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New Left Review I/165, September-October 1987


Emir Sader

The Workers’ Party in Brazil

The birth of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadorespt) has been a singular event of the eighties, not just in Brazil or even in Latin America as a whole. For it is a striking fact that very few new working-class parties have been founded anywhere in the world since the thirties. Yet in Brazil a vigorous formation of the Left has indeed emerged that has successfully appealed to labour, rapidly winning a popular following in the principal industrial strongholds of the country. At a time when working-class politics is widely held to be in crisis, if not terminal decline, in the First World, the experience of the pt is of more than national or even Third World interest alone. What kind of a party is the pt sociologically and ideologically? Where has it come from? Above all, perhaps, where is it going as Brazilian capitalism lurches uncertainly towards the end of the decade? The Party was founded in 1980, at a time when the Brazilian military dictatorship was already in crisis, and brought together a number of different forces that had emerged in the resistance of the seventies to it. These included base organizations of the Catholic Church—pastoral workers in the countryside, the factories and among minors; human rights activists; radicalized intellectuals; onetime militants of small Trotskyist and Maoist groups of the sixties; some former Communists. What gave a common focus to these heterogeneous elements, however, was the pole of attraction constituted by a nucleus of young trade-union leaders who had won authority from below in a series of industrial struggles in the major manufacturing conurbation of Brazil—the so-called abc zone of the periphery of São Paulo, where the country’s main auto plants are located. Within two years the Party had won over three per cent of the national vote, in the elections of November 1982: or an electorate of about one and a half million. Two-thirds of this poll was concentrated in the state of São Paulo alone, where the pt elected six out of its eight federal deputies, as well as its only mayor. Its (other two seats were also won in the industrialized Centre–South of the country, in Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. Outside this zone, the Party scored over five per cent only in the remote Amazonian corner of Acre.

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Emir Sader, ‘The Workers' Party in Brazil’, NLR I/165: £3
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