Proposals for a popularly composed government

Image: Kaique Rocha


Without social strength, it is unrealistic to think of the reversal of processes such as the handover of the Alcântara Base

“Whoever waits in pure expectation, lives a time of vain waiting. Therefore, while I wait for you, I will work the fields and talk with men” ( Paulo Freire, obvious song).

Brazil is a whale country. Whale countries are those that gather large populations over a long territorial extension. These geographic attributes are combined with deep internal inequalities and a dependent economy, which makes the country “slow” to exercise strategic leadership, like a whale. Let's continue with the maritime metaphors. Among internationalists, it is common for the following dilemma to arise: should Brazil be the shark's tail or the sardine's head? Those who defend that it should be the “tail”, advocate adherence to the projects of the great powers, even if in a subordinate way. Those who defend the “head” understand that Brazil can lead countries with less geopolitical weight in collective negotiations, especially in the commercial area, making it possible to relate to the center on better terms.

Here, we propose that the task of popular fighters is, if necessary, to reverse the current of the tides. Therefore, when discussing proposals for a government with a popular composition, we will depart from this utopia.

As navigators, let's start by feeling the rhythm of the waves. The seas are rough, in a combination of pandemic, war and Bolsonaro government. But that's the surface. Under the sea, tectonic plates move in the dispute for global hegemony between the US and China. If in the long term these changes are encouraging, in the short term they tend to leave or leave the sea rough. Thus, a new Lula government will not find a global scenario similar to the one it experienced, and these elections will not develop with the apparent normality of other times. Below we propose themes-compasses for the crossing.


What to defend? a good life for the people

Our first question always has to be: what do we want to defend? Borders? Earnings from the pharmaceutical industry? A rhetoric about the abstract Amazon, which sees NGOs as enemies, but not large mining companies? There are different understandings about which national interests should be protected. Popular movements work with a perception closer to human security, thinking about food, energy, informational sovereignty; in short, a good life for all as the main issue to be defended by the country.

The movements are also protagonists in the concern with strategic resources, especially the environment, one of the main international interests in Brazil for the accumulation of global surplus value. Taking into account the way in which unconventional wars of the present are fought (which some call hybrid wars), the main object of defense must be the sources of perception/interpretation of the world that forge the popular will (not only during the decision-making process ). Without freedom to think, formulate and decide, including on the way of ecological management of strategic resources (not only natural, but also cultural), there is no autonomy.


What to defend? dominance of the full spectrum sought by imperialism

Any small domestic action that changes Brazil's position in the international hierarchical order generates a reaction. Thinking about the national liberation of peoples in peripheral States without thinking about how to break the relations of exploitation between the center and the periphery is an illusion. The domestic and international environments are intimately connected. We, at the bottom of the pyramid (and unable even to travel by bus because of the price of gasoline) do not realize this, but the ruling class, even in peripheral countries, has global connections. In the case of Latin Americans, it is necessary to carefully observe the movements of the USA.

The essence of maintaining US hegemony is not in its enormous military apparatus, far superior to the other countries of the globe put together. It is in the ability to inspire desires, to emulate and control wills. Everyone visualizes those white houses with green backyards and barbecues and thinks: wow, it must be nice to have a backyard! In fact, we know that grass is made of plastic and doesn't even serve as a home for worms.

Therefore, the first capacity we need to seek to be a sovereign country is autonomy in thinking. It is necessary to distrust (a lot!) about what they present to us as threats to Brazil. For example, we are a people made up of migrants who came voluntarily or enslaved. To understand migration as a threat is to ignore the social formation of the Brazilian people. Security and insecurity are thus related feelings. In other words, what I perceive as a threat may not be identified as such by others.

Those who hold hegemony in the formulation of ideas also have the ability to choose what should be understood as a threat. This prevents peripheral countries from identifying what actually threatens the well-being of their peoples, and not just their States. In Latin America, drug trafficking (and other transnational crimes) is presented as the greatest threat to the well-being of peoples. On the globe in general, that place belongs to terrorism. In addition, traditional but unrealistic threats remain in the imagination, such as territorial fragmentation, which justifies the maintenance of military organizations in border regions.

It is necessary to identify with the people what they understand as a threat. We will see that many issues, such as lack of health, food or even security, do not have a resolution in arms.


How do you defend? self-determination of peoples, multilateralism, demilitarization, popular control, separation of security and defense, strategic and budget review

(1) Self-determination of peoples – Building a world of peace does not mean the absence of conflicts, but that these cease to be mediated through the use (or threat of use) of force. Even knowing that a world of peace is impossible as long as imperialism – understood as the current form of capitalism – lasts, peace between peoples must be built from now on. The self-determination of peoples is a crucial point, as it is what gives peoples the right to self-government and to decide freely about their political situation in a hierarchical world. In the case of countries with a colonial past, it is particularly relevant, because in the name of an abstract nation fed by a dependent internal elite, popular decision is left in the background.

Self-determination cannot be negotiated even in situations that hypothetically threaten human rights, as is alleged in the case of Venezuela. Situations of high humanitarian risk are caused by capitalism and impossible to be resolved by military means, which, on the contrary, aggravates them. This becomes clear in times of war, as we see in the differentiated and racist treatment that refugees from Ukraine receive from various African or Muslim peoples in Europe.

(2) Multilateralism – The principles enshrined in the 1945 UN charter remain important. However, the organization itself is increasingly weak to fulfill the functions initially attributed to it, and functional to hegemonic interests. In Ukraine, the UN manifested itself in favor of NATO and became unfeasible as a forum for dialogue to resolve this conflict. What are the programmatic implications of this assessment for the UN? The Brazilian historical claim for the reorganization of international mechanisms remains relevant. Multilateralism must seek to break monopolies in five areas, as taught by Professor Samir Amin: science and technology, finance, control over natural resources, weapons and communications.

The need to adhere to those alliances that offer good perspectives for global changes, such as the BRICS, remains pertinent; and it remains essential that we engage in the construction of mechanisms in South America, such as Unasur. But these initiatives will encounter a more difficult post-war scenario in Ukraine and the pandemic, which strengthen chauvinistic sentiments in states and a continued quest for self-sufficiency in all fields. The emergence of new variants of the virus in the world serves as a lesson: global problems need global solutions.

In multilateral mechanisms, priority should be given to the movement of people or possibilities for improving their lives, rather than goods. On the other hand, the UN crisis should give rise to other reflections. Is it really worth engaging in missions like MINUSTAH, in Haiti, in exchange for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council? Does it make sense to fight for a stool in a global order that is imploding and that we ourselves want to implode? Why don't progressive organizations around the world call for the end of NATO, an offensive military alliance? More than reformulating what already exists, it is necessary to forge institutions that express the interests of peripheral peoples (and also states).

(3) Demilitarize the defense and public security policy – ​​Internally and externally, it is necessary to demilitarize! Space and Antarctica must be kept free of weapons. It is essential to limit spending on weapons (yes, even more so in times of war!) and build or strengthen mechanisms for the eradication of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, encouraging actions such as demining. Having a nuclear bomb will not make Brazil a safer country; on the contrary, it would make all of Latin America a more insecure continent. The security dilemma is that when a country buys weapons, its neighbors buy them too, as they feel insecure about the former's intentions. The end result is many countries that are more armed in general, and also much more insecure.

Breaking the security dilemma implies, when faced with the choice to invest resources in weapons or in measures that improve people's lives, such as water and education, choosing the latter, including strategically. We will come back to this point. Demilitarizing implies much more than removing the 8 military from the Executive. It is necessary to demilitarize the entire state, and especially society. This does not mean ceasing to have a defense system or disarming the country. It implies thinking about the defense policy of a country on the periphery in a demilitarized way, focused on building peace and with a strong civilian component.

(4) Build popular control over the instruments of violence – Brazil is not an active part of any international conflict (although Jair Bolsonaro has tried hard) and has drawn its borders with few wars. However, this peace at the international level coexists with a country that holds a record for internal violence. For the main recipient of the bullet (the young, male black body living on the outskirts of big cities) it doesn't make much difference who fired the shot. Therefore, it is not enough to speak of civilian control over the armed forces (FFAA), even in its most advanced conceptions, which also deal with control over what happens inside the barracks.

Having a civilian minister at the head of the Ministry of Defense is the minimum, as well as a civil bureaucratic body educated for the democratization of defense policy; and let us not forget that the military police are hierarchically subordinated to the FFAA. Popular control concerns the construction of mechanisms for popular participation in public policy, something fundamental in democracies. And control must take place over the instruments of violence: weapons (production, circulation and sale) and institutions (FFAA, police, etc).

(5) Strictly separate defense and security – If at the end of the bullet the institutional perception is the same, the formulation and management of the two areas need to be rigorously different. Public safety, which, in theory at least, should protect life before property, deals at worst with citizens at odds with the law. In such cases, arrest and trial under national law may apply. National defense deals with the potential external enemy, whose fate is ultimately elimination.

Policing the armed forces and militarizing the police is the US proposal for Latin America and the current practice in Brazil since forever, when the main enemy was (and continues to be) identified within national borders. Thus, it is necessary to separate and differentiate citizen security from national defense, including in the national guiding documents, starting with the Constitution, which allows internal employment, a loophole used for the establishment of Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO) operations and others. types of domestic political threats. A review is also necessary in the area of ​​public security, which makes the police more and more citizens and less military.

(6) Reviewing the Brazilian strategic conception – Having the FFAA focused on facing an external enemy usually leads immediately to two reflections: (a) Brazil is militarily fragile; (b) we need to spend more money on guns and men. This reasoning needs to be questioned. Brazil is dependent in terms of strategic formulation, as it copied the US answer to the question 'how to defend itself'. The answer: with many state-of-the-art weapons. This recipe is not useful for countries on the periphery, with so many emergencies demanding public spending.

It is necessary to invest in a defense strategy whose main base is the population itself, and not the intensive investment of capital (cutting-edge military technology). Who defends a country is its people. Only eventually the FFAA. The people only defend what they understand as theirs, what they believe is good for them. Hence, building a just Brazil, educating the people, building agrarian and urban reform are measures that strengthen national defense, as they increase social cohesion, belonging and engagement of the Brazilian people in the defense of their own territory.

(7) Re-discuss the budget and reorient defense spending – The two terrains on which the war has been raging are the economy (sanctions) and communications. In both, the hardest hit are civilians. Re-discussing the budget makes it possible to redirect military spending to reduce other national vulnerabilities. It also allows redirecting expenses in areas such as social assistance or sports, currently carried out by the military, to their original folders. In turn, the strategic review enables the reorientation of actual defense spending. For example, the reduction in permanent staff frees up a larger portion for investments in equipment.

Since the main object to be defended in Brazil is the will of the people, this is what should determine the priorities for the defense industrial base: aerospace and cybernetics areas, both focused on communications. In general, discussions are restricted to how to produce weapons, having their peak in the decision on how to make purchases with technology transfer and produce materials for dual use – civil and military. It is necessary to re-discuss what to produce in the first place. At the same time, it is necessary to stop purchasing equipment that, instead of increasing our autonomy, transfer resources from the people to potential adversaries, notably the US, in addition to increasing our dependence and foreign debt. Hegemonic countries transfer technology only in discourse. In practice, they transfer scrap to peripheral countries and sell technical assistance to keep their own scrap running. Finally, it is necessary to face the LOBBY of armaments companies, in which reserve military personnel benefit from the FFAA – company – government revolving door.


Who defends? the people

Re-discuss what the FFAA are for – In Brazil, military personnel are basically employed in activities of an internal order (which in itself is already unfair) and in the defense of borders against transnational crimes. They live in an opportunistic situation guided by the strategy of measuring greater gains for themselves and varying between being politicians, police, military, managers, social workers. Its positive perception by the Brazilian people has nothing to do with defense activities, but with the subsidiary attributions they fulfill using resources diverted from other civilian agencies responsible for the activities to be performed. The FFAA must be employed in national defense activities and occasionally in others such as disasters. It is necessary to professionalize and modernize the FFAA, rethinking contingent, staff distribution, universal recruitment, interoperability, depending on the discussion of what is defended and how it is defended.

Breaking with military autonomy – Military tutelage is a general component of Brazilian politics, with the Bolsonaro period being a more acute expression of this. To actually break with autonomy, it is necessary to end the three areas of domain reserve that the institution maintained even with the 1988 Constitution: education, justice and intelligence. This legacy is more harmful than the individual punishment of torturers by the military dictatorship. Here, measures such as the revision of Article 142, ending the legislative revolving door – FFAA, restructuring the Ministry of Defense, imposing measures of respect for Brazilian social and cultural diversity (women, racial issues, LGBTs), etc.


How to carry out all this?

The number one task for all fighters of the people at this moment is Lula's election. However, it is necessary to take advantage of the electoral process to discuss the military and defense issue within the left, helping to put an end to the fear or idealism surrounding the issue.

For this, it needs to break with elitism, building social strength. FFAA enjoy high prestige and will not have the initiative for any of the changes suggested here; on the contrary, they will impose strong resistance and, therefore, changes need to be built from the outside in. Discussions of international relations are elitist, both the conduct of foreign policy and defense policy. Comments such as “people don't know,” “don't have a long-term vision,” “have no interest” are common. Hence, the left feeds two types of expectations: we have to end the FFAA, as it is an institution that manages violence beyond popular control; or its opposite: in the absence of social support, seek military insurance, looking for “a general to call your own”.

Without social strength, it is unrealistic to think about the reversal of processes such as the handover of the Alcântara Base. It is necessary to bring the principles of democracy and popular participation to the management of the State's international relations, so that the “strong arm and friendly hand” do not walk in parallel, but subordinate to a popular project for the country. For this, concrete measures are necessary, such as: creation of councils, conferences, collective discussion of national defense guiding documents, permanent practice of popular education in defense, translating these themes into people's daily lives.

The task of the moment is to organize hope, building strength to alter the tides.

* Defense and Sovereignty Observatory It is an organ linked to the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research.


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