November 06, 2022

Lula’s Victory in Brazil Is Also a Victory for the World

Vijay Prashad

ON October 30, 2022, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula) won the second-round of the presidential election in Brazil. The vote, in the end, was tight, with Lula prevailing with 50.9 per cent (60 million votes) over the incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro’s 49 per cent (58 million votes). Lula won decisively in the north and north-east of Brazil, areas that have large populations of Afro-Brazilian and indigenous voters, while Bolsonaro prevailed in the south. Richer Brazilians voted for Bolsonaro, while poorer Brazilians voted for Lula – the class lines drawn firmly, but only muddied when it came to voters who were members of conservative evangelical churches.

In the first round, on October 2, Lula prevailed over the other candidates, including getting six million votes more than Bolsonaro, but he was not able to win outright by getting over 50 per cent of the total votes. The margin between Lula and Bolsonaro decreased by the second round, but not enough to allow Bolsonaro to hold on to the presidency. Bolsonaro’s use of money power, street violence, and fake news made an impact, but not enough. Lula, who had been president for two terms from 2003 to 2010, will now return to work at the Palácio do Planalto in Brasilia on January 1, 2023.


Lula, born in 1945, went to work in the automobile industry as a teenager (losing two fingers to an industrial accident at the age of nineteen). During the suffocating years of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), Lula helped build the labour movement and the movement for democracy. In 1980, Lula joined with a group of people of the left to form the Workers Party (PT), which – with the trade unions and other peoples’ organisations (including the Landless Workers Movement, the MST, founded in 1984) – built a major campaign that eventually ended the dictatorship. In 1986, the year after the dictatorship ended, Lula was elected to Congress with the largest number of votes nationwide. Lula’s political commitment to popular democracy and to socialist principles was forged in these early struggles.

During his presidency, Lula fought to establish – as much as possible – structures to transcend the dilemmas of humanity such as hunger, illiteracy, and homelessness. The immense campaign to end hunger – Fome (Hunger) Zero and Bolsa Familia – drove back the scourge of hunger, earning Lula the title of Global Champion in the Battle Against Hunger from the United Nations in 2010. The establishment of public universities and the use of public funds to rebuild the country’s infrastructure – including public housing – pushed both Brazil’s growth rate up and decreased the social inequality in the country. In the aftermath of his presidency and that of his successor Dilma Rousseff, the achievements of these socialists were reversed by the far right; as one indicator, hunger rates rose (the number of Brazilians who faced severe food insecurity doubled between 2018 and 2019) to levels not seen since the late 1990s, and by December 2020 half of the country suffered from hunger.

Between the first and second round, Lula wrote a Letter to Tomorrow’s Brazilian People, in which he laid out thirteen points. These are rooted in a pledge to improve the conditions of social life built on a new dynamism in the economy built on a strategy of industrialisation and modernisation of the knowledge sector. Brazil will need to move away from an economy premised on exports of raw materials and imports of finished goods. When Ford said it would shut down its plant at São Bernardo (in São Paulo state), Bolsonaro said he would not fight against one more instance of deindustrialisation, saying that he would not use government money to assist the plant. For Bolsonaro, the key elements of the economy that he has promoted has been agribusiness, whilst he has neglected the country’s industrial base (an image of this switch has been Brazil’s move from being an exporter of aircraft to being an exporter of soy). ‘Brazil does not need to depend on imports of respirators, fertilisers, diesel, or gasoline’, Lula wrote in his Letter. ‘There is no need to depend on imports of microprocessors, satellites, aircraft, and platforms. Our country has a potential that should be enhanced in software, defence, telecommunications, and other technology sectors’.


The Brazilian political system – since the new republic was established in 1985 – does not naturally favour the working-class and the peasantry. The three blocs of the political world – Beef, Bible, Bullet (Bancadas do Boi, do Bíblia e da Bala) – are rooted in favouring the military and security systems (bullet), the Evangelical Parliamentary Front (bible), and the big agricultural companies that want all regulations against farming and to protect the forests to be removed (beef). These three blocs along with deeply opportunistic political projects form the centrão (the centre) that dominates the National Congress and the political structures of most of the states. Angered by the agenda set by Lula and Dilma, these political forces gathered like a dark cloud over Brazil to remove Dilma from office through a legislative coup in 2016 and to entrap Lula in a legal tangle that sent him to prison in 2018 for 580 days. The phrases ‘legislative coup’ and ‘lawfare’ entered the vocabulary of the Brazilian people, who watched the centrão use any method to pursue the interests of the country’s elites and their multinational allies.

The attack on Dilma and Lula paved the way for the presidency of Michel Temer (2016-2018) and Bolsonaro’s victory in the presidential election of 2018. Bolsonaro’s presidency was defined by two elements: the growth of the right into a major movement in the country and the utter failure of his government to manage the pandemic and the economic crisis in the country. Fragmented far right forces gathered around Bolsonaro, who became their messiah (his middle name is messias) and whose disregard for basic norms of decency and of democracy became acceptable in the country. Bolsonaro, Lula said during the campaign, ‘is a liar who lied 6,498 times during his term’.Disregard for the truth and the license to use both threats of violence and of violence itself shaped this new movement. The old pillars of the establishment (beef, bible, and bullet) were not radicalised from the offices of men who controlled them to the streets where the big farmers (on behalf of the agribusiness lobbies), the evangelical churches, and the security forces marched to establish their project for Brazil as the national project.


Lula, unjustly in prison in Curitiba, joined hands with the country’s centre-right and left (especially the MST) to develop a social democratic project that would rebuild the institutions of democracy and decency in the country. This project for Brazil emerged out of the struggle to free Lula from prison (Lula Livre!) and in the lead-up to the presidential campaign that was enabled by a court decision in April 2021. Just after it became clear that Lula had won the election, he gave a speech in São Paulo that defined this project: ‘The Brazilian people want to live well’, which meant that they wanted a good job and quality public services, but more than anything, ‘The Brazilian people want to have hope back, which I understand to mean democracy which should not be just a beautiful word written into law but something palpable that can be built on a daily basis’. He called this the ‘real, concrete democracy’ that would, at a minimum, abolish hunger and poverty.

Lula’s project will be constrained due to the grip of the centrão and the bolsonaristas over the National Congress. They will use their influence to block large parts of Lula’s agenda, including plans to use funds against hunger and to better protect the 1.6 billion-acre Amazon rainforest. Lula’s presidential victory came because of the political organisations of the left mobilised tens of millions of people to the streets, where they expressed their belief in the vital need for Lula and for the agenda he had promoted. The danger of the jubilation of Lula’s victory is that the political forces might watch as these tens of millions of people get demobilised and do not form the permanent phalanx necessary to push their agenda against the political manoeuvring of Bolsonaro and the right. During the October campaign, Lula was able to draw in large sections of the centre-right (including former presidential candidate Simone Tebet of Brazilian Democratic Movement and former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party). Cardoso made a video for Lula in which he expressed his full support for the ‘history of struggle for democracy and social inclusion’ that defined the post-dictatorship era. The role of these centre-right forces – including Lula’s running mate Geraldo Alckmin – will be key in the next period in the struggle to drive Lula’s agenda through the National Congress.

‘There are not two Brazils’, Lula said hopefully in his victory speech. ‘We are a single country, a single people, a great nation.It is not in anyone's interest to live in a family where discord reigns. It is time to bring families together again, repair the ties broken by the criminal propagation of hatred. No one is interested in living in a divided country’. Whether this is just the rhetoric of a man who must govern a divided country or the hope of a political leader who believes that he can prevail over the dark clouds of the far-right is to be seen.


A senior official in Brazil’s foreign ministry – which is known as the Itamaraty after the building that houses it – told me that 80 per cent of the staff at the office favoured Lula’s victory in the election. Career foreign officials felt distressed by the strange politics of Bolsonaro, including his comment that the United Nations is a ‘useless institution’, which is a ‘gathering of communists’. Much of the rhetoric from Bolsonaro and his foreign minister Ernesto Araújo sounded as if it had been written by Steve Bannon, the advisor of former US President Donald Trump. Climate change, Araújo said, is a ‘Marxist conspiracy’, who also said that Bolsonaro would ‘rescue’ Judeo-Christian civilisation from ‘cultural Marxists’. Erratic utterances from Bolsonaro against the multilateral system and in disregard for Brazil’s long-standing agreements created dismay in the Itamaraty. The officials there wanted a return to Lula’s global leadership.

Indeed, hemmed in by the right’s grip on the National Congress, the most important part of Lula’s agenda might be his internationalism. Lula has already said that he will not be party to the acceleration of conflict by the United States against China (the new cold war), but he would use his diplomatic skills to bring peace between Russia and the West. It is now forgotten that Lula had helped develop a peace agenda between the United States and Iran, before his hard work was set aside by the United States. This same talent will be brought to bear on the global stage to prevent the escalation of conflict between the West and the major Eurasian states of China and Russia. Brazil’s two-year seat on the UN Security Council (which will end at the close of 2023) will be a useful instrument for Lula.

Not a single president of Brazil has had the kind of international fame as Lula, prestige that emerged due to the important role he played as an internationalist during his presidency. The formation of the BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) block over the seven-year period from 2003 to 2009 was due to the leadership of Lula, who also led the way to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) between 2008 and 2010. Lula has said that he will revive these two platforms, taking leadership to orient them towards a social democratic project against war and for the creation of a world that respects state sovereignty and that seeks to establish the real and concrete dignity for people.It is clear that Lula will try to use these platforms – BRICS and CELAC – to re-establish the multilateral system (weakened by the Western pressure to prevent the integration of Eurasia) and to promote regionalism in Latin America.

In 2023, when Lula is inaugurated as president of Brazil, the world will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine. In 1823, the US government said that the Americas would be under the protection of Washington, an attitude that was expanded to encompass the world after 1991. Many countries in the world chaff against this Global Monroe Doctrine that threatens to deepen conflicts rather than to bring peace. Lula’s leadership against this Global Monroe Doctrine establishes that while his victory in Brazil’s election is important for Brazilians, it is equally important for the peoples of the world.