Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 25, 2008

An introduction to Andre Gunder Frank

Filed under: economics,imperialism/globalization,Introduction to Marxism class — louisproyect @ 5:34 pm

(This was originally posted to the Introduction to Marxism mailing list on Yahoo.)

In a little while I will be posting the preface to Andre Gunder Frank’s 1967 “Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America: Historical Studies of Chile and Brazil,” a book that is clearly indebted to Paul Baran’s “Political Economy of Growth,” a key chapter of which was posted here the other day. [This is now available at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/marxism_class/message/265.] As is the case with Baran, there simply is noting available on the Internet that captures their contributions to “dependency theory” so once again I am resorting to my trusty Epson scanner.

Once you have had a chance to digest this introduction and Frank’s preface, I will post 3 excerpts from “Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America”, either this evening or tomorrow:

1. The opening pages of Section One, “Capitalist Development of Underdevelopment in Chile”.

2. Section two, “On the ‘Indian Problem’ in Latin America”

3. The opening pages of Section Four, “Capitalist and the Myth of Feudalism in Brazil”

Frank’s preface begins with this acknowledgement of Baran: “I believe, with Paul Baran, that it is capitalism, both world and national, which produced underdevelopment in the past and which still generates underdevelopment in the present.” Furthermore, the book introduces the formulation that virtually defined dependency theory: the development of underdevelopment.

Although I am by no means an expert on Andre G. Frank’s evolution as a political thinker, it is safe to say that the concerns that were present in his work from the 1960s to the 1980s soon gave way to a new approach, namely “World Systems”, an academic cross-discipline associated with Immanuel Wallerstein. No longer would Frank focus on class relationships in semi-colonial societies in Latin America. He became preoccupied with “long waves” in history of the sort that made Anglo-American imperialism hegemonic at one time and that would now put Asia in the driver’s seat once again. His last book “Re-Orient” displayed not the slightest interest in socialism, but only the deep social and economic forces that would make China a hegemonic world power once again.

Many of Frank’s articles can be read at an archive maintained by Róbinson Rojas, but virtually nothing from the 1960s and 70s when he was writing book after book detailing the impact of imperialism in Latin America. You will find much more in this vein: The Five Thousand Year World System in Theory and Praxis.  When one adopts time frames of 5,000 years, it is difficult to reconcile that with the urgent task of socialist revolution. This is not to say, however, that A.G. Frank was reconciled to the status quo. Until his death of cancer 3 years ago at the age of 76, Frank remained committed to opposing American imperialism even if he seemed to have lost sight of the agency that might have had the power to stop it dead in its tracks, namely the working-class.

As a subscriber to the A-List, the mailing list launched by my friend and comrade, the late Mark Jones, Frank was full of piss and vinegar to the very end as this excerpt from a message he posted 3 months before his death would indicate:

In addition, Uncle Sam also obliges the states in the Third World to act as collection agencies or even as Repo Goons, where goons are the ones sent out to repo-ssess the Godfather’s property by any means. Only in this case, it is not even that; for he is just taking new possession, since the original debt has long since been paid off. The states raise taxes and fees from the population but lower social spending on education and health to at home to divert funds to pay the debt abroad. They also borrow in turn from private capital at home at high interest rates that the state pays to the rich lenders, but out of taxes collected from the poor. That way, income is ”recycled” from poor to rich at home as well as from these poor via the foreign debt to the even richer abroad. These literally forced savings of the poor are then sent to Uncle Sam in the form of ”service” on the $ debt that is “owed” to him.

In my view, A.G. Frank’s “dependency theory” was influenced just as much by the victory of the Cuban revolution as it was by Paul Baran’s “Political Economy of Growth”, written a half-decade before the guerrillas entered Havana victoriously. In making the case that capitalism was responsible for the “development of underdevelopment”, Frank was simply expressing the same ideas found in Fidel Castro’s 1962 Second Declaration of Havana:

What “Alliance for Progress” can serve as encouragement to those 107 million men and women of our America, the backbone of labor in the cities and fields, whose dark skin-black, mestizo, mulatto, Indian-inspires scorn in the new colonialists? How are they-who with bitter impotence have seen how in Panama there is one wage scale for Yankees and another for Pan­amanians, who are regarded as an inferior race-going to put any trust in the supposed Alliance?

What can the workers hope for, with their starvation wages, the hardest jobs, the most miserable conditions, lack of nutrition, illness, and all the evils which foster misery?

What words can be said, what benefits can the imperialists offer to the copper, tin, iron, coal miners who cough up their lungs for the profits of merciless foreign masters, and to the fathers and sons of the lumberjacks and rubber-plantation workers, to the harvesters of the fruit plantations, to the workers in the coffee and sugar mills, to the peons on the pampas and plains who forfeit their health and lives to amass the fortunes of the exploiters?

What can those vast masses-who produce the wealth, who create the values, who aid in bringing forth a new world in all places-expect? What can they expect from imperialism, that greedy mouth, that greedy hand, with no other face than misery, but the most absolute destitution and death, cold and unrecorded in the end?

Like just about everybody who decided to become a revolutionary in capitalist society, starting with Marx and Engels themselves, Andre Gunder Frank started out as a conventional thinker as he explains in the preface:

The analysis and conclusions of these studies also carry implications, again to use Paul Baran’s words, for the responsibility of the intellectual; and these may be clarified in the form of a personal note. My own social and intellectual background is that of middle-class North America, and my professional formation that of the most reactionary wing of the American bourgeoisie. (My principal professor and teacher of economic theory [Milton Friedman] became the chief economic adviser to Barry Goldwater in his 1964 presidential campaign.) When I came to Latin America some three years ago, I thought of the problems of development here in terms of largely domestic problems, of capital scarcity, feudal and traditional institutions which impede saving and investment, concentration of political power in the hands of rural oligarchies, and many of the other universally known supposed obstacles to the economic development of supposedly traditionally underdeveloped societies. I had read Paul Baran, but I did not really understand him or any part of the world. The development policies, such as investment in human capital and discontinuous strategies of economic development, which my academic research had led me to publish in professional journals, were more or less of a piece with those of my colleagues, even if I did not go to extremes of classical monetary policy and pseudo-Weberian and neo-Freudian attitudinal and motivational analyses and policy.

In the earliest stages of his academic career, Frank had to contend with Walter Rostow’s “modernization” thesis that served as the primary ideology for liberal imperialism in the mid-1950s, against which Paul Baran’s “Political Economy of Growth” was directed. In an intellectual memoir titled ironically “The Underdevelopment of Development“, Frank recounts:

In 1958 I spent three months as visiting researcher at MIT’s Center for International Studies (CENIS) and met Ben Higgins, W.W. Rostow and the others. Rostow wrote his Process of Development (1952) and Stages of Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (1962). Although Rostow and company dealt with Keynesian type macro economic and even social problems, they did so to pursue explicitly the neo-classical counter revolutionary, and even counter reformist, cold war ends. The quintessential modernization book, David Lerner’s (1958) Passing of Traditional Society, appeared while I was there. At the same time, Everett Hagen wrote his On the Theory of Social Change (1962), David McClelland his Achieving Society (1961), and Ithiel de Sola Pool his right libertarian/authoritarian political works.

But it was engagement with the problems of ordinary people in Latin America that fully converted Frank into a revolutionary, as his memoir continues:

To find out more about that [social change], I went to Cuba in 1960, looked at political change in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana (where I was disappointed to find little) and in Seku Toure’s Guinea (where I mistakenly thought that I had found more). Then, I decided to be consequential: I quit my assistant professorship at Michigan State University and went to find (out for) myself from the ‘inside’ in the ‘underdeveloped’ ‘Third’ World. Since I decided I could never become an African, I went to Latin America, where acculturation seemed less daunting.

In 1962, in Mexico, I wrote about the ‘Janus faces’ of Mexican inequality (reprinted 1969). I saw internal colonialism there instead of separate sectors in a ‘dual’ economy or society. In Peru, Anibal Quijano arranged for me to meet Marta Fuentes in Chile. We shared our concern for social justice, which would guide our concern for development with equity before efficiency. We married and had two children with whom, as with each other, we spoke Spanish. Together, but without consulting our children and at their cost, we embarked on the long journey ‘to change the world.’

To begin with, I wrote a critique of an article on land reform by Jacques Chonchol (reprinted 1969). He counseled, and later practiced, slow land reform. I argued for the necessity of fast agrarian and other revolution, to forestall counter-reform. This was probably my first explicit critique of reformism from a more radical perspective. I also foretold that any economic integration of Latin America would help foreign investors more than local ones. I increasingly saw the reformist house as no more than a remodeled capitalist one. I thought it was necessary to replace this one by a socialist house instead. Just how much tearing down and rebuilding this change might involve was less than clear.

I still welcomed any proposed reforms, but considered them insufficient if not altogether unworkable, and put my confidence instead in the Cuban way. Of course, Cuba was developing socially and visibly improving education, health, reducing race and gender discrimination, etc. It was not yet clear that this was the main forte of the Cuban way. No one yet knew that this social development was not being matched by or grounded on a concomitant development of its economic base. The inadequate or incorrect Cuban development of this economic base would ultimately make the continued social development dependent on the aid of massive foreign subsidy. This Cuban experience seems to disconfirm the Schultzian thesis (and then also mine) about the necessity and sufficiency of investment in ‘Human Capital and Economic Growth’ (1960).

Finally, I would recommend a look at Andre Gunder Frank’s personal autobiography, which is an excellent complement to “The Underdevelopment of Development”. While it would be difficult to deduce that his early years might have led ineluctably to a revolutionary path, they suggest that the revolutionary economist had as much of a bohemian streak as the motorcycle driving Che Guevara:

During summer vacations in college and for many years after that, I held down all sorts of jobs until I was fired from most of them – always for the same reason: insubordination. These jobs included building pre-fab houses in the Washington DC suburbs, digging ditches and laying the concrete sidewalk from the north-west corner of the campus of the University of Michigan campus to its library, and therefore many years later I could tell my son that I had once made a ‘concrete’ contribution to his welfare there as a graduate student. In Washington state, I worked in a saw mill and then as a logger, as well as again digging ditches and ‘gandy-dancing’, that is laying railroad track. In Michigan, I built automobiles at Willow Run [which had been built during World War II to manufacture B 17bombers], and in New Orleans I tended 32 spools in a row of twine to spin them for the International Harvester Corporation. There, I also worked as a private eye, as well as of course in the French Quarter tourist industry as a waiter on Bourbon Street, a picture painter in Jackson Square, and in the Mardi Gras parade walking around dressed as a huge paper-mache Old Gran Dad whisky bottle, on which people knocked asking for samples that I was unable to supply. Alas, I had no ”aptitude” for any of these: I had taken an employment aptitude test at the Louisiana State Employment Commission, which showed that , as they duly informed me, I had aptitude for NOthing, and especially NO INTELLECTUIAL aptitude. Therefore, they said, I should try my hand at automobile mechanic, as which they however could find no job for me. In San Francisco, I carted refrigerators and similar household equipment up three flights of stairs for a moving company, and for free concert attendance I ushered people up and down the aisles of the San Francisco Opera House. At Union Square, I wrapped Christmas presents in the basement of the fancy I. Magnin department store until I was fired for refusing to warp something too ugly for words and in my opinion for wrapping. In Chicago, I loaded freight cars at night, and in the daytime I was supposed to placate the irate customers of a furniture store whose sales personnel made their sales by promising delivery dates that were impossible to meet. Since I sided more with their innocent customer victims, the sales people had me fired.


  1. Any word on the scans from Gunder 1967? This post actually reminded me to order a copy for myself, which I found used for about $15, but it won’t arrive for a week or two. Thanks for posting these and other things, Lou.

    – Isaac

    Comment by Isaac — September 27, 2008 @ 6:04 am

  2. […] — louisproyect @ 7:14 pm For those whose interest was piqued by my introduction to Andre Gunder Frank, I have now posted 3 lengthy excerpts from his “Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin […]

    Pingback by Andre Gunder Frank readings « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — September 27, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

  3. I am really disappointed that you did not mention crutial quates from A.G Frank’s book “development of Underdevelopment but the imformation you post on your webside is important for us researchers. I have come across people who use other authors material as thier own thats why I am concern. It would be useful to start posting relevent comments and quets of Authors and awknowledge them. thank you ery much for your timt.

    Comment by lesego Angel Moselane — April 22, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  4. Very interesting presentation and links, thank you. Frank’s work should still be a fundamental point of reference in the social movements and in the spirit of the anti-imperialists. Have you by any chance come across his famous article in the Monthly Review on dependency theory in the mid-1960s that was considered sufficiently threatening to result in a letter to Frank from the US Attorney General informing him he would not be allowed reentry to the US? Do you know if there’s a link to that one, somewhere?…

    And another deep and provocative analyst of social change and revolution in the “Third World” I’ve discovered recently is Hosea Jaffe. Are you familiar with his work, Louis?

    Comment by Maria-Cristina Şerban — June 1, 2012 @ 11:58 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: