Leonel Brizola and popular nationalism

Image: Giallo.
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By LUIZ EDUARDO MOTTA*

Brizola's name went down in history and has become increasingly synonymous with resistance and social justice.

In 2022, we celebrate the birthday of Leonel Brizola, who left us suddenly in 2004. When he died, Brizola was experiencing his worst political moment after two unsuccessful elections for mayor and senator of Rio de Janeiro. But, over the years, his name was increasingly recognized by the new generation of militants who recognize him as one of the main leaders of the Brazilian left. Nothing fairer for his name and political legacy of intense combat against the military dictatorship, the Brazilian oligarchies and the neoliberal project that began to emerge – albeit not completely – in the last decade of the XNUMXth century in Brazil.

However, the fire launched against Brizola and against labor was not limited to the right wing, but also to the left, which had as its source the intellectual production of USP in the 1960s, and wove an incessant fight against the ISEB, the PCB and the nationalist politicians of the left that certainly had its greatest expression in the figure of Brizola. And the main materialization of this was the formation of the PT, which in its first years of existence tenaciously criticized the entire legacy of the pre-1964 left, particularly those who advocated popular nationalism.

Brizola represented better than anyone else in our country what had been called third-worldism, ie, his political position was a clear defense of national liberation and anti-imperialist present in the so-called Third World countries. If we compare Brizolismo with other congeners such as the left-wing Peronism led by John William Cooke – whose work and political leadership directly influenced the revolutionary Peronist organizations such as the Montoneros and the FAP (Peronist Armed Forces) – we will find several similarities. Brizola, like Cooke, defended revolutionary popular nationalism (in Brazil the main disseminator and systematizer of this ideology was Paulo Schilling in his book How to put the right in power) as an ideology and political project that anticipated the path of nationally based socialism (Brizola called this national socialism “dark socialism”).

Cooke himself cites a passage in his work Inform the bases this convergence of popular nationalist leaders: “but the anti-imperialist struggle — which, let's say, is at the same time the social struggle — is “communism” or “castrocommunism” for a regime that does not understand that Castroism, Peronism, Brizolism, Caamañismo etc. it is the national forms that the same process of Latin American and universal dimensions takes on”. Brizolism then meant a form of national socialism based on the national liberation and anti-imperialist struggle, and was in line with other similar trends on the American continent.

Laclau was very precise in his deconstruction of the notion of populism employed by USP via Francisco Weffort and Octavio Ianni. Left populism, or revolutionary popular nationalism, was no dam of critical working-class consciousness. Contrary to this, it expressed an ideology that had as its center the contradiction people x block in power. The concept of people encompasses the most distinct classes and social groups that are opposed to the exclusionary model in force by the fractions that represent the financial and industrial monopoly capital, as well as the agrarian oligarchies. We cannot overlook, as certain intellectuals did in the past, and the PT itself at its birth, the mass struggles and mobilizations formed in the 1960s in Brazil and which reached different spheres of politics and culture (see Cinema Novo, the CPC of UNE, the Peasant Leagues, for example).

Upon returning to Brazil in 1979, Brizola found an environment very adverse to his past on the part of the so-called “new left”. But even so, he recreated the PTB (later the PDT), and gathered around him former leaders and intellectuals identified with revolutionary popular nationalism (most of whom came from exile in Mexico) such as Neiva Moreira, Francisco Julião, Theotônio dos Santos, Vânia Bambirra, Darcy Ribeiro, Flávio Tavares, and joined other politicians and intellectuals more identified with traditional labor and social democracy (also called “democratic socialism”, a term often used by Pedro Celso Uchôa Cavalcanti, who was one of the intellectuals at the foundation of the PTB/PDT).

With the creation of the new acronym PDT, the popular nationalist ideology found its space of excellence in this party. Even though the PDT absorbed other trends, revolutionary popular nationalism was the main ideological expression of its labor militancy, and even had as a reference an unofficial PDT magazine, the Third World notebooks directed by Neiva Moreira and Beatriz Bissio. And this popular national strand of the PDT was also added to by the entry in 1982 of several dissidents from the PCB, especially the Prestista group that identified with this perspective. Like the PT, the PDT was not a homogeneous party and there was coexistence, albeit tense among the militants, of these different currents.

Certainly, Brizolismo had several meanings within the PDT that encompassed both this revolutionary nationalism and also a centrality in the personal charisma of Brizola's political leadership, in addition to an identification with the social democratic project promoted by the Socialist International by some segments of the party (the entry by Saturnino Braga and his group in 1982 strengthened this tendency).

However, since his death, the new generations of militants (and not restricted to the PDT, as they are present in different organizations, including the PT) identified with his political trajectory, have recovered their nationalist and third-world legacy. In this regard, Brizola has today become the main symbolic reference of the anti-imperialist and nationalist struggle in our country, which has been devastated since 2016 by the neoliberal project. sell homeland, and in a complete position of subalternity to imperialist and anti-national interests. And just like his main mentor Getúlio Vargas, Brizola's name went down in history and has become increasingly synonymous with resistance and social justice.

* Luiz Eduardo Motta is a professor of political science at UFRJ. Book author In favor of Althusser: revolution and rupture in Marxist theory (Countercurrent).

 

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