historical trance

Image: Leo Zhao


The polycrisis started in the headquarters and not in the periphery, producing a small mismatch of date and rhythm between the national and international dimension

In the first two governments (2003-2010), Lula starred and cohabited with the toucans and other political associates in a dynamic and contradictory process of agreement and institutional coexistence between government and opposition parties in parliament and the executive, with the participation and/or acquiescence of the main classes, social forces, public institutions and corporations of the state apparatus.

Such political architecture had more successes than failures while it lasted, it corresponded to a specific historical time, understood after the end of the dictatorship (and the national-developmental state originating in the “Era Vargas”) and the hegemony of the ideology of the end of history and liberalism. political and economic as the ultimate realization of the human spirit in time. This world began to change after the hard trials unleashed by the neoliberal international economic and financial crisis of 2008.

The specific crisis of the financial markets, cyclical and conjunctural, has grown to engender a “polycrisis” – economic (inflation and recession), environmental (global warming, climate change and pandemic) and geopolitical (dangerous escalation of the war in Ukraine and international geoeconomic divisions ).[I]

Thus, the “polycrisis”, by no means, is just “economic”, as it accelerated and conflagrated, strict and sensu latu, the current policy. For this reason, the serious harangues, without rest or peace, of the first two months of the Lula III government (provisionally failed attempt; genocide and project for the extinction of the Yanomami people; absolutist interest rates, conducted by the all-powerful “independent” Central Bank, etc.). The “new normal” in politics has come to mean the following: instead of a clear sky or the traditional “honeymoon” of new governments – the famous “100 days” –, facts come and go, but keeping the mountain- russia of the recent Brazilian historical process, characterized by trepidating and overwhelming emotions.

Since the demonstrations in June 2013, it has become commonplace to repeat: – “in Brazil, one does not live out of boredom”. The storms will not calm under Lula's baton. For a simple reason: Lula won the election, but the electoral victory may open in the future, but it did not open, a new process, in the sense of a new transition towards a new regime. In fact, with Lula's victory, we jumped a fire: Jair Bolsonaro's project, if he won, was to change the political regime towards a "majority dictatorship".

He and his group had already undertaken, in the four years of government, with some competence, a “long journey inside” of equipping State institutions, mainly the military, but also the judiciary, regulatory agencies, environmental bodies and universities, etc. Jair Bolsonaro's first card was to guarantee the superior courts for himself and his people. It disarmed in the elections, who knows until when (my naive conscience augurs that forever), an institutional atomic bomb.

Shortly after the elections, voices of good conscience and contagious optimism predicted a “return to normality and reason”. It must be the Christmas spirit. On the other hand, with no room for error, Lula's electoral victory allowed a glimpse of some good positions in chess. But the game continues, the checkmate, which would be to defeat neoliberalism and start the transition of the Sixth Republic (1988-2016), is still far from happening. The next moves on the Brazilian political scene will be difficult and complex – which justifies the Frente Ampla governance policy –, but still essentially determined by the process arising from the recent past that started in 2008/2013.

The polycrisis began in the headquarters and not in the periphery, producing a small mismatch in date and rhythm between the national and international dimension. The dynamite fuse of the crisis, structural and organic, national and international, ignited in 2008 in the United States. As we know in abundant biographies, the seismograph were the pirated balance sheets of Lehman Brothers. Well then, the trail of gunpowder from balance sheet crises in capitalism, a harbinger of broader crises, continues, armed, explosive and fearless, not only abroad, but here in Brazil. In the pre-Barack Obama United States of 2008, one of the crooks of the original crisis, if we want to personalize it – and that is the case – was Bernie Madoff, “market witch”, mastermind of a fraud estimated at 65 billion dollars by Wall Street .

In the conflicted Brazilian present, not to miss anything else on the new government's busy agenda, the scandal of financial fraud of 20 billion reais or more on the balance sheet of the Lojas Americanas retail chain broke out in the economy. This type of fraud and bankruptcy is certainly not an isolated event. I risk predicting, the case of the Americanas is the poisonous tip of the barbed wire: more than a modus operandi, business methods exposed to sunlight make up a ethos of the Brazilian big bourgeoisie in the XNUMXst century, cultivated in the destructive destruction of deindustrialization, privatization, financialization and rentism, predatory practices cultivated as a dogmatic economic science since FHC's Plano Real.

Literature and dramaturgy can help us understand this ethos. Discounting the differences between life situations and dramaturgy, the pusillanimous attitudes of the three Brazilian oligarchs (who leave nothing to oligarchs from Eastern European countries) simulate three authentic “kings of sailing” revamped from the new generation. I refer, of course, to the play The Sailing King, by Oswald de Andrade, revamped for the new generation. Very well known, the play tells the story of Abelardo I, a moneylender (the “sail”) indebted and engaged in the 1929 crisis – which broke the coffee economy – by a financier from the United States.

Context and time are different, but between reality and fiction there is a kind of repetition by anticipation of the artist. This Brazil of agricultural and mineral commodities, commercial capital, overexploited workers and internationally integrated high finance, on the other side of the same coin, reinvents itself, in platforms and applications, modifying the form, but maintaining the essence of the patrimonialism and the bossism of the power holders. Passing the cloth is an art of the game: for the mainstream press, the Americanas fraud case is just an “accounting inconsistency”. According to ironists in the mainstream press, the three “kings of sailing” are still financial wizards and examples of philanthropy and meritocracy. They are confirmed presences at the big dance on the Tropical Island of Dona Poloca (the dance and the character are from The Sailing King).[ii]

From all this, the lesson remains: As Chico de Oliveira said, the problem of the “national character” of the Brazilian ruling classes – which the businessman Abelardo I de The Sailing King is a dramaturgical figuration –, yesterday and today, it is not “jeitinho” (a fiction), but the “jeitão” (a cultural class practice): “the jeitinho is an attribute of the Brazilian ruling classes transmitted to the dominated classes (...) , the ideas and habits of the dominant classes are transformed into hegemony and national character”.[iii]

In the crisis of German late capitalism, Bertolt Brecht created, together with the music of Kurt Weill, in the Threepenny Opera the silent surreptitious dagger, rogue and misdemeanor, of a Razor Mac.[iv] Chico Buarque recreated and adapted Brecht for the tropics in Malandro's Opera, but those were other times. Chico's trickster saga was that of work in the “Vargas era”, of the passage of former “tricksters” into workers, in the cultural transition from the ethics of pre-capitalist trickery to the world of market-capital work. The world of the trickster convinced to change his life by formal opportunities has practically disappeared.[v]

The rascal-worker-Fordist-consumer went down the slope of sunset, [vi] but the bourgeoisie did not disappear from the country, which, due to its aristocratic and oligarchic origin, has always behaved especially seduced by the shrewd logic of extraordinary profits arising from multiplication without ballast in the labor value of money capital. See Americanas and Dr. Roberto Campos Neto, Independent Emperor of the Central Bank.

Perhaps, invoking Chico's father, Sérgio, the atavistic vocation of our ruling classes persists relentlessly, since colonial origins, more concentrated in the "adventures" of exploring nature and compulsory "work" (I would add, the financialization of wealth). , instead of hiring wage labor, as Marx said in Primitive Accumulation, “free as birds” waiting for the cage – or exploitation. [vii] Here, translating the peculiarity of the Brazilian formation into political terms, the citizenship charter took place through the figure of the “citizen lord”, processing the metamorphosis of the slave owner and patrimonialist into citizen lord.[viii] As a fossil, the ideology of the lord-citizen proved to be an idea-force capable of descending to lower classes, in which the new foreman appears in the form of a “good citizen”.

How is it possible to periodize the Brazilian crisis on the heels of the international crisis of 2008? Here, the counterintuitive conjunctural response (or “populist”, in the bad taste of opponents of social liberalism) to neoliberalism, in the international economic crisis of 2008, through public investment policies and private partnerships (PAC), plus the increase minimum wage and income transfers, were the golden moment of the Lula government, which was engraved in the popular memory as a time of development and social affluence and made it resist the greatest reputation destruction campaign in history and 580 days from prison.

I will not address this issue of Lula's decreed political death and resurrection in this article, but just emphasize that the president handed over the baton to the continuity government of Dilma Rousseff, in the 1st. January 2011, according to IBOPE data, with an incredible 83% popularity. Despite everything, these were times of hopes that proved to be dashed. In fact, the 2008 crisis, in the first years, appeared more in the center than in the periphery. Here in Brazil, for example, we imagined – everything indicates, Lula himself among many of us – that we could, through struggles and class commitments, reach the level of popular capitalism, who knows a New Deal Lulista? [ix] In a new government scenario, the ideology of New Deal lulista remains in the crosshairs. Interestingly, as Lula himself pointed out in the meeting with Joe Biden, and also in meetings with AFL-CIO union members and Democratic party parliamentarians, the purposes and paradigms of social and economic policy of Lulism, and of the BBB plan (Reconstruir Melhor ), by Joe Biden, once again described in the recent State of the Union address, are closer than many realize.[X]

The Brazilian crisis – which had always been doing the discreet molecular work of the mole underground – only emerged in the open with the mobilizations of June 2013, about to complete ten years (twelve years if the starting point is international and 2008). I insist that, in this period, there was a breakdown and a crisis in the historical bloc and in the Brazilian power of the Sixth Republic, configuring a process of amalgamated causalities between structure and superstructure, civil society and State, public and private.

This period involves the rich events of June 2013, the 2022 election (Jair Bolsonaro's electoral defeat) and now the beginning of the Lula government. Many scholars from Brazil, with varied embouchures, agree on the periodization.[xi] In 2015, the beginning of Dilma Rousseff's second and brief second term, I wrote an article in partnership with Lindbergh Farias, in which we defended the thesis that, in Brazil, a new historical period was opening, a tunnel of high and low" historical trance” revealing a Brazilian reversal, which was recently increased and added, nothing less, to a “polycrisis” of three gentlemen of apocalyptic dimension (geopolitics, geoeconomics and anthrocene).[xii]

The narrative is known and has been lived by many of us. In June 2013 and throughout the year, crowds occupied the streets of 483 Brazilian cities, displaying, on banners, a myriad of ideologically undecided demands. However, soon the compass pointed the pointer towards the opposition to the Dilma government. From then on, the leftist political culture, which was hegemonic for decades in the country, lost space. The extreme right ideology, emerging on social networks, gained a mass dimension on the streets, which it did not have, for example, in the failed trials of the “Cansei” Movement of figures déjà vu such as João Doria, Hebe Camargo, Ivete Sangalo, among others, in the bygone days of the Lula II government, in 2007.

The “Cansei”, in short, was a movement of the “past”, an indicator of the movement of the “mole” under the ground, but it was still not aesthetically expressive, and it was not the adequate form of right-wing action in the nascent crisis of the historic bloc and in the power. In this regard, the extreme right grew, renewed itself and finally found a form and an estuary for its grudges against Bolsonarism. [xiii]

I shall address the specific issue of the enigma of the 2013 mobilizations on another occasion. At the moment, linked to the idea of ​​crisis, I emphasize here, above all, the international nature of the process. Far from underestimating the national particularities of the Brazilian mobilizations, the analysis should start by referring to the international dimension, noting that the eruptions broke out almost at the same time (evidencing the relationship with the 2008 neoliberalism crisis) in different countries and cities, such as Porta do Sol (Madrid, Spain); Willy-Brandt Platz square (Frankfurt); Taksim Square (Istanbul); Mohammad Bouazizi Square (Tunisia); Tahrir Square (Egypt); Zuccoti Park Square/Wall Street (New York).

A quick brushstroke to consider in relation to 2013 lies in the apparent paradox that the mobilizations took place at a time of relative economic growth. According to the IBGE, Brazil recorded an average unemployment rate of 7,1% in 2013, compared to 7,4% in 2012, the lowest in eleven years. The 2013 movements were socially educated youth and involved the older (some of which decadent) aspirations of the middle classes. The data, which reveal a period of social affluence, are well known, so it is not the case to repeat them. In famous words, written for an obviously distant and different situation, Tocqueville recalled that “the reign of Louis XVI was the most prosperous period of the old monarchy” and that “this prosperity hastened the Revolution”.[xiv]

Almost ten years have passed, and the question that remains, at the beginning of the Lula III government, is whether there will be any outcome or deepening of the “historical trance”. Trance is a good image, but perhaps it would be more comprehensive to name the current transition,[xv] that many, remembering the film by Glauber Rocha, called a “trance” in the beginning – and recently a “polycrisis” –, a Brazilian organic crisis.

The bibliography on the concept of crisis in modernity is massive and links the best and worst of social theory. For better or worse, however, the rivers of ink that spurted on the rising tide of the concept of crisis are in themselves an indication that there is fire in the forest. In turn, the concept of organic crisis was created by the Italian communist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci, with purposes of universal category of analysis of capitalism, especially as an explanatory key of the Italian crisis of the immediate post-First World War.

The organic crisis, without a doubt, is economic, political, cultural, but also of representation. Thus, on the Italian Peninsula, the aftermath of the war evolved into what Gramsci calls an “organic crisis”: the break between social classes and their traditional representations. Between us, the spectacular failure of the period of relative peace (and armed) of the New or Sixth Republic.[xvi]

A characteristic of this type of crisis is the total or partial failure of part of the superstructure, better known in the political literature as the “party-political system”. This situation makes room for the political action of other types of alternative institutions. There is no empty space in politics. The power of the bureaucracy, the courts, finance, the media, the churches is reinforced.

Gramsci wrote: “At a certain point in their historical life, social groups detach themselves from their traditional parties, that is, the traditional parties in that organizational form, with those particular men who constitute, represent and direct them, are no longer recognized as expression of its class or class fraction. When these crises occur, the immediate situation becomes delicate and dangerous, as the field is opened for forceful solutions and the activity of occult powers represented by providential or charismatic men.”[xvii]

This was the breeding ground for the creation and rise, in Italy, of a new type of movement and party that marked Italian history and the world in the XNUMXth century – fascism.

*Jaldes Meneses He is a professor at the Department of History at UFPB..


[I]  TOOZE, Adam. Closed doors: how Covid has shaken the world economy. São Paulo: However, 2021, p. 9-31.

[ii] ANDRADE, Oswald. The king of candle. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2017.

[iii] OLIVEIRA, Francisco de. Brazil: an unauthorized biography. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2018, p. 139.

[iv] “Jaws have strong teeth,/which they don't try to hide;/Mackie has a razor,/which no one can see.” BRECHT, Bertolt. The Threepenny Opera. Complete theater 3. São Paulo: Paz e Terra (3rd. Ed.), sd., p. 13.

[v] “The modern world is in crisis (the worlds of the past had its crises; is our present perspective). It is a truism, this one, unavoidable. And those who see the crisis as an evil from whose womb monsters will erupt feel it, as do those who see it as a good from whose core something like Utopia will be born.” HOUAISS, Antonio. Drummond plus six poets and a problem. Rio de Janeiro: Imago, 1976, p. 36.

[vi] BUARQUE, Chico. The trickster's operation. Available in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkH0nPiF7mE.

[vii] BUARQUE, Sergio. Roots of Brazil. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras (26nd ed.), 1995, p. 41-70.

[viii] FERNANDES, Florestan. The bourgeois revolution in Brazil: an essay on sociological interpretation. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar (2nd ed.), 1976, p. 41.

[ix] On Lula's strategy during the 2008 crisis, see RAMOS, Cida; MENESES, Jaldes. A new Lulism? Available in: https://aterraeredonda.com.br/um-novo-lulismo/#_edn1.

[X] See The Build Back Better Framework, in: https://www.whitehouse.gov/build-back-better/.

[xi] NOBLE, Mark. Limits of democracy: from June 2013 to the Bolsonaro government. São Paulo: However, 2022.

[xii] MENESES, Jaldes; FARIAS, Lindbergh. Brazil in historical trance. Available in: https://en.calameo.com/read/00181014786af126bdeac.

[xiii] About “Cansei”: https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2017/08/1909369-ha-dez-anos-cansei-dava-a-doria-projecao-politica-e-pecha-de-golpista.shtml.

[xiv] TOCQUEVILLE, Alexis. The old regime and the revolution. São Paulo: Hucitec/UnB, 1989, p. 164.

[xv] Former president FHC, in the first year of the Bolsonaro government (2019), said that “Brazil is experiencing a moment of dangerous transition”. Available in: https://noticias.uol.com.br/ultimas-noticias/agencia-estado/2019/05/29/brasil-vive-momento-de-transicao-perigoso-diz-fhc.htm.

[xvi] I have been adopting, in this and other texts, the nomenclature Sixth Republic, rather than New Republic, both because the republic was not that new, and the prefix Sexta designates a periodization for the “sixth Brazilian republic” (the years from 1988, of promulgation of the Constitution, to 2016, of impeachment of Dilma) since the proclamation, in 1889.

[xvii] GRAMSCI, Antonio. Prison notebooks. Vol. two. Machiavelli. Notes on the State and Politics. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2000, p. 60.

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