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The Brazilian “Revolution”

Revolution in Brazil: Politics and Society in a Developing Nation

by Irving Louis Horowitz
Dutton, 430 pp., $7.50

Professor Horowitz is righteously indignant. He tells us in this book that Brazil is undergoing a profound revolution (the book was finished before Goulart’s overthrow), and that we are being systematically misinformed about it. His book opens with an attack on American social scientists whose writing about Brazil lacks the “cutting edge of intellect.” Shunning the “colonialist ideology and phraseology” of his colleagues, Professor Horowitz proposes to give us the real story. Nearly half of his book consists of translations of articles by eighteen Brazilian (and one Mexican) scholars and politicians. In the other half the author himself attempts nothing less than an analysis of the economic, social, and political forces which both support and obstruct the development of Brazil.

No one would deny the lack of information about Brazil’s blocked economic and political development. American understanding of the radical nationalist position in that country is even more limited. Unfortunately, Professor Horowitz’s seven chapters fail to provide the kind of explanation we need: he has written a bad book about an important subject. Then why need it be reviewed? First, because the articles translated from Brazilian authors will be an important source in English for anyone who wants to learn about politics and society in contemporary Brazil. Second, because the book’s title could mislead readers into expecting enlightenment on the Brazilian revolution from Horowitz’s own chapters.

Exactly what is the “Brazilian revolution”? If it is “a social revolution well under way, and a political revolution that is gathering momentum in a relatively brief period” (p.8), is it to constitute a change in the ruling elite? Which groups are to gain and which to lose and what are the issues which divide them? Are we to understand that the constitutional system under Goulart could not accommodate these tensions? Professor Horowitz never satisfactorily answers these questions. Indeed, he confuses his analysis by his indiscriminate use of the term “revolution” to describe both what has already happened to Brazil since industrialization began, and what may in the future turn out to be “the need for a ‘redemptive’ civil war” (p.302).

On March 31 President Goulart was deposed after two and a half years in power. His accession, in August 1961, after Jâanio Quadros’s dramatic resignation, was viewed by the radical nationalists as an unexpected opportunity to win control of the presidency. Not surprisingly, the same prospect alarmed conservatives and aroused concern among centrists. Still, Goulart was given his chance. In January 1963 a national plebescite restored to him the full powers of the presidency, thereby revoking the unworkable parliamentary system which Goulart’s opponents among the army had extracted as the price for permitting his succession to the presidency.

But by March 1964 Goulart had managed to coalesce against him a majority of the middle class and higher military, as well as the more conservative groups which had consistently opposed him since his days as Labor Minister under Vargas a decade ago. It was this coalition of civilian and military opposition that sent Goulart fleeing to Uruguay.

Professor Horowitz appears to think, despite some inconsistencies in his argument, that political support for programs like those pursued by the Goulart regime was large and growing. According to him the working classes, both urban and rural, were to furnish the hard core support if and when it came to a test of power. But the test of power which occurred last March revealed the inadequacy of Horowitz’s analysis of the political forces in Brazil. I am not suggesting that he should have predicted the fall of Goulart or the manner in which it came about. Yet one searches in vain for a consistent inquiry into the political forces which might have helped accelerate the “revolution” as Horowitz perceived it. The collapse of the Goulart regime revealed exactly that lack of political support for the “revolution” which the author seems at times to equate with the policy of the Goulart government. When the Army joined forces with a majority of the state governors to depose the President, they found their task surprisingly easy. Where were Goulart’s supposed cadres? Alas, they never existed. There was no “articulate labor movement,” despite the author’s assertion that one arose under Vargas (p. 95). On the contrary, the Brazilian labor movement has yet to escape from the paternalistic intervention of the Labor Ministry apparatus which Vargas created (and Goulart retained) in order to forestall the growth of a truly independent working-class political force. The urban workers proved indifferent to the desperate calls of union leaders, who were, in fact, government front men, not leaders with a genuine following. The growing “proletarianisation” Horowitz describes simply was not there, or, at least, had no reliable leadership to articulate it. And leaders are, after all, essential for the kind of militant popular support which the author seems to assure us constituted the “revolutionary” situation in Brazil.

Horowitz is equally misleading about the extent and character of political organization among the peasants. Throughout his analysis the author overestimates the influence of Francisco Juliao, the leader of the “peasant Leagues” of Perambuco. By mid-1963, Juliao had lost much of his following and could no longer be considered the uniquely dynamic force the Brazilian and American press had since 1959 increasingly pictured him to be. The focus of peasant mobilization in the Northeast lay in the rival “rural syndicates” organized by the Catholic Church and by left-wing groups which had become disillusioned with Juliao.

In other words, the situation was far worse, from Professor Horowitz’s viewpoint, than even he discerned. Neither the urban nor the rural working class enjoyed any tested, honest, unified leadership. What leaders there were represented political power only in so far as the ruling elites—in this case the Goulart government—wished to use their grievances. They did not really participate in the Brazilian “revolution.” Whatever structural reforms Goulart undertook were imposed from above. Professor Horowitz’s mistake was to believe the rhetorical claims about a popular following made by both the Goulart regime and the radical nationalist propagandists who were pulling it to the left. Ironically, one of the best correctives to Horowitz’s book is his own article in the Spring issue of New Politics, where he radically revises, indeed contradicts, his earlier assessment of the political sectors in the light of the events of last March.

Equally misleading is the author’s assumption that there was an intellectual consensus on the direction Brazil’s development should take. Horowitz asserts that most Brazilians want accellrated economic growth, increased social justice, and greater independence in foreign policy. This is undoubtedly true. But what he fails to appreciate are the deep divisions even among those who favor rapid industrialization. He has blandly thrown Roberto Campos and Hélio Jaguaribe together with francisco Juliao and Josué de Castro, as though their analyses of Brazil’s economic and political deadlock (before the overthrow of Goulart) were in broad agreement. The fact is that they were in sharp conflict.

Professor Horowitz avoids the difficult questions that Brazilians passionately argue about. Take the important matter of foreign capital. In general he attacks it—especially American investment—for having distorted economic development, exacerbated the balance-of-payments problem, and bought off the native bourgeoisie. Yet in an ingenuous footnote on page 81, the author notes that “new private investment has virtually ceased” in the Sixties and concludes: “what complicates the situation from a Brazilian point of view is that without fresh investment capital, many of the nation’s plans for the modernization of industry and technology will be seriously impeded.” The author cannot have it both ways.

Aside from the radical nationalists—many of whom argue in Marxist terminology—most Brazilian economists and intellectuals assume the necessity of foreign capital. The debate is about how to insure that its role is constructive. Such was the essence of the prolonged national debate over the profit remittances law of 1962. Professor Horowitz not only missed the complexities of this debate; he declares (p. 80) that the bill never reached the Senate. In fact, it became law in September 1962 when the lower chamber struck out the amendments added by the Senate in July. It is unfortunate that Professor Horowitz could not find time to get facts straight more often, for he makes many more errors of this kind.

Yet, if we turn from Professor Horowitz’s own chapters to the selections from Brazilian writers, we have reason to be grateful for his book. The articles of such sociologists as Jaguaribe, Soares, Pereia, and Costa Pinto are a valuable addition to the literature in English and serve as an antidote to the oversimplified picture offered in the editor’s own chapters.

Fortunately, several other social scientists writing on Brazil have recently provided the kind of analysis promised but not delivered here. On nationalist ideology, for example, Frank Bonilla has given an excellent brief exposition in a charter in Expectant Peoples: Nationalism and Development (1963) edited by K. H. Silvert. On the military—a key group in the Brazilian political process—one can turn with great profit to the two enlightening chapters in John J. Johnson’s The Military and Society in Latin America (1964). Finally, for those who wish to understand economic policy-making, there is the case study on the creation and growth of SUDENE (the Northeast Development Authority formerly directed by Celso Furtado), which constitutes the first chapter of Albert Hirschman’s brilliantly original Journeys Toward Progress (1963).

Comparing Professor Horowitz’s book on Brazil with other recent essays, one cannot help concluding that he has come off badly in his self-declared war with his scholarly colleagues. The spiritual heirs of C. Wright Mills, of whom Professor Horowitz seems to count himself the primus inter pares, might do well to remember that righteous indignation can never replace careful research or sober analysis. There is, to quote the author, no substitute for the “cutting edge of intellect.”

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