In search of the concept of mode of production

Image: Tom Fisk


In a discussion of feudalism, capitalism, or any other term, the need to clarify the sense in which the term is used is evident.

With the article “The colonization of the Americas under debate”, published on the website the earth is round, Mário Maestri had the initiative to resume the debate on the nature of modes of production in American history, including Brazilian history, a central theme for understanding the historical formation of our countries, according to the Marxist vision. Mário Maestri opposes the conception, traditional until the 1960s and 1970s, that there had been feudalism in our history, which was still present in Brazilian latifundia.

It also opposes the current that defines our past as capitalist since colonization. It defends the thesis of Ciro Flamarion Santana Cardoso and Jacob Gorender, that colonization took place under colonial slavery, a mode of production distinct from ancient slavery, and which would transition directly to capitalism.

I published a replica, also on the website the earth is round, under the title “The historical formation of Brazil under debate”, agreeing with the criticisms of the capitalist colonization thesis, but defending the traditional thesis and criticizing the duplication of the slave mode. Mário Maestri wrote a rejoinder, called “In search of a lost feudal Brazil”, criticizing my “feudal thesis” and reaffirming the political aspects he sees in the discussion.

In this answer, political and political history questions will be left until the end. The priority in the debate is the issue of modes of production in our history, making it necessary to pay attention to the concept of mode of production.

Before that, a question of terminology. The designation “feudal thesis” is understandable, because the major political issue that arose around the 1950s and 1960s was the abolition of the feudal traits of Brazilian latifundia through agrarian reform. But it is a misleading expression in the historical discussion, because Brazilian Marxists recognized that there was primitive communism, slavery, feudalism and capitalism here. For this reason, I adopt the designation “orthodox thesis”, in the sense of a traditional thesis, but also in the literal sense of a thesis coherent with Marxist thought.

Concept of production modes

In a discussion of feudalism, capitalism, or any other term, the need to clarify the sense in which the term is used is evident. In particular, the concept of feudalism as a mode of production, according to Marx, is distinct from the concept of feudalism for traditional historiography. They are correlated concepts, as both have the European medieval period as their typical reference, but they differ in the aspects that their formulators consider defining.

A comprehensive definition of the concept of mode of production can be inferred from this excerpt from the Preface to Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: “In the social production of their existence, men establish certain relationships, necessary and independent of their will, production relationships that correspond to a certain evolutionary stage of the material productive forces. The totality of these production relations constitutes the economic structure of society, the real basis on which a legal and political edifice is built, and to which certain forms of social consciousness correspond.”

A few lines later, Marx defines, “in broad strokes”, “the Asian, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois regimes” as “progressive epochs” of human development, establishing a typology of the dominant modes of production in the great civilizations, in the chronological order of Old World history.

Em The capital, another formulation emerges, which maintains the relationship between social relations and the technical development of work, but is much more specific: “The specific economic form in which unpaid surplus labor is sucked from direct producers determines the relationship of domination and servitude , just as it arises directly from production itself and, in turn, reacts decisively on it (…) It is always in the direct relationship between the owners of the conditions of production and the direct producers – a relationship in which each form always naturally corresponds to a certain phase of development of working methods, and therefore their social productive force – that we find the most intimate secret, the hidden foundation of all social construction and, consequently, of the political form of relations of sovereignty and dependence, in short, of each specific form of state. This does not prevent that the same economic basis – the same as regards the main conditions – may, due to innumerable distinct empirical circumstances, natural conditions, racial relations, exhibit infinite variations and gradations in its manifestation.”

This expresses the centrality of class relations for any society and, therefore, for the characterization of every mode of production.

In the analysis of each society, one must know, as much as possible, the totality of production relations, as referred to in the formulation of the Preface to the Contribution, paying attention to the centrality of class relations, according to the formulation of The capital. However, to characterize a society's mode of production, considering the totality of production relations would generate an indefinite multiplicity of modes of production, as suggested at the end of this last paragraph cited. Only a specific formulation, such as The capital, limited to fundamental class relations, allows establishing criteria for the generalization of concepts such as slavery, feudalism, capitalism, etc.

The concept of capitalism as a mode of production differs from the colloquial concept, which associates it with the presence of capital, that is, wealth used to generate more wealth. Commercial capital and usurious capital have existed since antiquity, crossing different modes of production. Capitalism, or capitalist mode of production, is defined when mercantile relations dominate production: the owner of labor power sells it freely on the market, without being subject to extra-economic domination.

Marx observes that the very influence of mercantile activity on society depends on its mode of production, citing examples from antiquity, in which mercantile development improved craftsmanship in certain places, but not in others. The circulationist concept of capitalism, essentially the colloquial concept, is nourished by the fact that the great mercantile development of the modern period fertilized the emergence of capitalism in Europe. But this same mercantile development promoted the rejuvenation of slavery, opening up the lands of America to it.

From the concept of mode of production derives the first objection to be made to Jacob Gorender's theorization, for whom “slavery gives rise not to a single, but to two differentiated modes of production: patriarchal slavery, characterized by a predominantly natural economy, and colonial slavery, which is oriented towards the production of marketable goods” (colonial slavery, Attica, p.60). Although Jacob Gorender criticizes circulationism, his “colonial slave mode of production” is defined by the sphere of circulation! Mário Maestri's proposition is somewhat different, but does not escape the same rule: “The great difference between Roman small-mercantile slavery and American colonial slavery was due to the extrapolation of the latter's mercantile orientation”.

Another objection concerns the adjective “colonial”, which refers neither to production nor circulation, but to political status.

in own The capital, Marx describes and elaborates on the nature of direct relations between the owners of the means of production and direct producers, not only under capitalism, but also under pre-capitalist relations, to draw comparisons with capitalism. In my previous article, I took these descriptions and elaborations by Marx as a basis. I don't think I was understood, judging by this criticism by Mário Maestri: “For the defender of a feudal Brazilian past, there would be no difference between Roman and colonial slavery, the second being a revival of the first, a thousand years after crisis as a form of dominant production”.

I didn't write any of that. Especially because slavery in Brazil was not a revival of Roman slavery, but the result of a well-known continuity. In the medieval period, black slavery was practiced among the Arabs. Portugal was born feudal, but admitted the slavery of defeated Moors. Mercantile Portugal was associated with the slave trade in black Africa, and economically occupied the Azores with slavery for sugar production. From there he brought slavery and sugar to Brazil.

Furthermore, Roman slavery was not the same as colonial (and imperial) slavery. For example, the Roman slave was not necessarily black. But neither was Roman patriarchal slavery the same as Roman slavery in the gold mines, or in the galleys, nor were any of these the same as gladiatorial slavery. Likewise, in Brazil, slavery in sugarcane fields, on mills, in gold mines, domestic slavery and that of urban slaves, all differed in certain characteristics.

But, common among all these variations, there was slavery, the social relationship in which the worker is seen and treated as an object, bought and sold. In the previous article I recalled paragraphs in which Marx mentions this characteristic, pointing out that in Rome, the reification of the slave was explicit in the designation of him as instrumentum vocalejust like a hoe was instrumentum mutum and an ox, instrumentum semivocale.

Next, Marx cites statements referring to the southern states of the United States, in which he finds the slave's reaction to his reification in the rough treatment he gives to instruments and animals. Marx, not I, saw the same social relationship in Roman slavery and in North American “colonial” slavery. I saw it in Brazil: all the contemporary authors of slavery in Brazil that I studied in Brazil reflect this reification, as their own idea. Ways to see Brazil's production: Gandavo, Fernão Cardim, Antonil and Varnhagen; other examples fill another four pages of the book.

Regarding the issue of feudalism, Mário Maestri asks me: “What forms of semi-servile relationships such as cambão, sharecropping, partnership, etc. 'they would be slaves for Jacob Gorender' is an entirely new proposition. We are, therefore, waiting for Figueiredo to cite where and when the Bahian Marxist made such a wild statement”.

Before responding to the fair charge, an observation: when speaking of “semi-servile relationships”, Mário Maestri semi-recognizes the correctness of the orthodox thesis. Jacob Gorender does not use the expression “servile”, nor with the prefix “semi”.

In his analysis of pre-capitalist forms of income from land, Marx points out the absolute need for violence to fix slaves, while in feudalism physical coercion starts to be replaced, in part, by ideological coercion. It also highlights that there is a gain in the serf's autonomy when they go from income in labor to income in product, and from there to income in money.

Sharecropping, third and fourth are forms of partnership, in the sense of sharing the products of peasant labor with the landowner, and the cambão is a partition of work, as was the European corvée. In coronelista Brazil, these economic relations were linked to relations of dependence on the landowner, political leader and local police officer, with ideological support from the Church. Focusing on these fundamental relationships between classes, in Brazil these were servile or feudal relationships, without the need for the prefix semi.

What is the meaning of this prefix? It arises when a distinction is made between Brazilian latifundia and fiefdoms. And there are. The shared ownership of the land by the lord and the peasant, which characterized the European emphitheutic amphitheatre, did not formally exist in the Brazilian latifundium, although the product partition relations require the partition, in practice, of the land to be worked by each peasant family. The figure of the farm servant did not exist here, but it was also not the only form of servitude in Europe. The prefix makes sense when adopting a definition of feudalism that is different from that centered on fundamental class relations, whether associated with the historiographical vision or that of a sociologist.

This is explained, for example, by Raymundo Faoro in the power holders, denying our feudalism based on Max Weber. And it was implicit in one of the arguments in the 1960s debate, that “feudalism is not limited to serfdom”. In terms of fundamental class relations, yes. It is usual to recognize that production relations between the owner of means of production and the worker have central relevance from the point of view of political analysis. It is paradoxical that, in a debate that politically questioned the orthodox thesis, objections were raised adopting definitions of feudalism different from this one, whose political relevance is evident.

Another use of the prefix “semi” reflects the presence of circulationist criticism of the orthodox thesis. The servile nature of the work relationship was recognized, but the commercial destination of the product was also recognized, whereas in the medieval world the fief would be an autonomous, isolated production unit. In this version, our farm would be “feudal from the inside, capitalist from the outside”.

Now, the medieval European peasant used iron plows and hoes, which were only obtainable in certain places; the instruments, or at least the iron, had to be purchased from outside the manor, which needed to produce something in return. Medieval cities needed food, which they had to buy from the fiefdoms around them. Also in Brazil, large estates were self-sufficient in many things; A farmer deputy from the First Republic was proud that his farm only contained iron, salt, lead and gunpowder.

But Mário Maestri rightly asks me where Jacob Gorender would have stated that relationships such as “cambão, sharecropping, partnership, etc.” they would be slavers. I should have written that such relationships are framed by Jacob Gorender within colonial slavery.

A recurring technique of this author, when dealing with social relations in which feudalism was traditionally pointed out, is to give it a name that fits it within slavery, such as, for example, the “incomplete forms of slavery”.

After the Tamoios War, the Portuguese Crown was concerned with curbing the enslavement of the Indians to avoid another rebellion. One measure was to encourage the slavery of Africans, another was to entrust the protection of the Indians to the Jesuits, either by controlling the relationship between the colonists and the Indians or by directly administering part of them. Jesuit activity generated conflicts, particularly in São Paulo and Maranhão, in the 17th century. In the Amazon, several religious orders established villages that attracted numerous tribes, and which were economically fruitful, supplying the Portuguese with spices that replaced those imported from the East.

Jesuit villages formed in Paraguay, established in the Paraná river region, were victims of attacks by São Paulo to kidnap their Indians, forcing them to move to the South. The attacks ceased after the battle of Mbororé, in the 1640s, when the Jesuits had obtained the right to arm their Indians, including with cannons. They established self-sufficient villages in agriculture and crafts on the Pampas, with the preservation of common land ownership, a point of ideological friction with the Portuguese and Spanish Crowns. The friction culminated in the expulsion of the Jesuits by Pombal and the military destruction of the southern reductions by the two crowns, in the middle of the XNUMXth century, in the context of establishing the borders between the colonies of Portugal and Spain.

Jacob Gorender summarizes the treatment given to the Indians as follows: “(…) slavery of the Indians (…) oscillated between the complete form and various incomplete forms, resulting from restrictions on the legal legitimization of servile property, obstacles in relation to alienability and transmission by inheritance, compulsory work regimes with salary payment, etc.” (id.ibid. p.486)

Now, the inalienability of the worker, the impossibility of its transmission by sale or inheritance, removes the character of absolute ownership of the worker by the master, which characterizes slavery. The payment of wages also highlights non-slave relations. But this is not about capitalism either: the salary was not monetary, but consisted of a piece of clothing for six months of work, after which the Indian returned to the village.

Jacob Gorender had quoted Friedrich Engels on feudalism, saying that “The serfdom of the early Middle Ages (…) still contained much of slavery” (id.ibid. p.81). But he did not remember this when he saw the phenomenon of labor income, the most backward form of land income.

Not even the voluntary adherence of indigenous people to catechists throughout the country, but particularly in the Rioplatense missions, changes Gorender's conception: the Jesuit reductions “concealed an economic structure with a mercantile purpose, based on an incomplete form of slavery”.(id.ibid. p.486). Note also the reiterated circulationism.

A more original way of framing feudal relations in slavery was applied to the fourth system in northeastern livestock farming, whereby the cowboy received the fourth offspring of each animal.

This system, characteristically of income in product, shaped the penetration of livestock farming along the banks of rivers in the northeastern hinterland. Some cowboys managed, after some time, to accumulate enough heads of cattle to start their own livestock, further into the backlands. Livestock activity attracted indigenous people, just as slavery in the sugarcane fields repelled them. According to Capistrano de Abreu, the flat-headed sertanejo biotype must have come from the Cariris, the only non-Tupi indigenous group significantly incorporated into the genetic makeup of the Brazilian people. This fourth system survived for a long time; I remember a report from Globo network showing him live in the 1980s; I suppose it still exists.

Euclides da Cunha comments on The Sertões that the owner is often absenteeist: he can rely on the loyalty of his cowboys. Euclides da Cunha also observes that, if a stray bull from another herd appears on his land, the cowboy takes care of it as his own, and returns it when claimed, with its offspring, reserving the fourth offspring for himself: one can see what the system from Wednesday it surpassed the work relationship, it became a moral rule. The backcountry region of the Northeast is probably the one in Brazil where medieval folk traditions have been best preserved; Could it be a coincidence?

About this system, says Jacob Gorender: “In the Forms, Marx refers to a cattle sharecropping contract that, due to the lack of capital, was still frequently celebrated in the South of France, called Bestes Ball at Cheptel. The Brazilian fourth system represented an analogous partnership contract, a pre-capitalist relationship and nothing more than that, as, in itself, it does not characterize the specific social type. It is characterized only by a pre-capitalist situation, capable of being classified into different modes of production. In the case of Brazil, it fit into the colonial slave mode of production and survived it.” (id.ibid. P. 424)

Now, the fourth system is not a generic pre-capitalist system, “capable of being framed” in any mode of production, like a joker in playing cards that can be framed as a card of any value. It is a specific pre-capitalist system, whose feudal nature is confirmed by its survival into the 19th century in France, a country with a feudal past, in conditions of the absence of money.

Jacob Gorender had recited, without criticism, Poulantzas' formulation, popularized by Marta Harnecker in The Elementary Concepts of Historical Materialism, that “Social formations can contain a single mode of production” or “several modes of production, of which the dominant one will determine the general character of the social formation”. (id.ibid. p.25). But, as usual, he forgets what he said, and invents this joker mode of production.

For those who employ the concepts of social formation and mode of production, northeastern livestock farming represented a feudal mode of production subordinated to the dominant slavery in Brazil during the Colony and most of the Empire. Within the backcountry region, the dominant mode of production was feudal, but there was secondary slavery: reports of the occupation of Piauí by Domingos Afonso Mafrense, starting from Bahia, speak of slave farming; Later, wealthy farmers in the region acquired black slaves for domestic work, upon returning to the cities from the sale of cattle.

The universality of the Marxist formulation of modes of production

The justification for the existence of a colonial slave mode of production involves questioning the universality of the evolution of societies in the sequence of primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism. This sequence is suggested in Communist Party Manifesto, by Marx and Engels, and was expressly formulated by Engels, followed by Lenin, Stalin and many others. Mário Maestri emphasizes that Marx did not endorse such a view: “Karl Marx never universalized the evolutionary line of Western Europe, as he explicitly stated in his letters to the director of the Otiechestviennie Zapinki, e, in 1877 and to Vera Zassulich, in 1881. In them, 'categorically' declared 'not to attribute a universal character to the line of evolution of Western Europe' that he had proposed (…) Marx had also referred to an 'Asian mode of production', unknown to Europe (…) A theme that he did not develop because he found himself outside its space of concern – the genesis of capitalism and its overcoming.”

Without a doubt, the genesis of capitalism and its overcoming were central themes for the communist, but his “space of concern” was much broader. Marx, like Engels, strove to acquire an understanding of universal historical development. And, although incompletely, Marx developed the theme of the Asian mode of production.

Mário Maestri's sentence stops at the denial of the Engelsian scheme, without recognizing that Marx proposed another scheme. This appears in the Prologue of Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, when he lists, “in broad strokes”, the “Asian, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois” regimes as progressive epochs of human development, providing a typology of the modes of production of great civilizations, in the chronological order of the history of the Old World.

Em The capital, when dealing with pre-capitalist income from land, Marx presents income in work, in product and in money as forms of appropriation of the peasant's work by the landowner, in the feudal mode, and, symmetrically, he presents the same types of income also as forms of appropriation of village labor by eastern states. In the discussion of forms of work through simple cooperation, Marx mentions the construction of monumental works in eastern states. He mentions, elsewhere, the simplicity of the social structure of a traditional village in India.

The most developed and unifying presentation of the concept of the Asian mode of production appears in a draft or sketch, published posthumously under the title Pre-capitalist economic formations (quoted by Jacob Gorender by the abbreviated name Forms). There, Marx observes three possible evolutions from primitive communism, towards slavery, feudalism or the Asian way. Therefore, any idea of ​​a single social evolution for all societies disappears.

The Asian mode of production corresponds to class societies, which are unaware of land ownership, maintain the structure of self-sufficient villages, and in which the State frequently plays a productive role, typically as the organizer of irrigation systems. The Asian way is the only one whose establishment is not necessarily based on violence, like slavery and feudalism. Marx also identifies this type as the Celts in Western Europe and the Incas in the Andes. This assessment is extended to other pre-Columbian civilizations by Roger Bartra in Tribute and possession in Aztec society. (in P. Gebran, Production mode concept, Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1978).

It can be seen that the “Asian” way was not unknown to Europe or America. As a result, the term “Asian” appears to be doubly inadequate, firstly because it is a geographical term, not linked to production, and secondly because it is geographically erroneous. The term “tax” was later suggested. Most important: the sequence of progressive production regimes cited in the Preface to Contribution: Asian, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois, which follows the chronology of the great civilizations in the Old World, also includes the pre-Columbian civilizations of the New World. Therefore, Marx presents a truly universal formulation.

Formations appears to be a re-elaboration of another text also not published during his lifetime, in The German Ideology, by Marx and Engels. In both texts the discussion on pre-capitalist societies is structured around three forms of property: tribal property, community or state property and feudal property, corresponding to primitive communism, slavery and feudalism. At the Formations, tribal ownership is extended to the Eastern States. This elaboration and re-elaboration of general human development clearly shows the breadth of Marx's concerns. This was also a concern for Engels, who found his reference on primitive communism in Morgan.

In fact, the concern went even further. Engels drew on Darwin to write The role of work in the transformation of ape into man. Marx offered to write a preface to The Origin of Species, by Darwin, who rejected it (understandably: he already had enough problems with his own theory).

In addition to the ways mentioned in the Prologue of Contribution, other terms relating to modes of production appear in Marxist literature. They can be synonyms, such as the Germanic form, which appears in The German Ideology corresponding to the feudal form in Formations. They may be specific stages or forms of dominant modes of production. They can be non-dominant modes, at least within the scope of great civilizations, such as patriarchal mode, modes of independent artisans or independent peasants.

To highlight the indefinite multiplicity of modes of production, Mário Maestri cites, in the first article, the domestic, tributary and lineage modes known in Africa. I assumed that the domestic and lineage modes might be variations of primitive communism, and I noted that the tributary mode was synonymous with the Asian mode.

Based on Mário Maestri's answer, the term lineage seems to refer to family structure. Regarding the domestic mode, he counter-argues: “We definitely cannot bring African village domestic production, supported by horticulture and agriculture using iron tools, closer to the primitive communism of Marx and Engels”.

Why not? Engels follows the North American ethnologist Lewis Morgan, who divides the period before the great civilizations into savagery and barbarism, which correspond in current terminology to the Paleolithic and Neolithic stages. The first stage is marked by the direct appropriation of the fruits of nature, but the second stage is characterized by the planned production of future living conditions through agriculture and livestock.

Societies before great civilizations did not know iron. However, once iron has been produced, it can be traded to any society. For example: with the arrival of Portuguese and French navigators, before colonization itself, the Tupi became familiar with iron instruments, which they exchanged for brazilwood. With this trade, their mode of production, in the technical sense, changed a little: they no longer needed to chip or polish stones, the new tools were much better, they now needed to cut and carry the ibirapitanga. Social relations in the village did not change immediately. With the use of iron, would the Tupi have abandoned their primitive communist mode of production?

The institutionality of hereditary captaincies

I mentioned in my first article that the denial of the presence of feudal relations in Brazil had occurred, not only in Marxist literature, but also in classical historiography, which until the 1960s called the political organization of hereditary captaincies feudal.

I clarified: “In fact, the captaincies formally reproduced the emphitheutic amphitheater characteristic of European feudal territorial property, in which land ownership was tripartite between the king, the noble and the peasant. The king granted fiefs to a noble in exchange for a share of the land's products and political and military commitments, and the noble granted plots of land to peasants in exchange for a share of their work or products. In Brazilian colonization, the king granted hereditary captaincies to governor captains, the majority in return for military feats, under economic and political commitments, and captains granted sesmarias to those who demonstrated the ability to make them produce, which required sufficient assets to acquire slaves and build the necessary improvements.”

Mário Maestri reproduces this paragraph to accuse me of someone who “accepts – or is not surprised – that the feudalism he defends exploited enslaved workers.”

Now, I was explicitly referring to the concept of feudalism according to classical Brazilian historiography, not my conception! Furthermore: in the following paragraph, I clarify that the presence of slaves did not change the feudal classification because “classical historiography focuses on political organization rather than socio-economic organization”.

Following this criticism, Mário Maestri dedicates himself extensively to the institutional aspects of hereditary captaincies, criticizing the feudal characterization from this angle. These aspects are part of the totality of production relations, those within the ruling class, between grantee and sesmeiro.

“In his defense of the traditional construction of an imaginary feudalism for Brazil, José Ricardo Figueiredo denies (?) the allodial character of the sesmeira property proposed by me. He states that its grant required the necessary permission from the king (?) and grantees for it to be sold, donated, bequeathed (?), inherited (?) etc. And that the new owners would owe the obligations to the king and the captain-general to which the original sesmeiros were obliged. No documentation is presented to support this claim which contradicts historical facts (!).

(…) The donees were invested with various administrative, judicial powers, etc., receiving the due benefits. The Crown had a monopoly on the trade in Brazilwood and slaves, the fifth over all precious metals, the ecclesiastical tithe, due to the papal concession of the Patronage of the Order of Christ to the kings of Portugal, in 1851 (sic, 1551). The archives of the Colony and the Empire store tens of thousands of acts of purchase, sale, sharing, rental, etc. of land, without restrictions other than the usual mercantile determinations.”

I put the questions in parentheses after words I did not use. In particular, I did not deny that sesmarias could be sold or alienated in some way; I did deny that this altered the social relationship between grantee and sesmeiros. The exclamation in parentheses, at the end of the first paragraph, represents an exclamation, a surprise: do we need documentation to state that the change of owner of a sesmaria did not alter social relations?

But this demand for documentation can be satisfied by turning to Varnhagen, whose General history of Brazil presents in detail the institutional aspects of colonization. The historian points out that the conditions of colonization made “feudal means” appropriate, in the sense that the donatários acquired almost absolute power over the population of their captaincy, typical of the times before monarchical centralization: “the crown even ceded, for the benefit of the donees, the greater part of their majestic rights”.

The grantee had not just “varied” but full administrative powers: in addition to “calling himself captain and governor of the Captaincy”, he had to “provide, in his name, the captaincies of public and judicial notaries”, and “create villages , appointing their ombudsmen, bailiffs and other court officials”, as well as the “alcaidaria or military government of the villages”.

The grantee also had almost full legal powers: “authority, without appeal or aggravation, in cases of crimes up to natural death, for pedestrians, slaves and gentiles”, and “up to ten years of exile and a hundred Crusades of punishment for people of higher quality” . It was still up to him to “learn about appeals and grievances from any point in the captaincy”.

The grantee also accumulated the political power to “influence the elections of judges and other officers of the village councils, investigating the lists of good men, who should elect them; and whether or not to consent to the said elections”, which was prohibited to landowners in Portugal by the Kingdom's ordinances.

With such comprehensive powers, would it be feasible, for example, to exchange sesmeiros without the grantee's agreement? In particular, it is clear that all “tens of thousands of acts of purchase, sale, sharing, rental, etc. of land”, to which Mário Maestri refers, were recognized by notaries appointed by the “captain and governor”.

Maestri also argues about the supposed absence of feudal taxes for the sesmeiro: “In 1534, the Royal Charter of the donation of the Captaincy of Espírito Santo determined, as usual, that the donees divide the captaincy's lands into sesmarias, to 'any people of any quality', 'freely without any jurisdiction or rights', with the exception of 'God's tithe'”.

 Varnhagen also comments that the conditions offered by the Crown to the sesmeiros were more favorable than those existing for landowners in Portugal, because the Crown sought to make the arrival of settlers to American lands attractive. Even so, the taxes were not exiguous as Maestri suggests.

The historian defines the “Foral of rights, forums and taxes and things that the colonists had to pay in said land” to the king and the donee as “an emphyteutical contract, by virtue of which perpetual tributaries of the crown and the donee captains- mores, the sunny ones who received land from sesmarias”. The rights and duties granted to the colonists were reduced to: “To possess sesmarias without taxes other than the tithe. Forever exemption from taxes, tax on salt or soap shops, or any other taxes not included in the donation and charter. The guarantee that the captain would not protect his relatives with more land (…)

All exports to any land in Portugal must be declared duty-free, paying only the ordinary tax when selling the product. To the exemption of duties on articles imported from Portugal. To the free trade of the inhabitants among themselves, even when from different captaincies, and the privilege for only them to negotiate with the gentiles”.

Further highlighting the objective of favoring colonization, “each captaincy was declared a couto and homizio, and no one could be persecuted there due to previous crimes”.

Despite what the first point of the Foral suggests, and which Gorender and Maestri take literally, the ecclesiastical tithe was not the only tax on the sesmeiros. The second point of the Foral warned that there could be, and there were, other taxes included in the donation, which were the responsibility of the donee. The fourth point mentions the ordinary tax on what was exported to Portugal.

The assertion that the grantees received “due earnings” suggests that they would be supported by royal wages. There was no such thing. Along with the aforementioned administrative, legal and political prerogatives, the donees received broad economic powers. They could “own in their own captaincy an area of ​​ten and, some, up to fifteen leagues of land on the coast, in four or five separate portions”. They could “captivate Gentiles to their service”, and “sell to Lisbon up to thirty-nine each year, free of tax”.

There were also other economic rights of the donees that necessarily corresponded to the sesmeiros' duties towards them, and that would certainly appear in the letters or acts of donation referred to in the second point of the Charter. It was up to the grantees to have the “right to passage boats on rivers with greater or lesser flow”. They had “monopoly over navies, water mills and any other devices, being able to charge tribute to those who did so with their license”. He was also responsible for the “tithe of the fifth of precious metals and stones”, the “twenty of all fish”, the “twenty of the Brazilwood product, taken from the captaincy, which was sold in Portugal” and the “re-tithe of the products of the land or the tithe of all tithes.”

It can be seen that, at the institutional level, the captaincies were fully feudal. They had to be; Portugal could only transplant and adapt to Brazil what it knew: feudal political institutions and the slave-based modes of production, which prevailed during colonization, and feudalism.

The political disqualification of the orthodox thesis

For Mário Maestri, Stalin would have transformed the sequence of class societies, slave, feudal and capitalist, into a universal dogma to impose a policy of “revolution in stages”, of collaboration with capitalism, “Program (…) that led to the disaster of 1964 (…) Historic failure that we pay for today”.

The link between the 1964 defeat and communist policy that did not place socialism as a direct objective is never demonstrated, and is far from being intuitive.

The João Goulart government faced conflicts with landowners because of the agrarian reform proposal, which had found effective resonance in the countryside. It also faced conflicts with the Americans because of its independent foreign policy and national-developmental economic policy, and conflicts with the national business community because of union unrest. In recent years, there has been an unprecedented acceleration in inflation.

A few days before the coup, a union agitation by soldiers and sailors was seen as a breach of hierarchy by the leadership of the Armed Forces. A perfect storm, for which the left and the Democrats were not prepared, and of that, yes, there was room for self-criticism. But it is difficult to believe that flying socialist flags could help prevent the coup; on the contrary, the right scared the middle classes with news of revolutionary Cuba.

But the theme of the 1964 defeat appears only once, while Stalin's responsibility for communist policies is reiterated. For example: “This vision about the necessary universal succession of modes of production was consolidated, with pragmatic collaborationist objectives, foreign to Lenin, by Joseph Stalin (…) The abandonment of the struggle for the world socialist revolution, the main banner of the Third International, when Its foundation and during the first years, was due to the imposition of the supposed isolated construction of socialism in the USSR.”

There is no basis for this exclusive responsibility of Stalin for Brazilian communist policy at the time. For example, at the end of Communist Party Manifesto, Marx and Engels present the positions of communists in some European countries in 1848: “They allied themselves in France with the democratic-socialist party against the conservative and radical bourgeoisie, reserving the right to criticize the phrases and illusions bequeathed by the revolutionary tradition . In Switzerland, they support the radicals, without forgetting that this party is made up of contradictory elements, half democratic-socialist, half bourgeois radicals. In Poland, the communists support the party that sees in an agrarian revolution the condition of national liberation, that is, the party that unleashed the Krakow uprising in 1846. In Germany, the Communist Party fights in concert with the bourgeoisie every time it acts revolutionary: against the absolute monarchy, feudal rural property and the petty bourgeoisie”.

So in the The Manifest, communists support the advanced struggles that were objectively present in each country, without necessarily demanding directly socialist objectives, but always demonstrating the independence of the working class party in the unitary democratic struggle. Two decades later, Marx and Engels also did not require socialist goals to strongly support northerners against southern slavery in the American Civil War. This is not a “revolution in stages”, but a feasible revolution in the face of concrete reality in each historical moment.

Em Two tactics of social democracy in the Democratic Revolution, published in 1905, declares Lenin: “In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficiency of the development of capitalism. That is why the working class is absolutely interested in the broader, freer and faster development of capitalism. It is absolutely advantageous for the working class to eliminate all reminiscences of the past that hamper the broad, free and rapid development of capitalism.”

And he adds: “This must not be forgotten (as, for example, Plekhanov forgets) when appreciating Marx’s numerous statements (…) about the need for the independent organization of a party of the proletariat.”

Also directly linked to the debate of the 1960s and 1970s in Brazil are the theses developed by Vladímir Lenin for the II Congress of the Communist International, in 1920, paying particular attention to anti-imperialist struggles around the world. Point 11 of these theses says: “With regard to the most backward states and nations, where feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate, it is necessary to bear in mind in particular: 1st, the need for all communist parties to help the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these countries (…) 4th, the need to specifically support the peasant movement in backward countries against the landowners, against large agrarian property, against all manifestations or survivals of feudalism”.

Everything that Mário Maestri criticizes as “abandonment of the struggle for the world socialist revolution, the main banner of the Third International, at the time of its foundation and during the first years” is there, signed by Lenin, in the Congress of the Third International, in those “first years”. The target that Mário Maestri calls Stalinism is a Marxist, Engelsian and Leninist policy, before being defended by Stalin.

Finally, I comment on the speculation that this debater would be “at the very least, very close to PC do B, having been a member of the board of directors of the Maurício Grabois Foundation (…) Which helps to understand this late defense”. Mário Maestri got the first part right: I am very proud to have been a member of PC do B for 25 years. But he made a mistake in the second part: when I joined, the PC do B no longer defended the orthodox thesis; I defend it on my own.

*Jose Ricardo Figueiredo é professor aposentado da Faculdade de Engenharia Mecânica da Unicamp. Autor de Ways of seeing production in Brazil (Associated Authors\EDUC). []

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