An intellectual tries to say who he is

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By LUIZ CARLOS BRESSER-PEREIRA*

Brief confessions of a socialist and ambitious intellectual, who always wanted to save the world, and about to turn 90

After all, who am I? I have asked myself this question many times, and I believe that the answers I have given myself over the years have been coherent but incomplete. Now, as I'm about to turn 90, it occurred to me that this would be a good time to give the question a more precise, more considered answer.

I am first and foremost an intellectual. Ideas, theories, great thinkers have always fascinated me. A socialist intellectual, but bureaucratic-bourgeois. A first contradiction that, like others, I have been resolving to the extent possible, dialectically. Bureaucratic because I was born into a middle-class family in which my father was a journalist, lawyer, public servant, politician and novelist, and my mother was an elementary school teacher. Bourgeois because I worked for 25 years in a large company and built assets that made me independent on an economic level. Intellectuals generally become independent in public service, I, working in a capitalist company.

An ambitious intellectual. I always wanted to “save the world”, build a great theory, make Brazil a developed country, be loved by my family and close friends and respected by my peers. I never wanted to be richer and richer, and when, in 1994, I achieved economic independence, I left the company and dedicated myself full time to academic life.

But first I received a surprising invitation from my friend Fernando Henrique Cardoso and returned to politics for another six years. I did not seek political power, nor power in organizations; prestige has always attracted me more than power. Therefore, when I became a full-time intellectual, I began to refuse any administrative position. I wanted time to study, research and write.

I think the most general definition is that I am a political economist. In two senses: in the traditional sense, as were the classical political economists, from Adam Smith to Karl Marx, therefore not a neoclassic, and in the modern sense, as are the economists who think historically and include political science in their field of analysis, sociology and history.

A socialist intellectual, but not a revolutionary. I am convinced that capitalism will never produce an egalitarian society, but I do not believe that socialism can be achieved through revolution. The experiences of Russia and China have been clear on this. They were taken over by the bureaucracy of the respective communist parties, because the working class was unable to take over the management of either the companies or the country itself.

The transition to socialism will happen one day, but there is a paradox here. When capitalism is eventually corrected by the collective efforts of workers, intellectuals, republican-minded citizens and becomes a sufficiently egalitarian society, there may be widespread self-management. The difference between intellectual and manual work would then practically disappear and we would then be arriving at socialism. “A bourgeois socialism”, they will tell me. Maybe, I don't deny it. But the alternative to bourgeois socialists are bureaucratic socialists, they are employed by the State or in some non-profit organization. Socialists fought bravely for a socialism that would happen sooner, many died in that fight, but unfortunately they failed.

An anti-imperialist economic nationalist, not an ethnic nationalist who can be violent. Inequality does not only exist between social classes, between genders, between races, between sexual options; It also exists between countries. The most advanced countries are inevitably imperialist or associated with the imperialist power. They seek to prevent underdeveloped countries from industrializing; they want to maintain unequal exchange and export capital; They don’t want competition in the future. And they use economic liberalism as an instrument to prevent the industrialization of countries on the periphery of capitalism. There is therefore no alternative but to be anti-imperialist, to adopt the center-periphery perspective.

I am a developmental economist, not a liberal. There are only two ways of coordinating capitalism at the economic level: either developmentalism, in which the State intervenes moderately in the economy and has a nationalist perspective, or economic liberalism, in which the aim is to limit State intervention as much as possible. All industrial and capitalist revolutions and all accelerated growth processes were developmental periods. When economic liberalism is dominant in rich countries, as it was between 1980 and 2020, even they are harmed. We saw this in the United States and Western Europe.

I am a new-developmental economist. “New Developmentalism” is the name of the new economic theory and political economy that I have been developing with a group of friends. I am a classical structuralist developmentalist and a post-Keynesian economist, but I hope to have added something on a theoretical level. I learned a lot from Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and other Marxists, but I am not a Marxist. Not only because the world has changed a lot since they lived, but also because I'm not a revolutionary. I adopt, however, the historical and dialectical method of Marx and Engels. I consider historical materialism indispensable for understanding the long-term changes that occur in capitalism. Therefore, I sometimes say that I am “almost a Marxist”.

In addition to being a socialist, I am a republican. The economic structure is the basis of history, but it is also a product of the ideas and actions of men. Who are not just individualists; I believe that in each society there can be a reasonable number of people, especially politicians endowed with civic virtues, who make a difference. I also defend original political liberalism, the one that defends fundamental freedoms or civil rights, but I reject individualist liberalism. Nothing destroys a society more than exacerbated individualism.

I am a critic of the capitalist and dependent society in which I live, Brazil. I can make harsh criticisms of certain governments and the alienation of our elites, but it is always clear to me that this criticism must be supportive. I learned this from John K. Galbraith, who harshly criticized American society and its elites, but was always supportive of his nation. However, I have no solidarity with states that promote apartheid and genocide, as is the case today with Israel and Rwanda acting in the Congo.

I was a business administrator. I learned to be one at FGV, at Michigan State University, and Sugarloaf Mountain. There, with Abílio Diniz as businessman and me as administrator, we built a great company. In the public sector, in the ministries I held, I believe I was more than an administrator; I was also innovative.

I was Catholic in my youth. That's when I made my main friends like Fernão Bracher and Jorge Cunha Lima. I have long been a materialist; religions are mere alienating ideologies; as institutions, they have a role, they are part of the social and political coordination system of society. You don't have to be idealistic to have great respect for ideas, you don't have to be religious to develop your own spirituality.

I am an inveterate and passionate teacher. I inherited this from my mother. As a teacher, I also made some of my best friends, like Evelyn Levy and José Marcio Rego. When reporters ask me how I want them to identify me, whether as a minister or a teacher, I always say, “professor”.

Finally, I am a faithful man. Faithful to my beloved wife, Vera, to whom I have been married for 66 years. Loyal to Fundação Getúlio Vargas, where I have been since 1959. Faithful to my friends – old, very old friends.

* Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira Professor Emeritus at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV-SP). Author, among other books, of In search of lost development: a new-developmentalist project for Brazil (FGV Editor).


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