Brazil: The challenges of the left in the face of Lula’s new government

This article was originally written for the comrades of the L’Étincelle fraction of the NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party) of France, who on November 13 published it on their website.

A little more than a week after Lula’s narrow electoral victory, his vice-president Alckmin met with Bolsonaro’s ministers to initiate a government transition, which will finish on January 1st  when the new president takes office. Bolsonaro’s road blockades and incidents between supporters of both sectors are easing. The complex political panorama in Brazil presents great challenges for revolutionary socialists and important open debates.

By Alejandro Bodart, International Socialist League (ISL) leadership

While the defeat of the semi-fascist Bolsonaro has brought obvious joy and relief for the working people and youth of Brazil and also for important progressive sectors of Latin America, Europe and other continents, there is a deep concern about the high score of Bolsonarism and, more generally, about the growth of extreme right-wing forces in several countries of the world.

The final count of the presidential ballot of Sunday, October 30, totaled 50.9% against 49.1% of the votes, i.e. Lula beat the ultra-right Bolsonaro by a very tight margin of 1.8%. From six million votes in the first round, this margin was reduced to just over two million in the second round. This tense parity confirms the existence of a scenario of strong social and political polarization in Brazil, a fact that was also expressed in the days following the election.

Thousands of Bolsonarists, with the support of the Federal Highway Police and in the face of the inaction of the justice system, carried out more than a thousand roadblocks throughout the country, seeking to sabotage the unfavorable electoral result.

It is evident that the electoral and social base won by Bolsonaro, who maintains the largest parliamentary bench, is not only some landowners, police, military and fanatical evangelists, but gathers a part of the popular discontent towards the governments of Lula, Dilma and the PT that applied capitalist austerity plans and disappointed the expectations they had generated in the first place. In Brazil and all over the world, it is this deep political disappointment of millions of workers and youth with false progressivism and the absence of revolutionary leaderships with mass weight that opens the doors of power to the right and the extreme right.

A new stage opens

The popular celebration was massive in the streets of the main Brazilian cities. The fact is that Bolsonaro is politically responsible for more than half a million deaths by Covid-19, for the destruction of the Amazon and the environment, for the attack against everything that is public and against the rights of the working class, women and LGBTI+ community, indigenous peoples and the black population. From now on the working and poor people will have to organize and mobilize, with political independence from the new government of Lula and Alckmin, in order to defend all their conquests and achieve new advances.

The editorials of the main bourgeois newspapers of Brazil have already clearly pointed out the course to be taken by Lula, who at the beginning of 2023 will begin his third presidential term and the fifth term of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT):

“Lula has to show immediate signs of budgetary responsibility and willingness to move closer to the center, politically and economically. He must surround himself with experts and qualified cadres, beyond the narrow radius of the party and the allies of the left.” (Folha).

“Which Lula will govern? the social democrat of the first half of his first term? The one who advocated a long-term fiscal austerity plan capable of reducing public debt, increasing the primary surplus, promoting reforms to improve the business environment, improving credit instruments and reducing restrictions to competition in the private sector? Or the national-developmentalist who came later?” (O Globo).

In addition to the pro-system signals that Lula had already given in the campaign, in his first speech after the triumph he reaffirmed that he will defend national unity and capitalist stability: “I will govern for 215 million Brazilians, and not only for those who voted for me. There are not two countries. We are one Brazil, one people, one great nation… We will recover the credibility, predictability and stability of the country, so that investors will trust Brazil again”. As he repeats this to differentiate himself from Bolsonaro’s rentier and unstable capitalism, Lula commits himself before businessmen to a “Brazil that returns to production, rebuilding a serious capitalism”. That is why the most important sectors of the bourgeoisie and imperialism bet on Lula, starting with US President Biden.

Vice President Alckmin is a social democrat turned into a traditional right-winger. Other names being considered for ministers or high positions are the agribusiness entrepreneur Simone Tebet and the neoliberal economists and managers Henrique Meirelles, Armínio Fraga, Jean Paul Prates, Pérsio Arida and Bernard Appy or Gabriel Galípolo, former president of Banco Fator. In other words, the Lula of this third term seems to be in line with the demands of the bourgeoisie that he should govern in order to “improve the business environment”. And that is why the capitalists express confidence in him:

“Lula gave a great speech, of welcome, of openness, of reinsertion of Brazil in the world agenda” (Fabio Barbosa, president of the Brazilian multinational Natura and former president of the Brazilian Federation of Banks).

“The positive reaction must guarantee an increasing flow of investments to Brazil, something urgent, considering the country’s infrastructure” (Welber Barral, former secretary of Foreign Trade of Banco Ourinvest).

“We respect democracy, above all. After all, the vote cast is a vote of confidence, which for us is a non-negotiable sentiment”, Brazilian Agribusiness Association (ABAG)[1].

But today Lula and the PT are already far from being the leadership that excited the Brazilian masses in the 1990s with allusions to socialism and social justice. In the next period we will see whether or not his government can respond to the bourgeois demand to discipline the majorities on the basis of a new pact of class conciliation and “social peace” in favor of the minority of the rich and powerful.

Debates on the left

In Brazil, the challenge now is to organize all the working class, youth and popular force expressed in the streets to definitively defeat Bolsonarism and at the same time prepare to confront the anti-popular measures to be applied by the PT. That is to say, to defend the social conquests against any attempt of attack, be it from the Bolsonarist extreme-right or from the new capitalist government headed by Lula and Alckmin. The latter will surely ask for “patience” and “efforts” from the masses and not to criticize the new government, which they will try to be of “national unity”, in order “not to strengthen Bolsonaro”, when in reality it will be their own reactionary measures and the disappointment they will again provoke in swathes of the masses that will continue to feed the right wing.

This situation will strain the debates between progressivism, reformism and the left. The social-democratic sectors and those who defend the reformist hypothesis of “changing things from within” will assimilate more and more to the bourgeois institutionality and will support from the outset the government of class conciliation that Lula will promote.

How to position themselves before the new government will deepen the crisis within the PSOL (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade), a broad anti-capitalist organization, which left wing our comrades of Alternativa Socialista and Luta Socialista[2] integrate.

The PSOL is living decisive hours that will mark its future. If it joins the capitalist government, it will sign its death certificate as a transforming project. If it supports it without integrating it, it will be the beginning of a journey that will end in the same destiny. The battle of the consistent left, which has been fighting against the liquidationist course of the majority, passes through defending the anti-capitalist character of the origins and through a policy of opposition and struggle against the new government. Raising a program whose objective is to achieve a government of the workers, for the revolution and socialism. Only with this perspective will it be possible to build in Brazil an alternative that collaborates to defeat the extreme right and the liberal right that disguises itself as center and any government that tries to attack the rights and conquests of the working people to favor the capitalists.


[2] Both organizations integrate the ISL, form a liaison committee and march towards their unification conference next February.