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New International, August 1939


Pedro Milesi

Economic and Political Life in Argentina

(April 1939)


Source: New International, Vol.5 No.8, August 1939, pp.250-252.
Translation: Diego Montamea.
Transcription: Daniel Gaido.
Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE fact that Argentina is a semi-colony of international finance capital has for some time been a common-place. The penetration of foreign capital dates back to the days of the proclamation of Argentine “independence” as a nation. From 1800 on the rich landowners carried on the struggle against Spain, the struggle to make their market accessible to the rest of the world. Once free of the monopolizing influence of the Spanish homeland, Argentina and the other former Spanish colonies began to fall under the economic rule of the capitalist powers, first the European ones and later the young capitalism of the USA. The attempts at actual territorial domination – the British invasions of 1806 and 1807 – were unsuccessful. With the proclamation of independence in 1810, therefore, the British oriented themselves toward economic and financial penetration. Ever since then Britain has held the dominant position in these fields, and consequently also in the political and social life of the nation.

The capital invested by Great Britain amounts at the present time to Moo million. The railway lines under her exclusive control cover a spread of 25,000 kilometers. Trolley cars, hydraulic works, packing houses, machinery, workshops and great expanses of land, are under British control, “Bovril”, “La Forestal”, “Liebig”, “Southern Land Company”, and other British firms hold million of hectares of land and millions of heads of cattle. To put it briefly, all the commanding points in the economy of the country are in the hands of the bankers of the City of London.

At first sight it seems that British imperialist penetration has brought us a great deal of progress. A closer scrutiny will show that while this penetration has influenced the general development of the country, the progress brought by it has been restricted to those regions whose products have been and still are necessary for the provisioning of the British Isles, thus finally placing us in the position of being a monocultural country. To these regions they have extended the big railways, and in these regions there is a noticeable rise in the cultural level. The other regions remain in a state of stagnation little better than they were prior to 1810 under the Spaniards. As corroboration of this we note the fact that 90% of the agricultural (including cattle) production is confined to the three provinces of Santa Fe, Cordoba and Buenos Aires.

If any doubt existed of the dependent status of Argentina it would have been dissipated by the recent Pan-American Conference of Lima. As is well known, the conference was nothing more in the last analysis, than the attempt of the United States to yoke the Latin American countries to the chariot of Yankee imperialism. At Lima, and despite the strenuous efforts of Mr. Cordell Hull, the discordant, note was, and had to be, introduced by the Argentine delegates. “Who will repay us for the loss of our European markets, particularly our British market, our main customer?” That was the dominant note of all their speeches. This brought into clear daylight not only the dependent position of Argentina with respect to England but also the inter-imperialist struggle for the control of Latin-American countries.

The motives that move the very democratic Mr. Roosevelt were well exposed by the said Mr. Hull in a speech delivered under the title of “International Relations and the Foreign Policy of the United States.” In that memorable discourse the noted U.S. statesman makes his confession (but without atonement, of course). “Without the development of foreign commerce no industrial nation can maintain mind standards of living, and if trade barriers are maintained, the uncontestable gravitation of public necessities (Read: imperialist expansion – P.M.) will dictate a reliance upon force and conquest to obtain resources that are denied to the people by discriminatory customs policies.” Behind the elegant euphemisms of the Secretary of State the “democratic” motives that moved the Lima Conference stand exposed with unmistakable clarity, But if any doubt still remained, Mr. Hull must have removed it when he added:

The state of war is already potentially in existence as soon as mutual hostility and mistrust, manifested in the sphere of intercourse, become apparent, maintain themselves, and even increase.” (Our emphasis.)

The logical result of all these premises was the Lima proposal of a Pan-American military-economic alliance against economic, and not only economic, subjugation to the “totalitarian” and the “democratic” countries of Europe.

Apparently all this was discussed behind the scenes at the celebrated Munich Conference, and since then it has spread. What is worthy of note is that since the Lima Conference quite a series of polemics has arisen (and not always unfolded in the soft language of diplomacy) between the US financial interests on one side and those of Argentina on the other side. These polemics have spread so far as to prompt the intervention of the Argentine Finance Minister, who published a memorandum on the state of Argentine-U.S. commercial intercourse. He notes that “since the end of 1937 the Argentine economic situation has suffered a rude recession and events have taken a turn for the worse with respect to the development of trade between Argentina and the United States.”

In millions of Argentine Pesos*






Receipts (total)










(a) official market





(b) free market





Expenditures (total)










(a) official market





(b) free market





Payments on Public Debt and official expenditure










* The value of the Argentine peso was listed by the NY Times
of June 10, 1939 as $0.2325.

In the last 28 years, continues the memorandum, Argentina’s purchases from the US amounted to P. 8,526 million, practically the same amount as the purchases from the United Kingdom, her principal customer. But during the same period, while the United Kingdom purchased P. 13,499 million worth of Argentine goods, the US only purchased P. 5,101 million worth. This left Argentine with a positive balance of P. 4,570 million with the United Kingdom and a negative balance of P. 3,425 million with the US.

Putting to shame the “Marxists” of the social-democratic and Stalinist schools, the Finance Minister goes on to say that “for the Argentine it has never been a question of (political) systems. We have been forced to adapt our economy to new exigencies in the commercial world, always keeping in mind the fact that in our position as a debtor nation we must obtain a positive trade balance in order to make our payments on the external debts and loans”. “What do we care about totalitarian or democratic states?” he appears to be saying, “For us it is a question of exports. We cannot buy more than what we are in a position to pay for.”

These are the terms in which the problem is posed, and from this flew the impossibility of a close accord at the afore-mentioned Conference of Lima.

What was the attitude of the Argentine Socialist and Communist parties to this Conference? Their attitude was confined to presenting the Conference as a happy plan of President Roosevelt to bring about the formation of a “democratic” common front opposed to the advance of the “totalitarian” countries. Thus objectively they have assumed the role of defenders of Yankee imperialism by hiding from the Latin-American masses the true motives and true ends of the Conference.

In the present situation, where the economic crisis overshadows everything else in our country – the growing unfavorable balance has already reached P. 800 million for 1938 and promises to continue to increase – the struggle against the imperialist monopolies can only be brought to a successful conclusion if it is developed into a struggle against the native bourgeoisie which is linked to these monopolies by thousands of economic ties. The boasted “national liberation” about which the socialists and Stalinists clamor so loudly, cannot be attained without the socialist revolution. As was so vividly proved by the recent shameful events in Spain, the aforementioned parties are by no, means disposed to achieve this revolution. Instead they cover up their treachery to the interests of the proletariat with the cloak of false “defense of democracy” and “struggle against fascism”, posing these as problems seemingly independent of the struggle against capitalist imperialism.

The solution of this pressing problem of anti-imperialist struggle can be found only when the working class rejects the crucifixion offered both by the Stalinist-Socialist line of “I neither can nor want to”, and the “I want to but can’t” of certain sections of the “liberal” native bourgeoisie that, despite their dependency upon the imperialist monopolies, struggle nevertheless in order not to be completely absorbed into the orbit of these interests.

An eloquent demonstration of the role of the Stalinists, socialists and “liberals” who evade the real meaning of the anti-imperialist struggle, is furnished by their present campaign against “Nazi infiltration”. Whether or not such infiltration exists, whether the compromising “documents” are “made in Germany” or “made in USA”, the certain thing, and the thing that makes the whole affair look suspicious, is that the campaign is raised with great virulence at the precise moment in which the government signs a barter agreement with Germany. We say suspicious because we remember the somewhat similar situation several years ago when the then president Irigoyen claimed he would try to free Argentina of the hold of the imperialist blocs by means of an Argentine-USSR trade accord. We do not say that the leaders of the SP and CP are consciously and unconditionally in the service of the Anglo-American imperialists, but the coincidence is shocking: the agitators who brought to a head the campaign which resulted in the defeat of Irigoyen were elements taken from the Socialist party (their name was “Independent Socialist Party”).

In this present “anti-Nazi” campaign the Stalinists play a particularly repugnant role. “Rally around Ortiz”, “Let us support President Ortiz, champion of democracy”, “Save our Patagonia”; these are the slogans that figure on all the pages of their paper Orientación. Naturally enough, “our democratic President”, like Daladier in France, shows his gratitude for this Stalinist and socialist support by sending two bills to Parliament (where his word is law) providing in the Mussolini fashion for the incorporation of all unions with the consequent prohibition of the right of joint action and striking. What is particularly grievous to the Stalinist-socialist bureaucrats is that these bills also prohibit trade-union leaders from being particularly active, and in their section on the “legalization of political parties” they declare that only those parties can participate in elections who declare themselves in advance to be dedicated to those concepts of the “common good”, and those actions, prescribed by the constitution of the country, also forbidding all organic ties with any foreign entities.

And while the Stalinists and social democrats dedicate themselves to campaigns such as described above, what is the condition of the Argentine proletariat? In a word: calamitous.

The last crisis was tided over by the Argentine bourgeoisie by the simple expedient of cutting more and more into the salaries of the workers. The latest statistics published by the National Department of Labor carry eloquent data in this connection, even within the limits imposed by the character of the work, the bourgeois criteria, etc. Despite all the attempts they make at “consoling figures” these statistics prove the terrifying truth that the Argentine proletariat lives in a state of permanent malnutrition. These statistics divide the workers’ families into two categories. The first, composed of parents and three children under fourteen, earns a monthly average of P. 150.83. The second, of the same size, earns an average of P.97.21. The expenses of the groups are listed as P. 153.83 for the first group and P. 112.33 for the second group. Leaving aside the desire of the authors of the report to minimize, and the many omissions in the calculations of the expenses, these statistics prove that there is at best a monthly deficit of P.2.40 and P. 15.18 in each case. Furthermore the majority of the working-class families fall into the second category, the figures show, but they don’t show where the workers are supposed to get the means of overcoming the deficit they establish.

And these are the conditions in the big cities, where, however weakly, due to the Stalinist and social-democratic bridle, the restraining influence of the unions is felt. Consider then the plight of the workers in the hydraulic plants, in the mills, in the fields, truly capitalism’s feudal domains, the empire of the whip in the hands of the brave police in the pay of the exploiting bosses, where the bullets of the hired bullies put an end to the protests of the unsubmissive ...

The consequences of these conditions are shown by the fact that fifty to sixty percent of the youths called for army service are rejected – fifty to sixty percent, mind you, rejected for “thoracic insufficiency”, a gracious technical euphemism used to cover up the acute pauperism that rules in many parts of the country (not to mention infant mortality, which reaches frightful proportions particularly in the northern provinces).

The liberal and capitalist press is now raising a great campaign because of the fear occasioned by the growing drop in the nation’s birth rate. “Argentina is being depopulated,” “decadence of the race,” “immorality” are the topics of the day. The truth, however, is much more unadorned, much less complicated; it is: hunger, misery, syphilis ... The solution advanced by the learned liberals consists of teaching the Catechism, and ... the prohibition of contraceptives. To these we must add the “Rally around Ortiz” of the Stalinists.

The intellectual poverty of the Stalinists in this country reaches a new low level. An index of this can be gleaned from the aforementioned Orientación, whose purpose is the orientation of the workers in the direction of the lowest and most repugnant bungling and subjection. Only yesterday, on the eve of the national elections, it was “Alvear [“Radical” leader] to power”; at that time they argued: Ortiz will mean fascism. Alvear being defeated, the slogan became “Rally around, Ortiz”.

The immense majority of the Stalinist leadership is composed of parvenu individuals recruited from among the most pliant of the opportunists and careerists, some, like the present editor of Orientación, from among the fascists, and reaching to plain “pie-cards” and cabaret hounds (such as “comrade” Setaro, who “lost” the sum of P. 5,000 that was supposed to be sent, to the Spanish Loyalists, on a visit to the Café Marabú – a fact attested to by the daily police report).

The union bureaucrats of all stripes do not appear at all perturbed by the serious threat to the workers’ rights presented by the projected legislation of President Ortiz mentioned above. The miserable conditions of the working class in general do not annoy them. The tremendous amount of unemployment does not touch them. The sordid and systematic reactionary moves against the labor movement, such as the deportation of foreign workers (many being turned over directly into the hands of Hitler and Mussolini) leave them perfectly tranquil. They limit themselves to sending letters to the newspapers about their disagreement (and even this is done only to soothe the discontent that they know exists among the rank and file) with those measures that they say “are against the democratic spirit of our constitution”. Naturally if any worker continues to call for some action of protest he finds himself alluded to in the next form letter as “a counter-revolutionary Trotskyist” and “agent of the Gestapo” or “of the OVRA.”

The old Socialist party continues its descending path, each day more bourgeois in its social composition and more disreputable in its political action, or rather inaction. This has resulted in an internal decomposition and in several splits in the last few years. Many of the dissident SPers took part in the formation of the Workers Socialist Party, or PSO, an organization which was formed without bothering to adopt either a principled base or a class program and was consequently quickly “colonized” by the Stalinists. Today this party is openly falling apart, and the leading elements are trying in every way possible to squirm back into the old hole.

Several of the elements that in former years belonged to the Communist party (among others, the militant union leader Mateo Fossa) hastened to join the PSO in the belief that here they had found a serious movement. But fortunately they discovered very quickly that it is neither possible nor convenient to advance by amalgamating everyone on the basis of declarations of good will, and that what is needed is the construction of an organization of action based on revolutionary principles and program. Today a number of the ex-members of the PSO (including Fossa), have come over to the ranks of the Fourth International and it is hoped that their experiences of the past will be valuable in their future work.

These are some of the aspects of the politico-economic and social life of the Argentine Republic.


Pedro Milesi
Buenos Aires
April 29, 1939

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