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Alexandre fortes ilwch

  1. 1. In Search of a Post-Neoliberal Paradigm: The Brazilian Left and Lula’s Government1 Alexandre Fortes Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro Abstract The first decade of the twenty-first century has seen extraordinary political developments in the Latin American left. Indeed, there is no historical precedent for the simultaneous election across the region of governments that can be identified with the political left. From Tabare´ Vasquez in Uruguay to Martı´n Torrijos in Panama; from Ne´stor and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina to Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua; from Michelle Bachelet in Chile to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela; from Evo Morales in Bolivia to Rafael Correa no Ecuador––as well as Luis Ina´cio Lula da Silva in Brazil and, more recently, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay––representatives of practically all of the region’s formative leftist currents have taken over the governments of large, medium, and small countries. This article takes Brazil under Lula’s government as a case study in order to explore the relationship between the various dimensions of the region’s lefts: the social and the institutional, civil society and the state, the national and the international, and stability and transformation. Indeed, the election to the presidency of a survivor of the extreme poverty and harsh droughts of northeastern Brazil, a one-time metalworker with little access to formal education, had a profound impact on both the country’s social movements and the political party that he founded and led. By examining the hopes and frustrations, dilemmas, and accomplishments of Lula’s government, we can better achieve a more dense and nuanced understanding of the larger historical process through which the Latin American Left has reached power. Brazil in the Latin American Context The first decade of the twenty-first century has seen extraordinary political developments in the Latin American Left. Indeed, there is no historical pre- cedent for the simultaneous election across the region of governments that can be identified with the political Left.2 From Tabare´ Vasquez in Uruguay to Martı´n Torrijos in Panama; from Ne´stor and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina to Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua; from Michelle Bachelet in Chile to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela; from Evo Morales in Bolivia to Rafael Correa no Ecuador––as well as Luis Ina´cio Lula da Silva in Brazil and, more recently, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay––representatives of nearly all of the region’s forma- tive leftist currents have reached power in governments of large, medium, and small countries. In an unexpected development, those governments have issued from a Latin American Left that traces its origins from the moderate socialism of the middle class, to trade unionism and peasant movements, Liberation Theology activists, radicalized nationalist military men, and former guerrillas. As they International Labor and Working-Class History No. 75, Spring 2009, pp. 109–125 # 2009 International Labor and Working-Class History, Inc.
  2. 2. became the chief shapers of international relations on the subcontinent, Latin American leftist leaders carried with them the hopes of real regional integration as well as the pain generated by often conflicting national interests, both histori- cally and in the present day. Taking a look at the social backgrounds of these emerging leaders, we find that diversity was a common trademark. In regard to ethnicity, many of them were the first members of historically marginalized segments of people of mixed blood to reach the presidency in their countries. Some, like Lula and Morales, began their political lives as trade-union activists, becoming the voice of the vast majorities of poor working people in societies with some of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. Even though she is still an isolated case, Bachelet’s election in Chile––a country in which the sexism that still plagues the region is particularly evident––can be seen as the more visible expression of a slow incremental transformation in the relationship between socially-ascribed gender roles and political participation. These con- nections between the current tide of left-oriented governments and deeper social changes can explain, for example, Lula’s support for affirmative action, in a frontal confrontation with a conservative common sense that has historically presented Brazil as a “racial democracy.” If some have seen the defeats of Ollanto Humala in Peru´ and Andre´s Manuel Lo´pez Obrador in Mexico as a sign of the end of the “leftist wave,” evi- dence to the contrary can be seen in the reelections of Lula and Chavez with 60 percent of the national vote. In the Brazilian case, Lula’s victory came despite a political crisis generated by the scandals in 2005 that affected his gov- ernment. The survival of Chavez––despite attempts at a military coup and a nationwide oil industry shutdown––also guaranteed political and economic breathing space for the Cuban regime sixteen years after the fall of its ally and patron, the Soviet Union, and, at least up to this moment, has made it poss- ible for Fidel Castro to withdraw from a leadership position without precipitat- ing a breakdown of the regime. How are we to understand this singular historical moment? The distin- guished Mexican intellectual Jorge Castan˜eda has recently proposed that in reality there are two Latin American Lefts today.3 From his point of view, the first Left has “radical roots” but has today become “modern and open,” while the second one remains “closed and strongly populist.” Yet such Manichean schemes fall apart when applied to the complexities of contemporary Latin American reality.4 As historian Kenneth Maxwell reminds us, Lula and his Workers’ Party (PT) were considered by most Northern observers in the 1990s as exemplars of the “mistaken” or “retrograde” Left, while Lula and the PT’s decision, once in power, to maintain an orthodox economic stability program, has now lead them to be classed as the heroes of the “sensible” and “modern” Latin American Left.5 Yet taking a closer look at Castan˜eda’s thesis, despite its insufficiencies, can serve as a fruitful avenue of approach if we go back to the arguments he advanced in the early 1990s. In his influential 1993 book Unarmed Utopia, 110 ILWCH, 75, Spring 2009
  3. 3. Castan˜eda analyzed the evolution and prospects for the Left following the defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the collapse of the Soviet Union.6 One of his key arguments was that the neoliberal option had, even at that time, reached a point of exhaustion in Latin America. Even in those countries governed by the right, a reformist program of the left was judged essential, given the exacerbation of deeply-rooted social problems and deepening of socioeconomic inequalities and, likely, as a result of the unprecedented adher- ence to democratic and electoral forms throughout the region. However, what unfolded over the 1990s was the opposite of what Castan˜eda had forecast. Those countries like Brazil, that had resisted an indis- criminate adhesion to neoliberal ideals in the 1980s, saw their implantation between 1990 and 2002 under a party that defined itself as social democratic and whose leaders included intellectuals of renown, like Fernando Henrique Cardoso, with a Marxist background and, in some cases, past participation in armed struggle. In Argentina, the destruction of what remained of nationalist and developmentalist ideals came from within Peronism at the hands of Carlos Menem. Menem was dedicated to the maintenance of “carnal relations” with the United States. And even Castan˜eda, as foreign minister in the govern- ment of Vicente Fox, achieved little more than burying once and for all the tra- dition of diplomatic independence maintained since the Mexican Revolution. Those forces on the Left that attained power at the end of the 1990s, especially in countries that achieved greater political stability, faced a situation that was the opposite of what Castan˜eda had prophesied. Their central dilemma was how to meet the expectations for change expressed by popular support, gained by long years of militancy, and how to reconstruct democracy, given neo- liberalism’s weakening of the power of nation-states in the face of the global market. How could governments of the Left avoid being reduced to applying neoliberal policies only slightly mitigated by the Left’s greater sensitivity to social needs? How could necessary structural transformations be achieved given the rigorous fiscal restraints dictated by their country’s insertion into inter- national financial markets? The Latin American Left reached power through electoral processes at a peculiar historical juncture. As Naomi Klein emphasizes, just as nation-states were becoming more democratic worldwide, they had at the same time less and less power to make vital national decisions with the shift of power to supra- national markets and institutions.7 However, even considering those limitations, the importance of this recent achievement of democratic stability in Latin American countries should not be underestimated. Nothing is more alien to the region’s history than embracing the North Atlantic assumption that the elec- toral form of politics is the “natural” terrain of political action. Yet, thinking of democracy as a conquest also means that one cannot understand the transform- ation or significance of the Latin American Left today solely in terms of political and governmental formations. Rather, it must necessarily include the complex relationship between the institutional dimension of politics and governments and the multifaceted world of social movements and civil society. In Search of a Post-Neoliberal Paradigm 111
  4. 4. In a process that gained visibility in 1994 with the indigenous insurgency in Chiapas, Mexico, Latin America has been the scene of a complex process of articulation between both old and new social actors united in their resistance to globalization under neoliberal hegemony. The passage of these movements from protest and contestation to the creation of alternatives has been linked to local experiences of democratic innovation in some of the region’s most important cities. It is not by chance that in 2001, when the global struggles against neoliberalism seemed to move ahead from resistance to a more proac- tive position, the city of Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, was chosen to host the World Social Forum. After sixteen years of Worker’s Party (PT) governance, Porto Alegre had witnessed the creation of a unique process of participatory budgeting that inspired many reformers.8 In a similar fashion, the Left’s control of the city governments in Montevideo and Mexico City played a fundamental role in transforming the Uruguayan Frente Amplio (“Broad Front”) and the Mexican Partido da Revolucio´n Democra´tica (PRD) into viable national political alternatives. It is not accidental that both of these political formations, like the PT, share a common characteristic as spaces of convergences for the many trends within the Left. A more detailed analysis of the case of Brazil under Lula’s government offers us an excellent opportunity to explore the relationship between these various dimensions of the region’s Lefts: the social and the institutional, civil society and the state, the national and the international, and stability and transformation. Indeed, the election to the presidency of a survivor of the extreme poverty and harsh droughts of northeastern Brazil, a one-time metalworker with little access toformal educationhad a profoundimpactonboth the country’s socialmovements and the political party that he founded and led. By examining the hopes and frus- trations, dilemmas, and accomplishments of Lula’s government, we can better achieve a denser and more nuanced understanding of the larger historical process through which the Latin American Left has reached power. For many reasons, Brazil has frequently been at the center of the attention of the international Left in the last thirty years. Since the 1978 wave of metalwor- kers strikes, the country has been swept by highly innovative experiences of mass activism and radical democracy, such as the new unionism, the Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores––PT), the Landless Rural Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra––MST) and Participatory Budgeting––a set of democratic processes for generating urban spending. In this context, it was not surprising that the election of the former union leader Luis Ina´cio Lula da Silva as president of the Brazilian Republic in 2002 raised very high expectations. Predictably, the results produced by his government, which operated under the severe restraints imposed by the inter- national and national balance of economic and social powers as well as by the peculiar perversions of the Brazilian political system, would be a matter of bitter debate among traditionally contentious leftist groups. In the first years of Lula’s presidency, the maintenance of orthodox econ- omic policies strongly contrasted with the Workers Party’s reformist program; 112 ILWCH, 75, Spring 2009
  5. 5. at the same time, corruption scandals blemished its public image. Those two factors significantly alienated the party from the educated middle class in Brazil’s largest southern urban centers––one of its historical strongholds––and produced the first significant split of its trajectory, leading to the creation of the Socialism and Freedom Party (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade––PSOL). The profound disenchantment caused by the contrast between what the govern- ment was expected to be and what it really was led many sectors inside the Left to view Lula’s approach as a simple continuity of the neoliberal policies engen- dered during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s terms of office. Lula was portrayed as only the most recent example of a long tradition of leftist leaders’ betraying their former beliefs once they arrived in power. Little attention was paid to the combined effects of incremental transformative policies his government began to implement on many different fronts. Since 2003, Brazil’s long-predominant tradition of diplomatic indepen- dence has been strengthened. The country played an active role in blocking the imposition of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) under the terms determined by the United States and in rescuing the Mercosur (Southern Cone Common Market) project and widening its scope towards a broad-ranging South American integration that recently took on institutional shape, with the creation of the South American Nations Union (Unia˜o de Nac¸o˜es Sul-Americanas––UNASUL). Brazil also took the lead in the creation of the G-20 group in WTO negotiations and frontally opposed the US-British intervention in Iraq. In regard to economic policies, there were no new privati- zations, and the country’s external vulnerability was dramatically reduced. Brazil has not renewed the signature treaties with the IMF, as had been done for more than twenty years, and the country’s financial reserves were expanded from 50 to 180 billion dollars, surpassing Brazilian total external debt. The internal debt, as a proportion of the GNP, was also reduced, and interest rates, although still very high, are, in 2008, at their lowest level in decades. Economic growth has revived, and in 2006 wage-earners’ incomes increased for the first time since 1996.9 What is most surprising is that while maintaining basically conservative guidelines in macroeconomics, the government gradually expanded social expenditure through measures such as subsidized access to credit for low- income populations, expansion of support for family agriculture, a program to provide universal access to electricity, the expansion of subsidized access to college education, the enlargement of the federal university system, and other such partial but nonetheless effective reforms. As a result of the economic stab- ility established after the Plano Real in 1994 and the compensatory social pro- grams adopted by the Cardoso Government, Brazil had already generated improvements––although modest and discontinuous––in regard to income dis- tribution. Under Lula, this process became continuous and has accelerated through initiatives such as the conditional cash transfer program “Bolsa Famı´lia,” which currently benefits twelve million families and the annual increases in the national minimum wage. As a result, in one decade the country’s In Search of a Post-Neoliberal Paradigm 113
  6. 6. inequality rates were reduced by 21 percent, as demonstrated by the Gini index.10 Brazil is now experiencing an unprecedented situation, in which a president of working-class background, in the middle of his second term, enjoys wide popular support (almost 70 percent approval in the last polls). Yet, both the suc- cesses and the pitfalls of Lula’s government challenge Brazilian leftist political groups and social movements with the need to build up a post-neoliberal para- digm in order to redirect their long-term strategies. To understand those deep changes in the Brazilian political context, we have to take into consideration certain aspects of the country’s recent history. Lula, the PT, and the Brazilian Left: The End of a Cycle? As previously argued in an article I coauthored with John French in 2005,11 the place of the PT in the Brazilian Left can be summarized by three characteristics: 1. The party constituted itself as the organic political expression of a new configuration of the Brazilian working class, deeply altered by––among other factors–– the creation of modern durable goods production centers that began in the 1950s. 2. Close bonds linked the trajectory of the party to the redemocratization process the country underwent after the mid-1970s. 3. The party played a decisive role in reversing the organizational fragmen- tation of the Brazilian Left that began immediately prior to the 1964 coup and grew more intense toward the end of the 1960s. We also pointed to the great paradox that marked Lula’s government, quoting an article published at the end of 2003 by the mayor of Belo Horizonte, Fernando Pimentel: “Current macroeconomic guidelines, necessary consequences of the choices made by Brazilian society in the 1990s . . . under- mine the great national goal, which is to quickly achieve full social inclusion.”12 This is not the place to make an overall appraisal of Lula’s government, a highly complex task that would be possible only with a collective interdisciplinary effort.13 As we have pointed out previously, the paradox represented by the arrival of the founder of the Workers Party to the presidency of the Republic without any significant alteration in a political system that was established to reproduce profound inequities, radically altered the scenario for the Brazilian Left’s political action. In any case, the cycle of social movements that began in the 1970s and was most strongly expressed in the form of the “New Unionism” was already showing signs of exhaustion during the 1990s. The displacement of the militancy generated from grassroots activism onto the occupation of an institutional space culminated with Lula’s victory itself. That process led many leftwing critics to blame the Workers’ Party leadership for the noticeably diminishing capacity for social mobilization resulting from the priority given to electoral politics. 114 ILWCH, 75, Spring 2009
  7. 7. However, one could certainly argue that it was a consequence of a combination of changes in the structural conditions that had previously generated the cycles of struggles and the potential, however limited it might seem, for conquering civil rights offered by the budding Brazilian democracy.14 In spite of all the imperfections of a mass electoral system that entails spending millions, both legally and illegally, on campaign financing, thereby putting the parties at the mercy of the great financial interests, the organizational bases created by the movements and the PT that emerged from them made an unprecedented degree of popular representation in politics possible, first in a few urban-industrial centers, then on a nationwide scale. Paradoxically, the relative success of the Brazilian democratizing process gradually lessened the role of the memory of the Military Dictatorship as an organizing element of the emerging political system. During the transitional period of the “New Republic” (1985–1989), having opposed or supported the military in the recent past established a strict division between “conservative” and “progressive” forces, with public opinion strongly favoring the latter. As a result, in the long run, all factions of the Brazilian Left that had placed their bets on electoral participation took on leading political roles in national politics and presented relatively strong presidential candidates. Still, in competing with one another, they all showed themselves equally disposed to ally with different segments of the Brazilian Right. This explains why, during the presidential elec- tions of 2002, the runoff opposed the former metalworker Lula (Worker’s Party) and Jose´ Serra, the ex-president of the National Students Union and former militant of the clandestine Christian leftwing organization Ac¸a˜o Popular, (Brazilian Social-Democrat Party). It is also worth noting that in the first round of the same elections the other candidates were former state governors Ciro Gomes––at that time affiliated to the Partido Popular Socialista, the off- spring of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) ––and Anthony Garotinho of the Brazilian Socialist Party.15 That the last two leftists supported Lula in the second round can be taken as a sign that, during the previous decade, the Military Dictatorship ceased to be the fundamental reference in the organization of Brazilian political space. What became most significant was the position taken by each politician or political group toward neoliberalism. Serra was defined not so much by his program for governing the country or his personal trajectory. Rather, he was the pre- ferred candidate of the political and social coalition around the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and thus represented the risk of continuing or even intensifying neoliberal policies which, in addition to their huge social cost, were no longer capable of maintaining economic stability. And what did the choice of Lula mean? As we argued in an appraisal of the prospects for his first term, the Workers Party candidate inherited a situation of accelerated disintegration of the very macroeconomic stability on which the pol- itical stability of Cardoso’s governments had been based. Lula knew he would confront the destabilizing powers of the media and of international financial capital. So, Lula did not get elected on a platform of rupture. If his victory In Search of a Post-Neoliberal Paradigm 115
  8. 8. was in objective terms “a defeat for neoliberalism and the Washington policy consensus of 1989,” it must also be recognized that the “mass popular vote for Lula was not a conscious repudiation of those policies.” It should not be seen as “a definitive historical transition in Brazilian history, but only an open door to a possibly different future, and this humble claim is precisely what the PT itself has declared with due modesty.”16 Thus, the experience of Lula’s government confronted all sectors of the Brazilian left with the need to get beyond the paradigm whereby the criticism of neoliberalism is the focus of political action. The PT’s main leaders headed a government that opted to conduct economic policy in a cautious and conser- vative manner along the lines that had been established in the 1990s, even though they were partly contradicting party resolutions like the theses put forward at its National Meeting in Recife in 2002.17 At the same time, the gov- ernment tried to make those orthodox macroeconomic policies compatible with certain redistributive elements and to rebuild the regulatory capacity of the State. That effort has been described by some as building a “democratized developmentism.”18 The same applies to the other leftwing parties that make up the governmental coalitions like the ex-Maoist Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B), which still has a significant presence among some sectors of unionism and controls the National Students Union, and the reformist Brazilian Socialist Party, presently led by Ciro Gomes, one of the possible presidential candidates in the 2010 elections. To understand the tensions that crisscross the “pro-government Left,” we must address both the consolidation of the PT as a major national political party in Brazil and the crisis in its ability to perform as a focus for the construc- tion of left-wing unity. Although Lula’s electoral victories and political leader- ship have become progressively larger than the PT itself, it is important to underscore that the 2002 elections gave the party the largest individual parlia- mentary bloc in the National Congress. It was the only party to return federal and state deputies in all twenty-seven units of the Federation. Contrary to what most analysts had predicted, despite the party’s severe identity crisis and the political damage done by the illegal financing and corruption scandals of 2004 and 2005, in the 2006 elections, the PT experienced only a slight reduction in the number of votes it received nationally. The growth in PT support in smaller states and urban centers, which partially compensated for its declining vote in other areas, was interpreted by many observers as a mere expression of the dependence of economically peripheral regions on the federal govern- ment. In fact, the situation is much more complex. In the first place, changes in the voting maps resulted from the redistribu- tive impact of many of the PT’s social policies as well as from the deconcentra- tion of public investments during Lula’s first term. At the same time, the decline in support for the PT in its traditional strongholds in the center-south of the country was not particularly dramatic and was due more to the difficulty the party had in maintaining and expanding its range of electoral alliances with those parties with whom it had programmatic affinities. 116 ILWCH, 75, Spring 2009
  9. 9. The PT’s gradual weakening as an articulator of Brazilian left unity also stems from the appearance of dissident movements that have come to constitute a “leftwing opposition” to Lula’s government. As will be seen below, in spite of their relative fragility, those dissidents have decreased PT membership in some of its traditional social bases. Dissidence has especially affected the highly edu- cated middle class in the country’s main urban centers, which, in spite of its comparatively low numbers, has a strong influence in molding public opinion at large. As important, if not more important, is the fact that parties like the PSB and the PC do B accuse the PT of adopting a hegemonic attitude that gives priority to the growth of the party itself even when that involves damaging its closest allies.19 That kind of tension was visible in the elections for the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies in 2007 in which Arlindo Chinaglia (PT) defeated Aldo Rebelo (PC do B). Tensions increased even further as both PSB and PC do B expanded the political space they occupied, albeit in a localized manner. The PSB, which has traditionally had a poorly defined identity and shown enormous regional diversity, has recently enjoyed significant growth in the Northeast, the region where Lula presently enjoys overwhelming popularity, and, as has already been mentioned, that party is led by a possible candidate from the government alliance for the presidential succession. In turn, the PC do B has expanded its presence in the state apparatus during the Lula government, and some of its candidates have enjoyed strong showings in parliamentary elections. It is now seeking to move beyond its still fragile presence to head local governments. The conflicts between both parties and the PT were aggravated by the entrance of the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) into the gov- ernment coalition formed for Lula’s second term. Since the 1980s, that party has become the largest national political machine, benefiting from its inheri- tance of the acronym symbolizing “official” opposition during the period of the Military Dictatorship.20 Presently it is characterized by its generalized lack of ideological identity. In spite of the divisions provoked by their specific inter- ests, the parties of the “pro-government Left” have kept up a reasonable degree of unity in defending the government from the systematic attacks of the media and of the political block associated with the former Cardoso government. While the defense of Lula’s government’s achievements and electoral pro- spects defines the political identity of the “pro-government Left” today, those sectors belonging to the “leftwing opposition” are united in characterizing Lula’s government as neoliberal. The Left opposition is formed from groups that formerly represented tendencies inside the PT but which, at different moments, either opted to break with the party or were expelled from it. The first such group is the United Workers Socialist Party (PSTU), which attempted to unite in a single organization two Trotskyite factions––Social Convergence and the Workers’ Cause––that refused to accept PTrules on internal tendencies, which were established in the early 1990s. Their joint-venture soon proved to be unsustainable, and the former group retained sole control over the organization In Search of a Post-Neoliberal Paradigm 117
  10. 10. and its name, while the latter broke off to found the insignificant Workers Cause Party (PCO). The PSTU, constituted by the followers of the deceased Argentinean leader Nahuel Moreno, managed to elect some federal parliamentarians and at least one local mayor when it was still a part of the PT. Currently, however, it has practically no electoral expression at all. Its influence among workers in the private sector has also been reduced substantially although it was quite con- siderable among metalworkers and bank workers in some important urban centers at the end of the 1980s. Today the party is still present in the student movement, but its main bases are in those sectors of the civil service noted for their aggressive defense of their corporatist interests, such as the public uni- versity employees unions. In spite of its relatively fragile social base, the PSTU largely sets the tone of the “leftwing opposition” to Lula due to the constitutive ambiguity of the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL). Unlike the PSTU, the PSOL currently has a delegation in the federal par- liament, made up of three deputies (a third of the nine that originally left the PT to join the new party) as well as various state and local parliamentarians. It also inherited a seat in the senate when Ana Ju´lia Carepa (PT) was elected as state governor of Para´ because her substitute, Jose´ Nery, belonged to one of the PT tendencies that had migrated to the PSOL. The party’s candidate in the 2006 presidential elections, ex-senator for Alagoas, Heloisa Helena, still shows up in some polls regarding the 2010 elections with around 15 percent of the voters’ support, although that figure is probably swelled by recollection of her participation in the last elections. In those elections, she received intense posi- tive media coverage because her candidacy ensured that Lula would not be elected by an absolute majority of votes in the first round. PSOL’s nine official internal tendencies still keep up a somewhat influential presence in leftist intel- lectual circles, in the student movement, in some professional categories, and among the Catholic militants associated with the Liberation Theology move- ment, which, in spite of its relative decline both inside the Church itself and in society at large, still constitutes a fundamental social-political network with national outreach. As one intellectual affiliated with the party has pointed out recently, the great dilemma of the PSOL at the moment is whether the party should think of itself as a “new PT,” that is, commit itself to rescue what the dissidents identify as the original project of the Workers Party, a project that they believe was gradually abandoned by the PT leadership.21 However this can hardly be seen as a real option because any reproduction of the historical conditions that created the PT––such as the struggles against the Military Dictatorship and the birth of the “New Unionism”––are quite out of the question at present. Nonetheless, the discussion underlines the similarities between the political-institutional profiles of the PSOL and the PT. Among those similarities is the fact that both PSOL and PT are pluralist, secular parties that recognize the right to the formations of internal tendencies and consequently do not tie their action programs to rigid doctrinaire definitions. Both parties are involved in social movements as well as in the electoral 118 ILWCH, 75, Spring 2009
  11. 11. arena, thereby implicitly taking up the challenge of reaching electoral success and, consequently, running public administration within a capitalist framework. The PSOL came into being already endowed with a characteristic that the PT only acquired after a decade of existence, namely a strong dependence on a candidature for the presidency of the Republic. In the case of PSOL, future performance in that area may prove decisive for the party’s survival as an electoral force with a reason- able level of expression and for its own ability to maintain a minimum of internal unity. One challenge that confronts the “leftwing opposition” to the Lula govern- ment is how to constitute an image for itself in the public mind clearly differen- tiated from that of the “rightwing opposition.” That is made more difficult by the fact that in the most relevant political episodes of the last few years these two oppositional segments have acted as a single block. That was the case with the various parliamentary committees set up to investigate charges of corruption or misspending of public money and in the defeat of the CPMF (Provisional Contribution levied on Financial Transactions), a tax whose revenues were largely used for financing the Unified Health System (SUS). This problem can be most clearly seen in PSOL’s legislative action. On one hand, the party searches to affirm its own identity by attacking Lula’s government as a mere con- tinuation of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government and systematically opposes all the PT’s policies which it dismisses en bloc as “neoliberal.” On the other hand, in order to achieve some degree of success, PSOL congressmen have to ally on a daily basis with the most important supporters of Cardoso’s government inside Congress. An extreme example of the paradoxical results produced by that line of intervention can be seen in the reaction of militants of the “leftwing opposition” inside the federal (public) universities, where they have a voice, to the Program for Re-structuring and Expanding Public College Education (Reuni) created by the Ministry of Education in 2007. The program foresaw investments to the order of four billion US dollars (a significant amount by Brazilian budgetary standards) to be invested in infrastructure and increasing the numbers of tea- chers and administrative personnel in those Federal Universities that offer plans for achieving an increase of 50 percent in vacancies and for gradually redu- cing the dropout rate. Within those general lines, each institution would have autonomy to define strategies as well as courses to be created or expanded. There was no obligation to seek private financing, charge tuition (public univer- sities are still completely free in Brazil), or make any changes in the job security enjoyed by all employees in the public university system. The express goal of the plan was to widen the access of the poorest segments of the population to high quality colleges for a mere 10 percent of the population in the 18- to 24-year age group have access to a university of any kind in Brazil, and only 2 percent to public universities. Furthermore, in the case of public universities, most of the students come from the private secondary schools of the elite. Under the leadership of the radical corporative factions linked to the PSTU that control most of the technical-administrative employee unions in In Search of a Post-Neoliberal Paradigm 119
  12. 12. the universities and in an alliance with the PSOL, the national professors’ union (ANDES), the Reuni was denounced by most of the university Left as being a neoliberal program. They argued that an expansion of that size would lead to an intolerable exploitation of college workers and to a dramatic drop in the quality of academic production. ANDES refused to negotiate on wages with the Ministry of Education unless the project and other similar ones were aban- doned. The Ministry ended up conducting parallel negotiations with a set of dis- sident union locals with the support of the United Workers Congress (Central U´ nica dos Trabalhadores––CUT), from which ANDES had withdrawn during the first Lula government. A few months later, all fifty-seven federal universities agreed to the expansion, and the government announced an increased in pro- fessors’ wages that would reach 50 percent in three years in addition to a restruc- turing of the composition of payment in such a way as to guarantee that most wages would be maintained on retirement. Obviously that resulted in many tea- chers drawing even further away from their union, a process that had been underway for some years. As this example clearly demonstrates, the monolithic classification of the Lula government as “neoliberal” and slamming the door on any possibility of support, even critical support, for any of its initiatives, has on several occasions led the “leftwing opposition” to adopt stances that can only be described as suicidal. A position with more subtle nuances has been adopted by some social movements like the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST). In general, MST leaders tend to classify Lula’s government as the result of a dead- lock in the balance of political and social forces in Brazil at the end of the 1990s. The MST sees the government as indelibly marked by the presence of absolutely antagonistic interests and projects. In regard to rural issues, the MST criticizes the fact that, as a consequence of the neoliberal orientation of economic policy, the government has always favored agribusiness. Consequently the pol- itical line taken by the movement nowadays, and its principal political struggle, is against neoliberalism and agribusiness (which is seen as a vector of the former). They also continue to denounce specific policies like the reduction in targets to be achieved by the National Agrarian Reform Plan from the original proposal to settle one million families to the four hundred thousand eventually sanctioned by Lula. Government officials defend the reduction in the settlement targets as a condition for expanding the family agriculture segment. This segment is seen as complementary to the export sector which in the present economic policy plays a vital role in macroeconomic equilibrium. Officials argue that strengthen- ing family agriculture is fundamental to meeting the increased demand for food- stuffs created by continued economic stability. It is also important in the process of redistributing income stemming from government social policies, and also by the favorable atmosphere that exists for collective bargains. Although engaged in these political-ideological conflicts and highly critical of many governmental policies, the MSTand other similar movements that have proliferated over the last few years have obviously benefited from the greater 120 ILWCH, 75, Spring 2009
  13. 13. goodwill of their historic allies in the PT left who presently control the Ministry of Agrarian Development and the National Institute for Settlement and Agrarian Reform. This can be demonstrated by the increase, albeit slow, in the number of settlements and especially in the creation of conditions for their economic viability. The movement’s strategy in its relations with govern- ment has thus been defined by some of its leaders as “keeping the reins tight, but not to the breaking point.” The urban union movement is living with a similar situation, and although it keeps up opposition to the government’s economic policy, it also benefits from influence within the state apparatus, including control over the Ministry of Labor itself. On the one hand, it has found better prospects for collective bar- gaining than at any period in the previous decade due to the combination of economic growth and a more democratic political environment. On the other hand, the political division of the Left has also been reflected in the organiz- ational fragmentation to be found in the sphere of trade unions. CUT, which had established itself as the major trade union confederation in the country in the 1990s, congregating the militancy of the PT, the PSTU, the PC do B, and the PSB, is now practically restricted to organizing unionists within the PT. At the same time, even though it has continued to encompass important rural segments (especially the unions and federations affiliated to the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers––CONTAG) and of civil servants, it has suffered a loss of penetration in both those sectors with the MST’s drawing away from the PTand the creation of CONLUTAS, which was intended to work as a confederation for union and other social movements within the sphere of the “leftwing opposition” to Lula’s government. Conclusion The concept of neoliberalism proved to be extremely useful in the course of the 1980s and 1990s as a form of enabling articulation, convergence, and solidarity among many different forms of resistance to the deepening inequality generated by the accelerated process of globalization. An examination of present-day Brazilian reality, however, shows that it reveals great limitations when used as an instrument of strategic orientation for the Latin American Left at a moment when, in an absolutely unprecedented manner, some of its principal organizations and leaders have achieved important positions of power within their national states. Of course, it is clearly very frustrating for the international Left to discover that a government headed by the greatest historical leader of the working class in the largest Latin American country is incapable of an immediate rupture with the restrictions imposed by conservative globalization. However, it must be recognized that the simultaneous social and political changes that have been brought about by the Lula government and by similar Latin American govern- ments, as well as the capacity they have revealed to act together in the name of common goals, represent an invaluable contribution for creating the historic In Search of a Post-Neoliberal Paradigm 121
  14. 14. possibility of progress in the direction of overcoming those very restrictions. The conceptual and political difficulties generated by the complexity that is inherent in that situation has led some authors to label some of those experiences as “social-liberal.” That is, as governments with neoliberal principles that mitigate their impacts through a heightened sensitivity to social issues. Instead of facing up to the problem of the total exhaustion of the paradigm based on the critique of neoliberalism, “social-liberal” thinking tries to patch it up using a concept that is hampered by an even greater theoretical fragility.22 Even taking into consider- ation the enormous discrepancies among those governments as well as the political and social coalitions that unite them, it would be more productive to address them as the expression of a new movement of “national and social self-protection” on a regional scale, similar to that identified by Karl Polanyi in reaction to the rise of the “self-regulatory market” in the nineteenth century.23 Other important contributions addressing these kinds of political-theoretical questions involve rethinking what has been called “neoli- beralism” in a historical perspective, trying to identify its connections with other aspects of “disaster capitalism,” which has revealed its plenitude in the attempts enacted by the Bush government to impose a unipolar world order. It is that search for connections that has led Naomi Klein24 to adopt the term “corporatism” (unilateral imposition of political and economic programs that serve the interests of global corporations), in preference to “neoliberalism,” and to identify “shock therapy” as a necessary condition for momentarily block- ing social defenses against it. In Klein’s view, such shocks to the collective sphere may be produced by coups de´tat followed by blood baths, military interventions, or natural disasters, and they are complemented by the use of refined torture techniques against any sort of potential opponents. Klein’s approach to the issue and her unprecedented research are profoundly revealing regarding the relations between the various elements that have articulated North American foreign policy over the last few decades as well as their relations with their allies in different parts of the world. What is relevant for the objectives of this article, however, is that although Klein’s analysis encompasses a variety of national scenarios, Brazil is only men- tioned here and there, because it does not fit into her analytic model. If “corpor- atism” is indeed a more precise concept for identifying what most of us have been calling “neoliberalism” for a long time, then we need to find other terms in order to understand Brazil’s recent history. On the one hand, in the largest Latin American country, an early military dictatorship, instead of adopting a neoliberal program, deepened both the industrialization drive and the production of social inequalities that had already characterized the national- developmentalist period. Pressures for a deep orthodox macroeconomic adjust- ment, on the other hand, came with the conquest of an unprecedentedly solid democracy that turned social and political actors engendered by the “Brazilian Miracle”25 into part of the country’s new political elite. In retrospect, the establishment of the critique of neoliberalism as the central point of the Left’s strategy in the 1990s also made it very hard for 122 ILWCH, 75, Spring 2009
  15. 15. the left to face the need to refashion its historic program after 1989. After almost twenty years, socialists still have little to say about how to conceive a post- capitalist society, given the patent impossibility of reconstructing “command economy” systems and the consequent need to solve the problems of the relation between socialism and the market.26 Faced with the absence of any defi- nition of what the “socialism of the twenty-first century” might be, the par- ameters for judging the present experiences of a government with the presence of the Left in its composition continue to be inconsistent and debilitated. At the second PT National Congress held in 1999, some factions of the party defended the idea of abandoning socialism as the party’s historic program and keeping it only as a kind of ethical horizon to serve as reference for the gradual reforming of capitalist society. Yet at its Third National Congress held in 2007, after all the heavy positive and negative impacts that had been verified since 2002, the entire party, without exception, defended the maintenance of its socialist character and highlighted the need to take up once more the debates directed at developing a long-term strategy for overcom- ing capitalism.27 It is impossible to foresee whether this process of programmatic elabor- ation will be successful or not. What is certain, however, is that, should it fail, the long historical process of constructing the Left as a national political alterna- tive that reached its height with Lula’s victory in 2002 will be followed by an enormous period of uncertainty and unpredictability, as there is no political or social force in Brazil today that is capable––or might come to be capable within a few decades––of the kind of catalyzing power that the PT has shown over the last thirty years. If, however, a new arc of alliances inside the Left should demonstrate the ability to channel the representation and organization of the new masses integrated into their citizenship as workers, consumers and persons endowed with rights in the “Lula age,” then it will be possible for Brazil to transform itself effectively into a fairer and more promising society in this new century. NOTES 1. The reflections that are set out here are largely the result of a process aiming to elabor- ate the bases for an appraisal of Lula’s government that is being developed by a large network of researchers in various institutions and coordinated by John French and Alexandre Fortes. The most recent result of that collective work has been the conference “Nurturing Hope, Deepening Democracy, and Combating Inequalities: An Assessment of Lula’s Presidency,” 27–28, 2008, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. I also thank Paulo Fontes for his com- ments, both useful and precise. 2. I am following here Geoff Eley’s definitions of the Left as the set of sectors that have been engaged in constituting effective conditions for democracy in contemporary historical times and of socialism as a more specific political project that––from approximately 1860 to 1960––was the backbone of a wider more plural left. Having lost that centrality over more recent decades, the socialist currents and tendencies have had to face the dilemma of redefining their relations with other social and political components of the Left. Cf. Eley, Geoff, Forjando In Search of a Post-Neoliberal Paradigm 123
  16. 16. democracia. A histo´ria da esquerda na Europa (1850–2000) (Sa˜o Paulo: Editora Fundac¸a˜o Perseu Abramo, 2005)33. 3. Jorge Castan˜eda, “Latin America’s Left Turn,” Foreign Affairs May/June (2006) , latin-america-s-left-turn.html.. Accessed on June 14 2008. 4. For a version of the Left that suffers from the use of that very same schematic and dichotomist reasoning, see the interview Tariq Ali gave to Gianni Carta: “Lula na˜o e´ um pirata,” Carta Capital 496 (2008): 60–62. 5. Kenneth Maxwell, “Brazil: Lula’s Prospects,” New York Review of Books 49(2002): 27–30. 6. Jorge G. Castan˜eda, Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left after the Cold War (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1993). 7. Naomi Klein, “Reclaiming the Commons,” New Left Review 9(2001). 8. Giampaolo Baiocchi, Militants and Citizens: Local Democracy on a Global Stage in Porto Alegre, Brazil (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006); Giampaolo Baiocchi, ed. Radicals in Power: The Workers’ Party (PT) and Experiments in Urban Democracy in Brazil (London, New York: Zed Books, 2003); William R. Nylen, Participatory Democracy Versus Elitist Democracy: Lessons from Brazil (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Leonardo Avritzer, Democracy and the Public Space in Latin America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). 9. “Income goes up for the first time since 96, but inequality is still high.” ,http://noticias. Accessed on June 7, 2008. 10. “Income transfer programs reduce inequality in Brazil by 21%” ,http://contasabertas. Accessed on June 7, 2008. 11. Alexandre Fortes and John French, “Another World Is Possible: The Rise of the Brazilian Workers’ Party and the Prospects for Lula’s Government,” Labor––Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, vol. 2, no. 3 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005, 15–18. 12. Fernando Pimentel, “O paradoxo brasileiro,” Teoria e Debate, 56 (2003–2004), 27. 13. In the comments that follow on specific aspects of the current Brazilian political situ- ation I benefit from elements to be found in works presented at the conference “Nurturing Hope, Deepening Democracy, and Combating Inequalities: An Assessment of Lula’s Presidency” (see note 1), especially those by Juarez Guimara˜es (on the debate concerning Lula’s government political project), by Ana Fonseca and Cristiani Vieira Machado (on the government’s social policies), and those by Wendy Wolford (on the social movements in the rural areas and the quest for agrarian reform). As none of those works has already been pub- lished, there are no specific quotations. 14. It is worth noting that the Brazilian political system came to integrate the majority of the population only after the sanctioning of the 1988 Constitution, which extended the right to vote to illiterates. 15. The 2006 election presented a somewhat distinct scenario since one of the candidates, the former governor of Sa˜o Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, instead of having historical connections with the Left, had somewhat obscure links to the extreme right-wing Catholic organization Opus Dei. Even so, the other candidates were two PT dissidents who presented their candida- cies as left-wing alternatives to the government: Lula’s former education minister Cristovam Buarque, who ran on a PDT (Democratic Labor party) ticket and the then senator and founder of the PSOL, Heloisa Helena. 16. Fortes and French, “Another World Is Possible,” pp. 23–24. 17. The general guidelines of Lula’s economic policies had in fact been announced during the 2002 campaign in a document entitled “Letter to the Brazilian people.” 18. In regard to the so-called “neo-developmentist” components of Lula’s government, it is worth stressing that if on the one hand it is in confrontation with the monetarist sectors present in the government itself (with less influence in the second mandate than in the first one), on the other it faces resistance from groups of ecologists, many of whom have traditionally aligned themselves with the PT. The ecologists denounce not only the dependence of the gov- ernment’s macroeconomic strategies on agribusiness that lead to the expansion of soybean planting and cattle raising, thereby increasing deforestation of the Amazon, but also the anxiousness of the developmentalists to see infrastructure works going on at an accelerated rate, which leads to pressures for their impacts to be underestimated. In spite of the progress 124 ILWCH, 75, Spring 2009
  17. 17. in regard to regulatory measures aimed for protecting sensitive biomes, the constant shocks inside the government and the powerful influence of agro-business in the governmental coalition recently led to the resignation of Environment Minister Marina Silva, the most out- standing ecological leadership within the PT. 19. As Hobsbawm has underscored, unfortunately, this situation, in which the dispute among the same social bases with the ideological segments that are closest to them makes it dif- ficult to strengthen alliances with them, and it is a recurrent one in the history of the Left. Cf. Eric Hobsbawm, Era dos Extremos: O Breve Se´culo XX, 1914–1991, 2a ed. (Sa˜o Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1996), 149. 20. At that time called the Movimento Democra´tico Brasileiro––MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement). 21. Marcelo Badaro´ Mattos, “O PSOL e as eleic¸o˜es presidenciais de 2006: Um novo PT?” Paper presented at the Latin American Studies Association Conference, Montreal, 2007. 22. Cf., for example, the interview given by Emir Sader to Ricardo de Azevedo, “Ame´rica Latina po´s-neoliberal,” and Michael Lowy’s essay, “A heranc¸a de Che Guevara.” Both in Teoria e Debate, (74) 2007. 23. This seems to be the view of Jose´ Luı´s Fiori. Cf. Jose´ Luı´s Fiori, “As grandes alamedas.” Available at , Accessed on June 7, 2008. 24. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, (Toronto: Alfed A. Knopf, 2007). 25. On the “Brazilian Miracle” of the 1970s, see Paul Singer, A Crise do ‘Milagre’: Interpretac¸a˜o crı´tica da economia brasileira, (Sa˜o Paulo: Brasiliense, 1976). 26. See the excellent systematization of the debates in this issue ever since the end of the 19th century in Blackburn, Robin. “O socialismo apo´s o colapso”. In Robin Blackburn (org.) Depois da Queda: O fracasso do comunismo e o futuro do socialismo, 107–215. 27. For a panoramic view of the themes that marked the debate on the third congress of the PT, see Marco Aure´lio Garcia, “Os horizontes do governo e do PT” (pp. 4–7) and the texts of Jilmar Tatto, Luiz Dulci, Marcelo Deda, Maria do Rosa´rio, Marta Suplicy, Raul Pont, Tarso Genro, and Valter Pomar, brought together under the general heading “E´ hora de discutir o PT” (pp. 8–14). All in Teoria e Debate, (68) 2006. In Search of a Post-Neoliberal Paradigm 125