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Passion and rigor in equal doses

This is how one can define the work of Octavio Ianni, who died last month

JORGE MARUTA/ USP/CCS/DVIDSON/ARGUSIanni: scientific rigor and militancy for a national capitalismJORGE MARUTA/ USP/CCS/DVIDSON/ARGUS

He began by analyzing the racial issue in Florianópolis, in a dissertation that in 1956 gave him the title of master in the College of Languages, Literature, Philosophy and Human Sciences , at the University of São Paulo, to end life dissecting recent global capitalist dynamics. In the long road from micro to macro, something never changed: the passion for the quest of the “idea of a modern Brazil” and the certainty that sociology should be done with the precision and rigor of a scientist, though without leaving aside the concern with analyzing the country’s immediate social problems.

The mixture of scientist and militant was the hallmark of Octavio Ianni, who died in São Paulo last month, 77 years old.One of those responsible for systematizing sociology in the country, Ianni, a native of Itu, carried out his studies at USP’s Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Literature, where he was given the title of master for his study on race and social mobility in Florianópolis.

Alongside As metamorfoses do escravo [The metamorphosis of the slave], the study marks the period of Ianni’s interest in the legacy of slavery in the formation of Brazilian society, and how the racial profile could be inserted in the analysis of the processes of constituting societies. Ianni shrewdly realized how the society of castes little by little has been transformed into the society of classes, and in what way race was a weapon used by the Brazilian elites as an instrument of social exploitation.

During the 1960’s, alongside his colleagues, he took part in the so-called Marx Seminar, at USP, an inflection point in his personal and intellectual ideology, leading him to embrace with vigor the ideal of the time about the need for the engagement of intellectuals in the themes of the present day. Hence his swing from racial studies to the problems of underdevelopment, which generated A industrialização e desenvolvimento social no Brasil [Industrialization and social development in Brazil], of 1963, and O Estado e o desenvolvimento econômico no Brasil [The State and economic development in Brazil], of 1964. Ianni did not see with hopeful eyes the formation of the planning apparatuses of the Brazilian State, which, for him, were intimately intertwined with capitalism and, accordingly, were not the way to solve national problems that were afflicting Brazil.

The national State was gaining a severe and implacable critic. In particular, populism, the theme of his book O colapso do populismo no Brasil [The collapse of populism in Brazil], of 1968, a seminal work assessing the various political forms of Latin America, which showed off the blemishes of the development models adopted by the national politicians up until the military coup of 1964.

The military got the message and, in 1969, Ianni was compulsorily retired from USP because of AI-5. Later, he went back to teaching (and also to researching at Cebrap), his passion, at PUC-SP and, later, at the State University of Campinas, where he gave lessons until a fortnight before his death. Ten years ago, he discovered his final interest: globalization and its effects on the countries of the Third World. The professor advocated a return to a project of Brazilian capitalism, as Brazil was rapidly transforming itself into a province of globalism. “They all gamble with the hypothesis that if Brazil dismantles its national project, it will join the First World. It’s a disaster”, he said.