Crises and hegemonies — history in process

Cedric Morris, Landscape of Shame, c.1960


Commentary on the recently released book by Leonardo Severo

The last 20 years have been particularly intense for those researchers, analysts, activists and those curious about international geopolitics. The form of exercising an imperialist hegemony with almost no competitors, which characterized the international scenario from the 1980s until the beginning of the 2000s – vocalized by the military, cultural, monetary and political power of the USA – gave way to increasingly fierce disputes. , in the interstate system.

The analysis of pressing issues – hot, I would say – that occupy the news, researchers and social organizations, suffers from partiality or a short-termist sense when they are not accompanied by reflections that combine the cyclical elements with the structural ones.

Current geopolitical conflicts, whether those expressed in an open bellicose way or those that use commercial war techniques, are phenomenal expressions of socio-political dynamics based on deeper processes, related to the way in which, very briefly, competitive capitalism transmuted into imperialist capitalism, as soon as capitalism reached its “maturity”, determined by the achievement of one of its trend laws, which is that of concentration and centralization of capital, resulting in the tendency towards oligopoly/monopoly, explaining a economic form in which “free competition” is replaced by a new form of “competition”, restricted to a few large economic groups linked to their national states of origin.

In this sense, Leonardo Severo's book places us at this point. At the same time that it deals with contemporary issues, which concern not only the forms of State; to cycles of hegemony; current geopolitical disputes and even projects challenges for overcoming capitalism, it also calls us to reflect on the socio-historical conditions in which this mode of production – which we will, hopefully, overcome together – was formed, paying attention to the historical character and, therefore, transitional of capitalism, as well as the structures that its development created: the developed ones, located in the center and the underdeveloped and dependent ones, located in the periphery.

To this end, Leonardo Severo organizes a book in which in the first two chapters the theoretical debate requires passage. From a Marxist perspective, contrasted with a set of other readings, the historical elements that capitalism cannot do without in order to consolidate itself as such are presented, with special emphasis on the role that Latin America and other peripheral regions played in “ so-called primitive accumulation of capital”, in the beautiful and eternal expression of Karl Marx.

After all, capitalism is not a mode of production that arises from spontaneous generation, nor is it consolidated because it has the characteristics that best relate to what is “natural” for human beings, which is the “propensity to exchange”, as proclaimed by theorists of classical political economy and political liberalism, in the task of legitimizing the superiority of capital society under previous forms of social organization.

Leonardo Severo quickly points out that what distinguishes and allows us to speak, properly speaking, about capitalism, is the end of voluntary servitude and other forms of extra-economic coercion and the constitution of a new market, namely: the market where trade is free form, the purchase and sale of labor power. Therefore, there is only capitalism when there is expropriation of workers from their means of production and the obligation that there be a space – preferably minimally regulated – in which the commodity of labor power can be freely negotiated, in a semblance of an exchange of equivalents, where exchanges working time for a monetary wage, made possible by the private existence of the means of production.

Further on, Leonardo Severo discusses the transformations that this mode of production has undergone over time, emphasizing – above all – the crises; the exchanges of hegemony; the more or less competitive or more or less interventionist phases in relation to the role of the State and, last but not least, the most substantial transformation that imperialism went through (which also includes its phases) which was the transformation of capitalism atomized and free competition in monopolistic and imperialist capitalism.

The visualization of the particularities of this phenomenon, anticipated by Marx, was what allowed Lenin to point out, accurately, that imperialism was not just a government policy, as proclaimed by John A. Hobson or even by Marxists such as Rudolf Hilferding, but a phase, the phase proper to monopoly capitalism, with all its particularities so well pointed out by the Russian activist, such as the sharing of the world; the change to a commercial policy of capital exports; the creation of a new political agent, financial capital, which would bring together banking capital with industrial capital with hegemony of the former, among other aspects.

In the second part, although still using themes of an overly theoretical nature, Leonardo Severo deals with “updates”, bringing to the fore authors who sought to interpret and reinterpret the other dialectical face of imperialism, which is dependence. To do so, Leonardo resorts to the original and Latin American Marxist Dependency Theory (TMD).

Unlike the simplistic perception that development and underdevelopment come from a common substance, the Marxist Theory of Dependence analyzes both as constitutive of the same dialectical unity. Thus, they are antagonistic, because they are different situations, but they are complementary because they give rise to the same logic of accumulation. In other words, the process of unfolding the capitalist mode of production on a global scale gives rise to two types of economies that develop at different rates and intensities.

From a perspective of totality, and from an apprehension of the movement of reality based on dialectics, underdevelopment not only originates, but is a necessary and constitutive part of the expansion of world capitalism, and cannot – in this way – be overcome within the framework of this mode of production. Capitalism “sui genesis” which Ruy Mauro Marini referred to,[I] it does not respond to a “less” capitalist capitalism or one that is not fully developed as such. Dependent capitalism does not represent a “lack” of capitalism. Dependence is a properly capitalist form of international subordination, unlike colonial domination. In other words, it is a particular type, a structure specific to the capitalist mode of production and reproduction.

Of the various contributions of the Marxist Dependency Theory to characterize dependency, I would like – in this preface – to focus on “Transfer of value”, as a structural tendency that is reflected at different levels of social life. To give just one contemporary example: one of the main constraints of dependent economies, which currently hits Argentina hard, are deficits in the balance of payments, caused by the tendency to transfer more resources abroad than to absorb internally.

This phenomenon is intensified, paradoxically, by solutions that seek to overcome it, such as productive Foreign Direct Investment. However, the payment of royalties and profit remittances, in the medium and long term, are deteriorating the financial side of national accounts, generating the need for other forms of attracting speculative and short-term capital, especially via appreciated interest rates for balancing the balance of payments and imposing the blackmail of “capital flight” on any attempt at an anti-market economic policy.

From a more theoretical point of view and at a higher degree of abstraction within Marxist theory, the “transfer of value” is a category intertwined in the developments of Marx's Theory of Value and here I will dedicate myself to the first form that Ruy Mauro Marini points out of value transfer, which is what occurs in the dynamics of exchanges in the international market between different economic structures (developed and underdeveloped) and is characterized by the fact that part of the added value produced by dependent economies is not appropriated by them, but is transferred to central economies, becoming part of the dynamics of capital accumulation in the center, to the detriment of the periphery.

In a rigorous methodological effort based on the analysis of competition undertaken by Marx in book III of The capital, Ruy Mauro Marini identifies that the transfer of value follows the differences in labor productivity employed by different structures of organic composition of capital between central and dependent countries. Thus, considering the social process of commodity production and based on the theory of value, each of the capitals has distinct individual values ​​and they are smaller the greater the productivity and organic composition of the capital.

As goods obey the law of value, but are sold at market value - capitals with above-average productivity sell their goods at market value, deviating from values ​​above the production price, and thus appropriate a quantum of added value beyond that which they themselves produced. Due to the type of colonization and the obstacles to the previous development of Latin American countries, dependent economies have capital that operates with below-average productivity, which leads them to produce more value than they can appropriate. This productivity gap is a first mechanism for transferring surplus value produced in dependent countries and appropriated by the center.

Finally, the author opts for a chapter in which he debates hegemony, the State and forms of transition, in addition to pointing out – albeit in a more scattered manner – “hot” elements of the international situation. On this topic I would like to make a final comment, in agreement with what the author has already pointed out, just to reaffirm this point.

It can be asserted, based on the analysis of Brazilian society, that the period of interregnum between the years 1914 and 1980 – with all its specificities – gave Brazilians a greater range of maneuver for the more autonomous exercise of their level decisions. political and economic. What explains this particular period was the coexistence of a crisis and subsequent dispute for hegemony in the interstate system, sealed in events such as the occurrence of two major world wars; a dramatic financial crisis followed by a strong depression of capitalism and an international agreement that disciplined the international monetary system as well as international capital flows.

But not only that. The rivalry between two models of society, represented by the two greatest powers – the USSR and the USA – imposed certain brakes on the truest face of capitalism, as well as mobilizing a set of revolts and revolutions through the lighthouse that represented the rearguard of the experiences of real socialism, with all its historical limits.

From the 1980s onwards, that “historical window” closed, as well as the margins for exercising the sovereignty of peripheral peoples, with the end of the USSR; the interest rate scam by the North American central bank; the proportion that acquired financial capital and the financialization of economies and the exercise of North American imperialism, now without rivals.

For the periphery, such events, combined with the transformation of capitalism into neoliberal capitalism, limited the range of maneuver of our international autonomy, and we plunged into agreements, tacit or not, in which the presence of the State as an agent of national development was resolved, restricting the instruments of action in the economic field, with the criminalization of a set of policies that today's developed nations made use of in their development path.

The question that Leonardo Severo's work suggests to us, at the dawn of our times, shaken by a successive set of crises and struggles for the conquest/contest of hegemony, is: with the existence of a new field in the international system, led by China and Russia , in open conflict with the USA, going through its contestation in the political, economic, technological, monetary and even military fields with the attempt to curb the expansion of NATO, leaves us with better conditions for advancement in the political struggle towards opening margins of maneuver lost in the last period?

It is possible that instruments such as the BRICS; attempts to build common currencies; commercial alliances; Will technological transfers and closer political relations pave the way for the contestation and subsequent weakening of North American imperialism and, with it, the long-awaited possibility of asserting the autonomy of the peoples?

These and other questions can and should be speculated and theorized by researchers, intellectuals and political organizations, even though history is an open stage and its real developments do not fit into a priori predictions. Let's take what we can! Theoretical weapons and political struggle.

*Juliane Furno is an economics professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). Author, among other books, of Imperialism: An Economic Introduction (DaVinci Publisher). []


Leonardo Severo. Crises and hegemonies: history in process. São Paulo, Editora Dialética, 2024. []


[I] All references here to Ruy Mauro Marini were taken from the book dialectic of dependency.

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