The Collapse of Argentina, part one
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Wed Apr 3 20:12:24 MST 2002
As the Argentine economic collapse began to deepen, I decided to
search for radical or Marxist literature on the country written in
English to help me understand the situation better. This proved
futile (although I continue to be open to recommendations). Nestor
Gorojovsky, an Argentine revolutionary who I have been in touch with
on the Internet or by phone for at least five years now, could
While this is generally true, there are some materials in English that
you might consult and read. For example, if you get a copy of Galeano's
"las venas Abiertas ..." ( I think was also published in English),
you'll find some material of the author there as well as bibliography he
used for the book, some of it in English and from Marxist or
Also, if you consult Moreno's "Metodo de Interpretacion de la
Historia..." which essentially deals with an overview of Argentina's
history since colonial times to about the beginning of the 70s (if I'm
not mistaken), you'll find a number of quotes and the sources of
material in English, some of them Marxists. I do believe that there is
an English version of Moreno pamphlet somewhere.
You can also research whether some pieces of the work from Milciades
Pena is available in English. Your friend Gorojowski could probably
help you to dig out some of the English language material quoted by
Abelardo Ramos here and there in his books. You can even find some
limited debates with English Marxists, I believe, from the Argentinean
"revisionist" school of history (if you can call them that).
During the factional struggle you mentioned in your posting inside the
SWP/USFI, some historical material was produced dealing with some
attempts of a Marxist overview of Argentinean history.
Some quick notes about the debate as to whether Argentina is a
semicolony or not:
It is a common mistake made by a number of Marxists, including Galeano
and others, not just European historians, to confuse the military and
economic actions of one semicolony against another - as agent of an
imperialist power - as "imperialistic", etc (See for example the mistake
by a number of historians making the assumption that the war of the
Triple Alliance (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay) against Paraguay as an
imperialist war or the characterizing as imperialistic the Chaco War
between Bolivia and Peru.
Some of these authors, unsure of the term, called Brasil or Argentina
"sub-imperialist" because they cannot deny that these war were waged as
proxy for extra-continental powers that essentially strengthened the
character of semi colonies of the victor countries. For example, the
debt incurred by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay waging the 7-year war
against Paraguay (which bravely resisted them) strengthened British
domination over these three countries through loans at very high
interests to pay for the war.
Ins some other instances, some Marxist authors confuse the uneven and
combined character of the Latin America economy - which sometimes gave
an edge in some branch of industry or financial business to one
semicolony over others - as the prove that these countries are more
"developed" and act as "imperialistic" in regards other semi colonies.
Any close inspection of any of those instances (like the known
confrontations over "salitre" and shit (guano) and also copper between
Peru and Chile were just manifestations of the aggressive policies of
British imperialism through their proxies in the continent, etc
In the post-war period, when the US replaced Britain as the main
imperialist power in South America, the character of imperialist
investments changed radically. The US introduced a diversified strategy
that continued to include financial capital but also an increasingly
industrial investment (i.e.: Brazil's "miracle" of the 60s and 70s).
These investments helped Brazil became the strongest economy in Latin
America and the crumbs of the imperialist investments strengthened for a
while layers of its national bourgeoisie. But Brazil did not become an
economically advanced, independent country, but remained a semicolony
since most of the core of its economy was privatized and transferred to
the imperialist multinationals that increased its utilization of Brazil
as its economic enclave surrounded by a vast semi colonial territory and
If views like these are meant to support a kind of Argentine
exception to the Leninist concept of imperialism or its subsequent
elaborations such as the Baran-Sweezy theory of monopoly capitalism,
they are mistaken. They would fail to see Argentina's role in the
world capitalist system, which--despite favorable moments--has been
that of victim of imperialism. Comparisons with the USA, Canada, etc.
are specious, even if in a given year income or other statistics were
comparable. The *structural* questions are far more important for
understanding Argentina. Despite the presence of European immigrants,
industrialization, national independence, the lack of feudal-like
latifundias, etc., Argentina had much more in common with direct
colonies in the 19th century like India.
This is 99% correct. I would suggest a qualification of the last
sentence which seems as an overstatement without negating the validity
of the rest of the paragraph.
Specifically, one of the main factors that led to Argentine
dependency was its reliance on British capital and expertise for the
construction of railways in the 19th century. Just as was the case in
India, these steam-driven showplaces of modernization did nothing but
drain the country of capital and force it into a secondary role in
the world economy.
In spite popular beliefs, the railroads in Argentina were not introduced
nor first built and developed exclusively by the British - as it
happened in other Latin American countries and Asia and Africa - but by
the Argentinean state through mixed companies - including also
Argentinean and British capitalists, followed by a process in which
Britain - using the Argentinean's foreign debt - forced the state to
decrease its share in partnership with British companies. In that
process the state assumed most of the expenses and guaranteed a level of
profit to its British partners. Later on, the British forced the
government to sell them the railroads - and to give them the lands at
both sides of the tracks which essentially gave the British property
over the prime land of the country.
The British them completed the circle when they forced Peron to buy the
railroads when they were mostly obsolete.
Louis (following Marx's quote):
In contrast to these early hopeful writings, before Marxism had
developed an understanding of the negative role of imperialism, the
historical record demonstrates that foreign owned railways did not
lead dependent countries to become anything like the those of the
investors, engineers and builders from the core. Rather than serving
as a catalyst for Argentine industry, they did nothing except enrich
British finance capital, the nefarious Barings Bank in particular.
For a scholarly treatment of this subject, we can turn to Alejandro
Bendaña's 1979 PhD dissertation "British Capital and Argentine
Dependence 1816-1914". (Bendaña was a senior level Sandinista
official who served as 'responsable' with Tecnica, the volunteer
organization I was involved with in the 1980s. He continues to
participate in the radical movement, nowadays with the Center for
International Studies in Managua and the Jubilee Campaign against 3rd
It is interesting to note a couple of important things: 1) the British
used the railroads, more than to produce direct profits, as a way to
smash competition from the national bourgeoisie in other endeavors.
They did for example charge double or triple the price to transport the
goods of competitors and they also imposed stiff tariffs over products
and merchandise from the interior (they charged three or four times less
for bulk transport of raw materials thus benefiting the British import
businesses of competing goods since merchandises produced in the
interior became more expensive than those imported from Britain once
they arrived at Buenos Aires) and 2) they brought technicians, skilled
workers and administrators of the railroads and for other British
enterprises from Britain in order to create a layer above the natives
and slow down the process of transferring technology and skills. This
only partially worked until the first decade of the 20th century. Over
time, many of these technicians left the railroads and became small
industrialists, mechanics, small business owners and big merchants (in
more than one case)and forced Britain to hire even more people in London
until they abandoned this practice in the 1940s.
While Marx's hopes about the introduction of railroads was not entirely
fulfilled, there were however some elements of it in Argentina. In
spite all attempts from the British, some technology and industrial
development was introduced in the country because the railroads. For
example a number of metallurgic factories, mechanic workshops and the
introduction of some of the railroad technology into other fields
(agricultural machinery, subway system since 1910, etc)
The same we can say - in regards to Argentina - to a process that was as
important or even more important than the introduction of the railroads
for the development of the means of production- according to some
Marxists - that occured during the same period: the development of the
merchant navy and the massive immigration from Europe.
The most important sector of the Argentine ruling class in the 19th
century was the 'estancieros', or ranchers. From 1820 onwards, they
began to develop an alliance with British capital, which was seen as
strategic for the goal of exploiting the country's land-based riches.
Arising from within its ranks, Juan Manuel de Rosas emerged as the
primary spokesman for this class. British merchants played an
important role in guaranteeing the Argentine rancher access to world
The process was actually a little more complex, IMO. There were
different layers of "estancieros." Those close to the Buenos Aires
harbor, essentially in the Province of Buenos Aires and the rest.
Closer to the harbor, more relative independent from the British they
remained... for a while. This eventually evolved into some forms of
junior partnership but after, and only after, a number of conflicts.
But if they were in the interior and depended on the British railroads
for transport and access to the world markets, then they were screwed
from the beginning by the commercial and landowner's interests close to
it. The British fought to open up the road to the interior to reach
them with their product and obtain the raw materials. They clashed with
Rosas over it.
At the same time there were "estancieros" and "terratenientes", the
first could be considered capitalist exploiters of the land, the second
speculative owners of big extension who live out of the rents flowing
from their property of the land, not their direct exploitation. The
conflicts between these two sectors and the compradors in the Buenos
Aires port around issues as free market and tariffs were the trademark
of the political conflicts for more than half of the 19th century. Rosas
tried to be a bonapartist conciliator between those sectors and was
overthrown by Urquiza after his failure to achieve his goals and reach a
workable agreement with imperialism. He was not so anti-British as his
latter day admirers would like. Actually one of his best friends was
the British ambassador and he ended up exiled in Britain. He just
failed to establish long term equilibrium between the different
interests of the emerging Argentinean bourgeoisie and the British. Rosas
main legacy was to create what it was since then known as the big
landowner oligarchy, is true, that became the main partner of British
imperialism - also true - but only after a protracted struggle.
Latin America countries and societies in general, and Argentina in
particular, failed to develop strong capitalist economies and national
bourgeoisies not because they didn't try hard - as it seems it is the
opinion of Galeano and others (who are mostly waiting for that to
happen)- but because they emerged out of a process in which they
obtained an earlier independence (1810-30) as compared to Asia and
Africa, but they accessed to the methods of primitive accumulation of
capital and the mass of laborers - necessary pre-conditions for the
development of capitalism and the bourgeois class - too late. This is,
IMO, what explains both the continuous waves of struggles in the
continent, decade after decade and the failure of all attempts at a
third road for economic, independent development.
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