The left and the blow of 1964



Presentation of the new edition of the book, recently released


This fifth edition, revised and expanded, of The left and the blow of 1964, comes to light sixty years after the 1st coup d'état. April 1964. It essentially preserves the thematic focuses, the axes of analysis and the narrative style of the book originally published in 1989, which received a generous reception from critics. At the same time, I modified chapters and included others; I reworked several passages; and, mainly, I introduced unpublished materials and new content, in addition to consulting sources that emerged in recent decades.

With such changes and additions, my basic concern was to re-evaluate relevant issues of the period, as well as incorporate other critical views on the political and ideological-cultural process that culminated in the deposition of President João Goulart (1919–1976), establishing the Brazil, for long and painful 21 years, the military dictatorship.

The idea for the work arose from a pleasant conversation with political scientist René Armand Dreifuss (1945–2003), author of the classic 1964: Conquest of the State, in a bar in Flamengo, in Rio de Janeiro. It was a muggy afternoon in the summer of 1982; René still lived in Belo Horizonte and had come to spend holidays with his family. The investigation he had done in the archives of the Institute of Research and Social Studies (IPES) and which had resulted in the book of the year 1981 had aroused the curiosity to get to know him.

In a good mood, still coming to terms with Portuguese, the Uruguayan René surprised me with the speed with which he joined the project I explained to him, of understanding the causes of the defeat of the Brazilian left in 1964. “You will tell the other side of the story” , he commented, in an allusion to his research on the political-ideological-military-business-media articulation that overthrew João Goulart.

René Dreifuss immediately gave me a clue to collect data that would help to rescue the memory of the defeated: he recommended that I consult, among other sources, the archives of IPES and the Women's Campaign for Democracy (Camde), an auxiliary line in the women's movement conservatives in Guanabara, with branches in other states, organized with zeal by the National Archives team. The recommendation proved to be extremely valuable. The first time I opened the boxes, I understood why. There are stored the traces of the competent, sinister plot that annihilated a constitutional and progressive government – ​​a vast amount of documents and clippings from newspapers and magazines, notably from the period 1963–1964, classified in a didactic and comprehensive way.

The initial surveys renewed the feeling of perplexity that I always had about the outcome of 1964, when I was nine years old and didn't understand why there wouldn't be classes at Colégio Andrews, in the south zone of Rio de Janeiro, where I studied, on the 1st. Of april. I would venture to say that this is a common feeling among segments of my generation. Why did the left lose? How can we explain the failure of mobilization for basic reforms? Why were progressive sectors so divided? Why were popular leaders overtaken in the ideological arena, in the midst of the rise of the mass movement? Why didn't they resist? The questions prompted me to write the book.


During the dictatorial cycle, the so-called “official history” sought to silence the voices that were lost in 1964 and became opponents of the military regime, resorting to political dismissal, institutionalized coercion, censorship, torture and even physical elimination. The primary objective was to disqualify social mobilizations and demands during the João Goulart government. This interdiction aimed to hide, according to José Paulo Netto, the cry, with an “emphatic anti-capitalist orientation”, for a “broad restructuring of the pattern of economic development and a profound democratization of society and the State”.

When studying the silence of the defeated in the 1930 Revolution, Edgar de Decca clarifies how ideology “dissimulates in the exercise of class domination the historical process that made the victors of the political struggle effective and suppressed in the speeches the historical experience of the dominated”. From this dissimulation, fables about 1964 were constructed, refractory to popular participation and the demands of classes penalized for inequalities and excluded from decision-making levels regarding the country's destiny.

The speech that sought to give cohesion to the official version of the coup was shaped like cement to the arrogant and undemocratic physiognomy of the regime installed after the fall of Jango. He stigmatized the tensions and contradictions of democracy as inappropriate and unwanted elements, as if it were not the duty of elected officials to manage disparate demands. His ultimate intention was to impose the hypothetical reasons for the coup, based on deceptions and mystifications about “the communist threat”, which would be the basis of the left's actions in the midst of the political crisis – a crisis that, it is worth insisting, took place within the framework of legality.

One of the miscalculations of the dictatorial power was to assume that its premises in the definition of historical “truth” would prevail indefinitely, counting on the repressive arsenal and ideological indoctrination to be able to stop contradiction and divergence.

But the past is not condemned to remain quiet or curdled. “The past is inevitable, beyond will and reason”, highlights Beatriz Sarlo. “Its strength can only be suppressed by ignorance, symbolic violence and physical or material destruction.”5 Still, he could resurface in power later on. Because the field of memory, of which it is part, is a field of disputes and conflicts, unstable and changing, subject to variations in the correlation of forces in society. It means that, in the course of historical-social mutations and the battle of ideas for political and cultural hegemony, other values ​​and conceptions of the world can emerge and prevail, progressively altering the bases of consensus. This makes it possible, over time, to recover silenced memory, re-elaborate knowledge of the past and analyze facts from different approaches.

Sérgio Paulo Rouanet invites us to reflect with Walter Benjamin: a continuous and linear conception of history – which for Benjamin is always the history of the victors – is opposed to a history conceived from the perspective of the defeated, based on rupture and not continuity. “History thus conceived”, writes Rouanet, “is not a succession of silent facts, but a sequence of oppressed pasts, which have with them a 'mysterious index', which propels them towards redemption”. The horizon of redemption, I add , is in tune with the desire to release previously imprisoned voices.

In the case studied here, re-excavating the past and re-evaluating 1964, in the view of the defeated, have a double scope. On the one hand, it allows us to question the anti-communist fallacies that predominated in the winners' speech, such as that of the “syndicalist Republic” that Jango would be one step away from implementing, as well as deliberate misrepresentations about the risks of “subversion” and “communization”. The exacerbation of anti-communism has to do with the fear of the dominant classes regarding the possible effects of political and cultural transformations on the production of beliefs, mentalities and judgments that affect the shaping of the social imaginary, traditionally under their radius of influence.

Rodrigo Patto Sá Motta argues that anti-communism becomes an ideological instrument to express conservative feelings in relation to moral and religious values. “The Red Peril” goes beyond the objectives and real strength of the communists and is used as an ideological antidote to the social rise of the popular classes, with the undesirable questioning of current hierarchies. The anti-communist discursive strategy consists of instilling a sense of danger in relation to changes that could affect the convenience of conservatism and its political-cultural hegemony. The ultimate intention of these rhetorical maneuvers is to exploit the feelings of fear and insecurity of public opinion, with the purpose of convincing social sectors to accept authoritarian interventions.


On the other hand, critical reflection constitutes an unavoidable means of reviewing, without the obstacles of lies and falsification, the trajectory of popular and democratic forces in the period 1960–1964. Facing certain crystallized versions motivated me to interview representative names from the progressive and left-wing camp, who witnessed “from within” the turbulence in their ships and tried to interfere in the tasks of the moment.

The testimonies add to the research work records that break the opacity and reveal other versions, comparisons between them and controversies. It is about problematizing that situation of pressures and counter-pressures, based on what these personalities experienced, did or failed to do, or what they did not see in the murky waters.

It was a rich and unforgettable experience for me. The characters remembered not the coldness of the completed episodes, but rather the ardor of the experiences, the dreams, the mishaps, the tenuous threads that separated them from the precipice. Under the coordinates of the present, reevaluations of the past that cannot be appeased have come to light.

When reviewing his biographical and political itineraries, which are also historical, few were not moved. I remember, for example, the three hours of conversation with Waldir Pires (1926–2018), general consultant of the Republic appointed by Jango, in his apartment on Avenida Atlântica, in Copacabana. More than once, he needed to take a breath to continue testifying, such was the shock of the memories. Here was a man of integrity who, at 37 years old, found himself unexpectedly on a plane, on his way to exile, without even time to notify his family – or to weigh up his doubts.

The human dimension permeates the contingencies of public life, without announcing itself as far in advance as imagined. Sometimes it appears hot during interviews, as in the memories of journalist Ana Arruda Callado – the first woman to be head of reporting in the Brazilian press. Young reporter from Newspapers in Brazil, she was tasked with rushing to interview the President of the Republic in an extreme situation: he was heading, with maximum discretion, to a hospital in Rio de Janeiro to visit his hospitalized mother. An admirer of Leonel Brizola (1922–2004), Ana confessed to me, almost sixty years later, that she never found João Goulart “a marvel”: “In fact, I found him fragile, politically fragile. Nobody I knew was excited about him. Maybe because of your indecision.”

She arrived at the hospital early, in time to observe Jango from a distance walking down the corridor hand in hand with her two young children, João Vicente and Denise. Ana hesitated, but it was her duty. “I apologized for approaching you there. He was delicate: 'My daughter, I came to visit my mother who is sick. You have other ways of knowing what you want. Spare me, don't do that.' She smiled and entered her mother's room. It was sweet, I didn't say an angry word. What a kind, polite man, I didn’t know!”

Patience was the secret to convincing some characters to release their memories. Aloof or suspicious in the first contacts, they ended up giving in after insistence that sometimes took months. The rule, however, was the willingness to rethink the days of agitation and hope that preceded the coup.

It is impossible to forget the solidarity of Colonel Kardec Lemme (1917–2019). “I consider it very important that young people today have an exact idea of ​​what happened. We need to alert them, make them understand the 1964 crisis. The 'official history' that they learn aims to maintain naivety and ignorance about the coup. It is up to us to show the real picture, to have the political courage to expose things clearly”, observed Kardec.

Revocations of mandates, dismissals from public service, suspensions of political rights, compulsory retirements, purges in the armed forces, expulsions of students from public universities, arrests and torture, as well as exiles and deprivations of rights, are emblems of truculence, obscurantism and aversion to democracy. Despite the trials, the vast majority of those persecuted were able to resist the evidence of barbarity and accumulate strength in the long struggle for redemocratization – without changing sides or denying their old convictions. From the past, the idea of ​​seeing social transformations as an indispensable fuel for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth took hold. With the political amnesty in 1979, the end of the dictatorship, the regaining of democratic freedoms and the validity of the 1988 Constitution, several of them rebuilt their political careers through voting – the only legitimate and valid instrument for measuring the popular will.


Among the content produced for the new edition are unpublished interviews given to me in 2023 by prominent figures who were part of the national-popular field: the writer and Dominican friar Frei Betto; journalist Janio de Freitas; the journalist, former federal deputy and naval reserve captain, reinstated with the amnesty, Milton Temer; historian Marly Vianna; and one of the only remaining members of the leadership of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) in 1964, José Salles. The testimony of lawyer and former federal deputy Plinio de Arruda Sampaio (1930–2014) to the Virtual University of the State of São Paulo (Univesp) is also unpublished in a book. Years after the first edition, the journalist and former federal deputy Neiva Moreira (1917–2012) fraternally gave me a copy of the interview with Brigadier Francisco Teixeira (1911–1986), to the extinct Country Newspaper, of which Neiva was editorial director. He suggested that I include, in an expanded reissue, excerpts that he considered enlightening. That's what I tried to do.

By incorporating new testimonies, I sought clearer focus on certain topics, such as the press, the activism of left-wing Catholics, the university student movement, the progressive military environment, agrarian reform and the political role of the PCB.

I am immensely grateful to everyone for their invaluable collaboration.


In addition to the bibliographic update, for this edition, I developed research into the online collections of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the Fund of the extinct National Information Service, currently in the database of the Revealed Memories Reference Center, of the National Archives. I was able to access secret CIA memos sent to Washington and released for public consultation in recent years, as well as confidential records and reports from security agencies accumulated by the SNI. Consultations of the final reports and files of the National Truth Commission, concluded on December 10, 2014, and State Truth Commissions were also useful. The materials show how the wheels of conspiracy, putschism and repression focused, obsessively, on the mortal enemies of the conservative political-business-military-media bloc: President João Goulart and the left.


Narrated at times as if it were a film script, the book is divided into five parts. In the first sequence, I trace the dizzying contours of the time – a Brazil with bursts of renewal in several areas, infected with the possibility of ceasing to be an underdeveloped country in the orbit of North American imperialism, based on basic reforms (agrarian, urban , university, administrative, taxation, banking, political, electoral and others). There was an impulse to intervene in reality, to build the main beams of a development model with social justice. A Brazil in which doing politics was no longer the privilege of the elites; the urban and rural worker, the student, the priest, the intellectual, the soldier, the common man entered the scene.

I sketched the profiles of left-wing organizations that were expanding, with the ambition of achieving consensus around their concepts, galvanizing aspirations that the party system no longer portrayed in its complexity. The dominant feeling was that popular demands could not wait for the future; Therefore, many opted for immediate and simultaneous actions, nourishing revolutionary dreams and utopias, whether they were feasible or not. All this in parallel to political-ideological confrontations with hegemonic classes and institutions, willing to set fire to measures that put their domains and privileges at risk.

In the second part, I compared the speeches of left-wing parties, organizations and leaders with their practices, in a conflictive and uncertain context. I tried to reveal the limits within which they acted, whether these limits corresponded to real positions in the balance of forces, their internal divisions, in which directions they approached or distanced themselves from the concrete world, the consequences in the cauldron in which the coup was created and carried out. .

The third part describes the days of hatred and fury immediately after the coup, in which the first targets of the “daily nightmare of dictatorial stupidity” – an expression I borrowed from journalist Janio de Freitas – were civil and military leaders, parties, unions, associations of class, student and cultural entities and movements aligned with popular and nationalist causes.

In the fourth part, with a complementary meaning, are the testimonies of actors from the progressive field in the Goulart years, which form an “imaginary round table”, in the definition of René Armand Dreifuss in the afterword to the first edition (maintained here). In the interpretative, critical and self-critical mosaic, we can identify convergences, dissonances and disputes, as well as errors, vacillations and illusions at crucial moments. Not all statements obtained appear in full; some intercut the narrative, as they help to understand and give new meaning to important episodes.

The fifth part cross-references the views expressed by the interviewees, with the aim of establishing hypotheses about the cyclical injunctions, the political reasons and the main strategic and tactical errors that contributed to the failure of the national-reformist bloc.13 in the face of coupism, even without organized resistance.


I did not intend to factually reconstruct the process that culminated in the fall of João Goulart. Other important works have already done so, with different approaches, not to mention the formidable catalog of theses and dissertations on 1964 available today. I focused on the order of events that, in some way, conditioned the ideas and initiatives of the left, during the arduous struggles for hegemony and, ultimately, the destruction of the democratic rule of law.

In the last email he sent me from Germany, weeks before leaving, historian and political scientist Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira (1935–2017), an enthusiast of my project to relaunch the book, wrote: “Be sure to highlight something very important to our history. When President João Goulart's government was deposed, it had a 76% approval rating in public opinion polls.”

*Denis de Moraes, journalist and writer, he is a retired professor at the Institute of Art and Social Communication at the Fluminense Federal University. Author, among other books, of Sartre and the press (mauad).


Denis de Moraes. The left and the blow of 1964. 5th. revised and expanded edition. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2024, 532 pages. []

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