Was there once Brazil?



Considerations on the Brazilian social structure and its echoes in political and electoral life

The result of the first round brought dismay to the left and the segments that were engaged in supporting Lula. After all, there was the expectation that the victory would come on October 2nd. I already had an article prepared for the site the earth is round, which began: “Twenty years ago, hope trumped fear. Twenty years later, serenity overcomes hatred”. I made a mistake, many made mistakes. What happened?

The shooting machine fake news of the former captain worked in the final stretch, especially if we consider the election of members of his shock troops to Congress. And the difference between the two presidential candidates was smaller than imagined.

Political analysts have shown that polls have failed to capture the advance of the devil,[I] especially in the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The high number of abstentions and the reduction of blanks and blanks also benefited him. In the following weeks came the support received by the two candidates who seem not to have significantly changed the distance between them.

The PT campaign has acted on two fronts: on the one hand, the confrontation in the virtual space, in which the possessed are unparalleled. On the other hand, Lula's rallies in the Complexo do Alemão, in Salvador and Recife show an excited militancy, which spreads across the country's major cities, making its melee and turning into votes.

It is necessary to leave the field of political science and conjunctural analyzes of the results of the elections, which only touch the surface. To penetrate the terrain of the social structure, and investigate, despite the fetid smell that emanates from the sewer, the sources that gave birth to the cancer that compromises any possibility of national utopia.

In this sense, I recover the social stratification scheme of Brazil, sketched by Darcy Ribeiro for the first time in 1972.[ii] According to our centenary master: “The top is occupied by the dominant classes, bifurcated between a business and contracting patronage and a state and civil patriciate, whose socialization is made possible by the presence of the “foreign managerial estate” – a kind of wedge to infiltrate dependence on technocracy and in mixed bourgeois and oligarchic segments”.

The intermediate strata are made up of self-employed professionals and small businessmen, and a little below, salaried employees in the private sector and second- or third-rank public sector employees. Above-average wages provide access to bossy bourgeois sociability.

Below we have the subordinate classes, made up of the manufacturing and service workers and the expanding peasantry. These classes have combative potential, but tend to bow to the expectation of a better world, rejecting attitudes that break the system.

Darcy Ribeiro's oppressed classes are made up of those who have a precarious position in terms of income and rights. They live in the interstices of “organized” social life, looking for survival strategies or rapid ascension, relying on the powerful in the system and its intermediate groups. The same ones that with their claws oppress the most numerous segment of the Brazilian population.

In a stylized way, there are the powerful, who are “more-people”, followed by “good” men and women (intermediate groups), below which are placed the “sub-people” (subaltern classes) and the “non-people” (oppressed classes).

Darcy's scheme is completed with the patterns of conscience of the various social strata: at the top, “the Brazilian man of the dominant class, sick of inequality”; and at the base “the deterioration of the personal dignity of the most humble strata”. Finally, a very peculiar capitalist society, marked by dependence and inequality, giving free rein to the primitive accumulations of capital in its various inner peripheries.

The worker-statesman and the troublemaker captain are creatures of the same social structure and reveal its complexity and contradictions.

Lula was never a radical. It is the result of combative subaltern classes, who want reforms in the system to increase employment, income and citizenship. From 1978 to 2018, in a somewhat unusual turn, national life began to revolve around his political figure.

First, the union leader, in the 1980s, brought the subordinate classes to the PT, with their social movements, and important segments of intermediate groups. With the advance of unionization in the countryside, the emergence of the MST and the unionization of civil servants, this movement gained momentum in the 1990s. Elected president, Lula conquered the support of important segments of the ruling classes, his patronage and patricians. He governs for those at the bottom and at the top, without changing the real position of the middle classes, engaging in an expansive cycle that proved to be short-lived.

All segments of our social structure seemed to be contemplated in the Lula government. What was missing? A long-term project, not just for national development, but for the transformation of society.

In the government of Dilma Rousseff, the contradictions increase, not only because of the president's political inability. Subterranean movements, above and below our social structure, reveal that the monster had taken on new features and was preparing to strike.

Even so, Lula's centrality in political life merely changes its configuration. The greatest proof of this is his illegal arrest, as if they intended to turn the wheel of history backwards, hiding his trajectory as a labor leader who came to the presidency to consolidate “bourgeois democracy”.

The 2016 coup marks the end of the New Republic, destroying democratic cordiality, more for some than for others. It was, even so, a great achievement, as political conflicts largely respected the precepts of the 1988 constitutional charter. The duality of power structured around two poles, PT and PSDB, was definitely broken .

Therefore, we do not experience any polarization from the point of view of the political system. The ascension of the captain, (un)governed by the large Centrão, introduces the biggest give-and-take in our history, to the shudder of the liberals who supported the cramulão. Here is the result of the real and symbolic purge of the left, stripped of power by the media-financial-parliamentary-legal coup. Even so, we contested the elections in 2018 and now again in 2022, with Lula free, light and loose.

But where does the real-life Hermogenes come from? He has always lived in the interstices of a violent society, trampling those below, rising on the basis of advantages and favors, saluting the powerful. A lumpen-soldier, elected by the lumpen-bourgeoisie, the lumpen middle class and parts of the lumpenproletariat. For those segments considered residual in the stratification schemes, but which are overrepresented in our social structure. With the support of lumpenjudges and lumpenprosecutors, Lula's criminalization welded together these various segments that had always discredited politics. And the monster gave birth to lumpencracy.[iii]

In our dependent capitalist society, meritocracy is combined with privilege, expanding the micropositions of power, where authoritarian sociability is exercised. The lumpen-bourgeoisie takes advantage of the precariousness of labor rights and the lumpen-middle class occupies intermediate positions with its diplomas manufactured in fake private universities.

The lumpenproletariat, on the other hand, went through a process of transfiguration during the PT governments. Despite being inserted in the sociability of the market, in a precarious and demeaning way, the expansion of the salary mass and of credit threw several of its members into an “imaginary” middle class, so many are those who are below them.


How many times in my daily activism have I come across a hidden vote for the bad thing, with the following argument: “I don’t vote for any of them, they don’t put food on the table, I have to work, take care of my business, it doesn’t matter to me ”. They see themselves as solitary individuals, they are fierce and competitive and fight for a place in the sun, that is, in the market. Those who stay behind are incapable. Solidarity is not a value. Here the evangelical churches water the seed of their prosperity theology.

Some segments of the lumpenproletariat, but also of the lumpen middle class, benefit from the expansion of services to the powerful and the traditional middle class, pretending to be modern. Here the popular proverb used by Antonio Gramsci to understand his Noon helps us: “when a horse shits, a hundred birds have lunch”.[iv]

What moves “these people”? The reverse identity preacher of “freedom” works as a password to maintain class privileges and bossism against those from below. The herd vote for Damares, Pazuello, Tarcísio, Cláudio Castro and Mourão is “conscious”, as it is against “everything that is there”. It is not a vote in favour. And “they” feel proud and rewarded. Identification with the “myth” ensures the maintenance of its sacred place in an unequal society, because that is how it has to be.

Diving into the universe of the mentor of the speech that connects these diverse social groups makes it possible to understand the meaning of lumprencracy. Olavo de Carvalho, like Trump’s Steve Bannon, were both affiliated with the doctrine of “traditionalism”.

The slogan “Brazil above all, God above all”, as well as the “Make America great again”, does not mean the recovery of a nostalgic past, nor does it point to something in the future. It is about affirming the “eternity” of the status quo, keeping the “different” in their proper places and respecting “hierarchies”.[v] Finally, an unrestricted “freedom” to maintain the position conquered or, by right, thanks to natural differences, to be respected.

War on feminism, but also on communism and democracy, Siamese twins and “materialists”. War on “globalism” and the UN and “long live the Amazon”, which “is ours”, opening the gate to land grabbers and miners of the “productive sector”. Blacks and Indians who prove their ability, “integrating” into the market.

Let's throw the traditionalist ideology into the melting pot where armed militiamen and market militiamen, the latter piloted by the lumpenbanker, come together, and the scene of the destruction of Brazil, its state apparatus, universities and public research agencies, democratic institutions and human rights is set. hard-won social

The lumpencracy showed its strength in the first round and it will still be a lot of work. But beyond the “imbrochable”, acting like a spiteful and irresponsible kid, it seems that his artillery has already given what it had to give. Hope I don't get it wrong again.

That's because in the last two years, part of the judiciary and the media, important segments of the center-right parties, economists linked to the world of finance and civil society personalities, who had set up the bandstand for Dilma Rousseff's deposition, left the captain to struggling in the sewer itself. And they hugged Lula against her will. In the end, the “broad front” was organized around him, to the chagrin of the well-thinking elite in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Lula represents in this context Brazil that resists. Formed by subordinate classes, by representatives of intermediate groups who do not bow to those above, and even by segments of the dominant patronage and patriciate, as they know that without a minimum of trust, predictability and respect for the rules of the game, us the annihilation as a society. We can, in fact, regress to an association of trading posts that live off the multiple primitive accumulations of capital.

But our victory will be meager if we do not understand the social structure that gave birth to the capiroto. The Brazil of today is not the same as it was twenty years ago. We cannot repeat the same mistakes or just do more of the same where we got it right.

One thing is right. The worker-statesman will have to transfigure himself again. Remaking itself, as an “idea”, project and utopia. Above all, collectively, by mobilizing new political and technical cadres, coming from different generations, social positions and regions of the country. For the national and international scene that he will find has no parallel with that of twenty years ago.

We will have the Lula of the great democratic conciliation where some can more than others; now boosted by the vigorous pressure from below that demands a Brazil with Darcy's face and style: happy, fearless and open to new endeavors? To see.

*Alexandre de Freitas Barbosa is professor of economics at the Institute of Brazilian Studies at the University of São Paulo (IEB-USP). Author, among other books, of Developmentalist Brazil and the trajectory of Rômulo Almeida (Mall).


[I] Throughout this article, I will use some synonyms of “demo” taken from the work of Guimarães Rosa to refer to the captain. His insistence on using God's name in vain begs it.

[ii] RIBEIRO, Darcy. Brazilians: 1. Theory of Brazil. Petrópolis: Voices, 1991, 11th. edition, p. 92; RIBEIRO, Darcy. The Brazilian people: the formation and meaning of Brazil. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1995, p. 211. In this last work, Darcy uses the same scheme without alterations.

[iii] The above hypothesis is developed in more depth in my article “A Lumpencracia”, published on the website “A Terra é Round” on 22/09/2021. It is available in the collection of articles that I put together in a book. Its ebook version can be found at the link: https://www.finotracoeditora.com.br/e-book-um-nacionalista-reformista-na-periferia-do-sistema-reflexoes-de-economia-politica.

[iv] GRAMSCI, Antonio. “Americanism and Fordism”, In: Prison Notebooks, volume 4. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2011, p. 244-245.

[v] TEITELBAUM, Benjamin. War for Eternity: The Return of Traditionalism and the Rise of the Populist Right. Campinas: Editora da UNICAMP, 2020, p. 105-106, 109-113, 135-137.

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