Brazil's Workers' Party Recasts Its Image, Seeks Allies in Bid to 'Remodel' the State

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LATIN Americans often cite the Brazilian Workers' Party as an example for the region's leftists in the 1990s.

Growing out of an illegal auto-workers' union movement in the late 1970s, the Workers' Party (known by its Portuguese initials, PT) helped to end a military dictatorship in 1985 that had lasted 21 years. In just over a decade, the party expanded to the point where it won the first round in the 1989 presidential election, fixing founder Luis Ignacio "Lula" da Silva as President Fernando Collor de Mello's sole opponent. Earlier, the city of Sao Paulo elected PT candidate Luiza Erundina de Souza as mayor.

Since the 1989 election loss, the PT has undergone an identity crisis of sorts, exacerbated by Ms. de Souza's early difficulties in governing Sao Paulo and by the success of conservative economic policies in Eastern Europe and Latin America.

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The time had come, says PT federal deputy Jose Dirceu, to unite more fully, move away from the old leftist concept of outsider opposition politics, and decide what brand of socialism the party really espouses. "We have to gather strength, organize the social structure.... We are going to have a platform, public policies; we need to rethink the state of democracy in Brazil."

In a December congress, the PT resolved to stop encouraging factions; set up a formal relationship with the CUT, a national labor confederation with which it has always had close ties; set up subgroups by interest area, such as women's rights, the environment, and homosexuals' rights; professionalize administration; permit alliances with other parties; and adopt a socialism that combines market economics with government regulation focusing on social needs.

"We managed to resist the appalling destruction of the word 'socialism says Mr. Dirceu. "We want to govern the state and remodel it; the problem of the communist parties is that they think they have to start from scratch, and you can't do that in a complex, differentiated society with so many social problems. You'd have to do it by force.... You'd need to create a uniform society. But then, you take away society's capacity for creativity, for human development."

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