The Choices of the Left: The Paradox of the New Developmentalist State

  • Evelina DagninoEmail author
Part of the Marx, Engels, and Marxisms book series (MAENMA)


In confronting neoliberal models and their emphasis on state-market alliances, new developmentalism emerged as a powerful alternative and was received with enthusiasm by leftist forces in Brazil and in Latin America. Strengthening the role of the state seemed an effective route to confront the predominance of the market advocated by neoliberals, and it certainly was responsible for unquestionable advances in fighting inequalities. However, this new version of the state has been unable to redefine the old formula of a “strong, self-sufficient state” and the centralizing political practices characteristic of the “old” developmentalism. The legacy of old Marxist conceptions of the state as the main agent of social transformation has been an additional element in the Workers’ Party view of the role of the state. Thus, this chapter argues that such a strategy created a paradox within a historical milestone of the Workers’ Party: the participation of society in decision-making processes. By concentrating political power and emphasizing technocratic and restricted decision processes, the new developmental state ended up contributing to draining the potential of participatory democracy. In spite of their quantitative increase in the national level during the Workers’ Party governments, participatory institutions, which gradually developed after the 1988 Constitution, have been frequently bypassed, and social participation downgraded from its more radical and original meaning. The fading of participatory democracy, coupled with an emphasis on the traditional mechanisms of Brazilian representative democracy, chronically plagued by corruption and lack of representativeness, frustrated the hopes for inclusive and sustainable policies and for a deepening of democracy through a radically new alliance between state and society. Among the factors underlying the crisis of the left in Brazil, the failure of a reconfiguration in the role of the state as a “political conscious actor in favor of development” seems to have taken its toll, since it has not been able to effectively combine its shifts with a radical redefinition of society’s decision power.


Workers’ Party New developmentalism Neoliberalism State Participatory democracy 


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Political Science DepartmentState University of CampinasCampinasBrazil

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