‘Transforming Brazil: a History of National Development in the Postwar Era’ critically revisits the context of the time in Brazil in order to reexamine traditional questions and notions pertaining to the nature of Latin America’s political culture and institutions. It was in this period that the region lived some of its most intense and successful experiences of fast economic growth, which was paradoxically marred by heightened ideological divisions, political disruptions, and the emergence of widespread authoritarian rule. The book also explores the roots of the regional economic powerhouse Brazil has become by providing a comprehensive history of the fruitful debates concerning national development in the postwar era, a time when the so-called country of the future faced one of its best moments for consolidating political democracy and economic prosperity.
A multidimensional historical examination, Transforming Brazil came out of an attempt to understand Brazil’s present-day potential as well as challenges, particularly those deriving from the many important but also contradictory socio-economic achievements of the last two decades. As a historian by trade, the goal of presenting a more comprehensive portrayal of one of the country’s most important and transformative periods guided the entire project. Yet, my own personal connection with the country, as well as my broader investigative interests inspired me to also examine the political, intellectual, and cultural scenarios of the 1950s as a way to investigate potential venues for assessing, from a critical perspective, today’s context of this important, emerging nation. It was also from this analytical viewpoint that I revisited some classic arguments pertaining to Brazil and Latin America’s political trajectory during the turbulent years of Cold War.
In concrete terms, the book closely scrutinizes a variety of largely original historical sources produced by different influential historical actors of the time, who actively engaged in discussions and concrete public policies pertaining to the promotion of fast-paced economic development. In the end, the final product provides a rich and nuanced historical account that balances political, cultural, intellectual, and labor narratives, brought together with the ultimate aim of advancing a new and interdisciplinary analytical piece about Brazil’s steady but also protracted developmental path.
Innovating in its multidimensional analytical scope and focus, Transforming Brazil provides a rich political, cultural, and intellectual examination of a historical period characterized by rapid socio-economic changes amidst significant political instability and the heightened ideological polarization shaping the political scenario of Brazil and much of Latin America in the Cold War era. The book also critically revisits the mid-century in Brazil to reexamine traditional questions and notions pertaining to the nature of Latin America’s political culture and institutions. It was in this period that the region lived some of its most intense and successful experiences of fast economic growth, which was paradoxically marred by heightened ideological divisions, political disruptions, and the emergence of widespread authoritarian rule.
Likewise, combining original sources of political, diplomatic, intellectual, cultural, and labor histories, Transforming Brazil provides a comprehensive history of the policies and interpretations about national development in fast-industrializing Brazil. The book demonstrates that traditional views on political instability have been excessively grounded on an institutional focus, which should be replaced by in-depth analysis of events on the ground. In so doing, it reveals that as national development meant very different things to multiple different social segments of the Brazilian society, no unified support could have been provided to the democratically elected political regime when things rapidly became socially and politically divisive early in the 1960s.
Chiefly relevant, in the mid-1950s, the democratically elected charismatic politician Juscelino Kubitschek implemented an ambitious agenda that promised fifty years of development in the five years of his presidency. This was largely to be achieved on the grounds of an aggressive state-led program of fast-paced industrialization known as the Targets Plan. Responding to a variety of ambitious top-down policies implemented by the federal administration, different socio-political actors ranging from government officials, public intellectuals, business representatives, and labor leaders engaged in intense and polarized negotiations about how best promoting a stable path of development. In the end, though much was accomplished in terms of absolute growth and the fostering of a creative discussion about the country’s future, the highly exclusionary structure of Brazilian society remained essentially untouched by the events of its developmentalist experience.
In its original format, which combines elements of political, diplomatic, intellectual, cultural, and labor histories, Transforming Brazil offers a multifaceted study of some of the most important events shaping the recent history of the country and Latin American region as a whole. In concrete terms, in contrast with much of the still prevailing literature on development promotion in the post-World War II context, the book demonstrates that the Brazilian government did not promote its developmental agenda in isolation, but was rather embedded in complex and competing socio-political dynamics. Also departing from still canonic arguments about political stability on fast-industrializing societies, the book indicates that rather than the said-to be ‘uncontrollable rise’ of popular demands for economic inclusion, the roots of the final destabilization of the political system in operation in Brazil in mid-century provoked by the military coup of 1964 are found in the ways in which national development was conceived, debated, and pursued in the 1950s.
The book brings together a diverse set of largely original materials in order to argue that traditional views on political instability have been excessively grounded on an institutional focus, which should be replaced by in-depth analysis of events on the ground, particularly those pertaining to cultural elements. In so doing, the book reveals that as national development meant very different things to multiple different social segments of the Brazilian society, no unified support could have been provided to the democratically elected political regime when things rapidly became socially and politically divisive early in the 1960s.
State-led policies of development were not unique to the Brazilian context in the 1950s, a period defined by the dissemination of the goal of state-supported industrial promotion and its purportedly related political autonomy. In this sense, though primarily focused on the Brazilian case, the relevance of the present examination moves beyond the particular context of this important Latin American nation as industrialization mobilized the efforts of governments and societies of several regional agriculture-based economies in the same period. Similarly, by situating Brazil’s developmental experiences within regional, hemispheric, and global dynamics of the time, Transforming Brazil offers an original comparative reflection on the nature, means, and potential challenges of similar experiences in late-industrializing societies.
Finally, though scholars have long debated the conceptual significance of postwar developmental policies in Latin America, Transforming Brazil innovates in examining how concrete historical actors thought of and acted to advance their own, at times divergent positions about the ever more divisive and influential theme of national development. The analysis is based on a diverse and largely unexamined collection of materials, including official government documents, intellectual works, business publications, and labor newspapers, brought together under the overarching goal of reconstructing, from several different angles, the rich socio-cultural mosaic that defined the 1950s in Brazil.