Lula’s Passive Revolution and the Consolidation of Neoliberalism in Brazil

Topics: Neoliberalism, Brazil, Macroeconomics Pages: 32 (11214 words) Published: October 31, 2011
The Oceanic Conference on International Studies,
Auckland, 30 June – 2 July 2010

“Lula’s Passive Revolution and the Consolidation of Neoliberalism in Brazil.”

Tom Chodor
School of Politics and International Relations
The Australian National University

The Presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) in Brazil has been seen as a watershed in the country’s development. Not only is he Brazil’s first ‘working class’ President, he has managed to bring the stability, prosperity and unity to the country that has so often eluded it in the past. This feat has been even more impressive because it has been achieved by pursuing a broadly neoliberal accumulation strategy which has failed to produce similar results in most other countries in the periphery. The key to Lula’s success lies in the combination of traditional neoliberal strategies with economic, social and foreign policies inspired by the ‘Third Way’ and its international counterpart the post-Washington Consensus. This paper argues that in doing so, the Lula government has carried out a Gramscian ‘passive revolution’ of the Brazilian social order, which, in blunting some of the worst excesses of neoliberal economy, has managed to win consent for neoliberalism while seemingly moving away from it. The paper explores the specific economic, social and foreign policies of the Lula government that work towards this end and examines their continuities and departures from the original neoliberal project and how they contribute to its hegemony. It concludes by briefly assessing the significance of this achievement, not only for Brazil but also more importantly for the broader neoliberal world order, where it is part of an ongoing ‘passive revolution’ also intent on rearticulating consent for neoliberal globalisation.

The victory of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) in the 2002 Brazilian Presidential election was greeted with hope and enthusiasm by progressive forces not only in Brazil but around the world. Lula had been a key figure in the working class struggle against the military dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and following the return of democracy, became a permanent fixture of the Brazilian political scene, coming within a whisker of winning the first democratic Presidential election in 1989 and finishing second in the subsequent two. The PT, formed by Lula and other union leaders during the struggle for democracy as the party of the working class and the excluded, had also gone from strength to strength, increasing its vote at every election and challenging the exclusionary and elite-driven Brazilian political system. The party, with its large membership based in social movements and its commitment to ‘socialism’ coupled with its track record of innovation and ethical behaviour, was widely revered as a truly progressive grassroots-based party which, having made its name challenging the previous Cardoso administration, would bring about a more just, equitable and fair social order.

However once in power, the Lula government not only continued but extended Cardoso’s neoliberal policies. The servicing of the country’s debt continued to be prioritised over social spending, and growth remained slow, retarded by austere monetary policies intended to keep inflation in check. Amid accusations of ‘betrayal’ and revelations of systemic corruption within the party and the government, many predicted that the Lula government would quickly lose popularity as it faced the reality of a globalised world in which there was little alternative to neoliberal dictates. However, Lula was re-elected in 2006 with a significant part of the vote. In its second term, the PT government brought not only macroeconomic stability to the country, but also impressive rates of growth, coupled with ‘responsible’ social policies which began to make progress in dealing with the country’s...

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