A meeting featuring the Brazilian president, Lula, brought out the tensions within the left and the trade union movement in Brazil over the record of his government. It took place in the Gigantinho indoor stadium, which can hold 17,000 people. There was a queue half a mile long in the scorching heat of those who wanted to go to it. But tight security by military police meant that many were turned away, and key positions inside were taken up by Workers’ Party activists in red T-shirts before others were allowed in.
Lula spoke alongside NGO activists and a representative of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. He tried to use the issue of world poverty in much the same way as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been trying to exploit people’s feelings over the plight of Africa.
His speech did not produce the same unanimous ovations that greeted every mention of his name at the last World Social Forum to be held in Porto Alegre two years ago. About three quarters of those present were still enthusiastic — and the great majority of these clearly were not Workers’ Party functionaries. But around one quarter sat on their hands, neither applauding nor joining in the booing from a group of about 200 people.
Disillusionment with Lula is growing, but it is still far from unanimous. The best expression of the increasingly left wing mood of the majority of people was shown on Sunday night, when the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, spoke in the same venue.
This time the stadium was packed out by young people, whose mood was much more enthusiastic than at the Lula rally. There were repeated chants of “Chavez, Chavez”.
But booing greeted the leader of the Brazilian trade union federation — a Lula supporter — who introduced Chavez. A large section of the audience chanted, “Lula nao, Chavez si” (Lula no, Chavez yes), to booing from some other sections. Chavez’s speech was much more left wing than Lula’s, even though he said that each country in Latin America had to proceed according to its own conditions. He said that he was inspired by Che Guevara, criticised US aggression, and insisted that “imperialism is not invincible”.
He went on to declare, “It is difficult to work within this capitalism system, we need socialism.”
Roland Dennis, a Venezuelan social activist who was briefly a deputy minister in the Chavez government, told Socialist Worker this was the first time that Chavez had called for socialism. He added, however, that Chavez’s words were much more radical that the measures taken by those around him in the government.
The enthusiasm at the rally showed the huge mood for massive social change of the great majority of the delegates at the Forum. Thousands of people will take that mood back with them and use it to build thousands of struggles.