João Pedro Stedile: The left and Lula

In part two of our conversation with João Pedro Stedile, he discusses the governability and decision-making capacity of the Lula government in the face of a conservative senate and chamber of deputies.

November 21, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch

Peoples Dispatch: What level of governability and decision making power will Lula have as president, given the conservative majority in Congress?

João Pedro Stedile: First, it is true that the Congress is conservative, but it always was. We never had a [progressive] Congress.

Even in 1988, when we created the best constitution that is in effect to this day. We had 16 deputies from the left, all the rest were from conservative parties. However, we still managed to write a progressive Constitution.

So we should not be concerned with the nature of Congress. Congress reflects the correlation of social forces in society. This process of alliances that Lula has built with sectors of the bourgeoisie and with traditional parties, these are only part of the institutional structure to give security to the government.

I believe that Lula is committed to real changes to solve the people’s problems. But the degree of radicalism of Lula’s government or the progress in making structural changes does not depend on these alliances nor on his will. It depends, and will depend on the capacity of the popular forces to remain mobilized and put on pressure.

Because in the history of mankind structural changes were always brought about by mass mobilizations. And of course, when you have a progressive or people’s government, the conjunction of the process of resurgence of mass movements with a progressive government, can result in a correlation of forces that can build structural changes.

So the changes depend more on us, the masses, the popular forces, than on Lula’s will or of any other president, no matter how leftist they may say they are. This is how it happens in Cuba and Venezuela and in Argentina, in Mexico or in any country.

PD: How do you think Bolsonarism can be combated?

JP: The 58 million who voted for Bolsonaro, are not all Bolsonaristas.

At least 30 million are working poor, perhaps the poorest we have in the society, living in the periphery and who were influenced by a lot of money. Money used on social media, because Brazil is the country that is most connected on WhatsApp, which the poor have access to. So on WhatsApp, Facebook, social media in general, they invested a lot of money to deceive these people with lies. Then there were many public resources that were administered in a secret way, protected by law, the so-called “secret budget” which administered about eight billion dollars in one year, without having the obligation to say where it was used. And that money, everybody knows, went to the mayors’ offices and the conservative mayors transformed that money that was later used to buy votes to deceive the people.

So, I believe that our task is not to worry about the ideology of the 8-10% white middle class, who are ideologically reactionary. They always were, they are heirs of slavery if you will. They are heirs of all the processes of discrimination that exist in Brazil, against Black people, against women, against other sexual identities. We don’t have to worry about them, because that ignorant right wing always existed and will exist, not only in Brazil, but in all capitalist societies.

Our concern is with the workers.

There are many challenges that the left has generally, and with the popular forces, movements, parties and churches, we must put in considerable effort. First, to resume grassroots work, which means helping to raise people’s consciousness in many ways, but above all with dialogue: going from house to house, distributing materials, talking.

Second, promote mass struggles. People only learn, and are politically educated when they engage in struggle. So the left has to organize mass struggles.

If there is a lack of jobs, fight for jobs, if there is lack of food, fight for food, if there is a lack of houses, fight for housing, if there is a lack of land, fight for land, in other words, promote mass struggles.

Third, we have to encourage political education. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the left has abandoned the processes of political education. There are almost no political education schools. So, how are we going to form militants? Because political education is to study, is to learn with the classics, is to learn about the history of the class struggle that every people has.

And that is done in the formal spaces of schools where you have to dedicate time to study. Militants are not formed with seminars of two or three days in hotels.

Every time the left enters a hotel it is already deforming. Hotels are for tourism, for people on trips. Training people is done in the school, it’s done in the streets, it’s in the mass struggle.

Fourth, we need to recover cultural processes. I mean music, theater, poetry, painting, muralism. And, through these mechanisms, we must engage in political education, debate the problems of society. That was what always happened in the history of the class struggle. Since the barricades of the Paris Commune. And we did not learn. The left is still hostage to a stupidity that is to think that political education happens at meetings, with oratory, with speeches, but that goes in one side and out the other.

So we have to use the cultural means that reach the hearts of the people to promote political education, to make people feel identified with the left in a cultural and inspired way. And not just that you are affiliated to some party, because you received some handouts, or even some political office.

And finally, of course, we cannot abandon mass communication that is done with social media, with radio, with television, that all are important spaces to spread true information to people.

So, you see, there are many challenges that the left has to face in Brazil, in Latin America, in the world, to be able to face this right-wing wave in the next period.

Luckily the contradictions are visible.

The emergence of the extreme right all over the world with its methods of lies, in reality, what they defeated was the social-democratic way. What they defeated was a right wing that believed it was republican, who believed that every four years it could make changes.

As people’s movements, we have to take advantage of those contradictions, and then try to build people’s organizations that advance beyond what social democracy used to be, hegemonized by the bourgeoisie.

PD: What is the message of the MST to president-elect Lula?

JP: We are going to present concrete proposals to promote a people’s agrarian reform, to help expand food production that our people need so much, to put the defense of nature at the center of agrarian policy.

We call for zero deforestation, there is no need to cut down any more trees.

We call for a new mining policy that is dictated by the interests of the people.

We believe in the need to protect water and for that we have to create a massive reforestation program in our country, in our cities. Because trees protect the water. Where there are trees, there is water. Where there are no trees, there is no water.

And we have to make a big solar energy program, an education program for our people in the countryside. A broad program of incentivizing cooperative agro-industries, which help advance the social relations of production in the countryside.

All that we are going to dialogue with the government so that there will be changes in agriculture. And I believe that Lula has enough conscience and experience, [to know] that these changes, even with him in the government, depend on mass mobilization, on [popular] pressure.

So the MST will play its role, to organize the masses of the countryside to put pressure on the government. With the other popular forces that live in the city, we will try to face another challenge we have here in Brazil, with the dispossessed masses that live in the periphery of the cities.

They are not organized. No one organizes them. Not even the Pentecostal churches. We only know that they are 70 million people, that most of them are women, that most of them are black, that most of them are young and that they live in the outskirts of the city.

But the left does not know how to organize them because the methods of organization we know best are from the period of industrial capitalism, when throughout the 20th century we developed trade unions, associations and parties, which today are not enough to organize the women, the youth, Black people. So the left has to be creative and look for new forms of organization of those people who live in the periphery.

And hopefully we can, in dialogue with the government, propose targeted public policies especially to that population which can then incorporate them and give them true citizenship so that they can once again be part of our society. Because now they are isolated, excluded from the productive sphere, of employment, of rights and public policies, of employment, of rights and public policies.