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Volume 53 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: BRAZIL


WILLIAM C. SMITH, Associate Professor of Political Science, Graduate School of International Studies, University of Miami

BRAZIL HAS LONG BEEN SEEN AS A GIGANTIC LABORATORY for the study of helter-skelter capitalist accumulation under authoritarian aegis. This vision of predatory modernization, dominant in the 1960s and 1970s, was modified somewhat in the early 1980s. Influenced by the exhaustion of post-1964 authoritarian rule, as well as by their own democratic values, many scholars clearly hoped that political liberalization would pave the way for greater participation and equality to the benefit of subordinate social groups. By the early 1990s, however, cynicism, frustration, and disappointment with democratic politics as practiced under José Sarney and Fernando Collor de Mello had dissipated any lingering optimism. Given the egregious inequalities deeply rooted in Brazilian society, the transition from authoritarianism to a fragile democratic regime gave free reign to irresponsible and unaccountable political and bureaucratic elites, while strengthening the power of the dominant classes. The general public as well as scholarly analysts made a disturbing (if hardly novel) discovery - far from being a panacea, civilian rule and competitive politics may actually reinforce clientelism, the privatization of public goods, and the concomitant abandonment of the poor and powerless.

Confronted by Brazil's ongoing crisis, more iconoclastic scholars such as Sorj (item bi 93021653) have challenged their colleagues to undertake a theoretical renovation by calling for a "sociology of social fragmentation" to illuminate the macro and micro processes of social restructuring responsible for growing inequalities and deepening social and political ungovernability. Most, however, continue to work within the great paradigms of classical social theory, espousing Marxist, Weberian or more diffuse liberal-pluralist and empiricist approaches. Regardless of theoretical posture, much research continues to exemplify the same sophistication and commitment to rigorous analysis characteristic of recent social science production by Brazilians and Brazilianists.

Although general historical overviews (item bi 91004334) and more interpretive essays by well-known scholar-activists such as Cardoso (item bi 91021659), Weffort (item bi 91009157), and De Souza (item bi 92011111) continue to appear, studies of political parties, the electoral system, and parliamentary institutions increasingly dominate the literature. Among the best of these, the works of Lamounier and his associates at the Instituto de Estudos Econômicos, Sociais e Políticos de Sao Paulo (IDESP) on electoral politics in the democratic transition, political culture and the 1988 Constitution (item bi 91009219), the presidentialism versus parliamentarism debate (items bi 93021516 and bi 91009155) and the 1989 presidential elections (item bi 93021517) merit particular mention. Lamounier's comprehensive edited volume, De Geisel a Collor: o balanço da transiçao (item bi 92011119), places these questions in the context of potential threats to the emerging democratic order. Baaklini's monograph on the role of Congress in a presidential regime addresses a major lacuna in Brazilian political studies (item bi 92016285). The failure of the pre-1964 party system to reemerge after the return to democracy and the obstacles to institutionalizing a stable party system are competently analyzed by Kinzo (item bi 91009221). The historical origins and metamorphosis of the party and electoral systems are well treated in Lima Júnior's edited volumes (items bi 93019358 and bi 92011104), which focus on electoral rules as mechanisms of domination serving privileged sectors, and in articles by Wagner (item bi 91014763) and Ferreira Neto (item bi 91014755). Lavareda's study of the 1945-64 period is especially useful because of its wealth of empirical data (item bi 92011118). Recent books on the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (PTB) by Soares D'Araújo (item bi 91014729) and Neves Delgado (item bi 92011131) are welcome additions to a growing list of monographs on individual parties.

The pivotal 1982 elections, which marked the exhaustion of the post-1964 military regime and the acceleration of the process of abertura, are examined in Fleischer's edited volume (item bi 92011105). Lavareda's analysis of the crisis of the party system under Sarney (item bi 91025184) is usefully complemented by Nery's journalistic account (item bi 92011098) of the "Collor phenomenon" and Gurgel and Fleischer's comprehensive, albeit impressionistic, "Making of the President, 1989" campaign diary (item bi 91014757) chronicling Collor's rise to the presidency. More topical studies include Muszynski's analyses of voting behavior in Sao Paulo, focusing on rejection of (P)MDB candidates in the mid-1980s (item bi 91014730); the popularity of conservative Paulo Maluf (item bi 91014733); and the surprising election of Luiza Erundina of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) as mayor of the city of Sao Paulo (item bi 91014735). Von Mettenheim's mildly revisionist study of preferences and attitudes during the 1974-82 period criticizes the common notion of a "poorly endowed" electorate or a "deficient" political culture (item bi 91021854); instead, Brazil's emerging pattern of electoral politics resembles that of now-industrialized countries at similar transitional stages. Mata Machado's theoretical piece on the linkage between subject and structure raises important questions central to future research on voting behavior (item bi 93002782). Diniz's persuasive and sophisticated interpretation of the chronic instability of the Brazilian party system builds upon recent empirical findings and places them in useful perspective (item bi 91025183). Excellent discussions of the implications of electoral competition in the context of weak political institutions are advanced in Power's sobering discussion of "civic fatigue" (item bi 92016542) and Hagopian's essay on the political class and elite-controlled trasformismo in Brazil's "compromised consolidation" (item bi 93021376).

The role played by organized labor, entrepreneurs, and State bureaucratic elites as key collective actors in the process of democratic consolidation and economic restructuring is recognized in recent scholarship. Two important books - French's historical analysis of class conflict in modern Sao Paulo (item bi 93019446) and Keck's examination of organized labor and the rise of the PT (item bi 93021377) - exemplify the contributions by a new generation of US Brazilianists. Payne's essay (item bi 91020886) on organized labor's strategy of "democratic recalcitrance" during the transition helps place in perspective analyses by Rodrigues (item bi 91014751) and Giannotti and Neto (item bi 91014787) of the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT), the labor confederation aligned with the PT. Boito Júnior's critical analysis of O sindicalismo de Estado no Brasil (item bi 93019463) attempts to make clear the objective connection between State control over labor and protection of entrepreneurial interests, an issue sometimes slighted in recent debates.

Research on State elites and the role of entrepreneurs in the post-authoritarian period necessarily addresses trends toward the recasting of State institutions and practices in the context of "free-market" models of economic restructuring. In an excellent interpretive essay, Campello de Souza offers an insightful analysis of the anti-statist "New Right," the weakness of democratic liberalism, and the emergence of economic neoliberalism (item bi 92010129). In complementary fashion, Diniz's discussion of the collapse of the model of import-substitution industrialization (ISI) and the crisis of the system of interest representation associated with the ISI strategy provides an indispensable context for understanding the demise of the post-1930 mode of State intervention and the emergence of new forms of State regulation more congruent with marketplace logic (item bi 93021244). Nylen's essay on "cartorial capitalism" and the "purist" model of neoliberal economics provides an additional perspective on the crisis and the reform of Brazil's State-centric political economy (item bi 92010139). More specific studies such as Schneider's book on bureaucrats and industrial policy under authoritarianism (item bi 92003107), his essay on the privatization efforts undertaken by the Collor government (item bi 92010137), Shidlo's study of public housing during the post-1964 regime (item bi 93019459), and Guimaraes' discussion of "ecopolitics" and environmental policies (item bi 91021821) exemplify the importance of political economy perspectives on the Brazilian State and its central role in contemporary transformations.

Although now somewhat removed from the center of scholarly preoccupations, interesting studies of the armed forces and the post-1964 authoritarianism continue to appear. General surveys of familiar terrain can be found in Bacchus (item bi 91014745), Hayes (item bi 92011103), and Valadares de Carvalho (item bi 91014747). Although its conspiratorial thesis will strike many as forced, Starling's book on the strategic and tactical organization of the 1964 coup is insightful and provides interesting new information on the key state of Minas Gerais (item bi 92011113). Analyses of more recent aspects of the military's role in politics include Cavagnari's essay on the evolution of strategic doctrine during the transition (item bi 91023191), Gouvea Neto's discussion of the defense industry (item bi 91023209), and Barros Ribeiro's diagnosis of intelligence operations in the context of democratic institutions (item bi 91013175). While overstated, Barros' argument that civilian corruption and mismanagement of economic reforms, plus ambiguity regarding the armed forces' role in a more open and competitive polity, raises the possibility that future military coups should not be discounted (item bi 91016657). If he is correct, then scholars should indeed redouble their efforts to discover the determinants of democratic governability in Brazil - and hope that their contributions are being read by those in a position do something to improve the situation.


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