From New International, Vol. XIV No. 1, January 1948, pp. 14–18.
Translated by Abe Stein.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Latin America is undergoing a profound economic and social transformation.
A vigorous industrial development in Argentina and Brazil was made possible by the First World War. But it was the Second World War which gave the impetus to a true industrial revolution in these two countries. Between 1935 and 1945 certain branches of Argentine industry expanded between 50 and 100 per cent. The size of the industrial proletariat increased from 470,000 in 1935 to 1,000,000 in 1945. (Fourth International, Newsletter from Argentina, December, 1945.) So great is the concentration of the proletariat in the Buenos Aires area that 900,000 workers are to be found within a radius of 100 kilometers.
The two world wars permitted the semi-colonial countries to move toward independence, developing a comparatively strong industry of their own. Argentina freed itself from dependence on British imperialism, creating its own reserves of capital. While the tempestuous development of Brazilian industry was based on North American credit, Argentina took advantage of European investments, the flight of capital from Europe, primarily German investments, to emancipate itself from both English and American capital. Until the First World War, Argentina was a semi-feudal country, an exporter of agricultural products to England. The governments and “Gaucho” policy took shape in the heat of the struggle between the commercial bourgeoisie and the conservative latifundists (big landowners) who were supported by British imperialism.
In 1930, General Uriburu overthrew Irigoyen’s Radical Party, representative of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, and installed a conservative government of latifundists headed by Augustin P. Justo. In 1938 the Ortiz-Castillo combination deposed Justo, promising “clean” elections against the agrarian oligarchy. But the development of Argentina’s industry was already beyond the capacity of the old Radical Party, which represented the commercial bourgeoisie and the heretofore embryonic industrial bourgeoisie. When Ortiz (who was close to the Radicals) died, his successor, Castillo, tended toward German influences. But this was hardly sufficient. In June 1943, the revolt of the Rawson-Ramirez clique installed a military regime opposed to the United States and supported by Hitler.
The “grey eminence” of this revolt was Juan Domingo Peron, who rose to power by way of elections after the years of military dictatorship, defeating the “Democratic Union” composed of Radicals, Stalinists and Socialists. Peron’s regime now has a social base that extends not only into the bourgeoisie and the middle class, but into the backward layers of the Argentine proletariat as well. Peron was able to defeat both the Stalinists and the Socialists in the trade unions, creating his own unions of a totalitarian type. His social policy of increasing wages won him enormous sympathies.
Not so long ago Peron announced a five-year plan and also signed a commercial treaty with Chile which looks toward a customs union. Argentina’s five-year plan, as well as its relations with Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia, expresses the dynamic industrial expansion of the Argentine bourgeoisie and its drive to conquer new markets for its growing industries. But perhaps Peron’s political and social influence can best be measured by the ideological pressure it exerts even within the Trotskyist organizations.
In the January–February 1947 issue of Octubre, which carries on its cover Trotsky’s classic phrase concerning defense of the USSR, we find various articles on the structural changes which are occurring in Argentina. Victory Guerrero, in an editorial article, “Continental Policy of the Argentine Bourgeoisie,” sustains the main thesis that Peron is realizing a bourgeois democratic revolution in Argentina, and that the customs union with Chile constitutes a step toward the unity of Latin America.
The plan is inseparable from the Union. Both constitute an obvious attempt to overcome the feudal isolation of Chile and Argentina, authentic pre-capitalist remnant imposed by imperialism. Nevertheless, the plan is at the same time a reflection of the weakness of the Argentine bourgeoisie. The country cannot achieve its self-determination except by renouncing its separate existence and integrating itself in a Latin-American state in accordance with the example of the United States in the eighteenth century.
In order to give this magisterial thesis a foundation, the author defines Argentina’s character as being that of a semi-colonial and feudal country. And he is not alone. In another article headed Lenin and the National Question, Niceto Andres follows him along the same path. Without in the least noticing it, both authors fall into contradictions in analyzing the national economy.
“The agrarian problem in Argentina – naturally we exclude the other countries of Latin America from this characterization – has been substantially resolved from the capitalist point of view.” (My emphasis – L.V.)
“Along with the development of the national industry, the first imperialist war exercised other effects of the same type in the countryside. With the ending of the war, agricultural products brought high prices on the world market because European production was disorganized. This wave of prosperity allowed new peasant strata to acquire property rights to the land they cultivated; similarly, it made it easier for other tenant farmers to establish capitalist forms of relations: the substitution of rent in money for rent in kind, etc. Accordig to an estimate by Home, 70 per cent of the peasantry is capitalist in type, well-to-do tenants and independent farmers. As in the case of the industrial evolution, the Argentine countryside took advantage of the imperialist crisis and accentuated its march toward superior levels. At the same time, the so-called ‘oligarchy’ (latifundists) had already lost in large part its old patriarchal form.” (V. Guerrero, Continental Policy, Octubre, No. 3, p. 47.)
This is the manner in which Guerrero characterizes the economic structure of a “semi-colonial country.” But Niceto goes even further.
Let us now look at Argentina. Its agriculture possesses a capitalist character. Its industry gives employment to a numerous and concentrated proletariat. It is a creditor nation. Nevertheless, the bourgeois-democratic tasks are still to be completed ... Argentina’s semi-colonial character is determined in the last instance by the semi-colonial character of Latin America taken in its totality ... Argentina cannot conquer an independent position for the simple reason that the independence of Latin America and each one of the “countries” that make it up can only be won through the unification of a great national state. The unity of Latin America, for us that signifies the bourgeois-democratic revolution. (Niceto: Lenin and the National Question, Octubre, No. 3, 47.)
Our author continues his dispute with the Argentine group associated with El Militante, which supports the opposite thesis that Argentina is no longer a semi-colonial country but capitalist par excellence, and that consequently the bourgeois-democratic revolution has been accomplished in this country. He affirms that such a revolution has never been realized in Argentina. It was carried out neither by Irigoyen nor anyone else, but by Peron.
“Until 1916, Argentina was ‘almost’ colonial. Irigoyen’s rise to power did not essentially modify this situation. Uriburu and Justo represented the oligarchical-imperialist reaction, Ortiz and Castillo the extension of this policy with semi-Bonapartist characteristics, under conditions of war.... When therefore was the bourgeois revolution carried out? Grit your teeth and contemplate the Medusa’s head. That revolution took place ... on the 4th of June 1943.” (Niceto. My emphasis – L.V.)
Thus we arrive at the fundamental thesis that Peron realized the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and accordingly the author asks his adversaries: Why do you call it a “dictatorship” of the “totalitarian” stripe?
Since the democratic revolution in its agrarian as well as in its industrial aspect has already been exhausted in Argentina, according to the authors themselves, it follows that the principal task of the “Peron Revolution” is to realize the unity of Latin America, because “the semi-colonial character of Argentina is determined in the last analysis by the semi-colonial character of Latin America taken in its totality.”
Our authors turn back to the period of pre-independence when the adventurer-generals of Latin America dreamed of continental unity. They cite the Venezuelan general Miranda, San Martin, and Simon Bolivar, the “Liberator,” who wished to unite Latin America into a federation of states in imitation of Washington and who called the congress of Panama for this purpose. However, the embryonic bourgeoisie of the period was too weak to realize this task, while Anglo-American imperialism did everything possible to prevent it and to stimulate the formation of “independent” states, thus effecting the “Balkanization” of the South American continent. With the development of Argentine industry the Argentine frontiers have become much too narrow, and the inexorable need for a market has given birth to the “continental conscience” of the Argentine bourgeoisie. And Latin America is a market of 130,000,000 people. Argentina’s five-year plan and the customs union with Chile are the coefficients of the same policy. (Guerrero, Continental Policy)
The limits of this “emancipating” process, continues our author, depend on the international situation, the attitude of the American working class and of its vanguard. Solemnly assuming the toga of a Marxist Cato, our author thunders:
“It is the duty of the vanguard in the United States to give political support to every step taken by the nationalist-bourgeois government of Argentina against imperialism ... the Betancourt government (Venezuela), the APRA (Peru), Bolivian nationalism) the Dutra government (Brazil) and Peron’s own government, all demonstrate that the Latin American bourgeoisie is incapable of conducting a vigorous and openly declared [?] struggle against imperialism.” (Guerrero, Ibid. My emphasis and question mark – V.)
It should be evident now that the Argentine Trotskyists wish to be more Catholic than the Pope and more Peronista than Peron, leading forward the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Argentina, Brazil and the other Latin American countries with the blessing of Pope Stalin and that “democratic revolutionary,” Peron. For them the socialist revolution belongs to a distant epoch:
“The five-year plan and the customs union with Chile will sweep the feudal trash from the path of the working class and force imperialism to retreat from its posts of control over the continental and Argentine economy (really?) thus restricting its markets, aggravating its crisis and providing a much wider historic arena for the great future struggle between the Latin American bourgeoisie and the proletariat of the continent.” (Guerrero, Ibid.)
In other words we are far, very far, from a socialist revolution. First Peron, with Stalin’s blessings and the brave help of the Octubre Trotskyists, is to realize “the unity of Latin America” and “force imperialism to retreat” in order “to provide a much wider historic arena for the Latin American proletariat.” And this is called Marxism! Comrade “Gauchos,” this is not Marxism but a native “hash à la Peron.”
In order to investigate and clarify our problem, and to separate the correct ideas from the “hash,” we must refer to the writings of Jose Carlos Mariategui, Peruvian Marxist, esteemed not only in his own country and on the Latin American continent but among all Spanish speaking peoples. We have at hand only his Seven Essays on the Interpretation of the Peruvian Reality, which does not contain much on our question. Nevertheless, what there is will aid us in clarifying the problem in question.
Mariategui teaches us that the Spanish conquistadores found in existence an Incan economic system which was ...
well disciplined, pantheistic and simple – enjoying material well-being. Subsistence abounded and the population increased. The Empire was radically unaware of the Malthusian problem ... The collective work and the common effort were directed fruitfully toward social ends. (Mariategui, Seven Essays, page 7.)
Without being able to replace it, the Spanish conquistadores destroyed this formidable machine of production. The Inca economy, the native society, decomposed and was completely crushed by the conquest. The links of unity broken, the nation dissolved into dispersed communities ...
The domain ruled by the Viceroy outlined the beginning of the difficult and complex process involved in the formation of a new economy ... On the ruins of the collectivist Inca system, the conquistadores imposed the feudal European system, dividing the common lands among themselves and plundering the Inca palaces and silver mines ... The Spaniards began to cultivate the soil and exploit the gold and silver mines ... [But] the weakness of the Spanish Empire resided precisely in its character and structure, this being more of a military and ecclesiastical enterprise than political and economic. Large groups of pioneers did not land in the Spanish colonies as they did on the shores of New England. To Latin America there came almost no one but viceroys, courtesans, adventurers, clerics, doctors and soldiers. A true force for colonization did not, therefore, take shape in Peru. The population of Lima included a small court, a bureaucracy, some convents, inquisitors, merchants, servants and slaves; besides, the Spanish pioneer lacked the aptitude necessary to create nuclei of labor ... The colonizers preoccupied themselves almost exclusively with the exploitation of Peruvian gold and silver.
Thus it was that the conquest imported a feudal Spanish system in process of decay, imposing it on the ruins of Inca collectivism. The republican economy, like that of the conquest, was also born of a political and military deed ... With independence, the ideas of the French Revolution and the North American constitution begin to find a climate favorable to their diffusion in South America because a bourgeoisie existed, though embryonic in character. Given its economic needs and interests, this bourgeoisie was fated to catch the revolutionary fever from the European bourgeoisie. Certainly, Hispano-American independence would never have been realized had there not existed a heroic generation responsive to the emotions of its epoch, with a capacity and will to inspire in these peoples a true revolution ... The leaders and caudillos, the ideologues of this revolution, were neither inferior nor superior to the premises, basically economic, of this event ...
Spanish policy was in total contradiction to, and acted as an obstacle to, the economic development of the colonies. She [Spain] did not allow them to engage in traffic with any other nation, reserving for herself the role of the metropolis and monopolizing in exclusive fashion the right to all commerce and enterprise in these territories ...
The natural impulse of the productive strength of the colonies was to fight to break this bond. The nascent economy of the embryonic American national formations imperiously demanded separation from the rigid authority, and emancipation from the medieval mentality of the King of Spain, if it was to achieve its development ... Taken on the plane of world history. South American independence reveals itself as being determined by the necessities of the development of western, or more precisely, of capitalist civilization. [My emphasis – V.] ... Although the rhythm of capitalist phenomena had a less apparent and ostensible function in the elaboration of independence than the echo of the philosophy and literature of the encyclopedists, it was without a doubt much more decisive and profound. (Mariategui, ibid.)
For Mariategui, then, South American independence has its basis in capitalist development. For the Octubre Trotskyists, the formation of national states in Latin America belongs to the pre-capitalist epoch. Here is the first fundamental disagreement.
Since Spain could not satisfy the needs flowing from the economic and social development of the colonies, the latter sought relations with the capitalist countries, above all with England.
“Then in process of formation, the British empire was destined to represent genuinely and overwhelmingly the interests of capitalist civilization. In England, seat of liberalism and Protestantism, the machine and industry prepared the future of capitalism. It was for this reason that England was called upon to play a primary role in the independence of South America.” (Ibid.)
The South American colonies were saturated with monks, doctors, viceroys, inquisitors, soldiers, governors and adventurers; needing modern colonizers, needing industrial products,
“they turned toward England whose bankers and industrializers, colonizers of a new type, wanted to win new markets, thus fulfilling the role of builders of an empire just rising as the creation of a manufacturing and free-trade economy.” (Ibid.)
“The economic interests of the Spanish colonies and the interests of the western capitalists were in complete harmony ... Hardly had these nations won their independence than they sought those elements and relations that the growth of their economy required in traffic with the capital and industry of the West. To the capitalist West they began to send the products of their soil and subsoil; and from the capitalist West they began to receive textiles, machinery and a thousand and one industrial products. A continuous and growing contact was established between South America and western civilization at his time. Naturally, the countries most favored by this traffic were those situated on the Atlantic.” (Ibid.)
Mariategui, as we see, considers the liberation of Latin America from the Spanish yoke a profound revolutionary transformation which conforms to the economic necessities of the colonies, as well as to the development both of the colonies and European capitalism; an economic and political revolution; even though limited, a step forward from Spanish medieval feudalism to free-trade capitalism. In this general sense the wars of independence had already begun the bourgeois-democratic revolution in all of Latin America. However, the rhythm of this transformation from a feudal to a capitalist society was different in various countries, in the first place the regions of the Atlantic and the Pacific. The circulation of commodities and emigration were much more intense on the Atlantic coast, in Argentina and Brazil. For this reason, these countries acquired primary importance in the capitalist epoch, displacing Peru and Bolivia, previously the centers of the Spanish domain and the Empire.
The comrades of Octubre must be blind not to have seen this fundamental change. Due to capitalist influence, the economies of Argentina and Brazil were transformed, and they acquired first importance as the most capitalistic and industrial countries in Latin America.
“Argentina and Brazil attracted European capital and emigrants to their territories in large quantities. The strong and homogeneous sediment deposited by this tide from the west accelerated the transformation of the economy and culture of these countries, and gradually they acquired the function and structure of European culture and economy. Liberal and bourgeois democracy could sink sure roots here, while the extensive.and stubborn persistence of feudal residues impeded its progress in the rest of South America.” (Mariategui, ibid., page 12, my emphasis – V.)
The most prominent South American Marxist teacher establishes “the structure of European economy” in Argentina and Brazil, that is, the existence of a “capitalist arid liberal bourgeois economy” in these.countries long before the Argentine Octubrists. Political and economic developments since Mariategui wrote have confirmed his analysis. During the First World War Argentina and Brazil, and in part Chile as well, developed their industries to such a point that they were able to a large extent to free themselves from European imperialism. From our point of view, therefore, the democratic revolution in these countries corresponds to this and the post-war period.
Varga’s dictatorship in Brazil corresponds to a crisis of Brazilian capitalism, a repercussion of the world crisis. The semi-Bonapartist Ortiz-Castillo regime also reflects the same phenomenon in Argentina. Peron’s dictatorship is a continuation and deepening of this process, accelerated and shaped by the crisis of world capitalism and the second imperialist world war. These Bonapartist-totalitarian regimes appear in the classic situation where the bourgeoisie is no longer capable of governing the country with classic liberal methods and the proletariat is still not mature enough to take the power. The totalitarian dictatorships of Argentina and Brazil do not constitute a termination of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, but the reflection of the premature crisis of liberal capitalism in these countries.
The industrial development of these countries is not the work of the dictatorships and is not at all based on them. Its fundamental cause and tempestuous development are rooted in the mortal crisis of imperialism impelled to its own destruction in the Second World War, giving economic freedom to these countries, and allowing them to develop their own industries so that they might satisfy the needs of the continent.
Under the conditions determined by imperialism, this industrial development gives the appearance of youth and dynamism to these regimes of crisis. It compels these regimes to abandon the classic methods of liberalism and “pass to a “controlled economy” containing strong elements of state capitalism. Consequently, the momentary concessions granted to the workers are not inspired by Peron’s democratic revolution, but by the Bonapartist policies of his regime.
And now for some final conclusions:
(1) If the democratic revolution in Argentina and Brazil was concluded and done with in the first post-war period, then only the Latin American proletariat is a revolutionary force, and only the socialist and proletarian revolution is on the order of the day. The Bonapartist, dictatorial, or Nazi-like regimes in Argentina and Brazil, the APRA regime in Peru, the defeated Villaroel regime in Bolivia, the Betancourt regime in Venezuela, and that of Morinigo in Paraguay, are not “backward” regimes of the last wave of the democratic revolution in South America. They are in reality reactionary regimes, the tardy product of the wave of German Nazism and European fascism in general. They are regimes of capitalist crisis in the specific conditions of South America.
In accordance with Mariategui, we must establish the difference between the two large capitalist countries of the Atlantic coast, Argentina and Brazil, and the rest of the continent, principally Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay and Venezuela. In these latter countries there are strong residues of feudalism. Nevertheless, Mariategui poses and defines the socialist revolution as the immediate perspective for Peru, arguing that only this revolution is capable of realizing such bourgeois tasks as the agrarian question and national liberation from the imperialist yoke, given the weakness of the native bourgeoisie and the strength of the imperialists, given the close tie between the native bourgeoisie and imperialism.
Starting from this premise, the “anti-imperialist” struggle of the native petty-bourgeoisie, the Peruvian APRA, the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement in Bolivia, Betancourt in Venezuela, Stalinism in Chile and Brazil, is demagogy reduced to impotent phrase-mongering, and collaboration with imperialism on coming to power. To support this struggle is to distract the proletariat from its historic mission of realizing the unfinished democratic tasks through the Socialist revolution.
Only the proletariat can consistently combat imperialism in South America. Whether it be considered from the economic or from the social and political aspect, the socialist revolution is on the order of the day in all of South America, with this difference: In Argentina and Brazil the Socialist tasks will be realized immediately, while in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, etc., the democratic tasks will be completed in passing in order to step immediately into the proletarian phase.
(2) The Argentine economy is capitalist par excellence.  Peron’s expansionism is not a struggle of the Argentinians against imperialism, but an expansion of the Argentine bourgeoisie which strives to dominate the continent and establish a local “sub-imperialism.” The Argentine-Chile treaty gives enormous advantages to Argentina, reducing Chile to a dependency. Peron pays $13 Argentine for 100 kilograms of wheat, selling it to Chile for $35 Argentine and bringing about a Chilean selling price of 100 to 500 Chilean pesos. The Chilean producer receives from the state only 195 to 205 Chilean pesos for the same product. This same relationship obtains for all products.
The conditions of world imperialism being what they are, there will not be very much room for Argentina’s “sub-imperialism.” In the long run Argentina will have to submit to Yankee imperialism. The struggle between Peron and Braden was not for domination of the continent, but for the crumbs which the Argentine bourgeoisie requires as a sub-agency of American imperialism. However, Argentina is no longer a semi-colonial country despite this relationship. Czarist Russia borrowed money from France and was not a semi-colonial country.
The economic: dependence of Argentina is of a modern imperialist, not of a semi-colonial type. Great Britain, without being a semi-colony, being an empire in decay, depends more on the United States than does Argentina. For this reason the struggle between Argentina and the North American bourgeoisie does not have a revolutionary character for the proletariat, but a local, limited and inter-imperialist character within the South American framework.
(3) The program of the United States of Latin America cannot be considered as bourgeois-democratic under present conditions, though theoretically the native bourgeoisie could have realized it. Nevertheless it failed to do so. The situation of Latin America at the dawn of capitalism cannot be compared to the situation of medieval Europe, which constituted a “Christian republic” united under the Pope and the Roman Empire of the German people, with an official language, Latin. The development of capitalism divided Europe into national states. The same development took place in Latin America but with this difference: After the crushing of the indigenous races, national cultures and different languages did not appear, the Spanish language remaining dominant. This facilitates the realization of the Socialist United States of Latin America. However, the content of this program is socialist and not bourgeois. Its realization will be accomplished under the conditions of imperialism, not of that pre-capitalism which the democratic revolution was destined to clear away.
The Argentine Octubrists confuse the phenomenon and relationships of modern imperialism with feudalism; the socialist with the bourgeois revolution; totalitarian Bonapartism with bourgeois democracy; and industrial development caused by the imperialist world crisis with the democratic industrial revolution. They make of Marxism a scientific and international doctrine which seeks and finds the same phenomena in every part of the world, a native “hash.” They proclaim the Peron reaction a bourgeois-democratic revolution, and his inter-imperialist struggle for crumbs an anti-imperialist struggle which merits the support of the proletariat.
Proclaiming the democratic revolution, which has already been completed, to be the task of the proletariat, they postpone the realization of socialism to another historical epoch, thi s placing themselves within the Stalinist orbit which desires to profit from Peron’s struggle against the United States. Thus do they lose sight of the revolutionary perspective and reduce the proletariat to the subordinate role of supporting Peron’s “sub-imperialism” and Stalinist imperialism, abandoning the classic doctrines of South American Marxism in favor of imported Stalinism. In the end they may discover themselves in the embrace of Peronism, betraying the proletariat.
Latin America is passing through a period of profound economic and social change caused by the crisis of capitalist imperialism. Naturally we have no desire to underestimate the importance of imperialist oppression in Latin America. However, the South American phenomena have a general character modified by local conditions.
Imperialism can be fought only under the proletarian banner of the socialist revolution. The proletariat should not lend its support to the reactionary, nationalist and Utopian petty bourgeoisie, but should engage this bourgeoisie in political combat with its own program. In the case of the reactionary and fascist Argentine bourgeoisie which “struggles” against North American expansion, the proletariat should form its own front opposed to both Peronism and Yankee imperialism. In view of the world division between the two imperialist blocs, the proletariat cannot reduce itself to being lackeys and cannon fodder for one or the other bloc, but should carry forward its own policy of the world-wide proletarian and socialist third front opposed to capitalist and Stalinist imperialism.
Only by tirelessly combatting not only imperialism but also Peronism, Aprism, Villaroelism, Stalinism and such reactionary caudillos as Betancourt and Morinigo under the banner of the socialist revolution, can the struggle be carried to a finish and the democratic tasks accomplished in the backward countries of South America. The unity of Latin America will be realized not by Peron in his struggle against Yankee imperialism, but in the struggle of the proletariat against imperialism and its native bourgeois allies, as the immediate historic perspective.
1. The fact is established by the “Octubrists” themselves, who find Argentine industry and agriculture obviously capitalist. Where then is the content of the bourgeois democratic revolution and Argentina’s semi-colonial character? To rid themselves of this headache and save themselves from an obvious contradiction, the “Octubrists” declare:
“The semi-colonial character of Argentina is defined in the last analysis by the semi-colonial character of Latin America.”
This is an error, however, because from any point of view the continent does not constitute an economic entity on the same plane of development. At the side of capitalist countries such as Argentina and Brazil, we have semi-colonial countries like Peru, Bolivia, etc.
Last updated on 22 December 2015