Andre Gunder Frank: a critique

Louis Proyect wrote: "Rather, the most telling points are the history of the countries I know best, those of Latin America. There never were bourgeois revolutions in Latin America. The reason for this is that the old-time Spanish aristocracy was _not_ in a class conflict with the ascending bourgeoisie. This has been commented on openly by Marxists and non-Marxists alike. Countries like Peru and Bolivia are still gripped by social and economic institutions that are rooted in the 16th century. The church has prerogatives that it has nowhere else, for example. These lingering traces led Mariategui to describe Peru as semi-feudal."

I know some ( though not enough) of the history Lou gives here. I would like Lou or someone equally knowledgeable of that history to comment on an argument Andre Gunder Frank made in one or two of his early books (whether he himself still holds the position I do not know). I believe what Lou presents and Franks position 25 years ago are compatible, but I am interested in their overlap or difference. (As part of his general argument Frank coined a wonderful term for the Southern Slavedrives: a Lumpen Bourgeoisie.) His argument was that in the 19th c. every nation in Latin America suffered through a civil war that divided up roughly as did the U.S. Civil War, both sides being "bourgeois," but different wings of the bourgeoisie. On one side were the merchants and landowners, on the other side (I for get his exact term) a sector of the bourgeoisie at least remotely analogous to what is sometimes called a "national bourgeoisie." The former, he went on to argue, were tied essentially to British interests: the landowners wished high prices for their products, low prices for tools and luxury goods, which tied them to the Merchants whose interest was in conducting this trade between domestic landowners and British industrialists. This side's major interest then was in low tariffs, or at least that interest tended to focus their whole collection of interests. On the otherside was the embryonic class-sector of manufacturers, who wished cheap food for their workers and high prices (without foreign competition) for their products (e.g., farm machinery). Frank went on to argue that in every nation of the Western hemisphere *except* the United States the landowner-merchant sector won the Civil War, the last of which wracked Chile in the 1890s, just as England was being replaced by the United States as the preeminent outside power to which the landowners-merchants tied their fortunes. It has been many years since I read Frank and I probably have not given a wholly accurate summary. Nevertheless the analysis makes at least immediate sense, and I would like to know how well it has held up in the years since I read it. It certainly dispenses with the "feudal-bourgeois" analysis, but it is also compatible with *some* of the political implications drawn from that perspective.

-- Carrol Cox  


 I hope I count among the knowledgeable ones. I am against AGF's description, not only because it is unfaithful to actual facts, but essentially because it has served (and still serves) in Latin America to oppose -with a very elaborate "Leftist" rhethoric- national and popular movements. Though there are some valuable elements in it, the essence of the position aims at an ultra-leftist block rejection of mass movements in Latin America unless they declare themselves socialist from the very onset. If the whole 19th century is to be explained in terms of bourgeoisie vs. bourgeoisie, if the Cadiz Cortes and the generation of Latin American independence were mere fractions of the same class, then the problem of accumulation within the boundaries of a controlled territory (the problem of auto-centered vs. extrovert economies, as Amin puts it very adequately) lacks any interest, and attempts at solving it from a point of departure different than socialism are to be denounced as bourgeois nationalism, masses supporting it are to be contemptuously labeled backward, and the political expressions of those movements are to be branded Fascist (thus falling into the same field with the State Department, as almost all of the Argentine left, Frankian avant la lettre, did in 1945).

In political practice if not in words (and this should also be discussed) the positions of AGF are a Left wing expression of Tom Nairn's views. I believe AGF built his schema departing from a criticism of the "Popular Front" theses of the Communist Parties, theses that would generally take them to look for "feudal" and "bourgeois" sections in every Latin American country, then supporting the latter. Most usually than not, they identified the bourgeois section with the "modern" sector of the formation, the sector of foreign capital and its local partners. Thus, they ended up in the same trench with the imperialists.

The departure was too large, however, and AGF has gone to the opposite wall. During the sixties, it was very trendy to quote AGF to dismiss the main mass movement in Argentina, Peronism. And this is consistent: if the 19th century had been a quarrel between bourgeois fractions, then Peronism, an attempt to build a bourgeois Argentine with a self-centered economy, was organically reactionary. The capitalism we had was, essentially, the same capitalism the USA or France had, only that it was a "lumpencapitalism" (a wonderful example of self-derogatory rhethoric when in the mouth of a Latin American, cultural colonialism may take so strange shapes!). There would be no difference between Peronism and its right wing oponents.

To say the least, history has not been very tender on this prediction.

It is too late today, and I will expand on this tomorrow, but I needed to stress my opposition to _this_ interpretation. AGF disregards the national question in his rendering, and his local followers in Latin America do the same. There has been an excellent refutation of AGF by Rodolfo Puiggros, which I will look for in my library and post (at least in a summary translation) on the list.

AGF, for all his support to the Incas (BTW: did he mean the Incas, the ruling ethnic group of the Empire, or the Andean indians as a whole? If the last, he was wrong, for the Inca Empire subjected many partialities, and usually not through delicate persuasion but through the more traditional means of war, conquest and tribute), ranks with the long lineage of "Leftists" who, want it or not (and most certainly not wanting it) beat popular governments in Latin America from the Left (oh, what a Left!) until they are beaten down by the Right.

I know this will be irritating, so I promise I will expand.

Bolivar knew better than AGF when he exclaimed "Allow us to carry on our own Middle Ages by ourselves!".

Regards to all.

--Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky