1. “Critique to a Dualistic Reason: the platypus”, Francisco de Oliveira

This series will attain itself in the translation of Francisco de Oliveira’s “Critique to a Dualistic Reason: the platypus”. It will be used, for the translation, the 4th reprint of the author’s work (OLIVEIRA, Francisco de. Crítica à razão dualista: o ornitorrinco. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2013, primeira edição, quarta reimpressão). Notes from the translator will be identified with “T. N.” (translator’s note).

V. S. Quintas

This essay was written as an attempt to answer the interdisciplinary questions drafted by CEBRAP [Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning] regarding the socioeconomic process of the expansion of capitalism within Brazil. CEBRAP’s endowment for such a peculiar intellectual environment of discussion favored the authors endeavor. The author is thankful for the criticisms and suggestions from his colleagues, particularly José Arthur Giannotti, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Octavio Ianni, Paul Singer, Francisco Weffort, Juarez Brandão Lopez, Boris Fausto, Fábio Munhoz and Regis Andrade, as well as Caio Prado Jr. and Gabriel Bolaffi, who participated in seminars about the text. Any fault or error found in this document cannot be attributed to any of them, evidently.



A brief situation of the problem

The perspective of this work is to contribute to a revision to the way of thinking about the Brazilian economy, in a stage which the industrialization became the key sector for the functioning of the system; that is, practically, after the Revolution of 1930. The examination attempted here will center its attention on the structural transformations, understood in the strict sense of a replacement and re-creation of the system’s expansion as a capitalist mode of production. Therefore, it is neither a question of evaluating the system’s performance in an ethical-finalist perspective of meeting the needs of the population, nor of discussing magnitudes of a rate of growth: the ethical-finalist perspective, closely associated with the ECLAC’s [United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean] dualism, seems to be unaware that the primary purpose of the system is production itself, while the second, much to the taste of Brazil’s conservative economists, becomes entangled in a vulgar dialectic as if luck of the “parts” could be reduced to the behavior of the “whole,” the common version of “cake growth theory” [1].

It must be added that the perspective of such a work incorporates, as endogenous variables, the political level or the political conditions of the system: as the course of the analysis will attempt to demonstrate, the “passages” from one module to another, from one cycle to another cycle, are not economically intelligible “in themselves”—in any system that has characteristics of social domination. The “economism” of certain theses, which isolate the economic conditions from the political ones, is a vicious methodological cycle paired with the denial of recognizing itself as ideology.

This work is inscribed alongside other newly written works, which seek to renew the discussion regarding the Brazilian economy; in this sense, the work by Maria da Conceição Tavares and José Serra, “Más allá del estancamiento: una discusíon sobre el estilo del desarollo reciente del Brasil”[2]—retaking an interpretative style and method that have been absent from the Latin American economic literature for a long period, buried under the ECLA’s theoretical avalanche—is inscribed as both a milestone and a script to new inquiries. It should be noted that, on all sides, the Latin American socio-economic thought shows signs of dissatisfaction and of ruptures with the ECLA’s style of analysis, seeking to recapture an understanding of the Latin American issue through the use of a theoretical and methodological arsenal, concealed by a kind of “human respect” that gave way to the use of the marginalist [3] and Keynesian arsenal, thus conferring honor and scientific recognition to the technical and academic establishment. Thus, a good portion of the Latin American intelligentsia has lacerated itself on the tips of the dilemma: while they denounced the miserable life conditions inflicted upon a large portion of the Latin American population, their theoretical and analytical schemes tied themselves to discussions around the relation between product-capital, propensity to save or invest, the marginal efficiency of capital, economies of scale, and size of the market, leading them, unwittingly, to construct a strange world of duality and unwillingly lead to the ideology of the vicious cycle of poverty. [4]

The duality would reconcile the alleged analytical scientific rigor with a moral consciousness, leading to reformist propositions. For the truth, it must be recognized that such a phenomenon was much more frequent and more intense amongst economists than with other social scientists: sociologists, political scientists, and even philosophers were able to escape such dualistic temptation, albeit partially, maintaining, as central axes of interpretation, categories such as “economic system,” “mode of production,” “social classes,” “exploitation,” and “domination.” Nonetheless, the economists’ prestige had largely penetrated other social sciences, which have become almost servile: “modern society”-“traditional society,” for example, is a binomial that, rooted in the dualist model, has led much of the efforts in sociology and political science to a type of Rostowian [5] “blind alley.”

The re-interpretative effort attempted in this work is theoretically and methodologically supported by a terrain in complete opposition to a dual-structuralism: it is not a question of denying the immense contribution of knowledge directly consumed or inspired by the “ECLA model,” but precisely in recognizing there the only valid interlocutor, one whom in the last decades has contributed to the debate and intellectual creation upon the economy and society of both Brazil and Latin America. Even because the opposition to the “ECLA model,” in this period, was neither made nor happened under the name of a more adequate theoretical position: the well-known ECLA opponents in Brazil and Latin America had almost always the same marginalist theoretical affiliation—neoclassical and Keynesian—undressed only from the reformist passion and compromised with an economic, political, and social status quo of misery and secular Latin American backwardness. As impoverished parrots, they have limited themselves for decades repeating the schemes learned in the Anglo-Saxon universities devoid of any critical perspective; their contributions have been strictly null  to the theory of Latin American society. [6] Thus, in attempting a “critique to a dualistic reason,” one can recognize the impossibility of a similar criticism to those “without reason.”

What was previously said should not be read as an attempt to compromise:  what could be called “the underdeveloped mode of production” has to be completely severed or details will continue to be added to it. The concept of underdevelopment, as a singular historico-economic formation constituted around a formal opposition between “backward” and “modern” sectors, does not sustain itself singularly in a theoretical level: this type of duality is found not only in almost all systems, but also in almost all periods. On the other hand, opposition in most cases is only formal: in fact, the real process shows itself as a symbiosis and organicity—a unity of opposites—in which the so-called “modern” grows and is fed by the existence of the “backwards,” if one wants to make use of the terminology.

“Underdevelopment” appeared as the way of being itself of pre-industrial economies penetrated by capitalism, in “motion,” thusly, to more advanced and sedimented ways of it; however, such postulation forgets that the “underdevelopment” is precisely a “product” of the expansion of capitalism. In very few cases, of which the most conspicuous are Mexico and Peru, it represents the penetration of a previous mode of production with an “Asian” character by way of capitalism; in the vast majority of cases, the pre-industrial economies of Latin America were created by the expansion of capitalism, as the global system’s primitive accumulation reserve; “underdevelopment,” in short, is a capitalist formation and not simply historical. By emphasizing the aspect of dependency—the known relation between center-periphery—the theoreticians of the “underdeveloped mode of production” had almost not dealt with the internal aspects of domination structures which conform accumulation structures of countries like Brazil: the entire issue of development was seen through an external relations’ lens and turning the problem into an opposition between nations, leaving unnoticed the fact that before national opposition, development or growth was a matter of opposition between internal social classes. The whole theorizing about  the “underdeveloped mode of production” still does not answer who has predominance: whether the internal laws of articulation generate the “whole” or if the structure of relations are commanded by the system’s connection laws. [7] “Underdevelopment,” being permeated by ambiguity, would seem to be a system moving between its ability to produce a surplus partially appropriated from the outside and its inability to internally productively absorb the other part of the surplus generated.

The break with the theory of underdevelopment has to be radical in the level of theory. Curiously, although not paradoxically, its prominence in the last decades has contributed to the non-development of a theory of Capitalism in Brazil, fulfilling an important ideological function to marginalize questions such as “Who is serviced by Brazil’s capitalist development?” “Sustainable development,” “internalization of the decision-making center,” “national integration,” “planning,” and “national interests” have become the foundational bases of the theory of Developmentalism, diverting both theoretical attention and political action from the issue of class struggle, precisely in a period where the objective conditions of such an issue were aggravated by the economic transformation from an agrarian economy to an industrial-urban one. Thus, the theory of underdevelopment was  the ideology par excellence of the populist period; if today it does not carry out this specific role, it is only because a hegemony of a class has been consolidated in such a way that the face has no need for a mask.


  1. T.N.: “Cake theory” or “cake growth theory” was a strategic justification for the political-economical policies and programs employed (in the time of the writing of this article) for the gigantic rates of growth observed in Brazil, that were accompanied by a much more gigantic concentration of the wealth produced. “We must make the cake bigger, as to have a proper redistribution of the fruits of such growth.” Interestingly enough, such justification emerged in modern times, but not in Brazil; rather, it has now become a proper political orientation in China.
  2. Trimestre Económico, n. 152, Nov-Dec. of 1971, Mexico.
  3. See, for example, the written works of Rolando Cordera and Adolfo Orive about the Mexican industrialization, published by Tase – Boletin del Taller de Anilisis Socioeconômico, vol. 1, n. 4, Mexico. It is not a merely casually, in the same theoretical line, the coincidence of reinterpretations of economies such as the Mexican and the Brazilian ones, each marked by very similar socioeconomic configurations in terms of structural indicators, which were attained through very dissimilar political processes. The non-casual coincidence resides in the fact that both societies came to similar structural situations lato sensu through processes whose common denominator was the wide exploration of their own work force, a phenomenon which is the basis of the constitution of a select market for the dynamic industries, at the same time as the increasing unequal distribution of income.
  4. A typical case is that of [Raúl] Prebisch’s complaint about the mechanisms of international commerce that would lead to the deterioration of the terms of trade in detriment to the Latin American countries. There would lie the basis for a reworking of the theory of imperialism; such a deeper reworking being aborted, the proposition that emerges is clearly reformist and self-denying: Prebisch expects the industrialized countries to “reform” their own behavior, increasing their payments for the Latin American commodities and decreasing the price of the goods they sell—a highly ethical and equally ingenuous proposition.
  5. T.N.: Related to American economist Walt Whitman Rostow, whose model of growth was highly featured in structuralist economic theories.
  6. None of the conservative anti-ECLA economists in Latin America and Brazil succeeded in producing a body of theory; their writings are only occasional—sometimes from here, sometimes “from the other side of the fence.”
  7. Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Enzo Faletto elaborated a dependency theory essentially postulated on the recognition that ambiguity itself grants a specificity to underdevelopment, “dependency” itself being a mode in which the internal interests are articulated with the rest of the capitalist system. They distanced themselves from the ECLA’s model, which sees in external relations only an opposition to supposedly global national interests, to recognize that before a global opposition, “dependency” coordinates the interests of certain classes and social groups of Latin America with the interests of certain classes and social groups outside Latin America. The hegemony appears as a result of the regular thread of interests that are determined by the international division of labor, on the capitalist world’s scale. This formulation appears to be much more correct than the one provided by the ECLA tradition, although it does not provide the right weight to the theoretical and empirical possibility in which capitalism’s expansion to countries like Brazil happens even when the international division of labor is unfavorable.  To my knowledge, capitalism’s growth in Brazil, after 1930, exemplifies this case. See, from both authors, Dependência e desenvolvimento na América Latina [Dependency and development in Latin America], Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1970.

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