Nestor and Carlos, any comments?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Apr 8 19:33:36 MDT 2002

>From the chapter on Argentina by Juan Eugenio Corradi in
Chilcote-Edelstein's "Latin America: the Struggle with Dependency and

In seeking a basis for comparing U.S. and Argentine development,
analysts are frequently led back to the European culture complexes
from which English and Iberian colonists migrated and from which they
borrowed their images of social organization. A "social heredity"
thesis has been developed along these lines suggesting that, in
contrast to Spain, English settlers in North America came from a
modernizing England which generally treated literacy, tolerance,
individual rights, entrepreneurial initiative, and capital
accumulation as inseparable elements of the process of growth. There
is some truth to these assertions, but they fail to provide an
adequate explanation of different patterns of colonial development.
For instance, they fail to account for the structural differences
between the Northern and Southern settlements in the United States.

A more satisfying account stresses the so-called external factors in
development differentials. Thus, due to limited agricultural
possibilities on the Eastern seaboard, the Northern English colonies
developed shipbuilding and mercantile occupations, while the Southern
colonies created an export-oriented agriculture based upon slave
labor-a structure not dissimilar to the Brazilian sugar estates of
the seventeenth century, which became the prototype of plantation
economies in the Americas. In other regions of Ibero-America,
production was organized on the basis of servile Indian labor in the
mines. But throughout the Americas, North and South, settlement was
guided by essentially the same capitalist goals. The difference lies
rather in the outcome of the same capitalist input upon different
natural and social environments, and in the feedback of colonial
developments on metropolitan societies.

Of great significance for the development of the United States was
the growth of trade with the ex-metropolis. By contrast, the Spanish
colonies found neither trade nor financial assistance in their
metropolis, itself economically weak and dependent. The growth and
diversification of the colonial economies in Latin America was not
accompanied by a parallel development of the mother country. The
forces making for underdevelopment were at work on both sides of the
Atlantic; on the one side the decline of the mother country; on the
other, the distortion of the colonial economy-and capitalist
dependency at both ends.

We can now reformulate the comparative question: why did Argentina
develop in such a way that its post-colonial relations with the
capitalist world became subordinate rather than complementary? Why
did the River Plate region fail to play the historic role which the
North played in U.S. development-a financial center for other
agricultural regions and a supplier of manufacturers?

Indeed the similarities between the Northern colonies and the River
Plate were many. Both regions were modern colonies as defined by Marx
(Marx, Capital, I, 25). Both were characterized by a lack of mineral
wealth and exploitable native labor. Capitalism was established in
both regions. Population grew at a rapid rate in both. Both areas
initiated an independence movement. There was, however, one crucial
difference. The New England colonies had little fertile land-only
forests providing timber for shipbuilding and a sea which was far
more hospitable to economic enterprise than the land. To the West lay
vast territories suitable for appropriation by a landowning class
which could have been capable of living off agrarian rent. But by the
time the Western frontier was opened, a society of small capitalists
had firmly entrenched itself on the coast. This prevented the early
concentration of landownership and the establishment of an agrarian
aristocracy. Land in North America would eventually become accessible
to ownership by independent settlers and immigrants.

The vast natural prairies of the River Plate, on the other hand, were
initially accessible to Spanish colonists, who proceeded to
appropriate enormous tracts of land and simply sat back while the
natural multiplication of cattle increased their value. This class of
landowners became the nucleus of an export-oriented agrarian
bourgeoisie. Land rent became the historical substitute of primitive
accumulation on the pampas: it was capitalist accumulation on the
cheap. The landed bourgeoisie thus established a civilization of
hides and beef, based much less on the productive labor of man than
on the lavishness of nature and the demand of foreign markets.
Dependency and misdevelopment were the prices that Argentina paid for
the effortless enrichment of its ruling class. Cattle ranching, which
was to become the backbone of the Argentina economy, was a productive
activity that required little human intervention. At the beginning of
the nineteenth century, one foreman and ten peons could look after
ten thousand heads of cattle on the pampas. Cattle multiplied at a
fabulous rate in the mild climate. It is therefore wrong to charge
Spain with the responsibility of an allegedly feudal colonization by
way of explaining Argentine underdevelopment. The fact was that the
natural wealth of the pampas stimulated the growth of a certain
neo-colonial capitalism with few labor and capital needs, oriented to
the outside world and oblivious of the internal market. There was not
an ounce of feudalism in this, but many pounds of beef.

Louis Proyect, lnp3 at on 04/08/2002

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