“Dilma’s Mistake Was to Promote Class Conciliation”

Interview With João Pedro Stédile

The economist and leader of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) of Brazil, Joao Pedro Stédile, affirmed that left-wing forces won’t allow the Parliamentarian right to fulfill their wish to force Dilma Rousseff out of the presidency to reinstall neoliberalism in the country.

Stédile was interviewed by LibreRed, where this article was first published, and the English translation on The Dawn website.

LibreRed (LR): What will be the reaction of the Brazilian people and the MST in particular if Dilma Rousseff is destituted?

Thousands rallied in major cities across Brazil on May Day to support the embattled President Dilma Rousseff.

João Pedro Stédile (JPS): First of all, we’re confident that it’s possible to stop the coup in process now that it has reached the Senate. We believe that the government has a greater representation in the Senate than in the Chamber of Deputies [where the vote was in favor of the impeachment], the Senators themselves are older, more experienced in politics and know that a Parliamentary coup like the ones that took place in Honduras or Paraguay would lead Brazil to a deeper crisis.

But if this coup is consolidated in the Senate, we, as part of the movements that are organized in the Popular Brazil Front won’t hesitate in denying any kind of legitimacy to a Michel TemerEduardo Cunha government. It would be an illegitimate government completely stained by corruption. It’s now public that they gave out a lot of money to get the votes of the deputies. Besides denying their legitimacy, and not participating in any process, we will keep taking to the streets to exert pressure and lead people to become conscious of what will happen.

As for now, on April 29 – next Friday – there will be mobilizations in several cities and on May 1 we want there to be a massive protest action. For that, we almost certainly will coordinate with several union organizations – there are eight of them, and only one supports the coup. We are in discussions with the seven unions (that are with the people), the possibility of doing a general strike before the vote in the Senate. We want to point out to the businessmen that despite their money and their plan to impose the comeback of neoliberalism and the subordination of our economy to the interests of yankee companies, we the working-class are the ones that produce riches. And if we make a general stoppage, it will be a signal to them that says “you may want to increase your profits and your exploitation again, but those who produce the riches in this country in the industry and agriculture are we, and we won’t allow a coup that destroys democracy in our country.”

LR: Now the right is saying, in Brazil and in the rest of the continent and the world, that this is not a coup but the mere application of Constitutional laws.

JPS: Sure, that’s what they said in Honduras, as well as in Paraguay, and it’s a trap. In Brazilian law, there is a provision that says that if a President commits a crime of responsibility or corruption against the country, the Parliament can punish and expel him or her. But in fact President Dilma didn’t commit any crime at all, the accusation they used against her in the process they started in the Parliament has to do with a mechanism of public accounting that the Government uses to meet its social obligations in health, education, and seeked other funds that were in public banks or in the provision for other areas. But this is not a crime, it’s an artifice of any government, even Michel Temer did it himself when he was in the Presidency of the Republic, replacing the President, and in the states of Brazil there are 24 governors, several of them from the right, but also from the center, left and any other ideological convictions, that use that form of accounting.

Therefore, there is no crime, and if there were, then Temer would have to be ousted too, and that’s why we denounce that a single innocent person can’t be judged for an action that was made by two partners: President and Vice President. But the bottom of the issue is not removing the President or not, apart from being a true blow to democracy, the problem is that we are going through a serious economic crisis and the capitalists’ way to deal with that crisis and restore their profit rate is to return to the neoliberal model, that is, to take away workers’ rights, hand out our resources, such as oil, mining, water, and biodiversity to transnational companies and keep interest rates high – President Dilma was an obstacle to that.

Temer has already announced his government plan, which is completely neoliberal. That’s why the Brazilian people’s organizations say that Temer is to Brazil what Mauricio Macri is to Argentina, but the difference resides in that Macri earned the votes to become President and he didn’t. Not only that, but he’s so unpopular that in recent polls 80 per cent of the people said that they don’t want him, and that if he ran for President, he’d get only one per cent of the vote in Brazil. That’s the state of affairs: it’s a coup against democracy.

LR: How come President Dilma chose him as Vice President?

JPS: That’s the sort of moves that we in the MST always criticized. In reality, Lula (in both of his terms) and Dilma always proposed a formula for class conciliation, like in Chile, so there were always seats reserved for sectors of the Brazilian bourgeoisie.

When Lula was President, that strategy worked well because his Vice President was a nationalist, serious and even honest businessman from the textile industry, whose business depended also on the internal market and therefore he was interested in having wealth distribution because that way he could sell more, but Mr. Temer is a lumpen bourgeoise. His only role is to defend the bourgeoisie, but he’s not actually a bourgeoise per se, and because of that, because he’s a lumpen, he betrayed the President. When the President publicly spoke to denounce that betrayal, the right started a process in the Supreme Federal Court to prevent her speech from being broadcast on the national network, to silence her speech against this man and the whole coup that was being schemed by more than a hundred corrupt Parliamentarians, who are themselves being investigated by the Supreme Federal Court. There’s no explanation as for why, to this day, the judicial power hasn’t had the courage to accelerate those processes, because most of the Parliamentarians that voted against Dilma could even go to jail for the millions they stole from public coffers, and in the form of kickbacks from companies.

LR: As an economist, could you explain how much the current economic crisis weighed in the current political crisis of Brazil?

JPS: The economic crisis is the reason why the class conciliation ceased to be possible, because when Lula was President, he designed a conciliation that was based on three pillars: firstly, to make the economy grow through industry (which he accomplished), secondly, to recover the role of the state of making productive investments such as education and health, to better the living conditions of the population and thirdly, to distribute income through an increase in the minimum wage. What happened? With the international crisis of capitalism the economy of Brazil, as a country on the periphery of capitalism, suffered greatly, and for three years the economy hasn’t grown.

Twenty years ago industry accounted for 50 per cent of our GDP and now, due to deindustrialization and competition from Chinese and U.S. companies, national industry accounts for only 9 per cent of the GDP, and there’s a deep economic crisis that can only be solved by recovering, again, the role of the state, controlling financial capital so that instead of accumulating wealth through speculation, the state can use that money to make productive investments in the industry and agriculture sectors, oriented toward the internal market. With that, the economy would grow again, and we’d have a new role for the workforce (because nowadays we have an unemployment rate of 10 per cent) and we could have social programs again.

The political crisis we’re going through is a consequence of the elites trying to get back the state and restore neoliberalism, but the working class isn’t going to accept that. It’s going to take years to get out of this, because the only way out of a crisis of this magnitude is through an agreement between social classes – not just parties – over a new model of the country, that can be hegemonic in most of society.

And now, at this moment, there’s no project being discussed in the country, not even within any of the classes – neither the bourgeoisie nor the petite bourgeoisie, nor the working class, have a clear project for the country. This is why we’re in this confusion and why the bourgeoisie is stupid enough – because they’re subordinated to the interests of imperialism – to think it’s enough to change the President of the Republic to magically solve the problems of the economy, but that’s not true. On the contrary, that would deepen the contradictions of inequality, deepen the institutional crisis and, hopefully, send the masses back to the streets so that they, with their political force, debate a new project for the country.

LR: Have some sectors of the working class, that have benefited by the social policies of Dilma and Lula, been co-opted by the right in Brazil?

JPS: It wouldn’t be fair to say they’ve been co-opted, because in that process of mobilization there was a sector of the petite bourgeoisie that went out on the streets to defend the coup. But they are the eight per cent of the population, and we, the left, went out on the streets and even in greater numbers, but we were all militants, organized sectors, the mediation between the masses and the leaders. The masses are still silent, still afraid. They haven’t mobilized yet but they were also not co-opted by the right.

But why is it so? At that point we have to be self-critical, because during the eight years that Lula governed, there was almost no work to elevate the level of political and cultural consciousness of those masses, who got better policies and better salaries but without a change in their views, and the government did nothing to change that. Unlike Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, there was no effort to break with the monopolies in communications, therefore the TV station O Globo puts garbage in people’s heads every day and they remain perplexed while they watch the political game as if it was just another soap opera.

LR: Let’s conclude with a message from you to the people of Latin America. What would you like to say to them?

JPS: Times are hard but we mustn’t be discouraged or pessimistic, as the great thinkers of Latin America told us. We have to be pessimistic in our analysis but optimistic toward the future. It’s true that our continent, as everything else, is in crisis, but that’s not the fault of a leader, a government or a party.

Capitalism is to blame – the capitalist way of organizing production and life in society is in crisis around the world and because we in Latin America are in the periphery of world capitalism, capitalists see our continent as a bigger opportunity to dominate natural resources, markets and the workforce. These are hard times because we have to confront the empire, but this brings contradictions.

It’s time to put more energy into bringing awareness and organizing people, because in the coming years we’ll see a new, rising, mass movement on our continent and in this movement there will be new liberation projects and new leaders, and we’ll surely see the dream of Chavez, Martí, and Che come to life again. A project that unifies the dreams of Latin America. We must have hope because we have to fight every day. Those who fight, always win. •

João Pedro Stedile is an economist and a member of the national coordination of the MST and Via Campesina.