The Brazilian Conch

Image: Elyeser Szturm


The people have no place in the political system

When we use the word “conchavo”, it seems that we are only referring to the bad meaning it can have. Thus, “conchavo” walks in the popular imagination as a collusion or a combination aimed at an evil purpose. We forget that “conchavo” can also designate a union, a combination for a correct objective. Thus, the Brazilian “conchavo” might not necessarily have been an evil for our history. On the contrary, we could have forged a nation, after the proclamation of the Republic, based on a meeting of interests that had prioritized mutual understanding, with the greater intent of an agreement between and within classes. Unfortunately, that's not what happened to us.

In fact, talking about Brazilian history is talking about collusion. Without wanting to propose a theory of our collusion - nor is there room now for such an attempt -, in any phase of our legacy as a people, throughout these five centuries, the collusion has always had an exploratory, predatory and destructive assertion in a region where sin it was abundance. There has never been a miscegenation between us beyond the bodies, most of the time forced, depending on the colors involved. Brazil, long before being Brazil, has always lived under the aegis of the (re)arrangement of forces between human groups that exploited themselves down to the lowest power chain, the slaves, who played the role of animals dilapidated by this understanding. pre-capitalist primitive.

Thus, to speak of “conchavo” in our territory is to speak of the negative agreement of our history. Really, Brazil was not forged by demigods like the Greeks or Nordics. Nor were we the fruit of the European messianic vision. We didn't even have strong leaders who challenged the empire, as happened in the Spanish part of South and Central America. The history of this country has had everything but heroes. It is true that there were martyrs, however, as the name implies, they were men/women sacrificed in the name of the honor of the crown and, later, in the name of the Republic. Whence we confirm the negativity of our national agreement.

The Brazilian “conchavo” has dark and hilarious episodes in its history, but never heroic. The tenebrous can be exemplified in the black bodies that rotted at the bottom of the sea, after countless shipwrecks of vessels loaded with human beings chained like animals, or on top of the earth, mown from so much work in monoculture crops. The hilarious ones can be remembered in droves: like the cowardice of D. João VI fleeing hastily from Napoleon with his court, or part of it, and all the gold he managed to bring in his ships. An even greater cowardice, considering that he didn't even stay to assess the real conditions of a possible battle. D. João VI would have seen a French troop in tatters arrive at the frontier of his country; or, more recently, the military coup carried out in fits and starts for the proclamation of the Republic, the result of a fight between two high-ranking soldiers, one of them being Marechal Deodoro da Fonseca himself, over a “girl”. It is evident that the Republic was not born just because of this dispute, far from it, but it is still funny to hear this “behind the scenes” news, as political commentators say today.

It's sad to think that we didn't have a Theseus or an Achilles, much less a Thor, a Simon Bolivar or José Martí. It is true that the history of Brazil has had countless people of value, heroes of small temporal importance. Men and women who gave their lives for others and, more recently, for a fairer country. How many did not succumb in the successive moments of greater confrontation between the wealthier classes and the vast majority of the population hardened by the eternal lack of minimum conditions for a sufficient life? But what would be enough life? We will never know. The founding myth of our history was not written in these terms. The founding myth of Brazil has always permeated the trio of words that are as strong as they are sad: blood, sweat and tears. Maybe that's why popular wisdom coined phrases like "the northeastern is strong" or "I'm Brazilian and I never give up". Because if I gave up, I would die.

In this way, the Brazilian negative “conchavo” must be understood as an insurmountable pillar of our society, but in the pejorative sense of the term: a “conchavismo”. Because here “everything grows”, as the scrivener Pero Vaz de Caminha said in his letter of discovery to the King of Portugal. Especially unions. Now, except for moments of greater confrontation between assailants from someone else's soil and the living population, what is our biggest pitched battle? Independence? The one at the creek with half a dozen soldiers that went down in history as the moment of the cry of “Independence or Death”? Hilarious isn't it? Perhaps the Paraguayan War? The one we defeated God knows how, stained by the atrocities committed to the already defenseless Guarani people? Did you notice the time lapse between the discovery and these moments? Three centuries of … nothing. No Spartacus-sized hero. We are not even sure that Zumbi dos Palmares was really a person or a group of survivors who entrenched themselves in an enclave that had been defended for decades.

The collusion of our history starts early on, with the legend of the character Caramuru: a shipwrecked man who survives with all that heavy clothing, swimming with only one arm, as the other was holding a gunpowder-based firearm, and who arrives at the beach with some natives welcoming him, so that he still has the strength to shoot and be called “man of fire”, our Caramuru taught in schools. It goes through centuries of animalistic exploitation of human beings, but who were portrayed out there as second-rate people or even non-people. It stiffens the Brazilian social fabric based on the lie of a war won with bravery (the Paraguayan War), which will provide the military class with a protagonism never achieved before. It brutalizes the idea of ​​a democratic nation with the civil-military coup of 1964; he returns to an apparent lull, chasing maharajahs and exchanging currency as one changes clothes; and, when it seems to have matured enough to have, finally, a sequence of governments aimed at improving internal well-being, our history takes a “hobby horse”, a “pirouette”, and goes back 50 years, at least, with a proto-fascist government.

With that clarified, we can say that a society built under the pillar of “conchavismo” cannot be transformed with impunity. This is not intended to appease social tensions, but to disqualify them. It does not seek to resolve economic conflicts, but to deepen them in the name of excessive profit. It does not promote justice between unequals, but it praises inequalities between people who should be equal. It does not offer freedom to those entangled in risky situations, but demands full fidelity to the system that imprisons them. It establishes fetishized exchange relationships not out of necessity, but out of the greater interest of easy gain. Brazilian “conchavismo” is a paradigm of violent survival.

In this way, it is necessary to keep in mind that our historical evolution has always been linked to the most selfish interests of the fortunate few, among so many exploited ones. The revolutionary struggle for a better life, always very bloody and painful, but which helps to put any society that insists on derailing the most needy on the rails, was nothing more than a handful of occasional revolts in this corner of the planet. Here, as perhaps elsewhere on earth, the purifying fire of civil war was far from over. Not that that's good in itself. The loss of human lives in moments like this has always momentarily barbarized social relations throughout history. However, this same story shows us that the human animal needed to be barbarized for short or long periods in order to value its own life. In this sense, the history of our collusion was not barbarized.

In fact, barbarism here only reigned for the weak and oppressed. Nothing more serious was imposed on those who feasted for centuries, except for a fight here, an ambush there, perhaps tiny moments of rebels fighting. The great battles that mature a nation were not fought here. Not because there weren't adequate conditions for it. On the contrary. The Brazil of yesteryear, like the current one, perpetuates phenomenal inequality, worthy of more accurate and detailed studies regarding its most invisible aspect: the “conchavo”. This permissive, disloyal and selective factor by nature was at the base of the relations of comradeship and generating power of each stage of the development of that country. There is nothing less unworthy than dying from working so hard to (about) live or, what is even worse, dying without having anything. So why do we look back and not see large and enduring popular movements for citizenship? Why even today, in the middle of the XNUMXst century, at the beginning of its third decade, can we not say that the Brazilian people can boast of having all their rights guaranteed?

It is true that the abolitionist movement was the closest to a great revolution, since the passage of political regimes never gave rise to major struggles. It is also correct to say that, even with the end of slavery, our society has always maintained a disqualified look at black and brown people, in addition to an attitude of permanent racial segregation through non-inclusive public policies, but only self-serving. These examples are facts that partly explain our peculiar regime of democratic “conchavo”, but do not justify our underdevelopment as a nation. In fact, to justify a country with such great potential, but which never got out of its lethargic backwardness in all spheres that make a sovereign country, a metaphor was created that translates our history well: Brazil in the process of development. From this metaphor to the current one, that of a country with late capitalism, there were many with different names. Brazilian “conchavismo” needs a pompous designation, and the peripheral country did not fit well.

The violent representative Republic of Brazil does not hesitate in its collusion. Even today, many of the parliamentarians who made up the parliamentary support base of PT governments and provided a sigh of relief to the most needy, given the exhaustion of survival options in previous decades, form the same parliamentary base that votes to destroy the meager rights won in the period between 2003 – 2015 (Lula Government and Dilma Government). It is not enough to have a regime of government that allows the perpetuation in power of those who possess the most. It is necessary that the governments endorsed by them, since the democratic vote is a myth, crawl against their interests. Thus, the 13 years of less “draconian” governments against the underprivileged was too much for the mob of eternal conquests. Now they are making the count of kindnesses go down the drain.

This is why Brazilian “conchavismo” is so similar to Necropolitical de Mbembe: this specificity of our politics is at the core of our emancipation, just as the Cameroonian writer rescues in his book Foucault’s concept of “biopower”, that is, “that domain of life over which power has established control ”. Now, hasn't this been exactly the trajectory of the Brazilian Republic? Before that. Since we were recognized as a sovereign nation, weren't we born under the prostration of an unpayable debt to the power of the time, England? Is it not correct to say that the country became unfeasible, deconstructed and developed under the aegis of chronic indebtedness, always on the false economic premise of an inflation of demand? But how could there be, my God, an inflation of demand in a country of miserable people, with small oases of wild capitalist prosperity (today called “rentier”)?

If for Mbembe “necropower”, in reference to the Gaza Strip, is “the dynamics of territorial fragmentation, the prohibited access to certain areas and the expansion of settlements”, all to prevent the movement of Palestinians in the fashion of the apartheid, what is conceptually different in our daily lives? In this sense, territorial fragmentation has been a constant throughout the Republic. Access to certain areas with greater purchasing power, some even public, such as beaches and shopping malls. The expansion of luxury settlements also occurs around the favelas, pushing them to even more distant regions. Hence we affirm that the main objective, albeit disguised, is to perpetuate Brazilian apartheid.

Therefore, the Brazilian “conchavismo” operates by the same logic of the shattering characteristic of the contemporary world, but with a peculiar synchrony, that is, the performance of the public power in all its scopes – municipal, state and federal – for the submission of the citizen/ã in the political sphere, and his seclusion only for the economic sphere. Here, he/she is welcome, as long as he/she is a solvent consumer, that is, always able to consume and pay his/her debts. In the other sphere, he must allow control and surveillance of his actions. It is no coincidence that the current Brazilian electoral system, with its dozens of parties and almost no loyalty among its peers, confuses more than it clarifies what is being discussed to improve the basic conditions of the population. Are we really discussing substantial and perennial changes to safeguard human dignity here in our country?

The conclusion, like everything that has been said here, points to a State without people, or rather, without popular participation in most of the major political events in that country. With the exception of some occasional commotions, such as the large rally at Central do Brasil, during João Goulart's government in 1964; the “Diretas Já” rally in 1984 in Candelária, perhaps the period of greatest popular participation since the abolitionist movements; or more recently the popular movements by the impeachments Collor de Mello and Dilma Rousseff, the truth is that the “agora” where political decisions were taken, often in the dead of night, was restricted to offices.

It is for this reason that I have long described our political regime as a sub-democracy. Not because democracy does not formally exist, with the majority of the population able to vote, but because it is subaltern to the interests of those who have the most. In the absence of a full democracy, the rights of Brazilian citizens (social, civil and political) are always in the spotlight with regard to the greater essence of this political regime: that of a people who command their own history .

In other words, it means that we have a citizenship fragmented by social classes, that is, those with greater purchasing power have “greater citizenship” and vice versa. In other words, Brazilian sub-democracy produces a sub-citizenship based on resistance to full social inclusion, which was present throughout the historical process of social inequality inherent in an extremely racist society, the result of the longest period of slavery that any modern society has experienced. Brazilian republican history is full of examples of political compromises that put a brake on popular initiatives for greater participation in the destiny of the nation.

To conclude, it is good to remember that CARVALHO (2016), when commenting on the initial period of our Republic (1889 – 1930), the so-called Old Republic, says: “Until 1930 there were no politically organized people nor consolidated national sentiment. Participation in national politics, including major events, was limited to small groups... The people had no place in the political system, whether in the Empire or the Republic. Brazil was still an abstract reality for him.”. Since then, have we changed that much?

* André Márcio Neves Soares is a doctoral student in Social Policies and Citizenship at the Catholic University of Salvador (UCSAL).



MBEMBE, Achilles. Necropolitics. São Paulo, Publisher n-1, 2018.

CARVALHO, José Murilo de. Citizenship in Brazil: The long road. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 2016.


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