By Paul Antonopoulos – CSS Project Director; MENA and Latin America Research Fellow.
The End of the Brazilian Left? Analysis and Criticisms
ormer leftist Brazilian President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva left the headquarters of the ABC Metalworkers’ Union and turned himself in to the Federal Police at 6:42pm on April 7, 2018, becoming the first ex-president arrested in the history of the country. A year later, experts have assessed the impact of Lula’s imprisonment and the future of the left while right-wing Zionist-loving Jair Messias Bolsonaro is the current president.
For Ricardo Ismael, political scientist and professor at Pontifícia Universidade Católica-Rio, the problem is from the culmination of weariness accumulated after the arrest of the supposedly most successful leftist leader in Brazil which was triggered by the sequence of denunciations about Lula’s relations with companies linked to Petrobras (Brazil´s state-owned oil company). A year later, Ismael evaluates that the former president is still an important figure in Brazil, but questioning his legitimacy tends to undermine the authority and respect the people have towards the Worker Party (PT) leader.
“There is a lot of wear and tear from Operation Car Wash*, especially in the South, Southeast and Midwest of the country, and although the Northeast still preserves a bit of political capital, mainly due to social programs made during the [Lula] government [to this poor region of Brazil] – today there is a much greater questioning of Lula’s political leadership, even in leftist circles,” said the professor.
The opinion is shared by Fundação Getulio Vargas São Paulo professor, Claudio Couto. For him, Lula remains present in the national imagination and is still stamped in the Brazilian news – helping to catapult Haddad [Lula´s successor] to the second round of the 2018 elections, even with a strong rejection of the PT – Lula is gradually beginning to be seen as a barrier to the renewal of leftist ideology by party leaders adjacent to the metallurgical legend.
“The PT attached itself to the ‘Free Lula’ banner as its main motto of action, the party is linked in a very personalistic way to the figure of Lula without [presenting] an agenda that is representative of a more modern and up-to-date party – it is also stuck with the image of Lula, which is not enough to be an alternative,” he said.
Is the left fragmented and lacking in renewal?
What is the practical effect of the former president’s arrest? Ricardo Ismael evaluates the appearance of strong names capable of snatching the electorate of the left. At the moment, the political scientist claims that although “the need to recycle the speech is great,” leftist parties have been unable to produce cadres at the level of the former president.
“The center-left has to reformulate itself, to gain another clothe to face issues in which the right has taken center stage, such as the fight against corruption, crime and the economic crisis. Because Lula is still the main figure of the PT itself, it prevents renewal within the party and, in a sense, even within the center-left field,” he pointed out, saying that he believes the municipal elections of 2020 may reveal new names in the national political scene.
For Couto, young people like Tábata Amaral (in his first term) are signs of oxygenation of the system, but “it would take at least 20 years for it to be comparable to what Lula has become.” He also cites other names like Alessandro Molon, a deputy from Rio de Janeiro with a leadership position in the House in recent years.
“For renewal to occur, these people need to make a trajectory, if they build and show something denser,” he argues. “Ciro Gomes could be that name, but he elbows in every corner and ends up isolating himself and his image of non-traditional politics was totally absorbed by Bolsonaro, evidently in an authoritarian way.”
PT affiliate Paulo Pimenta, says Lula’s jail term was “kidnapping the political rights of a person convicted without a crime and without evidence.” The MP highlights PT’s accomplishments in the last elections to show that the party stands firm as an important representation of the people in politics.
“We had a president unfairly annulled, our main leader arrested – with 60 days left in the election campaign, we launched a new candidate who had 3-4% in polls and he got 30 million votes in the first round. This is a sign of the strength of the left,” he said, noting that considering the number of eligible voters, “only 28% of the Brazilians chose Bolsonaro, and the people did not approve of this project of power.”
Fragmentation of the leftist ideological spectrum
Pimenta also says that the PT understands, at the moment, “it is important to build a political front in defense of democracy that goes beyond our participation and protagonism.” It is different from the one announced at the beginning of the Bolsonaro administration. At the time, calloused with the defeat from the candidate [Bolsonaro] of the PSL [Partido Social Liberal], PT signalled its will to articulate internally, without alliances with other parties of the left.
“We have a powerful network of social movements composed of organizations in defense of workers’ interests, the cultural movement, the youth, the women, the intellectuals, all assuming a posture of conscience for the defense of democracy. Brazil today has a greater political awareness which brings a lot of resistance to the resistance,” said the PT MP.
Ismael corroborates the discourse and sees “a certain unity, for example, of the Social Security reform where one observes [these parties] walk with certain cohesion, with a block stance, preserving differences that may exist”; but Couto makes a reservation: opposition by the opposition may not be enough to bring these so-called legends to the center of power once again.
“We see, for example, in the speech by minister Paulo Guedes that the opposition can go forward, albeit in a negative way – negative in the sense of less proposals to something and more denying what the government proposes. It means that they cannot do it, but it is not enough for those who intend to present themselves tomorrow as an alternative to government… I would say that, in order to strengthen itself, the opposition will need something more – a more effective and viable alternative to the future of this country. So far we do not have this appearing,” he criticized.
As for flags, opposition to pension reform will be an important test of fire, but not the only one to challenge the drive from the left. For the political scientist and professor at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Carlos Eduardo Martins, the parties of this ideological spectrum should compose an agenda “effectively committed to Brazilian citizenship” and a “radical program of neoliberal confrontation.”
“The left has to stop worrying about elegance and assume a radical perspective that speaks to the passions and desires of the Brazilian people so excluded from civic life,” he argued.
CSS Input To The Discussion/Translation
Although the neo-liberal Bolsonaro won the 2018 elections, the strength of the left is demonstrated by the tens of millions of votes that leftist parties, including the PT, the Ciro Gomes-led Partido Democrático Trabalhista (PDT), the Partido Comunista do Brasil, the Partido Comunista Brasileiro and many other smaller parties. However, with many of these parties, including PT, pandering with the petty-bourgeois identity politics, it has caused a conservative reaction, driving Bolsonaro to the presidency. Brazil, as a traditionalist Christian conservative society, has mostly rejected the push for identity politics. In addition, with around 50 million Brazilians living in poverty, accounting for nearly 25% of the population, the culture wars initiated by socialist parties, including Lula´s PT, has strongly been rejected as the poor cannot identity with such petty-bourgeois ideology when they have greater concerns to address – employment, sanitation, housing, education and crime to name but a very few.
The culture wars rage across the Anglo-sphere of the USA, the UK and Canada, and beginning to emerge in Australia and New Zealand – but these are states that have experienced the full benefit of imperialism and colonialism – and do not experience the extreme abject poverty to the same degree that exists in Brazil. Brazil as a country that had its wealth and resources looted for hundreds of years to industrialize Europe has had to play catch-up in the global economy, relying solely on the exportation of its raw resources rather than experiencing a true late industrialization process as the People´s Republic of China has. This has only kept tens of millions of Brazilians in poverty.
With poverty permeating in Brazil, coupled with its strong Christian conservatism, seeing the young bourgeois of southeast Brazil, particularly from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, engaging in the battle for abortion, transgederism, third-wave feminism and the other degeneracies of identity politics, it has only strengthened the Zionist-Christian Evangelical Churches as they provide a defense against the attack on Brazil´s Christian values. With the Evangelical Churches overwhelmingly backing Bolsonaro, this provided a strong minority bloc that accounts for at least 27% of Brazilians. With the PT and other Leftist parties engaging in this petty-bourgeois degeneracy, it was inevitable that Bolsonaro would win the 2018 election, especially since the left maintained the cult of Lula and refused to back a responsible presidential candidate, Ciro Gomes.
Ciro Gomes, representing the PDT, upholds the value of the Party by being committed to democratic socialism, who announced in its manifesto the “defense of democracy, of nationalism and socialism.” In its program, the PDT chose seven priority points of action: child care and youth; defense in the interests of workers, women, black populations, indigenous peoples and Brazilian nature – “against pollution and the deterioration of the environment resulting from predatory exploitation” – and recovery of concessions made to foreign groups that are considered “detrimental to national patrimony and economy.” It is PDT´s adherence to Brazilian nationalism and respect for the country´s natural conservatism that sets it apart from the other leftist parties. However, despite this, the 2018 elections boiled down between the cult of Lula and Bolsonaro – with Bolsonaro representing so-called Brazilian patriotism, with the PT representing identity politics. Ciro Gomes was mostly overlooked, despite his syncretic of leftist economic policy and rightist cultural conservatism, therefore, the left in Brazil, despite the huge popularity to the cult of Lula, is effectively dead as it will never be re-elected so long as they continue to engage in the culture wars.
* Operation Car Wash, or “Operação Lava Jato”, received its name because the scandal involved Petrobras and was uncovered at a car wash in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia. Although it began as a money laundering investigation, it has uncovered corruption in Petrobras where executives received bribes in return for awarding construction contracts to firms at grossly inflated prices. The money scheme is suspected of moving at least R$30 billion (approximately US$9.5 billion) as of July 23, 2017. Its biggest scape so far is Lula.