The Dictatorship of Big Capital

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe.


Presentation of the book by sociologist Octavio Ianni

I dedicate this presentation to the person who put Ianni in my path in an irreversible way, Marilda Villela Tamamoto.

It is with great joy that I write these lines presenting a work that cannot be overlooked when thinking about Brazil – The Dictatorship of Big Capital – published for the first time in 1981. I salute the initiative of Expressão Popular and Adunirio to make available in today's Brazil, marked by the attempt to falsify the history of the meaning of those years of lead,[I] this great text on the civil-military (or corporate-military) dictatorship,[ii] or Ianni showing the most essential traits of that process. This is a magisterial text that asked to be relaunched for the new generations and also for a rereading of those who already knew it, given its immense relevance. Before commenting on the work, I think it is important to briefly introduce the reader to the universe of Octavio Ianni.

We are facing a great effort to interpret the country, within the critical tradition of Brazilian social thought, given the clear theoretical-methodological incidence of the Marxist tradition of its reflections, combined with a broad and rigorous dialogue in the field of social sciences, in particular the Sociology, Political Economy and Historiography. Today I am very proud to be part of the creation of the Octavio Ianni Study Center (CEOI), at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), created in 2006 by an initiative by Marilda Iamamoto, which had a decisive influence on the thinking of Ianni in his own work.

Together with her and a team of professors and students, we held a Colloquium that year on Ianni's thinking, which resulted in a reference publication – Thought of Octavio Ianni: a balance of his contribution to the interpretation of Brazil (Iamamoto and Behring (eds.), 2009), from which I collect some information and conclusions in this presentation.

Octavio Ianni was born in Itu, São Paulo, in 1926, the son of Italian immigrants. In the 1940s, he participated as a secondary school student and PCB militant in the struggles against the Estado Novo. However, it is said that it was a brief party affiliation and that he did not return to party affiliation, acting as an independent left-wing intellectual. In 1948, he enrolled in the Social Sciences course at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters at the University of São Paulo, and graduated in 1954, constituting the second generation of sociologists in this great barn of interpreters in Brazil, not all of them in the critical field. -dialectic. In 1956, Ianni became a professor at USP in the chair he held – and we were in the chair system – none other than Florestan Fernandes, whose influence on his thinking is fundamental and much discussed.

Ianni, therefore, was part of the founding nucleus of the USP School of Sociology, alongside Antonio Candido, Florestan Fernandes, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Maria Sylvia de Mello Franco, José de Souza Martins, Leôncio Martins Rodrigues, among others. There, around the chair of Florestan Fernandes, the “critical sociology” that sought to explain Brazil and Latin America was forged. He remained at USP until 1969, when he was expelled by the civil-military dictatorship and forced and prematurely retired by the Institutional Act n.o 5.

In 1970, he participated in the founding of the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning, Cebrap, carrying out studies on the agrarian issue and the Amazon. In 1977, the dean (and social worker, which is a source of pride for Brazilian Social Service) Nadir Kfouri opened the doors of PUC-São Paulo to professors who were persecuted by the dictatorship, including Octavio Ianni and Florestan Fernandes. There, Ianni remained until 1986, when he transferred to Unicamp, where he worked for another 15 years until two days before his death, on April 4, 2004. Throughout this trajectory, he received the highest academic awards, was twice awarded with the Jabuti, from the Brazilian Academy of Letters, and also with a Juca Pato Prize (intellectual of the year, in 2000).

In the stimulating academic environment of USP, Ianni received a broad and complete education in the classics of Sociology, Politics and Political Economy, as well as literature, which he was passionate about. But the approach to Marxism marked his work in an indelible and profound way, and this tradition was constitutive of his way of thinking about Brazil. In this sense, the three dimensions most dear to the Marxist tradition are present in his intellectual work: the dialectical method, the theory of value and the perspective of revolution.

Regarding the latter, it is worth characterizing Ana Clara Torres Ribeiro, that Ianni's work always sought to respond to the challenges of political life (2009, p. 43). In half a century of academic life, more than 40 books have been published, in addition to articles and organized collections, most of them dedicated to elucidating the idea of ​​modern Brazil, although more recently it has been dedicated to discussing the impacts of globalization on the Nation State, the what he called the age of globalism.

Well then, after some elements of the trajectory of this one who belongs to the gallery of the great interpreters of Brazil, it is worth mentioning a decisive mark of his work and which is related to the dimension of the Marxian method: the visceral relationship between Economy and Politics. An interesting example of this is that the theme of democracy – its possibilities and limits in Brazil – is subordinated to the dynamics of the State and social classes, and their relationship with the material bases, say, the development of capitalism in Brazil, or rather , the constitution of “modern Brazil”.

Within Ianni's diverse intellectual agenda, João Antônio de Paula (2009) identified ten central themes in his work: (1). the question of slavery; (two). the relations between race and class; (2). the social revolution; (3). Brazilian industrialization; (4). the state; (5). the issue of culture; (6). Latin America; (7). sociology as a field of study; (8). the agrarian question; (9).

In this book, globalization and imperialism, the democratic problem appears in full motion, associated with the class struggle. For him, it was about unraveling the logic of the Brazilian capitalist social formation constituted in the cycle of the bourgeois revolution, which was completed, as in Florestan Fernandes, with the profound transformations engendered by the civil-military coup of 1964 and the advent of the monopoly order. in the country. Democracy is not an issue in itself, but a product of specific historical conditions, conditions that never favored the standard of the democratic State of law.

Em The cycle of the Bourgeois Revolution (1984), for example, Ianni says that since Independence we have had the reiteration of solutions from above that structure the Brazilian State according to oligarchic, bourgeois, imperialist interests. For him “what is revealed, throughout history, is the development of a kind of permanent bourgeois counterrevolution” (1984, p. 11), with power being exercised in an authoritarian, dictatorial way, “when not fascist” (1984, p. p. 14), which he effectively analyzed in the work on canvas, The Dictatorship of Big Capital.

The bourgeoisie, impregnated with racist theses (and Ianni carried out several studies on the racial issue in Brazil)[iii] and patrimonialist practices, most of the time required a strong State to contain the dangerous classes. Ianni, especially in the aforementioned text, criticizes the idea of ​​the protection of the people by the elites, as well as the recurrent interpretation also present in leftist thinking, of amorphous, inconsistent, incompetent civil society. For him, there lie attempts to disqualify popular struggles, strengthening the need for a social pact, class conciliation and “safe development”, the latter hallmark of the post-1964 dictatorship.

In this way democratic normality can exist, from the formal point of view, but in coexistence with real autocratic and violent structures over workers. These were the key ideas for the scathing criticism of the PCB’s project of a “bourgeois-democratic revolution” in the 1950s and 1960s, of “classless development”, of Iseb, and, above all, of the 1964 coup.

Such a visceral relationship between Economics and Politics, that is, the perspective of totality, appears in another fundamental text by Octavio Ianni, state and capitalism (from 1965, but with an expanded second edition from 1989). This is a work that needs to be better known in the academic environment, as it is a study of the particularity of the Brazilian State, which brings several universal elements about the State as a category, way of being, and from it we can unfold hypotheses about the limits of democracy on the periphery of capitalism, which is related to the material bases constituting the periphery, dependence.

My hypothesis is that the progress of the exposition in this text, reflecting an exhaustive investigation process of data, documents (in particular Government plans) and government speeches, is restored inThe Dictatorship of Big Capital. For Ianni, to know the State is to know society. If society founds the State, it is also constitutive of it. Thus, it is necessary to observe the State in the totality of social and economic relations. In the planning and intervention processes triggered by the State, there is a tendency for it to focus its activities on capital accumulation, refining its ability to control savings and investment possibilities.

For him, government measures are indispensable for market forces. If profit is not a direct target, it is an indirect target to be achieved by the private company, with the support of the State, which, then, emerges as an important mediation in the process of capital accumulation. Especially in the context of developmentalism, on which this text by Ianni focuses, the State is an organ of capitalization of the economic surplus and dynamization of the virtualities of the market, especially of the diversification of the national productive system, with emphasis on the industry, through the channeling of agricultural rents to the industrial sphere.

Here we have an important key to Ianni's debate: that industrial capital is born from agricultural capital, with the mediation of the State. It follows that the ideas of a contrast between archaic and modern and of dualism have always been an appearance that confused the strategy of the left, centered for a long time and with remnants in the present,[iv] in the pact with the national bourgeoisie in the bourgeois-democratic stage.

In this sense, I think that Ianni, following Caio Prado Jr., deepens a critique of dualism that anticipates elements of Francisco de Oliveira in his 1972 essay, Criticism of dualistic reason (republished in 2003). The concentration and centralization of capital govern a portion of the instruments put into practice by the State, which acts to ensure general conditions, maintaining a portion of the surplus in the country as a condition for industrialization, a strategic sector in developmentalism.

Ianni, since then, sought to unravel the articulation between national capital, foreign capital and direct and indirect state participation as essential components of the industrial capitalism that was formed in Brazil, despite the nationalist discourse at the time. And this will consolidate even more strongly in the civil-military coup of 1964, which, in the present work, characterized as the dictatorship of big capital, when capitalist relations effectively became generalized, that is, the bourgeois revolution was completed, in what in my view, it has an agreement with Florestan Fernandes (1987).

Ianni's observations on the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the State in Brazil are very instructive, demonstrated with a large volume of data – as we have already noted above, he was an astute researcher, glued to the elements of reality, seeking to extract his movement from it. For him, the bourgeoisie participates to the maximum in the formulation of government guidelines, with a view to making the State act towards the flourishing of the market, for what it expects from the mediator benefits in relation to capital, labor exploitation, technology, say itself, in relation to the set of production factors.

In this sense, state credits for financing, debts to social security and state consumption (purchases for the performance of its functions) link the state and business interests. For this reason, he states in the 1965 work that “the capitalism that emerged in Brazil needed to rely on a State openly engaged in the economy and society”, and the Brazilian bourgeoisie does not arise from any vigorous struggle on its part against the agrarian oligarchies. The industrial bourgeoisie was generated by agrarian capital, without supplanting it and with the mediation of the State and foreign capital. Especially after 1930, the State was projected as the center of decisions, mediating class relations and taking care of capital accumulation – increasingly based on the extraction of relative surplus value -, and very especially, disciplining the sellers of labor power in the market. .

Therefore, according to Ana Clara Torres Ribeiro, “the look that the author casts at the State is guided by the search for apprehension of the social totality in movement and, above all, by political expectations regarding the transformation of Brazilian society” (2009, p. 47).

As for Carlos Nelson Coutinho: “Ianni knows that it is impossible to address the issue of the State without organically linking it with the social totality. As a Marxist, he refuses the idea that the State can be treated as an autonomous subject, situated above the movement of social classes” (2009, p. 58). In this step, according to Coutinho, Ianni is clearly opposed to any State fetishism, observing it in the historical flow, from the centrality of the class struggle. This general conception, of the State as a collective capitalist, as mediation in the concrete totality, was taken up again in the works State and economic planning in Brazil (1971) and especially in The Dictatorship of Big Capital (1981)

Let's look at some characteristics of this work, but only to invite the reader to delve into it and learn the deeper meaning of the meanings of that “time, unfortunate page of our history” (Will pass, Chico Buarque, 1990).

What does Octavio Ianni tell us about the dictatorship between 1964-1985? There is a central idea that the most visible and apparent face was that it was a military dictatorship. But he wants to demonstrate, and he does so masterfully, that it was essentially a dictatorship of the big bourgeoisie, of big capital. The aim of his text is to subsidize the struggle of subordinate classes (feed the demons, as Renato Ortiz (2009) reminds us about the characteristics of his work) – especially workers and peasants to remake history.

The Dictatorship of Big Capital begins by showing the relationship between the big bourgeoisie and the regime. It reveals how technocratic planning was built as a “complementary productive force” to favor certain segments of big capital, in an environment of expropriations, abolition of political parties, intervention in unions and intense political repression. For him, violence is a productive force. The motto “security and development” covered an economic policy that favored imperialism, in the form of big monopoly capital, based on the super-exploitation of the workforce[v].

The workers were treated with iron and fire, with an austere salary policy and the “restoration of social discipline”, according to Roberto Campos, one of the architects of this process from an economic point of view. In the same way, the dictatorship induced, with its machine of “concentrated and organized violence” and “technocratic paraphernalia”, the monopolization of land. Thus, at the base of the so-called Brazilian Miracle, there is a dimension that is sometimes seen as fascist, sometimes as fascist, or with “fascist content”: the “anti-communist industry” mobilized to silence any opposition and reaction from below against the offensive against the workers and peasants in particular.

It is evident here that the similarity is not a mere coincidence in what we are experiencing in Brazil in 2019, under the government of the extreme right and which tries to convince the population that there was no dictatorship in the country, even in the environment of armored democracy (Dernier, 2017 ) but which can evolve into forms of fascism: traces and signs of this tendency abound.[vi]

However, it should be noted that the characterization of fascism is very controversial in historiography both for the post-64 regime and for what is underway in Brazil today. If Ianni spoke of a fascist state, part of the historiography operates with the concept of a Bonapartist regime, given the specific characteristics assumed by fascism. In Ianni, this question is not posed very precisely, but it is a fact that contents and traits of fascism were posed in that historical experience, even though one cannot speak of a fascist regime.

Continuing with Ianni, he shows the free movement of “businessmen” in the narrow and privileged circuits of the regime, where symbiosis with monopoly capital was made. Under the mantle of the neutrality of economic techniques, the reasons of the State were mixed with the reasons of big capital. And meanwhile, violence became a nuclear economic power. In the tripod between foreign monopoly capital, national capital and the State, the former will largely prevail, with the intermediation of the State, thus ceasing to be a “misleading metaphor”.

But there are two important observations by Ianni here: the first, about the promotion of financial capital, a form of capital in general, in these periods, and the other with regard to nationalization, which actually meant a capture of the State by monopoly capital, a State that acted as “state capital”, through the public financial system and ensuring infrastructure for big capital. Throughout this process, what Ianni observes is the supremacy of imperialism, that is, we had a unique fascism “highly determined by the financial capital of imperialism”.

In the second part of the book, Ianni demonstrates how wage policy was the main instrument of the political economy of the dictatorship, seeking to expand the extraction of absolute and relative surplus value, in an “extraordinary” character: an extraordinary surplus value. The author analyzes how the wage squeeze in the private sector, but also in the public sector, is articulated with violence and repression – anti-strike law, intervention in unions and persecution of militants, both contributing to an increase in profit rates.

As far as repression of the working class is concerned, there is an entire chapter describing its methods: threats, kidnappings, killings and disappearances. Finally, all sorts of arbitrariness to discipline this sector, especially in the early years of the regime, in view of its adaptation to the new conditions for extracting extraordinary surplus value. This process also included the institution of the FGTS, as a way of interfering with the mood of the working class in the face of layoffs and the high turnover of the workforce. This whole movement leads to the absolute and relative pauperization of workers, in connection with extraordinary surplus value and super-exploitation, and which engenders, along with the fascist dictatorship in society, a dictatorship of capital over labor in the factories.

In the countryside, proletarianization expanded, based on the growth of agroindustry, which was linked to foreign trade, foreign exchange production and financial capital. Such a process, today even denser and more intense, was based on the expropriation of indigenous lands, vacant and occupied in the center-west and north of the country. So that the origin of the processes that involve agribusiness today and the current rural-urban articulation find their roots in the expropriation of this moment, benefiting the big monopoly capital, directly or indirectly.

Ianni analyzes the regional issue and the specific dynamics that involved the Northeast and the Amazon, resumes the discussion of the criminalization of segments of civil society and the theme of fascism, and concludes his text with the crisis of the dictatorship and the perspective of the resumption of struggles.

There would be much more to say, but I think that Ianni's pills indicated so far are already enough to provoke the reading of this classic of Brazilian critical social thought. Octavio Ianni is an author who mobilizes the categories and method of political economy, seeking to translate them into the historical particularity of Brazil. However, the most important record to be left here is that his analysis of the dictatorship of big capital instigates resistance today.

It refers, notably, to seeking the deepest material bases of the lumpenbourgeoisie project in clear articulation with imperialism, which is underway in Brazil today. This Brazil of the reactionary offensive and which has the smell, taste and texture of the past. That is today's task.

*Elaine Rossetti Behring is a professor at the Department of Social Policy at the Faculty of Social Work at UERJ and coordinator of the Octavio Ianni Study Center.


Octavio Ianni. The Dictatorship of Big Capital. São Paulo, Popular Expression, 2019, 356 pages.


[I] To criticize this spurious attempt to erase the recent history of the country and the excesses and crimes of the Brazilian dictatorship, I wrote a contribution to the collective reflection on the deconstruction of memory in “Civil-Military Dictatorship in Brazil (1964-1985): nada to “properly celebrate”, just to repudiate”, available at https://esquerdaonline.

[ii] I adopt the characterization of civil-military, considering that business organizations make up civil society and that other segments of it supported the 1964 coup, even though many workers' organizations supported the 1964 coup, even though many workers' and popular organizations made up a another field of the same civil society, which is also the territory ultimate class contradiction, even if not exclusively.

[iii] When I write these lines, Brazil finds itself perplexed in the face of 80 shots fired by the Brazilian Army, on a car where a black family was, in Rio de Janeiro, yet another violent expression of structural racism, and the Brazilian State has been treating the case as a mere “incident” according to the public (and unacceptable) declaration of the Minister of Justice.

[iv] I am referring to the self-titled neo-developmentalist project, in which, in a new context, between the years 2003-2015, the perspective of class conciliation, the Workers' Party, and other foundations were reinstated under a new political direction.

[v] Octavio Ianni makes no more precise reference to this category, which marks the thought of Ruy Mauro Marini (1973), leaving here an axis of investigation on his understanding of this debate. The extraordinary added value category also appears, in general, connected to overexploitation.

[vi] For a follow-up of these developments, check out some texts by historian Pelipe Demier on the Esquerda On Line website,

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