Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

The Legislative Work in an Authoritarian Regime: The Case of the São Paulo Administrative Department*

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

The Legislative Work in an Authoritarian Regime: The Case of the São Paulo Administrative Department*

Article excerpt


How does the "legislative process" of a regime with no legislative branch work?

This article deals with the internal life of the Administrative Department of the state of São Paulo (Departamento Administrativo do Estado de São Paulo - DAESP) from 1939-1947. It is an examination of the agenda, the decision-making routines, legislative procedures and bureaucratic connections of this specific agency, created during the Estado Novo (New State) regime in Brazil.

The coup that established the Vargas dictatorship in Brazil on November 10, 1937 swapped the elected governors for appointed governors, revoked parliamentary terms and shut down the legislative houses (city councils, state legislatures, Chamber of Deputies and Federal Senate). Soon after, Decree-Law no 37 of December 2, 1937 cancelled the register of Brazilian political parties and civil militias. With this, the government intended to eliminate the influence of traditional politicians and state party machines on government processes. According to the then dominant anti-liberal conception (VIANNA, 1927), a bureaucratic department linked to the federal Executive branch that acted only "administratively" (and not politically) would be preferable to a Legislative branch occupied by the traditional oligarchies. To the official discourse, the Legislative branch that came out of the 1934 Constitution and was moulded according to the "classical models of liberalism and the representative system", would not only be an "inadequate and costly apparatus", but a real "obstacle" to "government works" (VARGAS, 1938, pp. 23-24). According to the writings of thinkers of the regime, the style of the Brazilian legislative bodies only hindered the process of government and blocked technocratic objectivity, hence the need for Administrative Departments that would play the role of regional parliaments.

Studies on Brazilian political history have likened the functions of the Administrative Departments, or "daspinhos" (little DAEs) to those of the former state Legislatures1. This was the opinion current at the time of the Vargas dictatorship and also the view of the President himself (VARGAS, 1941, p. 219). According to Minister for Justice and Internal Affairs Francisco Campos, these Administrative Departments had been created in order to be "an instrument of 'legislative cooperation and budgetary oversight' of the Interventoria Federal" (CAMPOS, 1940a, p. 115). And this, according to what the authoritarians believed, had advantages over the political order prior to 1937, which repeated in the states the division between the Executive and Legislative spheres. All the dictatorship's ideological propaganda emphasised the alleged superiority of the bureaucratic procedures of these offices compared to the "discursive methods of liberal democracy" and the empty "legalistic dialectic" of traditional parliaments (CAMPOS, 1940a, pp. 29-30).

In this context, the authoritarian ideology and the opinion of its disseminators on the inefficiency of Brazilian parliamentary politics worked as a source of theoretical inspiration for the law-making process that led to Decree-Law 1,202 of April 8, 1939. This decree instituted an Administrative Department in each one of the 20 Brazilian states. According to this document, between four and ten members directly appointed by the Brazilian President were to oversee the decision-making process in their states, approving or vetoing all the decrees issued by the Interventor Federal. Given this, Graham deduced that "the president of the daspinho was usually more powerful than the interventor" (GRAHAM, 1968, pp. 27-28).

This article aims to empirically test this proposition, examining the type and amount of power that this political system's actors - the interventor and the president of the Department - possessed. This requires a descriptive study of the decision-making processes of the political-bureaucratic apparatuses of the authoritarian State. …

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