The return of José Dirceu

Image: Lula Marques/ Agência Brasil
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By JULIAN RODRIGUES*

José Dirceu will still give the elites a lot of headaches

How to start an article about José Dirceu? I thought for a while and decided to open by declaring my most absolute partiality. I'm from Minas Gerais and I'm a PT member since I was 15 years old. I worked at the national PT with José Dirceu between the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I never participated in the same party camp as the most illustrious Passaquatrenses (it was impossible to determine with certainty, after the ill-fated spelling reform, whether or not such a toponym had a hyphen).

Minas Gerais is so big that my little town – Uberaba, the capital of Zebu – is almost 600 km away from the vibrant metropolis in the south of Minas Gerais, where little José came into being in the very distant month of March 1946! (I lose the friend, but not the joke).

I will not bore my few readers by describing the well-known trajectory of the student leader, clandestine and armed combatant of the military dictatorship, who, together with Lula, was the main leader of the PT. In addition to being a state and federal deputy.

In 1994 José Dirceu was our candidate for governor of São Paulo. He didn't do it badly, on the contrary. Third place, he collected around 3 million votes (15%) in the year in which Mário Covas, voted for by 6,6 million (47%) was elected governor. Then begins the long tucano dominance in São Paulo: 1995-2022.

In fact, you cannot fail to register the backlash: perhaps even the dandy toucan João Dória will be missed by São Paulo residents (natives or migrants). Tarcísio de Freitas operates in a dark key, groping for something like neo-Malufism. Strictly speaking, it is exacerbated Bolsonarism: authoritarianism, more neoliberalism, militarism and encouragement of police violence. The governor flaunts his fascist leanings proudly.

The São Paulo PM, which had been gradually reducing its lethality in recent years, increased the number of executions by around 140% between 2023 and 2024. A brutal setback directly related to Tarcísio de Freitas' necropolitics: “people can go to the UN, You can go to the Justice League, no matter what, I don’t care”…

But let's talk about manager José Dirceu. Architect of the PT strategy; leader of the majority (and moderate) camp; commander of updating of the PT (as incensed as it is criticized). He was the head of the 2002 campaign – the one that gave us access to the federal government for the first time.

Fulminant rise and fall

The fact is that José Dirceu's history, biography, countless qualities led him to be the main figure – after Lula, of course – of the first democratic-popular government. And from there to hell – in a very short time (January 2003-December 2005).

We made a lot of mistakes together: the PT, the left, Lula, but of course, Zé Dirceu too (it's Uncle Ben's curse: greater powers...). I think he never ran away from his responsibilities without cultivating self-flagellation. And if there is something that even the most rabid opponents recognize, it is the coherence, courage, and arrogance of the great friend of the Cuban revolution (a fact that the right always uses to criticize him).

Perhaps the “mensalão” farce could have had different results. Most of us underestimated the intentions of the right and the coup plot that began there in 2005 and reached its peak with the deposition of Dilma Rousseff and the arrest of Lula. In fact, who among us really believed that they would go so far as to imprison the country's greatest popular leader?

Probably José Dirceu, as much as Lula and most progressives, underestimated the upper floor. The absolute lack of commitment of the local bourgeoisie – and imperialism – to democratic freedoms.

The defeats of recent years have led to a partial change in the PT's tactics (but not in its strategy). Gleisi Hoffmann, fearless and lucid, makes a change in the leadership of the Party: more clarity, assertiveness. A programmatic tension to the left.

José Dirceu has apparently also been making this movement, albeit well mediated. He, who was even a blogger, published the first volume of his memoir six years ago. But he still owes us the second and third. It's part of it. I imagine how difficult it is for someone like him to stop and record and review an entire life that is not monotonous or trivial.

Furthermore, I believe that José Dirceu will still give the elites a lot of headaches. I imagine he plans, like Lula, to stay among us until he is 120, at least.

“Put the old man’s portrait back again, put it in the same place”

I remembered Getúlio Vargas. Lula's third government, with nuances and contradictions, seems to have a certain inspiration (and even similarities, despite the immense historical differences) to the second Vargas period, when the people massively voted for the Gauchos.

Impressively, Brazil has problems and challenges very similar to those of the 1930s and 1950s: low industrialization, large estates, excessive weight of the primary export sector, monopoly of a “udenist” or rather “lacerdist” media, puppet armed forces of the USA and always ready – salivating to give a new blow; an even more regressive international scenario, as there is no counterpoint to imperialist rule (before there was the Soviet Union).

This digression was probably inspired by the central character of this article, a leader who is known for his breath-taking, panoramic analyses. We disagree with him on his tactics, program, slogan or whatever, but it is always thought-provoking to read or listen to what Dirceu formulates.

In order not to be accused of publishing a panegyric, or worse, a commissioned text, I will mention other aspects of the figure. José Dirceu is annoying, yes, perhaps not as much as his opponents say nor as little as his friends propagate. This grouchiness is probably the counterface to his obstinacy for work. José Dirceu maintains a certain guerrilla discipline.

Admittedly vain, he aged well – obviously the beauty of that long-haired PUC-SP student was left behind. I believe, however, that the basis of his convictions, the way he thinks about life and the fight to change Brazil have not essentially changed.

The handsome young Zé would not be ashamed of the elderly Dirceu. After all, “the old man is the king of the beasts”. If Gilberto Gil proclaimed it that way, who are we to deny it?

Friend Zé (if you allow me to be intimate), I wish you a red, mobilizing, dense, happy, beautiful, politicized and victorious campaign! Inspiring, above all. Long live PT! Long live socialism and long live José Dirceu federal deputy.

* Julian Rodrigues, journalist and teacher, he is an activist in the LGBTI movement, the Human Rights movement and political training coordinator at the Perseu Abramo Foundation.


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