The mass movements in June and July 2013 were the largest and most significant protests in Brazil for a generation, and they have shaken up the country’s political system. They expressed a wide range of demands about public service provision and governance, and concerns with corruption. Their social base was broad, starting with students and left-wing activists and including, later, many middle-class protesters and specific categories of workers. The deep and contradictory frustrations expressed by those protests were symptomatic of a social malaise associated with neoliberalism, the power of the right-wing media, the limitations of the federal administrations led by the Workers’ Party (PT), the rapid growth of expectations in a dynamic country, and the atrophy of traditional forms of social representation. This article examines the political dilemmas posed by those movements, and suggests constructive alternatives for the left.
Contrary to a well-known English dictum, stoical if self-exonerating, all political lives do not end in failure. In postwar Europe, it is enough to think of Adenauer or De Gasperi, or perhaps even more impressively, Franco. But it is true that, in democratic conditions, to be more popular at the close than at the outset of a prolonged period in office is rare. Rarer still – indeed, virtually unheard of – is for such popularity to reflect, not appeasement or moderation, but a radicalisation in government. Today, there is only one ruler in the world who can claim this achievement, the former worker who in January stepped down as president of Brazil, enjoying the approval of 80 per cent of its citizens. By any criterion, Luiz Inácio da Silva is the most successful politician of his time.