Lula: a populist president?

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By JULIAN RODRIGUES*

Any government with democratic and popular commitments is abused beforehand and without respite.

Populism is one of those concepts that is so used that it ends up almost completely emptied of any practical sense. It can be this, that – or even its opposite, at the same time now – according to the customer's taste. In the mainstream media, for example, the term appears to describe what they consider authoritarian regimes (almost always those on the left). Populism would therefore be an evil form of government that must be repudiated.

Strictly speaking, any head of government who proposes public policies aimed at reducing inequality and/or establishing something similar to a welfare state is immediately condemned by the “tigrada” (the rich and their spokespersons in the media). ). They gain a strong stamp: they become ugly, dirty, evil – and on top of that they receive the main anathema: populists.

In other words: doing anything to improve people's lives is a bad thing in itself. Any government with democratic and popular commitments is harassed beforehand and without respite, because, after all, it would have been infected by the populist virus. But what is this populism? Are the PT and Lula populist too? If so, is this a negative or a positive (and for whom)?

I will stick to the limits and characteristics of this little text – which is extremely humble –, a brief journalistic article. I will therefore avoid theoretical controversies. I will solemnly disregard the immense critical production related to the theme of populism – I will try to get straight to the point.

Fast game: populism is a classification given to progressive governments that implement social reforms (generally in Latin America). Its leaders – considered charismatic – usually have the support of both fractions of the bourgeoisie and the subordinate classes.

Personally, I prefer to see such governments as a test of what a certain social democracy would be possible in our Latin America. Perón in Argentina and Getúlio in Brazil, for example.

Therefore, calling a government like that of Jair Bolsonaro, a neo-fascist, populist is a lot of sordidity and intellectual dishonesty – scoundrel reproduced by the mainstream media and also by certain “liberal” intellectuals.

Populism has to do, historically, with governments that somehow improve the lives of the people. How would it be possible, then, to put Maduro, Cristina and Bolsonaro in the same basket? What the media tends to label as populism actually refers only to governments that are in the progressive field – even with differences and contradictions.

In fact, populism is traditionally how the top floor tends to classify any social democratic government on our continent (Lincoln Secco's sharp summary). Perón and Getúlio – paradigms of what populist governments would be – did not come from poor backgrounds. They came from “petty-bourgeois” families, so to speak. However, they created modernizing governments in Argentina and Brazil that developed capitalism and their respective national states – with income distribution and social rights.

Were they both “populists” then? Or popular/charismatic reformist leaders who operated a strong strategy of communication and mobilization of the working masses? Between us, perhaps it is more pertinent to understand Getulism and Peronism as a social democratic essay in Latin America – and not merely as governments "caudillos ".

Despite the “little disgust” liberals have of them (which in itself is already quite significant), Getúlio and Perón did leave a progressive legacy. They improved the lives of many people with modernizing, industrializing and distributive measures.

Here it is necessary to establish a reference: populism – unlike what propagates common sense, does not have, in itself, a negative connotation – despite being regimes/governments always considered by the bourgeoisie “ugly, dirty and evil”.

 

And Lulu?

It is necessary to point out at the outset the immense differences between Lula's trajectory when compared with the biography of the historic populist leaders. Starting from the beginning. Lula was poor, from the Northeast, a migrant, a worker who became a union leader – and from then on he was the protagonist in the formation of the largest party of the Brazilian working class.

Luís Inácio da Silva is, despite all prejudice and common sense, a refined organic intellectual of the proletariat. He has always been an astute / dedicated party leader, as well as an extraordinary political leader – and at the same time, a gigantic cadre of the masses. In the Presidency of the Republic, he also proved to be a talented public manager. The policies he carried out in government greatly strengthened his leadership among the popular masses.

Sometimes I think that we do not even have an exact idea of ​​the dimension of what Lula's legacy is now and what will become of it. The Brazilian left is privileged to be able to count on the leadership of Dona Lindu's son. The bourgeoisie and its talkative crickets get too irritated (and don't even try to disguise it) with Lulão's immense ability to speak directly to the masses, and also establish himself as a respected statesman"all around the world".

It's fact. Lula's social policies were fundamental in establishing the special connection he has with the poorest. Criticisms that try to disqualify the President's popularity, especially the enormity of the power he holds in the Northeast, are generally prejudiced and elitist – they flirt with a certain regional racism.

There are many Lula: he is a dialectical, pluridimensional character. She navigates through several spaces at the same time – she moves between them with singular agility, wit and elegance. In the coming decades Lula will certainly be the subject of detailed academic research and a prominent figure in history books.

André Singer was a pioneer and daring to coin the term “Lulism” – groping, seeking a generalist theorization/explanation. But, there is an output problem there. How to outline a theory about Lula if he hasn't even started yet? Perhaps it is better, from an academic point of view, to let history unfold completely before seeking to construct theses, generalist hypotheses or systemic explanations about Lula and “Lulismo” (if such a thing really exists).

The concrete fact (an expression that Lulão loves) is the following: it is far from possible to describe Lula as a “populist” leader. His roots are in the trade unions: former president of the São Bernardo Metalworkers' Union, he is a popular, organic agitator and organizer.

I do not profile myself among those who disqualify and/or consider leaders like Getúlio or Péron to be regressive. Much less Néstor/Cristina Kirchner or Chávez/Maduro – who are very different from each other, of course. Populism, for us progressives, under no circumstances should sound pejorative.

A Globe Newif our big newspapers don't stop hammering crude neoliberal ideas all the time: they behave like a press office for Faria Lima. Recently, they dedicated the whole day to influencing the PT government, always trying to block the program that elected Lula (a Keynesian, social-developmentalist platform).

Lula leads a coalition government with some (minority) sectors of the dominant classes. But all the signs he has been sending are in the direction of carrying out a historic mandate. Bold and transformative. In fact, Lulão has been, in practice, the left wing of his own government.

More experienced and prepared than ever, marked by the painful experience of prison, it is clear that Lula is not cultivating illusions about the character of the Brazilian ruling classes. And he seems determined to leave a strong legacy of democratization and inequality reduction.

 

Is Lula bigger than the PT? Certainly

However, there would be no Lula without the PT. Or without unionism, social movements, without all the mobilization of the popular-democratic field. Lula has deep roots among the organized people – and he is keen to preserve them. It cannot be remotely compared to “populist” leaderships (in the usual sense in which the term is used).

Lula is the synthesis of the struggles of the working class and of all progressive sectors of the country in the last 50 years. It is also a product of the advancement of the people's political consciousness. It is not a charismatic leader who hovers above civil society and parties. On the contrary. Lula is only what he is because we collectively built him up in recent decades – together with a strong popular, democratic and socialist camp. He always reiterates that, by the way.

So, no hasty or superficial labels. It is to ignore and neutralize the ill will of the media (and certain academic sectors) with a so called populism. Or with what “Lulism” would be. (By the way, can you imagine Lulão in full populist mode? It would be too good).

But, however, however, however, however, however, Lula and the PT express another type of movement, organizational format and class representation – the result of another historical context. In addition to helping Lula carry out an exceptional third government, the challenge given is to increase the electoral/social strength of the PT and the left as a whole. Therefore, it is time to bet heavily on the mobilization/organization of youth, prioritize the training of cadres and carry out the political-ideological-cultural dispute on a daily basis.

Perhaps Lulismo will in fact become a popular force that is as long-lasting and rooted as it is effectively transformative. Even better: that the PT continues to be an organic, democratic, popular, plural party and maintains its strategic objective: the construction of socialism in Brazil.

Congratulations and thanks from the bottom of my heart to all the people's fighters who helped build the PT over the last 43 years. Long live the Workers' Party. Long live Lula! Long live the working class! Long live PT!

*Julian Rodrigues, journalist and teacher, is a PT militant and an activist in the LGBTI and Human Rights movement.

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