The “Patria Grande” in view of Mercosur’s failures

14 July, 2021

Argentina's presidency of the MercoSur Summit last week. MercoSur is the last institution that maintains aspirations to articulate the "Patria Grande".
Argentina's presidency of the MercoSur Summit last week. MercoSur is the last institution that maintains aspirations to articulate the "Patria Grande".

Thirty years of Mercosur… and maybe this is the last one. After months of tensions whipped up by the radicalization of agro-exporting interests in the face of the crisis and pandemic conditions, the Brazil-Uruguay-Paraguay axis no longer speaks of flexibilizing, but directly of ignoring the treaties. The end of Mercosur is a fact… for the time being, since the continent is not governed by blocs of countries with stable strategies, but is struggling between two transnational currents that fracture each national capital. The synchrony and parallelism provide a background of reality to the old project of the “Patria Grande”, but also expose its utopian and reactionary character.

Table of Contents

The variants of the semicolonial model…

Soybean harvest in Argentina.
Soybean harvest in Argentina.

Beyond the rhetoric of the Patria Grande, the one thing binding the entire continent and its national capitals is a similar place in the global structure of capital. They are all semi-colonial countries which accumulate their national capital in a structurally equivalent way… although neither identical nor free of contradictions among themselves. The fact that the main export is copper, as in Chile, does not mean the same thing as the products of the agro-export sector, as in Uruguay or Colombia. The industrial and financial development achieved by Brazil within the model is not the same as having industries dependent on the state support of the domestic market as in Argentina or Bolivia.

It is these particularities within the same model which condition the strategy of each national capital, its involvement in global and regional imperialist conflicts and the response it gets from global capitals. And in a historical moment like the present, with the irruption of a massive Chinese demand for raw materials and food, these particularities shape the contradictions and anxieties of each national capital.

For instance, in Chile, with international copper prices rising steadily thanks to the Green Deal in the EU and US, global capital sees investment opportunities. The result, a surprising performance in the stability indexes for a country undergoing a constituent process and good economic prospects ahead. In Argentina on the other hand, the increase in international demand for meat and soybeans generates internal contradictions – basically inflation and hunger – and forces the temporary closure of exports fueling a new conflict between the state and large agricultural landowners.

…and its constants

Mercosur Headquarters. Montevideo, Uruguay. The only institution related to the "Patria Grande" that has been sustained for 30 years.
Mercosur Headquarters. Montevideo, Uruguay. The only institution related to the “Patria Grande” that has been sustained for 30 years.

And yet the different conflicting interests within each national bourgeoisie remain constant. On the one hand, an export sector that has no qualms about unprotecting a domestic market -both national and regional- on which it does not depend and which it nevertheless sustains, if unprotecting it allows it to access new markets. On the other hand, those sectors linked to the state and the frail industrial sector, much more prone to economic nationalism and protectionism as well as to the idea of a regional Patria Grande. Between the two, a financial capital that is swayed by the oscillations of foreign policy and global markets.

It is this fracture which has maintained the validity of the ideological division between right and left at the continental level. In turn, the political shift between one sector and the other in each country has produced the fact that the permanent institutional alliances between countries -UnaSur, ProSur, FTAA, Lima Group…- have failed time and time again when the political sign of the governments changed, turning the discourse of the Patria Grande into a continuous complaint which was always blamed on the weakness or inconstancy of the national ruling classes, making their contradictions invisible.

Only Mercosur remained until now. But the global crisis, the developing Chinese presence and import restrictions in the U.S. brought the tension to an unbearable level. With the market for raw materials and agricultural products on the rise in the medium term, keeping the borders closed with an average tariff rate of over 12% to protect regional industry became an unacceptable cost for Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay whose governments had veered towards hardline expressions of agro-export sector interests such as Bolsonaro and Lacalle.

Is this the end of the prospect of a ” Patria Grande?”

Argentine troops deployed on the border with Brazil.
Argentine troops deployed on the border with Brazil.

The paradox is that the simultaneity and similarity of the agents, their objectives and their conflicts points to the fact that there is a material reality under the discourse of the Patria Grande… while at the same time making it impossible for the formation of a unified market, the basis in turn of any merger of capitals and any supranational political development to take place.

Yesterday, Lacalle launched what looks like a death knell for Mercosur by showing his intention, regardless of the negotiations taking place with Argentina, to ignore treaties when it suits him. Something that, by the way, Bolsonaro has already been doing since he became president. However, as ex-President Mugica pointed out yesterday, even if MercoSur virtually disappears as a trade bloc, it is only a moment in the same struggle of interests at the continental level… and within each country.

The Argentine press highlighted these weeks the support that the Argentine position had received from Brazilian industrial businessmen and trade unions. And it was corroborated in its own way also by Folha de Sao Paulo, true medium of the Brazilian financial bourgeoisie, increasingly determined to get rid of Bolsonaro:

Biden acknowledges that the United States will have to fight to regain lost space in Latin America for China. Governments in the region learned to exploit superpower rivalry during the pandemic. In this context, he has every interest in Brazil’s return to being a rational and predictable actor that minimally follows the rules of the international system

Bolsonaro’s coup will never be recognized. A Folha de Sao Paulo.

And a fact that anywhere else in the world would be shocking: the Argentine government of Alberto Fernández denounced in court his predecessor, Mauricio Macri, and his then interior minister and now secretary of the main opposition party, Patricia Bullrich, for exporting arms to the Áñez government in Bolivia.

The paradox is that the simultaneity and similarity of the actors, their goals and their conflicts in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and even Chile and Brazil, points to the fact that there is a material reality under the discourse of the Patria Grande… which at the same time makes it impossible for the formation of a unified market, the basis in turn for any merger of capitals and any supranational political development, to take place.

The “Patria Grande”: a project that came too late

Allegorical mural of the "Patria Grande" with a selection of national heroes at the Casa de la Cultura, Buenos Aires.
Allegorical mural of the “Patria Grande” with a selection of national heroes at the Casa de la Cultura, Buenos Aires.

The independence of the American viceroyalties was not the product of a developed local bourgeoisie with a thriving or even outlined unified internal market. The colonies of the Iberian crowns formed a heterogeneous territory, poorly communicated and with an underdeveloped internal demand compared to the latent external demand in Europe and especially from the dominant power of the century: Great Britain.

That is why independence did not initiate a process of continental national construction, but a long period of definition of external borders and internal balances within the local ruling classes. It will be the later and not very relevant in the definition of the Americas, Artigas, the only one to use the term Patria Grande at some point. The discourse of the Patria Grande, was not a real part of the political language of the American XIX.

The roots of the Patria Grande are in the boom of the use of Hispanoamerica first and Latin America later as part of the South American ruling classes’ reaction to US expansionism opened by the annexation of Mexico and its recognition as a threat with the Cuban and Puerto Rican War of ’98, the imposition of Panama’s segregation in 1903 and the 1912 invasion of Nicaragua. In other words, it was born out of ideological responses to the development of US imperialism.

However, the term Patria Grande would not gain political status until after the World War, when in the 1920s, Manuel Ugarte in Argentina and Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre in Peru, made it part of a new kind of nationalist rhetoric – national socialism – already linked to the goal of a state capitalism. That is to say, the Patria Grande was not placed in the wake of the great national unification movements (Italy, Germany…) of rising capitalism, but which was seen as the projection to American conditions of the reactionary nationalism of the Chinese Kuomintang.

It no longer aspired to create a national market capable of developing an independent Latin American national capitalism, but it was based on the impossibility of economic independence in the imperialist stage and proposed as an alternative an accelerated concentration of national capitals around the already existing states… which would then merge into a sort of South American COMECON avant la lettre.

Thus, when Argentine national socialism relegates the slogan of the Patria Grande to rhetoric and the APRA abandons its continental pretensions, Stalinism will uphold it. It will do so at first to embellish its attempts at Popular Front, then, in the 1960s, to dress up the imperialist aspirations of Castro’s Cuba, textbook example of both the falsity of the regime’s socialist pretensions and the impossibility of a national capitalist development in the historical stage following the world wars

.

That is to say, the project of the Patria Grande was never part of the revolutionary impulse of the American bourgeoisies. It came too late, when capitalism as a whole was already anti-historical, within an ideological package in which were amalgamated the reactionary tendency of capitalism to superconcentration in the state and the Stalinist counter-revolution.

“Patria Grande”: a utopian and reactionary project

Official poster in Cienfuegos, Cuba, in 2014 presenting the "Patria Grande" as the sum of the states and rulers that supported the Castro regime.
Official poster in Cienfuegos, Cuba, in 2014 presenting the “Patria Grande” as the sum of the states and rulers that supported the Castro regime.

Today, all the projects that intend to promote the Patria Grande can only deepen and in the best case, expand the scale of the semi-colonial model to favor the accumulation and concentration of capital and thus try to gain competitiveness for national capital. But we know what this means: more exploitation. On the other hand, consolidating permanent structures capable of driving a unified market would imply the prior subjugation of some bourgeois factions to others… a fight in which it is difficult to think that major imperialist rivals would not attempt to break in to defend their own global interests.

For just as Lenin said in 1915 that the United States of Europe is either impossible or reactionary under capitalism, the Patria Grande is the same in the Americas today. Either freedom of movement and continental unity are born of the negation of capitalism – and is therefore utopian, impossible, under the present system – or it is born of a string of battles within the various ruling classes of each country and wars between countries. In that case, it would manifest even more violently the reactionary, anti-historical character of the system by taking hundreds of thousands of people with it and destroying a good part of the productive capacities.

Workers have nothing to gain from any fatherland, big or small, in the Americas or anywhere else. The word “fatherland” today only means imposing sacrifices for the sake of accumulation. Tomorrow they will impose wars on us. Workers have instead a world to win: no exploitation, no wars, no scarcity.