The decade of June 2013

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Middle classes, ideology and street protests in the Brazilian crisis

The middle class debate also explains the Brazilian crisis that was crossed by the rise of street protests between 2013-2016. And, therefore, they are relevant to the balance of the decade of the demonstrations of June 2013.

There is also an intense reactionary-conservative process of ultraneoliberalism and neofascism that takes the middle classes beyond the ballot box: Michel Temer’s counter-reforms between 2016-2019, the far-right elections in 2018 and the government of Jair Bolsonaro between 2019-2023.

The contradictions of PT governments and their expressions of crisis make explicit and privilege a hypothesis for the Brazilian middle classes in general, scrutinized by Marxism. Not leaving aside the fundamental social classes and their trends in post-1990 capitalism, it is a difficult task to criticize the relationship between the character of street protests and the government.

Anti-corruption, anti-PTism and requests for impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff show a pattern in the ideo-political complexes of the middle classes, especially after the resurgence of the MBL (Movimento Brasil Livre) by the MRL (Movimento Renovação Liberal) in 2014 and the VPR (Vem Pra Rua) in 2015.


A Marxist hypothesis for the middle classes in the current Brazilian crisis

Critically defining the middle classes by income ranges sold in diplomatic salons, for a contemporary Marxist hypothesis they must be multiply determined and take complex and historical relationships to their foundation. Taking into account the imbrications and inequalities of the division of labor and the gain of autonomy in the face of the classic bipolar concept of social classes (CAVALCANTE, 2012).

In economic transformations and their ideological assimilation, ideology is important for the Brazilian middle classes in general (BOITO-JUNIOR, 2016). The ideological crisis in capitalism in general is established when the “productive forces” constantly develop while the “social relations of production and their manifestation and ideological justification” remain static (IASI, 1999).

But it is necessary to enter into the conceptual dispute about them, especially when there is the advancement of “post-capitalist” theories or the “new middle classes” (NERI, 2011). A scenario that reinforces the criticism of the excessive advance of “dematerialization” (ANTUNES, 2018). Therefore, for a major historical league critique of contemporary capitalism, class matters and retains a heterogeneous unit. It is important, in view of this, a cut with a critical perspective on the “deontologization of work” in capitalism (ANTUNES, 2018).

In view of this critical perspective, the middle classes are taken into account here, which are constituted by complex and historical determinations and relationships. Which involve higher wage earners (hence wage earners); overvalued intellectual work (technobureaucrats) and non-manual; anti-black racial inequality and white privilege; the accumulation of school and university titles; life in urban spaces with infrastructure; privileged access to the State (with influence and “indirect salary”) and to market consumption; the possession of bourgeois positions, powers and functions of administration of bourgeois property; and speculation in small financial activities. Class markers that, more than simple difference and identity, present longstanding historical contradictions and inequalities.

Having the urban as their main space of social reproduction (OLIVEIRA, 2003; 2013), they presented themselves with many of these specific characteristics in the street protests in the liberal-conservative turn from the 19th of June 2013. They wore green shirts -yellow and tore up any red signs, not only aestheticized by the spirit of mega-events in Brazil, but by a vulgar and anti-political patriotism (CAVALCANTE and ARIAS, 2019). In demonstrations for and against the impeachment of Dilma between 2013-2016(GALVÃO and TATAGIBA, 2019), between anti-corruption and the defense of civil service. In general against Michel Temer's ultra-neoliberal counter-reforms, which relatively affected the value, stability, formalization and autonomy of his positions, jobs and titles, but in favor of many neoconservative projects and against the parasitic, corrupt and populist State (SAES, 2001; CAVALCANTE and ARIAS, 2019). And they contributed to the far-right elections and their neo-fascist rise to Bolsonarism in 2018 in the figure of Jair Bolsonaro, the caricatured personification of the “average man” (CAVALCANTE and CHAGURI, 2019).

Prior to the Brazilian crisis that deteriorated economic and social indicators, but boosted and discontinued by it, street protests had already been happening since 2012. In the same way that they do not end with the impeachment by Dilma Rousseff in August 2016 (GALVÃO and TATAGIBA, 2019).

According to the database by Galvão and Tatagiba (2019), 2012 registered an increase of 140% compared to 2011, pointing to an increase in dissatisfaction with the notice of “adjustment” of bus fares since January 2013. presidential election, but, demonstrating right-wing funding and militancy in the street protests, the VPR still took about 2014 people just before the polls. After the decline, street protests are back with the campaign for impeachment of Dilma Rousseff from 2015, not reaching the 2013 mark again. The middle classes, in this regard, emerge more dominantly in the liberal-conservative turn in 2013 and do not leave the scene, suggesting a more focused study on these characteristics.

Prior to the deterioration of economic and social indicators, the policies of PT governments had been challenging the reproduction links of the middle classes and attacking their ideopolitical potential. If in the 1990s the middle classes supported the elections of Lula da Silva, a metallurgist and big industry, in the face of “organizational freeze-drying” and “business downsizing” with the crisis of national-developmental capitalism (ANTUNES, 2003; ALVES, et al) , from 2003 the middle classes relate to a transformed PT.

Since the “mensalão crisis” from 2005, the consequent emergence of “Enreta Brasil” in 2006 and the street protests of “Cansei” in 2007, Lava Jato was already being channeled in the promotion of anti-corruption by the middle classes. The members of the operation with their high salaries, status and overvalued intellectual work, have authority and are part of the state bureaucracy, such as Sergio Moro, who would become the “super minister of justice” in 2018 by President Jair Bolsonaro. But, above all, they are members trained in anti-PTism, not necessarily corresponding to the interests of the bourgeoisie, placing lavajatismo in the dispute for the middle classes (BOITO-JUNIOR, 2016; CAVALCANTE, 2018).

They are driven by ideopolitical complexes of anti-corruption, meritocracy and the overvaluation of non-manual work during Dilma Rousseff's government (CAVALCANTE, et al). It is not just about the middle classes that are against the PT's national-developmentalist measures, exposing their historical anti-egalitarian characteristics regarding the benefits to the proletariat, but also the middle classes that are against the neoliberal measures, exposing their need to defend civil service — left and right. See, it goes far beyond their political ridicule represented in the opportunism of groups such as “Revoltados Online”, which emerged from June 2013

One of the issues found in your study in general is to what extent do the middle classes react against policies (in this case, PT) to reduce inequalities, demonstrating their distance from the proletariat and their class autonomy in the face of “declassification”? Would the fear of proletarianization, both the “rise” of the proletariat and the “descent” to the proletariat, as well as, likewise, the ambition to “rise to the bourgeoisie” (CARDOSO, 2020), make them potentially reactionary-conservative? And more, do they allow the bourgeois neo-fascist advance? (POULANTZAS, 2019; BOITO-JUNIOR, 2019).


Nature and contradictions of PT governments

In current capitalism, the relationship between the middle classes and the Brazilian crisis and PT policies cannot be explained without bringing the continuum post-1990 neoliberalism, which forces PT governments to develop unique strategies and tactical measures.

After losing three consecutive elections, the PT finds itself facing the crisis of the neoliberal model and signs the “Letter to the People” in 2002, giving rise in Brazil to the political debate between social democracy and post-1989 European social liberalism. In the Southern Cone, Collor and FHC between 1990 and 2002 left in the mainstream economy a decade of neoliberal discourses and financial hegemony from State reforms, a new right in social private apparatuses and the deregulation of work that is difficult to contour – and full of pitfalls. The myth of the “Real plan” was forged as one of its greatest achievements – following the Euro model. But the neoliberalism led by the political alliance in Brazil between PSDB-PFL enters into crisis, giving way to the rescue of other projects by the PT (ALVES, et al).

However, the nature of PT governments is still in dispute, which enters into and goes beyond dilemmas. Not without discontinuities, there are theses that their governments between 2003-2016 are essentially neoliberal, having as a myth the evaluation of the “middle position” typical of the vision of “class harmony” since Getúlio Vargas in the Brazilian particularity. So that his hybridism between neoliberalism and neodevelopmentalism has in synthesis the overdetermination of the prescriptions of the Washington Consensus, which signals that “post-neoliberalism” is not anti-capitalist (ALVES, et al). Even with their gains, they end up draining a large part of their organization into the floating exchange rate, the primary surplus on top of worker protection policies and the manipulation of interest rates to pay the “public debt” (ALVES, et al).

This developmentalism constitutes a triple framework of state incentive programs for the monopolization of the economy, especially with public banks; public investment programs in infrastructure; and state income transfer programs aimed at valuing the domestic consumer market. It bets especially on the vicious circle of consumption by the poor, who end up not having “long-term planning” within the limits of capitalism (ALVES, et al).

In this regard, the contradictions of the PT governments between 2003-2016 intensify in the Dilma Rousseff governments from 2011 onwards, which followed the end of the rise in the prices of commodities that favored Brazil, contradictorily after the peak of economic growth (7,5%) in 2010. There is a sharp drop in profitability due to the long effects of income redistribution in favor of work, the “developmental test” and the attempt to reduce the interest rate by public banks against the effects of the crisis, leading to multiple attacks against the PT (MARQUETTI, HOFF and MIEBACH, 2016). Here, for example, the thesis of aggregate demand that would produce the “new middle class” is weakened.

But there are inflections in theses of this type. The characteristics of “weak reformism”, with a conservative and little mobilizing pact in alliance with the strategic and physiological disposition of organized sectors of the great “internal bourgeoisie” around the context of the PT government can show that FHC and Lula present great ruptures. It is not a mere neoliberal continuation of agribusiness with financial rent. President Lula da Silva sees development under a “liberal-developmentalist” model and of “moderate and unstable dynamics” (SINGER, 2012; BOITO-JUNIOR, 2018).

Within this debate, the idea of ​​incompatibility between the “core of neoliberal policies” and “developmentalist measures” is weakened, in the false antagonism between “State” and “market” that would make this hybridism difficult (MORAIS and SAAD-FILHO, 2011). There is especially the strategy of complementarity between the two complexes, with international competitiveness incorporating technical progress combined with social equity (MORAIS and SAAD-FILHO, 2011).

It is possible to say that the decade of “political conciliation” would strengthen the advance of the extreme right and its neo-fascist rise to the detriment of the retreat of the traditional right. It would give rise to reactionary middle classes in alliance with an “anti-developmentalist bourgeois front” and political polarization around the PT x anti-PT axis (GALVÃO and TATAGIBA, 2019), signaled by the 27 percentage point drop in IBOPE after the demonstrations of June 2013.

It is also about the logical consequences of the “centrão” accumulated since 1993, after the impeachment of Collor, as a requirement of “governance” and “parliamentary shielding”. It would foment the traditional media with endless agendas of political puppets and the vicious circle of benefiting the upper political class in the judiciary, legislature and executive. It provokes the contradictions of “weak reformism”, which does not deeply attack structural inequalities and leads to pressure from social movements for anti-capitalist radicalism.

However, disputing this debate, theses arise that the PT governments between 2003-2016 are not limited to this neoliberal continuity, but in a “transformism”, criticizing the “non-contemporary” of socialism. The PT governments present a historical cycle, the cycle of the “Democratic and Popular Strategy” later “National and Democratic Strategy” carried out by the PCB in the 2014th century. Therefore, this strategy in relation to PT governments is not exhausted and is not downgraded, but is closed, its internal contradictions already pointed out in its creation (MARTINS, PRADO, FIGUEIREDO and MOTTA, XNUMX). 

In rescuing the Brazilian revolution, it is understood the “correlation of forces” that can command the State from within to promote class co-options and anti-capitalist, anti-monopolist and anti-landlordism programs (MARTINS, PRADO, FIGUEIREDO and MOTTA, 2014). Democracy is highlighted as contradictory and the strategic use of its notion: it gathers popular forces, even if in the reformist tactic; but understands that it is bourgeois, has class hegemony and its Republic has class interests – the neutrality of institutions being a myth. In fact, it comprises the struggle within the institutions for the hegemony of the working classes in the expansion of democracy and in the notion of an “extended State”.

It does not fail to take into account the inventory of a long Brazilian contradiction of the overdetermination of a traditional agrarian structure and imperialism, on the one hand, and the vectors that point to the development of a national capitalism, on the other, to the strategy. For example, the indexation of agriculture to the fluctuation of international stock exchanges commodities favors exporting agribusiness and increases the cost of internal food supply, dependent on imports.

In this case, the contradiction between the policies for agribusiness and the international financial market (high subsidies and liberalization of legislation for deforestation and pesticides) supported by the middle classes, defenders of the unequal exchange rate, and the Bolsa Família to the proletariat, which is high in the price of food in the internal market and by family farming, consequently leveraged by the MST.


Middle classes, ideology and street protests in the Brazilian crisis

It is precisely throughout the debate on the nature and development of PT governments between 2003-2016 that a large part of the hypothesis arises that the middle classes took part in street protests between 2013-2016 because of their contradictions – which is not limited to a question of form of government.

University access policies increased competition among graduates in the market and in public tenders, which contradictorily enabled an increase in training and frustrated with the lack of formalization of jobs. Programs such as “Bolsa Família” have intensified the fight for the allocation of taxes from the “citizen who pays taxes”. Programs such as “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” distorted privileged access to the Public Fund by the middle classes in terms of infrastructure and the “dream of home ownership”. The approval of legislation for personal services in general affected social hierarchies and “indirect wages”, caricatured between “employers” and “maids”.

The appreciation of the minimum wage and the creation of credit access policies inserted the proletarian classes in spaces considered “as a matter of right” for the middle classes. There was an escalation in the consumer market, in universities and in the dispute for better jobs, explaining the “fear of social ascent and descent” when coexisting in supposed horizontality with the proletariat. The contradictory nature of access to consumption led to “rolezinhos” in malls, “entitled spaces” of the middle classes. It leveraged political identity and diversified the proletariat while demonstrating the limits of inclusion, as they were expelled from spaces by the middle classes (CAVALCANTE, et al; BOITO-JUNIOR, et al).

The anti-corruption ideology is strongly established in political projects, historically against Getúlio, against Jango, and even against JK and Collor, and contemporaneously against Lula and Dilma. It is a creation of the bourgeoisie itself, which maintains an ambivalent relationship: at the same time that it launches the ideology of anti-corruption as a strategy of class hegemony, it fears being radicalized against itself (BOITO-JUNIOR, 2016).

In the social complexes of manual and non-manual work, the middle classes defend an education outside the exploitative bourgeois scope and from an opposition with the manual worker. It uses the “prestige of intellectual work” for its economic and social superiority in relation to the proletariat. They are defenders of the “Myth of the Single School” (SAES, et al), which builds the myth of an education in which different classes coexist and independent of their objective conditions, but which only the most capable and gifted people ascend socially, permeated by the ideology of meritocracy. In this defense, everyone has access to equal education, but only a few stand out, win and are chosen. This often explains why they are in favor of public and free education and health systems (CAVALCANTE, 2015).

In this way, as they do not have the numbers to win the elections, as in the Dilma x Aécio elections, they contributed to trampling democratic processes against the proletariat. The Aécio-Cunha collusion and the “fiscal pedaling” were the perfect motto, especially because of the use of public banks to lower interest rates, by enabling the criminalization of social policies by an intervening State that borrows for the poor and for opening the race in Congress.

With the ultraneoliberal counter-reforms of the temerist vampire, devised in the “Bridge to the Future” (PMDB) shortly before the impeachment, the meritocratic and anti-corruption middle classes are represented by the “Expenditure Ceiling PEC” even in the face of all the flagrant contradiction with their bases of economic reproduction. The PEC contributes to the separation of the “State”, which spends a lot to corrupt the poor, with the “Market”, circumvented by the transgression of competition. Nor does it alter the State's obligation to pay its “debts” resulting from its use with the poor. 

Not only that, in the ideological universe of the middle classes, the PEC does not touch their small financial activities and protects their taxes from spending on the poor, “non-deserving”. For its “entrepreneurial subjectivity”, made possible by its autonomy in the flexible company, the labor counter-reform provides the illusion of “absence of labor expenses”, in addition to contributing against the strengthening of unions, which misuse their taxes and influence “neutral elections”.

But, the middle classes that are favored by a strong functionalism are frontally attacked by the PEC and also by the “Outsourcing Law”. The precariousness and paralysis of job creation in public services takes place, destabilizing their advantages in public tenders and universities and intensifying competition with the proletariat. The middle classes, along with the working class in general, form part of the street protests from May 17, 2016 onwards in “Fora, Temer” and demonstrate the tactic of “panelaços”.

The whole emergence of the anti-corruption ideology by the middle classes would be strongly reproduced against Michel Temer between 2016-2019, expressed with his arrest for lavajatismo. He was an interim president who was also unpopular among the middle classes, despite his efforts to get closer to the “Desocupa!” of the MBL against high school students in the neoconservative guidelines. The fight against high school students especially mobilizes the ideals of the “Myth of the Single School” of the middle classes around the “school without party” movement.

The MBL and the VPR, movements that represent ideological complexes of the middle classes together with the lavajatismo, even if relatively misaligned, would call street protests in December 2016. They claimed “10 measures” that did not demonstrate the generalized dissatisfaction facing the fearist counter-reforms. But, not randomly, selective and moralized anti-corruption still ends up being the dominant ideology, with the agenda of the “ten measures against corruption”, among other neoconservative projects.


Middle classes, neo-fascism and Jair Bolsonaro

Dilma Rousseff's “neo-developmentalist essay” deepened the drop in the rate of profit on earnings from work. Empowered from June 19, 2013, bourgeois conservative-reactionism gave way to Michel Temer's ultraneoliberalism and Jair Bolsonaro's neofascism and Bolsonarism.

Although Jair Bolsonaro was elected by several workers in 2018, the “hard core” of his supporters was mostly middle-class men, with five minimum wages and a higher education degree (CAVALCANTE, 2020). In this process, the question arises whether the middle classes are those that “hatch the egg of the fascist serpent” since the June 2013 demonstrations (CAVALCANTE, et al).

But, despite hatching the serpent's egg or not, the middle classes would be following a neo-fascist path called Bolsonarism. Bolsonaro mobilized his support among the middle classes and governed according to the interests of big capital. Fascism found support and space to grow with the middle classes in Brazil based on the capacity for mass movement by Bolsonarism, which understands that the only solution is systematic violence against the proletariat's attempt to occupy its spaces. His need to attack the democratic regime and the institutional rupture made Bolsonaro mobilize massively even in the pandemic (CAVALCANTE, 2020; 2021; BOITO-JUNIOR, et al).

Bolsonaro articulated “moral conservatism with a Christian religious base” and “delivery patriotism” for the electoral viability of a radical neoliberal economic program in 2018, in his motto “Brazil above all, God above all” (CAVALCANTE, 2020). It is syncretically symbolized by the nickname “myth”, a messianic, salvationist, anti-establishment and patriotic expression of a political culture of the “sigh of the oppressed”.

The representation and ideological manipulation of the “Partido Brasil”, as an indivisible totalitarian unit, aestheticized by the shirt of the green-yellow team, characterized in Bolsonarism the agenda of the “no party” and the anti-State against the class division created by the PT ( CAVALCANTE, 2020).

Jair Bolsonaro, unlike Lula, Dilma and Temer, would relatively circumvent the ideology of anti-corruption with anti-system speeches and the miniature reduction of the State to a familiar and private environment – ​​since he had no experience on the streets. The “middle man” against the system.

Meritocracy in Paulo Guedes and the morality of the Brazilian Army and Sergio Moro would act in many fronts. Before the Bolsonaro-Moro crisis, Bolsonaro channels anti-corruption with a “rational-legal veneer” of lavajatismo that also extended to prosecutor Deltan Dellagnol, against the politicization of the State, which must be apolitical and technical – that is, anti-political. Tactics through social networks and direct channels with his audience in the style of Steve Bannon, combined with attacks on the mainstream traditional media, would collaborate with his anti-establishment imaginary.

On the extreme right, the middle classes find speeches from a past of order and populist nationalism. They are ideologically referred to their past of stability, security and defense of property in the great Fordist company present in neoconservatism, which is responsible for the moral crisis and the State by popular advancement. In blaming the other, the extreme right uses the insecurity and resentment of the middle classes and projects its hatred on those who have ascended to a social and political place that was previously inaccessible to them.


Final considerations

As is being defended, the discussion is not about the middle classes of conjunctures or forms of government, such as the “new middle classes”. It is about the middle classes with a long history and who went to street protests particularly in the contradictions of the PT. They will defend their socio-historical reproduction bases, which remain strong and consistent in Lula da Silva's third government, such as anti-corruption, meritocracy, overvalued intellectual work, higher wages and urban regions with infrastructure.

In this third government, the PT contradictions involving the middle classes are still armed. Jair Bolsonaro and the neo-fascist Bolsonarism still managed to mobilize the white man, with more than 5 salaries and with higher education in the intensification of the 2022 elections.

*Glauber Franco is a Master's student in philosophy at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL).


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