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International Socialism, Summer 1967


Bob Looker

Megalocephaly too!


From International Socialism (1st series), No.29, Summer 1967, pp.36-37.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Parasitism and Subversion: The Case of Latin America
Stanialav Andreski
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 45s

Diagnosis of the Brazilian Crisis
Celso Furtado
University of California Press, $5

It is probably an impossible task to give a really good account of the politics and social structure of a continent as diverse as Latin America and it takes a very brave or foolhardy man to make the attempt. Professor Andreski, equipped with a vast accumulation of observations culled from the literature of comparative sociology and the writings of political and social theorists from Aristotle to Mao Tse-tung, but with a none too comprehensive knowledge of literature on Latin America, has rushed in where experts fear to tread and the result is a predictably inadequate book. Basically, it is a pot pourri of facts and generalisations in which central issues struggle with the peripheral and the downright irrelevant for an equal place in the sun, where the gambling and sexual habits of the population rate equal attention with latifundia and capital scarcity.

The lack of any criteria of relevance guiding the selection of evidence is in large part due to the absence of one element which one might have expected a sociological theorist to bring to this subject, namely a rigorous conceptual framework focusing on the structural problems confronting developing societies. We are offered instead the notion of an all-embracing ‘parasitism,’ a metaphor underpinned by a large number of neologisms – kleptocracy, militocracy, even, God help us, megalocephaly – where new words substitute for new ideas.

In a work as uneven as this, there are bound to be some useful sections, as for example the discussion on the varieties of militarism prevalent in Latin America, but against this one has to balance passages of a startling simplicity and crudity, as in the weight placed on racist attitudes in accounting for the Cuban crises, or the Freudian explanation of the violence of Mexican politics.

The title of Furtado’s, book might lead one to expect something at the opposite end of the scale from Andreski, namely a detailed and specialised analysis of the Brazilian economy. In fact, nearly half of this brief volume is devoted to a general discussion of the political and social pre-conditions and consequences of industrialisation based upon an analysis of the development of European capitalism. Furtado operates within a fairly familiar blend of Marxist and social-democratic perspectives where Marxism is conceived as a theory of technological change whose judicious application may assist in the achievement of the desired goal of the industrialised welfare state. Very briefly, Furtado’s argument follows a Strachey-like view that the social stability and capacity for. economic growth of advanced capitalism is a result of the political and economic power of the working class, and goes on to infer that in the context of an economy like Brazil’s which is close to the point of ‘take-off’ into self-sustained growth, the main problem is that of creating a political framework which will canalise working-class pressure in the service of economic growth and social reform without precipitating, either. social revolution or a violent reaction from the existing ruling class.

What is interesting about this book is not so much its general perspectives, which are unlikely to appeal to readers of IS, but rather their application to the changes in the Brazilian economy and social structure over the past 40 years and which lead Furtado to the conclusion that the kind of political framework he desires is not likely to develop given the existing pattern of social forces. Basically, his argument is that Brazil lacks a thorough-going bourgeois revolution. The initial impulse towards industrialisation in’ the 1930s was based upon import substitution and took place as an unintended consequence of governmental measures to defend the coffee-growing landowners faced with a major crisis of over-production in the context of a collapsing world economy. The result was that the growth of the industrial sector in Brazil took place on the basis of a tacit collaboration between the new entrepreneurial strata and the leaders of the old colonial economy, and while the rampant inflation that has marked the country’s subsequent history largely benefited the process of capital accumulation by the industrialists, the differential rates of inflation as between manufactured and agricultural produce constituted a kind of tax on industrial wealth paid to the landowning class.

The ‘crisis’ in the title of the book refers to the changes which have taken place since the fifties when the phase of industrial growth based on simple import substitution came up against the barrier of increasing demands for highly capitalised requirements with a long maturation period, at precisely the same time as the worsening in the terms of trade for primary products imposed a major blockage on Brazil’s import capacity. In conditions of a declining rate of growth, continuing inflation now acted as a retarding factor by intensifying the impact of the ‘leeching’ of the landed oligarchy on the strained industrial sector, but because of the long history of class collaboration, the industrialists were unwilling to break the political power of the landowners on a programme which mobilised the urban and rural masses behind a programme of radical political and social reform. On the contrary, they saw the main enemy as the newly urbanised peasant masses who form the bulk of the industrial labour force and whose inchoate level of class consciousness leaves them particularly susceptible to mobilisation behind ‘populist’ ideologies. In the context of intensified class hostility, the military coup of March 1964 was inevitable.

The virtue of Furtado’s book is that is has sought to come to terms with the problems of developing societies – and incidentally to redress the balance in a literature which relies too often on an exclusively Afro-Asian frame of reference – in terms which place class conflict and it’s relation to political economy at the centre of analysis. As such it deserves attention and even if its perspective is not acceptable, Furtado is open enough in his use of evidence to enable the reader to come to alternative conclusions.

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