Interview by El Machete [a publication of the CP of Mexico] with Ivan Pinheiro, former general secretary of the Brazilian Communist Party, between 2005 and 2016, who attended the VII Congress of the PCM [Communist Party of Mexico] to receive the David Alfaro Siqueiros Prize.

January 25, 2023


“We cannot support a government of class conciliation. When Lula is elected and takes office, it is not a left government, it is a bourgeois government, although social democratic.”


El Machete (EM): We appreciate that you granted us this interview, comrade Ivan Pinheiro. Our party [the Communist Party of Mexico] has great respect for the process of the revolutionary reconstruction of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB). In fact, it was an important example for us to undertake the new step in our IV Congress in 2010. Please tell us about the context in which the revolutionary reconstruction of the PCB took place and what it consisted of.

Ivan Pinheiro (IP): I was in the Central Committee of the Brazilian Communist Party since 1982. That was a clandestine Congress, the Party was illegal. I had been a member of an organization involved in armed struggle, the October 8th Revolutionary Movement, and I joined the Party in 1974, which was still illegal.

I began to have differences with the line of the Central Committee at the end of the 1970s, over the question of the Democratic Front.

Until then, I considered that policy to be merely tactical. In the toughest phase of the dictatorship, it seemed correct to me, because the trade union and mass movement were very weak and had been very repressed and the PCB had been severely weakened, with the imprisonment and assassination of many members of the Central Committee who had not gone into exile.

However, in the second half of 1979, the situation underwent important changes, with the beginning of a process that the dictatorship called “political opening, slow, sure and gradual”, with the easing of some emergency laws and the advent of political amnesty for those persecuted by the regime. In this period, an important trade union and workers’ movement broke out in Brazil, several sectors of workers went on strike. There, those of us who diverged from the position of the Party, began to defend the need for a modification of the policy of the Democratic Front for one of a Left Front with the class forces that were emerging, as was the case of the PT [Workers Party] at that time, which was not the reformist party of today, but a militant PT, where there were some currents that considered themselves socialists.

However, the PCB remained in alliance with sectors of the so-called “democratic center” of the bourgeoisie during the entire decade of the 80s. Some comrades, mainly among those of us who were active in the trade union movement, began to discuss these questions, and we began to confront reformism at various times. The Central Committee imposed on us an orientation so that we would oppose strikes, under the argument that they were inopportune, because they “hindered” the democratic transition. We considered the opposite, strikes and mass struggles shortened the end of the dictatorship of a military character, since the ruling classes were already giving indications that it was time to change their form of dictatorship, this time as a bourgeois democracy.

Between 1982/83, the reformists, hegemonic in the Central Committee of the PCB, imposed our rupture with the Central Workers’ Union that we were building with the PT, because it seemed “leftist” to them. The fact is that the priority alliance was with the Brazilian Democratic Movement party – MDB, the bourgeois party that headed the Democratic Front. We did not participate in the founding of the CUT and helped to create another central, conciliatory, and moderate, under the leadership of bureaucrat trade unionists.

It was a whole decade of internal struggle that was deepening. I always agreed with the criticisms that Prestes [Luis Carlos Prestes] presented when he left the Party in 1980, with the “Letter to the Communists”. But I did not agree with his decision to leave the Party, because he considered that there were still conditions to hinder the internal struggle…

Despite our internal struggles against reformism at various times, at the end of the 1980s, the Eurocommunists and bureaucrats were still in the majority in the Central Committee. In July 1991, when the Berlin Wall had already fallen and perestroika was advancing, they tried to liquidate the Party, at our IX Congress.

Having foreseen that, we created an internal tendency, and we publicly acknowledged our membership. We issued a document called “We were, we are, and we will be communists”, we created the National Movement in Defense of the PCB, and we went to the Congress already nationally organized, and, by a small margin of votes, we managed to keep the Party, and in it we advanced, from being a minority, less than 10%, and became about a third in the Central Committee.

Despite this, a few days after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Political Commission decided to hold a meeting of the Central Committee fifteen days later, in which the majority approved the calling of an Extraordinary Congress for January 25 and 26, in São Paulo, with a single point, which was to create a “new political formation”, that is, to liquidate the PCB and create a social-democratic party.

When this congress was called, we immediately began a national effort to try to elect a majority of delegates. It was an aggressive struggle in each cell and Regional Committee conference. But we did not count on the ruse used by the liquidationists, who transformed the debates on the theses with the validation of non-members of the Party who could participate in the election of delegates.

We estimate that in this “congress” about a third of the delegates were from outside the Party. Thus, in this way, we called a National Plenary of the Movement in Defense of the PCB for December 1991, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, where comrades from different states participated and there, we decided not to recognize the fraudulent congress and to carry out, in the same days, a National Political Conference to maintain and reorganize the Party.

On the morning of January 25, 1992, in the city of São Paulo, we gathered around 400 comrades in our first plenary, then we decided to go marching to the place of the meeting of the liquidationists, where we demanded to be able to speak to expose the reasons why we did not recognize that “congress” and to inform that we would return to the place of our meeting to hold the National Conference of Organization of the PCB, where we made a political declaration, elected a new Central Committee and called the X Congress, which we held a year later.

We began there the revolutionary reconstruction of the Party, which was erratic in the decade of the 90’s, because, beyond the impact of the counterrevolution in the USSR, there were among us comrades who wanted to maintain the Party, but did not agree with its revolutionary reconstruction, an objective that was only effectively developed from 2005, in the XIII Congress, when those who wanted us to continue supporting the first government of Lula, which began in January 2003, left the Party.

Our 2005 Congress broke with etapismo [the idea of building socialism in stages], defined the socialist strategy of the revolution and the Marxist-Leninist character of the Party. We placed ourselves in opposition to the Lula government and advanced in the revolutionary reconstruction, not as a process that had an end date, but as a long road, which had far to go. Then, we held the National Conference of Organization, in March 2008, and the XIV Party Congress, in October 2009, which the PCM and the KKE attended, when we promoted an important International Seminar and we placed ourselves next to the parties that by that time were already building the International Communist Review, whose first issues we translated and published.

We began there the revolutionary reconstruction of the Party, which was erratic in the decade of the 90’s, because, beyond the impact of the counterrevolution in the USSR, there were among us comrades who wanted to maintain the Party, but did not agree with its revolutionary reconstruction, an objective that was only effectively developed from 2005, in the XIII Congress, when those who wanted us to continue supporting the first government of Lula, which began in January 2003, left the Party.

EM: What did the “left” organizations think of this policy of the socialist character of the revolution and the break with the Lula government? I am referring to what was happening around the the political environment of Brazil and Latin America. What did the other communist parties and other organizations think of your party? Your action was clear and courageous, because it took place at a time when progressivism was on the rise.

IP: Since the PCB broke with Lula’s government, even in the middle of his first government, in the middle of the first “progressive wave” in Latin America and was one of the few parties that openly supported the FARC-EP, the “left”, including some communist organizations, considered us sectarian and ultra-left.  We have no self-criticism to make of our XIII Congress. On the contrary, we had the audacity to denounce that progressivism serves to numb the class struggle, and promotes harmony between capital and labor, as became more evident in the second and current “progressive wave”.

Our relationship with other communist organizations was very weak until the first years of this century. The political and material difficulties were great. As a result, we had not managed to expand our international relations. Our priority was to survive. The Soviet Union had fallen on our heads. No other organization was so committed to the whole history of the Russian Revolution. The PCdoB, for example, had been pro-Chinese, pro-Albanian. People said we could not survive beyond a few months. In the international communist movement, the PCdoB was already strong, already had parliamentarians, was in alliance with Lula, and appeared in international forums saying that the PCB did not exist anymore. So, we only began to appear and relate to the international communist movement from the beginning of the 2000s, especially after 2005, and we correctly chose, from that moment on, Latin America as the first environment of contacts, more harmonious with the CPs of Mexico, Paraguay, and Venezuela.

EM: For us it was important to see that you raised positions critical of the support for Lula and progressivism (the so-called first wave of progressivism) when this phenomenon was emerging and was looked upon favorably by other organizations. Your early criticism of progressivism and the affirmation of the struggle for socialism are an example to think about in the current political situation. Do the militants of your Party know all this history? Is there any specific document or book that summarizes all these elements?

IP: Our militants and friends know this history well, from which we can draw many lessons. There are many videos, texts, debates, and documents on this issue. Particularly, I wrote some articles about it, including one (“The Revolutionary Reconstruction of the PCB”), which I presented at the International Seminar that the PCM held in 2019.

EM: At what moment did the idea of conceiving that progressivism, Lula again, etc., could help the communists in any way? If the trajectory was one of rupture with them, at what moment does this rapprochement begin again? What influenced this rapprochement?

IP:  In the 2002 elections, we supported Lula, in the first round, despite the Central Committee being divided almost in the middle in relation to this. There were those of us who were already defending our own candidacy for the presidential elections, a thesis that was made impossible to avoid the risk of a split at an inappropriate moment. In 2006, we no longer supported Lula, but sought to build a Front with the Socialism and Freedom party – PSOL, which emerged from a break with the PT, and had a leftist discourse. In the second round, instead of an explicit and formal support for Lula, we recommended voting against his adversary, who, by an irony of fate and, as proof of the opportunistic turn of the PT, was Geraldo Alckmin, the same who is now Lula’s vice-president in his third government.

Without any dialogue with the PT and already declaring ourselves previously in opposition to his government, in the case of victory, we critically supported Lula against Alckmin with a document called: “Defeat Alckmin at the ballot box and Lula in the streets”. It was a vote much more against Alckmin, than in favor of Lula, that is, a clear choice for the “lesser evil”.

In the elections of 2010 and 2014 we no longer participated in left fronts and presented our own candidates for the presidency of the Republic and the other positions in dispute, with the objective of presenting our political line, without any conciliation or electoral illusion, denouncing capitalism and bourgeois democracy.

In 2018, the Central Committee of the Party, in my opinion wrongly, returned to the policy of the left front and returned to support the candidates for president and governors of the PSOL which, 12 years after its foundation, had already significantly deepened its vocation as a social democratic party, turning to the parliamentary struggle, with a discourse focused on the humanization and democratization of capitalism and on the gradual and peaceful construction of the so-called “democratic socialism”. In 2020, in the municipal elections, the PCB repeated this policy of alliance with the PSOL.

Now in 2022, the PSOL, radicalizing its opportunist turn, opted to support Lula and the candidates for state governors indicated by the PT and its allies, since the first round, when it was evident that Alckmin would be the candidate for vice-president and that the PT was sewing an alliance with sectors of the bourgeoisie, aiming for a government with more class conciliation than the previous ones.

This decision of the PSOL undoubtedly had important weight for the PCB to opt for a more adequate electoral policy, by presenting in the first round a new candidacy of its own for the presidency of the Republic, to signal the independence of the Party and to present its objectives and proposals.

Already in the second round, the PCB formally supported Lula against Bolsonaro, correctly denouncing the ultra-right tendency of that government, its anti-popular policies and coup intentions. In my view, the problems occurred in the way of supporting Lula in the second round, when it was not made clear to the workers that they should not have any illusions with Lula’s third government, since it will be fundamentally at the service of the interests of capital, of class conciliation, with the co-optation and moderation of the trade union and popular movement, even if it correctly comes to repeal Bolsonaro’s reactionary, inhuman and even genocidal policies and laws.

It is also true that Lula will adopt compensatory measures to mitigate hunger and extreme poverty, while he will not alter in any way the perverse distribution of income in Brazil. And let us not expect from the new government the reversal of the counter-reforms that reduced workers’ rights and of the privatizations already carried out, nor of the foundations of the liberal economic policy, unless a social outburst raises the popular masses and finds a vanguard up to its responsibilities.

It is necessary to understand that the new government is the result of a pact with bourgeois sectors to overcome this atmosphere of euphoria, unrestricted support and total conciliation with Lula, reigning in the so-called left, even in parties with revolutionary strategies, aggravated with the recent coup attempt, and that has as its cause an overestimation of the risk of the implantation of fascism in Brazil, which led to prioritize the banner “Bolsonaro out” during the 4 years of his government, which was used by the Brazilian bourgeoisie to approve in parliament all the counter-reforms it needed to maintain and expand the reproduction of capital in the midst of the crisis of the system.

EM: Exactly, that Bolsonaro has some fascist idea does not mean that the bourgeoisie decides on fascism as a way of managing capital in Brazil.

IP: I said that clearly when I had the honor given to me by the PCM to present a paper at its recent VII Congress.

If it had depended only on Bolsonaro’s will, in his mandate he would have closed the Congress, silenced the judicial branch, advanced in some fascist measures in Brazil. Only that in the current Brazilian conjuncture the bourgeoisie is not interested in that. Fascism is a weapon that it uses only when it needs it.

The events of last January 8 in Brazil allow us to draw important conclusions.

Up to the moment I am writing these lines, the picture is highly favorable to Lula and unfavorable to the ultra-right. Practically all the institutions and bourgeois leaders vehemently repudiated the coup attempt and demand the punishment of the coup perpetrators, including its financiers and organizers, which could reach Bolsonaro and his entourage.

But it is necessary to reflect that this decisive support of the ruling classes, including sectors that distanced themselves from Bolsonaro, will come with a for Lula in the form of more conciliation in the management of the economy, especially so that the new government does not touch on the counter-reforms and privatizations of recent years, on the so-called “fiscal responsibility” and on the autonomy of the Central Bank.

The first conclusion is that the frustrated coup attempt made in Brasilia by the most radical Bolsonarist sector reveals that the Brazilian bourgeoisie is not interested in fascism at this juncture, above all so that Brazil does not become a pariah country as this would harm the foreign investment that capitalism here needs to overcome its crisis. This does not mean that there are no risks of new coup attempts, that the ultra-right will disappear, nor that the bourgeoisie treats its democracy as a universal value and discards coups, dictatorship and even fascism.

The second is that, at the present moment – after implementing the main counter-reforms in favor of capital and with hunger and misery reaching the bottom of the well – bourgeois democracy with a government of class conciliation is the best formula for investment, to resume the growth of the economy and the profit rates of capital.

The third is that, not only in Brazil, coups and right-wing dictatorships are not decided by the military, but by the ruling classes, for which they are generally at their service. The dictatorship that arose with the 1964 coup in Brazil was military only in form but decided and maintained by the bourgeoisie and lasted until the moment when it was no longer convenient for it. The bourgeoisie has no ideology, it has interests!

The fourth conclusion is what history teaches us: the bourgeoisies only resort to fascism when the correlation of forces is unfavorable to them and when faced with the risk of proletarian insurgencies and revolutions. This is far from being the situation in Brazil, where the bourgeois hegemony is indisputable in the face of a degenerated trade union movement and a hegemonically reformist, institutional and increasingly identarian left.

The problem is that the frustrated attempt of the ultra-right coup increases the tendency among the so-called left, even among some communists, to postpone the question of socialism to guarantee the governability of Lula and bourgeois democracy. My concern is that we do not fall into the error of considering that Lula’s government will be threatened 24 hours a day by a fascist coup and, therefore, we must close ranks with him. It is correct and very important to fight against coup attempts and ultra-right dictatorships, marching in different streets from the “democratic” bourgeoisie. But we cannot support a government of class conciliation. When Lula is elected and takes office, it is not a left government, it is a bourgeois government, although social democratic.

Another mistake, in the camp we call “left”, is to demand vehemently for the punishment of the coup perpetrators, evoking the current anti-terrorism law – by the way, in force thanks to the initiative of the Petista [PT] government of Dilma Rousseff – and to value as heroic and audacious personalities and institutions that conciliated with the coup attempts for 4 years and that will be much faster, more efficient and tougher if we dare to exercise the right of rebellion of the peoples!

It also seems to me a great mistake for a Communist Party to declare that it will concentrate its energies on the struggle against fascism and neo-liberalism. It is like saying that it will continue to defend the “democratic state of law” and fight for a more humane capitalism. The main task of Brazilian communists today is the mobilization, conscientization and organization, especially of the working class, and the proletariat in general, in the struggles for the repeal of the counter-reforms, for more social, economic, and political rights and in the perspective of their emancipation by the only possible road, the socialist revolution!

EM. We thank comrade Ivan Pinheiro for the interview he gave us, and we congratulate him for the recognition of militant merit that the PCM gave him in the framework of the VII Congress.