Struggling within populism’s straightjacket: limits and repetitions of Marxist readings on the Brazilian crises (from 1964 to 2016)

Pedro Lima
Josué Medeiros


In the troubled political scene of the 1960’s in Brazil, a prolific trend of Marxist authors adopted “populism” as a main conceptual axis of their interpretations on the country’s crisis. At that time, the Marxist refusal of national-developmentalism led to criticism on the alleged theoretical and practical insufficiencies of the political actors identified with the communist and labourist parties. According to that reading, common to many relevant authors (Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Caio Prado Jr., Francisco Weffort, amongst many others), the 1964’ coup d’état and the military dictatorship have epitomized populism’s collapse and the exhaustion of a political structure based on class interests’ compromise. Within that analytical framework, many of the social, economic and political conquests obtained in the democratic period (1946-1964) would come to mean nothing but false populist promises, ill-founded on populism’s thin limits and inevitable breakdown.
This paper identifies continuities between that discourse and certain Marxist analysis of Brazilian contemporary crisis (by Paulo Arantes, Vladimir Safatle, Armando Boito, amongst others). A priori depreciation of political practices through the concept of populism; oversight of formal democracy and the potential bond between political form and social conquests; critique of a “class conciliation” politics and search for a deeper and truthful class struggle dimension; exhaustion of the “conciliatory model” as historical necessity; immediate identification between State and emancipatory movements’ oppression – all of these features constitute an analysis that replicates in 2016 the meaning of those 1964’ readings. It transfers to PT, Lula and “Lulismo” similar sins as those attributed to communists of early 1960’s and to João Goulart’s labourism. Our purposes in this paper are to pinpoint those analytical and conceptual ties and to open up the possibility of an alternative Marxist interpretation of the 2016’ coup d’état in Brazil. Its potentialities would lie in a properly dialectical understanding of the tensions and contradictions that emerged after a leftist party have risen to power in a peripheral emerging country.

Brazil - Populism - Dependency - Neoliberalism - Marxism