60 years since the coup. Generations in struggle

Roger Palmer, Folhas, 1972


Article published in the recently released collection, coordinated by Francisco Celso Calmon

Brazilian public universities and the “confidential” violence of the lead years

“The first time they murdered me / I lost a way of smiling that I had… / Then, every time they killed me. / They took something of mine…” (Mário Quintana).

I was born in 1975, three days before the murder of Vladimir Herzog, a time of torture, murders, political disappearances and explicit military violence against the general population and the working class in Brazil and Latin America. My first conscious political perception, at the age of eight, came from music, when I learned (on the guitar) – with a Uruguayan teacher based in the interior of the state of Rio Grande do Sul – the melody of “Thanks to life” (by Violeta Parra) and then a more melodically and harmonically elaborate solo of the song “Horizontes” (soundtrack of the play I danced on the curve, whose theme dealt with the fractured times of the Brazilian military dictatorship).

From then on, Brazilian and Latin American music shaped my understanding of the world and my future aspirations. In the years that followed, demonstrations for direct elections emerged, and I saw my mother, a Paulofreirian pedagogue, excited amid her state school tasks and literary and newspaper readings, in a mix of hope and fear about what would come ahead. . My father, a banker and Portuguese teacher, participated in this entire process, but in a more silent way.

My brother, who was born in 1968, was already heading to study in Santa Maria and, later, in Porto Alegre, with an interested perception of historical and political events. It was with him and his partner that I went to live in Porto Alegre (in 1992), to study at the Colégio Estadual Júlio de Castilhos and then at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. I was interested in everything cultural in the city and participated in the demonstrations , rallies and election campaigns. The nine years I lived in Porto Alegre, before moving to Rio de Janeiro, were years of Workers' Party administration in the city hall and state, years of participatory budgeting and heated political discussions.

I drew up this small preamble, as I understand that the 1964 coup had a direct impact on the political direction I experienced and impacted my understanding of the Brazilian university. When I entered the Philosophy course at UFRGS, in 1993, Brazilian universities reflected in a paradoxical way the unpleasantness of the leaden years. Sometimes we saw the impulses of the critical spirit (in courses on the philosophy of art, aesthetics and politics), sometimes the silencing of this harmful context (in courses on analytical and medieval philosophy that were not at all inviting). It was this tension that compelled me to try to understand how we graduated from university and, therefore, how the country's direction was formed through cultural and educational paths.

In academic amphitheaters there was a certain modesty and nothing was said about exiles, dismissals of professors, censorship and persecution of intellectuals and artists, or the raw violence unleashed against the population. It was through counterinformation and political resistance that we realized how our memories had been violated and suppressed, and how this perpetrated violence exerted influence on everyday failures and miseries. Paulo Freire, who was arrested in this dictatorial context in 1964, said that when a people “takes possession of their history, taking the written word is almost an obvious consequence. From rewriting history, which is much more difficult, it is easy to learn how to write words” (FREIRE, 2011, p. 51).

In other words, if education is emancipatory, it transforms society, but if it is obliterative and concealing it will, consequently, be oppressive, dogmatic and authoritarian. From this same perspective, philosopher Marilena Chaui emphasizes that the right to information is essential for the establishment of democratic life. The absence of information “makes us politically incompetent” (2016, p. 196). In this sense, this curtailment and control of information, which was not abolished either with what André Queiroz called a “slow, constrained and behaved political reopening”, was a sign of the seizure of power by the business-media-military coup.

It is known that arapongas or secret agents, infiltrated in institutions, organized dossiers on teachers, writers, intellectuals, artists, trade unionists and forged narratives of transgression of public order. There was, in addition to military training under North American leadership, a series of documents that regulated conduct, such as the Orvil (a title in palindrome with the word book written backwards, and which was a secret document of more than a thousand pages dictatorship, used to repress what they called the “internal enemy”, as analyzed by professor João Cézar de Castro Rocha). This brand of subversion affected, for example, Florestan Fernandes, Caio Prado Jr., Luiz Roberto Salinas Fortes, Gerd Bornheim, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Zé Celso Martinez Corrêa, among others.

It caught my attention when I looked for more detailed information about the revocation, exile, persecution and loss of political rights of the philosopher Gerd Bornheim, which all the documents and dossiers I found in the archives Memories revealed, opened by the Dilma Rousseff Government through the National Truth Commission, contained an official stamp that said that information was “confidential”. Confidences forged under interrogations, confessions forced under torture, silencing induced by the terror of violations, and illogical interpretations of facts, with the aim of secreting cruelty and explicit violence.

In the case of Gerd Bornheim, for example, it was alleged that the philosopher had taught a course on Jean-Paul Sartre to Dramatic Arts students from Marxist and psychoanalytic perspectives; that he had signed a manifesto repudiating the seizure of books considered subversive, among other things that were described in outrageous detail in the various pages of monitoring and espionage documents. Gerd Bornheim felt the weight of the violence of the 1960s, as he was called, according to interviews and letters, every three months to give testimony at Federal Politics. That violence generated fear and was amplified with more violence within the university itself.

Many teachers went through this unacceptable inquisitorial violence. The writer Bernardo Kucinski in the book K.: report of a search, tells the story of the political disappearance of his sister, who was a professor at USP. In the chapter on “The congregation meeting” – an ambience that leaves its influence on current meetings online (and with closed cameras) in the departments of our universities – the dismissal of the professor due to job abandonment was discussed. The State demanded, with the consent of the congregation, that the body that everyone knew was missing was once again violated by the university institution itself. And the institution did so.

These facts expose the ills that plague our daily lives: violence, helplessness, racism, socioeconomic exclusions and injustices, but also, in the case of our universities and public education in general, they openly expose the birthplace of our general deficit, from the current absence of face-to-face discussion forums in universities (which are woven together by the web of education and technology conglomerates) to the hierarchization of decision-making (which hinders the effective participation of students, teachers and technicians in university life ), as well as the aftermath of extorted communications, which feed a fatalism that is averse to criticism, impoverishes political directions and segregates those who disagree.

In the examples above, it is clear that the university at the time was oblivious to its own problems and this violence, which spread to its core, was a sign of the authoritarianism that persists to this day. In the book conformism and resistance, Marilena Chaui, when analyzing popular culture and authoritarianism, describes the authoritarian and violent characteristics of Brazilian society. She highlights that culturalist studies often attribute such characteristics to Iberian colonization and emphasizes that the explanation that seems most viable to her is that “in which political liberalism is installed over a slave economy” (CHAUI, 2014, p. 45). And she emphasizes that the traits of authoritarianism were “reinforced with the 1964 coup d’état”.

According to her: “With the self-designation of responsible nationalism (that is, without social and political movements), pragmatic (that is, based on the economic model of external debt and the State-multinationals-national industries tripod) and modern (that is, technocratic ), a power centralized by the executive has been established in Brazil since the mid-1960s, supported by exceptional laws (Institutional Acts and Complementary Acts) and the militarization of everyday life, initially under the name of “permanent war against the internal enemy ” and, at the end of subversive and guerrilla actions, with the transfer of the military-repressive apparatus to the common treatment of the population, especially rural and urban workers (particularly opposition unionists), unemployed people, black people, juvenile offenders, prisoners common people and criminals in general (including transvestites and prostitutes)”. (CHAUI, 2014, p. 47)

This political-cultural look at the university requires constant work of overflight and connection with the history of Brazilian universities and education and their incessant search for new models, in a time of democratic failure, of interventions in the university rectory (as we had in four years of Jair Bolsonaro, analyzed in the book The invention of chaos, published by Adufes and Andes Sindicato Nacional), of proposals for “schools without parties” or reinvestment in civic-military schools and homeschooling.

This situation that spread with the 2016 coup, a reworked reissue of the 1964 coup, has not yet been completely stopped. In reality, this destructuring comes from years of insistence on insidious and surreptitious policies that trigger a state of general destitution in Brazilian universities. These are policies that reinforce poverty, the lack of assistance, unemployment, the withdrawal of rights... And that strengthen, in broad daylight, abject policies that encourage neoliberal violence.

The obviousness of these statements, however, does not move the logic of capital indifference, even in the face of the many families who lost everything and who still find themselves in the streets, squares, bridges and dead ends of Brazilian capitals, victims of unprecedented violence. This poverty and torment are reflected, as Marilena Chaui highlights, in what she called the “functional university” (established during the dictatorship), the “results university” (the one that in the 1980s adopted the idea of ​​productivity) and the “ operational university” (from the 1990s, which assumes the role of “its own company”). I wonder to what extent our universities and Brazilian society itself are aware of these specters that surround us?

I would like to insist a little more and let Chaui's lucid reading reverberate. She explains that the dictatorship acted to repress “the working class, the left and the middle class, which, however, is its ideological and political support base”, thus creating the motto for the “functionality” of education. According to the philosopher, the dictatorship “then introduced various forms of compensation for the middle class, and one of the things it introduced as compensation was the promise of opening the university as a form of social advancement and prestige. Why does she make this promise, and why does she keep it? Why the Federal Education Council, throughout the period of the dictatorship, was run by the owners of private schools. The first act was to destroy the public primary and secondary school, under the argument that the teachers were subversive. In fact, this was done because it guaranteed the expansion of the network of private schools, whose owners were members of the Council. Next, the idea of ​​an open university for the middle class is introduced.” (CHAUI, 2016, p. 42)

It was during this period that, according to the author, the idea also emerged that the public university “started to be indirectly subsidized by private companies, because the function of the university would be to train labor for the market. With this, not only did the rulers destroy the critical university of the 1960s, they also destroyed the classical universities that existed in Brazil... In other words, it fulfills two functions: it pacifies the middle class and works for the job market” (CHAUI, 2016, p.43)

It is from there that the “university of results” is structured, based on “productivity” and “excellence”, indices and guarantees necessary for the distribution of resources. This process is still in force in our universities, but now with a massive investment in “operationality”. “The operational university is the one that realizes or materializes the virtualities of the functional university and the university of results… that is, it is operational for private companies. And, therefore, it is private companies that will judge university quality and productivity because they will pour resources through agreements and private foundations” (CHAUI, 2016, p. 44 and 45).

To top it off, according to Marilena Chaui, this entire arrangement is due to the MEC's ​​alignment with the ideals and productivity measures of the IDB and the World Bank. These interpretations by Marilena Chaui are over 20 years old and have a striking relevance to them. Add to this process the uberization of work and the technological and communication avalanche and we will see how far we are going. The uncritical reading of this scenario, an increasingly frequent sign in our paintings, makes the situation in which we live even more delicate. That is why it is urgent to think, 60 years later, about the reverberations of the 1964 military coup in Brazil.

*Gaspar Paz Professor at the Department of Theory of Art and Music at UFES. author of Interpretations of artistic languages ​​in Gerd Bornheim (edufes).


Francisco Celso Calmon (coordination). 60 years since the coup. Generations in struggle. Organization: Denise Carvalho Tatim, Gisele Silva Araújo, Roberto Junquilho and Sandra Mayrink Veiga. Serra, Editora Formar, 2024.


CHAUI, Marilena. conformism and resistance. Homero Santiago Organization. São Paulo: Autêntica, 2014.

______. The ideology of competence. Belo Horizonte: Authentic; São Paulo: Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2016.

FREIRE, Paulo; GUIMARÃES, Sergio. Learning from one's own history. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2011.

KUCINSKI, Bernardo. K, report of a search🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2016.

PEREIRA, André; ZAIDAN, Junia; GALVÃO, Ana Carolina. The invention of chaos: dossier on Bolsonaro's interventions in Federal Higher Education institutions. Brasília: ANDES, 2022.

QUEIROZ, André. Cinema and class struggle in Latin America. Florianópolis: Insular, in press.

QUINTANA, Mario. New poetry anthology. Rio de Janeiro: Codecri, 1981.

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