Florestan Fernandes – VI

Image_Oto Vale

By Osvaldo Coggiola*

Florestan's effort stood out for its exceptional talent, but it was not exempt from contradictions, which he, in essence, knew, and against which he fought, that was the meaning of his political engagement until the end

In his early youth, Florestan Fernandes, who would have turned 100 these days, was active in the Socialist Revolutionary Party (PSR), the first Brazilian section of the IV International. His link with that organization lasted for a decade. The PSR never had a large scale, it did not exceed the dimensions of a group, but it was active in the trade union movement, marked important polemics within the Brazilian left, and published a newspaper quite systematically. In the numerous tributes and biographical evocations that the remarkable sociologist deserved on the occasion of his centenary, this “youthful detail” was almost systematically forgotten. Florestan was presented as a brilliant academic and intellectual, endowed with a profound social and political conscience, stemming from his humble origins, which even led him to work as a shoeshine boy in his childhood, as a Marxist capable of dialoguing critically and creatively, dialectically, with all the currents of sociological or philosophical thought that, in the final phase of his life, materialized his intellectual commitment in the political engagement in the Workers' Party, of which he was a constituent deputy after being elected federal deputy for São Paulo with an overwhelming vote. To think that this young and remarkable intellectual, born in 1920, could have gone through the vicissitudes of his formative years, in the 1940s (world war, fall of Vargas, 1946 elections, removal of the PCB, beginning of the Cold War, etc.) , without any bias ideological and political, would be, at best, sheer naivety. And to state, by omission, that his later trajectory had to do with his first political choices, as a militant trotskyist, or regarding them as just youthful daydreams, is willful ignorance.

Florestan broke this political link for subjective reasons, his choice of an academic career at USP (from which he was removed by the military dictatorship), and for objective reasons, which were reciprocally conditioned. The PSR disbanded at the beginning of the 1950s, largely due to the crisis that the Fourth International went through, materialized in an international split that preceded others, until it led to its disintegration into at least a dozen currents, that is, its explosion and organizational disappearance. The existence of the PSR, however, had nothing to do with arbitrariness or a “Brazilian” transposition of a circumstantial external political or intellectual fad. Led, among others, by journalist Hermínio Sachetta, the PSR was the product of two divisions and delimitations. The first, with the PCB, through the anti-Stalinist split of its São Paulo Committee, in 1937, headed by Sachetta himself, which historian Dainis Karepovs dealt with in a university thesis and book. The second, within the IV International itself, with the current in which Mário Pedrosa (the only Latin American member of the International's leadership, elected at its founding congress in 1938) participated, which broke with the former in disagreement with the analyzes and positions of Trotsky about the USSR as a “degenerate workers' state”, a divergence with obvious political derivations in the world war dispute. Pedrosa headed, in the 1940s, the “Vanguarda Socialista” current (and the newspaper of the same name), which polemicized with the PSR on crucial issues of Brazilian politics, in the presidential elections of 1946, in which VS supported the “anti-socialist” candidacy. Dutra” by Eduardo Gomes, while the PSR called for a null vote. Pedrosa's later trajectory, as a central figure in artistic and cultural criticism in the country, and his status as PT's “number 1 affiliate” in 1980, is well known and needs no comment.

Florestan's political conscience, twenty years younger than Pedrosa, was forged in the midst of these political and ideological clashes, and informed his later career. In an interview given to essay writing in the early 1980s, he qualified his profound ("obsessive") intellectual and academic commitment as "self-punishing", in relation to his troubled and heartbreaking (as for many others) preceding political path. greatest (if not the greatest) interpreters of the historical and social formation of Brazil, concluded (in The Bourgeois Revolution in Brazil, 1975) in his conceptualization of the Brazilian social regime as “bourgeois autocracy”, that is, a result of the development combined of Brazilian capitalism, of the transition from caste society to class society, through the conservation of the accumulated iniquities and deformations of its pre-capitalist phase: privatization of the public sphere, political system based on “patronage”, monopolization of agrarian property from an early age , industrial and financial, with today's preeminence of external imperialism(s), uneven development of the national economy, survival of social flaws arising from African slavery, late and bureaucratically abolished, including informing "the integration of blacks in class society", to which he dedicated special and magisterial attention. A work simultaneously rich and comprehensive and profound, intellectually and politically engaged, which allowed him to bequeath his name both to the official library of FFLCH-USP and to the national school of political training of the MST. A work, however, also permeated by internal tension and contradiction.

Noves was the vivid memory of his direct relatives, his children, it was not this living Florestan, divided and contradictory, that was offered to us in the more or less official tributes that were paid to him. He was limited to his academic and intellectual aspect, mainly, reducing his political activity to a post-military dictatorship engagement, made possible by the recovered “democracy”, almost a post-retirement activity (compulsory, in his case). Forgetting that his exile and activities abroad were products of political repression. AND omitting, above all, that the accuracy and scope of his intellectual activity, pioneering new paths in Brazilian thought, was made possible and opened up by the methodological edge created by his initial political and intellectual commitment. The academic intelligentsia offered us an academic intellectual Florestan, his own self-image transfigured into the other, a thinker without a doubt original, but devoid of the weapons of his originality. He is certainly not the first revolutionary intellectual to whom this has happened. Gramsci and Trotsky, transformed from revolutionary communists into apostles of a nebulous democratic humanitarianism, say so. When Florestan insisted on the inescapable social and political commitment of the intellectual, he was not saying generalities. pour la gallery, statements that allow for varied interpretations, but referring to social classes and political options concrete. Their difficulties to establish themselves are part of every real story.

The PSR did not owe its name to chance. It was socialist, that is, defender of a society based on the expropriation of capital, on the suppression of private property (suppression of the class ownership) and social ownership of the means of production. AND revolutionary, that is, realistic to the point of declaring that this society could only be achieved through the undoing of the existing State or, in the words of the Communist Manifesto"The first step in the workers' revolution is the elevation of the proletariat to the ruling class, that is, the conquest of democracy”, a short and forgotten phrase from the famous text, which configures a puzzle for vulgar democrats (who are unaware of the class character of every political regime, including democracy) and for dogmatic “Marxists” (that is, anti-Marxists). regime that assumes the political and social domination of the majority can claim its democratic character. Being socialist and revolutionary, the PSR was also internationalist, that is, it placed the debates and perspectives on Brazilian specificities (notably its controversy with the PCB over the agrarian question) in the perspective of the universal socialist revolution, since only on this scale would the proletariat have enough strength to overthrow the world domination of capital in the era monopoly, and was viscerally opposed to the Stalinist “theory” of the possibility of building socialism in one country.

The PSR was born, with the Fourth International, to, in the first place, preserve these principles from the social-democratic degeneration of the workers' organizations, and from the Stalinist counterrevolution in the first victorious proletarian revolution. And to enable its realization through a transition program which summarized the experience accumulated by historical movements for social emancipation. Many of the best elements of the working class and combat youth, and of the revolutionary intelligentsia, in the 1930s and 1940s, in the “dark times” of the “midnight of the century”, managed to preserve their prospects for the future thanks to these principles, this program and that organization. Florestan Fernandes was one of them.

His choice for an intellectual and academic career was forwarded at the university act: Florestan only attended public school at all stages of his education, and was its most ardent supporter in the 1988 Constituent Assembly – bequeathing the writing of articles that are now used by education unions to oppose the privatization and dismantling of public education . He was therefore also part of a struggle for teaching public on all its levels. The intelligentsia, the intelligentsia, was, at the time when Florestan chose to integrate and fight within it, a tiny minority of the Brazilian population, and still did not have its “natural place” at the University. class struggle to confine themselves to comfortable university professors' offices (offices that today resemble cubicles) do so based on the strange assumption that such offices (and the University itself) are located on the planet Mars. And, above all, that no one needs to work to survive (a curious assumption for someone who claims to speak on behalf of “the workers”…).

Certainly, in the 1950s, the full professor at USP was considered a kind of character from Olympus. But this condition disappeared along with the chairs. In a country where, in 1980, the number of university students barely reached one million and, forty years later, already exceeds eight million in 33 undergraduate courses, distributed in 2.364 institutions of higher education (the vast majority, as is known , private). That is, the number of university students multiplied by eight in a country where, in the same period, the total population did not even double (going from 120 to 210 million). superiors; today, especially in the areas of education and services, this is almost the norm. Booksellers and publishers have known for a long time that the best place to sell books is union congresses and political rallies of the left.

Based on data like these and similar ones, certain sociology concluded, a few decades ago, in the “bourgeoisification” or “integration” of the working class (“goodbye to the proletariat”, remember?), in the same way that the “revisionism” of the beginning of the The 2,5th century concluded that voting rights and bicycle ownership had turned workers into “full citizens”, precluding future revolutions, a claim that the revolutions, crises and catastrophes of the “short 60th century” put in its proper place. With the deepening crisis into which capitalism entered in the last quarter of the last century, which had only a brief respite, and a strategic accentuation, with the integration of the former “socialist bloc” into the world market, we entered an era of reactionary attacks and destruction of social and labor rights that does not spare anyone, not even the most qualified workers. It is a decaying system: the International Confederation of Trade Unions estimates that XNUMX billion people – more than XNUMX% of the world's workforce – have “informal” workers, subject to degrading and precarious conditions.

From the “uberization of work”, with its during in the re-growth of slave labor, urban and rural, one arrives, through a diametrically opposed but symmetrical path, once again at the conclusion of the tendential end of the proletariatas class, because now the proletariat would be divided into “precariat” and “formalized”, with the first only aspiring to the “privilege of servitude”, in the same way that the homeless only “want to live in a favela”, in the rap by Gabriel, o Pensador . The empirical evidence (the “delivery break”, just to name a recent experience), however, does not testify in favor of the end of the class struggle or of the growing “social anomie”, but, on the contrary, in an accentuation of the former, under conditions in which the decay of capital favors, along with the growth and deepening of social revolt, the outbreak of revolutionary crises.

How is the left in these conditions? Therein lies the most glaring contradiction of our time and our historical-political stage. Today we do not have PSRs, or Bolsheviks, when they are more necessary than ever: 98% of the left (a probably modest percentage) do not bet or prepare for revolutionary crises, they bet on the “deepening of democracy” (and stop – even when that “democracy” is the crap Florestan taught us it was); in its “radical” aspects, it refers to “anti-systemic movements”, without naming that “system” or saying which social class has power in it, and bets on “post-capitalism” (leftist variant of post-modernity), that would result from a painless and molecular transition from the present situation to another, more “solidarity” one (with “basic income” and everything else), even with “democratic money” (bitcoin and the like) capable of circumventing capitalist accumulation, saving, above all, class struggles and revolutions (which are events, it doesn't hurt to remind you, first of all political, that is, that require preparation and action political A nebula in which, to put it in the words of Marx referring to the “utopian” (or “philanthropic”) socialism of his time, “to the extent that the shadow becomes a body, one discovers the silhouette of society current bourgeoisie. The problem is that, nowadays, we are no longer faced with benevolent and progressive critics, sometimes brilliant, of a system that had not yet fully demonstrated its opposite in its own entrails, but with ignorant and deliberate confusions in the face of a system in the which this opposite spurts through every pore and acts day and night, even without political leadership at the height.

Unprecedented situation? Not at all. Revolutionaries always start out as minorities, social, political, scientific and cultural, otherwise they would not be revolutionaries. The only new contemporary element is the theorization of the “end of the avant-garde” which, after all, is nothing more than a sophisticated theorization of the end of revolutions (in any field of human activity), revolutions that, like the “old mole” from the German called Moor, have the peculiarity of having too hard a head and insisting on manifesting themselves again. On one occasion, Trotsky explained this historical (and necessarily) minority (“vanguardist”) character of the revolutionaries, in their initial phase, to his opponent (who criticized, precisely, the Fourth International, for being a minority), starting from the example of the first Christians (not to accuse Trotsky, therefore, of sectarianism in the choice of examples), and claiming the historical role of sects, when they propose to stop being sects in favor of the deep current of history and against all conservatisms.

It is at this point, which is not just any point, that the problem of intelligentsia and Florestan Fernandes' vital parable gains new life. was isolated on campuses, outside the cities - or isolated within them - and from social clashes (which is exemplary in the case of the USA, as studied by Russel Jacoby in The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academia), experiences the contradiction between his general condition (salaried worker) and his unique condition (intellectual) more and more acutely. In the same way that their communicating vessels with the rest of the working population increased, so did the (social) pressure to consider their destiny as unique, sometimes with messianic tinges. In general, this intelligentsia is progressive (except in extreme counterrevolutionary cases, such as Nazism or Pinochetism), but this "progressism" also covers a poorly concealed conservatism, arising from the tendency to preserve an (increasingly less) privileged social status. for the “militants”, an egalitarian condition in the entity to which they belong, with poorly disguised distance (and, sometimes, poorly disguised contempt) in an attempt to preserve, not individuality (which is quite legitimate), but uniqueness (“I , the only one” – and I only admit frank conversation with my peers). At this crossroads of contradictions, the most difficult thing is to put your finger on the wound, because the university intelligentsia, as one Argentine intellectual said about political sects, “tends (and wants) to see everything but itself”.

And the Trotskyists, as Florestan was, in all this? A parallel and totally independent story? Quite the opposite. You don't need to be an acute observer to see that concepts derived from, in the first place, from universities, as the “universal values ​​of democracy” (which would not be a political system, but a ethos that hovers above history) or identity politics (which start from the assumption that the oppression of minorities comes from the human soul, not overcome by the joint struggle of all the oppressed) colonized a good part (the majority) of what today calls itself “Trotskyist” , as happened to the rest of the left. What does it mean that “Trotskyism”, and Trotsky knew this, is not a magic umbrella, a kind of superhuman compass to orient oneself in the political intricacies of the class struggle . What's surprising about this? Nothing, because it is small if we consider that parties that even today officially worship Marx and Engels happily voted in favor of bombing civilian populations in Belgrade, Baghdad or Kabul, by NATO troops, the UN or whatever (and in fact , the US and the EU, i.e. imperialism); in the case of Belgrade, they even personally coordinated these “humanitarian actions”.

This does not mean that “Trotskyism” means nothing. It means, above all, a program, that of the historical validity of the proletarian revolution. When Florestan entered (even reluctantly, as he admitted) in the PT, his candidacy for federal deputy was driven by some Trotskyist currents in the party, against the candidacies launched by the incipient ruling apparatus of the party, whose character would be fully revealed during the 14 years he governed. the country (with Florestan already dead). Florestan estimated (I have no evidence, these were personal conversations) that he could act as a unifying factor for the PT left, which he identified in the first place with the Trotskyites. The current Brazilian “Trotskyism” is dispersed among the PT, the PSOL, where they are far from configuring single currents (there are several “Trotskyisms” in each of these parties), other legal acronyms (PSTU, PCO), and several groups that do not exist “electoral” (and usually real). Despite having militants or adherents in a much higher number than in the days of the PSR, Trotskyism is not a relevant factor in Brazilian politics, perhaps even less than in those times, and the various currents that claim it have policies (and even ideologies) that do not only divergent, but diametrically opposed. On a smaller scale, it suffered and still suffers from the same bureaucratisms, with the same social roots, from the majority currents (PT or, forcing the bar from what is left, PC do B). The situation of “political marginality” that has always been attributed to Trotskyism has made it easier for some of its expressions, moreover, assuming it, to seem committed to breaking all records of political aberrations (a record, in the case of Brazil, difficult to to break).

Trotsky once wrote that listing and analyzing all the banana peels on which revolutionary movements skated was an interesting and important task, but not a central one. Certain political debates are important, others are not, and the question of importance is not resolved by the number of people participating in them. Marx and Engels not only revolutionized the future of the world by studying and writing in offices (which they did), but also by discussing with intellectuals and manual workers, in small numbers and in places that resembled catacombs. The convergence of classist and revolutionary militants has no value in itself (since there are many well-intentioned people in this world, and bringing them together does not solve any problem), it only has value if they manage to configure a Vanguard, able to anticipate its time, on the basis of the real conditions of that time, through a program, a policy and an organization. Florestan fought in this direction, his efforts stood out for his exceptional talent, but he was not exempt from contradictions, which he, in essence, knew, and against which he fought, this was the meaning of his political engagement until the end. The era of the great isolated intellectuals is just as out of date (an idiot speaking primly on TV does not mean that we are dealing with a great intellectual, who survives in his work) as the era of full professors. A vanguard that is up to the challenges of the crisis we are experiencing can only emerge from frank and open debate, based on experience and accumulated programs, between intellectual-workers and intellectual-workers, and must overcome the narrow landmarks of “Brazilian civilization” to project itself in the international theater, because the “Brazilian revolution” (the proletarian one, not the bourgeois one that Florestan studied) only makes sense and can only be victorious as part of the world, socialist revolution against capital.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books by paths of history (Shaman).

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones
  • Why are we on strike?statue 50g 20/06/2024 By SERGIO STOCO: We have reached a situation of shortage of federal educational institutions
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives