Brazil 200 years of (in)dependence

Lubaina Himid, Carpet, 1992


Presentation of the organizers to the newly launched book

For more than three centuries, Brazil was a colony of Portugal, perfectly integrated with the interests of world capitalism in the making. So dependence is an unequivocal fact of our history. In 1822 the country formally became “independent”, but in fact remained dependent, thanks to the permanence of colonial structures, basically the agro-export and slave economy. But dependence, despite being a fact, was not in the feelings and views of the people of that time. On the contrary, “independence” was a powerful and widespread feeling, even if it appeared in different forms in the hearts and minds of these men.

This is a subject that has already been extensively studied. But to get an idea of ​​the problem, just look at what Emília Viotti da Costa called “the social bases of the revolution”[I] of independence. Because it brought together people from very different social backgrounds, with equally different aspirations: on the one hand, the agrarian elite, the great victors, after all, only wanted greater freedom of trade, but without giving up slavery and agro-export; on the other hand, blacks and mestizos dreamed of a more egalitarian and just society, without the privileges that structured social relations.

Furthermore, the different social groups – masters, slaves and poor and free men –, as well as the different regions that made up the country, were far from composing a nation or a national feeling that could give meaning to independence. There were so many social and regional divisions, so much inequality, that it was impossible to imagine any national unity. That's why several regions continued to fight for separate independence until practically the end of the regency period. After all, this was the path followed by the former Spanish colonies.

One hundred years later, in 1922, Brazil was transformed in many ways. It abolished slavery, proclaimed a republic, swelled its urban population, connected some of its largest cities, especially port cities, with the interior of the country, increased mercantile and factory work and even, in these cities, created a veneer of modern civilization, with almost everything that Europeans had: theaters, cafes, banks, colleges, etc.

But it hasn't changed in essence. The basis of the national economy still continued to be, with coffee, although now sharing a certain space with industry, agrarian, exporting and based on forms of extreme exploitation of work. So that social inequalities, low wages, poverty, hunger and the precariousness of life still continued to be marks of distinction of the national mass. And if we now had something that could be called a middle class, part of it still gravitated around these rural elites in the country, transforming their main brand, independence, autonomy, into little more than a fiction.

In spite of this, many intellectuals already began, by this time, to feel the dependence, albeit vaguely. Manoel Bomfim was one of those who, around the time of the celebrations of the centenary of our discovery, raised his voice against the stereotypes of this dependency: “When European publicists consider us backward countries, they are right; but it is not this judgment that should hurt us, but the interpretation that they give to this delay, and mainly the conclusions that they draw from it, and with which they hurt us”.[ii]

In the 1920s, this feeling revived. If, on the one hand, we had the Modern Art Week, which sought to “modernize” Brazil, despite the barbarism that devastated the countryside and the city, we had the regionalist movement, which went in the opposite direction, seeking to emphasize the “national”, in opposition to everything that seemed foreign, in this impossible operation, as Roberto Schwarz reminded us.[iii] In the midst of this, many people still celebrated independence in 1922.

A few years later, that vague feeling of dependence began to gain clearer contours and to transform itself into an awareness of dependence, and this is unequivocally due to the introduction of Marxism in Brazil, which, despite having started before 1922, had the foundation of the Brazilian Communist Party a decisive milestone. There was open talk at the time of “dependence” and the imperialism of the most advanced nations. Authors such as Octávio Brandão, Luiz Carlos Prestes, Mário Pedrosa, Astrojildo Pereira, Caio Prado Jr., among others.

Until finally this dependency passed from a fact, a feeling and a critical conscience to a theory. It departed from a critique of Rostow's then well-accepted "development theory" among many Latin American intellectuals, especially economists, according to which underdevelopment was a step towards development, all that was needed was to remove the obstacles that presented themselves in your path. But despite these “modernization” efforts and the injections of foreign capital, the fact is that these countries did not take off and continued, as before, to skate behind schedule.

Dependency theorists then sought to understand the limitations of development in a world market dominated by huge economic groups and “powerful imperialist forces”. They depart from Caio Prado Junior's criticisms of the concept of Latin American feudalism until they arrive at the debate on the expansion of multinational companies into the industrial sector. Authors such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Enzo Faleto, Rui Mauro Marini, Vânia Bambirra, Theotonio dos Santos, among others.

But in the name of a “theory of subjectivity in underdevelopment” he also set out to criticize the dependency theory. And consciousness, in a way, has regressed, in the name of yet another European fad. And the curious thing is that this fashion came in the name of the fight against the colonization of the underdeveloped.

Two hundred years later, where are we? It seems that despite the fact, feeling, consciousness and theory, although they all remain, now together and mixed, they have not been able to generalize. Among some intellectuals they have even regressed to a form of postmodern theory which purports, in Hegelian fashion, to overcome fact through ideas. It became fashionable in Brazil to talk about “decoloniality”. Among the people, the great mass, there still remains a mixture of wounded national pride and a feeling of backwardness, which no one at this point is capable of ignoring. And this has been intensely exploited by a reactionary right, which sees itself as a kind of savior of the homeland, but which is in fact sinking the country even more into dependence and backwardness.


This book was written by authors who are very different in their academic backgrounds and careers, but imbued with the same purpose: to talk about the fact of dependence at a time when independence should be celebrated. Therefore, it intends to be, simultaneously, the three things mentioned above, that is, the expression of a feeling, of a critical conscience, but also of a certain “theory of dependency”. For despite the postmodern fashion, and in spite of it, dependence still continues, in fact, to mark our nation.

It is composed of nine chapters that deal with the issue of delay and dependency from different analytical perspectives. It begins with the problem of dependency theory and criticism. Adalmir Leonidio then analyzes the contribution of Caio Prado Junior, one of the most original Brazilian Marxist thinkers, highlighting its relevance, but also its limitations to think about the social problems of contemporary Brazil, which originate in its historical formation, always linked to capitalism world and its dynamics.

Moving from historiography to history, Marcos Cordeiro Pires seeks to reflect on the historical construction of dependence in Brazil and the brief and frustrated attempt to overcome it, between 1930 and 1964, during the delayed industrialization process known as “import substitution”. Such a model was the result of a very particular context, characterized by the world wars interspersed by the economic depression, which followed from 1914 to 1945, which created adequate conditions for the industrialization model through the substitution of imports. This model succeeded in implanting a diversified industrial park, but failed to create bases for self-sustained development.

During this period, state action had a certain degree of autonomy that contributed to the national accumulation of capital, to the expansion of the consumer market and to the increase in social complexity, such as the creation of a new industrial bourgeoisie, a new middle class. and a large urban working class. However, these new social sectors, which would be the bases of substitutive industrialization, were unable to structure a lasting social hegemony, since the entry of multinational companies, throughout the 1950s, undermined the bases of support of the model when they associated with groups local private sector and sectors of the state bureaucracy. The State, which until then prioritized companies with national capital, became one of the gears of the internationalizing project, the so-called associated and dependent model.

Next, Everaldo de Oliveira Andrade reflects on the role of public universities in building a sovereign nation. According to the author, after two centuries of the distant September of 1822, an economic and civilizing leap necessary to effectively emancipate the Brazilian nation highlights the requirement and the need to think about a true refoundation and reproclamation of an independent, sovereign, popular, democratic and independent Brazil. socialist. This involves at least two combined movements: political and democratic (a true constituent assembly, instruments of mass and direct democracy, self-organization and popular councils with the working people deliberating) and economic, scientific and organizational (intensification of cybernetics, economic planning and breaking with the market as a central organizational parameter).

These two movements, in addition to being combined in time, should necessarily articulate in the regional, national and world spaces, under the risk of autarchic and even technological stagnation of the development of the Brazilian nation, returning to new levels the theoretical elaboration and institutional conditions for planning socialist economy as a strategic alternative to the market economy and its false consensus. Therefore, a first aspect to be discussed in this text is related to a balance of developmental and more recent trajectories, debates and economic projects that have been marking a supposed progressive discourse and agenda. A second aspect to be considered is the leap and emancipatory rupture of the country from the referential framework of the role of science in Brazil, which involves technological and cultural sovereignty for which the place of universities and research centers is strategic.

Antônio Almeida, also dealing with the Brazilian university, shows that a dependency crisis is added to the hegemony, legitimacy and institutional crises pointed out by Boaventura de Sousa Santos. The dependency is multiple, having educational, scientific and technological policies as important elements, in addition to state budget allocations in the case of public universities. The main manifestation of dependence occurs in relation to imperial policies for science and technology. Because it is dependent, the university has also become neoliberal and linked to private companies. A real autonomy of the university would allow it to be a pillar in the emancipation of the Brazilian people.

Sandra Nunes, in turn, thinks of the artistic universe as a builder of critical thinking and a catalyst for a renewed look at Brazilian reality. This chapter, even if it seems to deviate from the others in this book, appears as a kind of manifesto in a political moment in which censorship of works of art has become present. 2022, then, is an important year to emphasize the need to maintain the artistic territory as a space of freedom, since the death of freedom reflects a dependent thought.

In a similar vein, Luiz Carlos Chechia addresses the relationship between politics and culture in the historical formation of Brazil and its contemporary developments. For this, he weaves reflections from the concept of “imagined communities”, formulated by Benedict Anderson. Thus, the aim is to understand continuities and continuities in the popular mentality that contribute to the maintenance of the colonial condition in which we live and what are the possible ways to overcome it.

Leaving the historiographical and cultural universe and moving on to political and institutional issues, André Augusto Salvador Bezerra shows us a Judiciary dependent on international interests, but also the possibilities of its autonomy. Product of popular mobilization, the 1988 Constitution came into force with the promise of democratic construction of a free society, based on an independent national development project. The validity of the constitutional document contrasted with an unequal society that, violated in its rights, found in the Judiciary a possibility to materialize the normative promises in force.

However, a State Power not adapted to the democratic system was discovered, encouraging the debate about the need to reform it. The article intends to examine the way in which the dominant economic system captured the agenda around the adaptation of the Judiciary to democracy to, through Constitutional Amendment nº 45 of 2004, promote reforms that adapted it to the so-called Washington Consensus. It also examines the possibility of overcoming this capture by continuing the reform process that focuses on the adoption of judicial governance that dialogues with society, according to parameters of the set of practices and ideas known as Open Justice. The text is based on the center-periphery theoretical conception that sees Brazil as a peripheral country and devoid of an autonomous development project, a situation that allows understanding the reforms carried out in the judicial system, subordinated to the neoliberal standards imposed by the great western powers to from the end of the XNUMXth century.

Márcio Bustamante, in turn, analyzes, in the eighth chapter, the new forms of resistance and fight against the innovative formats of subordination of work, which start to claim spaces of autonomy and seek to contain the mechanisms of domination. An interesting episode of this phenomenon, in Brazil, was the articulation of a broad front composed of several, and new, sectors of the left aimed at blocking the creation of the so-called ALCA, the Free Trade Area of ​​the Americas. Among these sectors, the autonomist movements stood out, whose values, methods of organization, protest repertoires and proposals differed greatly from the traditional left. The aim of this chapter is to address this current, its peculiarities and projections, as well as to what extent it responded to the reconfigurations of capitalism at the end of the XNUMXth century.

Closing the book, Ciro Bezerra seeks to think about the concept of geography of social dependence, through a bibliographical study, using the method of immanent reading, suitable for this type of study, from Marx, passing through authors such as José Chasin, Mário Duayer and Sergio Lessa. It also seeks to show how this geography has become an event, in different geo-historical realities, since the XNUMXth century. Its outline is the geographic scale of “living spaces”, of sociology on a personal scale. But, regardless of geographic or sociological attributes, these are places where people exist concretely, and establish direct links and concrete social relations, and where dependency is built, but also the possibilities of self-liberation.

In short, one way or another, the authors of this book agree that Brazil's dependence on foreign powers is exaggerated, that our real independence has not yet been achieved. They agree that this dependence is a major cause for many unnecessary sufferings that afflict the Brazilian people. They recognize that emancipatory work is demanding, requiring theoretical robustness, fine knowledge of the past, organizational capacity, political and technological imagination, historical creation.

It also involves building a society for the common Brazilian, one that is more equal and just. Much has already been done, much more needs to be accomplished. We have at our side the deep aspiration for freedom that characterizes human beings and we know that the civilizing process condemns oppression and empires.

*Adalmir Leonídio Professor at the Department of Economics, Administration and Sociology at ESALQ-USP.

*Antonio Ribeiro de Almeida Jr. is a professor at the Department of Economics, Administration and Sociology at ESALQ-USP.

*Everaldo de Oliveira Andrade is a professor at the Department of History at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Bolivia: democracy and revolution. The Commune of La Paz, 1971 (Avenue).



Adalmir Leonidio, Antonio Ribeiro de Almeida Jr. & Everaldo de Oliveira Andrade (eds.). Brazil 200 years of (in)dependence. São Paulo, Hucitec, 2022.



[I] From monarchy to republic. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1995.

[ii] BOMFIM, Manuel. Latin America: evils of origin. Rio de Janeiro: Topbooks, 1993, p. 43-49.

[iii] “National by subtraction”, in: SCHWARZ, Roberto. What time is it? São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1989.

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