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ALBA and non-Marxist Exchange Theory

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US steps up pressure on ALBA, EU calls for ‘peace’

ALBA (Alternative Bolivariana de Las Americas) is a grouping of Nicaragua, Cuba, Dominica, Bolivia and Venezuela, that rejects Free Trade Agreements with the US. ALBA is a threat to the US control of Latin America because its left populist regimes have a policy of trying to renegotiate terms of trade and ownership shares with US (and EU) multinationals.

At a time when the US is facing a long recession that is spreading across the global economy, the US does not want to lose any control over access to cheap resources and labor in Latin America. To undermine the threat of ALBA the US and the EU are pressuring ALBA to distance itself from the FARC guerrillas in Colombia.

Tony Solo reports on the US/EU moves to use the Colombian regime of Uribe to implicate ALBA in the “drug smuggling” and “terrorism” of FARC. The famous laptop of Reyes killed by Uribe’s forces inside Ecuador that supposedly contained ‘evidence’ that Chavez was funding a ‘dirty bomb’ for use by the FARC was obviously fabricated, but it had the desired effect. US Democratic contenders Obama called on the FARC to disarm while Clinton labelled Chavez a ‘terrorist’.

The EU position is to promote a peaceful outcome to get the US off the back of ALBA. The result is that Correa of Ecuador is backing off joining ALBA until Chavez ‘rejoins’ CAN (Andean Community of Nations which includes Peru and Colombia). Chavez has responded with another statement calling on the FARC to give up its struggle, which he says is no longer ‘valid’, echoing the long held position of Fidel Castro. The Castro/Chavez position is in line with the EU position to pressure the FARC to sign a peace treaty and join in the ‘valid’ parliamentary struggle.

The pro-Chavez left supporting ALBA against the US is taking the EU line, in an attempt to play off the EU against the US. For them the EU represents a ‘lesser evil’ to the US. Venezuela and Cuba are now favoring joint ventures with EU over US corporations. They are prepared to sacrifice the FARC which has fought a 40 year guerrilla war against the US-backed Colombian ruling class, in order to prevent the US from stepping up its direct attacks on ALBA.

The same tactic is being adopted in Bolivia where the ‘left’ backs Morales attempts to negotiate a peaceful outcome to the dispute between the breakaway Media Luna ruling class and the constitutional government of Morales committed to a united Bolivia.

The problem with this strategy is that the ALBA regimes (except for Cuba which is still, just, a post-capitalist state) are populist regimes balanced between the workers and poor peasants on the one side and US and EU imperialism on the other. The more these regimes attempt to negotiate peaceful outcomes between the two protagonist classes the more that the workers and peasants are lulled into a false sense of security that such negotiated deals can preserve national unity, and the unity of ALBA against the main imperialist powers. The more they put their faith in populism, the less they organise their own independent class forces for socialist revolution.

Latin American Populism

The problem with Latin American populism is not new. It is the consequence of the struggles of semi-colonial countries against imperialism. The ‘left’ has long adopted the strategy of the ‘patriotic front’ – a front of all classes against imperialism. The theoretical prop for this strategy is the Stalinist Comintern which adopted the line that alliances with ‘democratic’ imperialism against ‘fascist’ imperialism was the best way to defend ‘socialism in one country’. In reality, this policy was to call on the Stalinist Communist Parties all around the world to form alliances with the ‘progressive’ national bourgeoisie. This ‘peaceful coexistence’ with democratic imperialism was at the price of workers revolutions that could have overthrown the imperialist ruling classes, along with the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. Instead what happened was workers were thrown into imperialist wars to kill one another, and in the Stalinist states workers were suppressed by the bureaucratic dictatorships.

It is clear that this ‘popular front’ strategy suppressed revolution and allowed the Stalinist bureaucracy to function as an ally of world imperialism. Its reward was its ability to gain material advantages from extracting privileges from the labor of the workers by making peace deals with imperialism. The popular front is therefore a counter-revolutionary strategy.

In Latin America today this this strategy is backed by the Stalinists and Castroists. They have been joined by the Chavistas and with them a whole bunch of fake Trotskyist currents. There is agreement between all these currents on the popular front between workers, peasants and ‘progressive’ elements of the national bourgeoisie against imperialism. For them, like the original Stalinists, ‘imperialism’ is of two sorts, one ‘democratic’ and one ‘fascist’. The strategy of the populist regimes of Chavez and Morales, backed by influential dependency theories like James Petras, is to side with EU ‘democratic’ imperialism against US ‘fascist’ imperialism.

As a result, populist regimes are seen as capable of renegotiating the terms of trade, or exchange, with imeprialism, and gaining sufficient control of their national resources to be able to ‘develop’ the formerly ‘underdeveloped’ countries of Latin America. Petras makes the case that Venezuela has been able to do this successfully by retaining oil profits. However, this can be seen to be an exception rather than the rule because of Venenuela’s oil wealth. Elsewhere in Latin America, populist regimes have been forced to take the terms dictated by the imperialist corporations. Petras criticises Morales for not being strong enough in reversing unequal exchange in new contracts with foreign corporations.

Non-Marxist Exchange theory

What the Stalinists, Castroists, Chavistas and dependency theorists all share is a pre-Marxist theory of capitalism. For them the problem with capitalism is unequal exchange i.e. extracting value from colonies and semi-colonies by paying less than the real value of commodities produced in these countries. They can do this because the imperialists have the state power to impose unequal exchange on smaller, weaker countries using sections of the national bourgeois as their class agents, the so-called comprador bourgeoisie. The solution is for these exploited countries to get rid of the compradors, form populist regimes of all the patriotic forces, then get together in organisations as ALBA so they have sufficient power to force imperialism to re-negotiate more equal terms of exchange.

Acting on this theory and strategy, the countries of ALBA today are trying to negotiate their way between the EU and US to get more leverage in improving the prices they get for their exports. There is no reason why ALBA and the populist regimes (and the Cuban bureaucratic regime) cannot use their national state machines to equalise exchange without mobilising the workers and poor peasants as an independent force. Under this theory/program, the masses are market fodder backing the populist regimes to put pressure on the imperialists to introduce more ‘social’ constraints on the operation of the market. Hence the logic of this program is the end goal of ‘market socialism’. The new program of the PSUV illustrates this point.

The Marxist Revolutionary alternative

Marx made it clear that capital cannot accumulate by ‘buying cheap and selling dear’. In other words Marx rejected the Ricardian theory that capitalists made their profits by underpaying the wages of labor. The reason for this is that an economy cannot grow by simply redistributing already produced value. Marx’s big scientific discovery in political economy was to recognise that historically capitalism emerged as a result of the growth of the market in commodities, but did not enter capitalist production proper until wage labor became a commodity itself. It was not Labor as such but labor-power that was the commodity that the workers exchanged for the wage. This was the only commodity that produced more value than its own value. Under averaged out conditions (with supply and demand held constant) capitalists exploited workers while paying them the full value of the wage. Therefore exploitation did not result from unequal exchange but from the expropriation of surplus value over and above the value of labor-power (the wage).

In volume 3 of Capital where Marx began to discuss the effects of competition and supply and demand, he was able to argue that unequal exchange in the real world would act as a counter-tendency to the rate of profit falling and the ‘theft’ of value for poor countries to rich countries would become a feature of imperialism. Yet, unequal exchange could not be the only or even the major contribution to accumulation of capital in the imperialist countries. Cheap raw materials and labor would add to the transfer of value to the capitalists, but the major source of increased surplus value would remain the rising labor productivity of workers in the imperialist countries.

What this meant was that the underdevelopment of the colonies and semi-colonies would be irreversible, unless such countries were large and sufficiently resourced to fight a war of independence and then protect their economies so as to develop capitalism without having to compete with the existing developed economies. The US followed this path. But by the 20th century most colonies and semi-colonies were too small, weak or backward, and dominated by imperialism to break free and develop independently. The Soviet Union tried but found itself isolated from the world economy and unable to develop beyond a certain point so that its planned economy began to stagnate. China did the same. All these ‘post-capitalist’ countries have been forced to return to the capitalist road under increased domination by the imperialist countries.

The capitalist road therefore means the imperialist road. Any attempt to negotiate with ‘peaceful’ imperialism will involve sacrificing the masses hopes to ongoing capitalist exploitation and oppression. Inequality will grow and the populist regimes will discipline and contain mass resistance as part of their agreement with imperialism. Only the independent mobilisation of the masses under a revolutionary party and program can win independence from imperialism and an end to capitalism, and open the road to workers and peasants government and planned socialist economy.

ALBA is not the vehicle for Latin American liberation, but a giant multinational popular front that traps workers in a bloc of classes compromising with imperialism at the expense of their ongoing super-exploitation and oppression. Against the peaceful road of legalising FARC and negotiating equal exchange with EU ‘democratic’ imperialism, it is necessary to raise the demand for national congresses of workers and peasants to raise programs for nationalisation of energy, land, industry, the banks and for Workers and Peasants goverments to implement a socialist plan. A socialist federation of Latin America will rise up in the place of all the FTAs and the ALBA.

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Written by raved

June 17, 2008 at 6:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] Stalinists of the SACP were employing their historic mission of the two stage theory/program of ‘market socialism’. A national democratic revolution stage is needed to develop the economy to the point where the […]


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