Twenty years without Octavio Ianni

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By ANDRÉ DA ROCHA SANTOS*

He was one of the most influential intellectuals in Brazil and, in the 1990s, his research focused on criticizing globalization

Born in Itú in the interior of São Paulo in 1926, Octavio Ianni came from a humble family and due to the need to combine studies and work, he only joined the 23 class of the Social Sciences course at the University of São Paulo (USP) at the age of 1949. Facing financial difficulties, he had to interrupt his graduation for two years, during which time he worked as a typographer at the Companhia Editora Nacional printing company.

Only after opening the course at night was he able to complete his degree in 1954. This reality, close to the experience of the majority of the Brazilian population, was a minority among students and professors at USP between the years 1940-1950.

From this context of overcoming some marks that would make up the personality of the sociologist he would become: perseverance in facing obstacles (material and intellectual) and the option for the subordinate classes.

He played an important role in different moments of the consolidation of sociology in Brazil. Soon after graduation, he joined the so-called Escola Paulista de Sociologia, an expression by which the group of assistant professors who joined the Sociology I chair became known, led by Florestan Fernandes, strongly marked by the struggle in favor of the recognition of the profession of sociologist, by the institutionalization of research and by intellectual actions of a clearly interventionist nature.

He was 1st secretary of the Brazilian Society of Sociology (SBS) between 1960-1962 when Florestan Fernandes was president of the entity. In parallel, another striking fact would stand out and strongly influence Octavio Ianni's career: his participation, between 1958 and 1964, in the first generation of the famous seminar of  The capital, or simply Marx Seminar.

The multidisciplinary group of new teachers was initially formed by José Arthur Giannotti (Philosophy), Fernando Novais (History), Ruth Cardoso (Anthropology), Paul Singer (Economy), Octavio Ianni and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Sociology) and they were also part of , with “apprentice status”, some students such as Roberto Schwarz (Literary Criticism), Bento Prado Júnior (Philosophy), Francisco Weffort (Political Science) and Michael Löwy (Sociology).

The influence of the Seminar was soon present in the intellectual formulations of social scientist Octavio Ianni, who pioneered courses on Marx at USP and began a fruitful process of analyzing Brazilian social reality from a Marxist perspective. How few have been able to use, in a consistent and totalizing way, the dialectical method, historical materialism and the analysis of social classes to elucidate – without any dogmatism – themes dear to our social reality.

Likewise, he participated in the Center for Industrial and Labor Sociology (Cesit), in the period between 1961 and 1962, which formulated a specific agenda of studies in the area of ​​political sociology on underdevelopment, the State and social classes in Brazil.

For Octavio Ianni, the direct result of the Cesit project experience were some works of his critical sociology marked by interventions written “in the heat of the moment”, such as Politics and social revolution in Brazil (1965), organized in partnership with Gabriel Cohn, Paul Singer and Francisco Weffort, and his thesis on free teaching The State and economic development defended in 1964, as well as the classic The collapse of populism in Brazil (1968), prepared during the hardening of the dictatorship.

Arbitrarily retired by act based on Institutional Act nº 5 (AI-5), he was removed from his teaching and research duties at USP. He was later arrested for Operation Tarrafa in April 1970.

He was part of the team of researchers at the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (Cebrap), founded in May 1969 and of which he became a member in the early 1970s.

At the study and research center he produced outstanding works such as Imperialism in Latin America (1974) The formation of the populist state in Latin America (1975) Slavery and racism (1978) Dictatorship and agriculture (1979), the organization of the book Marx: sociology (1979) and The ABC of the working class (1980). In his last year as a researcher at Cebrap he also produced the remarkable The Dictatorship of Big Capital (1981)

In the 1970s he was a visiting professor and lecturer at universities in Mexico, the United States, England, Spain and Italy. During his exile, his production took international flights, having published in Spanish, Italian and English. Upon returning to Brazil, he returned to teaching in 1977 at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP), which distinguished itself as a space of resistance to the dictatorship and housed names such as Florestan Fernandes, Maurício Tragtenberg, Paulo Freire and Paul Singer, and in 1986 he returned to a public university as a professor in the Department of Sociology at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp).

At both USP and Unicamp he received the title of Professor Emeritus, in addition to the titles of professor Honoris Causa from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR).

He was one of the most influential intellectuals in Brazil and, in the 1990s, his research focused on criticizing globalization, as a new face of capitalism “as a mode of production and civilizing process”. In this last phase he also won two Jabuti awards in the Essays category with the book The global society (1992) and in the Human Sciences category with the book Globalization theories (1996)

with the book Enigmas of modernity-world (2000) received the Essay, Criticism and Literary History award from the Brazilian Academy of Letters, as well as the Juca Pato Award, from the Brazilian Union of Writers, as intellectual of the year in 2000.

His private library was donated in 2002 to the Araraquara Campus of the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp) by the sociologist himself and in 2003 he received the 1st Florestan Fernandes award instituted by SBS in the same year. His departure took place in 2004 in São Paulo at the age of 77.

An example of the intellectual vitality in which he found himself, three works by the author that were in preparation were published posthumously: Capitalism, violence and terrorism (2004) Social thought in Brazil (2004) and Sociology and the modern world (2011)

*André da Rocha Santos is a professor of sociology at the Federal Institute of São Paulo (IFSP), Campus Registro.


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