This panel brings together leading Marxist political economists to discuss a range of themes related to contemporary capitalism and state power in Latin America. The subject matter to be covered by the panel ranges from theoretical and empirical investigation into agrarian rent and extractivism, the contradictions of counter-hegemonic regional integration projects such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), state forms, state policies, and development models, and competing theories of left strategy concerning social movements, political parties, and state power. One paper will focus on Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, another on Venezuela and ALBA, another on Argentina, and another on the region as a whole.
Chair: Susan Spronk
Uneven Development, Class Politics and the Inertia of ALBA
The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) represents the most dramatic regional departure from neoliberal free trade in Latin America in the past two decades, based on principles of anti-imperialism, mutual development, and barter exchange. Since 2015 however, trade and social programs between member countries have deteriorated, while regional support for ALBA has declined. Of the iterations of twenty-first century Latin American regionalism, the success of ALBA in particular appears to be contingent on the distinct social, political and economic forces that accompanied the rise of Latin America’s pink tide. This paper relies on theories of uneven and combined development to trace the international, regional and national forces and structures that have shaped the development trajectory of the ALBA since it was created in 2005. It argues that ALBA’s characteristics are not only constituted by relations between member countries, but are also shaped by international relations of power, and local class politics, which compel states to cooperate at the regional level in order to improve their positioning in the global capitalist system. It situates ALBA as an attempt to reconfigure international space and geopolitical relations of power that is driven by class configurations within member countries.
The Argentinean frustration: notes on development failure, the state and state policies
Many analysts saw the result of the 2015 presidential election in Argentina and the coming to power of the right wing coalition led by Mauricio Macri as a way out from the impasse of the pink tide. Macri’s agenda of economic liberalization and austerity combined with the goals of eradicating streets politics and populist patterns of allocation of state resources seemed a cogent strategy to disentangle the problems that had led to economic stagnation and instability and relaunch capital accumulation in the country. As Macri leaves power in 2019 amidst a long recession, fiscal and external crises, spiralling inflation, poor social and labour indicators and an impending debt crisis, discussions about ill-conceived polices and poor policy implementation have intensified.
In this paper, I will argue that Argentina’s development failure go beyond Macri’s policies and beyond policy formulation and implementation for that matter. Moreover, the focus on policies as the culprit of Argentina’s predicament is based on the illusion that the action of the state suffices to address the development dilemmas of the country. This in turn is based on a notion of state autonomy that exaggerates the role of the government’s political will and policymaking while neglecting class balances and the ways in which these balances are socially structured and politically expressed. An analysis that takes into account the complex ensemble of structure and class underpinning policies and policymaking is better suited to explain Argentina’s development conundrum.
Enough of extractivism, the reality and the concept: The importance of understanding rent to understand social conflicts in Latin America
The concept of “extractivism” acquired a strong popularity over the last decade, and like “dependency” in the 1970s, its meaning is becoming increasingly blurry. Extractivism was originally used to describe economies highly dependent on mining and hydrocarbon extraction. It then included monocrop agriculture for export and recently, Sassen (2018) discussed financial accumulation based on student loans with the same concept. This article argues that overstretching the concept confuses extractivism with capitalism, and obfuscates the specificities of the extractive sector: its economic impact, the protests it elicits, and the kinds of relationships it begets between the state, domestic economic elites, multinational capital and exploited classes in countries rich in extractive resources.
Using comparative political economy, this article stresses the necessity to differentiate the underground rent from the ground rent and profits to understand the specificity of extractivism. The underground rent tends to accrue to a very different set of actors, and therefore entails different kinds of social conflicts. This article assesses the role of underground rent in social conflicts in Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, countries where the extractive sector varies in importance, to better isolate the impact of extractivism on social conflicts that emerge between the state, multinational investors, capitalist classes and the popular sector. It concludes that the underground rent is mostly disputed between the state and multinational corporations, therefore potentially empowering the state relatively to other actors.
Left Strategy and Political Economy in Latin America: Movements, Parties, and State Power
Jeffery R. Webber
This paper will survey the dominant currents of thought within Latin American Marxism concerning socialist political strategy in the twenty-first century, paying special attention to social movements, parties, and state power. It situates these intellectual debates on a continuum from autonomy through hegemony, with reference to various political experiences of popular struggle and left governance across the variegated Pink Tide from the late 1990s to the present.