The Conquest of Sovereignty



Brazil will have to invent a new form of continental and global expansion that does not repeat “missionary expansion” and “warlike imperialism”

“For a century the dynamics of modern society were governed by a “double movement”: the market was continuously expanding, but this movement was confronted by a counter movement that curtailed this expansion in defined directions. While such a countermovement was vital to the protection of society, it was ultimately incompatible with the self-regulation of the market, and therefore with the market system itself. (Karl Polanyi, the great transformation, P. 137).

In 1944, the Austro-Hungarian social scientist, Karl Polanyi (1886-1964), formulated an extremely thought-provoking hypothesis about the evolution of liberal societies and market economies that were formed in Europe in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. For Karl Polanyi, these societies are moved by two major forces that act simultaneously and contradictory, pointing at the same time, in the direction of opening, deregulation and internationalization of their markets and their capital, and in the direction of protection, state regulation and nationalization of these same markets.

Karl Polanyi never said that it was a pendular or cyclical movement, nor a law of universal and obligatory succession in the history of capitalism. Even so, this “double movement” seems to manifest itself almost always in the form of a temporal succession, where the “internationalizing surges” of capitalism promote the simultaneous increase of inequality between peoples and nations and end up provoking a “protectionist reversal” of the economies, societies, nature and national States that reinforce in these periods their struggle for sovereignty and independence in relation to the other states of the system, and in particular, in relation to the imperial or hegemonic power of the Great Powers.

At least this is what happened in Europe at the end of the XNUMXth and beginning of the XNUMXth centuries: a great movement of liberal internationalization of capitalism was followed by endless social revolts and a violent nationalist reversal. And in this third decade of the XNUMXst century, no one has any doubt that a new “nationalist inflection” is underway throughout the capitalist world, and a universalization of social revolts that are spreading everywhere demanding the intervention of states and their societies. public policies to revert the social catastrophe provoked by the neoliberal globalization of previous decades.

One never knows in advance what is the immediate cause and the precise moment when these waves begin, whether in one direction or the other. But at the beginning of the 2008st century, there is no doubt that the bells began to toll announcing the “death of globalization” at the moment when the United States unleashed its “endless wars”, right at the beginning of the new century, and even more, in the moment when the great economic-financial crisis of 7 exploded, whose adverse social and ecological effects were exacerbated by the countercyclical policies of the North Americans themselves and their main GXNUMX partners.

And it was against this already established backdrop that the multiplier effects of the Covid 19 pandemic, and the recent War in Ukraine, reverberated, completing the rupture of global production and trade chains – above all, energy, grains and cutting-edge technologies – accelerating the arrival of the new “nationalist era”. What surprised many analysts was the fact that it was the United States itself that took over from 2017 – in particular during Donald Trump’s government – ​​the world leadership of the nationalist reaction against the internationalizing movement that they themselves triggered and led from of the 70s of the last century.

After Trump, the Joe Biden government proposed to resume the path of liberal-internationalism, but he himself quickly realized that this proposal had already exhausted its expansive potential and that he had no choice but to take the path of “economic nationalism” and social protection of the American population over any other internationalist objective other than its own imperial wars around the world. Despite this, and short of an atomic war that would be catastrophic for all of humanity, it is more likely that the United States will maintain its military presence and its global centrality during the XNUMXst century.

Despite its visible and notorious loss of leadership outside its closest circle of allies and vassals, an area where Latin America is traditionally located, and in a very particular way, Brazil, which has always operated as a spearhead for the United States within the Latin continent. Even so, Latin America is today one of the few places in the world where the social revolt against the failure of neoliberal globalization has been capitalized on by progressive forces and government coalitions with the participation of leftist parties.

The challenges and difficulties that these new left-wing governments will face will be great, in an international context of economic crisis and war between the great powers. But at the same time – according to Karl Polanyi's hypothesis – this moment could become an extraordinary opportunity for Latin America to advance in the struggle, conquest and consolidation of its sovereignty within the international system.

The United States is facing major challenges, in various levels and regions of the planet and has increased the pressure for the alignment of Latin America, but its regional leadership is also declining, as was observed in the last Summit of the Americas promoted by the United States, and held in the city of Los Angeles, in 2022. In fact, the North Americans are without real willingness and without sufficient resources to get involved simultaneously in Central Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and even in Latin America. A good time, therefore, to renegotiate the terms of the continent's relationship with the United States, without fear or bravado. And at this moment, Brazilian foreign policy and leadership will be absolutely fundamental.

Brazil is the Latin American country where one can identify a “historical fluctuation” more similar to the “double movement” of which Karl Polanyi speaks. In particular, in the last three or four decades, the country experienced a succession of small cycles of opening and internationalization, followed by protectionist countermovements, as happened in the 1990s and at the beginning of the 2015st century, and it happened again after the coup d'état of 2016/XNUMX. And now again, everything indicates that this last wave of opening, deregulation and privatizations that were responsible for the increase in inequality, misery and hunger in the country is coming to an end, and Brazil will then be able to resume the interrupted path of reconquering human rights. social and labor rights of its population, protection of its nature, and expansion of its degrees of international sovereignty.

Brazil has in its favor, in this world context of war between the great powers, and of energy, food and water crisis in almost the whole world, its own self-sufficiency in energy sources, in grains, and in the availability of water . Its biggest problem is not on this side, it is in the unequal way in which this wealth is distributed and the great resistance of its ruling class to any type of redistributive policy. And on this point there is no mistaking it: it is impossible to advance in terms of the country's external sovereignty without advancing in the fight against its internal social inequality, which will require the new Brazilian government to declare a true internal war against poverty and poverty. inequality of its population.

The ultimate root of this problem undoubtedly goes back to the 350 years of slavery that will still weigh on the back of Brazilian society for a long time, adding to the deleterious social consequences of the long military dictatorship of the last century. Period in which the military divided Brazilians even more by creating the figure of the “internal enemy” of the country formed by its own compatriots who were fought with the weapons of the Brazilian state itself. A historical aberration, which will also weigh heavily on the country for a long time, and which was imposed on Brazil by the international vassalage of its military. In this sense, there will also be no way to advance in the fight for the country's sovereignty without making a radical review of the internal and external position of the Brazilian FFAA.

The resistance will be enormous and will come from a coalition of forces that has been consolidated in recent years within the country in the shadow of the ideological and religious fanaticism of a “new right” that added its caboclo fascism to the economic ultraliberalism of the primary-exporting “old right” and financial, which is now led by agribusiness in the midwest, forming a “libero-theologico-sertanejo” power coalition that finances its “carioca militia vanguard” and also includes the Brazilian military who have returned to the scene allied to the right, as always , but now converted to the neoliberal economic catechism.

Even so, despite these internal obstacles, it is possible for Brazil to overcome this bitter moment in its history and resume the path of building its sovereignty, marking its place within this new multipolar and aggressive world that is taking shape in front of us. Brazil has no enemies in Latin America, and it would be absurd or crazy to start an arms race with our neighbors, or even submit to the military race of other countries within the Latin American continent. On the contrary, Brazil must seek to occupy in the future the place of a “great peacemaking power” within the system in its own continent and within the international system.

Even so, one thing is certain, if Brazil wants to redesign its international strategy and assume this new continental and international position, “there is no doubt that it will have to develop an extremely complex job of managing its relations of complementarity and permanent competition with the United States , above all, and also – albeit to a lesser extent – ​​with the other great powers of the interstate system.

Walking through a very narrow path and for a time that can last for several decades. Furthermore, in order to lead the integration of South America and the Latin American continent within the world system, Brazil will have to invent a new form of continental and world expansion that does not repeat the “missionary expansion” and “warlike imperialism” of the Europeans and North Americans”.[1]

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).


[1] Fiori, JL “The international insertion of Brazil and South America”, published in


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