Will Lula's Downfall Kill Social Democracy in Brazil?

Lula da Silva needed the backing of big business interests to continue in politics, and his recent conviction shows they may have turned their back on his social-democratic model.

 Demonstrations in São Paulo
Demonstrations in São Paulo
Marcelo Cantelmi


One of the many sayings attributed to the former, now-jailed, Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva shows his eminent pragmatism and the political stance that ultimately characterized the two governments he led: "If you know a very old member of the left, it's because he must be having problems," he said. "People change halfway along the way... those firmly on the right, and on the left, tend to move toward the center."

Now facing a long prison term, the longtime head of the Workers' Party PT must be suffering less from that predicament than the frustration of having failed to convince the establishment that he could be the leader to rescue Brazil and recover its former rates of economic growth. Lula appears convinced that the major economic players that had decided he must be removed had manipulated the judiciary into acting against him. He had long repeated in private how strong the economy was during his two mandates, where some 34 million Brazilians joined the consumer middle class during his time in office.

Those were the arguments he'd already used as he tried to save the government of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, when the country's growth began faltering year after year. After her difficult reelection in 2014, it was Lula who pressed for a shift toward pragmatism, just as he had imposed on his governments free-market minded figures to head the Economy Ministry and the Central Bank, the latter still acting as Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles.

The PT had become a medley of opposing tendencies

Like a magic trick, Lula picked the orthodox economist Joaquim Levi, a campaign adviser to Rousseff's electoral rival Aecio Neves, to place him in her cabinet in a bitter political moment, and implement policy rectifications against the clock. But Rousseff's declining standing and credibility prevented this progress while the PT had itself become a medley of opposing tendencies, corruption crises and had lost its ideological direction.

In addition, and not without a dose of cynicism, Brazil's legislature opposed these adjustment, robbing the executive branch of its initiative. The former president then boldly came forward to become Dilma's cabinet chief —or prime minister — which would effectively put him in charge of running the country and especially its economy. He failed in that bid.

Former Brazilian president LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA arrives by helicopter Photo: Geraldo Bubniak

Big business and finance in Sao Paulo, which Lula had worked hard to seduce during his governments, were now spurning him. A hardline sector of this powerful segment of society saw an opportunity to strike hard at the PT and its social-democratic ways, and advance the model of wealth concentration that is imposing itself around the world, with certain authoritarian, if not militaristic overtones. Parliament's sacking of President Rousseff was part of that strategy. She was impeached without any charges against her except the minuscule political power she was wielding against a big crisis.

The country pursued its downfall, and economy shrank almost 10% in three years, which is an exceptional loss of wealth. The experiment continued with Dilma's successor, the former vice-president and historical PT ally, President Michel Temer, who represented hopes of changes from above. Some corrective measures were taken and expenditures curbed, and Temer did this with parliament's backing in contrast with his predecessor, in spite of cabinet splits in horse-trading in both legislative chambers. Yet he had minimal public backing for undertaking this necessary economic surgery.

Lula had a wide lead in polls ahead of the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for October 2018. Beyond the campaign speeches, there was little doubt that his Economy Minister would still be Meirelles, and that the former trade unionist would pursue Temer's adjustment policies. But Lula failed to convince the big money interests whom he needed as allies. Jail is the reply he has received for his proposal to continue adjustments and spending controls.

There is a paradox at the end of the day. Lula is the only centrist politician in Brazil with some power in a country where people's trust in politicians has plummeted. The PT should not take comfort from this, since this dissolution has clearly hurt the party and its leadership, which is aware of the relative backing the former president had won in Sao Paulo. Lula will have a lot to think about in jail — but others will too.

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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