University, revolution and dollars

Maria Bonomi, The garden, woodcut, 70x50 cm, 2019.


Commentary on the newly released book by Vania Markarian

University, Revolution and Dollars is a book that stands out for its sensitivity in the analysis of the institutional and political clashes – which were also human dramas – involved in the construction of the Uruguayan university in the 1960s. . Dealing with the Universidad de la República (UdelaR), the work sheds light on a broader historical process in Latin America, particularly in its relationship with the United States, in the midst of debates about intellectual autonomy in the face of pressures of all kinds in the context of the Cold War.

Vania Markarian makes a sort of reckoning with her university's recent past and the legacy of a generation that tried to transform it. It is an example of balance and reflection that are imposed on the new generations of researchers trained after the end of dictatorships in the region. The author values ​​her predecessors, whose work was disrupted by the brutal advent of authoritarianism that removed about half of the professors from UdelaR, chasing the main protagonists of the narrated story.

References to them are touching in certain passages. However, this does not distance the author from analytical rigor when assessing the scope and limits involved, for example, in the so-called Maggiolo reform. Or in the central debates about foreign support for research. A theme that is worth returning to in order to understand the practice of scientists today, in which international circulation is essential for a university career and sponsorship.

The book analyzes two specific cases that also serve as a synthesis of a broader social process. The first part deals with the debate around the funding by the Organization of American States (OAS) of a training program in basic sciences at the Facultad de Ingeniería y Agrimensura in 1965. This debate involved three sets of forces: the supporters of the traditional orientation among the teachers to train professionals to meet the demand of the labor market; a teaching sector critical of this orientation, which sought to build a university focused mainly on scientific investigation and considered higher education as necessary for social change; and a strongly anti-imperialist student segment, influenced by the Cuban revolution, for which only a revolutionary onslaught would allow the transformation of academic functions and structures. The association between the last two groups made it possible to initiate the renewal of engineering in Uruguay and later provided the basis for the reform of UdelaR under the management of Maggiolo, elected rector in 1966.

The debate dealt with in detail in this part of the book did not lead to the refusal of funding by the OAS, an institution associated at the time with US policies. However, it led to questioning other programs with external sponsorship, placing in the foreground the need not to bend to academic guidelines established outside the institution, which would need to ensure its own independence. Some of the main actors involved in the debate would come to be important in the construction of the Frente Ampla in 1971 for the presidential elections in Uruguay, in the end won by his opponent Bordaberry.

The second part of the book deals with the seminar on “Latin American elites” promoted in Montevideo in 1965 by the Congress for the Freedom of Culture (CLC), an international organization of so-called anti-totalitarian intellectuals who opposed their peers organized in the World Peace Council, financed by by the Soviet Union. Supposedly autonomous, the CLC was secretly sponsored by the CIA, like the New York Times discovered in 1966, publishing articles soon reproduced in Uruguay by the weekly March.

Those were the years that followed the Cuban revolution, with a strong influence on the left across Latin America, in full force of the Alliance for Progress, with which the United States sought to approach reformist sectors in the region. An initiative that, however, coexisted with the usual use of brute force, such as support for the 1964 coup in Brazil and the invasion of the Dominican Republic the following year, concomitant with the two episodes analyzed in the book.

The international seminar on elites in Latin America intended to combat the persistence of old traditions and structures to face the challenges of the modern era and new technologies. It involved approaching local sociologists led by Aldo Solari, who were in search of an unprecedented professionalization of sociology, focused on empirical investigation with controllable methods and techniques, under the inspiration of the discipline developed in the United States, instead of the old chair sociology, held as generalist and essayist, without scientific standard.

Solari was the main organizer of the event in partnership with the American academic Seymour Lipset, alongside the person responsible for Latin America at the CLC, the anarchist Louis Mercier Vega, veteran of the Spanish Civil War. Various currents were represented at the seminar, in addition to the prevailing modernization theory. Distinguished left-wing social scientists accepted the invitation to participate, such as the Peruvian Aníbal Quijano and the Brazilians Darcy Ribeiro – who was exiled in Uruguay – and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who worked in Santiago de Chile to escape repression after the 1964 coup in your country. All united in the belief, despite their differences, that the institutional construction of the university and an integrated system of science and technology would be decisive for development.

Based on a careful and exhaustive investigation of documents referring to the two cases – gathered mainly in the Archivo General da UdelaR and in the CLC Archive at the University of Chicago Library –, and using a wide bibliography, the author shows how the tensions between politicization and academic autonomy were constitutive of disciplinary institutionalization processes, especially in the social sciences. It makes use not only of the public debate recorded in minutes of meetings, articles and texts in the press, but also of private correspondence between those involved, which allows us to unravel the backstage of the episodes, especially those referring to the CLC.

As readers, we get to know the different characters in the story: the group of reformist engineers such as Massera and Laguardia, the rector Maggiolo, Darcy Ribeiro and his influential seminar at UdelaR on university structures, and many others, such as the then young men who would come to occupy leading positions at the institution after the end of the dictatorship: Wschebor, dean of the new Faculty of Sciences in 1987, Rafael Guarda, Rodrigo Arocena and Roberto Markarian, deans from 1998 to 2018. In the second part, Solari and a series of important foreigners involved with o Seminar: Lipset, Gino Germani, Mercier, the anarchist editor Benito Milla, based in Montevideo. And also his main critics in the pages of March, Ángel Rama and Carlos Real de Azúa, among many others.

What could be a mere reconstitution of two topical passages gains life and interest through the text's argumentation, which uses the episodes to illuminate the events of the time in which the author is one of the greatest specialists, the 1960s. In other words, the book has contours quite comprehensive, involving controversial issues around foreign funding for science and the place of the university in public life. The most fascinating thing is to see how each character or group of actors knew how to give creative responses in the face of social constraints, limits and pressures of different orders to which they were subjected in a given context. Mercier Vega's terms – when justifying his unexpected presence as an anarchist in a body like the CLC – could well serve as the book's epigraph: “no one will play our game if we don't play it ourselves”.[1]

*Marcelo Ridenti is a full professor of sociology at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The Secret of the American Ladies - Intellectuals, Internationalization and Financing in the Cultural Cold War, coming out on ed. Unesp.

Originally published in the magazine Contemporary, No. 14(1), 2021.


Vania Markarian. University, Revolution and Dollars: Two studies on the cultural Cold War in Uruguay from the sixties. Montevideo, Penguin Random House, 2020.


[1] In the original: “nul ne fera notre jeu, si nous ne le menons pas nous-mêmes.” In: , note MERCIER Louis par Jean-Louis Ponnavoy.



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