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Brazil 5

“…Two essential premises of the capitalist system were present in the new sugar enterprises: the production and circulation of commodities. But the fundamental base was lacking: the wage-worker. Thus we have the slave system, but slavery for the production of commodities destined for the world market. It differed from the capitalist production system not only in the form in which killing working hours were imposed, but also in the impossibility of constantly revolutionizing production methods, an inherent part of capitalism.

From the end of the sixteenth century we find sugarmills in the Spanish Antilles with a work force of one hundred slaves and a production capacity of 10,000 arrobas (115 tons) per harvest and grinding season–that is, a yield of 100 arrobas per Negro, which was the Cuban average maintained up to the beginning of the 19th century. Here is the most palpable and definitive proof of the impossibility of technologizing production on the basis of slave labor– a fact made tragically clear by Cuban sugar enterprises.”


Manuel Moreno Fraginals, The Sugarmill, Monthly Review Press, 1976.

1. So far from Cuba on a straight line, so close to Cuba via the triangle trade with Africa; fed, like Cuba, with the streams of slave labor from the great peoples of the Congo, of Angola, of west, and central sub-Sahara ; so tied to the world market by the very relations of land and labor[– the plantation, the great house, the manor, the slave barracks–] made simultaneously obsolete and essential by the country[–Britain–] that turned the world market into the engine for the reproduction of capitalism; so integral in its isolation, its backwardness, to emerging modern capitalism in the 18th, 19th centuries; so representative of the failures of the established bourgeoisie everywhere in the failure of its own bourgeoisie to establish itself, Brazil is everything capitalism was, and was not, is and is not, and most of all will never and can never be. Brazil is the living compounding of the contradictions of capital; capital engaging, and engaged by, shaping and shaped by, its absorbing and being absorbed by its own pre-history.

2. Capitalism defines itself, in the abstract and the concrete, by its specific organization of labor as wage-labor– detached, free, useless labor, which has value only in its capacity for exchange; only in its ability to reproduce itself as wage-labor. That reproduction is a relation between classes; between property and means of production organized as a specific form of private property, property that only exists to reproduce itself in the exchange with wage labor. And at origin, modern capitalism depends upon the relations of land and labor.

Having established those specific relations of land and labor anywhere, it is never automatic nor inevitable that modern capitalism will be capable of establishing those same relations everywhere, anywhere, and at any given time. The relations of land and labor are, after all, products of class struggle, and where the outcomes of class struggle are never guaranteed to conform to the “pure,” “essential,” requirements of the mode of production. Profit, and property, are a sloppy, dirty, fuzzy business, and in the pursuit of immediate profit, capital accommodates, embraces, and strengthens the archaic forms that were yesterday’s ways of doing business, but business nonetheless. This embrace, accommodation is in fact nothing other than the affinity, affection, kinship capital as private property feels for private property as a mechanism for controlling, maintaining, disciplining labor and laborers, whether wage or slave. This is in fact nothing other than another manifestation of the conflict between relations and means of production; between private property and social production; between use and exchange value; between reproduction and profit; between laborers and owners that haunts capital and drives it from place to place on the globe, and forward and backward in time and development.

3. And so Britain, having established its most modern, classic capitalism, plays its leading role backwards –preserving the empire of Portugal at home and in Brazil against the reproduction of, not the French Revolution, but the sterilized French Revolution; against, not the overthrow of capitalism, but the establishment of capitalism.

In preservation of its markets, and its position in the world markets, to protect its private property, British capital was willing, eager to protect Portuguese quasi-feudal mercantilism; in its “rule” of the oceans, providing a maritime limousine, a sedan chair with sails, to rescue the Portuguese “emperor” from the armies of Napoleon; to protect the estate from the blunted bayonet of that revolution that had turned landed property into paper for the burning of the home fires; to preserve one man’s meat, the consolidation of capitalism in the British Isles, from that same man’s poison, the consolidation of capitalism on the continent of Europe. If only Louis Capet had been closer to Calais and further from the Commune….

And once landed in the backwater jewel of his crown, the emperor remains, refusing the summons of the Cortes in Lisbon; that first of the futile attempts to graft a quasi-representative head backwards onto the ass of the ass of landed property, mercantilism, and subsistence agriculture large and small. The emperor declares Brazil his throne, his empire.
And in this declaration is the secret to the Brazil– its declaration of independence is a slaveholders’ trick; its nationalism a reaction, a response triggered by the weakened virus of a dead revolution, designed to preserve private property in all its obsolescence.

The “empire” of Brazil is built upon the fragmentation, isolation of property, production, and property owners. Brazil’s contribution to the progress of the world market is its maintenance of its isolation, backwardness; its inability to produce a class capable of transforming relations of land and labor.

4. The political and economic struggles of the late 19th and early 2oth centuries are defined by this, the legacy of this confederation of private property holders; of coffee growers, merchants, manufacturers, cattle ranchers. Not so much a nation organized around the great organizing principle accumulation, Brazil is a brittle amalgam. Rather than yielding a class organized around its individual need to maximize profit by reproducing itself as a class, and its means for extracting profits, on an expanding scale, Brazil produces conspiracies, lieutenants, cowboys, gauchos.

The “domestic market,” usually thought of, supposedly functioning, as a highway for the reciprocal development of agriculture and industry, in Brazil is nothing more than trails, paths for mules, oxen, cattle to make their way slowly from ranch to plantation to city. Time, that is to say the time of reproduction; urgency, that is to say the expulsion of labor from the production process in order to aggrandize more labor power are of little meaning and less value to an economy dominated by the enduring legacy of slavery. The world market, the advancement of capitalism, depends first and last, on particular, localized, backwardness.

5. Whatever security Brazil had achieved in its isolated function as the world’s supplier of coffee, was stripped away in 1930 by the general collapse of the world markets. Bankruptcy tends to focus attention on the all problems of the expansion and reproduction of value, even as it reduces all solutions to that of immediate payment. The fundamental problem of Brazil’s economic development converged and refracted capital’s international predicament: how to expand the arena for the aggrandizement of wage-labor, without triggering the struggle for the emancipation of all labor that is inherent in expanding capitalist development.

The “solution” for capital in all its iterations is infinite variation on a single theme: “Order and Progress. Progress Through Order. No Progress without Order. Order Always, Progress On Occasion.” The secret to Brazilian nationalism is in just that primacy of order over progress, just that imposition of a “national” order against a social revolution.

The “revolution” of 1930, product of the international capitalist contraction, brings Vargas to power, in the overture and coda to the fractured symphony of order and progress; modern Brazil emerges as the product of capital’s own backwardness, its own need for order over progress. Vargas’ “New State,” product of the transient, fading capitalist expansion of 1937, incorporates the state power, the military, the church, in securing for the industrial bourgeoisie the subjugation of the workers; securing order and “allowing” for progress in capitalist expansion, bringing Brazil into greater synchronicity with the trends of overall capitalist development– urban migration, capitalization of agriculture, and, of course, world war.

Vargas is all the Brazilian bourgeoisie could ever hope for, dream of, and dread; a substitute for Napoleon, a pre-Peron Peron.

It is with Vargas that Brazil begins to assume its place as another model of advanced capitalist underdevelopment.

6. The forces unleashed by the “order and progress” of the new state, of war, of increasing industrialization, urban migration, were then, as they are always, a threat to the private property of agricultural and industrial production.

Constrained by the poverty surrounding its existence and origin, Brazilian capitalism finds its every expansion a trigger to social upheaval, protest, class struggle. In the countries of advanced capitalist underdevelopment, even modest expansion of the means of production becomes acute overproduction, where labor mobilized and shaped as wage-labor is a threat to all the existing social relations of property.

It was against that mobilization that the Brazilian military undertook the overthrow of Goulart and introduced the miracle of “savage capitalism.” The starvation wages and death squads are price of “order and progress.”

From this miracle comes even greater integration of Brazilian capitalism into the international order. If Vargas, was the pre-Peron Peron, Brazil after Goulart has a great national vision as something other than a post-Argentina Argentina; Brazil sees itself as the pre-China China.

S. Artesian, 11/18/07
address all comments to: sartesian@earthlink.net

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