The dispute over projects in the Lula government



In recent months, we have had significant episodes of disputes around minimal projects for society, with no consolidation of a perspective of rupture with the neoliberal order.

In the last eight years, the Brazilian social dispute, in the imposing situation of an order totally subordinated to the conditions of neoliberalism and a growing absence of a nation project, has been intense. We are entering the eighth month of the current government of President Lula, and as the situation deepens we have a more intense frequency, due to the imposition by the bourgeoisie, of a continuity of the established rentier and dependent economic model.

It is not for us to redo the analysis of this broad period, but it is worth remembering that the institutional rupture that occurred in 2016 was centered on the undoing of the pact established in the early 2000s, something that we have already described as a “historical block” built around the social program -liberal of the PT (Trindade, 2023).

The double interaction between social pressures and concessions allowed for a management capacity of the national State with a certain social use of the public budget fund that made possible the retreat of poverty and social inequality, thus the proportion of poor people dropped to less than half in the period from 2003 to 2011 , going from 22,6% to 10,1% of the national population and inequality measured by the Gini coefficient falls for the first time in Brazilian history below 0,53 in 2011.[I].

These numbers are not negligible, just as a comparison, it is worth remembering that the social impacts of the US Democratic government of Lyndon Johnson and his “Great Society” plan resulted in similar relative numbers: in 1964 “more than 22% of North Americans lived below of the official poverty line”, in 1968 “this percentage had fallen to just below 13%” (Varoufakis, 2017).

In recent months, we have had significant episodes of disputes around minimal projects for society, with no consolidation of a perspective of rupture with the neoliberal order, despite the fact that important impasses and conflicts that define the basis of ongoing social disputes are observed. Let's see them.

The first dispute took place in the so-called transition of government, on two different fronts: in the National Congress with the approval of the Constitutional Amendment that defined the flexibility of the spending ceiling for the allocation of resources for compensatory emergency programs, particularly Bolsa Família. A second front of dispute took place around the conformation of the government itself, always bearing in mind the rather fragile and loose notion of “governability”.

The degree of consent was resisted by leftist forces, as a result of which the arrangement was the establishment of a government that generally constitutes an important social advance, either through the creation of Ministries such as that of Indigenous Peoples and Women, but with limited budgets and , it is worth noting, to reconstitute policies that we had already consolidated, that is what it seemed, as in the case of the MDA (Ministry of Agrarian Development) and policies for family farming. An aspect to be emphasized is that this dispute over the direction of government and its composition continues until now and will be permanent.

The irrational resistance of the sectors of the traditional media regarding the name indicated for the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) only verbalized the disagreement of an important part of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, when they tried to block the technically indisputable capacity of Professor Márcio Pochmann to assume the presidency of that central organ for the production of statistical databases and indicators, essential for any minimally rationalized and contemporary society.

A second moment or focus of dispute, since this seems to be a central part of the rentier logic, concerns the treatment of the relationship between the so-called monetary policy and fiscal policy.

The character of capitalism in recent decades, the so-called neo-financialization, has become the most expressive link in the way in which the capitalist economy is presented in the current historical period. As critical authors observe the notion of complete “autonomy” of money in relation to production, in terms of Marx's criticism of vulgar economics, which considers that money grows on trees, just as “vines produce pears”, or even the perspective strongest in the neoclassical theory that commodities arrive on the market without prices and money without value.

Some authors, partially commented by Eleutério Prado, on the website the earth is round, reinforce the construction developed by Marx that only the production of surplus, material or services, through the exploitation of social labor, enables the expansion of wealth. This aspect is central to understanding dependent societies, how Brazil and other nations fit into this capitalist multiverse.

In our perspective, a capitalist world-economy with a rentier regime, or financialization, can only be maintained for so many years (four decades), if we have peripheral societies that supply value-wealth, as opposed to fictitious value (papers that are worthless, but transfer and concentrate wealth), enabling a growing economy of “dispossession” or dispossession, that is, the withdrawal of individual or social property “rights” and transfer to a small group of ultra-billionaires.[ii]

The Brazilian situation derives from its condition as a peripheral society, even if advanced, and, at the same time, with a strong presence of left-wing social organizations, a specific case of impasse between the social dispute for a non-neoliberal model and the obsequious subordination of the class. dominant to the capitalist center, guaranteeing the maintenance of a pattern of transfers of values ​​that are regular and necessary for the globalized rentier regime itself.

Just as Yánes Varoufakis (2017) treated and his thesis that capitalism exists based on “surplus recycling”,[iii] and that the system has been in crisis since 2008, the Greek author hypothesizes that US power has its days numbered, but it has an enormous reserve of “vassalage” that enables the continuity of a moribund regime. Fiscal schizophrenia and “austericide” are part of this critical pattern of maintaining both the neoliberal regime and the US central power.

Thus, the internal confrontation of the Lula government manifests itself in a great difficulty in breaking with fiscal strangulation, something visible within the limits of the so-called “fiscal framework”, this due to the need to maintain the effort to transfer values ​​from the Brazilian vassal State to the capitalist center, a need that is expressed by the continued logic of the system of guaranteed repurchases of public debt securities, the basis for maintaining extortionate interest rates.[iv] The break with this format would be, perhaps, the greatest economic and social achievement in favor of the Brazilian working population.

A third moment of internal dispute is related to the management of strategic economic sectors for Brazilian society, especially oil and energy. One of the explanatory points of the 2016 coup is related to the private and rentier control of the two strategic companies maintained by the national State, both in the case of Petrobras and Eletrobras, we have a set of essential factors for the national macroeconomy that, in different ways, would enable qualitative changes in the current context of de-industrialization and growing economic reprimarization, either by energy input or by the investment leverage base that these two companies would make possible.

As noted in an article recently published in Journal of Social Studies (RES) of the Federal University of Mato Grosso,[v] referring to the analysis of Companhia Vale S/A, the largest national player in the mining sector, but fully applicable to the two cases dealt with here, the rentier gains of the companies' shareholder controllers induce business strategies based only on the maximization of said gains, which is reflected in a logic of increasing exploitation of the labor force and the spoliative extraction of natural resources, reducing technological intensity, investments in environmental control policies and expanding the distribution of dividends.[vi]

The strategic resumption of Petrobras and Eletrobras is at the same level of difficulty as the more than necessary resumption of Brazilian state control over Companhia Vale, as in this case we have an enormous difficulty, either because of the interests that have been consolidated over the last seven years, or by the absence of a more vigorous national project that reorganizes the country's economic reproductive base.

The social dispute within the Lula government is, therefore, part of the dispute itself for breaking with the neoliberal model established four decades ago, but renewed permanently by the impasses of a society that became unable to break with the atavistic dependence on the interests of the rentier segments of the capital.

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Agenda for debates and theoretical challenges: the trajectory of dependency and the limits of Brazilian peripheral capitalism and its regional constraints (paka armadillo).


BORGES, Gedson Thiago and TRINDADE, José Raimundo Barreto. Political economy of financialization in the Brazilian mining sector: the case of Vale S/A. IN: Journal of Social Studies, 24 (49), 45–69.

HARVEY, David. The madness of economic reason. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2018.

KLIASS, Paul. Banks, Profits and Interest. Available in:

TRINDADE, José Raimundo Barreto. A dispute of ideas in the current situation: neoliberalism, resistance and social networks. Belém: ICSA Publisher, 2023.

TRINDADE, José Raimundo Barreto. Critique of the political economy of public debt and the capitalist credit system: a Marxist approach. Publisher: CRV. 1 Ed. Curitiba, 2017.

VAROUFAKIS, Yanis. The Global Minotaur: The True Origin of the Financial Crisis and the Future of the Economy. São Paulo: Literary Autonomy, 2017.


[I] Check Sonia Rocha. Poverty in Brazil: The Long-Term Evolution (1970-2011). Available in:–prof.-marcelo-proni–pobreza-no-brasil-a-evoluc%C3%A3o-de-longo-prazo.pdf. Sônia Rocha shows that the decline in poverty was structurally accentuated in the period in question, and the improvement in inequality indicators was significant compared to previous decades.

[ii] Regarding accumulation by dispossession, we can define it as a historical process of capital reproduction based on the appropriation of previously existing wealth or property. This process implies the withdrawal of small property rights or the privatization of public or state properties, something more characteristic of the advance of capitalism in peripheral or dependent countries in recent decades, see Harvey (2018).

[iii] The author's notion of “recycling of surpluses” refers to the thesis that capitalism, when making an “overproduction” of surpluses, needs a double mechanism for the realization of said surpluses: “one from the future to the present”, which constitutes the credit system and the other spatial, “from one region to another”, which constitutes trade and capital flows. This interpretation is close to the one we use on public debt as a “loan capital recycling mechanism”, see Trindade (2017).

[iv] The guaranteed repurchase system was instituted during the Military and Business Dictatorship, in 1974, according to consolidated official information available on the National Treasury Secretariat page, from January 1997 to May 2019 “Brazil withdrew from its budget values ​​the value total of BRL 5,4 trillion (at values ​​corrected for today)” for payment of interest and public debt services (Kliass, 2019).

[v] See Borges and Trindade (2023).

[vi] The strategy of maximizing shareholder value also had repercussions on the reduction of investments related to sustaining the operation of Companhia Vale, so that this influenced the conditions of the dams, as shown by the tragedies of Mariana and Brumadinho, as pointed out by Belluzzo and Sarti (2019) " investments in maintenance of operations were systematically reduced in the period 2014-2017 (…), it is observed that the expenses in 'piles and tailings dams' were reduced by half between 2014 and 2017 (US$ 474 million to US$ 202 million )”.

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