Military and development in Brazil

Image: Paulo Fávero


Commentary on the search Guillaume Azevedo Marques de Saes

At a time when the presence of military personnel in the governing coalition in Brazil comes to the forefront, the consultation of Guillaume Saes' work, Military and development in Brazil, provides a historical understanding of the meanings and limits of military interventions in the country's political life to underpin this role and its form today. As the author indicates, the “political militancy” of the military in Brazil, from its beginnings in the 1880s until the end of the 1964-1985 military regime, was essentially committed to “development and industry” and “to the extent that that its final objective, that is, the transformation of Brazil from an agricultural country and exporter of primary products into an industrial country, was achieved, its militancy in a way lost its meaning” (p. 320).


Guillaume Saes' work on military groups and political life in Brazil presents a successful and original scientific content. Let us therefore try to illustrate this in some passages of his text.

1 – “The origin of the political force that the military would later demonstrate is, therefore, in the double function that the imperial elite had reserved for them: to serve as a agents of imperial centralization in combating the autonomist aspirations of the provinces and defend the integrity of the Brazilian territory in the face of external threats, especially threats coming from the problematic region of the River Plate” (p. 27).

As the author points out, the impulse to political centralization in this context of the imperial slaveholding State has a conservative role: to organize the national slave market, due to the interdiction measures imposed by England. Such political centralization would be a symptom of the decline of slavery in imperial Brazil, since the pre-bourgeois social order tends towards political decentralization, due to the localist vocation of land ownership.

2 – “Therefore, in addition to youth and the consequent small political and doctrinal baggage of the lieutenants, tactical reasons could be at the origin of the tenentismo's rather daring ideological stance in the 1920s. Since the immediate objective of the movement was to seize power through a military coup supported by sectors of the dominant classes, the presentation of a radical reformist program that challenged the socioeconomic foundations of the regime was unfeasible insofar as it would scare away highly requested allies at the time: high military officials and oligarchic dissidences. An urban and peasant proletarian revolution was not part of the lieutenants' objectives, but a military coup action, which would promote the necessary reforms in the country. by the top” (p. 146).

Tenentismo therefore assumed a new political function in the revolutionary dictatorial period from November 3, 1930 to July 16, 1934, ceasing to be the armed wing of the liberal demands of oligarchic dissidents and the more traditional sectors of the urban middle classes, to become the main pillar of a development policy in the country under the guardianship of the state (p.161).

It can be said that the current of nationalist lieutenants acquires simultaneously military and bourgeois meanings. From a military point of view, the lieutenants continue a tendency of the Brazilian Army to intervene in political life, since the process of modernization and professionalization of the organization did not lead to its apoliticalism, as would have happened in European countries. There would be a secular tendency of the Brazilian dominant classes to use the Army – or segments of it – as a political resource for obtaining or maintaining power (civilian militarism) (Forjaz, 1989). Thus, “the functional definition of the military group leads it to see the State as the supreme expression of the Nation; and, as a professional category institutionally responsible for ensuring the sovereignty of the State, the military group tends to interpret its own professional and social degradation as an indication of an outrage against the Nation” (Saes, 1984, p. 71).

From the social point of view, the nationalist lieutenants, due to their social origin, represented the interests of the lower middle class – expressed in a non-monopolistic national industrialization. This is Guillaume Saes' thesis. For him: “The tenentist project for the development of national production seemed, therefore, to exclude the existing agrarian and industrial elites in Brazil, and seemed to opt for a state solution in more advanced and strategic sectors of industrial activity – at least in the case of oil – and to boost small industry in the consumer goods sector (food, clothing and other basic needs of the population). The emphasis on smallholding draws our attention to the Jacobin and petty-bourgeois character of the lieutenant ideology, that is, its tendency towards a petty-bourgeois nationalism based on the defense of small property” (p. 202).

But the tenentista current, we say, also supported, to the extent that it did not criticize such an objective when climbing the ranks in the State apparatus with the Revolution of 1930, an industrialization based at least on the national average company. As Nelson Werneck Sodré pointed out, from the 20s onwards, the “petty bourgeoisie”, especially the young rebel officers, played the role of “the fierce vanguard of the slow political rise of the bourgeoisie” (Sodré, 1985, p. 20) . The nationalist lieutenants defended a program, not always explicit – but on some occasions they were forced to present their demands, as happened with the Clube 3 de Outubro, in 1931-, to transform the Brazilian industrial bourgeoisie into a true national bourgeoisie.

Not all fractions of capital are inclined to embrace an anti-imperialist policy. Large commercial capital, due to its insertion in the import and export market, tends to associate with the interests of foreign capital and, therefore, proves to be contrary to a protectionist policy of the national market, sustaining, as a rule, the presence of international capital in all sectors of the country's economy. Large industrial capital, on the other hand, normally has an ambiguous posture vis-à-vis imperialist capital. On the one hand, given its link with the bases of internal accumulation, this fraction opposes resistance to the participation of foreign capital in industrial branches in which the presence of native capital is consolidated, such as the manufacturing industry. On the other hand, faced with some degree of technological or monetary dependence on capital from central countries, the industrial leadership is opposed to a global program to challenge imperialist interests. Only middle capital becomes receptive to an anti-imperialist program. But this fraction of capital is unlikely to be able to conquer political hegemony, given the disproportion of economic and political resources. It remains, then, for the State bureaucracy to assume the nationalist position.

Finally, nationalist lieutenantism would have a double characteristic: petty-bourgeois due to its social origin; and bourgeois for its insertion in the directive tasks of the apparatus of the national State.

3 – “Another question arises regarding the Estado Novo: against whom was the coup d'état of November 10, 1937 carried out? The constitution of the regime begins, in an introductory way, with an anti-communist discourse that warns of the “state of apprehension created in the country by communist infiltration, which becomes more extensive and deeper day by day, demanding radical and permanent remedies”. The fear of a communist coup engendered by the ghost of the November 1935 attempt is, therefore, presented as the main reason for the overthrow of the current constitutional regime. And, in fact, the coup d'état was preceded by an entire anti-communist campaign in civil and military circles, a campaign that followed the defeat of the aforementioned attempt and which involved measures such as the purge of the Armed Forces and the arrest of communists and people linked to the left tenentism and the National Liberation Alliance. The constitutional regime inaugurated in July 1934 practically did not exist, since in almost the entire period between November 1935 and November 1937 the country was under a state of siege, on the pretext of combating left-wing subversion. Thus, the threat of yet another putsch Communism was the great pretext for the deposition of the regime in July 1934. However, some weighty factors show the fact that if officially the Estado Novo coup was an anti-communist coup, its target consisted of other opponents. On the one hand, the communists, the left lieutenants and the politicians of the National Liberation Alliance were at that moment either in prison or ostracized, and no longer represented a real danger to the prevailing order. On the other hand, the date of the new presidential elections, scheduled for January 1938, was approaching, which meant the end of the Vargas government since, according to the constitution, he could not be re-elected. The presence of a strong candidate for the presidential succession like Armando de Salles Oliveira, a São Paulo politician who presented himself in the name of liberal constitutionalism, meant the possibility of a return to power of the political representatives of the São Paulo coffee growing interests and an obstacle to the implementation of a policy industrialization, with, for example, the end of the use of government resources to finance industrial activities and their use to finance the coffee economy, as was done in the Old Republic. Moreover, Getúlio and his military allies aimed at the constitution of a political order that would bring the necessary stability for a policy of accelerated development, since in the period 1930-1937, although measures had been taken in the sense of creating conditions favorable to the development of national industry – constitution of a more centralized State apparatus, creation of official bodies dedicated to the study, planning and financing of industrial development, nationalization of the wealth of the subsoil and of the waterfalls –, nothing concrete had been done , for example, regarding the introduction of steel on a large scale and oil exploration. To do so, it was necessary to neutralize the opposition linked to agro-mercantile interests, which could act in Congress and in party life and thus continue to block the government's industrializing projects. The thesis of the communist danger had, therefore, the function of, at the same time that the liberal-oligarchic opposition united around Armando de Salles Oliveira was neutralized, to obtain the support of the rest of the Brazilian ruling classes, fearful of a social revolution, and the Armed Forces as a whole, which in another context would not support – at least with regard to its legalist wing – a dictatorial project like this” (2014-16).

In summary, Guillaume Saes' work of scientific construction is successful because, among other aspects and as evidenced by the examples above, he manages to equate the difficult methodological question of articulating the functional explanation and the motivational determination of the practices of groups and individuals. Such an articulation of distinct causalities perhaps finds an analogous construction pattern in the scientific work of Sigmund Freud, The interpretation of dreams.


Guillaume Saes' work, despite its efficient and original construction, does not seem to connect, at least explicitly, the national-developmentalist program, supported by the Brazilian military, to the global or common interests of the capitalist class. The author tells us:

“For us, however, the crisis of hegemony meant not the emergence of a neutral State above the classes, but rather a State controlled by a military bureaucracy exponent of an industrializing project allied to a political leadership of oligarchic origin that, due to its ideological formation, Castilhista – at the same time progressive and authoritarian – and for having perceived the historical moment the country was going through – irreversible decline of the order dominated by the agromercantile elite and imminent advent of the industrial order –, chose to place itself, both in 1930 and in 1937 , at the forefront of the country's revolutionary process of socioeconomic transformation” (p. 220).

“In the case of the Estado Novo [1937-45] the emphasis was on more advanced sectors of industrial activity such as large-scale steelworks and the oil industry. The national bourgeoisie is discarded as the sole or main agent in the implementation of these two sectors, and the State appears here with a decisive role, either as a direct intervener (fully state-owned or mixed companies) or as a coordinator of activities. If the republican military at the end of the 318th century presented itself as defenders of the interests of the Brazilian industrial bourgeoisie, the military group of the Estado Novo aimed at creating a new industrial sector, independent of the national bourgeoisie itself - even if it was accepted as a minority participant in a state-led project” (p. XNUMX).

However, underlying the measures of political centralization and industrializing interventionism, are the objectives common to the capitalist class as a whole, namely, the national integration of bourgeois factions and the internalization of the bases of capital accumulation. In relation to the process of national integration, industrial capital competes at the interregional level and redefines its segments in the national division of labor; basically, peripheral industrial capital, less competitive, is transferred to branches that preserve their regional market. In turn, mercantile capital directs agricultural production to regional markets, also going through a double process of competition and sectoral unification. The relations of the regional bourgeoisies take the form, in a first phase, of commercial articulation, in which the bourgeoisie of the pole-region supplies manufactured products to the peripheral regions in exchange for agricultural production controlled by mercantile capital in the dependent region. In this context, State policies – such as fiscal, monetary, credit, exchange policy – ​​avoid producing effects that aggravate regional inequalities, which tend to be inevitable in the market sphere by the capital concentration law, and even adopt compensatory measures (transfers of resources , investment programs) to the peripheral bourgeoisies. It can be said, then, that the State apparatus promotes, in this historical period, the balance of interests or the common interest of the regional fractions of the capitalist class.

As for the process of internalizing the bases of capital accumulation, state-owned companies in the capital goods industry contribute to the security of the State apparatus, enabling independence in the production of weapons and fuel supply, and, therefore, complete the bases capital accumulation in the country. Thus, the self-sustainability of the capitalist economy requires not only internalizing the heavy production industry (steel, oil, electricity), but also reserving the core of this sector for capital of national origin, for the benefit of the Brazilian economy as a whole, i.e. , of all bourgeois fractions (industrial, commercial, banking).

Perhaps one reason for this absence of the argumentative nexus on the bourgeois character of the military's economic nationalism resides in the fact that the author tends to identify bourgeois nationalism only with the structural values ​​of the historical type of State: egalitarian law and meritocratic bureaucratism. In other words, the nationalist military would be committed to the general political interest – preservation of the bourgeois State, reproduction of salaried work – of the bourgeoisie, but would not necessarily be guided by the economic interests of this owning class. Now, such structural norms impose that the State's policy converge, in one way or another, to the economic interests of the class that owns the means of social production. A first way is that in which the State's policy primarily covers the interests of the hegemonic fraction within the ruling class. In this case, the state bureaucracy may demand, for the benefit of political stability, the sacrifice of secondary interests of the hegemonic fraction, but never of its strategic interests. The second way of realizing the functional values ​​of the bourgeois State through its policies concerns the context in which such policies are not guided by the strategic project of any fraction of the capital class. In this other case, the State bureaucracy can oppose the strategic interests of each of the capitalist fractions, but without extrapolating the common or global economic interest to the capitalist class as a whole. This global interest of the ruling class is what enables coherence to the economic project of the bureaucracy in the State without hegemonic functioning and allows the analysis of military nationalism to be carried forward as a bourgeois nationalism – political and economic.

In any case, this consideration of the author's work does not diminish the quality of his scientific construction on the role of the military in the formation of capitalism in Brazil.

* Francisco Pereira de Farias is teacher of Department of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Piauí. Author of Bourgeois state and dominant classes in Brazil (1930-1964) (Editor CRV).



Guillaume Azevedo Marque de Saes. Military and development in Brazil: a comparative analysis of the economic projects of the republican officers at the end of the 2011th century, the tenentismo and the military leadership of the Estado Novo. 2011. Thesis (Doctorate in Economic History) – Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) of the University of São Paulo (USP), São Paulo, 8. [ 8137/08052012/tde-122314-XNUMX/pt-br.php)]

FORJAZ, MCS Lieutenants and Armed Forces in the 30s Revolution. Rio de Janeiro: University Forensics, 1989.

SAES, D. Middle class and political system in Brazil. São Paulo: TA Queiroz, 1984.

SODRÉ, NW tenentism. Porto Alegre: Open Market, 1985.


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