Lula of Brazil

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Richard Bourne, Zed Books, £16.99

There are few leaders in the developing world with such a larger than life reputation as Lula, president of Brazil since 2002 and long-time leader of the Brazilian Workers' Party (PT).

From very humble origins in the poor north east of the country to leader of the great strikes in the auto industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s that put paid to the Brazilian military dictatorship, Lula has until recently been seen by the left and workers' movement outside Brazil through rose-coloured glasses: a feisty working class leader who offers hope to Brazil's poor masses, and an international example of the possibilities for socialist transformation.

A fair reading of British journalist Richard Bourne's biography of Lula should disabuse anybody of this notion, but it is necessary to ignore the last chapter where he forgets his own damning evidence and sums up positively Lula's two presidential mandates.

In a readable journalistic style, Bourne details many interesting personal titbits from Lula's personal and professional life during the 20-year military dictatorship (1964 to 1985), the transition to democracy in the late 1980s, Lula's ascension to the presidency in 2002 and his moderate reformism during his six years in power. In general, the biography provides the necessary political, economic and international context to understand the twists and turns of Lula's political trajectory.

Bourne furnishes damning evidence of Lula's continuation of the neoliberal politics of previous Brazilian governments and his preference for the "Third Way" type reformism of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Gerhard Schr&oumlaut;der. While citing some of the modest successes of the Lula government in decreasing poverty, he documents thoroughly the neoliberal economic orthodoxy of the government, the kowtowing to international and national bankers, the failure of land reform, the alliances with right wing politicians and parties and the massive corruption within the PT which effectively ended the party's reputation as an honest, left wing alternative to business as usual politics in Brazil.

There are several errors in Bourne's biography that reflect his ignorance of some of the nuances of Brazilian politics and he omits a thorough discussion of the left wing alternative to Lula represented by the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL).

But the main problem is that in the final chapter he pulls his punches and sympathetically assesses Lula's two mandates, personifying Brazilian politics through the symbol of Lula's own personal achievements to overcome poverty and ascend to the Brazilian presidency. There is little attempt to analyse how and why the Lula government and the PT have given up on transforming Brazilian society and enthusiastically embraced the neoliberal project of the Brazilian and international ruling class. Like Lula and the PT, Bourne basically accepts that there is no alternative.

Worthwhile reading for important details, this book should be complemented by the much more critical look at Lula and the PT by Sue Branford and Bernardo Kucinski, Lula and the Workers' Party in Brazil.