TOWARD AN ALTERNATIVE CONCEPTUALIZATION OF SOUTH AMERICAN POLITICS

TOWARD AN ALTERNATIVE CONCEPTUALIZATION OF SOUTH AMERICAN POLITICS

G. O’Donell

Chapter 2 Modernization and Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism: Studies in South American Politics

A Summary 

In a Nutshell

It seems that most of the criticism leveled this thesis is based on a reading of it that defines BA regimes as a necessary tool for achieving industrial deepening (vertical) at the end of the “easy” phase of ISI. Serra etc. note that attempts at deepening had occurred before the BA regimes were implanted. Whilst it may be the case that deepening is an integral part of the thesis, I would suggest it is broader than this. The argument seems to be as follows: Populism in its promotion of horizontal industrialization meant that the societies of LA, particularly Argentina and Brazil, were modernized, and following on from the “gap” thesis proposed by Huntington, it was the inability of the populist regimes to moderate between the increased demands by the urban popular sector as against the industrialized and landed classes that lead to a coalition that sought to exclude the urban classes from politics. The external bottlenecks of development created by populism, the forex problems, and the continued dependency upon foreign firms meant that a continuation of the populist agenda as it stood was not economically feasible. However, the popular sectors’ demands were ever increasing beyond possibility of satisfaction, and the only way to solve the political deadlock that was caused by too many competing demands being made of the state, was to exclude those actors in favour of a strong coercive regime.

 Thus whilst the main goal of BA may have been industrial deepening, such deepening was not possible under populism because of the strong urban classes that benefitted from populism and were sure to lose under stabilization and BA. The need to deepen the industrial base was the core economic policy desired by supporters of the BA regimes, but the reason that such deepening had to occur under BA as opposed to democracy was the gaps between demands and realities that were caused by the period of popular demand expansion and modernization that preceded BA.

 The key feature of these regimes is that they were “excluding political systems”, meaning that they sought to exclude from politics an already activated urban popular sector. This meant denying power to leaders of the urban sector, and refusing to meet their political demands. This policy could be achieved both by coercion and the shutting of channels of political access. This feature is contrasted with the “incorporating political systems” of populism which sought to explicitly activate the urban classes.

 Argentina and Brazil: From Incorporation to Exclusion

Expansion

  • Prior to ISI the politically powerful sectors were the agrarian and resource sectors producing exportable goods through largely foreign owned export intermediaries. The crisis of the 30s started domestic industrialization and the emergence of an urban working class. This change in class structure changed the basis of political power and allowed for the formation of populist alliances.
  • These populist alliances stood against the traditional oligarchies, foreign owned firms, and free trade. They stood for industrialization and the expansion of the domestic market. Industrialization would insulate the states from international crises and end the political dependence that was must maligned.
  • Peron in Arg, and Vargas in Brazil were successful in benefitting urban workers, raising consumption and employment etc. However, the oligarchies were not fully de-politicized as they continued to be the sole owners of forex and were as such key for carrying out the populist expansion policies.
  • The type of industrialization that occurred was “horizontal” i.e. in import substitution finished consumer goods. This means a heavy dependence upon importing capital and intermediate goods and technology without which the domestic industry could not function. Horizontal industrialization had progressed much further in Arg and Braz due to large internal markets.
  • Vargas and Peron encouraged unionization to provide alliances and as it fostered government control over new industries. So whilst labour was denied an autonomous base, it did develop strong organizational networks.
  • The process was generally exulted.

 The End of Expansion

  • The “easy” phase of ISI was exhausted. Horizontal diversification could not proceed any further. Poor productivity in exporting sectors combined with declining terms of trade meant poor earnings in the forex earning sectors that had to pay for populist policies. Together with intense importing of capital goods etc. led to a severe forex crisis.
  • ISI left a consumption pattern overly reliant on luxuries and small producers, whilst horizontal industrialization could not be effected. Costs were high; there was much inefficiency and a poor result in terms of income distribution.
  • It became clear that painful policy innovations were needed.
  • Vertical industrialization is a very different beast from horizontal. The populist ideal of decreasing outside dependence proved to be fallacy and the urban masses now had consumption expectations modeled after highly developed countries. The persistent technology transfers from abroad meant an increasing penetration of technocratic roles.
  • The forex problem combined with big consumption demands caused severe inflation.
  • It was clear that stabilization was needed. However this meant restrained monetary policy, demand suppression and the elimination of marginal producers which were unfortunately political impractical due to the enormous social tensions they created (as the marginal producers were labour intensive, and the beneficiaries of a freer economy were sure to be the large companies many of which were US owned). It came to be thought that such policies could only be enacted given a postponement of power participation demands.
  • Other problems were that due to the technology intense industrialization that purchased overseas technology where the factor mix was very different, the new industries could not absorb much labour. Growth stagnated in the years period to the Braz and Arg Coup (1964, 1966)

Political Actors after Populism

  • Demands of urban sector hard to satisfy in the eyes of the other sectors, but the demands were institutionalized into well-organized unions created under populism. Plus the urban sector was using threats and strike action to disrupt in order to achieve their political goals. Political activism grew markedly.
  • This activation was achieved by high modernization. The activation caused a tension between the urban classes and other sectors that saw a threat to the survival of the social arrangements particularly the class structure, the power distribution and the international alignment of countries. This was particularly the case given the climate of fear in the post Cuban revolutionary period. The US was making policy based on fighting socialism in the South, and the technocratic links that were formed under technology importing in ISI meant that there were significant linkages with the USA.
  • The threat of social unrest led to a redefinition of the role of the military as national security now encompasses the achievement of socio-economic development, and the suppression of internal enemies.
  • The salaried middle classes saw their incomes decline as growth stalled, and the agrarian sector reasserted their dislike for mass politics as populism had specifically excluded development of the agricultural sector. This meant that the urban classes were politically isolated. They lacked their previous populist allies, direct political access and so they opted for increased political activism.

 

  • Populism generated a “gap” between the demands of the urban sectors and the performance of the economy. This gap led to increased activism, increased demands on the government and an inability to accept the solutions to the development bottlenecks that had developed. More demands brought forth more actors and eventually formal political behaviour gave way to naked power strategies. The conflicting demands on the state lead to a stalemate whereby unrestrained conflict and differences in demands prevented the governments from implementing any policies other than short term placation of the most threatening actors with no concern for long-term problem solving.
  • Coalitions were formed with the goal of ending this stalemate by implanting regimes that were effective decision makers. As Huntington suggests after a period of “praetorian” government [see Huntington] the tendency is to define the situation as requiring the placement of severe restraints on the political activities of those who are outside of the winning coalition i.e. authoritarianism.
  • This conceptual moment was reached in Brazil and Arg first and foremost as the level of modernization was much greater than that seen elsewhere in LA.

 Technocratic Roles

  • Advances in modernization are evidenced by increased technocratic roles at all levels of decision making and industry. The complexity of society creates management needs in which technology plays an important part. Thus technocrats further penetrate society as modernization increases. [Thus technocracy is a logical and essential component of the authoritarianism post expansionary modernization.]
  • These technocrats become frustrated from a failure of the context to match their expectations. They desire to reshape society in line with their learning experience, and their reward aspirations. They are convinced that they can remodel the social context to both better suit them, and improve society, and this is how they rationalize their actions.
  • In Brazil and Arg business and military academies became meeting places for incumbents at the top of large businesses and the military thus creating strong linkages between the technocrats and those in power.
  • They have a technical problem solving approach focused on efficiency and rationality. Thus they are far more likely to be interested in indicators such as GDP, growth etc. rather than “noisy” social indicators such as poverty, income distribution, lack of political institutions etc. 

Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism

  • Given the demand performance gap, excessive demands had to be blocked. This meant the elimination of parties and elections, the cooption of the leaders of the unions (by coercion). Bargaining and interest representation would be limited to those at the top of large organizations.
  • The proponents of the system saw that the exclusion of the popular sector and a conversion of the socio-economic structure would stimulate growth, increase efficiency etc. and then political democracy and a wider wealth distribution could be initiated.
  • BA lacked mobilizational force and an ideology which separates it from European fascism for example. There is no interest in indoctrinating the population – in fact they prefer political apathy.
  • “Bureaucratic” suggests organizational strength of certain sectors, government control over career patterns and power-bases of technocratic roles, and the pivotal role played by large bureaucracies.
  • As growth and wages had been declining in the previous period there were few economic benefits to be distributed to the losers and this led to unrest and a reversion to coercion.
  • Once in power there were certain strains: the military was to a certain degree nationalist, as were the populations of Brazil and Argentina. This led to a conflict between efficiency and nationalism, as many of the “margin” producers to be eliminated were domestic entrepreneurs, with the majority of the efficient technology holding firms being foreign owned. To try to solve the problem there were attempts to increase the size of the public sector as alternative means of employment etc. but this too met with calls from big business for further liberalization and reduction in state intervention.
  • As a result many of the initial middle class supporters found themselves outside the winning coalition as domestic industry declined, and the public sector growth was insufficient to absorb their expectations.
  • Economic performance was at best mixed.
  • As the indicators preferred by the technocracy as hard in terms of facts, consolidation of such a regime is only possible if those indicators show progress, otherwise rationalization of rule cannot take place. This perhaps indicated why Argentina was allowed to move back to democracy earlier than Brazil as the failure of the regime in Argentina was blatant whereas in Brazil performance was satisfactory for a while.

 

Coercion

  • Different levels of coercion based upon labour supply – Brazil was able to totally deactivate its popular sector by using coercion whereas the sector retained some power in Argentina. O’Donell hypothesizes that this is because the peripheral states of Brazil always supplied a huge amount of excess labour which was destabilizing to the union activity. In Argentina there was often full employment so the unions were much stronger. Thus a much greater amount of force would have been needed to deactivate that sector in the same way.
  • Different levels of coercion based upon “levels” of popular activation – Brazilian popular activation was at a lower level than Argentina, but it was increasing at a much greater pace, thus the threat appeared more serious and required a more coercive response.
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