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Róbinson Rojas Sandford
Doctoral dissertation, London, 1985
[pp. 157-160]



The period analyzed in this section roughly covers from the XIX century onwards. During that period Latin America became politically independent from the colonial powers Spain and Portugal, fragmented in a score of nation states, economically underdeveloped as compared with the industrialized countries of Western Europe and North America, and tied to an international economic system which apparently maintains Latin American nations in a state of economic backwardness, political instability, and, most important, striking social inequalities.

I will argue that the structure of class relations existing in the region at the beginning of the period in question determined (1) the manner and degree in which external political and economic pressures did effect already existing patterns in the distribution of income and economic growth (2). Therefore I will argue that the present state of socio-economic underdevelopment (3) in Latin America is the outcome determined by the particular social structure that took shape in colonial times. A social structure created by the Ibero-American colonial system: a specific social formation with a specific mode of production as its basis, which I called the Latin American mode of production (LAMP).

On the other hand, in accordance with the concept developed in the First Section - collision of modes of production - I will argue that in the process of encounter between the LAMP and the capitalist mode of production, the latter was a necessary but not sufficient condition to underdevelop the region.


At this stage of my argument it is necessary to introduce some of the concepts I use as tools in the analysis of such agricultural social formations as the Ibero American in the XVIII and XIX centuries.

THE CONCEPT OF CLASSES - In any social formation the organisation of the process of production causes the grouping of the members of society into classes. The organisation of the process of production is constituted by the relations between the agents of that process: direct producers, objects of production, means of production, and non-producers. The set of these relations constitutes a historically specific arrangement. In its turn, this arrangement is a historic product: the outcome of the struggle between the class of direct producers and the class of non-producers. This struggle, at the level of process of production, derives from the contradiction existing between the immediate process of production and the outcome of this process of production. That is, between the level of actual production and the level of social organisation:

THE IMMEDIATE PROCESS OF PRODUCTION, in which the relations are between the direct producers, to their tools and to the land (the main means of production in an agricultural mode of production). In Marxian historiography this is called the labour process, and its agents the social forces of production;

THE OUTCOME OF THE PROCESS OF PRODUCTION, which resolves itself in the manner in which the distribution of the produce is made between direct-producers, non-producers, and replacement of means of production and objects of production already worn out. Here the fundamental relations are amongst direct-producers and non-producers. They are:

"the inherently conflictive relations of property - always generated directed or indirectly, in the last analysis, by force - by which an unpaid-for part of the product is extracted from the direct-producers by a class of non-producers - which might be called the 'property relations' or the 'surplus extraction relationships'... (4).

So, the set of relations contained by these two aspects might be defined as the social relations of production, which embody the organisation of the process of production. Hence, the definition of the fundamental classes in a social formation is therefore given by the "surplus extraction relationships" or "property relations" - in a twofold meaning of ownership and/or possession which belongs to the mode of production that is determinant in the social formation in question.

Consequently, a particular class structure persists through time - if there are no external agents such as military conquest and/or destruction by a different social formation - depending on the outcome of the struggles between the class of non- producers and the class of direct producers. The former will intend to maintain the current class structure, the latter will try to destroy or modify it. If the class of direct-producers triumphs, a new class structure will replace the old one. In its turn, this new class structure will have its limits of change posed by the balance of power between the two fundamental classes in conflict after their previous struggle, and so forth. The different processes of transition from feudalism to capitalism in the various countries of Western Europe is clear a case in point.

In the case of Latin America during XVIII-XIX centuries, the class of non-producers managed to defeat every single struggle against it carried out by the class of direct-producers, with the result that the class structure based on hacienda-peon surplus extracting relationship remained unchanged (5).

THE CONCEPT OF LIMITS - from the above it follows that causes and effects interact with each other in social formations. Moreover, what in the first place was a cause of a particular effect, can be transformed into an effect of its effect, the latter now becoming a cause. For example, class structure as effect of the organisation of the process of labour, can become the cause for a different organisation of the process of labour.

So, in the first stage, the particularities of an organisation of the process of production poses limits to the variations of its correspondent social structure. In the second stage, it is this class structure which poses the limits within which the organisation of the process of production can vary. This leads us to the use of the concept of limits in a given social formation. Those limits are posed, simultaneously, by the material and the social conditions of production. But, in a historically given period one of them determines the outcome. For instance, in colonial times the material conditions of production in the continent determined the shaping of the relations of production hacendado-peon. Conversely, in post- colonial times, the existent social structure determined the making of what is called Latin American underdevelopment.

This concept of limit is basic to my argument and requires further elaboration. For the moment, let us say that these limits derive from the interaction between the set of relations and each one of the these relations within a social formation (6).

It is common knowledge that, commencing in the XIX century, the economic and political encroachment of the capitalist mode of production in Latin America - mostly through what has been called "trade imperialism" of the British Empire - was the most important external influence in the region. It is also common knowledge that following the independence wars there was a relative scarcity of money capital in the former Iberian colonies, and that contemporaneous with that scarcity there was a dumping of British manufactures into the area. Nevertheless, neither these "relative scarcity factors" nor the trade imperialism in itself were the decisive factors in setting the path of socio-economic development that the Latin American nation-states have been following until the present. The determining factor was the class structure existing at the time they achieved independence.



1) My notion of DETERMINATION here must be understood (as through all my thesis) as both pressure and limitation placed by a particular aspect within a social formation to the forms of development (social and/or economic) of the others, which, in turn, exert pressure and limitation on the former. That is, the same notion as in Marx's definition: "The material life of individuals, which by no means depend merely on their 'will', their mode of production and forms of intercourse, which mutually DETERMINE each other...." (Marx-Engels, THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY, 2nd. ed., Moscow, 1968, p.366).

2) See Robert Brenner, AGRARIAN CLASS STRUCTURE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN PRE_INDUSTRIAL EUROPE, Past and Present, No.70, February 1976, Oxford, England, p.60.

3) Underdevelopment means here and through all my thesis a state of economic and social backwardness as compared with industrialized countries. Thus, it is a descriptive notion, not an analytical concept. Conversely, my notion of DEVELOPMENT embodies a state such "that transcends the limiting terms of economic growth to embrace such features of social justice as equality of opportunity, full employment, generally available social services, equitable distribution of income and basic political freedoms" (UNDERDEVELOPMENT AND DEVELOPMENT, Ed. by Henry Bernstein, Penguin Books, Middx., England, 1978, p.13). Therefore, my concept of DEVELOPMENT is not equivalent to capitalist development.

4) Brenner, op. cit. pp.31-37

5) See German Arciniegas, LATIN AMERICA, A CULTURAL HISTORY, Barrie and Rocklif, New York, 1966, pp. 127, 173, 247, 287, 293. C. H. Haring, THE SPANISH EMPIRE IN AMERICA, pp. 57n, 67, 152, 264 and mainly, John Lynch, THE SPANISH AMERICAN REVOLUTIONS 1808-1826, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1973, pp. 341-342.

6) This notion of limits is embodied in what Taylor describes as "the relative autonomy of the various levels within the social formation, and the relative autonomy of classes as agents of social transformation" (J. G. Taylor, A REPLY TO MOUZELIS, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 8, n.3, April 1981, p.392), and in what Marx defines as "a historical created relation of individuals to nature and to one another, which is handed down to each generation from its predecessor; a mass of productive forces, capital funds and conditions, which, on the one hand, is indeed modified by the new generation, but also on the other prescribes for it its conditions of life and gives it a definite development, a specific character. IT SHOWS THAT CIRCUMSTANCES MAKE MEN JUST AS MUCH AS MEN MAKE CIRCUMSTANCES". (THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY, p. 50) (Underlined by me).

(Róbinson Rojas, "Latin America: Blockages to Development", PhD dissertation, 1984, London) pp. 157-160