The dictatorship in question



Comments on the book by Florestan Fernandes

The cover on a white background, with a closed green wrist (yellow thumbnail), immediately reminds me of the “Incredible Hulk” – angry, indignant, very angry. If one begins to read Florestan's dense, engaged and tense work, The dictatorship in question, his 30th book, one has the impression that the green gauntlet is going to give the dictatorship a blow.

The professor's language still remains arid, his statements are not conspicuous (paragraphs of two to three pages in a row are frequent) and his rhetoric is permeated by figures (example: “the dictatorship uncovered the lid of the pot and regulated the fire according to its own cuisine” – p. 66). However, it is easy for the reader to relativize snags and find one of the best – if not the best – interpretations referring to the character of the post-64 Brazilian State, based on the examination of the current dilemmas faced by the dictatorial power.

Florestan's book brings together four essays written in August and September 1981, originally presented in the form of lectures or didactic exhibitions at the First State Congress of Sociologists (the case of the first essay) and at the postgraduate course at PUC-São Paulo ( the other three). In all of them, he seeks to discuss the current dictatorial regime, years after publishing The military dictatorship and the political roles of intellectuals in Latin America (1971) and The bourgeois revolution in Brazil (1985), adding that analyzes like yours “are part of the front of struggle and contestation, through which civil disobedience manifests itself and, sometimes, seeks to correspond to the deeper movement of repudiation of dictatorships, which comes from the poor mass and dispossessed of populations”.

The four essays ensure the book has an effective unity, harmoniously integrating. In the first – “crisis or continuity of the dictatorship?” – analyzes the impasses of the political regime established in 1964, noting that the dictatorship reached a point where it was no longer possible to hide the fractures of its economic, social and political support base. “The various currents that constitute this base murmur or even proclaim their disappointments or disagreements” (p. 7). In “The manipulation of parties” an attempt is made to discuss a key question raised by the author: “how to deal with class relations and with power through parties?” (p. 41).

The third essay, “The dilemmas of bourgeois domination in the face of dictatorship”, constitutes a response to “various mystifications and confusions that are emerging regarding civil society and a possible democratic surge that would have to be born practically from some phenomenon of generation spontaneous”. For Florestan, “upon waking up from the dream that came to be embodied in the utopia of the “economic miracle”, the bourgeoisie finds itself (...) in the face of a new historical situation, it finds itself politically demoralized by the open recourse to civil war and defeat in view of the counterrevolution and faces the threats that seemed removed from the workers' protest and the rebellion in the countryside, only now under the new pattern of class struggle” (p. 97).

Finally, “Nos marcos da violence” examines the fact that violence is inherent to capitalism, “to the law and the rule of law that it can generate, intrinsic to the regime of social classes”. Consequently, what should not be forgotten is ignored, “that the violence inherent in capitalist society contains a right and a rule of law that institutionally operates repression and oppression outside and above both the 'natural needs of the order' (which vary with the circumstances and the form of government) or the 'human ideals of justice' (which are not consulted by any type of law or state, which have to balance social stratification with social domination and political power of minorities over majorities)” .

One of the book's central themes is the relationship between civil society and the state. For the author, civil society means bourgeois society or, also, society of social classes, and it is not possible to separate dictatorship and civil society, in the same way that it is impossible to separate social revolution and civil society. O dictatorial power does not hang in the air: its base of support can be located in the national bourgeois classes and in the international bourgeois classes, which sought in the military dictatorship a reinforcement of power for their self-protection, as a class. In this way, the military power acquired “the character of a source of any manifestation of the collective will of the strategic states of the bourgeois classes…” (p. 18).

The institutional republic, for him, constitutes a variant of the modern capitalist state. “I myself prefer to designate it as a historical version of the autocratic bourgeois State” (p.10). This State ended up resulting in a resounding failure, making it possible to highlight at least two fundamental errors: the alleged two-party system, with Arena and MDB, by bringing together significant portions of the popular classes in the opposition, placed the dictatorship before plebiscitary elections, the so-called “economic miracle” – which had its “peak” approximately in the period 1968-1974 –, with the overexploitation of labor at the expense of the wage squeeze, which provoked vigorous workers' protests in the second half of the 70s.

The intensification of the spoliation of labor provoked opposite results in the workers' and employers' poles: “the former made decisive progress towards containing bourgeois supremacy and organizing itself for the political struggle. This stiffened its institutionalized oppression within the company and through the State, that is, the dictatorship“ (p. 26).

The worsening of the economic crisis, added to the picture that has just been outlined, made the dictatorship initiate what the author calls granted liberalization, based on the formula “if I concede, I don’t give in” (p. 27). The liberalization granted – a necessary condition for a realignment of the power bloc – initially manifested itself in the form of a “distension policy” and, later, an “opening policy”, revealing at the same time the difficulties, weakness and the strength of the dictatorial regime.

In the Figueiredo government, the “reform of the parties” was planned, reserving a restricted and rigidly demarcated field for the action of those who coalesced in the opposition. The dictatorship's strategic objective, “contrary to popular belief, did not focus on the fragmentation of the MDB or the fragmentation of the opposition in general: it focused on creating an alternative party of the situation, destined to fulfill several functions. It should, of course, attract bourgeois cadres and voters from all spheres and levels of civil society. However, the basic function of this party should be to bring about a gradual military deconcentration of the regime and a parallel transfer of dirty tasks from the military pole to the civilian pole.” (p. 28). These were the tasks or functions that the dictatorship expected from the PP (Popular Party), that is, it should “shape the transition and convert the dictatorship (…) into a protected democracy”.

However, things did not go as the dictatorship wanted, resulting in an illustrative case where the historical unfeasibility of the granted liberalization was attested. Otherwise, let's see: the PP, which emerged as an alternative party, was forced to launch itself into the opposition's political field and compete with parties that were developing programs to effectively combat the dictatorship. “The dictatorship itself does not have enough elasticity to overcome the political problems that have arisen in the real conditions of political life in Brazil today, including the reduction of party space, which it inexorably fosters.

As a result, Arena was replaced by a weaker and demoralized party. The MDB reconstituted and strengthened itself, keeping the political frontiers conquered in 1974 and 1979 intact. , disconnected from patronal tutelage and bourgeois demagoguery” (p. 28-29).

Florestan writes some caustic pages when he analyzes the political role played by the oppositions – both the conservative and liberal as well as the left. For him, the opposition to the dictatorship ends up condemned to an essentially bourgeois, institutional gravitation. There is no frontal attack or political unmasking of the dictatorship, leaving the popular classes – “the greatest social force for the transformation of civil society” – excluded or curtailed from their real historical movement, having to submit, for example, to “conservative summit” of the PMDB.

For the defeat of the dictatorship to become a new historical alternative, a more effective participation of the “stifled or pulverized social forces of civil society” is needed. Only these forces could “associate democracy with new economic, social, cultural and political contents, taking the republic out of the bourgeois impasse and injecting it with a revolutionary transformation, albeit 'within order'” (p. 38).

In the fight against the dictatorship, two essential procedures must be observed: (a) one must not respect and/or obey the legal framework in force, “forged as a kind of anaconda, on which the self-reproduction and evolution of its political regime is supported ” (p. 38-39); (b) one must try to equate “a legality that serves the subordinate classes (in the prevailing historical conditions, certainly 'within the order') and provides them with means of self-organization, self-defense, civil existence and political voice” (p. 39 ).

Written, according to the author, “in health conditions that are not conducive to a long intellectual work”, The dictatorship in question perhaps not everyone will like the highly engaged tone with which it positions itself in the frontal fight against the dictatorship, placing itself in the perspective of the subaltern classes of society. Despite recognizing the narrow limits of his contribution in a country where little publishing is done and where the book is a product practically consumed by the elites, Florestan was willing to fight as best he could with the weapons available to him: ideas, the pen, the words – which, let’s face it, is not negligible.

*Afranio Catani is a retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF.

Reduced version of the review published in Magazine of Business Administration (RAE), São Paulo, EAESP-FGV, vol. 22, no. 3, July-September, 1982.


Florestan Fernandes. The dictatorship in question. São Paulo: TA Queiroz, 1982.


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