The country of the future and its destiny

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By JOÃO CARLOS BRUM TORRES*

Presentation by the organizer of the newly released collection

Meaning and context of the book

To clarify the meaning of this publication on the bicentenary, it will be useful to recall how the fulfillment of the centenary in Brazil was remembered and celebrated.

Despite the aftermath of the great drought in the Northeast in 1919-1921, the political instability that led Epitácio Pessoa to decree a state of siege from August 5th to December 31st, 1922, despite the urgencies arising from the proximity of the elections that were to take place soon, the celebrations of Brazil's first centenary were of great importance and undeniable national, international and even popular prestige.

On the exact day of the anniversary, the date was festively celebrated with the opening of the International Exhibition of the Centenary of the Independence of Brazil, September 7th, which was also the day of the country's first radio broadcast, in which, in addition to the inaugural speech by the President of the Republic , the opera was broadcast The Guarani by Carlos Gomes. The importance of this Exhibition, whose execution required major sanitation and urban renewal works in Rio de Janeiro, the country's capital at the time, is also attested by the significant international participation, as Argentina, Mexico, United States, Portugal, England, France, Italy, Belgium , Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Czechoslovakia and Japan built pavilions to demonstrate their wealth, culture and progress, notably industrial.

Also impressive was the presentation of Brazil, which included the construction and organization of eight Pavilions: Administration and the Federal District, Large Industries, Small Industries, Agriculture, Hunting and Fishing, Aviation, Statistics, Festivities and the Brazilian States, showing that, despite the serious difficulties faced by the country in those days, Brazilians did not ignore the importance of evaluating and celebrating the hundred years of Independence.

In this almost unnoticed bicentennial of ours, we have nothing to celebrate, and everything indicates that it will go unnoticed, with palatial ceremonies and some press articles.

The general idea and feeling in the country seems to be that there is nothing to celebrate and that Brazil is something very abstract, that what matters is the fiscal policy, the twelve or thirteen million unemployed, the inflation that returns, the identity politics, the Amazon and, perhaps most of all, elections. The elections more than anything because polarized absorbed by the confrontation between Bolsonarism – government and movement whose project is summed up in a radicalized and anachronistic anti-communism and in a perverse and crooked expression of traditional conservative values, amalgamated in a great mass of heterogeneous resentments of a country in which, more and more, the poor crowd under marquees and corners of big cities – and the diverse and disjointed arc of those who, not without reason, on the left and in the center of the political spectrum, have as a priority to rid the country of corrosion of democracy and the recovery of common sense, in relation to the priorities of internal and external policies.

However, although this preference for the present, manifested in the generalized lack of interest in the symbolic date of two hundred years, has its logic, both specifically and circumstantially, in view of the urgencies implied in the general situation alluded to above, and, more abstractly, due to the fact that there is a sense in which the present has more value than the future, as can be seen when we remember that bonds with future maturities are heavily discounted when, when traded, they are brought to present value.

However, on the other hand, there is a sense in which the prioritization of what is closest is disastrous. It is not difficult to understand this if we bear in mind that it is also typical of the behavior of young children, for whom the exchange of immediate desire satisfaction for tomorrow satisfaction is incomprehensible. In fact, it is extremely reckless and irresponsibly exposed to serious failures not to recognize that the choices through which both individual lives and collective life are constructed are subject to mistakes in identifying our own interests, the values ​​that effectively deserve our commitment, the means to carry them out and the time needed for this. It is understandable, therefore, why it is no less reckless to ignore the symbolic force of certain dates that invite us to look back, to take stock of the path traveled and to identify the best perspective for viewing the future and the best way to move forward. .

This is the reason why everything indicates that the disregard of the bicentennial is a symptom of a sick period in our history, of a kind of shame for the country we have, of a shortening of imagination and of the recognition that conjunctures and historical periods are precisely periods and that the difficulties that characterize them should not make you forget either the work done or the work to be done, and that success in doing it depends critically and decisively on seeing beyond daily pressures and having a vision of the future.

This collection is a kind of protest against the dominance of those resentful, short-termist dispositions, ignorant of the past, incapable of looking above the interests and frustrations of the present, of understanding that the best way to overcome the distortions of our society – enormous economic and social inequality , industrial underdevelopment, outdated and insufficient infrastructure of basic services, urban development marked by the segregation of social classes, blatantly ineffective education services, very limited capacity for technological innovation and an increasingly dysfunctional political system – is to have a clear idea of ​​what that in other times was called a national project and that today we can say, more simply, that it is to regain confidence in ourselves, thus restoring the ambition to make Brazil a society that allows all Brazilians to have access to the levels of well-being that humanity can offer to populations that have the privilege of living in the XNUMXst century.

This is certainly an enormous task in a society like the Brazilian one, in which the minority of those who have access to the best living conditions that the present time can offer is ostensibly separated from the enormous contingent of those who continue to live precariously, without education, without income, without housing, no job. Bearing this challenge in mind, clearly identifying the difficulties to be overcome and the way and time needed to do so is essential, because, without that, accepting and preaching, according to the ideology currently dominant in the country, that for such a desideratum the only way rational is to let market forces work freely, what we will have ahead, at best, will be a quantitatively larger figure of this same society that today disputes the world championship of inequalities in all dimensions of social life.

It is not the aim of this collection to make the foolish pretense of having recipes for how to lead Brazil to a better future. The texts that make up this book are not political writings, they do not intend to have proposals for the future of Brazil and, not being essays by professional historians, nor do they intend to make exactly the history of our two hundred years. Its purpose is more modest and simple: it is to offer readers the testimony of those who have not lost interest in the future of our country and who believe that thinking about the various dimensions of the trajectory that has brought us here is not a painful and useless distraction. , but, rather, a kind of duty to remember: the duty to remember that an unexamined life is the right route to a life and, collectively, to a wasted history.

Therefore, its chapters should be seen rather as probes, whose scope is to restore the importance and strength they had and which, as legacies of our past, still have certain characters, events, works made occurring in the unfolding of our first two centuries. Its disparity in thematic terms, in size, in style is evident, but this plurality of focus opens the book and the minds of those who read it to the richness, complexity and broad spectrum of the waves in which the successes and failures of the history of Brazil-Country.

 

Thematic distribution of the book

Although virtually all chapters of the book took into account the starting point of the bicentennial – the political, social, economic and moral circumstances of the Independence period – the texts that make up this majority set were sensitive to different aspects of what took place at the time. and the legacy they left us. In some cases, I focus on the importance of what happened at that initial moment, in others, extending its consequences and advancing to other moments and stages of the two hundred years of institutional life in Brazil that are now completed.

In addition to these variations in the way of determining the thematic focus of the different chapters of a more clearly historical nature, there are differences due to the diversity of the authors' training and also the differentiated way in which our past touched their sensibilities. The sensitivity in the general sense that this word has and also the differences it assumes in relation to what touches us in the world and here, very especially, the political dimension of the history of our country. Which cannot fail to lead to differences in the way of understanding, presenting, implicitly or explicitly, judging the constituent events of our history.

The book opens with “Still the libertarian pretensions in Brazil”, by Lourival Holanda, which is for the book a kind of preliminary warning: to remember that there is in every official commemoration: the risk that, in the circumstances, the hagiography suffocates the critical requirement, a risk that a book like this cannot avoid, whose consequences we cannot fail to assume, but which we believe we have managed to prevent, or, in the case of this organizer, at least mitigate. “Veleidades Libertárias” draws attention to how the mass of colonial heritage and social exclusion, dependence and the abyss that separates the elite from popular forces, in the case of Brazil and Latin America in general, radically weakens attempts to build societies autonomous, democratic and egalitarian.

“Journalism, slavery and politics in Independence”, by Juremir Machado focuses on the episode of Independence and does so illuminatingly thanks to the resource of considering it in the light of three different perspectives of analysis: the story centered on the intrigue, on the meticulous restitution the episodes and the action of the characters who occupied the proscenium of the independence process, of which Varnhagen is the main representative; the explanation of the same process in terms of class relations and the predominance of economic issues both internally and in terms of international relations that delimited and ultimately explained the process of independence according to Werneck Sodré; and finally, considering the more comprehensive analysis of the Independence process, as carried out by the team coordinated by Sérgio Buarque de Holanda in the monumental History of Brazilian Civilization, a scope that emphasizes the ideological and cultural conditions brought about by the Enlightenment as an important factor for understanding the framework of ideas within which the emancipationist ideology emerged. From the articulation of these different analyzes, a more complete vision of what happened in 1822 emerges, Juremir also adding to his analysis an attentive reconstitution of the presence and importance of journalistic militancy in the events linked to Independence.

In “The Birth of a Nation in the biography of a tragic man”, Renato Oliveira, through an in-depth study of the biography of José Bonifácio, the central character of Independence, on the one hand opens the focus of analysis to the inaugural moment of our history, on the other the narrow, both movements helping to understand the implications that the complex personal trajectory of José Bonifácio brought to the understanding of certain traits that marked the birth of Brazil-Country. By making this biographical study the guiding principle of his analysis, Renato Oliveira tries to show how, in Europe and Portugal during the period in which Andrada lived there, the scientific dimension of the cultural renewal brought about by the Enlightenment, in many cases, was combined with the restorative reaction aimed at containing the radicalized republicanism of the French Revolution.

At the same time, the text closes the focus of the analysis to show how, in a short period of time, José Bonifácio, already in full maturity and, in a certain way, with his life made, breaks with the close personal and professional ties built in Portugal , returns to Brazil and embraces the independence cause, thus becoming the hard executor and controller of the emancipation process, decisively determining the form and limits it should have, above all closing the space for republican pretensions or external limitations of imperial power.

“Towards the occasion of the Bicentennial. Notes on the Question of the Identity of Brazil" is the text in which Brum Torres, organizer of the collection, tries to make attention to the fulfillment of the bicentennial the starting point for discussing the terms in which the identity of Brazil must be determined -Country, expression with which the chapter fixes the object of its analysis. After briefly reviewing the different ways in which the point was previously addressed, the text advances the thesis that the most appropriate way of considering this complex problem is to understand that the identity of a country is not only constructed over time, but that it is in the intrigue – so to speak: in the soap opera of which the different moments of history are chapters – that the characteristic traits of the national identity are being fixed.

Correspondingly, the text argues that the people, in this case, the Brazilian people – all of us, in the simultaneous condition of actors and authors – is who built and builds the identity of Brazil and that in the same way in which, individually, each one of us he is the author of his own life and, thus, of the profile it takes. Elucidating the plausibility of this analogy depends on an adequate explanation of the terms in which the constancy of a collective subject should be understood, a point that requires a conceptual analysis and gives the chapter the somewhat unusual figure of a text that mixes historiographical and philosophical considerations, bordered by a footnote of many notes.

“O Tempo dos Pêssegos – the desire for the future in Brazilian literature”. The chapter by Luís Augusto Fischer, at first glance, appears, paradoxically, as a short and at the same time rhapsodic text, since in the panorama of Brazilian literary culture the evocations range from Padre Vieira to Emicida. At best, however, Fischer's writing is concentrated and deeply reflective, each of the works evoked constituting a sagacious, precise and subtle survey of how, at different moments of our cultural life, the issue of time was treated.

In general, the balance seems to have been that throughout the history of Brazilian literary culture, the future tense was treated, to borrow a title from Philip Dick, as if it were always out of joint. That is to say, at times vaguely yearned, at others ignored, at others as having already arrived and ended, as in the São Paulo vanguardism of 1922, and now, finally, more consequentially replaced by concern for the present. In a certain way, obliquely, the chapter echoes Lourival's warning that we should not let ourselves be deceived, that memories of the past or the desire for the future do not divert us from the challenges and tasks of the present.

“Independence and the Roots of a Development Project”. There will hardly be a more concise, clear and precise way of showing the radical nature of the changes brought about by the passage of a society from the condition of a colony to that of an independent State than Pedro Fonseca achieved in this chapter. To do so, Pedro starts from the very literature that intends to depreciate the importance of this historical alteration, to show that it is from it that the possibility arises that a society becomes the subject of its development, because, as seen in the Brazilian case, it was the Independence that allowed and, more than that, forced the country to have a monetary, exchange rate and fiscal policy, which is to say that without it, Brazil could not have the minimally necessary elements to have its own economy and decide on the course of its economic development. Pedro completes his chapter by showing how, starting with the 30 Revolution, an explicit project of industrialization and national development progressively took shape, giving continuity to the construction of modern Brazil, despite the severe limitations that still afflict us today.

“The Land Law of 1850 and the advent of Brazilian capitalism”. The chapter by Fabian Scholze Domingues deals with a complex point that has not been completely exhausted by historiographical studies dedicated to the reconstitution of the history of the occupation of the national territory and its role in the economic development of Brazil. The chapter draws attention to several aspects of this complex problem, highlighting the inequality of access to property, the institutional inheritance of sesmarias, precarious forms of tenure, the violence of denial of the right to housing and land, and seeks to show how these different forms of exclusion walk part and pass with an increase, gradual in most cases, and dizzying in the case of coffee and other products intended for international trade

“The 'rural world': the new emerges on the roots of the past”. Zander Navarro's chapter has a unique position in the context of this collection, and that less because it deals with a very recent period of Brazilian history, although that also distinguishes it, but because it presents, in an organized way, the evidence that one of the traits that historically have always negatively marked reality Brazilian culture is disappearing and being replaced by something unequivocally positive, despite the ambiguities and uncertainties that may still arise. The point of Zander's chapter is to show that rural Brazil, understood as the place of economic backwardness, stagnation and poverty of a large number of Brazilians and consequently the focus of permanent social and political tensions, is disappearing, replaced by the extraordinary growth of the Brazilian agribusiness.

More than that, what Zander's analysis tries to show is that although the current dynamism of Brazilian agriculture is linked to a dominant crop, that of soy, as occurred in the past cycles of prosperity with coffee, sugar, or rubber, there are now several fundamental differences: unlike in the past, soy is not regionally trapped, but is expanding across the country, engendering extraordinary economic growth and prosperity in huge new areas across the country; secondly, this expansion takes place with productivity gains linked to and dependent intimately and intensely on technological research and in connection with an important set of industrial production linked upstream and downstream from agricultural production; thirdly, this advance is made up of agents whose twentieth century mentality is that of the capitalist entrepreneur, an ethos that spills over into other areas of the Brazilian primary sector, such as cotton cultivation and national livestock. The result of this is a profound change in a central trait of Brazilian historical identity.

“Economic Project of the Military Dictatorship and the Longevity of Our Years of Lead”. Carlos Paiva's chapter not only makes a meticulous, comprehensive and highly enlightening examination of the economic policies conceived and applied in the country from 1964 onwards and throughout the entire cycle of the military regime, but also convincingly shows that the extraordinary economic performance that took place in Brazil between 1964 and 1980 it expressed and resulted in a clear understanding of the challenges posed to the country in order to successfully assert itself in the world economic dynamics from a position of technological, financial and industrial dependence. Which is to say that the military governments had a well-established development project and an idea of ​​what to do with Brazil, although, obviously, this project understood itself as a capitalist development project, indifferent to the inequalities inherent to that system.

But Paiva goes further and shows that these elements are enough to make us understand that the Bolsonaro government's coup threats, and its eventual success, are incomparable with what the military governments could and did, since Bolsonaro's dictatorial aspirations are not supported, contrary to what was seen in 1964, in a clear vision of how to overcome the current impasses of our society, nor is he capable of effectively weld the support of the most dynamic and powerful sectors of the Brazilian economy and society. However, the chapter also tells us, a clear idea of ​​what needs to be done in Brazil, neither do the currents of the left and even those of the political center, which allows us to predict that the most likely thing is that the zigzag in which we find ourselves lost in recent years will have no end in sight.

“The left in power: apogee and decline of a constitutional experiment (2002-2016)” by Cícero Araújo and Leonardo Belinelli deals with the immediate antecedents of the critical situation in which Brazil's bicentennial takes place. The text tries to show how what it calls “social-liberalism”, typical of the years of the PT governments, at the same time that it was successful in redeeming significantly part of the so-called social debt, it matured badly and was deeply worn out, allowing the country has been thrown “into the drift it is in today”.

The text, at the same time that it analyzes the causes of this progressive wear and tear, proposes, not without plausibility, that the sociological origin of this wear and tear, or of class, as it used to be said, lies in the fact that the PT's policies, as it were, forgot the vast contingents that make up the country's middle classes, developing their policies to benefit the most underprivileged strata of Brazilian society and, at the other end, to the benefit of the big bourgeoisie. An analysis that also included special attention to what the text calls the “invisible chamber”, that space of semi-hidden corruption used to give governments the conditions to govern in a situation of party and congressional fragmentation, typical of the so-called coalition presidentialism.

 

One last preliminary on the status of the book

Finally, one last thing to note is that although this collection has not focused on examining the challenges faced by the country today – as that would lead to an analysis of the current situation which, to be well done, would extend the work beyond the editorial limits that we set for the project now carried out, including within these limits the recommendation to emphasize our past history – this does not mean that we do not realize that, once again, in these days in which we are living, the destiny of Brazil is at stake. at stake, facing a watershed, facing a situation in which the institutional parameters established by the 1988 Constitution are being put to the test and in which there is a risk of a regressive step, in which, once again, the Armed Forces, arbitrarily assigning themselves the condition of ultimate interpreters of the national will, violate the integrity of the electoral process.

I hope we don't have to face such a disastrous outcome, as that would be compromising our country with the retrograde ideology, bought in the obscure warehouses of the international extreme right, played by the current President. President who, although covered in green and yellow, refuses the evidence that in the present time, contempt for the constitutional state of law, is the most ostensible betrayal of true patriotism. Because what this implies and requires, in this third decade of the XNUMXst century, is that we maintain the high point of institutional development that we have today – that of being one of the great democracies in the world – and make this legal and political heritage the basis for building a a more prosperous, fairer, more educated society, because without this, preserving the levels of poverty and inequality that we have today, Brazil will never be a developed country, leaving us, once again, far, far from being the wonder of the new and old world that, at the dawn of our Independence, D. Pedro I foretold us.

Certainly, the simple preservation of the integrity of the electoral rites is very far from guaranteeing the achievement of such an ambitious destiny, but without it, we will return to the first home of this game, slowly going far, which has been the painful process of construction of the Brazil we long for.

*Joao Carlos Brum Torres is a retired professor of philosophy at UFRGS. Author, among other books, of Transcendentalism and Dialectics (L&PM).

Reference


João Carlos Brum Torres (org.). The country of the future and its destiny: essays on Brazil's bicentennial. Porto Alegre, L&PM, 2022, 336 pages.

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