The traps for Lula – ending

Image: Erik Mclean


The government will have to be very incisive in its initiatives so as not to leave room for right-wing offensives.

How to get out of the trap?

When I started writing this prospective analysis of the Lula government, I didn't think much about the title I adopted. Soon some critics of these writings pointed out that the word trap implies a deliberate action by someone or someone. I must clarify that the trap, arapuca, arataca, mundéu or any other synonym does not imply, in my view, a conspiracy by anyone. The different aspects of this plot have structural or conjunctural origins and are part of a systemic crisis of international capitalism and its native expression. This crisis manifests itself in various aspects, economic, environmental, social, ideological and political, which I tried to address in the articles that precede the current one.

What these articles point out is that these aspects of the crisis are combining to compose the tangle of conditionalities that are already holding back the Lula government and threatening the hopes that arose with the defeat of the energetic in the elections. Let's now look at the possible scenarios and the best possibilities for breaking the trap.

But before delving into the announced matter, we need to remember what can happen if the trap is not broken. If the Lula government is not able to promote a significant development of the economy with an inclusive character, there will be no Bolsa Família, Minha Casa/Minha Vida, Popular Pharmacy or any other, which compensate for the unemployment, underemployment, low income and high prices that must accompany a prolonged economic doldrums.

Without an increase in income, in employment rates, in controlling inflation, especially in terms of food and access to basic goods and services, not only will it be difficult to capture the vote captured by Jair Bolsonaro among anti-Lulist or anti-PT supporters, but it will also be difficult to maintain the anti-bolsonarist votes from the center and the democratic right. This situation would lead us to an election in 2026 with chances of a right-wing candidacy, probably without Jair Bolsonaro, but electorally viable.

A situation of economic disarray could be even worse, as it generates inflation, with the consequent loss of income. Social programs are subjugated in this right-wing congress and could be cut if the anti-government political game is interested. A loss of popular support for Lula and her government could lead us back to the situation experienced by Dilma Rousseff, with approval ratings falling below 10%. This situation points to a repeat of the 2016 coup. Even with Lula being of a different political background than Dilma Rousseff, the possibility is very real, given the composition of Congress.

In other words, breaking the trap is vital for the future of democracy and the republic. If we lose the stakes of this four-year period, we will be heading towards a renewed and prolonged disaster that could ruin the country permanently.

That said, let's analyze the possible ways to undo the shackles that hold back the Lula government.

The first issue to be resolved is the definition of the objectives that the government must adopt to guarantee its success. So far, whether in the electoral campaign or in the first 100 days, we do not have a clear government plan. Promises were many and, as always, most could not be fulfilled. We are witnessing a succession of initiatives that appear disconnected and without priority axes. The government complains about the lack of resources and fights against the spending ceiling, indicating that it intends to spend more than it collects.

However, the model proposed by Fernando Haddad as a fiscal framework does not guarantee this availability of funds for government investments. Even this very moderate project displeased the market and the conventional media and risks being slaughtered in Congress. On the other hand, the left wing of the government attacks the proposal as maintaining the neoliberal project of a minimal state. That's true, but what the left doesn't seem to understand is that the correlation of forces, in Congress and in the dominant classes, won't allow anything more radical, however much this radicalism is a necessity.

How to get around this node? The left speaks of a permanent mobilization of organized civil society to pressure Congress in support of the government. However, the government has not explained how it intends to use the funds it is fighting for. Without a very clear, lean program that is very focused on the basic needs of the population, it is difficult to carry out this “permanent mobilization”. The capacity to convene the left wing has been greatly diminished in the last 10 years and today it is very dependent on identity movements, whose agenda is not primarily economic.

I am not saying that the claims of blacks, women, LGBTQIA+ and indigenous people are not important, just that the fight for these rights does not have the same focus as the fight for a sustainable and inclusive development program. It must be remembered that there is an enormous distance between the masses that the left managed to mobilize against Bolsonarism and its attacks against democracy, which reached 700 thousand at the height of 2021, and the mobilization force that Lula showed in his electoral campaign, when added ten times this number.

We can assume that Lula will adopt a posture of permanent mobilization, as did Jair Bolsonaro throughout his government, but there is a high risk in this gamble. Even with a clear and impactful programmatic proposal, which has not yet appeared, Lula would have to adopt a combat posture for which he has no support in Congress or in the media. Jair Bolsonaro did not have the media, but he had Congress from the moment he surrendered to Centrão. With that, he neutralized any threat of impeachment and Lula will not have this safeguard with Artur Lira as president of the Chamber.

On the other hand, the right showed a capacity for convening that, although retracted at the moment, is far from negligible. And the potential for clashes between pro and anti-government protesters in street demonstrations is evident. Political violence is something the right is ready to use, with or without taking its bases to the streets.

Governing will be a juggling exercise in search of winning votes in Congress to pass the basic projects of interest to the government. The first of these will be the “fiscal framework”, but the most important will be tax reform. Without greater radicalism in this project, eliminating more than 600 billion reais a year in tax exemptions, adopting a strong reduction in indirect taxes and a progressive taxation on the richest, there will be no money for programs to promote development or for social programs.

This is a fight in which it will be essential to show the masses that the current system is unfair and that it benefits those with the most money. And this fight will need to be anchored in the presentation of a concrete plan on what the government intends to do with the money raised. Add to that that this reform, even if approved later this year, will not have an impact on revenue before 2025 or 2026 and may not give the government time to use the resources for its programs.

Mobilizing the masses to pressure Congress will be crucial, not least because there are no other means of gaining support in these houses filled with right-wingers and Bolsonarists. The government seems to rely on its concessions to parliamentarians and right-wing parties to win the necessary votes, but the game is beyond difficult, not least because a progressive tax reform that taxes the richest more affects the fortunes of congressmen themselves. Would it be the case to exempt them all from the new taxation? If that is the price, it seems to me that it is a case of paying it, however immoral and unpopular this measure may be.

Another important agenda for the Lula government is the environmental one. It is true that it does not have broad electoral appeal, but the urgency and emergence of environmental issues demand radical measures, above all in controlling deforestation and fires, with a focus on the Amazon and the Cerrado. It is an agenda that may have support in the mainstream media and in part of the ruling class, but that will be fiercely antagonized by agribusiness, and it has heavy influence in both houses of Congress.

It is an agenda with international support, including financial support, but it cannot be treated with kid gloves because time is running out and the process of destruction is still ongoing, after the media show of the intervention in Yanomami lands. European countries have just approved legislation banning imports of products from deforested areas and this will favor a broad campaign in the country.

The necessary measures to put deforestation and fires in check do not need support in Congress, unless the ruralist group bets on changing the legislation to something even more favorable to their interests. But we are not witnessing an intensified control effort in the most affected biomes and the destruction rates in this government remain at the same levels as those of Jair Bolsonaro.

I wonder why? Is there any negotiation going on with the ruralists? Will Lula fight the European import control measures? If you do, you will lose all the international support you gained from your radical statements in Sharm-el-Sheik. And as he no longer has all this ball after changing his feet for hands, getting into the thick of the war in Ukraine, he risks being isolated as quickly as he was fawned right after the elections.

To complete these speculations about what should be essential in government initiatives, I believe it is necessary to point to the need for focus, and a focus assumed by the government. The program I'm complaining about has to be presented and a lot of important things will be left out of the priorities. This will be reflected in the identity agenda and in other important agendas such as agrarian reform.

The government will have to be very incisive in its initiatives so as not to give space to right-wing offensives, which will try to polarize politically with its own agenda, in particular that of customs that clashes directly with the identity agenda. In the current picture of the correlation of forces, we cannot expect advances in these guidelines and it will already be a huge gain to prevent setbacks. The important thing is not to let the right-wing offensive take shape and, for that, attention will have to be focused on the government's priority proposals.

This is not the place to detail what I think the government's development program should be. The axis should be investment in meeting the basic needs of the population, with a clear orientation towards sustainable forms of production. In particular, it seems to me that the issue of food should acquire greater consistency, expanding from the “handbags” side to the production side and guaranteeing affordable prices for the poorest. I have already dealt with this subject in other articles and I will not repeat the arguments and proposals.

To complete, here is a recommendation for the militancy of the left and civil society movements. We have to break the bubble we have been trapped in for some time and seek to discuss priority programmatic proposals with the population. Something like that was done during the second round, with groups of militants getting together to take to the streets to talk to the people. Let's do this organically and permanently. It will not have an immediate effect on the political game, but in the long term we will not be able to escape fulfilling this role that has always been ours in society.

*Jean Marc von der Weid is a former president of the UNE (1969-71). Founder of the non-governmental organization Family Agriculture and Agroecology (ASTA).

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