The Northeast against fascism

Image: Thiago Japyassu


The Northeast is an act of resistance. It was like this with Palmares, Canudos, Confederation of Ecuador, Caldeirão, among many other revolts and struggles

In the middle of the way there was a Northeast / there was a Northeast in the middle of the way / there was a Northeast / in the middle of the way there was a Northeast. To emphasize the size of the stone (Northeast) in the path of fascism in Brazil, nothing could be more appropriate than starting this article paraphrasing the immeasurable poet Drummond; which continues to exist while “Minas no more”.

The Northeast, the hinterland “the oldest, most extensive and most populated region of the colony” concentrated “the largest agricultural centers on the coast […] Bahia and Pernambuco”, as well as “the largest and most notable breeding zones”, as described by Caio Prado in the classic Formation of Contemporary Brazil. For Celso Furtado (2005) there was even the “formation of an economic system of high productivity and in rapid expansion in the coastal strip of the Brazilian Northeast”, accompanied by “a second economic system, dependent on the sugar economy”: constituted by extensive livestock. In fact, “observed from a broad perspective, the colonization of the 2005th century appears fundamentally linked to sugar activity” (FURTADO, 50, p. XNUMX).

As Francisco de Oliveira (1981) explains, even though the sugar “industry” contained within itself the germ of capitalism (whether due to the circular nature of the reproduction of capital, the complexity of its technical production base, the demand for investments, the inversion and re-inversion of capital and increased productivity), its development was not consolidated in the Northeast during the colonial period.


The meaning of colonization

Although in a very summarized way, it is opportune to observe the spatial conformation of the Northeast in its entirety from a set of internal historical mediations (national past) and external (stage lived by capitalism in world terms).

Regardless of the arrival of Europeans in the lands here, it is necessary to understand that in the territorial configuration of what would later become the Northeast, there was already an indigenous history. Dantas, Sampaio and Carvalho (1992, p. 432), in the chapter Indigenous peoples in northeastern Brazil: a historical sketch, from the book, History of the Indians in Brazil, from 1992, organized by Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, list, based on Nimuendaju (1981), about “[…] eighty different ethnonyms in the northeastern sertão area and in its transition zones to the 'forest zone' to the east – the agreste – and for the cerrados to the west – the cocais –, with a clear concentration in the sub-middle São Francisco valley – where the large number of meanders and islands considerably expands the extension of the arable floodplain – and, to a lesser extent, in the tops wetter of some mountain ranges, such as those that surround the current state of Ceará.” History interrupted by European colonization by introducing monoculture based on large estates, slave labor and the decimation of indigenous peoples; three marks under which the Northeast was erected as a particular social formation within the Brazilian territory.

The external historical mediations define another structural mark of the social formation of the Northeast synthesized in the sense of Brazilian colonization. This takes place in the period of primitive accumulation of European capital (2011th to 25th centuries) and within the framework of a colonial system commanded by the “world economy of European maritime states”, as the distinguished economic historian Eric Hobsbawm described it. According to him “[…] the 'advanced' world was linked to the dependent world by a certain division of economic activity: on the one hand, a relatively urbanized area, and on the other, zones producing and largely exporting agricultural products or raw materials” (HOBSBAWM, XNUMX, p. XNUMX). The latter characterize the “typical colonial economy” of Latin America, “because it is mercantile and slave-owning”, as analyzed by João Manuel Cardoso de Mello, in the classic late capitalism, or dualistic and dependent, according to Celso Furtado, in Theory and Policy of economic development.

We could not fail to mention the work on the meaning of colonization Formation of contemporary Brazil: colony, of Caio Prado, even because without knowing this meaning it becomes impossible to understand and analyze contemporary Brazil: “[...] as a whole, and seen from a world and international level, the colonization of the tropics takes on the aspect of a vast commercial enterprise, more complex than the old trading post, but always with the same character as it, destined to exploit the natural resources of a virgin territory for the benefit of European trade. This is the true meaning of tropical colonization, of which Brazil is one of the results; and he will explain the fundamental elements, both socially and economically, of the formation and historical evolution of the American tropics. If we go to the essence of our formation, we will see that in reality we were constituted to supply sugar, tobacco, some other genres; later gold and diamond; then cotton, then coffee, for the European trade. Nothing more than this. It is with this objective, an external objective, facing outside the country and without attention to considerations that were not the interest of that trade, that Brazilian society and economy will be organized. Everything will be arranged in that direction: the social structure, as well as the activities of the country. The white European will come to speculate, to make a deal; it will invest its funds and recruit the manpower it needs: indigenous people or imported blacks. With such elements, articulated in a purely productive, mercantile organization, the Brazilian colony will be constituted” (CAIO PRADO, 1961, p. 14).


The loss of attractiveness and the neglect of the Northeast

The dynamics of the sugar economy can be described based on the processes of income formation and capital accumulation (FURTADO, 2005), in a context more centered on rural properties than on urban agglomerations, which has important implications on the ability to articulate and integration of economic activities to engender the process of capitalist development. In this economy, the capital formation process is defined by a relatively large scale in which high profitability induced specialization and prevented the transfer of capital to other activities that could diversify the economy. The flow of income was established between the productive unit, considered as a whole, and abroad (high coefficient of imports).

Given the slave labor force, the market had tiny dimensions, which implied the inexistence of a monetary flow within the sugar economy and by derivation in livestock. In this sense, labor was not an element that in a qualitative (development of techniques), quantitative (consumer market) and cost (high costs reducing productivity) way could cause structural changes in the productive aspects (diversification), in social relations (social ascension) and in the social division of labor (new specializations) established.

The loss of the monopoly of sugar production by Brazil to the Antilles, in the middle of the XNUMXth century, not only determined the loss of attractiveness of European capital from the period of primitive accumulation, but, above all, meant a process of economic involution that would leave the region Northeast, largely, the margins of dominant capitalist accumulation, in world terms, until the mid-twentieth century, when concerns with the regional issue in Brazil arise.

The economic system of the Northeast was constituted in the wake of the atrophy of the sugar system, because instead of the stagnation of sugar production causing the emigration of the surplus free population to other regions, this was absorbed by livestock. However, without the stimulus of the sugar economy, the transfer of this population further lowered the productivity of the livestock economy and converted it into a subsistence economy. Given the abundance of land, there were great possibilities for livestock to receive new population contingents due to the food supply in this system being quite elastic. With no great need for capital and specialized labor, the expansion of livestock was the result of the vegetative increase in the animal population. In this process, there was an atrophy of the monetary economy, which had repercussions on the degree of specialization and on the system of division of labor.

In any case, what is interesting to retain from this analysis is that the Northeast region is activated again as a space of capitalist expansion only from the middle of the XNUMXth century, having the State policy as its main foundation.

Leonardo Guimarães brilliantly captures in his work Introduction to the economic formation of the Northeast this integration process. First in the form of commercial articulation and then in the form of productive integration. Despite being quite long, the quote below summarizes the terms of the problem: “The changes that the State underwent in its forms of action in the Northeast are located in a context of centralization of the state machine that was defined, mainly, from 1930 onwards. As previously noted, it is after the crisis of the 30s that the bourgeois and national State is defined and begins to mark a greater presence in economic activity and social life, through a large number of institutions and measures. However, what was also noted is that this significant presence of the State in national economic life, especially in regions where the industrialization process was consolidating – ('restricted' until 1955 and 'heavy' industry from that date) – corresponded to an almost absence of the State in the economic life of the Northeast, except in relation to the most significant export segments, and in the 'fight' against droughts. Even in the heavy industry phase, what the GTDN found was an almost omnipresent State in the Southeast, contrasting with a welfare State in the Northeast, which only outlined a more consistent role in regional economic life through CHESF and BNB. It is with the 'regionalization of large industry in Brazil', to use Maria Brandão's expression, that the Brazilian State establishes its presence in the Northeast and redefines its ways of acting. In fact, as noted earlier, the State anticipates the effective process of 'regionalization of large industry' by creating and offering private capital, at a critical moment for the national economy, a powerful set of incentives” (GUIMARÃES NETO, 1989 , p. 256).

However, it was from the Lula governments, already at the beginning of the 2011st century, more than belatedly, through a combination of social and economic policies and large infrastructure works, that the Northeast was finally revolutionized due to an economic and social transformation – and through it”, as Eric Hobsbawm (2003) would say. The incorporation of thousands of families from the Northeast to this bastard capitalism represented a new chapter in the economic history of this region. Between 2013 and 4,1, growth of 2001% per year was recorded, higher than the national average. Between 2012 and 21,4, the Northeast recorded the highest income gain among all regions and a reduction in poverty from 9,6 million to 2002 million Northeasterners. Between 2013 and 5, formal jobs increased from 9 million to almost XNUMX million workers in the region.

There was a significant drop in infant mortality and malnutrition rates, as well as an increase in literacy rates. Still in the educational field, a real revolution in higher education was registered with the creation of universities in the interior of the Northeast. In the span of just over a decade, from 413.709 university students in 2000 to 1.434.825 in 2012. The set of these transformations will imply an identification of the Northeast region with governments that are more to the left of the political spectrum in all presidential elections that have taken place since then.


Presidential elections between 2002 and 2022

After three attempts to be elected to the highest political office in the country, Lula was finally elected president, in 2002. Thus, he became the first president elected from a leftist party in Brazil and, more importantly, from the Northeast. To this end, it was necessary, in the interregnum, to build important political capital (government of states and municipalities), an adjustment in the discourse and political alliances (coalition with the Liberal Party and the choice of an important businessman as vice-president), as well as making credible that Lula and the PT at that moment represented the true opposition to the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC), in relation to the other candidates. Of course, a certain lack of treatment and sympathy from the current candidate, José Serra, also contributed in this sense.

In economic terms, the problems of unemployment and social inequalities became preponderant for that election. Economic stability was not enough, and the PT campaign knew very well how to take advantage of these themes in that electoral campaign, along with the weariness of a ruler in his second term and a negative evaluation at the time of that election; resulting from the devaluation of the real to face an external crisis and the lack of economic growth in that context (putting even more pressure on problems related to employment and income).

There was such widespread discontent with the FHC government that even more conservative and liberal regions such as the Southeast and South gave Lula victory in the 2002 presidential election. Graph 1 shows Lula's victory in all major regions, with the greatest difference in votes its favor in the Southeast and Northeast regions, respectively.

Source: own elaboration based on TSE statistics.

Unlike FHC's second government, Lula's first government ended with approval above 80%. In addition to maintaining economic stability, there was the promotion of economic growth, reduction of poverty and social inequality. The first largely stems from the “China effect” that promoted a wave of price hikes. commodities on a world level; with Brazil surfing this wave in style (average of 4,1% GDP growth during the years of the first Lula administration). The reduction of inequality and poverty was the result of a set of social policies on a scale hitherto unheard of in Brazil (Bolsa Família, Fome Zero, Primeiro Emprego ProUni, etc.), together with a policy of real increase in the minimum wage (the per capita income grew by an average of 2,8% per year).

The first Lula government, however, was not able to reconcile the two components that balance economic growth: effective demand and productive capacity. What would become to some extent established in his second government through the Growth Acceleration Program - PAC, by Minha Casa, Minha Vida, among other economic policy measures, already at the end of the second government.

Despite the Mensalão scandal, in 2005, Lula was re-elected as president of Brazil in the 2006 presidential election. As we can see in Graph 2, Lula lost to Alckmin only in the South region. However, it is worth highlighting a reduction in the difference of votes in favor of Lula in relation to the Southeast, between the 2002 and 2006 elections. The result of the 2006 election also shows a significant increase in the difference of votes in favor of Lula in the Northeast region. In 2002, this difference was 5,7 percentage points, while in 2006 it increased to 14,4 percentage points.

There is no doubt that this result was due to the success of social policies that had as one of the main beneficiaries the large population in a state of economic and social vulnerability in that region. From the first Lula government onwards, countless families from the Northeast and other poor places in Brazil were able to begin to regularly access markets and to be part, to some extent, of the daily life of Brazilian bastard capitalism. It seems little, but it represented a true inclusive revolution opening the Northeast as an important market in the face of the process of capital accumulation at the national level.

Source: own elaboration based on TSE statistics

In Lula's second term, economic growth continued under the “China effect” and maintained an average of 4,6% per year. It is important to emphasize the search for recovery of the State's role in long-term planning, in what became known in the economic literature as new developmentalism. However, it is not part of this article to undertake a critical analysis of such current. It is important to point out that political measures to raise the minimum wage, expand credit, and reduce taxes were effective in reducing the impacts of the great crisis of 2008.

With regard specifically to the Northeast, we have a set of programs that have continued to revolutionize the region. The Light for All Program, the Water for All Program, the project to transpose the São Francisco, the transfer of higher education to the interior and the implementation of doctoral and master's courses, etc. Programs and actions that together with social policies represented the greatest social inclusion, greatest reduction in poverty and social promotion (growth of the middle class) ever carried out in this region in the history of Brazil.

Lula ended his second term with high popularity; 84% of respondents thought the country was doing better. So that even without Lula's charisma, Dilma managed to promote her candidacy and become the first woman president of Brazil. However, the margin of slack leftist governments began to narrow more and more. The advance of agribusiness in the Center-West changes the correlation of power between the center-right and the left, starting with the 2010 election. The PT's margins of advantage, in relation to the previous election, narrow in all regions, including the Northeast , as can be seen in Graph 3.

Source: own elaboration based on TSE statistics.

The growth of the middle class in the Northeast region from 28% to 45% between 2002 and 2012 generated an important phenomenon that needs to be studied and quantified. It is about establishing a conservative ideology of the winners in relation to the rest of the population. A classic case of underdevelopment development, as Furtado would say, or conservative modernization, as Chico de Oliveira would say.

Although the “new economic matrix” of the first Dilma government has been identified as one of the causes of the 2014 crisis, it also allowed for the continuity of the policies, plans and projects of the PT governments. PAC 2 did not achieve the expected results and external conditions favorable to the growth of the Brazilian economy had significantly reduced. As a result, in 2014, there was practically no GDP growth, 0,1%.

Even in the face of the 2013 demonstrations, the “petrolão” and an international crisis, Dilma Rousseff still won her second term; that would not end on the pretext of a coup carried out through institutional channels, two years after her election. By that time, a set of structural transformations in the Northeast had already been consolidated. So that the erosion of PT governments in other regions was not reflected in the Northeast with the same intensity. It is evident, in Graph 4, that since the presidential election of 2014, we have a Brazil that walks with leftist governments (North and, mainly, the Northeast), and a Brazil capable of instituting a coup d'état, the criminalization of the PT and Lula and the affirmation of neoliberal policies. To this end, the criminal political appropriation, as of 2014, of the largest anti-corruption operation in the history of Brazil was of fundamental importance.

Source: own elaboration based on TSE statistics.

The orthodoxy of the economic policy of Joaquim Levy, finance minister chosen for the second Dilma government, contributed to a great extent to the economic crisis that had taken hold in that government. Cutting social spending, reducing public bank credit, auctioning state properties and raising interest rates and taxes to bring the budget back to a primary surplus situation. On the one hand, it was a crisis inscribed in the context of a capitalist economic crisis in global terms. On the other hand, a crisis that reveals the degree reached by the class struggle at the inter-regional level, around the distribution of the product and the private appropriation of the State for the purposes of capital.

The political guidelines of a colonial-slavery-authoritarian country resurfaced with overwhelming force by neoliberalism, consolidated, after the 2016 coup, in the 2018 presidential election, from which a neo-fascist model of command of the economy was born with the support of the national bourgeoisie , politics and society. The Northeast region was the only one to say no to such a bizarre adventure, as shown in graph 5.

Source: own elaboration based on TSE statistics.

The Bolsonaro government represented a setback in the Brazilian civilizing process. It is not our purpose to carry out an analysis of such a government. But there is no doubt that Jair Bolsonaro's Brazil represented a laboratory for a new type of peripheral capitalism, facing a new frontier of capitalist expansion constituted by the Brazilian Amazon region (a new version of the primitive accumulation of capital in the XNUMXst century). .

The interruption of neoliberal-fascism, due to the 2022 elections, does not imply that such a political project was buried. Practically half of the Brazilian electorate voted for such a project, in addition to electing several representatives in various political positions (legislative and executive) and at all levels of government.

As we can see in Graph 6, the Northeast region was largely responsible for the interruption of the neoliberal-fascist project in Brazil. The third Lula government will represent a chance to resume the Brazilian civilizing process; of rather short periods in the course of our long history (1930-1964; 1985-2016; 2022-). However, in the face of the structural crisis of capitalism, worldwide, the new world imperialist race and the advance of capital over the Brazilian Amazon, there is no guarantee that we will break, definitively, the chains that imprison us in a model of colonial society -slavery-authoritarian; now seated under the aegis of a financialized-digital-control capital accumulation process, increasingly averse to human and non-human life.


Source: own elaboration based on TSE statistics.



The Northeast is an act of resistance. It was like this with Palmares, Canudos, Confederation of Ecuador, Caldeirão, among many other revolts and struggles. Bolsonaro's defeat in the 2022 presidential elections is just another chapter of resistance and the struggle for recognition. Not as a “problem region”, as erroneously called in the specialized literature and in State policy actions, in a recent period of our history. But, as a region of unique beauty, of great and diversified cultural richness, of great economic potential and of an “arretada” and welcoming population (a member of Brazil in an equal way with any other region).

We hope that this act of resistance against bolsofascism represents (we would like to definitively) represent the foundations of a new Brazil, less unequal both socially and spatially, established under a new type of civilizing process that rejects our colonial-slavery-authoritarian heritage. In this sense, the establishment of a national policy of regional development, remembering Tânia Bacelar, becomes essential in the direction of a new project of Nation; that is at the same time effective (in contrast to the PNDR, from 2004, institutionalized, in 2007, but which remained only on paper), and, thought for the long term, in terms of integration and cooperation between and inter-regional.

Certainly, like the monthly allowance and the oil bill, the infamous secret budget, if "institutionalized" as a practice of political support in relation to the executive's measures, could paralyze or even prevent any measure in favor of a more effective democracy (lesser risk of fascist and authoritarian governments), that is, but attached to the principles of our citizen Constitution. Especially in a context in which the legislature is largely made up of Bolsonarists and representatives of Brazilian necropolitics.

*José Micaelson Lacerda Morais is a professor in the Department of Economics at URCA. Author, among other books, of Capitalism and the revolution of value: apogee and annihilation.


CARDOSO DE MELLO, Joao Manuel. late capitalism. São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1982.

DANTAS, Beatriz G; SAMPAIO, José Augusto L.; OAK; Maria Rosario G. de. Indigenous peoples in northeastern Brazil: a historical outline. In: CUNHA, Manuela Carneiro da (Org). History of the Indians in Brazil. 2nd Ed. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras Municipal Secretary of Culture, 1992.

FURTADO, Celso. Brazil's economic formation🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2005.

________. Theory and policy of economic development. São Paulo: Abril Cultural, 1983.

GUIMARÃES NETO, Leonardo. Introduction to the economic formation of the Northeast. Recife: FUNDAJ – Editora Massangana, 1989.

HOBSBAWM, Eric. From the English Industrial Revolution to Imperialism. Rio de Janeiro: University Forensics, 2011.

MORAIS, José Micaelson Lacerda; MACEDO, Fernando Cezar de. The Brazilian formation in space: mercantile capitalism and the conformation of the Northeast. Journal of Economic History & Applied Regional Economics – Vol. 7 No. 12 Jan-Jun 2012.

OLIVEIRA, Francisco de. Elegy for a re(li)region: Sudene, Northeast, planning and class conflict. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 1981.

PRADO JUNIOR, Caio. Formation of contemporary Brazil: colony. São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1961.

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