Francis Weffort (1937-2021)

Image: Evgeny Cheboratev


Francisco Weffort is an unavoidable intellectual for anyone interested in the political life of our country in the second half of the XNUMXth century

Francisco Weffort, founder and first director-president of CEDEC, professor of Political Science at USP, pioneer in the study of Brazilian and Latin American populism, former minister of culture, died on August 84st at the age of XNUMX, of an attack by heart.

It was as a student of Social Sciences at the University of São Paulo that Weffort became aware of and integrated the research agenda that was being developed there under the guidance of Florestan Fernandes regarding the “phenomena that best characterize modern Brazil”, that is, the process of industrialization of the country and its uneasy relationship with democracy. The first years of the 1960s marked the emergence of an intellectual culture in São Paulo whose main characteristic was the rivalry with the democratic nationalism dominant in the previous period and which the 1964 coup extirpated from the State apparatus.

Weffort had approached Political Science even earlier. His analyzes of politics and voting in the city of São Paulo formed the basis of his first writings on populism as early as 1963. In addition to the rivalry with democratic nationalism that had its center in the intellectual environment of Rio de Janeiro, Weffort found an effervescent cultural circuit at USP, typical of a generation of young people who sought in Marx's writings a way to overcome their teachers on the left.

After 1964, the energies of that generation were distributed in a set of analytical syntheses that carried the indelible novelty: the formation of the Brazilian State from the colonial and slavery experience, the role of violence in the conformation of this political power, the (non) place of culture and intellectual life in this process, the impasses inherent to the dynamics of industrialization, with the emergence of cities and the brand new and misunderstood political subjects, the difficult connection of internal and external economic relations in the capitalist periphery.

It is not possible to understand Weffort's contribution to Brazilian political thought without taking this context into account. Or even without recognizing how much his analyzes of populism were relevant to the formulation of the dependentista perspective internationally celebrated by the essay by Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Enzo Faletto. the dossier Brazil: modern times, originally organized by Celso Furtado in 1967 for Jean Paul Sartre's magazine, Modern times, is possibly the main documentary witness to this analytic collaboration.

The importance of Weffort goes beyond that. If his texts of analytical affinity with the theme of dependency in Latin America are fascinating, even more so are those that argue the break with this paradigm. A breach, incidentally, contradictory and even incomplete. From an effusive participant, Weffort became skeptical and critical of the theoretical approach developed by Cardoso in the early 1970s, in a political-intellectual movement away from the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP) that would culminate in the founding of the Center for Studies in Cultura Contemporânea (CEDEC) in 1976. The documents present in the CEDEC collection at the Edgard Leuenroth Archive (AEL-Unicamp) reinforce the hypothesis that this departure was not drastic as the memory of its participants has led to believe. CEBRAP institutionally supported the formation of CEDEC and, for this purpose, used its network of contacts as a kind of informal guarantor for potential funders of the new center's research. The relationship between the two centers seems to have been, from the beginning, one of porosity and circulation of intellectuals.

Despite this, the important thing to highlight here is that CEDEC had, in fact, its own research agenda at its foundation, oriented especially towards the study of social movements and autonomous processes of popular political organization. An agenda to which Weffort contributed in a central way, since his distrustful attitude towards the perspective of dependency was confirmed, from 1974 onwards, in the CEBRAP strategy, by subsidizing the MDB's political program for the elections, in betting on a transition Moderate politics from dictatorship to democracy in Brazil. Weffort saw in the coup and military dictatorship in Brazil not a structural fatality typical of countries on the periphery of capitalism, always incomplete in the face of a liberal-representative model to be achieved, but a political tragedy from which it was necessary to draw lessons.

Not by chance, Weffort and many of the intellectuals linked to CEDEC ended up being linked to another political experience that emerged in the late 1970s, that of the workers' strikes in the ABC region of São Paulo and, subsequently, the founding of the Workers' Party and the Central Única dos Workers. Between 1974-1979, Weffort devoted himself to refining ideas outlined in an important essay on the workers' strikes in Contagem and Osasco in 1968 and the actions of union leaders and movements from the perspective of what he called “populist unionism”. His criticism of the performance of the Brazilian Communist Party in the period 1945-1964, moreover, would be decisive for the elaboration of the idea that it was necessary to review the historical unwillingness of the left to seek its own path, independent of state-bourgeois regulation.

As a professor at USP, Weffort trained generations of social scientists in the 1970s and 1980s, teaching the fundamentals of modern Western political thought. Furthermore, his courses on the thought of Antonio Gramsci are still remembered today by many intellectuals, young at the time, who would pursue a university career in the following decades. In the early 1990s, leaving the PT, where he held the post of General Secretary, and joining the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government as Minister of Culture, was like a resolution, on a molecular scale, of the impasses that he had helped to resolve. open and deepen the Brazilian party life of the late 1970s.

Francisco Weffort is an unavoidable intellectual for anyone interested in the political life of our country in the second half of the XNUMXth century, and his analyzes leave interesting clues for thinking about the present as well. His disappearance, along with the departure of other figures dear to the humanities of the same time and space, such as the sociologist Leôncio Martins Rodrigues and the philosopher José Arthur Giannotti, bequeath to us the responsibility of rebuilding with the utmost scruple the history of our political ideas and to resume, even more rigorously, the problems around which they developed until us.

*Daniela Mussi is a professor at the Department of Political Science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

Originally published on New Moon Newsletter.


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