PT in government



A conciliation policy between irreconcilable social entifications

In 2002, everything led to believe that Brazil would change course. However, when it won the elections in 2002, electing its main union leader, Luiz Inácio da Silva (Lula), the PT was no longer the same. Transformism, conceptualization richly developed by Antonio Gramsci in the Prison Notebooks (Gramsci, 1989), had already reached in depth what most strongly characterized the Party: its working-class and popular social origin.[1]

Molecularly, almost without realizing it (with the exception of its left-wing critics), the PT abandoned the concept of a class party, which defended the autonomy and political independence of the working class, to convert itself into a party “for all”, "capable of seizing power" without causing any challenge from the Order. Guided, then, more and more by electoral calendars, distanced from the struggles of the working class, the Party was little by little abandoning, in its leading centers and that defined its policies, any anti-capitalist and socialist aspirations.

These banners were restricted to the minority Marxist groupings that existed within the PT and that, however, did not find any effective possibility of defining and leading the Party's actions. And that was how one of the most important workers’ parties in the West, which so much hope had created in the Brazilian working population, metamorphosed and ended up becoming a “Party of Order” (Marx, 2011).

This complex mutation was the founding cause of the policies developed by the PT during the Lula (2003-2011) and Dilma (2011-2016) governments. Their actions, however, when analyzed in their foundations, were characterized more by continuity than by rupture with neoliberalism, at least in what concerns its most determining aspects.

What explains, then, the enormous success of Lula's governments?

Such success, especially during Lula's second government (2007/11), was the result of significant economic growth, with emphasis on the expansion of the domestic market. His economic policy gave great incentive to the production of commodities for export (iron, ethanol, soybeans, etc.) and gave huge incentives to industries, through the reduction of taxes for the production of automobiles, household appliances and civil construction, in addition to "critically" preserving the "primary surplus", which especially benefited the financial capital. It was not without reason that Lula repeatedly said that “the banks never made as much profit as they did during his government”. He was right in saying that.

There was, however, a subtle differentiation in relation to neoliberalism. He added to the neoliberal macroeconomic elements mentioned above, elements of a focused social policy that benefited the most impoverished portions of the Brazilian population, those sectors that experienced levels of misery. His program, called Bolsa-Família, was the greatest expression of this assistance policy and became the most successful proposal of his government. It was a far-reaching welfare action that minimized (but never eliminated) the high levels of poverty, especially in the poorest regions of the country. The structuring pillars of Brazilian misery, unfortunately, were not even minimally addressed.[2]

When compared to the previous Cardoso government, it should also be mentioned that under Lula there was a wage appreciation policy (especially the Brazilian minimum wage). This is because the State, in addition to guaranteeing, preserving and expanding the interests of the large bourgeois fractions, also played the role of economic incentive and of expanding social policies, which led to the creation of more than twenty million jobs in little more than one decade. That's why I characterized his government as social-liberal to show the nuance that differentiated him from neoliberalism.

Thus, having Lula as a kind of great benefactor, his government was considered very successful in implementing a polyclass policy, having as its central guiding principle the policy of class conciliation, in which, while preserving and expanding the interests and profits of the dominant bourgeois fractions, it also favored the most impoverished sectors of the Brazilian working class, especially that which inhabits the Brazilian Northeast.

This is how Lula became, for the bourgeois classes, an authentic leader, a kind of Bonaparte, in the sense given by Marx (2011). He rigorously followed his commitments to the ruling classes, doing everything possible to increase his already high levels of accumulation, thus ensuring the full support of the bourgeoisie for his government. The support of the working class Lula had already obtained since the mid-1970s, when he consolidated himself as a great union and working class leader even under the military dictatorship. It was in this decade that an important union and strike movement emerged, from the industrial region of the ABC region of São Paulo, which gave rise to Lula's leadership. When his government ended, Lula was a figure “adored” by the overwhelming majority of the Brazilian population. And the conservative middle classes and bourgeois fractions had to bow to his “political genius”.

In 2010, when his government ended with very high levels of support from the overwhelming majority of the population, Lula chose Dilma Rousseff to succeed him. This was certainly one of her biggest political mistakes, among other mistakes made by the man who, in the 1970s and 80s, was the most important labor leader in Brazilian history. As in the spectacular tragedy of Frankenstein, the creator came to be disappointed with his creation... Instead of being a kind of executor of Lula's propositions, Dilma had her own way, which Lula only came to know fully later.

In his two terms (2011-2015, since the second was interrupted by the impeachment), Dilma maintained the same economic prescription implemented by Lula.[3] While the world economic scenario was favorable to PT governments, Brazil emerged as an experience that gained prominence in the global economy, deserving numerous positive references of support from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and similar organizations.

However, when the structural crisis of capital brought a new collapse to the global economy, the PT government project began its Way of the Cross. As is known, this new critical phase initially reached the capitalist countries of the North (2008/9) and later reached Brazil (2014).[4]

The June 2013 riots were the first signs that the situation was rapidly changing. They stamped, in a special moment on the global stage, marked by rebellions in several countries, unique and particular causes of the Brazilian reality, such as the enormous discontent with corruption and public spending necessary for the Confederations Cup, which would be held in 2014 Celebrated by the PT government as a “great act” achieved during the Lula government, the impoverished population revolted against the enormous expenditures determined by the International Football Federation (FIFA) in the midst of a time of lack of public resources, particularly for health and education.

The street demonstrations, it is worth noting, took place at the same time that information about corruption in PT governments began to intensify, which had already suffered a huge shock in 2005, with the so-called “Mensalão crisis”, which involved the Petrobras and almost led to Lula's deposition at the end of his first government.

Therefore, if the PT governments (especially Lula's) managed to significantly expand the number of jobs, reducing the high unemployment rates, they also failed to eliminate the conditions of vulnerability, present in the growing levels of informality and in the high contingents outsourcing, which accentuated the precariousness of the workforce in Brazil. Thus, a significant portion of the jobs created were found in the call centers and telemarketing, in the works online, in commerce, hypermarkets, the hotel industry, fast food etc., responsible for expanding the new service proletariat, the infoproletariat, in addition to a huge contingent of young workers in other service companies.

If in the 1970s/80s the number of outsourced workers in Brazil was relatively small, in later decades this number increased significantly, generating a mass of wage earners often without an employment relationship, suffering from high turnover rates, sometimes outside the legislation. labor, redesigning the new morphology of work in Brazil (Antunes, 2018 and Druck, 1999). And this broad universe of the working class played a prominent role in the social explosion that was about to happen.

This is the context, then, in which the June 2013 rebellions began. Having São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, as an irradiation point, an enormous popular mass was taking over the public squares, carrying out spontaneous demonstrations, using plebiscitary practices that expressed a strong revolt against the forms of representation, both of the parliament and of the state and federal governments and the judiciary.

These are the circumstances that, little by little, end up also arousing the hatred of the “traditional” middle classes and the broad bourgeois sectors, who begin to blame the PT and its corruption for all the ills that are growing in Brazil. The support of television, newspapers, radios, etc., in short, the mainstream media, was decisive for the polyclassist and multifaceted expansion of the uprisings. Gradually, the demonstrations gained new ideological components, with the inclusion of right-wing political flags, against the PT and the “red” lefts. Within it, groups began to openly defend the return of the military dictatorship, a proposition typical of the conservative middle classes and broad bourgeois sectors that since then began to express their dissatisfaction with the intensification of the economic crisis and, therefore, to openly dissent from the government. by Dilma Rousseff.

The political consequences were remarkable, with the rapid politicization and ideologization of the right and, in particular, the extreme right. And the most surprising thing is that they managed to appropriate the anti-institutional, anti-parliamentary and even anti-systemic flags, assigning them an ultraconservative meaning.

This critical picture was widened with the 2014 presidential elections, when various sectors and fractions of the ruling classes – which until then supported the PT governments – began to change sides, demanding a tougher fiscal adjustment, in addition to imposing a clearer measure. to combat “terrorism”, measures that were accepted by Dilma.

It was in this context of open confrontation and surprising progress by the right that, in 2014, Dilma was re-elected for what should have been her second term. But, even if the first actions of his new government met the claims demanded by the bourgeois forces, the opposition movement to his new government continued to grow.

Dilma made the toughest fiscal adjustment; likewise, he reduced labor rights such as unemployment insurance; increased bank interest rates, appointing a direct representative of finance capital to implement the “new” recessive program; announced new privatization plans, etc., but discontent continued to grow. At the same time that his government accepted these anti-popular measures, his support for the working class, unions and social movements that until then had supported the PT governments was even more eroded.[5]

The final blow came with the outbreak of the so-called Operation Lava Jato, which was a judicial investigation aimed almost exclusively at punishing corruption crimes committed by the PT, which further increased the unpopularity of the Party and Dilma. The bourgeois classes, incapable of presenting a neoliberal regressive program capable of leading to an electoral victory, ended up resorting to the coup route. After months of political, parliamentary, judicial and media struggle, the impeachment of Dilma became a matter of time.

Demoralized, the PT government, involved in major corruption scandals, witnessed rising unemployment rates, at which point the economically dominant groups unleashed the coup. O locus political found to give the appearance of “legality” was Parliament, which until recently gave solid support to PT governments.

A new type of coup was beginning to take shape in Latin America, which had already been practiced in Honduras and Paraguay, to focus only on Latin American examples. Through a cunning process of judicialization of politics, which was also, simultaneously, a form of politicization of justice, Parliament sanctioned, in August 2016, the impeachment of Dilma and her replacement by the coup leader Michel Temer, then vice-president, appointed by Lula. The long cycle of PT governments ended.

The time had come for the capitals to have an openly-gendarme-type government, regardless of how useful the PT governments were to the ruling classes. The glorious era of conciliation was definitively coming to an end, which gave rise to a new form of domination, the disastrous phase of the counterrevolution. The Brazilian political context thus gave plausibility to the formulation of Giorgio Agamben (2004), where the exception becomes a permanent feature of the “rule of law”. Thus, what we saw in Brazil, with the 2016 coup, can be defined as a new bizarre variant that we characterize as the “state of law of exception”.

The parliamentary coup that led to the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff did not present full judicial evidence that compromised Dilma. It was, then, a political deposition. It was for this reason that Dilma was not punished with the loss of her political rights, which would be a legal consequence of her deposition. Since it was an essentially political deposition, his political rights were preserved. There was an evident legal incongruity.

In other words, the same Parliament that deposed her, recognized that she had not committed any political crime that would justify her subsequent ineligibility. The farce was added to the tragedy, in a country that has always hidden its deep ills and social iniquities by assuming the appearance of an endless comedy.

It seems inevitable, therefore, to remember Marx, when referring to the Parliament of France in the mid-nineteenth century. Faced with the humiliation of power that that institution was suffering, the French Parliament saw the rest of the respect it still enjoyed among the French population disappear (Marx, 2011). What to say, then, about the Brazilian Parliament, whose pragmatic policy was seen by the population as the most harmful in all republican Brazilian history?

In this way, the election of the former army captain, Jair Bolsonaro, in 2018, was the tragic bundling of the process that began with the 2016 coup.

*Ricardo Antunes is professor of sociology of work at IFCH-UNICAMP. Author, among other books, of The privilege of servitude (Boitempo).

This article is a Portuguese version of a chapter from the book cave policy: Bolsonaro's contrivoluzione (Castelvecchi).


AGAMBEN, G. (2004). State of exception. Sao Paulo, Boitempo.

ANDRADE, M. (1978). hero without any character. Rio de Janeiro, Technical and Scientific Books.

ANTUNES, R. (2018). The Privilege of Servitude, Sao Paulo, Boitempo.

ANTUNES, R. (2004) The Neoliberal Desertification in Brazil: Collor, FHC and Lula. Campinas: Associate Editors.

ANTUNES, R.; BRAGA, R. (2009) (eds.). infoproletarians: real degradation of virtual work. Sao Paulo, Boitempo.

CHESNAIS, F. (1996). The Globalization of Capital. Sao Paulo, Ed. Shaman.

FERNANDES, F. (1975). The bourgeois revolution in Brazil. Sao Paulo, Zahar, 1975.

FORUM “The Long Brazilian Crisis”, by Historical Materialism Review, January 2018, London.

GRAMSCI, A. (1989) Machiavelli, politics and the modern state. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization.

KURZ, R. (1992) The Collapse of Modernization. São Paulo, Peace and Earth.

LUKÁCS, G. (1981) Ontology Dell'Essere Sociale II, Vol. 1 and 2, Rome: Riuniti.

MESZÁROS, I. (2002) Beyond Capital. Sao Paulo, Boitempo.

MARX, K. (2011) The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Sao Paulo, Boitempo.

OLIVEIRA, F. (2003). Critique of Dualistic Reason/The Platypus. Sao Paulo, Boitempo.

PRADO Jr., C. (1966) The Brazilian Revolution. São Paulo, Editora Brasiliense.

SANTANA, MA (2001). Broken men: communists and unions in Brazil. São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro, Unirio/Boitempo.

SAMPAIO Jr., P. (2014) June Days. São Paulo, Caio Prado Institute/ICP.

VIANNA, Luiz Werneck. Liberalism and union in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 1976


[1] We make extensive use, in this text, of several ideas developed in the book The Privilege of Servitude (Antunes, 2018) and in our recent interview on Forum “The Long Brazilian Crisis” (edited by Historical Materialism Review), January 2018. A very abbreviated version was published by the magazine Eszmélet (Hungary).

[2] See Antunes (2018).

[3] In just a short period, Dilma sought to carry out a small reduction in bank interest rates. The opposition was so great that it quickly retreated.

[4] On the fundamental causes of the structural crisis of capital, see Mészáros (1996), Chesnais (1996) and Kurz (1992).

[5] An example of this loss is found in the ABC region of São Paulo, the industrial area where Lula and the PT originated. In the 2014 elections, Dilma lost the elections in these working-class cities to the right-wing candidate, Aécio Neves.

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