francisco de oliveira

T H E D U C K B I L L E D P L AT Y P U S

The platypus sports an unbeatable combination for strangeness: first, an odd habitat with curiously adapted form to match; second, the real reason for its special place in zoological history—its enigmatic mélange of reptilian (or birdlike) with obvious mammalian characteristics. Ironically, the feature that first suggested pre-mammalian affinity—the ‘duckbill’ itself—supports no such meaning. The platypus’s muzzle is a purely mammalian adaptation to feeding in fresh waters, not a throwback to ancestral form. Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus

he theory of underdevelopment—the only original alternative to the classical growth theories of Smith and Ricardo—is decidedly not evolutionist. As is well known, evolutionism had a major influence in practically all scientific fields. Marx himself harboured a great admiration for Darwin, the formulator of one of the most important scientific paradigms of all time, whose dominance is today near absolute. But neither Marx nor the theorists of underdevelopment were evolutionists. Marx’s theory, which focused on ruptures, saw concrete class interests as the driving force of history—that is, the consciousness, however imperfect, of constituent subjects: ‘Men make their own history’. Evolutionism excludes ‘consciousness’: natural selection operates by chance to eliminate the weakest. For their part, the theorists at the un’s Economic Commission on Latin America (cepal) were influenced by Weber—also at the margins by Marx—whose paradigm is singularity: not selection, but action imbued with meaning. There is no Weberian equivalent of the evolutionary ‘finality’ of the reproduction of the species. Underdevelopment, then, did not form part of an evolutionary chain stretching from the primitive world through successive stages to 40 new left review 24 nov dec 2003

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where the theory of underdevelopment was considered ‘reformist’ and an ally of us imperialism. above all in the periphery. Rio de Janeiro 1997. issuing from the conjunction of Brazil’s place in the 1 See Luis Jorge Werneck Vianna. that furnished inputs for capital accumulation in the core. running all the way from a primitive communism before the emergence of classes. and Carlos Nelson Coutinho. Rather it was a historical singularity—the form of capitalist development in ex-colonies. Marxism was equipped with the most formidable arsenal for the critique of classical economics. but he also owed much to cepal and Celso Furtado. Indeed. ‘passive revolution’—but of the most general sort. for a long time a kind of Marxist ‘evolutionism’ held sway. this notion tells us nothing about the particular ex-colonial conditions of Latin America that give the states of the region their political specificity. Behind these writers lay the classic analyses of Brazil produced in the 1930s. now become a periphery of the world system. When it did attempt this. but a product of dependency. which confer on them their social specificity. Nor does it touch on the descent of labour from the degrading institutions of slavery and the encomienda. in Maria da Conceição D’Incao. This relationship. however often they received injections of modernization from it. A Revolução Passiva. which persisted even through drastic transformations. was just what prevented the former colonies from ‘evolving’ into the higher stages of capitalist accumulation. Florestan Fernandes came close to an interpretation along such Gramscian lines in A Revolução Burguesa no Brasil (1975).1 But unlike the theory of underdevelopment. In the case of Latin America. stagism led to serious errors of political strategy.oliveira: Brazilian Platypus 41 full development. yielding a rickety theorization of the capitalist periphery based on Stalin’s schema of historical stages. it obtained major results— the ‘Prussian road’. that is to say. São Paulo 1989. História e Ideal: Ensaios sobre Caio Prado Jr. But it failed to specify its concrete historical forms. from catching up with the dynamic centre.. to a modern communism after their disappearance. as Carlos Nelson Coutinho and Luis Jorge Werneck Vianna maintain. and possessed a general account of capitalist development in its theory of accumulation. ed. Underdevelopment was thus not a truncated evolution. . which dwelt on the peculiarities of Portugal’s colony in South America and a sociability shaped by a combination of the Iberian legacy and a system of exploitation based on slavery. Underdevelopment could be classified as an instance of Gramscian ‘passive revolution’. ‘Uma via não-clássica para o capitalismo’.

Three points stood out in this process. since otherwise the concept would be meaningless. The term ‘underdevelopment’ is not neutral: its prefix indicates that the peripheral formations so constituted have a place in the international division of capitalist labour. For this very reason the internal class struggle offered an opening—linked to a shift in the international division of labour—in the shape of the Revolution of 1930 which brought Vargas to power. But the concept is not stagist in either a Darwinian or Stalinist sense. a homage of vice to virtue. Although the passions of the time moved me to some invective against the cepalinos. In his Formação Econômica do Brasil (1959). in which industrialization arose as a project for continued domination through other forms of the social division of labour—even at the cost of toppling the coffee-owners from their central position within the local bourgeoisie. which were a clumsy way of trying to introduce new considerations into the building of a specifically Brazilian model of underdevelopment—in their fashion. Here. Here were the two legacies to which I returned in trying to understand why and how leaders like Vargas and their creatures—the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (ptb) and the Partido SocialDemocrático (psd)—had presided over Brazil’s industrialization. but they too had forgotten this lesson. The essay was Marxist and cepalino in the sense that it sought to show how the articulation of the economic forms of underdevelopment included political forces. not as an external contingency but a structuring factor. but then abandoned this great insight. which is accordingly hierarchical. . and as a study in specificity to the line of cepal. Advancing across backwardness My ‘Critique of Dualist Reason’ attempted to bring these crossed paths together: as an exercise in critique it belonged to the Marxist tradition. and the industrialization by import-substitution that ensued from it. The first concerned the function of subsistence agriculture in the internal accumulation of capital. that classes are forged in struggle. The Eighteenth Brumaire should already have taught Marxists that politics is not external to class movements. I have long repented of those errors. Celso Furtado gave us the key to that conjuncture: the crash of 1929 leading to a kind of Brazilian 18th Brumaire. resting a modern manufacturing sector on a backward subsistence agriculture.42 nlr 24 international division of capitalist labour with the articulation of domestic economic interests. Furtado had touched on this in his interpretation of the crisis of overproduction of coffee in the 1930s.

ed. a system then incorporated into the mature fazenda system—benefactions as ‘primitive accumulation’. but also produced a surplus that could not be so reinvested. no. facilitating the accumulation of industrial capital. I noted that subsistence agriculture not only helped to lower the cost of reproduction of the labour force in the cities. a thesis still in vogue in such theorizations as Arthur Lewis’s account of wage-formation in conditions of excess labour-power. Furtado himself. Estudos cebrap. since the Brazilian economy had posted a secular growth rate since the nineteenth century without parallel in any other capitalist economy in the world. Theory of Economic Growth. Mexico 1982. Paris 1995. for all its heuristic value.4 In this set of imbrications between subsistence agriculture. 4 ‘O desenvolvimento da agricultura nordestina e a função das atividades de subsistência’. vol. 1949. Monitoring the World Economy 1820–1992. 16. La obra de Prebisch en la cepal. But this was not perceived by the line of Furtado and cepal. and legislation for a minimum wage held to be incompatible with capital accumulation. January 1993.oliveira: Brazilian Platypus 43 Raúl Prebisch and Furtado had run into the ground with a notion of the backward sector as obstacle to development. 3 See Angus Maddison. saw its ‘function’ in the genesis of accumulation and the expansion of markets outward from São Paulo. Francisco Sá Jr’s essay of the same period explored this process in the local conditions of the Northeast. when he studied subsistence farming in the Northeast and in Minas. I argued. and was drained off in realestate speculation. El Trimestre Económico. 2 .2 These ideas lacked any historical basis. London 1955. one of whose cradles was in Minas. The birth of the modern Brazilian banking system. 63. offered further proof of the relation between forms of subsistence and the most advanced sectors of capital. ‘El desarrollo económico de América Latina y algunos de sus principales problemas’. This seminal cepal report can be found in Adolfo Gurrieri. Raúl Prebisch. then. the explosive growth of cities treated as a marginal phenomenon. the banking system. a theme we can find in Marx’s Civil War in France. Not that I considered these solid foundations for Arthur Lewis. that backward agriculture financed modern agriculture and industrialization. I strongly disagreed with theories in which backward agriculture was viewed simply as an obstruction. the financing of industrial accumulation and the cheapening of the reproduction of the labour force in the cities lay the fulcrum of capitalist expansion in Brazil..3 Studies of the coffee economy showed that its initial cycle of expansion made use of the subsistence plots of the crop-pickers to supply their needs at low cost.

In no sense was this a Darwinian adaptation to the rural and urban conditions of capitalist expansion in Brazil. Ultimately.44 nlr 24 the expansion of Brazilian capitalism. The phenomenon of shanty constructions explained the paradox that the poor.5 The singular condition of underdevelopment could have been resolved in a non-evolutionary way. or of revolution in production without bourgeois revolution. they were one of the ways in which the cost of reproduction of the urban labour force was lowered. including factory workers. For once the dualism of cepal theories was rejected. ed. informal labour as the exception to the commodity. the oppressed know what is happening to them. Brazil’s place in the international division of capitalist labour. state coercion as the exception to private accumulation. As Benjamin said. With this. out of its own contradictions. its indispensable role as a partner in capitalist expansion. as a conservative modernization. as a certain kind of anthropology would have it. to the state—so many expressions of the distinctively Brazilian form of transformismo. especially the second part. as a new urban social class. these were basically the unresolved forms of the agrarian question and the status of the labour force. in my view. what struck the eye was the ‘productive’ character of our backwardness. It was from this that I derived an explanation for the role of the ‘reserve army’ involved in informal activities in the city. Estados e Moedas no Desenvolvimento das Nações. Petrópolis 1999. it was and is the latter’s weakness to generate such an unequal distribution of income as to constitute a grave obstacle to future accumulation. nor a ‘survival strategy’. could have provided the modern 5 See José Luis Fiori. . For most thinkers of the time these were little more than consumers of the surplus or mere lumpen. the subordination of the proletariat.. Keynesianism avant la lettre—this last found in ‘late capitalisms’ too. patrimonialism as the exception to inter-capitalist competition. were the owners of their own homes—if that is what the horrors of the favelas can be called: so reducing the monetary cost of their own reproduction. reconfirmed by every cycle of modernization. On the contrary. underdevelopment is the exception that is made of the oppressed: shanty-towns as the exception to the city. if there had been a social will to take advantage of the ‘riches of iniquity’ on the periphery. underdevelopment could be seen as the permanent exception to the capitalist system on its periphery. Rather.

No effort was made to do away with patrimonialism. it turned its back on an alliance with subordinate classes. iron control of the unions. a high degree of state coercion. recognized that the national industrial bourgeoisie preferred an alliance with international capital. during his presidency. above all in the newest branches of manufacture. On the contrary. The growth of trade unions could have brought an end to the high rates of exploitation made possible by the low cost of the labour force. in Antonio Barros de Castro’s phrase. Delfim Neto. São Paulo 1964.6 The coup of 1964. Roberto Schwarz maintains that. under the same economic czar who had presided over the earlier ‘Brazilian miracle’. an opening to foreign capital—‘forced march’ industrialization. now ex-president and eternal candidate for occupancy of the Planalto. which had been the Achilles’ heel of the previous constellation of forces. Anatomy of the platypus What is the platypus like? It is highly urbanized. but also liquidated patrimonial power. This is perhaps the best academic work produced by this former sociologist. 6 . Cardoso implemented to the letter the conclusions of this book: having renounced a national project. an increase in the weight of state enterprises in the economy. it became clear he was a total impostor. it has a strong agrobusiness sector. Agrarian reform could not only have stemmed the ‘reserve army’ in the cities. as in the Vargas and Kubitschek periods. and therefore little pre-capitalist residue. already weakened by the growing internationalization of industry. nor to resolve the acute problem of the internal financing of capitalist expansion. the local bourgeoisie opted without hesitation to integrate the country into global capitalism. The results were plain by the time of the last military government. But half of the solution was missing: such emancipation was not a goal shared by the national bourgeoisie. followed by others in the majority of Latin American countries. on the contrary. opening the gates to financialization of the economy and of the state.oliveira: Brazilian Platypus 45 technical means to ‘jump stages’. with a sparse rural population and labour force. beyond the dreams of any nationalist of the previous period. The long military dictatorship of 1964–84 opted unambiguously for the ‘Prussian road’: heavy political repression. Instead external debt became the way out. closed down possibilities that had once lain open. Considered a miracle-worker. It has a well-developed Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s Empresário Industrial e Desenvolvimento Econômico.

the rural share is small and declining.mre. Perhaps the proportion is as high for the us. since it was democratized almost three decades ago. but with a radical difference: the vital fluid that circulates internationally The Brazilian figure is from ibge.br. which distorts the calculation of the product of the financial sector. tied to the meagre spending of the poor. But it has yet to produce knowledge. What is lacking from its ‘evolution’? The answer lies in its circulatory system: the high proportion of debt to gdp demonstrates that the economy cannot function without an external supply of money. By way of comparison. and there has been a continued boom in service-sector jobs. The financial sector is still somewhat atrophied. July 2000. System of National Accounts. science and technology: it is basically still copying. for the other countries. The advances it has received are formidable: in 2001 total foreign debt reached an alarming 41 per cent of gdp. if it were a primate it would practically be a homo sapiens. and is currently inching its way towards the Third—molecular-digital or information—Revolution. notably affecting orange trees and coffee plants. and interest payments servicing it were 9. that the Brazilian figure dates from the period of low inflation after the Plano Real. There are few capitalist economies like this. 55. The platypus seems to be endowed with ‘consciousness’.1 per cent of gdp. whereas the figure is only 4 per cent in the us. however.7 In terms of the economically active population. it nonetheless accounts for a high proportion of gdp: 9 per cent in 1998.8 One can only hope it will not decide to clone itself. This is the portrait of an animal whose ‘evolution’ has followed all the family footsteps. 7 . industrial employment peaked in the 1970s but is now also on the wane.8 per cent of Brazilian gdp. 8 Mariluce Moura. averages for the period 1985–91 are taken from Fernando Cardim de Carvalho. Its service sector is very diversified at the high-income end. posing various methodological difficulties. though the deciphering of the xylella fastidiosa genome indicates that it may not be far away from certain advances in the field of biogenetics.gov. and 6 per cent in the uk—economies at the financial centre of globalized capitalism. Germany and France. Xylella fastidiosa is a bacterium that causes a range of plant diseases. it is extremely primitive. Note. and are available at www. yet because of the financialization of the economy and high internal debt. ‘O novo produto brasileiro’.46 nlr 24 industrial sector that has undergone the Second Industrial Revolution. in 1993 the financial sector accounted for an estimated 32. at the other end. Pesquisa fapesp no. if more extravagantly wasteful than sophisticated.

in Boris Fausto. and the real lost 30 per cent of its value. Such dramatic financial dependency. with frightening levels of volatility. combining insufficient overall accumulation with a bias towards industry. the dollar. Rio de Janeiro 1973.. Metamorfoses e Regulação: O Mercado de Trabalho do Brasil nos Anos Oitenta. But it is also an advance on future production so that. here was a form this side of value: the very work-force created by migration towards the cities. rather than a pre-capitalist reserve army of labour. the external loans that financed Brazilian exports dried up. if we add up the internal and external debt. University of São Paulo 1995. I have made particular reference to their research in an essay on the extreme violence of the inter-war crisis: ‘A Emergência do Modo de Produção de Mercadorias: uma interpretação teórica da economia da República Velha no Brasil’. the result is that in order to produce a given annual gdp. PhD thesis. iii: O Brasil Republicano. 11 See Elson Luciano Silva Pires.10 This external dependency has also created an equally terrifying internal burden of debt. we are now dealing with an industrialized country that is nevertheless returning to the same subordinate financial position.9 But there is a fundamental difference: before 1930. In theoretical terms. as a mechanism for absorbing the domestic liquidity injected by the influx of speculative capital from abroad. ed. which the us itself issues. 9 . 1889–1945. 10 Between the final quarter of 2002 and March 2003.oliveira: Brazilian Platypus 47 and returns to the us is its own blood. See Anibal Villanova Villela and Wilson Suzigan. when the costs of servicing the debt—that is. Brazil must run up an equivalent amount of debt. vol. external funds flowed back and the exchange rate strengthened again. of which there were signs by the end of the 70s11—in my view. From this point of view. Subjugation of virtual labour In the underdeveloped past. Once political fears of the pt government vanished. São Paulo 1975. ‘evolution’ has taken a step backwards: we are no longer looking at underdevelopment. Política do Governo e Crescimento da Economia Brasileira. Sociology Department. The financialization of the economy has become a reiterative process. but a situation that if anything resembles that before the crisis of 1930. was used to provide services to cities that were in the process of industrializing. interest payments plus amortization of the principal—consumed the country’s entire receipts from exports. coffee exports constituted the entire Brazilian economy. História Geral da Civilização Brasileira. ‘informal’ labour could be regarded as a temporary transition towards a formalization of wage relations. is now practically irreversible.

The dominant classes. and all working time becomes production time. Ideally. because capital makes use of the worker when it needs him. community between workers and consumers: in the shopping centres.48 nlr 24 Subjugated by a combination of the molecular-digital revolution and the globalization of capital. a non-place and non-time. The evolutionist. Think of someone in their house. Today. So the door remained open to transformation. neo-Schumpeterian literature on the economy of technology suggests that technical progress is incremental. All growth in labour productivity originates in capital’s struggle to close the gap between those two quantities. There is a contradiction here: the path of relative surplus value should be one of a decrease in unpaid labour. underdevelopment would appear to have been an evolution turned inside out. doing the work that would previously have been allotted to a bank clerk: what kind of labour is this? Concepts such as formal and informal have no explanatory force here. but in reality it is the opposite. and so depends . equal to total time. The heaviest. the aim would be to transform the total time worked into unpaid labour. But it is in information that abstract virtual labour resides. rather than chance. Here absolute and relative surplus value virtually merge: absolute. Rather. the platypus has lost the capacity to choose. In this perspective. In its dual constitution— concrete forms and abstract ‘essence’—the consumption of living labour has always encountered an obstacle in the porous border between total time worked and productive time worked. Its ‘exotic’ forms can be found where labour appears as recreation. accessing their bank account via computer. therewith its evolution is truncated. relative. chose an internal form of division of labour that would preserve their dominance. the productivity of labour has somersaulted towards the plenitude of abstract labour. increases in the productivity of labour mean that intervals of non-work disappear. since that is only possible because of immense productivity. ‘Consciousness’ selected it. which only sorcery could achieve. The services are the region of the social division of labour where this rupture is most vivid. A kind of ‘abstract virtual labour’ has been created. most primitive kinds of work are also home to it. incorporated into a division of labour that sets producers of raw materials against producers of capital goods. Its form is a phantasmagoria. entertainment.

From the point of view of capital accumulation. as Derrida has remarked. Desenvolvimento tecnológico no Brasil: Autonomia e dependência num país industrializado periférico. Science is made by making technology. The result is a perpetual race against the clock.12 While technical progress during the Second Industrial Revolution was based on knowledge that was widely diffused. ephemerality and incremental progress blocks the path of economies and societies that remain in the rearguard of technicalscientific knowledge. The first and most obvious is that peripheral—now sub-national—systems or countries can only copy disposable commodities. . a demonstration of the skills of Brazilian researchers in a specialized niche. The second and less obvious consequence is that accumulation realized by copying disposable commodities also enters into an accelerated obsolescence. but is locked up in patents. PhD thesis. The deciphering of the xylella fastidiosa genome looks as if it will be little more than an ornament of local pride. This combination of disposability. divorced from the science that produced them—just as the reverse holds: scientific knowledge cannot be produced without the appropriate technology. the new kind of scientific knowledge is not available on the shelves of the supermarket of innovations.oliveira: Brazilian Platypus 49 on prior scientific accumulation. University of Campinas 2001. and leaves nothing behind. The unattainable matrix The molecular-digital revolution erases the frontier between science and technology: the two are shaped by a single process. not a presage of a new rule for the production of knowledge henceforth. It is also disposable and ephemeral. and vice versa. This implies that technological products are not available for use. this has profound consequences. What purely technological products remain are merely consumer goods. The molecular-digital revolution deletes—to use a computing term—the barrier between them definitively. or supersession. not the techno-scientific matrix that produces them. unlike accumulation based on the Second Industrial Revolution. The new matrix demands levels of investment that always remain beyond 12 See Carlos Eduardo Fernandez da Silveira. allowing countries to ‘leap forward’ suddenly by appropriating it. The manufacture of atomic and hydrogen bombs and the corresponding production of nuclear energy—though fusion has yet to be successfully completed— already exhibited that cancellation.

the productivity of soft-drink vendors at stadium entrances has been increased by the ‘just in time’ inventories of the refreshment manufacturers and distributors. the output–capital ratio deteriorates: more and more capital is required to obtain less and less product. is now under discussion. Impasses of the periphery Overcoming disposability and ephemerality would require a colossal effort of scientific and technical research. and was resolved by adopting the Palm-m and ntsc models. intensifying this contradiction. with a higher proportion going to r&d. at the cost of enormous political repression The prospect of Brazil producing its own digital tv sets. in 1997 the Brazilian figure was less than 1. or else copying what is internationally available. Molecular-digital accumulation conjoins the crudest use of labour-power. but the labour by which the vendors realize the value of such merchandise could scarcely be more primitive. to leap to the forefront of technical progress. 14 Data taken from Revista bndes. Antonio Palocci. To give another example. takes the view that it is not worth it. since it would require an investment of billions of real for a precarious return. No technological-scientific effort was made to create an original model. multiplying the share of research and development in gdp several times over. June 2001.50 nlr 24 the capacities of domestic forces of accumulation. that is. 13 . any attempt to export Brazilian-made digital tvs would be a dangerous daydream. In terms frequently used by the theorists of cepal. disposable copies. are declining. According to Carlos Fernandez da Silveira. The pt’s Treasury Minister.13 Since globalization increases labour productivity without bringing about capital accumulation—just because of the divisible nature of the molecular-digital technical form—incomes remain staggeringly unequal. The accumulation of capital needed for a jump of these proportions would mean not only lifting the ratio of investment to gdp over a long period—in 1999 it stood at some 18 per cent—but above all changing the mix of investment. reinforcing the mechanisms of external financial dependency. The same dilemma presented itself in the case of colour tvs. given the small size of the Brazilian market.14 There have been historical periods in which certain national economic subsystems have accomplished such a feat. as are growth rates. measured by the coefficient of investment in gdp. Results always fall short of efforts: rates of accumulation. only to adapt existing patterns. Another option would be to enter into a technical-scientific consortium with China. and the system of patents overseen by the wto.5 per cent. For him.

the production of consumer goods was utterly scorned. even in the best years under Kubitschek. for instance. the technical forms of capital accumulation of the Second Industrial Revolution facilitated extraordinary advances. there now seems nothing to hand for a country that has just created a Zero Hunger programme to cope with the terrible. To raise it. they could not be used to produce wage goods: metallurgical equipment cannot make bread. that there was no way consumption would not suffer. the military dictatorship resorted to external financing. investment never exceeded 22 per cent of gdp. in the Soviet case. 15 . but technical-scientific knowledge itself becomes indivisible in the unity of science and development. In the case of the Soviet Union. Taking advantage of the enormous reserve of ‘informal’ labour created by industrialization. except in In the theoretical debates of the 1950s. the ‘model’ adopted by the Soviet Union seemed to give it an advantage—as Maurice Dobb and Nicholas Kaldor argued— because capital goods drove economic development. In the case of Japan. creating an enormous debt that became an engine of coercive growth and financial subordination. there being no ‘day after’ when high rates of investment are no longer required. the forms are divisible. the population has become so accustomed to saving that the country now has an enormous surplus of deposits that do not become investment. which finally led to the bottlenecks of the Soviet experience. but because these were typically indivisible. molecular-digital accumulation did not need to undermine the concrete-abstract forms of labour drastically.oliveira: Brazilian Platypus 51 and an extremely frugal regime in which the production of consumer goods remains insignificant. But due theoretical attention was not paid to the indivisibility of the technical forms of the Second Industrial Revolution. in the molecular-digital revolution. Here. In the Keynesian equation. Which meant.15 The paradox is that capital accumulation in the forms of the Second Industrial Revolution could move forward using the technical-scientific knowledge that was available. But since incremental accumulation must be continual. crippling Soviet agriculture and eventually leading to widespread hunger. Here. When they reach the periphery. although the model did produce astonishing growth rates in the first period of the Five Year Plans. even the consumption of electronic gadgets—whose production has shifted to China—cannot absorb Japanese incomes. p = c + s or i. the effects of an astounding increase in the productivity of labour—that abstract virtual labour—are devastating. prosaic consequences of an immeasurably unequal distribution of income. The case of Brazil was quite different. though the forms themselves were indivisible.

unemployment rates of almost 30 per cent in Greater São Paulo. The most obvious determinants of the contradiction lie in its combination of external dependency with the depressed status of labour. Tertiarization. Petrópolis 1998. occupations rather than jobs—groups of youths at intersections selling almost anything. be considered capitalist at all. Despite impressive growth rates. The extraction of surplus value could be accomplished without resistance. In São Paulo. Pious programmes attempt to ‘train’ this workforce. the new polyvalent worker’s equivalent of an appeal to God.17 The reverse is true: when recovery occurs.52 nlr 24 certain small Fordist niches.16 This process can be observed in every sector of the economy and at all levels. Quinze and Boa Vista streets—traditional purlieus of bankers and their clerks—have become vast carpets of assorted ironmongery. beer and mineral water throng the entrances to sports stadiums twice a week. with French elegance. The latter once supported a form of accumulation that 16 17 Robert Castel. unimpeded by any of the earlier barriers to complete exploitation. providing it with ‘qualifications’—a Sisyphean task. There is nothing more tragic: they are being taught the very foundations of disposability. Thousands of vendors of Coca-Cola. peddlars everywhere. a bazaar of many forms where horribly kitsch copies of high-quality consumer goods are sold. Converging with so-called productive restructuring. the result was what Robert Castel has termed ‘disaffiliation’. pursued in the belief that good old-fashioned work. Guaraná. and what is still improperly termed informal labour expanded. casualization. will return when the business cycle revives. the platypus is one of the most unequal capitalist societies on earth—more so than even the poorest economies in Africa which cannot. abstract virtual labour will become still more deeply embedded. In the 1980s the tendency towards formalization of wage relations ground to a halt. brightly lit Municipal Theatre stages the dramas of a society in ruins. or the deconstruction of the wage relation. like filling a basket with water. workers are taught some computing. . strictly speaking. As Metamorfoses da Questão Social. I am tempted to say. flexibilization. both cleaning and dirtying car windscreens. not as contradictorily as it might seem. sustained over a long period. et pour cause. We are theoretically dumbstruck: this is abstract virtual labour. ‘on the books’. The area around the handsome. In all these ‘re-qualification’ courses. In every succeeding period of growth. it will be intermittent and of unpredictable duration. 25 per cent in Salvador.

small but great. Yet virtually all products of the molecular-digital revolution can reach the lowest-income groups as consumer durables. organizations of the working-class could transform the inegalitarian structure of our income distribution. underdevelopment—but. in the manner of the Frankfurt School. Crises of over-accumulation unfold solely as problems of oligopolistic competition. the global telecoms giants threw themselves into a predatory contest. that this ability to bring consumption to the poorest sectors of society is itself the most powerful social narcotic. despite well-intentioned criticisms. up to a point. There. combined with the former. São Paulo 2002. His last book. altered his admonition for the better. The military coup of 1964 had already been triggered by the signs that workers’ organizations were no longer mere ‘transmission belts’ for what See. So far as popular consumption is concerned. but. Rio de Janeiro 1966. overemphasized the importation of predatory consumption patterns. as they did in the national subsystems of Europe with the creation of the welfare state—the spread of wage relations becoming the vector for labour to acquire collective power. 18 . These occur only when the galloping concentration of wealth decelerates. there are no crises of realization: digital compartmentalization is fully capable of descending into the infernos of a staggeringly skewed distribution of income. rather than viewing the distribution of income as its determinant. greedy for the most succulent prizes. setting up mobile phone systems and lowering the price of handsets—increasing imports—only to run up against obstacles in the indigence of the poor. This did in fact occur in the 1970s. after privatization. creates an internal market that can only consume copies. the market can be sliced up without giving rise to crises of realization. It could be said. Once the molecular-digital revolution becomes the principal technical form of capital accumulation. in a vicious circle.oliveira: Brazilian Platypus 53 financed expansion—that is. of course. Rio de Janeiro 1972. and then Em busca de novo modelo: reflexões sobre a crise contemporânea.18 Emergence of a new class In principle. as the forests of antennas and even satellite dishes on the hovels of the favelas testify. as in the telecommunications sector today. in my view. derived from over-accumulation. Análise do ‘Modelo’ Brasileiro. Celso Furtado had already warned of this development. respectively: Subdesenvolvimento e estagnação na América Latina.

oil and banking—looked set to expand wage labour and its correlates. of which the most powerful is Previ—the fund of the functionaries of the still state-owned Banco do There is now an ongoing reassessment of that literature. and Jorge Ferreira. which took populism to be a quasi-fascistic form in Latin America thriving on the passivity of the working classes. State enterprises were the spearhead of this process—oil workers were ‘public functionaries’ engaged in the production of commodities—which gave rise to large pension funds.19 The emergence of the great union movements of the 1970s.54 nlr 24 the sociological literature termed ‘populist’ domination. such a loss has an enormous significance. there would be no workers.21 They are the administrators of the pension funds that originated in former state enterprises.. Eroded by restructuring of production. above all in the automobile sector. it remains the case that if such positions did not exist. but this is no longer underdevelopment. 20 There was a contradiction here: what was termed the ‘authentic’ trade union movement—as opposed to the stooges installed in the large unions by the dictatorship—worked along American lines. and the universalizing logic of the demands pursued by the ‘authentic’ unions—in auto. abstract virtual labour and political ‘force’. social security and various indirect benefits. ‘Trabalhismo e Populismo: Novos Contornos de um Velho Debate’. ed. Debate e Crítica. Class representation lost its basis and the political power founded on it withered. which always led the movement in the industrial suburb of São Bernardo. Negotiations at plant level then extended elsewhere precisely because the employers were large multinationals. If Edward Thompson was right to insist that a ‘worker’ is not merely a position in the process of production. O Populismo e sua História. 19 . of which the pt is largely the product. Later. See Alexandre Fortes.20 The share of wages in national income increased. The class structure was also truncated or modified. unpublished. seemed to indicate that a ‘European’ road could be followed. in part. Today no break with the long Brazilian ‘passive road’ is in sight. 21 See The Work of Nations. what Robert Reich called ‘symbolic analysts’. The shifts in the technical-material basis of the economy could hardly fail to have repercussions on class formation. The classic example was Metalúrgicos de São Paulo. That movement halted in the 1980s and went into steep decline thereafter. The upper layers of the old proletariat became. New York 1992. the crisis of external debt and the consequent inability of manufacturers to pass on higher costs to consumers brought this American-style unionism closer to European models. labour no longer has any social ‘force’. Rio de Janeiro 2001. In the specific conditions of Brazil.

in total investment. a member of the administrative council of bndes. The final flowering of Brazilian welfare. which either turned to dust or were bought up by the Vicunha group. 22 . and the apparent paradox that Lula’s government is carrying out Cardoso’s programme. that is. The Constitution of 1988 established the Fund for Workers’ Assistance (fat). one of its current leaders. but the expression of a genuinely new social stratum. and radicalising it. this was precisely how Força Sindical defeated the trade union of the then nationalized steel industry (Siderúrgica Nacional). offered three seats to the pt. See Relatório de Atividades do bndes de 1994 a 1999. which is now the largest source of longterm capital in the country.22 This simulacrum of socialization has produced what Robert Kurz calls ‘monetary subjects’. the state bank that financed the restructuring of the civil aviation sector. 23 Os Últimos Combates.93 in 1999: Revista bndes. This is not a mistake.25 What The share of fat funds in bndes’s liabilities increased from 2 per cent in 1989 to 40 per cent in 1999.23 The function of the workers who ascend to these posts is to ensure the profitability of the very funds that are financing the restructuring of production that creates unemployment. Petrópolis 1999. produced these funds. Of those who became part of the Foundation’s governing body. one is. It is this that explains recent pragmatic convergences between the pt and the psdb. fluctuated between 3. based on technicians and intellectuals doubling as bankers—the core of the psdb. which was basically organized in state enterprises. and workers become pension-fund managers—the core of the pt. a ‘pragmatic’ former communist boss. June 2001.25 per cent in 1990 to 6. operating precisely through bndes. In turn. Private-sector unions are now also organizing their own pension funds.24 No-one subsequently asked what happened to the workers’ shares. Trotskyists and Catholics. the share of bndes expenditures in Gross Fixed Capital Formation. which now controls the industry. after the example of those in the state sector. The cut was formed in 1983 by unionists of diverse origins—both pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese communsts.26 in 1998 and 5. in their capacity as workers’ representatives.oliveira: Brazilian Platypus 55 Brasil. 25 The board of frb-Par. before being dismissed amid allegations of corruption. which was linked to the cut (Central Única dos Trabalhadores)—by forming an ‘investors’ club’ to finance the privatization of the enterprise. was Labour Minister under Collor. 24 Força Sindical was founded in 1991 on the basis of São Paulo unions by Luis Antonio Medeiros. or was until recently. the holding company that controls the airline Varig. Ironically. This stratum sits on the boards of such key financial institutions as the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (bndes). Antonio Rogério Magri. in which Varig is the main—and highly insolvent—enterprise.

A Weberian would say that the new class is taking shape in ‘value-rational action’. its dynamic lies in the appropriation of major portions of public funds. For not only is there a new place for it in the system—above all in the financial sector and its mediations in the state—which satisfies one of the Marxist criteria for defining a class. The story of Menem’s privatizations could have come from Chicago in the Prohibition era. but privatizations in Brazil and Argentina differed only in degree. A Democracia no Brasil: Dilemmas e Perspectivas. The recent birthday celebrations of the former treasurer of cut could hardly be a more vivid illustration of the fact that this experience is confined to the new stratum. Indeed. in Guillermo O’Donnell and Fábio Reis. mingling with the bourgeoisie and its executives. in Thompson’s terms. Who could have known that workers owned so many planes? 28 I broached this phenomenon in ‘Medusa ou as Classes Médias e a Consolidação Democrática’. which is ultimately the form of its consciousness. such knowledge and previous control over state enterprises became straightforward plunder. See Horacio Verbitsky’s devastating account: Robo para la corona: los frutos prohibidos del árbol de la corrupción. 27 A high point in the festivities after the pt victory in the presidential elections of 2002 was the party given by the former treasurer of the cut.27 It cannot be extended to workers at large. They gather in the new ‘pubs’. but on the place where part of those profits are made: public finances.56 nlr 24 they have in common is control over access to public funds. these people are no longer workers. eds. there is also a new class ‘experience’. 26 . and of Lula’s campaign. The press counted between 15 and 18 private jets and small aircraft landing at the fazenda where the party was held. which is not that of the bourgeoisie. São Paulo 1988. since it derives precisely from a new consensus on state and market.28 In the extreme case of post-Soviet Russia. where I considered the ‘jellyfish’ of appraisers an important part of the middle classes.26 The formation of this class in the periphery of globalized capitalism—Reich’s theories are essentially concerned with phenomena at the system’s dynamic centre—needs closer scrutiny. The class also meets Gramscian requirements. and an insider’s knowledge of the lay of the financial land. since classes are forged in class struggle. This is where its specificity lies: its lien is not on private-sector profits. Those who were economists under Cardoso and are now bankers are legion. Buenos Aires 1991. Finally. but this should not lead us to confuse the two: their ‘place of production’ is control over access to public funds.

the platypus lacks any ethico-political moment. with Blade Runner. ‘accumulation’. Hegemony. and here the platypus has no ‘consciousness’. the platypus presents us with the peculiarity that the main investment funds are the property of the workers. in Gramsci’s formulation. develops in the superstructure. Such is the platypus. which will prevent it from redistributing income and creating a new market that would provide the bases for digital-molecular accumulation. ‘This is socialism!’ a revenant from the first decades of the twentieth century would exclaim. under the pt. properly speaking. But under the dominance of finance capital. it is the turn of social security. these are now mere transfers of property. Long live Marx and Darwin: the capitalist periphery has finally brought them together. only superstructural replication. that Darwin had his epiphany? . not. Marx. in the Galapagos. and it is equally impossible to progress by digital-molecular accumulation—the internal requirements for such a rupture are wanting. What remains are ‘primitive accumulations’ of the sort fostered by privatization.oliveira: Brazilian Platypus 57 Viewed from another angle. who so wanted the approval of Darwin. who did not have time to read Capital. and take advantage of the openings allowed by the Second Industrial Revolution. Now. The platypus is condemned to thrust everything into the vortex of financialization. The theorist who foresaw it was Ridley Scott. But was it not in these lands. It is no longer possible to remain underdeveloped. The capitalist platypus is a truncated accumulation and an unremittingly inegalitarian society. But contrary to the hopes of some.

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