status and development


By Jose Luis Fiori*

In the joint movement of the interstate system, the expansion of the leading States-national economies generates a kind of “economic trail” that expands from its internal dynamics.

 “Capitalism only triumphs when it identifies with the State, when it is the State.” (F. Braudel, The dynamics of capitalism).


The debate on the State and economic development had great political and intellectual importance in Latin America, especially after the Second World War. But it was more pragmatic than theoretical, responding to immediate problems and challenges rather than a systematic and long-term research strategy. Even academic research at this time was policy-oriented, almost entirely devoted to the comparative study of State intervention patterns or to the normative discussion of planning and public policies, in particular economic policy.

In this period, it is possible to identify two major “hegemonic agendas”, which were consolidated in the years 1940-1950 and 1980-1990, respectively, guiding the discussion, research and concrete policies in the two successive decades.

Right after the Second World War, the world faced the challenge of rebuilding the countries involved in the conflict and that of Afro-Asian decolonization. Latin America proposed an agenda centered on the problem of “backwardness” and on the challenge of development and “modernization” of its societies and national economies. Political reflection on the nature and role of the State followed the same path, regardless of the theoretical orientation of its thinkers at the time: structuralist, Marxist, Weberian, etc. It was the time of hegemony of developmentalist ideas.

A few decades later, following the international crisis of the 1970s and, in particular, after the “external debt” crisis of the 1980s, a new “agenda” was imposed in Latin America that prioritized the “adjustment” of Latin economies. Americans to the new global financial order. In this period, criticism of state interventionism and the intransigent defense of privatization and the “depoliticization of markets” prevailed. It was the time of neoliberal hegemony in almost the entire world and the dismantling of policies and the developmental State in Latin America. But at the beginning of the 2008st century, the failure of neoliberal policies, the economic crisis of XNUMX and the great global geopolitical changes, which are in full course, created a new challenge and produced a new political and ideological inflection in Latin America, bringing back to the political debate some themes of the old developmentalist agenda.

This text contains three parts. The first makes a synthetic and critical assessment of this “libero-developmentalist debate” of the XNUMXth century and the beginning of the XNUMXst century; the second proposes the premises and hypotheses of a new “research program” on the State and capitalist development; and the third presents three speculations about the future of the world system and Latin America.

The development controversy

The Latin American “developmentalist debate” would have no specificity if it had been reduced to a macroeconomic discussion between neoclassical or liberal “orthodox” and Keynesian or structuralist “heterodox”. In fact, it would not have existed if it weren't for the State and the discussion about the effectiveness or not of State intervention to accelerate economic growth above the “laws of the market”. Especially because, in Latin America as in Asia, developmentalist governments have always used orthodox macroeconomic policies, depending on the occasion and circumstances. The opposite can also be said of many conservative or ultraliberal European or North American governments that frequently use Keynesian policies.

Na verdade, or pivot of all discussion and the great bone of contention was always the State and the definition of its role in the process of economic development. Despite this, after more than half a century of discussion, the theoretical balance is disappointing. On both sides of the “libero-developmentalist” debate, an equally imprecise, timeless and ahistorical concept of the State was used – almost always – as if the State were a kind of logical and functional “entity” intellectually created to solve the problems problems of growth or economic regulation, as can be seen through a quick re-reading of the two great “agendas” and the main theoretical matrices that participated in the “Latin American controversy”:

(1) The “developmentalist agenda” takes root in the 1930s, consolidates in the 1950s, undergoes self-criticism and a conceptual transformation in the 1960s, only to lose its intellectual vigor in the 1980s. great “theoretical matrices” that analyzed the “question of the State” and contributed to the construction and legitimation of the national-developmentalist ideology, which played a central role in the great Latin American political and ideological conflicts of the second half of the XNUMXth century:

(a) The Weberian matrix and its various versions of “modernization theory”, which were contemporary with Anglo-Saxon “development economics” and were almost always associated with Walt Whitman’s theory of “stages of economic development”. Rostow (Rostow 1952, 1960). They dedicated themselves to researching the processes of historical formation of European national states compared to the “political development” of “backward” societies. Its modernization proposal and strategy presupposed and pointed, at the same time, in a circular fashion, to an idealization of European and North American States and political systems, defined as the ideal standard of modernity, and as the objective and arrival point of development and the transition from “traditional societies” (Eisenstadt and Rokkan, 1973; THEapalombara and Weiner, 1966).

(b) The structuralist matrix and its various versions of the “center-periphery” and “unequal exchange” theory, whose fundamental reference was the classic ECLAC texts of the 1950s and 1960s, with some contributions

important later constructions, especially in Brazil (Tavars, 1974; Cardoso de Melo, 1982; Beluzzo and Coutinho, 1982). Only ECLAC has developed specific analytical and operational instruments for economic planning in Latin American states. But due to its own condition as an international organization, ECLAC has always treated the Latin American States as if they were equal and homogeneous without considering – in theory and in concrete proposals – the existence of different conflicts of interest within each country, and between the countries, inside and outside the region. For this reason, ECLAC's industrializing theses are often reminiscent of the protectionist ideas of Friedrich List and Hamilton, but, at the same time, ECLAC differentiates itself from the two by not granting theoretical and practical importance to the concepts of nation, power and war, which occupied a central place in the vision of the State and economic development, especially in the case of Friedrich List's "national system of political economy" (see Bielschowsky, 2000.

(c) The Marxist matrix and its various versions of the theory of the “bourgeois-democratic revolution”, based on Marx's classic texts on the stages of capitalist development and on texts by Lenin and the Third International on the strategy of the anti-colonialist struggle in Asia and in Egypt. Its translation to the Latin American reality was done in a mechanical and unsophisticated way, from a theoretical point of view, without considering regional specificities and heterogeneities. Therefore, despite talking about classes, class struggle and imperialism, he proposed the same model and the same strategy for all countries on the continent, regardless of their internal structure and their position within the regional and international hierarchy of power. In the 1960s, the Marxist dependency theory criticized this reformist strategy of the “traditional left” and the very possibility of a “bourgeois-democratic revolution” in Latin America without, however, deepening its new critical vision of the Latin American State (Baran, 1957; Davis, 1967; Mori, 1978).

(d) Finally, it is necessary to include the geopolitical matrix of the theory of “national security”, formulated by the Escola Superior de Guerra do Brasil (see Golbery, 1955; Mattos, 1975; Castro, 1979, 1982), founded in the early 1950s. Its ideas also date back to the 1930s, to the defense of national industrialization (by the military who participated in the 1930 Revolution) and to the Estado Novo. In the 1950s, however, this first pragmatic developmentalism of the Brazilian military was transformed into a project of defense and expansion of national power, conditioned by its vision of “national security”, within a world divided by the Cold War. This matrix had a smaller theoretical development than the other three, but ended up having a much greater historical importance, due to the central role occupied by the military in the construction and control of the Brazilian developmental State, during most of its approximately 50 years. of existence.

Its geopolitical and economic project was expansionist and had a competitive vision of the world system, but it never went beyond some elementary ideas about power and defense itself, because it revolved around an obsession with an external and internal enemy that never threatened nor did it effectively challenge the country, imported or imposed by Anglo-Saxon Cold War geopolitics. Even so, this was the only theory and strategy within the developmental universe that explicitly associated the need for industrialization and accelerated economic growth with the problem of national defense, but its simplistic and Manichaean view of the world explains its anti-popular and authoritarian character and the ease with which it was defeated and deconstructed in the 1980s and 1990s (see Fiori, 1995.

If there was any common denominator among all these theories and developmental strategies, it was their unshakable belief in the existence of a rational, homogeneous and functional State, capable of formulating economic growth policies, over divisions, conflicts and contradictions that could cross and paralyze the state itself. In addition, everyone considered that development was a consensual objective – by itself – capable of constituting and unifying the nation, as well as mobilizing its population over its internal, class, ethnic and regional divisions. Perhaps for this reason, despite its ideological hegemony after the Second World War, developmentalist policies were only applied in Latin America - in a punctual, irregular and inconsistent way -, and one can only effectively speak, in this period, of the existence in the entire continent of two “Developmental states”: one, for sure, in Brazil; and the other, with many reservations, in Mexico.

(2) On the other side of the Latin American controversy, the origin of the “neoliberal agenda” dates back to the 1940s, but it remained in a latent (or defensive) state during the “developmentalist era”, only conquering power and ideological hegemony in the last decades of the twentieth century. In the 1980s, neoliberal theses appeared and spread in Latin America as a response to the “external debt crisis” and the galloping inflation of the 1980s, and brought together a proposal for institutional reforms aimed at privatization and market deregulation, as well as for fiscal and monetary austerity (DOrnbusch and Edwards, 1991). It is possible to identify at least two major theories that participated in the intellectual critique and ideological legitimation of the dismantling of developmentalist policies and institutions: the theory of “rent seekers” and the neoinstitutionalist theory (Kruger, 1974; North, 1981), who exerted great influence within Washington's international organizations and, in particular, within the World Bank.

For the theory of “rent seekers”, the State is just another exchange market between bureaucrats driven by selfish interests and entrepreneurs in search of privileges and monopoly rents guaranteed through control and/or influence within the state machine. From this perspective, any increase in the public sector would automatically increase opportunities to obtain extraordinary income at the expense of citizens and ordinary consumers, who would end up having to pay higher prices than those defined “normally” by competitive and deregulated markets.

The neo-institutionalist theory also defends the “withdrawal of the State”, but, contrary to the previous theory, it maintains its importance for the construction and preservation of the institutional environment associated with the guarantee of the right of private property and the individual freedom of people, considered by the neoinstitutionalists as indispensable conditions for any and all economic development processes. At the end of the XNUMXth century, the neoliberal agenda reinforced a bias in the discussion that had already been growing since the developmentalist period: the shift of the debate to the field of macroeconomics.

As happens again with the so-called “new developmentalism”, which proposes to innovate and build a third way “between populism and orthodoxy”. As if it were a seesaw that sometimes points to the strengthening of the market, sometimes to the strengthening of the State. In practice, “new developmentalism” ends up being reduced to a program of eclectic macroeconomic measures, which propose to simultaneously strengthen the State and the market; centralization and decentralization; competition and the great “national champions”; the public and the private; industrial policy and openness; and a fiscal and monetary policy that is both active and austere. And, finally, regarding the role of the State, the “new developmentalism” proposes that it be recovered and strengthened, but it does not clarify in whose name, for whom and for what, leaving aside the central question of power – and interests. contradictions of classes and nations – as had already happened with the “old developmentalism” of the XNUMXth century.

Despite their great ideological and political divergences, developmentalists and liberals have always shared the same vision of the State as creator or destroyer of the good economic order, but always seen as if it were a deus ex machina, acting from outside the economic activity itself. Both criticize the processes of monopolization and idealize competitive markets, seeing with disapproval any form of association or involvement between the State and private capital. Both consider that power, power struggles and the process of power accumulation on a national and international scale are not directly related to the simultaneous process of economic development and capital accumulation.

In addition, everyone considers the Latin American States as if they were equal and not part of a single regional and international system, unequal, hierarchical, competitive and in a permanent process of transformation. And even when developmentalists spoke of central and peripheral states and dependent states, they spoke of a world economic system that had a relatively static bipolar format, in which power struggles between states and nations occupied a secondary place (Frank, 1969; Cardoso and Faletto, 1970).

Finally, the convergence between Latin American developmentalists and liberals allows two critical conclusions to be drawn from these debates as a whole. The first is that Latin American developmentalism has always had a much greater kinship with Keynesianism and with Anglo-Saxon “development economics” than with economic nationalism and anti-imperialism, which until today have been the mainspring and driving force of all late developments, in particular of Asian developments.

The second is the certainty that Latin American developmentalists and liberals share the same economic conception of the State, common to the paradigm of classical, Marxist and neoclassical political economy. This coincidence of paradigms explains the ease with which many move, theoretically, from one side to the other of the “libero-developmentalist seesaw”, without having to leave the same place.

Twelve Notes for a New “Research Program”

It is very unlikely that the old “libero-developmentalist” paradigm will be able to renew itself. Its hard core has lost vitality and is unable to generate new questions, nor can it deal with the new Latin American problems, much less the Asian development and the Chinese challenge. In these moments, it is necessary to have the intellectual courage to break with old ideas and propose new theoretical and methodological paths. With this objective in mind, we will then set out some assumptions and hypotheses of a new “research program”, which starts from the concepts of “global power”, “States-national economies” and “capitalist interstate system” to rethink the relationship between National states and the uneven development of capitalist economies that were formed in Europe and outside Europe, from the global expansion of “European power” (see Fiori, 2004, 2007; Fiori, Medeiros and Serrano, 2008).

(1) At the end of the 60th century, there was insistent talk of the end of borders and the sovereignty of national states, which were being trampled by the uncontrollable advance of economic globalization. At the same time, there was talk of US imperial and unipolar power after the end of the Cold War. However, it was exactly during this period that the interstate system became universal, which was “invented” by the Europeans and which accounted for around 200 independent states after the end of World War II and today includes around XNUMX national states, most of them with seats in the United Nations. It is obvious that these are very different States from the point of view of their size and population, but, above all, from the point of view of their power and wealth, as well as their ability to defend their sovereignty.

Most of these new states had been European colonies, and after their independence remained under the straitjacket of the Cold War. They only acquired a greater degree of autonomy after 1991, despite remaining very poor and impotent countries in many cases. It is important to realize that this multiplication of the number of national states that are now members of the world political system occurred simultaneously with the processes of US accumulation of global power and productive and financial globalization that accelerated after the 1950s and 1980s, respectively. This coincidence could represent a paradox if it were not a contradictory and necessary product of the “capitalist interstate system” itself, which was born in Europe (and only in Europe) and became universal from the expansion of European imperial power.

(2) The historical origin of this system goes back to the “wars of conquest” and the “commercial revolution”, which combined in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, to create the energy that moved two processes that were decisive in the following centuries: that of centralization of power and the monetization of taxes and exchanges. As is known, after the end of Charlemagne's Empire, there was a fragmentation of territorial power in Europe and an almost complete disappearance of money and the market economy. In the following two centuries – between 1150 and 1350 – there was, however, a revolution that changed the history of Europe and the world: in that period, an expansive association was forged on the European continent between the “necessity of conquest” and the “necessity of conquest”. of ever-increasing economic surpluses. This same association was repeated across Europe in several of its territorial units of power, which were forced to create tributes and taxation systems, in addition to sovereign currencies, to finance their wars of defense and conquest, as well as the administration of new conquered territories. through these wars.

(3) War, tribute, currency and trade have always existed. The great European novelty resided in the way in which they combined, added up and multiplied together, within small highly competitive territories, and in a state of permanent war or preparation for war. These permanent wars were transformed into a great multiplier of taxes and debts and, by derivation, into a multiplier of the trade surplus and of the currency and debt securities market, creating an absolutely original cumulative circuit between the processes of power accumulation. and of wealth. In addition, these wars welded an indissoluble alliance between princes and bankers and gave rise to the first forms of accumulation of “money for money” through the “lordship” of sovereign currencies and the negotiation of public debts by “financiers”, first at “fairs”. ” and then on the stock exchanges.

In the long term, this centralization of power and the monetization of taxes and exchanges allowed for the formation, in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, of the first European “States-national economies”, which became veritable machines for accumulating power and wealth during the centuries to come, with their banking and credit systems, with their armies and bureaucracies, and with their collective sense of identity and 'national interest'.

(4) The “States-national economies” did not emerge in isolation: they were born within a system that moves continuously, competing and accumulating power and wealth, together and within each of its territorial units. It was within these expansive territorial units and this competitive system of power that the “capitalist regime” was forged. From the beginning, the movement towards the internationalization of its markets and capital took place alongside the expansion and consolidation of the great maritime and territorial empires of the first European States. Since then, it has always been these expansive and winning states that have led capital accumulation on a world scale.

These first States were born and expanded out of themselves almost simultaneously. As they struggled to impose their power and internal sovereignty, they expanded and conquered new territories building their colonial empires. Therefore, it can be said that “imperialism” was a force and a constitutive and permanent dimension of all States and of the European interstate system itself. This continuous struggle, inside and outside Europe, promoted a rapid hierarchization of the system, with the constitution of a small “central nucleus” of “States/Empires” that imposed themselves on the others, inside and outside Europe.

Thus were born the so-called “great powers”, which continued to maintain relations that were both complementary and competitive. The internal composition of this nucleus was always very stable, due to the continuous process of concentration of power, but also due to the “barriers to entry” of new “partners” that were being created and recreated by the winning powers over the centuries. Anyway, the important point is that the world system we live in until today was not the product of a simple and progressive sum of territories, countries and regions, and much less was it the product of the simple expansion of markets or capital; it was a creation of the expansive power of some European states and national economies that conquered and colonized the world, during the five centuries in which they fought among themselves for the monopolization of regional hegemonies and “global power”.

(5) There have always been cosmopolitan projects and utopias proposing some kind of “global governance” for the capitalist interstate system as a whole. However, all known and tried forms of “supranational government” have until today been an expression of the power and ethics of the powers that make up the central nucleus of the system and, in particular, of the power that leads this central nucleus. Many authors speak of “hegemony” to refer to the stabilizing function of the leader of the system, but these authors do not realize – in general – that the existence of this leadership or hegemony does not interrupt the expansionism of the other States, much less the expansionism of the leader himself or hegemon.

Within this world system, the appearance and rise of a new “emerging power” will always be a destabilizing factor in its core. However, the greatest destabilizer of any hegemonic situation will always be its own leader (or hegemon) because it cannot stop its drive to conquer in order to maintain its relative position in the global power struggle. Therefore, it is logically impossible for any “hegemonic” country to be able to stabilize the world system.

In this “expanding universe” that was born in Europe, during the “long thirteenth century”, there never was and will never be “perpetual peace”, nor stable international political systems. It is a “universe” that stabilizes and organizes itself through its own expansion and, therefore, also through the crises and wars caused by the contradiction between its permanent tendency towards internationalization and global power, on the one hand, and its countertrend to the continuous strengthening of powers, currencies and national capital, on the other.

(6) The competitive expansion of European “state-national economies” created colonial empires and internationalized the capitalist economy, but neither empires nor international capital eliminated states and national economies. This is due to the fact that capital always points, contradictorily, in the direction of its internationalization and, at the same time, in the direction of strengthening its national economy of origin, as Nikolai Bukharin correctly perceived. What Bukharin did not say or did not realize is that this contradiction between the simultaneous movements of internationalization and nationalization of capital is due to the fact that capitals can only internationalize to the extent that they maintain their original relationship with the national currency in which they are realized. as wealth, whether its own or that of a more powerful national state. For this reason, its continuous internationalization is not just a tendency of “capital in general”, it is a simultaneous work of capital and of the issuing States of the currencies and of the international reference debts that knew how to conquer and preserve, more than all the others, situations and monopoly conditions.

(7) “International currencies” have always been minted by victorious states that managed to project their power beyond their borders to the limits of the system itself. Since the “long sixteenth century” and the consolidation of the “capitalist interstate system”, there have only been two international currencies: the pound and the dollar. And one can only speak of the existence of three global monetary systems: the “pound gold standard”, which collapsed in the 1930s; the “gold dollar standard,” which ended in 1971; and the “flexible dollar standard”, which was born in the 1970s and is still in force at the beginning of the XNUMXst century. In all cases, and since the origin of the capitalist interstate system:

(7a) No national currency has ever been just a “public good”, much less the national currencies that have become an international reference. They all involve social and power relations between issuers and holders, between creditors and debtors, between savers and investors, and so on. Behind every currency and every monetary system there is always hidden and reflected a correlation of power, national or international.

(7b) In turn, regional or international reference currencies are not just a choice of markets. They are the result of struggles for the conquest and domination of new supranational economic territories, and at the same time, and after the conquests, they continue to be an instrument of power for their issuing states and their financial capital.

(7c) Therefore, the use within the capitalist interstate system of a national currency that is, at the same time, a supranational reference currency is a co-constitutive and inseparable contradiction of the system itself. And, in this sense, the currency may even change in the coming decades (which is very unlikely), but the rule will remain the same, with the yuan, the yen, the euro, or the real.

(7d) Finally, it is part of the power of the issuer of the “international currency” to transfer the costs of its internal adjustments to the rest of the world economy, in particular to its monetary-financial periphery.

(8) The “public debt” of the victorious states has always had greater credibility than the debt of the defeated or subordinated states. For this reason, the public debt securities of the great powers also have greater “credibility” than the securities of States located on the lower rungs of the hierarchy of power and international wealth. Marx realized the decisive importance of the “public debt” for the private accumulation of capital, and several historians have called attention to the importance of the indebtedness of the States that were the “great predators” of the world system.

To finance its wars and the international projection of its power, and to sustain its national and international banking and credit systems, England's "public debt", for example, rose from £17 million in 1690 to £700 million. millions of pounds, in 1800. And it contributed decisively to the financing of the expansion of British power, inside and outside Europe, despite the short-term fiscal imbalance of English public accounts, which never affected the “credibility” of its debt to the around the world.

It happened the same way with the United States, where the state's taxing and debt capacity also grew hand in hand with the expansion of American power, inside and outside America. Even at the beginning of the 2008st century, it is the American public debt securities that back its international credit and support the current international monetary system. When you look at it from this point of view, you better understand the nature of the 1980 financial crisis, for example, and realize that it was not produced by any kind of “attention deficit” by the American State. On the contrary, in this case too, what happened was that the State and US financial capital strengthened together during the 1990s and XNUMXs and are now defending themselves together, with each new step and each new arbitration that imposes its will. weakening inside and outside the US.

But, despite the crisis, one thing is certain: US public debt securities will continue to occupy a central place within the capitalist interstate system as long as American power remains an expansive power, with or without China's partnership. Also in this case, the winners cannot stop or stop increasing their power, no matter how great it already is. Now: is this “magic” available to all States and all capitalist economies? Yes and no, at the same time, because in this game, if everyone won, no one would win, and those who have already won narrow the path of the others, dialectically reproducing the conditions of inequality.

(9) The conquest and preservation of “monopoly situations” is perhaps the place or connection where the relationship between the accumulation of power and the accumulation of capital is most visible. This is what Braudel is talking about when he states that “capitalism only triumphs when it identifies with the State, when it is the State” (Braudel, 1987, P. 43), because their objective is the extraordinary profits that are conquered through monopoly positions, and these monopoly positions are conquered through power, they are power, as is clear – from the first hour of the system, in the long thirteenth century – in the way in which Venice and Genoa disputed and conquered their hegemonic positions, within the “Mediterranean world-economy”. For Braudel, “capitalism is the anti-market”, precisely because the market is the place of exchanges and “normal gains”, while capitalism is the place of “great predators” and “abnormal gains”.

The accumulation of power creates monopolistic situations, and the accumulation of capital “finances” the struggle for new slices of power. In this joint process, the States encouraged and financed, from the beginning, the development and monopoly control of “cutting-edge technologies”, responsible for increasing the economic surplus and the defense and attack capacity of these States. As Braudel once said, “there is only significant growth of the company when there is association with the State – the State, the most colossal of modern companies that, growing alone, has the privilege of making others grow” (Braudel, 1996, p. . 391). Likewise, over the centuries, the world of capital acquired a growing relative autonomy in relation to the world of power, but maintained its essential relationship of dependence, without which the “capitalist interstate” system itself would not exist.

It is in this sense that Braudel also concludes that, if capitalism is the anti-market, it cannot survive without the market. That is, contrary to what institutionalists think, economic development and capital accumulation do not only involve respect for rules and institutions. On the contrary, they almost always involve disrespecting the rules and frequent denial of regimes and institutions built in the name of the market and perfect competition. Regimes and institutions that often serve to block access to innovations and monopolies by weaker competitors who are forced to submit to the rules. Those who led the victorious expansion of capitalism were always the “great predators” and the national economies that knew how to navigate successfully against the “laws of the market”.

(10) Until the end of the XNUMXth century, the “capitalist interstate system” was restricted to European states and territories included within their space of colonial domination. This system only expanded and changed its internal organization after the independence of the United States and the other Latin American states. At the time of independence, Latin American states did not have efficient centers of power, nor did they have integrated and coherent “national economies”.

It was only in the southern cone of the continent that a regional state and economic subsystem was formed, with competitive and expansive characteristics, especially in the Plata Basin region, at least until the 1945th century. This same scenario was repeated after XNUMX, with most of the new states created in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East: they did not have centralized and efficient structures of power, nor did they have expansive economies.

Only in South and Southeast Asia can one speak of the existence of a system of States and national economies that are integrated and competitive, reminiscent of the original European model. Despite their enormous heterogeneity, it is possible to formulate some generalizations regarding the economic and political development of these countries. There are rich countries that are not and never will be expansive powers, nor will they be part of the competitive game of the great powers. There are militarized states on the periphery of the world system that will never become economic powers. But there is no possibility that any of these national states will become a new power without having a dynamic economy and an expansive political-economic project. And it is unlikely that any individual capital or block of national capital, public or private, will be able to successfully internationalize, if not together with states that have projects of extraterritorial power.

(11) Looking at the overall movement of the system, it can be seen that the expansion of the leading “state-national economies” generates a kind of “economic trail”, which extends from its own national economy, starting with the economies of the “central core”, whose growth defines the outer borders of the “system footprint”. Each of these expansive “State-national economies” produces its own footprint and, within it, the other national economies are hierarchized into three large groups, according to their internal political-economic strategies.

In a first group, there are the national economies that develop under the immediate effect of the leader. Several authors have already spoken of “invited development” or “associated” to refer to the economic growth of countries that have privileged access to the markets and capital of the dominant power. As with the former British dominions of Canada, Australia and New Zealand after 1931, and also with Germany, Japan and Korea after World War II, when they were transformed into US military protectorates, with privileged access to North American markets.

In a second group are the countries that adopt strategies of catch up to reach the “leading economies”. For offensive or defensive reasons, they take advantage of periods of international bonanza to change their hierarchical position and increase their share of world wealth through aggressive economic growth policies. In these cases, economic strengthening goes hand in hand with military strengthening and increasing the country's international power. These are projects that can be blocked, as has happened many times, but they can also succeed and give birth to a new State and a new leading economy, as happened to the United States in the second half of the XNUMXth century and the beginning of the XNUMXth century, and is about to happen to China in the second decade of the XNUMXst century.

Finally, in a third much broader group are located almost all other national economies of the world system, which act as the economic periphery of the system. They are national economies that can have strong growth cycles and reach high levels of income per capita, and they can industrialize, without ceasing to be peripheral, from the point of view of their position within the “comet's trail”, that is, within the regional and global hierarchy of power.

(12) If there were a common denominator among all countries with strong economic development, it would certainly be the existence of a great challenge or competitive external enemy, responsible for the existence of a defensive and permanent strategic orientation, almost always involving a political-military dimension and fierce competition for control of “sensitive technologies”. This was the case for all states and all national economies that form part of the central core of the system's great powers. In these cases, real or virtual war played a decisive role in the trajectory of their economic developments.

But, pay attention, because it is not just about the importance of weapons or the arms industry, it is about a more complex phenomenon that always involved a great national mobilization, a great central capacity of strategic command, in addition to a dynamic and innovative economy . Weapons and wars, by themselves, may not have any dynamizing effect on national economies, as in the case of North Korea, Pakistan and many other countries that have large armies and stocks of weapons and very low capacity for national mobilization. and economic growth. In this sense, everything indicates that Max Weber is right when he states that “ultimately, the processes of economic development are struggles for domination”, that is, that there is no capitalist economic development that does not involve a struggle for power and for power (Weber, 1982, P. 18).

Three notes on the future

When researching the past, one is always trying to reduce – in one way or another – the opacity of the future, even more so in a time of great mutations and uncertainties. But thinking about the future is not an easy task and always involves a high dose of speculation. Even so, the researcher must maintain the most absolute fidelity with regard to the hypotheses used in his reading of the past, and that is what we propose to do in these three final notes of this work, on the future of the capitalist interstate system and of Latin America itself:

(I) From our point of view, when looking at the capitalist interstate system, from a macro-historical and long-term perspective, one can identify four moments in which great “expansive explosions” occurred within the system itself. In these periods, first there was an increase in “competitive pressure”, and then a great “explosion” or expansion of its internal and external borders. The increase in “competitive pressure” was provoked – almost always – by the expansionism of one or several “leading powers” ​​and also involved an increase in the number and intensity of conflict between the other political and economic units of the system. And the ensuing “expansive boom” projected the power of these more competitive units or “powers” ​​outside themselves, expanding the boundaries of the “universe” itself.

The first time this happened was in the “long thirteenth century”, between 1150 and 1350. The increase in “competitive pressure” within Europe was caused by the Mongol invasions, the expansionism of the Crusades and the intensification of “internal” wars in the peninsula. Iberia, northern France and Italy. The second time this happened was in the “long sixteenth century”, between 1450 and 1650. The increase in “competitive pressure” was provoked by the expansionism of the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire and by Spain's wars with France, with the Low Countries and with England. It was the moment when the first European States were born, with their national economies and a military capacity far superior to that of the sovereign units of the previous period.

The third time this happened was in the “long nineteenth century”, between 1790 and 1914. The increase in “competitive pressure” was provoked by French and English expansionism, inside and outside Europe, by the birth of the American States and by the rise, after of 1860, of three political and economic powers – the United States, Germany and Japan -, which grew very quickly and revolutionized the capitalist economy and the “central core” of the great powers.

Finally, from our point of view, a fourth great “expansive explosion” of the world system, which began in the 1970s, is currently underway. Our hypothesis is that the increase in pressure within the system was caused by the expansionist strategy itself. and US imperialism, which deepened and radicalized after the 1970s; but also due to the great widening of the system's borders, with the creation of around 130 new national States, after the end of the Second World War; and, finally, by the vertiginous growth of power and wealth of Asian states, in particular China (Fiori, 2008). Even so, from our point of view, this increase in systemic pressure does not point to the end of American power, much less to the end of the capitalist system, or of the interstate system itself.

(II) On the contrary, after the defeat of Vietnam and the rapprochement with China, between 1971 and 1973, American power grew continuously, building an extensive network of alliances and a global military infrastructure, which allows it to control , quasi-monopoly, naval, air and space around the world. But at the same time, this expansion of American power contributed to the military “resurrection” of Germany and Japan and to the empowerment and empowerment of China, India, Iran and Turkey, as well as the return of Russia to the “great game”. ” of Central Asia and the Middle East.

US military setbacks in the first decade of the century slowed down its imperial project. But one thing is certain: the US will not voluntarily relinquish the global power it has already gained and will not renounce its continued expansion in the future. On the other hand, after the end of the Bretton Woods System, between 1971 and 1973, the American economy grew almost continuously until the beginning of the XNUMXst century. By associating itself with the Chinese economy, the US strategy diminished the relative importance of Germany and Japan for its global capital “accumulation machine”. At the same time, it contributed to transforming Asia into the main center of capitalist accumulation in the world, transforming China into a national economy with enormous gravitational power over the entire world economy.

This new political and economic geometry of the world system was consolidated in the first decade of the XNUMXst century and should be maintained in the coming years. From our point of view, the United States will maintain its centrality within the system, as the only power effectively capable of intervening in all geopolitical areas of the world, while remaining, at the same time, the State that issues the international reference currency. . From now on, the European Union will play an increasingly secondary role, supporting the United States, especially if Russia and Turkey deepen their ties with the United States in the Middle East. In this new international context, India, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, South Africa, and perhaps Indonesia, will have to increase their regional and global power, on different scales, but they still won't have the capacity to project its military power beyond its regional borders. In any case, two things can be said with certainty at the beginning of the second decade of the XNUMXst century:

(a) There is no “law” that defines the mandatory succession and the date of the end of American supremacy. But it is absolutely certain that the simple economic overtaking of the US will not automatically transform China into a global power, much less into the leader of the world system.

(b) The time of conquering “small countries” is definitely over. The future of the world system will involve – from now on – a permanent “game of war of positions” between large “continental countries”, as is the pioneering case of the USA, and now it is also the case of China, Russia, India and Brazil . In this dispute, the US already occupies the epicenter of the world system; however, even before the other four countries acquire the necessary military and financial capacity to be a global power, they already jointly control about a third of the territory and almost half of the world's population.

(III) Finally, with regard to Latin America, Brazil achieved a reasonable degree of autonomy at the beginning of the XNUMXst century, and has already entered the group of States and national economies that form part of the “central kaleidoscope” of the system, in which everyone competes with everyone else, and all alliances are possible, depending on the country's strategic objectives and its proposal to change the international system itself. This new political and economic importance should grow steadily over the next few years in South America, the South Atlantic and southern Africa, but Brazil will continue to be a country without the capacity to project its military power globally.

From this point forward, Latin America will be increasingly hierarchical, and the future of South America, in particular, will be increasingly dependent on the choices and decisions made by Brazil. In the first place, if Brazil takes the “path to the market”, it must certainly transform itself into a high-intensity export economy of oil, food and commodities, a kind of “luxury periphery” of the great purchasing powers of the world, as Australia and Argentina were in due time, or Canada, even after industrialization.

In this case, the rest of South America must follow the same path and maintain its original status as the “primary-exporting” periphery of the world economy. But Brazil can also follow a new path within South America, combining industries with high added value, with the production of food and commodities of high productivity, being, at the same time, self-sufficient in terms of energy. But this will never be a purely technical or even economic choice, because it presupposes a prior choice, of a political and strategic nature, regarding the objectives of the State and Brazil's international insertion.

And here again, there are at least two alternatives for Brazil: to remain a privileged partner of the United States, in the management of its continental hegemony; or fight to increase its capacity for autonomous strategic decision-making, in the field of the economy and its own security, through a determined policy of complementarity and growing competitiveness with the United States, in solidarity with South America, forming variable alliances and circumstances with the other powers of the world system. All this, however, can only become reality if Brazil is able to develop its own resources and instruments of action and projection of its presence within its regional board, and in the context of the system International..

* Jose Luis Fiori is professor of international political economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books by about the war (Voices, 2018).


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