The publication of Gilberto Freyre’s masterpiece, Casa Grande e Senzala, in 1934, marked an epoch, not merely in the study of Brazilian history and sociology, but in a process which is sometimes pompously called Brazil’s quest for identity. In young ex-colonial nations scholars search the past to find the image of a national community distinct from that of the motherland. Before Freyre, most investigators had been depressed by the racial mixture of Brazil in a world dominated by theories of white superiority; slavery and miscegenation constituted the core of Brazilian social history. It was Freyre who turned racial mixture and a supporting racial tolerance into a national asset in his long study of the slave society of the great sugar plantations of the North East. His thesis was that the racial tolerance of the Portuguese colonizers combined with the shortage of white women in a slave society where Negresses were abundant, highly sexed, and incapable of serious resistance, to produce a racially tolerant mestizo nation. Half breeds were not the shame of Brazil but a peculiar and glorious contribution to civilization. He had found a national raison d’être.
No one will deny that the racial tolerance of Brazil stands in contrast to the simple white-black dichotomy of the Anglo-Saxon world; as Charles Wagley has pointed out, race in Brazil is a continuum, a sophisticated scale running from pure white to pure black. Less charitable critics emphasize that the chromatic scale corresponds with the economic; the blacks are poor and the whites marry into their own economic class, thus avoiding marriage outside their own race. Many will dispute Freyre’s picture of racial prejudice ironed out in bed or sexual images fixed, as Professor Rodrigues asserts, at the breast of a black wet-nurse. Unfortunately objects of desire are not always objects of understanding. Professor Rodrigues himself quotes, in defense of popular racial tolerance, a ditty which might lead others to different conclusions:
Don’t deny your hair mulatta
For in color you are mulatta
But color is not contagious mulatta
So I want your love mulatta.
Professor Rodrigues’s theme is at the same time an extension and a criticism of Freyre and a plea for a new independent and anti-colonialist foreign policy for Brazil. The plea for a truly national foreign policy, based on Brazil’s position as one of the greatest of the peripheral developing nations (whose interests must clash with the old, developed Europe of the center) is well grounded, although Rodrigues is surprisingly reticent about Brazil’s relationship with the United States. Less well grounded is the reasoning that, because it is a mestizo country, Brazil possesses peculiar talents and opportunities as the mediator between Africa and the world.
THE CASE FOR BRAZIL’S FUTURE as the sympathetic great intermediary between Africa and the world is based on a scholarly investigation of Brazil’s African past. Professor Rodrigues’s treatment of Brazilian opposition to British pressure for the abolition of the Slave Trade (seen as a conscious attempt to sever Brazil’s connection with Africa in order to leave the field free for British imperialism) and of the curious projects for a Brazilian-Angolan state in the 1820s (extrapolated into a less convincing Angolan-Brazilian relationship today) are fascinating pieces of historical writing. The simple truth is, however, that Brazil’s intimate relation with Africa began and ended with the slave trade: the dictum of Vasconcelos—“Africa is civilizing Brazil”—meant that whites disliked work and the colony could only survive on black slaves. The folk lore, dietary habits, dialects, which have survived in modern Brazil are not civilization: the Brazilian cultural soil is European with African and Indian trace elements. To assert this does not deny Brazil’s claim to be a great nation.
Brazil was a colony of Portugal until 1821; although separation was peacefully accomplished, Brazilians still divide over their attitude to Portugal—now infinitely weaker than the colony. Professor Rodrigues makes it clear that an African policy must mean the end of the conscious cultivation of the Portuguese roots—the Luso-Brazilianism so dear to President Kubitschek, who once asserted that Brazil’s right to self-determination included a right to be “a nation of Portuguese.” To tie Brazil to the Portugal of Salazar and reactionary Catholic imperialism is to tie a robust and modern nation to an archaic and obstinate colonizing power, to deny her leadership in the developing world, and to force her to an embarrassed zig-zag path over Angola. He denies the Portuguese contribution to Brazil emphasized by Freyre: the Portuguese were and are white supremacists. Brazil’s relationship to Portugal is that of most colonies to the metropolitan power—it rests on a list of grievances rather than on a community of interests.
Professor Rodrigues may be correct in his view that the Luso-Brazilian connection is a “mere rumor”—an outdated cultural snobbism that can only harm Brazil. The assertion that Brazil ought to look outside a “hostile” Europe and outside Latin America to Africa seems an ideal which he himself recognizes as without influence in Brazil and, one supposes, even less in nationalist Africa. Why should Africans seek a “mediator”?—they have no need of one and if pushed by the “imperialist” powers there are stronger pieces on the board than the hesitating support of a putative anti-colonialist Brazil. Why should Africans buy Brazilian goods because they come from a mestizo republic? Surely they would be better advised to buy on the cheapest market than to embark on a racialist evaluation of consumer goods. The only person qualified to review Professor Rodrigues’s thesis would be an African nationalist—and he might balk at Professor Rodrigues’s support of miscegenation when, as the author admits, Africans condemn it “because of its weakening effect upon their revolutionary process.” Most Brazilians, like most Latin Americans, are less concerned with leadership of the Third World than obsessed with the nature of their relations to the United States. Professor Rodrigues is still quarreling with the old world: his main targets include the E.E.C. and E.F.T.A.
THE BRAZILIAN NOVEL has shared the complex relationships with the old world that inform the work of Professor Rodrigues; the history of Brazilian fiction is, in part, the history of Brazilian nationalism, the search for a non-European soul. It has swung from a search for identity among the Indians, inspired by Chateaubriand and represented by Alencar’s Honey Lips, to cosmopolitanism, best represented by Machado de Assis, who anticipated whole ranges of experience later mapped out in detail by Proust. Incontestably the greatest novelist in Brazil, he was European through and through. His mother was a Negress but—apart from one short story—he wrote as a Parisian. The novel returned, via crude imitations of Zola, to a more subtle regionalism, of which Lins do Rêgo’s Plantation Boy was one of the earliest examples, and which is now represented by Jorge Amado.
The compulsion of the regionalist novel is often sociological rather than artistic; Amado is much admired in the homeland of social realism, whereas Machado de Assis is unavailable in Russian. The strength of Lins do Rêgo is that his sociology is artistic and not descriptive; society is refracted in the mind of his idiosyncratic, near-epileptic hero—just as the malaise of Russian society is seen in the ambiguity of Chekhov’s characters. He does not supply the raw material of social history that is often provided by inferior novelists: the novelists’ utility to the historian in Latin America, is, alas, in inverse proportion to literary merit.
Lins do Rêgo (1901-1957) was a friend of Freyre and the trilogy of short novels now collected and translated under the title Plantation Boy may be seen as a commentary in fiction on the theme of Casa Grande: the paternalistic civilization of the Great House and its slave plantation. Lins do Rêgo’s hero is a sensitive, morbid incompetent whose father murders his mother. Brought up on his grandfather’s fazenda he is sent to a Brazilian Dotheboys Hall, inherits the plantation which is ruined by his own incapacity to behave as a paternalistic despot, by the superior cunning of his Negro tenant farmer, and by the superior economic power of the Sugar Factory. The plantation, which as a boy he thought an earthly paradise, becomes his private hell. He confuses profit and loss in his counting house just as he confuses left and right in the OTC at school. The Old Colonel, his grandfather, curses his black workers and makes money; his grandson cannot raise his voice in anger and goes bankrupt. The grinding poverty that the older generation took for granted disturbs his lazy conscience: “Books had begun to teach me to pity such poor people.” Plantation Boy is at its most revealing when describing the behavior and the “supporting stereotypes”—the sociologist’s term for those fixed nd often false images through which we see and even order our lives—of a civilization just released from slavery; for it was abolished in Brazil as late as 1888. The behavior can only be explained by a seller’s market in black women; the hero’s uncles rear hordes of black bastards; his aunt raises ladies maids only to beat them “like wood.” But it is the hero’s own relations with Negresses that reveal most; the white woman must be courted; the black woman can be seized at a moment’s notice, from the fields or from the riverside, married or unmarried, young or old, as if by some residuary droit de seigneur.
Behind this brutal miscegenation lie stereotypes which still endure: the animal passion of the Negress and the exacerbated sexuality of the white man in a black ambience. A Negress embraces the twelve-year-old hero (he gets syphilis as a result) “with the passion of a voracious animal”; “that negro woman had the devil inside her.” “They [the local whites] would get very pale when they didn’t have a woman.” I remember a French colonial civil servant who complained that African Negresses “were like boards in bed”; Brazilian plantation owners were brought up to think otherwise. Professor Rodrigues quotes a Mato Grosso song:
A Dark girl is a hot spice
A White girl is a cold soup.
One wonders: the one woman capable of physical abandonment in Plantation Boy turns out to be the white, respectable Maria Alice.
FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SHUN SEX and sociology the excellent translation of the late Professor Bello’s Historía de la República gives a convincing picture of Brazilian politics—primarily in the Republic that lasted till the rise of Vargas—with a continuation by Rollie E. Poppins to the revolution of 1964. It is old-fashioned history, but none the worse for that. Bello’s description of party alignments, though complex and often difficult to follow, reveals the insights of the practicing politician to whom politics is about the manipulation of men; he is, for example, stronger on monetary policy than on the analysis of traditional society to which modern Brazilian economists and sociologists have devoted so much attention as a “structural” factor inhibiting both economic growth and the “modernizing” processes in political life itself.
The squabbles of the politicians in the early Republic, and the emergence of the local oligarchs dominating the state political machines which grew up after the “Jacobin” dictatorship of Floriano Peixoto (1891-94) are described with conviction and in detail; in such a system of adjustment, provincial oligarchs exploited the federalism of the constitution, destroying any hopes of national parties, and turning politics into horse trading and the representative system into a “vast Hoax.” This system resisted, more or less, the ambitions of a “middle-class” army indoctrinated, by an intellectual accident, with a debased version of Comte, which consecrated Republican authoritarianism, an army conscious of its role as “guardian” of the constitution of the Republic erected by itself. But the “old Republic” cracked in 1930 when one of the experts at the game, Getulio Vargas, took to “revolution” and the army when he had been defeated by the older players. “The revolution [of 1930] triumphed and brought as its supreme chief,” remarks Bello, “one of the men who had least wanted it and most feared it.” For nearly twenty years he ruled Brazil and during that time the old system passed: The governing elite was not destroyed, but it could no longer govern as if the Brazilian people—or at least urban labor—counted for nothing.
Professor Bello reminds us that the financial problems of Brazil are no more novel than her political difficulties. The diastole and systole of Brazilian financial policy—inflation curbed by deflation which slows growth—is nothing new. Murtinho, as Professor Bello describes his activities as Finance Minister, was the cautious monetarist of his day (1898) in opposition to those who were ready to finance development by paper money. Ever since Brazil has been fighting the inflation that is the consequence of optimistic development. The Revolution of 1964 put power into the hands of men who thought like Murtinho and who are reaping the rewards, in terms of unpopularity, of deflation.
NEW PERSPECTIVES IN BRAZIL is a collection of essays describing the profound changes in Brazilian society which came about as a consequence of the world Depression and the rule of Vargas, changes which the Revolutionaries of 1964 did not regard with favor and whose crazy acceleration under Goulart they were determined to halt. After 1950 the politician must not merely square the coronels and provincial bosses who brought out the rural vote; Vargas had brought the urban masses into politics. The revolutionaries of 1964, like their imitators in Argentina, were determined to end politics as the heirs of Vargas conceived them. They will be less successful than their imitators to the south; the military revolution of 1964 was greeted with mild relief; the Argentine revolution of 1966 seems to have won positive enthusiasm. A sad cycle seems to dominate the histories of the Latin nations; politics and politicians—the kind of world Professor Bello describes, whether in the Fourth Republic in France, the Brazil of 1964, the Argentina of 1966, become discredited; the generals take over and their popularity in turn suffers erosion. The cycle begins again with a “liberating” civilian take-over.
The essays in New Perspectives are uneven. They include a rousing defense of foreign investment by the editor, which perhaps goes too far in its attempt to redress the balance against Brazilian nationalists, who see US investment as a cause of economic distortion rather than of growth. There is a description of that great migration of the rural poor of the backlands to the great cities—facilitated by the most impressive achievement of the developers, a good road system. Professor Ludwig describes the process by which Brasilia was chosen as the capital of a new inward-looking Brazil in which development of the interior should challenge the outward-looking coast.
BY FAR the most striking essay is Emilio Willems’s description of non-Catholic religious mass movements. These movements constitute a phenomenon of great importance involving millions of Brazilians. Why have the Pentecostal Churches, Spiritualism, and Umbanda shown such extraordinary growth? Loose in their theology, their common denominator is that the Holy Ghost possesses the faithful without regard to social class or status outside the Church; hence their power with rural migrants, who come from the face-to-face society of small municipalities to the metropolis. These churches are vast systems of self-help and social welfare by which the rootless are integrated into an impersonal society. The morality of Pentecostalists, though Professor Willems does not consider this, resembles the Protestant morality of Weber. They are good, reliable workers, uninterested in revolutionary politics. Indeed, one might say that Pentecostalism really does “derevolutionize,” much as Halévy thought Methodism acted as a sort of social anaesthetic in the England of the Industrial Revolution. The mechanism is, however, distinct. It is not the future consolation of an egalitarian heaven held out in a world of present class oppression, but the existence of a parallel, self-contained society in this world in which marginal men can achieve some sort of human dignity irrespective of class and color. Indeed, among the devotees of Umbanda—a Spiritualist edition of the old Afro-Brazilian cults—the spirits of black slaves, called up from the past, occupy higher levels of spiritual perfection than those of the white masters. The world of Plantation Boy and Casa Grande e Senzala has indeed passed away.
January 26, 1967