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The Primitive Accumulation of Frankfurtianism: Notice on Brazilian Critical Theory

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This essay presents the appropriation of second-generation Frankfurtian thought by Paulo Arantes and Roberto Schwarz, two Brazilian contemporary authors, as a response to national problems whose understanding demands a contextualisation within the general picture of the development of capitalism, as well as a perspective of radical critique of bourgeois society. This approach develops from the first receptions of Critical Theory in Brazil in the early 1960s and late 1970s, when military dictatorship and so-called ‘democratic reopening’ forced the Left either to accept the alliance with the national bourgeoisie prescribed by Soviet policy or to revise the categories of orthodox Marxism so as to insist on a radical critique of capitalism. In both moments, leftist intellectuals who chose the second path turned to the Frankfurt School's critique of bourgeois modernization for inspiration. The Marxian notion of the Primitive Accumulation of Capital was also explored in order to emphasize the seamless continuity between colonial violence, in the beginning of Brazilian history, and the country's late entrance in world capitalism. Schwarz's and Arantes's generation perceived that continuity, not as something accidental and exceptional, but as an example of what, in bourgeois civilization, was the rule, and therefore Brazilian modernisation appeared not as a still-unfinished process, but as a necessarily precarious and complete event: the country's miserable integration within international division of labour. On the other hand, certain specificities of that integration, insofar as they appear as more than a Brazilian accident, can be expanded so as to contribute to a diagnosis of capitalism as a whole. Schwarz develops this problematic through an interpretation of the literary work of Machado de Assis. In it, the Brazilian elite of the 1800s – at once pro-slavery and liberal, and thus exemplifying the compatibility between European lumières and colonial brutality – functions as a key to understanding the limitations of the promises of bourgeois civilisation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-11-01

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