Under the rule of speculative capital

Image: Cyrus Saurius


The extreme right, ultraliberal policies and the resurgence of authoritarianism in Latin America

The intensification of the class struggle around the world following the great capitalist crisis of 2008 inaugurates a new phase in the configuration of the State, social policies and political conditions for the processing of the struggle between capital and work, presenting dramatic contours in Latin America .

We can speak of a new phase as a result of the intransigent defense of a relevant part of the capitalist class in relation to themes such as individual freedom, the reduction or elimination of the intervention capacity of the State in the regulation of relations between organizations and private companies, currency control, the maintenance of internal and external security and the promotion of social welfare measures, signaling some important differences in relation to neoliberalism. In Latin America, the underfunding of the State's social policies has been observed, with the adoption of tougher fiscal austerity measures, control of social spending and privatization of companies and public services, including education and health. This new phase has been called by some authors as ultraliberal (CALIL, 2016, AUGUSTO, 2016, MATTOS, BISSONE, MAMIGONIAN, 2016, PAULANI, 2019).

Two elements seem to contribute to the process of ultraliberalization. The first is the centrality of interest-bearing capital, with the dominance of parasitic speculative capital, in economic and social relations in capitalist society. In it, industrial capital becomes speculative capital and is subordinated to speculation and parasitism. The speculative logic of this capital, in which money produces more money in the stock and derivatives markets in a short period of time, dominates all other forms of capital, resulting in exacerbation of competition between large productive capitals, flexibility of production and the market of work and stimulating the consumption of expendable products so that this capital (the productive industrial capital) can achieve gains similar to those of speculation (CARCANHOLO, NAKATANI, 2015). This dynamic generates enormous material wealth on the one hand and growing misery in almost the entire world on the other. Total deregulation would facilitate the processes of destruction of capital and surplus labor, obstacles to the maintenance and reproduction of astronomical profits.

The second is the growth of social tensions that accompany the increase in unemployment and poverty. Popular uprisings around the world signal the existence of a high level of dissatisfaction, especially among young people, and a reaction capacity of workers not expected by the bourgeois elites. The growth of social tensions and the organizational potential of the participants in the revolts has led the bourgeoisie to respond with increased repression, authoritarianism and the erosion of the institutions of the so-called democratic states of law. The democratic rules and institutions are dissolved through the emptying of the mechanisms of control and inspection of the actions of companies and banks, the hardening of the penal legislation for small crimes, the reduction of the transparency of the acts of the State, the control over the judiciary, the shock the credibility of journalists, press and science communication agencies, the criminalization of militants and leaders of social movements and the social movements themselves. The limits to the repressive actions of the police and military institutions in the democratic states of law promote, among the ultraliberals, yearnings for the breaking of these limitations and for the privatization of the use of force. As they reason, homeowners should have a “right” to protect themselves and their property.[1].

These concerns, aspirations and measures are unequivocal signs of the incompatibility between democracy and capitalism. Its representative and elitist version is in shock with the reproduction needs of capital in the contemporary world. According to Jacques Rancière, representative liberal democracy created an oligarchic rule of law in which “the power of the oligarchy is limited by the double recognition of popular sovereignty and individual freedoms” (2014, p.94) and in which some principles and rules, conquered for the democratic struggle of male and female workers, ensured some civility to the political struggle.

We are well aware of the advantages of this type of State, as well as its limits. Elections are free. In essence, they ensure the reproduction, with interchangeable captions, of the same dominant personnel, but the ballot boxes are not rigged and anyone can verify this without risking their life. The administration is not corrupted, except on the question of public procurement, where it becomes confused with the interests of the dominant parties. The freedoms of individuals are respected, at the expense of notable exceptions in everything related to the protection of borders and the security of the territory. The press is free: whoever wants to found a newspaper or a television station capable of reaching the population, without the help of the financial powers, will have serious difficulties, but will not be arrested. The rights of association, assembly and demonstration allow the organization of a democratic life, that is, a political life independent of the state sphere. Allow is obviously an ambiguous word. These freedoms are not gifts from the oligarchs. They were conquered by democratic action and their effectiveness is only maintained through this action. (RANCIÈRE, 2014, p.94-95)

This process of dissolution of democracies is even more perverse for Latin American states and their incipient and fragile democracies.

With a rich territory (mineral wealth, oil, natural gas, untouched forests, water reserves and abundant labor) subject to devastation, the election of progressive and center-left governments in the 2000s and the establishment of some social reforms ( salary improvements, expansion of access to social security benefits, expansion of access to credit, land and health and education services, nationalization of companies and natural reserves), the advance of criticism of neoliberal hegemony, a perspective of integrated national development and the The expansion of democratic participation, especially in countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela (KLACHKO, ARKONADA, 2017), was followed by a strong re-articulation of the right and the extreme right whose authoritarian projects never effectively left the scene. Some of the social advances conquered, such as the expansion of conditional income transfer programs, were not threatened by this right, but the advance in the ability to articulate, organize and mobilize indigenous populations, residents of the outskirts of large cities, students[2], of workers and quilombolas – which culminated in large street demonstrations across the continent since 2011-, put into operation a machine for the destruction of democratic advances that included parliamentary coups[3] (Honduras, Paraguay and Brazil), the redirection of popular agendas using the traditional press and new media to overestimate legitimate concerns about public safety and corruption (Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela) and legal and infra-legal changes such as political and labor reforms (Brazil) that affect the organization and support of small leftist parties and union organizations by withdrawing resources or making access to them difficult (including resources from the workers themselves in the case of unions).

The actions of the Latin American right and extreme right, articulated by parties, press organizations, research institutes, business organizations, state bodies (judiciary, police and armed forces in particular) and social movements (the right also came to have their own movements and hold street demonstrations)[4] are processed on three fronts. First: occupy the streets and newspapers with agendas for combating corruption and violence, redefining democracy and human rights, or, according to Rancière (2014), attributing totalitarian traits to democracy, in which the “excess of rights”, the massification, multiculturalism, identity movements subject and restrict individual freedoms and at the same time prevent the formation of national communities[5]. Second: to occupy the main organs of the State (executive, legislative and judiciary) and to advance the ultraliberal project in the economy and conservative in customs, introducing significant changes in the legislation that regulate the relations between capital and work, the relation with the environment, the main social policies (pension, health, social assistance and education), the inspection and control bodies of economic activities and the legal instruments for promoting cultural production, in order to destroy the few existing social conquests. It is not just about occupying State bodies and promoting their class interests, but preventing other interests from being expressed within this State. It is a project of economic, political and cultural hegemony, but also of homogenization, of elimination of differences and divergences. Third: eliminate the opponents of the project, the parties, social movements and leaders of the center-left, left and even center-right (the so-called “democratic right”), resorting both to force (pure and simple repression, legal proceedings and murders) regarding lying, slander, defamation and moral, political and legal embarrassment. For these right and extreme right, the power of the democratic project in its most radical terms, that of true popular sovereignty, holds an enormous danger. The danger of “continuously wresting from oligarchic governments the monopoly of public life and of wealth the omnipotence over life” (RANCIÈRE, 2014, p. 121).

The scenario of the COVID-19 pandemic deepens the capitalist crisis (abrupt and general drop in consumption in all sectors of the economy, unemployment, stagnation and inflation) and at the same time opens an opportunity for a deep reflection on the foundations of this society , also signals the resurgence of authoritarianism with fascist and eugenic traits.

In Latin America, poor black and indigenous populations are hardest hit by COVID-19. Remote work is only an alternative for small groups of workers in the service sectors and liberal professionals. It is almost a privilege in the face of the millions of precarious workers who cannot protect themselves. The response to the drop in consumption and profit rates has been unemployment, a reduction in hours and wages and a cut in benefits. Avoiding business closures and economic ruin remains a top priority. For capital, the life of the miserable masses is really superfluous.

The resurgence of authoritarianism advances as the pandemic, unemployment and misery advance. The need for social isolation as the main way to prevent the spread of contagion and the collapse of health systems required a surveillance system on the population's activities, as well as access to biomedical data and control, through personal equipment such as cell phones and tablets, on the formation of agglomerations. Such controls may extend, in the near future, to the political activities of citizens.

The political instability that characterizes contemporary capitalism gains a new component in the pandemic with disputes between denialists and defenders of science. This component works as one more element in the process of fascistization of society, in which, for the right and the extreme right, it is necessary to separate the strong from the weak, the God-fearing from the men without faith, the endowed with merit from the worthless, those who want economic growth and prosperity for those unable to undertake. All political decisions, in particular those involving social and security policies, will involve the separation between those who can remain alive and those who can be killed. Although blacks, indigenous peoples, women, the elderly, the disabled, the LGBTI+ population and religious minorities are well aware of the invisible sanitary cord that separates them from schools, jobs, medical care, access to culture and leisure and leads them to death. Measures to fight or not fight the pandemic (as in Brazil) and to reactivate the economy (which was in a deep recession before the COVID-19 pandemic) will deepen the gap between the richest and the poorest. Without treatment and vaccine for everyone, care to avoid contagion requires a new logic for organizing life and production[6] in opposition to the logic of capitalist production and reproduction of capital. It seems easier to eliminate the remnants on the grounds that they perished because they were weaker and more incapable.

Revolts will happen, but they can be properly contained because the rebels will not have the “immunity stamp”[7] (other pandemics will come), but, above all, because the rebels will not be, and are no longer considered equal. According to this perception, they would not have the conditions or competence to participate in society and will continue to be arrested or killed by the police, private militias or armed “good citizens”.

In the context of a profound economic, political and health crisis, for capitalism to survive, capitalists need to free themselves from “formal 'collectivist' controls of elections, the actions of pressure groups and even the public armed forces.” (AUGUSTO, 2016, p.144). In short, they need to be freed even from representative liberal democracy.

*Ana Targina Rodrigues Ferraz is a professor at the Department of Social Work and at the Graduate Program in Social Policy at the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES).

Originally published on New Moon Magazine Newsletter.



AUGUSTO, André Guimarães. What is at stake in “More Mises, Less Marx”. In: DEMIER, Felipe, HOEVELER, Rejane (orgs). the conservative wave: essays on the current dark times in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Mauad, 2016.

BRAVO, Maria Inês Souza; MENEZES, Juliana Souza Bravo de. (org.) Health, Social Work, social movements and councils: current challenges. São Paulo: Cortez, 2012.

CALIL, Gilberto. The massacre of Paraná: the Beto Richa government's ultraliberal offensive against workers. In: DEMIER, Felipe, HOEVELER, Rejane (orgs). the conservative wave: essays on the current dark times in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Mauad, 2016.

CARCANHOLO, Reinaldo; NAKATANI, Paulo. Parasitic speculative capital: a theoretical precision on financial capital, characteristic of globalization. In: GOMES, Helder (Org.). Speculation and fictitious profits: parasitic forms of contemporary accumulation. São Paulo: Other Expressions, 2015. 300p.

KLACHKO, Paula; ARKONADA, Katu. Popular struggles in Latin America and progressive governments: current crises and challenges. São Paulo: Popular Expression, Perseu Abramo Foundation, 2017.

MATTOS, Hebe, BISSONE, Tânia, MAMIGONIAN, Beatriz G. (orgs). Historians for Democracy: the coup of 2016: the strength of the past. Sao Paulo: Alameda, 2016.

PAULANI, Leda Maria. Bolsonaro, ultraliberalism and the crisis of capital. In: Left margin, v.32, p.48-55, 2019.

RANCIÈRE, Jacques. Hatred of Democracy. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2014.



[1]One of the main flags of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is the release of weapons and ammunition so that the “good citizen” can protect his family and his assets.

[2] Chilean high school and university students have revolted against the country's privatized education since 2006.

[3] The resignation of Evo Morales in Bolivia in 2019 was the result of violent pressure from this right through the armed forces, police and parliament.

[4] In Brazil, there are notable movements such as the MBL (Movimento Brasil Livre), Vem Prá Rua and Revoltados On Line. Among the entrepreneurs, 200 pelo Brasil and Renova Brasil stand out, in addition to the Millenium Institute and Ludwig Von Mises Brasil.

[5] In Brazil, extreme right-wing street demonstrations rescued the insignia of the military dictatorship: “Brazil: love it or leave it” and “Beloved country, Brazil”.

[6]Which would imply a smaller number of workers in all sectors of the economy, a shorter working day, classrooms with few students, larger spaces for teamwork, establishment of shifts for the work of servants and teachers, broad access and equality to information technologies and the internet, more workers in health and social assistance services to avoid queues and crowds and provide proper care to those who need it, produce and consume only the essentials and preserve water, air, forests, the land.

[7]The creation of this seal was suggested by some scholars and within the WHO (World Health Organization).




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