A Workers' Emperor and a Workers' President? Germany's August Bebel and Brazil's Luis Inácio da Silva in Comparative Perspective

When and Where

Thursday, May 25, 2023 6:15 pm to 7:45 pm
Debates Room
Hart House
7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, ON M5S 3H3


John D. French


In his keynote address for the conference "Work, Class, and Social Democracy in the Global Age of August Bebel (1840-1913)", Professor John D. French (Duke University) will offer a sustained comparison between the late-nineteenth-century socialist leader August Bebel—founder of Germany’s Social Democratic Party and distinguished parliamentarian—and a Brazilian counterpart, Luis Inácio da Silva, a former strike leader and founder of the socialist Workers’ Party, who in 2022 was elected as president, for the third time, of the world’s fifth largest country. Sharing similar educational, occupational, and political trajectories, Brazil’s “workers’ president” is contrasted with his German counterpart, often dubbed the “workers’ emperor,” as they built mass electoral followings among workers, the poor, and their allies, and as they fought for democracy and against entrenched authoritarianism and historic patterns of sustained repression. Whereas Bebel’s story unfolded at the core of global capitalism and imperialism, Lula’s struggle for democracy and social justice in Brazil—a former slaveholding monarchy on the periphery of the North Atlantic World—also built on the wisdom captured by the famous slogan of the 1864 International Working Men’s Association: “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.”

John D. French is professor of History and African and African-American Studies at Duke University, where he has taught since 1992. After a B.A. from Amherst College, he finished his doctorate at Yale in 1985 under Brazilian historian Emília Viotti da Costa. A student of class, race, and politics in Brazil and Latin America, his books include The Brazilian Workers ABC (1992), Drowning in Laws: Labor Law and Brazilian Political Culture (2004), Lula and His Politics of Cunning: From Trade Unionism to the Brazilian Presidency (2020), and the coedited volume The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers (1997). He is currently embarking on a project on the historical use of photographs while finishing a bi-national co-authored article entitled “Ruling Racial Quotas Constitutional in Brazil: How Black Movements Achieved a Resounding Affirmative Action Victory in the Brazilian Supreme Court in 2012.”

Speaker: John D. French, Professor of History and African & African-American Studies, Duke University (Durham, N.C.)

Moderator: Simone Lässig, German Historical Institute (Washington, D.C.)


This event is free of charge and open to all.


This event is sponsored by the Jackman Humanities Institute Program for the Arts, 2022-2023 on the annual theme of Labour



Jackman Humanities Institute Program for the Arts


7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, ON M5S 3H3