress, to act jointly in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate. Thus, we are taking important steps towards unifying of the left.
Do you think the PT can win the next presidential election?
I don't think anyone is unbeatable in elections. I seemed unbeatable in 1994 and I did not win the election. Cardoso in 1998, in my opinion, will be much more vulnerable than he is now and than he was in 1994. It is hard to know what will happen in 1998. If there are many conservative candidates, the PT's chances increase. If the conservatives are united around one candidate, as they were in 1994, it will be more difficult. It is hard to say. But I can guarantee that the PT will have a candidate and I think that the PT can be competitive against the other parties.
The PT, as you say has to combine efforts to win the electoral and party struggle and efforts to organize society. Where is the PT concentrating its efforts, in the electoral and party struggle or in the organization of society and the formulation of an alternative project?
Unfortunately, in the electoral struggle the PT has a serious problem. It has to compete in general elections and when there are no general elections, there are party elections. You cannot organize the people one year because you are thinking about the general elections and in another year because you are thinking about the party elections. We have to solve this problem. I left the National Executive Commission because I want to be free to work on the organization of society. This is the only thing that can guarantee not only the conquest of the government but also the exercise of government power by a party like the PT.
You left the presidency of the PT and created the Citizenship Institute last year. This change, as you said, makes clear your position regarding the importance of organizing society and the formulation of alternative policies. Isn't it also an expression of disenchantment with the electoral and party struggle?
No, on the contrary. I was very successful in this struggle. The PT was born in this struggle. Every year since 1982, the PT has grown. I competed in two elections for the presidency of the republic with a good chance of winning. There is no disenchantment. I am trying to show that it is possible to make politics without an electoral mandate and a party apparatus, and that it is possible to establish a direct connection with society. I am trying to show that it is possible for anyone to work for the things in which he or she believes without being in political office.
The main objective of the progressive sectors must be to conquer government power because only in government can one initiate a different political project, define the nature of the state and who the state will serve, and change the rules of the game. To achieve this objective, we have to change our view of electoral competition. A party like the PT has to make political alliances in order to come to power, but it must do so without abandoning its identity and its principles.
Is the PT closer to this objective, or in better condition to achieve this objective, than other parties of the left in Latin America?
The PT is the biggest party of the left in Latin America. But conditions are different in each country and our dream may happen in another country and not in Brazil. In El Salvador the left had a great victory. The Broad Front in Uruguay is a respectable political force. In Argentina, the opposition won 30% of the votes. Each country has a history, but the PT has a great chance of not only making alliances but also of winning government power.
Is the difficulty of making alliances the main problem that the PT and the progressive parties have to overcome in the next few years?
We have to animate the electoral system in Latin America and above all in Brazil. The electoral process is highly subordinated to economic power. The candidates spend fortunes on campaigns. It is absurd. It is necessary to increase the equality of opportunity in the electoral system. In Brazil, candidates still hand out food to win votes. This is obviously problematic for a party of the left that struggles for an ideal, a principle and program, and not only for power. This is one difficulty. The other difficulty is access to media. In Brazil and in Latin America the mass media are not democratic. They are at the service of the dominant class. This means, of course, that the opposition is at a serious disadvantage, and this obviously complicates things.
A third difficulty is popular organization. The left can never dispense with popular organization. It is the most important thing for a party of the left. The PT neglected it for some time and now we have to make up for lost time.
Is the development of new party activists tied to the question of popular organization?
Yes it is. Political education and the development of new Workers Party activists is linked to popular organization. Political education is a priority for a party like the PT.
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): In 1995, after 15 years as the national president of the Workers Party (PT), Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, left the presidency of the PT to create the Citizenship Institute, an organization dedicated to the formulation of alternative public policies. Lula was the president of the Metalworkers Union in Sao Bernardo do Campo from 1975 to 1980 and one of the founders of the PT in 1980. He was the national president of the PT from 1980 to 1995, federal deputy from 1987 to 1990, and candidate for the presidency of Brazil in 1989 and again in 1994. He was interviewed in April, 1997 at the Citizenship Institute in Sao Paulo by Paulo de Mesquita Neto.