“Dialectics of dependency” – 50 years



Considerations on the legacy of Ruy Mauro Marini's book

“Using this analysis to study the concrete social formations of Latin America [to] open up clearer perspectives for the social forces committed to destroying this monstrous formation that is dependent capitalism: this is the theoretical challenge (…) for Latin Marxists. Americans” (Marini).

Ruy Mauro Marini, although little known in Brazil – his own land – still has a lot to tell us about our social structures and the perverse political dynamics that reproduce the economic and social conditions typical of a certain peripheral pattern of capitalism. The most celebrated text by Ruy Mauro Marini, dialectic of dependency,[I] this year, 2023, marks 50 years of publication, something that encourages us, and many other researchers and scholars of political economy and Latin American reality, to revisit it.

The origin of the aforementioned essay was detailed by Ruy Mauro Marini himself when his memorial was presented at the University of Brasília,[ii] after his return from long exile with the end of the military dictatorship of 1964. In the aforementioned memorial Ruy Mauro Marini recalls that the mimeographed edition of Dialectics of dependency appeared at the end of 1972, being an “undeniably original text, having contributed to open a new path for Marxist studies in the region”. The author, always with unshakable humility, was covered in reason, the text built in the glow of social struggles against the puppet regimes that were imposed throughout Latin America, demarcated the time of influence of what we would consider a theoretical and historical classic.[iii]

Ruy Mauro Marini notes that, curiously, the famous text was an essay and did not, at least at that time, have the vocation of publication, but such was the anxiety of answers or, at least, glimpses of how to deal with the problems of our reality, that the text quickly took on a life of its own, with “the Mexican edition, published in 1973” being one of the “rare publications authorized” by the author of that work.

Before analyzing the text of dialectic of dependency it is worth noting two controversies generated around the same and its author, as well as observing that the methodological construction of the article still poses difficulties among Marxist authors, let's see.

The first controversy was registered in the way the work was received and treated in Brazil, not only with the dictatorial harshness, which long ago had elected Ruy Mauro Marini as one of the main enemies of the regime, but also for the cold and, in some cases, ethically compromising part of the left-wing intelligentsia, as was the case of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, noted by Ruy Mauro himself when observing that “a series of misrepresentations and misunderstandings” were developed “around the essay”.

The second refers to the nickname established for Ruy Mauro Marini from then on as “circulationist”, a confusing and technically incorrect adjective, as we will see, and which referred to the method of analysis established in the essay that started “from circulation to production, then returning to circulation”. As will be explained later on, the methodological approach is correct and defines an intimate interaction with the method employed by Marx (2014) in the second book of The capital.

Let it be said that Ruy Mauro Marini had a life story very similar to several communist revolutionary militant theorists, starting with Marx himself, with a long exile that lasted almost twenty years. The militant and academic life of the mineiro starts very early, having in the joint militancy with other big names of the newly built left not linked to the PC (Communist Party),[iv] still in the early 1960s, a small group of young revolutionary socialists formed POLOP (Política Operária), a Marxist organization that marked the new scenario of the Brazilian left and would have a remarkable future, less because of its social influence and more because of the contributions and formulations it made. its formulating staff will have, among them, Ruy Mauro Marini, Theotônio dos Santos and Vânia Bambirra.

It will be, however, in his life as an exile that Ruy Mauro Marini will build the first insights definers of his main work. It is worth noting that the “Dependency Theory” was established with a theoretical approach, largely Marxist, with an original interpretation of Latin American capitalist societies, which emerged in the 1960s, at a time when the ideological perspective of a certain national -developmentalism in Latin America, especially in Brazil, had been frustrated, with the debate on overcoming and criticizing ECLAC's structuralist theses of industrial development through import substitution, the great stimulus for the initial work and research of a new generation of social scientists, among them Ruy Mauro Marini.

The theoretical construction of dialectic of dependency will take place in three moments of analytical development made by the author. The essay in its original format takes place in Salvador Allende's Chile, and the author was linked to CESO (Center for Socio-Economic Studies) of the University of Chile and politically acted very close to the MIR (Revolutionary Izquierda Movement), a left-wing group that did not participate directly in the Popular Unity government, but sought to collaborate with the construction of movements that would advance the program of social reforms, up to the possibility of a revolutionary rupture.

The repercussion of the text, as the author declares, was immediate, whether due to the positive reception or the criticism, mainly from Brazilian authors. The second "gait"Of dialectic of dependency it was also due to the aforementioned criticisms made to the first version and which will come to light in the Mexican edition accompanied by an afterword entitled “Around the Dialéctica de la Dependencia”, with several elements clarified and developed by the author. Finally, already in his third exile, again in Mexico, Ruy Mauro Marini conceived a dissertation with a view to obtaining the position of full professor at the National School of Economics (ENE) in 1977, resulting in the text “Extraordinary plus-value and capital accumulation”, considered by him as an indispensable complement to Dialectics of dependency.

This debate becomes fundamental at a time when social conditions are worsening and new changes are being imposed on the development pattern of Brazilian society and within the framework of the international division of labor, at a new level of weaknesses, restrictions and challenges, even after the recent electoral process and the election of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

In general terms, the main theoretical bases of the Theory of dependency are organized from three elements: first, the perception that the conditions of capitalist development do not establish any logic of convergence, but are based on structural mechanisms of inequality, something expressed in the famous formula of “unequal development”, as classically envisaged by authors such as Trotsky and Bukharin. Ruy Mauro Marini notes that "Latin America's participation in the world market will contribute to the axis of accumulation in the industrial economy shifting from the production of absolute surplus value to that of relative surplus value", but this interaction supporting the "change qualitative in the central countries, will fundamentally take place based on a greater exploitation of the” Latin American worker.

Two observations that make Ruy Mauro Marini's perception something so current: (i) the decline in the rate of profit in the central economies is contradicted by the international trade of natural resources supplied by the Latin American periphery, especially Brazil. Thus, the mass of cereals exported by agribusiness makes it possible to make food cheaper (various animal proteins) that impact on the wage rate, enabling effective gains in relative surplus value and an increase in the rate of exploitation, even in the economies of the capitalist center; (ii) on the other hand, the supply of strategic and necessary minerals for accumulation, such as iron, aluminum and others, makes it possible to reduce the costs of the so-called constant capital, also acting favorably to the capital gains of the main economies, including the Chinese one.

The contradictions formed in capitalism as a world-economy, whose central economies form the coordination of international capitalist relations and a wide periphery, whose role is to guarantee the continuous transfer of value, in different forms: profit remittances, dividends, interest or in the classic ECLAC's condition of “unequal terms of exchange”. Regarding this aspect, Ruy Mauro Marini explains that the capitalists of “disadvantaged nations due to unequal exchange do not seek so much to correct the imbalance between prices and the value of their exported goods (...), but seek to compensate (...) through the resource of greater exploitation of the worker”.

Thus, the deterioration of the terms of trade between economies that carry out reproductive stages in the complementary and subordinate world-economy, as in the case of the Brazilian economy, has a double effect: transfer of value to central economies and; increase in the rate of exploitation in peripheral economies. Thus, the problem posed by unequal exchange is not resolved by impeding it “at the level of market relations” but rather “at the level of internal production”, establishing greater exploitation of the workforce.

The “overexploitation of the workforce”, characteristic of peripheral societies, expressed in the condition that the wage rate is lower than the value of the workforce, manifests itself through three joint mechanisms identified by Marini: “the intensification of work, the extension of the working day and the expropriation of part of the work needed by the worker to replenish his workforce”. The controversy generated around this category was, to a large extent, the result of the low understanding of Marxism when the article was published, even though it continues to raise criticism today.

The thesis developed by Ruy Mauro Marini is completely based on the meticulous reading that he made of Chapters 10 and 23 of Book I of The capital, being, as observed by Osório (2018),[v] that there is an ongoing tension in the interpretation of Marx (2013)[vi] on the equivalence between the wage rate and the value of the labor force. Thus, the contractual wage norms that ensure value equivalence are constantly contradicted by three identified central factors: the length of working hours, the intensification of worker exploitation and various mechanisms for lowering the wage rate, either by expanding the relative overpopulation , or by the political power of institutional rules, such as the recent labor laws (LC 13.467/17) that act to facilitate the regulation of overexploitation.[vii]

Thus, the overexploitation of the workforce in peripheral capitalism works as a compensation mechanism, going against the equivalence relation between wages and the value of the workforce at the local level in order to satisfy the double condition of net transfer of wealth to central capitalism and guarantee the profitability of peripheral capital. As a result, extortionate consumption of the labor force commodity is observed, as a condition for the survival and expansion of these peripheral capitals in the global unequal competition, especially considering the different levels of labor productivity and technological monopoly.

One of the direct consequences of this form of exploitation in which the reproduction of workers takes place in precarious conditions, subjecting workers to enormous physical and moral degradation. Some aspects developed by studies carried out by several authors are elements that are part of this form of exploitation, two of which we can quickly mention: the average housing conditions of the Brazilian population, for example, are an expression of this degradation, even establishing a form of “self-construction” that take part of the worker's rest time.[viii]

In the same way, the regressive tax regime that advances on a portion of the average salary of the working population, establishing a public fund based on wage taxation, whether via indirect taxation or even via a regressive income tax, is thus transferred via the State part of the wage income for capitalists via payment of interest on the state debt and subsidies of various types, in addition to the non-collection of taxes on profits, dividends and exemption from export taxation.[ix]

The cycle of capital in peripheral economies presents different dynamics and consistency from central capitalism. The theory of the capital cycle presented by Marx (2014) in Book II of The capital,[X] established that capitalist expansion develops in three continuous and diversified causal links: the cycle of money capital (circulation), the productive cycle (production) and the cycle of commodity capital (circulation). The capital cycle in peripheral economies takes place under “profound contradiction”, even after the process of partial industrialization, as in the Brazilian case.

Ruy Mauro Marini (2012) observes that the “capital cycle in the dependent economy is characterized by a set of particularities (…) the role of foreign capital in the first phase of circulation (…) surplus value transfers (…) overexploitation of labor ”, this set of characteristics ends up producing a dissociating effect between “the structure of production and the consumption needs of the masses”. Aspects derived from this characteristic of the capital cycle, refer to the continuous limitation of average wage growth in the Brazilian economy, imposing restrictions both via non-growth of the government minimum wage and permanent devaluations through the inflationary process.

Latin America has historically conformed to the peripheral spatial region of proximity to the US, and, as a result, the sovereignty of Latin American national states is permanently eroded and weakened, with four central points reflected in the work of Ruy Mauro Marini and with its own strength in dialectic of dependency: (i) the capacity for technological mastery and control over the main segments of the technical reproduction of capital, considering that the limiting factors, both in the control of capital flows, guaranteeing forms of “technological absorption” under effective control, including via “ exporting obsolete equipment and machinery to the periphery”; alongside the effective net transfer of values, much higher than the volume of inflows, making the Latin American economies, and Brazil in particular, a formidable exporter of surplus value, a central condition both for maintaining the stability of average capital growth rules in core economies, as well as acting on profit rate growth factors[xi].

(ii) Control over the international financial circuit, and how management conditions are established over its credit system and monetary base, components of financial sovereignty. (iii) The geopolitical control of the territory and the capacity for extraterritorial intervention. (iv) Finally, more central and of great consequence, the factors of political control and social order that prohibit the exercise of citizenship as a power of organization and democratic interaction in State decisions.

Considering the present Brazilian case, the sense of maintenance of dependence and restriction of national sovereignty is very visible: in technological terms, we have a structural dependence on the USA; in the financial case, the Brazilian credit system constitutes a screen of the US system, reinforcing the logic of systemic control via the loss of the State's management capacity with several liberal policies such as the autonomy of the Central Bank and extreme fiscal austerity and financialization of the State .[xii]

Finally, the logic of overexploitation of work imposes precarious living conditions for most of the Brazilian population. While it is true that Latin American countries, until the 1960s, were able to take advantage of the conditions of incorporation of monopoly capital to develop their base industry and produce concentric cycles of expansion of the internal market, the historical limits of this modality of development, very quickly imposed a new reversal in the international division of labor, deepening, in recent years, not only in Brazil, but throughout Latin America, an economic pattern based on primary-export productive specialization, visible in agribusiness and export mining.

It is worth noting that Ruy Mauro Marini, reflecting on long-term processes, identified the structural changes typical of dependent societies and formulated particular “laws” of dependent capitalism. The current political and economic crises bring back many of these questions and concerns, whether in national terms or in terms of Latin American dilemmas. The critical rescue of dependency theory is fundamental for understanding the subordinate insertion that dependent economies, and specifically Latin American ones, present in the current phase of contemporary capitalism. The thought of one of the main dependency theorists remains alive and articulated in the face of the vigorous changes that capitalism has undergone in recent decades and, particularly, in the face of the contradictions of Latin American societies and their structural dependence on hegemonic nations.

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Agenda for debates and theoretical challenges: the trajectory of dependency and the limits of Brazilian peripheral capitalism and its regional constraints (paka armadillo).


Daniel Aarão Reis Filho and Jair Ferreira de Sá. pictures of the revolution. São Paulo: Marco Zero, 1985.

EVILASIO Salvador. The distribution of the tax burden: who pays the bill? In: João Sicsú (org.). Collection (where does it come from?) and public spending (where do they go?). Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2007.

Francisco Eduardo Cunha and José Raimundo Trindade. Soybean agribusiness in the cerrado of Piauí and (over) exploitation of the rural workforce: an empirical analysis. Magazine of Regional Urban and Labor Economy, flight. 11, no. 2 (2022). pp. 116-140.

Italo Calvino. Why read the classics🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2004.

Jacob Gorender. Dark Combat. So Paulo: Attica, 1987.

Jaime Osorio. On overexploitation and dependent capitalism. In: Caderno CRH: magazine of the Center for Studies and Research in Humanities – CRH/UFBA. n.1 (1987) – Salvador, UFBA, 2018.

John Smith. Imperialism in the twenty-first century : globalization, super-exploitation, and capitalism's final crisis. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016.

Jose Raimundo Trinidad. Agenda of debates and theoretical challenges: the trajectory of dependency and the limits of Brazilian peripheral capitalism and its regional constraints. Bethlehem: Paka-Tatu, 2020.

Jose Raimundo Trinidad. Peripheral expansion and social exclusion in the urban space of Belém. Magazine of the Socioeconomic Center, v. 4, n.1/2, Jan/Dec 1997.

Karl Marx. Capital: critique of political economy. Book I [1867]. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2013.

Karl Marx. Capital: critique of political economy. Book II [1885]. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2014.

Lucio Kowarick. the urban dispossession. Sao Paulo Brasiliense, 1983.

Mathias Seibel Luce. Marxist dependency theory: a historical view. São Paulo: Popular Expression, 2018.

Ruy Mauro Marini. Dialectic of Dependence (1973). SADER, Emir (orgs). Dialectic of Dependency an anthology of the work of Rui Mauro Marini. Rio de Janeiro: Voices, 2000.

Ruy Mauro Marini. The capital cycle in the dependent economy. In: Ferreira, Carla et al. (eds.). Capital reproduction pattern: contribution of the Marxist dependency theory. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2012.

Ruy Mauro Marini: life and work. Roberta Traspadini and João Pedro Stedile (eds.). Sao Paulo: Popular Expression, 2005.


[I] MARINI, Ruy Mauro. Dialectics of Dependence (1973). SADER, Emir (orgs). Dialética da Dependência an anthology of the work of Rui Mauro Marini. Rio de Janeiro: Voices, 2000.

[ii] Marini presents the memorial as an academic requirement of the University of Brasilia, published in Ruy Mauro Marini: life and work. Roberta Traspadini and João Pedro Stedile (eds.). São Paulo: Popular Expression, 2005.

[iii] On what a Classic would be and its necessary reading, see Italo Calvino. Why read the classics. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2004.

[iv] For a thorough treatment of the history of the Brazilian left, see: Daniel Aarão Reis Filho and Jair Ferreira de Sá. Images of the Revolution. São Paulo: Marco Zero, 1985; and Jacob Gorender. Combat in Darkness. So Paulo: Attica, 1987.

[v] OSORIO, J. On overexploitation and dependent capitalism. In: Caderno CRH: journal of the Center for Studies and Research in Humanities – CRH/UFBA. n.1 (1987) – Salvador, UFBA, 2018.

[vi] MARX, K. Capital: a critique of political economy. Book I [1867]. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2013.

[vii] For a detailed reading of the relationship between labor legislation and overexploitation, see Cunha and Trindade (2022).

[viii] Kowarick (1983) visualizes the spatial distribution of the Brazilian population within the chaotic growth of cities as a reflection of socioeconomic conditions, mirroring in space the double logic of social segregation and overexploitation of the workforce, see also Trindade (1997).

[ix] Data from the IBGE's POF (Family Budget Survey) are representative of this regressive condition of the Brazilian dependent tax regimes. The POF “from 1996 reveals that, in Brazil, those who earn up to two minimum wages spend 26% of their income on the payment of indirect taxes (…) [while] (…) families with incomes above thirty minimum wages correspond only 7%”. In the 2002/2003 POF, however, this regression worsened, so that families that survive on an income of up to two minimum wages have a tax burden of 46%, and those with high incomes (above 30 minimum wages) “spend 16% of their income in indirect taxes”, see Evilásio Salvador (2007).

[X] MARX, K. Capital: a critique of political economy. Book II [1885]. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2014.

[xi] For a vigorous update of Marini's theses, check out: LUCE (2018); and for present analysis of the power relations of US imperialism: SMITH (2016).

[xii] Regarding the public debt system, it is observed that it basically works as a means of transferring national wealth to its external or international controllers, something around 5% of annual GDP, see Trindade (2022).

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