Lula’s Brazil – Part 2

Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, March 31, 2011

This article is posted online in two parts. This is the second part. For the first part, look here : Lula’s Brazil – Part 1

Official reports, backed by much statistical analysis and endorsed by sympathetic agencies and journalists abroad, claim not only a major reduction of poverty in Brazil in these years, of which there is absolutely no doubt, but a substantial diminution of inequality, with the Gini index falling from an astronomic 0.58-plus at the start of Lula’s term to a merely towering 0.538 at the end of it. In such estimates, from the turning point of 2005 onwards, the incomes of the poorest decile of the population purport to have grown at nearly double the rate of those in the top decile. Best of all, some 25 million people have moved into the ranks of the middle class, henceforward a majority of the nation. For many commentators, domestic and foreign, this is the most hopeful single development of Lula’s presidency. It is the ideological pièce de résistance in the glowing accounts of boosters like the Latin American editor of the Economist, Michael Reid, eager to hold up the new middle class in Brazil as the beacon of a stable capitalist democracy in the ‘battle for the soul’ of a ‘forgotten continent’ against dangerous rabble-rousers and extremists.

Much of this acclaim rests on an artifice of categorisation, in which someone with an income as low as $7000 a year (pauperism elsewhere) is classified as ‘middle class’, while according to the same schema the uppermost class – the super-elite of Brazilian society, comprising just 2 per cent of the population – starts at scarcely twice the average per capita income of the world’s population. Marcio Pochmann, the head of the country’s leading institute of applied economic research, has trenchantly remarked that a more accurate description of the much touted new middle strata would be simply ‘the working poor’.

More generally, the belief that inequality in Brazil has significantly declined must be met with scepticism, since not only is it based on data for nominal income that exclude – according to standard statistical rules – ‘outliers’ at the top of the tail, i.e. the super-rich, but much more fundamentally ignores capital appreciation and concealment of financial gains at the summit of society. As the leading study, Declining Inequality in Latin America, notes of standard household surveys, ‘incomes from property are grossly underestimated’ : ‘If the top incomes ignored by surveys experience a large enough relative increase, then the true dynamics of overall inequality may display a rising trend even when survey-based estimates show the opposite result.’ So in Brazil it is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 families receive the lion’s share of the $120 billion annual payments of the public debt (the cost of the Bolsa Família is $6-9 billion), while in the last decade millionaires have multiplied as never before. The explosion of the stock market alone should be warning enough against any naivety on this score. The rich are well aware on which side their bread has been buttered. Unlike the ‘economic royalists’ attacked by Roosevelt, who detested the New Deal, most Brazilian financiers and industrialists have been warm supporters of Lula’s government. Capital has been not only more lucid about it than the – true – middle class, but also more comfortable with it than with any previous regime : logically enough, since profits have never been higher.

For a third interpretation of Lulismo, these profits must lie at the centre of any realistic analysis of its system of rule. In a series of iconoclastic essays, the sociologist Chico de Oliveira has developed a vision of it in nearly every way antithetical to that of Singer, with whom he remains on good terms despite their political differences (one of the historic founders of the PT, de Oliveira left the party in disgust soon after Singer joined Lula’s government). [1] De Oliveira doesn’t contest his friend’s characterisation of the psychology of the poor, or the improvements in their lot wrought by Lula. The sub-proletariat is as Singer describes it : without resentment of the rich, satisfied with modest and gradual alleviations of its conditions of existence. But his account focuses too narrowly on the relationship between Lula and the mass of his electorate. Missing are two fundamental parameters for an understanding of Lulismo. The first is the moment in the world history of capital at which it came to power. Globalisation has cut off the possibility of an inclusive project of national development of the kind long sought in Brazil, not least by those like Lula himself. The third industrial revolution, based on biological and digital advances that erase the boundary between science and technology, requires investment in research and imposes patents that permit no ready transfer of their results to the periphery of the system – least of all in a country like Brazil, where investment has never, even at the height of developmentalism under Kubitschek in the 1950s, exceeded a low 22 per cent of GDP. Outlays on R&D remain beggarly.

Thus instead of further industrial advance, the consequence for Brazil of the latest wave of technological revolution has been to shift accumulation away from manufacturing to financial transactions and natural-resource extraction, with a very rapid growth in the banking sector, where profits are highest, and in mining and agribusiness for export. The former is an involution, diverting investment from production ; the latter a regression, taking Brazil back to earlier cycles of reliance on primary commodities for growth. It was to the dynamic of these sectors that Lulismo had to adjust in coming to terms with capital. Here lay the second parameter. For the result was to transform the structures out of which it had emerged – the party and the trade unions which, after 2002, became the apparatus of power on which it rested. The leadership of the CUT, the principal confederation of labour, was put in charge of the country’s largest pension fund. The cadres of the PT colonised the federal administration, where a Brazilian president has the right of nomination to over 20,000 well-paid jobs, far more than the spoils system has ever allowed the executive in America. Now all but completely detached from the working class, this stratum was inexorably sucked into the vortex of financialisation engulfing markets and bureaucracies alike. Trade unionists became managers of some of the biggest concentrations of capital in the country, the scene of ferocious struggles for control or expansion between competing predators. Militants became functionaries enjoying, or abusing, every perquisite of office.

As a new logic of accumulation interlocked with a new incrustation of power, a hybrid social layer was formed – de Oliveira would compare it to the duck-billed platypus, as a sport of the animal kingdom – whose natural habitat was corruption. The unorganised poor of the informal economy had now become Lula’s electoral base, and he could not be reproached for that, or for the neo-populism of his relationship to them, unavoidable for Chávez or Kirchner too. But between the leader and the masses lay an apparatus that had become deformed. Missing in Singer’s account was a sense of this dark side of Lulismo. What it had achieved was a kind of inverted hegemony. Where, for Gramsci, hegemony in a capitalist social order had been the moral ascendancy of the possessing over the labouring classes, securing the consent of the dominated to their own domination, in Lulismo it was as if the dominated had reversed the formula, achieving the consent of the dominant to their leadership of society, only to ratify the structures of their own exploitation. A more appropriate analogy was not the United States of the New Deal, but the South Africa of Mandela and Mbeki, where the iniquities of apartheid had been overthrown and the masters of society were black, but the rule of capital and its miseries was as implacable as ever. The fate of the poor in Brazil had been a kind of apartheid, and Lula had ended that. But equitable or inclusive progress remained out of reach.

To many, even of those close in political outlook to de Oliveira, this picture is overdrawn, as if the dark side of Lulismo, hard to deny in itself, has in his representation of it become a total eclipse. How has it been received in the PT itself ? With scarcely a word. In part, it is often said, he is so personally liked and respected that no one – save Delúbio and Dirceu, who sued him for libel before they were indicted – wants to quarrel with him. A very Brazilian cordiality. But then what of the far more favourable analysis of Singer ? There too, virtually no reaction. Converted into a vote-getting machine, the PT has kept most of its militants and mass membership – some 300,000 members took part in its last internal election – but has lost its intellectual wing, and is generally empty of ideas. When the party emerged at the turn of the 1980s, the Brazilian intelligentsia was a vital ferment in the mass movements against the military regime of the time, and played a major role in the politics that followed its withdrawal from the scene. A decade later, when Cardoso took the presidency, it split into two camps bitterly ranged against each other : those who supported his regime, and those who opposed it. The PT was the party of opponents, enjoying the talents of a wide array of the country’s most gifted intellectuals. Another ten years on, with Lula in power, disillusionment had set in. Faute de mieux, most of its former lights still vote for it, to keep out the right, but engagement has gone. To all appearances the party could not care less.

Does this matter ? In the 1960s, Brazilian culture was a brilliant affair, not only before but even under the military : football not yet expatriate, bossa nova, experimental theatre, cinema novo, an indigenous Marxism to rival any in Europe – philosophy, sociology, literature, Kulturkritik. By the time the country emerged from the dictatorship in 1985, however, the two forces that had transformed the cultural landscape in the North were already reshaping it in Brazil too : on the one hand, the modern academy, with its bureaucratisation of careers and specialisation of fields ; on the other, the modern fashion and entertainment industry, marketing anything it can touch. Professionalisation, commercialisation : no culture has escaped their yoke. With them, inevitably, comes depoliticisation. But the extent of that varies widely from one society to another. Compared with the Brazil of 50 or 30 years ago, the decline of political energy in cultural life is palpable. Compared with Europe, the grammar of the imaginary can remain vividly political.

In part, this is due to simple continuity of persons and ideas from an earlier epoch, even against a university backdrop duller, if more proficient, than in the past. The doyen of Brazilian literary history, Antonio Candido, a moral-intellectual touchstone for the left, is still a presence at the age of 93. In the next generation, Roberto Schwarz is the finest dialectical critic anywhere in the world since Adorno ; Chico Buarque, a perhaps uniquely versatile author at once of songs, plays and novels ; de Oliveira, the most original sociological mind in Latin America ; Emir Sader, its one radical political thinker of continental vision. Younger figures like Singer or Pochmann are still products of the final stages of the struggle against the dictatorship. In the arts, explosive forms continue to be produced, though they are now far more liable to neutralisation or degradation into entertainment : Paulo Lins’s novel Cidade de Deus reduced to cinematic pulp by an expert in television ads ; José Padilha descending from the bitter documentary truths of Bus 174 to Gaumont-grade action films. But the maw of the market is not irresistible. The latest literary grenade, Reinaldo Moraes’s scabrous novel Pornopopéia, which takes it directly as a target, could prove more difficult to digest.

The change in period has found its barometer in what is now the country’s best periodical. The monthly Piauí was launched in the autumn of 2006, as Lula coasted to his second term. Its editor, Mario Sergio Conti, who comes originally from a Trotskyist left, ran the mass-circulation weekly Veja – Brazil’s equivalent of L’Express or Der Spiegel – in the 1990s. Quitting towards the end of the decade, he used a pre-negotiated sabbatical to write a full inside account of the way the Brazilian media first propelled Collor into the presidency in 1989 and then deposed him in 1992 (Conti himself published in Veja the key scoop that brought him down). In its sheer narrative drive, span of characters high and low, density of detail, and not least its dramatic dénouement, Notícias do Planalto reads like a documentary by Balzac. Sparing no one – proprietors, commentators or reporters – it broke the fundamental taboo of the press : dog does not eat dog. Retrospective complaints about owners by journalists, on occasion yes. Galleries of the journalists themselves ? Belloc’s quip remains off-limits. Before Notícias came out, the magnate Roberto Civita, head of the media empire which owns Veja, who wanted Conti back in his stable, agreed somewhat reluctantly to let him try out a periodical of more intellectual ambition for a smaller readership, without believing it would make him any money. Preparations for the project went ahead, but when Civita saw Notícias he cancelled it on the spot.

Five years later Conti, then working as a broadcaster in Paris, met through mutual friends an heir to one of the greatest banking fortunes in Brazil, João Moreira Salles. A director of more discriminating temperament than his better-known elder brother, Walter, author of such middle-market fare as Central Station and The Motorcycle Diaries, João’s portrait of Lula backstage during the campaign of 2002, Entreatos, is a masterpiece of ambiguity, readable equally as an admiring tribute to the candidate’s vitality and affability, and as a disquieting trailer for the corrosions of power to come. Moreira Salles, who was also thinking of launching a magazine, had heard of Conti’s idea, and on talking it over, not only agreed to finance it, but – an unusual arrangement for the millionaire proprietor of a journal – to work for it under Conti. He insisted only that it be edited in Rio, as a counter-weight to the excessive concentration of intellectual life in São Paulo once the capital had moved inland. The magazine that issued from this arrangement is a stylish affair, sometimes seen as a kind of tropical New Yorker. But though certainly smart enough, it differs not only in design, printed on matt paper in larger format, but spirit, as its title indicates. Piauí, one of the poorest states of the north-east and a byword for backward provincialism, was chosen as ironic antithesis to Manhattan. Living up unawares to its reputation, the governor of the state in due course descended on the magazine with a substantial escort, and in a very Brazilian scene thanked its editors effusively for conferring such well-merited distinction on it.

Beneath the veneer of worldliness it still affects, what the New Yorker delivers today is mostly a sententious conformism. Piauí is more mordant, less easily placed. It is enough to compare the gushing portrait of America’s ruler offered by the editor of the first (Introit : ‘This is how it began, the telling of a story that changed America …’ ; Exit : ‘Obama, who had bowed his head in prayer, broke into a broad smile … Three times we all said amen’) with the lethal coverage of Brazil’s elite by the second. Piauí has developed the matter-of-fact, deadpan profile into an art more ruinous of its subjects than detraction could ever be. Cardoso, Dirceu and Serra have been among the victims, along with Márcio Thomaz Bastos – Lula’s reptilian minister of justice until 2007 – and Rousseff’s vice-president, Michel Temer. In the same impassive tone, the magazine has excavated some of the ugliest episodes and niches of public life : financial brawls, congressional shenanigans, legal enormities.

Two exposés stand out as calm engravings of Brazilian equity and justice. In a miniature masterpiece, Moreira Salles detailed the fate of the housekeeper who saw Palocci entering his lacustrine brothel in Brasilia. A 24-year-old from Piauí, earning $50 a week, he found his bank account had been broken into by the president of the Federal Savings Bank, one Jorge Mattoso – fresh from a meeting in the presidential palace – looking for evidence that the boy had been paid for his testimony by the opposition. Violation of banking secrecy is a crime in Brazil. An hour later, Mattoso delivered print-outs to Palocci in person at his residence, showing that $10,000 had been deposited in the boy’s account. Palocci ordered the federal police, who had the boy under lock and key, to investigate him on suspicion of bribery and false witness. When it emerged that the money had been paid by the boy’s father, the owner of a bus company who had until then refused to acknowledge him, in order to fend off any chance of a paternity suit, he had to be released, and the police brought criminal charges against Palocci and Mattoso. Palocci had to step down as minister, but the attorney-general reduced the charges against him and four years later the Supreme Court acquitted him by five votes to four. Today, this toad squats in power once more, now chief of staff to the new president. The young man he sought to frame never got a job in the city again.

What of the Supreme Federal Tribunal that absolved him ? Daumier would have been hard-pressed to depict it. Supposedly concerned with constitutional issues alone, it handles – if that is the right word – some 120,000 cases a year, or 30 a day per member of the court. Lawyers transact with judges in private, and on receiving favourable verdicts, have been known – in full view – to hug, indeed wine and dine, the justices responsible for them. Of the 11 current members of the tribunal, six of them appointed by Lula, two have been convicted of crimes in lower courts. One, appointed by Collor, his cousin, made legal history by guaranteeing immunity to a defendant in advance of his trial, but was saved from removal by his peers to ‘preserve the honour of the court’. Another, a friend of Cardoso, supported the military coup of 1964, and could not even boast a law degree. A third, on casting a crucial vote to acquit Palocci, was thanked by the president in person for assuring ‘governability’. Just retired is Eros Grau, once convicted of trafficking in influence, a particular favourite of Lula ; dubbed ‘Cupid’ by colleagues, and author of a fifth-rate pornographic novel, he sought to get an associate onto the court in exchange for a vote to bury the mensalão.

Scenes like these, not vestiges of an older oligarchic regime, but part and parcel of the new popular-democratic order, preclude complacency about the prospects ahead, without abrogating them. Political and judicial criminality in Brazil, however repellent, is still – its apologists can point out – considerably less than in India, China or Russia, the other BRIC powers with which it is now conventional to compare it. Nor, as last year’s presidential election showed again, is corruption a major concern of the masses, although it doesn’t go unnoticed at the polls – it was partly responsible for the contest going to a second round. The victory of Dilma Rousseff was certainly, by proxy, Lula’s greatest electoral triumph. A figure scarcely known to the population a few months earlier, who had never before confronted a voter, and did not possess a trace of charisma, polled – once chosen by him – not far from Lula’s own scores, with a thumping second-round majority of 56 per cent : three million fewer votes than he won in 2006, three million more than in 2002. In Congress, where the PT for the first time became the largest party, and in the Senate, where it also made big gains, she commands the support of more than two-thirds of the legislature in each house – majorities Lula himself never enjoyed.

Rousseff owes her ascent to the vacuum around the presidency left by the scandals that eliminated Palocci and Dirceu as successors. After their fall, she had three advantages over any other possible contender. She was not a product of the PT, which she joined only in 2000, so, lacking any base in the party, from which Lula – publicly at least – had kept his distance once in the Planalto, posed no threat to him. She was good at something he was not : administration. As minister of energy she had ensured the country did not suffer the blackouts that had so damaged Cardoso’s standing in his second term. Finally, she was a woman, around whom it was much easier to wrap the warmth of his own charisma than it would have been with a man. A colleague described the relationship between them, when she became his chief of staff, as not unlike that of father and daughter. In fact they are contemporaries – she is only two years younger than Lula – but the joint campaign they ran in 2010 would have been much more awkward with a male candidate.

In trajectory, not to speak of temperament, the contrasts between them are marked. Rousseff comes from an upper-middle-class family. Her father was a Bulgarian Communist who emigrated to Latin America in the 1930s, and did well in real estate in Belo Horizonte. Sent to good local schools, with private French and piano lessons at home, she was 17 when the military seized power in Brazil. At 19 she was part of a revolutionary underground carrying out armed actions in and around the city. Moving to Rio in 1968, she was involved in one of the most famous raids of the time : the expropriation of a chest containing two and half million dollars from the mistress of the most corrupt of all governors of São Paulo. In 1970 she was caught in São Paulo, tortured, and jailed for three years. On her release, she moved south to Porto Alegre, where her former companion in the underground, now her husband, was imprisoned. When the dictatorship loosened in the late 1970s, she got a job in the statistical bureau of Rio Grande do Sul, re-entering political life affiliated to the party led by Lula’s chief rival on the left in the 1980s, Leonel Brizola, and gradually moving up to become secretary for energy under a PT governor. In 2002 Lula noticed her technical capability, and brought her to Brasilia. In political background a guerrilla rather than a trade-union leader, Rousseff, though highly controlled, is more explosive in character than Lula. Observing the way each handled disputes in the energy sector, a leading participant commented : ‘He enjoys them like a spectator at a ping-pong game ; her style is to hurl the racket.’ No one doubts her toughness.

Of her convictions today, there can be less certainty. She came to prominence under Lula during the more radical phase of his government, so in neoliberal perception is associated with the dangers of an insidious statism and nationalism. There is no question that she has robustly defended the regalian rights of the Brazilian state to the reportedly huge deep-sea oil deposits off the country’s coast, which multinational companies and domestic capital have been eyeing hungrily. She has promised not only an expansion of the housing and infrastructural programmes begun under Lula, but – a major new commitment – universal health coverage. At her inauguration, she went out of her way to pay tribute to the comrades who had fought the dictatorship as she had done, and fallen in the battle against it. But in restoring Palocci to power as chief of staff, and replacing Amorim as foreign minister by a complaisant envoy to Washington, she has designed her cabinet to reassure business and the United States that they have little to fear from the new administration. Holding down the minimum wage, hiking interest rates and promising tighter controls on public spending, her first measures look not unlike the orthodox policies of Lula’s first years in power.

Might the same parabola, curving towards radicalisation in a subsequent phase, be repeated ? Or is the stock of readily available reforms exhausted ? By common consent, steady GDP growth of at least 4.5 per cent a year is required to extend the social achievements of Lula’s presidency. Though by Chinese or Indian standards this is a modest target, it exceeds the average Brazilian performance so far this century. Buoyant as it is at the moment, the economy is dogged by three deep underlying problems. Its savings rate remains extremely low, at a mere 17 per cent of national income, less than half that of India and a third that of China ; so investment has stagnated at under 20 per cent of GDP, with spending on R&D at 1 per cent. Brazilian interest rates, on the other hand (currently over 11 per cent), have long been the highest of any major economy. Designed to curb inflation and attract the foreign capital needed to eke out domestic savings, these rates, combined with export gains and quantitative easing in the US, drove up the real to perilous heights – doubling in value against the dollar under Lula.

Finally, Brazilian trade has become steadily more dependent on agribusiness and mining, where the largest concentrations of domestic capital are to be found, while industry – where multinationals control the most important (automobile) sector – has receded. Between 2002 and 2009, the share of manufactures in Brazilian exports dropped from 55 to 44 per cent, while the share of raw materials soared from 28 to 41 per cent. China, responsible for so much of the prosperity of the Lula years, when it became the country’s largest trade partner (by 2009, it was buying 18 times the value of the commodities it purchased from Brazil at the start of the century), is now threatening to swamp it with low-cost manufactures, whose import from the PRC rocketed 60 per cent last year. Historically, countries have achieved high living standards without wide-ranging industrialisation, but these have been sparsely populated settler or sylvan societies with high educational levels – Australia, New Zealand, Finland – exhibiting nothing like Brazil’s measures of poverty or demographic profile. Against these can be set Brazil’s vast natural resources – as much spare farmland as the US and Russia put together, as much renewable water as the whole of Asia, oil reserves floating the largest IPO in history – and its impressive, if sometimes inhibited, record of state-led enterprise, to which are owed the country’s steel and aircraft industries, its breakthroughs in tropical agriculture, and its thriving petroleum giant. The opportunities for faster growth are certainly no less than the obstacles to it.

What balance sheet of the Brazilian experience set in motion under Lula, and still unfolding, is at this point possible ? Viewed as a period in the political economy of Brazil, it can be regarded as contiguous with that of Cardoso, a development within the same matrix. Viewed as a social process, on the other hand, it has marked a distinct break. The external conditions for that change were unusually propitious. This was a time in which South America as a whole has been the scene of a shift to the left setting it apart from any other zone of the world. Chávez came to power in Venezuela well before, Kirchner in Argentina just after, Lula in Brazil. The following year, Tabaré Vázquez took Uruguay for the Frente Amplio. Thereafter, in succession, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay elected the most radical presidents in their history. What lay behind this global exception were two distinguishing features of the region. It was here, under supervision from Chicago and Harvard, that neoliberalism was first introduced and shock therapy applied by Pinochet in Chile and Sánchez de Losada in Bolivia, and that privatisations by Menem in Argentina outdid those in Russia.

But it was here too that the first popular uprising against a neoliberal package erupted, in the caracazo that led to the end of the old order in Venezuela. Economically, the parameters of the neoliberal period were rarely rolled back (Venezuela is the exception, since they were never successfully imposed there in the first place). But they were never popular, and their architects fell into a political discredit that their northern counterparts, even today mostly unscathed by 2008, have escaped. Here the other particularity of the region kicked in. Latin America is the only part of the world to have produced a century of radical revolts against the established order, stretching back in more or less unbroken sequence to the Mexican Revolution of 1910. In different periods these have taken different forms, but their underlying impetus has been much the same, and despite every kind of repression or deflection, has yet to be checked : armed insurrections in El Salvador and Brazil in the 1920s ; popular front in Chile, peasant risings in Peru in the 1930s ; military jacobinism in Argentina in the 1940s ; worker militias in Bolivia, expropriations in Guatemala, revolution in Cuba in the 1950s ; guerrillas from Colombia to Uruguay in the 1960s ; victory at the polls in Chile, on the streets in Nicaragua in the 1970s ; civil wars in Central America in the 1980s ; overthrow of the oligarchy in Venezuela in the 1990s. The electoral harvest of the new century is a mutation out of the same soil.

The generation that came to power in this period had lived through two kinds of defeat : by the military dictatorships that crushed the left in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, and by the free market systems that were in part the price, in part the upshot, of democratisation. These formed a single legacy. Earlier forms of radicalism, political or economic, were ruled out of court by their succession. But there was little real social adhesion to the neoliberal regimes for which the generals had paved the way. When their time ran out, the leaders who came after them respected, pragmatically, the rules the generals had imposed, but could not altogether put aside memories of a more insurgent past, and the loyalties that went with them, still less overlook the constituencies excluded from the new order. Venezuela, which never knew a military dictatorship during the high tide of continental counter-revolution, nor – the two absences were closely connected – a neoliberal stabilisation in its wake, was the exception, Chávez operating in other, more underdetermined conditions.

Brazil, on the other hand, can be taken as the epitome of the general pattern. For most of its history, by reason of language, size and geography, the country was rather isolated from the rest of Latin America. As late as the mid-1960s, Brazilian intellectuals were more likely to have spent time in France than to have visited any neighbouring society. Once the military tyrannies took over, the common experiences of underground work, imprisonment or exile – Cuba and Mexico the chief refuges – changed this. For the first time, politically active Brazilians were connected in a continental network with their opposite numbers in the Spanish-speaking Americas. The solidarities of that period continue to inhabit the political landscape today among governments of the left, cradling Brazil within a hospitable environment. In a regional dialectic, the differences between them have often worked to mutual advantage, Lula extending a mantle of protective friendship to regimes – Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador – more radical than his own, while benefiting in international opinion from favourable comparison of his moderation to their extremism.

In the same period, the international context has been as benign for Brazil as the regional setting. On the one hand, the United States lost concentration as continental overlord once it declared the War on Terror in the Middle East and beyond. With Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Egypt as the frontlines of American strategy, there was little attention to spare for the hemisphere. Bush paid one distracted visit to Brasilia, and Obama is making another this month. There will be effusive greetings for the first mulatto president of the United States, as Brazilians see him, who had their own long ago. But no one thinks the call will be much more than ceremonial. The traditional mechanisms of supervision, still in working order in Cardoso’s time, have rusted. Not just the military expeditions to the Orient of the last decade, but the financial bubble preceding and accompanying them, have tilted the relationship between the two states in Brazil’s favour. Once the American economy became dependent on ever greater injections of cheap money – first under Clinton and Bush through very low interest rates, now under Obama thanks also to the printing press – the external capital needed to keep the Brazilian economy growing became more and more available, at less and less cost. If the flow now even risks overwhelming the real, that is only another, perverse sign of the alteration in their respective positions. For Brazil, still more decisive has been the ascent of China as a countervailing economic power, the principal market for its two leading exports and the mainstay of its trade balance. The long Chinese boom has affected virtually every part of the world. But Brazil is arguably the country where it has made the greatest difference. As the US dipped and the PRC swelled, the winds allowed passage to a new social direction.

Its upshot remains, for the moment, undecidable. There is no doubt that an emancipation has occurred. But might Brazilian history supply an unsettling analogy ? In the late 19th century, slavery was abolished in Brazil virtually without bloodshed, in contrast to the slaughter with which its end, not even originally intended, was accompanied in the United States. But it was not only the cost in life that was low. The cost in property was also low, for emancipation came late, when the slave population was dwindling, and the slave economy in advanced stages of decline. It wasn’t a purely elite affair ; popular abolitionism took many imaginative initiatives in its quietus. But when it came, slave-owners were not all ruined, and slaves gained legal freedom alone. Socially, the after-effects were modest : principally, increased white immigration from Europe.

Could there be, mutatis mutandis, some resemblance with the Bolsa Família, crédito consignado, minimum wage ? Lula liked to say : ‘It’s cheap and easy to look after the poor.’ [2] Uplifting, or disturbing ? In its moral ambiguity might lie one kind of epitaph on his rule. Compared with his predecessors, he had the imagination, born of social identification, to see that the Brazilian state could afford to be more generous to the least well-off, in ways that have made a substantial difference to their lives. But these concessions have come at no cost to the rich or comfortably-off, who in any absolute reckoning have done even better – far better – during these years. Does that really matter, it can be asked : isn’t this just the definition of the most desirable of all economic outcomes, a Pareto optimum ? Were the pace of growth to falter, however, the descendants of slaves might live out an aftermath not so different from that of emancipation. From the time of its adoption, just after slavery was gone, the Comtean motto inscribed on the banner of the nation – Ordem e Progresso – has long been a hope fluttering in the wind. Progress without conflict ; distribution without redistribution. How common are they, historically ?

Yet perhaps this time it will not be the same. The last decade has not seen any mobilisation of the popular classes in Brazil. The fear of disorder and acceptance of hierarchy, which still set them apart within Latin America, are legacies of slavery. But though material betterment is not social empowerment, one can lead to the other. The sheer electoral weight of the poor, juxtaposed against the sheer scale of economic inequality, not to speak of political injustice, makes Brazil a democracy unlike any society in the North, even those where class tensions were once highest, or the labour movement strongest. The contradiction between the two magnitudes has only just begun to work itself out. Should passive improvement ever become active intervention, the story would have another ending.

Perry Anderson

Go back to part one : Lula’s Brazil – Part 1

[1] For English versions of de Oliveira’s essays see New Left Review 24 (November-December 2003) and 42 (November-December 2006).

[2] ‘A coisa mais fácil para … um presidente da República é cuidar dos pobres. Não tem nada mais barato do que cuidar dos pobres.’ This was said in a speech to new ministers on 31 March 2010. By then it had become a sort of motto, repeated on many occasions.

* From the London Review of Books, Vol. 33 No. 7 · 31 March 2011, pages 3-12 :…

Uma resposta

  1. […] This article is posted online in two parts. The seconde part: Lula’s Brazil – Part 2 […]

Deixe um comentário

Preencha os seus dados abaixo ou clique em um ícone para log in:

Logotipo do

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Sair /  Alterar )

Foto do Google

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Google. Sair /  Alterar )

Imagem do Twitter

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Twitter. Sair /  Alterar )

Foto do Facebook

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Facebook. Sair /  Alterar )

Conectando a %s

%d blogueiros gostam disto: