Capitalism is not quarantined

Image_Stela Maris Grespan

By Fabiana Scoleso*

Latin America and the Caribbean are now the epicenters of the Covid-19 health crisis, but also the region where 8 new billionaires have emerged. It's not a paradox. It's the capital.

In capitalist society, the question of property cannot be dissociated from the private appropriation of the surplus labor of others or, in other words, from the question of exploitation. Society cannot be reduced to an agglomeration of individuals or “immediate workers”. It is a relationship between antagonistic social classes”.
The Dispossessed: Karl Marx, Lumber Thieves, and the Rights of the Poor – Daniel Bensaïd, 2017:46.

According to the newspaper The state of Sao Paulo On July 9, 2020, Brazil returned to the position of the largest soy producer on the planet. Since 2018 and according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Brazil had already surpassed the country as the world's largest producer of soybeans, especially due to the expansion capacity of its agricultural frontier. It is in the Brazilian cerrado that this dynamic has increasingly occurred and also placed the State of Tocantins (where I live and work) among the largest producers in the national territory.

It is clear that the good performance of the Brazilian crop in the middle of the pandemic raises a series of issues that need to be discussed. According to the IBGE,[I] Brazil should harvest a record 247,4 million tons of grain in the harvest that ends this year, which corresponds to 2,5% compared to 2019. For CONAB (Companhia Nacional de Abastecimento), the projections are a slightly larger and the 2019/2020 harvest should break a record of 251,4 million tons. Other relevant information comes from an IBGE forecast survey called “Sistematico Agricultural Production Survey (LSPA)”, responsible for monthly monitoring of crops and which indicates an increase of 0,5% in the total estimate of soy harvested in Brazil in 2020.

It is relevant to highlight the set of actions taken by conservative governments in Latin America, in particular in Brazil, which even under the wave of catastrophes caused by Covid-19, highlight their positive performances in some sectors of the economy. One of them is the list of activities that were considered essential and that, therefore, did not have their production paralyzed, in addition to all the direct and indirect links associated with the agribusiness value chain that were considered essential in this period. It's a relevant equation to think about. Agribusiness today corresponds to a mode of production called Agriculture 4.0, a set of cutting-edge digital technologies integrated and connected through software, systems and equipment capable of optimizing agricultural production, in all its stages, that is, it is the productive system of the capital of our time, in addition to being one of the sectors with the highest rate of informality[ii].

In neoliberal Brazil, agribusiness came to have a prominent place in the economy, it was reconfigured especially by the policies adopted for the sector and by the ebb of industrialization in the country. The “phenomenon” of deindustrialization opened up important political and legal possibilities for agribusiness, for new mining projects and for neoextractivism in general, spread across the Legal Amazon and throughout Latin America, what Maristella Svampa calls the “Commodities Consensus”. ”[iii].

The value production circuit and accumulation of these sectors became even more evident throughout the 2012st century, especially when the New Forestry Code (2016) and the New Legal Framework for Biodiversity (XNUMX) were published, examples of legal hybridity that establish profound connections with the new configuration of global power and with the interests of the Transnational Capitalist Class (CCT) on the control of organic, inorganic and human nature, considering that in this circuit different modalities of work are employed in its new productive model. It is the expansion of the productive capacity of private properties producing commodities that, through changes in specific points of the law such as Permanent Preservation Areas (APP's) and Legal Reserves, promote a great expansion of their activities. Eduardo Gudynas[iv] points out that as a consequence of the general changes taking place in Latin America and the Caribbean, what is established is “the annulment of many components of any social and environmental justice strategy”.

It is not by chance that environmental issues have also become subjects of great national and international debates due to the intensification of deforestation, burnings, soil and water contamination, in addition to the constant threats and conflicts with indigenous peoples and traditional communities. Transnational law increased the ability to converge with the interests of the transnational capitalist class and built, and continues to build, new possibilities for carrying out accumulation in the Latin American context. In a ministerial meeting on April 22, 2020, the Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, mentioned the need to approve as many measures as possible to make the laws of his portfolio more flexible using the term “pass the cattle”.

Agribusiness was called by President Jair Bolsonaro, on July 28, 2020, “The Locomotive” of the country. The locomotive that has been ignoring the lives of those who work in this value creation circuit. Data on the pandemic produced by the Geoprocessing Laboratory of the Federal University of Tocantins, in research coordinated by Professor Dr. Rodolfo Luz, demonstrate that in Bico do Papagaio, as the north of Tocantins is known, the number of cases of infections and deaths from COVID-19 has only increased, revealing the degree of lethality of the coronavirus in that territory as a directly associated and integral element. of the agribusiness circuit, which is headed by the municipality of Araguaína, where the highest number of deaths in the entire state is recorded (MAP 1, at the end of the article). It is evident that the coronavirus has its lethality, but more lethal is the antisocial metabolism of capital, as Professor Dr. Ricardo Antunes, recognized researcher of the world of work.

As already highlighted, Tocantins is at the center of the agribusiness circuit, circumvented by the states that make up the great mass of commodity production, both those generated by agribusiness and mining: Goiás, Mato Grosso, Maranhão, Bahia, Pará and Piauí. This set of states characterizes a Specific Zone of Intense Accumulation (ZEIA) that during the pandemic received a belt of government adjustments as a way to protect its interests and guarantee its operations and the volatility of this portfolio of financial assets. It is yet another important record of the profound inequalities of capital that gives male and female workers the following alternative: expose themselves to contagion or die of hunger.

On July 29, 2020, another link in this production chain received attention from the Chamber of Deputies. Provisional Measure No. 945/20[v](in process since April) on the rescue to the Ports during the COVID-19 pandemic, whose rapporteur is deputy Luis Felipe Bonatto Francischini (PSL-PR), is yet another expression of the political project to safeguard the interests of capital which takes advantage of the installed exceptionality to make significant changes to Law 12815/2013, which governs the port system. Among them is included a change in the right to strike for workers in the sector, precisely in Art. 4th paragraph 1st,

Provides for temporary measures in response to the pandemic resulting from covid-19 within the scope of the port sector and on the assignment of courtyards under military administration.
Art. 4th In the event of unavailability of individual port workers to meet requests, port operators who are not met may freely hire workers with a fixed-term employment relationship to carry out foreman services, block, stevedoring, cargo checking, cargo repair and vessel surveillance.
1 For the purposes of the provisions of this article, unavailability of port workers is considered to be any cause that results in immediate non-compliance with requests submitted by port operators to the Manpower Management Body, such as strikes, stoppages and standard operations.[vi]

The productive system of capital shaped by new capitalist relations is responsible for constant restructuring in the mode of production and control that has in the Law the guarantee of its expansion, recreation and protection. The intended legal security has, in the form of state norms of a neoliberal nature, the security of social reproduction according to its values ​​and needs. It is a historical-social relationship that has specifically structured bases and ballasts and that sustains the traditional rhythm of social reproduction[vii].

Oxfam Brazil published in the report Who pays the bill? – Taxing Wealth to Confront the Covid Crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean[viii] that, during the pandemic, billionaires in Latin America and the Caribbean increased their fortunes by US$ 48,2 billion. While unemployment and lack of income plague poor populations in Latin American countries, billionaires break their own wealth accumulation records. The sociometabolic system of pandemic capital is formed by the economic stimulus package adopted in the region, by the elaboration of a list of activities considered essential and which were not paralyzed during the pandemic, and by the overexploitation of the work of a mass of workers without social protection. .

On July 2, 2020, the International Labor Organization published an article on the sharp increase in unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean, a situation that could worsen by further increasing social inequalities.[ix]. What does this mean and what does it have to do with the agribusiness value chain? According to an analysis by the ILO office for Latin America and the Caribbean entitled Labor Outlook in times of COVID-19: Impacts on the labor market and income[X],

“Latin America and the Caribbean are going through an unprecedented economic and social crisis, not only because of its magnitude but because of its extension to all countries in the region. This will be reflected, as is already being observed, in unprecedented impacts on the labor market through the net loss of employment and hours worked, the deterioration of the quality of the jobs and the reduction of income from los trabajadores y de los hogares.”[xi]

Destructive pandemic capital (a necessary redundancy) and its current mode of production and control applied to agribusiness uses a combination of elements to keep the global chain active. Among them stands out the intense use of digital techno-information mixed with certain types of work, especially the informal one. The female and male workers associated with this value production chain had no choice: they continued with their jobs inside the slaughterhouses, in the logistics of moving goods, such as truck drivers, and all those associated with the export circuit, since this is the production path. With the dollar above BRL 5,00 and, despite the elasticity of commodity prices, agribusiness celebrates its figures on more than 85.000 corpses and the human tragedy that has been the coronavirus around the world.

*Fabiana Scoleso is a postdoctoral student in Sociology of Work at Unicamp, professor of the International Relations course at UFT and coordinator of the Observatory of Social Movements and Traditional Communities of Tocantins – UFT)

Originally published on Maria Antonia Newsletter, GMarx Newsletter-USP, Year 1, n. 39



[I] IBGE. News agency. Available in:>. Accessed on: 2 Aug. 2020.

[ii] According to the 2018 ILO Report on informal work, in rural areas, informal employment represents 80% of the total, almost double the rate found in urban regions (43,7%). In agriculture, it reaches 93,6% of workers, while in industry and services the percentages fall, respectively, to 57,2% and 47,2%. Informality is also linked to certain types of hiring. The phenomenon is more common in part-time jobs (44%), temporary jobs (60%) and in the combination of these two characteristics (64%). In full-time activities, the index drops to 15,7%. For more see:–pt/index.htm

[iii] SVAMPA, Maristella. The frontiers of neoextractivism in Latin America: socioenvironmental conflicts, gyroecoterritorial and new dependencies. São Paulo: Elephant, 2019.

[iv] GUDYNAS, Edward. rights of nature: biocentric ethics and environmental policies. São Paulo: Elephant, 2019.

[v] BRAZIL. Official Diary of the Union. Provisional Measure No. 945, of April 4, 2020. Available at:>. Accessed on: 2 Aug. 2020.

[vi] Idem.

[vii] An excellent historical debate on the subject is provided by Alyson Leandro Mascaro in the article: MASCARO, Alyson Leandro. The sociological context of legal certainty and judicial discretion. College August 28. Available in:>. Accessed on: 2 Aug. 2020.

[viii] OXFAM BRAZIL. Who pays the bill. Available in:>. Accessed on: 2 Aug. 2020.

[ix] UNITED NATIONS BRAZIL. ILO: Sharp increase in unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean leaves millions without income. Available in:>. Accessed on: 2 Aug. 2020.

[X] ORGANIZATIONAL INTERNACIONAL DEL WORK. Labor Outlook in times of COVID-19: Impacts on the labor market and income in Latin America and the Caribbean. Available in:–es/index.htm>. Accessed on: 2 Aug. 2020.

[xi] Idem.

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