From Nuestra América to Abya Yala: Notes on Imperialism and Anti-imperialism in Latin America across Centuries

A Colonial Encounter

“You don’t know much about his­to­ry. You don’t know much about any­thing, right? You are ter­ri­bly igno­rant, Mr. Dan­ger, an igno­ra­mus. You are a don­key, Mr. Dan­ger…. You are a don­key, Mr. Bush.” – Hugo Chávez

The year 1492 marks a turn.1 For the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion of the Amer­i­c­as, it sig­ni­fies the clo­sure of self-deter­mined his­to­ry and the begin­ning of near demogra­phU­Sic anni­hi­la­tion. From the van­tage point of Span­ish and Por­tuguese rulers, the same moment sig­nals the ascent of far-reach­ing feu­dal empires and the con­comi­tant rewards of extra­or­di­nary geo­graph­ic pre­pon­der­ance. Asym­met­ri­cal encoun­ters of Euro­peans, Amerindi­ans, and Africans over the next cen­turies trace their ori­gins to this cal­en­dric notch. For Latin Amer­i­cans and the Lati­no dias­po­ra today, the res­o­nances of 1492 nes­tle in every crevice.2

Seiz­ing on the quin­cen­te­nary of Columbus’s arrival to the Caribbean, in 1992 indige­nous move­ments across the Amer­i­c­as launched the lat­est renew­al of anti­colo­nial tra­di­tion; such revivals rep­re­sent the lead­ing edge of eman­ci­pa­to­ry endeav­or in Latin Amer­i­ca in recent times, from the explo­sive dynam­ics of indige­nous pow­er in Ecuador in the 1990s, the Zap­atista insur­rec­tion in Chi­a­pas in 1994, to the left-indige­nous qua­si-insur­rec­tionary cycle in Bolivia between 2000 and 2005.

Age of Revolution

Just eleven years before the begin­ning of the slave insur­rec­tion that would cul­mi­nate in the Hait­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, a cri­sis of Span­ish colo­nial rule at the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry was preg­nant with the promise of redemp­tion else­where in the Amer­i­c­as. The Great Andean Civ­il War of 1780–82 fea­tured upris­ings led by indige­nous author­i­ties in what is present-day Bolivia and Peru. Insur­gen­cies helmed by Tupac Amaru and Tupac Katari threw into ques­tion both Euro­pean and cre­ole sov­er­eign­ty in the Amer­i­c­as, propos­ing in their place projects of indige­nous ter­ri­to­ry and polit­i­cal author­i­ty.4 The forces of Amaru, inspired by the promise of return to Inca­ic rule, arraigned them­selves in a sus­tained rebel­lion around Cuz­co. Katari, with tens of thou­sands of indige­nous troops behind him, laid siege to La Paz for over six months. Repres­sion was fierce and ulti­mate­ly put a cru­el end to these rebel­lions. Colo­nial clam­p­down from above would for some time after the for­mal inde­pen­dence of Bolivia and Peru con­tin­ue to cast its long shad­ow on socio-polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al rela­tions in these coun­tries.5

Pri­or to being drawn and quar­tered for his pro­tag­o­nist role in 1780–81, Katari warned the colo­nial­ists that he would “return as mil­lions,” and the indige­nous rebels of 21st-cen­tu­ry Bolivia con­tin­ue to see them­selves as the embod­i­ment of this return.6 Sim­i­lar echoes of res­ur­rec­tion can be heard today, from Mex­i­co to Chile, in the recov­ery of Abya Yala, the pre-colo­nial name giv­en to the Amer­i­can con­ti­nent by the Kuna peo­ple of present-day Pana­ma and Colom­bia, one sub­al­tern alter­na­tive to “Latin Amer­i­ca.”

Polit­i­cal­ly, the move­ments for inde­pen­dence from Spain and Por­tu­gal in the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry exhib­it­ed none of the cat­a­clysmic chal­lenges to the reign­ing social orders embod­ied ear­li­er in the Hait­ian erup­tion, or in the thwart­ed Andean insur­gen­cies. Instead, internecine dis­putes between Euro­pean set­tlers liv­ing in the colonies and their polit­i­cal over­seers in Spain and Por­tu­gal were the cen­tral dri­vers of the inde­pen­dence wars. For­mal polit­i­cal inde­pen­dence did not, there­fore, ush­er in a par­al­lel upturn­ing of social hier­ar­chies, and for many of the indige­nous, African, and mes­ti­zo labor­ing class­es, every­day life per­sist­ed in a man­ner not dis­sim­i­lar from that of the colo­nial era. In one expres­sion of this pal­pa­ble under­ly­ing con­ti­nu­ity across dis­tinct polit­i­cal forms of dom­i­na­tion, rad­i­cals in post-inde­pen­dence Ecuador lined the walls of the cap­i­tal, Quito, with a graf­fi­ti of bit­ter poet­ics: “the last day of despo­tism, and the first day of the same.”7

Race Prisms

The idea of a “Latin race” first sur­faced in ear­ly 19th-cen­tu­ry Europe, as an amal­gam of roman­tic nation­al­ism and sci­en­tif­ic racism spurred Euro­pean iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of nations with races and lan­guages. First con­not­ing the use of Romance lan­guages and adher­ence to Catholi­cism with­in “Latin Europe,” by the 1830s French intel­lec­tu­als had extend­ed the notion­al embrace of the Latin race to include the for­mer Iber­ian colonies in the Amer­i­c­as. In so doing, French impe­r­i­al ambi­tions in the New World sought jus­ti­fi­ca­tion through ref­er­ence to osten­si­ble cul­tur­al affini­ties, as against the alien protes­tant expan­sion­ism of Anglo-Sax­on Britain and the Unit­ed States. Such a heady brew of affirmed propin­quities under­gird­ed French intel­lec­tu­al sup­port for their nation’s occu­pa­tion of Mex­i­co lat­er in the cen­tu­ry (1862–1867).8

The Latin idea did not hold water with Span­ish Amer­i­can elites in the ear­ly repub­li­can peri­od, how­ev­er. Amer­i­canos and Améri­ca were the pre­ferred nomen­cla­ture fol­low­ing the wars of inde­pen­dence against Spain, with Amer­i­cano assum­ing an anti­colo­nial grav­i­tas, and a scope that extend­ed beyond descen­dants of Euro­peans to include, albeit unequal­ly, peo­ple of indige­nous, African, and mixed-race her­itage.9 Span­ish Amer­i­can elites, like their North Amer­i­can equiv­a­lents, cel­e­brat­ed the notion that “Amer­i­ca” writ large “rep­re­sent­ed a ren­o­vat­ing world force dis­tinct from archa­ic Europe.”10 Begin­ning in the 1830s, polit­i­cal elites in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca and South Amer­i­ca then tend­ed to alter their usage to His­pano-Améri­ca, in an effort to dis­tin­guish Span­ish Amer­i­can peo­ples south of the Río Grande from an increas­ing­ly expan­sion­ist U.S. state, one employ­ing the sup­posed bio­log­i­cal supe­ri­or­i­ty of the Anglo-Sax­on white race as ide­o­log­i­cal cov­er for its head­ways into Mex­i­can ter­ri­to­ry. The mean­ing of “His­pan­ic Amer­i­can race” was, in the minds of Span­ish Amer­i­can elites at the time, still more cul­tur­al­ly than bio­log­i­cal­ly inflect­ed, and thus could include non-white Span­ish speak­ers.11

In the mid-19th cen­tu­ry, the mean­ing of “Latin Amer­i­ca” was adapt­ed and trans­formed by Span­ish Amer­i­can lib­er­als, shift­ing from a French impe­r­i­al con­cept to a rich­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry anti-impe­ri­al­ist frame­work of elit­ist lib­er­al democ­ra­cy.12 The new frame­work emerged in oppo­si­tion to French impe­r­i­al designs in the region, Span­ish efforts to recov­er ter­ri­to­ry lost in the inde­pen­dence wars, and, above all, a nov­el esca­la­tion of U.S. impe­r­i­al dynam­ics as Washington’s aims for dom­i­nance over its south­ern back­yard quick­ened and clar­i­fied in the pro­tract­ed wake of the Mon­roe Doc­trine, first intro­duced in the ear­ly 1820s. “Latin” served as a more adept adjec­tive than “His­pan­ic” in this peri­od, as inclu­sion of the most pow­er­ful state in South Amer­i­ca, Por­tuguese-speak­ing Brazil, into the nov­el geopo­lit­i­cal con­cep­tion was seen as essen­tial to any suc­cess­ful oppo­si­tion to inten­si­fy­ing U.S. incur­sions.

How­ev­er, for Span­ish Amer­i­can nation­al­ists there were two Amer­i­c­as, one “Latin,” which was wed­ded to the prin­ci­ples of New World sov­er­eign­ty and democ­ra­cy, and the oth­er one linked to the Unit­ed States, which was steadi­ly more imbued with mil­i­tarism and expan­sion­ary bel­liger­ence. “What is often tak­en for anti-Amer­i­can­ism in Latin Amer­i­ca,” the his­to­ri­an Greg Grandin writes,

is, in fact, a com­pet­ing vari­a­tion of Amer­i­can­ism. Dur­ing the first cen­tu­ry of inde­pen­dence from Spain, Latin Amer­i­can intel­lec­tu­als and politi­cians devel­oped a nation­al­ism that was at once par­tic­u­lar – acute­ly attached to a spe­cif­ic nation­al and region­al place – and uni­ver­sal – a belief that the Amer­i­c­as rep­re­sent­ed an excep­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ty to ful­fil the promise of the mod­ern world. That mod­ern world was inescapably defined in rela­tion to the rise of U.S. pow­er in all of its expres­sions, lead­ing nation­al­ists to adopt a defen­sive pos­ture.13

In April 1855, William Walk­er led a band of U.S. fil­i­busters – the term used in the 1850s to describe U.S. cit­i­zens who invad­ed Latin Amer­i­can states with which the Unit­ed States was for­mal­ly at peace – from San Fran­cis­co to Nicaragua, at the invi­ta­tion of Nicaragua’s oppo­si­tion Lib­er­al Par­ty, which was ensconced in civ­il war with the rul­ing Con­ser­v­a­tive regime. The Walk­er group even­tu­al­ly seized pow­er, forg­ing plans there­after to wage war on oth­er Cen­tral Amer­i­can states. Walk­er was dri­ven by a vision of a new, inde­pen­dent set­tler-colo­nial empire. U.S. pres­i­dent Franklin Pierce offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized Walker’s regime as legit­i­mate in 1856, and Walker’s exploits were cel­e­brat­ed in the main­stream U.S. press.14

Such was the prin­ci­pal cat­a­lyst for Cen­tral and South Amer­i­can lib­er­al diplo­mats, intel­lec­tu­als, and politi­cians to forge an anti-impe­r­i­al alliance under the ban­ner of “Latin Amer­i­ca” for the first time. The new anti-impe­ri­al­ism was aligned against Euro­pean and U.S. inter­ven­tion in equal mea­sure.

The res­o­nance of “Latin Amer­i­ca” as a geopo­lit­i­cal enti­ty, and as a basis for anti-impe­ri­al­ism, also gained force in the midst of the brief and ten­u­ous, but nonethe­less essen­tial, polit­i­cal open­ing in the 1840s and 1850s across much of Latin Amer­i­ca, dri­ven from below by urban pop­u­lar class­es and rest­less peas­antries. In 1853, the most advanced expres­sion of this ten­ta­tive democ­ra­ti­za­tion was New Granada’s – now Colom­bia and Pana­ma – con­sti­tu­tion, which grant­ed uni­ver­sal suf­frage to all males with­out excep­tions root­ed in own­er­ship of prop­er­ty, lit­er­a­cy, or col­or. The oth­er dra­mat­ic lev­el­ling of the peri­od was, of course, the abo­li­tion of slav­ery in the bulk of Span­ish Amer­i­ca, draw­ing a col­or line between this new state of affairs in the region and the con­ti­nu­ity of slav­ery in the Unit­ed States.15

In a cer­tain sense, then, “Latin Amer­i­ca” so con­ceived was a source of oxy­gen to the blood of repub­li­can sov­er­eign­ty, democ­ra­cy, and anti-slav­ery cours­ing through the veins of Span­ish Amer­i­ca in the mid-19th cen­tu­ry. At the same time, how­ev­er, lib­er­al repub­li­can opin­ion among the dom­i­nant class­es had not assuaged its intrin­sic pan­ic in the face of the always unruly, and now more assertive, low­er orders; indeed, their anx­i­eties were new­ly aroused by demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­sures stem­ming from below. The inclu­sive­ness of the region­al label was thus high­ly con­test­ed.

Among some lib­er­al advo­cates of “Latin Amer­i­ca,” such as the Chilean Fran­cis­co Bil­bao, the “Latin” race was con­ceived in cul­tur­al oppo­si­tion to the “Anglo-Sax­on” race of the protes­tant Unit­ed States, but could include the non-white pop­u­lar lay­ers south of the Río Grande, so long as they spoke Span­ish or Por­tuguese and adhered to the tenets of Catholi­cism.16 For oth­ers, like Argen­tine intel­lec­tu­al Juan Bautista Alber­di, though, Latin denot­ed a blood tie to Europe, with those in the Amer­i­c­as des­ig­nat­ed as nei­ther Latin nor Sax­on – those of indige­nous, African, or mixed-raced ances­try – rel­e­gat­ed to the ranks of bar­bar­ians. Such would be the ide­o­log­i­cal foun­da­tion for the Argen­tin­ian state’s geno­ci­dal “Con­quest of the Desert” only a short time lat­er, in the 1870s.17

As the sci­en­tif­ic racism of “poly­genism” – the notion that racial dif­fer­ences were bio­log­i­cal­ly fixed and immutable – gained force in France and the Unit­ed States with the advance of the 19th cen­tu­ry, sim­i­lar ideas would dis­sem­i­nate through much of Latin Amer­i­ca, with elites increas­ing­ly iden­ti­fy­ing “Latin” with white­ness. But in the 1850s, such bio­log­i­cal con­ceits were still nascent, under­de­vel­oped, and uneven­ly dis­persed, and thus the anti-impe­r­i­al, sov­er­eign­tist, and demo­c­ra­t­ic accent of incip­i­ent “Latin Amer­i­ca” per­sist­ed par­al­lel to reac­tionary invo­ca­tions of the “Latin” race.18 At times, these were artic­u­lat­ed togeth­er: lib­er­al expo­nents of repub­li­can racism could insist upon the supe­ri­or­i­ty of democ­ra­cy, anti-slav­ery, and sov­er­eign rule, while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves as “white,” and thus ulti­mate­ly bet­ter fit for repub­li­can rule than the low­er, mixed-race social class­es.

“So although ‘Latin Amer­i­ca’ was linked with anti-impe­ri­al­ism and democ­ra­cy,” writes his­to­ri­an Michel Gob­at, “the con­cept gained wide­spread pop­u­lar­i­ty only after it had shed its iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with white­ness. This did not occur until the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, when the resur­gence of U.S. inter­ven­tion­ism led pro­po­nents of ‘Latin Amer­i­ca’ to increas­ing­ly asso­ciate the con­cept with the defense of the continent’s mixed races.”19

U.S. Expansion

The sheer relent­less­ness of U.S. aggres­sion – “the Texas seces­sion, the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can War, Walker’s inva­sion of Nicaragua, the Span­ish Amer­i­can War, the annex­a­tion of Puer­to Rico and the Philip­pines, the Platt amend­ment, Roosevelt’s corol­lary to the Mon­roe Doc­trine, brief occu­pa­tions of Mex­i­co and Cuba fol­lowed by longer stays in Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Domini­can Repub­lic”20 – act­ed like an insis­tent drum­beat in the for­ma­tion of Latin Amer­i­can geopo­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness.

Anti-impe­ri­al­ism under­went a meta­mor­pho­sis, how­ev­er, in the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies, as lib­er­al elit­ism lost its grip on the sub­ject mat­ter, and Marx­ist the­o­ry and prax­is entered its incu­ba­to­ry phase. That this pas­sage of the baton from lib­er­al­ism to Marx­ism tran­spired more or less par­al­lel to the tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism in much of Latin Amer­i­ca in the late 19th cen­tu­ry is notable – the force of Marx’s ideas only real­ly acquires life in such a con­text.21 An ini­tial ges­ta­tion of Latin Amer­i­can Marx­ism (1870–1910) involved the dis­sem­i­na­tion of the writ­ings of Marx and Engels in the region, along­side the orga­ni­za­tion of the first Latin Amer­i­can sec­tions of the Com­mu­nist Inter­na­tion­al, and ini­tial elab­o­ra­tion of social­ist pro­grams in places like Cuba, Mex­i­co, Uruguay, and Argenti­na.22

The sec­ond, rev­o­lu­tion­ary phase (1910–1930) kicked off with the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion of 1910, and brought to the sur­face the prob­lems of land, indige­nous lib­er­a­tion, the uni­ty of Latin Amer­i­can peo­ples from the new van­tage point of the pop­u­lar class­es and oppressed groups, the role of nation­al and anti-impe­ri­al­ist strug­gle, and the social­ist char­ac­ter of envis­aged rev­o­lu­tions on the hori­zon. In the wake of the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion of 1917, the first Com­mu­nist Par­ties were formed – Argenti­na (1918), Uruguay (1920), Chile (1922), Mex­i­co (1919), and Brazil (1922). This was the era of giants, like Cuban rev­o­lu­tion­ary Julio Anto­nio Mel­la, and, most deci­sive­ly, Peru’s José Car­los Mar­iátegui, to this day Latin America’s most orig­i­nal the­o­reti­cian.23 Of course, all the phas­es of Latin Amer­i­can Marx­ism men­tioned here are schemat­ic, heuris­tic attempts to cap­ture flu­id and con­tra­dic­to­ry his­tor­i­cal process­es, and there­fore should not be inter­pret­ed as hard-and-fast his­tor­i­cal breaks.

“In the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry,” Grandin reminds us, “anti-impe­ri­al­ist activists such as Nicaragua’s Augus­to Sandi­no and Peru’s Víc­tor Raúl Haya de la Torre democ­ra­tized and racial­ized the antin­o­my” of the long-estab­lished two Amer­i­c­as, “argu­ing that Latin Amer­i­ca con­sti­tut­ed a unique ‘Indo-Amer­i­can race’ dis­tinct from Anglo-Sax­on Amer­i­ca: they offered a pop­u­lar patri­o­tism that Latin America’s major­i­ty poor could sym­pa­thize with, one that super­seded elite nation­al­ism by val­oriz­ing dark-skinned, impov­er­ished peas­ant cul­ture that pre­vailed through­out Mesoamer­i­ca and much of South Amer­i­ca.”24 There is a sharp dis­tinc­tion here from ear­li­er, racist iter­a­tions of “Latin Amer­i­ca.”

Populist Anti-Imperialism

Yet there were strict lim­its to cer­tain vari­ants of pop­ulist anti-impe­ri­al­ism. Haya de la Torre’s Alian­za Pop­u­lar Rev­olu­cionar­ia Amer­i­cana (APRA) in Peru, for exam­ple, drew on a nation­al­ist mythol­o­gy of mes­ti­za­je, or mixed race nation­al iden­ti­ty, that was root­ed in a par­tic­u­lar form of indige­nous roman­ti­cism.25 This per­spec­tive froze a folk­loric, ancient indige­nous iden­ti­ty in the heart of the nation­al imag­i­nary, while eras­ing the liv­ing real­i­ty of indi­gene­ity and exalt­ing mes­ti­zo hege­mo­ny in the present.26 That this went hand in hand with an anti-impe­ri­al­ist strat­e­gy of mul­ti­class pop­ulism, and fan­tasies of a pro­gres­sive nation­al bour­geoisie, was no coin­ci­dence.

In the work of Mar­iátegui, by con­trast, a utopi­an-rev­o­lu­tion­ary dialec­tic bor­rows selec­tive­ly from the indige­nous pre­cap­i­tal­ist past to for­ti­fy a for­ward-look­ing vision of social­ist eman­ci­pa­tion. Strate­gi­cal­ly, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­jects are work­ers and peas­ants, ori­ent­ed in oppo­si­tion not just against for­eign cap­i­tal but vis-à-vis class ene­mies at home. Mariátegui’s vision struck simul­ta­ne­ous­ly at the core of Com­intern ortho­doxy – he was denounced as a pop­ulist for his par­tic­u­lar appeals to the indige­nous peas­antry, as well as his stub­born resis­tance to anti-impe­ri­al­ist alliances led by the bour­geoisie or pet­ty bour­geoisie – and the reign­ing nation­al­ism of his coun­try, as cap­tured in Aprista ide­ol­o­gy.

“His is a dou­ble com­bat,” write Omar Acha and Déb­o­ra D’Antonio. “In the first place, with Aprista pop­ulism that pos­tu­lat­ed the neces­si­ty of cap­i­tal­ist and anti-feu­dal devel­op­ment. In the sec­ond place, with the ‘stag­ism’ of the Com­intern….”27 Accord­ing to Acha and D’Antonio,

Mar­iátegui con­ceives of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary capac­i­ty of the indige­nous mass­es and the lib­er­a­tion from the yoke of the landown­er in the man­ner of Sorel; that is, in con­nec­tion with the for­ma­tion of myths and hopes of redemp­tion that pro­pel the oppressed class­es toward social­ist rev­o­lu­tion. The myths are not arbi­trary rep­re­sen­ta­tions, or imag­i­nary con­struc­tions, because they respond to his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ences and mate­r­i­al sit­u­a­tions. In the case of the urban pro­le­tari­at, Mar­iátegui con­ceives their rev­o­lu­tion­ary poten­tial­i­ty in clas­si­cal Marx­ist terms; that is to say, con­sid­er­ing their posi­tion in the pro­duc­tive sys­tem and their objec­tive con­fronta­tion with the cap­i­tal­ist class. With respect to the peas­antry, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mythol­o­gy is root­ed in real com­mu­ni­ties, and its tra­di­tions are embod­ied in the ayl­lus, where Mar­iátegui dis­cerns social rela­tions sim­i­lar to social­ist rela­tions. That inher­i­tance makes pos­si­ble a tran­si­tion to social­ism on such bases, but in a sense of sur­pass­ing [them].28

For Mar­iátegui, the indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty is “still a liv­ing organ­ism.” It sur­vives, “despite the hos­tile envi­ron­ment that suf­fo­cates and deforms it.” Beyond mere per­sis­tence, the indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty “spon­ta­neous­ly man­i­fests obvi­ous pos­si­bil­i­ties for evo­lu­tion and devel­op­ment.”29 Invok­ing their com­mu­nal vital­i­ty, their stal­wart coop­er­a­tive bonds of coop­er­a­tion and sol­i­dar­i­ty in the face exter­nal pres­sures of mar­ket and state, Mar­iátegui explains how, “in indige­nous vil­lages where fam­i­lies are grouped and bonds of her­itage and com­mu­nal work have been extin­guished, strong and tena­cious habits of coop­er­a­tion and sol­i­dar­i­ty that are the empir­i­cal expres­sion of a com­mu­nist spir­it still exist. The com­mu­ni­ty draws on this spir­it. It is their body. When expro­pri­a­tion and redi­vi­sion seem about to liq­ui­date the com­mu­ni­ty, Indige­nous social­ism always finds a way to reject, resist, or evade it.”30 Again, in the dialec­ti­cal utopi­an-social­ist frame­work of Mar­iátegui, the per­cep­tive embrace of the indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty as liv­ing organ­ism does not require some kind of impos­si­ble, nos­tal­gic return to the Inca past; for Mar­iátegui, this was an out­landish idea. Indige­nous socialism’s vital­i­ty per­sists along­side a call for the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of Einstein’s physics, and an accel­er­at­ed incor­po­ra­tion of all of mod­ern civilization’s achieve­ments into Peru­vian nation­al life.31

Mariátegui’s metic­u­lous study of the his­to­ry of colo­nial­ism, Peru’s inte­gra­tion into the world mar­ket, and the ongo­ing impe­ri­al­ist char­ac­ter of the glob­al cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, led him to devel­op a thor­ough­go­ing and orig­i­nal anti-impe­ri­al­ist per­spec­tive. With the uni­ty and simul­tane­ity of anti-impe­ri­al­ism and rev­o­lu­tion­ary social­ist pol­i­tics at its core, this optic finds its clear­est expres­sion in the doc­u­ment, “Anti-Impe­ri­al­ist Point of View,” sub­mit­ted to the First Latin Amer­i­can Com­mu­nist Con­fer­ence in Buenos Aires in June 1929. Here Mar­iátegui sav­ages the com­plic­it role played by Latin Amer­i­can nation­al bour­geoisies in the per­pet­u­a­tion of impe­ri­al­ism, which they saw as “the best source” of their own prof­its and the con­ti­nu­ity of their own polit­i­cal pow­er.32 Any coher­ent anti-impe­ri­al­ist alliance could not there­fore be led by bour­geois or pet­ty bour­geois forces under the ban­ner of nation­al­ism – under such lead­ers there would be no rup­ture with impe­ri­al­ism. Instead, the only pos­si­ble win­ning alliance would have to be forged and led by work­ers and peas­ants, in a com­bined move­ment of anti-impe­ri­al­ism and com­mit­ment to rev­o­lu­tion­ary social­ism at home. “We are anti-impe­ri­al­ists,” Mar­iátegui stressed, “because we are rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, because we oppose cap­i­tal­ism with social­ism as an adver­sar­i­al sys­tem called to suc­ceed it. In the strug­gle against for­eign impe­ri­al­ism we are ful­fill­ing our duties of sol­i­dar­i­ty with the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mass­es of Europe.”33

Stal­in­ist Inter­reg­num

The rev­o­lu­tion­ary phase of Latin Amer­i­can Marx­ism, set in motion by the Mex­i­can and Russ­ian rev­o­lu­tions, was brought to its trag­ic con­clu­sion in 1932 in El Sal­vador. In Jan­u­ary of that year, thou­sands of indige­nous and ladi­no (non-indige­nous) rur­al labor­ers made waves in protest against elec­toral fraud and the repres­sion of strikes. Rebels seized con­trol of a num­ber of munic­i­pal­i­ties in cen­tral and west­ern El Sal­vador. The upris­ing was orga­nized by Com­mu­nists, many of whom were them­selves indige­nous rur­al labor­ers and union mil­i­tants of the cof­fee plan­ta­tions. The Sal­vado­ran mil­i­tary and allied para­mil­i­tary mili­tias quick­ly won back the towns and mas­sa­cred thou­sands of main­ly indige­nous rur­al activists.34 The lead­ers of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty in El Sal­vador – Farabun­do Martí, Alfon­so Luna, Mario Zap­a­ta, and Miguel Már­mol – had been impris­oned pri­or to the insur­rec­tion, in a pre­ven­tive crack­down orches­trat­ed by the state. Par­ty doc­u­ments of the peri­od demon­strate that the aim of the upheaval was noth­ing short of social­ist trans­for­ma­tion of Sal­vado­ran soci­ety, and that the ini­tia­tive was born inde­pen­dent­ly from any direc­tives ema­nat­ing from the Krem­lin.35

In the decades fol­low­ing the Sal­vado­ran mas­sacre, the main cur­rents of Latin Amer­i­can Marx­ism lost such inde­pen­dence and audac­i­ty. Com­mu­nist Par­ties through­out the region were sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly brought under the thumb of Stal­in­ism, in what was to be a painful­ly scle­rot­ic phase of Marx­ism, last­ing until the 1959 Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion. For the bulk of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the dog­ma of Stal­in­ist devel­op­ment-by-stages pre­vailed, with any rev­o­lu­tions in Latin Amer­i­ca to be con­tained with­in the bound­aries of the nation­al-demo­c­ra­t­ic type, in accor­dance with the region’s pre­sumed feu­dal phase of devel­op­ment. On this view, a long peri­od of indus­tri­al cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment was the next step in progress, neces­si­tat­ing polit­i­cal alliances in the short and medi­um term between the pop­u­lar class­es and “pro­gres­sive” nation­al bour­geoisies. Social­ist rev­o­lu­tion would only be pos­si­ble some­time in the dis­tant future, once pro­duc­tive forces had been suf­fi­cient­ly advanced.36

Cold War Configurations

Glob­al trans­for­ma­tions accu­mu­lat­ed in rapid suc­ces­sion. The world wars, togeth­er with post-war nation­al lib­er­a­tion move­ments in Asia and Africa, under­mined Euro­pean and Japan­ese impe­r­i­al pow­er, and the Unit­ed States replaced Britain as glob­al hege­mon. The Unit­ed States sought to restruc­ture the world sys­tem in such a way as to ensure the repro­duc­tion of a lib­er­al cap­i­tal­ist order on a world-scale, and its own posi­tion at the top of the hier­ar­chi­cal order of states with­in that sys­tem. Exper­i­ments in inde­pen­dent nation­al­ist devel­op­ment over the next few decades, as part of var­i­ous nation­al-pop­ulist projects in the Glob­al South, threat­ened the sys­tem not with rev­o­lu­tion­ary rup­ture, but with the more tem­per­ate exam­ple of basic self-deter­mi­na­tion they might set for oth­ers.

In the Latin Amer­i­can con­text, the per­pet­u­al bogey­man of Sovi­et expan­sion­ism – more imag­ined than real in most cas­es – was a con­ve­nient and flex­i­ble pre­text for under­min­ing even mod­est ini­tia­tives of ten­ta­tive insub­or­di­na­tion by weak Latin Amer­i­can states in the face of the reign­ing world order. The U.S. state sought to pro­tect the inter­ests of cap­i­tal – its own cap­i­tal first, but often glob­al cap­i­tal by asso­ci­a­tion – on the inter­na­tion­al plane through the main­te­nance of a glob­al eco­nom­ic order amenable to mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion. Social forces and gov­ern­men­tal forms that got in the way of glob­al accu­mu­la­tion – even indi­rect­ly – were to be under­mined through one path­way or anoth­er.

The CIA-backed coup in Guatemala in 1954, which oust­ed the demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed admin­is­tra­tion of Jacobo Arbenz, ush­ered in the era of the Sovi­et pre­text. Eisen­how­er con­demned the Arbenz gov­ern­ment as a “Com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship” despite the Guatemalan government’s overt com­mit­ment to a nation­al­ist mod­ern­iza­tion project of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, involv­ing agrar­i­an reform, recog­ni­tion of trade unions, lit­er­a­cy cam­paigns, some nation­al­iza­tion – cru­cial­ly the lands of the Unit­ed Fruit com­pa­ny – and pro­tec­tions for domes­tic indus­tries. Of the 51 seats in the Nation­al Assem­bly held by the Arbenz coali­tion, only four were in the hands of the Guatemalan Labor Par­ty, the name assumed by domes­tic Com­mu­nist forces in the coun­try at the time. The coup end­ed democ­ra­cy in Guatemala for the next four decades, and fueled rounds of counter-insur­gency that left hun­dreds of thou­sands dead.37

Wash­ing­ton attempt­ed vari­a­tions of the same in response to the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion (1959–), the “peace­ful road to social­ism” in Chile (1970–1973), and the San­din­ista Rev­o­lu­tion (1979–1990) in Nicaragua. In place of overt mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion, the cen­tral means of U.S. inter­fer­ence were mam­moth infu­sions of counter-insur­gent aid to allied anti-Com­mu­nist forces, whether in the form of allied dic­ta­tor­ships that had cap­tured state pow­er, or right-wing ter­ror­ist death squads and para­mil­i­tary for­ma­tions where the Left was in pow­er. Wash­ing­ton facil­i­tat­ed an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly sus­tained lev­el of vio­lence through­out Latin America’s Cold War. In Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand coor­di­nat­ed and financed a Cen­tral Amer­i­can Mil­i­tary Sys­tem for Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and oth­er forms of syn­chro­niza­tion across state intel­li­gence agen­cies, while in the South­ern Cone of South Amer­i­ca, the U.S. estab­lished the transna­tion­al state-ter­ror net­work Oper­a­tion Con­dor, pro­vid­ing logis­ti­cal, tech­ni­cal, finan­cial, and mil­i­tary sup­port to the dic­ta­tor­ships of Argenti­na, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil.38

Dependency Theory

A third phase of rev­o­lu­tion­ary exper­i­men­ta­tion in the his­to­ry of Latin Amer­i­can Marx­ism (1959–1980) begins with the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion, pass­es through Allende’s Chile, takes a last breath in San­din­ista Nicaragua, and is quick­ly eclipsed by the neolib­er­al counter-ref­or­ma­tion of the 1980s and 1990s. The many inter­nal threads and cur­rents of depen­den­cy the­o­ry were a cen­tral part of this intel­lec­tu­al and polit­i­cal tumult.

In her impor­tant recent study of Latin Amer­i­can social the­o­ry of the 20th and ear­ly 21st cen­turies, Maris­tel­la Svam­pa treats the span from 1965 to 1979 – the apogee of depen­den­cy the­o­ry – as one of Latin America’s most intel­lec­tu­al­ly fer­tile peri­ods.39 The polit­i­cal con­text was one of expand­ing author­i­tar­i­an rule, with suc­ces­sive coups from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s in Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, and Argenti­na. Brazil, Chile, and Mex­i­co take pride of place in this telling of dependency’s his­to­ry, the first as the coun­try of ori­gin of many of the clas­si­cal the­o­rists – Fer­nan­do Hen­rique Car­doso, Theoto­nio Dos San­tos, Ruy Mau­ro Mari­ni, and Vânia Bam­bir­ra – and the lat­ter two as unique­ly fecund habi­tats of exile.

San­ti­a­go was a favoured des­ti­na­tion for rad­i­cal Brazil­ians fol­low­ing the coup d’état in their home coun­try in 1964, and Mex­i­co for Chileans escap­ing Pinochet in 1973, as well as those Brazil­ians resid­ing in Chile at the time and thus forced to flee a sec­ond time. André Gun­der Frank, a Ger­man econ­o­mist with a Chilean wife, des­tined to become an icon­ic – if com­mon­ly ridiculed – fig­ure of depen­den­cy, passed con­sid­er­able time teach­ing in Brazil­ian and Chilean uni­ver­si­ties. Para­mount inter­locu­tors under the broad depen­den­cy umbrel­la out­side of these three coun­tries includ­ed Edel­ber­to Tor­res Rivas of Guatemala, Aníbal Qui­jano of Peru, and Pablo González Casano­va and Rodol­fo Staven­hagen of Mex­i­co, to name just a few.

The engross­ing sto­ry of dependency’s ori­gins includes sem­i­nars on Marx orga­nized at the Uni­ver­si­dad de Sâo Paulo by Car­doso and Arthur Gian­noti, begin­ning in 1958. These had a deci­sive impact on a gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents and con­tributed to the revival of Marx­ism in the uni­ver­si­ties of Brazil. Svam­pa relates how Dos San­tos recalls both the orig­i­nal Brazil­ian sem­i­nars on Marx, and read­ing groups on dialec­tics and Cap­i­tal, as well as how they were reimag­ined and recon­sti­tut­ed in exile in Chile after 1964, at the Cen­tro de Estu­dios Socio-Económi­cos (Cen­tre of Socio-Eco­nom­ic Stud­ies, CESO) of the Uni­ver­si­dad de Chile in San­ti­a­go. While young Brazil­ian Marx­ists were aware of sim­i­lar study groups in Paris, under the wing of Louis Althuss­er – pro­duc­ing, among oth­er notable works, the col­lec­tive­ly authored, Read­ing Cap­i­tal, in rough­ly the same moment as the ear­ly texts of depen­den­cy40 – the Brazil­ians pre­ferred the young Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Györ­gy Lúkacs, over Althuss­er, Éti­enne Bal­ibar, and Jacques Ran­cière, at least accord­ing to Dos Santos’s ret­ro­spec­tion.

On the one hand, depen­den­cy marked an epis­te­mo­log­i­cal break with the eco­nom­ic struc­tural­ism of main­stream insti­tu­tions such as CEPAL41 ; at the same time, it rep­re­sent­ed a vis­cer­al riposte to the stodgy the­o­ret­i­cal dog­mas, polit­i­cal prag­ma­tism, and stag­ist deter­min­ism of Stal­in­ized Com­mu­nist Par­ties through­out the region in that era. Eclec­tic points of polit­i­cal ref­er­ence for depen­den­tis­tas were instead the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion, widen­ing guer­ril­la move­ments, and Chile’s road to social­ism under Allende.

Svampa’s sur­vey is equal­ly atten­tive to recur­ring com­mon­al­i­ties run­ning through depen­den­cy, and inter­nal incon­gru­ence and idio­syn­crasy. Three points of com­mon­al­i­ty emerge. First, the obsta­cles to devel­op­ment in periph­er­al soci­eties spring from the mode of their artic­u­la­tion with the inter­na­tion­al sys­tem, the effects of which have to be under­stood as much in their struc­tur­ing of inter­nal, nation­al dynam­ics to these soci­eties – becom­ing inte­ri­or to them – as in the exter­nal struc­tures of the sys­tem as a whole. Sec­ond, most the­o­rists of depen­den­cy thought of it as a more con­crete medi­a­tion of the gen­er­al the­o­ry of impe­ri­al­ism, premised more than any­thing else on the uni­ty of cap­i­tal­ism as a world sys­tem. Third, most depen­den­cy the­o­ry saw the 1960s and 1970s as a new peri­od of cap­i­tal­ism, linked to the grow­ing pres­ence of monop­oly cap­i­tal in depen­dent soci­eties. Depen­den­cy the­o­ry was a mas­ter frame­work of the era that encour­aged the artic­u­la­tion of a space for Latin Amer­i­can debate, and the cir­cu­la­tion of orig­i­nal ideas “which opened up the pos­si­bil­i­ty of speak­ing of Latin Amer­i­ca as a his­tor­i­cal-polit­i­cal uni­ty, beyond the evi­dent inter­nal dif­fer­ences.”42

Prob­a­bly the most influ­en­tial sin­gle text of depen­den­cy was Depen­den­cia y desar­rol­lo en Améri­ca Lati­na, by Car­doso and Enzo Falet­to.43 It was first pub­lished in 1969, but pre­lim­i­nary drafts cir­cu­lat­ed wide­ly in the pre­ced­ing two years. Frank’s oeu­vre was also impor­tant, par­tic­u­lar­ly in dis­sem­i­nat­ing some of the con­cepts of depen­den­cy through­out the Anglo­phone world, but also with­in Latin Amer­i­ca, espe­cial­ly through his book El desar­rol­lo del sub­de­sar­rol­lo.44 That said, Frank’s ver­sion of depen­den­cy was per­haps the crud­est and most mechan­i­cal on offer. Social­is­mo o fas­cis­mo and Impe­ri­al­is­mo y depen­den­cia are two of Dos Santos’s crit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions.45 Bam­bir­ra, one of the only women the­o­rists of depen­den­cy to achieve renown at the region­al lev­el, is still rou­tine­ly writ­ten out of its his­to­ry, but texts such as El cap­i­tal­is­mo depen­di­ente lati­noamer­i­cano sit­u­ate her indis­putably as an essen­tial fig­ure of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary wing of depen­den­cy, along­side Mari­ni.46

In many ways, Marini’s sedi­tious life maps onto the his­to­ry of dependency’s con­test­ed the­o­ret­i­cal pro­duc­tion. A mem­ber of Polit­i­ca Opera­ia in Brazil when the 1964 coup took place, he fled to Chile, where he became a lead­ing fig­ure in the Movimien­to de Izquier­da Rev­olu­cionar­ia (Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Left Move­ment, MIR). While in Chile, he also pur­sued intel­lec­tu­al work with­in the insti­tu­tion­al para­me­ters of CESO. The Chilean coup of 1973 forced him into exile once again. He split his time between Ger­many and Mex­i­co, before even­tu­al­ly set­tling in the lat­ter with a place in the Fac­ul­tad de Cien­cias Políti­cas y Sociales at the Uni­ver­si­dad Nacional Autóno­ma de Méx­i­co (UNAM). Marini’s Sub­de­sar­rol­lo y rev­olu­ción was pub­lished in 1969, but Dialéc­ti­ca de la depen­den­cia, pub­lished in 1973, was to become his most last­ing con­tri­bu­tion.47 Marini’s inno­v­a­tive con­cep­tu­al­iza­tions of “super-exploita­tion” and “sub-impe­ri­al­ism” con­tin­ue to inform cur­rent Latin Amer­i­can debates in the crit­i­cal social sci­ences.

A Long Neoliberal Night

If the rough peri­odiza­tion of Latin Marx­ism offered so far sug­gests an ini­tial set of four stages, a fifth (1980–2000) maps onto the region­al reign of neolib­er­al ortho­doxy, and is unsur­pris­ing­ly char­ac­ter­ized by retrac­tion, defeat, and self-crit­i­cism, although also by ren­o­va­tion at the mar­gins. This was the era of aban­doned rev­o­lu­tion­ary strat­e­gy, the fall of the Sovi­et Union and its client states, the tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism in Chi­na, the iso­la­tion of the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion, and the defeat of the Nicaraguan Rev­o­lu­tion. Most Latin Amer­i­can Marx­ist intel­lec­tu­als decamped, opt­ing for post-Marx­ism or straight­for­ward lib­er­al­ism.48

Neolib­er­al restruc­tur­ing rad­i­cal­ly trans­formed class struc­tures in the region, decom­pos­ing old-Left social bases in trade unions and peas­ant asso­ci­a­tions. Left-wing par­ties went the way of most Marx­ist intel­lec­tu­als – adapt­ing to the para­me­ters of debate pro­scribed by the new lib­er­al epoch. The right-wing dic­ta­tor­ships of the 1960s and 1970s had been trans­formed into elec­toral regimes, but the lega­cy of their dirty work lin­gered like a night­mare.

Dic­ta­tor­ships of the South­ern Cone, and the counter-insur­gen­cies of Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, had mur­dered hun­dreds of thou­sands. Along with last­ing effects of col­lec­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal ter­ror, the socio-polit­i­cal roots of the Left in these soci­eties had been anni­hi­lat­ed. Few of the usu­al con­vey­or belts of col­lec­tive mem­o­ry in the his­to­ry of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Left – expe­ri­enced cadre, for­mal asso­ci­a­tions, and infor­mal cul­tur­al infra­struc­tures – remained to pass on lessons to a new gen­er­a­tion; and besides, Latin Amer­i­can social struc­tures had been so deeply trans­formed by state ter­ror, impe­r­i­al inter­ven­tion, and cap­i­tal­ist counter-reform that any new Left to emerge at this stage would nec­es­sar­i­ly look much dif­fer­ent than what had come before, even if it would have to draw – as all new Lefts must – on crit­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion of the past.49 Latin Amer­i­can rad­i­cals in the 1980s and 1990s sur­vived main­ly through the art of wait­ing impa­tient­ly in non-rev­o­lu­tion­ary times.50

Crisis and Renewal

The light of a new dawn arrived in the late 1990s. Between 1998 and 2002, South Amer­i­ca expe­ri­enced the worst reces­sion since the height of the debt cri­sis in the 1980s. The eco­nom­ic cri­sis of neolib­er­al­ism – with ear­li­er utter­ances in Mex­i­co in 1994, South­east Asia in 1997, and Rus­sia in 1998 – had made its bold entrance into South Amer­i­can mar­kets. Pover­ty, inequal­i­ty, unem­ploy­ment, and peas­ant dis­pos­ses­sion – all of which had steadi­ly wors­ened through the two pre­ced­ing decades in which Latin Amer­i­ca was trans­formed into a Hayekian lab­o­ra­to­ry – expe­ri­enced a sharp spike. The answer of rul­ing con­ser­v­a­tive and lib­er­al gov­ern­ments was to up the dosage of the same med­i­cine. While this had had some appeal to pop­u­lar class­es in Latin Amer­i­ca suf­fer­ing under the weight of hyper­in­fla­tion and stag­na­tion in the ear­ly 1980s, after twen­ty years of first­hand par­tic­i­pa­tion in the failed drug tri­al of neo­clas­si­cal eco­nom­ics, the promise of more of the same rang hol­low.

A new extra-par­lia­men­tary Left erupt­ed in dif­fer­ent col­ors across the sub-con­ti­nent. In Argenti­na, unem­ployed work­ers led the way; in Bolivia, nov­el left-indige­nous, rur­al and urban coali­tions of social strug­gle, and in Ecuador the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Indige­nous Nation­al­i­ties (CONAIE), were fol­lowed by the mil­i­tant pub­lic sec­tors of the labor move­ment. Neolib­er­al gov­ern­ments were top­pled as the eco­nom­ic cri­sis of neolib­er­al­ism matured into an organ­ic cri­sis of rule. By the mid-2000s, as reces­sion turned to dynamism with the onset of a Chi­nese-dri­ven world com­modi­ties boom, the extra-par­lia­men­tary Left found mut­ed expres­sion on the elec­toral ter­rain as Cen­tre-Left and Left gov­ern­ments took pow­er near­ly every­where in South Amer­i­ca.

The lim­its of the Left in office – even in the more rad­i­cal exper­i­ments of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela – proved sharp, once the easy rent of com­modi­ties sub­sided, begin­ning in 2011, and the costs of con­cil­i­a­tion with cap­i­tal came more vis­i­bly to the sur­face. The class deci­sion by most of these gov­ern­ments to trans­fer the costs imposed by new­ly aus­tere state cof­fers onto the pop­u­lar class­es, rather than onto cap­i­tal, meant that they began to lose legit­i­ma­cy among their erst­while loy­al social base. Mean­while, cap­i­tal that had only reluc­tant­ly learned to live with these gov­ern­ments – once it had become clear that their net prof­its would not be endan­gered – aban­doned ship to return to their nat­ur­al home of reviv­ing con­fig­u­ra­tions of the old and new Right. Left gov­ern­ments fell through mil­i­tary or par­lia­men­tary coups in Hon­duras, Paraguay, and Brazil, and through pres­i­den­tial (Argenti­na) and con­gres­sion­al (Venezuela) elec­tions else­where. The tide is turn­ing, but it is a new impasse that the region has reached, rather than an easy renew­al of right-wing hege­mo­ny. Even as the Cen­tre-Left is in a state of pro­longed polit­i­cal cri­sis, the Right has no solu­tion to the eco­nom­ic tra­vails it has inher­it­ed.

A New Left, A New Marxism?

The rich­ness of the extra-par­lia­men­tary cycle of revolt, and the con­tra­dic­tions of sub­se­quent left-gov­ern­ment rule, unsur­pris­ing­ly spurred a new peri­od of Latin Amer­i­can Marx­ism (2000–). It is per­haps impru­dent to make sum­ma­tive judge­ments on key fea­tures of the the­o­ry and prax­is gen­er­at­ed thus far, and assured­ly over hasty to deter­mine whether the phase of Marx­ism begun in 2000 is draw­ing to a close in tan­dem with the end of the polit­i­cal cycle of the lat­est Left turn. But one ten­ta­tive con­clu­sion might be haz­ard­ed – the lat­est sea­son of Latin Amer­i­can Marx­ism has been char­ac­ter­ized by the kind of bursts of orig­i­nal­i­ty and pro­fun­di­ty last wit­nessed after the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion, and, at the same time, signs of scle­rot­ic rigid­i­ty and for­mu­la­ic dog­ma that pre­ced­ed it. Winds of trans­for­ma­tion and restora­tion wres­tled each oth­er inde­ter­mi­nate­ly through this lat­est storm of the region’s Left.

Some of the intel­lec­tu­al highs and lows are vis­i­ble in the out­pour­ing of recent works on impe­ri­al­ism and anti-impe­ri­al­ism. We can doc­u­ment such polar­i­ties, at least in a pre­lim­i­nary fash­ion, through a com­par­a­tive jux­ta­po­si­tion of recent work by two of the region’s weight­i­est the­o­reti­cians: Atilio Borón and Clau­dio Katz, both high­ly acclaimed Argen­tine Marx­ists. What is most strik­ing in exam­in­ing their dis­tinct treat­ments of con­tem­po­rary impe­ri­al­ism and anti-impe­ri­al­ism are their dif­fer­ent the­o­riza­tions of the rela­tion­ship between cap­i­tal­ism and impe­ri­al­ism. Borón, on the one hand, implic­it­ly absorbs a num­ber of Real­ist axioms from ortho­dox aca­d­e­m­ic debates in North Amer­i­can Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions, the most impor­tant being the near-total sep­a­ra­tion of the sphere of “geopol­i­tics” from the laws of motion of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion as they unfold uneven­ly in and through the world mar­ket. This is not mere­ly a heuris­tic sep­a­ra­tion for ana­lyt­i­cal pur­pos­es in Borón’s analy­sis, but pur­ports to doc­u­ment a real sep­a­ra­tion. Thus a win­dow is opened to hyper-con­tin­gent and, at times, con­spir­acist read­ings of U.S. dom­i­na­tion and its osten­si­ble decline over the last few decades. For Katz, by con­trast, the eco­nom­ic and the polit­i­cal are often out of sync in their spe­cif­ic tem­po­ral­i­ties, but there is nonethe­less always a dialec­ti­cal rela­tion between the two. A bet­ter bal­ance between objec­tive deter­mi­na­tion and his­tor­i­cal con­tin­gency is thus pos­si­ble in this frame­work. Cap­i­tal­ist dynam­ics run­ning through the world mar­ket over dif­fer­ent phas­es of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment inter­na­tion­al­ly are under­stood to set lim­its on polit­i­cal maneu­ver for the asym­met­ri­cal­ly posi­tioned, con­sti­tu­tive parts of the total­i­ty. The same cap­i­tal­ist dynam­ics con­tain inter­nal con­tra­dic­tion, and tend toward recur­rent sys­temic crises, poten­tial­ly open­ing up polit­i­cal oppor­tu­ni­ties.

Améri­ca Lati­na en la geopolíti­ca del impe­ri­al­is­mo, by Borón, is per­haps the most emi­nent con­tri­bu­tion to the lat­est wave of work in this area.51 The book received a con­spic­u­ous boost in stature when it won the 2012 Pre­mio Lib­er­ta­dor al Pen­samien­to Críti­co prize, estab­lished in 2005 by Hugo Chávez, and admin­is­tered by the Red de Int­elec­tuales, Artis­tas y Movimien­tos Sociales en Defen­sa de la Humanidad (Net­work of Intel­lec­tu­als, Artists, and Social Move­ments in Defence of Human­i­ty).

Auda­cious in ambi­tion, Borón’s panoram­ic vision in this text moves in and out of broad the­o­ret­i­cal con­tro­ver­sies – clas­si­cal and con­tem­po­rary – and the con­crete his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal ter­rains of Latin Amer­i­ca. He sur­veys clas­si­cal ques­tions of Marx­ist impe­ri­al­ist the­o­ry since the late 19th cen­tu­ry and offers a nov­el syn­thet­ic frame­work for under­stand­ing the present machi­na­tions of glob­al geopol­i­tics. On that back­drop, Borón makes a first for­ay into more con­crete ana­lyt­i­cal claims sur­round­ing the gen­er­al cri­sis of cap­i­tal­ism that erupt­ed in 2007–08 and the ques­tions it posed and pos­es for the apogee or decline of Amer­i­can empire. Regard­ing Latin Amer­i­ca, he tracks the strate­gic cen­tral­i­ty of the region in U.S. for­eign affairs, from the Mon­roe Doc­trine of the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry to the Free Trade Area of the Amer­i­c­as ini­tia­tive in the ear­ly 21st. This explains, for Borón, why the inten­si­fied mil­i­ta­riza­tion of Amer­i­can pow­er around the globe includes an impres­sive ten­tac­u­lar reach – through mil­i­tary bases, covert oper­a­tions, joint mil­i­tary exer­cis­es, and the “war on drugs” – into Mex­i­co, across Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, and through­out parts of South Amer­i­ca.

A series of inter­wo­ven the­mat­ics are at the cen­ter of Borón’s account: the ques­tion of nat­ur­al resources, both as a strate­gic moti­va­tion for U.S. inter­ven­tion and dom­i­na­tion, but also as a source of debate and con­tes­ta­tion between social move­ments and left-wing gov­ern­ments over the char­ac­ter of “extrac­tivism” dur­ing the accel­er­at­ed com­modi­ties boom of 2003–2011; the speci­fici­ties of U.S. mil­i­tary exten­sion into Latin Amer­i­ca; the dif­fi­cul­ties of peri­odiz­ing recent cycles of pop­u­lar move­ments in the region and their rela­tion­ship to anti-impe­ri­al­ist resis­tance; and ten­ta­tive inter­pre­tive out­lines of a “new epoch” of geopo­lit­i­cal pol­i­tics on a world-scale.

Much of the book is anec­do­tal and patchi­ly orga­nized. Intel­lec­tu­als of less­er renown could ill afford its breezi­ly assertive style. Fun­da­men­tal the­o­ret­i­cal ele­ments – rel­a­tive U.S. decline, rise of the BRICS, pro­gres­sive ori­en­ta­tion and trans­for­ma­tive poten­tial of extant left­ist regimes – are more open­ing ges­tures than elab­o­rat­ed the­ses, with inter­nal incon­sis­ten­cies and soft-spots for con­spir­a­cy. But the polit­i­cal con­clu­sions res­onate with the most “sta­tist” inflec­tions of Latin Amer­i­can Marx­ism in recent years – i.e. those close­ly aligned with gov­ern­ments in office. Left­ist oppo­nents of the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of extrac­tive cap­i­tal­ism under pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments – Raúl Zibechi, Eduar­do Gudy­nas, and Alber­to Acos­ta espe­cial­ly – are car­i­ca­tured and ridiculed, while indige­nous crit­ics of cap­i­tal­ist min­ing expan­sion are por­trayed as naïve roman­tics – pachamamis­tas – in a sec­tion rely­ing heav­i­ly on a syco­phan­tic read­ing of recent writ­ings of Boli­vian Vice Pres­i­dent, Álvaro Gar­cía Lin­era.52

In his strongest thread of argu­men­ta­tion, Borón offers a car­tog­ra­phy of mil­i­tary expan­sion – the agree­ment between Barack Oba­ma and Álvaro Uribe to estab­lish sev­en new mil­i­tary bases in Colom­bia, the vig­i­lant patrolling of the Caribbean basin by U.S. forces, the broad encir­cling of Venezuela with U.S. mil­i­tary out­posts – in the north, in Colom­bia, and the Dutch Antilles; in the south, bases in Paraguay; in the west, bases in Peru; in the east, those in Guyana, Suri­nam, and French Guyana.53 He demon­strates how Plan Colom­bia, Plan Puebla-Pana­ma, and Plan Méri­da, among oth­ers, have enabled joint mil­i­tary exer­cis­es with local armed forces.54 Borón also points out the expan­sion and decen­tral­iza­tion of U.S. mil­i­tary bases in recent decades with the U.S. South­ern Command’s “for­ward oper­at­ing loca­tions,” which are lit­tle more than spe­cial­ized land­ing strips and crude accom­pa­ny­ing infra­struc­tures. With local com­mu­ni­ca­tions facil­i­ties around these strips quick­ly enabled by the mon­u­men­tal net­work of U.S. satel­lites around the world, and the use of enor­mous C-17 Globe­mas­ter trans­port planes, what appear to be more or less emp­ty sites could be retro­fit­ted, Borón con­tends, with oper­a­tional U.S. troops and tanks with­in hours in most parts of Latin Amer­i­ca and the Caribbean.55 Such insights into the mil­i­tary dimen­sions of impe­ri­al­ism, how­ev­er, are under­spec­i­fied in rela­tion to the dynam­ics of glob­al cap­i­tal­ism. In an unac­knowl­edged echo of main­stream “real­ist” the­o­ries of North Amer­i­can Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions the­o­ry, geopol­i­tics for Borón appear fre­quent­ly as a whol­ly dis­tinct sphere. Each time eco­nom­ics seems poised to enter the analy­sis, the nar­ra­tive short cir­cuits back to diplo­mat­ic intrigue.

In a degrad­ing turn, which dis­hon­ours his land­mark ear­ly books, Borón lends cre­dence in Améri­ca Lati­na en la geopolíti­ca del impe­ri­al­is­mo to 9/11 truther the­ses in sev­er­al dis­crete moments of his argu­ment.56 What accounts for sus­tained cel­e­bra­tion of this book, nonethe­less, is per­haps the easy ide­o­log­i­cal veil it offers the gov­ern­ments of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. All three process­es are said to be advanc­ing toward “a social­ism of a new type,” a descrip­tion which for Borón is flex­i­ble enough to cov­er Viet­nam and Chi­na, despite decades of cap­i­tal­ist restora­tion57 The state, so this the­sis goes, remains in con­trol and dom­i­nance over pri­vate cap­i­tal in these coun­tries, and thus they can­not be described accu­rate­ly as cap­i­tal­ist. Such a per­spec­tive also allows Borón to accept as nec­es­sary the total­i­ty of mar­ket reforms intro­duced recent­ly in Cuba.58

The strate­gic polit­i­cal con­clu­sions Borón draws from his­to­ry are of a kind with his eco­nom­ic con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of mar­ket social­ism. From the Allende peri­od in Chile, for exam­ple, we are to con­clude that the activ­i­ties of the “most intran­si­gent and rad­i­cal­ized” sec­tions of the Chilean Left, unwit­ting­ly and in spite of them­selves, “con­verged” with the inter­ests of impe­ri­al­ism and the domes­tic Right in the ear­ly 1970s, pre­cip­i­tat­ing the 1973 Pinochet coup. This must not be allowed to hap­pen again, he stress­es, par­tic­u­lar­ly in con­tem­po­rary Bolivia, Ecuador, or Venezuela.59 Allende’s mod­er­a­tion was appar­ent­ly a plau­si­ble exit for that con­flict­ual peri­od, had it not been for rad­i­cals to his Left. By con­trast, the great his­to­ri­an of the Allende years, Peter Winn, con­tends that,

in Chile, it was the coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies – not the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies – who uti­lized polit­i­cal vio­lence and state ter­ror as a con­scious strat­e­gy. In the face of this vio­lent coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion, the deter­mi­na­tion of Allende, the bulk of the Pop­u­lar Uni­ty to keep to the non­vi­o­lent road to social­ism may have doomed that strat­e­gy to ulti­mate fail­ure – and con­demned Chile to suf­fer the dark­est night of polit­i­cal vio­lence in its his­to­ry.60

In the first ver­sion, Allende went too fast, reached out insuf­fi­cient­ly to his Right, and did so because of the intran­si­gence of the Chilean rad­i­cal Left. In the sec­ond, Allende’s exces­sive mod­er­a­tion, faith in lead­er­ship from above, trust in the estab­lished insti­tu­tions of the cap­i­tal­ist state and the bour­geois opposition’s com­mit­ment to demo­c­ra­t­ic con­ti­nu­ity, and espe­cial­ly his sus­pi­cion of unleashed capac­i­ties of those from below and to his Left, are what led to the pre­ventable Pinochet dis­as­ter.

Dou­bling down on key ana­lyt­i­cal fea­tures of his book – the sta­tist con­cep­tion of social­ism, the demo­niza­tion and car­i­ca­ture of left-oppo­si­tion­al forces in Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries with pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments, and the ten­den­cy to rad­i­cal­ly reduce each Latin Amer­i­can con­junc­ture to the geopo­lit­i­cal expres­sion of impe­r­i­al pow­er – Borón has more recent­ly com­pared the 2017 elec­tions in Ecuador to the Bat­tle of Stal­in­grad, eschewed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of inde­pen­dent left forces in Venezuela crit­i­cal of Maduro, and inter­pret­ed Trump’s arrival to the White House as the “end of the cycle” of neolib­er­al­ism, and thus an oppor­tu­ni­ty for pro­gres­sive forces in Latin Amer­i­ca.61

In Borón’s the­o­riza­tion and his­tori­ciza­tion of impe­ri­al­ism, bur­dened by a geopoliti­cist ide­al­ism, diplo­mat­ic posi­tion­ing by state man­agers in the core of the world sys­tem is grant­ed exces­sive explana­to­ry pow­er, as is, in terms of resis­tance, action by pro­gres­sive state man­agers of cer­tain Latin Amer­i­can states with cen­tre-left or left admin­is­tra­tions. These state man­agers become the priv­i­leged poten­tial agents of eman­ci­pa­tion. Class strug­gle from below is large­ly eclipsed, despite occa­sion­al ges­tures to the con­trary. This eclipse is as true of Borón’s treat­ment of the Unit­ed States as it is of Latin Amer­i­ca, and it is in part what allows him, final­ly, to wade into con­spir­acist waters.

Beneath the Empire of Capital

The two lat­est books by Clau­dio Katz are of incom­pa­ra­ble sophis­ti­ca­tion, what­ev­er their inter­nal ten­sions and mis­fires. Bajo el impe­rio del cap­i­tal, pub­lished in 2011, con­tributes to the lat­est peri­od of inter­na­tion­al the­o­riza­tion of con­tem­po­rary impe­ri­al­ism (draw­ing on debates in Span­ish, Por­tuguese, French, and Eng­lish), while Neolib­er­al­is­mo, neode­sar­rol­lis­mo, social­is­mo, pub­lished at the end of 2016, links the wider impe­r­i­al con­text to nar­row­er polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic debates sur­round­ing the last 15 years of left­ist exper­i­men­ta­tion in Latin Amer­i­ca.62

Per­haps the most con­se­quen­tial ele­ment in Bajo el impe­rio del cap­i­tal is Katz’s care­ful peri­odiza­tion and char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the dis­tinct phas­es of impe­ri­al­ism since the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry – clas­si­cal (1880–1914); post-war (1945–1975); and neolib­er­al (1980s–present).63 Draw­ing on the the­o­riza­tions of Lenin, Kaut­sky, Lux­em­burg, and Hil­fer­d­ing64 – at times over­lap­ping, and at oth­ers com­pet­ing – Katz char­ac­ter­izes the clas­si­cal era as one of fero­cious cap­i­tal­ist expan­sion, with pri­vate enter­pris­es play­ing a pro­tag­o­nist role, in which periph­er­al ter­ri­to­ries still exter­nal to cap­i­tal­ist laws of accu­mu­la­tion were brought into the system’s orbit through colo­nial con­quest.65

Here Katz scru­ti­nizes the speci­fici­ty of dis­tinct modes of pro­duc­tion and dis­tin­guish­es his account from those his­to­ri­ans who pay exclu­sive atten­tion to the rise and decline of empires across cen­turies – from Rome to Great Britain – with­out cog­nizance of the dra­mat­ic dis­sim­i­lar­i­ties of the domes­tic social rela­tions under­ly­ing each expan­sion­ary state. Fol­low­ing Ellen Meiksins Wood’s Empire of Cap­i­tal, Katz stress­es the anal­o­gous rela­tion­ship between spe­cif­ic forms of domes­tic social rela­tions and var­i­ous forms of impe­r­i­al rule.66 His­to­ry sug­gests that there has been a close asso­ci­a­tion between both cap­i­tal­ist and non-cap­i­tal­ist soci­eties, on the one hand, and their impe­ri­alisms, on the oth­er. Non-cap­i­tal­ist colo­nial empires of the past – such as the feu­dal Por­tuguese and Span­ish Empires in Latin Amer­i­ca between the late 15th and ear­ly 19th cen­turies – like feu­dal lords in their rela­tions with peas­ants, dom­i­nat­ed ter­ri­to­ry and sub­jects through mil­i­tary con­quest, often direct polit­i­cal rule, and there­fore exten­sive extra-eco­nom­ic coer­cion; in con­trast, cap­i­tal­ist impe­ri­al­ism “can exer­cise its rule by eco­nom­ic means, by manip­u­lat­ing the forces of the mar­ket, includ­ing the weapon of debt.”67 It is obvi­ous, all the same, that cap­i­tal­ist impe­ri­al­ism con­tin­ues to require coer­cive force. As Col­in Moo­ers sug­gests, “force remains indis­pens­able both to the achieve­ment of mar­ket ‘open­ness’ where it does not yet exist and to secur­ing ongo­ing com­pli­ance with the rights of cap­i­tal.”68

Neolib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism, Katz stress­es, wit­nessed the trans­for­ma­tion of the old inter­na­tion­al divi­sion of labor through the inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of pro­duc­tion and the mod­u­lar­iza­tion of glob­al val­ue chains. The sys­tem­at­ic trans­fer of man­u­fac­tur­ing activ­i­ties toward Asia inten­si­fied com­pe­ti­tion and reduced pro­duc­tion costs.69 Mas­sive multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions emerged as key agents in this process. How­ev­er, con­tra the­ses of monop­oly cap­i­tal, the aug­men­ta­tion in size of com­pa­nies is not syn­ony­mous with monop­oly con­trol or sup­pres­sion of com­pe­ti­tion. Instead, cap­i­tal­ism sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly recre­ates com­pe­ti­tion and oli­gop­oly in com­ple­men­tary forms through rec­i­p­ro­cal recy­cling. At cer­tain moments of intense inter-firm rival­ry, spe­cif­ic com­pa­nies intro­duce tran­si­to­ry forms of suprema­cy, but these can­not be main­tained in the face of new com­pet­i­tive bat­tles just around the cor­ner. This dynam­ic, Katz insists, is con­sti­tu­tive of cap­i­tal­ism and will per­sist so long as this par­tic­u­lar mode of pro­duc­tion sur­vives.71

Tech­no­log­i­cal­ly, an infor­ma­tion rev­o­lu­tion has facil­i­tat­ed the var­i­ous neolib­er­al muta­tions of cap­i­tal­ism, with the gen­er­al­iza­tion of the use of com­put­ers in man­u­fac­tur­ing and the finan­cial and com­mer­cial man­age­ment of mega-cor­po­ra­tions. Rad­i­cal inno­va­tion has increased pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, cheap­ened trans­porta­tion, and enlarged com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works.72 How­ev­er, the inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of cap­i­tal has also enabled more rapid and total trans­mis­sion of dis­e­qui­lib­ria in the glob­al sys­tem – wit­ness Japan in 1993; Mex­i­co in 1994; South­east Asia in 1997; Rus­sia in 1998; the so-called dot-com bub­ble in 2000 in the Unit­ed States; and Argenti­na in 2001. This list of region­al pre­cur­sors to the 2008 Great Reces­sion is hard­ly exhaus­tive.73

As in all ear­li­er phas­es of cap­i­tal­ism, neolib­er­al­ism is based on com­pe­ti­tion and fierce eco­nom­ic rival­ry between firms for con­trol of mar­kets. Yet, in the clas­si­cal phase of impe­ri­al­ism a cer­tain pro­por­tion­al­i­ty exist­ed between eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary rival­ry, where­as in the post-war and neolib­er­al epochs this prox­i­mate rela­tion­ship has been par­tial­ly dis­placed and frac­tured through the mil­i­tary suprema­cy of the Unit­ed States.74 The present sys­tem of impe­ri­al­ism is sus­tained in part through Amer­i­can mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion and a his­tor­i­cal­ly unprece­dent­ed glob­al mil­i­tary pres­ence and atten­dant capa­bil­i­ties.75

At the same time, U.S. hege­mo­ny in the 21st cen­tu­ry is much reduced rel­a­tive to its near-absolute dom­i­nance in the first-half of the 20th cen­tu­ry. The effec­tive­ness of its mil­i­tary supe­ri­or­i­ty is increas­ing­ly in doubt, as the fall­out from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq par­tial­ly demon­strate.76 Part of the expla­na­tion for U.S. mil­i­tary bel­liger­ence in the neolib­er­al peri­od, gen­er­al­ly, and the tem­po­ral­ly and geo­graph­i­cal­ly indef­i­nite char­ac­ter of the “war on ter­ror,” specif­i­cal­ly, can be under­stood as a com­pen­sa­tion for declin­ing indus­tri­al com­pet­i­tive­ness and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. In the present moment U.S. mil­i­tary pow­er is employed in part to redress eco­nom­ic dete­ri­o­ra­tion.77 The Unit­ed States must con­stant­ly reaf­firm its glob­al lead­er­ship through new wars, Katz insists, but the results of each war are impos­si­ble to antic­i­pate, and the instru­men­tal­iza­tion of each bloody con­flict has become more dif­fi­cult with the absence of com­pul­so­ry con­scrip­tion.78

The great advan­tage of Katz’s frame­work rel­a­tive to Borón’s is the atten­tive­ness it affords to the under­ly­ing char­ac­ter of shift­ing epochs of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment glob­al­ly, along­side care­ful defence against crude eco­nom­ic deter­min­ism. Cap­i­tal­ist dynam­ics in the world sys­tem in dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal peri­ods are nev­er reduced to emp­ty abstrac­tions, as though they mechan­i­cal­ly deter­mined polit­i­cal out­comes. Katz, fol­low­ing Marx, ris­es from the abstract to the con­crete as he intro­duces new, spe­cif­ic deter­mi­na­tions and medi­a­tions across cap­i­tal­ist phas­es, as these deter­mi­na­tions and medi­a­tions arise in dif­fer­ent regions of the world, in dif­fer­ent ways. Class strug­gle – from above, and from below, and with­in both dom­i­nant and dom­i­nat­ed coun­tries – fea­tures at the heart of Katz’s his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive and the­o­ret­i­cal premis­es. Thus his­to­ry is open, if not wide-open.

Neoliberalism, Neo-Developmentalism, Socialism

Three ana­lyt­i­cal find­ings fea­ture heav­i­ly in Katz’s most recent book on the present Latin Amer­i­can con­junc­ture, Neolib­er­al­is­mo, neodessar­rol­lis­mo, social­is­mo. First, the schema of pro­duc­tive spe­cial­iza­tion in exports intro­duced in the 1980s per­sists to the present, with its accom­pa­ny­ing effects – increas­ing agro-indus­try, open-pit min­ing, reliance on remit­tances and tourism, and a rel­a­tive decline in indus­try. The mode of inser­tion into the inter­na­tion­al divi­sion of labor has not been altered. Sec­ond, along­side these under­ly­ing ten­den­cies of neolib­er­al restruc­tur­ing and its after­math, nation­al bour­geoisies have been trans­formed into local bour­geoisies, with ramped up inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion and asso­ci­a­tion with for­eign cap­i­tal. The biggest local cap­i­tal­ist groups – mul­ti­lati­nas – oper­ate on a region­al scale. Third, and final­ly, the same changes to the eco­nom­ic struc­ture have pro­duced a peas­ant exo­dus to the cities, pre­car­i­ty and infor­mal­iza­tion in the urban labor mar­kets, and dis­cern­able frailty in the posi­tion of the mid­dle class­es.79

In Neolib­er­al­is­mo, neodessar­rol­lis­mo, social­is­mo Katz devotes his atten­tion to a more detailed account of Latin Amer­i­ca with­in the con­tem­po­rary world order. It begins with a bird’s-eye sur­vey of the Latin Amer­i­can sit­u­a­tion, focus­ing on the region’s inser­tion into the inter­na­tion­al divi­sion of labor, and changes in the class struc­ture over the last sev­er­al decades and their sig­nif­i­cance for recon­fig­ur­ing dom­i­nant and dom­i­nat­ed class­es alike. It then shifts to the­o­ret­i­cal and empir­i­cal dis­cus­sions of neolib­er­al­ism, neo-devel­op­men­tal­ism, and social­ism inter­na­tion­al­ly and in the spe­cif­ic Latin Amer­i­can set­ting. The book ends with an extend­ed treat­ment of the glob­al cri­sis of 2008, with spe­cif­ic atten­tion to the way it unfold­ed in Latin Amer­i­ca, as well as diag­nos­tics of the polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic fate of the Latin Amer­i­can Left in the cur­rent world con­text.

A pow­er­ful point of depar­ture in the open­ing sur­vey of the region is the fall­out of neolib­er­al restruc­tur­ing on the region’s posi­tion with­in the world mar­ket, and on its inter­nal class struc­tures. One basic set of obser­va­tions has to do with the velocious turn to pri­ma­ry com­mod­i­ty exports in the 1980s, dur­ing the hey­day of ortho­dox neolib­er­al­ism. In agri­cul­ture, the renewed focus on export­ing basic com­modi­ties trans­formed not only the crops being cul­ti­vat­ed, but the social rela­tions under­ly­ing rur­al life in the region. Agribusi­ness cor­po­ra­tions became the chief­tains of agrar­i­an counter-reform, lead­ing a con­ver­sion to cap­i­tal-inten­sive mono-crop­ping. Old­er land­ed oli­garchies were trans­formed into allies through close eco­nom­ic asso­ci­a­tion with the new entrants – transna­tion­al agribusi­ness cor­po­ra­tions. Soy fields – ulti­mate­ly for cook­ing oil and ani­mal feed – now dom­i­nate the land­scapes of Argenti­na, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Mon­san­to and oth­er multi­na­tion­al giants pre­dom­i­nate in these huge oper­a­tions, which gen­er­ate on aver­age just one job for every 100-150 hectares under pro­duc­tion.80

If debates on the spe­cif­ic artic­u­la­tion of dis­tinct modes of pro­duc­tion with­in sin­gu­lar Latin Amer­i­can social for­ma­tions pre­dom­i­nat­ed left intel­lec­tu­al life in the region for much of the 20th cen­tu­ry, these have large­ly been eclipsed with the pen­e­tra­tion of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions into vir­tu­al­ly every sphere of social life, includ­ing agri­cul­tur­al economies.81 If agro-indus­tri­al cap­i­tal was the game-chang­er in the elab­o­ra­tion of the new dynam­ic, small pro­duc­ers were its dis­pos­able by-prod­uct. Dis­pos­ses­sion of peas­ants man­i­fest­ed itself through increased input costs, com­pet­i­tive pres­sures, and risks asso­ci­at­ed with bumps and dips in the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket. Attempt­ing to adapt to the nov­el imper­a­tives of agro-chem­i­cal inputs, refrig­er­a­tion, and rapid trans­porta­tion, small pro­duc­ers fre­quent­ly became indebt­ed, lost their lands, and migrat­ed to the cities, join­ing a grow­ing reserve of un- and under-employed infor­mal pro­le­tar­i­ans.

Accom­pa­ny­ing this meta­mor­pho­sis of the coun­try­side, a new modal­i­ty of open-pit min­ing, under the thumb of for­eign (often Cana­di­an) cap­i­tal, has con­tributed to the sharp­en­ing of pri­ma­ry com­mod­i­ty pro­duc­tion for exter­nal mar­kets.82 While the search for for­eign investors in this area began in earnest in the 1990s, the pace quick­ened with the Chi­nese-dri­ven com­modi­ties boom (2003–2011).83 Min­ing expan­sion has been noto­ri­ous­ly accom­pa­nied by fierce repres­sion, indige­nous and peas­ant dis­pos­ses­sion, the erup­tion of defen­sive pop­u­lar strug­gles, and envi­ron­men­tal calami­ties.84

Growth of the agro-min­ing com­plex has chap­er­oned the rel­a­tive decline of indus­try. The weight of the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor in Latin Amer­i­can aggre­gate GDP in 1970–74 was 12.7 per­cent, com­pared to just 6.4 per­cent in 2002–06, and the trend has not changed under pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments; indeed, it has often wors­ened. The gap between Latin Amer­i­can and East Asian indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, tech­nol­o­gy, reg­istry of patents, and spend­ing on research and devel­op­ment is cav­ernous and still widen­ing.85 But rather than indus­try dis­ap­pear­ing alto­geth­er, it has been restruc­tured in a sub­or­di­nate way to the lat­est cycle of depen­dent repro­duc­tion. In Brazil, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty has decel­er­at­ed, costs have jumped, and there is scarce indus­tri­al invest­ment in a con­text of rapid­ly dete­ri­o­rat­ing ener­gy and trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture. Sim­i­lar­ly, in Argenti­na, in spite of small rever­sals in the last decade, regres­sion of indus­try con­tin­ues, with a move from 23 to 17 per­cent of GDP since the 1980s, con­cen­tra­tion of for­eign own­er­ship, and weak links to nation­al pro­duc­tion of com­po­nent parts.86 The pro­gres­sive polit­i­cal cycle of the ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry across much of the region has not mod­i­fied Latin America’s vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty in the face of twists in the world mar­ket. This fragili­ty per­sists, in part, because of the rel­a­tive decline of indus­try and expan­sion of pri­ma­ry exports, and the lack of pro­duc­tive diver­si­fi­ca­tion.87

In small­er coun­tries in the region, remit­tances and tourism have become ever more impor­tant in terms of gen­er­at­ing for­eign exchange. Latin Amer­i­ca has been trans­formed into the biggest region­al recip­i­ent of remit­tances, with sev­er­al coun­tries count­ing this as their first source of for­eign exchange – the Domini­can Repub­lic, El Sal­vador, Guatemala, Guayana, Haiti, Hon­duras, Jamaica, and Nicaragua – and a num­ber of oth­ers, their sec­ond – Belize, Bolivia, Colom­bia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Suri­nam.88 Much of this flows from the Unit­ed States, of course, where rough­ly 30 mil­lion doc­u­ment­ed and undoc­u­ment­ed Latin Amer­i­can migrants reside.89

Trans­for­ma­tions in agri­cul­ture, min­ing, indus­try, remit­tances, and tourism have, of course, had an impact on class for­ma­tion, from above and below. The pro­file of the dom­i­nant class­es has altered, Katz con­tends, from one of nation­al to local bour­geoisies.90 The for­mer type cor­re­spond­ed with indus­tries that were involved in pro­duc­tion for the inter­nal mar­ket dur­ing the height of import sub­sti­tu­tion indus­tri­al­iza­tion (ISI) (1930–1980), with tar­iff pro­tec­tions and sub­si­dies priv­i­leg­ing the expan­sion of domes­tic demand. The lat­ter type, by con­trast, is char­ac­ter­is­tic of a sec­tor that no longer restricts itself to man­u­fac­tur­ing activ­i­ty, nor to inter­nal mar­kets. Instead, it is export-ori­ent­ed and prefers the reduc­tion of costs to the ampli­fi­ca­tion of con­sumer pow­er at home.91 The local bour­geoisie has tight­ened its link­ages with for­eign cap­i­tal, but has not dis­ap­peared as a dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed seg­ment. It main­tains its own pre­ten­sions and strate­gies of accu­mu­la­tion, and looks beyond the nation­al con­text, onto the region­al scene.92

The more suc­cess­ful cap­i­tal­ist groups of this kind have become more con­cen­trat­ed and inter­na­tion­al­ized, estab­lish­ing region­al clus­ters called mul­ti­lati­nas. These mul­ti­lati­nas emerged from wealthy fam­i­lies with famil­iar sur­names – Slim (Mex­i­co), Cis­neros (Venezuela), Noboa (Ecuador), San­to Domin­go (Colom­bia), Andróni­co Luc­s­ki (Chile), Bul­gheroni and Roc­ca (Argenti­na), Lemann, Safra, and Moraer (Brazil) – and have tied them­selves to glob­al man­age­ment, and extend­ed their pri­or­i­ties to a region­al scale. Brazil and Mex­i­can mul­ti­lati­nas are lead­ing the pack, fol­lowed by Argen­tine and Chilean enter­pris­es.93 Although these enti­ties are more pow­er­ful than Latin Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions of the past, the region­al cap­i­tal­ist class remains sec­ondary on a glob­al scale, and has lost sig­nif­i­cant ground to com­peti­tors in Asia.94

As not­ed, from below, agrar­i­an lib­er­al­iza­tion has led to the dis­pos­ses­sion of the peas­antry and their exo­dus to the shan­ty­towns of cities, be it in their own coun­tries or else­where.95 The urban labor mar­kets, mean­while, have dete­ri­o­rat­ed with the pri­va­ti­za­tion of state-owned enter­pris­es, the decline of pub­lic sec­tor employ­ment, and the rel­a­tive decline of indus­try. Pre­car­i­ty, a nor­mal fea­ture of cap­i­tal­ism his­tor­i­cal­ly, is extend­ing its purview in the present phase. In a num­ber of coun­tries, mar­gin­al­ized youth have sought refuge in the bur­geon­ing nar­co-econ­o­my, where they often end up con­tribut­ing – in one sense, or the oth­er – to soar­ing homi­cide sta­tis­tics.96 The extrac­tive mod­el of accu­mu­la­tion – agro-indus­try, min­ing, nat­ur­al gas, and oil – cre­ates few jobs, and what indus­tri­al jobs remain are increas­ing­ly “infor­mal­ized,” through the spread­ing use of flex­i­ble, non-union, female work­ers.97  While mid­dle class­es have enjoyed a cer­tain expan­sion of their con­sump­tive pow­er through the exten­sion of cred­it in the midst of high com­mod­i­ty prices, the boom over, and the frag­ile basis of that pow­er is becom­ing increas­ing­ly vis­i­ble.98

Under most Left admin­is­tra­tions, there has been an exten­sion of social assis­tance to tem­per the worst of impov­er­ish­ment. But the prim­ing of cash trans­fers to the extreme poor was only ever a stop­gap, offer­ing no solu­tion to the root caus­es of the prob­lem. Cru­cial­ly, these pro­grams per­sist along­side pre­car­i­ty in, and infor­mal­iza­tion of, the world of work along neolib­er­al lines. While there has been a diminu­tion in income inequal­i­ty in the 21st cen­tu­ry, the aggre­gate gini coef­fi­cient of the region (51.6) remains well above the glob­al aver­age (39.5), and is dou­ble that of the aver­age in advanced economies.99

Geopolitics and Accumulation

Geopo­lit­i­cal trends are inti­mate­ly inter­twined with these struc­tur­al pat­terns of accu­mu­la­tion and class com­po­si­tion. What, for exam­ple, is the new role of Chi­na? As Katz sug­gests, there is lit­tle evi­dence that Chi­na rep­re­sents now, or will rep­re­sent in the near future, a polit­i­cal-mil­i­tary rival to the Unit­ed States in Latin Amer­i­ca. How­ev­er, over the course of the ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry, the dom­i­nant Asian pow­er has become a prin­ci­pal mar­ket for Latin America’s pri­ma­ry mate­r­i­al exports, absorb­ing 40 per­cent of such sales, and an investor of grow­ing impor­tance, with aggre­gate invest­ment ris­ing from mere­ly $15 bil­lion in 2000 to an esti­mat­ed $400 bil­lion in 2017. Par­al­lel to these roles, Chi­na has trans­formed itself into a crit­i­cal line of cred­it to Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries. Between 2005 and 2011, it lent more than $75 bil­lion to Latin Amer­i­ca, sur­pass­ing the sum advanced by the Unit­ed States and the World Bank.

For Katz, how­ev­er, one lim­it of the left turn in the region has been the fail­ure of dif­fer­ent coun­tries to work togeth­er to forge more pro­pi­tious rela­tions with Chi­na. The region missed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to estab­lish intel­li­gent link­ages with the Asian pow­er and coun­ter­bal­ance the influ­ence of the Unit­ed States. Instead, bilat­er­al agree­ments for cred­it and invest­ment have been need­less­ly asym­met­ri­cal.100 While the con­di­tions of Chi­nese loans are bet­ter than those of oth­er inter­na­tion­al cred­i­tors, they are linked to projects of min­ing, ener­gy, and oth­er raw mate­r­i­al pro­vi­sion, which threat­en to lock Latin Amer­i­ca into its depen­dent repro­duc­tion with­in the world sys­tem and sad­dle it with increas­ing debt oblig­a­tions.101

The geopo­lit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion and eco­nom­ic affairs of the Unit­ed States in Latin Amer­i­ca are like­wise dif­fi­cult to pry apart. At the begin­ning of this cen­tu­ry, the prin­ci­pal eco­nom­ic ini­tia­tive of the Unit­ed States in the region was the Free Trade Area of the Amer­i­c­as (FTAA), which envi­sioned a trad­ing and invest­ment bloc link­ing every coun­try from Cana­da in the north to Chile in the south, with the excep­tion of Cuba. When the FTAA was defeat­ed in 2005 by pop­u­lar oppo­si­tion from social move­ments and some left-wing Latin Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments (most notably, Venezuela), the Unit­ed States shift­ed to a strat­e­gy of bilat­er­al trade agree­ments with allied coun­tries – Peru, Chile, and Colom­bia, for exam­ple, with NAFTA already hav­ing incor­po­rat­ed Mex­i­co in 1994. These agree­ments forged the basis for the so-called Pacif­ic Alliance, part of the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship plan. The bilat­er­al trade sig­na­to­ries were all a part of the Latin Amer­i­can com­po­nent of this plan, which would then link with 11 Asian coun­tries in a com­mer­cial and geopo­lit­i­cal encir­clement of Chi­na and run along­side the Transat­lantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP) bind­ing the Unit­ed States and Euro­pean Union. On the geopo­lit­i­cal ter­rain, the Pacif­ic Alliance was intend­ed to con­cretize polit­i­cal ties between the Unit­ed States and right-wing gov­ern­ments in the region so as to bet­ter thwart left­ist ini­tia­tives to devel­op counter-hege­mon­ic region­al alliances, based on sov­er­eign­ty and auton­o­my.102

Amid these tur­bu­lent strate­gic for­ays on the part of the Unit­ed States, Brazil has assumed a vital role as sub-impe­r­i­al arbiter in South Amer­i­ca. Since it need not sub­mit to every whim­sy of Wash­ing­ton – the place of Brazil in the inter­na­tion­al divi­sion of labor is clos­er to Spain than Nicaragua or Ecuador – it has some­times chart­ed an inde­pen­dent polit­i­cal course. Yet the mod­er­ate lead­er­ship of the Work­ers Par­ty (PT) gov­ern­ment since 2003 sought to play broad­ly with­in the accept­ed para­me­ters vis-à-vis the Unit­ed States. In its rel­a­tive auton­o­my, for exam­ple, Brazil sought to defend the expan­sion of its 15 largest mul­ti­lati­nas, often through the chan­nels of its strate­gic inte­gra­tion project (Ini­tia­tive for the Inte­gra­tion of the Region­al Infra­struc­ture of South Amer­i­ca, IIRSA) and its mas­sive devel­op­ment bank, BNDES.

Brazil­ian state man­agers mod­ern­ized the country’s armed forces, attempt­ed to medi­ate major con­flicts in the Mid­dle East, Iran, and Africa, and pur­sued a per­ma­nent seat on the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. There is no oth­er Latin Amer­i­can state oper­at­ing with this lev­el of region­al and inter­na­tion­al pow­er. At the same time, Brazil­ian gov­ern­ments in the 21st cen­tu­ry have har­mo­nized with U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy inso­far as they have allowed Amer­i­can mil­i­tary bases to oper­ate in strate­gic Ama­zon­ian junc­tures, and played a lead­ing role in the col­lec­tive occu­pa­tion of Haiti. Mean­while, even in areas where Brazil’s for­eign pol­i­cy has been rel­a­tive­ly inde­pen­dent of, and in poten­tial con­flict with, the Unit­ed States on one lev­el – IIRSA, BNDES – it has often had the unin­tend­ed effect of strength­en­ing the U.S. posi­tion on anoth­er lev­el. The clear­est exam­ple in this regard is the way in which the Brazil­ian sub-impe­r­i­al pur­suit of the inter­ests of its own biggest cap­i­tals has fre­quent­ly meant the under­min­ing of more rad­i­cal inte­gra­tion projects, such as the Venezue­lan-led Boli­var­i­an Alliance for the Peo­ples of Our Amer­i­c­as (ALBA).103

Antinomies of Regional Integration

Coex­ten­sive with the con­sol­i­da­tion of Cen­ter-Left and Left gov­ern­ments in South Amer­i­ca and parts of Cen­tral Amer­i­ca in the mid-2000s were the first ini­tia­tives to con­struct region­al counter-blocs to North Amer­i­can pow­er in the region. The two most agglom­er­at­ing coop­er­a­tive insti­tu­tions to result were the Union of South Amer­i­can Nations (UNASUR) and the Com­mu­ni­ty of Latin Amer­i­can and Caribbean States (CELAC), both final­ized in 2011. While pro­found­ly het­ero­ge­neous in its polit­i­cal com­po­si­tion – Cuba and Venezuela along­side Mex­i­co and Colom­bia – CELAC, and to some extent UNASUR, rep­re­sent, at a min­i­mum, a sym­bol­ic and diplo­mat­ic blow to the Unit­ed States and Cana­da inso­far as they now rival the Orga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States (OAS), long under­stood on the Latin Amer­i­can Left to be an exten­sion of the Amer­i­can state’s insti­tu­tion­al appa­ra­tus. CELAC specif­i­cal­ly excludes the Unit­ed States, Cana­da, and over­seas Euro­pean ter­ri­to­ries, while it osten­ta­tious­ly includes Cuba104 .

With greater polit­i­cal coher­ence than CELAC or UNASUR, but bur­dened with acumi­nate struc­tur­al lim­i­ta­tions, ALBA rep­re­sent­ed a more assertive bid for anti-impe­ri­al­ist uni­ty. The incip­i­ent insti­tu­tions of ALBA, first launched in 2004, were con­ceived as a sharp­er rup­ture with, and cri­tique of, U.S. pow­er, and were ori­ent­ed toward the pro­mo­tion of a mul­ti­po­lar world order. ALBA led exper­i­men­ta­tions, how­ev­er lim­it­ed, with trade agree­ments and eco­nom­ic asso­ci­a­tions between mem­ber states based on prin­ci­ples of reci­procity rather than free mar­ket norms of com­par­a­tive advan­tage and ruth­less com­pe­ti­tion. Dur­ing the height of the oil boom, ALBA’s key eco­nom­ic projects, Petro­caribe and Pet­ro­sur, as well as its com­mu­ni­ca­tions enter­prise, Telesur, expand­ed rapid­ly, with reg­is­tered impact in their rel­e­vant domains. More ambi­tious ini­tia­tives, such as the Bank of the South and the com­mon cur­ren­cy, Sucre, nev­er real­ly got off the ground, and are today more or less mori­bund. Behind ALBA’s near total implo­sion in recent years looms the prox­i­mate col­lapse of the inter­na­tion­al price of crude in 2014; but the deep­er cause was the fact that of all the mem­ber states – Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Hon­duras (with­drew 2009), Antigua and Bar­bu­da, Domini­ca, Saint Vin­cent and the Grandines, and Saint Lucia – only Venezuela had any seri­ous mate­r­i­al resources to guar­an­tee its repro­duc­tion. Even the Venezue­lan econ­o­my, though, was not com­pa­ra­ble to rel­a­tive­ly indus­tri­al­ized economies in the region – Brazil, Argenti­na, and Mex­i­co – and was thus extreme­ly vul­ner­a­ble to the delayed arrival of the glob­al cri­sis of cap­i­tal­ism that erupt­ed in 2008. The cen­tral mech­a­nism deliv­er­ing the glob­al slump to Venezuela was, clear­ly, the fall of the oil price, the pil­lar of both its domes­tic social pro­grams and its prin­ci­pal geopo­lit­i­cal endeav­our, ALBA.105

The Economic and the Political

Pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics, for Katz, have been out of sync in 21st cen­tu­ry Latin Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. While the two dimen­sions are close­ly relat­ed, with muta­tions in one always imping­ing on the oth­er, they do not always pro­ceed at the same rhythm, or even move in the same direc­tion.106 Polit­i­cal­ly, the Left turn dis­rupt­ed elit­ist cit­i­zen­ship regimes through the demo­c­ra­t­ic con­quests of con­stituent assem­blies and new con­sti­tu­tions in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.107 Left gov­ern­ments have also allowed for maneu­ver room – albeit some­times reluc­tant­ly – to social move­ments from below. Even a cur­so­ry com­par­i­son with the repres­sive regimes of Colom­bia, Peru, and Mex­i­co on this score is instant­ly reveal­ing. In many coun­tries, there has been an ide­o­log­i­cal recov­ery of anti-impe­ri­al­ist tra­di­tions, and the revival of more thor­ough­go­ing con­cep­tions of pop­u­lar sov­er­eign­ty. In some coun­tries the ques­tion of what social­ism might look like in the con­tem­po­rary world was at least raised, if not actu­al­ized.108

And yet these polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal advances failed to trans­late into a trans­for­ma­tion of class struc­tures and Latin America’s sub­or­di­nate inser­tion into the inter­na­tion­al divi­sion of labor. Right wing gov­ern­ments, such as those in Colom­bia and Peru, uti­lized the com­modi­ties boom to fur­ther con­sol­i­date neolib­er­al pil­lars of their economies. Cen­ter-Left gov­ern­ments, like Lula’s in Brazil and Kirchner’s in Argenti­na, entered into mod­est con­fronta­tion with neolib­er­al pre­cepts, while leav­ing oth­ers intact. In more rad­i­cal process­es, such as those in Bolivia and Venezuela, greater breach­es with the inher­it­ed order were put on the agen­da, but rarely – and then, only par­tial­ly – real­ized. The desyn­chro­niza­tion of pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics is an expres­sion, in this instance, of pop­u­lar rebel­lions mit­i­gat­ing the fren­zy of neolib­er­al tor­ment, with­out uproot­ing its ground­work. They were upris­ings strong enough to pre­vent their own rout­ing, but too weak to mature into tri­umphant ant­i­cap­i­tal­ist rev­o­lu­tion.109

For Katz, as for Marx, there are no sta­t­ic for­mu­la­tions of any emp­ty, abstract, uni­ver­sal cap­i­tal­ism, nor of its impe­ri­al­ist forms. At the same time, unlike in the recent work of Borón, one will not find in Katz an autonomous, hyper-con­tin­gent sphere of “geopol­i­tics,” with a log­ic exte­ri­or to the log­ic of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion. Instead, there is a his­tor­i­cal, proces­su­al, and dialec­ti­cal move­ment, where each ana­lyt­i­cal move intro­duces new deter­mi­na­tions and medi­a­tions, as they are artic­u­lat­ed in the total­i­ty of the intense­ly-com­plex, world-cap­i­tal­ist mar­ket. All of this allows for an account­ing of the out-of-sync tem­po­ral­i­ties of pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics, even as these areas are under­stood to be inter­nal­ly relat­ed, retain­ing a dialec­ti­cal uni­ty.


This has been a sketch of broad his­tor­i­cal con­tours, par­tial notes stretch­ing across cen­turies; it is not exhaus­tive, nor does it con­sti­tute the last word on any of the routes of inquiry into which it has wan­dered. This exer­cise has been as much about expos­ing poten­tial­ly fruit­ful avenues of depar­ture as about draw­ing deci­sive con­clu­sions. Indige­nous rebel­lions of 1992 were the return of Columbus’s 1492 repres­sion. The tram­melling of Andean insur­gency in 1780–82, the pre­cur­sor of a hol­low inde­pen­dence in the ear­ly decades of the next cen­tu­ry – the last day of despo­tism, and the first day of the same. Rich trans­mo­gri­fi­ca­tions of “Latin Amer­i­ca” spanned a cou­ple of cen­turies – from French impe­r­i­al apolo­gia, through lib­er­al anti-impe­ri­al­ism, to rev­o­lu­tion­ary nation­al­ist “Nues­tra Améri­ca” and the indige­nous recov­ery of Abya Yala. Marx­ism, in the mean­time, marched through its dis­tinct Latin Amer­i­can phas­es once cap­i­tal­ism made its entry in the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. Extra-par­lia­men­tary revolts of the late 1990s and ear­ly 2000s found only mut­ed and paci­fied expres­sion in the state cap­ture of pas­sive rev­o­lu­tions dur­ing the sub­se­quent com­mod­i­ty boom.110 Latin America’s “Sec­ond Inde­pen­dence” was clos­er to the first than the orig­i­na­tors of that moniker had hoped.

At the time of this writ­ing, the home of Bolí­var is again, by way of encore, alight with the flames of class antag­o­nism, bureau­crat­ic reac­tion, and impe­r­i­al designs. A nec­es­sary axiom, with an eye on his­to­ry, says that the Venezue­lan future ought to be deter­mined by Venezue­lans. Alone, though, this instru­ment is too blunt. “We don’t want the Euro­pean left to tell us how to make the rev­o­lu­tion,” writes Edgar­do Lan­der, “but nei­ther do we need uncrit­i­cal cheer­lead­ing that jus­ti­fies any­thing.” The last word goes to him:

If we under­stand the strug­gle for an anti-cap­i­tal­ist trans­for­ma­tion not as some­thing that hap­pens “over there,” that we are mere­ly going to stand in sol­i­dar­i­ty with, but, instead, as a col­lec­tive strug­gle that involves all of us, then what mis­takes you make affect us, too. So I have the respon­si­bil­i­ty to point that out and to learn from that expe­ri­ence so as not to make the same mis­take…. But we don’t have the capac­i­ty to learn, because sud­den­ly, when the Venezue­lan mod­el ends up col­laps­ing, we’ll look some­where else. And that, as sol­i­dar­i­ty, as inter­na­tion­al­ism, as polit­i­cal-intel­lec­tu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, is dis­as­trous.111

  1. For read­ing sug­ges­tions, thanks to Christy Thorn­ton, Simon Gra­novsky-Larsen, Paulo Drinot, Kirsten Weld, For­rest Hyl­ton, and Pablo Pérez Wil­son. Thanks as well to Adam Hanieh for his enthu­si­as­tic reflec­tions on the ini­tial ver­sion of this piece, and to Robert Cavooris for his atten­tive read­ing and astute sug­ges­tions for revi­sion. 

  2. Steve J. Stern, “Par­a­digms of Con­quest: His­to­ry, His­to­ri­og­ra­phy, and Pol­i­tics,” Jour­nal of Latin Amer­i­can Stud­ies 24 (1992): 1–34. 

  3. CLR James, The Black Jacobins: Tou­s­saint L’Ouverture and the San Domin­go Rev­o­lu­tion (New York: Vin­tage, 1989). 

  4. Ser­gio Serul­nikov, Rev­o­lu­tion in the Andes: The Age of Túpac Amaru (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013); Sin­clair Thom­son, “Sov­er­eign­ty Dis­avowed: The Tupac Amaru Rev­o­lu­tion in the Atlantic World,” Atlantic Stud­ies 13, no. 3 (2016): 407–31; Charles F. Walk­er, The Tupac Amaru Rebel­lion (Cam­bridge, MA: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016); Sin­clair Thom­son, We Alone Will Rule: Native Andean Pol­i­tics in the Age of Insur­gency (Madi­son, WI: Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin Press, 2003). 

  5. Mal­lon Flo­ren­cia, “Indi­an Com­mu­ni­ties, Polit­i­cal Cul­tures, and the State in Latin Amer­i­ca, 1780–1990,” Jour­nal of Latin Amer­i­can Stud­ies 24 (1992): 35–53. 

  6. Jef­fery R. Web­ber, Red Octo­ber: Left-Indige­nous Strug­gles in Mod­ern Bolivia (Chica­go: Hay­mar­ket, 2012). 

  7. Agustín Cue­va, El Pro­ce­so de Dom­i­nación Políti­ca En Ecuador (Mex­i­co City: Edi­to­r­i­al Dió­genes, 1974). 

  8. Michel Gob­at, “The Inven­tion of Latin Amer­i­ca: A Transna­tion­al His­to­ry of Anti-Impe­ri­al­ism, Democ­ra­cy, and Race,” Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Review 118, no. 5 (2013): 1345–75, 1345–46, 1349. 

  9. Gob­at, “The Inven­tion of Latin Amer­i­ca,” 1349. 

  10. Greg Grandin, “Your Amer­i­can­ism and Mine: Amer­i­can­ism and Anti-Amer­i­can­ism in the Amer­i­c­as,” Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Review 111, no. 4 (2006): 1042–66, 1043. 

  11. Gob­at, “The Inven­tion of Latin Amer­i­ca,” 1349. 

  12. Ibid., 1348. 

  13. Grandin, “Your Amer­i­can­ism and Mine,” 1047–48. 

  14. Gob­at, “The Inven­tion of Latin Amer­i­ca,” 1346–47, 1358. 

  15. Ibid., 1356. 

  16. Ibid., 1351. 

  17. Ibid. 

  18. Ibid., 1352. 

  19. Ibid., 1374. 

  20. Grandin, “Your Amer­i­can­ism and Mine,” 1049. 

  21. On the tran­si­tion, see Agustín Cue­va, El desar­rol­lo del cap­i­tal­is­mo en Améri­ca Lati­na: ensayo de inter­pretación históri­ca (Méx­i­co: Siglo XXI, 1990). 

  22. Luis Vitale, “El Marx­is­mo Lati­noamer­i­cano Ante Dos Desafíos: Fem­i­nis­mo Y Cri­sis Ecológ­i­ca,” Nue­va Sociedad 66 (May–June 1983): 90–98, 91. 

  23. José Aricó, Marx Y Améri­ca Lati­na (Mex­i­co City: Folio Edi­ciones, 1980). 

  24. Grandin, “Your Amer­i­can­ism and Mine,” 1049. 

  25. Víc­tor Raúl Haya de la Torre, El Anti­im­pe­ri­al­is­mo Y El APRA (Lima: Fon­do Edi­to­r­i­al del Con­gre­so del Perú, 2010). 

  26. Maris­tel­la Svam­pa, Debates Lati­noamer­i­canos: Indi­an­is­mo, Desar­rol­lo, Depen­den­cia, Pop­ulis­mo (Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2016). 

  27. Omar Acha and Déb­o­ra D’Antonio, “Car­tografía y per­spec­ti­vas del ‘marx­is­mo lati­noamer­i­cano,’” A Con­tra cor­ri­ente 7, no. 2 (2010), 210–56, 228). 

  28. Ibid., 229. 

  29. José Car­los Mar­iátegui, “The Land Prob­lem,” in José Car­los Mar­iátegui: An Anthol­o­gy, eds. Har­ry E. Van­den and Marc Beck­er (New York: Month­ly Review Press, 2011), 69–116, 97. 

  30. Ibid., 98. 

  31. José Car­los Mar­iátegui, “Pro­gram­mat­ic Prin­ci­ples of the Social­ist Par­ty,” in José Car­los Mar­iátegui: An Anthol­o­gy, 237–42; José Car­los Mar­iátegui, “The World Cri­sis and the Peru­vian Pro­le­tari­at,” in José Car­los Mar­iátegui: An Anthol­o­gy, 295–304. 

  32. José Car­los Mar­iátegui, “Anti-Impe­ri­al­ist Point of View,” in José Car­los Mar­iátegui: An Anthol­o­gy, 265–74, 265–66. 

  33. Mar­iátegui, “Anti-Impe­ri­al­ist Point of View,” 272. There are links here between these reflec­tions and Mariátegui’s read­ing of the lim­it­ed social achieve­ments flow­ing out of the War of Inde­pen­dence between 1811 and 1821. While for­mal inde­pen­dence from Spain was achieved, the inter­nal hier­ar­chies of class and racial strat­i­fi­ca­tion remained intact, and new forms of eco­nom­ic sub­or­di­na­tion to dif­fer­ent dom­i­nant pow­ers emerged on an inter­na­tion­al scale as Peru was insert­ed ever more thor­ough­ly into the machi­na­tions of the world mar­ket. The inde­pen­dence rev­o­lu­tion, Mar­iátegui is at pains to point out, was car­ried for­ward for the ben­e­fit of cre­oles (descen­dants of Span­ish colo­nial­ists born in Peru), and express­ly against the indige­nous peas­ant major­i­ty, even if the indige­nous mass­es were enlist­ed in the bat­tles. The Peru­vian inde­pen­dence rev­o­lu­tion “did not bring in a new rul­ing class…. The colony’s land­hold­ing aris­toc­ra­cy, the own­er of pow­er, retained their feu­dal rights over land and, there­fore, over the Indi­ans.” José Car­los Mar­iátegui, “On the Indige­nous Prob­lem: A Brief His­tor­i­cal Overview,” in José Car­los Mar­iátegui: An Anthol­o­gy, 145–50, 147. 

  34. Aldo A. Lau­ria-San­ti­a­go and Jef­frey Gould, To Rise in Dark­ness: Rev­o­lu­tion, Repres­sion, and Mem­o­ry in El Sal­vador, 1920–1932 (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2008). 

  35. Michael Löwy, “Intro­duc­ción: Pun­tos de ref­er­en­cia para una his­to­ria del marx­is­mo en Améri­ca Lati­na,” in El marx­is­mo en Améri­ca Lati­na: antología, des­de 1909 has­ta nue­stros días (San­ti­a­go de Chile: LOM, 2007), 9–67, 23. 

  36. Ibid., 9–10. 

  37. Greg Grandin, The Last Colo­nial Mas­sacre: Latin Amer­i­ca in the Cold War, 2nd ed. (Chica­go ; Lon­don: Uni­ver­si­ty Of Chica­go Press, 2011). 

  38. Gilbert M. Joseph and Greg Grandin, eds., A Cen­tu­ry of Rev­o­lu­tion: Insur­gent and Coun­terin­sur­gent Vio­lence dur­ing Latin America’s Long Cold War (Durham NC: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press Books, 2010); J. Patrice McSh­er­ry, Preda­to­ry States: Oper­a­tion Con­dor and Covert War in Latin Amer­i­ca (Lan­ham, MD: Row­man & Lit­tle­field Pub­lish­ers, 2005). 

  39. Maris­tel­la Svam­pa, Debates lati­noamer­i­canos : indi­an­is­mo, desar­rol­lo, depen­den­cia y pop­ulis­mo (Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2016), chap­ter 3. 

  40. Louis Althuss­er et al., Read­ing Cap­i­tal: The Com­plete Edi­tion, trans. Ben Brew­ster et al. (Lon­don ; New York: Ver­so, 2016). 

  41. Eco­nom­ic struc­tural­ism here refers to a mid-cen­tu­ry cur­rent of Latin Amer­i­can thought which empha­sized unequal terms of trade in the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket and advo­cat­ed poli­cies of import-sub­sti­tu­tion indus­tri­al­iza­tion. Pre­em­i­nent fig­ures were Argen­tin­ian Raúl Pre­bisch and Brazil­ian Cel­so Fur­ta­do. 

  42. Svam­pa, Debates Lati­noamer­i­canos. 

  43. Fer­nan­do Hen­rique Car­doso and Enzo Falet­to, Depen­den­cia y desar­rol­lo en Améri­ca Lati­na (Méx­i­co: Siglo XXI, 1978). 

  44. Andre Gun­der Frank, El desar­rol­lo del sub­de­sar­rol­lo: Soci­ología del desar­rol­lo y sub­de­sar­rol­lo de la soci­ología (Barcelona: Ana­gra­ma, 1971). 

  45. Theotônio dos San­tos, Impe­ri­al­is­mo y depen­den­cia (Méx­i­co: Edi­ciones Era, 1978); Theoto­nio Dos San­tos, Social­is­mo O Fas­cis­mo: El Nue­vo Carác­ter de la Depen­den­cia Y El Dile­ma Lati­noamer­i­cano (Buenos Aires: Edi­ciones Per­ife­ria S.R.L., 1972). 

  46. Vania Bam­bir­ra, El cap­i­tal­is­mo depen­di­ente lati­noamer­i­cano (Méx­i­co: Siglo XXI, 1999). 

  47. Ruy Mau­ro Mari­ni, Dialéc­ti­ca de la depen­den­cia (Méx­i­co: Edi­ciones Era, 1982); Ruy Mau­ro Mari­ni, Sub­de­sar­rol­lo y rev­olu­ción (Méx­i­co: Siglo Vein­tiuno Edi­tores, 1975). 

  48. Acha and D’Antonio, “Car­tografia,” 224. 

  49. Web­ber, The Last Day of Oppres­sion, and the First Day of the Same: The Pol­i­tics and Eco­nom­ics of the New Latin Amer­i­can Left (Chica­go: Hay­mar­ket, 2017), chap­ter 2. 

  50. Daniel Ben­saïd, An Impa­tient Life: A Mem­oir, trans. David Fern­bach (Lon­don; New York: Ver­so, 2015). 

  51. Atilio Borón, Améri­ca Lati­na en la geopolíti­ca del impe­ri­al­is­mo (Hon­dar­rib­ia: Edi­to­r­i­al Hiru, 2013). 

  52. Ibid., chap­ter 6. 

  53. Ibid., 106–09 

  54. Ibid., 237–39. 

  55. Ibid., 220–21. 

  56. Ibid., n. 35, p. 367, p. 265, n. 211, p. 402. 

  57. Ibid., 190; 201. 

  58. Ibid., 200. 

  59. Ibid., 204–05. 

  60. Peter Winn, “The Furies of the Andes: Vio­lence and Ter­ror in the Chilean Rev­o­lu­tion and Coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion,” in A Cen­tu­ry of Rev­o­lu­tion: Insur­gent and Coun­terin­sur­gent Vio­lence Dur­ing Latin America’s Long Cold War (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2010), 239–75, 271–72. 

  61. Atilio Borón, “La ‘batal­la de Stal­in­gra­do’ se librará en Ecuador,” Rebe­lión, Feb­ru­ary 6, 2017; Atilio Borón, “Trump: el otro fin de ciclo,” Rebe­lión, Novem­ber 10, 2016; Atilio Borón, “Venezuela: no callar, pero para decir la ver­dad,” Rebe­lión, May 13, 2017; Atilio Borón, “Venezuela sum­i­da en la guer­ra civ­il,” Rebe­lión, May 25, 2017. 

  62. Clau­dio Katz, Bajo el impe­rio del cap­i­tal (Buenos Aires: Edi­ciones Lux­em­burg, 2011); Clau­dio Katz, Neolib­er­al­is­mo, Neode­sar­rol­lis­mo, Social­is­mo (Buenos Aires: Batal­la de Ideas, 2016). 

  63. Katz, Bajo el impe­rio del cap­i­tal, 41, 161. 

  64. Ibid., chap­ter 1. 

  65. Ibid., 161. 

  66. Ellen Meiksins Wood, Empire of Cap­i­tal (Lon­don; New York: Ver­so, 2005). 

  67. Ibid., 12. 

  68. Col­in Moo­ers, Impe­r­i­al Sub­jects: Cit­i­zen­ship in an Age of Cri­sis and Empire (New York: Blooms­bury Aca­d­e­m­ic, 2014), 5. 

  69. Katz, Bajo el impe­rio del cap­i­tal, 45. 

  70. Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monop­oly Cap­i­tal (Har­mondsworth, Mid­dle­sex: Pen­guin Books, 1973); Paul A. Baran, Monop­oly Cap­i­tal: An Essay on the Amer­i­can Eco­nom­ic and Social Order (New York: Month­ly Review Press, 1966); John Bel­lamy Fos­ter and Robert Water­man McCh­es­ney, The End­less Cri­sis: How Monop­oly-Finance Cap­i­tal Pro­duces Stag­na­tion and Upheaval from the USA to Chi­na (New York: Month­ly Review Press, 2012). 

  71. Katz, Bajo el impe­rio del cap­i­tal, 143. 

  72. Ibid., 45. 

  73. Ibid., 43, 51. 

  74. Ibid., 172. 

  75. Ibid., 54. 

  76. Ibid., 104–10. 

  77. Ibid., 64. 

  78. Ibid., 65. 

  79. Katz, Neolib­er­al­is­mo, Neode­sar­rol­lis­mo, Social­is­mo, 44. 

  80. Ibid., 34. 

  81. Ibid. 

  82. Todd Gor­don and Jef­fery R. Web­ber, Blood of Extrac­tion: Cana­di­an Impe­ri­al­ism in Latin Amer­i­ca (Win­nipeg: Fer­n­wood Pub­lish­ing, 2016). 

  83. José Seoane, Emilio Tad­dei, and Clara Algra­nati, Extrac­tivis­mo, Despo­jo Y Cri­sis Climáti­ca: Desafíos Para Los Movimien­tos Sociales Y Los Proyec­tos Eman­ci­pa­to­rios de Nues­tra Améri­ca (Buenos Aires: Edi­ciones Her­ramien­ta, 2013). 

  84. Katz, Neolib­er­al­is­mo, Neode­sar­rol­lis­mo, Social­is­mo, 35. 

  85. Ibid. 

  86. Ibid. 

  87. Ibid., 387 

  88. Ibid., 36. 

  89. Ibid., 37. 

  90. Ibid., 39. 

  91. Ibid. 

  92. Ibid., 40. 

  93. Ibid., 39. 

  94. Ibid., 40. 

  95. Susan Fer­gu­son and David McNal­ly, “Pre­car­i­ous Migrants: Gen­der, Race and the Social Repro­duc­tion of a Glob­al Work­ing Class,” Social­ist Reg­is­ter 51 (2015), 1–23. 

  96. Katz, Neolib­er­al­is­mo, Neode­sar­rol­lis­mo, Social­is­mo, 42–43. 

  97. Ibid., 43; Ale­jan­dro Portes and Kel­ly Hoff­man, “Latin Amer­i­can Class Struc­tures: Their Com­po­si­tion and Change dur­ing the Neolib­er­al Era,” Latin Amer­i­can Research Review 38, no. 1 (2003), 41–82; Amy Hite and Joce­lyn S. Viter­na, “Gen­der­ing Class in Latin Amer­i­ca: How Women Effect and Expe­ri­ence Change in the Class Struc­ture,” Latin Amer­i­can Research Review 40, no. 2 (2005), 50–82. 

  98. Katz, Neolib­er­al­is­mo, Neode­sar­rol­lis­mo, Social­is­mo, 44. 

  99. Ibid. 

  100. Ibid., 388. 

  101. Ibid., 50. 

  102. Ibid., 50–51. 

  103. Ibid., 55–56. 

  104. Ibid., 58. 

  105. Ibid., 72. 

  106. Ibid., 74. 

  107. Ibid., 386. 

  108. Ibid., 386–87. 

  109. Ibid., 74. 

  110. Mas­si­mo Mod­one­si, “Rev­olu­ciones pasi­vas en Améri­ca Lati­na: Una aprox­i­mación gram­s­ciana a la car­ac­ter­i­zación de los gob­ier­nos pro­gre­sis­tas,” in El Esta­do en Améri­ca Lati­na: Con­tinuidades y rup­turas (Buenos Aires: CLACSO, 2012), 139–66. 

  111. Edgar­do Lan­der, “Sociól­o­go vene­zolano cues­tiona la ‘sol­i­dari­dad incondi­cional’ de la izquier­da lati­noamer­i­cana con el chav­is­mo,” La Diaria, March 23, 2017. 

Author of the article

is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London. He sits on the editorial board of Historical Materialism. His most recent books are The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left (Haymarket, 2017), and, with Todd Gordon, Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America (Fernwood, 2016).