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Fourth International, September-October 1950


J. Gomez

Latin-American Unification


From Fourth International, Vol.11 No.5, September-October 1950, pp.157-160.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A special dispatch to the New York Times dated February 14 states that the Argentine government has confiscated and outlawed the book written by Jorge Abelardo Ramos entitled Latin America: One Country (Its History, Its Economy, Its Revolution), published by Ediciones Octubre.

The author deals with one of the paramount problems facing the peoples of that continent: their disunity and how it can be overcome. I shall limit my comments to some of the problems connected with the main political conclusions of the book whose descriptive material is devoted not so much to the whole of Latin America, but rather to the conflicting social groupings in Argentina and to a lesser extent, to its most immediate neighbors, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia.

Although some statements and formulation’s are open to question, the author’s three main conclusions are basically correct, regardless of their precise application in daily struggles:

  1. In the solution of the economic and political problems of Latin America, there can be no room for its present geographical divisions.
  2. Neither the feudal elements, which still prevail in a number of Latin-American countries nor the bourgeoisie, including even its most aggressive and advanced Argentine branch, are capable of carrying through the historical task of unifying Latin America.
  3. Only the ascending proletarian class has the political power and the need to realize continental unity; it can accomplish this not under capitalist society, but only through the Socialist United States of Latin America.

The peoples of Latin America have the burning problem of creating a solid economic basis for existence and survival; but this task cannot be realized within the frame of its prevailing geographical divisions and subdivisions. This has impressed itself upon most of Latin-American society except among the feudal and semi-feudal bourbons, for whom nothing has changed since the colonial days of decadent Spain and who reduce all modern problems and human struggles to the management and administration of the old feudal “hacienda” (plantation). The economic consequences of disunity have preoccupied not only the fighters for socialism but even the most advanced elements of the newly rising bourgeois forces. A typical statement is the one made at the Ninth Pan-American Conference held in Bogota, Colombia in 1948 by Jaime Torres Bodet, Chief of the Mexican Delegation: “Unity continues to be urgent for our economic liberation, because a truly solid inter-American structure cannot be built upon rickety and precarious national economies.”

What accounts for this “rickety and precarious” condition of the national economies of the Latin-American countries?

  1. Vast though the continent is and rich in natural resources, it is cut up into numerous separate units, each calling itself a “nation.” Most of these states are small and lack the necessary material elements for the semblance of a national economy. Moreover, as a result of three centuries of parasitic rule by feudal Spain to be followed, after their political liberation from the Spanish yoke, by the immediate penetration of imperialist interests in complicity with powerful feudal groupings, thee countries have never emerged from the paralysis and deformation of their economic origin.
  2. The system of private property along with the deliberate efforts of Wall Street to preserve its exclusive interests makes it impossible to bring about a more harmonious balance in either the industrial or the agrarian sectors.

One-Sided, Backward Economy

A few illustrations. What can the representatives of private property do to correct the one-sided national economy of Cuba which is basically nothing but a sugar factory? What can the feudal and semi-feudal lords in the five small Central American Republics (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) do to remedy their condition as single crop plantations? What can the rulers of isolated Bolivia do about their confinement to a tin factory economy? The same applies to one degree or another to Chile (copper, nitrate and a few other minor industrial enterprises), Venezuela (petroleum), Colombia (coffee, bananas, etc.). Furthermore, all these industrial and crop enterprises are either owned by imperialist interests or are subject to their domination or control.

Most of the countries in continental Latin America are so restricted in their economy that a single imperialist enterprise becomes the nerve center of its so-called “national” life, economically as well as politically. Will Lissner in his recent articles in the New York Times about Central America does not exaggerate when he says that “no regime could survive the major economic catastrophe that would result” if the United Fruit Company “pulled out” of Guatemala because of its friction with the bourgeois nationalist regime of Arevalo. Furthermore, while the smaller countries are at the mercy of a single company, even the stronger and more developed, like Argentina, must submit more and more to the economic and political pressures of US imperialism.

Even more debased, emaciated and deformed is the condition of agrarian economy in the Latin-American countries. With few exceptions, primitiveness, servitude, peonage, misery and starvation mark the countryside everywhere. Although the great majority of the population is engaged in farming, most of these agrarian economies do not provide the necessary diversified food and are obliged to import farm products. The feudal oligarchy makes no effort to remedy this situation while the bourgeoisie, as the experience of Mexico indicates, has proved impotent to cope with this gigantic problem. Some of the Mexican political regimes since the 1910 revolution against the feudal regime of Porfirio Diaz made serious efforts to solve the agrarian problem. They did register a few improvements and advances. But after forty years of effort, poverty, misery and starvation still dominate the Mexican countryside.

As the consequence of this mangled industrial life and backward agrarian economy, the conditions of the great majority of the population could hardly be worse. Professor Joshua de Castro of the University of Brazil declares that two-thirds of the South American countries (Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, the northern and the most southern part of Argentina, the western part of Paraguay, and half of modern Brazil) constitute “one of the major zones in the world of undernourishment and death by starvation.”

The normal living conditions of the bulk of Latin-American peoples are so horrifying that when Washington’s delegation at the Ninth Pan-American Conference stated that the US was in no position to offer effective help to Latin America because it has to concentrate efforts upon Europe, the same Jaime Torres Bodet exclaimed: “We have seen in the papers the pictures of those Europeans weakened by their long stay in concentration camps; the sight of them produces all the more bitterness in us because those punished and bloodless bodies inevitably bring to mind the image of our own Indians.” (Indians and mestizos constitute the majority of the population.)

The Ruling Elements

But the elements which rule over the system of private property are, by their very position and role in social life, totally unwilling and incapable of solving any major problem. Its most benevolent representatives, however much they may be preoccupied with national and social questions, are no less helpless. They can only beg and lament like Bodet does in another part of the above-mentioned speech:

When one flies, as many of us have just done, from one to another of our capitals, at first one isn’t sure what to admire most: the immensity of the perspectives opened to men by Mother Nature or the enormity of the injustices imposed upon the residents of the New World, which have plunged the big majority of its countries into an economic swamp ... Fertile coast. Welcoming valleys. Mountains swollen with extractable minerals. And yet, with a few outstanding exceptions, the law of the wilderness governs all this latent wealth ... In very few places are men in a worse position to take advantage of the inheritance which belongs to them by right.

The picture painted by Bodet is true and moving. But ironically, his very social position prevents him from depicting the other half of the picture with the same frankness and realism: the half that concerns those forces responsible for the “economic swamp,” the “injustices” and law of the wilderness in the midst of so much “latent wealth.” The reason for his reticence is obvious. Not only was he sitting next to delegated representatives of the feudal-oligarchical and imperialist interests, but he himself represented those bourgeois nationalistic elements who, willingly or unwillingly, by the very nature of their class interests are nothing but their partners-in-crime.

The feudal-oligarchy bears the direct historic responsibility for the division and backwardness of the continent. They seem satisfied with the thirty pieces of silver they receive from their imperialist masters and in return gladly perform the most servile acts. On the other hand, the nationalist bourgeoisie came upon the scene too late to effect any important changes. It arose in Latin America after the imperialist domination of the continent and its development coincides with the mortal decay of the capitalist system as a whole. Thus even its most audacious and radical wing lacks clear perspectives and the courage to act. The nationalist bourgeoisie undoubtedly dislikes its subordination to American imperialism and would prefer to become sole owners and exploiters of their own resources, or at least bigger partners in the system of capitalism. Furthermore, its petty-bourgeois humanist wing, horrified by a state of affairs comparable to Hitler’s concentration camps, would like to see a juster world. They also realize that only a coordinated and unified Latin America can bring about such a gigantic human advance.

United to Oppression

But these middle-class reformers and radicals are pledged to preserve the private property system responsible for all those desperate “bloodless” bodies and are thus impelled to ally themselves with the very US imperialism that stands in the way of their own national aspirations. Here is how one of their representatives, Santa Cruz, Chilean representative to the United Nations, speaking about the factors of conflict between them and American imperialism, summarized their basic position: “I believe that the things that unite us are much more profound than the ones that separate us.”

In this one sentence the nature of these representatives of the ruling classes is exposed. The most casual view of the economic history of Latin America and the unbearable conditions of its inhabitants point to one imperative conclusion: no matter to which one of the twenty separate units the people of Latin America belong, nothing unites them with the interests and aspirations of US imperialism, either on a continental or world scale. In fact, the interests and aspirations of them all stand in open antagonism with the aims of American imperialism to keep Latin America in its present state of economic backwardness and deformation. Disunity is a means of preserving Latin America as a source of raw materials, as a market for industrial products and for super-exploitation of its human material, for in division there is weakness.

What are the more “profound” things that unite not only the feudal-oligarchy but also the more sensitive and ambitious bourgeois elements with American imperialism rather than with aspirations of the peoples of their own country for unity and coordination? They all look upon their own peoples as actual or potential enemies. Hence the renunciation and subordination of their own aspirations to the more “profound” task that history has imposed upon these ruling.groups in this hour when three-fourths of the “bloodless” bodies are growing impatient with the system that, in the midst of so much “latent wealth,” offers so miserable an existence.

Impotence of Bourgeoisie

The author of Latin America: One Country is absolutely right in his insistence that, in this epoch of the death agony of capitalism, the Latin-American bourgeoisie is totally incapable of solving any of the democratic tasks. Ramos merits special commendation for recognizing the real nature of the bourgeoisie because, in the honeymoon days of Peronism in Argentina the political grouping to which he belonged hoped that the Latin-American bourgeois forces, due to their “own peculiarities,” could, given a favorable conjuncture of circumstances, achieve at least a partial unity and thus break away from their semi-colonial status. To prove their point they cited the case of the Peron “Five-Year Plan” of industrialization and Argentina’s trade agreements with Chile and Bolivia. But, under pressure Irom American imperialist interests and the inherent contradictions of capitalist economy, both trade agreements failed.

This failure was not an isolated episode. Notwithstanding the cry of the Latin-American bourgeoisie that only through continental trade expansion can Latin America correct its present economic deformation, trade between them fell from an estimated $600 million in 1948 to $450 million in 1949, as was revealed at the recent Conference of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America held in Montevideo. This is a forceful illustration of the decadent nature of the capitalist forces as well as of their inability to unify the continent and break its semi-colonial chains.

With variations in degree and form, the same thing holds true for the petty-bourgeois political groupings and forces. Ramos correctly points this out but the chapter in his book on this subject is rather weak because it is limited to dealing with the abortive effects of concrete political actions of the petty bourgeoisie instead of analyzing the basic social causes. This a serious shortcoming because these political groupings and movements in Latin America attract not only the best elements among the radical petty bourgeoisie but also broad layers of the working masses. Only a program based upon a fundamental analysis can attract a considerable sector of their ranks to the revolutionary socialist movement.

The Middle-Class Movements

The masses have observed – but not yet understood – how the Aprista (Popular Revolutionary Alliance of America), one of the most radical nationalistic and continental-minded political movements with an exceptionally strong and capable leadership, switched from its original anti-imperialist and anti-feudal attitude in Peru and not only modified but even renounced its opposition to United States imperialism and the feudal oligarchy.

The same is true of the Romulo Betancourt movement in Venezuela. Although this ex-Marxist formed a huge popular movement, when Betancourt rose to state power, like Maya de la Torre in Peru, he left untouched the basic feudal oligarchy and imperialist interests and even capitulated to them.

A similar course was taken by the Grau San Martin movement in Cuba; by the Gaitan forces in Colombia which ended up as part of the Liberal Party; by the once powerful coalition of petty-bourgeois radical forces under Marmaduque Grove in Chile which even paraded under the banner of socialism. The same observations hold good for the MNR (National Revolutionary Movement) and the PIR (Revolutionary Left Party) in Bolivia; and for the present Arevalo regime in Guatemala.

The task of unifying Latin America is certainly complex because of the diverse and contradictory factors involved. But unity can be realized because, together with the growing understanding that the economic and political problems of each of the component separate parts of continental Latin America can be solved only through their consolidation, the necessary material and social prerequisites are actually in existence.

To be sure, intense nationalist feelings have been fostered by the elements responsible for Latin America’s “Balkanization” – as the author of the book designates its present division – or for the formation of “patrias chicas” (tiny motherlands) – as Luis Alberto Sanchez, one of the outstanding intellectuals of Peru and of the continent with strong radical and humanitarian inclinations, terms them in his book: Does Latin America Exist? Driven by personal ambitions and exclusive economic interests, the nationalists have made special efforts to cultivate feelings of “Argentinism,” “Peruvianism,” “Chileanism,” “Bolivianism,” “Salvadorenism,” “Mexicanism,” etc. Nevertheless, there exists a deep-rooted feeling of Latin Americanism throughout the continent.

I am not referring to the “Latin Americanism” of the ruling classes. They talk much about Latin-American unity. This is empty rhetoric which Luis Alberto Sanchez properly characterized as “Latin Americanism” of the “traditionalist” variety resting upon the “part (of the ruling class) that is associated with small inherited dynastic interests” and cultivated by those who are above all concerned not to lose “their privileges.”

For instance, the ruling group of Bolivia, faced with deep social unrest, is forced to “discover” or “uncover” every month or so – and lately even more frequently – “revolutionary” plots to overthrow it. Every demand, manifestation, popular movement or strike is immediately stamped as a “revolutionary” plot and suppressed with all the brutality at its disposal. Similarly, every strike or movement for better conditions is branded a “communist” plot by the ruling class of Chile and consequently outlawed and suppressed. The feudal oligarchy of Venezuela linked with imperialist interests could not even tolerate the existence of so mild a reformist popular movement as Betancourt’s “Party of Democratic Action” and had to drive it out of the government and declare it illegal. The outlawing of the Apra in Peru duplicates the Venezuelan situation.

The feudal elements of Latin America will stop at nothing to perpetuate their “dynastic interests” and ambitions. In the recent presidential elections in Peru, the Odria regime eliminated a rival candidate of the same social class from the race because Odria could not have won even in a restricted election. Odria’s government is so fearful and unpopular it had to prohibit the importation of mimeographs into the country without permission from the regime because some oppositional material appeared in the streets in mimeographed form.

The military junta of Venezuela does not dare to hold “elections.” Nicaragua is merely Samoza’s “hacienda.” He wouldn’t permit even the most conservative forces to participate on a free and equal basis in the so-called election there. Santo Domingo is a strictly personal enterprise of Dictator Trujillo. How can leaders of this kind fight for national independence on a local or continental scale?

But the Latin-Americanism of the Indians, mestizos, Negroes, and whites who form the heart and body of real Latin America is of a completely different nature. It is not based upon the defense or preservation of any “inherited dynastic interests” or “privileges.” It expresses a deep inner feeling of belonging to one and the same body of toiling and suffering humanity. It is a manifestation of concern for their mutual welfare since they are all faced with the same problems and needs. It arises from the growing realization of the Chilean, Colombian, Bolivian, Peruvian, Costa Rican, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, etc., that their aspirations for a better world cannot be achieved within the present geographical divisions but only through unity since all are in the same situation. Their Latin Americanism in the ethnological field lacks the malignant group exclusiveness predominant in the ruling class. It arises from a melting pot of humanity with a common historical development, a common geography and common objectives in life.

In contrast to the timidity and nervousness of the ruling elements, reflecting the instability of the foundations they rest upon, the fighters among the Latin-American people are bold and courageous. The coasts, valleys and mountains of Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, etc. are covered with the blood of their battles. In these life and death struggles even military and police terror cannot stop the masses, as we see from the actions of the Indian tin miners and other working people in Bolivia; in the strikes in Chile and in Venezuela. Under the leadership of the newly rising proletarian class, the popular masses come to the forefront in the struggles for social and economic emancipation. In the struggle for national emancipation from imperialist rule and control, the working masses are the most consistent fighters for expropriation and nationalization of the basic industries, such as the nationalization of the petroleum industry in Mexico. The same demand is being made by the Venezuelan and Colombian petroleum workers.

Herein lies the hope for its future! The young and rising proletariat of Latin America is not only developing rapidly and becoming the most cohesive unit in the organizational and political fields. The conditions of the workers under semi-colonial status are so scandalously sub-human they do not feel the slightest attachment to the system of private property, but cherish only hatred and rebellion toward it. Their material needs and social position impels the workers to lead the struggle for the social and national liberation of their own immediate country and of the entire continent, both for their own class and for other sectors of the population that have no room under the sky of the ruling class, such as the landless peasants and the poorer sections of the middle class. The banner under which the working class will conduct its battles to victory will not be that of the decaying and outlived capitalist system, but, as the author of the book properly concludes: the new banner of the Socialist United States of Latin America.

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