The coup, dictatorship and academic revisionism

Image: Burak Kebapci


The revisionist movement does not take place in a vacuum, but expresses fundamental political debates, especially which sectors would be the protagonists of the coup and which would be its victims.

This Monday, April 1st, marks sixty years since the coup that overthrew the João Goulart government in 1964. The process, led by the military leadership and supported by businesspeople and other social sectors, opened the doors to the dictatorship that persecuted and murdered critics and opponents until the 1980s. However, even though the actions of the coup plotters and dictators are quite evident and known by society, they have always generated controversies and interpretations, which go far beyond the mere contentless denialism of Jair Bolsonaro and his followers. On the contrary, even in the academic environment, these interpretations even affect the work of historians.

This revisionist movement does not take place in a vacuum, but expresses fundamental political debates, especially which sectors would be the protagonists of the coup and which would be its victims. In particular, there are those interpretations that blame the left and, consequently, the workers' mobilizations for the coup, after all, it would be these mobilizations that would have forced the action of the bourgeoisie and imperialism.

Expressing this interpretation, Angela de Castro Gomes and Jorge Ferreira stated that President João Goulart “[…] had allied himself with Brizola, Arraes, Prestes and the more radical union movement to form an exclusive government of the left. The presidential option allowed groups opposing the government – ​​even the most moderate and legalistic ones –, whether civilian or military, to begin to suspect Jango's true intentions. Fearful and suspicious, this opposition gave in to the appeals of the coup right, which reduced the political costs of a break with democratic rules.”[I]

According to the two historians, João Goulart would have managed, “[…] for different reasons, among which the communist threat is the highlight, that military and civil sectors, whether those who were already conspiring or those who were not, took a stand radically against the president.”[ii]

However, the president's actions that would have caused so much fear would be the convening of a Constituent Assembly, depending on the consent of the National Congress, and the threats of agrarian reform “by force”, through the payment of compensation. Therefore, there was nothing dangerously revolutionary in these measures, but reforms that took place within the bourgeois capitalist order. On the contrary, it is observed that conspirators from previous decades sought to foment fear in the middle classes and, from there, gain support for a coup.

Another important historian, although more careful in his analysis, also ends up slipping into the interpretation of blaming the left. Carlos Fico, although he sees in the Family Marches, with God for Freedom “a component of manipulation and evident anti-communist propaganda and contrary to Goulart”, points out that the movement “expressed an authentic feeling of dissatisfaction among the middle class”.[iii] The historian recognizes the fact that the “basic reform proposals were not radical, especially the agrarian reform”, stating that they were “imprecise and modest”. However, even if he admits this, he points out that it would be necessary to “recognize that João Goulart was not skillful in defending them”.[iv]

Therefore, here again we see an example of considering João Goulart's individual subjectivity as a determining factor for the coup. In this interpretation, the most important factor would not have been anti-communist propaganda, mobilizing the middle classes with threats of attacks on individual property, such as their own houses and apartments, nor the fact that the bourgeoisie and imperialism see basic reforms as negative and therefore This organizes part of society to combat them. In the interpretation expressed by Carlos Fico, these objective elements of reality seem to be determining factors rather than the president's lack of ability.

Daniel Aarão Reis, who was a member of an armed struggle organization during the dictatorship, entered this debate building a different argument, although also assuming a revisionist stance. This historian seeks to construct the interpretation that the coup would not have been a phenomenon external to society, but expressed political and cultural elements inherent to the process, thus justifying his interpretation that movements financed by the bourgeoisie and supported by imperialism, such as the reactionary Marcha da Family, would be “broad social movements”.[v] Although trained in Marxism, the historian leaves aside in his analysis any perspective that the class struggle and the need to maintain institutional order on the part of the bourgeoisie may have been related to the support for this supposed “broad mass movement”.[vi]

The historian also endorses the interpretation of his colleagues, stating that, since the campaign for João Goulart's inauguration as president, the “reform party movements and leaders” had “evolved, progressively, towards an offensive line in which the resort to revolutionary violence.”[vii] For Aarão Reis, the president had decided to “go on the offensive”, willing “to lead a set of large rallies to increase pressure for reforms”.[viii]

As highlighted before, this “offensive” by João Goulart and his supporters was nothing more than the call for a constituent, that is, the review of the bourgeois legal apparatus by the bourgeois institutions themselves. Part of these “radical” actions by João Goulart was “ratifying the legislation on the regulation of profit remittances, already approved in Congress” and “establishing the monopoly on oil imports”.[ix] Certainly such “radical” measures left capitalism’s days numbered…

Incorporating revisionist elements into his analysis, Daniel Aarão Reis openly criticizes the left, as during the transition from the dictatorship, according to his interpretation, it assumed a democratic discourse and began to deny the revolutionary perspective it supposedly had in the past. In this process, as Daniel Aarão Reis ironically states, “Brazilian society was able to repudiate the dictatorship, reincorporating its left margin and taking comfort in the idea that its options for democracy had deep and authentic historical roots”.[X]

Not even academic Marxism has escaped this form of revisionism. Philosopher Leandro Konder stated that “coupism, ingrained in the customs and political culture of Brazilian society, also manifested itself on the left”.[xi] Agreeing with conservative revisionism, Leandro Konder concludes that “the reaction against the coup on the left resulted in the coup on the right”.[xii]

These interpretations turn out to be completely false, after all, the defense of bourgeois democracy was majority on the left in 1964. With rare exceptions, almost all organizations defended variants of the so-called “revolution in stages”, betting on the maintenance of the capitalist order. The PCB, before the coup, stated: “The Brazilian people can peacefully resolve their basic problems with the gradual but incessant accumulation of profound and consequential reforms in the economic structure and political institutions, reaching the complete realization of radical transformations. placed on the agenda for the economic and social development of the nation”.[xiii]

As a consequence of this assessment, the party defended, a few years before the coup, the “fight for positive and immediate solutions to the people's problems and the fight for the formation of a nationalist and democratic government”.[xiv] A few days before the coup, in March 1964, the party still defended “the unity of all patriots and democrats, the unification of all forces interested in Brazil's progress”.[xv]

Therefore, it is not possible to state in any way that the PCB had, before the coup, any prospect of subverting the capitalist order. On the contrary, their perspectives were not focused on breaking with capitalism. Even after the coup, the elements of the party's policy did not change, continuing to defend, during the dictatorship, the perspective of transformations within the capitalist order: “The national bourgeoisie participates in the anti-dictatorial front, although its opposition to the regime is limited. Other sectors of the ruling classes, whose interests are built by the policy of the dictatorial government, can participate in actions against the regime and be useful in activating and strengthening the anti-dictatorial front”.[xvi]

Even among organizations defending armed struggle, the strategic perspective was no different. Among others, Marighela, even after leaving the PCB, defended the strategy of unity with the bourgeoisie, defending, in 1966, “[…] the need for our alliance with the national bourgeoisie, taking into account not only everything that gave us brings us closer, when it comes to common objectives in the defense of national interests, but also everything that separates us from it in terms of class, tactics, methods, ideology and program”.[xvii]

In June of the same year, the PCdoB, which shortly afterwards organized the Guerrilha do Araguaia, stated from the same perspective of collaboration with the bourgeoisie: “The need to organize the broadest patriotic union which, under the motto of independence, progress and freedom, can unite popular forces and democratic currents into an impetuous national movement.”[xviii]

Therefore, even if they spoke of revolution or socialism, the struggle of the PCB and the organizations originating from that party necessarily involved developing capitalism and institutions and, perhaps, only in a future society, reaching socialism.

On the other hand, for generic pacifism, which provides the basis for the theoretical perspective of revisionist historians, for whom any form of violence would be “coup” or “revolutionary”, the use of the method of armed struggle would be something “radical”. However, any analysis of the documents of most armed struggle organizations shows that, by isolating themselves from the action of the organized working masses, these groups showed themselves to be powerless in the face of the dictatorship. Furthermore, his program was also a variant of the “revolution in stages”.

For a proper analysis, it is worth placing the 1964 coup in its context. In the period prior to the coup, there was a clash between bourgeois sectors around different perspectives regarding the relationship with imperialism. João Goulart and his party, the PTB, despite all their ambiguities and the political limits of labor and its allies, such as the communists, defended the perspective of autonomous capitalist development in relation to imperialism. Other segments, in turn, placed on the horizon the prospect of deepening the relationship with imperialism.

This tension did not only occur in the spheres of institutional disputes, but also within society. On the one hand, sectors of the bourgeoisie were concerned about the possibility of nationalization of their companies or even the application of policies that could create obstacles in their relationship with foreign commercial and financial partners. On the other hand, workers saw in the limited reforms proposed by the government – ​​urban, banking, university, among others – the possibility of improving their living conditions.

Therefore, in addition to the differences in interests between segments of the bourgeoisie, the class struggle was expressed explicitly, with episodes of open confrontation, such as the 1962 general strike or, indirectly, the Legality Campaign in defense of the possession of João Goulart, in 1961.

Therefore, unlike previous decades, in which Getúlio Vargas managed to play a Bonapartist role, placing himself above the classes, João Goulart was unable to do so. The military, with the 1964 coup, assumed this Bonapartist role, seeking to end the polarization process, that is, to crush workers' mobilizations towards the implementation of the bourgeoisie's project.

Persecuting and dismantling left-wing organizations, the military, representing the interests of the bourgeoisie more in tune with imperialism, carried out a project to structure the State, including applying distorted versions of basic reforms, such as the changes to the CLT in 1966 and the university reform in 1968. These measures, at the same time as they deepened the industrialization and urbanization process in Brazil, were responsible for the expansion of inequalities and income concentration and for the even more profound linkage of the native bourgeoisie to the interests of imperialism .

Revisionist interpretations, when seeking to attribute to the left a revolutionary role that it mostly did not have in the context of the coup and even the dictatorship, ignore the fact that there was a process prior to the coup of the bourgeoisie trying to block the achievement of workers' rights as much as possible. or to guarantee the advancement of their mobilizations. In this case, the CLT itself, by controlling the unions, was a central player in the attempt to control the actions of workers' organizations. Another aspect was the fact that the PCB, the main workers' organization during the period, was illegal. Furthermore, it is worth highlighting the coups or attempted coups that occurred in previous periods, such as the tensions surrounding the 1956 election.

Therefore, what we have as a fact is that there were attempts to block the actions of workers and their organizations, in order to maintain social and political stability in previous decades. In this process, the working class, which consolidated itself as a class, could not claim more than the crumbs that the ongoing industrialization guaranteed as rights.

Therefore, upon seeing organized and mobilized workers or even organizations returning to an outline of public life, the bourgeoisie felt cornered and brought the specter of anti-communism into the rhetoric of political disputes. However, no subversion of the order was on the left's horizon, but economic development and the expansion of rights within the capitalist order.

In that context, if these directions that stopped the mobilizations were overcome by the masses themselves, a revolutionary situation could open up, which would put the bourgeois order at risk, but, despite the actions of the workers, their directions did not go beyond the program of “ basic reforms”. This element shows that, despite having overthrown João Goulart, ultimately, the coup was waged against the workers and their mobilization potential, if the reformist leaderships were unable to control the ongoing mobilizations.

In their correct analysis, the Trotskyists stated, even during the dictatorship: “The bourgeoisie, terrified of the mass movement, which became radicalized before 1964, escaping from the hands of the peasants, managed to unite its forces to promote the coup against João Goulart. which was ultimately directed against the masses.”[xx] In this sense, consistent with facts and without distorting the positions defended by the left in the context of 1964, it can be stated: “In the view of the protagonists of the coup, the growing political mobilization and the advancement of the ideological consciousness of the popular sectors and workers, which was accentuated in the situation, could imply the questioning of the political system and the economic and social order which, strictly speaking, should remain under the strict control and domination of the possessing and propertied classes”.[xx]

This makes it clear who was responsible for the coup and what the role of the main left-wing organizations was. Revisionist interpretations, which end up gaining great influence in academic historiography, and which hide the Bonapartist role of the military, do not allow us to understand the permanence of the elements of repression that still persist in the constitutional order built in the new Republic.

Furthermore, they point to a narrative in defense of democracy, which would have been attacked by both the military and the left, which leads us to believe that democratic saviors among civilians and the military would have played a role in the return of democracy. This is the narrative that guarantees the maintenance of the capitalist order and the defense of bourgeois institutions in the present.

*Michel Goulart da Silva He holds a PhD in history from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) and a technical-administrative degree from the Federal Institute of Santa Catarina (IFC).


[I] Jorge Ferreira & Angela de Castro Gomes. 1964. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2014, p. 240.

[ii] Jorge Ferreira & Angela de Castro Gomes. 1964. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2014, p. 243.

[iii] Carlos Fico. The 1964 coup. Rio de Janeiro: FGV, 2014, p. 64.

[iv] Carlos Fico. The 1964 coup. Rio de Janeiro: FGV, 2014, p. 67.

[v] Daniel Aaron Reis. Dictatorship and democracy in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2014, p. 7.

[vi] Daniel Aarão Reis. Dictatorship and democracy in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2014, p. 135.

[vii] Daniel Aarão Reis. Military dictatorship, leftists and societies. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2000, p. 28-29.

[viii] Daniel Aarão Reis. Military dictatorship, leftists and societies. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2000, p. 30.

[ix] Daniel Aarão Reis. Dictatorship and democracy in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2014, p. 39-40.

[X] Daniel Aarão Reis. Military dictatorship, leftists and societies. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2000, p. 9.

[xi] Leandro Konder. Cow in uniform. Margem Esquerda, nº 3, May 2004, p. 49.

[xii] Leandro Konder. Cow in uniform. Margem Esquerda, nº 3, May 2004, p. 50.

[xiii] Declaration on PCB policy (March 1958). In: Edgard Carone (org.). The PCB (1943-1964). São Paulo: DIFEL, 1982, vol. 2, p 192.

[xiv] Political resolution of the communists (December 1962). In: Edgard Carone (org.). The PCB (1943-1964). São Paulo: DIFEL, 1982, vol. 2, p. 254.

[xv] For a government that carries out basic reforms (06.03.1964/1943/1964). In: Edgard Carone (org.). The PCB (1982-2). São Paulo: DIFEL, 266, vol. XNUMX, p. XNUMX.

[xvi] VI Congress of the PCB (December 1967). In: Edgard Carone (org.). The PCB (1964-1982). São Paulo: DIFEL, 1982, vol. 3, p. 73.

[xvii] Carlos Marighella. The Brazilian crisis. In: Paths of the Brazilian revolution. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2019, p. 239-40.

[xviii] PCdoB. Union of Brazilians to free the country from the crisis, dictatorship and neocolonialist threat. In: Daniel Aarão Reis Filho; Jair Ferreira de Sá (Org.). Images of the revolution. 2nd ed. São Paulo: Expressão Popular, 2006, p. 84.

[xx] May 1st Communist Organization. Some considerations on the formation of the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat. In: Daniel Aarão Reis Filho; Jair Ferreira de Sá (Orgs.). Images of the revolution. 2nd ed. São Paulo: Expressão Popular, 2006, p. 392.

[xx] Caio Navarro of Toledo. 1964: coup and democracy. Marxist Criticism, nº 19, October 2004, p. 42.

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles




Random list of 160 from over 1.900 authors.
Vanderlei Tenorio Henry Burnett Armando Boito Bento Prado Jr. Igor Felipe Santos Sergio Amadeu da Silveira Ladislau Dowbor Samuel Kilsztajn José Geraldo Couto Daniel Costa Eliziário Andrade Heraldo Campos Lucas Fiaschetti Estevez Remy Jose Fontana Erico Andrade Marcelo Modolo Lorenzo Stained Glass Matheus Silveira de Souza Luiz Roberto Alves Alexandre de Oliveira Torres Carrasco Mariarosaria Fabris Leonardo Boff Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira Rodrigo de Faria Francisco Pereira de Farias Dirceu Andre Marcio Neves Soares Joao Carlos Loebens Luiz Renato Martins Mark Silva Salem Nasser Fabio Konder Comparato Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza Marcus Ianoni Vladimir Safari Ricardo Antunes Ari Marcelo Solon Jose Luis Fiori Alexandre Aragão de Albuquerque Ricardo Abramovay Andrew Korybko Carla Teixeira Jose Raimundo Trinidad John Adolfo Hansen Tarsus-in-law Joao Sette Whitaker Ferreira Luis Fernando Vitagliano Luiz Marques Francisco Fernandes Ladeira Elias jabbour Paulo Martins Antonio Martins Antonio Sales Rios Neto Jorge Branco Edward Borges Marilena Chauí Jorge Luiz Souto Maior Alysson Leandro Mascaro Maria Rita Kehl Claudius Katz Jean-Pierre Chauvin Flavio R. Kothe Eugenio Trivinho Ricardo Musse Thomas Piketty Henri Acselrad Bruno Machado Ronald Leon Núñez Milton Pinheiro Celso Favaretto Airton Paschoa Francisco de Oliveira Barros Junior Anselm Jappe Andres del Rio Luiz Werneck Vianna Juarez Guimaraes Benicio Viero Schmidt Paulo Fernandes Silveira Flavio Aguiar Manuel Domingos Neto Rafael R. Ioris Luciano Nascimento Alexandre de Lima Castro Tranjan Bruno Fabricio Alcebino da Silva João Feres Junior Celso Frederick Daniel Brazil Liszt scallop Gabriel Cohn Julian Rodrigues Osvaldo Coggiola michael roberts Valerio Arcary Gilberto Lopes Tales Ab'Saber José Machado Moita Neto Eleonora Albano Luiz Bernardo Pericas Octavian Helene Gerson Almeida André Singer Denis de Moraes Mario Maestri Marilia Pacheco Fiorillo Jean Marc Von Der Weid Luiz Eduardo Soares Atilio A. Borón daniel afonso da silva Joao Paulo Ayub Fonseca Jose Costa Junior Dennis Oliveira Walnice Nogueira Galvão Annateresa Fabris Ricardo Fabbrini Chico Whitaker Valerio Arcary Leonardo Sacramento Ronald Rocha Katia Gerab Baggio Rubens Pinto Lyra Plínio de Arruda Sampaio Jr. Joao Lanari Bo pressure gauge Marcelo Guimaraes Lima Marjorie C. Marona Paulo Sergio Pinheiro Lincoln Secco Alexandre de Freitas Barbosa Joao Carlos Salles Sandra Bitencourt Leda Maria Paulani Slavoj Žižek José Micaelson Lacerda Morais Eleutério FS Prado Luis Felipe Miguel Bernardo Ricupero Carlos Tautz Antonino Infranca Fernão Pessoa Ramos Michael Lowy Leonardo Avritzer Paulo Capel Narvai Boaventura de Sousa Santos Vinicio Carrilho Martinez berenice bento Michel Goulart da Silva Marcos Aurélio da Silva Tadeu Valadares Gilberto Maringoni Afrânio Catani Eugenio Bucci Denilson Cordeiro Fernando Nogueira da Costa Renato Dagnino Priscila Figueiredo Everaldo de Oliveira Andrade Yuri Martins-Fontes Caio Bugiato Chico Alencar