The historical forms of dependence

Image_Elyeser Szturm

By José Raimundo Trindade*

The Marxist version of dependency theory (TDM) emerges as a double criticism: on the one hand, the conceptions of the Communist Parties linked to the so-called III international and, on the other hand, the developmental thinking

In the last two decades, dependency theory has been retaken as a contribution to the radical analysis of Latin American formations. This theoretical tradition has a long history integrated into both continental economic and sociological interpretation.

The resumption of this theoretical contribution is related to five strong aspects: firstly, the exhaustion of developmental economic and social models that stimulate bases of greater industrial complexity; second, and closely related to the first, international conditions and, especially, the US economic dynamics have changed profoundly, with oscillating movements and deep crisis in recent decades; third, the scientific-technical revolution enters a new phase, with the imposition of a fourth industrial revolution and a new technological wave; fourth, since the 1990s there has been a predominance of rentier segments in control of the capitalist world system and; fifth, but of greater importance, the emergence of China as a regional power, with strong tendencies to impose itself as a global belligerent power, which partially remakes the geopolitics of the capitalist world economy and establishes new dispute and interaction arrangements, such as the BRICS .

The Marxist version of dependency theory (TDM) appears as a double criticism: on the one hand, the conceptions of the Communist Parties linked to the so-called III International and, on the other hand, developmental thinking. This vision, seeking the identity of dependent capitalism in its specific articulation with the world economy, breaks with a certain methodological reductionism and proposes to reinterpret capitalist development itself, generating new categories of interpretation of the Latin American reality, considering that the development of this region should be understood from a triple point of view: historical colonial and slave relations; the cycle of reproduction of the capital located in these economic formations and the expansion of the capitalist world economy to which they are subordinated and integrated.

The dependency category allowed viewing the internal situation of peripheral countries integrated into the global economy. For the Marxist school, imperialist theory was developed as a study of the expansion process of capitalist centers and their world domination. Establishing the theory of the laws of internal development in the countries that are the vector of this expansion and in those that are governed by them is necessary. This theoretical exercise transcended the conventional development theory that proposed to explain the situation of underdeveloped countries as a result of their slowness or failure to adopt the efficiency standards characteristic of developed countries.

Despite the theory of capitalist development admitting the existence of an external dependency, it is incapable of perceiving development in the way dependency theory understands it, as a consequence and as part of the process of global expansion of capitalism – a necessary and intrinsically linked part of this process[I].

From the analysis of the constitution process of a global economy formed by the interaction of national economies in a world market, it is noted that the relations produced by this market are unequal and combined - unequal because the development of certain parts of the system occurs to the detriment of others. other parties - since trade relations are based on monopoly control of the market, which entails the transfer of surplus generated in dependent countries to dominant countries. Financial relations, from the perspective of central economies, are based on loans and the export of capital, which allows them to receive interest and profits, thus increasing their domestic surplus and strengthening their control over the economies of other countries.

For dependent countries, such relationships represent an export of profits and interest that takes part of the domestically generated surplus and leads to a loss of control over their own productive resources. In this sense, for these disadvantageous relations to be allowed, the dependent countries have to generate large surpluses, not through the creation of higher level technologies, but through the overexploitation of the labor force. This results in limiting the development of its internal market and its technical and cultural capacity, as well as the moral and physical health of the population. This phenomenon is called combined development, since it is the combination of inequalities and the transfer of resources from the most backward and dependent sectors to the most advanced and dominant ones, which explains and accentuates inequality, and transforms it into a necessary and structural element. of the global economy.

Latin American countries relate to capitalist centers through a structure established from an international division of labor, in which the production relations of peripheral nations are transformed or recreated to guarantee the expanded reproduction of dependence[ii]. From the point of view of the center to the periphery, Latin America's participation in the international market contributed to the axis of accumulation of the imperialist countries shifting from the production of absolute surplus value to relative surplus value, so that production to depend much more on the productivity of labor than on the extent of its exploitation. It is worth noting that in the last two decades, the characteristics of dependence have once again intensified the contradictions between a center producing high technology and a periphery, increasingly dispersed, producing natural resources, a pattern of productive reprimarization evidenced in the largest Latin American economies[iii].

From the point of view of the center-periphery relationship, a considerable contradiction is perceived, an “unequal exchange”, since the dependent countries export basic products that do not require the introduction of technology developed internally for the expansion of accumulation, where production is based on mechanisms overexploitation of the labor force or the intensive extraction of natural resources. Thus, the bourgeoisies of dependent economies, faced with the process of unequal exchange, find in the increase in the exploitation of labor a mechanism that allows for an increase in the mass of value available for export. Thus, the “increase in the intensity of work appears, in this perspective, with an increase in surplus value, achieved through greater exploitation of the worker and, not, the increase of his productive capacity”[iv].

The super-exploitation of the worker is an essential feature of production in dependent countries. It can be understood initially by the fact that its production is determined by the low organic composition of capital, while countries with an industrial base have a higher and growing organic composition, therefore, they undergo a process of decline in the rate of profit, leading the latter to to seek mechanisms to increase surplus value as a way to compensate for such a drop.

Given the conditions to subject the worker to such a situation, it can be concluded that the execution of the three fundamental mechanisms of labor exploitation - the increase in work intensity, the increase in working hours and the reduction in worker consumption, beyond its limit normal – have their essential characteristics, “in the fact that the worker is denied the necessary conditions to replace the wear and tear of his work force (...) [which means] that the worker is paid below his value and correspond, then , to an overexploitation of labor”[v].

The conditioning elements of dependence provoke a strong structural outflow of resources, leading to recurrent problems of external strangulation and external restrictions to growth. With that, the only way that capital accumulation internal to the dependent economy has to proceed would be to increase its production of surplus, even if a growing portion of this surplus is appropriated and, therefore, accumulated, externally, the remainder can sustain a dynamic of internal accumulation, albeit restricted and dependent.

Theoretically, the exchange of goods expresses the exchange of equivalents, the value of which is determined by the amount of socially necessary work that the goods incorporate. Thus, in practice, different mechanisms are observed that allow transfers of value bypassing the laws of exchange and that are expressed in the way in which market prices are set.[vi].

It is possible to distinguish four historical forms of dependency[vii] conditioned, firstly, by the very laws of development of the world economy; by the type of dominant economic relationship in the capitalist centers and by the ways in which they expand and, finally, by the types of economic relationships existing in peripheral countries that are incorporated into the situation of dependency within the network of international economic relationships generated by capitalist expansion.

The first of these would be colonial dependence, characterized by the export of in natura products and where commercial and financial capital, associated with the colonialist State, dominated the economic relations of Europeans and colonies. The second would be the financial-industrial dependence that would have been consolidated at the end of the XNUMXth century, and is characterized by the domination of big capital in the hegemonic centers, whose expansion took place through the stimulation of production, in peripheral countries, of raw materials and products agriculture for own consumption. This led to the development, in dependent countries, of an internal productive structure dedicated to the export of such products with rigid productive specialization and monoculture in internal regions.

These constraints imposed by these two initial forms of dependence led to the existence of an internal market restricted by four factors: i) most of the national income was derived from exports; ii) the workforce was subjected to various forms of super-exploitation, which limited its consumption capacity; iii) a portion of these workers' consumption took place through the subsistence economy, which functioned as a complement to their income and as a refuge in periods of economic depression; and iv) a large part of the accumulated surplus was remitted abroad in the form of profits, limiting not only domestic consumption, but possibilities for reinvestment.

Consolidated in the 1950s, the third form of dependence, the technological-industrial one, was based on multinational corporations that began to invest and install industries within the dependent economies aiming at the internal market of these countries. Thus, the possibility of generating new investments depends on the existence of financial resources in foreign currency for the acquisition of machinery and raw materials not produced domestically. This acquisition is limited by: i) resources generated by the export sector; ii) by the patent monopoly.

The consequence of the first limitation is the need to preserve the traditional export sector that generates foreign exchange. The second limitation is due to the fact that the machinery and inputs necessary for the industrial development of peripheral countries are produced in a highly concentrated international market, which raises their prices. There is also the need for royalty payments for the use of patented products and technologies, or, in most cases, the producing industries convert these products into capital and introduce them to dependent economies in the form of their own investments, through the installation of branches. . This makes resource flows highly unfavorable for dependent countries, which explains their scarcity of foreign currency and permanent currency crises.

The fourth form of dependence is established from the 1990s onwards, we can call it the productive specialization dependence pattern. The process of globalization, the debt crisis of the 1980s and the passive Latin American economic dynamics from the 1990s onwards deepened the precarious conditions of autonomous development of their national economies, 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 in External Control Companies and greater dependence on foreign direct investment), technological (low capacity to structure a national innovation system and low technological dynamics) and financial (investments finance, loans and financing). Latin America entered the second decade of the XNUMXst century marked by signs of the resurgence of the classic forms of dependence, but it constitutes a new pattern of reproduction of capital established in almost the entire region centered on the productive specialization of agricultural and mineral commodities and a growing loss of capacity national sovereign[viii].

It is worth emphasizing that all forms of dependency correspond to situations determined not only by the international relations of these countries, but also by their internal structures. Thus, three historical-structural determinants of dependence are identified: the overexploitation of labor, as a central structural factor in the accumulation dynamics of these nations; the recurring empirical factor of loss in the terms of trade, that is, the reduction in the prices of products exported by dependent economies in the face of the prices of industrial products or technological inputs with greater added value imported from central countries, in a true process of transfer of values; finally, the remittance of surpluses from dependent countries to advanced ones, in the form of interest, profits, amortizations, dividends and royalties[ix].

TDM, in the current effort of renewal and theoretical deepening, has posed several challenges, something that can be seen as part of the resumption of Latin American critical thinking in this second decade of the XNUMXst century, among which it is worth highlighting:

          i) Understand the structure and dynamics of the globalization processes that deepen the articulation of the main social formations in the organization of the world economy, as well as the reciprocal influence that they establish among themselves: namely, the central capitalism of US hegemony, the peripheral dependent capitalism and semiperipheral. The interaction and interdependence between these international geopolitical forms can only be treated from the notions of Capitalist World Economy and Capital Reproduction Pattern.

          ii) Develop the Capital Reproduction Pattern (PRC) category as a mediating form between the more general levels of analysis (capitalist mode of production and world system) and the more historical-concrete levels (national economic-social formation and conjuncture) . The PRC “emerged to account for the ways in which capital reproduces itself in specific historical periods and in geoterritorial spaces” of world capitalism, “both in the center and in the semi-periphery and on the periphery” [X]. The PRC considers all the cyclical movements of capital (Money Capital, Productive Capital and Commodity Capital), with full interaction and interdependence between the capital circuits.

          iii) Analyze the changes in political regimes and the relationships between the forms of national States and social classes in Latin America, considering democratic instabilities and the advance of neoliberalism as the predominant economic form in these first two decades of the XNUMXst century.

          iv) The link between this region and the Chinese growth dynamics and its short, medium and long term prospects, as well as the risks of deindustrialization and reprimarization of Latin America's export basket.

          v) The emergence and crisis of popular and democratic governments or political regimes. How these governments gave rise to momentary partial blockades of the neoliberal agenda and, likewise, crises of sovereignty were imposed on almost all Latin American countries in the recent period. One should also consider the new advance of authoritarian and even fascist regimes in the region.

          vi) Finally, analyze the civilizing perspectives raised by the advancement of the world economy in the XNUMXst century: particularly, those of socialism and multipolar planetary civilization in the face of capitalist civilization and its hierarchical reproduction of power and wealth.

 The research agenda set by the new TDM generation is directly related to the impasses in which Latin America and Brazil find themselves in this first quarter of the century. The pursuit of “self-determination and development” will only be realized “by reconciling national and regional realities with the global one”[xi]. In other words: more than before, there is an imperative need to rebuild an autonomous Latin American thought on the international dynamics of capital, not to think in isolationist ways, but to integrate the region in the necessary dynamics of overcoming capitalism.[1]

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad is professor of economics at UFPA.


[I] DOS SANTOS, Theotônio. Lessons from our history. Brazilian Society of Political Economy Magazine, São Paulo, nº 30, p. 19-32, October 2011.

[ii] MARINI, Ruy Mauro. Dialectics of Dependence (A). In: SADER, E. Dialectic of Dependency. 1st edition. Petrópolis: Voices, 2000. (p.109-113)

[iii] OSÓRIO, J. Latin America: the new export pattern of productive specialization: a study of five economies in the region. In: FERREIRA, C.; OSÓRIO, J.; LUCE, M. (Eds.). Capital reproduction patterns: contributions of the Marxist dependency theory. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2012.

[iv] MARINI, Ruy Mauro. Dialectics of Dependence (A). In: SADER, E. Dialectics of Dependence. 1st edition. Petrópolis: Voices, 2000. (p.123-124)

[v] MARINI, Ruy Mauro. Dialectics of Dependence (A). In: SADER, E. Dialectic of Dependency. 1st edition. Petrópolis: Voices, 2000. (p.126).

[vi] MARINI, Ruy Mauro. “On the dialectic of dependency”. In: TRASPADINI, Roberta; STEDILE, Joao Pedro. Ruy Mauro Marini: Life and Work. Sao Paulo: Popular Expression, 2005.

[vii] DOS SANTOS, Theotônio. Lessons from our history. Brazilian Society of Political Economy Magazine, São Paulo, nº 30, p. 19-32, October 2011.

[viii] OSÓRIO, J. Latin America: the new export pattern of productive specialization: a study of five economies in the region. In: FERREIRA, C.; OSÓRIO, J.; LUCE, M. (Orgs.). Capital reproduction patterns: contributions from the Marxist dependency theory. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2012.

[ix] Trindade, José Raimundo (Org.). Agenda for debates and theoretical challenges: the trajectory of dependence and the limits of Brazilian peripheral capitalism and its regional constraints. Belém: Publisher Paka-Tatu, 2020.

[X] OSÓRIO, J. Latin America: the new export pattern of productive specialization: a study of five economies in the region. In: FERREIRA, C.; OSÓRIO, J.; LUCE, M. (Orgs.). Capital reproduction patterns: contributions from the Marxist dependency theory. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2012.

[xi] MARTINS, CE Globalization, dependence and neoliberalism in Latin America. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2011. (p. 352).

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