Slavery (de)formed the character of our elite

Dora Longo Bahia, Farsa - Delacroix (The MST guiding the people), 2014 Acrylic and enamel on recycled truck canvas 300 x 400 cm
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By GERSON ALMEIDA*

From one generation to another, the reproduction of the most perverse forms of inequality is the competence best developed by our elite.

Four centuries of slavery and immense inequality synthesize the legacy of iniquities produced and defended with iron and fire by those in power in Brazil. Our elite never let any ethical or moral scruples stop them from doing everything to avoid the consolidation of a political project capable of altering this reality. The common thread of our history, therefore, is the perpetuation of this excluding wound until today.

From one generation to another, the reproduction of the most perverse forms of inequality is the competence best developed by our elite and this is done long enough to [de]form its character and sculpt the Brazilian social organization in a functional way to support this society model. This commitment to inequality is the greatest source of political cohesion for the elites, who always struggle to make their interests appear to be those of the nation itself, but do not fail to resort to any form of violence when consensus fails.

In the book Abolitionism, Joaquim Nabuco notes that it was only in the 1879-80 legislature that “inside and outside Parliament a group of men made the emancipation of slaves, not the limitation of captivity to current generations, their political flag, the preliminary condition of their membership of either party. It took almost four centuries of slavery for abolitionism to become a reason for political cleavage in the country.

Even after slavery had already been morally defeated in the world and the slave trade was banned in the country, the yellow-green slave elite maintained the clandestine purchase and sale of humans for decades, placing Brazil in the abject pantheon of the most long-lived regimes. slaveholders on the planet and showing a never-abandoned facet of our elite: circumventing any rule or law contrary to their interests. After all, the slaveholders kept under their control all the institutions of the State, a docile judicial system and a Church capable of blessing the right of some to own others as their property.

It is true that the enslaved never stopped fighting and resisting, but the late reception of these struggles in institutional politics shows the dimension of the impermeability of institutions and the regime to social struggles in general and black slavery in particular. When the slave consensus was broken by the support of the abolitionists to the resistance of the enslaved, no resource of force was used in favor of maintaining captivity, not even that of the armed forces.

Many of the slaveholders, for example, ended up joining the establishment of the Republic shortly after the Lei Áurea, when it became clear that it would no longer be possible to count on the monarchy for the continuity of slavery. Suddenly, noted Joaquim Nabuco, “the republican ranks were swelled with a wave of volunteers from where they least expected”. Thus, the Republic began in the country without the republicans' consensual commitment to abolitionism, showing that the adherence of a large part of the elite to the Republic was more a maneuver to try to maintain their interests than effective adherence to the regime change. The impudence of “changing to leave everything the same” comes from afar.

Slavery was abolished, but freed slaves were left to fend for themselves, without access to land, education, health care, housing or access to employment and a living wage. The landowners, the slaveholders, however, did not stop demanding more and more compensation from the government for the “loss of their patrimony”.

From the earliest youth, each generation at Casa Grande learned to normalize the existence of divided moral conduct: one, affable and civilized, suitable for relations with the family and with “high society”; another, brutal and primitive towards the enslaved and subordinates in general. This dissociative oligarchic morality does not involve any “feeling of guilt”, as it lacks empathy for Brazilians who do not belong to its social and affective world.

 

Successive coups against popular governments

Without empathy for the vast majority of Brazilians, it is impossible to establish effective commitments to democracy, to popular sovereignty, something evident in all periods of our history in which the control of the elites over the State and society was threatened.

In the “Vargas era” – when agrarian and backward Brazil began to experience the industrial reality, incorporating workers as a new social actor and recognizing them as bearers of rights. It didn't take long for the sedition of the coup to enter the scene and Getúlio Vargas to commit suicide in 1954.

Ten years later, the military coup of 1964 can be considered the end of the period that began in the 1930s, when mass mobilizations and the growth of social struggles made the government of João Goulart assume a commitment to the “basic reforms”, which aimed to change the oligarchic agrarian structure, expand the rights of salaried workers and draw up an autonomous national development project.

Once again, faced with the possibility of changing the power relationship between social classes, no constitutional scruples prevented an alliance with the military leadership from showing how much our elite values ​​respect for popular sovereignty and imposed a military coup to keep their interests intact. .

The consequences are well known: at the end of the military regime, Brazil occupied a prominent place in the pantheon of inequality, illiteracy and poverty, even though there was strong industrialization, wealth generation and rapid urbanization in that period.

Even with the tutored redemocratization and the general and unrestricted amnesty – which did not judge the coup leaders who attacked democracy and still maintained a strong influence in the armed forces -, the social demands that had been repressed for so long occupied the country's political scene for good.

It is interesting to note that only when social movements managed to produce strong demonstrations and galvanize public opinion was it possible to reduce the control of the oligarchies and build the political conditions to produce alternatives in the country. This is what happened with Lula's victory in the 2012 elections, which took place within the longest democratic cycle in the country.

It is undeniable that since Lula's election, the desire to take the country to another level and build a true nation has been revived, which implies facing the enormous inequality that prevents Brazilians from sharing a common identity and rights in everyday life, in real life, and not just as a legal abstraction alien to reality.

Despite many vicissitudes, in all respects the governments of Lula, succeeded by those of Dilma, showed that it is possible to create a virtuous cycle of economic, cultural, social and environmental growth, which increased the feeling of happiness of Brazilians, a feeling captured in all the surveys carried out. Any comparison between social development in the “Vargas era” and in the periods of the Lula and Dilma governments, with those that preceded and succeeded them, speaks for itself.

The fear of popular governments and the interest in keeping their interests intact, once again renewed the elite's alliance with parliament, the judiciary, the military leadership and other high echelons of the State, which again proved to have no constitutional and moral scruples. to hinder its adherence to the coup against popular sovereignty to defend the country from inequality for which so much effort has been made throughout history. The only success of this alliance around the holders of power in Brazil is having built the longest slave regime in the world and the most abject inequality on the planet.

Its failure is unappealable, if the ruler that matters is that of civilization and humanism, represented by the ideal of equality, freedom and fraternity, the triad that raised the people as protagonists of politics.

This is the ongoing dispute in Brazil today. Those in power continue to control important posts in the state, particularly in the judiciary, parliament, military and business media, as the 2016 coup showed.

Bolsonaro's government, which this anti-democratic collusion brought to power, is not an outlier, a historical excrescence, it is the expression of the true character of our elite, which has nothing different to offer Brazilians, except exclusion and inequality . The militia government is not an outlier, but a demonstration of how far our elite is capable of going to defend its interests. To defeat them on all fronts, life is worth living.

*Gerson Almeida holds a master's degree in sociology from UFRGS.

 

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