election of Lula as President of Brazil in 2003 was one of a series of left wing shocks that shook Latin America in the early to mid-2000s. Lula, the undisputed leader of the Brazilian Workers Party had long been seen as a far left opponent of the Brazilian ruling class.
This early book was published in the aftermath of Lula's failed attempt to win the Presidency in 1989. Lula tried again in 1994 and 1998 before winning in 2003. As such, the book is very dated. But its usefulness in part stems from its examination of the Lula's own early politics and the development of the Workers Party. For those of us who are engaging with Brazilian radical politics for the first time, this history is invaluable. Though I would suggest that people who would like a more up to date discussion of Lula, Brazil and the Workers Party look at more recent publications, such as Sue Branford and Bernardo Kucinski's book Lula and the Workers' Party in Brazil.
Lula took office declaring that ""my government will be for the excluded, the discriminated, the humiliated and the oppressed." While those hopes rapidly diminished, his statements reflect the radical origins of his party and his own politics. Lula comes from a poor, indigenious background, he rose to help found and lead the Workers Party as a reaction to the poverty and oppression that he saw. This short book examines well the recent history of Brazil, the time of the dictatorship that saw living standards crash and rights eroded. The growth of the Workers Party organically from a series of mass strikes and systematic campaiging are one of the reasons the party had such a root amongst the working class. The authors detail both the hard work that Workers Party activists engaged in, as well as the problems their approach took.
The Workers Party prided itself on breakign with that they saw as old forms of organsing the left. The authors are keen to describe part of the success of the party, as being due to Brazil lacking a large, leftist tradition. While in its early years, the Workers Party was absolutely clear that it was fighting for a transformation of Brazil towards a socialist economy, it lacked a clear theoretical understanding of how that would be achieved, and what it meant. Since much of its work concentrated on electoral success, this lead to major problems, particularly when Workers Party mayors found themselves clamping down on strikers in the cities they controlled.
The story of Lula's 1989 defeat makes up the final pages of this book. It's a fascinating story, because it shows the fear with which the ruling class of Brazil, and the United States had for a potential Lula victory. The Brazilian establishment closed ranks around its chosen candidate and Lula was defeated, in part by a series of dirty tricks. However, it was also clear that the Workers Party had failed to build deep enough roots in the wider non-working class population. In this regard, the sections on the Workers Party's early rural programme are particularly useful.
Sadly Lula's eventual victory in 2003 did not hold up to the ideals that are described in the short interview with him in the back of the book. This interview is probably worth digging out, for it shows the principles with which Lula fought the 1989 election. Early allegations of corruption and his pro-business policies that led to Lula clamping down on left wing deputies marred the first few months of his presidency. The mild reformism with which he governed has done little to benefit the ordinary people of Brazil, though it didn't stop him winning a second election and the Workers Party winning a third. The formation of the PSOL as a radical alternative to the Workers Party was one response, but that story is far ahead of the period covered by this early work.
Robb - A Death in Brazil
Galeano - Open Veins of Latin America
Chappell - Beginning to End Hunger
Sader - The New Mole