Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 14, 2012

Ex-Marxist sociology professor cashes in

Filed under: Brazil,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 5:03 pm

Fernando Cardoso

John Kluge

Today’s NY Times reports that ex-President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso is being honored (or rewarded?):

The Library of Congress will award the $1 million John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime intellectual achievement in the humanities and social sciences to Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who had a distinguished international career as a scholar before twice being elected president of Brazil. An official announcement will be made in Washington on Monday, with an awards ceremony there on July 10.

The newspaper of record finds Cardoso’s regime most laudable:

Brazil has become the world’s sixth largest economy, having recently passed Britain and Italy, and has a dynamic and growing middle class, numbering more than 100 million. As president from 1995 through 2002 Mr. Cardoso was the primary architect of that rise. He presided over the elimination of hyperinflation and initiated sweeping social investment and income redistribution programs, which his two successors have extended and deepened.

Although Cardoso’s political views are dubbed as “hard to categorize”, the two works of this sociology professor mentioned by the Times sound rather Marxist: “Dependency and Development in Latin America” and “Capitalism and Slavery in Southern Brazil,” that is described as “an examination of how racially based servitude contributed directly to Brazil’s economic and social backwardness.”

This is an irony that is missed by the gray lady—surprise, surprise. A Marxist, or at least Marxish sociology professor, becomes the president of Brazil and a leading advocate of what is popularly known as neoliberalism. Under Cardoso’s two terms (1995-2002), the economy did grow but at the expense of the working class, poor peasants and the indigenous peoples.

In a useful history of Brazil on the Mother Earth Travel website, we get the hard data on Cardoso’s “sweeping social investment and redistribution programs”:

Relatively few Brazilians have benefited from the economy. In a country with some of the world’s widest social differences, grinding poverty and misery coexist with great industrial wealth; 20 percent of the population is extremely poor and 1 percent extremely wealthy. Brazil’s Gini index in 1991 was 0.6366. According to the UN, Brazil had the most uneven distribution of wealth in the world in 1995. The richest 10 percent of Brazilians hold 65 percent of Brazil’s wealth (GDP), while the poorest 40 percent share only 7 percent. Brazil placed sixty-eighth out of 174 countries in the UN’s 1997 human development index.

No other organization articulated the needs of the “other Brazil” better than the MST (Landless Workers Movement) that Cardoso’s cops repressed on numerous occasions. On April 17, 1996 military police killed nineteen landless farmers, who were members of the MST and had been demonstrating for the right to take over an unproductive ranch in Pará, Brazil. In Brazil 90 percent of the population lives on 10 percent of the land, so there is obviously a burning need for land redistribution.

Despite expectations that the “radical” sociology professor who wrote so sensitively about slavery would stand up for the rights of indigenous peoples, encroachment on their land continued under his administration. In the first year of his rule, his Minister of Justice Nelson Jobim turned over Indian reservation land that equaled the size of Rhode Island to 14 ranchers.

In a way it makes perfect sense for Cardoso to be given the John Kluge prize in light of this billionaire’s career. In an October 15, 1989 profile on the tycoon, the London Times reported:

The Kluges again hit the headlines last year when three of their gamekeepers in America were convicted of killing federally-protected hawks, owls and even neighbourhood dogs. Kluge had organised an ‘authentic British shoot’ and invited his friends to come and kill imported pheasant and ducks. He feared his stock of game might be hurt or killed by its natural prey, so he ordered anything that would interfere with the good time slaughtered.

The New York crowd merely guffawed at Kluge’s misfortune with the law, and he was in even greater demand at Manhattan’s most chic dinner tables.

Kluge and his ilk have been labelled the ‘Nouvelle Society’, and nowhere were they more in evidence than at the recent spectacularly decadent seventieth birthday party of Malcolm Forbes in Morocco. Patricia’s fortieth birthday party at the Waldorf-Astoria was not quite on a par, but it was quite an event. From Britain came the Sangsters, the Frosts, Lord Grade but no royals, other than the ex-empress Farah of Iran and her son, Ali Reza (who proclaimed himself shah after his father’s death in 1980, so he is a sort of royal).

Kluge, in his high-living, high-spending manifestation, fits in well with the new breed of celebrity entrepreneur who would make the American tycoons of yesteryear squirm with their brashness. The modern celebrity businessman loves the glare of publicity and the flash of the paparazzis’ cameras almost as much as he loves the money he makes.

It is a world where wealth is not worth having unless it can be flaunted, and where no expense is seen as over the top. In Manhattan, Patricia has organised a three-floor penthouse over her husband’s office which is the last thing in glitz and bad taste: solid bronze electric doors, a waterfall that flows over one balcony, a huge sunken bar and sliding walls that rise between the dining room and the lounge at the touch of a button.

In Virginia, there is a butler imported from England, and black servants dressed in antique livery for the bigger parties. ‘We live like we want to live, and it is nobody’s business but ours, ‘ Patricia replied to a critic of her lifestyle.

Dying at the age of 95 in 2010, Kluge was named the richest man in America in 1986, largely through the profits made in the television business. So, like Alfred Nobel, the arms manufacturer, he set up a foundation to award prizes to the deserving.

The question of Cardoso’s political evolution is intriguing. As the title of one of his books should indicate, “Dependency and Development in Latin America”, he is a “dependency theorist”. As someone who has written in support of dependency theory against its critics in the Robert Brenner school, I suppose I should be embarrassed to be connected in any way with some like Fernando Cardoso.

But it should be understood that like all political tendencies on the left, dependency theory had both revolutionary and reformist wings. Cardoso was a reformist as was Raúl Prebisch, an Argentine economist who Nestor Gorojovsky once described to Marxmail as follows:

Raúl Prebisch was much more than a sell-out, dear Lou!

His origin was the pro-imperialist Partido Socialista of the 20s. He broke with the party and entered the Partido Socialista Independiente of De Tomaso and Pinedo, who provided the think tank for the establishment of the pro-imperialist regulatory regime that was imposed on the country during the early 30s.

During those times, he worked as a primary official of the British imposed Central Bank of Argentina (this Central Bank was the carbon copy of the one that Sir Otto Niemeyer had failed to impose on India!) and from that post he developed a very particular form of Keynesianism, a Keynesianism aimed at keeping Argentina within the bonds of the imperialist regime, not at saving central capitalism from itself.

Later on, Peronism swept away Pinedo, Prebisch and all this host of “pure” technicians of economics (of dependent economics) from the high positions in the financial and economic structure of the Argentinean state, while profiting from these structures to put the state to the service of self-centered economic development. This was an attempt to develop a bourgeois revolution without any revolution, a transformation of the role of the state by modifying the direction in which it moved.

As opposed to figures like Cardoso and Prebisch, the theorists grouped around Monthly Review never lost sight of the revolutionary goal. In their ranks were Samir Amin, A.G. Frank and Immanuel Wallerstein. What some on the right and left shared in common was a professional affiliation with the UN’s Economic Commission on Latin America (ECLA). Both Frank and Cardoso worked there.

In an article on dependency theory that I wrote about a decade ago, I summed up Cardoso’s conversion to neoliberalism as follows:

Cardoso, another ECLA economist, turned his back on dependency theory in the mid 1970s. In a 1976 article (“The Consumption of Dependency Theory in the USA”), he made a number of counter-arguments against the MR school:

1. Capitalist development at the periphery is viable. 2. Underpaying labor in the periphery is not essential. 3. The local bourgeoisie is capable of leading dynamic growth. 4. The penetration by multinational firms does not have political consequences. 5. The only alternatives in Latin America are socialism or fascism.

In any case, after Cardoso “saw the light”, he decided to enter the bourgeois political arena. Here are quotes from his earlier dependency phase and his new, more sophisticated understanding:

“It is not realistic to imagine that capitalist development will solve basic problems for the majority of the population. In the end, what has to be discussed as an alternative is not the consolidation of the state and the fulfillment of ‘autonomous capitalism,’ but how to supersede them. The important question, then, is how to construct paths toward socialism.” (“Dependency and Development in Latin America”)

“I am in favor of deregulating the economy. To put an end to inflation means to deregulate the economy, right? The economists invented indexation of the economy to correct the devaluation of the currency. When inflation disappears, indexation will disappear. As we want to defeat inflation, we will deregulate the economy.” (Oct. 6, 1994, news conference.)

“A real process of dependent development does exist in some Latin American countries. By development, in this context, we mean ‘capitalist development.’ This form of development, in the periphery as well as in the center, produces as it evolves, in a cyclical way, wealth and poverty, accumulation and shortage of capital, employment for some and unemployment for others. So, we do not mean by the notion of ‘development’ the achievement of a more egalitarian or more just society. These are not the consequences expected from capitalist development, especially in peripheral economies.” (“Dependency and Development in Latin America”)

“I am certain we must continue to fight inflation, because inflation is what impoverishes Brazil and the Brazilian people. Inflation causes an unfair distribution of income, it prevents calculations from being made and it prevents domestic and foreign investments.” (Oct. 6, 1994 news conference.)

“Of course, imperialist penetration is a result of external social forces (multinational enterprises, foreign technology, international financial systems, embassies, foreign states and armies, etc.). What we affirm simply means that the system of domination reappears as an ‘internal’ force, through the social practices of local groups and classes which try to enforce foreign interests, not precisely because they are foreign, but because they may coincide with values and interests that these groups pretend are their own.” (“Dependency and Development in Latin America”)

“The international system is a field of opportunities, of resources, that must be sought naturally. We are a great country, with a clear vocation for an active and responsible participation in world affairs.” (“Let’s Work, Brazil”, Cardoso campaign manifesto)

“It has been assumed that the peripheral countries would have to repeat the evolution of the economies of the central countries in order to achieve development. But it is clear that from its beginning the capitalist process implied an unequal relation between the central and the peripheral economies. Many ‘underdeveloped’ economies — as is the case of the Latin American — were incorporated into the capitalist system as colonies and later as national states, and they have stayed in the capitalist system throughout their history. They remain, however, peripheral economies with particular historical paths when compared with central capitalist economies.” (“Dependency and Development in Latin America”)

“The process of liberalization of the economy and opening toward the outside world will continue, not an objective in and of itself, but as a strategic element in the modernization of our economy.” (“Let’s Work, Brazil”)

“We stress the socio-political nature of the economic relations of production, thus following the 19th-century tradition of treating economy as political economy. This methodological approach, which found its highest expression in Marx, assumes that the hierarchy that exists in society is the result of established ways of organizing the production of material and spiritual life. This hierarchy also serves to assure the unequal appropriation of nature and of the results of human work by social classes and groups. So we attempt to analyze domination in its connections with economic expansion.” (“Dependency and Development in Latin America”)

“Privatization cannot be proposed or carried out under ideological banners. Privatization imposes itself in order to increase society’s investment capacity, to increase competitiveness and, where it is the case, improve management. (“Let’s Work, Brazil”)


  1. That last quote very much brings the phrase market fundamentalism to mind. He practically turns privatization in to the divine plan.

    Comment by SGuy — May 14, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

  2. This man is clearly a traitor to our ideology. The nation’s wealth belongs to ALL of its people and not a small segment of society.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — May 17, 2012 @ 1:16 am

  3. The disturbing thing is that so many Marxists so easily experience this type of conversion.

    It is probably safe to say that late 20th century neoliberalism in the U.S. would not exist in the poisonous form that we have all grown to hate if not for the contributions of former Trotskyites.

    Can it all be chalked up to venial opportunism and corruption–or that old standby of self-professed Marxists and liberals alike, “evil”?

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 17, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

  4. “It is probably safe to say that late 20th century neoliberalism in the U.S. would not exist in the poisonous form that we have all grown to hate if not for the contributions of former Trotskyites.”

    Where on earth do you get that from? Milton Friedman was no “former Trotskyite” and neither were most of the prominent neoliberals. This line echoes the attempts by some conservatives to distance themselves from the Iraq war by claiming that only neoconservatism supported foreign interventions but that ordinary good conservatism was not interventionist. That was really silly in light of the fact that “paleocons” were the ones who had supported General Douglas MacArthur’s aim of expanding the Korean War by dropping atomic bombs on the Yalu River. Truman gave him the boot over this, and it was the Old Right which supported MacArthur.

    The man who is usually named as “the Godfather of neoconservatism” was Irving Kristol and he never joined the Socialist Workers Party but spent less than 2 years in the youth affiliate group of the SWP. Any real biography of Kristol in those years shows that he paid little attention to Trotskyism and was more involved with reading college books in those years. Kristol was one of the very few neoconservatives who actually had some brief tentative connection to Trotskyism. There were a few others with some limited connections, but not much. A rational summary of all such connections is given here:


    As far as neoliberalism ala Milton Friedman goes, no one has shown even the mild connection that can be made between neoconservatism ala Irving Kristol and his purported Trotskyism. This is just a case of rumors being spewed casually around and picking a life of their own.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — May 17, 2012 @ 6:06 pm

  5. Joe Vaughn’s got it quite backwards. Neoliberalism could only thrive because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and that collapse has nothing to do with “Trotskyites” or Trotsky and everything to do with Stalin & Stalinism.

    BTW: Using the word “Trotskyite” rather than “Trotskyist” is illustrative of one’s politics, that is, they’re either liberals or Stalinists.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 20, 2012 @ 2:02 am

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