A conversation between Lena Lavinas, André Singer, and Barbara Weinstein
In the The Takeover of Social Policy by Financialization, Lena Lavinas names the “Brazilian Paradox”: the model of social inclusion implemented by the Workers’ Party under President Lula and President Rousseff promotes a logic of financial inclusion and market incorporation, and has ultimately contributed to mass indebtedness among the Brazilian population. André Singer assesses this period of social policy expansion as an attempt to reach the “Rooseveltian dream”—a political project that ended with the impeachment of President Rousseff in 2016 and the election of President Bolsonaro in 2018.
On January 25, Lena Lavinas, André Singer, and Barbara Weinstein, historian and author of For Social Peace in Brazil, gathered to discuss this period of mass social inclusion and its unraveling in political scandal and a lurch to the right. A recording of the conversation can be watched here. The transcript was edited for length and clarity.
Begoña San José is a feminist activist and trade union leader.
Maya Adereth: Tell us about your introduction to political activism and feminism.
Begoña San José : I had a religious upbringing and went to school at a convent when I was very young. The first movement I participated in was around the Second Vatican Council, which was about renewing the commitment to working people and the poor. When I left my parents’ house at the age of eighteen, I started working as a house cleaner, and in 1970 I was hired by OSRAM, a multinational company producing light bulbs and lamps. Even before I started working, I wanted to join the CCOO. I knew priests who were involved with it, and I knew about meetings held in Orcasitas, a working-class neighborhood in Madrid. But union operations were clandestine, and I had to join the ORT, a Maoist organization, in order to join the union.
I finally joined the CCOO in 1971, when a collective agreement was being negotiated at my factory. In 1973 I got arrested during a CCOO meeting and imprisoned without a trial. Shortly before entering prison I joined the PCE, and after I was released I continued working for the same firm. In 1974 I was arrested again and this time I was fired from the factory. In prison, I met members of a feminist organization called the Democratic Movement of Women. They worked closely with the PCE to organize solidarity efforts for political prisoners; they brought us books, clothes, and food. In 1975, Franco died and the feminist movement erupted. A common platform was developed, demanding equal access to employment, universal access to early childhood education, the legalization of contraceptives, and the elimination of sex-differentiated criminal sentences. I was active in this through the CCOO. We would meet exactly at the location where the Atocha massacre occurred in 1977, and after one of these meetings I was invited to a DMW meeting. My boss, a man, said I shouldn’t go, and that is what drove me to attend.
That was the first feminist meeting I attended in my life. I vividly remember watching the wives of trade union leaders and politicians criticize their husbands for defending democracy in the street and ignoring it in their homes. This feminist call for equality and democracy in the home hugely impacted me. One or two years later, the CCOO created a Department of Women, and I became an active member in 1976. I’ve been active in the Spanish feminist movement ever since.
Felipe González was Prime Minister of Spain from 1982-1996.
Maya Adereth: Let's start with your experience in the anti-Francoist resistance.
Felipe Gonzalez: In the final years of the Franco regime I spent a lot of time getting prosecuted and detained—in 1971 I was detained three times. But I was never tortured, like some of my cellmates whose condition I lament to this day. For me, this period was about understanding clearly that I wanted an end to the dictatorship, and that I did not want to replace one dictatorship with another. I joined the PSOE in the 1960s because of its history of struggle over civil rights, and its commitment to social democracy. And I’ve stayed there ever since.
Javier Padilla: Did you have any political or ideological mentors?
FG: There was a group of us in Sevilla, sometimes referred to as the “Tortilla Group” which included Alfonso Guerra, Luis Yáñez, and Manuel Chaves. We were committed to ending the dictatorship, but we didn’t have particular political mentors. We regularly read Nouvelle Observateur, and we learned about models of workers self management and cooperatives in Yugoslavia. These ideas interested me from both a political and theoretical point of view because of the ways in which they distanced themselves from Soviet planning.
JP: Tell us about your process of becoming leader of the party. What was your opinion of the party leaders who were in Toulouse?
FG: We had an interesting situation in Sevilla. Alfonso Fernández Torres was an old socialist militant from Jaén who clashed with the leadership in exile when we met him. We didn’t know why, and we didn’t even know that Rodolfo Llopis had expelled the Andalusian organization because he considered it too rebellious. We were just a group of young people who were agitating at the University. We used the faculty and graduate students at the Law Department in order to build contacts with the CCOO and the UGT. At a certain point, we met an Andalusian socialist who invited us to the national congress of the party in Baiona on July 16, 1969. At this congress, we realized that the vision of reality held by the exiled party leaders was entirely distorted. They had an irreconcilable hatred for Santiago José Carrillo, and they had no idea what was happening on the ground.
Hector Maravall is a long time member of the PCE, a labor lawyer, and a leader of the Comisiones Obreras, the largest trade union in Spain.
Maya Adereth: Tell us about your political experiences at university. Who were your ideological influences at the time?
Hector Maravall: When I started university in 1966 at the Universidad de Madrid, it was the most politicized school in Spain. And yet, those who participated in anti-Franco activities were a minority. At the Faculty of Law we had fifty or sixty members of anti-Franco organizations out of 5,000 students. Many students had a desire for freedom and democracy, but few were willing to endanger themselves to get it.
The most important political organization at the height of the resistance to the Francoist Union was Partido Comunista de España (PCE). Although it had been powerfully repressed, it had rebuilt a cultural and intellectual presence. After the PCE was the Frente de Liberación Popular, which started as a Marxist-Christian organization similar to liberation theology, but ultimately developed currents influenced by Che Guevara and heterodox communism like that of Yugoslavia. Outside of the PCE and FLP were small anarchist groups, Maoists, and others. The socialists barely had a presence among the students.
Javier Padilla: Tell us about the Francoist student union.
HM: The union, named SEU (Sindicato Español Universitario), was created during the war by the falangists. During the 1960s, there was a movement to reform the fascist union through elections. The left ran for elections and won, forming a new union named Sindicato Democrático de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Madrid (SDEU). In 1967–68, the union was given some paralegal structures; they were tolerated but not legally recognized. This is the context in which May 1968 took place.
Anicet le Pors is a French communist party politician who served as a member of the French Senate from 1977 to 1981, and Minister of Civil Service and Reforms from 1981 to 1984.
Maya Adereth: Tell us about your early political development.
Anicet le Pors: I was born into a family from the north of Finistère, known as “the land of the priests.” It’s a region that has lived under the influence of Catholic Church for centuries. My parents emigrated to Paris in 1929, and I was born in 1931 in the 13th arrondissement. My early political involvements were deeply influenced by Catholicism; my first trade-union membership was at the CFTC (French Confederation of Christian Workers), and I subscribed to several magazines in the tradition of liberation theology. I joined the CGT, which in 1955 was the largest trade union in the country. In 1958 I joined the Communist Party, the day after Parliament endorsed the Gaullist Constitution of 1958. I did so in defiance, against the Constitution of the Fifth Republic.
I changed my profession precisely as the left was ascending to power. At that time the Communist Party came up with an ideological innovation headed by Professor Paul Boccara called State Monopoly Capital- ism (Capitalisme Monopoliste d’État “CME”), which was a revival of Lenin’s idea of the integration of the state with monopolized capital. According to this theory, this integration is what enables capitalism to stave off the falling rate of profit. It was described at the time as over-accumulation-devaluation of capital.
This was an important ideological breakthrough in the mid-1960s which found its full expression in the 1970s. I was a well regarded economist in the Ministry of Finance and active in the Economic Section of the Central Committee of the French Communist Party. But these qualities made me “unusable” until the Communist Party had me elected Senator in 1977 in Hauts-de-Seine. Thereafter Georges Marchais asked me to work on his speeches directly with a view toward the 1981 presidential election. I sat on the Central Committee from 1979 to 1981, working with Georges Marchais and Charles Fiterman. The left won the elections of 1981 at the price of an internal rebalancing of the comparative political weights of the Communist Party and the Socialist Party. That is how François Mitterrand finally got elected— by weakening the Communist Party. Despite the unfavorable circumstances we carried on. We worked a lot on the Common Program of 1972, but there were tensions between the parties that were not easily resolved. The results of the 1981 presidential election were very contradictory: we were weakened at the very time when we were called to power. Those were the circumstances of the time.
With François Mitterrand in office, we had a smaller presence in the government than we were entitled to. We should have had six ministers, but we only got four: Charles Fiterman, myself, Jack Ralite for health and Marcel Rigout for vocational training. The euphoria lasted less than a year because Thatcher was elected in 1979, Reagan in 1980 and Helmut Kohl in 1982, meaning that the major developed capitalist countries had elected people with unquestionably liberal policies that cut across all the social democratic ambiguities that had existed before.
François Morin was technical adviser to Jean le Garrec at the State Secretary for Public Sector Expansion from 1981–1982 and an adviser to Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy.
Maya Adereth: What kind of society did you envision when you first became politically active?
François Morin: When I was finishing my PhD thesis in Algeria, I spent two years reading Capital. And to this day, I think Marx has many insights into the nature of power relations in contemporary society. But when I returned to France, my supervisor, Henri Bartoli, encouraged me to situate Marx’s insights within a practical framework. I went to the Chambre Syndicale des Agents de Change, where I began studying the shareholder structure of large banking and financial enterprises. To my surprise, I understood nothing of what was in the files. So I spent years learning to penetrate this world of accounting and finance. In 1974, I published my first book, The Financial Structure of French Capitalism, which allowed me to participate in ideological debates surrounding the left’s Common Program. When the left gained power in 1981, I was asked to advise Pierre Mauroy on bank nationalizations, and from 1985 to 1994, I served as an adviser and member of the Council of the Banque de France. In my new book, I recount the unique period between May and September of 1981 and the internal government debates which took place. On the one side were hardliners who advocated a strong break with liberal globalization and a nationalized French economy. On the other hand were reformists who argued that it was necessary to account for the changing global context in which policies were being made. The reformists were more cautious about expanding the public sector through nationalizations.
MA: What were the characteristics of the French economy that you outlined, and how did they shape the contours of this early debate?
FM: The debate within the left was hardly rooted in the realities of the French economy. Structurally, the French economy had undergone significant transformations in the 1960s and 70s, primarily through the consolidation of large corporations. For some, this corporate consolidation represented an alliance of domestic capital that was necessary to prevent the advance of foreign capital, particularly from the United States. The employers alliance consisted of Paris-Bas and its allies in banking, industry, and nationalized insurance companies. On the other side was the Suez Group, also composed of banking and industry, which saw the prospect of an alliance with American capital as an enormous opportunity. This was the position of Giscard d’Estaing, then President of the Republic. The conflict between the Gaulish RPR and Giscard Re- publicans represented the divisions between the banking and financial elites in the country.
On the left, the issue was less about globalization, and more about increasing state influence over these consolidated corporations. These companies significantly shaped public life, and yet the public had no influence on them. This was the motivation behind nationalizations.
Roger Martelli is a historian of the French Communist Party.
I officially joined the Communist Party in November 1969, but I became a communist in May 1968. I was in a preparatory class at the Lycée Thiers in Marseilles, and I made friends with communist militants when we occupied our lycée that summer. By the time the Common Program was signed in June 1972, I had been a member for three years, and my political experience revolved around the Organization of Communist Students. I was in the communist students directorate and was appointed member of the national board of the student’s union, the Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (UNEF) in the spring of 1971. UNEF was split between the communists and the Trotskyists, so my appointment demonstrates the degree of democratic decision making we practiced at the time.
At heart of the split was a question of who would control the organization. We hated the international communist organization—Youth Alliance for Socialism (which Jean-Luc Mélenchon participated in at the time).
Claudio Petruccioli is an Italian politician who was president of the Italian national broadcast network RAI from 2005–2009.
I joined the Communist Party when I enrolled in university, in 1959. I didn’t belong to a leftist family, but it was a working class family. My grandfather was a worker, my father was a technician. The first in my family to attend university, I was born in a tradition of work but was drawn towards intellectual labor. If I think of the day in which I decided to be a communist, it was probably when I was fifteen and I went to the library in Umbria. I found a small book titled “Wage Labor and Capital” sitting on the table. They were lectures Marx had given to a worker’s club in London. I read the book in one sitting, and when I finished I felt like I had just understood precisely how the world works.
I was born in 1941, the immediate postwar years. They were difficult years, but my family never went hungry. So my shift to the left was not born of my immediate conditions. Why did I join the communists and not the socialists? It was because the socialists were forming a government with the Christian Democrats. It wasn’t because I was hostile to religion; the Christian Democrats repulsed me because they were the ruling party, and they imposed strict cultural limits (Machiavelli's Mandragola was considered a theatrical text that could not be publicly performed). So the only leftist opposition for me was the Communist Party.
Emanuele Macaluso was an Italian trade unionist and politician with the Italian Communist Party (PCI).
I clandestinely joined the party in 1941, when the country was under fascist rule. I was 17 years old and had almost finished my studies. At the time, I was studying at the Mining Institute of Caltanissetta, in Sicily. There was a strong underground organization in town led by a worker called Calogero Boccadutri, who ended up becoming our cell chief. I formed a small anti-fascist group and was convinced to join the PCI by a friend of mine, Giannone, who came to visit me at the hospital when I had tuberculosis. He gave me the address of Calogero Boccadutri, and when I left the hospital, I contacted him and joined. My relationship with the PCI began like this, in hiding. I was responsible for political education, for our newspaper, and for our library. These were so important that, when Caltanissetta was bombed, my friend Michele Cala, died trying to save them. This is how I started my political life as a clandestine communist militant.
Giuliano Amato was a member of the Italian Socialist Party and Italian Prime Minister from 1992–93 and 2000–2001, Treasury Minister in 1999–2000, and Minister of the Interior, 2006–2008.
I joined the Socialist Party when it broke with the communists in 1956, after the invasion of Hungary by the Soviet Union. The political culture when I entered was one which stressed the protection and expansion of social rights—my early experiences were in a mountainous region of Tuscany where marble was drawn for Michelangelo and other sculptors. My constituency was formed by miners extracting this marble, and in 1963, when the Socialist Party first considered a coalition with the Christian Democrats, the miners were absolutely horrified. They couldn’t believe that the party would stand with their employer in government. When the coalition took place, I left the party and joined a leftist formation named PSIUP, the Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity. This gives you an idea of the importance of class politics and social rights for myself and for those around me.