The specter of dictatorship



Radical anti-PTism led us to the catacombs of the extinct military regime


In 2013, while Geraldo Alckmin and Fernando Haddad sang in Paris, Trem da onze by Adoniran Barbosa, what was, until then, the biggest popular movement in decades began in the streets of São Paulo and then radiated to Brazil (only smaller than the “Diretas Já” of 1984); hundreds of thousands of people put forward contradictory claims under the cover of general discontent, especially with the National Congress. In this eagerness for change, we would most likely find germs of a radical right and its complement, the anti-system, which would later take the form of anti-PTism.

In Rio de Janeiro, almost as a continuation of that movement, a small and fierce group camped in front of Governor Sérgio Cabral's apartment in Leblon. It was the beginning of the end of this government. A few months later and with eight months left to end his term, Cabral resigns, opening space for Pezão to take over the government and in October (surprisingly) be elected for another term.

In this election, in 2014, Bolsonaro was the most voted federal deputy in the state of Rio de Janeiro, with more than one hundred thousand votes ahead of the runner-up. The serpent's egg began to come out of the shell announcing its offspring.

On the eve of Christmas the following year (2015), still in Leblon, from where Cabral had been kicked out, this time it was left (who knew) to Chico Buarque. On the way out of a restaurant where he had dined with some friends, all of whom were in their septuagenarians, he was mobbed by a mob of young men from the upper middle class and beyond. In the episode, a radical and aggressive anti-PTism became visible that would later enter into symbiosis with several Bolsonarist currents.

In April of the following year, the Chamber of Deputies voted to impeach President Dilma. In this session, impressive for the amount of nonsense that was produced, Bolsonaro's vote stands out. As if he might not be able to remember the full name of the person he wanted to honor, his son Eduardo stayed close to his father, blowing, syllable by syllable, the name of the colonel of the Brazilian Army (so that we don't forget his origin) Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra . Recognized by so many as a torturer, but also judicially for a declaratory action, Ustra was handpicked to expose one of the darkest facets of the then federal deputy.

In the heat of the moment, this explanation of vote was understood as a provocation, so much to the taste of the declarant. But, in retrospect, it can be seen from a very different angle. As it was a session aimed at preventing the PT president, this vote could serve as a test to gauge how far anti-PTism would accept to go: who knows, even the catacombs of the extinct military regime. As the screeching that followed did not scare, Bolsonaro received a free pass for the 2018 election campaign. . But not only was he at the forefront, but he also promised to go further in his anti-PT crusade.

In the 2018 election, as everyone knows, Bolsonarism/anti-petism reached its peak.

In São Paulo, the largest electoral college, the vote for Bolsonaristas and anti-PT people counted in the millions. In Rio de Janeiro, an example that seems to be the most notable, the candidate for federal deputy with the most votes was Hélio Fernando Barbosa Lopes, a sub-lieutenant in the army reserve, who always appears behind Bolsonaro, a combination of security and pirate parrot. In 2004, he ran for councilor in Queimados, his hometown, and got 277 votes; he ran for the same position again in 2016, now in Nova Iguaçu, he managed to improve his performance by obtaining 480 votes. Just two years later, he ran for federal deputy and, with the support of Bolsonaro, made an extraordinary leap, obtaining 345.234 votes.

Undoubtedly a nice wash in the progressive currents. Some chiefs from the north and northeast also took part, especially from the MDB: Romero Jucá, Edison Lobão, Garibaldi Alves Filho, Eunício de Oliveira ran for the senate and were sent back home.


Upon leaving the first hearing in Curitiba, with his keen intuition, Lula realized the predicament he was involved in. Received by a crowd of sympathizers, he emphatically declared that what he really wanted “is to be judged by the people” and not by that type of justice, in this case represented by Lava Jato, which had just questioned him. “To be judged by the people”: a precise and synthetic statement of one of the most sensitive dimensions of populism. This does not only make an economy of the justice system, of the judiciary power, but, by extension, refers to the set of institutions that constitute the pillars and safeguards of the democratic regime, that is, what can be called the democratic State of law . This economy of institutions or, more emphatically, the work towards their suppression, is one of the crucial elements in understanding populism, a populist politics.

What for Lula, at that moment, was the manifestation of an intention that was not aimed at the gesture, words that dissolved in the air announcing an unrealizable desire, for the Bolsonaro government is almost a government project: a populism in action, in progress. It is enough to glance at his policy for education, for human rights, for his foreign policy oriented towards a critique, as ideological as it is phantasmatic, of a “cultural Marxism”.

A few months ago, when he was even more confident of his reelection, Trump said that if he murdered someone at random on the streets of New York, he wouldn't lose any of his voters. This is the aura of those who propose themselves as a myth to his followers. No matter what they do, they have the absolute loyalty of their constituents. A fidelity that shifts from the deeds to the person of the presumed myth.

Bolsonaro has been called a myth and has cultivated this disposition in at least part of his voters. Earlier, his wife was called “mita”; neologism that attacks our ear canals. I prefer to accompany the English actor Stephen Fry who, after interviewing Bolsonaro, says that “certain contemporary myths are nothing more than mere clay idols”. And he adds: with a certain destiny, which only an evil mind would call “the garbage of history”.


Since the beginning of his government, and even before, Bolsonaro has been under the mantle of his guru, the ideologue, Olavo de Carvalho. As a matter of fact, attributing the title of ideologue to this gentleman borders on exaggeration. In the past, not so far away, ideology was clearly distinguished from utopia. Today, differently, ideology must also be thought of as a system that bites into the future, that is, that contains within itself a future, a ballast of utopia. Criticism of the so-called “cultural Marxism”, the flagship of this ideology, at the very least, has the function of imprisoning thought and action in a destructive dimension: much more to dynamit the present and return to the past than to wave to the future – the future, paradoxically, like a radiant past, despite the sun not shining: the night of civilization.

The Bolsonaro government immediately attacks destructively on some main fronts. In education a Colombian, later replaced by a Weintraub who publicly confesses that he wanted to arrest the ministers of the Supreme; in human rights a lady Damares who at least perfectly knows how to distinguish the colors of the uniforms of boys and girls and in foreign relations Ernesto Araújo whose function is to produce a dwarfed alignment with the foreign policy of the Trump government and the corresponding ideologization of Itamaraty . And to think that in previous governments we had Paulo Renato and Fernando Haddad in education, in human rights José Gregori and Paulo Vanucchi, and in Itamaraty, just to mention one name, Antonio Patriota, remember? Where were we and where were we taken…

To secure this debacle the military are called, especially those of the Army; those with high boots in palatial positions very close to the president, the others populating ministries, where there is always a “little mouth”. The former still have the stoic ability to withstand the temper tantrums of such an ideologue. After all, what is a position worth... (I remember a fellow lieutenant who did his little bit of security guarding Paulo Maluf [offspring of the military dictatorship]; at some point dismissed by the mayor or governor, and without batting an eye, and with the little bit of balance that he had escaped the foam of anger that invaded him, sent him to hell, simply to hell: little mouth in the air). But general is of another upholstery, it has more tanned leather.

The military at the heart of the government still perform another function, certainly less noble: that of occupying the place of specter of dictatorship. Threatening with that specter has become a habit of the presidential clan. And no high-ranking general dared openly declare an aversion to the dictatorship, much less follow the well-known slogan “dictatorship never again”. At most, we hear voices that are beyond timid, only comparable to the self-criticism of the PT, which, so long awaited, died of old age. What should not be between the lines of this meeting of opposites?

But if on a bad day that specter came to take shape, who could guarantee that an ex-captain, almost expelled from the army, would be kept in the highest office of the republic? This is something unlikely that, even so, the presidential clan cultivates like a magical thought, like a dark and poorly guarded fantasy.

* Paulo Silveira is a psychoanalyst and retired professor in the sociology department at USP. Author, among other books, of On the side of history: a critical reading of Althusser's work (Police).









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