Brazilian historical formation under debate

Image: Italo Melo


The modes of production in force throughout the history of Brazil

No artigo “The colonization of the Americas under debate”, published on the website the earth is round, Mário Maestri raises a central question for the Marxist understanding of the historical formation of American countries, which is the characterization of the modes of production in force throughout the history of this part of the world. In Brazil, in particular, the topic motivated heated debates during the 60s and 70s of the last century.

Until then, the conception of the presence of primitive communist, slave-owning and feudal relations in our history predominated among Brazilian Marxists, with the persistence of feudal relations in the colonelista latifundium, with then dominant labor relations of the partnership type, such as sharecropping and tertiary, which are forms of income in product, and cambao, income in work. This conception supported the proposal to fight for agrarian reform through the distribution of land among peasants as a revolutionary and fundamental transformation for national development, in parallel to the anti-imperialist struggle. It was estimated that such struggles could count on the support of developmental sectors of the bourgeoisie, which was important due to the fragility of popular organizations in a country with still low industrial development and the coronelist domination of the peasantry.

This orthodox interpretation came under severe attack, beginning with the publication of The Brazilian Revolution (1966) by Caio Prado Júnior, who denied the presence of semi-feudal or feudal relations to be overcome and, moreover, considered this interpretation largely responsible for the political defeat of 1964, as it led to political alliances with corrupt sectors of the bourgeoisie.

As seen in Economic History of Brazil, for example, Caio Prado Júnior's analysis is centered on the mercantile relations that dominated the formation of Brazil during the Colony, the Empire and the Old Republic, since it was only after 1930 that Brazilian development began to be supported by political and internal economics. Hence, Caio Prado Júnior tends to interpret the Brazilian historical formation as capitalist, although he recognizes the economic importance of slavery.

Now, commerce and commercial capital have existed since antiquity, and the economic domination of commercial capital characterized advanced feudalism in Europe, according to Marx. In the competitive phase of capitalism, industrial capital predominated and, in the monopolistic phase, financial capital would predominate, the result of the fusion of usurious, industrial and commercial capital. Marx also observes that the very influence of commercial activity on a society depends on its internal mode of production, which involves production and property relations, and is historically related to production techniques.

Caio Prado Júnior's type of interpretation would receive the nickname “circulationism”, as it is based on the sphere of circulation and disregards the mode of production. Authors such as Fernando Novais, in his Portugal and Brazil in the crisis of the Old Colonial System (1777-1808) (1979) and Theotônio dos Santos, in Dependency theory – Balance in perspectives (2000)

More than due to the theoretical issue, Caio Prado Júnior's text was widely criticized for bringing a revolutionary proposal limited to the anti-imperialist struggle, ignoring agrarian reform. However, his criticism of alliances with bourgeois sectors would have wide repercussion, as well as the blame for the thesis of the persistence of semi-feudal or feudal relations for the political defeat of 1964.

This debate resulted in broad convergence, within the left, towards the thesis proposed by Ciro Flamarion Santana Cardoso and developed by Jacob Gorender in Colonial Slavery (1976). According to this thesis, Brazil was colonized under the colonial slave mode of production, which would be distinct from the old slave mode of production. As it is a pre-capitalist mode of production, the large estate derived from the colonial slave mode of production would justify the political proposal for agrarian reform.

It is important to note that the topic was not restricted to Marxists.

Classical Brazilian historiography called the political organization of hereditary captaincies feudal, as seen in Historical formation of Brazilian nationality (1911) by Oliveira Lima, in History of Brazilian civilization (1937) by Pedro Calmon, and in History of Brazil – 2nd year of high school (1952) by Alfredo d'Éscragnolle Taunay and Dicanôr Moraes.

In fact, captaincies formally reproduced the emphitheutic amphitheater characteristic of European feudal territorial property, in which land ownership was tripartite between the king, the noble and the peasant. The king granted fiefs to a noble in exchange for a share of the land's products and political and military commitments, and the noble granted plots of land to peasants in exchange for a share of their work or products. In Brazilian colonization, the king granted hereditary captaincies to governor captains, the majority in return for military feats, under economic and political commitments, and captains granted sesmarias to anyone who demonstrated the ability to make them produce, which required sufficient assets to acquire slaves and build the necessary improvements.

For contemporaries of colonization, the analogy was perfect, because slaves were not considered human, they were instead compared to working animals. But the feudal designation for hereditary captaincies remained after Abolition, because classical historiography focuses on political rather than socio-economic organization. However, this historiographical interpretation would come to be contested internally, as seen in Hélio Vianna who, in his history of Brazil (1962), begins the presentation of the captaincies with a peremptory subtitle: “There was no feudalism in the regime of the Hereditary Captaincies”. This determination appears to have worked.

The first to deny any feudal character to Brazilian colonization was probably the industrialist Roberto Simonsen, in his Economic History of Brazil, 1500-1820 (1937), a theme in which he was a pioneer. Simonsen defines colonization as capitalist due to its economic objectives, based on Werner Sombart. Theorists with a Weberian orientation increased the denial of the feudal interpretation, such as Raymundo Faoro, in the power holders (1958) and Maria Sylvia de Carvalho Franco, in Free men in the slave order (1964)

The debate, live and in color

Mário Maestri's article has as its initial theme the conception of the Paraguayan sociologist Ronald León Núnez, follower of the Argentine Trotskyist theorist Nahuel Moreno, who fits the description of circulationist. Without using this term, Mário Maestri makes pertinent criticisms of the theoretical line he discusses and, in addition, defends the thesis of colonial slavery, recovering its main arguments and reviving the atmosphere of the debates. Significant passages are worth quoting. At the very beginning it reads:

“Since the 1930s, the communist movement has been tied to the Stalinist block… The Marxist readings of the parties of the Third International have become mere exegeses of the instructions dictated by Moscow, which they followed practically without discussion. In colonial, semi-colonial and backward capitalist countries, workers had to submit to the 'national bourgeoisies', 'industrialists', 'progressives' and 'anti-imperialists' – 'revolution in stages' – to overcome semi-feudal and feudal survivals with the construction of a solid capitalist economy.”

This attribution of the thesis of the existence of semi-feudal and feudal survivals to instructions dictated by Moscow was recurrent. This line of argument had historical facts in its favor. In Brazil, Soviet influence is attributed, for example, to a phase of political sectarianism around the 1930s, which reflected the radicalization of the “class against class” struggle in the USSR at the time. At this stage, the alliance between the communists and Tenentismo was broken, removing many communists, including Prestes, from the XNUMX revolution. Criticism and self-criticism for this type of submission to Soviet influences were not rare. It was not difficult to extrapolate such criticism to the issue of the feudal nature of Brazilian reality.

Following his line, says Maestri: “The controversy was due to the Stalinist proposal of the need for all social formations to pass through the five stages (modes of production) proposed by Marx and Engels in the analysis of social, political, economic and civilizational evolution-revolution. in the European space – primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism.”

This sequencing of modes of production is not found in Marx, only in Friedrich Engels. In the famous prologue of Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx presents, in broad strokes, the Asian, ancient, feudal and bourgeois production regimes as progressive phases of humanity. The old regime identifies itself with slavery, just as the bourgeois regime identifies itself with capitalism. Primitive communism is excluded by reference to progressive phases of humanity, when civilizations emerge. Thus, the Asian mode introduced by Marx does not seem to follow Engels.

Friedrich Engels' formula was dominant in Marxist literature for a long time, possibly because his literary work, didactic and encyclopedic, lends itself better to the popular dissemination of Marxist thought than that of Marx himself, which is more elaborate and detailed. Furthermore, the expression Asian mode appears sparsely in The capital by Marx. The most detailed presentation appears in a draft published posthumously under the title Pre-capitalist economic formations, which presents Asian, slave and feudal modes of production as three historical alternatives for overcoming primitive communism. The Asian mode is also extended to the Celts and Incas, contradicting the adjective Asian; For this reason, the expression “tax mode of production” was later suggested, understanding that the tax characterizes the relationship of exploitation between the village and the State.

Maestri's criticism of the content of the “feudal thesis” is synthetic: “We will not dwell on the historical-methodological inaccuracies that supported the proposal for a feudal order in the past and its remnants in the present. In Brazil, for example, sesmeiro farmers, alleged feudal lords, held allodial possession of the land – they could sell it, donate it, rent it, etc. “

Now, the sale of the land did not eliminate the emphyteutic amphitheater; the new owner remained subordinate to the captain or the general governor, and it is unthinkable that the sale could take place without the approval of whoever had initially granted the land. The same conditions would govern the donation of land, in the remote hypothesis that any landowner wanted to do so. Renting land in Colonial or Empire Brazil would be foolhardy; Land ownership generally required the maintenance of jagunços against Indians or other enemies, so taking it back could be difficult.

Maestri adds: “And there were no servile plots of land, but homogeneous exploitation of large estates oriented towards the global and, very secondarily, regional market. And there were no servants in this part of the world but, above all, enslaved workers.”

The sentence errs on the side of excessive generalization, which can be corrected by an obsessively criticized author in Colonial Slavery, Nelson Werneck Sodré. In Historical Formation of Brazil (1962), Nelson Werneck Sodré defines as slavery the homogeneous exploitation of large estates oriented towards the world market during the Colony and most of the Empire, in the production of sugar, tobacco, coffee, among other products, just as gold mining was slavery. .

The main domestic market was cattle, both from the Northeast and the Pampas, to supply mining regions and urban centers. Slavery was secondary in cattle production regions. In the backlands of the Northeast, in particular, the fourth system is observed, by which the cowboy received the fourth calf from each herd. When cotton began to be produced there, sharecropping was adopted. In the South, labor relations in pastoralism were not slavery; slavery was only introduced in the production of jerky for commerce.

Abolished slavery, all large production of sugar, tobacco, etc. began to employ partnership relationships, such as sharecropping or tuesday. The most advanced labor relations occurred in coffee production, since the end of the slavery period, when European immigrants counted on support from their countries of origin so as not to submit to the landowners in the same way as national workers.

Partnership and cambão relationships would be slave-based for Jacob Gorender, as they had been capitalist for Caio Prado Júnior. Now, a capitalist relationship means a free salaried worker, without personal ties to the employer; There was no wage earner there and there was strong personal dependence on the owner. Slave relationship means the ownership of the worker by the owner, and requires permanent supervision by an overseer, which was also not present in these relationships; The role of the goats or jagunços is not to be a taskmaster. For Nelson Werneck Sodré, these partnership and exchange relationships were feudal, based on Marx.

Em The capital, Marx analyzes three forms of pre-capitalist land income, which apply to Asian or tributary-type societies and feudal societies: income in labor, income in products and income in money. There are dependency relationships necessary to maintain social status. In feudalism, income in work, products and money characterizes distinct periods, with an increasing degree of autonomy, always relative, of the serf. If in slavery the need for surveillance and violence are permanent, in feudalism violence is complemented by ideological domination. One cannot read these pages of Marx without seeing Brazilian coronelism, with the Lord Colonel's armed goats and the blessing of the Church.

It is worth remembering the origin of the term coronelismo. Since the Empire, the commanders of the National Guard were the main local landowners, who received the title of colonels or, in smaller localities, majors. The concentration of military, police, economic and political powers in the hands of the landowner consolidates his absolute domination over his pawns and over small farmers eventually allowed in the locality. The National Guard was abolished in 1919, thirty years after the proclamation of the Republic, and with this the police and military aspects of the coronelist power were formally abolished, leaving the economic and political aspects, in a slow process of deterioration.

Maestri continues: “In the aforementioned context of the 1960s, space was opened for the scientific legitimization of the 'Asian mode of production' and for the investigation of the multiple modes of production known by non-European societies, with emphasis on pre-colonial Black Africa – modes of domestic production, lineage, taxes, etc.”

Actually Pre-capitalist economic formations was published in the 1930s in the Soviet Union and in the 1950s in the West, so that the concept of Asian mode of production has been studied since before the 1960s. The Soviets tended to interpret the concept in a way that made compatible the formulas of Marx and Engels: the Asian way would be the last stage of primitive communism, due to the absence of land ownership, despite constituting class societies. But the interpretation of the Asian way as a specific mode of production predominated in general.

It turns out that Mário Maestri's phrase goes further, adopting a multiplicity of modes of production, culminating in an “etc.”. Now, the domestic mode of production is a type of evolution of primitive communism in which tribal land is divided between families; the lineage mode is perhaps another variation of primitive communism. Both Marx's and Engels' typology intend to reproduce historical evolution in broad strokes, without further detail. Tax mode is just another name for Asian mode. In any case, feeling “legitimized” by this multiplicity of new means of production, Flamarion Cardoso and Jacob Gorender were able to create their new mode of production.

The author concludes: “Colonial slavery carried out what I defined as the 'Copernican revolution', denying and overcoming, based on a refined Marxist interpretation, supported by detailed historical analysis and categorical-systematic criticism, the feudalism-capitalism impasse.”

Is it?

For Jacob Gorender, ancient slavery would be mainly patriarchal, that is, destined to serve the family into which it was incorporated, while modern slavery would be mainly mercantile, destined for the market. He recognizes the existence of patriarchal slavery in modern times, and of mercantile slavery in antiquity, but from this quantitative difference he deduces a qualitative difference: a new mode of production! If that were not enough, it characterizes a mode of production by its mercantile destiny, that is, by the sphere of circulation, therefore part of the circulationist conception, although it condemns circulationism. Finally, it baptizes its mode of production with the adjective colonial, which refers neither to production nor to trade, but to the country's colonial political status, although slavery remained in almost the entire Empire. How “detailed analysis”! How much “categorical-systematic” rigor!

To analyze capitalism, Marx often resorts to comparisons with previous modes of production, emphasizing the socioeconomic relationship between the worker and the owner of the means of production. In slavery, the worker's ownership relationship prevails with the owner of the land or mine. Marx highlights the objectification of the slave, recalling Roman expressions instrumentum vocale for the slave, instrumentum semivocale for a pack animal and instrumentum mutum for the tools. He then cites examples of the crude treatment of North American slaves towards working animals and instruments, and explains this attitude as the slave's reaction to his reification. Thus, Marx points out the same social relationship in Rome and in the slave-owning United States. But Flamarion Cardoso and Gorender postulate different modes of production in these two forms of slavery. How “refined Marxist interpretation”!

Since the orthodox thesis, of the presence of primitive communism, slavery, feudalism and capitalism in our history, is consistent with Marxist theory, why would it have been questioned?

Perhaps because the publication of The capital in Portuguese it was late; the first translation was published in the 1970s and the second in the 1980s. But the answer probably lies in a phrase by Lenin: “if Pythagoras' theorem, for some reason, acquires political connotations, someone will question Pythagoras' theorem.”

In traditional historiography, the characterization of our colonization as feudal identified us with Europe, as did the euphemistic treatment of slaves as serfs. But the abolition of the feudal thesis began to interest conservatives as soon as the theme of agrarian reform was associated with it.

The political context of the debate was characterized, for the left, by the defeat of 64. Since the immediate post-coup, the PCB leadership was under criticism for the way it acted with the deposed government. Prado Júnior called into question the theoretical foundations of that party, as well as that of the PCdoB, although this party had a very different attitude towards the Goulart government. The debate on the “feudal thesis” was present in the discussions of parties and dissident groups from the PCB, many of which would later unify into the PT, as well as in the incorporation of the AP, originating from the Catholic left, into the PCdoB.

The thesis of colonial slavery took advantage of the line of questioning of the theoretical bases of the communist parties, by Caio Prado Júnior, and made it compatible with the maintenance of the agrarian reform proposal. The thesis of colonial slavery won politically, even if the orthodox conception resists, because it took root.

What was lost was knowledge about Brazil and understanding of Marxism. The literary abolition of feudalism impoverishes the understanding of our history, of episodes such as the lieutenant struggles of the 1920s, as well as the Revolution of 1930, of their achievements and limits. The historical phenomena of family quarrels, Sebastianist messianism, cangaço, as well as cultural traditions so close to the Middle Ages, such as the struggles of Christians and Moors, the “rich rhymes of three centuries” that Euclides da Cunha finds in backlands, etc. As if the superstructure was floating in the air, not rooted in an infrastructure.

Culture has lost a lot. There are works that give us the impression that we didn't know Brazil before reading them, such as Four centuries of latifundia, by Alberto Passos Guimarães and Cangaceiros and Fanatics by Rui Facó. Nelson Werneck Sodré's immense culture bequeathed fundamental references such as Historical Formation of Brazil, History of the press in Brazil e Military history of Brazil, among many others. In times of autonomy from the Central Bank, the publisher Contraponto had the wonderful initiative of republishing the entire work of Ignácio Rangel, for whom Brazilian inflation is an epiphenomenon revealing structural problems that are aggravated by orthodox, recessionist monetary policies. But who would be encouraged to study authors treated as uncritical followers of orders from Moscow? Only those who don't believe this caricature.

I conclude by advertising my book Ways to see Brazil's production, for those interested in the topic. It is an annotated anthology, structured around quotes from the authors covered, with my interventions, generally small, to organize the presentation.

The book has five parts. The first and largest of them collects empirical descriptions of Brazilian social formation in general historiography, covering Antonil, Capistrano de Abreu, Euclides da Cunha, Gilberto Freire, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, Roberto Simonsen, Celso Furtado, Darcy Ribeiro, among others. The feudal characterization appears in some authors and is denied by Simonsen. The second part of the book deals with the concept (or category) mode of production, as well as specific modes of production, fundamentally using Marx and, to a lesser extent, Engels and Lenin; the confrontation of these authors with our historical reality already allows us to advance the defense of the orthodox thesis.

With these empirical and theoretical bases, the book enters the debate. The third part presents authors representing the orthodox vision, including Facó, Carlos Marighella, Mário Alves, AP Guimarães, Sodré, Ignácio Rangel, who substantially enrich the description of our social formation. The fourth part discusses representative authors of the revisionism of the feudal question, including Prado Júnior and Gorender, as well as Weberian or eclectic theorists; This part required larger texts from this author to compare revisionist or non-Marxist positions. The fifth part examines the effects of this controversy on more recent authors.

No work by Stalin or any Soviet author was consulted, except Lenin. Not out of prejudice, but to show that the defense of the orthodox thesis about modes of production in Brazil against revisionism does not depend in any way on that Soviet leader.

*Jose Ricardo Figueiredo He is a retired professor at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at Unicamp. Author of Ways of seeing production in Brazil (Associated Authors\EDUC). []

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