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LAGW Seminar: Progressivism, Reaction, and the Politics of Local Capital in Neoliberal Brazil, 1996-2016

March 2 at 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm

Gilman Hall 308

The Johns Hopkins Latin America in a Globalizing World works in progress seminar welcomes Lucas Azambuja, Sociology, JHU, to present:

Can Latin American capitalist classes take part in progressive projects against neoliberal austerity? Through the case of the Brazilian local bourgeoisie, this paper builds on dependency theory to develop an understanding of the specific politics that come with capitalists’ participation in such movements. Focusing on the actions and discourses of leaders in Brazil’s most powerful industrial association, the São Paulo Federation of Industry (Fiesp), I analyze local capital’s involvement in the Workers’ Party (PT) “neodevelopmentalist” project, which sought to alleviate the social costs of neoliberal reform through state intervention, industrial policies, and social spending. Data for this analysis comes from 1) Fiesp internal archives and publications; 2) Fiesp studies and informational materials; and 3) media reports. I demonstrate that while intra-capitalist class tensions and dislocation produced by market reform led Fiesp toward the PT’s project in the late 1990s, the politics of this involvement distinguished local capital from other displaced constituencies. First, industrial leaders’ involvement in this movement came with a reconfiguration of preexisting pro-market, pro-industry ideologies also compatible with neoliberal austerity. In turn, Fiesp leaders’ turn to reaction in 2014, spurred by distributive struggles unleashed by the end of the commodity boom, was predicated on the same ideological repertoire deployed in support of the PT’s progressivism. Second, throughout their participation, industrial leaders remained committed to a modality of neoliberalism fitted to their realities as a “dominated-dominant” class in semi-peripheral Brazil. To conclude, I argue that alliance with progressive movements and reaction are outcomes of industrial leaders’ negotiation of global economic shifts and domestic struggles between traditional elites, the state, and popular sectors. I place this in relation to Vania Bambirra’s contention that to ensure stable accumulation and order, industrial leaders will consistently choose [dependent] economic liberalism over developmentalism. 

“Please email Prof. Casey Lurtz ( for a copy of the paper and the Zoom link.”

Location: Gilman Hall 308