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Lula: From rebel to bankers' friend

November 16, 2007 | Page 4

FIVE YEARS ago, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers Party (PT) was elected president of Brazil, bringing hopes of a break with the pro-business neoliberal policies that benefited the wealthy in one of the world's most unequal societies. Instead, Lula governed on behalf of bankers and allied himself with the U.S., and PT leaders are steeped in corruption.

PEDRO FUENTES, international secretary of the Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL), spoke to LEE SUSTAR about the nature of Lula's government and the effort to build a socialist alternative in Brazil.

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TODAY, LULA is a great friend of George W. Bush and appears to be a guardian of the neoliberal order. But in 1980, when the PT was founded, Lula was a radical. Who was Lula in that era, and what was the political context?

LULA BEGAN his path as a union leader in 1972. In that period, the unions were tied to the military dictatorship that had been governing the country since 1964, and their leaders were called "pelegos"--that is, bosses.

Lula turned himself into a prestigious leader when he led a metalworkers' strike in 1978 in ABC, the industrial belt of Sao Paulo, where the great majority of the auto plants are. This strike was repressed, but in the end, it resulted in a triumph.

What else to read

For more background and analysis of Brazil during Lula's presidency read coverage in the International Socialist Review, including "The left versus Lula," by Lee Sustar; and Tom Lewis' "Brazil: The struggle against neoliberalism."

PSOL maintains a Web site in Portuguese with news and statements about the party. For more on Brazil, Spanish speakers can go to a special section on the country at the analysis site


With this, there arose a new union movement, one more democratic and class struggle-oriented than those of the pelegos. Out of this process came the CUT labor federation, and the Workers Party.

THE PT was known as a socialist party that was neither social democratic nor Marxist. What was the base of the PT in the 1980s, and what were the most important currents?

THE PT was an independent workers party, similar to the one that Leon Trotsky hypothetically proposed for the U.S. in the 1930s.

It arose from union struggles and from the struggle against the military dictatorship. It was a political front that gathered sectors from the Catholic Church, especially grassroots Christian communities; ex-guerrilla fighters; Castroites; and all the Trotskyist currents.

A sector of the church had been supporting the creation of the PT--in a process that to a certain extent paralleled what the church did in Poland to support the Solidarity movement and its leader, Lech Walesa. Lula participated in the PT leadership from the outset, playing a Bonapartist role and always defending the most moderate policies.

IN THE 1990s, the PT increased its political impact when its members won the post of mayor in Sao Paulo and other cities. What was the impact of this electoral success on the party's base and its policies?

IT SHOULD be emphasized that before those elections came the presidential election of 1989, which carried Lula into the second round of the vote against the conservative candidate Fernando Collor de Mello. There was an enormous social and political polarization and a great popular mobilization unseen since the 1983 struggle for direct elections under the dictatorship.

The bourgeoisie played all of its cards to prevent Lula from winning. In the final days before the vote, the main television network carried out a slander campaign to block him.

The independent character of the PT was lost in a process over several years, influenced by the mayor of Sao Paulo and other cities, as well as the bureaucratization of the CUT.

In 1994, Lula dismantled a strike movement by oil workers that had the possibility to become a general strike against the government's neoliberal plan. The CUT leadership reformed the statutes of the union in order to strengthen the bureaucracy and the same thing happened with the statues and program of the PT.

Moreover, this rightward course coincided with a more general process of a right turn worldwide by social democratic parties and unions following the fall of the Berlin Wall. An important part of the union leadership became administrators of workers' pension funds.

Despite its already marked degeneration, however, the PT maintained itself as an alternative, above all on electoral grounds. It continued to appear as a party opposed to neoliberalism, and in reality, while its program wasn't socialist, it was anti-neoliberal.

Although the people hadn't re-elected the PT mayors, they thought that with Lula in the presidency of the country, things would change.

This coincided with the new winds that began to blow in Latin America--of social movements and uprisings against neoliberal governments, particularly in Argentina, Bolivia and Equador. The PT represented that hope of change in Brazil.

LULA WON the election in 2002 with promises of fundamental social change for workers and the landless rural people. What happened after that?

THE CHANGE in the PT was a process that reached an importantpoint in the middle of the 1990s. Some months before the elections of 2002, Lula and his team launched a "letter to the citizens" that was really a letter of assurance to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in which they committed themselves 100 percent to finance capital.

Once arriving in office, the choice of ministers was emblematic. The key posts went to men of big capital--for example, as head of Brazil's central bank, Lula appointed a former top executive at FleetBoston Financial in the U.S.

Lula's government is for the great corporations and bankers, and it could do this because of its alliance with the bosses' parties in Congress. Also, in Congress, the government mounted a vote-buying scheme. These were simply payments to the deputies in Congress to get votes to pass laws it wanted.

WHY WAS PSOL formed? What is the base of the party?

PSOL WAS formed as a response to the treason of the PT, in order to regroup sectors that had maintained the foundational principles of the PT. PSOL's president, Heloísa Helena, likes to say that PSOL is an umbrella for the socialist left and fighters who have not sold out.

Its founding is the result of the refusal of the deputies Luciana Genro, João Babatista and João Fontes, as well as Senator Heloísa Helena, to vote for taking away the rights of retired civil servants. This refusal unleashed a strike that was supported by these lawmakers, and they were expelled from the PT.

Our party is superior to the PT. In its constitution, it adopted a clear socialist program--something the PT never had--and the organization is built on a nucleus of a working-class base that had no role in the life of the PT.

The PSOL presidential campaign of Heloísa Helena in 2006 put us in dialogue with millions of workers, showing that there was another possible alternative--that of confronting neoliberal measures and, especially, the bankers, who in great measure dominate the economy of the country.

We also emphasized that the fight against corruption must be understood not as a question of morality in politics, but an intrinsic mechanism in which capitalism, through large companies, rules the state by buying and paying politicians and government officials as a function of their interests.

The election results were a great success. The new party became a third force, breaking the polarization between Lula and the candidate of the right. Heloísa achieved nearly 7 million votes--7 percent of the electorate.

TELL US something of the political situation today--for example, in the union movement, with the formation of the ConLutas alliance of class-struggle unions.

THE ELECTORAL results signified a change, one that had repercussions in certain measure in the process of rebuilding the unions, with the rise of ConLutas and Intersindical.

Both of these new organizations reject the CUT and are growing among the vanguard sector of workers. Also, there is a certain turn to the left in the Landless Workers Movement (MST), although its leadership permanently supports Lula. In the peasant movement, there are other organizations, like the Movement for Land and Liberty (MTL), whose leaders and cadre form part of PSOL.

The political process in Brazil is advancing more rapidly than developments in the unions. In the last few months, PSOL has been strengthened as a consequence of being involved in important struggles--among them, the defense of air traffic controllers in an important strike movement.

But also, the party was involved in the fight for the impeachment of the president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, both in parliament and in the streets. This is a notable case of corruption, and by being in the front line of the struggle against it, PSOL won great popular prestige.

If, in the past, PSOL was known as the party of Heloísa Helena, it is now known as the party that is on the side of the workers and the people against the politicians and corrupt institutions.

In the case of the city of Porto Alegre, a city that is emblematic of the left, Luciana Genro is among the three top candidates for mayor, with the support of 17 percent of likely voters.

The PSOL is on the way to becoming a political tool of the workers and the people--one capable of contending for support among sectors of the masses and winning them to program that is democratic, anti-imperialist and a break with capitalism.

This is a party that believes the struggle for socialism is international, and because of this, it has relations with other organizations also struggling for socialism in the world. In particular, we believe that it is very important for the socialist future that the workers in the U.S. carry on the struggle against the leader of world capitalism.

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