A note on Brazil’s place in the world from a historical perspective
By: Valerio Arcary, from MAIS Coordination
Translation: Wilma Olmo Corrêa
Review: Rebeca Moore
When talking about the colonial policy of the capitalist imperialism era, it should be noted that the financial capital and the corresponding foreign policy, which is reflected in the struggle of the great powers for the world economic and political division, give rise to abundant transitional forms of state dependence. For this time not only the two main groups of countries – those with colonies and the colonies themselves – are typical, but also the various forms of dependent countries which, from a formal and political point of view, are independent, but which are actually involved in the shackles of financial and diplomatic dependence . One of these forms, the semi-colony, we have already indicated.
Another model is, for example, Argentina.1
The most important historical work of capitalism was to boost the world market formation, releasing the productive forces acceleration, hitherto unimaginable. Mankind was still divided into autarchic civilizations until the sixteenth century. In Europe, the Middle East, India, China, the Mexican plateau, and in the Andes Mountains, among others, there were isolated and closed cultures. The interactions, when they existed, were tenuous and irregular. Many cultures did not even know about the existence of others.
In stimulating the growing integration of a world market which was extended to the farthest and last frontier, one of the most powerful trends in the capitalism development has been to foster the establishment of a European system of States and then the establishment of an international system of States .
The name of this system is imperialist world order. This world order almost destroyed civilized life in two world wars. Capitalism has already demonstrated, therefore, that it cannot unify humanity. Capitalism is an insurmountable obstacle to the deeper trend of historical development that the capital itself has created and potentiated. But this trend is a possibility. Possibility is how the laws of history reveal themselves. The name of this trend is the unification of human civilization.
The International is currently understood as the challenge of building an instrument of global struggle against capitalism. But the strategic goal of fighting for socialism is the unification of humanity into a world government, an International. The name of this world government shall be socialism. The Marxist program is world revolution. And internationalism is the heart of the socialist revolution project.
No economy can exist outside the world market, but there is no world government
When we say that the world order has been structured, at least for the last hundred years, as an imperialist order, we are not claiming that there is a world government. Capitalism has not been able to overcome the national borders of its imperialist States and, therefore, rivalries remain between the central bourgeoisie in the disputes of economic spaces and arbitration of political conflicts.
The hypothesis of a superimperialism was not confirmed, a merger of the imperialist interests of the central countries, even in the post-war political-historical stage, in the context of the so-called Cold War between 1945/1991, when capitalism suffered the shock wave of a powerful revolutionary wave that overthrew the old colonial empires.
Conflicts between the interests of the United States, Japan, and Western Europe led Washington, for example, to partially break with Bretton Woods in 1971 and to suspend the dollar fixed convertibility to gold, devaluing its currency in order to defend its domestic market, and cheapen their exports. Competition between corporations and competition between Central States have not been revoked, although the degree to which they happen has fluctuated. Ultra-imperialism was never but a reactionary utopia.
But it would be bizarre not to recognize that the system managed to build a center in the international system of States after the almost terminal destruction of World War II. Such a system is also expressed institutionally, twenty-five years after the end of the USSR, by the organizations of the UN and Bretton Woods system, therefore, through the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and Basel BIS and finally the G7. The counterrevolution has learned from history.
In this center of power is the Triad: the US, the European Union and Japan. The European Union and Japan are associated with Washington and accept its supremacy since the end of World War II. The change of the international historical stage in 1989/91 did not change this Triad role and especially the US´s place2.
Although its leadership has declined, it still prevails. The size of its economy with a GDP of US$ 18 trillion (the world GDP is estimated at US$ 80 trillion, China’s at US$ 10 trillion), the weight of its domestic market, the dollar’s appeal as a currency for reserve or a currency forhoarding, the military superiority and political initiative allowed, despite a relative weakening, to maintain the leading position in the system of States.
No State of the periphery was accepted into the center of the system in the last twenty-five years. Not a single one. China and Russia are States that have preserved their independence, although they have restored capitalism. But changes have occurred in the insertion of peripheral States. There are many “transitional forms of state dependence” in Lenin’s words, in the epigraph, in order to distinguish the insertion of Argentina from the semicolonies. Some States are in a situation of greater dependence, and others havea smaller dependency. What prevailed, after the 1980s, was a process of recolonization, albeit with oscillations. There is an ongoing social-historical dynamic and it is the opposite of that which prevailed after the Nazi-fascism defeat.
Most of the States that gained political independence in the wave of anti-imperialist revolutions that followed the victory of the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese revolution lost this achievement: Algeria and Egypt, in Africa, Nicaragua, in Central America, and Vietnam in Asia are examples , among others, of this historical regression, after 1991. There are still, however, independent States. Iran and Cuba are such examples.
Four criteria for evaluation
The definition of criteria seems to be a good preliminary discussion. The place of each peripheral country in the international system of States in the historical postwar period between 1945/1989 depended on at least four strategic variables:
(a) its historical insertion in the previous stage. In other words, the position it occupied in an extremely hierarchical and rigid system: after all, in the last hundred and fifty years only one country, Japan, was incorporated into the systems center, and all the colonial and semi-colonial countries that ascended in their insertion, such as Cuba, only did so after revolutions which allowed them to achieve greater independence;
(b) the size of its economy. That is, stocks of accumulated capital, the capability of presenting monetary sovereignty, natural resources – such as the territory, land reserves, mineral resources, energy and food self-sufficiency, etc. – and human resources – among them, their demographic strength and the nation cultural stage – as well as the industry development dynamics, in other words, their position in the international labor division and in the world market;
(c) the capability of each State to maintain its independence and control of its areas of influence. That is, its deterrent military force, which depends not only of mastering military technology or of the quality of its Armed Forces, but also on the greater or lesser degree of social cohesion of society, therefore, the State’s political ability to convince the majority of people that, if unavoidable, war will be necessary;
(d) the long-lasting alliances of States with each other, which come into being through Treaties and Cooperation Agreements, and the relation of forces that result from the formal and informal blocks of which they are part, in other words, their coalition network.
These are the four criteria: history, economics, politics and international relations.
The place of each State in the international system depends, therefore, on its insertion in the world market, that is, on its place in the international labor division. Although decisive, economics is not the only variable that should be considered. Because the countries’ variation of place in the world market were, historically, much more dynamic than their location in the States system. Economics, as opposed to the phenomenon appearance, is more malleable and flexiblewhen it come to change than politics, because inertia prevails most strongly in power relations.
The most important is to emphasize, therefore, that the States’ system has shown immense historical rigidity. This did not prevent the ocurrence of quantitative changes in the respective place of some States. But it emphasizes that the qualitative changes are rare. No state has gained political independence in the last hundred and fifty years without war or revolution. Nonetheless, political independence alone does not emancipate a state from the peripheral condition in the world market. The two processes are relatively autonomous.
The overwhelming majority of the two hundred states present at the UN are former colonies, and have remained dependent, but the degrees of their external vulnerability are varied. Although all semicolonial nations are on the periphery, the differences between them are not irrelevant. There are several types of semicolonies. And not all States in the periphery are semicolonies. There is no complete correspondence between the presence on the world market and the place in the States system. There are mediations, graduations, variations. Some countries are economically undeveloped and lagged and dependent, but are not politically subordinated to the imperialist order, just asLenin exemplified when considering the situation in Argentina a hundred years ago.3 Perhaps this is currently the situation of Russia and China, although not due to economic insertion, as in the Argentina example, but rather because the role in the States system, as evidenced by Russia’s initiative in the Syrian war.
On the other hand, other countries in an opposite situation are like all semicolonies, politically independent in form, but under foreign military occupation, therefore, they are protectorates of a greater sovereign state, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, in relation to the US. Libya, Somalia and, in another perspective, Sudan and Lebanon, for example, are countries where the national State has been partially displaced, that is, it does not have full sovereignty over its territory. Syria has been dramatically experiencing the degradation of a revolution in civil war for five year.
There are still enclaves such as Panama in Central America, the Falklands in the South Atlantic, or Taiwan in China, or as Hong Kong and Macao were, up to fifteen years ago. Among the semicolonies there are some which have a special status, especially privileged, although differentiated among themselves, for various reasons, such as Mexico, Turkey or South Korea.
What is the place of Brazil? A historic hybrid
The purpose of this paper is to start a debate and investigate what is, currently, Brazil’s place.
Our historical elaboration refers to a suggestion of Nahuel Moreno and identified a peculiarity in the insertion of Brazilian capitalism, both in the world market and in the States system. Singular because it is atypical in South America, Brazil should be understood as a privileged semi-colony and, at the same time, as a submetropolis.
The key to interpreting the concept must be sought in the idea of synthesis between semicolony and submetropolis. For this reason, it would have a hybrid status. Because the country would explain itself as a strange mixture and amalgam that only uneven and combined development could elucidate. A hybrid is something of a different quality, both of a privileged semi-colony and of a dependent submetropolis, because it combines qualities from both.
It is a semi-colony, because it is underdeveloped in many aspects. It has always depended on the importation of capital and technology, and its bourgeoisie is resigned to play a subordinate role before Washington in the States system, among many other factors. Nevertheless it is a very special, privileged semi-colony, which has been expressed for decades in different ways. For example, when the overinflation crisis happened, caused by defaults on foreign debt, unlike many neighbors, its economy was never been fully dollarized. It is worth investigating to what extent this privileged location is still current.
It is a sub-metropolis because the enormityof the Brazilian economy offered scale and projected the presence of some large companies in the markets of neighboring countries of South America, becoming also a platform for the export of capital and services. But it is not a sub-imperialist country, because its economic strength has not translated into a political domain: the Mercosur project guaranteed trade surpluses, but the country remained, politically speaking, sterile,leaderless and brainless.It is not a simple overlap, it is a different phenomenon. The issue is discussed in the market, in the UN and by the academia, and formulas and models such as “developing countries”, “Brics” and “emerging countries” have been developed. Marxists of other traditions conceptualized sub-imperialist and associated economy capital-imperialist. We have never formulatet a summary-concept for this hybrid, which is a theoretical debt that we have with ourselves: special dependence, peripheral submetropolis?
Whatever the hybrid’s hypothesis may finally be, the conceptualization seems to us to be the most fertile, although of course it allows for readings with varied nuances or different emphases. What we have suggested in this text is that Brazil’s place in the world market did not correspond directly with its role in the States international system. Brazil has won a place in the world market superior to its presence in the States system.
There has always been in our tradition those who interpreted the hybrid, largely by hasty comparisons with the Argentine statute, which fell into decay half a century before Brazil. But even in the case of Argentina, more investigation is necessary, when the audaticy of the Falklands war in 1982 is considered proving to bea clear challenge to the order in the States system.The best reading of the hybrid hypothesis, however, would be the opposite. In other words: in Brazil, the political force of imperialist domination would have always been greater than the economic vulnerability. This asymmetry has not yet decreased. It should not surprise us, therefore, that the continental external debt crisis and the hyperinflation, in the years of 1980, have been much more pronounced in Argentina than in Brazil. Brazil did not experience, for example, a moratorium comparable to the Argentineanone,in 2002.
Brazil was only a semi-colony until the end of World War II. The hybridization process became more clear from the seventies of last century, when Brazilian-born companies began to gain multinational dimensions. Some companies were then state-owned, such as Petrobrás, Vale do Rio Doce, Banco do Brasil, others were private ones, such as Gerdau, Odebrecht, Andrade-Gutierres, Itaú and Bradesco. We can not lessen, more recently, the importance of the agro livestock enterprises and investment funds.
This hybrid characterization admits that there were quantitative oscillations that led to repositioning. What were the dynamics? In some phases semicolonization increased, and in others the external vulnerabilities decreased, and the role of submetropolis was accentuated. The challenge of the analysis is to identify these trends and counter-trends, and finally to confirm whether the variances were only quantitative, or whether any qualitative changes have occurred. We will argue that the oscillations were, to date, quantitative.
In the nineties of the twentieth century, recolonizing tendencies advanced and the country was seriously threatened by the FTAA project(Free Trade Agreement of the Americas). In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the previous trend inverted: the weight of Brazil increased in its area of influence, and the reserves accumulation increased immensely. Brazil was neither recolonized nor transformed into a sub-imperialist country.
We will develop these oscillations periodization, and we will argue in favor of the hybrid theoretical hypothesis maintenance. But we warn that the evolution of the economic situation and the political inflection, starting in 2016, indicate that Brazil, as well as Latin America, are again threatened by an imperialist project of recolonization.
The historical and political dimension of dependence
Brazil ceased to be a Portuguese colony in 1822 to be a British semicolony until the crisis of 1929. Independence was a very incomplete process. The country sought support in London for its emancipation from Lisbon. The ruling class proved incapable of carrying out a bourgeois revolution. The long nineteenth century was a lost century. It is not controversial that the key to understand this terrible lack of progress was delayed slavery.
The Brazilian insertion in the States international system was in dispute in the thirties of the previous century. It became a US semi-colony during World War II. The political dimension of dependency, as we have already seen, is rooted in history. During the dictatorship of the “Estado Novo”, Getúlio Vargas had fostered a foreign policy of neutrality, admitting even some flirtation with the Axis powers.4 The negotiations extended between 1939 and 1942. At the Third Meeting of the American Chancellors Consultation, agreements were closed in retaliation for the torpedoing of five Brazilian ships by supposedly German submarines.
The agreements established a loan of US$ 100 million for the application of the Brazilian steel project, as well as the acquisition of war material worth US$ 200 million. These agreements were decisive for the creation of CSN (Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional) in Volta Redonda, State of Rio de Janeiro in the Southeast region, and Companhia Vale do Rio Doce. Natal, capital of the State of Rio Grande do Norte, Northeast region, received a naval base, and the largest US air base, outside US territory. The city hosted a contingent of up to 10,000 American soldiers. The Brazilian Expeditionary Force sent, from 1944, twenty-five thousand soldiers to Italy, from an initial total originally estimated of100,0005. Brazil, due to its repositioning, was one of the first countries to join the institutions that emerged from the Bretton Woods negotiations6.
During the historical-political stage after the end of the war, between 1945/1991, Brazil maintained its strategic relationship with the United States. The Washington agreements were preparation for the 1945 Treaty of Rio de Janeiro7, and for the 1948 OAS Formation Letter (Organization of American States)8. Throughout this stage, Brazil’s international relations with the United States fluctuated. Initiatives such as the nuclear agreement with Germany, for example, caused frictions. But, fundamentally, relations remainedintact.
The Brazilian political history expresses US imperialism domination over the nation. The Brazilian bourgeoisie decided to associate itself in such a way that it united its destiny in defense of US interests. The military dictatorship between 1964/85, a dramatic interval of two decades, was imposed in response to the shock wave provoked by the Cuban revolution .
The first factor of this privileged dependent status was therefore a close alliance established with the US during the war, unlike Argentina. History portrays, history has a lot of strength. These political and diplomatic relations with the US are an unavoidable key to explaining the country’s recent history. Brazil, in collaboration with the United States, has also begun to play a semi-metropolis role in South America, thus, a subplatform for the export of capital.
The concept of semicolony intends to illustrate the economic dependence of a driven or even specialized economy for the export of primary products to the world market while importing capitals and manufactured goods with higher added value. Brazil sold essentially coffee, cocoa, cotton, sugar and minerals. The first major steel company, CSN, was only built in the 1940s, eighty years after the beginning of the second industrial revolution.
Privileged countries should be understood as special, because they were favored. The unequivocal demonstration of this statuts was the fact that Brazil was the first destination for US foreign investment after the Second World War, with the exception of capital movements within the triad US, Western Europe and Japan. Brazil lost the position of largest importer of capital in the peripheral world market to China in the 1990s.
Brazil has a population of approximately 205 million inhabitants and is the largest Lusophone country in the world. It has the ninth largest GDP in the world, but a seventh if it is used the criterion of PPP (Purchasing Power Parity).
This insertion as a privileged semi-colony can be explained by many factors: the high profitability of investments in a country that has carried out urbanization and industrialization very late, but very rapidly; the size of its GDP; the size of its domestic market for durable goods consumption; the size of its natural resources, such as its capability to be the world’s largest producer of grains and various minerals; etc.
Brazil has many peculiarities. Unlike the neighbors of the Southern Cone, it wasan agrarian society until the thirties of the twentieth century, however, it had two whopping cities, among the largest and most dynamic, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, disproportionate when the barbaric and semi-inhabited countryside was taken into account. Agro livestock has high levels of productivity, among the most competitive in the world, however what is surprising is the gigantism and the enormous concentration of its proletariat – more than 60 million people – and over 86% in urban centers, in twenty cities with one million or more inhabitants.
Brazil ended 2015 with a total of 48.06 million jobs with a formal contract, below 2014 (with 49.57 million) and 2013 (with 48.94 million) 9. Brazil employs 2,039,499 federal civil servants10. The number of municipal civil servants across the country increased 37.4% in one decade. In 2005, the City Halls employed 4.7 million people, a number that jumped to 6.5 million last year.11 The data available in the IBGE for 2014 reported the existence of 3.1 million state civil servants. 12 Considering that some data is not updated, we can round these figures up to something around 12 million civil servants in the three spheres of power. An industrial working class of at least 9 million corresponds to 15% of the proletariat, which is a relatively high rate.13
The EAP (economically active population), that is, the population aged over 14, is estimated at 105 million. The employed population in the first quarter of 2016, estimated at 90.6 million people, consisted of 67.9% of employees, 4.1% of employers, 25.6% of self-employed workers and 2.4% of auxiliary family workers. In the first quarter of 2016, 78.1% of the employees in the private sector had a formal contract14. There are, therefore, at least ten million employees without a formal contract.
According to the methodology of the National Continuous Survey through Households Sample (PNAD Continuous of IBGE), 40% of working age Brazilians were classified as outside the work force, that is, they were neither employed nor unemployed (they did not seek employment). The number of unemployed people is estimated at 12 million, above 10% of the EAP, according to the international standard criteria, which puts pressure, among other factors, such as the R$ (Real) devaluation and inflation, on the average wage that abruptly lost about 20 percent of its real value compared to 201315. More than half of the population aged 15 or over (52.6 percent) had not finished elementary school, and just over a quarter had completed at least secondary education (26.1%). At least one in four Brazilians is still semi-literate. Average schooling is less than eight years.
Brazil is the fifth largest nation in the world, eight million, five hundred thousand square kilometers, and occupies almost half the territory of South America alone. The Amazon, in turn, corresponds to almost half of Brazil, and has the largest world’s biodiversity reserve, a heritage of strategic importance for the biogenetic industry.16 In the pre-salt deep waters there is a reserve of excellent quality light oil estimated in 2010 at 16.609 billion of barrels .17 The modern and the archaic are mixed in amazing combinations. Brazil has been the world’s largest coffee producer for the past 150 years and at the same time has become the fourth largest car market, ranking fourth in the ranking of the largest countries which export weapons.18 It is the world’s leading producer of orange juice, soybeans, beef and poultry.19
From a historical perspective, Brazilian dependent capitalism lost the dynamism it revealed between the fifties and eighties of the twentieth century. In this historical period, foreign investment, in the context of the Cold War, accelerated urbanization, and the formation of an internal market of over twenty million consumers of durable goods, among other factors, were able to guarantee the doubling of GDP every decade .
Since the 1980s foreign debt crisis, Brazil has become a slow-growing dependent economy. It took thirty years, between 1980 and 2010, to double the GDP. The GDP of US$ 2 trillion, something between R$ 6 and R$ 6.5 trillion, may be impressive, but we must recall that the population has also doubled in that interval, so the per capita income remained stagnant during the interval of a generation, between US$ 10,000 and US$ 12,000. Long-term stagnation means decay. Mercosur was an initiative in the 1980s led by Brazil and Argentina, associated with Uruguay and Paraguay, of greater regional economic integration. Thirty years later, the results are discouraging: Brazil was, unilaterally, the largest beneficiary, obtaining large trade surpluses, and reinforcing its submetropolis role. Not surprisingly, the neighboring bourgeoisies have mobilized in search of a bilateral trade agreements with the US.
It was impossible for Brazilian capitalism to maintain a sustained pace with a more intense growth. The historical reasons for this slowdown are many. Liberals value the low rate of domestic savings, small when compared to other countries. They present fantasies or tautologies to justify it: they argue that the benefits of social security are too great and, therefore, it encourages consumption. There are no savings because “there is no reason to fear poverty in old age”, or “there are no savings because there is consumerism”. Keynesians attribute the low growth to the fragility of private and public demand.
A Marxist interpretation has larger scientific ambitions and necessarily addresses the centrality of the investment rate fall which, in turn, results from a labor exploitation rate, or appropriation of insufficient surplus value. The greater slowness of the capital rotation movement, therefore, the speed reduction of capital accumulation was expressed, simultaneously, by the tendency of the average rate increase for manual labor compensation20.
This trend began in the 1990s and accelerated in the first decade of the 2000s because of the pressure exerted by the minimum wage increment policy that rose from R$ 70.00 in 1994, when it was equivalent to US$ 70.00, to US$ 250.00, or R$ 880.00 in 201621.
The tax burden, in its turn, stabilized at around 25% of GDP in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It rose in the 1990s to 32.66% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 201522.
The increase in tax burdens, or the minimum wage increment, as well as the public policies of income distribution such as the link of the Social Security benefits floor, in particular, the rural pension, to the minimum wage, or the extension of Bolsa Família to 45.8 million beneficiaries, the majority of whom concentrated in the Northeast, means, in other words, that one out of every four Brazilians are targets of the capital offensive.23
Banking inclusion has increased over the last decade, surpassing 45 million people with current or savings accounts24. Like the anti-unemployment policies, such achievements must be understood in the context of a social pact strategy for the stabilization of the democratic electoral regime that emerged after the end of the military dictatorship. In short, these were some of the class struggle achievements in the 1980s. All social achievements are now under threat.
In order to boost economic growth at rates higher than the mediocre average of 2 per cent a year, from the last thirty years, and under the imperialism pressure, the social political bloc, who had been behind the impeachment, seeks to nullify the workers’ achievements, in order to once again attract foreign investment that has moved in the last thirty years to Asia. The shock is necessary, first of all because of China’s repositioning in the world market. The reduction of wages participation in the national income, the so-called functional income distribution, which was recovered and returned, in 2010, to the 1990s levels, is due to the productivity gains of the Chinese economy.
The offensive of shock imposes itself to recover the capacity of attraction of international capital. The irony of history is that economic dependence is heightened.
The economic dependency of imperialism
The Brazilian GDP gigantism cannot blind us. We must understand that Brazil is still a backward and peripheral country throughout. But as an expression of the uneven and combined development the Brazilian economy has the largest industrial park in the world on the south side of the Equator. Its multinationals are the most powerful of the continent.
Brazilian capitalism has always been and remains a major importer of capital.25 Its place in the world market has always been that of an exporting country of primary products and an importer of manufactured goods that incorporate more technology. It suffered wealth transfer because of the trade terms. The Brazilian trade balance only has an inverse profile when related to its neighbors in Mercosur.
We will find a clear historical pattern of dependency of the Brazilian peripheral economy, expressed in the irreplaceable need of access to foreign investments, in order not to fall into stagnation. The danger of stagnation and, consequently, of economic decline has historically resulted in social crisis that has always been a prelude to the political crisis. This association with capitals of imperialist countries was expressed in the deficit chronic tendency of the current transactions whenever economic growth accelerates, imports increase and domestic consumption rises. This is the way in which the external vulnerability presents itself, in a chronical way, in the economic field.
The growing external deficit, which precipitates the need for adjustment, has always been one of the side effects of the growth phases. The adjustments were milder or more abrupt. We can empirically check this alternation of accelerations and decelerations, considering the last cycle: the GDP growth rate increased from 1.3% in 2001 to 6.0% in 2007, and 7.6% in 2010, or an average close to 4% in Lula’s government years. But it fell to 0.2% in 2014 and – 3.8% in 2015, and a similar drop is likely in 2016.
This external vulnerability has necessarily imposed, once and again, adeceleration: an adjustment provoked by the current transactions fragility, thus the danger of a strong devaluation of the national currency. This explains, in part, the inflationary cycles pressure, also chronic, like the last one, which culminated in 2015 with a rate above 10%. The nominal budget deficit, therefore, the primary deficit plus the rollover of domestic debt interest in a GDP proportion, increased from 4.8% in 2001 to 2.7% in 2004, 2.4% in 2007, 6.1% in 2014 and 10.3% in 2015.
The exchange rate depreciated sharply from R$ 2.20 per US$ 1.00 in mid-2014, to levels close to R$ 3.50 per US$ 1.00 in mid-2016; and inflation measured by the IPCA reached 10.67% in December 2015, the highest rate since 2002. In recent years this process has intensified: the current account balance moved from a surplus position between 2003 and 2007 to a deficit of 4.4% in 2014. The GDP contraction from 2014 to 2016 is already around 7% and the outlook for 2017 is bleak26.
Our economic dependency has three dimensions: finance-commercial, and productive-technological. The historical trajectory of the oscillations of deficits in current transactions, and the trend of increase of net external liabilities are two indicators of Brazil’s dependent insertion as a semicolony. The graph below illustrates this, in ten-year historical series, in a blunt way.
Balance in current transactions – 1947-2015
(as % of GDP)27
Brazilian capitalism is a dependent economy because, we repeat, we are importers of capital. Account balance from trade balance, a positive result of exports in relation to imports, were almost always insufficient to cover the deficit in the balance of payments and current accounts, depending on foreign investment to avoid currency devaluation, with consequent inflationary pressures.
It comes from an insufficient capital accumulation because the savings rate has been and remains relatively low: in the last 70 years it has remained almost always below 20% of GDP. It was 15.7% of GDP in 2001, 20.7% in 2007, 21.1% in 2010, 18.9% in 2014 and 16.8% in 2015. The domestic savings rate is close to 16% but the investment rate was around 20% in the past decade. The difference is the dependence on external savings, which is expressed as a deficit in current transactions. Anyway, we must also take into account that there is a significant mass of hidden Brazilian capital deposited in tax havens, which reveals the insecurity of the Brazilian bourgeoisie28. For decades, this bourgeoisie has hoarded abroad. Another curious indicator is the number of Brazilians who own real estate in Florida: hundreds of thousands29.
Investment vs. Savings examples (% GDP), in comparison, , China, which is economically also a dependent country, maintains a qualitatively higher domestic saving above 35% of GDP30. Paradoxically, however, the credit volume as a percentage of the GDP increased from 25.8% in 2001 to 34.7% in 2004, 44.1% in 2007, 61.9% in 2014, reaching 63.7% in 2015, which means that the access to foreign savings did not increase the country’s capability to generate more production and exports, but increased the consumption, raising, exponentially, the indebtedness of families and companies.
The most recent trade vulnerability has decreased due to the R$ (real) devaluation. The current account deficit, in 2015, fell to US$ 36.5 billion. But if the exchange devaluation causes a fall in the average wage, expressed in dollars, reducing productive costs, and increasing the competitiveness of exports, it also means a cheapening of national assets.
It is not just the work that gets cheaper. Everything becomes relatively cheaper: the land, the real estate, the value of the companies.
The real productive vulnerability can be considered by comparing, for example, the stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) in proportion to GDP. Foreign direct investment totaled US$ 54.9 billion in January-October of 2016,practically equal to that amount of the same period in 2015, which means an annual average of US$ 65 billion or something a little above 3% of GDP31.
The export of goods is around US$ 200 billion or 10% of GDP: in 2001 it was 10.4%, it rose to 11.5% in 2007, fell to 9.1% in 2010 and rose to 10.7% in 2015. The exportation of services ranged from 1.5% to 1.9% of GDP in the same period. This corresponds to the historical average and seems, proportionally, a small amount when compared to countries in a similar stage of social historical development. One necessary mediation is that, as a continental country, and with a large domestic market, it is predictable that the Brazilian economy is, comparatively, much more inwardoriented than its neighbors. But this factor has a relative weight.
The growth rate of exports has been weak over the last ten years, well below the historical average; and growth in this period was due exclusively to commodities, with stagnation of exports of higher value-added manufactured products. The increase in the trade balance to 10.7% of GDP in 2015 was only caused by the reduction of GDP in dollars – the value of exports actually declined by 15% during the year.
The unprecedented accumulation in the last thirteen years of a large volume of international reserves, US$ 373,108 million, which corresponds to 24 months of imports, an increase from 6.4% to 20.8% of GDP between 2001 and 2015 – cover almost 30 % of the total gross external liabilities, and more than 100% of external debt – operated as a kind of buffer against possible external financing shocks. Nonetheless, the substantive and qualitative reserves accumulation was possible due to the favorable variation in the price of commodities, an atypical phenomenon that reversed the historical dynamics, and only happened before during the two world wars.
There was also an improvement in the external financing profile, with a preponderance of funds brought in the form of direct investments, and a low proportion of short-term debts. But this dynamic is contradictory to the strong pressure of the world market against the countercyclical policies of the period between 2011/2013 that was at the root of the increase in the ratio of public debt as a proportion of GDP.
The Government’s gross debt, an indicator of public indebtedness, has shown rapid growth in recent years – between 2013 and 2016, it jumped from 51.3% to 72.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)32. The Brazilian federal public debt, which includes the government’s internal and external indebtedness reached R$ 3.04 trillion. This is the first time that the debt exceeds R$ 3 trillion.33 This accelerated evolution of the public debt produced serious divisions in the Brazilian bourgeoisie, under the pressure of the world market. It was one of the factors that explain the displacement of growing fractions of the ruling class to a frontal opposition to the Dilma government, culminating in the legal parliamentary maneuver of impeachment.
The participation of foreign investors in domestic public debt fell again in September 2016. Non-resident investors held 14.97% of total domestic debt (R$ 437 billion), compared to 15.67% (R$ 443 billion) in August. Thus, foreigners were ranked fourth among domestic public debt main holders in September, behind the pension funds (24.26%, or R$ 708 billion) – which still hold the lead – the financial institutions (24,14 % of the total, or R$ 704 billion), and the investment funds (21.4% of the total, or R$ 625 billion).
However, there is an inconclusive controversy about the denationalization of the Brazilian economy. It seems to have intensified, at least quantitatively. 34 The available data, even when considering different indicators, does not conclude that it would have been qualitative. But the strong presence of foreign capital remained very high, quantitatively35.
Deindustrialization is an equally controversial issue. But unlike denationalisation, it seems clear that the average growth of around 4% between 2004 and 2010, the years of Lula’s two mandates, did not reverse the inherited trend of the 1990s reprimarization36. Because, although there has been an expansion and modernization of the services sector, and the the agriculture expansion and industrialization, it seems reasonable to realize that deindustrialization has advanced since the 1990s, a regressive dynamic that has not been disrupted in the last decade. 37
In summary, the 10-year comparative evolution indicates that in the 1990s an economic dependence worsening occured, but in the last decade a relatively less vulnerable exposure to the world market pressures has happened. At the same time, it allows us to conclude that the ongoing reforms such as the PEC of the public spending ceiling, which freezes the State budget, independently of the GDP variations, signals a strategy of raising the Brazilian economy semi-colonization. In conclusion, a new consensus was established within the ruling class.
The years when the “honeymoon” prevailed with the government policies of class collaboration led by PT (Workers’ Party), wrapped up in the growth phase of the world economy driven by the “Asian push”, were left behind. Tensions worsened seriously after June 2013 and gave a leap in quality from 2015 onward, with the fury of middle class layers mobilized in the streets to the song of the LavaJato orchestra. In the end, the bourgeois fractions measured their strength.
The reorientation of the Dilma Rousseff government after the 2014 elections, assigning Joaquim Levy as prime minister, was insufficient and late. Priority association with imperialism won in order to foster the necessary changes to increase foreign investment. Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and Temer’s taking over the government paved the way for reforms.
1 LENIN, Vladimir Ilitch Ulianov. Imperialismo, estágio supremo do capitalismo, cap.VI sobre países dependentes.https://www.marxists.org/portugues/lenin/1916/imperialismo/cap6.htm Consultation in Dec.12, 2016.
2 An intriguing economic exceptionality in the contemporary world challenges our understanding: for over fifteen years the US has twin deficits, the fiscal deficit, and the trade deficit. “Twins” because both oscillate around US$ 500 billion. The budget deficit rose to US$ 587 billion in the fiscal year ending in September 30, 2016. As a result, the deficit rose to 3.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product, in line with the average over the past 40 years. The trade deficit of the United States increased to US$ 40.7 billion in August, according to data released by the Commerce Department. In July, the negative balance was US$ 39.5 billion. The annual projection is of a trade deficit of over US$ 500 billion. Why can twin deficits be considered exceptionalities, or anomalies? Because they should be, in principle, inflationary, reducing the productive costs inside the US and, as a result, favoring the cheapening of their exports, but in the long term the low growth had deflationary consequences. Because the other two competing forces within the “Triad” accepted the Bretton Woods rupture, but the struggle for hegemony has never been interrupted, as taught by the historical experience: competitiveness and cooperation in the international system of States are alternated with each other depending on the corelations of forces. The move from the European Common Market to the European Union was an effort to unify the capital, consumer and labor markets, as well as the legal unification that allowed the Euro to be launched had solid bases of competition with the dollar for the world hoarding dispute. The unbacked dollar issue, in other words, the dollar issue without convertibility to gold since 1972, when the unilateral breach of Nixon with the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944 that created the IMF, allowed monetary easing (the QE, or Quantitative Easing) during Obama’s two terms. The change in monetary standards is one of the most complex historical processes. The passage of the pound to the dollar was also slow.
- José Luís Fiori. The Argentine prototype. “Argentina also experienced an extraordinary economic and social transformation between 1870 and 1920. It was its “golden age”, because, in 40 years, its territory more than tripled; its population multiplied by five; its rail network went from 500 to 31100 km; and its GDP grew at an average annual rate of about 6% (perhaps the largest in the world in that period), while its per capita income grew at an average rate of 3.8 percent. As a result, at the beginning of the 20th century, Argentina was among the seven richest countries in the world, and its per capita income was four times higher than that of Brazilians, and twice that of the United States (…) Around 64 % of its population worked in the industry, commerce or services, and one third of the Argentines lived in Buenos Aires, a city with a high educational and cultural level. In other words, at the time of World War I, Argentina was the richest country on the Latin American continent and had all the conditions to become its hegemonic power, and perhaps, a world economic power”. In: http://cartamaior.com.br/?/Coluna/O-prototipo-argentino/26851Consulted in Dec. 19, 2016.
4 “Since the beginning of 1941, the United States was determined to cut the supply of Brazilian raw materials to the Axis. In order to do so, they signed a contract with Brazil to acquire all its strategic materials – bauxite, beryl, chromite, iron-nickel, industrial diamonds, manganese ore, mica, quartz crystals, rubber, titanium and zirconium. In these negotiations, special emphasis was given to rubber, a product that had become scarce after the Japanese advance in Southeast Asia”. http://cpdoc.fgv.br/producao/dossies/AEraVargas1/anos37-45/AGuerraNoBrasil/NegociacaoAlinhamento Consulted in Dec.19, 2016.
5 No other South American country sent troops. Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay remained neutral until 1944. Argentina prioritized neutrality, too, and only broke diplomatic relations with the Axis powers in 1944, and the late declaration of war came only in April 1945.
6 The Bretton Woods Conference was held in July 1944 in the USA, before the end of the war to draw up the regulation of the future of capitalism. Three organizations were born and one was redesigned at the Bretton Woods Conference: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (now the World Bank), the IMF (International Monetary Fund), and the WTO (World Trade Organization) formerly known as General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The fourth was the Basel BIS (Bank for International Settlements). It was in Bretton Woods that the dollar was established as the international reserve currency, with a fixed convertibility to gold.
8https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwbnJ2EXfmcDYTRhOGZkOTctNjRhZC00MzliLTg0NDYtODBmNWY2MDY1ZDdm/view Consulted in Dec. 19, 2016
9Brazil lost 1.51 million jobs with a formal contract in 2015, according to data from the Ministry of Labor. It is the worst result in 31 years, since 1985, when the survey was started . It is also the first time in 24 years that the country has cut vacancies with a formal contract. In 1992, 738,000 jobs had been closed. http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2016/09/1813988-brasil-perdeu-15-milhao-de-vagas-com-carteira-assinada-em-2015-pior-marca-em-31-anos.shtmlConsulted in Dec. 13, 2016.
10 In the Executive Power, 46.5% hold undergraduate degrees, 2.6% have had some specialization, 4.9% hold a master’s degree and 8.4% have completed their PhD, the portion of workers with the highest level of education.
http://www.planejamento.gov.br/assuntos/gestao-publica/arquivos-e-publicacoes/BE Consulted in Dec. 13, 2016.
12 http://www.ebc.com.br/noticias/2015/08/municipios-brasileiros-empregam-62-milhoes-de-servidores-publicos-diz-ibge Consulted in Dec. 13, 2016.
13 Employment in industry has been falling for four years. It declined in 2012 (-1.4%), 2013 (-1.1%), 2014 (-3.2%) and 2015 (-6.2%). The decline in industry share in the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) confirms a relative deindustrialization dynamic. The share fell from 46.3% in 1989 to 26.5% of GDP in 2000. In the first half of 2015, it reached 21.9% of GDP. http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2016/02/1740663-emprego-industrial-cai-62-em-2015-aponta-ibge.shtml Consulted in Dec. 14, 2016.
14 ftp://ftp.ibge.gov.br/Trabalho_e_Rendimento/Pesquisa_Nacional_por_Amostra_de_Domicilios_continua/Trimestral/Fasciculos_Indicadores_IBGE/pnadc_201601_trimestre_caderno_20160519_113000.pdf Consulted in Dec. 13, 2016.
15 According to IBGE, the unoccupied population in Brazil reached 11.8 million people in July, 2016. In the first seven months of 2016, the country lost 623 thousand formal jobs. As a result, unemployment in Brazil is the 7th largest in the world in terms of percentage, along with Italy. http://g1.globo.com/economia/noticia/2016/08/desemprego-no-brasil-e-o-7-maior-do-mundo-em-ranking-com-51-paises.html Consulted in Dec. 13, 2016.
17 Daily oil production in the pre-salt increased from an average of approximately 41,000 barrels a day in 2010 to a level of 1 million barrels a day by mid-2016. The average pre-salt oil extraction cost has been gradually reduced over the last few years. It went from US$ 9.1 per barrel of oil equivalent (oil + gas) in 2014 to US$ 8.3 in 2015, and reached a value of less than US$ 8 per barrel in the first quarter of 2016. Between 2000 and 2010 , the proven reserves of Brazilian oil and natural gas rose 68.5%, according to data from the National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP). http://www.petrobras.com.br/pt/nossas-atividades/areas-de-atuacao/exploracao-e-producao-de-petroleo-e-gas/pre-sal/ Consulted in Dec. 13, 2016.
20 Patrick Galba made an important observation: “The rate of profits does not fall by the action of PT (Workers’ Party) with its concessions, etc. It falls because of the capitals tendency in underdevelopment conditions to reproduceitself in a quantitative way, with low productivity growth. As the Brazilian dependent capital was unable to develop societies productive forces (because it moves in search of appropriating of anextraordinary or unexpected profit in the form of “monopolist” income of sectors where it has natural advantages in the world market context) now it needs to impose an increase in the surplus value through an “extra-economic” way, in other words, by means of the economic policy and the adjustment. Ways to facilitate a fall in average real wages, either direct or via the state fund. It is possible to affirm that in Brazil the profit rates fell. Why? Because in the last years a movement of “reprimarization” of the economy is notorious. This movement is perceptible in the national accounts, in the balance of payments, that is, in all the statistics of the Brazilian economy as a whole. It increased the weight of activities related to agriculture, livestock, extractivism (mining and extraction of hydrocarbons), and even within the industry, of those sectors of intermediate goods (steel, basic refining, pulp and paper industry, etc.) and their services, which take advantage of some form of exceptional natural conditions. But these sectors have a peculiar characteristic: In general (except for the very rare exception of some branches of the oil industry) they are sectors where the composition of capital is lower than the average of the manufacturing industry,of consumer goods and of “capital goods”(and their services). This, from the point of view of the productivity notion that exists in the marxist social theory, means that these are sectors where labor productivity is lower. Thus, it is possible to affirm that the growth of the last years (pre-crisis) was a “horizontal” growth, or a predominantly quantitative one, that is to say, it was a growth in which the work productivity stays stable, grows little (less than the international average, as an example) or even falls (which I think it happened). In any case, it means that there was not enough productivity growth to compensate for the real wage movement. Which allows to conclude that the profits rate has dropped.
21 The minimum wage, in May 2005, went from R$ 260.00 to R$ 300.00. In January 2017 it will be R$ 945,80. http://www.dieese.org.br/analisecestabasica/salarioMinimo.html – Consulted in Dec. 14, 2016.
23 https://www.beneficiossociais.caixa.gov.br/consulta/beneficio/04.01.00-00_00.asp Consulted in Dec. 14, 2016.
24 Financial Inclusion Report. Brazilian Central Bank. “The percentage of Brazilian adults who have an account in financial institution, accounts that had balance and / or movement, reached 68.1% in 2014 (…) The strong evolution of real estate lending among families, which represents almost ⅓ of the National Financial System (SFN) credit in 2014, with a growth of 229% between 2010 and 2014”. https://www.bcb.gov.br/Nor/relincfin/RIF2015.pdf Consulted in Dec. 19, 2016.
25 Brazil was the country that received the third largest volume of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2012 among the peripheral economies, a total of US$ 65 billion, behind only China (US$ 120 billion) and Hong Kong US$ 72 billion). This large volume of FDI in Brazil covered the current account deficit in the same year, which reached US$ 54.2 billion, equivalent to 2.4% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). This volume of FDI, around US$ 60 billion, was stable during the two previous and subsequent years http://desacato.info/investimento-externo-direto-e-desnacionalizacao-da-economia-brasileira/ Consulted in Dec. 19, 2016.
26 IPEA conjuncture letter: Technical Note Reassessing the external vulnerability of Brazilian economy, indicators and simulations. July / September 2016. http://www.ipea.gov.br/portal/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=28349 Consulted in Dec. 12, 2016.
27 Fernando José da S. P. Ribeiro in IPEA conjuncture letter: Technical Note Reassessing the external vulnerability of Brazilian economy, indicators and simulations. July / September 2016. IBID.
28 It is not known what the volume of Brazilian assets in tax havens is (offshore). It is speculated that they can be more than a staggering US$ 500 billion, something impressive, accounting for 25 percent of GDP. At the first amnesty US$ 50 billion paid taxes and returned. A second round of amnesty was announced for 2017. The bulk of Brazilian capital abroad does not control productive activities. http://www.ihu.unisinos.br/entrevistas/512156-a-desnacionalizacao-da-economia-brasileira-entrevista-especial-com-adriano-benayon- Consulted in Dec.19, 2016.
29 “Brazilians spent US$ 1 billion on buying real estate in Florida between July 2010 and June 2016, according to the US National Association of Realtors. The volume of funds was the same of the previous 12 months, but it involved a much larger number of purchases because of the falling prices of real estates in the United States in 2015. The volume of transactions grew 30% in the period, from 5.7 thousand purchase contracts to 7,4 thousand”. http://economia.uol.com.br/empreendedorismo/noticias/redacao/2015/05/25/venda-de-imoveis-na-florida-para-brasileiros-mantem-ritmo-com-dolar-alto.htm Consulted in Dec.19, 2016.
30 Interview to Martin Wolff. “The biggest economic challenge that Brazil faces is to increase the national savings rate, now below 20% of Gross Domestic Product, to over 30% (…) If the impoverished China was able to achieve a national savings rate of around 35 % of the GDP, then Brazil surely can do it too”. http://www.bbc.com/portuguese/noticias/2010/09/100924_desenvolvimento_martin_wolf_rw.shtml Consulted in Dec.19, 2016.
31http://www.ipea.gov.br/portal/images/stories/PDFs/conjuntura/161208_cc33_setor_externo.pdf Consulted in Dec.12, 2016.
34 According to technicians from the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (DIEESE), 2004 and 2012, 1,296 companies were transferred to foreign companies’ control. One particularly serious aspect is the issue of remittances from multinationals to abroad. Profit remittances to transnational corporations headquarters (many of them state-owned) amounted to US$ 410 billion between 2003 and 2012. http://desacato.info/investimento-externo-direto-e-desnacionalizacao-da-economia-brasileira/
Consulted in Dec.19, 2016.
35 Reinaldo Gonçalves. National-developmentalism on the inside-out side. Published in 2011. “Denationalization is evidenced in the case of the 50 largest companies that constitute the “core”of capitalism in Brazil. In this group there are 26 foreign companies. The sales share of these 26 foreign companies in the total sales of the 50 companies of the central nucleus is 40.0% in 2002, 38.4% in 2005-06 and 41.9% in 2009-10 (Table 4, col. 7). The increase between 2003 and 2010 is due to the fall in the relative participation of state-owned companies, since private domestic companies maintain their relatively stable participation (25%) in the period under review. In addition, the sales share of the 26 foreign companies of the central nucleus in the total sales value of the 500 largest companies increases from 17.6% in 2002 to 20.3% in 2010”.
36 Reinaldo Gonçalves. National-developmentalism on the inside-out side.“The manufacturing industry participation in the Brazilian GDP is reduced from 18% in 2002 to 16% in 2010 (IEDI, 2011). The average annual growth rate of the real GDP is 4.0% in the 2003-10 period. In this period, the real growth rate of the added value of mining is 5.5%, of the agriculture and livestock sector is 3.2% and of the manufacturing industry is 2.7%”. http://www.ipea.gov.br/code2011/chamada2011/pdf/area4/area4-artigo19.pdf Consulted in Dec.19, 2016.
37 Cesar Benjamim. The deindustrialization of Brazil. “In 1986 the industry accounted for 36% of our GDP. Today it represents 14%, a percentage similar to that of the first half of the 1940s decade ( …) Here, deindustrialization is premature, as it occurs in the context of a slowdown in the growth and before we reach high per capita income. We did not generate a prosperous services and knowledge-intensive economy. To absorb the manpower that the industry does not employ anymore, expanded low-productivity services are expanded, often inserted in the informal economy, offering low salaries”. http://www.contrapontoeditora.com.br/arquivos/artigos/201509301532320.BoletimConjunturaBrasil2.pdf Consulted in Dec.19, 2016.
Estado Novo, or Third Brazilian Republic, was the Brazilian political regime founded by Getúlio Vargas on November 10, 1937, which lasted until October 29, 1945. It was characterized by the centralization of power, nationalism, anti-communism, and its authoritarianism. It is part of the period of Brazil history known as ‘Era Vargas’. In: https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estado_Novo_(Brasil)
IBGE – Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, a public organization responsible for the collection and management of Brazilian data and statistics.
BolsaFamília (Family Allowance Ticket)- It is a direct income transfer program from the Federal Government aimed at families living in poverty and extreme poverty throughout the country, so that they can overcome the situation of vulnerability and poverty. In: www.caixa.gov.br/programas-sociais/bolsa-familia/Paginas/default.aspx
 PEC – Constitutional Amendment Project, which may represent an addition or modification to the original text of the Constitution of the Higher Law, without being affected its basic principles.In: direitosbrasil.com/peca-o-que-e-e-como-funciona/
 IPEA – The Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea) is a federal public foundation linked to the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Management. Its research activities provide technical and institutional support to government actions for the formulation and reformulation of public policies and development programs in Brazil.
 IEDI – Institute of Studies for Industrial Development