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«STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS Stanford, California 1986 Modern Latin American Historiography and the Labor Movement Twentieth-century Latin American ...»

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15. I have excluded from this discussion the influential studies of the North American neo-Marxist economists Paul Baran, The Political Economy of Growth (New York, 1957), and Andre Guilder Frank, Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (New York, 1967), which emerged about the same time as those of the structural economists. These authors rightly insisted on the congenital weaknesses of peripheral capitalism and made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms through which surplus is extracted from peripheral societies and siphoned toward the industrial core ot the world system. But in their preoccupation with demonstrating the failure of capitalist development in Latm America and mechanical insistence on the inevitability of socialist revolution, they proved no less economistic and deterministic than the structural economists. By denying the developmental opportunities within Latin American capitalism, the neo-Marxists found themselves unable to account for the social complexity and diversity ot Latin American history, making their work of limited use in the study of those societies.

Historiography and the Labor Movement T h e difficulties the structural economists encountered in explaining m o d e r n Argentine economic development provide a telling case in point.

According to their analysis, the livestock and grain export economy that emerged in Argentina after 1880 was uniquely favorable to national economic development. Nationally owned, modest in its capital and technology requirements, geographically diffuse, high-wage, and relatively unaffected by fluctuations in world demand over a long period of time, it should have favored domestic capital accumulation, economic diversification, and sustained economic growth. Argentina should have been the most successful example of economic development in the region, and in fact was so until about 1945. Soon after that date, however, the economy began to falter, and the nation became the first in the region to fall victim to the contradictions of industrialization in the postwar era. To this day, Argentina has failed to emerge from the long period of economic stagnation, social conflict, and political crisis that first became manifest at mid-century. Argentina's crisis of development, as we shall see, is only indirectly related to export structure. It is a crisis that must be understood primarily in terms of a powerful labor movement conditioned by that structure that since 1945 has stymied the vigorous development of Argentine capitalism and forced established groups again and again to jettison the principles of liberal democracy.

Although Latin American structuralism, by itself, proved inadequate to the task of explaining the region's economic development, it provided essential conceptual tools for such analysis. C o m b i n e d with traditional Marxist premises about the role of class conflict in historical change, particularly the struggle between capital and labor in the m o d e r n era, such tools become a powerful aid in analyzing not only Latin American econ o m i c development, but the modern history of the region in general.

First of all, the economic structuralists alerted us to the overwhelming importance of workers in export production within the Latin American w o r k i n g class. Like owners of the means of export production in peripheral capitalist economies after 1880, export workers possessed tremendous inherent economic and political power. Contention between these t w o social classes forms a central theme in early-twentieth-century Latin American history, deeply influenced the pattern of economic and political change, and helped fix the basic direction of twentieth-century developments in the societies of the region.

In the second place, in pinpointing the variables that influenced economic growth, the structuralists inadvertently isolated a range of factors that encouraged or inhibited the development of working-class consciousness and organization. In the all-important export sector itself a variety of factors were involved. Geographic location and climatic conditions not only influenced the strength of social and cultural ties between Historiography and the Labor Movement 11 export workers and the greater society, but helped determine the degree to which, as wage laborers, they depended on their jobs for their physical reproduction. Chilean nitrate workers, for example, labored in mines and processing plants in an isolated and otherwise uninhabited desert. T h e y built informal social networks and cultural and political institutions for a class far removed from the major socializing institutions of Chilean society and utterly dependent on wages for its subsistence. T h e nationality of ownership in the export industry and the degree to which ownership was concentrated helped determine whether workers perceived t h e m selves and their employers as separate, contending classes. Venezuelan oil workers, for example, quickly identified their class enemy as an international trust that manipulated the government at every turn. T h e capital intensiveness and technological sophistication of export production and processing influenced the organization of w o r k and helped determine the size, concentration, skill, and wage level of the w o r k force. T h e low capital requirements and simple production techniques used in Colombian coffee cultivation and processing, for example, enabled small landowners to compete successfully with large capitalist producers, and to maintain significant control over the means of production and the w o r k process until recent times. T h e degree to which export production and wages reflected seasonal cycles or fluctuations in world demand and price not only gravely affected the material well-being of workers, but also shaped their sense of the fairness and rationality of the social relations that surrounded them. Such conditions, for example, laid the g r o u n d w o r k for the organization of the C u b a n working class in sugar production. All of these variables affected the ability of capital to control or "discipline" the labor force by tapping unemployed, underemployed, or low-paid workers in the export sector and outside it during the periods of labor militancy. It was easy, for example, for management to replace striking workers in the meat-packing plants of Greater Buenos Aires, because there were waves of immigrants and underemployed workers available to take their u n skilled jobs. Finally, the ethnic composition and nationality of export workers complicated their efforts to achieve internal unity as a class, and greatly affected their ability to meld nationalist and patriotic sentiments with their class perceptions in a collective struggle to improve their lives.





Nationalism also deeply influenced the broader issue of the relationship of export workers to their fellow workers and other social groups. Where export production involved a class and national dichotomy, one of national labor versus foreign capital, export workers were better able to mobilize the powerful sentiment of patriotism—a sentiment fostered by the dominant culture—in support of their class interests. In these circumstances, characteristic of Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Cuba, a m o n g others, the class relationship between workers and capitalists in the forHistoriography and the Labor Movement eign-owned export sector was recapitulated, in a sense, in the relationship of the whole peripheral society to the international economic system.

T h e potential for anticapitalist alliances between labor and other social groups inherent in these analogous relationships was, in turn, greatly increased if the export sector proved unable to stimulate vigorous, sustained national economic development.

Where these structural conditions were reversed—where, that is, export production involved national capital and foreign or at least ethnically distinct labor—nationalist and patriotic sentiments could be turned m o r e easily against labor. In these situations, illustrated in extreme form in Argentina, and to some degree in most nationally owned Latin American export economies, the class/national dichotomy in the export sector was reversed at the analogous level of the international system, and the potential for anticapitalist alliances between labor in the export sector and other social groups and classes in the larger society was greatly reduced. Such an alliance was even more unlikely if the export e c o n o m y was relatively successful in directly fostering national economic development.

O f all these structural characteristics, however, the capital requirements of export production were the most important. Where those requirements were high, foreign capital was favored over national capital in the struggle for control over the means of production, capitalist relations of production tended to predominate over precapitalist ones, and concentrated rather than dispersed units of production were m o r e likely to prevail. As a result, the structural variables that define export economies and influence their relative capacity to p r o m o t e economic development over time tend to combine in patterned ways. And because these same structural variables also set the conditions for labor organization in the export sector and for class alliances between export workers and other groups, they tend to influence the development of the various national labor movements in predictable ways. Thus, for example, structural conditions such as foreign ownership and concentrated production that favor the development of cultural a u t o n o m y and class-conscious, anticapitalist labor organizations among export workers tend, at the same time, to inhibit the vigorous development of the economy as a whole. And this failure of capitalist development in turn strengthens the potential for broad, antiimperialist alliances within the whole society. T h e reverse is also true.

Structural variables such as national ownership, limited capital and technology demands, and diffuse geographical production systems, all of which inhibit labor organization in the export sector, tend at the same time (through their positive effects on other sectors of the economy) to p r o m o t e economic development. And that economic development in turn limits the possibility for anticapitalist class alliances in the society as a whole.

Historiography and the Labor Movement 13 If one continues to slice up historical causation in these neat and a b stract ways, it is possible to locate modern Latin American societies along a continuum, defined by export structure, on which the potential for vigorous economic development functions inversely with the potential for labor organization and the strength of the Marxist left. Toward the left on such a continuum lie those export economies whose structural characteristics make them least likely to p r o m o t e national economic g r o w t h and diversification; toward the right, those most likely to p r o m o t e those developments. A country whose export economy falls toward the left on the continuum should also feature a historically strong, anticapitalist labor movement; a country whose export economy falls to the right, a historically weak, or ideologically co-opted labor movement. Stated differently, in countries with export economies situated on the left of the continuum the political left should be strong and the historical possibility for socialist transformation greatest. This crude set of relationships and predictions seems in fact to have considerable explanatory power. T h o s e familiar with the history of the major nations of the region will recognize that Cuba, Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela (and perhaps Mexico 16 ) fall historically to the left on the continuum, whereas Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Colombia fall to the right.

Such an exercise is a useful first step in analysis. For several reasons, however, it obscures almost as much as it reveals about the individual Latin American labor movements and their influence on the development of their countries. In the first place, although the structural variables that define export economies tend to cluster, that clustering, in the real world, is never absolute. For example, foreign ownership, capital intensiveness, and technological sophistication—interrelated factors that tend to hinder domestic capital accumulation and economic diversification—may not be combined with concentrated geographical production and a small labor force, factors that also tend to have negative implications for domestic economic development. Cuba's sugar export economy approximates such a case. Conversely, domestic ownership, limited capital and technological requirements, and diffuse geographical production systems— factors that p r o m o t e the development of domestic transport systems and stimulate the g r o w t h of agriculture and industry to supply the export sect o r — m a y not be combined with a high-wage labor force that helps to create a national market for domestically produced wage goods. C o l o m bia's coffee e c o n o m y fairly closely fits this pattern.

In the second place, an export economy may have a special characterThis interpretation of Mexican history is not obvious, much less widely accepted, but see the suggestive approach to the Mexican Revolution by Francois-Xavier Guerra, "La Revolution mexicaine: D'abord une revolution miniere?," Annates E.S.C., 36:5 (Sept.-Oct.

io8i):785-8i4. I return to this issue in the Conclusion.

Historiography and the Labor Movement H istic of such overwhelming importance that the predicted tendency of its impact on economic development and the labor movement, though always latent, is constantly overcome. Venezuela's petroleum economy is a good illustration. In terms of most of the variables noted above, that e c o n o m y closely resembles Chile's nitrate and copper export economy.

Yet unlike Chile's mineral exports, for which world demand and price have fluctuated wildly, and declined generally, in this century, the value of Venezuelan oil exports has until recently expanded geometrically. The Venezuelan labor m o v e m e n t initially developed under Marxist leadership and early cemented a broad anti-imperialist alliance with other social groups. But these developments were truncated after 1945, and again in the early 1960's, by liberal reformers able to win huge concessions from the oil companies, which they used to secure and maintain a compromise with organized labor and to institute significant social reforms.



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