Bolsonarism: ideology, psychology, politics



Presentation of the recently released book by Rubens Pinto Lyra.

Rubens Pinto Lyra occupies a unique position in Brazilian Marxism. Due to certain characteristics of his intellectual production, his institutional insertion and even a generational cut, he can be considered as one of the exponents of academic Marxism, lately implanted in Brazil.

Brazilian academic Marxism only really emerged in the 1960s, having as its inaugural milestones José Arthur Giannotti's Habilitation thesis "Alienation of objective work" (1960) - published in a book, in 1966, with the title Origins of the dialectic of work – and articles from the same period by Ruy Fausto, gathered only in 1983 in the volume Marx: logic and politics. USP's philosophical Marxism is consolidated in sequence with the theses of José Chasin and Emir Sader, students of Giannotti and Ruy Fausto.

In common, the effort to promote a reconstitution of Karl Marx's thought from a "rigorous" reading of his works, a project similar and contemporary to the enterprise led, in France, by Louis Althusser that resulted in the edition of Lire Le Capital (Maspero, 1965). The presupposed idea was that the dissemination and the Marxist political action itself – put in parenthesis – would be preceded by the elucidation of the methodological and logical foundations of historical materialism, a stage considered essential to avoid the dogmatism of the versions imposed by the communist parties and the historical mistakes of the regimes existing socialists.

USPian Marxism, although often presented as a local acclimatization of Western Marxism, contains very few elements characteristic of that lineage, apart from the aforementioned common attempt to establish the philosophical foundations of Marx's work. In it, we do not find the concern with the issue of “culture”, central to the authors of this current. Neither do the efforts, considered essential, to understand the historical present and promote the critique of the specific ideology of each form and regime of accumulation, that is, of each phase of capitalism.

The association of Brazilian authors with the so-called “Western Marxism” becomes more pertinent, however, when referring to those who conceded primacy to culture, most often due to swallowing of the thought of the young Lukács and/or Antonio Gramsci . This is the case of the group gathered in Rio de Janeiro around the magazine Brazilian Civilization, in which Leandro Konder, Carlos Nelson Coutinho and José Paulo Netto stand out; the trio Bento Prado Jr., Roberto Schwarz and Paulo Arantes traveling on the Paris-Maria Antônia circuit; and in French exile, by Rubens Pinto Lyra.

The intellectual path of Rubens Pinto Lyra can be described as a series of movements, apparently dispersed, but in fact closely intertwined, which bring him closer and closer to the formal coordinates and conceptual repertoire characteristic of Western Marxism. In the 1970s, as a result of her schooling in France, Lyra published two books on the history of the communist and socialist movements. Back in Brazil, now as a professor at the Federal University of Paraíba, he has written uninterruptedly, over the last forty years, on issues of conjuncture and political science; of theory and philosophy of law; communication and journalism, history and sociology; economics and psychology; of education and religion.

This exuberance, the astonishing multiplicity of areas of knowledge visited with the competence and rigor of a specialist, configures an intellectual profile that transcends the university division of knowledge. This is a demand inherent to Marxism, empowered by Western Marxists in their search for knowledge of the “totality”. The requirement for a non-compartmentalized understanding stems from the very systemic organization of the capitalist mode of production, which cannot be apprehended without the weaving of an extensive conceptual network. As well summarized by Jürgen Habermas, “historical materialism” is also and above all an “interdisciplinary materialism”.

In this book, meaningfully titled Ideology, psychology and politics explain Bolsonarism, these lines of force converge, crystallizing into a unitary and multiple piece the results of decades of research that appear to the reader, however, with the charm and freshness of a sudden appearance.

The renewal of Marxism, rehearsed by Rubens Pinto Lyra, becomes perceptible in recurrent instances of self-reflection, moments in which the text focuses on itself, meditating and exposing its theoretical assumptions. It is not, however, a search for the original foundations of Marx's work, as was done in the scope of USP's academic Marxism. It is rather – in the footsteps of Marxism and philosophy, by Karl Korsch and History and class consciousness, by Georg Lukács – to carry out a historical reconstitution, in the key of a comparative balance, of the theoretical and practical successes and mistakes of self-declared Marxist conceptions, interpretations, parties, currents and movements.

This procedure can be found in most of the comments dedicated to specific subjects that make up the five blocks of the book. It unfolds explicitly and with greater ease, however, in the long article that addresses Karl Kautsky's criticism of Lenin and Bolshevism. The uniqueness of Lyra's Marxism is highlighted there, which, in addition to demonstrating the relevance and advocating in favor of a forgotten and “renegade” author, is not afraid to embrace, bluntly, the defense of the option for “reforms”.

In line with the precepts of “Western Marxism”, the central objective of the book, emphasized numerous times by the author, is to understand the historical present. The phenomenon highlighted there – simultaneously the starting and ending point of the investigation – is “Bolsonarism”. This is apprehended not as a momentary, conjunctural wave, but as the result of long-term processes rooted in society. The rise of Jair M. Bolsonaro to the Presidency of the Republic is not seen as an accident, an outgrowth or an exception; it is explained as an expression of a recurrent tendency of authoritarian regression, inherent to the process of capital accumulation.

Rubens Pinto Lyra, like a good Marxist, does not dispense with economic determinations when interpreting the worldwide resurgence of neo-fascist movements. He carefully details neoliberal hegemony, the power of large corporations, and the predominance of financialized capital within globalized capitalism. He rebels, however, against economism, resorting to the distinction highlighted by Marx and Engels in the german ideology: the “mode of production” unfolds into a “way of life”. Marx, years later, returned to this point in For the critique of political economy, with another terminology, emphasizing that economic conditioning, the basis, manifests itself under the cloak of ideology – in an abstract way, but no less effective – in the broad domains of the superstructure: in politics, in law, in philosophy, in religion , etc.

It is therefore not by chance that the author inserted a set of four articles at the beginning of the book that address the issue of “ideology”. In this group, “Ideology: concept and essential aspects” stands out, in which Lyra reconstitutes – in a didactic way – the discussion about this term and presents her own and original interpretation of the concept. It elucidates the connections of the term “ideology” with Gramsci's notions of “common sense” and “hegemony” and highlights the political content of this category, the ultimate expression of class struggle.

The book develops from there as an incisive critique of contemporary ideology in its different formulations and spheres of scope. Liberalism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism, present in fields as diverse as politics, law, the State, communication, education and religion, do not escape his scrutiny.

The explanation of Bolsonarism, however, requires a step further: the investigation of the effects of ideology on subjectivity, at the heart of the psychological formation of individuals. A portion of the vote and especially the adherence to neo-fascist movements deviate from the “rational decision motivated by material interests” pattern. The loss of individual autonomy, the fixation on regressive and conservative ideas, results from psychosocial factors, from the presence, highlighted by psychoanalysis, of irrational and unconscious forces in the determination of human behavior. In this direction, Lyra creatively mobilizes the conceptual arsenal developed by Erich Fromm.

Finally, an erudite and refined analysis of Machiavelli's thought makes it even clearer why "politics explains Bolsonarism", at the same time that it outlines the premises of an emancipatory practice, of an authentic transforming action.

*Ricardo Musse He is a professor at the Department of Sociology at USP. Author, among other books by Émile Durkheim: Social fact and division of labor (Attica).


Rubens Pinto Lyra. book presentation Bolsonarism: ideology, psychology, politics. João Pessoa, CCTA/UFPB Publisher, 2021, 314 pages.


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