Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva returned to the presidency after narrowly defeating Jair Bolsonaro. If the former steelworker managed to get out of prison and return to power by articulating a broad democratic alliance from centre-right to centre-left, Bolsonarismo showed resilience as an expression of an important part of Brazilian society.
“From 1 January 2023 I will govern for the 215 million Brazilians, not just for those who voted for me”, he promised, knowing that it will not be easy to do so with a Congress in the hands of the right and with the military caste that co-governed with Bolsonaro.
Analysts point out that Bolsonarismo will survive as a strong opposition, even because it has elected many loyal senators and deputies and has (for now) the backing of the military commanders.
The vision fuelled by a biased memory of military power from 1964 to 1985, a time of the “Brazilian miracle” of economic growth of close to 10 % a year and rapid expansion of the urban middle class, has already lost its fuel and confidence in the military has spilled out from 39 % in 2019 to 30 % in 2022.
Pro-coup protests are growing in popular rejection, following November’s road blockade and terror by bus and car fires on the night of 12 December in Brasilia. Since the beginning of November, pro-Bolsonaro camps in front of barracks have been calling for a military coup to prevent Lula’s inauguration.
Dismantling the Brazilian state was Jair Bolsonaro’s task. His policy was a permanent action against the state, subverting its secular character and subjecting to his proposals state institutions that, in many cases, began to act against their original missions, such as the National Indian Foundation (for the valorisation of Afro-Brazilian culture), as well as a good part of the environmental and cultural bodies.
To say that Brazil came out of the polls as a divided country is an understatement: it is practically split in two. Lula won 60.3 million votes in the second round against Bolsonaro’s 58.2 million. A minimal difference (50.9% versus 49.1% of the valid votes) out of 124 million voters. Some 32 million Brazilians – 20.5% of those eligible to vote – did not go to the polls even though voting is compulsory and abstention rates were traditionally low.
Undoubtedly, the Brazil that emerges from the elections does not look good and the biggest mistake of Lula’s new government would be to think that the country and society are the same as they were two decades ago and to forget, as in the three previous Workers’ Party (PT) governments, that economic inclusion does not necessarily mean social inclusion.
The philosopher and political scientist Gilberto Carvalho, founder of the PT and liaison between social movements and organised civil society during the governments of Lula and Dilma Rousseff, recalled that “Lula’s government was a porous government, which was open to society, but social participation was limited because it served an elitist, organised society, with organizational consciousness and experience.
We are not capable of dialogue with the great masses, Carvalho admitted, and as an explanation he pointed out that the 2013 protests and “the absence of people to defend our project in the face of the impeachment” of Dilma Rousseff, show “that inclusion was economic, well done, meritorious, but there was no citizen inclusion”, she says.
In his first two terms in office (2003-2010), Lula promoted a series of social welfare programmes to improve the material living conditions of the poorest sectors, but he never attacked the structural roots of the country’s profound inequality. Lulismo”, as defined by political scientist André Singer, was a form of weak reformism and permanent conciliation with the traditional political and economic elites.
It should not be forgotten that PT-led governments enacted important reforms that, for the first time, gave access to higher education to millions of women and young men from the peripheries, most of them of African descent. Almost all of them were the first in their families to be able to go to university and to dream of social advancement.
This “new middle class” had, for a few years, access to consumer goods that was previously unthinkable, until the great recession during Dilma Rousseff’s government (2015), which was deepened by Michel Temer’s coup (2016-2018) and then by Bolsonaro’s government, tens of millions of Brazilians were once again plunged below the poverty line.
The protests of the Bolsonaristas after the elections, denouncing “fraud”, may seem ridiculous to the PT leadership, but it is a sign of things to come with Lula in government. The still-president Jair Bolsonaro presents himself as a popular right-wing leader, something new in recent decades in Brazil. Whatever adjectives you want to add to him, he is a leader of the far right, who is popular, with popular language, with popular customs.
Carvalho, director of the PT’s National Training School, points out that the party has aged and lost touch with the peripheries today ‘occupied by drug traffickers, militias and neo-Pentecostals’. It is not the same Brazil as at the beginning of the century: the strong trade union movement of that time, from the ABC of São Paulo, of the formal contract, no longer exists. Today it is the world of informality, of the leap of communicational manipulation brought by the Internet.
Have the intellectuals of the PT thought about how to guarantee popular participation and how to dialogue with the other pole? For too many years, Lulista militants – especially intellectuals – have been talking among themselves, in the bubble, and they believe that this is called social dialogue.
The challenge is to rethink the concept of participation, broadening it beyond the elite, organised society, organisations, NGOs… to dialogue with the masses, who may not have a culture of participation but who have always (and historically) organised themselves in some way, such as the youth who joined the campaign, despite the resistance of the old cadres.
The most profound analyses point out that the PT leadership should find a way of communicating with the Evangelicals, because the reality is that the periphery was not occupied by the grassroots ecclesial communities, nor by the Catholic Pastoral (progressive in Brazil at the beginning of the century), but by the neo-Pentecostals, drug traffickers and militias. It is no longer the labour world of the ABC of São Paulo, of the trade union movement, of the formal contract, it is the world of informality, of this communicative leap brought about by the Internet. It is another Brazil.
When the PT was in government, evangelicals were interested in having relations and when it spilled out, they turned the other way. The reality is that nobody in the PT preoccupied themselves with maintaining solid contacts with the grassroots. Of the 20,000 candidates for councillors in 2020, two thousand were evangelicals.
Social movements such as the Movement of Dam-Affected People (MAB) and the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) emerged and were stimulated by the grassroots work of the progressive Catholic Church. But Pope John Paul II made the deal with US President Ronald Reagan to persecute Liberation Theology, cutting off a source of social movements throughout Latin America and at the same time sending neo-Pentecostals to the region.
But nor would it be the first time that the elites – preoccupied with not losing their positions – have squandered this transformative energy, disdaining their ideas and proposals, even though they know that the future is theirs.
It is with these millions of Bolsonaristas and/or right-wingers, especially evangelicals, that Lulismo must learn to dialogue, despite the fact that during the campaign Lula resisted the idea that he had to communicate specifically with this group. Until at the end of the second round, the PT launched the letter to the Evangelicals, but with Lula’s resistance.
Carvalho speaks of creating many cells in each neighbourhood that seek to reorganise the population, as the basic ecclesiastical communities did before, this time without a religious character. The idea is to create a family atmosphere in small groups to look at and analyse reality, in Paulo Freire’s old method: education from the struggle and political life.
Whether these committees really articulate with organised society depends on the ability to get into popular culture to find a way to seduce, attract and organise these young people and all those people who do not adapt to the PT’s traditional way of doing politics.
The Lulista leadership has not yet discussed the peremptory need for a communication policy and perhaps, as before, is leaving it in the hands of the people of O Globo. Without its own communication, the government and the country are at the mercy of the terrorism of the hegemonic media (transnational and national) and it will not be possible to carry out mass popular education.
The communication struggle could well be in the hands of university students, in a project to combat illiteracy and functional illiteracy, setting up brigades of workers in the peripheries. That is also a way of doing politics.
The communication struggle begins by not getting tangled up in the neoliberal lexicon. “New fiscal labyrinth”, “debt-to-GDP ratio”, “gaining market confidence” and other supposedly scientific terms are nothing more than liberal chicanery to take away public investment and development in favour of the financial world. The problem is that progressive sectors take them as new economic paradigms.
If the poorest Brazilians had the illusion of changing their social class during Lula’s two governments and Dilma Rousseff’s first term, their real living conditions did not change. Welfarism changed little in the endless peripheries of the big cities, with no quality public transport, no education, no healthcare, no meeting places and no cultural offerings.
This fuelled frustration, opening the way for Pentecostal churches, which know how to operate as community spaces in contexts of high social precariousness, offering a network of mutual support and socialisation that the state does not provide and demanding, in exchange, respect for a series of profoundly conservative behaviours, in addition to the payment of the tithe, 10% of everything the faithful earn.
Unfortunately, the most hard-line sectors of the Catholic Church took advantage of this discourse to push forward an increasingly conservative agenda of values, starting with fierce opposition to abortion. To the rise of authoritarian populism, they are now calling for a cultural counter-coup.
The most voted candidate among those who did not make it to the second round, Simone Tebet, who had received 4.9 million votes, was left out of Lula’s cabinet, due to party selfishness, according to Forum21. As was Marina Silva, the Brazilian ecologist and educator.
Not even Bolsonaro’s final shot was successful. The national football team returned in silence after its resounding failure in Qatar, with a downcast Neymar, who had announced his support for the ultra-right-winger. Lula maintained that Neymar supported Bolsonaro because “he is afraid” that with the change of government, the issue of his millionaire tax evasion that his father negotiates with Paulo Guedes, the Minister of Economy, will come to light…
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