Volume 45 Number 178,
July-September 2014

Socialism or Death, Willam Yohai, Montevideo, Letraeñe Ediciones, 2013.

This collection of essays addresses various issues related to the international economy (especially the crisis) and Uruguay, specifically, its international insertion, how the country has dealt with the crisis, its policy definitions (in particular, economic policy) and critiques of some political figures.

The title itself, Socialism or Death, is a dilemma. If we fail to take socialism out of its "utopia" and outline a series of changes to evolve in that direction, the very planet will be at risk. Capitalism, currently a nearly unique productive model, is also a moral and ethical model. Marx would say that capitalist ethics and morals are the inverted image (the mirror image) of these social relations of production. Capitalism went from being a solution to promote the development of productive forces to a threat to the planet and all forms of life (not only humans). The author provides additional information and theory to understand capitalism. In other words, this is an economic policy book. It ends up as a critique of current economic policy, in the Marxist vein of rejection but with the pretense of overcoming it.

The articles unraveling the open-pit mega-mining project (Aratirí in Uruguay) are valuable in that they are pioneering. They study and investigate the case by organizing information that previously seemed separate and diffuse. These articles starkly address the interests involved in the project, which is fundamental so that decision-makers or those affected by these decisions can discuss, think twice and critique. This will require greater social awareness, which holds true whether or not the project forges ahead, regardless of the fact that some will win and many others will see their prior living conditions, the environment and trust in their government threatened. The book proposes a social agenda for debate and a summation of daily realities, especially the "reality of macro numbers" used to justify public policy agendas divorced from social agendas.

Other topics that shed light on how capitalism works address the crisis in the developed world. There is a detailed discussion on central countries, the various arguments involved, the decisions that have been made, and, of course, a clear description of the parties the author deems to have lost in the circumstances. The text discusses “solutions to the crisis” and shows how Europe is recurring to old adjustment recipes that have already been tested in Latin America. William Yohai details each of Greece’s major initiatives to emerge from the crisis, including: a) reducing the minimum wage, b) lowering public spending, c) decreasing salaries for public workers, d) cuts to social security and hospital spending, e) the privatization of public assets, f) safeguarding the free movement of capital and g) labor market reforms to lower costs and promote employment, based on salary agreements and restrictions on union activities. All of these tactics have been tried and proved rather unsuccessful in Latin American crises.

There is also a series of essays that attempt to explain current imperialism, Russia, China, the fall of Europe, the United States and financial and military institutions around the world (IMF, risk-rating agencies, etc.), seeking to pull apart the tangled web of globalized economic and military power.

One of the high points of the work is its critique of the local political economy (in Uruguay), in a broad sense, including the following:1) its structural layout and the recent development of highly resource-concentrated primary sectors,2) economic policy itself, 3) the institutionality jealously guarded by capital interests (both national and foreign) and 4) the actors carrying all of this forward.

The Left-Wing Economist Network of Uruguay (REDIU) shared some analysis of economic functioning, showing how certain decisions that promote resource (land and capital) concentration lead to structural economic deformation, whose consequences cannot be reversed with social welfare policies. The economic policy critique ascertains that Uruguayan progressivism has made mistakes and, unlike other countries, renounces its own sovereignty to regulate the economy and valuable resources to drive industrial development. There is a need for taxes to play a role in appropriating big capital earnings. The critique of how public debt is handled shows how costly it is for the country, even as it is beneficial for the international financial system.

Either implicitly or explicitly, this book denounces the institutionality of capital that has formed the current export enclaves. It argues that the enclaves defined by Cardoso and Faletto to explain Latin American insertion in global capitalism were less damaging than modern definitions, which are hardly linked to the local economy, besides administrative and military bureaucracy. The current enclaves require greater prerogatives and take the economy as a whole and the legal-political system captive, as well as the administrative bureaucracy, of course (the author discusses secret contracts), and police and military institutions that defend them (UPM case).1 They require natural resources (port concessions), tax benefits (free zones, investment promotion laws, tax exemptions), macroeconomic stability (monetary and currency), subsidized infrastructure, low social conflict, a legal framework (rules of the game) that defends them, and, as if this is not enough, international conflict-resolving bodies will do so in its stead.

National political figures deserve their own section. Two leaders that compete for positions in the country's representative democracy stand out: the former (and perhaps future) president Tabaré Vázquez and the current president, José Mujica. Although the text focuses on certain figures, it elucidates coalition government policies. Vázquez restricted international policy, fulfilling Uruguay's historical role in the region (the small and uncomfortable neighbor in the midst of agreements among the great nations), flirted with the United States and promoted Free Trade Agreements until he was forced to "step off the train," both a result of corporate and labor organization pressure. However, he left the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in place. Mujica won the elections by criticizing the foreign policy and technocratic nature of the Vázquez administration, but maintained key figures in power who managed the economy. Mujica's government, as the book indicates, really wants to "develop capitalism," but capitalism with a "subsidized bourgeoisie." The government currently transfers around six percent of fiscal spending to the bourgeoisie through generous capital taxation.

Vázquez prioritized technocracy, defined as “wise knowledge” to govern. Mujica advanced towards the “neo-oligarchization” of politics." Loyalty to the leader allows access and movement in a political career.

Finally, Yohai provides some proposals worthy of discussion among the governing left, with a critical view of recent governments. This book spreads awareness, revives discussions and debates what to do about foreign trade, the financial system, land, industry and commerce, the tax system, education, research and development, social policies and healthcare – in other words, real democracy. However, there are no clear collective subjects to defend these proposals or give them political viability.

Óscar Mañán
Universidad de la República - Uruguay

*UPM (formerly Botnia) is a cellulose paste production company on the eastern side of the Uruguay river, whose facilities have generated still unresolved controversy with Argentina. The intense conflict has led militant environmentalists from Argentina to make threats that they will attack the plant.

Licencia de Creative Commons  Problemas del Desarrollo. Revista Latinoamericana de Economía by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Published in Mexico, 2012-2018 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
CP 04510, México, D.F. Tel (52 55) 56 23 01 05 and (52 55) 56 24 23 39, fax (52 55) 56 23 00 97, www.probdes.iiec.unam.mx, revprode@unam.mx. Journal Editor: Moritz Cruz. Reservation of rights to exclusive use of the title: 04-2012-070613560300-203, ISSN: pending. Person responsible for the latest update of this issue: Minerva García, Circuito Maestro Mario de la Cueva s/n, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México D.F., latest update: January 9th, 2019.
The opinions expressed by authors do not necessarily reflect those of the editor of the publication.
Permission to reproduce all or part of the published texts is granted provided the source is cited in full including the web address.
Credits | Contact

The online journal Problemas del Desarrollo. Revista Latinoamericana de Economía corresponds to the printed edition of the same title with ISSN 0301-7036