Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
When some foreign observers of Latin American affairs see the recent Brazilian crisis as a conflict between "feudals" and "reactionaries" on one side and "liberals" and "far-seeing leaders" on the other, a Brazilian may be inclined to think that they fail to understand that Brazil is a nation somewhat apart from neighboring Spanish American Republics. They insist on thinking of the Brazilian armed forces as if they were of the conventional Spanish American type and of Brazilian military leaders as if they were potential military dictators, eager for the first opportunity to enjoy the delights of absolute power. They write of a country which is going through a rapid-indeed, too rapid-process of industrialization and urbanization as if it were still dominated by feudal agrarian barons. Hence their use and abuse of expressions like "feudal," "reactionary," "caudillismo" in regard to modern Brazil.
It would be idiotic to deny that there are "feudal" survivals In Brazil or that there are "reactionaries" among Brazilians, just as there are some who are prominent in the United States, in France and even in Britain. Or, indeed, in Soviet Russia. But in present-day Brazil, as elsewhere, certain realities are so dynamic as to be far above conventional divisions between left and right, liberals and reactionaries. The conflict is too complicated to be described by such cliches. And it would entirely misinterpret the role of the armed forces in this as in previous conflicts in Brazilian life to call it "militaristic" or "rightist." For the political history of Brazil is almost as free of militarism, as well as of clericalism, as the history of the United States. There have been three or four Presidents of the Republic who were military leaders; but with only one exception they were not militaristic caudillos of the well-known Central American type, and one was so dominantly civilian in his behavior as to be a model in this regard. More than once the Brazilian Army has played-and may play again-the role of a super-partisan force; but without Bonapartism. Not to know this is to be ignorant of something essential in the character of the Brazilian people and in their political traditions.
Why is it so? Why have the Brazilians been so remarkably free from a plague that has been widespread in practically all Spanish America? Does it mean that Portuguese Americans are superior in virtue to their Spanish American neighbors? Not at all. The Portuguese who colonized Brazil were not so different psychologically, socially and culturally from the Spaniards who colonized Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and other parts of South and Central America; it was not this different descent which set Brazil apart from its sister nations. Some of Brazil's characteristics developed through its unique historical experience of having had a monarchical parliamentary form of government at the time when it became politically independent from Portugal. This contributed powerfully to the development of Brazilian national unity (in contrast to what happened in republican Spanish America); it also helped create a civilian political conscience, based on a regard for law and the constitution, not only among the Brazilian élites but among average Brazilian citizens.
It was the monarchy, established in 1822 at the same time as the nation, that worked together with a patriarchal system of family, economy and social organization to make the Brazilian society something unique on the American continent; and some of its characteristics were preserved when a Republic was established in 1889, doing away with what some republicans rhetorically described as "an exotic plant in the New World." Juridically and even politically the exotic plant disappeared; but sociologically it was preserved. When Brazil became a presidential Republic, some of the traits of a parliamentary monarchical system passed from a crowned monarch to a president with a top hat; indeed, he inherited the mystical prestige of his royal predecessors at the same time that he acquired a considerable addition of effective executive power. It was so because in a republic it was normally and legally so. Paradoxically, from a democratic point of view, the republican National Congress became more powerful than the crowned monarch had been; and some presidents abused the executive power in ways that Dom Pedro II had not. With these compensations, the new form of government went on doing essentially the same things the monarchy had done: preserving national unity; avoiding any contamination from militarism and caudillismo; avoiding, also, clericalism.
In this connection, another paradox should be noted. One of the first initiatives taken by the new leaders of the country was to separate church and state. Thereupon the church-not necessarily all the clergy-became more active, more dynamic and more influential in ethical and religious matters and in social service than it had been during the monarchical régime. The clergy ceased to be a bureaucracy depending upon the state as well as upon the ecclesiastical authorities and became a really religious group, dependent upon the Roman Catholic community-practically the entire nation.
Actually, some of the most liberal and democratic leaders or agitators in Brazilian history have been priests and military men. Priests and liberal- minded army officers took an active part in the movement for the abolition of slaves as well as in that for the establishment of the Republic. One of the local revolutions in Brazil prior to the establishment of the Republic in 1889 was that of 1817, which broke out in the Northeast region. It was a movement noted for its idealism and its fair methods, and most of its leaders were priests, some of whom became martyrs to the cause of liberalism and republicanism. It is no surprise, then, that at the present time priests and even bishops are among the champions of social reform in Brazil, including reforms of a quasi-socialistic character.
From 1808 to 1822 Brazil was the seat of the Portuguese monarchy; its King, John VI, was also King of Portugal and of the African and Eastern Portuguese Provinces. As King of Brazil he was the opposite of despotic- liberal, humane, progressive. His son, who became the first Emperor of Brazil with the name of Pedro I, was the romantic champion of Brazilian independence. The second and last Emperor of Brazil, Pedro II, was on the throne from 1840 to 1889; he became known as the head of a "crowned democracy." Some of his biographers and not a few historians have criticized Pedro II for his lack of martial enthusiasm. He very rarely wore a military uniform, usually going about in a long black coat and a black top hat. One of his preoccupations was to maintain legal order and political peace-peace at home and peaceful relations with neighboring republics. He also sought to avoid such rapid material progress that economic stability would be damaged, and to bring about a gradual transition from an agrarian, semi-feudal community to an agrarian- industrial one. He neglected to develop military activities in even a moderate degree; indeed, he was an almost Tolstoyan pacifist. This explains why Brazil was caught unprepared when it had to fight against caudillos of an aggressive Indo-Spanish American type such as Francisco Solano Lopez of Paraguay.
It is paradoxical once again that in this regard the Republic corrected the Empire's deficiency; republican governments have paid more attention to armed forces and military preparations than the Empire did, though not to the point of becoming too preoccupied with such matters. Nor have the military leaders of Brazil taken advantage of this to become rivals of the civilian political leaders. There has been an occasional military leader with an urge of that sort, but he was always too isolated to become the founder or center of a military caste. As a result, the army in Brazil has been a distinctly democratic organization, interested in maintaining order and national unity, but always noted for its tendency to follow the great national goals whenever they are a clear expression of the popular will.
Crises such as the one that Brazil has just gone through should be understood and interpreted in the light of these and other paradoxes in its political and social history rather than on the basis of conventional notions about "Latin America." A supranational Latin American complex does exist, but inside it there are too many and too deep differences to be overlooked. The idea of using "right" and "left" as a valid antithesis to explain the conflicts in the national development of a people like the Brazilians is becoming increasingly archaic. It is as uncritical to do so as it is for extreme patriots to idealize events and depict Brazil as already an almost perfect political democracy.
Brazil is far from being a perfect political democracy. But, with all its imperfections, a political democracy it is. Its typical citizen is a democrat who has reached a high enough degree of political maturity to react as he did to crises like the one following Getulio Vargas' suicide and more recently that following Senhor Jânio Quadros' resignation. This reaction has made clear that Brazil's political development has far surpassed that of, for instance, Cuba. A large part of the Brazilian population is Negroid and another part is Indianoid, while a larger part is of European extraction-Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish-with some persons of Japanese origin also. Brazil nevertheless seems in no danger of reacting to crises only emotionally or hysterically-à la Congo or à la Bolivia. Why? The answer seems to be found in its historical and sociological experience: it is an ethnic democracy that is developing into a stable political democracy, and it is able to do this thanks to its political training under a monarchical parliamentary régime.
Brazilian sociologists, anthropologists and historians do not have to respect the "odor of sanctity" that absolute patriots think should surround national institutions. But they recognize that, in some respects, Brazil, for a still young nation, has achieved important victories of self-control. It is not yet a Switzerland; far from it. But it does not behave as so many crudely immature national societies are doing in our day.
The fact that some newspaper critics are now writing about Brazil with the superiority assumed by sophisticated persons observing a large-sized banana republic seems to indicate that journalists might well receive a sort of sociological introduction to the history and modern condition of such exotic peoples as Brazilians: a nation which while being Latin American yet does not correspond in every point to accepted generalizations about Spanish American nations; a nation with its own ways of being national, of making its own mark in political sociology as well as in music, painting, architecture, literature and cooking. For the way in which Brazilians have reached-and are reaching-solutions to problems that for other nations have often meant civil war, revolution and unrest, such as the achievement of political independence, the abolition of slavery, change from a monarchical to a republican structure, separation of church and state-these are significant achievements.
The fact is that Brazil, basing itself on its own achievements in the field of political sociology, is endeavoring to find its own type of democracy- political, economic, social, ethnic-instead of passively following foreign models that, from a Brazilian point of view, are exotic, not natural, not in accord with Brazilian climate, traditions, customs. I include climate because tropical conditions seem to have much to do with Brazilian behavior, acting as a stimulant to tensions which are not just destructive in character but also are constructive. For Brazilians, there is no such thing as a "General Winter," either as an ally against foreign intrusion or as a trouble-maker in domestic matters. Instead, they have tropical sunshine as their regular collaborator; indeed, its presence is so constant in their lives, in all their contacts and activities-including political activities-that for some it comes to signify monotony instead of joie de vivre. For the most part, well adjusted Brazilians consider the constancy of sunshine, hence of informal contacts in the street and in cafés, of meeting in plazas, of open-air agitation, a part of their political way of being democratic, a defense of what is typically Brazilian.
Which type of government really corresponds most closely to Brazil's tropical climate and to predominantly Iberian traditions and customs-the presidential or the parliamentary? The answer has to do with the ethos of a people that loves good verbal debates about their political problems almost as much as good football. Republican parliamentarianism in Brazil is only an experiment; there is nothing definitive about it. Is it too optimistic to hope that perhaps with a parliamentary form of government similar to the one that the Brazilian people enjoyed during their monarchical period they will come to participate more, as active listeners, in the discussion of their national problems by their political representatives in Brasilia? Most of these discussions will be in the evenings, like the football games; and it may be that enthusiastic crowds will be attracted by competitive parliamentary debates in the modernistic buildings of the National Parliament.
It may also be that by following the parliamentary discussions certain publicists who write on Brazilian political and social subjects, sometimes systematically misinterpreting Brazilian behavior by trying to adapt it to their own conceptions of what all Latin American behavior should be, will acquire a better knowledge of those subjects. Parliaments have something of the sociological laboratory about them. To listen to parliamentary debates- especially in committees-is not always a waste of time: for journalists, interested only in news, it can give insight into the character of a people through an understanding of particular cases which concern them. Moreover, while it is true that under a presidential system the official documents emanating from the Executive are not always completely reliable, under a parliamentary system official documents do not come only from the Executive or from Congressional committees. There are numerous conflicting documents; not one truth only, but, à la Pirandello, several truths. Consequently there emerges, for those who seek the truth, a more complete perspective of the complex and somewhat contradictory Brazilian social and political reality.
At the basis of this reality lies a constant attachment to national unity and legal order, even, as it was with Goethe, a preference for injustice to disorder. An opposite attitude may be attributed to some Spanish Americans. This does not mean, however, that Brazilians dream of becoming a vast tropical Switzerland, so well ordered that every person and every thing, big and small, is exactly in its place. This is not their ideal. In common with other Iberian peoples they have an inclination to be anarchistic, Utopian in their liberalism, excessively free from too strict obligations toward the state and toward political tradition. They are noted not only for their love of liberty but for their taste for novelty. At the same time they have a reasonable sense of order which some of their Spanish American neighbors lack. The Brazilian experiment in dictatorship with Vargas was curious, for all the time the dictator did his best not to behave as a dictator but as a constitutional president or constitutional monarch, a sort of Pedro the Third, who instead of being Braganza-Hapsburg was a somewhat timid gaucho from Rio Grande do Sul. His enthusiastic supporters never succeeded in making him a Brazilian replica of Napoleon.
One of the characteristics of Brazilians in their political sociology-as well as in their music, literature, cooking or foreign policy-is to be experimental while also remaining loyal to certain basic values of their past, a rare combination. One of those values is a mixture of legalism, pacifism and sense of order, a repudiation of illegal and violent solutions or situations. This explains why Vargas, while politically a dictator, did his best to remain sociologically a sort of constitutional monarch who accepted his position as a dictator less because of any desire for absolute power than for the sake of order and unity. For national unity-this should be repeated-is another value that Brazilians prize highly as an inheritance from the Portuguese and Catholic colonization and the monarchical experience.
Even today not a few Brazilians feel nostalgia for the period when Brazil was known as a "crowned democracy," and some of them seem to associate the political success of democracy in monarchical Brazil with parliamentary government. Personally I regard this as a mistake. I incline to think that Brazil was a political success as a monarchy not so much on account of its parliamentary form of government as in spite of it. Yet it is easy to understand, because of what this association of ideas represents to many Brazilians, why the recent change of their political régime from a presidential to a parliamentary republic is not so absurd as some foreign observers find it. For historical and psychological reasons many Brazilians accept the change as a sort of reintegration of Brazil into the genuinely Brazilian rhythm of political life.
However, Brazil's present political leaders must take into consideration that neither at home nor in the world at large are conditions the same as they were in the nineteenth century when the country was a parliamentary monarchy. They have to keep in mind the failure of republican Spaniards to make Spain better as a political democracy than it had been as a constitutional monarchy; some of them expected too much from a mere change of political technique. Brazilians should not expect-and probably are not expecting-that the parliamentary form of government just introduced will present magical solutions for their most difficult problems. For instance, the parliamentary régime now will have to make a new foreign policy for Brazil; and both in regard to Africa and Asia and the Communist world it will necessarily be experimental and extremely difficult.
This policy is to be one of mediate action-or accommodation -between European and non-European cultures, between white and colored peoples or nations. Brazil is in an ideal position to accomplish this on account of the fact that it is, in spite of some imperfections, an advanced ethnic democracy; and though it is predominantly European in its main styles of civilization, its culture has also absorbed many African and some Asian values as well as considerable African Negro, Oriental and Amerindian blood in a large part of its population. If the present policy is to institute an effective system of closer relations between the new African and Asian nations and Brazil, it must be followed with tact and wisdom; for it implies both more independence for Brazil from older alliances and also her potential leadership of a new group of tropical nations with problems similar to the ones already on the way to solution among Brazilians.
At the same time, some Brazilians think that it would be idiotic for Brazil, as the potential leader of a possible confederacy of Portuguese- speaking peoples, located mainly in tropical regions similar in climate and ecology, and carrying through a similar process of social and ethnic amalgamation, to adopt the same indiscriminate policy of "anti-colonialism" in regard to Portuguese Africa as is now being followed by British and United States political leaders. Some Brazilians feel that there is a specifically Brazilian foreign policy to be followed. Most of the people of Portuguese Africa look to ethnically democratic Brazil as their natural leader-not to some sub-Nehru, of a darker skin than the Hindu liberator of Goa whose ideas often seem to Brazilians racist rather than democratic. Brazil is against not just one kind of racism- the European one-but the African and Asian kinds also.
Brazil's adoption of parliamentarianism was a happy way out of a dramatic crisis. When Senhor Jânio Quadros resigned the presidency after only seven months in office it was something so unexpected that he almost seemed to invite his fellow countrymen to venture into civil war. Never in the whole history of Brazil had a man so suddenly and so tragically revealed himself as inadequate to the responsibilities given him by the millions of Brazilians who had been impressed by his charisma. This charisma was destroyed in part by the charismatic individual himself. In 1954 Vargas was a suicide of the ordinary type (well studied from a sociological point of view by the Frenchman Durkheim). Senhor Quadros, in 1961, came close to destroying himself in a similar way, putting self-destruction on a psychological level, destroying his political soul. He disregarded the Brazilian preference for order, even when injustice to the weak is considered to conflict with order: order for the benefit of all, for justice, liberty and democracy.
A favorable interpretation of Senhor Quadros' dramatic resignation-and on this basis he may regain the confidence of some of his fellow-countrymen-is that he acted as an archaic follower of Don Quixote. He followed a Quixotic suggestion when he should have acted in the tradition of José Bonifacio, the sensible rather than flamboyant founder of the Brazilian nation, a scientist, not a demagogue, an idealist and also a realist.
Senhor Quadros apparently set the ideal of a utopian "defense of the weak" and an equally utopian and almost comical defense of "personal honor"-his own personal honor-against almost everybody-against Brazil, against Americans and against Democracy with a capital D. By doing this, and also by becoming too close an ally of the Cuban caudillo, Fidel Castro, he became a new type of politician in Brazil, in both a domestic and a foreign sense, and disappointed many of his fellow-countrymen. They had seen in him during his campaign for the presidency a sort of Brazilian Lincoln-the Brazilian Lincoln that he himself claimed to desire to be. But since conditions in Brazil are exceptionally bad at present from an economic as well as a political point of view, Senhor Quadros may be regaining some of his lost prestige. He may make himself again a sort of Don Quixote in circumstances that so far are not being dealt with in a satisfactory way by the conventionally realistic politicians now in power.
Realistic politicians of a new and vigorous type may, however, be emerging in Brazil, and President Goulart may be one of them. They must become leaders in fact without much delay if they are to ward off in time somewhat mystical movements for the return of Senhor Quadros or the attraction of extremely radical solutions-demagogic or anti-demagogic-in foreign as well as in domestic policy. One feels the same about the announced Alliance for Progress as it relates to Brazil; in order to be effective against undesirable demagogic or anti-demagogic solutions, it has to become a visible reality without much delay. For instance, the Brazilian Northeast, the country's number one problem region, has recently been visited by so many official and semiofficial groups from the United States, without any significant positive results, that the matter is becoming the subject of humorous comments by some Brazilians.
If a well-planned agrarian reorganization of Northeast Brazil were to begin at once, on the basis of reliable studies already made, it is almost certain that the present Communist agitators there would be deprived of their arguments against democratic government and the inter-American system of coöperation. This reorganization should include a series of activities- such as irrigation and the directed migration of people from dry areas to humid ones-some of which the Northeast Development Agency (a special federal department) seems technically able to execute (provided the director refrains from choosing technical collaborators from Communists or quasi-Communists, who might use their technical activities for political purposes). At the same time, there would have to be direct American and European aid of a financial and technical nature toward the industrial development of the region-direct, that is, to regional public and private organizations and not through the slow federal bureaucracy of Brasilia and Rio. Because so little is being done at present, some industrialists of the Northeast who are in financial difficulties are being approached subtly by Soviet representatives offering the possibility of financial help directly to them and through them to the region as a whole. These representatives are using methods that should have been followed long ago by citizens of the United States. By dealing almost exclusively with the bureaucrats of Brasilia and Rio, the United States now seems to some observers to be repeating in Brazil the same mistakes it made in pre-Communist China.