Middle classes in Brazil

Image: Kazimir Severinovich Malevich


Commentary on the recently published book by Adalberto Cardoso and Edmond Préteceille

The book by Adalberto Cardoso (Uerj) and Edmond Préteceille (FNSP-Science Po./FR) constitutes a broad and authoritative study of the working conditions and cultural situations of groups considered to be of the middle class in Brazil, especially from the 2000s onwards. Based on this research, built with theoretical-methodological rigor, they present a characterization of the political presence of middle-class groups in Brazil from the 2013 demonstrations to the coup d'état. impeachment  of 2016.

In chapter I, joining the tradition opened by the works of CW Mills, the authors emphasize the importance of the occupational structure as the main “causal component of life opportunities” of the working classes, as is the case of most of the middle classes. Chapter II is dedicated to analyzing the profile of the Brazilian middle classes. Two working hypotheses organize the empirical data: classes are not indifferent to age, gender and color relations prevailing in an unequal society such as Brazil's; in times of significant changes in the economic structure and in the labor markets, as observed in Brazil between 2002 and 2014, class profiles must also change. Chapter III investigates the relationship between social classes and living conditions of families, taking a step towards showing that “class counts”. Social mobility from the point of view of the middle classes is the subject of chapter IV.

Finally, the relationship between middle classes and politics is presented in chapter V. The authors' hypothesis, applied to a wide range of information in press organizations, public opinion polls and other evidence, is that the 2013-2016 conjuncture “it was a moment of constitution and affirmation of class identity by different portions of the Brazilian middle classes, which had as its main organizing axis the practices and processes of construction of meaning around the exercise of State power” (p. 33).

In a brief comment, I would like to highlight the point of political cleavage of middle class groupings in this Brazilian conjuncture. The authors tell us about this political cleavage: “The mobilized fractions of the middle classes brought to the streets at least two antagonistic projects (interspersed with others that are not so explicit). One of them has no commitment to overcoming social inequalities. Quite the opposite. It feeds on inequalities, values ​​them and vehemently opposes alternative projects – a properly conservative project, anchored in its own lifestyles and conceptions of the world. The other was based on ideas such as equality, solidarity and social justice, which could be called progressive, with roots also in lifestyles and worldviews. On the one hand, a bourgeois work ethic as identified by Weber in Protestant, liberal and elitist ethics, and in the Brazilian case, with a clear authoritarian tendency in political terms. On the other hand, an ethic of salaried work, the result of the social struggles of the 232th century, which were protagonists, first, by the working class, and then by the growing middle classes, especially the lower middle classes of services and those linked to the service. public, support bases of welfare states in the West and also in Brazil” (p. XNUMX).

In short, the so-called upper middle class (company managers, etc.) leaned towards the political right; while “the lower middle classes” (shopkeepers, professionals from state schools, etc.) were mobilized by the political left. Symptomatic, however, is the attribution to the two groups of middle classes of a relationship of social antagonism. Now, if these groupings were fractions of a collective – the middle class –, it would be difficult to explain their aggregation, given the polarization of values ​​and interests. But if, on the contrary, these differentiated groups are brought together by the criterion of stratification - not actually composing a group as a social force - then it is indicated, even without this intention, that they are groupings of different social classes, since they are permeated by antithetical values.

We can, then, ask: if the division within the dominant class tends to project variants in the policy of capitalist development, would not its division within the circuits of capital also manifest differentiated standards of class policy within the wage-earning class? The fraction of the productive sphere – the “working class” – would tend to support, given its situation as a direct producer of material wealth, a strategic guideline of control of the means of production by workers and of decentralized and participatory planning, which implies party pluralism , political democracy. While the fractions of the sphere of circulation – the so-called lower middle classes – would be inclined, due to their separation from productive work, to delegate to the government apparatus the tasks of controlling ownership of the means of production and of centralized planning of the economy and culture, which commits them to party unity and political meritocracy.

Regarding the upper middle class, for Cardoso and Préteceille, “authoritarian management”, identified in pioneering research on the middle classes in Brazil, “remained, at least ideally, in the past. The new work environments depend on the cooperation of everyone, including subordinates, in the execution not of products, but of horizontally integrated projects, etc. The class struggle in the contemporary factory and company is no longer the same as it was forty years ago” (p. 215).

this theme of corporate government, in fact, it needs to be better seen. We would have to take into account the proposition of Peter Gourevitch & James Shinn, in Political power and corporate control. The new global politics of corporate governance (Princeton University Press, 2005), that “conflicts within the administration room [of today's large corporation] over power and economic share are resolved in the political market” (p. 64), that is, the process of coalitions political and social versus State policy influences, or even determines, the dynamics of disputes not only between the types of social roles – shareholders, managers, workers – within the large company, but also between the productive sector and the banking sector; national versus foreign company; private capital and state capital.

* Francisco Pereira de Farias is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Piauí and a postdoctoral researcher at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Reflections on the political theory of the young Poulantzas (1968-1974) (Ed. anti-capital fights).



Adalberto Cardoso & Edmond Préteceille. Middle classes in Brazil: structure, social mobility and political action. Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ, 2021.


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