Lula's rights



As long as Lula is banned from running for office, we will not have democracy.

"Tying resistance to the fascist danger to the defense of bourgeois parliamentary democracy at any cost means betting everything on the survival of already doomed institutions." (Ernest Mandel) [1].

What is more important, rescuing Lula's political rights or removing Bolsonaro from the Presidency of the Republic?

Against all common sense, the correct alternative is: to give Lula his rights back. The answer, however, is not so straightforward. It requires clarifying that it is not exactly the rights of a natural person and that, therefore, it does not matter what one thinks about them and even about their political practice.

The 2016 coup was not only carried out against a government, a party or its leader. He was plotted to apply an ultra-liberal agenda and wall the working class down for good. It matters little (for the coup supporters, obviously) if the PT government itself had initiated a fiscal adjustment. Every left-wing government carries within itself the original sin of its emergence linked to strikes, social movements and the defense of the oppressed, even when it abandons its initial program. Historically, coups were almost always given against governments that had nothing to do with revolutionaries. O putsch in Latin America it is a structural element of politics and the State.

The end of Latin American dictatorships in the 1980s forged the illusion that democracy could be consolidated. But from 1980 to 2019 there have been at least twenty successful coups d'état in our Latin American subcontinent.

The new progressive governments of the XNUMXst century believed in changing civil society starting from the State without transforming it. They engendered a social pact that worked while economic growth made it possible to increase profits and wages at the same time. Such governments met social demands and reinforced the repressive apparatus without even reflecting on the class nature of the state. Of course, the process was not linear. The Dilma government facilitated the passage of the anti-terrorism law while its bench in the federal senate voted against it; its justice minister subjected left-wing groups to the intelligence services while the party leadership issued public notes against the preventive detention of demonstrators.

Lula has historically operated as a rallying point for these opposing tendencies. More than that, he always kept one foot in the party's internal social milieu and the other in civil society. He drew his strength from that. After his arrest, he may have bequeathed an inheritance to his party, but he lost that mediating role vis-à-vis the bureaucracy and the holders of mandates.

Lula continues to have an electoral weight on which PT candidates still depend, but the 2018 elections showed that despite supporting, he cannot lead. In a party that for decades has been prepared exclusively to contest elections, this is no small feat. Without political rights he does not threaten anyone.

This contributes to explaining the negligence with which the “Lula Livre” campaign was relegated in 2020. Despite party resolutions, it is not at the center of the discourse of governors and party mayors. It should be the core of the PT's strategy. But not out of mere solidarity. The PT leaders (Lula included) cared little about the persecution of José Dirceu, who was the main president of the association. But the issue in 2005 seemed secondary because few people realized that the attack on him, José Genoíno and other leaders was part of a process aimed at interdicting the party.

rationed democracy

From 2016 to 2020, the common minimum of the bourgeoisie was the interdiction of the popular field. Read any left with electoral chances. During the “New Republic” this field was expressed partisanly in the PT [2].

In order to consolidate the new façade democracy, a permanent veto of the party was erected as its mainstay. This does not mean that he should be impeached (although it could happen), that he cannot run and win in local governments or that he is not invited to be the minor partner of progressive liberal fronts.

This veto unites from certain sectors of the center left (some sheltered in the PT itself) to the extreme right. It passes through the toga and media parties; by moderate neoliberals and the political center. Although part of the middle class has moved away from militant Bolsonarism, there is no evidence that shed industrialists, landowners, evangelical bishops and bankers have done the same. And they certainly continue to prefer fascism to PTism, however moderate it may be.

The revocation of Lula's electoral rights is the main support of the veto. Therefore, it is not only about his interests, but about an entire sector of Brazilian politics. And let no one be fooled: if another leadership from the left appears with a chance of being elected president, the veto will be transferred to him.

Evidently the figure of Lula has its idiosyncrasies, its history and raises passions and hatred [3]. The fact that he combined original social policies with a class conciliation government always makes his legacy ambiguous [4]. But it is in this context that we can better understand how he subjectively expresses structural movements that make up his trajectory.

As the most important popular leader of his time, Lula condenses in himself what is happening in the infrastructure of civil society and which analysts can only pick up post fest. He seems to hit and miss on his own. And in politics appearance matters and that is why Lula can change the meaning of the situation.

Which front?

In every strategy there are zones of uncertainty. No one can know whether a front left alone is enough to defeat fascism in Brazil [5]. Just as we do not know whether the annulment of the PT in an alliance with neoliberals can demoralize it for decades and definitively stabilize what Marighela called rationed democracy [6].

Combining participation on two fronts is pure rhetoric. No one likes someone who wears two shirts. If we consider Bolsonarism a fascist movement, the solution is a front of workers around which other social groups can gravitate and not the other way around. Because you can't defeat a mobilizing force with an alliance of traditional politicians, trade unionists and desperate intellectuals around merely political rights.

It is not that such rights are negligible or that there is a scale on which the union struggle precedes that of LGBTQIs, women and blacks. For the working class freedom is as important as employment. The issue is that for her salary, civil rights and voting are inseparable and for other social groups they are not.

Certainly Lula does not intend for the anti-fascist struggle to attack the entire established order. But we must never despise the possibilities of revolutionary disintegration of any system. And the anti-bourgeois forces that the fascist regime can unleash do not start from zero. They have historical soil cultivated by anarchist, communist and popular struggles that Lula represents. Some left-wing politicians prefer to say yes to a combination of neoliberalism and rationed democracy. Lula said no.

The ruling classes retreated to the monopoly of political power. But they still haven't bet on the government's transition to a fascist regime. For those at the bottom there is only one certainty: without Lula's right to be a candidate, there will be no democracy.

*Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Gramsci and the Revolution (Avenue).


[1] Mandel, I. Trotsky as an Alternative. Translated by Arlene Clemesha. Foreword by Osvaldo Coggiola. São Paulo: Xamã, 1995, p. 167.

[2] Secco, L. “PT 40 years – A workers' party: what for?”, In: the earth is round []

[3] See Secco, L. (Org). The Idea: Lula and the meaning of contemporary Brazil. São Paulo: NEC / Contraf, 2018.

[4] This brings him closer to figures such as Juan Domingo Perón, Lazaro Cárdenas and Getúlio Vargas.

[5] The debate is not new, as Osvaldo Coggiola very well recalled in an article on the website the earth is round [].

[6] Cf. Secco, Lincoln. “Rationed Democracy”. In:  Counterpoint, Montevideo, no. 4, 2014, p. 137-150


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