Will Lula crack down on the working-class movement?

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue May 27 03:24:46 MDT 2003

I am very cautious about any assumption that Lula's current economic
policies represent the final form of his regime.  The fact that he
still has "overwhelming popularity," if this commentator is correct,
indicates to me that large sections of working people don't think so
either. If he still has overwhelming popularity, as I suspect is the
case, I would like to know why? What do the masses see that is being
overlooked in the mutual reassurances of the nervous US observers+ The
actual course of the regime will be tested when they move into action
around their objectives, and not primarily by the government's
reactions to the objections of individual members or factions of his
party.  I also am very doubtful that Lula will decisively "crack
down," as the financiers clearly wish, on currents constituting,
according to this commentator, "only" one-third of his party (although
it is certainly possible that individual fighters who get out in front
may be sacrificed to please the businessmen).

Fundamentally, Lula's election was part of the early stages of a
continental process.  This was the breakdown of the bourgeois
democracy based on "consensus politics," the restoration of a tightly
contained and controlled democracy based on agreement by all parties
on the basic social and economic policies demanded by US imperialism.
The aim of this was to consolidate the conquests that imperialism had
won through the military dictatorships and assure stability and

The military dictatorship in Argentina had registered the need for
this shift, when it sought to counter its lack of popular support by
trying to reclaim the Malvinas from British imperialism. The
restoration of bourgeois democracy on a proimperialist basis was also
made possible by the disintegration of the Nicaraguan revolution and
the capitulation of its leadership, the stalemate in El Salvador and
the retreat of the revolutionary leadership there, and the
counterrevolutionary "leftist" coup that murdered Maurice Bishop and
made possible the US invasion of Grenada.

The first sign of the breakdown in the "democratic" consensus came in
Venezuela, with the attempted military coup by Hugo Chavez which he
hoped, if successful, would lead to a popular-military movement for
democratic and popular social and political change.  The coup failed,
Chavez was jailed, and he became a national hero.  His election as
president and the disintegration of support for the old bourgeois
parties was the first registration that the bourgeois democratic
consensus was breaking down under the impact of popular resistance and
an increasingly devastating economic crisis.

In the first years of the Bolivarian revolution, a term which was
unfailingly put in quotes everywhere except among the poor in
Venezuela, the government followed what were termed "orthodox"
economic policies. From abroad and in many sectors of the left, it
seemed like nothing of substance was taking place, except perhaps the
rise of yet another "bonapartist demagogue," despite the reshaping of
the political structure and the shifts in foreign policy toward
support of Cuba and OPEC.

But as the conviction grew among the masses of workers and peasants
(mostly through a host of seemingly small reforms and policy changes
that seemed very minor, especially when viewed from abroad) that this
president was actually on THEIR side, the pace of struggle and change
quickened.  Today, after the defeat of a military coup, and the huge
blow dealt to the capitalist class and the labor bureaucracy through
the defeat of their strike against the regime, it is clear to most of
the world, and even to sizable parts of the left (a much tougher nut
to crack) that something highly progressive and even revolutionary is
taking place in Venezuela.

I don't place Chavez and Lula in the same bag at all.  Chavez never
made any secret of the fact that his objective was a genuine
revolution.  The fact that almost nobody in the world believed him
except Venezuelan workers and farmers (and I'm sure that many of them
justifiably needed some convincing in action)does not change the fact
that the basic goals he has pursued in office were all openly
proclaimed before his election.  But of course making promises you
don't keep is the essence of consensus politics in bourgeois
democracy, and that -- certainly not any violation of democratic
rights -- is why the National Endowment for Democracy, the AFL-CIO,
and other imperialist democrats have marked him rightly as a deadly
enemy of THEIR democracy.

I have become convinced that Chavez is a genuine national
revolutionary, although not a communist, and that is definitely not my
assessment of Lula today.

But I think that Lula's rise is an indicator of real motion among the
oppressed and exploited in Brazilian society, and that this motion, as
well as collaboration and attempted collaboration with the capitalist
rulers,  has shaped him as a leader. I believe that this popular
motion is deepening today, not retreating and that Lula's
"overwhelming popularity" is a part of that process. This is true
although nothing like the popular explosions that began in Venezuela
with the 1989 Caracazo has yet taken place in Brazil.

I am not convinced, for example, that the struggle for profound social
change in Latin America  necessarily begins, for example, with
immediate cancellation of the debt and rejection of IMF loans, as many
assume. Fidel Castro has never stopped dealing with the imperialist
banks, and he would be dealing with the IMF today if the US rulers
would allow him to do so.

If the moves that this article describes against government workers
are as the article describes them, they should be fought and I hope
they will be defeated.  But I don't believe that what occurred in
Brazil in the last election was just another change of presidents, a
spurt of campaign demagogy followed by business as usual.  A deeper
shift was registered and I think this shift will continue to be
reflected in the class struggle in Brazil and in Lula's course in
Fred Feldman

Brazil's Lula lays down the law with party radicals

By Carlos A. DeJuana

SAO PAULO, Brazil, May 25 (Reuters) - A handful of boisterous
left-wing lawmakers from President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's own
party have become one of the Brazilian leader's biggest headaches
since he took office five months ago.

Their opposition to Lula's centrist, market-friendly policies has
become so loud that it appears at times Lula's biggest opposition
comes from within his own Workers' Party.

Tired of their antics, Lula is laying down the law.

The party last week suspended two lower house lawmakers after they
released 1987 videotape of a Lula speech in which he denounces some of
the policies he is now proposing.

Dubbed the "radicals" by the press, the group accuses Lula and his
economic team of breaking with his party's traditional policies and
pandering to foreign and local investors.

"The (Worker's Party's) prompt response against them is a further
indication that the party's tolerance toward the radicals is running
low and further demonstrations of defiance will be dealt with
accordingly," said investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in a
report on Friday.

Their latest rallying cry has been Lula's pension reform proposal,
which would slash and tax benefits for retirees who worked for the
state and increase the retirement age.

Investors view the reform as a critical step toward putting the
government's finances, which includes a $250 billion debt, in order.
It is so important to Lula that he personally delivered it to Congress
last month.

But state workers and pensioners also make up a large part of the
Workers' Party's voting base and the radicals have wasted no time in
opposing many of the plan's main points.


This week, Lula was reportedly furious when lawmakers Joao Fontes and
Luciana Genro released the video tape showing him denouncing attempts
to reform the pension system 16 years ago. The Estado de Sao Paulo
newspaper reported Lula plans to have a "frank" talk with them next

Already, three congressmen have been called to appear before the party
ethics committee to account for their actions.

"It's not just that they say they're not going to vote (for the
reform). It's a group of things they have done the last months that
characterize a break with the party," said a high-placed source at the
party who asked to remain anonymous.

The radicals contend they are simply being true to what the Workers'
Party has always defended and promised.

"If anyone is disrespecting the party, it isn't us," said Joao Batista
Oliveira, a congressman from Para state who sports a pony-tail and is
one of those scheduled to go before the ethics committee next month.
"We can't say one thing to workers during the election and do another
when we are governing."

Hugely popular, Lula can afford to take on the radicals, who make up
less than a third of his party. But political analysts say he must
also play hard ball to ensure their opposition to his reforms does not
become a governing problem.

This week Lula reportedly had to ask his vice president to cool his
critiques of their economic team, which has held interest rates at
four year highs, much to the disappointment of Brazilian industry.

"Lula's government is made up of a large inter-party alliance," said
Amaury de Souza, a political analyst at MCM Consultores. "It's obvious
that if there is dissent within the Workers' Party, it will
contaminate other parties, and they won't feel as much pressure to
vote with the government."

05/25/03 07:34 ET

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