Hour of the Furnaces: Imperial Finance and the Colonization of Daily Life

Image Cred­it: John Gem­mill, 1968/69.

Per­haps one of the most mem­o­rable moments from 1960s mil­i­tant cin­e­ma is the slaugh­ter­house scene in Hora de los hornos (Hour of the Fur­naces, Argenti­na, 1968).1 Mid­way through the essay film’s first sec­tion, “Neo-colo­nial­ism and Vio­lence,” soft female vocals play over an extend­ed mon­tage of sheep and cat­tle being deliv­ered to a slaugh­ter­house, hung upside down, their throats slit or the back of their necks pum­meled with a sledge ham­mer, skinned and bled out as their car­cass­es move along an assem­bly line. Often dis­cussed as a cita­tion of Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike (USSR, 1925), the footage of indus­tri­al agribusi­ness, one of Argentina’s most lucra­tive indus­tries, is paired with pop­u­lar adver­tise­ments and inter­ti­tles that speak of Argentina’s nation­al debt. An expo­si­tion of depen­den­cy the­o­ry, this sec­tion of Hora de los hornos offers a com­plex cri­tique of the rela­tion­ship between finance, impe­ri­al­ism, and vio­lence.

Return­ing to post-war the­o­ries of depen­den­cy through Hora de los hornos, I con­tend that cri­tiques of finance lev­eled by Third World­ist strug­gles for nation­al lib­er­a­tion in the late 1960s bring us back to cru­cial ques­tions about the rela­tion­ship between impe­ri­al­ism and so-called “cul­tures of finance” that have been too-often neglect­ed in recent years. In par­tic­u­lar, the state of bank­rupt­cy under impe­r­i­al rule inter­ro­gat­ed by Hora de los hornos allows us to con­sid­er what Randy Mar­tin diag­nosed as the “finan­cial­iza­tion of dai­ly life” togeth­er with what the Sit­u­a­tion­ists called the “col­o­niza­tion of every­day life” with­in cap­i­tal­ism. The per­spec­tive of Hora de los hornos, how­ev­er, is one that sur­pass­es each of these the­ses by insist­ing that quo­tid­i­an vio­lence is insep­a­ra­ble from impe­ri­al­ism as a his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al process.  

To under­stand the cri­tique of finance put for­ward by Hora de los hornos, we first have to acknowl­edge that finan­cial sys­tems have their ori­gins in colo­nial and impe­r­i­al vio­lence. Take the 1781 Zong slave ship mas­sacre, for exam­ple, in which the crew cast 133 cap­tives into the Atlantic, allow­ing their “own­ers” in Liv­er­pool to file insur­ance claims for the drowned “car­go.” For Ian Bau­com, this mas­sacre and its after­math inau­gu­rate what he calls the “spec­u­la­tive dis­course” of moder­ni­ty, con­nect­ing the vio­lence of the mid­dle pas­sage to the birth of insur­ance and oth­er forms of finan­cial spec­u­la­tion.2 K-Sue Park sim­i­lar­ly argues that the prac­tice of fore­clo­sure has its ori­gins in the expro­pri­a­tion of indige­nous lands in the ear­ly colo­nial peri­od of North Amer­i­ca.3 Con­tem­po­rary schol­ars are not the first to notice that key finan­cial tech­nolo­gies were devel­oped in the course of colo­nial expro­pri­a­tion dur­ing the bru­tal pas­sage from mer­can­tile to indus­tri­al cap­i­tal­ism. In the chap­ters on prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion in Cap­i­tal, vol­ume 1, Marx him­self tells the inter­pen­e­trat­ing sto­ry of the rise of the mod­ern bank­ing sys­tem, nation­al debt, and the “idyl­lic pro­ceed­ings” of colo­nial plun­der across the globe, con­clud­ing that cap­i­tal comes into the world “drip­ping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”4

Pick­ing up this thread, Marx­ists in the ear­ly part of the 20th cen­tu­ry devel­oped a cri­tique of finance in order to reck­on with impe­ri­al­ism, or the inten­si­fi­ca­tion and sys­tem­iza­tion of prac­tices of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion on a glob­al scale. Draw­ing on the work of Aus­tri­an econ­o­mist Rudolf Hil­fer­d­ing, Lenin argued in 1917 that

impe­ri­al­ism, or the dom­i­na­tion of finance cap­i­tal, is that high­est stage of cap­i­tal­ism in which this sep­a­ra­tion [of mon­ey cap­i­tal from pro­duc­tive cap­i­tal] reach­es vast pro­por­tions. The suprema­cy of finance cap­i­tal over all oth­er forms of cap­i­tal means the pre­dom­i­nance of the ren­tier and of the finan­cial oli­garchy; it means that a small num­ber of finan­cial­ly “pow­er­ful” states stand out among all the rest.5

In Lenin’s assess­ment, the pre­dom­i­nance of finance enabled imperialism’s cen­tral fea­tures: monop­oly cap­i­tal­ism and the grow­ing export of cap­i­tal from finan­cial cen­ters. With regards to the lat­ter aspect, the export of cap­i­tal, Lenin was pulling from the work of Rosa Lux­em­burg who demon­strat­ed sev­er­al years ear­li­er that cap­i­tal exports, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the form of inter­na­tion­al loans, were the foun­da­tion of impe­ri­al­ist accu­mu­la­tion. Ini­ti­at­ing a per­ma­nent cycle of indebt­ed­ness in order to real­ize prof­its in indus­tri­al cen­ters, inter­na­tion­al loans were respon­si­ble for the immis­er­a­tion of local pop­u­la­tions and the con­tin­u­ous out­break of finan­cial crises across the glob­al south. In her blis­ter­ing account of impe­ri­al­ism in Egypt, Lux­em­burg demon­strates how loans ini­tial­ly giv­en to build the Suez Canal and mod­ern­ize agri­cul­ture set into motion a per­ma­nent cri­sis, lead­ing to the pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion of the peas­ant pop­u­la­tion and even­tu­al for­eign occu­pa­tion: “The case of Egypt, just as that of Chi­na, and more recent­ly, Moroc­co, shows mil­i­tarism as the execu­tor of the accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal, lurk­ing behind inter­na­tion­al loans, rail­road build­ing, irri­ga­tion sys­tems, and sim­i­lar works of civ­i­liza­tion.”6 Finance is the lever of what David Har­vey calls “accu­mu­la­tion by dis­pos­ses­sion,” a means for cap­i­tal to pen­e­trate its “out­side” and to bring ever­more ter­ri­to­ries and peo­ple into its fold.

By the post-war era, Marx­ist cri­tiques of impe­ri­al­ism flour­ished in the ear­ly post-colo­nial the­o­ries of depen­den­cy advanced by Latin Amer­i­can struc­tural­ists such as Raúl Pre­bisch and Juan Noy­ola, lat­er pop­u­lar­ized in the world-sys­tems the­o­ry of Immanuel Waller­stein. Through­out the 1960s and into the 1970s, depen­den­cy the­o­ry took hold in Latin Amer­i­ca and else­where as a rebut­tal to the mod­ern­iza­tion the­o­ry of devel­op­ment, which posit­ed suc­ces­sive stages through which nations pass on the path to indus­tri­al wealth. Intro­duc­ing terms that have become indis­pens­able to ana­lyz­ing glob­al inequal­i­ty among nation states, depen­den­cy the­o­ry argued that the wealth of the first world – “core” coun­tries in the glob­al cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem – was gen­er­at­ed through the sys­tem­at­ic under­de­vel­op­ment of coun­tries on the “periph­ery” of the glob­al sys­tem. Brazil­ian social sci­en­tist Theoto­nio Dos San­tos wrote pro­lif­i­cal­ly on depen­den­cy the­o­ry while in exile in Chile from 1965–1973 before being exiled again to Mex­i­co after Pinochet’s coup, argu­ing that the “new depen­den­cy” char­ac­ter­is­tic of glob­al impe­ri­al­ism is pred­i­cat­ed on sys­tem­at­ic indus­tri­al and tech­ni­cal under­de­vel­op­ment of periph­er­al coun­tries, pri­mar­i­ly through the mech­a­nisms of finan­cial con­trol by way of for­eign debts. The mod­el of depen­den­cy, a mode of pro­duc­tion char­ac­ter­ized by the con­tin­u­ous repro­duc­tion of “back­ward­ness, mis­ery, and social mar­gin­al­iza­tion” with­in periph­er­al coun­tries, per­pet­u­ates and expands debt, and is thus “super­ex­ploita­tion.”7 With close affin­i­ty to Lenin and Lux­em­burg, as well as con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous analy­ses like Kwame Nkrumah’s the­o­ry of “neo-colo­nial­ism,” depen­den­cy the­o­ry fore­ground­ed the asym­met­ri­cal pow­er rela­tions in finance that dri­ve the impe­ri­al­ist pro­duc­tion of glob­al inequal­i­ty. It offered a struc­tur­al analy­sis of glob­al inequal­i­ty that bol­stered, while also being fed by, the wave of anti-impe­ri­al­ist rev­o­lu­tion­ary activ­i­ty sweep­ing the con­ti­nent.

The slaugh­ter­house scene dis­cussed above comes from the chap­ter of Hora de los hornos enti­tled “Depen­den­cy,” and it is the film’s attempt to ren­der depen­den­cy theory’s cri­tique of impe­r­i­al finance, par­tic­u­lar­ly cap­i­tal exports and nation­al debt, in cin­e­mat­ic form. How­ev­er, the film sig­nif­i­cant­ly expands ear­li­er cri­tiques of impe­r­i­al finance by plac­ing them with­in a broad­er pol­i­tics of cul­tur­al decol­o­niza­tion. Pro­duced clan­des­tine­ly under the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship of Juan Car­los Onganía, installed in 1966 amidst grow­ing stu­dent and work­er unrest, Hora de los hornos pro­mot­ed a left-Per­o­nist agen­da, although the film’s polit­i­cal project was more expan­sive than its stat­ed alle­giance to the exiled Perón. A year after mak­ing Hora de los hornos, Fer­nan­do Solanas and Octavio Getino pub­lished their land­mark essay “Towards a Third Cin­e­ma” in Tri­con­ti­nen­tal, a jour­nal pro­duced by the Orga­ni­za­tion of Sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Peo­ples of Asia, Africa, and Latin Amer­i­ca (OSPAAAL). In it, they argue that cin­e­ma, one of the most effec­tive means of mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion, must be seized and employed in the strug­gle against impe­ri­al­ism as a cru­cial weapon in the “decol­o­niza­tion of cul­ture.”8 Beyond the economism of most depen­den­cy the­o­rists who saw cul­ture as lit­tle more than “per­fume,”9 the prac­tice of Third Cin­e­ma reflect­ed in Hora de los hornos (with a sig­nif­i­cant debt to Frantz Fanon) takes cul­ture to be inex­tri­ca­ble from any dis­cus­sion of depen­den­cy: “The cul­ture, includ­ing cin­e­ma, of a neo­col­o­nized coun­try is just the expres­sion of an over­all depen­dence that gen­er­ates mod­els and val­ues born from the needs of impe­ri­al­ist expan­sion.”10 Mod­el­ing cin­e­mat­ic pro­duc­tion on guer­ril­la war­fare, Solanas, Getino, and the “Cine-Lib­eración” group to which they belonged sought to use the medi­um as a means to build nation­al and inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ties among anti-impe­ri­al­ist move­ments. They did so by con­struct­ing a mil­i­tant cin­e­mat­ic form and infra­struc­ture to advance col­lec­tive author­ship and pro­duc­tion, engag­ing work­ers, stu­dents, peas­ants, intel­lec­tu­als, and rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as col­lab­o­ra­tors.

Advanc­ing a pan-Latin-Amer­i­can polit­i­cal project with­in the con­text of a Tri­con­ti­nen­tal per­spec­tive, the open­ing sequence of Hora de los hornos is com­posed of footage of police bru­tal­i­ty and protest, inter-cut with quo­ta­tions on colo­nial lib­er­a­tion and vio­lence from Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Fidel Cas­tro, and oth­ers. The film devel­ops its cri­tique of neo-colo­nial­ism through an exam­i­na­tion of the every­day vio­lence of life in Latin Amer­i­ca, lay­er­ing mov­ing and still images, found footage, text, and sound to imbri­cate all facets of life into a total sys­tem of dom­i­na­tion and sub­ju­ga­tion. The first sec­tion, “Neo-colo­nial­ism and Vio­lence,” presents the over­ar­ch­ing the­sis that “Latin Amer­i­ca is a con­ti­nent at war,” and is com­posed of twelve chap­ters with titles such as “His­to­ry,” “Cul­ture,” “Ide­o­log­i­cal War­fare,” and “The Sys­tem.” Each of these chap­ters address­es a dif­fer­ent aspect of the the­sis, expand­ing the def­i­n­i­tion of war and its fron­tiers to incor­po­rate the unspo­ken forms of impe­r­i­al vio­lence run­ning through col­lec­tive life and dai­ly expe­ri­ences. For exam­ple, in the sec­tion “Dai­ly Vio­lence,” the sound of the siren grows loud­er and more omi­nous as the sequence cuts to footage of peo­ple run­ning through the city, with what sounds like gun­fire envelop­ing the scene, giv­ing us the impres­sion that we are view­ing a war zone. It soon becomes appar­ent, how­ev­er, that these shots are of peo­ple run­ning through the rain (per­haps on their way to work). At the same time, what sound­ed like gun­fire is revealed in the next sequence to be the sound of work­ers punch­ing a time clock. Through the jux­ta­po­si­tion of sound and image, this sequence takes quo­tid­i­an expe­ri­ences and pro­duces what appears to be a scene of war. Wage-labor is a form of dai­ly vio­lence vis­it­ed upon the peo­ple, and the punc­tu­a­tion of time by work impos­es a vis­cer­al ter­ror on those who endure it. Through­out Hora de los hornos, the aur­al envi­ron­ment is a polit­i­cal space, as the sounds of pop­u­lar music, a plane land­ing, and the punch of the time clock become emblems of vio­lence and calls to rev­o­lu­tion­ary action. These calls would have been all the more urgent to view­ers see­ing the film in covert screen­ings, at their own risk, in the con­text of a repres­sive mil­i­tary regime. In these spaces, Hora de los hornos sought to reshape the con­cept of cinephil­ia by induc­ing, rather than sti­fling, polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion through spec­ta­tor­ship; the film was intend­ed as provo­ca­tion to its view­ers, who were, in turn, inter­pel­lat­ed as par­tic­i­pants in its rev­o­lu­tion­ary project.11

Hora de los hornos engages in noth­ing less than a total cri­tique of the bank­rupt­cy of life under the neo-colo­nial regime, por­tray­ing a soci­ety whose accu­mu­lat­ed debts to impe­r­i­al pow­ers have out­stripped its capac­i­ty to func­tion, pro­duc­ing a per­ma­nent con­di­tion of indebt­ed­ness. In the “His­to­ry” chap­ter, a voiceover con­tends that the oli­garchies of Argenti­na were the prod­uct of three fac­tors: “Eng­lish gold, Ital­ian hands, and French books.” This claim is rein­forced with footage of the Argen­tine nation­al rail­road, one of the 19th-cen­tu­ry infra­struc­ture projects that Lux­em­burg saw as inte­gral to British impe­ri­al­ist accu­mu­la­tion. The film illus­trates how cul­tur­al and eco­nom­ic debts are two sides of the same cri­sis of nation­al iden­ti­ty and attends to the vio­lence of cul­tur­al impe­ri­al­ism, argu­ing, in the vein of the move­ments for nation­al lib­er­a­tion across the globe, for the devel­op­ment of a nation­al cul­ture in a form and lan­guage indige­nous to Argenti­na. While trac­ing Argentina’s colo­nial lega­cy, Hora de los hornos also exam­ines a shift away from this oli­garchic sys­tem, illus­trat­ing that neo-colo­nial vio­lence now trades in only one cur­ren­cy: “Yan­kee dol­lars.” Cul­tur­al impe­ri­al­ism and glob­al finan­cial sys­tems had been meld­ed into one and the same sub­stance, a mode of dom­i­na­tion and con­trol envelop­ing every aspect of social, eco­nom­ic, and polit­i­cal life.

Over a pan­ning shot of the har­bor of Buenos Aires, the “Depen­dence” chap­ter com­mences with a quo­ta­tion from 1544 by Sebastián Caboto, an ear­ly Ital­ian explor­er: “Those who live in rur­al areas say there are moun­tains where they mine end­less gold.” The cam­era then slow­ly pans to reveal the immen­si­ty of the city accom­pa­nied by a voiceover that deliv­ers a sharp cri­tique of the debt econ­o­my imposed on Latin Amer­i­ca:

Loans, Invest­ments, have always been a part of the same polit­i­cal sub­ju­ga­tion […] So-called impe­ri­al­ist aid is an aid that always cost he who receives it more than he who gives it. For every dol­lar invest­ed in Latin Amer­i­ca, impe­ri­al­ism gets back four.

And so begins the car­nage of the slaugh­ter­house, which is inter­spersed with adver­tise­ments, all dis­play­ing smil­ing, white mod­els extolling the virtues of con­sumer soci­ety. Insert­ed with­in this mon­tage are also stark inter­ti­tles explain­ing the basic the­ses of depen­den­cy the­o­ry: “every­day we export more and get back less,” “Argentina’s for­eign debt is six bil­lion dol­lars,” and “the for­eign monop­o­lies and their local allies con­trol almost all the nation­al econ­o­my,” and list­ing the indus­tries that are under for­eign con­trol. Paired with footage from the slaugh­ter­house, these fig­ures of debt illus­trate a body politic that is lit­er­al­ly bleed­ing out its capac­i­ties. Jux­ta­posed with adver­tise­ments promis­ing a bet­ter life through con­sump­tion, these fig­ures indi­cate that cul­ture, like the nation­al econ­o­my, is bank­rupt. Hora de los hornos offers a cri­tique of the spec­ta­cle and finance cap­i­tal­ism as dual mech­a­nisms min­ing human (and non­hu­man) resources for the promise of infi­nite rich­es, the end­less gold in the moun­tains of which Caboto speaks.

Con­tra­dict­ing the lin­ear and tele­o­log­i­cal tem­po­ral frame­work of mod­ern­iza­tion the­o­ry, Hora de los hornos’s por­tray­al of depen­den­cy tes­ti­fies to a dif­fer­ent kind of tem­po­ral expe­ri­ence: that of debt and indebt­ed­ness. The mech­a­nisms of social repro­duc­tion that con­stant­ly rein­force social hier­ar­chies pred­i­cat­ed on a sys­tem of debt induce the expe­ri­ence of a col­lapsed futu­ri­ty, one in which “devel­op­ment” – rep­re­sent­ing the poten­tial for a dif­fer­ent future – is fore­closed. Explor­ing this tem­po­ral­i­ty, Hora de los hornos expands the the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work of depen­den­cy the­o­ry to ana­lyze the role of sys­tems of social repro­duc­tion – art, lan­guage, edu­ca­tion, media, folk­lore, etc. – as sites that prop­a­gate and rein­force depen­den­cy and under­de­vel­op­ment. This sequence con­veys the affec­tive dimen­sions of the indebt­ed posi­tion, the attach­ment and striv­ing for a bet­ter life fig­ured by the adver­tise­ments and expe­ri­ence of being bled dry that accom­pa­ny such attach­ments, a kind of “cru­el opti­mism” in the words of Lau­ren Berlant.12  Rather than sim­ply trans­lat­ing the con­cept of depen­den­cy into the cin­e­ma, Hora de los hornos expands an analy­sis of the vio­lence of neo-colo­nial­ism, impress­ing upon the view­er com­plex argu­ments with­in an affec­tive reg­is­ter.

Hora de los hornos lat­er rein­forces the affec­tive char­ac­ter of this indebt­ed posi­tion in the chap­ter on “Ide­o­log­i­cal War­fare,” which opens with a mobile shot of a street scene that mean­ders through crowds as they enter movie the­aters and shops. A voiceover con­tends that, “the war in Latin Amer­i­ca is waged prin­ci­pal­ly in the minds of men […] For neo-colo­nial­ism, mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion is more pow­er­ful than Napalm.” As a woman stops to watch sev­er­al tele­vi­sion screens in a shop win­dow, the voiceover con­tin­ues, “ide­o­log­i­cal fron­tiers have replaced con­ven­tion­al ones,” with the ide­o­log­i­cal fron­tier appear­ing as an mobile and open bound­ary. Undi­aget­i­cal­ly, “I Don’t Need No Doc­tor” by Ray Charles begins to envel­op the scene as the cam­era wan­ders into a record shop where young peo­ple peruse the records as they tap their fin­gers and bob their heads. The sequence cuts between dif­fer­ent angles of the scene, focus­ing on one man who is par­tic­u­lar­ly tak­en with the music, the shot lin­ger­ing on him as his body con­vuls­es as he shops. The non-diegetic music is edit­ed with the footage in a way that does not exact­ly sync with the man’s ges­tures, intro­duc­ing an inter­stice between image and sound that turns his undu­la­tions into an almost repul­sive expres­sion of sub­mis­sion. As this sequence reveals, the ide­o­log­i­cal fron­tier in impe­ri­al­ism oper­ates on an affec­tive, pre-cog­ni­tive lev­el, turn­ing moments of con­sump­tion into moments of pro­duc­tion – the pro­duc­tion of neo-colo­nial sub­jec­tiv­i­ty.


“Every­day life is a col­o­nized sec­tor.”13 Guy Debord made this argu­ment in 1961 (draw­ing on the work of Hen­ri Lefeb­vre) with ref­er­ence to the expan­sion of con­sumer cul­ture in indus­tri­al soci­eties. Amidst the Alger­ian war for inde­pen­dence, and a few months before the mas­sacre of dozens of Alge­ri­ans in Paris, Debord casts the strug­gle over dai­ly life – and the strug­gle against the spec­ta­cle – with­in terms inspired by anti-colo­nial move­ments. Hora de los hornos, how­ev­er, goes beyond Debord’s analy­sis. For it, col­o­niza­tion is not a metaphor, but an active and ongo­ing process of his­tor­i­cal dom­i­na­tion that pen­e­trates every aspect of life. Rather than rep­re­sent­ing a new, abstract mode of pro­duc­tion that Debord iden­ti­fies as “the spec­ta­cle,” Hora de los hornos under­stands the col­o­niza­tion of dai­ly life to be the ever-increas­ing expan­sion and inten­si­fi­ca­tion of impe­ri­al­ism. This dai­ly vio­lence, for Hora de los hornos, is insep­a­ra­ble from impe­ri­al­ist mech­a­nisms of finance that feed the con­tin­u­ous cycle of dis­pos­ses­sion and serve as a source of unend­ing cri­sis. Hora de los hornos is less con­cerned with the alien­ation of the com­mod­i­ty that Debord decries than it is with a cul­tur­al impe­ri­al­ism that forms sub­jects through modes of expro­pri­a­tion that are insep­a­ra­ble from the vio­lence of impe­r­i­al finance.

In its fore­sight, Hora de los hornos antic­i­pates the mas­sive bleed­ing out that Argenti­na - along with a host of oth­er under­de­vel­oped nations - would be sub­ject­ed to as neolib­er­al lab­o­ra­to­ries estab­lished dur­ing 1970s, lead­ing to decades of for­eign debt and struc­tur­al adjust­ment cul­mi­nat­ing in the 2001 finan­cial cri­sis and default.14 At the same time, it ana­lyzes the affec­tive, eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, and his­tor­i­cal dimen­sions of the expe­ri­ence of indebt­ed­ness pri­or to the appar­ent rise of forms of neolib­er­al gov­er­nance, iden­ti­fy­ing the salient aspects of debt as a tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er, the acknowl­edge­ment of which has become wide­spread in the after­math of the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis.15 In doing so, it com­bines its more robust cin­e­mat­ic the­o­riza­tion of the “col­o­niza­tion of every­day life” by cap­i­tal­ism with an ear­ly recog­ni­tion of what Randy Mar­tin called the “finan­cial­iza­tion of dai­ly life” in ref­er­ence to the expan­sion of con­sumer cred­it and the pro­duc­tion of finan­cial­ized sub­jec­tiv­i­ties in the neolib­er­al era.16 While con­ver­sa­tions around the rela­tion­ship between impe­ri­al­ism and finance have been ongo­ing in Latin Amer­i­ca, these con­nec­tions have been large­ly miss­ing in dis­cus­sions of “cul­tures of finance” in the Unit­ed States since the finan­cial cri­sis. What would it mean to recen­ter our cri­tiques of finance and finan­cial­iza­tion around an anti-impe­ri­al­ist pol­i­tics? To begin, we might ask if the so-called “finan­cial­iza­tion of dai­ly life,” begin­ning in the ear­ly-2000s in the Unit­ed States, is real­ly some­thing new, or whether, as some have sug­gest­ed, it sig­nals the fur­ther exten­sion of impe­r­i­al finance with­in cen­ters of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion. Here, the log­ic of the “inter­nal colony,” a term uti­lized by var­i­ous activists in the 1960s to describe con­di­tions of col­o­niza­tion in cen­ters of cap­i­tal­ist com­mand and which fore­ground­ed alliances with strug­gles for nation­al lib­er­a­tion abroad, might be use­ful to under­stand how vic­tims of the sub­prime mort­gage cri­sis, stu­dent loan cri­sis, and numer­ous oth­er schemes of debt and inden­ture have been sub­ject to some­thing like the col­o­niza­tion of dai­ly life by finance. An optic that priv­i­leges Marx­ist cri­tiques of impe­r­i­al finance might also help us to bet­ter artic­u­late the links between, for exam­ple, the bank­rupt­cies in Puer­to Rico and Detroit, or the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of police vio­lence in Fer­gu­son and the debt peon­age imposed on that city’s inhab­i­tants by civic gov­ern­ment.17 Hora de los hornos leaves us with the insight that to begin to approach the ques­tion of impe­r­i­al finance and resis­tance to it, how­ev­er, we must con­stant­ly fore­ground cul­ture and the pro­duc­tion of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, attend­ing to the ways each is bound to lega­cies of colo­nial and impe­r­i­al vio­lence.

  1. This piece is tak­en from my forth­com­ing book, Endur­ing Images: Towards a Future His­to­ry of New Left Cin­e­ma (Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2018). 

  2. Ian Bau­com, Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Cap­i­tal, Slav­ery, and the Phi­los­o­phy of His­to­ry (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2005). 

  3. K-Sue Park, “Mon­ey, Mort­gages, and the Con­quest of Amer­i­ca,” Law & Social Inquiry 41, no. 4 (Fall 2016): 1006–35. 

  4. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, trans. Ben Fowkes, vol. 1 (New York: Pen­guin, 1992), 926. 

  5. V.I. Lenin, Impe­ri­al­ism, The High­est Stage of Cap­i­tal­ism: A Pop­u­lar Out­line, in Lenin: Col­lect­ed Works, trans. Yuri Sdob­nikov, vol. 22 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1974), 238–39. 

  6. Rosa Lux­em­burg, The Accu­mu­la­tion of Cap­i­tal, trans. Agnes Schwarz­schild (Lon­don: Rout­ledge & Kegan Paul, 1951), 439. 

  7. Theoto­nio Dos San­tos, “The Struc­ture of Depen­dence,” in Con­tem­po­rary Latin Amer­i­can Social and Polit­i­cal Thought: An Anthol­o­gy, ed. Iván Márquez (Lan­ham, Mary­land: Row­man and Lit­tle­field Pub­lish­ers, 2008), 238. 

  8. Fer­nan­do Solanas and Octavio Getino, “Towards a Third Cin­e­ma,” in Film and The­o­ry: An Anthol­o­gy, eds. Robert Stam and Toby Miller (Malden, Mass.: Black­well, 2000), 268. 

  9. As Michael Den­ning argues, the Latin Amer­i­can depen­den­cy the­o­rists con­sis­tent­ly over­looked the impor­tance of cul­ture, under­stand­ing it to be lit­tle more than “per­fume.” Michael Den­ning, Cul­ture in the Age of Three Worlds (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2004), 9. 

  10. Solanas and Getino, “Towards a Third Cin­e­ma,” 268. 

  11. By trou­bling the con­ven­tions of spec­ta­tor­ship, the film com­ple­ments simul­ta­ne­ous exper­i­ments in art and the­ater in Argenti­na, such as the Rosario Group’s Ciclo de Art Exper­i­men­tal (Cycle of Exper­i­men­tal Art, 1968) and Augus­to Boal’s influ­en­tial The­ater of the Oppressed, that sim­i­lar­ly sought to engage spec­ta­tors as agents of resis­tance. 

  12. Lau­ren Berlant, Cru­el Opti­mism (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2011). 

  13. Guy Debord, “Per­spec­tives for Con­scious Alter­ations in Every­day Life,” in Sit­u­a­tion­ist Inter­na­tion­al Anthol­o­gy, ed. and trans. Ken Knabb (Berke­ley, CA: Bureau of Pub­lic Secrets, 1989), 70. 

  14. For a full account of the 2001 sov­er­eign debt cri­sis and the lega­cy of depen­dence, see David Rock, “Rack­ing Argenti­na,” New Left Review II, no. 17 (2002): 55–86. 

  15. For exam­ple, Mau­r­izio Laz­zara­to iden­ti­fies debt as a social rela­tion cen­tral to the pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of inequal­i­ty in neolib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism. Like most the­o­rists and his­to­ri­ans of the top­ic, he sig­nals the mid-1970s as the onset of the neolib­er­al era and thus debt’s pre­dom­i­nance as a tech­nol­o­gy of sub­ju­ga­tion. Laz­zara­to describes the rise in con­sumer debt in the Unit­ed States and Europe and the rise of neolib­er­al entre­pre­neur­ial sub­jec­tiv­i­ty at the root of the 2008 sub­prime cri­sis, along with the sov­er­eign debt cri­sis in Europe that per­sists in the present. How­ev­er, his Euro­cen­tric analy­sis does not account for the ways that debt was intrin­sic to colo­nial and impe­r­i­al projects pre­ced­ing the neolib­er­al era. See Mau­r­izio Laz­zara­to, The Mak­ing of the Indebt­ed Man: An Essay on the Neolib­er­al Con­di­tion, trans. Joshua David Jor­dan (Los Ange­les: Semiotext(e), 2011). 

  16. Randy Mar­tin, The Finan­cial­iza­tion of Dai­ly Life (Philadel­phia: Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2002). 

  17. See Ben Kesling, “Law­suit Alleges Fer­gu­son, Mo., Legal Sys­tem Vio­lates Con­sti­tu­tion­al Pro­tec­tions: Suit Alleges St. Louis Sub­urbs Jain Peo­ple Sole­ly for the Inabil­i­ty to Pay Fines, Fees on Minor Offens­es,” Wall Street Jour­nal, Feb­ru­ary 9, 2015. Also Cassie Thorn­ton and Max Haiv­en have begun the impor­tant work of map­ping the spaces of debt and resis­tance in rela­tion to U.S. empire; see Cassie Thorn­ton and Max Haiv­en, “The Debts of the Amer­i­can Empire - Real and Imag­ined,” ROAR Mag­a­zine 3 (Sep­tem­ber 2016). 

Author of the article

is a scholar-practitioner who works at the intersections of film and digital media, critical theory, and cultural studies. Her forthcoming book, A Future History of New Left Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), examines how cinema became a form of collective resistance within international New Left social movements during the 1960s and 1970s. She is assistant professor of Media and Cultural Studies at Macalester College.