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Fourth International, May 1942


Terence Phelan

Washington’s Offensive in Latin America


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.5, May 1942, pp.137-139.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


Washington is winning battles at least on one front: Latin America. Under the hypocritical mask of “hemisphere solidarity,” it is solidifying its conquest of Latin America in a ruthless undeclared war against not only the semi-colonial peoples there but also its weakening British imperialist rival.

The tactic is part economic strangulation, part military penetration.

Economically, Latin America has always been dependent on foreign shipping. Removal of half the Anglo-US controlled tonnage for war purposes gives US imperialism a plausible pretext behind which it whips Latin American countries into submission by throttling their essential imports and exports, thus throwing their economies into catastrophic crisis. On Santos’ docks Brazil’s coffee piles in mountains while all Brazilian railroads except those carrying war ores must try to burn wood or stop running. Argentine industry is starvingly rationed, street lighting reduced, and all transport threatened while unexportable surpLuses pile threateningly higher. Chile’s cost of living is skyrocketing. Even as the United States prepares sugar rationing, a sugar-glut racks Cuban economy. Panama has a food shortage. In every Latin American country, unemployment, financial crisis, and vertically rising living costs spread disruption and misery. But suffering, if general, is not equal: US exporters reveal that Argentina, the stubbornest hold-out at the Rio Conference, is almost completely embargoed under cover of the export priority system. Meanwhile, by skillfully whipping up a scandal about England’s sending the equivalent of Lend-Lease goods to South America, the Yankees have begun to drive British imperialism out of that market.

This could be the moment of opportunity for the semicolonial countries to liberate themselves from dependence on the industrial imperialisms by self-industrialization; but Yankee imperialism refuses to sell them the necessary heavy machinery.

As for military penetration, anyone who wants to collect all the tiny bottom-of-the-page items from the US press and lay them side by side will realize that US troops, under one pretext or another, are now in at least 11, possibly 17, of the 21 American republics. Some are very few in number: but in such a country as Ecuador, the number is such that the Ecuadorian army would be powerless before them, and any regime that Washington wants in Ecuador will gain or remain in power, whatever the Ecuadorian people may want. Moreover, the Yankee-inspired coup in Panama that brought the present president to power is demonstration that, even without troops, Wall Street can control. Naval and air bases, conceded by lackey governments, dominate the territories of other countries who have so far held out against the Colossus of the North. Argentina, refused promised arms by Washington, can see across the Plata Estuary heavy Lend-Lease material unloading in Yankee-stooge Uruguay; and big bombers, freshly painted with Brazilian insignia, suggestively drop in on Buenos Aires’ El Palomar airfield, on their West Coast circle route from California factories, before taking off for their new bases in the North. Furthermore, in the name of “Pan-Americanism” those countries which have already lined up with Washington are prepared to act as Judas-goats toward those that still resist, covering the indecent exposure of Yankee armed force with the hypocritical rags of “joint Pan-American action.”

The degree of resistance to the Yankee whip at the Rio Conference was in direct proportion to each country’s degree of industrial advancement. The pathetic one-crop countries, with inadequate industrial potential, collapsed at once. Borderline Brazil demanded a high price for a collaboration whose loyalty has not yet passed a final test. But Argentina and Chile still resist.


It is not generally realized in the United States just how advanced Argentina is. “In 1933,” notes the authoritative Preston James in his scholarly Latin America, “of the 5,018,000 people gainfully employed in Argentina, 43%, or more than 2,000,000 (2,157,740), were employed in industry. Only 22.6%, or a little over 1,000,000 (1,134,068), were engaged in agriculture and stock-raising.” Of these 2,157,740 people engaged in industry, other authorities estimate that approximately 1,000,000 are in the strictest sense industrial proletariat. And of the 1,134,068 engaged in agriculture, a large number are rural proletariat working on the highly mechanized factory-farms.

It is this degree of industrial development and national unification, and not “Argentine pride,” as the bourgeois press prattles, which has led the Argentine bourgeoisie to resist Yankee pressure, profiting by the temporary conjuncture to balance between the warring imperialist blocs. But despite its comparatively high degree of industrialization and almost entirely white population, despite the fact that its agrarian problem is tending to be relatively secondary, Argentina remains a semi-colonial country by reason of the immense amounts of British and US capital invested in it. Its typically semi-colonial bourgeoisie can profitably balance for the moment between the imperialisms, but it cannot, within the framework of capitalism, liberate itself from imperialism in general. Only a proletarian revolution can expropriate the imperialists and complete the remaining tasks of the bourgeois revolution while beginning those of the socialist revolution.

At the present juncture, the Argentine government is controlled by the “Concordancia,” a political bloc representing principally that sector of the bourgeoisie which is predominantly anti-Yankee. The pro-Anglo-US sector, despairing of the internally split and collapsing Radical Party, is preparing to get behind the ex-President-Dictator General Augustin P. Justo. If the Castillo regime continues to resist US pressure, there is far from excluded a coup, backed by Yankee imperialism, to put Justo in power and swing Argentina into the US war orbit. In terms of internal policy, there is no essential difference between Justo and Castillo. Yet the Argentine people’s determination not to be sucked into the imperialist war was clearly indicated in the recent elections by a swing to support Castillo’s Concordancia, their desire to back his neutral foreign policy overcoming their well-founded hatred of his reactionary labor-baiting internal policy. Without falling into a mere tail-ending policy of launching “Neutrality!” as our slogan, there is a magnificent opportunity for the Argentine Fourth Internationalists to utilize this passive anti-war sentiment as a point of departure, converting it into an active revolutionary anti-war movement.

The Radical Party, roughly equivalent to the US Democratic Party, and numerically the largest in the Argentine, is in constant and growing crisis, which may well lead to a split. Even if some compromise is reached, its internal contradictions are such that a compromise will mean only that the more polar Conservative and Socialist Parties will begin to break off large sectors from the Radicals’ extreme edges. The Socialist Party bureaucrats, though by “socialistic” demagogy they managed to win the Federal Capital elections, are, like the Radical leadership, distrusted for their pro-war policies by their own base. The Stalinist bonzes, since their latest pro-imperialist sell-out, are equally distrusted; but the Communist Party is still held together by its demagogic campaign for aid to the Soviet Union. Argentine fascism, still split into numerous warring sectors, nevertheless threatens, if the Left fails the increasingly radicalized petty-bourgeoisie, to begin a rapid mass growth.

Amid these circumstances, the Argentine Fourth Internationalists have in the last year made encouraging progress. Long held back by the fact that they were not united in a single party, now all groups except one (the Liga Obrera Revolucionaria) have united to form the growing Partido Obrero de Ia Revolucion Socialista; and renewed negotiations give hope that the last remaining division may be solved within a few months. The LOR publishes Lucha Obrera, a large-format 4-to-6 page monthly; the PORS issues Frente Obrero, a large-format 4-page fortnightly, which will convert to a weekly on June 1st. Both groups plan large special issues for May Day, that of Frente Obrero being a 10-page number in an edition of 12,500 copies. In both groups there is a proletarian majority, and work is concentrated in the trade unions.


Chile, though less developed than Argentina, is a relatively advanced country, with a large and militant proletariat, well unionized, though in several rival federations. Unlike that of Argentina, its agrarian problem is important, since instead of Argentina’s characteristic factory-farms, it still has predominantly family owned latifundias, almost semi-feudally exploited. As in Argentina, the bourgeoisie is divided on the war; but unlike the Argentine case, no sector quite dares to hold power alone, partly because of the complexity of the division, partly because of its fear of the labor movement. For a temporary solution, the Chilean bourgeoisie chose a government of “centre concentration,” under a personalist strongman mediator, Rios, who balances himself on the rival bourgeois sectors. The division is profound. The powerful latifundists, plagued by agricultural surpluses, fear to offend an Axis which may control their post-war European markets; terrified of pressing agrarian reform, they equally fear the agricultural policies of the pro-US Socialist and Communist Parties. A large sector of the commercial and professional bourgeoisie who are agents of US imperialism, especially in copper and nitrates, try to drag Chile into the war on the side of the United States. The still growing industrial bourgeoisie, united against the exporting latifundists and anxious to use the import crisis to expand their national manufactures, is split on foreign policy, while on internal policy they range from a small “New Deal” wing who want to increase the internal market by increasing the internal purchasing power, to those whose ideas are limited to the idea of reducing their manufacturing costs by smashing the unions. To attempt to smash Chilean labor by sudden all-out frontal attack, as defeated presidential candidate Carlos Ibanez would have done, would bring revolutionary resistance. Rios, shrewder but no less tough, will proceed cautiously, whittling away labor’s gains little by little, but the end-product sought is the same. Meanwhile, carefully watching the course of the imperialist war, the Chilean bourgeoisie will try to find some sort of patchedup solution for its internal contradictions such as will permit a unified foreign policy.

After the disillusioning experience of the Popular Front (which elected Rios), the Chilean proletariat has been recently passing through a period of discouragement and apathy. Nevertheless, the ranks of the unions are determined to preserve their gains, and the anti-labor offensive of Rios will be met by militant strikes, in which our comrades have the opportunity of intervening powerfully, stripping the hypocritical mask from the Stalinist and Socialist misleaders. That the vanguard is already seeking a class-conscious way out of the morass was demonstrated by its response to the independent presidential candidacy launched by the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Chilean Section of the Fourth International). Despite the POR’s terribly limited material means for carrying its message to the workers and a mere three weeks in which to make the campaign, Trotskyist candidate Humberto Valenzuela polled approximately 2,000 votes out of the approximately 250,000 votes cast. Particularly striking was the favorable response from industrial centers where the party had no branch to make electioneering propaganda, and the workers heard of the candidacy only through the jokes about it in the bourgeois press.


In this epoch of agonizing imperialism and world-wide war, the liberation of Latin-American countries from the imperialist yoke cannot be an isolated action, but forms an integral part of the world-wide strategy of proletarian revolution. This does not mean that the oppressed semi-colonial peoples of South and Central America must wait for others to save them: they will be led by the proletariats of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Mexico. But they do look to the US proletariat as their principal ally – look to it for comprehension, solidarity, and active aid. As Yankee imperialism puhes out its British rival, it becomes the common enemy of US workers and of all the super-exploited colonial peoples of Yanquilandia’s semi-colonies. With every suicidal class collaborationist action by US workers’ organizations the semicolonial peoples feel their chains weigh a little heavier. Every militant action by US workers against the common enemy is reflected by a warm burst of increased hope.

Militant US labor needs no censored dispatches to know that on this May Day in all Latin America, under police repression, despite nationalist demagogy, militant labor is demonstrating. Despite mounted-police charges, despite arrests, our Argentine Fourth Internationalist comrades are in the streets, with their newspapers and slogans, their solidarity with their co-thinkers in the United States and the whole world. In Chile, as Rios snipes away at legality, the comrades of the FOR will militantly parade and demonstrate against war and imperialism. Bourgeois frontiers may close, censorships silence, and Gestapo and FBI multiply; but workers’ solidarity transcends them. Against the treachery of the Second and Third Internationals, against artificial nationalist compartmentation, the workers of the world are uniting, under the banner of the Fourth International that will lead them to international victory. In Latin America, US imperialism may be winning the first battles, but the war will be won by the workers of all the Americas.

April 1942.

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Last updated on 20.8.2008