Democracy and the Left in Contemporary Brazil

  • Luis Felipe Miguel
Part of the Marx, Engels, and Marxisms book series (MAENMA)


The chapter discusses the relationship between the Brazilian left and democracy, based on a chronology that takes place, in a simplified way, as follows:
  1. 1.

    Predominance of an orthodox Marxist view: the central feature is the class character of the state. Liberal democracy is only one form of bourgeois domination among others.

  2. 2.

    “Conversion” to democracy, at the end of the 1970s. The long military dictatorship (1964–1985) showed, by contrast, the advantages of “bourgeois democracy” and liberal rights. Moreover, the experience of intellectuals and political leaders in European exile allowed them to follow the “Eurocommunist” turn, marked by a commitment to representative democracy.

  3. 3.

    At the same time, a new political organization was born in Brazil and soon became hegemonic in the left: the Workers’ Party (PT). Its program and practice showed adherence to a notion of “radical democracy,” based on broadening direct participation. Like the emerging social movements, to which it intended to give voice, it showed distrust to the state and positions of formal power. Revaluation of democracy was accompanied by skepticism about its institutions.

  4. 4.

    With the promulgation of a democratic constitution in 1988, the electoral contest became increasingly central to access power. Despite its criticisms, the left was increasingly applying its efforts to obtain elective offices. At the same time, it encouraged the creation of new spaces to broaden the state’s dialogue with civil society and ordinary citizens, such as “participatory budgets” and public policy councils. Such institutions, however, were far more than additions at the fringes of a system that continued to follow the logic of liberal representative democracy. When PT came to power in 2003, it was already fully adapted to the electoral game. It implanted many participatory spaces, but without challenging the primacy of the three traditional powers (in sharp contrast to the policies adopted by other leftist Latin American governments). Its strategy of staying in power was mainly based on the expansion of its electoral base thanks to the support of the beneficiaries of social policies.

  5. 5.

    The legal and parliamentary coup of 2016 showed that checks and balances, far from enforcing the rules of the game, work in a way that protects the interests of the most powerful groups. At the moment, different sectors of the Brazilian left question again the relations between political democracy, capitalist economy, and peripheral condition.



Brazilian left Democracy Marxism Workers’ Party Coup 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luis Felipe Miguel
    • 1
  1. 1.Political Science InstituteUniversity of BrasíliaBrasíliaBrazil

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