Dilma Rousseff and Lula Dilma Rousseff and Lula during the 2010 presidential campaign. Photo: Wikipedia

Alexandre Lemos and Orlando Hill report on the recent street protests in Brazil after ex-president Lula’s unconstitutional arrest last weekend

Lula was arrested on Friday, 4 March. There was no evidence against him or indications of wrongdoing. But, there were been flawed accusations. These had been conjured up over years in the silent depths of the holds of power, traded in the intestines of the offices of venal authorities, surgically leaked to the press, drop by drop, a tactic of convincing the great masses who solely feed on the headlines of the great bourgeois press.

The establishment didn’t need proof. They have never needed proof. In the 1960s, the democratically elected president at the time, João Goulart, was a bourgeois democrat, owner of vast tracts of land in the south of the continent. They said he was in league with the communists and that there was a Marxist revolution in motion. There was no evidence. Still, the military left their barracks, overthrew João Goulart in the early hours of 1 April 1964 and remained in power for over 20 years.

They didn’t need the law to give them legitimacy. They have the law. They are the law. They have laws, judges, courts and the police. PT has been in government since 2003, but they have not been in power. Kevin Ovenden in his book Syriza, Inside the Labyrinth (Pluto Press 2015) discusses the contradictions a radical party of the left is faced when dealing with the concentrations of power historically aligned in personnel and structure to the business class and the capitalist order. Was it naïve to imagine that the particular anti-democratic features of the Brazilian State could be reformed from within?

In the mid-70s, Lula emerged as the main trade unionist leadership of the country. He led strikes that broke the silence that had been imposed on workers and intimidated the bourgeoisie. Alongside radical-left organizations that had developed the underground struggle against the dictatorship, he founded the PT. It was the first mass political party in Brazilian history that had not been engendered in the offices of the powerful. Using the National Security Act, the dictator General Figueiredo arrested Lula and several other fellow PT members. Lula returned to freedom and was consolidated as the greatest Brazilian popular leadership of the twentieth century. The most legitimate and organic leader Brazil has ever known. The establishment will never forgive Lula.

And it’s only the beginning of the right-wing offensive. They do not just want the head of PT. They want the whole PT. Then they will come, as always after the communists. And then massacre trade unionists, gays, blacks and poor.

Lula was elected twice and twice elected President Dilma. They cannot forget that. They can’t swallow it, nor digest it.

Lula’s greatest mistake was over stretching his alliances. At first glance, it is difficult to explain why Dilma Rouseff’s government finds it so hard to be accepted by the elite. The economy was headed by a minster (Joaquim Levy) appointed by the federation of private banks (FERABAN). He kept interest rates high and pushed an austerity policy aimed at generating primary surplus in the federal budget.

Even after his dismissal, the government has continued with his austerity policy. The minister of agriculture is Katia Abreu, a large land owner and representative of agribusiness, who is a personal friend of Dilma Rouseff.  The minister of Industry and Trade is Armando Monteiro, representative of manufacturing capital. The tripod of Brazilian capitalism (Financial, Agribusiness and Manufacturing) is inside the government. Of course relying on such questionable allies makes governing a country very difficult. But Brazil is not a country to govern, not yet. Brazil is a country to resolve. South America is a continent to resolve. It can’t be resolved without confronting capitalism.

Lula learned the wrong lesson from Allende in Chile and Chavez in Venezuela. He thought that by postponing the necessary confrontations with the capitalist system he could buy time so his social policies could create conditions for the great masses, lifted from absolute poverty, to build a more solid class vision and could rightfully claim power. Lula’s recent arrest is the consequence of such a policy.

As Kevin Ovenden points out in his book, there has always been an ongoing debate among the left on whether it is possible to achieve progressive changes within the existing machinery of government. Lula and most of the left in Brazil represent the view that change is possible mainly through the electoral road. Ovenden describes this theoretical and political position as seeing the state as a field of competing class interests. “The struggle of the working class should be conducted largely within the state machine, not against it, even if that battle required repeated buttressing with popular mobilisations at certain points from without” (p104).

Among political theorists (not just Marxists), there is a concept known as para- or deep state. It is identified as “a source of continuity of state power and decision-making in the permanent, hierarchical bureaucracies of the senior civil service, army, police, judiciary, university heads, public broadcasting chiefs and so on – all connected by resolving door to sinecures in the corporate boardroom” (p106). The networks of the Brazilian deep state are very similar to the Greek in that “the status quo they uphold is narrow and serves the interests of very particular elites, which are often the hubs of powerful families and their patronage networks” (p106).

The establishment know that time moves in favour of Lula because history runs in favour of the working class. They want to break the hourglass and take in hand the sand of time. They want to halt history.

The strategy of working from within the government worked while the economy was growing. Lula took the wretched from absolute poverty and took the poor from destitution. Lula removed Brazil from the world hunger map. Lula promoted social justice. However, Lula is not a communist, he never was. Lula did not make the revolution, far from it. They hate Lula for little, for meanness. They liked the false abolition of slavery.

Until very recently, they lived in their mansions surrounded by maids and underpaid servants. Lula believes in social mobility, increased consumption. His sin was to democratize social mobility and consumption. They hate Lula. They cannot accept that there are no longer as many porters as there used to be to open and close their doors or as many maids to cook their food or clean their latrines. They do not accept that poor and dark-skinned Brazilians are in universities. They complain of crowded airports full of poor and poorly dressed. They do not like others to have cars, complain that this causes traffic jams. They complain if there are expressways for buses packed with workers. They say it slows down their commute to their homes in their luxury cars. They complain even of cycle paths. They do not like that there are doctors for the people and call the security guards when a group of black and poor youth dare walk in the malls of affluent neighbourhoods.

As soon as the news of Lula’s arrest broke out, workers and students took to the streets to protest. In Rio, they rallied in front of the main television network Rede Globo responsible for the smear campaign against PT. There were rallies across the country. The protests are against the impeachment of Dilma Rouseff and the arrest of Lula, but they are also against the austerity policy imposed by the government.

Seventy organisations representing the Black Movement (Movimento Negro) published a letter on 9 March stating that “We are against the impeachment of the current president and will not tolerate any attempt against our fragile and insufficient democracy. But we need a change in direction of this government. The black population cannot pay for the economic and political crisis of this country. The Brazilian Black Movement affirms a political agenda that stands up against the genocide policy, against the reduction of labour rights, against the pension reform, against the cuts in social programs such as health and education.”

It is only by organising, occupying the streets, rallying in front of factory gates, and occupying communities that democracy will prevail. Every one of us has the duty to show the farce of the headlines and the news of TV networks. Defend Lula and the victories that have been obtained so far, but without lowering the banners against austerity. We should do so while building a strong independent grassroots movement.

This is not about corruption, concealment of assets or promiscuity between power and money. It is class struggle. They are, as always, putting into practice their class values. We must put forward our class values of solidarity, unity and independence.