3. The role of the Class struggle

By its pioneering struggles for the basic means of survival, the emergent proletariat in the artisanal and manufacturing centres, which had been developing since the 19th century, formed itself as a class and began to play a significant historical role. It was thus able to take a major part in the revolutionary process which was unleashed after the First World War. Its tradition of strike-action and other forms of struggle, coupled with the European experience of a section of the immigrant workers, enabled the Brazilian proletariat of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre to exercise a crucial influence on the revolutionary movement which carried the bourgeoisie to power. For there had been a rapid development of the organization of the Brazilian working-class in the years before 1930, with the spread of the capitalist relations of production diffused by the ‘industrial revolution’.

However, there were other phenomena which also had an important bearing on the growth of the working-class. These were all, in one way or another, linked to changes in the agrarian sector. Massive European immigration was beginning, caused by the expansion of coffee-culture, the inception of factory production and the suppression of the slave-trade in the mid-19th century (under British pressure). Capital involved in the slave-trade was being diverted into non-agricultural activities. The first tariff walls were going up. These simultaneous and interrelated phenomena laid the foundations of industrialization.

As a result, slavery itself was abolished in 1888, and the major obstacle to the radical separation of the producers from the means of production was removed. For the slave was in many respects himself a means of production. Consequently, after a certain point slavery obstructed the economic rationality characteristic of a fully developed capitalist mode of production. Its abolition was a further precondition of industrialization.

Finally, the chronic crises in coffee-culture forced many labourers into the cities and towns or back into the subsistence sector; there they provided a pool of labour which manufacturing industry could draw upon when it needed. The availability, indeed excess supply of labour was consequently increased with a decisive structural impact on the development of the economy. Industrialization had now become a possible historical option, as the effects of industrial capitalism spread throughout the world. Capital, labour and technology became available with the direct or indirect protectionism created by special legislation and the repercussions of the First World War and other capitalist crises on Brazil. Thus entrepreneurial openings emerged and entrepreneurs duly appeared. In a socio-cultural context which had fostered consciousness both of the possibility and necessity of developing the forces of production, entrepreneurial activity was in fact an inevitable outcome.

But this transformation was neither easy nor immediate. It was not simply a matter of reordering the different factors of production. To release the new economic forces at work, the resistance of the agrarian-commercial bourgeoisie, which controlled the State apparatus and the agencies of national economic policy, had to be overcome. Numerous facets of the social, political, juridical and cultural order were incompatible with the needs of the nascent industrial capitalism: the electoral system, the power of the ‘colonels’ (coronelismo), the lack of democratic procedures for forming the necessary elites, the fragility of the legislation protecting mines and natural resources, the inefficacy of tariff barriers, the disarray in class relations, the rigidity in style of domination which marked successive governments, and so on. The rise of the industrial bourgeoisie thus inexorably entailed a class struggle which created and fuelled the political movements of the time. Thus, even before 1930, the industrial bourgeoisie had begun to use the proletariat as an instrument or an ally.

The State apparatus was controlled by representatives of the ‘agrarian aristocracy’, which could not change it without repudiating itself. For the necessary innovations would have involved a break with imperialism and a transformation of the levers of power and economic policy which it could not effect without self-contradiction: for the agrarian bourgeoisie was essentially an appendage of international capitalism.