Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
“Lula was elected with the highest number of votes [for a single candidate] in world history.” This was the opening statement of the edition of Fantastico broadcast on Brazilian TV on Sunday, October 27. Earlier in the day, more than 52 million people had voted for former metal worker Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the run-off in Brazil’s presidential election, thus electing Lula as the country’s leader for the next four years.
So, why did 62 per cent of the Brazilian electorate choose Lula? Simply because they are tired of becoming poorer, of seeing their purchasing power steadily decreasing, of living in a society ever more polarised by extremes of wealth and poverty. Brazilians have finally made the connection between their plight and an economic model that only benefits the rich and foreign enterprises. They are now rejecting the continuation of the neo-liberal reforms put in place by the administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso during the previous eight years.
Brazil is a post-colonial country. Its population carries a heritage of 380 years of colonial domination and slavery. Its elite is racist, machista and very conservative. Its people are trained in submission and dependence. This makes Lula’s election even more significant. It corresponds to the triumph of a post-neo-liberal insurrection.
Former trade union leader Lula was born in the poor north-east of Brazil. At the age of 13 he travelled with his family in the back of a truck from Pernambuco to the city of Sao Paulo. He knows what poverty and hunger mean. And his deepest commitment is to the large numbers of Brazilian people who still suffer those ills.
Lula is the first worker-president. There has been no one like him in the politics of the Americas since Abraham Lincoln. He represents a re-opening of history, a break with the one-thought-one-way model that has prevailed in the globalised world over the last two decades. By electorally rejecting neo-liberalism, the Brazilian people have asserted their aspiration to regain control over their history and development. Social, political and ideological debate and intercourse are once more the variables of a history in the making. And Lula’s victory empowers the dream of liberation of other Latin American peoples.
Dangers and opportunities
Those who have reaped wealth and power from the denationalisation and decapitalisation of Brazil are now expressing their fears and concerns. These people and institutions are the national and international bankers and financiers, the trans-national corporations and large landowners, the politicians and controllers of the mass media and the upper-middle class who have been enriched by ownership and not by their working.
In the run-up to Lula’s victory, they tried to destabilise the Brazilian economy by massively withdrawing foreign currency from the country, forcing a quick fall in the value of the Brazilian real and blaming Lula’s popularity for the devaluation. But nothing could deter the expansion of that popularity.
These national and international elites may now attempt to compromise Brazil’s governability — quietly encouraging economic and financial destabilisation. They hate the idea that capitalism is incompatible with genuine democracy and respect of human and social rights.
In the meantime, Lula presents the essence of his mandate as transformation not through war and conflict but “peace and love”. He is working to build a broad social pact around this project. Those who gain through financial speculation as opposed to productive investment are convinced they will lose their privileges. Speakers for Lula’s Workers’ Party remark that those who are willing to respect the right of the Brazilian nation to run its own socio-economic development project and who wish to adapt their corporate strategies to the priorities of that national project will soon realise that the new Brazil is a hospitable and promising place to invest.
Lula’s first priority is to eradicate hunger and malnutrition. To do so, he will need to adjust the economy in innovative ways — moving away from the policy of making debt payments the government’s first economic priority. He will also need to affect the country’s deeply unfair income and wealth concentration by means of progressive tax and effectively participatory agrarian reforms. None of these measures is highly revolutionary. They can simply make capitalism more socially and humanly efficient. They also have the potential of fulfilling Lula’s promises for sustained economic growth and high employment. But he will need to build a broad political alliance in order to face down the inevitable pressure from the IMF and the international creditors. He will also need the support of organised society as a whole.
Brazil and the rest of the world will soon be reminded that finance and trade are not ends in themselves. Rather they are means of promoting the satisfaction of human needs and social and human development — ideally through sustainable production.
The Lula administration will soon have to engage in hard negotiation with the creditor banks (Morgan, Citicorp and a few others) that hold the main Brazilian and Latin American debt bonds. Creditors and investors have no moral right to lead a country to bankruptcy. And Brazil’s project of rekindling economic growth and satisfying social needs is incompatible with the annual transfer abroad of more than $50 billion and the payment of over $70 billion to internal creditors.
Increasing the purchasing power of wages, ending the seven-year freeze on public sector pay, granting incentives to the solidarity economy (the small and medium enterprises and family agriculture), promoting agrarian reform, launching social programmes such as zero hunger tolerance — these are all priorities. The new government must prove from the start that it will make social problems its principal target.
Lula’s administration will also be an inspiration for the massive emancipatory movement in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its success will boost the hopes of an integration of the continent that is based on the respect for national sovereignty and cultural identity, co-operation and solidarity. And it will strengthen the large international movement against neo-liberal globalisation. To quote the motto of this year’s World Social Forum, “another world is possible”.Brazilian economist Marcos Arruda is a researcher, educator and consultant at the Institute of Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone of Latin America, and a fellow of Amsterdam’s Transnational Institute. His books include: “External Debt: Brazil and the international financial crisis” (Pluto and TNI, £12.99)
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
The unrepentent Sarah Champion has no place in the modern Labour Party
Sarah Champion has defended her comments on race and sexual abuse. Her views have no place in the modern politics, writes Gavin Lewis
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright