Restoring the State is necessary

Sculpture José Resende / Latin America Memorial, São Paulo / photo: Christiana Carvalho


Read one of the articles in the book edited by Hildete Pereira de Melo

We live under the shadow of the most serious crisis in the history of Brazil, an economic, social and political crisis. We face a scenario that goes beyond interrupted democracy. In my view, it is a democracy subtracted by the symbiosis of interests of a degraded political class and an egocentric elite, without any commitment to a national reconstruction project – which, by the way, practically annihilates any possibility of compromise.

Today, quoting a leading politician with a notorious ability to think about the country is an exhausting exercise. Congress is dark. Most are there for who knows for what purposes. The cast of governors is equally terrible. There is not one that stands out. And I'm not even going to mention the case of Rio because that's cowardice. The “new” in politics, or the one who has the nerve to present himself as such, is João Doria, in fact a representative of the old extreme right.

Dictatorship, which we must repudiate on other grounds, was not so ordinary in this sense. We didn't suffer from this shortage of frames that we see today. The same applies to our business leaders, land from which leadership is not seen to sprout. The old national bourgeoisie was annihilated. I've never seen an elite as bad as this one. And in the midst of this mess, we still have Lava Jato, an operation that started with the best of intentions and became an authoritarian, arbitrary action that violates democratic justice, not to mention the unemployment trail it left in important sectors of the economy.

It is a hell of a lot of patience that Lava Jato has become a symbol of moralization. But why? Because nothing is working. It is a response to political inaction. They managed to transform democracy into a spree, in which no one is responsible for anything. There is no law or precepts of the rule of law that are safeguarded.

The future has been criminalized. I'm not saying that the international scene is an oasis. The rest of the world is no wonder, starting with the United States. Let's face it, not any country is capable of producing a Trump. They nailed it. In Europe as a whole, the situation is also bleak. And China, well China is always an unknown quantity…

But, returning to our backyard, the mediocre center has expanded in a barbaric way in Brazil. There is no production of thought against mediocrity, on any side, neither on the right nor on the left. Causes, flags, purposes are lacking, even a slogan that sticks to society is missing. The most impressive thing is that we are not talking about a long process, one or two decades, but rather a picture of rapid deterioration in a reasonably short space of time. I have been in Brazil since 1954 and I have never seen such a state of lethargy. In the dictatorship, there was protest. Today, barely a whisper is heard.

On the other hand, solutions cannot be found through the economy either, notably the productive sector. Brazilian industry “Africanized”, as the late Arthur Candal had already predicted for a long time. We surrender to financialization without any resistance. The idea of ​​the State inducing development was finally mortally wounded by the religion that the minimal State will lead us to a state of economic grace. Pure dogma. We are destroying the last driving forces of economic growth and of inclusive and egalitarian intervention in the social.

This indignation of mine, sometimes mixed with an undesirable but inevitable state of pessimism, could be attributed to my old age. But I don't think it is. I've been old for a long time. I struggle not to get carried away by skepticism. It is not simple from what is before my eyes.

I'm sorry, but I don't bend; I suffer, but I don't give up. I never ran away from the good fight and I wouldn't do it now. There are ways out of this picture of national entropy, and I am convinced that they will pass through the new generations. As Sartre would say, we cannot do away with the illusions of youth. On the contrary, we have to stimulate them, instill them. Illusion, in a non-literal sense, means the ability to envision new scenarios, the profession of faith that it is indeed possible to interfere with the status quo in force, the strong desire for change, associated with the freshness, the impetus and the necessary mobilization power for it to occur. I can only see some possibility of curing this state of asthenia and reorganizing the democratic foundations from a massive call and action from young people.

As steep as the journey may be, I can't see solutions other than society itself, notably our young people. Not young people with a ready-made, pre-molded mind, as if they were concrete blocks stacked by someone else's hands. These barely arrived and are already one step away from senectude. I'm referring to a youth without vices, without ties, with an open mind, capable of being indignant and building a healthy counterpoint to this torrent of reactionaryism that spreads across the country. It is necessary to start the awareness work now, but knowing that the time for change will be decades, who knows how many generations.

I cannot envision any other possibility for us to get out of this general jam, this absence of movements from any side, any origin, whether of a political, economic, religious nature, if not through a call to young people. Even because, if not the youth, who will you talk to? For the oligarchy in power? For the cosmopolitan bourgeoisie – which was what was left – with its convenient and perverse indifference? For a rarefied and somewhat bewildered intellectual elite?

At the same time, any project to sew the country's fabrics must undergo state restoration. There is an urgent need for a process of rearranging the public apparatus, of filling serious gaps in thinking. Our own history reserves for us didactic episodes, examples to be revisited. In the 30s, during the first government of Getúlio Vargas, keeping due proportions, we also experienced a severe crisis. We weren't going anywhere. Even so, measures of great impact emerged for the modernization of the State, such as, for example, the creation of Dasp – Administrative Department of the Public Service, commanded by Luis Simões Lopes.

In the wake of Dasp, it is worth remembering, came the public contests for positions in the federal government, the first statute of civil servants in Brazil, the inspection of the Budget. It was a punch in the stomach of clientelism and patrimonialism. Dasp imprinted a new modus operandi of administrative organization, with the centralization of reforms in ministries and departments and the modernization of the administrative apparatus. The influence of local powers and interests also diminished. Not to mention the emergence, within the ranks of the Department, of a specialized elite that combined extremely high value and technical knowledge with a commitment to a reformist vision of the management of public affairs.

I take this short walk through time to reinforce that we have never done anything without the State. We are not a spontaneous democracy. The fact is that today our state is very broken. In this way, it is very difficult to make a more active social policy. It's not just a lack of money. The worst is the lack of human capital. What we are witnessing today is a satanic project to deconstruct the State, see Eletrobras, Petrobras, BNDES...


The State has always been the nobility of intellectual capital, technical quality, the ability to formulate transformative public policies. What has been done in Brazil is frightening, a calamity. A profound plan for the reorganization of the State is necessary even so that more acute social policies can be implemented. We have arrived, in my view, at a bifurcation point in history: either we have a reformist movement or a revolution. The first route sounds more efficient and less traumatic to me. Still, I recognize, we will need massive doses of the medicine to face such a serious illness. The symptoms are of barbarism. It seems like the end of a century, although we are at the dawn of one. In a light comparison, it recalls the beginning of the XNUMXth century. The facts led to the two World Wars. Incidentally, war, although undesirable, is a way out of the impasse.

Therefore, I repeat: we need restorative action. What we have today in Brazil is not a small wound that can be treated with a little merthiolate or covered with a plaster. The State and Brazilian society are on an operating table. The cut is deep, vital organs have been hit, the bleeding is dramatic. This resurgence should not come from the ballot box. I don't see the election as a potentially restorative event, capable of turning the page, of being a landmark for reconstruction.

With neoliberalism we are not going anywhere. Above all because, I repeat: historically, Brazil has never taken leaps if not with impulses from the State itself. These last two years have been appalling, economically, socially and politically. All proposed reforms are reactionary, from labor to social security. We live in a moment of “reckoning” with Getúlio, with an inquisitive fury of unprecedented rights. It is an adjustment made on top of the disadvantaged, income from work, social security contribution, labor. Brazil has become an economy of rentiers, which is what I feared the most. It is necessary to euthanize rentism, the most effective and perverse form of wealth concentration.

Minimum income

It amazes me that none of the main candidates for the Presidency is dealing with a visceral issue such as the minimum income, a proposal that has always had its staunchest defender and propagandist in Brazil in former Senator Eduardo Suplicy. Suplicy was ridiculed, trampled on by many, called a one-note politician. It wasn't, but even if it were, it would be a note that would give a new tone to the most tragic of our national symphonies: misery and inequality.

Once again, we are against the grain of the world, at least the world we should aim for. If, in Brazil, the minimum income is stoned by many, more and more central countries adopt the measure. In Canada, the province of Ontario started last year a pilot project of minimum income for all citizens, employed or not. Finland followed the same path and started testing a program in 2017 as well. As is known, around two thousand Finns started to receive something around 500 euros per month.

In Holland, around 300 residents of the Utrecht region began to receive from 900 euros to 1,3 euros per month. The name of the Dutch program is suggestive: Weten Wat Werkt (“Knowing what works”). It would work for Brazil, I'm sure.

The model even found a welcome in the United States. Since the 80s, Alaska has paid each of its 700 inhabitants a minimum income called the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. The funds come from an investment fund backed by oil royalties.

It is good to say that two of the fundamentalists of liberalism, the economists FA Hayek and Milton Friedman, were defenders of basic income and even disputed the primacy for the paternity of the idea. Friedman said that the measure would replace other scattered welfare actions.

In Brazil, the debate on basic income stands out for its circularity. Bolsa-Família was a proxy for a construction that did not advance. According to the IMF, the distribution of 4,6% of GDP would reduce Brazilian poverty by a spectacular 11%.

This is an idea that needs to be rescued, a flag waiting for a hand. Among the presidential candidates, I can only see Lula as someone identified with the proposal. Although things are so bad that, even if he could run for office and be elected, he would have enormous difficulty putting on really transformative projects. The PT is not strong enough; the other leftist parties do not react.

Lula has always been a great conciliator. But a conciliator loses his greatest power when there is no conflict. And one of the roots of our listlessness, of this lethargy, is precisely the absence of conflicts, of counterpoints. There's nothing to reconcile. More than conflicting, society is anesthetized, almost in an induced coma. What does a peacemaker do when there's nothing to pacify?

*Maria da Conceicao Tavares is a former professor at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and Professor Emerita at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). She is the author, among other books, of Power and money – a political economy of globalization (Voices).


Hildete Pereira de Melo (org.). Maria da Conceicao Tavares. São Paulo, Popular Expression/Perseu Abramo Foundation, 2019.


See this link for all articles