reactionary labyrinth

Cecil Collins, Head, 1963


Considerations on the recently published book by Valerio Arcary

reactionary labyrinth compiles 56 texts published by the author in various magazines and communication platforms between 2014 and 2021, although it only became available in early 2023. , in which one can find theoretical polemics, political analysis, militant intervention and open reflection expressed over periods of time with different political intonations.

But I must add that, with this book, a person reading it from another country benefits from a lot of information and, if he is concerned with the paths and detours of the left, he will find plenty of reason to take advantage of this reading; and I also suspect that a Brazilian activist, living at the heart of the events discussed, will be able to make even more good use of it, given that how many of the problems discussed here are still the determining agenda, that is, the debates on the country's vision and the contradictory strategies that confront each other.

I met Valério Arcary in 1974 in Portugal, where he – and I – were young students involved in the fight against the dictatorship and in the joy of the revolution that overthrew it. This declaration of interests is necessary, as I must not hide that this militant crossing, even if in different parties, created bonds of friendship that, almost fifty years later, I can only estimate, and that were repeatedly recreated in different circumstances, even with the Atlantic in between – which may explain both the interest I kept in reading what I wrote and some bias in my reading.

Once this acknowledgment of bias has been made, I add that there are still some traits that I retain from that period and that I have not seen contradicted since then: Valério Arcary was always a prominent player and surprising speaker, which is not hidden in this writing (many of the texts begin with a device useful rhetoric to hold the attention of whoever listens or reads it, a quote from some author, it could be Sun Tzu or Lenin, or from some popular Portuguese, Indian, Arabic, Persian or other saying; suspicious that he invented some of this prose for effects As a demonstration, I sought confirmation in the case of some popular Portuguese sayings, but I was never able to find evidence of the replacement of history by literary creativity, a failure that I confess here). For what matters, they are texts that hold attention.

In the little I know about Brazilian life, which does not allow me to express myself in great effusions, I have the intuition that, as the author of the book states, the left won, in this case the PSol, by presenting a presidential candidacy in 2018 and by not doing so in 2022 ; by understanding that, when it was assumed that judicial repression had ended Lula's cycle, he continued to be the condition for defeating Jair Bolsonaro; realizing, therefore, that Bolsonarism is a political field with majority aspirations, with strong identity roots and popular bases, so that the idea of ​​a simple offensive to wear it down, when it was power, collided with the configuration of forces; and, even more, that unity against Bolsonarism could not be enough to define neither a government composition nor even less a coherent project for Brazil.

These themes are consistently discussed in several articles that cover the times of resistance and the preparation of the victorious electoral counter-offensive. There were, along the way, moments of doubt and even anguish, all faithfully portrayed (Cf. on p.63, “The sky is collapsing on our heads. But despair is a bad adviser”, here is a fascinating example – as it was written in the time).

However, the essentials of the book are in other texts. They are, in my opinion, those who discuss elements of structural analysis. First, the mode of capitalist accumulation in Brazil: is it a semi-colony and a sub-metropolis? Is it an imperialist or a dependent power, or both at the same time? And, if the definitions are so often, in politics, semantics of antagonism and not of clarification, some of these questions are relevant to understand how a powerful national bourgeoisie is formed, which is not a “comprador bourgeoisie” and whose international insertion is more dynamic than the reconfiguration of state power managed in Brasilia (p.21).

After works of “classic” Brazilian Marxism, such as those of Francisco de Oliveira, resuming reflection on what this country is is essential for the directions of the left. Another important dimension comes second: how can this Marxist left be distinguished from “ultimatism” or the painful “electoral republicanism” and manage to polarize an “offensive united front”, in the author's terms? He does not hide from us that there are several disputed answers to each of these questions, which are briefly resumed in the afterword by Guilherme Boulos. Those who read it with their militant experience in Brazil will say what to make of these reflections.

For my part, I recommend the effort, all the more so as it escapes one of the torments that haunt the left: the vice of historical analogy – we can even understand it, in times of storm we cling to the mast of what we know, which however little value it confers on it – and which has vitiated so much political decision-making and, worse, allowed those who have little root in reality and its complexity to proclaim heroic solutions, armed with the argument that this was the case in the past. There are few more depressing spectacles than watching current political debates based on what happened in the July 1917 days or in the Kornilov coup, when a hundred years and several lives passed over these configurations, several wars and not a few structural transformations – not to mention say that few people will understand what the speakers of such references are talking about.

And yet, or precisely because of that, it is a book that respects history. That of political currents, that of revolutions, that of struggles in which concrete men and women were committed, that of courage and determination, that of doubt and the search for meaning. He is faithful to her because he doesn't want to forget her, which is good. Use it as a title reactionary labyrinth it could be a sign of the time in which many of his texts were written, and that would be understandable, but it will certainly also be a choice already with the benefit of the new situation in which Jair Bolsonaro was defeated, but in which so many wounds demonstrate that the course of history is neither linear nor simple, which requires conviction, effort, militancy and dedication to break down the labyrinth. Perhaps it still requires more imagination and curiosity for what's new, the greatest of the qualities of the greatest who taught us and that we still know so little about what we have to invent ahead.

*Francisco Louçã é Economist, he was coordinator of the Left Bloc in Portugal (2005-2012). Author, among other books, of The Curse of Midas – The Culture of Late Capitalism (Lark).


Valerio Arcary. reactionary labyrinth: danger da historic defeat. São Paulo, Usina Editorial, 2023, 350 pages (

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