The fourth wave of Brazilian dependency

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Brazil entered the second decade of the XNUMXst century marked by signs of a resurgence of the classic forms of dependence

The difficulty in understanding the accelerated process of political and economic disorganization, with loss of sovereignty in recent years, requires us to look, even if in a first attempt, at the historical behavior of capitalism, observing how the contradictions of the historical cycles of capital are integrated into the behavior of different forms of economic dependence on peripheral societies, in this specific case of Brazil. The text that follows works as an implicit thesis: the exhaustion of the so-called “Kondratieff room”[I] regulates and imposes an accelerated and radical neoliberal agenda that conditions the so-called fourth Brazilian dependency, linked to an economic pattern centered on primary goods and loss of industrial and technological capacity, accompanied by increasing restrictions on social rights and national sovereignty.

The globalization process, the debt crisis of the 1980s and the passive Brazilian economic dynamics from the 1990s onwards deepened the precarious conditions of autonomous development, either through the denationalization of expressive segments of the industry, or through the increase of external vulnerability in the main aspects to be considered: in productive capacity (increase and greater dependence on foreign direct investment), technological capacity (low capacity to structure a national innovation system and low technological dynamics) and financial capacity (financial investments, loans and financing). Finally, the specific economic conditions faced in the 1990s, as a result of the exhaustion of the Import Substitution Industrialization Model, the transition to the neoliberal regime and thus the reduced role of the State in the economy composed the more general picture in which we entered the XNUMXst century .

The international division of labor establishes three zones in the world economy: the center, the semi-periphery and the periphery, and this division appears functional to guarantee the appropriation of surplus value by the centers and new-centers, allowing the development of capitalism in the regions of technological leadership and underdevelopment (in conditions of dependence) in regions with less technological progress. A The reproduction of capital assumes different forms at different historical moments, which makes it readjust to the changes produced in the world system and in the international division of labor, so as to reorganize production on new axes of accumulation and/or new use values, the that allows to make a history of the reproduction of capital and to differentiate the standards that are established nationally.

Concrete capitalist development conditions are manifested as a pattern of reproduction of capital in the different social and economic formations that are established nationally, comprising, on the one hand, varying degrees of dependence on the circuit of the capitalist world economy, on the other hand, greater or lesser development and expansion autonomous technological, credit and sovereign power of its national State. This set of variability establishes quite different capitalist societies, which conditions international economic relations and at the same time defines the role of these societies in the international division of labor, as well as the degree of integration of the various economic circuits present in their internal dynamics.

The relationship of interdependence between the various countries and the world capitalist system becomes a relationship of dependence from the moment that some nations can expand on their own, while others, being in a situation of dependence, can only do so to a limited extent, partly as a reflection of the expansion of central countries (ALMEIDA FILHO, 2005). The economic, social, technological and political condition of dependence is expressed in the fragility of national sovereignty and in the way in which this nation adapts to the economic cycles of the capitalist world economy.

A very particular aspect, however, central to the particular conditions developed in the most recent conjunctural movements, refers to the juxtaposition between the exhaustion of the economic cycle inaugurated in the post-Second World War and the new conditions of subordination and dependence of Brazilian society. The aim is to present a first analysis, integrating the contradictions of the current Brazilian situation with the deepening of the systemic crisis of capitalism with the exhaustion of the current cyclical phase of world capitalism and the contradictions of the fourth form of dependence and subordination of the Brazilian economy in the international division of work.

Capitalism can be analyzed through long cycles or “long waves” as treated, among others, Mandel (1985). That author established an important aspect for our perception: the aforementioned waves “do not manifest themselves mechanically, but operate through the articulation of “classical cycles”. Thus, the so-called Kondratieff cycles are long periods of development of capitalist accumulation, which follow one another between “successive phases of accelerated growth” and “slowed growth”. According to Mandel (1985) these long waves had their explanations in various factors, but the “role of productive technology”, “long-term fluctuations in the rate of profits” and the characteristics of “fixed capital” in each new period of capitalist accumulation would be central points for its development.

The Belgian author establishes that from the end of the 1960s the economic cycle of expansion of world capitalism enters a phase of decline with “a decrease in the pace of expansion of international trade” and a fall in the rate of profit. The rise of neoliberalism and the set of macroeconomic alterations established since then mark this historical passage, with the limits for this phase B of the referred cycle not being consensual among several authors. We can consider that until the first years of the 2000s some of the characteristics addressed by Mandel (1985, p. 92-93) deepened, corresponding to the weakening of accumulation in the central countries (USA, Germany) and the declining rate of profits. Chinese expansion and the end of the former USSR (Soviet Union) acted as strong incentives for the recomposition of the global capitalist economy, making possible, in “Mandelian” terms, the recovery of expansion conditions and, contradictorily, breathing new life into the moribund cycle of accumulation.

How Brazil faced this systemic order and its contradictions. Upon assuming the government of Brazil in the second half of the 1990s (1996), Cardoso was responsible for the complete integration of the Brazilian economy into the framework of the Washington Consensus, which implied new structural frameworks of subordination to the dominant centers of capital. The interpretation that was established at that time was that greater mobility of financial capital would enable Brazilian societies to re-establish their pattern of development, with greater economic growth, even under more subordinate conditions, given that the opening of the national market to the international circulation of goods and capital flow would be sufficient for a new developmental resumption (Goldenstein, 1994; Martins, 2011).

It is worth mentioning that the relations between central and peripheral capitalist economies are maintained by the transfer or net flow of value to metropolitan countries, either through the classic mechanisms of remittance of dividends, interest and wages paid to the directors of the great imperialist companies and the growing debts of the countries underdeveloped countries, but also by the worsening of unequal exchange (Mandel, 1985; Marini, 2000; Dos Santos, 1993).

Theotônio dos Santos (1978, 1993) established dependency as one of the characteristics of the capitalist world system. In particular, his work "Imperialism and dependency" (1978) when analyzing the crisis of the imperialist hegemony of the United States, and the projects in struggle for the reconversion of the world economy, anticipates important aspects of the loss of the USA's international directive capacity and how the changes ongoing technological changes will be important in the technological-industrial “new dependency” that will be imposed on the Latin American and especially Brazilian economies. According to that author, the third form of dependency established from the second half of the twentieth century would be based on a situation of compromise between the interests that move the internal structures of the dependent countries and those of big international capital, which implies a profound internalization of the interests of the transnational companies and a new limitation on the degree of autonomy of peripheral economies and societies, including in terms of democratic aspects, which he calls restricted democracy.

In the continuity of the international economic cycle, two major trends are established in the world capitalist system from the 2000s: i) A new wave of the scientific-technical revolution, which determines the increase in productivity and extraordinary surplus value, this by reducing the mass of value employed in the workforce to an increasingly smaller part of the production process, making the labor economy established by technological innovation meager to value the quantity of goods generated by the increase in productivity. This aspect, in terms of the consequences of the Kondratieff cycle, would make its stability possible, but it would not alter the already established declining trend of the profit rate; ii) The technology established from the replacement of the communication systems inherited from the XNUMXth century by a new “swarm” of technologies with low use of fixed capital (internet, cell phones) made it impossible to recover the conditions of accumulation, because the mass of investments is proportionally smaller than the one replaced.

The result of this was a tendency for prices to fall and a crisis of appreciation, causing capital to react in four ways: i) it appropriates the public resources of the States, in general, but mainly the peripheral ones, boosting the public debt to support extraordinary profits that are not fully realized by the specific cycle of productive capital; ii) privatization of public companies, establishing a form of accumulation based on the expropriation of state capital; iii) reorganizes production and reproduction patterns at the international level, establishing a new global geo-economy; iv) it relies on the exchange rate overvaluation established by the US government, which makes it possible to balance the differences between costs in national currency and the realization of goods in dollars, via export, partially restoring the extraordinary profit through massive trade deficits in the United States.

In the 1990s and 2000s, changes were noticeable, shaping the foreign policies of the hegemonic economy with the objective of seeking trade surpluses that could, even in a limited way, restore the US financing capacity. It will be in this context that the Latin American economies and, especially, the most industrialized countries in the region (Brazil, Mexico and Argentina) will impose an agenda that will consolidate a trajectory of industrial disorganization and reprimarization of their productive bases (Trindade et al., 2016)

Brazil entered the second decade of the XNUMXst century, marked by signs of the resurgence of the classic forms of dependence, but it constitutes the fourth cycle of national dependence, a pattern of reproduction of capital centered on the productive specialization of agricultural and mineral commodities, with a growing loss of capacity national sovereign. Specifically, the conditions of evolution of the productive structure in recent years have highlighted the problem of the development of an “export pattern of productive specialization”, whether due to the industrial base of low technological intensity, or due to the strong dependence on the cycle of appreciation of the international demand for basic goods or primaries.

This involution of the Brazilian economic pattern deepens after the 2016 coup d'état and constitutes the meeting point with the last sigh of the current Kondratieff cycle of world capitalism, otherwise the fourth wave of Brazilian dependence, sustained on the basis of a pattern of productive primary specialization also shows the geopolitical changes caused by the exhaustion of the long wave inaugurated at the end of the Second World War. The current context of a radical and authoritarian neoliberalism, even moving towards a growing 'loss of sovereignty and restriction of Brazil's economic role in the capitalist world system, conditioned to the export of agricultural and mineral goods and to the breakdown of social relations, seems to us only part of a broader framework of maintenance of an accumulation cycle whose exhaustion should have already occurred, but is now postponed at the cost of the very breakdown of Brazilian society as a national society.

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Graduate Program in Economics at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Criticism of the Political Economy of the Public Debt and the Capitalist Credit System: a Marxist approach (CRV).


ALMEIDA FILHO, Niemeyer. “The Current Debate on Addiction”. Magazine of the Brazilian Society of Political Economy, Rio de Janeiro, 2005, v. 16, p. 32-50.

DOS SANTOS, Theotônio. World economy, regional integration and sustainable development: new trends in the world economy and Latin American integration. Petrópolis (RJ): Editora Vozes, 1993.

DOS SANTOS, Theotônio. Imperialism and dependency, Ediciones Era, Mexico DF 1978.

GOLDENSTEIN, L. Rethinking dependency. Rio de Janeiro (RJ): Peace and Land, 1994.

MANDELL, E. late capitalism. So Paulo: Nova Cultural, 1985.

MARINI, Ruy Mauro. Dialectic of Dependence. Petrópolis: Voices, 2000.

MARTINS, CE Globalization, dependence and neoliberalism in Latin America. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2011.

TRINDADE, JR, COONEY, P.; OLIVEIRA, WP de. Industrial trajectory and economic development: dilemma of the re-primarization of the Brazilian economy. Review of Radical Political Economics, v. 48, no. 2, 2016. p. 269-286.


[I] The term “Kondratieff cycle” is due to the Russian researcher Nicolai Kondratieff who developed studies on long or secular economic cycles in capitalism, this researcher arrived at an empirical observation of “long waves” around fifty years (see Mandel, 1985 ).

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