Francisco de Oliveira

Image: JMW Turner


Commentary on the recently launched book organized by Carlos Alberto Bello, Cibele Rizek, Joana Barros and Leonardo Mello e Silva

The book has just been made available for free download, Francisco de Oliveira: questions, dialogues, testimonials; organized by Carlos Alberto Bello, Cibele Rizek, Joana Barros and Leonardo Mello e Silva, the publication is more than a tribute to the master from Pernambuco, it is an invitation to the reader, familiar or not with his intellectual production, to know the intricacies of one of the great thinkers of reality Brazilian from the second half of the twentieth century.

Francisco de Oliveira began his studies at the University of Recife, today the Federal University of Pernambuco. Between 1959 and 1964 he was part of the SUDENE staff, working alongside Celso Furtado, the experience that would be interrupted with the civil-military coup that took place in 1964 would be fundamental in the intellectual trajectory of Chico de Oliveira. Arrested after the coup, he went into exile, from where he would return in 1969, joining the staff of Cebrap (Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning), alongside intellectuals such as Octávio Ianni, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Paul Singer.

Throughout the 1980s, Chico would actively participate in building the Workers' Party, which he would break with in the early years of the Lula government, contributing to the process that would later culminate in the founding of the PSOL. In 1988, he became a professor at FFLCH, where he would eventually hold the position of Professor Emeritus. The publication discussed here originated from interventions presented during a seminar organized by the Center for the Study of Citizenship Rights (Cenedic), a center that was founded and intellectually nurtured by Chico de Oliveira alongside intellectuals such as Maria Célia Paoli. Held in November 2020, the event sought to recall its production and the moments of conviviality and dialogue that marked the meetings, seminars, projects and books carried out by the Center over the years.

According to the organizers of the collection, “recalling and rereading the works of Francisco de Oliveira, who occupies a prominent place in the thinking and production of national Social Sciences, ends up being a recovery – not always easy – of the country's social and political history. An unauthorized biography of Brazil – by the way, the title of his last work – can be found in the various moments and themes of his production”. The organizers of the work also recall that the seminar held in honor of the professor, in addition to discussing his work, made it possible for several researchers, students, journey companions to meet, making the closing table an “emotional and sensitive moment, we recalled together the feeling which then makes us, in a certain way, part of the same family: “we are founding children”, “we are all children of Francis”.

With a rich work, permeated with diverse influences, the intellectual production “oliveiriana” provides those who intend to unravel the paths and detours of the construction of this true platypus called Brazil, the most varied interpretive keys. This variety of readings, remember the organizers in the introduction to the collection, as well as the identification of dialogues with other thinkers and social scientists, weaving a true “skein of inheritances and memories seems to contain a treasure that we now share in a written form. This treasure resides in criticism without rest, in a permanent intellectual restlessness, in non-conformity with what is given, in a choice of readings against the grain that go from Criticism of dualistic reason, from 1972, until the last texts about the Brazilian tragedy”.

According to the organizers of the event and as a result of the publication in question, it can be understood as a complement and/or update of an undertaking that took place in 2003, also at FFLCH-USP, a seminar on the work of Francisco de Oliveira that resulted in the book organized by Professor Cibele Rizek (who is now appearing, again, as the organizer of this edition) and Professor Wagner de Melo Romão, Francisco de Oliveira: the task of criticism (Ed. UFMG, 2006). Since then, many years have passed, and Chico's production has become more complex, shifting from the problem of dismantling a promise of development for the country to the somber diagnosis of an “upside down hegemony”.

A moment in which Francisco de Oliveira showed, in addition to an accurate vision, to analyze the moment the country was going through, as if to fight a true intellectual battle, “when a good part of the intelligentsia and progressive forces were betting on the game changer represented by the arrival of a worker leader to state power. Halfway through, we were told there was a platypus.” The author of these lines himself is a witness to the fierce debates held at Cenedic seminars on distant Friday afternoons, when I was able to witness, without having the real clarity of the dimension of such debates, the discussion, for example, between Chico de Oliveira and Carlos Nelson Coutinho in around the concept of hegemony.

The collection's sections were organized thematically: the regional issue; the topic that we could designate as the “platypus form”, as a specifically Brazilian – and not just more generally Latin American – way of insertion in neoliberalism; and finally, the more classic – that is, more Marxist – motives of the State and social classes, scattered throughout his works. Each section has three interventions.

According to the organizers, the first session focuses on Chico's personal and professional experience (as a researcher and teacher), “respectively as a northeasterner and as assistant to the great master Celso Furtado in Sudene, from which they were removed by the 1964 coup. , society and politics, he thought of the Brazilian capitalist dynamics under the prism of economic and social development and the struggles around social and regional inequality”.

In the second section, “a second axis of Chico's production is presented and discussed, although chronologically located further ahead in his intellectual path, and which we called “O Brasil Ornitorrinco”. Ground of confluence between the socioeconomic and political-ideological dimensions of the interweaving of issues of national development and Brazilian social inequalities, it called for a heavy investment, due to its scope and scope ”.

A third axis of Chico’s production, named by the organizers as “Work, Economy, Politics and Citizenship Rights”, brings “the echoes of his seminal work Criticism of dualistic reason, as well as the thought-provoking essay of the late 1980s, “The Rise of Anti-Value”. As for “citizenship rights”, we sought to establish dialogues about the different dimensions of these rights in Chico's work; At that time, emphasis was placed especially on the intellectual production related to his participation in Cenedic, a very particular occasion in which Oliveira's (or “Furtadian”) Marxism dialogued with approaches from political sociology. In particular, this section includes the historical dimension of the rise of rights in the 1980s, its dismantling in the 1990s, and the complex trajectories of the 2000s (from what we could call the “platypus moment”, as seen above)".

Finally, the collection ends with a section of testimonials, of a more personal nature (in certain cases, the texts even have the format of a chronicle), less dependent on an obvious theoretical motive, and without abstract pretensions. Thus, the published texts invite the reader to carry out, through the intellectual legacy of Francisco de Oliveira, the realization of “other possible connections”, making it possible to “take other paths of development”, which attests to the presence of Chico de Oliveira as “ a contemporary source of research questions and problems. Another aspect that should not be forgotten is the formative tendency (perhaps unintentional in Chico himself) associated with his figure, as well noted by Wolfgang Leo Maar in the text of this collection ”.

At a time when Brazilian society is facing the beginning of a new cycle of democratic reconstruction with the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the thought of Chico de Oliveira remains one of the great fuels to encourage the analysis of those who focus on the contradictions of our society, and the book organized by professors Carlos Alberto Bello, Cibele Rizek, Joana Barros and Leonardo Mello e Silva appears as a fundamental guide to follow the paths of this revolutionary intellectual.

*Daniel Costa He has a degree in history from Unifesp.


Carlos A. Bello, Cibele Rizek, Joana Barros and Leonardo M. e Silva (orgs).

Francisco de Oliveira: questions, dialogues, testimonials. São Paulo, FFLCH/USP, 226 pages. Available in:


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