On “Lulismo”

by Ruy Braga, University of Sao Paulo

Despite the unexpected competition in the runoff, Dilma Rousseff’s (PT – Workers Party) victory, with around a 12 million vote margin, over Jose Serra (PSDB – Brazilian Social Democracy Party) in the Oct. 31st Brazilian Presidential elections demonstrated the current administration’s political hegemony.

Supported by a wide margin of votes in the Northeast of Brazil – one of the poorest regions of the country and the main beneficiary of an income transfer program known as the “Bolsa família” – where she obtained the support of 67% of the electorate, Dilma Rousseff is, in fact, the consolidation of a relatively new social and political phenomenon in Brazilian history: “Lulismo”.

In an effort to understand the existence of this novel phenomenon, the political scientist Andre Singer has argued that a comparison of the 2002 and 2006 presidential election polls shows that the emergence of “Lulismo” was based on the support of low income voters – those receiving between one and two minimum wages – for Lula’s political program. This happened at the same time that the former Brazilian president suffered declining support from among the urban middle classes, who had voted for him in 2002, in the wake of the “mensalão” scandal (illegal monthly allowance paid to members of Parliament in exchange for their support).

What exactly is this Lulismo and where did it come from? In Brazil, the 90s was a decade of corporate productive restructuring, privatizations and the crisis of militant unionism. The productive transformations and the privatizations increased unemployment, effectively undermining the grounds for labor organization. The old system of Fordist solidarity gave way to the casualization of employment, and the militant trade unionism associated with this system of solidarity went into crisis, heightening the bureaucratization of the unions.

During Lula’s rule the union bureaucracy amplified this trend by taking over the federal government, but preserving the essence of the economic policies of the previous Cardoso regime. Next, the Lula administration demobilized the social movements through the absorbing of a significant portion of their leaders. By integrating antagonistic social forces into the state apparatus, and by demobilizing the subaltern classes, “Lulismo” dissolved the social movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Dilma Rousseff, someone who had never run for election before, embodies to the hegemony of this bureaucratic power.

Here, then, is the definition of “Lulismo”: a form of hegemony produced by a co-optative revolution – some call it a “passive revolution” — undertaken in the capitalist semi-periphery that managed to demobilize the social movements through absorbing their leadership into state administration under the guise of the apparent realization of their historical demands. What is left of the movements now actively consent to the economic exploitation driven by the globalized system of financial accumulation.

For their part, a considerable portion of the Brazilian lower classes also consent but in a more passive way. They are entangled in a network of dependence on governmental public policies such as the “Bolsa Familia”, the expansion of the federal university system with support for affirmative action, the push towards “decasualization” of the labor market, the policy of increasing the minimum wage beyond inflation, the resumption of investment in infrastructure and, more recently, the encouragement of mass consumption through payroll loans – consent passively.
Tired of being politically innovative and of defending themselves economically, the Brazilian subaltern classes catch their breath and, relying on redistribution of income permitted by economic growth, they continue their support of Lulismo and its new representative, Dilma Rousseff.

However, it is worth remembering the 10 million null and blank votes, as well as the 20 million  votes obtained by Marina Silva (PV – Green Party) in the first round, and the million votes won by the extreme left. These dissenting voices point to dissatisfaction with the narrow limits set by the current bipartisan political game (PT-PSDB) that dominates the country. Even the celebrations of Dilma’s victory were timid and bureaucratic. It remains to be seen how “Lulismo” will respond, now without Lula, to these cracks in the edifice.

Brazil, Volume 1, Issue 2

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