Brazil's Left

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Mon Nov 27 11:55:07 MST 2000

A "Red" Government in the South of Brazil

by Michael Löwy

For ten years, the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) has run
city hall in Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul
state (on the border with Uruguay) and one of the main
cities in the country. The PT is quite an original party,
founded in 1980 by unionists, leftist Christians, and
Marxist militants, all convinced that the emancipation of
the workers will be the task of the workers themselves and
stirred by the desire to invent a different, radical,
democratic, libertarian socialism that breaks with the old
models of Stalinism and social democracy. The current
mayor, Raul Pont, a former director of the teachers' union,
belongs to the PT's most radical current, the Socialist
Democracy tendency, which bases itself on the Fourth

The PT's "reds" (the color of the party's flag) have won
city hall three times because their management of municipal
affairs is radically different from that of the various
bourgeois politicians: no corruption, no nepotism, a
priority for the needs of poor and working-class
neighborhoods and, above all, an inspiring experiment with
direct democracy called the participatory budget.

This is a system that lets local populations in each
neighborhood of Porto Alegre decide, in assemblies that are
open to the entire population, the priorities for the
public budget allocated to their locality. In other words,
it is the population itself which determines, in an
original demonstration of direct democracy, if the budget's
funds should be used to build a road, a school, or a
medical center. Subsequent assemblies let the population
monitor the implementation of the chosen projects, while a
City Council of the Participatory Budget, made up of
delegates elected by the assemblies, manages the
distribution of the budget to the different neighborhoods,
following criteria decided on in common.

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