It’s a looonnnggg essay but Perry Anderson’s examination of the presidential career of Lula da Silva is a must read if you are at all interested in Brazilian Politics, or the fate of the left in Latin America.
Like a lot of people on the left I was: jubilant when Lula won; despondent from about a year into his rule when he ended up being both economically orthodox and politically compromised; re-enthused when his social programmes started to kick in; and cheered by his eventual ongoing political triumph.
Looking back now I think it would have been next to impossible for Lula to have governed as a radical. He was president of Brazil but most definitely not the sole source of power. Foreign investors had the economy’s fate in their hands, local capital was in an easy position to play spoiler (as it so often had for PT municipal governments), and the PT were nowhere near a majority force in the house or senate. Above and beyond that, I’m now not sure whether there was anything to be gained by deviating too far from economic orthodoxy. Plenty of previous Brazilian presidents had done so in the past and only ended up with inflation as a reward.
And so, Lula did what he could. Innovative social programmes mainly and sound economic governance. And he got lucky, the global economy ended up very kind to the Brazilian economy. The combined effect being that the pie got bigger and the poor’s slice of the pie also grew substantially. The PT’s political fortunes went well too. Given the dilemmas he faced, this definitely counts as a win.
And yet, it also falls far short of a transformation. Or if it is to be a transformation, it will be a long slow and qualified one, much like the post war achievements of Social Democracy in Western Europe.
Final verdict: the pragmatist in me is awed by what Lula was able to achieve, even as the idealist in me still feels slightly let down.