The black revolution


Without the black majority, which is the demographic, social, political and cultural majority of the people, a victory against capitalism will never be possible

“It is by the trail that you know the size of the jaguar” (Brazilian popular wisdom).

Social classes should not be perceived as an abstract sociological category. Nothing can make sense when geography and history, therefore, space and time, are ignored. Using the concept of working class, short and thick, is a useful idea, but only at a very high level of abstraction. In each nation the working class has a particular history. In Brazil, the class condition is indivisible from the race condition.

The main peculiar feature of the evolution of capitalism in Portuguese America, then in Brazil, is that it was implemented in an atrocious, inhumane and barbaric way, resorting to slavery as the dominant labor relationship, on a scale unparalleled in the world in the last thousand and five hundred years. .

Brazil remains very different from its Spanish-colonized South American neighbors, for many reasons, however, this is the main one. There was slavery in many other colonies in the Americas. However, no contemporary nation in its history has known black slavery in such a large proportion, and for so long, as Brazil.[I]

Without valuing the historical-social impact of slavery, it is impossible to decipher the specificity of the formation of the bourgeoisie in Brazil. Indigenous and black slavery was dominant in many other former European colonies, such as Cuba, for example. But the capitalists of the 21st century in Brazil are the heirs of a process of domination that, due to its scale, has no parallel and does not allow comparison with any other dominant class in the world.

It is not possible to understand the formation of the Brazilian working class. Capitalism in Brazil, understood as commercial capitalism, was not late. Urbanization and, above all, industrialization were late. Colonization resorted to the brutality of forced labor, but its historical meaning was capitalist.

The ideological roots of the racism that poisons the majority of the middle classes, which are the hard core of the social base that supports class domination, lie entirely in the legacy left by slavery. The myth of Brazilian racial democracy is a dangerous, provocative and insolent narrative, because it is still very powerful. The central importance of the theme of slavery, a pre-capitalist social relationship, for understanding the tasks of the Brazilian revolution cannot be reduced to a historiographical debate, because it has programmatic political consequences.

Three currents debated within Marxism, at least since the middle of the 20th century, the meaning of Iberian colonization. Stalinism defended the thesis that it would have been feudal. Gunder Franck responded by arguing that he would have been directly capitalist.

In 1948, Nahuel Moreno defended in Four Thesis on Spanish and Portuguese colonization in America, a third position. The process would have been more complex, because it was the result of an amalgamation between capitalist interests, slave social relations and feudal forms, therefore, an original historical social formation, a hybrid.

In an interpretation of this historiographical discussion, years later he stated: “Latin American Marxism was educated under the influence of a pseudo-Marxism extracted from the sources of liberal historians. These proclaimed a supposed feudal colonization by Spain and Portugal that had been at the origin of our backwardness in relation to the United States of America. This false colonization scheme was supplanted in some Marxist circles by another as dangerous as the previous one: Latin American colonization was directly capitalist. Gunder Frank is one of the most important representatives of this new current of Marxist interpretation. As George Novack quotes, he categorically states that “capitalism began to penetrate, to form, to completely characterize Latin America (…) already in the 16th century”. Production and discoveries for capitalist objectives; slave or semi-slave relationships; Feudal forms and terminologies (such as Mediterranean capitalism) are the three pillars on which the colonization of America was based…”.[ii]

The colonization of Brazil was motivated by capitalist interests. Long before independence, there already existed a Portuguese-Brazilian ruling class with bourgeois characteristics, feudal dissimulations, although social relations were, anachronistically, pre-capitalist.

Capitalist accumulation therefore preceded the abolition of slavery. There were salaried workers since the times of Portuguese America, but this employment relationship was marginal. Here the bourgeoisie began to form in the 16th century. But the proletariat emerges as a class, even so, embryonically, only in the last of the 19th century, a few centuries later.

As Caio Prado Júnior warned, pioneeringly in the forties: “The situation in Brazil presents itself in a different way, because at the base and origin of our agrarian structure and organization, we do not find, as in Europe, a peasant economy, but rather the same great rural exploitation that has continued since the beginning of Brazilian colonization until today; and adapted to the capitalist system of production through a process still in full development and not entirely completed (especially in what interests the worker most), of replacing slave labor with legally free labor”.[iii]

If we evaluate the national scale, we can only consider a presence of the working class in a few urban centers after the thirties of the 20th century and, more significantly, only after the fifties, when almost half of the population still lived in the rural world.

This asymmetry in the historical-social process of formation of the two most important classes in current Brazilian society strengthened two opposing positions in Marxism, which we can classify, in short, as structuralists and circulationists.

The first and most influential were those who did not admit the possibility of the existence of capitalist colonization since the Portuguese invasion. They insisted for decades on the bizarre defense that feudalism existed in Brazil. Alberto Passos Guimarães and his work Four centuries of latifundia achieved great repercussion.[iv] They argued that a society must be characterized, historically, first and foremost, by dominant production relations. They stated that what characterizes capitalism is wage labor. If wage labor is not dominant, society is not capitalist.

The other position, although opposed by the apex, was equally one-sided. Circulationists stated that colonization had been, summarily, capitalist, disregarding the unavoidable fact that slavery had created deep roots in 350 years of existence. The Revolutionary Marxist-Political Workers' Organization, POLOP, for example, adopted this interpretation to conclude the need for a directly socialist or anti-capitalist program, diminishing the importance of the democratic tasks of the Brazilian revolution.[v]

Jacob Gorender tried to resolve the debate with an imaginative and inspired elaboration, although under strong structuralist influence, suggesting that Brazil knew its own mode of production, colonial slavery.[vi]

Brazil is still a very backward country. It is economically, socially, politically and culturally backward. It is dramatically behind in educational terms when compared to nations at a similar stage of economic development. Late, therefore, across the board. At the same time, paradoxically, it is the largest industrial park in the southern hemisphere of the planet, and one of the ten largest economies, with more than twenty cities or metropolitan regions with one million or more inhabitants, and 85% of the population, economically, active in urban centers.

Brazil has the most powerful bourgeoisie in the world in its semi-periphery. It also has the most powerful proletariat. But Brazil's peculiarity can only be understood if we consider that more than half of this working class is black, mixed race and black, indistinct and, relentlessly, oppressed. The historical-social weight of this condition of race and class is distinct from South Africa, on the one hand, and very different from the USA, but overwhelming.

Being poor black was never the same, for centuries, as being poor white. We are still a long way from that. In Brazil, black people among the bourgeoisie are invisible. In the middle classes, both among small landowners and among those who have achieved high levels of education, they are a tiny minority. A portion of the left remains myopic in the face of this historical tragedy, and disqualifies the struggle of the black movement as being a lever to accelerate access to the middle class. This position is absurd and obtuse. It is not the fight against racism that divides the working class, it is the racism that is manipulated by the ruling class that divides the people. The defense of the black movement on the left is a condition for building the unity of the popular struggle.

Only by using the Marxist resources of the law of unequal and combined development is it possible to address the main Brazilian peculiarities: capitalism used slave labor on an unusual scale. Which brings us to the strategic debate about the program.

In the words of Nahuel Moreno: “This theoretical discussion is not an academic controversy unrelated to politics. The theses of the permanent revolution are not the theses of the mere socialist revolution, but of the combination of the two revolutions, the bourgeois democratic and the socialist. The need for this combination arises inexorably from the socioeconomic structures of our backward countries, which combine different segments, forms, production and class relations. If colonization was from the beginning capitalist, there is no other option than the socialist revolution in Latin America and not a combination and subordination of the bourgeois democratic revolution to the socialist revolution.”[vii]

It is not possible to seriously fight for change in the society we live in without understanding what it is like. From a Marxist perspective, this analysis must identify which social subjects are interested in transformation.

The strength of the Brazilian working class rested and is explained, to a large extent, by its gigantism, concentration and youth. Historically, compared to Argentina, for example, the Brazilian working class is half a century younger. This youth, paradoxically, has also been his weakness until today. Because the current Brazilian working class was formed, for the most part, by displacement to the cities, in a very intense and accelerated process of successive waves of internal migration, of the population descending, mostly, from Afro-Brazilians whose ancestors were slaves.

The Brazilian revolution faces the challenge of being an anti-capitalist social revolution, that is, the expropriation of monopolies, because the working class must be its main social subject. But it will only be able to triumph if it takes as its own the democratic flags of the unfinished tasks left behind by bourgeois impotence.

This democratic revolution has many and varied tasks. It has civilizing tasks, such as the eradication of corruption, the demarcation of indigenous lands, the end of regional inequalities. It has national liberation tasks in the fight against the imperialist order. It has agrarian tasks against large estates. It can only triumph, however, if it is also a black revolution.

Without the majority of them, who are the demographic, social, political and cultural majority of the people, a victory against capitalism will never be possible. Anyone who has not yet understood this has not understood anything.

* Valerio Arcary is a retired professor of history at the IFSP. Author, among other books, of No one said it would be Easy (boitempo). []


[I] The first national census was carried out between 1870/72. The questionnaire was difficult to transcribe and verify. Although it was made in especially precarious conditions, its importance as a source does not deserve to be diminished. Out of a population close to ten million, or more precisely 9.930.478, the slave population was still slightly larger than one and a half million, or, more precisely, 1.510.806, of which 805.170 were men and 705.636 were women. Historical demographic studies are only approximations of magnitude, but it is estimated that it must never have been less than a third of the total until 1850, and may have been close to half, or at least 40% in the 1872th century, at the height of gold exploration. of Minas Gerais. CRITICAL PUBLICATION OF THE GENERAL CENSUS OF THE BRAZILIAN EMPIRE OF XNUMX from the Research Center for Economic and Demographic History – NPHED from UFMG. Available in:…/Relatorio_preliminar_1872_site_nphed.

[ii] Even clearer: “They did not inaugurate a capitalist production system because there was no army of free workers on the market in America. This is how the colonizers, in order to capitalistically exploit America, are forced to resort to non-capitalist relations of production: slavery or semi-slavery of indigenous peoples”. MORENO, Nahuel. Four Thesis on Spanish and Portuguese colonization in America.

[iii] Or even clearer in “The meaning of colonization”: “Let us place ourselves in that Europe before the 20th century. XVI, isolated from the tropics, only indirectly and distantly accessible, and let us imagine it, as it actually was, almost entirely deprived of products that, although today, due to their banality, seem secondary, were then valued as luxury refinements. Give up sugar; that although it was cultivated on a small scale in Sicily, it was an item of great rarity and much demand; even in the trousseaus of queens it came to appear as a precious and highly prized dowry (…) This gives us the measure of what the tropics would represent as an attraction for cold Europe, located so far away from them (…) This is what will stimulate the occupation of the tropics Americans. But bringing this acute interest, the European colonist would not bring with him the willingness to put the energy of his physical work at his service, in this difficult and strange environment. He would come as a leader in the production of products of great commercial value, as an entrepreneur of a profitable business; but only unwillingly as a worker. Others would work for him.” PRADO JÚNIOR, Caio. In Formation of Contemporary Brazil, Brasiliense/Publifolha, 2000, p.29.

[iv] Regarding the interpretation of the hypothesis of feudalism, Alberto Passos Guimarães is representative: “The simple elimination in our History of the feudal essence of the Brazilian landowner system and the consequent assumption that we began our economic life under the sign of capitalist social formation means nothing more. At least, consider it an excrescence, dismiss any change or profound reform of our agrarian structure as superfluous.” GUIMARÃES, Alberto Passos. Four centuries of latifundia. Rio de Janeiro. Paz e Terra, 1968, p. 33.

[v] REIS FILHO, DA & SÁ, JF de. [Org.] images of revolution: political documents of clandestine left-wing organizations from 1961-1971. Rio de Janeiro: Marco Zero, 1985.

[vi] Mário Maestri deservedly rescued this work from oblivion: “In Colonial Slavery, Gorender surpassed the traditional chronological presentation of a historicist nature of Brazil's past to define its colonial slave structure in a categorical-systematic way. In other words, he undertook a “structural” study of that reality, to penetrate “the phenomenal appearances and reveal” its “essential structure”. That is, its internal elements and connections and the movement of its contradictions.” MAESTRI, Mário Colonial Slavery: The Copernican revolution of Jacob Gorender.

[vii] IDEM.

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