bondage and dependency

AR Penck (Ralf Winkler), Westen, Acrylic paint on canvas.


Preface to the recently released book by Marcela Soares

This book is located in loci of the Marxist dependency theory (TMD) and analyzes the problem of contemporary slavery in the specificity of the Brazilian dependent-underdeveloped capitalist economic-social formation, in the context of the socio-sexual and ethnic-racial division of labor in world capitalism in crisis and decay.

Theoretically, this book is part of the debates held during the 1970s in Latin America, when a heated and creative theoretical, political, academic and ideological polemic took place on the nature of our societies, both in historical and contemporary terms. Theme addressed in chapter 2 of this book, based on a renewed vision of the relationship between the mode of production, economic and social formation and the dependency that structures the subject of slavery in Brazil today.

Thus, in Chapter I, “Contemporary Slavery in Brazil”, the author highlights the main contemporary forms of current slavery in Brazil. From forced labor, exhausting working hours imposed by bosses, degrading work – which the author considers an “expression of the founding condition of the commodification of the workforce, in our country, as a product of the passage from colonial slavery to dependent capitalism…” (p. . 43) – the impediment of free mobility, servitude forced by debt and even immigrants who are forced to work in illegal, clandestine and inhumane conditions.

It also points out that, in Brazil, 94,7% of those rescued from conditions of slavery are men, while women correspond to only 5,2%, and that the largest number of rescues of male and female slave workers corresponds to the rural sector and the state from Pará. The exception is São Paulo, where the proportion of rescued men and women is 81,6% and 18,3%, respectively.

In Chapter II, “From slavery to overexploitation, historical-structural components of the workforce”, the close link that the author makes between slavery, capitalism and dependency is of enormous importance, overcoming the dualistic and “feudalizing” approaches typical of functionalist sociology north-eurocentrist, who “attribute” contemporary slavery – as well as underdevelopment and structural backwardness – to a “remnant of the past” that can be “overcome” as capitalism develops, in the best tradition of the bourgeois theories of development that emerged after the poorly named Second World War and which, in Latin America, was recovered by the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) in the figures of Prebisch, Furtado or Pinto, for example.

Recovering the sentences of Florestan Fernandes' “modernization of the archaic” and “arcaization of the modern”, the author correctly situates the slavery in contemporary Brazil as a complementary category of the overexploitation of the workforce, which is the axis of the capital cycle in the dependent economy and which, far from being overcome as capitalism develops – due to industrialization and the development of relative surplus value – the author emphasizes that, on the contrary, they remain the “particular determinants of dependent capitalism” (p. 80).

The conclusion of the chapter is eloquent: just as dependency, historical backwardness and underdevelopment cannot be overcome within the limits of capitalism. For contemporary slavery – which is historical-structural and which affects millions of human beings – to be definitively eradicated from the Brazilian social capitalist formation, it is a condition sine qua non overcome capitalism itself.

Chapter III, “The persistence of contemporary forms of enslavement in Brazil”, is highly suggestive, by demonstrating how the flexibility of labor legislation and the legalization of subcontracting or outsourcing, concomitant with the monumental precariousness of the Brazilian world of work, did nothing else. if not to expand and intensify contemporary slavery, “the result of a historical process of permanence of transitory or hybrid forms of exploitation of the workforce, as well as accentuated by the dynamic-conjunctural elements that mark the contemporary phase of capitalism” (p. 110). Contrary to the official and employer versions that point out that only with neoliberal structural labor reforms is it possible to “improve” the living and working conditions of the majority of popular sectors in Brazil.

Against the background of the capitalist crisis and the intensification of neoliberalism throughout the 1990s, employer and state policies against the working classes and the proletariat were imposed through macroeconomic restructuring and antisocial policies of flexibility, precariousness, deregulation and overexploitation of work to neutralize the crisis and the drop in the rate of profit of large national and international capital in Brazil. This was helped by rising unemployment, wage squeezes and the spread of poverty. These anti-worker, pro-employer and fascist policies, the author tells us, had an impact, in addition to self-employment, informality and subcontracting, on the “increase in cases of contemporary slave labor” (p. 109), a concept adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2013 (p. 186), understood as “human trafficking”, whereas previously only “forced labor” was mentioned, which, effectively, is not the same.

If with the governments of the Workers' Party (2003-2016) the structural conditions of slave labor persisted and the continuity of the PSDB's neoliberal policies of "class reconciliation" (p. 184), in the successive ultra-right regimes of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro, these conditions did nothing but expand and sharpen in the logic of capital accumulation and appreciation; the precariousness of work, subcontracting and superexploitation of the workforce that, simultaneously, served as platforms to extend capitalist slavery. This is conceived by the author (p. 145) as a structural form of overexploitation, thus breaking with the views that consider it as a remnant of the past, and correctly identifying it as a mechanism that operates within the cycle of capital in the economy dependent on contemporary Brazil.

The author lucidly distinguishes the situation of colonial slavery (full slavery) from that which operates in dependent capitalism characterized by the sale of labor power as a commodity (p. 151), which does not imply the sale of the person as it used to be in the past and which “it does not mean, therefore, a line of continuity from colonial slavery to dependent capitalism” (p. 151). Therefore, current slavery – like the category of dependency – must be situated in the historical conditions in which it was constituted, unfolded and developed. Thus, Soares tells us: “…in our analysis, contemporary slavery is apprehended as a variation of the use of salaried work, derived both from how the workforce was constituted in Brazil and as a consequence of [its] dynamic- circumstances…” (p. 186).

This distinction between colonial slavery and “capitalist dependent slavery” is of enormous importance for breaking and overcoming, both in ideology and in the social sciences, the one-dimensional visions of the structural dualism that divide Latin American societies and, in general, underdeveloped ones, into compartments that are only “connected” through imperialist metropolises.

Against the background of the historical process of the great bourgeois revolutions, such as the North American one and those that occurred in Western Europe in the 1999th and 218th centuries, in chapter IV, “An antithesis to contemporary slavery”, the author analyzes human rights and the concept of “decent work” coined by the ILO in XNUMX – within the limits imposed on this “tripartite institution” by “human and sustainable capitalism” and the intended “progressive neoliberalism” (p. XNUMX) preached by it – to articulate them with the problem of contemporary slavery, in particular, the Brazilian one.

Within the limits of capitalism, and without exceeding them, this international organization relies on this concept to supposedly “overcome” the precariousness of work – which is congenital to this system insofar as it robs workers of part of the wealth produced by them. under the form of surplus value, freely appropriated by capital – and the superexploitation of labor, which is constitutive of dependent capitalist formations and operative within the scope of industrialized capitalist countries.

Thus, the author states: “We are on a journey of great loss of rights and here we highlight the labor ones, which can aim at a hegemonic standard of naturalization of the forms of exploitation of contemporary slave labor, according to article 149 of the Brazilian Penal Code. And thus, make decent work and the realization of human rights unfeasible. Therefore, it is essential to rescue the analysis of the foundations of capitalist sociability, as well as the Brazilian particularity, to apprehend the emancipatory limits of capitalism in the current scenario of structural crisis” (p. 214).

As an anti-systemic alternative to contemporary slavery, the brutal and massive conditions of precariousness in the world of work and overexploitation, the author is blunt: the so-called “decent work” promoted by the ILO and the human rights policies of organizations such as the United Nations (UN) – both framed in the capitalist mode of production – are completely incapable of eradicating slave labor in Brazil and in the world. On the contrary: “the historical-social practice has shown that super-exploitation advances beyond the peripheries of the world and that the condition previously restricted to migrants, in an irregular situation, becomes the 'common place' for the entire labor force of the National states also of hegemonic economies” (p. 223).

As a conclusion to this interesting book, the imperative need naturally arises to overcome and eradicate capitalism from the face of the earth as an irrational way of life, work, destruction of nature and human, social and spiritual degradation, and to establish a new mode of production and social formation in accordance with the major interests of life, work and survival of the vast majority of workers and humanity.

In this regard, the author states that: “Giving emphasis to the social, sexual and ethnic-racial division of labor and taking the path of demystifying the intrinsic contradictions of capitalism, which are necessarily exacerbated in dependent economies, guarantees the apprehension that a true The antithesis to contemporary slavery is presented with the construction of a new social need, established by a new socialized and communitarian productive organization” (p. 224).

Suggestive, original and highly critical, this book must be placed on the shelves of libraries and institutional spaces for its indispensable reading by students, academics and the general public, disseminating it through the media, social networks and broad collective discussion.

* Adrian Sotelo Valencia, sociologist, is a researcher at the Center for Latin American Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Translation: Vitor Bertizzolo Janot Mattos.


Marcela Soares. Slavery and dependency: oppression and overexploitation of the Brazilian workforce. Marília, Anti-capital fights, 2022, 354 pages.

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