Tranquil with his immortality (he was elected last year to the Brazilian Academy of Literature), José Murilo de Carvalho, who completes his 66th year this month, is a historian with time and energy for rummaging through the past, analyzing the present, and thinking out the future. As a good citizen of the state of Minas Gerais, there is even a true anecdote to explain his academic profession of faith, which has the ambition of producing new knowledge. He tells that, at a talk in São João del Rei, some bats took to diving over the speaker and his public. “It was only later, reliving the emotion calmly, as Wordsworth used to counsel poets, a counsel that extends to historians, that I realized that it was a courtesy of the colonial city”, he recalls. “The bats wanted to illustrate my talk. The historian has to have the agility, the lightness and the ultrasonic sensitivity of the bats to detect, configure and decipher their objective.”
The full professor of Brazilian History, linked to UFRJ’s Historical Researches and Studies Nucleus, José Murilo began his studies at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, but as an economist. It was far from Brazil, in the United States, when he went to get his Ph.D. at Stanford University, that he discovered that he was passionate about the political and social changes in his country. “Arriving there, I started to concern myself with Brazil as a whole. It was there that I faced my major theme: how the Brazilian State was constructed from the point of view of the strategy of the groups in power.” The result of that were the books A construção da ordem [The Construction of Order] (1980) and Teatro de sombras [Shadow Theater] (1990). But to talk about elites in the Brazil of the 1970’s did not garner any great popularity for him in academic circles, involved in discussions about the working classes. For his colleagues, he had become ‘elitist’.
But the mistake was only made by uninformed rivals. At a time when they were not thinking about the elites, José Murilo had the courage to study those that most influenced the life of the impoverished masses. After his thesis, he changed his focus of work. In Os bestializados [The Brutalized] (1987), to his concern with the construction of the State, the problem of the construction of the nation was added. “When it was realized, with the change of regime, that there had not been many alterations in the political and electoral practices, many authors began to work with a broader idea of the construction of the nation”, he explains. In Os bestializados, the historian dissected the attitude of the population in the face of power, focusing the general perplexity with the advent, from night to day, of the Republic. Following A formação das almas [The Formation of the Souls], the inflection is stressed. “In it, I talk about the attempt of the new government to recreate the national imagery and about the popular reaction to the attempt”. Restless, it is no longer the idea of a nation or State that mobilizes his neurons, but the construction of the citizen, of citizenship. “My works began with the question of the construction of the State and went on to the construction of the nation-State”, he says. Like the chiropterans, José Murilo is attentive to any new movement. Hence the precious comments on the present moment, its roots and consequences, set out in the interview that follows.
In the introduction and in the conclusion of his last book, Forças Armadas e política no Brasil [Armed Forces and Politics in Brazil], one realizes that you see in Brazil’s social inequality the great threat to democracy. In the last paragraph, in fact, you observe that “we run the risk of being surprised, like we were in 1964”. Did the current situation of a profound crisis surprise you? How do you evaluate the outcome of this new surprise, whether in terms of what to expect in the future, or of the incapacity for foreseeing that this could occur? How to understand that, in spite of having been studied so much, the PT (Workers’ Party- the party of President Lula) was still able to surprise society?
Touché! I began to study the military because I thought that the disagreeable surprise, to say the least, that my generation suffered in 1964 with the coup and the establishment of the military government was due, in part, at least, to the intellectuals’ disregard for studying a political player that has been very important since 1889. We have now had another disagreeable surprise, also to say the least, relating to the accusations of corruption in the PT’s government. But you cannot today attribute the cause of the surprise to the absence of studies about this player, since there are many of them. The disturbing question for social scientists is whether their research is useless, whether it’s no use for making forecasts. In other terms, whether their research is not a science. One thing is certain, in the domains of humans, where freedom reigns, forecasting is indeed always precarious. Comte regarded the social laws as equivalent to the laws of astronomy in their power for forecasting. He was a positivist, of course. Forecasts in the field of the social sciences are at the most probabilistic, always subject to surprises, agreeable or otherwise. In the current case, other factors were at work to perturb the analysis. The warnings with regard to what was going on inside the PT were not lacking. Critics belonging to currents disagreeing with the Majority Field (he group that controls or controlled PT) had already warned of the going astray under way, both referring to the economic policy and to the policy of alliances. But the warnings were attributed to the ideological dispute and blocked, also ideologically, by the hegemonic field. Outside observers let themselves be taken in. As to the current risks for the maintenance of the civil government, I mentioned some in my book, but what has collapsed over our heads did not occur to me, even having written the conclusion months ago. There is, without a doubt, restlessness amongst the commanders of the armed forces with regard to what is going on, but I don’t believe that the restlessness will evolve to any inclination to intervention, unless the crisis takes on catastrophic proportions, which is rather improbable.
You have already claimed that there has been a strange evolution in Brazil, and that, until 1881, the country was ahead even of the United Kingdom , in terms of voting rights. In the course of time, the masses were incorporated into the process. Why then do we have this such incipient citizenship, always threatened or not totally exercised?
Brazil, from 1881 to 1945, slipped back in the matter of incorporating the population politically, via an electoral process. The First Republic was literally a regime without people, as less than 5% of the population voted. In parallel, elementary education continued to be neglected. Significant incorporation only began in 1945. From then on, its pace has been intense. In 1930, 5.6% of the population voted, half the figure for 1881. In 1945, 13% now voted, and in 1960, 18%. The pace of growth, a Brazilian peculiarity, did not abate during the military regime, when about 60 million citizens began to vote, a larger number than the country’s total population in 1950. At the same time, elementary education grew, but at a much slower case. It was only at the end of the 20th century that it was generalized, even so suffering from bad quality. So we had three negative factors: a late entry of the people into the electoral process; an entry, in good measure, under the regime of dictatorship, when the sense of the vote was disfigured by the rape of other democratic institutions; a slow advance in elementary education. To this date, 60% of the electors have not concluded primary school.
The incorporation of the masses, with greater demands, some almost impossible to be met, is seen by some as a source of problems for the so-called national governability. Hence the desire for a political reform, making parties stronger etc., but which, at bottom, leaves the voter more distant from the decision making process. How do you see this situation, and what is your understanding of a political reform: do we need one, and what kind of reform, in particular in the current context, when it is seen as a panacea for any crisis?
The political system went into a collapse in 1964 because it was not capable of absorbing the rapid growth of the electoral and non-electoral participation. The blame of the participation, or of the system that only allowed it so late? In the 1881 debate, the reform presented by the liberals was intended to combat the manipulation of the electors by the government. The solution adopted was to drastically reduce the number of those that could vote. The critics used to say that an error of political syntax was being committed, a sentence without a subject was being created, that is to say, a representative regime without people. The consequence of the error was long-lasting and disastrous. Political engineering should without a doubt take care of governability, but not do it at the expense of political democracy. This is only consolidated in practice. No electorate matures in exclusion. I cannot discuss here the reforms that, to my mind, would be necessary and adequate. It’s a very controversial theme. I propose just two parameters: political reform is not a panacea; political reform cannot be done at the expense of democratic participation.
The whole crisis of today seems to be passing wide of the population, seen, as in a recent article by Professor Bresser Pereira, as opposed to the so-called civil society, and this is the one that is leading the country. How do you evaluate this dichotomy and the people remaining at a distance? Before, with the capital in Rio de Janeiro, the masses could mobilize themselves in the face of power, but Brasilia seems to be “outside Brazil”, and in this way the people appear to be even more jettisoned from participation and from the power of pressuring the rulers and the politicians. How do you see this?
They are two related points, the distinction between civil society and the people, and the Brasilia effect. I think that the distinction is correct. In an article on the First Republic, I talked about the existence, then, of three peoples: the people of the Census, the people of the elections, and the people of the streets. The last two peoples constituted a minimal portion of the first. In spite of all the advances in urbanization, in education, and in the means of mass communication, we still have today the distinction between a political people, which one can call, pedantically, polis, organized or not, but well informed and alert, and another people that, with the same pedantry, one can call demos, or without pedantry, the common people. The common people still have a low level of schooling and survive in the world of necessity. For them, political democracy is still a luxury. The current crisis reveals the two peoples. The polis is indignant and is revolted with the denouncements of corruption. Maybe the demos does so on a lesser scale, since it has to be concerned with the fate of the School Scholarship (monthly benefit the federal government distributes to very low income families, in exchange they are supposed to keep their kids in school). Brasilia brought benefits, above all of the effective occupation of the national territory. But it generated a great political ill: it isolated the government, Executive and Legislative, geographically. The direct control over both, which used to be exercised by the population of the former capital, with marches, with boos and applause in the plenary sessions of the Chamber and Senate, disappeared in the wilderness of the Central Plateau, where the political people has been reduced to public employees and their narrow corporate horizon. This environment is fertile terrain for the cultivation of court intrigues, conspiracies and expectations of impunity. It is fertile terrain, in short, for the misconduct upstairs to thrive, to use an expression of Elio Gaspari.
You have already claimed that we have great difficulties in settling accounts with the slaveholding and colonial past. In what way do the blemishes of the present have to do with this failure to face up to our past? We feel that the Brazilian people have changed in the course of the historical process. Can the same be said of the so-called elites: have they changed in their essence?
Four centuries of the practice of slavery and three centuries as a colony did not pass in vain. It is not a question of saying that we are prisoners of the past, that the past condemns us, and that we do not therefore have responsibility for the present. It is a question of recognizing the strength of traditions, the persistence of values, the reproduction of practices of sociability. These traditions, values and practices survive even structural changes in demography, in the economy, and in education. Or, what is more serious, they affect the very nature of changes, in the sense of perverting their transformative effect. It is in this sense that I say that, to this date, the consequences persist of the colonial and slaveholding experience. I don’t like to throw the blame on the elites exclusively. This attitude is equivalent to disqualifying the people, as it puts it in a position of a defenseless victim. As Nabuco already used to say, the great evil of slavery in Brazil was that its values permeated society from top to bottom, and that Brazilian citizens bring within themselves the dialectic of master and slave.
The people always seems to cherish, on the one hand, the hope of a messianic leader that will solve all the problems of the nation, at the same time that it tends to be taken by pessimism at times of crisis, thinking that we are “in a sea of mud”. How do you see this “passion” for extremes, and what are the positive and negative factors that derive from this “Edenic” sentiment of Brazil (the country seen as Eden)?
The expectation of the Messiah and the frustration are sides of the same coin. They both reveal the absence of a sense of political effectiveness, that is, the absence of the conviction of the capacity of the citizen for self-government. Salvation from without is hoped for, from the Messiah, whether he is called Antônio Conselheiro, Padre Cícero, Getúlio Vargas, Fernando Collor, Lula. Faced by the inevitable failure of what is hoped for, frustration supervenes. Only the Messiahs that expiate their failure with a tragic fate escape from historical condemnation, and this fate is either imposed on them or they chose it of their own will. It was the case of Tiradentes, of the Conselheiro, and of Getúlio. I don’t see anything positive in this messianic tradition. To this date, it constitutes an obstacle to democracy. One of the good results that may survive the current crisis will be precisely to distrust the saviors of the motherland and to reinforce the conviction that only the action of the citizen constructs citizenship. Edenism is something else. It does not attribute the role of savior to nature. But it is also a form of escapism, because it puts the reasons for national pride outside the ambit of human construction. It has the same origin as Messianism: the absence of the sense of the individual as an agent of society and of the citizen as a constructor of politics.
Corruption appears to be seen in Brazil as part of our culture and not eradicable. The president himself claimed, in the famous Paris interview, that “there has always been this business of under-the-counter dealings”, with total normality? What are the origins of this endemic corruption? How to change this desolating picture that brings so much political cynicism to the population?
Corruption is deep-rooted and it is not eradicable. But it is reducible to levels compatible with the practice of democratic countries. It reaches high levels in Brazil (and in other countries) due, in good measure, to our patrimonial origins. Patrimonialism means at least three things: the predominance of the State and of its bureaucracy; the tendency for people to look to the State as a source of employment (nepotism, cronyism) and favors (contracts, benefices, monthly grafts), what I once called statizenhip; the indistinction between public and private, that is, the absence of the notion of the thing of the people, replaced by that of the thing of the State. The endemic can transform itself into an epidemic by fortuitous circumstances, such as the action of more daredevil persons and groups. But we are not condemned to corruption. History does not condemn any country to perpetual penalties. It is dynamism. That is how intolerance to corruption has grown a lot, as the unjust nature of the illegal distribution of public benefits becomes obvious to the many that are excluded from it. Reactions like the one that is taking place today, changes in the laws and their applications, alterations in the institutions, can, and I believe that they will, little by little bring down the scandalous level of corruption, although they will not do away with it.
What are the historical origins of this promiscuity between public and private in the Brazilian government, and what are the consequences of this? How to change it? The government “robs” and the population does not obey the laws either. Or, in the words of President Lula: “Brazilians want jail for others, not for themselves”, and so forth. In what way does this institutional ill also repeat itself in the individual sphere, in the nation’s day to day, and in what way is one corruption linked to the other?
The origins and possible remedies were discussed above. The problem of the relationship between individual and public behavior is complex. In the first place, you have to distinguish private morals from public ethics. Private behavior does not necessary need, certainly not in our liberal world, condition behavior in the public arena. A scoundrel in his private life can be a good statesman. There are abundant examples. It may also happen that what is positive in private morals becomes negative when transferred to the public world. For example, helping relatives and friends is a basic rule of our private morals. When this rule is applied to the public world, it is transformed into cronyism and nepotism. A survey we did in Rio de Janeiro some time ago revealed that many of those interviewed thought that deputies had to help relatives and friends. Another thing is individual behavior before the law. What works here amongst us is the same mechanism of patrimonialism, of the indistinction between state, public and private. If public doesn’t exist, state is for your mother-in-law, there are no civic obligations. Taxes are paid reluctantly, when one cannot evade them, and as much advantage as possible is taken of the State. Another survey in Rio de Janeiro, done in 1997, showed that 41% of those interviewed thought that, in some cases, tax evasion was justifiable. What is more serious is that this percentage went up with the increase in schooling. That creates a vicious circle: the taxpayer evades taxes because he does not see the State as public; with evasion, he reduces the resources of the State; on having its resources reduced, the State increases taxes; on see taxes increased, the taxpayer evades them more.
What perception do Brazilians have of laws? Everything here seems to want to be solved with a new law, as if it were to suffice to legislate on paper for the problem to end in reality. What are the origins of this jurisprudential pedantry, and what are the problems it brings? Can this ancestral culture be changed?
Back in the 19th century, a diagnosis was made of the distance between legal Brazil and real Brazil. Guerreiro Ramos thought that the function of law in Brazil is pedagogic, and not coercive. It is inapplicable, but points to an ideal of civilization. Oliveira Viana thought the contrary. The distance between the law and reality was, according to him, the very corruption of the system. More recent analyses, such as those by Roberto da Matta, show the knack as a Brazilian strategy for accepting the law without complying with it. Be that as it may, our jurisprudential pedantry dates from way back. Our juridical system is a tributary of the Roman-Germanic tradition of codified law, and not of the tradition of Anglo-Saxon customary law. Our political elite, since independence, has been made up predominantly of bachelors of laws. It is the lawyers who make the laws as parliamentarians and apply them as police chiefs, attorneys and judges. The consequence of this is everything can be resolved by strokes of laws, without concern with the conditions they are applied under. Two recent examples were the traffic code and the law on the donation of organs. In the first case, a law was made for citizens and roads of Sweden. Its failure was predictable. In the second, the law provided for the transplant of organs without consulting the family. One of the few institutions still respected in Brazil was disrespected. The reaction was immediate, and there was at least the good sense to make the correction. Another classic example was the law for obligatory vaccination that caused one of the country’s biggest urban revolts. Here too a vicious circle is created: the State makes strict laws; the citizen disrespects the laws; the State makes the laws stricter to prevent the disrespect; the citizen disrespects more the stricter laws (or perfects the knack of circumventing them).
Since 1985, there has been a stepping up of individual liberties and in the political participation of society. It was hoped that this would help to do away with the social inequalities, which did not occur. What happened, and what are the historical reasons for this? What is the current level of our democracy? Is it the solution of problems? You once suggested in one of your books that another road has to be found to citizenship in Brazil. What is this new road and the reasons for this Brazilian peculiarity?
Political citizenship has so far not produced social citizenship, liberty has not produced equality. This means that the representative system has not been working properly. Some reasons for the poor functioning have already been pointed out: the recent entry of the people into politics, the short period of representative practice, authoritarian interruptions, low level of schooling, and high levels of poverty. The temptation is to say that the model has failed and that alternatives should be tried. In fact, I went so far as to mention the need for thinking of alternatives. But I never tried to formulate them, because, at bottom, I was not, and am not, sure about whether it is the model that is no use, or whether we haven?t had time to put it into practice properly. Remember that it took centuries for it to be implanted in the West. Hence it may perhaps be more effective to make topical adjustments than to attempt radical changes. I’ll give a simple example, in view of the current crisis. Doing away with the privilege of a special prison for the holders of university diplomas would lead the learned gentlemen to think twice before practicing any crime. In the political field, the introduction of the possibility of mandates being revoked by the electors, within the validity of the mandate, could also improve the behavior of members of parliament. One can also, and must, expand political participation beyond the act of voting. There are important constitutional provisions that are little used, such as the public civil action, the popular action, the injunction order. They are powerful weapons that, if mobilized, would perfect the representative system.
Some studies suggest that growth and better education are not sufficient to solve the problem of inequality and exclusion, and that the participation of the elites in a process of distributing wealth is needed. The elites, in turn, place all the onus of the process on the State and do not want models in which they lose their sovereignty. How to solve this dilemma of inequality in these terms? What is the real part that is up to the State, and what part is up to the elites? The elites of other developed countries realized in the past that reforms were necessary: agrarian, distributive, etc., for the implementation of a State of social welfare. Our elite has still not realized this and lives in fear of violence: how to understand this “suicidal” or “predatory” nature of the elites? What to expect in the future?
Surveys indicate that education is the factor that affects most positively civic awareness and political mobilization. While schooling in Brazil does not reach decent levels (universalization of high school education and some 30% of the population with higher education), it is not fitting to talk about the insufficiency of education. It is also not fitting, I believe, to expect of the elites the solution of the problem of inequality. In the countries that have resolved it, there was some kind of revolution, be it economic (UK), political (France), or social (Russia). Revolutions are not made by elites. We have not had any revolution at all, and I don’t believe that the blame is just the elites’, which, obviously, defend their interests in all countries. It is a question of a historical process in which the national State that we have built here – a liberal one, let it be noted – has not fulfilled the task performed by other national States, of reducing inequality to tolerable levels. It does not seem to me to be realistic to expect that, in today’s world, we may yet be able to make the change by revolutionary methods. Nor is it realistic to expect the elites to do it spontaneously. It can only be carried out through pressure from below on the State, in the sense of forcing it to alter public policies, using, if necessary, its constitutional and legal power of coercion, including over the elites.
We live in the so-called “Statizenship”: the State is seen as the source of everything. Why? What is the history of this and the mistakes in this vision? At the same time that the elites demand that the State control inequality and violence, they want the State far away from the economy: is there a solution for this dichotomy? The people know what the State is and how it works: it is common to complain of the federal government for the lack of police on the streets, which is a prerogative of state or municipal governments, just to mention one example. Can one be a citizen if one does not know the State?
The question permits me to expand the previous answer about patrimonialism. The impact of patrimonialism on society is not limited to the vision of the State as alien to the citizen. In our Iberian tradition, there is a more elaborate justification for the role of the State. It justifies itself as a promoter of the happiness of the subjects, and is seen by the subjects as a benefactor. Our patrimonialism is also paternalism. An examination of dozens of letters sent to governors at various moments of our history, from the Empire to the military governments, confirms this point. The conception of a social contract imbedded in these letters is the following: the citizen (in reality, the subject) must fulfill his obligation of working and taking care of his family. In compensation, the State must take care of the citizen (or subject). There are no political or civil rights involved in this pact, only social rights, which are passive. This vision is also corroborated by public opinion polls that indicate the total predominance of social rights in the perception that Brazilians have of rights. The paternalistic side of the action of the State is well known to the public. The great demand for Labor Courts, the INSS (Pensions) and health centers are a proof of this. Remaining outside the pact are the rights to fight, the civil and political ones that define the active citizen. The big question that I ask myself is whether entering the system through the door of the social rights strengthens or weakens even more the civil and political rights.
In a recent article, written for the O Globo newspaper, you defended public universities from the accusations of elitism. How is that? What do you think of the current situation of the universities? What is your opinion on the polemical university reform proposal? Do you agree with the system of quotas for minorities?
I called attention to simplifications in condemning public universities as elitist. I believe that it has been demonstrated with statistics that the elitism is tied, above all, to certain courses and to the absence of a nighttime schedule. In the majority of courses, above all in the night shift, the university population corresponds reasonably to the whole of the population. What worries me in the debate are the demagogic positions that want to open up the university indiscriminately, overriding any concern with quality. The public universities – I am talking, above all, about the federal ones – are full of blemishes, and, amongst others, they have the obligation of making a great effort to incorporate poor students. But this incorporation cannot be demagogic, nor jeopardize the quality of the schooling. To incorporate poor students correctly, universities must make heavy investments in the preparation of candidates, for them not to enter at the cost of lowering the qualification criteria. Furthermore, they will have to accompany them and give them assistance during the whole of the course, including financial assistance. Otherwise, we will have people dropping out, frustrations, or low quality professionals graduating. In this last case, discrimination will merely be put off until the moment of entry into the labor market. Quotas are an inadequate modality of affirmative action. They are rigid, artificial, they threaten the quality of the schooling, and they are wrong when they adopt racial classifications that equate Brazil with South Africa.
How do you see the work of the media, in particular the media on politics and economics. After the Collor affair, the press came to be seen as a sort of mechanism for controlling the Republic. On the one hand, that is good, because it is one of the social functions of the media. On the other, there is the problem of “believing in everything you read in papers”: if it’s in writing, it’s true. There is, at the moment, a wave of denunciation, partly real, but partly groundless, to sell a paper or attack the government. How do you see this? The media is no different from any business in general, and “sells” a product called news. What is the danger of this in a country where there is little critical reflection on what is published or broadcast?
Admitting all the problems mentioned, which are real, I believe that the balance of the work of the media has been positive. The analysis of its impact, though, should distinguish the types of media. Due to the large number of semi-illiterates, television has an extraordinary weight in classes D and E, to use the market research classification. On the other hand, there is an enormous advance in communication via the Internet in classes A and B. The Internet is a domain free of the control of the owners of the media. The study of its influence in the present crisis is yet to be done.
The country, in particular the elites, rejects agrarian reform and demonizes the MST (Landless Movement). How can one understand a country in which the poor tolerate inequality? What is the historical origin of this, and what can one expect in the future: a wave of violence, or just more tolerance of the growing poverty?
Why this tolerance of the poor with inequality? Why do poor Brazilians not revolt? Is the true Brazilian miracle the honesty of the poor? They are disturbing questions, which cannot be answered merely by resorting to theories of conspiracies of the elites. In our history, when the people revolted, it has done so outside the political system, without generating any institutional changes. We come back to the problem of the representativity of the system. Prospects? The only effective popular movement we have today is the MST. But the MST mobilizes a portion of the population whose demographic weight is decreasing systematically. The poor population of the cities, in constant growth, continues to be politically demobilized. Worse still. In cities like Rio de Janeiro, its mobilization finds itself blocked by the action of drug traffickers. Not even the residents’ associations can work without the consent of the traffickers. On the other hand, if it is true that inequality, measured by income, has not been reduced in a significant way, there are other changes under way. The social indicators like schooling, life expectancy, infant mortality, garbage collection, water supply and others have improved a lot in the last ten years. There is, so to speak, an indirect distribution of income going on. And there lies, I believe, part of the explanation of the tolerance of the poor: income does not increase, but life improves. That is positive, it indicates a suitable social action of the State. But look at our dilemma: social action reinforces the paternalist vision of the State, besides feeding cronyism.
In an interview to the Folha, soon after Lula’s election, you stated: “The difficulties are proportional to the hopes that his candidature has awoken. He will have to avoid the danger of the deadly embrace of the conservative support that, in giving him the base for the government, can mischaracterize its program. He will have to deal with the calls of the more militant sectors that support him, who will demand rapid changes. He will have to deal with the trap created by the great expectation for change that he has created in the population, disproportionate in its relationship with the possibilities for meeting it. These will be the ghosts haunting the government. You were precise in your diagnosis. How do you evaluate this perception in the light of the real development of the Lula government? Is there another road to be followed? What can he still do to change the situation? Is Lula still, his words, the “cuckoo in the nest of the elite” and a victim of this situation, as he himself would have us believe?
Did I say that? It’s not bad, even though the evaluation was evident for those who, albeit sympathetic to the election results, had not let themselves be taken by romanticisms. I believe that the forecast has come true. Cornered by the need not to cause panic in the economy and in the international markets, the government maintained religiously the previous economic policy, alienating a good deal of its party and of its electors. I don’t have the competence to say whether there was a viable alternative. But I believe that the calculation of the government’s strategists was to make changes in the second term, when the confidence of the market was consolidated. Then came what neither I nor anyone else foresaw: the emergence of the ghosts of Marcos Valério and Delúbio Soares. Ironically, Fernando Henrique seems to have made the same calculation and was run over between one term and another by a crisis coming from outside. Lula was run over by a domestic crisis, when the foreign scenario is very friendly. A crisis caused by the leadership of the party, and in which he is not exactly a victim. It is artificial and useless to look for culprits elsewhere. The social elite must have been happy with the misfortune of the worker-president, a cuckoo in the nest. But the economic elite, above all its financial sector, is happy with the profits brought about by the orthodox policies of the Central Bank. Prospects? My optimistic hypothesis is not very optimistic. The president, who, in his reactions, has not shown himself to be equal to the crisis, will manage to take the government to the end of the mandate and transmit the post to his successor, whoever he may be.
What will remain of the left after this crisis of the PT, which, leaving exaggeration aside, looks like the despondency of the admirers of Stalin after the Prague Spring? How do you see the role of the intellectuals in this situation of crisis: the left-wing intellectuals have vanished from the scenario of the PT with corruption. Is it the end of a left-wing cycle in Brazil? The dismantling of the PT: what will the scenario look like with the party weakened?
The left is going to reconstitute itself in some way. The PT as well, in some way, will be remade. It has split into two groups, one of those who wanted to make the party an instrument of government and fell into the trap, not of its adversaries or of the elite, but of power itself, and the other that, in part already outside the party, wants to maintain the purity of its principles, at the cost of renouncing power. The first group, weakened, may recompose itself by reconstructing the party without the arrogance of before, on bases closer to the style of the other parties. The second will continue to represent civic awareness, without being an alternative for power. The damage to Brazilian democracy was great, above all for the disenchantment caused by the PT’s electoral swindle, as far as public morality is concerned, sold as a campaign product. The frustration of the 53 million enthusiastic voters was great, and it may extend to the representative system as a whole. The role of the intellectuals in this environment is, to my mind, not to lose courage and to face up to the facts, however disconcerting and embarrassing they may be. For some, the task may be more painful, and it is understandable for them to prefer silence. But if anyone has a professional obligation to speak out, above all at moments of crisis, it is the intellectuals. Many of them are paid from the public coffers to do so.
Lula has been talking a lot about Vargas, about elites etc. The resumption of a nationalist, developmentalist, clientelist spirit, is it good or necessary? What other model would be better for Brazil?
There are other things involved there. I would begin by replacing clientelist by populist, to give more coherence to the list of adjectives. Lula wants to recover the Vargas of the second government, the Vargas that would interpellate the people, who said he was defending the interests of the people against the interests of the elites, Brazilian and foreign. It’s a risky recovery because Vargas, with the tactic of confrontation, dug his own political downfall and, to the extent that it is taken forward, the comparison may bump into the sea of mud that gushed from inside the Presidential Palace. It is also an unfortunate recovery, since it resumes a populist posture against which the PT has rebelled from the start. It’s equivalent to renouncing another hallmark of the PT, it’s another step backwards. The attempt is only justified by the persistence in Brazil of the broad popular layers mentioned above, still prisoners of the reign of necessity.
Can corruption cause real ruptures? Can it be beneficial when revealed in all its extent? What is the relationship between corruption and inequality?
I don’t believe that corruption causes rupture. If it were, Brazil would be a country of ruptures, when it is a country of continuities, a country without revolution. On the positive side, what crises like the current one, created by the revelation of an ample and elaborate scheme of illegal practices, may do is to lead to the civic maturing of society and to the institutional perfecting of control mechanisms and a reduction in impunity. Accordingly, as I never believed in Lula’s election as a possibility for recreating the country, I also do not see the current crisis as a catastrophe, as the end of the world. The world will continue, Brazil will continue, perhaps wiser and more mature.