Florestan Fernandes: science and politics



The gap of the socialist sociologist between the academy and the party

“Capitalism is not eternal. He will have, sooner or later, due to irremediable contradictions, to undergo the renewing action imposed by civilization without barbarism” (Florestan Fernandes).

It is a truism to say that the institutionalization of university sociology in Brazil owed a lot to Florestan Fernandes. He made an effort to demonstrate the scientific character of his research to an eclectic São Paulo elite that had created the University of São Paulo (USP) in 1934. On the other hand, Florestan emerged in the public debate in the 1980s on redemocratization as a self-styled revolutionary publicist and member of the Workers' Party (PT). How can this passage from sociologist to socialist be explained?

As a member of the first generation of professors at USP after the “French Mission”,[I] Florestan devoted himself simultaneously to the classics of Sociology, which he disseminated in collections and courses to the student public, as well as to solid empirical research.

By following this initial trajectory, everything would point towards a linear career that would have undergone a political turn after the 1964 coup.[ii] for subjective reasons, his primary dedication has always been to USP. Florestan was involved in few militant activities, although his adherence to Trotskyism is far from a mere “youthful detail” in his biography.[iii] The most important record of his short party engagement was intellectual work: the translation and introduction he wrote to a work by Marx;[iv]

However, Antonio Candido recalled that Marxism persisted in Florestan's thinking as a recessive tendency or underground river.[v]. In other words, there has always been a tension between science and engagement. A clue about this is in his thematic choices: the child, in his first scientific articles[vi]; the Tupinambá, in their Masters[vii] and doctorate[viii]; the immigrants; the Tupi; the slums[ix] and black people in numerous articles, research projects and course programs throughout life, the culmination of which was the competition for the chair of Sociology I[X], in which he dissected the heteronomic condition of the black race[xi]. Another trait of his militant inclination was his participation in the Campaign in Defense of Public Schools, launched in May 1960.[xii].

However, how many choices we make in a career are not subject to institutional constraints? Many sociological investigations aimed to understand the mechanisms that guarantee the cohesion of society and define the social facts that work independently of our will. For this, it was common to choose indigenous societies as the object, which would show in a simpler way the function of each element in a system. Similarly, research into race relations was a UNESCO project.

Academic research on his trajectory, his biographies, testimonials from colleagues and even his sparse autobiographical reports, provided through interviews, permanently problematize this transformation.[xiii], which we will deal with in the following pages, starting from his training and academic activity as a socialist sociologist, until his return, under other conditions, to an option for revolutionary socialism, a position that defined his political action.

the socialist sociologist

In the Journeys in homage to Florestan Fernandes that took place in campus from the State University of São Paulo (Unesp), in the city of Marília, in 1986, Barbara Freitag identified a break up epistemology that separated the pre-coup reformist academic of 1964 and the revolutionary politician that developed afterwards. It did not escape her that there were continuities, but the choice of the concept of rupture, which was proposed by Louis Althusser[xiv] to periodize Marx's work, it could not be casual. For the author, caesura and change are predominant in relation to permanence.

José de Souza Martins, observing the same process, chose to combine changes in the social environment with thematic continuity in the writing of The bourgeois revolution in Brazil. Nor was it a casual choice, because the book began to be prepared based on material from courses offered at USP before the author's removal, and the interval between writing the first chapters and the last was ten years. Martins identifies that in the first part, references to Weber and Durkheim predominated, and in the third part, to Lenin[xv], all permeated by the “dialectical interpretation of history”. The themes were already in the academic project written in 1962 and entitled Economy and society in Brazil.

The inquiries of that project, the empirical research of Florestan Fernandes' assistants and the typical engagement of Latin American Social Sciences would already raise doubts about the “political certainties” of the left. The reorientation of the work would have less to do with the “widening of political awareness” and a “leftization of sociological reflection” and more with a “sharp sociological awareness” of the historical moment. Therefore, there would be no mismatch between the first two parts of the work and the third, because, according to José de Souza Martins, what the author exposes in those already contain the political developments that then came to victimize Florestan Fernandes with his impeachment by the dictatorship[xvi].

In 1969, Florestan gathered articles that he had written since 1946. The declared intention was to subsidize professors of Introduction to Sociology courses[xvii]. Apparently, he would have tried to write a Sociology manual based on those texts, but that no longer made sense due to the university reform of 1968 that replaced the chair system with departments and dismembered the faculties of philosophy and, probably, due to his own departure from USP.

In an article from 1962, which he decided to publish again in 1970 and 1974, Florestan Fernandes defends the functionalist method of interpretation, which would not only be concerned with understanding the mechanisms of reproduction of the existing social order, but would also allow finding the dynamic factors of a system and understand how its continuity releases “socially innovative forces or mechanisms”[xviii]. Functionalism is not insensitive to the diachronic aspects of social life, although it has limits that can only be resolved through the dialectical method.

Because they are concerned with the contribution of each element in the conservation of the social organism and in the structural continuity[xx], for many Marxists functionalist approaches produced static and conservative analyses. My aim is not to judge whether or not Florestan Fernandes was successful in combining different methods, or even if it is a combination. After all, he used them according to the object. For him, functionalism is not a theory (in this he coincided with Talcott Parsons) but a way to formulate “empirical propositions, test them and incorporate them into theory”. In Florestan, the use of different methods for different objects does not present a problem. Functional structural analysis (Radcliffe-Brown) can encompass social conflicts that become structural and apprehend phenomena with “high stability content”, but for systematic explanation and generalization he resorts to Marxism.

To write your article on children's games in the São Paulo neighborhood of Bom Retiro[xx], Florestan Fernandes did fieldwork, recording friendships with children, recurrent structures, initiation rites and other phenomena that dispensed with allusions to Marx. At Role of war in Tupinambá society he wrote a “functionalist masterpiece”[xxx]; us Empirical foundations of sociological explanation, the author linked the use of the most important theoretical currents in Sociology to the nature of the object to be investigated.

In a work like The bourgeois revolution in Brazil, in which he had to deal with the story in flux, as he liked to say, Florestan had to equip himself with different analysis tools, according to Martins[xxiii]. This option was foreign to most Marxists. Moreover, in his previous academic works, although he had written about Marx, Florestan never explicitly used the “Marxist method”, let alone “Marxist-Leninist”. Therefore, the changes that are evident between the first and third parts of The bourgeois revolution in Brazil are salient. The author intended to write an essay on the sociological interpretation of History. Although he seems to be guided by an a priori concept of bourgeois revolution, to which his historical reconstitution should conform, this is not what he does. It seems like teleology, because vocabulary always refers us to unfinished tasks, interrupted processes, incomplete revolutions. The non-fulfillment of the bourgeois revolution is an empirical finding of the present and from that he interrogates the past and reconstitutes it.

Florestan uses Durkheim's concept of mechanical solidarity in the last chapter of his book to assess the role of the peripheral bourgeoisie, that is, its social function in the reproduction of the social organism. At the top of Brazilian society, bourgeois cohesion is based more on shared tradition and customs than on legal and impersonal rules that would characterize an organic solidarity.

The Latin American bourgeoisie is subject to the superposition of neocolonial or imperialist appropriation over the expropriation of the internal economic surplus. Unequal exchange drains much of the surplus value out and does not allow for a material base for the bourgeoisie to build a consensus domination.

It is not possible to determine exactly the moment of the bourgeois revolution in Brazil, since it does not have a revolutionary moment.[xxiii]. If the French Revolution is a set of events that triggers or consolidates a revolutionary process, in Brazil it is a process that generates counterrevolutionary events. It is paradoxical that this is so. But this is explained by the fact that, on the periphery, it is a secular process that, as it has been prolonged over time, has lost its revolutionary significance. this revolution not revolutionary it restores itself to the dominated classes as a counterrevolution. Therefore, the allusion to mechanical solidarity as a link that guarantees bourgeois social cohesion makes sense. It is not through democratic means, through national sovereignty and through the exercise of hegemony that the bourgeoisie fulfills its historical functions, but rather through autocratically monopolizing economic, political and cultural power. Autocracy is a historical permanence that satelizes semi-democratic or authoritarian forms of power and its “totalitarian” extreme. Fascism is a permanent historical possibility of the autocratic bourgeois model in Latin America[xxv].

Florestan Fernandes certainly wrote a classic, but nothing like the essays by Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, Caio Prado Jr., Gilberto Freyre and Celso Furtado, who preceded him, nor Gorender, who succeeded him.[xxiv]. On the other hand, Fernandes did not produce an academic text that could be accepted as such, at least by USP standards at that time. His book is unbalanced: the third part is much longer and the second just a fragment. Furthermore, he does not break with the initial academic references in the third part. It resorts to Weberian distinctions between authority and power but, at the same time, its bibliographical references change qualitatively.

This is not always explicit in the text because it uses few footnotes. But, from the dates of the editions that he inserted in the bibliography, we can know that between the beginning of the writing and the end, Florestan read Rosa Luxemburgo (a Mexican edition from 1967) and Paul Baran, cited in chapter seven. It uses Latin American authors, such as historian Tulio Halperin Donghi (1969), José Carlos Mariátegui (Peruvian edition of 1972) and Juan Carlos Portantiero (1973). Obviously, there is the strong presence of Lenin, whose Works (French edition cited) were still being published. Most of the books used are from 1967 and 1968. “His” Lenin, however, is legitimized with science values: rigor, precision, empirical basis and breadth of theoretical knowledge. Florestan Fernandes directed the publication of several Marxist authors alongside academic classics. But it is symptomatic that Mao Zedong, Trotsky, Stalin and Lenin were in a collection called Great Social Scientists[xxv].

The formal incompleteness appears in the warnings of omissions that he makes to “not unnecessarily extend the explanation”, in the “inevitable repetitions and overlaps” or when he writes that he will not discuss certain aspects from outside a historical period after much “indecision”. Even in the bibliography, Florestan remembers that he resorted to surveys carried out in 1941 with Donald Pierson and to the third and fourth year course programs applied at USP in 1966.

One does not expect these explanations typical of a university intellectual from an essay; and not even a thesis, the decision announced in the explanatory note: the book is the intellectual response to the dictatorship by a militant socialist. It would be a research program to reconstitute the workshop of The bourgeois revolution in Brazil in Florestan's library. And, at the same time, understand why, at the time he wrote, he was unable to fully operate the passage from academic to political.

This did not derive from the author's incapacity. He was the most important social scientist of his generation and until today one of the most important representatives of Brazilian social thought. When Florestan Fernandes wrote his greatest work, the university that formed him and left an indelible mark on him was already moving towards an unavoidable specialization. Perhaps that was the last moment when anyone could propose an essay like the one Florestan intended to write. But maybe it was only possible a work already loaded by the accumulation of basic monographs that USP had produced.

For a work with a historical theme like the Bourgeois revolution in Brazil, the expansion of the fragment of the second part, ten years after it was drafted, would have to take into account new advances in historiography. An example was the General history of Brazilian civilization directed by Sérgio Buarque de Holanda and published between 1960 and 1972[xxviii].

Neither Caio Prado nor Sérgio Buarque had written their essays with such a profusion of previous research. Even the Marxism that Caio Prado knew in the 1930s was very incipient[xxviii]. And neither they nor Gilberto Freyre or Celso Furtado had had an academic career like that of Florestan Fernandes.

What is unusual about the work is that, in fact, it was halfway between the academic thesis and the “free essay”, as he called it. The quarrel between discontinuity and continuity is not resolved only in terms of content, but of hard way. In terms of content, we can argue for a long time whether he left Weber and Durkheim for Marx and Lenin. But, in the formal incompleteness, we can discover that perhaps there is not a linear evolution in its trajectory in which previous texts would already reveal the later results, nor a leap in the dark in which the break with the past was evidenced.

Your biography does not demonstrate this. For reasons of a personal and perhaps political nature, as he reveals in his correspondence with Barbara Freitag, Florestan did not settle abroad like others (Emilia Viotti da Costa extended her career to the United States, for example). But he also did not join any political organization until 1986, when the dictatorship was formally over. Obviously, in addition to generational reasons, this is explained by the lack of a socialist movement that could provide material and moral support for intellectual reflection.

The gap between academia and the party

Florestan Fernandes could not have written The bourgeois revolution in Brazil if it weren't for his sociological training at USP. At the same time, he wouldn't have done it if he hadn't gone through the 1964 coup, which progressively pushed him away from the university. Without debating the merits and content of the book, we can still say that the tension between science and engagement was expressed in the form of the text.

Florestan's generation consciously broke with the essayistic form that prevailed in Brazilian historical and sociological studies. This was certainly more visible in the Social Sciences than in historiography. the bourgeois revolution stood halfway between the erudite and arid work of the scholar and the freedom of the militant essay.

For this reason, Florestan marks a rupture in the way of researching Brazilian problems much more than just a personal change. With it, scientific writing reaches a high standard. And exactly at the moment when the sociologist moves away from USP and seeks “public writing”, the Social Sciences spread across the territory in new university courses and their forms of expression became standardized. The university becomes departmentalized and the criteria of rigor, control and measurement of knowledge begin to impose themselves.

The bourgeois revolution in Brazil it is a necessarily unfinished work between the essay and the thesis; a book of unified intent and, at the same time, a collection of long articles written at different times; an intellectual response to the 1964 coup and a scientific exercise; a revolutionary work in search of Marxism, without breaking with the eclecticism of that USP training; a classic between Weber and Lenin.

The sociologist who published academic anthologies and articles of the most perfect functionalist rigor and offered solid erudition courses, went to teach in the United States and Canada, but ended up returning and giving way, throughout the 1970s, to the engaged professor of the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, to the newspaper columnist, to the promoter of Lenin, to the director of the collection Great Social Scientists, to the supporter of the newspaper democratic Portugal and the activities of the anti-Salazarist resistance in Brazil, to the author of courses that became books and his beautiful work on the Cuban Revolution. Finally, the revolutionary publicist found in the Workers' Party his place of “return” to the militant commitment.

The revolutionary publicist

Florestan Fernandes was elected constituent deputy for the PT in 1986. Without losing that characteristic that defined him, that of a “revolutionary publicist”, he analyzed the entire constituent process. Thanks to him, it was possible to understand why a conservative Assembly produced a socially advanced text, despite its historical limitations. After ten years of popular pressure, deputies from the so-called “centrão” (the conservative group in the Constituent Assembly) felt “morally” surrounded. It was enough to approve, for example, the Unified Health System, the right to strike and the universalization of rural retirement.

Florestan followed class struggles inside and outside parliament. His writing, supported by a solid historical and sociological culture, was also full of the humanity of a poor boy who was almost swallowed by the abyss of misery: “I remember childhood experiences and early work at the age of six [...]: I saw myself as someone holding on to the edges of a deep well and human figures stepping on my hands so that I would fall and disappear, swallowed by the water”[xxix]. In these texts, he denounced the “lords of speech, wealth and power” who built an uncivilized civil society and left those below with muted resentment and radical hope.

With no weight or voice in civil society, young people, blacks, indigenous people, women and the disinherited of the land were all excluded due to the very dynamics of reproduction of the existing order. Alongside a handful of deputies from the left, Florestan sought to represent them. It was an unequal fight, as he showed us in his articles and in the lectures and conversations he held throughout Brazil. Still, that Constitution provoked the powerful. Successive attempts to revise the constitutional text sought to revoke rights or prevent their regulation. The “Florestan” of the PT militants was fundamentally the one who wrote courageous articles in the Folha de São Paulo from 1983. In the death throes of the dictatorship, he quoted Prestes and Marighella, Marx and Lenin. He unearthed the utopia of socialism from every partial and momentary struggle. Afterwards, articles by him were assembled into collections that we eagerly bought or borrowed.

Florestan presented a difficult writing for the youth from the periphery that gathered in the PT nuclei of São Paulo. And yet, his books resonated. Of course, his writing unfolded in strong moments, in attractive socialist and revolutionary sentences. But his vocabulary resorted to “worker” metaphors (closed circuit, hammer, anvil, mallet); to interjections like safa!, hélas; proverbs like “Matthew, yours first”; to distant childhood expressions: cat's hand, miraculous potions, arm wrestling, hopscotch; unusual terms: gnashing of teeth, booty, looting, etc.; to the Bible (god Mammon); Latin (primus inter pares, Hello, militarily, loci, ex officio, quantum, mores); verbs like aluir, solder, crumble; Latin American references to lower ones; poetry of the moment, such as by Affonso Romano de Sant'Anna; Henfil cartoons; the autobiography of a filmmaker like Bergman or works by alumni; concepts such as estates, castes, strata and classes; long duration of History; proletarians, miserable of the earth, condemned of the earth, uprooted, mass and class; and classic expressions of the left, such as the dustbin of history, the starred flag of proletarian socialism, vanguards, etc.; titles without concessions like “Class Struggle and Proletarian Socialism”; “History's undergrounds do not enter the polls”.

What intellectual would write an article like “Os Desraraizados” in such an incisive style? Florestan begins with a quote from The Gold Disqualifiers by historian Laura de Mello e Souza, references Marx and, suddenly, the concept of an industrial reserve army becomes the image of excluded human masses from Lima and Caracas seen from the plane. Their visible physical quantity does not become a revolutionary factor because the culture imposed on them excludes the use of counter-violence and they “let themselves cook in the cold bath of deaf grudges”[xxx].

It is true that in this Florestan who enchanted that militant youth of the lower middle class or the proletariat there was a combination of experiences that no other important academic of the time had: his condition as a student of children (which is clear in the vocabulary), his study of blacks, his rapprochement with communists, Catholic reformists, authentic social democrats, his Trotskyist reminiscences, his allusions to anarchism: “The anarchists had the virtue of extending their arms to these comrades and the greatness of understanding their misfortune. The nationalist and communist revolutionaries of the periphery ended up learning, through practice, that they are the humble ones who are the most demanding of love.”[xxxii].

However, there was also the mark of a poor background of the son of the single mother, washerwoman; of the street market boy and the young waiter: “At the age of ten, I myself, lumpen and miserable on earth, would run through the streets shouting 'We want Getúlio!'”[xxxi]. Florestan broadened his support base because he did not cling to the progressive middle class (which was numerous in the 1980s), union machinery or party tendencies. He addressed minors, women, the elderly, the blind, the humiliated, the anonymous crippled, drug addicts, lonely people on the streets, beggars, cornered human beings.

So I didn't preach in the desert and I didn't play Cassandra. It had a cross-sectional discourse that embraced the organized sectors of the working class, the undesirable offspring of the petty bourgeoisie who adhered to socialism, the unemployed, the excluded and the struggle for citizenship.

His language was a differential that set him apart from other public intellectuals who, either wrote like professional politicians, or while university students, were unable to strip themselves of their specialties.

the intramural dispute

Besides the vocabulary, there was something different about Florestan. After all, what would have led him to use that language and take the positions that others did not take so emphatically? He used to say that he was freed from academic constraints, but that he wouldn't have been the socialist he was without having first been a sociologist at USP. Other academics competed for political space on the left.

Owner of a sociological work increasingly enthroned as a classic, Florestan bypassed academic analyzes internal corporis. It would be important to reconstitute the criticisms that were eventually made of his first works in anthropology (or the reason for their possible oblivion). In the case of his thesis on the inadaptation of black people to class society, it was questioned by historians who attacked the “Marxist ideology” and the presentation of history “in the light of class struggles”, which would be a reductionism[xxxii]. In a more sophisticated critique, Hasenbalg demonstrated that racism was not just a residue of slavery and could not be reduced to a class phenomenon, although he did not despise the discussion about it.[xxxv].

Florestan continued to write articles about the condition of the black without making an assessment of these criticisms and it would be useful to check in his archive how much he was informed about them.

Five professors from the Social Sciences course at USP were candidates for the elections in 1986. Francisco Weffort had in his curriculum simply the direction of the Wilson Pinheiro Foundation and the position of general secretary of the PT; in addition, he was expected by the summit that he would be the intellectual leader of the bench in the constituent, but his candidacy for federal deputy foundered with 8.592 votes. Among the candidates for state deputy, José Álvaro Moisés had 8.008 votes; Éder Sader, 8.959; and Bolívar Lamounier (for the PSB) had 5.948 votes. Florestan was elected constituent federal deputy with 50.024 votes.

Having won the race between traditional intellectuals, Florestan did not allow himself to become entangled in the PT's day-to-day disputes. He did not succumb to “internalism”, in part because he brought a unique academic background that was very quickly intertwined with electoral recognition. Despite the PT having 290 members in 1985, the political weight of a mandate was great in a group of only 16 federal deputies.

in PT

Florestan may have realized early on that he was tall enough not to be tied to a specific left current within the PT and, in a way, to represent the different currents together. His appeal transcended inner tendencies. He transited between them, as can be seen in prefaces, letters of support and internal documents written by Florestan for leaders with different positions, such as Ivan Valente, Adelmo Genro Filho, Markus Sokol, Miguel Carvalho, Mané Gabeira and Artur Scavone[xxxiv] between others. He debated with José Dirceu, Lula, Perseu Abramo, Gushiken and Gorender. He maintained dialogue with the black movement.

Here, selective memory leads me to record his contact with trade unionists from the metallurgical opposition in São Paulo. Florestan used to speak admiringly of Cleodon Silva. Other trade unionists CUT by Base and from the left in general debated with him, who also interacted with categories such as leatherworkers and glassmakers. His spaces as a speaker were those of PT members in general: associations of neighborhood friends, parish halls, unions (leather workers, chemists, drivers and the Centro do Professorado Paulista), private colleges in Greater São Paulo (in Guarulhos, for example), classrooms city ​​halls and even convents where left-wing groups held their seminars[xxxiv].

Florestan defended the socialist character of the PT, although he preferred that it become a Marxist party. This set him apart even from some of his comrades on the party left. He accepted that the PT was limited to revolution within the order, but he always declared himself in favor of the revolution against the order. he was an intellectual de left in PT but not da party left. Sometimes he was in contradiction with her and at other times he articulated in the defense of her theses.[xxxviii].

This was not just the product of an objective condition, dictated by his electoral weight and intellectual recognition. It was also a conscious choice. He declared in 1986 that, before the 1964 coup, he had remained equidistant from the democratic left – PSB, PCB and PTB: “I preferred to remain a left-wing intellectual who served all socialist currents”[xxxviii].

Of course, there was an interested reconstitution of his own political trajectory. He did not mention Trotskyist militancy and was, as we have seen, much more at the service of the USP than of any other party. When asked about Trotskyism, he replied: “I think that in a country like Brazil we have to overcome differences that were not created here. We cannot divide ourselves based on the revolutionary past of other peoples. For a time I was opposed to Stalin in the name of Trotskyism. Later, I overcame this position, studying the Russian Revolution, specifically Lenin's participation, and the various currents that formed the Chinese Revolution. My current position is that we should build a different path in Brazil, one that would take us to the truly classical roots of Marxism.”[xxxix].

Florestan used three arguments that were highly convenient for him in a plural left party like the PT: he attributed his position to study, which shifted the option to an area immune to immediate internal disputes; it redirected the debate from the left to the real historical soil, Brazil; and, finally, he took refuge in the field of the socialist left in a leap over the XNUMXth century that took him to the roots of Marxism, which for him was materialized in the work of Marx, Engels and Lenin.

This also translated into the eclecticism of quotations, the ecumenism of homages and the refusal of fashions. Florestan conjured mixed references to social scientists unknown to the militants and to revolutionaries: Mannheim, Durkheim and Weber were on the side of Mao, Fidel and Lenin; Joaquim Nabuco, Raimundo Faoro and Caio Prado Junior alongside Antônio Bento, Gregório Bezerra and Lula. His articles paid homage to the Italian socialist Sandro Pertini, the guerrilla fighter Carlos Marighella, the Trotskyist Hermínio Sacchetta and the communist Luís Carlos Prestes. By the way, Prestes went to São Paulo to participate in the Live Wheel, from TV Cultura, in 1986. He had read Florestan's work in exile. Prestes appeared on TV with Florestan's pin and ended up declaring his support.

Fernandes also wrote about the Soviet Union and Albania, never declaring himself against that “difficult socialism” or “accumulation socialism”. He supported Deng Xiaoping in the Tiananmen Square massacre. He was a passionate supporter of Cuba. He wrote several texts about Lula. Articles by him were often copied and distributed in his São Paulo office on Rua Santo Antônio, in Bixiga. Articles that had not yet been published were already read before by the militants. I particularly remember one of the texts about the First Congress of the PT that circulated mimeographed and, later, integrated the booklet PT on the move.

Florestan Fernandes did not reference his texts in Althusser in the 1970s or in Gramsci in the 1980s. Carlos Nelson Coutinho looked for Gramsci in The bourgeois revolution in Brazil. Well, he was there, with an isolated book in a vast bibliography, but the use of the concept of hegemony was not Gramscian.[xl]. Citing the hegemonic historical bloc in another work, for example, Florestan opined that Brazilian modernization was managed from the outside. It is international monopoly capital that calibrates and directs the internal “national” sector that “simulates hegemony”. In such a situation, capitalists only unite around the common minimum (the defense of private property), civil society is not civilized, political power is not shared and reform is replaced by conciliation at the top.

The compradore bourgeoisie (Florestan resorts to a Maoist concept) is only “national” to the extent that “it is the true nation”, with no room for others, particularly the mass of the poor and dispossessed. Any radical reform is dysfunctional for the type of development of a peripheral capitalism[xi], therefore nothing can be expected from the bourgeoisie.

The simulated hegemony only leaves space in civil society for “equals” and does not admit any breach for the working class. The class struggle can only assume, from the outset, a counter-violent character and, at its peak, lead to armed struggle.[xliii] and the crumbling of military tutelage.

However, Florestan used the concept of civil society exactly like Gramsci. For him it was, analytically, a middle ground between the autocratic state and the world of production. He referred to the “infrastructure of civil society” and saw there the locus of workers' fermentation and the proposition of a new hegemony. Like Gramsci, he did not evade the moment of the military correlation of forces. But all this needs a more in-depth investigation in his articles after the Bourgeois revolution in Brazil.

Florestan defended Marxism and revolutionary socialism for the PT. In 1991, at the Main Hall of the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo, he was the main speaker at the event in defense of Marxism. The image that stuck in my memory was of him reading, standing up, an excerpt from the Communist Manifesto. But the bellhop who attended the debate noted that Florestan Fernandes made a brief history of Marxism and preached unity in the PT[xiii].

He appealed to the end to “true anarchists, socialists and communists”, he freed himself from the traps of an ambiguous and opportunistic “democratic socialism” and did not let the Berlin wall fall on his head. The Eastern European crisis was for him “the passing success of well-engineered counterrevolutions”[xiv] and a chance to rethink socialism “by going back to the roots[xlv], but the PT's focus should remain on Brazilian problems. The radicalism he expected from the party would not come from the best balance of real socialism, but from the intolerable iniquities of what he pioneered called savage capitalism.


Historically, the debate on the Brazilian revolution has defined it in the following ways: a long-lasting reform process; a modernization project; the transition from colony to nation; and the radical break with imperialism[xlv]. Florestan's reformism in the 1960s perhaps brought him closer to the first three meanings. But in the PT, he welded himself to a conception of revolution as rupture (in the singular) in the unequivocal form of revolutionary socialism.

By inheriting unrealizable bourgeois tasks, the PT would have to carry them out as socialist demands, at the risk of succumbing to the siren song of class conciliation. Impossible conciliation, because as we have already seen, it is always a contract between equals and does not admit anyone from outside the circle of economic, social, cultural and racial power.

Florestan, in fact, had a socialist position since the death throes of the Estado Novo, but after his Trotskyist militancy, the adjective for that option was “reformist”. After 1964, socialism remained, but became “revolutionary”. The substantive continuity derives from the circuits of his personal relationships, from generational aspects and from the phase in which he consciously defined himself in the political sphere. Of course, this was reflected in allusions to a technical Marx or one who could attend classes as one more alternative method for research.

The discontinuity resulted from objective changes that did not depend on Florestan's will: the 1964 coup and the impeachment that removed him from the institutional locus of his original theoretical production.

Being revolutionary is not just an intellectual option. He can declare himself that way, but if his performance is university (especially at USP at the time of Florestan), his revolutionary spirit will be mere individual extravagance and Florestan was averse to this type of demagoguery. The revolutionary intellectual is the one who joins the party or the revolutionary social movement.

Thus, it is necessary to link individual options with lived history. The empirical individual Florestan Fernandes does not disappear because of this. He is reconfigured as a concrete individual who has made his choices. But these only matter in the general framework in which it becomes understandable how the objective tensions of the country's history were subjectively filtered by it.

The materialist and dialectical biography takes into account the tensions that permeate institutional spaces, the limits of the time and the historical opportunities that open up for individual options. Florestan Fernandes could have opted for the scientist who locks himself up in closed circuit. But he preferred revolutionary engagement.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Caio Prado Júnior – the meaning of the revolution (Boitempo).

Revised and expanded version of an article published in: RODRIGUES, Jaime and TOLEDO, Edilene (orgs). Florestan Fernandes: 100 years of a Brazilian thinker. EBook. São Paulo: Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2020. Also published in Moor: Marxist Magazine, no. 15, São Paulo, 2020 (reprint)



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CANDID, Antonio. Florestan Fernandes, 1st ed., São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2001.

CARONE, Edgard. Marxism in Brazil. Belo Horizonte: Two Points, 1986.

CEPÊDA, Vera and MAZUCATO, Thiago (orgs). The intellectual Florestan Fernandes and his intellectual dialogues. San Carlos: Ufscar, 2015

COGGIOLA, Osvaldo (org). Florestan Fernandes: in search of socialism. São Paulo: Shaman, 1995.

COUTINHO, Carlos Nelson. “Marxism and 'Brazil's image' in Florestan Fernandes (2000)”. Available inhttps://www.acessa.com/gramsci/?page=visualizar&id=90>.

DAVID, Antonio (eds.). Florestan's Brazil. Sao Paulo: Ed. the Perseu Abramo Foundation; Belo Horizonte: Authentic, 2018.

FERNANDES, Florestan. “The Good Retiro jokes”. Municipal Archive Magazine, n.113: 1947, p. 7-124.

FERNANDES, Florestan. the unfinished constitution. Sao Paulo: Freedom Station, 1989.

FERNANDES, Florestan. The required response. Sao Paulo: Attica, 1995.

FERNANDES, Florestan. The social function of war in Tupinambá society. 2nd ed., São Paulo: Pioneer, 1970.

FERNANDES, Florestan. The integration of black people into class society, 2 v. 3rd ed., São Paulo: Ática, 1978.

FERNANDES, Florestan. The bourgeois revolution in Brazil. 5th ed., Sao Paulo: Globo, 2005.

FERNANDES, Florestan. the extended transition. São Paulo: Cortez, 1990.

FERNANDES, Florestan. Elements of Theoretical Sociology. Sao Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1974.

FERNANDES, Florestan. New Republic? 3rd ed., Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1986.

FERNANDES, Florestan. PT on the move. São Paulo: Cortez, 1991.

FERNANDES, Florestan. Social organization of the Tupinambá. São Paulo: Instituto Progresso Editorial, s/d.

FERNANDES, Florestan. Thought and action: the PT and the course of socialism. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1989.

FERNANDES, Florestan. tensions in education. Salvador: Sarah Letters, 1995.

HASENBALG, C. Discrimination and Racial Inequalities in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro,

Grail, 1979.

LEIRNER, Piero. “The anthropology that Florestan forgot”, New CEBRAP studies, vol.36, n.1 São Paulo Jul/Oct. 2017.

MARCHETTI, Fabiana. The First Republic: the idea of ​​revolution in the work of Edgard Carone (1964-1985). São Paulo: FFLCH-USP, master's thesis, 2016.

MARX, Carl. Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Introduction by Florestan Fernandes. So Paulo: Flama, 1946.

PERICAS, Luiz Bernardo (org.). Paths of the Brazilian Revolution. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2019.

RODRIGUES, Jaime (org). Florestan Fernandes: 100 years of a Brazilian thinker. São Paulo: Perseu Abramo Foundation, 2020.

RODRIGUES, Lidiane Soares. Between academia and the party: the work of Florestan Fernandes (1969-1983). São Paulo: USP, 2006 (master's dissertation).

SECCO, L. and SANTIAGO, C. (eds.). A look that persists. Foreword by Florestan Fernandes. São Paulo: Anita Garibaldi, 1995.

SECCO, Lincoln. Caio Prado Junior: the meaning of the revolution. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2008.

SECCO, Lincoln. History of the PT. 5th ed., São Paulo: Ateliê, 2016.

SEREZA, Harold C. forestan. Sao Paulo: Boitempo. 2005

VERAS, Elaine. Florestan Fernandes: the lonely militant. São Paulo: Cortez, 1997.


[I] As the experience of the group of professors brought from France to form the first classes of the newly created University of São Paulo in the 1930s became known.

[ii] VERAS, Elaine. Florestan Fernandes: the lonely militant. São Paulo: Cortez, 1997.

[iii] COGGIOLA, Osvaldo. “Florestan Fernandes – VI”, Terra Redonda, 7/8/2020 in https://aterraeredonda.com.br/florestan-fernandes-vi/

[iv] MARX, Carl. Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Introduction by Florestan Fernandes. São Paulo: Flama, 1946. The book has become a bibliographical rarity and is probably a translation from the French. Florestan's introduction had an academic language and reappeared in COGGIOLA, O. (ed). Florestan Fernandes: in search of socialism. São Paulo: Shaman, 1995.

[v] CANDID, Antonio. “Student and studious”; In: SECCO and SANTIAGO, op. cit., p. 287.

[vi] FERNANDES, Florestan. “The Good Retiro jokes”. Municipal Archive Magazine, n.113: 1947, p. 7-124.

[vii] FERNANDES, Florestan. Social organization of the Tupinambá. São Paulo: Instituto Progresso Editorial, s/d, accompanied by twenty graphics.

[viii] FERNANDES, Florestan. The social function of war in Tupinambá society. 2nd ed., São Paulo: Pioneer, 1970.

[ix] DAVID, Antonio (org.). Florestan's Brazil. Sao Paulo: Ed. the Perseu Abramo Foundation; Belo Horizonte: Authentic, 2018.

[X] FERNANDES, Florestan. The integration of black people into class society, 2 v. 3rd ed., São Paulo: Ática, 1978.

[xi] Although the first research on race relations in São Paulo carried out with Roger Bastide was not his choice but was commissioned by Unesco, cf. CANDID, Antonio. Florestan Fernandes, 1st ed., São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2001, p. 45.

[xii]         Campaign launched from the mobilization of USP professors, among them Florestan Fernandes, but which expanded beyond the university, against the bill unfavorable to public education defended by UDN deputies, Carlos Lacerda and Father José Trindade da Fonseca e Silva . It should be remembered that the educational issue is not at all secondary in Florestan's training. For him, the revolution in the school would lead to the revolution in the streets. Fernandes, F. The required response. São Paulo: Ática, 1995, p. 200.

[xiii] Invited by the Perseu Abramo Foundation to write an article in a short time, in quarantine and without the possibility of scrutinizing archives, I will limit myself to briefly reconstructing that trajectory based on the readings I did in the past of some of his works and on the militant memory collected directly or indirectly and with all the risks that historians are well aware of.

[xiv] Louis Althusser indicated in the german ideology a “conscious break” of Marx with his theoretical past in which he was a communist but not a “Marxist”. ALTHUSSER, Louis. Pour Marx. Paris: Maspero, 1965, p. 39.

[xv] In the third part Florestan develops the concept of bourgeois autocracy, which does not refer to a political regime, but to a structural trait of bourgeois domination. This differentiated him from those who preferred, at the same time, the use of the concept of authoritarianism, like his student Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Professor Bernardo Ricupero drew attention to this fact in a debate with me and Luiz Dulci in 2020.

[xvi] MARTINS, José de Souza. "Preface". In: FERNANDES, Florestan. The bourgeois revolution in Brazil. 5th ed., São Paulo: Globo, 2005, p. 23.

[xvii]        For a quantitative analysis of the main authors cited by Florestan Fernandes in the works General and Applied Sociology Essays (1960) Elements of Theoretical Sociology (1970) and The Sociological Nature of Sociology (1980) see: MAZUCATO, Thiago. “A preliminary approach to the constitution of Social Sciences in Brazil: Florestan Fernandes and his intellectual dialogues”, in: CEPÊDA, Vera and MAZUCATO, Thiago (orgs). The intellectual Florestan Fernandes and his intellectual dialogues. São Carlos: Ufscar, 2015. It is worth mentioning that the works are not collections of articles from different eras. For example: in the 1970 book there are texts written since 1946.

[xviii] FERNANDES, Florestan. Elements of Theoretical Sociology. 2 ed. São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1974, p. 196.

[xx] ABBAGNANO, N. Dictionary of philosophy. Mexico: FCE, 1998, p.576. For a discussion of the “enigma” of how the plurality of individual acts constitute a social system (in Parsons and Sartre) see: ANDERSON, P. Theory, politics and history: a debate with EP Thompson. Campinas: Unicamp, 2018, pp.62-64.

[xx] FERNANDES, Florestan. “The Good Retiro jokes”. Municipal Archive Magazine, n.113: 1947, p. 7-124.

[xxx] LEIRNER, Piero. “The anthropology that Florestan forgot”, New CEBRAP studies, vol.36, n.1 São Paulo Jul/Oct. 2017. In the work, war is a factor of integration and not anomie.

[xxiii] See MARTINS, op. cit., p. 21.

[xxiii] SEREZA, Harold C. forestan. Sao Paulo: Boitempo. 2005, p. 155.

[xxv] FERNANDES, Florestan. the bourgeois revolution, P. 344.

[xxiv] In the case of Jacob Gorender, the opposite direction is observed. He transits from the communist to the Marxist, from the political leader to the historian who exchanges the articles and resolutions for the “thesis”. Evidently colonial slavery it is not a thesis, but is fully referenced in footnotes, historiographical debate, and primary documentation. Like academics in general, the author also sharply attacks the tradition of the PCB (Nelson Werneck Sodré) and his criticisms of Caio Prado Junior followed the respectful manner in which he was quoted at USP. As a matter of fact, Gorender participated in both party and academic debates in the 1980s, accepting recognition that the university gave him, albeit in homeopathic doses. Florestan, on the other hand, revisited the university only as a “politician” and even his teaching at PUCSP's postgraduate course “did not mean a return to academic activity”, which obviously cannot be reduced to classes. See VERAS, op. cit., p. 81.

[xxv] RODRIGUES, Lidiane S. Between academia and the party: the work of Florestan Fernandes (1969-1983). São Paulo: USP, 2006 (master's dissertation), p. 66.

[xxviii]      The collection only reached the republican stage under the direction of Boris Fausto in the year in which The bourgeois revolution in Brazil it was published in 1975. Until then there were only a few synthesis books on the republican era written by non-specialists such as Sertório de Castro, José Maria Belo, Leoncio Basbaum and Cruz Costa. However, particularly for the third part of his work Florestan already had sources in the books of Edgard Carone, who was the pioneer of university republican historiography. See MARCHETTI, Fabiana. The First Republic: the idea of ​​revolution in the work of Edgard Carone (1964-1985). São Paulo: FFLCH-USP, master's dissertation, 2016. Carone is in Florestan's bibliography and his works were edited under the direction of one of his students: Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

[xxviii] See CARONE, Edgard. Marxism in Brazil. Belo Horizonte: Dois Pontos, 1986; SECCO, Lincoln. Caio Prado Junior: the meaning of the revolution. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2008.

[xxix] FERNANDES, Florestan. the extended transition. São Paulo: Cortez, 1990, p. 165.

[xxx] FERNANDES, Florestan. the unfinished constitution. São Paulo: Liberdade Station, 1989, p. 24-26.

[xxxii] Same, Ibid.

[xxxi] Same, Ibid.

[xxxii]      AZEVEDO, Maria CM Black wave white fear. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1987, p. 178.

[xxxv]      HASENBALG, C. Discrimination and Racial Inequalities in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro,

Grail, 1979.

[xxxiv] Florestan helped Scavone's campaign for councilor and wrote a document about the city of São Paulo for her in 1992.

[xxxiv] His advisor Paulo Henrique Martinez invariably drove him to these locations by car.

[xxxviii] SECCO, Lincoln. History of the PT. Foreword by Emilia Viotti da Costa. 5th ed., São Paulo: Ateliê, 2016.

[xxxviii]    FERNANDES, Florestan. Thought and action: the PT and the course of socialism. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1989, p.168.

[xxxix] ID ibid, p.169.

[xl] COUTINHO, Carlos Nelson. “Marxism and 'Brazil's image' in Florestan Fernandes (2000)”. Available inhttps://www.acessa.com/gramsci/?page=visualizar&id=90>.

[xi] FERNANDES, Florestan. New Republic? 3rd ed., Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1986, p. 67.

[xliii] FERNANDES, Florestan. thought and action, op. cit., p. 166.

[xiii] National Archive, Fund of the Secretariat for Strategic Affairs of the Presidency of the Republic - Document 24650, February 22, 1991.

[xiv] FERNANDES, Florestan. PT on the move. São Paulo: Cortez, 1991, p. 12.

[xlv] FERNANDES, Florestan. tensions in education. Salvador: SarahLetras, 1995, p. 46.

[xlv] PERICAS, Luiz Bernardo. "Introduction". In: PERICAS (org). Paths of the Brazilian Revolution. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2019, p. 9. The author defined these four paths based on an exhaustive empirical research of texts produced by the Brazilian left until 1964.



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