The role of the bourgeoisie in the 2016 coup



It is an irony of history: the politically most conservative segment of Brazilian capitalism, big foreign capital and the associated bourgeoisie, attacked the PT government “from the left”.

Who struck? This dossier is reopened. Scientific research does not stop and the frontiers of the known advance. Newly completed or ongoing research has brought news on this matter. The question they pose is this: where were they and what did small and medium-sized companies do in the context of the impeachment?

The answer to the question about who struck the blow does not, and cannot, start solely and directly from the facts, contrary to what radical empiricism assumes. Such research also depends on the conceptual device that the analyst mobilizes. Following the Marxist tradition, which conceives the political process as the result of a conflict between classes and class fractions that, in the political scene, are organized in different parties and associations, the question about the role of the bourgeoisie in the 2016 coup is fundamental .

Where was the debate

There is no consensual answer among those who work with the social classes approach to the question about the authorship of the 2016 coup. Some understand that the impeachment coup was an action by the bourgeois class as a whole, conceived as a collective without cracks, against the rise of struggle and conquests, albeit modest, by the working classes. We think this is part of the truth, but it is not the whole truth. Others detect divisions within the bourgeoisie, they are not satisfied with the idea of ​​a homogeneous bourgeoisie.

A first version of this line of analysis, and which is the predominant version, without denying that the different fractions of the ruling class ended up converging, in late 2015 and early 2016, to a favorable position for the overthrow of the Dilma government, claim that it was an action directed mainly by the rentier segment of the ruling class against the productive sector of that same social class, a productive sector that, paradoxically, since it was also dissatisfied with the Dilma Government, ended up abandoning it.

A second version of the analysis that deals with classes, their fractions and that analytically values ​​the divisions within the bourgeoisie, a version that I develop in a book that I published on the subject (Reform and political crisis in Brazil - class conflicts in PT governments, Editoras Unicamp and Unesp, 2018), maintains that the driving force of the coup was the bourgeoisie associated with international capital. The internal big bourgeoisie, a fraction at the same time dependent on and competing with international capital, and whose interests the PT government prioritized, ended, also due to dissatisfaction with the Dilma Government and the rise of the popular movement, dividing - one part defended Dilma until the eve of the impeachment, another party remained politically neutral and a third party actively joined the coup.

New studies

These analyzes all have their eyes on the big bourgeoisie. They have not closely examined the political behavior of the small and medium-sized company segment, which, as is well known, is by far the largest contingent in the universe of Brazilian companies. This selective look, aimed at large companies, is partly justified. Middle capital has not acted as an autonomous social force in the Brazilian political process. That is, although it exists as a distinct social force, since it has its own interests and such interests can cause relevant effects in the national political process, it does not have its own political program, therefore ceasing to count among the social forces that weigh most heavily in the definition of the directions of Brazilian politics.

However, such relevant effects can also be very important. This is what Fernanda Perrin's excellent master's thesis, defended this June at USP, entitled “The duck's egg: an analysis of the political displacement of the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo” shows. This is what research by Felipe Queiroz Braga on the same Fiesp and by Octávio Fonseca Del Passo on civil construction [1] are also showing. In all of them, the importance of the presence of the middle bourgeoisie of the industrial sector in contemporary Brazilian politics appears. In a way, the theme also appeared in the book by Danilo Martuscelli entitled Political crises and neoliberal capitalism in Brazil (Editora CRV, 2015).

I ask the reader permission to speak about the analysis I have made of Brazilian politics in order to clarify my intervention in this debate. In this analysis, the bourgeois fraction that Nicos Poulantzas called the “internal bourgeoisie”, I have always called it, when dealing with contemporary Brazilian politics, the “internal big bourgeoisie” and I considered this bourgeois fraction as the hegemonic fraction in the governments headed by the PT.

This means that the economic, social and foreign policies of these governments, without excluding the interests of other bourgeois fractions and even the “associated bourgeoisie” and international capital itself, prioritized the interests of that fraction. I combine two fractioning systems when speaking of the internal big bourgeoisie. The division according to the size of the capital – this is big capital – and the division according to the origin of the capital – is the national capital, although it is not an “anti-imperialist national bourgeoisie”. It so happens that, if it makes sense to speak of an internal big bourgeoisie, it is because, and only because, there must be an internal middle bourgeoisie.

In the first chapter of my aforementioned book, I formulated the following idea. Neoliberal economic policy establishes a hierarchy within the power bloc. It privileges, with regard to the function of capital, financial capital; with regard to the size of companies, big capital; and with regard to nationality, foreign and associated capital. He concluded that at the top of the hierarchy of this block in power was international financial capital, and at its base, the average national productive capital turned to the internal market.

Between the top and bottom of this hierarchy were distributed other combinations of this division (Reform and political crisis in Brazil, P. 51. There is average bank capital in the middle position. Researcher Ary Minella, a pioneer in the political study of banks, showed that during the FHC government, around 200 medium and small banks went bankrupt. It is necessary, as Francisco Farias shows in a theoretical essay entitled “Bourgeois Fractions and Power Bloc”, published in the magazine Marxist Criticism no. 28, draw attention to the fact that the fractioning systems – function of capital, its size, its origin and others – intersect and to the complexity that this fact imposes on the analysis of the power bloc.

However, going back to what I said about my own work, I did not research the political behavior of this bourgeois segment, the internal middle bourgeoisie, and I ignored, until recently, more systematic research that had done so. The research cited above brings important news precisely in this regard and may require, on the part of all those who research Brazilian politics as the result of a conflict of classes and class fractions and who study the bourgeoisie, greater or lesser additions or corrections to our analysis. .

Middle capital in the 2016 coup d'état

What does Fernanda Perrin's dissertation show? She argues, and until further research demonstrates the opposite, the argument is convincing, that Fiesp under the management of Paulo Skaf is fundamentally supported by medium capital, that is, small and medium-sized industrial companies that are national capital companies – I explain below why I prefer to say “it is supported” and not that it “represents” this medium capital. Felipe Queiroz Braga's argument is the same.

The two researchers carried out numerous interviews with directors of Fiesp, of unions that are part of this federation and with directors of small and medium-sized companies. They even showed the dissatisfaction of small and medium-sized businessmen with important aspects of the economic policy of the PT governments. In highlight, the dissatisfaction of these small and medium-sized entrepreneurs with the BNDES financing policy focused on the so-called “National Champions”, which, as the expression itself indicates, are large and powerful Brazilian companies. The consequences of this discovery are important.

The ineffable Paulo Skaf, when he mobilized Fiesp against the Dilma government, did so, as Fernanda Perrin argues in her dissertation, supported – I am the one who uses this term – small and medium-sized companies and not the big bourgeoisie. Big businessmen, on the other hand, would have been very hesitant to join the impeachment campaign, both big businessmen in the productive sector and big businessmen in the banking sector. Fernanda Perrin, whose dissertation will soon be available in the USP thesis repository, shows this using press reports and interviews that she conducted.

André Flores, in a master's thesis defended at Unicamp (“Division and reunification of financial capital - of the impeachment of the Temer Government”), had shown that national banking capital maintained its support for the Dilma Government until February 2016. We have, therefore, two distinct political behaviors at a crucial moment in Brazil’s political history: the industrial and national medium capital , a segment from which a more progressive behavior could be expected, took a more conservative position than the large national productive or banking capital. This fact gives rise to many reflections.

new questions

The first of them is the following: does this mean, then, that the impeachment coup was a victorious action by the internal middle bourgeoisie against the big one? Of small Brazilian companies against big national or foreign capital? Fernanda Perrin's dissertation suggests this thesis in numerous passages. In the defense of her dissertation, she clarified that this was not her intention. But the question remains: what was the role of middle capital?

I think that at this point, which is crucial to understanding the interests involved in that coup, we must bring to bear the concepts of driving force and driving force of any political process. Mao Zedong elaborates these concepts by discussing revolutionary processes. The leading force is the social class or the class fraction that succeeds in imposing the political objectives of the struggle, and the driving force is the class or fraction that provides the cadres and activists for such a struggle. Mao also distinguishes the main driving force which is the one that provides the majority of cadres and activists.

Well then, I believe – and until further notice because research and discoveries do not stop… – that the driving force of the coup movement was indeed foreign capital and the associated bourgeoisie that sought, overthrowing the government of the neo-developmentalist political front led by the great internal bourgeoisie, to restore the political hegemony that it had enjoyed in the 1990s. However, the driving force of this coup was, in addition to the well-to-do and well-off fractions of the middle class, organized in movements such as the Come to the street and the Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL), was, I was saying, also the medium capital, judging by the surveys that I am commenting on and that seem convincing to me. The coup therefore did not represent a victory for the medium against big capital.

One issue, still related to the question of the driving force of the coup, remained open. I refer to the following. Paulo Skaf relied on middle capital, but did not present a positive program to defend the interests of this bourgeois fraction. This is also a point on which this excellent new research would need to reflect. Paulo Skaf allied himself with vice-president Michel Temer and defended, together with the business community, the MDB program called “A bridge to the future”. He could be, in fact, an organic representative of the middle capital, if he had organized his own program for this segment.

It could, it is true, as the de facto representative of middle capital have been overtaken in the struggle for big capital. But it doesn't look like that's what happened. According to my assessment, it only relied on the dissatisfaction of the middle capital. That's why I'm using the word support and not representation. This is another point for further reflection and research.

It is an irony of history: the politically most conservative segment of Brazilian capitalism, big foreign capital and the associated bourgeoisie, attacked the PT government “from the left”. That is, they exploited the privileges granted to the big capitalists to stir up the medium national capital against the big one, passing on their reactionary proposal of more openness and more internationalization of the Brazilian economy [2].

It should also be remembered that more than one member of the government teams of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro, directors of the BNDES and Banco do Brasil, took advantage of the fact that the PT governments had privileged large national capital, to deliver a demagogic speech defense of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs. They spoke in defense of “the little ones who most need credit” – in defense of “Mr. Manoel from the bakery”, said one of them – against the privileged “national champions”. While making this demagogic speech, they sold and delivered what was left of the national economy in Brazil.

We can verify that these innovations introduce one more point to the balance sheet of the PT governments: the left can, I think, and in specific ways that it is not the place to discuss here, defend national companies against foreign companies, but it cannot be tied to the interests of monopoly capital against the interests of middle capital. This procedure reversed everything that the Latin American and European communist movement had established on the question of possible and desirable class alliances in the first stages of the revolution.

*Armando Boito He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of State, politics and social classes (Unesp).


[1] See also the article by Andre Flores Penha Valle e Octávio F. Del Passo, "Bourgeois fractions in the current crisis” posted on the website A Terra é Redonda.

[2] I made a brief analysis of the hegemony of international capital and the associated bourgeoisie in the power bloc of the Temer and Bolsonaro governments in an article posted on the website A Terra é Redonda. See Armando Boito, “imperialism and dependency".

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