Lula: Warmed Up Green Neoliberalism With Crumbs

Tuesday, 1 November 2022 — Geopolitics and Climate Change

[A different take on Lula’s win. WB]


As I write this, the progressive Lula (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) has very narrowly won the election for the Brazilian presidency, with the current right-wing President Bolsonaro losing. This is good news for the Amazon rainforest, and probably the poorer members of Brazilian society as they will benefit from small government income transfers. However, I am careful to call Lula progressive rather than left-wing. After being beaten three times by candidates of the elite in presidential elections, with the elite using all the tools available to it (state patrimony, the reactionary Evangelical and Catholic churches, the oligarch-owned media etc.) to win, Lula became a Blair-style progressive to get elected in 2002. He was re-elected for a second four-year term in 2006. With a massive global commodity boom driving Brazilian growth, Lula was able to use government revenues to fund income transfers to the poorer parts of Brazilian society, while at the same time being a very good neoliberal; just like Blair in the UK:

“Lula’s embrace of the free market- IMF structural adjustment policies has led to the evisceration of agrarian reform policies, a decline in employment and real wages, the slashing of pension benefits and negative per capita economic growth – the worst socio-economic performance of any civilian regime since the military dictatorship. Agrarian policy at the centre of this model consists for the most part of the jailing (or worse) of rural activists, and the promotion of the agribusiness sector as part of the export strategy.” (Petras and Veltmeyer 2003).

Lula’s anointed successor, Dilma Rousseff won the 2010 presidential election, and won a second term in 2014. However, the end of the commodities boom in 2014 removed the attractiveness of the “neoliberalism with crumbs” policies to the elites. They wanted to remove the crumbs and, with the help of a US government that had issues with Brazil’s foreign policy stances, launched an economic and lawfare attack (operation “Car Wash”) to destabilize the economy and remove both Rousseff and Lula from the political stage. After a period of ongoing media vilification, economic issues caused by the Car Wash investigations and the commodities crash, and political missteps, Dilma was impeached on the trumped-up charge of misrepresenting the government deficit; something that is done on a regular basis by many governments. A Senate full of much more corrupt politicians then removed her from office and her right-wing extremely corrupt Vice President then took over for the balance of her term; implementing austerity and other neoliberal policies. In 2018, when it looked like Lula may win the presidential elections, he was jailed through trumped-up charges based on no real evidence, resulting in the election of the right-wing Jair Bolsonaro who testified to an admiration for the previous Brazilian military dictatorships. The crumbs were fully removed, and a reactionary authoritarian state put in place.

President Bolsonaro made one big mistake, he refused to implement sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian invasion in 2022. With that, any support from the US evaporated. With Lula having been properly “disciplined” and reminded of what the elite could do to him if they wanted to, the charges against him were miraculously dropped by the elite, corrupt, Supreme Court. He was allowed to compete in the 2022 presidential elections against Bolsonaro. Things had changed though, his legacy had been greatly tainted by the charges of corruption, and the impact of the right-wing reactionary churches – especially the Evangelicals – had grown. These serve the same function as such churches in the US, to turn working class people against their own economic interests by focusing them on “cultural” issues and misleading them about the policies of the progressives. The one percent margin of victory by Lula points to the power of these changes. In reality, Brazil is very much like the US with the only political competition allowed being between right-wing neoliberals and “progressive” neoliberals. Instead of Brazil converging with what the US was in the 1960s, as seen in the delusional and failed Western “modernization theory” of the post-WW2 years, it is the US that is converging with what Brazil is – a highly corrupt society run by a group of oligarchs with an extremely limited and flawed “democracy”.

Bolsonaro has not yet conceded defeat, and some of his supporters have taken to the streets but given the stance of the US government I would be very surprised if a coup took place. The Brazilian army is very much in bed with its US betters.

Petras, J., & Veltmeyer, H. (2003). Whither Lula’s Brazil? Neoliberalism and ‘Third Way’ Ideology. The Journal of Peasant Studies 31 (1): pp.1–44.

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