On A.V. Kharlamenko’s:

“The Historical Experience of Latin America
In the Light of Lenin’s Concept of Imperialism”

 

Reviewed by В. N. Chechentsev

 

January 4, 2019

 

 

The journal Marxism and Modernity No. 55-56 for 2016-2017 published, as the editors point out, excerpts from A. V. Kharlamenko’s book The Historical Experience of Latin America in the Light of the Leninist Concept of Imperialism. The huge amount of material on the history of the development of modern forms of political and economic life in the countries of the region and the analysis of the liberation movement and anti-imperialist struggle in them generalized in the book makes the book a valuable source for understanding the controversial processes that take place in the Latin American area.

 

At the same time, the author does not hide the fact that his vision of reality is conducted through the prism of Lenin’s conception of imperialism. Drawing on its methodological richness, the author gives, as will be shown below, an assessment of the shape and prospects of social change in this region. Of particular importance is the author’s emphasis on the understanding of imperialism not only as some frozen stage in the development of capitalism, but also as unfolding in time and space.

 

“Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development when the domination of monopolies and financial capital has taken shape, the export of capital has acquired outstanding importance, the division of the world by international trusts has begun and the division of the earth by the largest capitalist countries has been completed.” (V. I. Lenin).

 

 

Quoting this well-known classical definition, as we see, A.V. Kharlamenko highlights the temporal aspect of this definition, which allows him to describe the specific features of imperialist expansion directed at Latin America.

 

 

Considering the process of imperialist enslavement of Latin American countries, the author singles out as its important prerequisite the rivalry which lasted throughout the nineteenth century, first of all, between Great Britain and the USA for the assertion of domination in this region. At the same time other European countries actively participated in the division of spheres of influence up to the beginning of the First World War which ensured the full hegemony of the USA in the Western Hemisphere by weakening the economic and political positions of the European imperialist countries.

 

 

The author quite reasonably explains the main reason for the emergence of wars in this region in that period, linking their specificity to the predominance there of the division of spheres of influence between powerful corporations, rather than directly between imperialist powers. As a result the redistribution of spheres of influence took place primarily between these corporations, of course, with the support of their state.

 

 

The author elaborates on the problem of the historical evolution of the forms of dependence of Latin American countries on the centers of the world system of capitalism. It is shown that these forms cannot be reduced to the traditional forms of colonial and semi-colonial dependence characteristic of Asian and African countries. The reason here is that the process of capitalist development in the Latin American region began earlier and by the beginning of the nineteenth century had reached a level at which the forces expressing the interests of national capital were able to reject colonial status and win political independence.

 

 

A.V. Kharlamenko defines the prevailing form of dependence of most Latin American countries, beginning with the Spanish-American War of 1898, as “neocolonial”. At the same time he states that “…to this form of dependence, unlike others, the opposition of ‘comprador’ and ‘national’ bourgeoisie is inapplicable. It is difficult to agree with this. After all, the author himself describes in some detail the twists and turns of resistance of a number of Latin American states to the exorbitant appetites of the leading imperialist powers, and in some cases their conscious pursuit of an anti-imperialist policy.

 

 

Nevertheless, contrary to the illusions of certain sections of the national bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeois democracy, the Latin American countries are not destined to achieve genuine sovereignty outside socialism. The author attributes this not only to economic conditions, but also to the widespread intervention of imperialism to rein in recalcitrant countries.

 

 

The most important part of the work is an analysis of the revolutionary experience of Latin American countries. Understanding of this experience in Soviet historiography was not given the attention it deserved.

 

 

The author dwells in detail on the problem of historical evolution of the forms of dependence of Latin American countries on the centers of the world system of capitalism. It is shown that these forms cannot be reduced to the traditional forms of colonial and semi-colonial dependence characteristic of Asian and African countries. The reason here is that the process of capitalist development in the Latin American region began earlier and by the beginning of the nineteenth century had reached a level at which the forces expressing the interests of national capital were able to reject colonial status and win political independence.

 

 

The most important part of the work is an analysis of the revolutionary experience of Latin American countries. Understanding of this experience in Soviet historiography was not given the attention it deserved.

 

 

It was considered quite scientific that, in view of the “feudal backwardness” of these countries, the liberation movement had been solving the problems of anti-feudal revolution under the leadership of national bourgeoisie up to the second half of twentieth century. The proletariat should help, if possible, to establish democratic foundations in the country, and the struggle for socialism should be postponed until a developed capitalism is formed in the country.

 

 

The author adopts an approach that puts capitalist dependence, not feudal backwardness, in the forefront. Paying tribute to the proponents of this approach, he sets forth the essence of this concept as follows: “…while in Western Europe, North America and Japan the formation of capitalism was determined primarily by the development of national production and the domestic market, in the colonial-dependent periphery of the capitalist world, the oldest part of which was Latin America, it was determined first of all by the forced involvement of these regions in the international division of labor” (p. 72)

 

 

Having prepared the reader to understand the dependent nature of the economic and social development of Latin American countries, the author moves on to reveal the peculiarities of the liberation movement in them.

 

 

Kharlamenko quite reasonably formulates the features characteristic of its historically defined stages. He establishes three stages of the liberation movement, different “…not only by forms of property and power, which were abolished and permitted as a result, but also by the forms of dependent inclusion of the country in the world capitalist system, against which revolutions were objectively turned” (p.74).

 

 

The first stage covers the period from the end of the eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century. It is marked by the bourgeois revolutions in the countries of the region, the elimination of the colonial possessions of Spain and Portugal.

 

 

The second stage is from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1950s of the twentieth century with the overthrow of the latifundist-bourgeois oligarchy and coming to power of the industrial bourgeois circles with the support of the middle strata, workers and peasants. That was the time when the dependence of those countries on imperialism became stronger, particularly with the founding of the Organization of American States in 1948.

 

 

The third stage of the Latin American liberation struggle is characterized by a strong increase in the influence of the workers’ movement and communists in the region, which lasted from 1960 to 1989. During this period, various forms of class struggle, peaceful and violent methods of taking power by working class-led workers were tested in the region.

 

 

Nevertheless, contrary to the illusions of certain segments of the national bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeois democracy, the countries of Latin America are not destined to achieve genuine sovereignty outside socialism. The author attributes this not only to economic conditions, but also to the widespread intervention of imperialism to rein in recalcitrant countries.

 

 

The most important part of the work is an analysis of the revolutionary experience of Latin American countries. Understanding of this experience in Soviet historiography was not given the attention it deserved.

 

 

It was considered quite scientific that, in view of the “feudal backwardness” of these countries, the liberation movement had been solving the problems of anti-feudal revolution under the leadership of national bourgeoisie up to the second half of twentieth century. The proletariat should help, if possible, to establish democratic foundations in the country, and the struggle for socialism should be postponed until a developed capitalism is formed in the country.

 

 

It was at the dawn of this period that the “chain” of U.S. imperialist domination in the Western Hemisphere was broken – the socialist revolution in Cuba won. The author stresses that the objective prerequisites for the transition from capitalism to socialism were in place in Latin America. But, as he notes with conviction, “The whole experience of the region prompts us to consider the idea of achieving socialism by ‘bypassing’ the dictatorship of the proletariat as a utopia, whose place is only where both kinds of perpetuum mobile [perpetual motion machine] reside” (p. 76).

 

 

Did Latin American countries other than Cuba have a chance of transition to socialism? The author unequivocally answers that they were. But these chances were not used to the full, both because of the insufficient maturity of the communist and workers’ parties in those countries where the revolutionary situation had arrived, and because of the substantial influence of an external factor (the balance of forces of socialism and imperialism on a world scale). “Decisive in this respect,” A.V. Kharlamenko rightly argues, “is the state of world socialism, its ability to support a revolutionary country at the right moment and in the proper forms, and ultimately to accept it into its international system, as Cuba was fortunate to do” (p. 77).

 

 

The deepening contradictions in the world system of socialism, above all between the USSR and the PRC, objectively weakened the ability of these two countries to assist countries subject to imminent imperialist intervention, which found expression in the defeat or retreat of the revolutionary processes already unfolding.

 

 

The progressive development of the revolutionary movement in the Latin American region was dealt a heavy blow by the defeat of European socialism led by the USSR. Perhaps only Cuba managed to maintain the high prestige of socialism without retreating in the face of the imperialist American monster.

 

 

The leading role in resisting imperialism’s attempts to return the region to its full economic and political dominance was taken by heroic Cuba, which experienced a “special period in peacetime,” and Venezuela, led by President Hugo Chavez. Among leftist theorists, including some communists, the notion of a new path for Latin American countries toward socialism, the so-called “socialism of the 21st century,” became widespread. However, life has not confirmed expectations of great victories from the application of the innovations of the adherents of this path.

 

 

The successes of the liberation movement of 1990-2010 were replaced by a counteroffensive of reaction. The author is not inclined to simplify the serious problems currently facing the “left turn”. At the same time he is convinced that “…the potential of the anti-imperialist movement is far from exhausted” (p.82).

 

 

This conviction of the author is not based on a predilection for banal phrases, characteristic of the dilettantes of the left movement, but on a thoughtful study of the course of social development.

 

 

 

-Translated from the Russian with www.DeepL.com/Translator

This article appeared at North Star Compass