|When the PT (Workers Party) candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, univerally known as Lula, was elected President of Brazil in 2002, with a convincing popular mandate, his election ushered in the first anti-imperialist government to rule in Latin America’s largest country since the government of João Goulart was overthrown in a military coup in 1964 after just one year.
His administration followed two decades of mostly neo-liberal ‘democratic’ governments, which themselves had followed on from 21 years of fascist military rule. Both military and ‘democratic’ rulers essentially pursued the same policies of giving free rein to local oligarchs and imperialist multinationals to loot Brazil’s huge natural resources and exploit its impoverished population, essentially without hindrance – even if the elected Cardoso government did make the effort, ultimately incompatible with its neo-liberal economic policies, to try to relieve the poverty of the masses.
Lula’s was the second in a string of electoral victories during an eight-year period that transformed the politics and began to transform the living conditions of the entire continent, reflecting a concerted fight-back by the oppressed masses of Latin America against US imperialism. His progressive administration formed a vital link in a newly-emerging chain of independent and anti-imperialist governments that took inspiration from and allied themselves to socialist Cuba.
First came Venezuela (Chávez, 1999), which was followed a few years later by Brazil (Lula, 2002) and Argentina (Nestor Kirchner, 2003), with Uruguay (Vázquez, 2005), Bolivia (Morales, 2006), Honduras (Zelaya, 2006, overthrown by a US-backed coup in 2009), Ecuador (Correa, 2006), Nicaragua (Ortega, 2007) and Paraguay (Lugo, 2008, overthrown by a US-backed coup in 2012) in close succession some years after that.
As a small but vital part of the Popular Brazil Front alliance that brought Lula to power, the PCdoB (Communist Party of Brazil) entered government for the first time, taking control (among other things) of the ministry of sport, which office they have continued to hold up until the present.
Originally founded in 1922, today’s PCdoB is descended from an organisation formed by a small number of revolutionaries who were expelled in 1962 by the revisionists who had got control of the original communist party and had changed its name to PCB. This revisionist majority wrote a new programme for the party, in which they declared that the Brazilian revolution would be brought about by purely peaceful means, and that the Brazilian bourgeoisie would be a leading force in bringing socialism to the country.
The refounded PCdoB’s leaders, by contrast, stuck to their revolutionary guns and criticised the capitulation of the Khrushchevites. When the period of fascistic military dictatorship descended on the country, they made great sacrifices in leading the people’s struggles against it, including by waging a short-lived guerrilla war, which cost them dearly in terms of the lives of their leading cadres.
Despite having had to start again with a very small base, and having lost some of their best cadres in the war, the PCdoB gained great prestige from its years of underground and military struggle against the dictatorship, and was able to make great strides in the 21 years after the dictatorship fell, leading militant trade-union struggles as well as taking a front-line role in the youth, students’ and women’s movements.
Among the notable achievements of the Popular Front government since 2003 have been a massive shift in international relations, away from dependence on and servility towards the US and other imperialist powers, and towards creating a strong and independent nation.
The country has built strong ties with other significant rising non-imperialist countries (close cooperation with the other BRICS countries – Russia, India, China and South Africa – for example), established friendly political and trade relations with socialist and anti-imperialist countries like the DPRK, Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, and strengthened the unity of the Latin-American continent by joining the Mercosur trade bloc (with Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela). Lula’s government also placed great emphasis on building good political and economic relations with African countries.
Meanwhile, at home, the government upset the country’s former imperialist masters by paying off its IMF debt early (in 2005), and introduced social programmes that have seen 40 million Brazilians lifted out of poverty.
As well as playing its part in all the above, the PCdoB, having landed what some might have considered to be a rather insignificant governmental portfolio, put its creative energy into turning this opportunity to positive account. In short order, the ministry put forward winning bids for both the football World Cup (Brazil, 2014) and the Olympic Games (Rio, 2016 – the first time the games will have been held in South America), which in turn provided the communists with vital leverage for a project of far wider and more long-lasting significance – the development of Brazil’s infrastructure in line with the needs of the masses.
Brazil has, of course, hosted the World Cup before, but the governments of the day were far more interested in building one or two big stadiums and rallying the people around their comprador governments (under the banner of ‘national pride’) than in building an infrastructure that would outlive the games and serve the needs of Brazil’s poor.
The 2014 World Cup, by contrast, is being hosted in 12 cities, which have been purposely selected so as to be spread all over Brazil’s vast territory. This in turn has given the sports ministry the opportunity to overcome the resistance of many big bourgeois elements to large-scale public spending and to push successfully for the development of infrastructure, public transport, basic amenities, tourist facilities and so on in each of these 12 cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas.
Anyone who has seen a rush-hour traffic jam in São Paolo or Rio de Janeiro, or listened to the demands of the protestors who flocked to the streets of Brazil’s big cities last summer, will know just how badly-needed is such transport infrastructure by the Brazilian people, many of whom are often forced to spend a huge proportion of their salary and many hours of their day getting to and from work.
The fact that a proposed rise in bus fares was able to spark such huge protests shows both the gravity of the transport situation and the rising expectations of the masses, who are no longer prepared quietly to endure such backward conditions.
Some 23bn Brazilian real (£6.2bn) has been spent on building long-term infrastructure – not just stadiums, but also roads and public-transport networks, with another 2.7bn real spent on service infrastructure, such as telecoms, tourism, health services etc, all of which have had a knock-on effect for employment and local businesses. According to the ministry’s economic studies, the national economy is expected to grow by 0.4 percent as a permanent legacy of hosting the World Cup alone.
Meanwhile, although the state and local governments of Rio (which are presently under opposition control and hostile to the national government) will take a large share of the Olympics governance out of the sports ministry’s hands, and thus limit the input of the PCdoB into the programme of connected works, a firm strategy is in place to turn the Rio games to lasting account for the Brazilian masses.
The sports minister told delegates at the PCdoB congress last year that his team plans to revitalise run-down areas of the city, create new, and also update, existing transport infrastructure, regenerate the port and improve the city’s airports, improve hotels and boost tourism, and to improve the quality and reliability of the city’s essential services to ordinary workers.
The ministry also has plans to create a national system to support Brazilian sport into the future, bringing sports into education for all – for the development of both citizenship and health. As the minister told international delegates: athletes and tournaments come and go, but properly planned development will leave a legacy that improves the life of Brazil’s people and help mend the ills caused by of the imperialist domination of the past.
Meanwhile, it should be no surprise to anti-imperialists that in the run-up to the games – and to the general and presidential elections due to be held in October – imperialist and opposition-controlled media in Brazil and around the world are going all-out to smear both the government and the games. It’s an old trick and one we have seen plenty of times in recent memory.
Who can forget the fever pitch of smear campaigning about China that accompanied the build-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics? Or the vast oceans of anti-Russia bile that went hand-in-hand with coverage of the Sochi games last winter?
As one astute Brazilian wrote on his Facebook page. “What a strange thing! When they tried to deliver the coup in Venezuela, supposedly spontaneous ‘strikes’ and ‘protests’ began popping up and the media tried to create a climate of chaos. The same happened in Syria, Ukraine, Egypt, Libya, Argentina, etc.
“Suddenly, in Brazil, in the year of the World Cup and elections, all sorts of ‘spontaneous movements’ are mysteriously appearing. Funny that after the World Cup in Brazil will be held the meeting at which the government will announce the creation of the bank of the BRICS and the replacement of the dollar in international transactions. Who really cares that Brazil becomes a chaos?”
For our part, we wish the PCdoB and the Brazilian people every success in their drive to break the chains of imperialist domination, and to build a modern and prosperous nation – and in turning both these battles to good account in the struggle to overthrow the oligarchs altogether and advance towards a socialist Brazil.