The Dilemma of the Brazilian Revolutionaries
Above is the cover of one of the most important magazines in Brazil in the 50’s and 60’s, Manchete. The picture is of the familiar Che Guevara being awarded the Gra-cruz of honor by the conservative President of Brazil, Janio Quadros.
It was a tense hand shake: This was at the height of the cold war and the Cuban revolution was still fresh. Uncle Sam did not like this friendship and a few years later, after Janio resigned and was substituted by his left wing vice president Joao Goulart, he would sponsor a military coup that would deprive Brazil from democracy for at least two decades.
America’s fears were not completely unfounded, revolutionary groups were pretty active in Brazil in that period. There were the peasant’s leagues (Ligas Camponesas) arming rural workers and preparing them for a revolution, the Communist Party had factions that believed in bellicose uprisings and were working on it with Cuba and the Soviet Union, the politicized students believed that Brazil should follow in Cuba’s steps, the trade unions were strong and a large portion of the urban middle class thought that Cuban style Socialism would be good for Brazil.
The right, backed by the military and, as we mentioned, the U.S., was also plotting in the meantime. When the coup came, the right won in the short run, but in the long run the left triumphed, the success of current Brazil may be attributed to figures that were in the opposition back then; of the three latest presidents: Fernando Henrique Cardoso was exiled, Lula was put in jail and Dilma Roussef was trialed, tortured and then exiled.
The picture below shows her at that time
Nowadays the leading party of Brazil, the Partido dos Trabalhadores, is very pragmatic and has distanced itself from any form of radicalism. It was born from the banned trade unions in the industrial belt of Sao Paulo who had nothing to do with the more theoretical and utopian students and intellectuals who were the core of the combatants.
The focus of this article, however, is about what was going on in the mind of the revolutionaries in those early days, which takes us back to the title. In Marxism a country has to acheive an advanced stage of Capitalism for there to be conditions for a revolution; there must be a large urban proletarian force to need the changes and to carry them through. As Cuba, Brazil at the time was vastly rural so the theory had to be re-thought and this was where the internal controversy came up.
For one side the enemy was the local bourgeoisie represented by Brazilian industrialists and large land owners. For them the path to socialism was for the people to take over big farms and industries by force and create a revolutionary country in a similar way that Fidel Castro did.
On the other side of the debate were the anti-imperialists, for them the enemy was the United States of America and their allies. Contrary to their opponents they thought that the local Capitalists should be strengthened in order to breed a proletarian class capable of creating a Socialist state. The subservience to foreign powers weakened this process and blocked the path to an egalitarian Brazil.
The PT, probably through circumstance, was closer to the second trend of thought. Once they reached the presidency, through Lula and now through Dilma the theory and the ideology were superseded by the practicalities of real life politics. The debate has become obsolete but despite this, the presence in Brazilian mainstream politics of people who went through that dilemma, the popularity of such a party and its success in making a continental sized country prosper while tackling its social issues without the spilling of any blood is a silent revolution that people should think about.