Florestan Fernandes and Celso Furtado

Carlos Zilio, STAR GUIDE, 1971, felt-tip pen on paper, 50x35


Commentary on the Centenary of the Two Thinkers

This July, we celebrate the centenary of two of the greatest thinkers of the Brazilian people, Florestan Fernandes (22/07/1920) and Celso Furtado (26/07/1920). Certainly, tributes will be repeated in schools, universities and popular movements.

Both analyzed the Brazilian reality in depth, each in their own area. Furtado was the main researcher on the question of the economic formation of Brazil. Florestan analyzed like no one else the social classes, the problems of inequality, the ills of racism in a society with slave-owning origins. Furtado looked at Brazil through the lens of political economy. Florestan from the perspective of education and class society. They are complementary analyzes that made his works essential in the formation of educators and militants of the people and in the understanding of Brazil. Thoughtful researchers and analysts, they were more than social scientists, they were individuals committed to our people, acting in the most different trenches of the social struggle to change Brazilian society, an unjust structure that is characterized as one of the most unequal on the planet.

Furtado knew the ills of the Northeast region like few others, from his hometown of Paraíba. He was a FEB expeditionary and, in addition to being involved in university life, he helped organize Sudene, was Minister of Planning under President João Goulart, and later Minister of Culture, in the post-military dictatorship redemocratization.

As minister of Jango, he was the intellectual author of the main proposal for agrarian reform that we have had to date. Starting from the classic historical experiences of countries that industrialized, he proposed that agrarian reform also constitute an instrument for the development of national industry. To this end, he proposed the expropriation of all large estates with more than 500 hectares, prioritizing those located close to cities and along 10 kilometers on each side of federal highways, railways, lakes and dams. In his view, it would be necessary to transform the peasant into a participant in the market economy in order to produce food for the city and consume the goods produced by industry.

For that, it needed to be close to cities, with fast transportation and access to electricity. That was the only way we could get out of the economic crisis of the time, being able to develop industry, with an internal market and income distribution, improving the living conditions of all the people. The project was presented to Congress on March 16, 1964. The response of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, subordinated to US interests, was a business-military coup.

Florestan never forgot his origins as a poor boy, son of a migrant domestic worker from Portugal, who struggled all his life to be able to study. He believed that through the democratization of education we could redeem our people, democratize society and achieve structural changes. He didn't make it either. He went through all the public school benches until he became a professor at the elite USP, from where he was purged by the military dictatorship.

Both suffered exile, but continued in the fight until the end of their days. Furtado, Minister of Culture in the Sarney government, continued to defend the need for a project for Brazil, registering his proposals in several books. Florestan became a party member of the left and was elected constituent deputy, defending like no one else the right to free public schooling, at all levels, for all Brazilians. Education, not only as knowledge, but as a universal right and an instrument for people's liberation.

I had the privilege of cultivating a discipleship friendship with both of them in their later years. I learned a lot. We seek to share his teachings, books, lectures and advice with all the militancy of the popular movement and the MST. We will always be grateful.

We seek to perpetuate this legacy, honoring them by naming our schools and our settlements with their names, in addition to publicizing their works and their examples of coherent life. Every social activist and every Brazilian committed to the country must have access to knowledge of their life trajectories and works. Study them, learn from them. Certainly, if the Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras (Aman) adopted these authors in their courses, we would not have such an unprepared and irresponsible government, at a time when we already account for more than 78 Brazilians dead.

Hail hail Celso Furtado and Florestan Fernandes, civic, cultural and intellectual heritage of our people!

*Joao Pedro Stedile is a member of the MST coordination team

Originally published on the website Power 360


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