In This Review

Lula and His Politics of Cunning: From Metalworker to President of Brazil
Lula and His Politics of Cunning: From Metalworker to President of Brazil
By John D. French
University of North Carolina Press, 2020, 520 pp

A longtime observer of Brazilian labor organizations, French delivers an immersive and broadly laudatory biography of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whom U.S. President Barack Obama once hailed as “the most popular politician on earth.” French adroitly traces Lula’s beginnings as an impoverished rural migrant in industrializing São Paulo, where he became a skilled metalworker, and then his evolution into a determined trade union leader, a savvy negotiator, and, ultimately, a powerful orator and dominant politician. Lula is a genuinely self-made man, gregarious and hard-working, at once studious and intuitive. As a politician, he retained his authenticity as the plain-speaking, fearless voice of Brazilian workers seeking upward social mobility. French attributes Lula’s charisma to his embodiment of the collective identity of organized workers. He defines Lula’s cunning as the underdog’s crafty manipulation of social hierarchies. But French notes approvingly that Lula kept his distance from the intellectual Marxist left; a pragmatic Lula sought simply to make capitalism more egalitarian. French mocks the politically motivated post-presidency imprisonment of Lula, and he bemoans the ouster in 2016 of Lula’s handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, by an unscrupulous parliamentary coup organized by the old-line establishment, which paved the way for the presidency of the reactionary Jair Bolsonaro.