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International Socialist Review, Summer 1964


Manolo Sarmiento

The Lesson of Brazil


From International Socialist Review, Vol.24 No.3, Summer 1964, p.84.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE COUP D’ÉTAT organized by the “gorillas” [reactionary militarists] in Brazil is the logical continuation of the coups d’état which have occurred in a number of countries in Latin America. This one is of greater significance than all the others put together.

Goulart stood in the center of the Latin-American nationalist stream. His efforts to resolve the burning problems of his country were sincere – insofar as his nationalism permitted him to move. In addition Goulart was practically the only Latin-American leader who took the Alliance for Progress seriously. The reforms he sought were all outlined in the Punta del Este Charter. These included a timid expropriation that involved about five percent of the lati-fundists’ land, a timid control of rents in Rio de Janeiro, the expropriation of a few oil refineries, and the extension of the right to vote to illiterate citizens.

This touched off a violent reaction among the ruling classes, who supposedly support the Alliance for Progress. They unleashed a campaign in which they identified Goulart’s moderate nationalism with “communism.”

One of the outstanding features of the events in Brazil was the clarity with which it showed the depth of the revolutionary situation in Latin America and – the crying need for revolutionary Marxist leadership. By supporting Goulart as a nationalistic, reformist, progressive bourgeois, the leftist circles around the Communist party led by Luis Carlos Prestes, proved how blind they were to the reality in Brazil and what criminal misleadership they offered. To place confidence in Goulart as a leader of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, or at least that sector that stood for the “structural reforms” needed by Brazil, signified playing into the hands of reaction.

The catastrophe in Brazil was prepared by illusions sowed among the masses by the petty-bourgeois nationalists and the Khrushchevists. As they depicted it, the problem in Brazil was to struggle only against the “feudalistic landlords” who constitute the main obstacle to development. The way to fight imperialism, according to this school, is “democratically,” “with a nationalistic struggle,” by no means deepening the struggle to an anticapitalist level, since this would alienate the national bourgeoisie, the important ally for this “stage.”

One of the crimes of Latin-American reformism is precisely to advocate this profoundly mistaken and anti-scientific concept of a revolution in sealed-off stages; that is, first against “feudalism” and then – we will see. In Brazil two percent of the population controls eighty percent of the arable land. The struggle against this “feudal” structure, according to the reformists, thus involves the urban bourgeoisie as an extremely important element. The reformists placed all their cards on this nationalist, allegedly anti-feudal bourgeoisie.

Even a brief indication of the facts will show how erroneous this view is. The developments of Brazilian industry, above all in the south, in the Sao Paulo region, is due primarily to the dollars obtained from agricultural exports like sugar, cocoa, cotton, tropical fruits and above all coffee. In Brazil, a most common phenomenon is the urban industrialist who has his cattle ranch or coffee plantation.

This production of raw materials is directly linked to the world capitalist market. With the money received, the Brazilian landholder was compelled to begin investing as a capitalist. In feudal days it was quite different, but as in the rest of Latin America, the landlord of today is not a feudal lord, but the descendant of feudalists. A big sector of the Latin-American bourgeoisie developed out of this landed aristocracy.

MARIATEGUI, Peru’s great revolutionary Marxist theoretician, writes in his Seven Essays:

“Thus it was that this caste [the landholding aristocracy], was forced by its economic role to assume in Peru the function of a bourgeois class, although without losing its aristocratic colonial views and prejudices.”

The Brazilian landholder, like his kind in Peru, does not view his land as a feudal estate provided with serfs but rather as a capitalist enterprise producing for the market. Mariategui says again:

“Along the coast, the latifundist has reached a more or less advanced level of capitalist technique, although exploitation still rests on feudal practices and principles. The organization of the production of cotton and sugar cane is in correspondence with the capitalist system. Considerable capital is involved and the land is worked with machines and modern methods.”

The Brazilian plantation owner, on receiving his profit in dollars, cannot accumulate them by simply storing them in his mattress. He has to invest. The enormous growth of exports and the consequent rate of import of dollars is evident in the rise of the banks and gigantic financial enterprises of Sao Paulo. This, then, is the origin of the finance capital of that city.

In view of its own origin, its present relations and its position (the most important in the country), this bourgeoisie is not against the status quo in the counryside. On the contrary. The composition of this bourgeoisie, its multiple links with landholding families, as well as the control of the banks by the big exporters, show how Utopian (and therefore criminal) it is to advocate making a “revolutionary” alliance with it.

RIZZOLA and Goulart are representatives of a tiny nationalist bourgeois sector that wants to avoid a revolutionary storm through reforms. But their bourgeois lucidity is such that an abyss exists between what they preach and what they do. They appealed for “structural reforms,” but when the time came to act, they saw that the only forces that were with them were the popular masses and that their own class, as a whole, had abandoned them.

Goulart’s aim was to save the bourgeoisie from a socialist revolution, not to build a bridge toward it. In announcing his reforms and appealing to the masses, he remained highly conscious of his role as a bourgeois leader. He refused to follow the example of the sorcerer’s apprentice. He understood perfectly that the forces unleashed by “structural reforms” – under circumstances requiring a mass struggle against his own class – could not be confined to reformist channels but would burst over everything, opening up the process of permanent revolution and paving the way for the establishment of proletarian power. Before this perspective, Goulart preferred to look like a demagogue who was really only interested in maintaining himself in power. In that way he helped to keep the lock on the floodgates of social revolution.

The Brazilian bourgeoisie ruled out even the smallest reforms proposed by Goulart, immediately cancelling the minor measures he had taken. Is any better indication needed of its real position in Brazil? Its resistance to reforms, even those completely within the limits of the Alliance for Progress, shows what a profoundly conservative force it is.

The role of imperialism, utterly in contradiction with the obectives outlined in its own Alliance for Progress, shows once again what a farce this program is. What North American imperialism is interested in is the $1,500,000,000 [1] invested in Brazil. The scandalous and shameful events in Brazil show that Trotsky’s words in 1938 are as timely as when they were first uttered: “The crisis now facing humanity is the crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.”


1. In the original printed edition thes figure was given as “$1,500,000” (See A Correction, International Socialist Review, Vol.25 No.4, Fall 1964, p.98.

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