Why reform the state?

Albany Wiseman, Meard Street, 1974


PEC 32 will be the destruction of one of the pillars of democracy, public service at the service of the public, and the principle of equality before the law

Human societies became more complex with the invention of agriculture some 12 years ago. To deal with this complexity, the appeal of the principles of fidelity and solidarity sufficient to organize small groups of nomadic hunters under the leadership of a chief became insufficient. With agriculture came the increase in population, the economic surplus, the division of the previously relatively homogeneous collectivity into different classes. The organization of these societies also became more complex, requiring that a part of their members organize themselves in a structure specially dedicated to the task of maintaining the cohesion and unity of their numerous participants, differentiated into different groups, and that guaranteed the validity of the norms created to allow their coexistence and cooperation while preserving social cohesion. The form of this structure we call the State; an organism that controls the relationships between the different types of people in society, ensuring the preservation of its fundamental characteristics. To this end, this group of community servants was invested with a supervisory and control authority over the relationships between all.

Some thinkers such as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx identified the origin of the State structure with the inauguration in history of the circumstance of oppression of a part of society over the others, in contrast to the homogeneity of the original societies, which they called primitive communism. This perception was opposed to the prevailing perspective that identified in the way of life prior to what we call civilizations the prevalence of a chaotic situation of war of all against all. In our Western tradition, this idea appeared in the work of Thomas Hobbes in the 200th century. We know today that Hobbes was wrong, that long before civilizations and for about XNUMX years, the way of life of the human species was collaborative and implied the adoption of behaviors aimed at the continuity and preservation of the community above individuals. Violence and competition took place between these groups or societies and not within them. In the internal order, cooperation and behavior that we characterize as altruism prevailed. This behavior has always been present in the evolution of the species and has structured the patterns of family, group or tribal sociability that have organized human life since its inception. We also know that this gregarious instinct, which makes the group a necessity for the survival of each and every individual, is shared with many other species, from bees to many mammals.

In the history of human civilizations, when what were originally bands or tribes developed into more complex forms of organization, the structures guaranteeing the unity and continuity of each society had to evolve. The establishment of traditions, norms and prohibitions prescribing desirable behaviors and interdicting those that were not, brilliantly described by Freud in his Totem and Taboo, gave rise to the myths and religions that organized sociability in these communities. Freud himself pointed out the development of the evolutionary way in which the set of norms of sociability ended up taking the form of the State. On the other hand, mentioned Engels and Marx pointed in the division of society into classes with contradictory interests the motivation of the establishment of this form, identified as the mechanism of preservation of these differences and of subjugation of a category or social class to the condition of inferiority and of producer of the necessary means for the preservation of privileges in favor of the other class, controller of the State and ruler of society.

Now, the State is both a necessity to keep the cohesion of the most complex social orders, and an instrument to perpetuate the inequalities between the members of that society, insofar as it acts in a conservative way, preserving the social organization with its divisions and contradictions. In the second half of the twentieth century, with the impetus of the work of Nicos Poulantzas and the German tradition coming from the Frankfurt School and elaborated by Claus Offe, Elmar Altvater, Joachim Hirsch and others, the apparent contradiction between these two definitions begins to be better understood. understood. And for that, the reading made by these authors of Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks, which came to light at the end of World War II, was essential. In this perspective, the political superstructure of contemporary societies organized in the form of capitalist sociability, if it is based on relations of production that imply the exploitation of workers by the bourgeoisie, is crossed by this same contradiction, which makes the State, by at the same time that it guarantees the continuity of relations of domination and exploitation, it is also a place of convergence and intervention of the interests of the oppressed part of society, being obliged, then, to deal with the real contradictions of society.

Thus, the definition of public policies necessary for the continuity of social life will always be conditioned and will be a result of struggle, bargaining, negotiations between the antagonistic interests of social classes and their subdivisions: industrialists, financiers, workers, farmers, bankers, waitresses, clerks, drivers and many more. In addition to these groups that form civil society, as Gramsci called it, there are also agents of political society, parliamentarians, ministers, military, police, inspectors, attorneys, nurses, teachers, and others who form the body of State servants in charge of putting moving their policies.

Thus, the legislative process, judicial decisions and executive options defining the guidelines to be implemented by these State officials result from a selection mechanism in which all these actors participate in different ways, each with their share of decision-making power. The selection mechanism both makes some options impossible in principle and hinders or reworks the demands of those with less power, ensuring the continuity of a given correlation of forces between the different social classes and the prevalence of the interests of the dominant fraction.

And it is here that the dilemma brought about by the concept of democracy comes in: the absolutely horizontal extension of this power to decide public policies under conditions of equality for all citizens. One way of guaranteeing the continuity of public functions and the isonomy in the treatment of the inhabitants of the nation led by that State – a nation understood here as the conjunction of territory, population and political organization – was the creation of this functional body of permanent public servants and independent of the possible rulers who, in the republican form, would obey the principle of alternation in power. To this end, their recruitment is based on objective criteria for assessing capabilities and without interference from the public tender.

The republican form of organization of the State, the name already says, contrasts with the dynastic models of monarchies and empires that were present in civilizations, from antiquity to modern times. In this case, the mode of filling positions, as prevailed among us in the colony, the empire and the old republic, was the appointment by arbitrary decision of the rulers. In contrast to this European model, as Fernand Braudel well recalled, in Islam and China, access to state administration positions was done on a meritocratic basis, within the instances of the Muslim clergy or through a contest that gave access to innate command. For the French historian, this would be the reason why these two civilizations, more advanced than the European at their time and even having developed the arts of commerce in a much more exuberant and innovative way, were not the place of origin of capitalism. This way of accumulating wealth was only established where the dynastic form of the State prevailed with its hereditary privileges, those of blood for political power and those of wealth for economic power. That is why he rightly asserted that capitalism has always been the monopoly and use of the State.

Here in Brazil, the republican form of State appeared late, only in 1938 with the administrative reform that created a professionalized public service. Until then, and despite the Proclamation of the Republic in 1889, we had a dynastic type of State. Power was exercised over a territorial base and over the people residing there by lords descended from the grantees of land grants granted by the crown, the coronels of the National Guard, who took turns in the prefectures and presidencies of the provinces in mandates granted by elections in which they participated a tiny minority of the population and, moreover, were routinely defrauded. His assistants in the conduct of state affairs were all positions of trust filled at his discretion.

With the creation of the DASP, Public Service Administrative Department, in 1938, in continuity to the revolutionary process started in 1930, impersonal criteria were defined for fulfilling and exercising State functions that, for the first time, became public functions. This professionalization model gave impetus to the growth and diversification of state administration able to support the urbanization and industrialization process that followed, in the form of education, health, planning and management of projects essential to development.

The 1964 dictatorship brought about a change in the organization of the public service, in the form of a return to patronage of the Old Republic. In the wake of the extensive purge of the armed forces and civil administration carried out by the coup, in which thousands of officials were removed from public activity, a new category of civil servants was created, appointed to positions due to the political influence of supporters of the regime. Hired as employees of the State, according to the labor legislation that had just been modified to extinguish the stability of the worker, these new public agents were dependent on their loyalty to the ruler on duty. The professionalism of the employees was corrupted by the appointment of patrons of the power usurped by the dictatorship.

With the fall of the dictatorial regime and the promulgation of the 1988 Constitution, the functional autonomy of civil servants was restored with the creation of the Single Juridical Regime, whose vacancies began to be filled only in the form of a public tender and under the restored principles of legality, morality , impersonality, publicity, and efficiency, and with the guarantees of stability and meritocracy in promotions. Thus, the most important principles of the 1938 administrative reform were re-established as being the most adequate for a contemporary democratic State based on the rule of law, capable of accepting and responding to the demands and demands of all social classes. It may seem paradoxical that these principles were originally adopted in the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo, but the reformers at the time thought far ahead, in the type of State necessary for the modernization of the country, overcoming rural backwardness towards an urban and industrial society. .

Now, as soon as the new model was adopted, it became the object of criticism by defenders of the neoliberal agenda that had become the dominant ideology in the Western capitalist world. The foundation of this criticism lies in the thesis of Samuel Huntington, an influential thinker of American neoconservatism, when he stated that Western democratic states were paralyzed by excessive popular demands. It was therefore necessary to adopt filters and rules of exclusion to reduce the access of majorities to the deliberation of public policies. This is the justification for the authoritarianism intrinsic to the neoliberal agenda: less people in politics, which should remain in the hands of “experts”, economists, administrators, jurists, police and the military.

In 1990, with the Constitution still not having its second anniversary, Brazil was taken over by neoliberalism that has lasted, with advances and setbacks, until the present day and that imposed a huge setback in the relationship between the people, their interests and the State capable of to serve them. And worse, since the 2016 coup d'état, we are experiencing an aggressive advance of the neoliberal project, continuing the process of excluding the people from political decisions by various mechanisms that range from the encapsulation of decision-making instances, such as the supposed “autonomy” of the central bank , the extinction of public policy deliberative councils, or corruption, both in its restricted sense of the power of money, and in the sense of the functional deviation generated by the politicization of the judiciary, the public ministry, the police and the armed forces. All these changes led to the capture of government bodies and agencies by the interests of the big bourgeoisie and their monopoly companies in finance, services and the agro-industrial sector, while at the same time guaranteeing the non-interference of the interests of the popular classes in the decision of public policies and in the allocation of funds from the Central Bank's budget and balance sheet.

This process had an interregnum during the terms of Lula and Dilma, when several mechanisms of popular participation in the choice of public policies were created in the form of councils and conferences. However, perhaps one of the most powerful instruments of popular intervention in government management, participation in the preparation and execution of the budget, a consecrated practice of left-wing administrations in Brazil, has not even been attempted. In the same direction, a democratization of the National Monetary Council with the inclusion of representatives of the different interest groups present in society, something that had been the norm even during the dictatorship, was not even considered. The 2016 coup reverses democracy, adopting the thesis of excessive popular demands and resuming policies that exclude the interests of the majority. The budget was redone with a drastic reduction in social spending, a new rule limiting expenditure on services and investments was defined, the so-called spending ceiling, but which left out any type of limit for public debt payments, which have been varying between 45 and more than 50% of the federal budget, as well as maintaining the discretion of the Central Bank board in manipulating its balance sheet. The poor left the budget and the objectives of State policies, leaving an exclusive place for the ruling class.

In a step forward and which aims to deepen the anti-democratic setback, a project to reform the Brazilian public administration, PEC 32, is under discussion in Congress. The central aspect of the proposal is precisely the change in the relationship between the State and the employees who work in providing services to society, through the extinction of the single legal regime and functional stability for the careers of servers that implement policies that meet popular needs in education, health, social assistance and social security. For these workers, the rules that define their relationship with the government would be changed to make it possible for private organizations to carry out these state functions, mere labor intermediaries, by employees without protection of their autonomy to decide on the best way to provide its service provided for by law. Or, what is worse, by commissioned positions, freely filled and exonerated by governments.

The type of official who would be summoned by those in power would certainly be chosen among those most impervious to social demands and obedient to the interests of their superiors and political sponsors. It is a step backwards towards the dynastic form of the State of the old republic and monarchy, with its body of servants composed of the government's minions and keeping a distance from the people and their needs and demands. Consummated, this reform will be the destruction of one of the pillars of democracy, public service at the service of the public, and the principle of equality before the law.

*Luiz Augusto Estrella Faria and pProfessor of Economics and International Relations at UFRGS. Author, among other books, of The Key to Size: Economic Development and Mercosur Perspectives (Editor UFRGS).


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