Dear friends,
Claudia and Sam Zaslavsky wrote to me the following as Lula won the
presidency of the Federal Republic of Brazil:
>Congratulations on your new president. We wish him and his party success
>in carrying out his program and overcoming the forces of reaction. I just
>read that in a program initiated by the Workers Party, poor people receive
>monetary rewards when they send their children to school, and enrollment
>has increased greatly!   Best wishes >

Many of you wrote in a similar vein.

I thank you all and we indeed need all your wishes, and your continuying
vital opposition to the US Government's agressivity, military, economic and
Yes, it is a potential new era. It smells of Chile in 1970. However some
differences with Chile indicate a more difficult "transition": the
political culture of Chile involved individuals who used politics to rule
and decree to the advantage of the ruling segments of the country (pretty
obvious, of course) and did it all openly, clearly, in other words pretty
honestly as catholic bourgeois, called Christian Democrats in the Frei
government that preceded Allende's.
In partial contrast, the avowed political culture here is today a grown-up
culture of falsehood and mere taking personal advantage of one's position
for the benefit of a few cohort members. Within this system of privileges
and advantages, objecting to "corruption" is considered naivety. It is
simply part of daily official political life and scandals end up in
congressional ethics committees... But, the day before a committee will
propose the expulsion of a congresman or a senator, that individual resigns
not to lose his right to  active political life and ...  he indeed gets
reelected at the next election. This happened with two major crooks just a
few months before this last election, and they were both reelected!  We
cannot think of them as "reaction"; they are a major part of the ongoing
action. It is also true that others of the same ilk did not make it in
again.  This last "sweep away of the dinausors" is a good sign but the
reelection of the two others is part of a reality that is entrenched at all
levels of political relationships. We know, using the words of the
brazilian educator Paulo Freire, that "the present is influenced by the
past and the future is built up from the present".    So, the principled
behavior of the Workers' Party when governing municipalities, more and more
of them, during the past decade still represents an exception, if a hopeful
and inspiring one. It did contribute to the growth in votes for the party
and Lula as its emblematic figure.
However, we must look with some care at this simple conclusion by taking
the case of the state of Rio Grande do Sul and the municipality of Porto
Alegre, its capital. Everyone knows of Porto Alegre today because of the
Social Forum of this year; indeed the Workers' Party has governed the city
for the past 10 years, with two more to go to the next municipal election.
It also grew in strength and succeeded in taking the government of the
State four years ago... and lost it in this last election.  "Explaining"
this last phenomenon is a task for those who believe in the democracy of
propaganda machines, media, multinational influence and
personality-centered brazilian regionalist politics.
The serious problem is the easiness with which this loss is taken as an
example of the beauty of formal liberalism, or the fairness of electoral
democracy, and certainly not as representing any dialectical opposition of
interests. All sectors of the political spectrum play softly:  At one end,
Lula himself, in his first pronouncement, talked of "benefitting the whole
of the population. We shall create a National Pact within Brazil." That
notion of National Pact has historical resonances of quieting down those
who push for immediate correction of the country's "social debts" that Lula
mentions generically. Somehow, the Landless Peasant Movement, all quiet
during the electoral campaign not to embarras Lula, most active in Rio
Grande do Sul and very present in all international progressive Forums, is
not mentioned in Lula's four-page pronouncement.    At the other end of
Brazil's real societal structure we find the editorialists of conventional
provincial newspapers that typically always comfort the local ruling elite
while remaining in harmony with the owners of their medium (usually the
dominant "Globo" media network). Safely, they quote Peter Flynn, a
"brazilianist" from the University of Glasgow, as "happy with the marketing
style of the free electoral slots" on the dominant TV channel, "a show of
massive expression of citizenship through the vote". They want it to remain
just a show. And they are proud of the approval of the foreign "schollar"
(sic) who does not look at the social forces involved.

The local political structure in the State of Santa Catarina, next to Rio
Grande do Sul, is another example of probable ongoing difficulties: the
present governor is the husband of the present mayor of the capital city,
Florianopolis: the Amin's. She will stay on for another two years and he
was just defeated by a liberal politician who says that he is an ally of
Lula. So the votes cleared out another feudal controller indeed. However,
it is fundamental to remember how this local lord fought his latest (lost
by less than 1%) battle.  When the opinion measurers announced a close race
he threw his supporters into the streets, T-shirts in hand with his number
on it, giving out 10 or 20 Reais (the value of four or eight hamburgers at
MacDonald) to each person who would wear the T-shirt. He printed leaflets
that were distributed by acquiescent school directors (his wife nominates
them), and raised outdoors on the front of the house of everyone who had
been benefited by his politico-administrative machine. There were cars with
flags with his number all over, rental dump-trucks parked at major
intersections with flags and number tatooes all over...  There was costly
"visibility" indeed.  What makes the difference between this all-out
propaganda style and the U.S. style is what happened the morning after Lula
and the opposition governor won: no-one was to be seen anymore wearing one
of these T-shirts and all the outdoors had magically disappeared.  My
lesson is that although Lula declared that his victory showed that "hope
won over fear", that same fear remained among the "defeated"; their way of
looking at political victory/defeat has not changed overnight. People
expect to loose the favors they were used to, so they hide their
allegiance, however superficial it might have been.
My take is that the allegiance to "Lula la!" is culturaly superficial too.
In the days of Chile and Allende, the "option" was clear-cut: it was called
"the road to socialism".  Here I have not heard the word pronounced once
today. Of course it used to be pronounced when the Workers' Party (PT) was
founded and the first "intellectual" to sign up as a party member said that
he wanted "socialism, without any adjective attached". This was 20 years

Today "the left in Brazil" as you, my American friends, use the term, is
headed by Lula's collaborators who all have lived within real brazilian
politics ("real" like in "real socialism") for many years. The Chinese
always reminded William Hinton that "things are not so simple" and this is
the case here too.   When Lula announces that his first action will be to
face hunger among the people by creating a Commission on Social
Emergencies, I feel that this is not showing (and less attacking) deep
causes.....   This is not the way Fidel et al. went about solving the
problem.  Lula's promise to "combat hunger" reminds me of the "war on
poverty". The problem is of course "how" you combat the causes of hunger
and poverty. Instead of causes Lula talks of a consequence: the need, the
duty (with a tinge of guilt from the progressive catholic allies)  to
remedy the "social debt" accumulated during centuries.
Everyone saw the price of bread rise 25% during the week preceding the
election. The owners of bakeries put up hand-written apologies to their
customers, explaining that they had to follow the "absurd increase in the
price of flour". I found myself waiting in vain for a Fidel-type didactic
speech explaining the real reasons for this state of affairs. Ordinary
people simply saw the price of bread rise while the bakers could at least
talk about the price of flour. But who would talk, teach, explain that 80%
of Brazil's flour is imported, paid in dollars whose "value" rose 50% (in
steps each 25th of the month over the last six months due to the banks'
manipulations when the internal debt (calculated in dollars!) becomes due.
If the people knew all this they might demand some concreteness about
Lula's "capacity to guarantee the restart of growth, of economic
development with creation of jobs and distribution of income" and as he
promises "already in 2003, to put exportations on the offensive" especially
in the agricultural domain. Some more precise words could have been used
considering that the major export is soy, that has displaced wheat in many
fields in recent years... Or is "a selective program of competitive
substitution of imports" going to solve all this? "selectively" and with
  So the internal problems are linked to international economic relations
indeed. But here again the party's program and Lula's pronouncement accept
and replay standard concepts and values of the liberal credo, "to
constitute a broad mass consumer market that will give security to the
investments of companies, attract productive international investments and
represent a new model of development and compatibilize income distribution
and economic growth".   What is new there is the honesty of the wish.
As I write, the price of gasoline just went up 20% and the middle class
starts blaming Lula. A newspaper editorial starts asking: How long can road
transporters keep narrowing their margins of profit?
Am I dreaming about Chile?

P.S.  I would like if one of you would take this to the Monthly Review
office, on your way to the Brecht Forum.  They may publish it if they wish.

Maurice Bazin
Rua Pau de Canela 1101
88063-505    BRASIL
Fone: 55  48  237 3140
Fax: 55  48  338 2686 (Talvez você precise avisar.  May need oral warning)

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