The metamorphoses of udenism

Image: G. Cortez

The fight against corruption was a central axis of the right-wing agenda in the mid-twentieth century, whose legacy still insists on wanting to guide the country's course

The Brazilian right has always had difficulty incorporating popular demands linked to political or socio-economic inclusion. Thus, faced with 'their structural difficulty in raising votes, traditional oligarchic sectors repeatedly resorted to coup-plotting means in order to maintain control of the State. The only exception to this scenario occurred when themes linked to the middle sectors, such as corruption, were presented as being of universal interest. If this occurred explicitly in recent years, it was also a central axis of the right-wing agenda in the mid-twentieth century, especially under the auspices of the National Democratic Union (UDN), whose legacy, with its permanent metamorphoses, insists on wanting to guide the country directions.

Created at the end of World War II, the UDN was the most popular right-wing party in recent Brazilian history. With intellectually qualified cadres and influential leaders, the party impacted public opinion in such a way that even though it did not formally hold the Presidency, it was able to guide the political agenda, especially in the economic dimension, of the Dutra, Café Filho and Jânio Quadros governments.

Anchored, in large part, in the charismatic figure of Carlos Lacerda, the right-wing politician with the greatest popular appeal of the period, the moralist, technocratic and economically (neo)liberal agenda of the party, as well as the aggressive and mediatic rhetoric of an anti-corruption crusade (and antipopular), were so widely and effectively propagated that the term Udenism became something bigger than the party itself. In fact, after the 1964 business-military coup, the Udenista agenda helped guide many of the regime's antisocial reforms, especially in its early years.

Although the dictatorship itself would end up maintaining much of the developmentalist logic of the Vargas era, in one of the strongest ironies in the country's recent history, the anti-popular agenda, with a managerial bias, and especially the anti-corruption discourse would re-emerge in a forceful manner in the process of political transition of the 80s, in quixotic authoritarian figures like Eneas Carneiro and, more effectively, in the anti-maharajah crusade of the right-wing populist Fernando Collor de Mello, the best synthesis of the truncated democratic consolidation.

If the anti-corruption and anti-people discourse was more veiled at the beginning of the 2006st century, it never completely left the scene. And if such a narrative was not strong enough to remove the greatest leader in the history of the country from the presidency, in mid-1954, as happened with Vargas in 2015, when the country was in greater economic difficulties and under a leadership that , in part, took over the right-wing managerial discourse itself, in mid-XNUMX, and under an unprecedented media collusion, the country was engulfed by the most recent version of Udenism, the technocratic, anti-people and authoritarian salvationism of Operation Lava Jato.

If in 2018, the deterioration of democratic institutionality, and even of the rule of law, largely the result of Lava Jato actions, was such that a figure as aberrant as Bolsonaro became the vehicle of the time to channel such demands and narrative , it seems certain that this was not effectively the preferential option of the financial, agrarian, media and mercantile oligarchies. And that is why now such groups are mobilized to present Sérgio Moro, a pastiche and diminutive version of a Carlos Lacerda, as the new crusader who will come, this time effectively, to rescue us from all the populist impulses that insist on diverting the normal historical course of the land of Cabral, as a nation with an agro-export economic matrix, socially exclusive and politically hierarchical. Whether Moro will be able to make himself electorally viable as such an instrument is still uncertain. What seems clear is that it was in Udenismo that our oligarchies found the way to survive in a context of mass democracy.

In recent years, such procedures, combined with the coup d'état that characterize them, have been effective in achieving their objectives of maintaining control of the country's political and economic power. And if it was, largely, because of the udenist agenda and style that millions voted for Bolsonaro, it is possible that a candidate still seen by many as the greatest representative of the supposed anti-corruption fight will be able to rally the udenist winds, today a little more dispersed, but that still insist on blowing and defining the course of Brazil in the XNUMXst century.

*Rafael R. Ioris is professor of history at the University of Denver (USA).


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