History of Brazil (1945-1964)

From Academic Kids

This article is part of
the Brazilian History
Indigenous peoples
Colonial Brazil
Empire of Brazil

Second Vargas presidency

Vargas returned to politics in 1950, and through the free and secret ballot he was re-elected President of the Republic.

His Administration was hampered by the economic crisis that affected the country at that time. Getúlio Vargas would pursue in the end of his term a nationalist policy turned to the country's natural resources, to a lesser foreigner dependency and, within this scope he founded the PETROBRAS (Brazilian oil).

The positions assumed by his political adversaries led to a crisis which culminated in the crime of "Rua Toneleiros", where Major Rubens Vaz was murdered. This fact aroused a reaction against Vargas and the Army generals demanded his resignation. Vargas had a last try, calling the ministry special meeting on the eve of August 24, but rumors spread the news that the armed forces officers were inflexible. Feeling himself incapable of maintaining the situation under control, Vargas committed suicide on August 24, 1954.

The collapse of Brazilian Populism

Changing economic structures

Vargas' ever-shifting populist dictatorship helped to reign in the agrarian oligarchs, paving the way to the democratization of the 1950s and 1960s ended by the rightwing 1964 military coup. But the state still maintained a loose variation of Getúlio Vargas' populism and economic nationalism. Between 1930-64, as Brazilian populism itself guided changes in the structure of Brazil's economy (Vargas' policies indisputably promoted industrial growth), Vargas and his successors were forced to shift the makeup of particular kinds of class alliances reconciled by the state.

After Vargas' death in 1954, the support base for Brazilian populism began deteriorating. Vargas' first ouster from 1945-51 and his suicide in 1954, awaiting a seemingly inevitable military coup, would foreshadow that the formula of Brazilian populism had been deteriorating for some time. Brazilian populism would linger for another decade but in new forms. If corporatism was the hallmark of the 1930s and 1940s, nationalism, and developmentalism characterized the 1950s and early 1960s. Each of these contributed to the crisis that gripped Brazil and resulted in the authoritarian regime after 1964.

The Kubitschek era

Arguably, populism and economic nationalism were casualties of Juscelino Kubitschek's presidency (1956-61) more than anything else. Campaigning on a platform of "fifty years of progress in five," Kubitschek sought to achieve this progress with the aid of foreign investments, which in turn would be given generous incentives, such as profit remittances, low taxes, privileges for the importation of machinery, and donations of land. This influx of capital rapidly conquered domestic industry, unable to compete with the greater efficiency and expertise of foreign capital. Domestic manufactures, once the core base of support for Vargas' economic nationalism, were idly contented to become managers or partners of the multinationals. The urban bourgeoisie—the original base of Vargas coalition—had little use for Brazilian populism any more, having outgrown state planning and having lost its autonomy. In a sense, Brazilian populism was a victim of its own success, fostering a middle class that would soon find state control threatening rather than protective.

Juscelino Kubitschek
Juscelino Kubitschek

The most most notable manifestation of the nationalistic aspirations of the Kubitschek's was the construction of Brasília, Brazil's ultra-modern, Bauhaus-style capital.

Thus, as the historical context shifted, so did the ideology of Brazilian populism. Between 1934-45, Brazilian populism was a surprisingly reactionary phenomenon, exhibiting remarkable parallels to European fascism. In contrast, under the presidency of João Goulart (1961-64)—a protégé of Getúlio Vargas and another gaúcho from Rio Grande do Sul, the closeness of the government to the historically disenfranchised working class and peasantry and even to the Communist Party under none other than Luís Carlos Prestes was equally remarkable. Interestingly enough, Goulart appeared to have been co-opting the Communist movement in a manner reminiscent of Vargas' co-optation of the Integralists shortly—and not coincidentally—before his ouster by reactionary forces. Eventually, the 1964 junta and the ensuing military dictatorship would prove that the establishment forces that ushered Goulart's mentor into power in the first place, and the bourgeoisie that Vargas helped rear, found the left-leaning turn of Brazilian populism intolerable.

Goulart and the fall of the Second Republic

After Kubitschek's retirement, the elected president was Jânio Quadros, a right-wing figure who based his electoral campaign on critics to Kubitschek and his followers of PDT and supposedly corruption harm. The Quadros' slogan was a broom, with which the president would "sweep the corruption".

But Quadros did an odd government, in which he, despite of his old beliefs and political assumptions, tried to resume the relations of Brazil with communist countries. He also proclaimed quite ridiculous laws, like the one prohibiting the use of bikini in beaches of Rio de Janeiro.

In the last days of August, 1961, Quadros abdicated from his mandate. The situation was very special, since the vice-president, João Goulart, by that time was outside the country in a mission visiting Asia. Some military chiefs tried to prevent the nomination of Goulart as an president, accusing him of being communist. (Goulart was directly linked to worker's parties and associations.) The crisis was solved by what would be called "parliamentarism solution": the Parliamentary system was implemented to reduce Goulart's powers as president, satisfacting the military officials.

João Goulart was forced to shift well to the left of his mentor Getúlio Vargas, forced to mobilize the working class and even the peasantry amid falling urban bourgeois support. The core of Brazilian populism—economic nationalism—simply was no longer that appealing to the middle classes. Mild structural reforms under Goulart cumulated in the watershed 1964 military junta supported by a "dependent bourgeoisie" that would restore the same acceptance of neocolonial dependency that Vargas, however conservative, had attempted to overcome. Effectively, this political crisis stemmed from the specific way in which the political tensions of Brazilian development had been controlled in the 1930s and 1940s under the fascist Estado Novo.

Vargas' dictatorship and the presidencies of his democratic successors marked different stages of the broader era of Brazilian populism (1930-64), an era of economic nationalism, state-guided modernization, and import substitution trade policies. Vargas' polices were intended to transform Brazil into a capitalistic First World nation by linking industrialization to nationalism, a formula based on a strategy of reconciling the conflicting interests of the middle class, foreign capital, the working class, and the fazendeiros. The landed gentries—the formidable forces of the old order, of course, were won over by the lack of structural changes (agrarian reforms) under Vargas.

Essentially, this was the epic of the rise and fall of Brazilian populism from 1930 to 1964: Brazil witnessed over the course of this time period the change from export-orientation of the Old Republic (1889-1930) to the import substitution of the populist era (1930-64) and then to the dominance of the multinationals of the neoliberal era (1964-present). Each of these structural changes would force a realignment of class forces and open up a period of political crisis. The 1964 coup would also end a cycle in Brazilian history beginning with Vargas' 1930 Revolution, a now bygone era marked by the marriage of middle class aspirations, nationalism, and state-guided modernization in Latin America. A period of rightwing military dictatorship would mark the transition between this era and the current period of redemocratization.

History of Brazil: Timeline & Topics

Indians | Colonial | Empire | 1889–1930 | 1930–1945 | 1945–1964 | 1964–1985 | 1985–present
Military | Diplomatic | Religious


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