The Collapse of Argentina, part one

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Aug 6 17:00:51 MDT 2003

Santiago wrote:
>Dear Mr. Proyect,
>I came across your comment about a marxist explanation
>about my country's collapse and I found it really
>interesting. While studing for my degree in
>International Trade I had the luck to have professors
>of marxist thinking.

Santiago, I hope you don't mind if I reply to you on the listserv I
moderate, where my posts first appeared. I will leave off your last name in
the interest of privacy.

>I think it will be hard to find a marxist explanation
>to this country's collapse because I think that the
>reasons that led this country to disaster had been
>little discussed in Marxism. As Marx stated, to reach
>socialism, a feudal society must become capitalist

Well, not exactly. I would recommend Teodor Shanin's "The Late Marx", which
discusses Marx's correspondence with Russian populists and socialists who
believed that a peasant based revolution could be a springboard for a
continent-wide assault on capitalism. In fact, he disassociated himself
from his more "orthodox" followers, including Plekhanov, who did believe
that capitalism was a prerequisite for socialism.

>First of all I wouldn't say Argentina is a capitalist
>country. I think it is a country that has been trying
>to convert to capitalism without success for about 400
>years. Socially Argentina can be divided in two parts:
>Buenos Aires and Inland Argentina. During the Spanish
>Empire, due to the leather trade (and smuggling)
>Buenos Aires was a city where the bourgeoisie, not the
>aristocracy, mattered. This fact was unique in the
>Spanish Empire. As we know, to reach development a
>country must change from a feudal society to a
>capitalist one. Spain, the metropolis took 200 years
>to complete that change, Buenos Aires was a trading,
>proto-capitalist society already in 1800. To
>illustrate this I will tell you that Buenos Aires in
>spite of being a very marginal part of the Empire, at
>the time of the Napoleonic Wars had the second
>merchant navy of the Empire. The Spanish monopoly and
>the feudal and low populated hinterland being major
>obstacles for its development.

I imagine that I have a more rigorous definition of feudalism than you do.
I regard this as a system based on the circulation of use-values organized
around fiefdoms. Marc Bloch's studies of feudal society are a good place to
understand how class relationships were organized there. By contrast,
Spanish colonialism was organized around commodity production. Despite the
prevalence of forced labor of one sort or another, goods such as cattle,
wheat and cotton were produced for the world market. For an extended
analysis of these questions, I recommend a look at articles I have written
at: under the heading
"Brenner thesis".

>Today things have not changed a lot, although the
>"capitalist Argentina" expanded towards northern
>Buenos Aires Province and southern Santa Fe and
>Cordoba, the rest of Argentina is still feudal. In a
>feudal society the population work for the lord, in a
>feudal Argentine province you will see that the
>governor is responsible for most of the jobs: It may
>be the most important landowner, he may be also the
>owner of the most important produce-processing
>industries and of course, he administrates the
>provincial governement that is the local main
>employer!. What about the other capitalists that
>should participate in the government? They donnot
>count: if they exist, their business activities depend
>on the existing governor activities so they will be
>part of the ruling party and will agree with any
>decission that makes the governor's business prosper.
>If there is any industrial investment it is surely
>foreign (i.e. from a Buenos Aires industrialist or a
>true foreign investor) and does not participates in
>the local politics. Isn't this feudalism? (Just see
>Carlos Menem, his province of origin (La Rioja) and
>the ruling party, Peronista). This fight between
>feudalism and capitalism has been the origin of the
>civil war in 1820-1860. Although feudalism won the
>war, it was Buenos Aires that effectively rule.
>Being a semi-capitalist country, Argentina found its
>way towards development until 1914. 1914 was the year
>when universal sufrage was put into practice and was
>the beginning of the retirement of the bourgeoisie
>from politics.

Well, if you want to describe Argentine society as feudal, who am I to
stand in the way. Let's agree to disagree on definitions.

In any case, good luck with your studies. I know that graduate school can
be a real bitch.

>I find a close relation between populism,
>neo-feudalism and imperialism. The foreign capital
>works with local "caudillos" who collaborate with
>them, creating a symbiotic association that obstrucs
>the upsurge of a local capitalist class which are
>economic competitors for the foreign capital and the
>political ones for the "caudillo".
>But how did this all originated? My answer is
>Latifund, by creating such a dispair wealth
>distribution it obstacles democracy and capitalism.
>The existence of the latifund creates such a
>situation, and latifund although run in a capitalist
>way was what impeded the development of Argentina.
>When the customer that originated all that wealth
>(Europe) decided to be self-sufficient was the
>beginning of the end. The liberal way was no longer
>feasible and capitalists simply desappeared from
>politics, the still backward society found the only
>way was a turnback to feudalism which coud led to no
>other place than underdevelopment.
>Milan, Italy

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