The Ford Foundation, Abdias, Florestan, identityism

Image: Regina Silveira


Response to Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza's criticism

For decades, I dedicated myself professionally to the study of Brazilian colonial slavery and pre-colonial Black Africa, marginally addressing “black racialism-identitarianism”. In the 1990s, with my partner, the Italian linguist Florence Carboni, I undertook a systematic campaign to deconstruct the “Italo-Riograndense identity”, with an anti-Brazilian, racist and neo-fascist bias, then strong in the middle classes of the Italian Colonial Region. from RS. [CARBONI & MAESTRI, 1999.]

In recent years, when identitarianism homogenized the middle-class black movement and most Brazilian political organizations claiming to be Marxist, I addressed this issue in an essay and several articles. [MAESTRI, 31.10.2020; 2503.2017.] On December 27, 2022, I published on the website the earth is round, the comment “The Black Question: The Ford Foundation and the Cold War”, about the magnificent work of Wanderson Chaves, A questnot black: the FoundationFord and the Cold War (1950-1970).

My review was criticized by Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza, “The Ford Foundation and Black Identitarianism”, of January 4, 2023, also published in the earth is round. Regrettably, my critic remains absolutely silent about Wanderson Chaves' important book. Instead of the message, he chose to attack the messenger.


five considerations

Starting a response to the “five critical considerations” by Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza, I record my disagreement with the proposal for the “white elite” to dominate the black population. Capital has no color. And, if that formulation, in past decades, slipped over the essence of the phenomenon, without describing its essence, today it has emptied even more of its meaning, with the growing world dominance of non-Western capital – Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Indian , etc.

I also recognize the right of the “black middle class” – or white – to fight to ascend socially, to participate in the dinner of the privileged. I only disagree with the fact that she presents herself as the Prometheus of the subordinated, proposing her unique claims as belonging to the exploited classes, who will continue with the ration of beans, rice and pasta, unless even this is lacking.

I recognize the need to combat the racist scourge and racists relentlessly. But I disagree that its weight oppresses the population of strong African descent and brown and mulatto people who are considered and confused as white, especially if they have money. This proposal is a crass injustice to those who effectively suffer the hard weight of racism.


Marighella fatherless present

For Brazil, the statement that all those who are not chalk white are black is opportunistic political arbitrariness that reproduces the execrable Yankee norm of not being white who has “a drop of black blood” – “one-drop rule”. Sandice who invented a black Marighella, completely orphaned by an Italian father present. [MAESTRI, 7.7.2021.] Racism is too serious an issue to be manipulated with political-ideological objectives.

In defense of my style, criticized by Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza, I would say that I try to distance myself from the boring and perfunctory academic narrative. I try. If I can, I don't know. And he is also a professional diversion passing through professional journalism, as an international correspondent in Milan, when I learned that we have to write to be read and not to impress colleagues and feed the insatiable Lattes.

I see no impertinence in my definition of Brizola as the “white father” of Abdias do Nascimento, who landed in Brazil at the end of the 1970s, claiming to be a refugee in the USA and shooting at the left and Marxist militants who were trying to organize themselves, still under the military dictatorship, after decades of severe repression.


Quilombola or captain-of-the-mato?

After calling the black population to a “racial war” and proposing that the “race factor” remained, “irreducibly, a fundamental contradiction within Brazilian society”, Abdias nestled comfortably in the PDT, under the wing of the southern caudillo, beyond white, which ensured him a parliamentary career as a candidate forever without a vote. Hence my artistic license in calling Brizola the white [political] father of Abdias do Nascimento. [MAESTRI, 2021: p. 150.]

Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza uses history incorrectly. Abdias do Nascimento is more like Roman Malinovsky (1876 – 1918) of the black movement than the duo Zinoviev-Kamenev, who threatened the assault of Russian workers to power in 1917. Despite this, both dedicated their lives to the emancipation of workers , which is why they were murdered by Stalinism. Therefore, the approximation is not relevant.

In the 1970s, when he took aim at the left, joining the military dictatorship in this operation, Abdias do Nascimento came to concern the entire social movement, not just the black movement, as proposed by Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza. In those years, Adias do Nascimento claimed that Brazilian Marxists and socialists would have participated “actively or by default, in the liquidation process of the black race […].” In 1982, reviewing one of his books, I defined him as a captain of the bush and not a quilombola, for throwing water at the mill of the right and imperialism. [MAESTRI, 2021: p. 149-154.]


Dividing the exploited

In my review criticized by Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza, I proposed identityism as “black autism”, due to its defense of autonomous organization and opposed to the other exploited ones, the latter being pointed out, when white, as exploiters of Afro-descendants. An accusation that offends multitudes of non-black exploited people. Exploited whites are relatively superior, in absolute numbers, to the oppressed blacks, who are, however, relatively more numerous, given their smaller participation in the national population. “The IBGE surveys the color or race of the Brazilian population based on self-declaration. “According to data from the National Household Sample Survey (Continuous PNAD) 2021, 43,0% of Brazilians declared themselves as white, 47,0% as brown and 9,1% as black.”

It is unacceptable to bring together Abdias do Nascimento and Florestan Fernandes, a prominent non-Marxist progressive intellectual. I referred to him only because of my surprise at his importance, and his book Integration of the black in class society, of 1964, in the discussion promoted by imperialism about its policies for American and Brazilian blacks, above all.

Revealed facts, always supported by rich documentation, in the last parts of the reference book by Wanderson Chaves, which also refers, among others, to the participation of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Roger Bastide in that discussion and elaboration. [WANDERSON, 2019.] Perhaps Florestan Fernandes' foundational contribution to black identity proposals explains the ill will, recalled by Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza, of black movement leaders towards the well-known sociologist from São Paulo.


Slavery and Genocide

I ignored the dimension of this reality, because I read Integration of the black superficially for decades when researching colonial slavery. On the contrary, I slowly studied the author's approach to the communities on the Brazilian coast in the 2013th and XNUMXth centuries, when he was preparing a book on slavery and the genocide of the Tupinambá populations in those regions and times. [MAESTRI, XNUMX.] Florestan Fernandes' approach to this theme also follows the functionalist and Weberian orientation. The same orientation that guided his book The bourgeois revolution in Brazil, from 1974. [ MAESTRI, 1997.]

It is grossly unfair and incorrect to define Florestan Fernandes as the “only” white intellectual in Brazil who “until his death was on the side of the causes of the working black people”. His epistemological vision led him to deny, always, the enslaved worker as a central analytical category of the development of the old Brazilian social formation. Contrary to what was previously proposed, in a pioneering way, by the canceled Clóvis Moura and Benjamin Péret, in the 1950s. [MAESTRI, 2022: 271-280.]

Florestan Fernandes delayed the reading of our past from a working class point of view, by denying its slavery character, the centrality of the enslaved worker, the meaning of the abolitionist revolution, in readings very close to those of Gilberto Freyre. Contrary to him, not a few magnificent social scientists advanced that understanding, such as, among others, Emilia Viotti da Costa, Jacob Gorender, Décio Freitas, Benjamin Péret, Robert Conrad, Vicente Salles, José Alípio Goulart.


innovative character

I constructed my assessment of Florestan Fernandes and the so-called Escola Paulista de Sociologia, with regard to slavery and the Brazilian social formation, through half a century of investigation, presented in dozens of books, in Brazil and abroad, with reference to the centrality opposition between enslaved and enslavers. A vision that I owe a lot to late masters, friends and comrades like Jacob Gorender, Clóvis Moura, Manoel Correia de Andrade. However, I will correct this reading if it proves to be incorrect. The adjectivation of my proposals as mere meaningless nicknames, inconvenient esoteric visions, light and impressionistic assessments, etc. it was unnecessary, as the superlative abundance of adjectives only suggests a lack of arguments.

Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza denies the innovative character of the magnificent work of Wanderson Chaves, in the description of the genesis, construction, consolidation and diffusion of imperialist policies for the black movement, proposing that, in general, there was a diffuse awareness about this reality, for him, of minor importance. Right, very diffuse, imprecise, and never particularization. It was Wanderson Chaves who gave the name to international oxen and Tupiniquin donkeys, describing in detail the imperialist operation in the period he studied, from 1950 to 1970. Imagine what you will find, if you advance your investigation chronologically!

And it wasn't, as suggested by Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza, a kind of erratic funding, distributing money among right-wing, center- and left-wing intellectuals. From the beginning, it was a portentous, meticulous and millionaire operation with the objective of attacking Marxism, socialism, the revolution. That is, the world of work, in its entirety. The benevolence with which Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza treats this operation borders on the defense of the Ford-imperialism action or the proposal of its non-existence, which is certainly not the intention of his colleague.


selling the soul

I disagree with the justification for the eventual moral and political debasement of black intellectuals in the 1970s, due to the few opportunities available to them. Clóvis Moura, despite his displeasure at never having been asked to preside over the Palmares Foundation, as he deserved, and that, in his last years, he practically had no publications to express himself, as he commented to me several times, with the exception of those of the MST, he never apologized for his adherence to the militant Marxism he carried out when he was young, the reason for which he was aware of the cancellation. He never had and never accepted a “white father”.

As for the “pepper on the tail” that Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza refers to, that is, that I criticize those who were suffering in the sun from the shade, I remind my colleague that I belonged to the generation that knew the hot chilli, in different flavors and quantities, trying not to deny. And it wasn't just about having where to write, how to show up and discover the pleasant side of life. In 1982, while criticizing Abdias do Nascimento, my partner, my young son and I continued to be harassed by the dictatorship. From 1967 to 1985, I was impeached and hunted down several times. Craft bones. It is the right of intellectuals of all stripes to sell their souls, with varying levels of consciousness, in order to obtain personal advances, small and large. They are militants of themselves, a behavior strangely defended by middle-class “black identity”.

Many of the proposals that my colleague challenges me are from Wanderson Chaves, in his heavily documented book, the product of ten years of research, much of it in the Yankee archives. And that author makes no value judgments. He just affirms and proves. I reiterate that for many years I have largely investigated colonial slavery and, to a lesser extent, precolonial black Africa, not race relations. Therefore, I strongly recommend that my colleague and everyone else read this magnificent book.


Twork and social emancipation

I believe, as Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza accuses me, that all harsh forms of discrimination were born and are based on exploitation driven by the dominant classes. And that the tendency to overcome them is only possible through the struggle for social emancipation. Always under the direction of the proletarian and working classes, due to their essential characteristics. They, unlike the middle classes, in order to free themselves, must emancipate all other classes, putting an end to exploitation. Therefore, they are the dangerous classes, feared by the owners of wealth and power.

As I also believe that the mobilization of the political-social bloc commanded by the revolutionary classes needs to embrace the fight, in the here and in the now, of all forms of discrimination, of race, gender, sex, etc. Without ever ceasing to have as its central and permanent objective the struggle for the socialization of big capital and big property. For these are the structuring and structural elements of the dominance of the dominant classes and not, logically, the racial question.

The racism that afflicts the great black masses must be fought daily, as it is permanently painful violence. But the most burning demands of the black – and white – populations, and ignored by middle-class “identitarianism”, are of a material nature, in a broad sense of the term – salary, health, sanitation, education, housing, leisure, security. Racism cuts deep. Hunger, unemployment, abandonment, insecurity, on the contrary, kill.

Imperialism and big capital emphasize “racial” oppositions precisely to weaken the unitary and universal material claims of the oppressed, which put their base of domination in check. If not for that, why, in recent times, has big capital started to defend “structural racism” as the alpha and omega of all social issues, while, decades before, it defended the non-existence of racism and “democracy”? racial"? [MAESTRI, 07/04/2021.]


Program for marginalized blacks

At this moment, we live in an unbridled race for the appointment of black men and women with identity in the Lula-Alckmin government. But not a single word is heard among these leaders – and in the new government – ​​denouncing the degrading minimum wage that literally crushes an immense majority of black workers, formal, informal, retired. And the government now hesitates to grant the shameful promised increase of twenty reais! And then they complain that workers don't take to the streets in defense of the Lula-Alckmin administration.

There is also no peremptory demand among these black identity leaders for the release of multitudes of black men and women imprisoned in terrible conditions, in an attempt by the ruling classes to stifle the violence produced by misery through repression and imprisonment of the miserable. This claim is not raised because it meets with enormous rejection among the middle classes of all colors.

These and other similar demands were presented in the program of the Black Panthers, direction that, in those years, expressed the popular and proletarian black segments of the United States. And, for that reason, they were massacred by the same Yankee imperialism that kindly financed and still finances all those who place themselves in a deaf or blatant way at its service.


The ones above and the ones below

I rise, therefore, only against the proposals given and packaged by imperialism and big capital. Proposals materialized today in identity programs, with regard to the black community. Identitarianism that advances, as proposed, claims specific to the middle classes with some Afro-descendancy, proposing that they are common to the great black exploited masses. While some vacancies are reserved in public universities, which do not cost a milreis to the State and capital, the vast majority of poor black, brown and white youth do not even know where they are and what higher university institutions are for.

As in the USA, in Brazil, the proposals and programs of black identity consolidate the capitalist order and disorganize the already fragile world of work, here and there. Today, exploited and marginalized populations, and not just black people, find themselves without direction and without a program, abandoned to their fate. They need to build their own vanguards that advance by materializing their general and particular programs in the fight for the necessary social emancipation, in a world that is sinking into barbarism.

At the end of his text, Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza asks himself what I want. And he replies strangely that I try to “just be Mário Maestri”. Which sounded like a compliment to me. I do want to be, in 2023, when I'm already playing in the second half of my final game of the championship, to be the Mário Maestri who, in 1967, much tougher, purer and eager than today, embraced, a little unconsciously, the fight for a world where man was the friend of man. White, brown, black.

*Mario Maestri is a historian. Author, among other books, of Sons of Ham, sons of the dog. The enslaved worker in Brazilian historiography (FCM Editora).


CARBONI, F. & MAESTRI, Mario . “Mi son talian grassie a dio!”Globalization, nationality and ethnic identity and linguistic irredentism in the Italian colonial region of RS. in: CENTER FOR MARXIST STUDIES. (ed.). Ariadne's Threads. Passo Fundo: Upf Editora, 1999, p. 409-464.

MAESTRI, Mario. “Florestan Fernandes: the look of a revolutionary socialist on the Bourgeois Revolution in Brazil.” Ideas, UNICAMP, Campinas, 4(1/2): 81-98, Jan./Dec., 1997

CHAVES, Wanderson. A questnot black: the FoundationFord and the Cold War (1950-1970). Curitiba, April, 2019, 296 pages.

MAESTRI, Mario. “They painted Marighella black! Identitarianism and the manipulation of history and consciences”. the earth is round 07.07.2021.

MAESTRI, Mario. Abdias do Nascimento: Quilombola or Capitão-do-Mato? Marxist interpretation essays on racialist policy for Brazil. 2 ed. Porto Alegre: FCM Editora, 2021.

MAESTRI, Mario. The Lords of the Coast: Portuguese conquest and Tupinamba agony on the Brazilian coast. Century XVI. 3 ed. Porto Alegre: UFRGS, 2013.

MAESTRI, Mario. "Racism is not structural". The Earth is Round. 07/04/2021.

MAESTRI, Mario. “Black identity is eating the left by a leg”,, October 31, 2020. a leg/

MAESTRI, Mario. “The War of the Turbans”. Porto Alegre, South21, February 25, 2017.

MAESTRI, Mario. Sons of Cã, sons of the dog: the enslaved worker in Brazilian historiography: an essay on a Marxist interpretation. Porto Alegre: FCM Editora, 2022.

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