The centrality of the meek of the World: reflections on a speech by former President Lula

This reflection is motivated by the speech of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the closing of the opening ceremonies of the 6th National Gathering of Brazil’s Worker’s Party, PT,(from the Portuguese, Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) on June 1, 2017, in Brazilia. I make this reflection as an observer interested in the social reforms the PT achieved in its years in government. I am not a member of the party, because I believe that “a party” is always a part and the task of the intellectual thinker is to consider the Whole and not spend a lot of time on the parts, of which are always many and often contradictory.

Three points of that speech in particular attracted my attention.

The first is the class character of the party. It is in its name: Worker’s Party. Thus it seeks to represent the great majority of the country, composed of the working class, both rural and urban: all those who in the capitalist system live off a salary (selling the strength of their labor, manual or intellectual). This does not mean that it is only open to members of this great majority. The PT is open to everyone who supports democracy and the main demands of the workers, who need jobs, with decent salaries, and acceptable working conditions, those who struggle for social justice to diminish the perverse chasm of social inequality, and to be able to organize labor unions to better defend their rights and to increase their power in negotiations with those who own the capital.

Lula emphasized the national character of the PT. The great majority of Brazilian political parties are based in the states of the federation and represent local hegemonic forces. These parties are more concerned with regional than national issues. The PT was born of concern for the national, for Brazil as a project of autonomous national sovereignty, that broke away from the slavish, colonial and neo-colonial substratum, that depends on the great hegemonic powers that set the world’s course. The PT developed an awareness of our ecological, geopolitical, economic, population and cultural basis, that enables us to chart our own future as a sovereign nation. This, in concert with other nations, helps define the uncertain paths of humanity, now in a new historical phase. It is the phase of planetization, which is in a dramatic state, due to global warming and the cries of the Earth, super-exploited by our predatory mode of production and consumption, without care for the natural goods and services. The future of our species and our civilization is at stake.

Lula pointed out that the PT is the first political party of a national character that seeks to consider the whole country, and the interests of all, starting with the interests of the huge historically neglected majorities. We must recognize, as our historians have shown, particularly Jose Honorio Rodrigues and Raymundo Faoro, that the dominant political parties thought of a small Brazil, seeking first their own interests and not the common good of all the Brazilian people. There never was a project that included the millions of the excluded, outcasts who are considered by the dominant classes, heirs to the Casa Grande mentality, to be nobodies, human beings to whom «their rights were denied, their lives devastated, and when they saw them growing, denied them little by little their acceptance, conspiring to return them to the periphery, which they continue to believe is their rightful place» (Rodrigues, Conciliação e Reforma no Brasil, 1965, page 14-15). Is this tragedy not being repeated with the measures of the “government” we now have, in a more radical form, undoing one by one, the conquests of years of political and social work?

The second point is of great ethical and political relevance. It is about the central nucleus of the PT’s political project: to give centrality to the meek of the Earth. When speaking of the project that must be re-thought, re-introduced and consolidated in Congress, Lula did not begin with the arrogant idea of Brazil as a great industrial power and leader in exporting raw materials. He began with the meek of the Earth: with the Indigenous, whom we must protect and return to them their stolen lands invaded by agro-business; Lula began with the quilombolas, to whom we owe recognition for their struggles for survival, for their lands and villages; the former President began with the Blacks, millions turned into “pieces of carbon”, to burn in the factories; turning back to Africa not just to pay an unpayable historical debt, but to practice solidarity, so that Africa may improve the living conditions of her people with what our scientific institutions linked to agriculture produce with great quality; he began with women, still discriminated against by the patriarchy in spite of all the contributions women have made to the development of the country; Lula began by speaking for the Landless and the Homeless who seek land to work, to produce and to live in a democracy encompassing the fields and the peripheries; he began with the gatherers of recycable materials, those he always supported (and he was moved remembering them), allotting millions of reales to improve their working conditions; he began with the LGBT folks who work, vote, pay taxes and often are murdered; he began with the workers in general, forced to accept low salaries to permit bigger accumulations by the oligarchies that control a great part of our economy; finally, he began by saying that we must include the businessmen, small, medium… and great businessmen, who create jobs and produce, and who must feel their responsibility in building a new nation, one that is more just and egalitarian. We all must be inspired and gather around this collective dream.

What is the meaning of this type of speech? To give primacy to the human being. That option reveals the undeniable ethical dimension of politics, because already for Aristotle ethics and politics were synonyms. To govern is not to administer an economy controlled by the market; rather, to govern is to care for the people, for the quality of the people’s lives, and the people’s high dignity. Mahatma Gandhi said that politics is a loving gesture for the people, the caring for that which is common to all. This is what was proposed as the essential nucleus of the political project to be carried out by the PT and its allies.

But this is very hard to accomplish without universal public education, former President Lula pointed out — and this is the third point. He devoted his finest praises to the decisive role of education in creating a sovereign and modern country. Hence the many initiatives the PT governments inaugurated to enable the poor, the Blacks and the outcast to take courses of professionalization and to be able to enter the universities.

Finally, Lula invited everyone to be creative. The point is not to repeat what has already been done, but to re-invent new forms of doing social politics with popular participation, using the good experiences already realized, and projecting other new forms that seek more inclusion, more citizenship and more dignity for human life.

Lula spoke of the political importance of hope. Those who nourish hope do not accept social inequities; they are disposed to struggle to project a new horizon. Hope unleashes hidden energies that create new landscapes and bring victory. Hope is the engine of history and change.

If the PT again attains the central government, by the popular vote, based on the will of the majority of the population to find a way out of the crisis, given that the dominant classes that usurped power are consumed by their voracity for accumulation against the great majority of the citizens and, bewildered, don’t know how to find a hopeful solution to the crisis in which we all find ourselves. The principal victims are those who have historically suffered, on whom we should not impose heavier burdens than what they already must carry. That would be too much inhumanity. But that is what we are seeing with the disastrous measures of the present administration.

A PT renewed and purified of its errors, its defects and limitations, can be proposed to society as a political party that can clear the horizon and offer itself as a political path of sustainable development, because it is more participatory; one where, as Paulo Freire would say, love would not be so difficult.

Leonardo Boff Theologian-Philosopher of the Earthcharter Commission

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,

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