the wheel of history

Image: Johannes Plenio.


There is a red thread between the Bolsonaro government and the history of our political authoritarianism

It was not the first time, nor will it be the last, that an attempt was made, in the unfortunate events of September 7, to make the wheel of history go backwards in order to put the country back on the tracks of the ill-fated AI-5 regime, a manifest obsession of the government that is there. . The intent, prepared as a general staff plan that did not lack official resources and reactionary sectors of the economic elites, in particular agribusiness, aimed to throw to the ground the 1988 Charter whose institutions prevent absolutist grins in the exercise of power presidential.

The power control system envisaged in the constitutional text, oriented towards the defense of political and social rights enshrined by it, demonized by the clique in power as obstacles to their liberticide actions, should be derogated. Deadly wounding democratic constitutionalism, the Judiciary would only act in private disputes against the civilizing processes emerging since the defeat of Nazi-Fascism in the Second World War.

That was close. And the reasons why in just one day the formidable weapon of coup propaganda that fell on the country was withdrawn into holsters are still unclear, with the astonished country becoming aware of a presidential declaration reverent to the institutions. For such a result, the strong and timely pronouncements of the presidents of the high courts of the Judiciary Power, which were followed by demonstrations by the leaders of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies in defense of democratic institutions, certainly mattered, but there may have been more in heaven than the movement of airliners although not yet registered on the radar. Anyway, by fa or nefa, the dark clouds that hovered over society dissipated as if by magic, leaving the said for the unsaid while whispering in society until when?

The scope of the coup that was being plotted cannot be underestimated, which should not be treated as a fortuitous nightmare of a sleepless night. Was the military parade in Brasilia real – did the military know what would follow? –, how real the mass concentrations on Avenida Paulista and on Copacabana beach and in other capitals, as well as real the vociferations of President Bolsonaro in all of them, crossing the country aboard official planes, darting offenses at judicial authorities with the impetus of Donald Trump in the frustrated coup to the Capitol on January 6 last year. Equally real is the financial support with which sectors of the economic elites gave to the mobilization of thousands of people who took to the streets in support of Bolsonaro on that equivocal day of September 7th.

Only those who don't want to can't see it, the government that is there didn't fall on us like lightning in a blue sky day, its roots have remote causes starting from our formation as a society and Nation-State. We suffer from the evils of the cursed inheritance of land ownership and slavery, we got rid of the former belatedly and we still coexist with the former, at this point recycled into agribusiness with its characters elevated to prominent positions in the economy and politics. The outcome of our process of political independence operated in the classic form of a passive revolution – its leader was the crown prince of the reigning dynasty in the metropolis – aborting the national-liberating revolution that took shape in movements such as the Inconfidência Mineira, in 1817 in Pernambuco and spread throughout the Northeast, especially in Bahia, under the inspiration of liberal ideals that were influential in the American Revolution.

The effects of this political solution “from above” compromised the fate of the liberals in the Empire with the emperor’s refusal of the text of the constitution drawn up by the Constituent Assembly, which was politically liberal in character, and autocratically promulgated the Charter of 1824, which granted the it a moderating power with which it limited the role of representation and put itself on the margins of popular sovereignty.

Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos, in a 1974 essay Liberal praxis in Brazil: proposals for reflection and research, undertakes a critical inventory of the fate of this concept among us. Discounting what is dated in this study, he accurately captured the reasons for the failure of our political liberalism from two moments of capital importance in the formation of modern Brazil, that of Abolition and that of the Republic.

Both movements are analyzed from the manifestos with which political elites of the time launched their campaigns, the Radical Liberal, of 1869, and the Republican of the following year. Persuasively, Wanderley suggests that the future directions of society would have been demarcated by the type of orientation predominant in them, while radical liberals, defenders of a constitutional monarchy, postulated in favor of reforms of clear adherence to political liberalism, including the abolition of slave labor, republicans, who wanted the support of the propertied classes in order to achieve their goals, became fixated on the theme of regime change. Such divergences between the modernizing elites of the time would have jeopardized the fate of liberal ideals to a large extent, weakening the original impulse that animated it.

The 1930 revolution opened a new cycle in Brazilian politics dominated by the passion for economic modernization and a State endowed with efficient means to accelerate it. It is the time of the corporate formula and the predominance of state action as regulator of all instances of social life, culminating with the creation of the Estado Novo and the Constitution granted in 1937. Brazilian capitalism should follow an illiberal course in a clear break with its traditions in which liberalism, for better or for worse, played a leading role in democratic struggles. The successful undertaking both in economics and in social control of the world of work and of society in general granted permanence, apart from the adjustments that became necessary over time, to the institutions and autocratic style of command of the Estado Novo, exemplary in the case of the military regime from 1964 to 1985, especially under AI-5, written by the same Francisco Campos, author of the text of the 1937 Charter.

The Brazil that exists today is the result of this process of authoritarian modernization, against which, in the wake of massive popular demonstrations in articulation with broad political alliances, it was able to triumph with the promulgation of the Democratic Charter of 1988. As can be seen, this triumph was not full, to the extent that a bad policy created conditions for an unexpected electoral victory by those who resisted the democratic changes that our constitutional text supports and makes possible.

The model of the Bolsonaro government is, in all letters, that of illiberal capitalism. In this sense, there is a red thread between him and the history of our political authoritarianism, remote or contemporary, such as the Estado Novo and the AI-5, which opposed the passage of political liberalism. Defeating him, more than opening the way for the living forces of today's society, means clearing the darkness of our past.

*Luiz Werneck Vianna is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio). Author, among other books, of The passive revolution. Iberism and Americanism in Brazil (Revan).

Originally published on GGN newspaper.

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