Mercantilism: Britain & Spain (was Re: the role of forcedlabor)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sun Nov 26 18:40:42 MST 2000

Hi Nestor:

>What in fact happened was quite more complex than W's pale
>description as quoted by
>Mine. And this complexity is essential to understand the history of
>Latin America, particularly the early stages of the revolution (this
>does not apply
>in EXACTLY the same way to Brazil, though in a general sense it does).
>The failure of Spain, which can be summed up in the assesment of the
>rachitism of
>its manufacture and thus its impossiblity to become a "modern"
>colonial power in the
>sense that Britain or Holland already were, implied that until the
>1750s, more or
>less, Latin America had to develop its own local handicrafts and primitive
>manufactures. The whole system can be best represented by the Southern South
>American section of the Spanish empire.
>The nucleus, the core, of this machine, were the mines of silver of
>Potosí in what
>today is Bolivia. While Chile was specialized in agriculture (mainly
>wheat) to feed
>the populations in the uplands, what then was the rich section of
>Argentina (current
>Northwestern provinces, partly the Western provinces) had
>specialized in producing
>both mules (which were devoured by the mines in proportions even
>higher than human
>beings!) and some rough means of production. The whole schema worked
>around the
>exports of silver to Spain. In exchange, Spain would, IN A QUEER KIND OF
>MERCANTILISM, be the sole provider of --mainly British, French and
>Flemish goods!
>Since these goods were too expensive for the poor populations, a host of local
>productive units appeared which in a way or other provided to their
>(rural industries included, of course).
>This structure was not DOOMED to become "underdeveloped". The whole
>effort of the
>generation of Independence was directed against this possibility. If
>Latin America
>became underdeveloped it is not due to its primeval poverty (were
>the settlers in
>North American backwoods in any sense richer?), but due to the betrayal to the
>common cause by the oligarchic and mercantile minorities in a few
>trading harbors,
>Buenos Aires being the paradigmatic example (with perhaps Montevideo
>as a second in

During the 16th century, Potosi was about ten times larger than New
York & it remained the largest producer of silver until the wars of
independence.  As I wrote in another post (in reply to Michael
Hoover), at the time of independence, Latin America probably was
richer & (at the very least) more promising than North America.
However, political independence couldn't bring about centralization
necessary for state-building, nation-building, &
home-market-building, blocked by regional elites & the British: "In
the first and last attempt of founding the United States of South
America (Panama Congress in 1826), Bolívar's ideas were contested by
the leading regional elites, who believed that they would be able to
guarantee better their economic and political interests in
independent nations than in a larger but geographically split federal
state.  Similarly, the international policy of Great Britain opposed
strongly this kind of federation; for example, Argentinian
representatives never participated in Bolívar's Congress because of
British political and economic pressures" (at

And within each post-independence republic, similar struggles played
out; for instance, "The struggle for the constitution in Argentina is
the story of four decades of conflict between Buenos Aires, opposed
to a federal government, and the rest of the provinces, which found
in that system the best protection for their economic and political
interests.  Only in 1853, after the military defeat of Buenos Aires
by the governor of Entre Ríos, a coalition of provincial governors
managed to organize a convention that produced a federal constitution
supported by the majority of the provinces....[However] conflicts of
interest remained and Buenos Aires resisted its integration until
1860..." (at

The seeds of regional & national fragmentation, however, must have
been sown earlier, during the Spanish colonial rule:

*****   Regional fragmentation:-  The new outlets opened to external
trade, combined with the rapid growth of agricultural and mining
exports gave birth to new mercantile groups in several of the
colonies, whose interests were linked to local progress, as opposed
to those interests of mercantile and landowning groups in other
colonies.  A case in point is the long standing commercial squabble
between Lima and Santiago, related to the trade of Chilean wheat and
Peruvian sugar, and the commercial power that the Peruvian merchants
had in the port of Valparaiso in Chile, where the Chilean grain was
in storage on its way to Peru (7).  So, the XVIII century growth of
intercolonial trade also produced a tendency to antagonise the
various colonies.  No doubt, this situation was a prologue to the
formation of nation-states after the end of colonial rule.  These
nation-states were formed in accordance with the interests of each
local group of hacendados and big merchants, which eventually led to
the atomization of the continent in a score of nation-states.
<>   *****

Not a _necessarily_ insurmountable problem, as you note, but the
Spanish empire left a difficult legacy for Latin Americans to


More information about the Marxism mailing list