By Raul Zibechi

THE President of Argentine, Nestor Kirchner is responsible for reviving the debate about the necessity for a national bourgeoisie to make possible an alternative national project.. No, we are not in the 60s. It is worse: half a century seems to have passed in vain.

"It is crucial that national capital partakes in the process of reconstruction of the society. It is impossible to build a national project if we do not consolidate a national bourgeoisie," said Kirchner on September 29th during a meeting with "national" bankers who signed a 150 million dollar loan to the Argentinian government to finance public infrastructure works.

Three months earlier, the President of the Industrial Union of Argentine (UIA), Alberto Alvarez Gaiani, seemed to be thinking along the same lines: "There is a need for a national bourgeoisie. A country is stronger when you have the owners of the most important companies in the country sitting around the decision making table. Nobody is going to invest a single penny in this country for a long time." Notwithstanding that, the chairman of UIA said he had no expectations related to an economic improvement in the country. "Taking into account the very deep crisis we have passed through and the present global insertion in the business structure of Argentine, there are no possibilities of going back to an economic model such as the one we had during the 70s." (1)

Forty years after the theoretical and political debates in Latin America about the role national bourgeoisies could play in national development and to overcome dependency, the issue reappears once again after the electoral victories of Kirchner in Argentine and Luiz In?cio "Lula" da Silva in Brazil. But this time the debate on national bourgeoisies rather seems to be the comedy of that past and unconcluded debate.

When asked about the "Kirchner project" in Argentina, the Egyptian economist Samir Amin said he did not believe that was a realistic approach. "There no longer exists a national bourgeoisie," he said. Capitalism as a global system, he said, is, by nature, a "polarizing system". He criticized a simplistic vision that consists of believing that "the centers, peripheries and the different social formations participating in this global system are not only ‘unequally developed formations’ but also interdependent formations within this inequality." Furthermore, he said the last national bourgeoisie project in Argentina was the one led by Per?n, and that perhaps the only countries where a national bourgeoisie can exist nowadays are the ex-socialist countries, particularly in Russia and China. (2)

Immanuel Wallerstein echoes these thoughts: "Concerning the possibility of national development within the global capitalist economy, it is simply impossible that every country can achieve it. The process of capital accumulation demands a hierarchical system in which surplus value is distributed unequally, both geographically and amongst social classes." (3) He concludes that historically, capitalist development has generated and demands an increasing geographic, demographic and socio-economical polarization of the world population.

At this point, it seems to be advisable to look at the past. National bourgeoisies emerged as a part of national development processes and benefactor states. This is to say: sovereignty, national identity, universal voting rights and income re-distribution. These elements were part of the integration project of the so called "dangerous classes" and was only possible thanks to a conjunctural combination of difficulties within the ‘central’ countries (as a consequence of World War II) and the potent emergence of new actors in the global and local scenarios: national liberation movements in Africa and Asia, and workers and peasant movements in Latin America. In fact, in the Latin American
subcontinent the "national development" processes were in a certain way a consequence of powerful popular struggles, such as that on 17th October 1945 in Argentina and the 1952 revolution in Bolivia, among the most important.

But national bourgeoisies could not have existed without the protection of the state. Their projects were built on an alliance between industrial bourgeoisies, working classes and government institutions, and a shared interest in development by means of imports substitution. For some time such alliances worked, despite the threats posed by the expansion of the ‘central’ economies after the war. But these alliances collapsed when industrial workers pressed for their demands and resisted industrial discipline until they finally neutralized it.

In this way, workers insurgency pushed the so called "national capitalists" to build alliances with international capital, which was the way of keeping their interests untouched, shifting their investments and associating themselves with the financial sector.

We can understand the present globalization as the option made by capital to "escape their incapacity to dominate labor". The so-called "geographical escape" of capital (synonym of globalization) is the search for more mobility to avoid the increasing insubordination of labor – a point of view supported by evaluating the crisis as "an expression of the power of labor" (4). In this respect, most leftist specialists agree. This is also the point of view that social movements are increasingly supporting. Neozapatism, for example, states that globalization has been
traumatic for humanity as a whole, even for the elites in power. "The power elites have not yet fully digested the globalization of the world, neither in terms of time or space. The ‘other’ is no longer ‘somewhere else’ but everywhere and at every time. And for power, the ‘other’ is a threat " said subcomandante Marcos. Regarding the process we are presently living, he makes a double reading: on one hand he says that nation states are dying, giving way to the emergence of supra-national power regulating entities as the WTO (something which, in spite of slight differences, all analysts agree) and on the other hand he says that "at the time the supra-national government is being built" power "shelters itself again in a nation state that is fading". (5)

This is where president Kirchner’s proposal of "creating" a national bourgeoisie comes to bear. It is essentially the same process that brought Kirchner, Hugo Ch?vez and Lula to government. Popular struggles, or, let us say it in a more elegant way, the democratization of societies (either real or perceived as the demand for democracy increases in all the fields) undermined national bourgeoisies and weakened states. Kirchner is a product of the 19th and 29th December 2001 uprisings as much as Chavez is a product of the ‘Caracazo’ in 1989 or Lula a product of a decade and a half of popular struggles. This is why there is a need to "take shelter" in the state, as indicated by the Zapatistas, which is a sphere on which the elites rely to fulfill their main goal as administrators: that is, to neutralize protests and movements.

The limitations that weigh on any proposal for a national development project do not rest where Kirchner suggests. In fact, what has undermined the peripheral nations is not the lack of a national bourgeoisie but the three elements that took us to the present crisis: the ‘alienation’ (estrangement) and ‘financialisation’ of the economy and the elites, and the increasing weakness of the state and the popular movements.

In Argentina, a recent report by the Center of Studies and Education of the Argentinian Workers Union (CTA) states that the winning economic groups in the 2001 crisis (in relation to the IMF, foreign creditors and the financial sector) were the "foreign conglomerates and the transnationalized fractions of capital linked to exports". (6) This suggests that the substitution of Menemism is not going to be anything like Kirchner’s dreams. In Brazil, the leftist economist Cesar Benjamin has announced the end of the hypothesis of a crisis that would lead to a moratorium of payments to creditors, and says that it is no longer necessary to sign a new agreement with the IMF, given that Brazil is at a new stage in its relations with the Fund characterized by the fact that "pressures from the outside to the inside are no longer necessary." On the contrary "the conventional conditionalities imposed by the IMF have been internalized into Brazilian laws and made concurrent with national economic policy options".
Benjamin, an advisor to the landless peasants movement MST, concludes that "the IMF’s structural adjustment program has been turned into our own business," that is to say, "we are going to pay the costs of IMF policy anyway, given that we have already internalized that decision."(7)

Both analyses coincide in the following: as a consequence of the changes that took place within both societies and in the world during the last 50 years, there no longer exists a national(ist) bourgeoisie. Furthermore, one can say that if Brazil became the eighth industrial power in the world it was because they are world champions on inequality. The democratization of societies leads inevitably to economic crisis.

In the end, the key seems to rest with the social movements. Lula’s government began signing agreements with member organizations to the MST, which is becoming increasingly dependent of government support. Since last June, two of the MST institutions, the Confederation of Cooperatives (CONCRAB) and the Association for Agricultural Cooperation (ANCA), have received several government grants for literacy campaigns and training courses for youth and adults. These grants that were signed with the Ministry of Education, which contributed more than one million dollars to the MST, while CONCRAB received about U$S 600.000, only in the month of August and it is expected that more money will come. (8) In Argentina, government subsidies to the unemployed have "silenced" the social protests, as they say at the Casa Rosada (the Presidential house). This seems to be the only reason why Argentinian elites still support Kirchner. Is the domestication of the social movements advancing rapidly or slowly? Ironically, the best organized and militant sectors tend to be the most easily neutralized or the most easily co-opted. It remains to be seen how the 44 million Brazilians that earn only one dollar a day to eat will react, or the fifty per cent of Argentinians who are presently live under the poverty line. At any rate, neither the plans that are already underway nor the sympathy and popularity of presidents Lula and Kirchner seem to be sufficient to reverse the long-term tendency towards democratization of societies or, in other words, the long-term tendency to workers’ insubordination.

* Raul Zibechi is a Uruguayan journalist and political commentator. This article was first published by ALAI-AMLATINA, 9 October 2003. Translated by Alberto Villareal.

(1) Clarin, May 26, 2003.
(2) Gabriela Roffinelli and N?stor Kohan, interview with Samir Amin,"I have been and I am still a communist",
(3) Immanuel Wallerstein, "After Liberalism", Siglo XXI, Mexico, 1996, page 169.
(4) John Holloway, "Marxism, State and Capital" Tierra del Fuego, Buenos Aires, 1994.
(5) Subcomandante Marcos, "The New World",
(6) "The dismantling of the neoliberal model and the construction of a new alternative"
(7) Cesar Benjamin, "As relacoes do Brasil com o FMI",
(8) O Estado de Sao Paulo, October 5, 2003.