Category Archives: labor

Retreat from Burma, 1942

From Japan Runs Wild, 1942–1943, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 2; Casemate, 2020), Kindle pp. 69-70:

The retreat out of Burma into India was a race against time, as it had to be completed before the onset of the monsoon. The troops made it, just. The last stage of the British withdrawal was bogged down by torrential rains, which began in May. Pearl “Prue” Brewis, a British nurse, was on a train that managed to travel 65 miles in six days, since movement could only take place at night. On the sixth day, while the carriage was sitting idly on the tracks, a senior railway official entered and offered a ride up north on his train. It was crowded, but fast. “Standing room only, you know,” Brewis said about the 100-mile ride north. “Actually, we got the last plane to leave Burma because the next day the aerodrome was bombed.”

More than a million Indians lived in Burma prior to the war, but most still considered India their home. When the Japanese launched their invasion, there was a mass exodus of Indians, and soon most major Burmese cities were virtually emptied of them. The senior medical officer, Brigadier Short, described the Indians who arrived at the town of Ledo in easternmost India in the summer of 1942: “Complete exhaustion, physical and mental, with a disease superimposed, is the usual picture… all social sense is lost… they suffer from bad nightmares and their delirium is a babble of rivers and crossings, of mud and corpses… Emaciation and loss of weight are universal.” Slim watched how an Indian woman died from smallpox, leaving behind her small son. He and his staff bribed an Indian family to take the boy with them. “I hope he got through all right and did not give smallpox to his new family,” Slim wrote in his memoirs.

In the manner of Dunkirk, the defeat in Burma was in a way turned into a victory by the British. “The Army in Burma,” the official British history says, “without once losing its cohesion had retreated nearly one thousand miles in some three and a half months—the longest retreat ever carried out by a British Army.” The American assessment of the British record was less kind: “Though there were cases of individual heroism and desperate fights by small isolated forces, the main body of the British made little or no efforts to stand and give battle,” an official US military report on the Burma campaign said. “The piecemeal defense was a piece of stupidity which resulted in tens of thousands of casualties to the troops, the complete destruction of every town and city in Burma, and the loss to both the Chinese and the British of a vast amount of irreplaceable installations and equipment.”

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Rail Tourism on the Santa Fe Railway

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 192-193:

While both [William Barstow] Strong [of Sante Fe RR] and the General [Palmer of Rio Grande RR] sought a certain elevation in the travel experience, only Palmer associated it with exclusivity. Strong was not trying to appeal to a privileged few, but to a receptive many. His impulse was democratic, a matter of numbers. Strong always trusted volume.

The Santa Fe was not the first railroad to carry tourists, but it was the first to cater to them. The Harvey Houses were the first to develop the postcard for their guests to show off the local scenery to friends back home. Harvey soon added full tourist books that gave the West a romantic gloss for eastern consumption, and organized tours of the nearby countryside playing up the local color.

To enhance a sense of place, he displayed the indigenous architectural styles of the Southwest in his hotels, rather than adopt European standards as Palmer had done. In the city of Santa Fe, for instance, Harvey built La Fonda in the Spanish pueblo tradition, solidifying the adobe character of the city. And he made Native American culture a selling point. At some of his hotels, Harvey organized “Indian Tours” of the nearby Indian lands, where he arranged for natives to be on display, and created in-hotel retail shops to sell the jewelry, artwork, and other artisanal creations of the local tribes. He used an Indian thunderbird emblem for the Harvey House logo, and slapped it on every plate, bowl, and piece of cutlery in his eateries. He also brought in anthropologists to record the traditional ways of these vanishing tribes and encouraged artists and photographers to capture their spirit before it was lost. The movement ultimately brought artists such as Georgia O’Keefe to Taos.

As Strong pushed ever deeper into the West, he gained for his railroad the Harvey House aura of service—reliability and good taste. Advertising “Fred Harvey Meals All the Way,” the Santa Fe made clear it was not just another railroad. And Strong was now poised to take the Santa Fe brand all the way to the sea.

The Far Outliers indulged in a rather luxurious rail-tour vacation around the Canadian Rockies earlier this month, including four days aboard Rocky Mountaineer trains. The first-of-the-season train from Vancouver to Jasper (via busy Whistler and quirky Quesnel) had fewer cars and about 200 passengers; while the train back from Banff to Vancouver (via sprawling Kamloops), had many more cars and about 800 passengers. Pent-up travel demand is swelling passenger counts this season (May to October). We saw lots of fantastic scenery and learned a lot of fascinating history, but the two highlights of our trip were a private nature walk (dodging elk) through the hills above Jasper with multitalented Marie-Pierre Flip0-Bergeron of All Things Wild, and a private sunrise photography tour around Banff with sharp-eyed adventurer Nick Hardinge of Rocky Mountain Photo Adventures. The best of my photographic attempts on the trip can be found on my Flickr site.

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Wild West Law Enforcement, c. 1880

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 160-161:

At the end of 1878, Colorado had been a state for only two years. Most of its western neighbors were still territories and would remain so for decades more. While the Colorado governor held the power to call out the state militia, it was a largely untrained force of irregular volunteers. There was no police force worth the name, just city marshals with a few deputies, who concerned themselves with individual crimes like murder, fraud, and theft. Horse theft was still on the books as a hanging offense, and, in mining camps, a five-dollar theft was enough to earn a noose from Judge Lynch. There was no state police, let alone any FBI, to deal with the larger-scale crimes of more powerful interests. In 1864, an innovative Denver city marshal named Dave Cook had the idea of creating a regional police force, the Rocky Mountain Detective Association, to counter broader-scale criminality, relying on cable communication to coordinate crime fighting across the West from Wyoming to Texas. At its height, it consisted of over a hundred cowboy detectives, most of them city marshals, and accounted for several thousand arrests over the thirty-five years of its existence.

But even that effort was somewhat ad hoc, designed to solve only the crimes for which there was reward money. While the Wild West was often thought to be populated by murderers and desperadoes, such criminality was mostly confined to seedy hotbeds like Deadwood, Tucson, and Dodge City that were filled with drunken cowboys out for a good time. Elsewhere, life was fairly sedate; people needed to be good neighbors to survive.

In the territories, and in fledgling states like Colorado, government was not designed to serve voters so much as the powerful moneyed interests who controlled the fortunes of the elected officials. The railroad men were at the top of this list, but cattlemen, developers, miners, and wholesalers had plenty of say. When those interests were threatened from below by, say, a miners’ strike, the governor might dispatch the militia to preserve order. But discord was much harder to contain when two powerful interests clashed, for each could usually call on friends in government to take their side, making the conflict nearly impossible to resolve.

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China’s Silver Shortage, 1830s

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 304-307:

There was nothing the government could do about the weather, but the root cause of the economic turmoil in the 1830s, and the problem from which many of the others grew, was a human one: China’s monetary system had gone haywire. It was mainly a problem of currency, of which the Qing dynasty had two primary forms: copper for small transactions and silver for large ones. Copper came in minted coins (with holes through the middle so they could be strung on a loop for convenience), while domestic silver—nearly pure and known in English as “sycee”—was unminted, traded by weight in units of measurement called taels that were just under an ounce. In normal times, a tael of silver was worth a thousand copper coins, and, value for value, the excessive difficulty of moving large amounts of copper between provinces meant that silver was the medium through which all long-distance trade was conducted within the empire. Silver was also, significantly, the basis on which tax quotas were assessed. By contrast, copper was the medium of the rural marketplace and menial wages. Nearly all of the income and savings of the lower classes of China—farmers, hired laborers, craftspeople—were in copper coins.

The crisis was that the value of silver had begun to rise sharply, and as it rose the exchange rate between silver and copper skewed out of control. From the ideal rate of 1,000 copper coins per tael of silver in the eighteenth century (even less at times, which was a boon for peasants since it meant their copper money was worth more), it had risen to 1,200 by the time Daoguang came to the throne. By 1830 it reached 1,365 copper coins per tael of silver and showed no signs of stopping. Since taxes were assessed in a fixed amount of silver, which had to be purchased with copper currency, this meant that by the early 1830s the peasants of China had suffered a nearly 40 percent increase in their effective tax burdens for reasons none fully understood. And as with nearly every problem in the empire, the corruption of officials made a bad situation even worse, as tax collectors commonly charged even higher rates of exchange so they could pocket the proceeds. By the late 1830s, some regions were reporting copper–silver exchange rates as high as 1,600 to 1, with tax collectors independently demanding as much as 2,000 copper coins per tael of silver owed. This dramatic decline in the worth of copper currency was disastrous for the general population, piling economic hardship on the poor who could scarcely bear it and sparking widespread tax protests that layered on top of all the other sources of dissent against the government. But although the emperor could occasionally grant tax amnesties to regions afflicted by floods or drought, the government quite desperately needed every tael of revenue it could get and so the exactions continued.

Even with that outflow of sycee silver, however, the inflow of Spanish dollars to purchase tea and silk at Canton should have been able to maintain a relatively steady overall silver supply in China (and in fact, since the late eighteenth century Spanish dollars had been preferred even over native sycee in some of China’s most important domestic markets). But on that count, a range of forces far beyond China’s borders came into play. First, it had been American merchants who brought most of the silver to China in the early nineteenth century (fully one-third of Mexico’s entire silver output between 1805 and 1834 was carried to China by Americans). But a shift in U.S. government monetary policy in 1834 made silver more expensive for American merchants, so they switched abruptly to using bills of exchange—which were acceptable to the Hong merchants but resulted in a decline in the amount of tangible silver entering the country from abroad. With the drop in American imports, China, which for centuries had been the world’s largest net importer of silver, unexpectedly turned into an exporter of the metal.

In the even bigger picture, though, what the Chinese scholars who blamed foreign trade and opium for the scarcity of silver in China did not realize was that it wasn’t just a Chinese problem: by the 1820s, silver was becoming scarce everywhere. Most of the world’s supply at this time had come from mines in Spanish Mexico and Peru (thus the importance of the Spanish dollar), but national revolutions in Latin America that began in the 1810s shut down those mines and choked off the world’s largest fonts of the precious metal. Global production of silver declined by nearly half during the 1810s—the same time its value began to creep upward in China—and it continued to decline during the decade that followed. The ramping up of the opium trade in 1820s China thus coincided fatefully with the onset of a global slump in silver output that would last for the next thirty years.

Regardless of where the specific blame lay, it was a devastating confluence of economic forces for China: the loss of sycee through the opium smuggling trade, the global scarcity of silver after the Latin American revolutions, and the drying up of American silver imports into China together helped cause a catastrophic decline in the empire’s supply of the metal. And it was a vicious cycle, for as silver became more valuable in China, wealthy families and businessmen would hoard it, removing even more from circulation and making the problem worse.

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China’s Decline Under Daoguang

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 302-304:

Conditions in China were getting worse under Daoguang’s reign. By the time he took the throne, and to some degree beginning even with his father, Jiaqing, it becomes easier to speak of the empire each sovereign inherited rather than what he created or built. They, and the emperors and regents to follow, would have their successes—the dynasty would, after all, survive into the early twentieth century—but rarely did they leave China in a more solid position than they had found it. By the early nineteenth century, an inexorable process of decline was setting in, the slow setting of a sun that had reached its zenith under Qianlong in the late 1700s. Jiaqing had done his best, making strong efforts to rein in the corruption of the military and suppress the White Lotus and other rebellions. But under the rule of his son Daoguang, new problems would plague the empire even as old ones kept coming back in different forms.

Patronage, bribery, and embezzlement were the accepted norm among civil officials, especially in the lower orders. Population pressures on the land continued unabated, and Han Chinese settlers seeking an escape from the crowding continued to move into mountainous regions of the empire that had long been home to indigenous peoples, sparking incidents of ethnic violence. A breakdown of trust between the government and peasants worsened. The military was weakened by Jiaqing’s cost-cutting measures after the White Lotus campaigns. Through the 1830s, internal rebellions erupted in different parts of the empire with regularity, every year or two—some led by religious sects similar to the White Lotus, others by rebel factions bonded together by regional or ethnic ties. The many divisions that ran naturally through a vast and diverse multiethnic empire were turning more frequently and more visibly into fractures.

Opium wove its way right through the tattering fabric of this restive society, the single most visible symbol of the Chinese government’s inability to control its people. In spite of Daoguang’s strong desire to control the drug, coastal enforcements on smuggling had failed so completely that by the later 1830s when a foreign ship materialized near the coast it would find not naval patrols but thousands of buyers standing along the shore and whistling to it in hopes that it would drop anchor and sell to them. A major north–south land transport route for opium through Hunan province formed the locus of a series of uprisings that took place in central China in 1836, and imperial troops transferred inland to pacify them turned out to be such heavy users of opium themselves that they could barely fight. Ironically, they had acquired their drug habits in the course of their previous mission, which was to police the smugglers on the coast near Canton.

China’s rising domestic unrest caught the attention of foreigners in Canton, who worried about damage to tea and silk production from the disturbances in the interior. However, some of them also sensed opportunity in the ones that took place on China’s periphery. In 1833, an explosive revolt of aborigines on Taiwan threatened Qing imperial control of the island for several months, in the midst of which it was announced in Britain’s parliament that Taiwan had “declared its independence of the Chinese.” Some foreigners had already begun touting Taiwan as a potential British colony, a base from which they could conduct their trade with China free from the restrictions of Canton. They argued that, morally speaking, to take control of Taiwan would be nothing like trying to seize territory on the Chinese mainland, because Taiwan had been a Dutch possession prior to its conquest by Qianlong’s grandfather Kangxi, so they judged it to be merely a colony of the Qing Empire rather than essential Chinese territory. According to one Canton English-language newspaper, the Taiwanese were a conquered people, “vassals of China; not willingly, but in consequence of bloody wars,” and so even foreigners who opposed aggression toward China shouldn’t object to the British taking control of the island, which the paper judged would be praiseworthy even if only for the sake of “ridding its people of the tyranny of the Chinese.”

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Cuban Revolution of 1933

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 441-443:

The election to the presidency of the Liberal Gerardo Machado in 1924 at first promised an end to the graft of the previous administration. Enjoying widespread popularity, Machado embarked on a programme of public works and measures to diversify the economy. But the fall in sugar prices of the late 1920s led him to repress strikes and protests, and when he got a controlled congress to grant him a further six-year term in 1928, he faced an explosion of anger from the student movement. As Machado’s rule became increasingly repressive, students and middle-class intellectuals took to violence and terrorism. The students formed a Directorio Estudiantil, which was to play a continuing oppositional role in the island’s politics. In 1931 there appeared a secret organization calling itself the ABC, whose members were young middle- and upper-class nationalists inspired by the Peruvian Haya de la Torre’s APRA movement. ABC pistoleros resorted to assassinations and shoot-outs in the streets with Machado’s brutal police. The unrest spread as labour unions joined the opposition to the dictator.

Reluctant to send in troops as in the past because of the nationalist agitation, Washington used its ambassador, Sumner Welles, to negotiate an end to Machado’s rule. But the nationalists resented Welles’s intervention and called a general strike in August 1933 (the Communist Party, fearing a US invasion, withdrew its support for the strike and tried to do a deal with Machado, which discredited it in the eyes of students and nationalists). Machado finally bowed to the pressure and went into exile. There followed an upsurge of revolutionary activity – occupations of factories and sugar mills by workers, looting of wealthy districts, and mob attacks on collaborators with the dictatorship.

The moderate government of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, installed by the army in concert with Sumner Welles, was unable to control the situation. In September 1933 a revolt of non-commissioned officers – among whose leaders was a Sergeant Fulgencio Batista – unseated Céspedes and handed over power to a five-man committee chosen by the Directorio Estudiantil. The Havana students had succeeded in creating a nationalist revolution and, after some confusion, they chose one of their professors, the patrician Dr Ramón Grau San Martín, as provisional president. Workers now occupied sugar mills, in some cases demanding wage rises at gunpoint; strikes, riots and gun battles broke out all over the island. Grau’s government passed a number of radical measures, such as the expropriation of a small number of US-owned sugar mills, some redistribution of land, the limitation of the working day to eight hours, restrictions on the employment of cheap non-Cuban labour from other Caribbean islands and the extension of the franchise to women.

Still, the revolution of 1933 was primarily the work of student agitation and, apart from the expected hostility of the USA and the Cuban business community, it was opposed by the Communists, the ABC nationalists and by ousted army officers, who staged a number of revolts. Four months later Grau’s government was overthrown by a coup led by Fulgencio Batista, who effectively became the strongman of Cuba for the next decade, ruling at first through presidential stooges and then, from 1940, in his own right.

Batista was a military populist, a mulatto from a very humble background who had risen from the ranks and whose core constituency remained the enlisted men of the armed forces. As befitted a Latin American leader of the 1930s, he presented himself as a benefactor of the people, using the resources of the state for nationalist and redistributive ends. In 1934 the Platt Amendment was at last annulled, and a larger US quota for sugar helped raise production from the doldrums of the 1920s and early 1930s. Although Batista had the backing of US and Cuban business interests, he took steps to cultivate the trade unions, passing social welfare legislation, building houses for workers and creating employment through large public works programmes. A new labour confederation, controlled by a Communist leadership, was incorporated into the strongman’s political machine. In the countryside, Batista redistributed some land and, following the example of the Mexican Revolution, initiated a programme of rural education, often staffed by army personnel.

Dismayed by the failure of the 1933 revolution, the students and radical nationalists formed a new party in memory of José Martí, the Partido Revolucionario Cubano-Auténtico, which became the principal opposition to Batista. Terrorism continued to be a habitual feature of political life, but by the late 1930s Batista felt secure enough to permit elections for a constituent assembly. In 1940 a new nationalist, social-democratic constitution was passed by a Batista-dominated assembly, which included universal suffrage, state rights over the subsoil, state ‘orientation’ of the economy and labour rights such as a minimum wage, pensions, social insurance and an eight-hour day.

The constitution of 1940 ushered in a period of legitimate democratic governments, though there was no weakening of the Cuban tradition of political gangsterism and corruption. Batista won a clean election in 1940 and continued to implement his populist programme in the improved economic climate fostered by the war and the consequent US aid. Yet radical nationalism reasserted itself in 1944; Batista lost the election – having forborne from rigging it – to Dr Grau of the Auténticos, and retired to the USA a wealthy man.

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Brazil’s Economic Miracle

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 428-429, 435:

The reasons for the failure of the guerrillas are complex. With their predominantly middle-class, university-educated cadres they were unable to break out of their political isolation – the clandestine Communist Party disapproved of the guerrillas’ strategy and blocked their access to working-class organizations. The terrorist attacks on military targets precluded the emergence of any sympathetic groups within the armed forces who might have staged a coup d’état, this being the usual short cut to power for progressive movements in Latin America. But, decisively, the guerrilla campaign coincided with the long-awaited upturn in the economy. From 1968, while the guerrillas were robbing banks and bombing barracks, life was getting better for the middle classes and the skilled workers in the cities, which is where, in a rapidly urbanizing country, the political fate of the nation would be decided. In short, what finally put paid to the prospects of the urban guerrillas was the arrival of the Brazilian ‘economic miracle’.

As far as the generals were concerned, the ‘miracle’ obviated the need for an explicit political ideology to run the state. The tremendous popular enthusiasm generated by the idea of an economic miracle was manipulated by the junta to rationalize their continued suspension of full democratic rights. The economic upswing was ‘miraculous’ in that it seemed to be a sudden take-off into self-sustaining industrial growth, the hallmark of a modern economy. Brazil was at last on its way to world-power status from the doldrums in which it had found itself for the best part of the 1960s.

The Brazilian rate of economic growth was indeed amazingly good: in 1968–74 the economy grew at an average yearly rate of between 10 per cent and 11 per cent. Even after the sudden rise in the world price of oil in 1973, which seriously damaged all the industrial economies, the Brazilian rate of growth averaged between 4 per cent and 7 per cent a year. By the mid-1970s the volume of exports had quadrupled since 1967. Far more significant was the fact that manufactured goods had replaced coffee as the major component of exports: the stubborn Latin American problem of monoculture – the dependence on the export of a single primary commodity – had been solved.

Without doubt, a substantial industrial revolution had occurred in Brazil; and it had largely been engineered by technocrats sponsored by the armed forces. But this success was built on the programme of industrialization achieved over many years since the foundation of the Estado Nôvo by Getúlio Vargas in 1937. Underlying the intervening conflicts of parliamentary politics, there had been a remarkable continuity in the course of Brazilian development from the Getúlio Vargas era to the military governments of the 1960s and 1970s. Development continued to be based on a sustained drive for industrial growth largely financed by foreign loans and investment, but directed by the state. The military governments of the 1960s and 1970s kept all basic industries and utilities under state control; they largely retained the nationalist policy of import-substitution industrialization by selective tariffs; and they also preserved the core of the social welfare and labour legislation of the Estado Nôvo.

Brazil’s extraordinary drive to modernize in the twentieth century produced a powerful industrial economy in the space of little over three decades. The costs were enormous: acute dislocations of regional economies, the destruction of virgin lands, an imbalance between the countryside and the cities, and deep cleavages between the working class, industrial capitalists and the middle classes. And yet, industry did not become productive enough to absorb the potential labour force, while the countryside remained under-productive and socially divided. Successive governments tried to force the pace of industrial development, as well as increasing spending on welfare programmes to alleviate the social misery. The results were vicious circles of inflation and budget deficits, which spiralled uncontrollably, robbing governments of authority. In 1964 the armed forces intervened to try to restore order, but by the late 1970s they too had been drawn into the spiral of inflation and debt; their historic pursuit of ordem e progresso had led, paradoxically, to a situation where economic progress had become the enemy of social order.

The Brazilian crisis of the 1980s was as much a crisis of the state as of the economy. In the medium term economic improvement might come through an upturn in the world economy combined with a successful anti-inflation programme and international assistance with debt relief. But a lasting settlement of the crisis would require the emergence of a legitimate democratic state, whose representative institutions could command the confidence of the nation as a whole.

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Argentina’s Boom Years

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 277-278:

With Buenos Aires at its head, the new Argentina was set upon the road to stability and modernization. In the course of the 1860s and 1870s, the liberal presidents Mitre, Sarmiento and Nicolaás Avellaneda created the institutions of a centralized nation state: a professional army, an integrated judicial system, a national bank, a system of public schooling, public libraries, an academy of science and other technical institutions. The railway and telegraphic communications began to link the hitherto fractious conservative provinces to Buenos Aires and, through it, to the world outside. The 1870s were also a time of expanding frontiers and absorption of massive new territories. Victory in the Paraguayan War (1865–70) yielded territory in the north and north-west. Then, in the south, General Julio Roca led another Desert Campaign (1879–80), which exterminated or reduced the nomadic Indians of the pampas, releasing vast acres for settlement and cultivation.

From 1880, the year in which Buenos Aires was constitutionally recognized as the federal capital of the nation, Argentina embarked on an astonishing rate of growth – sustaining an annual average of at least 5 per cent until 1914 – to become one of the richest nations in the world. The territorial acquisitions of the 1870s invigorated the economy, based as it was on cattle, sheep and, increasingly, cereals. As always in Argentina, there was a pressing need for labour, and now more so than ever – labour to work the land, to fence in and convert the barren pampas into wheatfields, and to lay the railway that would link up the provinces and turn the disparate regions into an integrated, modern nation. European immigration was therefore encouraged, and workers – mostly from Italy and Spain – flooded into this vast, empty country. In 1870 the population was less than 2 million; in the next fifty years approximately 3.5 million immigrants would come to Argentina.

The capital investment and technical expertise required for such a massive economic transformation were beyond the resources of a country that had been continually drained by military upheavals and whose economy had been based on rudimentary cattle-raising. Such resources were provided overwhelmingly by the British, who became the major customers for Argentine wheat and meat, the latter now available for export to Europe thanks to faster steamships and the introduction of frigoríficos (meat-chilling plants). A bilateral pattern of trade emerged: Argentina imported manufactured goods from Britain in exchange for her exports of foodstuffs for the British industrial working classes. However, British business also established a commanding position in the internal structure of the Argentine economy: British companies owned the railways, the telegraph, the new meat-processing plants and many of the banks and merchant houses operating in Buenos Aires; this made Argentina potentially vulnerable to external economic pressures, though it was not perceived to be a problem by any political force in the country at the time. A significant Anglo-Argentine community came into being, its upper echelons setting the social tone for the new plutocratic estanciero élite.

There were other structural imbalances. The opening up of the new territories after the ‘Conquest of the Desert’ did not lead to the emergence of a rural middle class of medium-sized farmers, as had occurred in the Midwest of the USA and as Argentine social reformers had advocated. The sheer volume of land was too great for the number of available purchasers; over-supply kept prices low until the end of the century and this cheap new land was snapped up by established landowners and merchants, who were able to expand their existing holdings. Impoverished European immigrants, on the other hand, could not initially afford substantial holdings; they started off as tenant farmers or sharecroppers in the hope of eventually purchasing their plots and extending their property, as in fact many of them did. Yet the pull of world demand for Argentine foodstuffs was such that agrarian export development encouraged ever greater concentration of resources, so that the pattern of distribution of new land in the end came to resemble the classic latifundia, the huge estates characteristic of the Hispanic seigneurial regimes established in America since the sixteenth century.

The immigrants filled jobs in industry and public works, and worked as seasonal labourers in the countryside, returning to live in the cities out of season. Wages in the country were generally good – good enough to attract the golondrinas, the ‘swallows’ who arrived from Italy and Spain for the harvest and then returned home. But most immigrants stayed and settled in the cities, especially Buenos Aires, where they suffered the vicissitudes of inflation and recession. Towards the end of the century, the market became over-supplied with labour and wages began to fall, exacerbating social tensions. Argentina’s transformation in the last quarter of the century thus resulted in a strangely skewed economic structure: the rural economy was in the hands of a relatively small creole élite of estancieros, the cities were inhabited by a large and growing proletariat, many of foreign extraction, while the booming export-economy was dominated by British financial and commercial interests.

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Brazil’s Path to Independence

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 229-230:

Brazil’s passage to independence, however, was not without its risks of political catastrophe. Though the attachment to monarchy was very strong, there had emerged here and there a considerable feeling for republicanism, as attested by the Inconfidência mineira of 1788–9 and intermittent republican revolts since. In the event of a sufficiently grave crisis of royal authority, these republican sympathies could have cohered to challenge the Catholic monarchy of Portugal. Such a possibility arose in 1820, when events in the Peninsula again placed the Crown in difficulties. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 Portugal had been ruled by a Regency Council in the absence of the king, but in late 1820 a series of revolts by liberals led to the establishment of a government committed to a constitutional monarchy. A Cortes was called in Lisbon to draw up a constitution modelled on the 1812 constitution of Cadiz, and the king was summoned to Portugal by the liberal government.

In Brazil there was extensive sympathy for the liberal revolution and John VI came to accept the principle of a constitutional monarchy, but he was torn as to whether or not he should return to Lisbon, fearing that he might lose Brazil if he did, or else Portugal if he did not. Finally, he decided to go back, but he left behind his son Dom Pedro as prince regent in Brazil. Thus the Portuguese monarchy put out an offshoot in its most important overseas colony in an attempt to span the political rift that was opening up between Brazil and the mother country.

That rift was to widen into an unbridgeable gulf once it became evident to the Brazilian delegates at the Lisbon Cortes that the peninsular liberals were determined to return Brazil to its colonial status prior to 1808. The liberal government proposed to cancel the political equality of Brazil with Portugal and the freedom of trade which the king had decreed for Brazil when he had first arrived in Rio. This the Brazilians would not countenance and, when the Lisbon government recalled the prince regent in October 1821, the Brazilians urged him to ignore the order. Perversely, Lisbon was pushing the mostly reluctant Brazilians towards some kind of separation, but it was still unclear what form this separation would take and how it might come about. At this juncture, in the final months of 1821, a political crisis arose which could have led to one of a number of outcomes – even to a republic, for which there was considerable support among radical liberals.

It was Dom Pedro’s chief minister, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, a conservative monarchist who had spent over thirty years in the service of the Crown in Portugal, who steered Brazil towards independence. On 9 January Dom Pedro had declared that he would stay in Brazil, thereby asserting his autonomy from Lisbon. After his appointment a week later, José Bonifácio edged the country along an independent path, allowing indirect elections for a constituent assembly and disregarding orders from Lisbon. The final break with Portugal came when the Lisbon government tried once again to assert its authority over Brazil by recalling the prince regent. On 7 September 1822, on the banks of the River Ipiranga near São Paulo, Dom Pedro finally rejected Portugal and proclaimed the independence of Brazil.

After his famous Grito de Ipiranga the prince regent was crowned emperor and the former colony became a constitutional monarchy in its own right. Portuguese troops in various captaincies in the north and north-east put up violent resistance to independence, but by 1824 the whole territory had been won for Dom Pedro’s regime. In the following year Portugal, under pressure from Britain, recognized the independent state of Brazil; Britain also extended recognition, in return for a promise from Brazil to abolish the slave-trade and a commercial treaty which accorded imports from Britain a preferential tariff.

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Elite Unity of Portugal and Brazil

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 208-209:

It was generally recognized in Portugal that Brazil was the engine of the imperial economy. Though Portugal might have reversed her trade deficit with Britain, it was only because she was herself in chronic deficit with her largest colony. The imbalance, however, did not lead to political frustration in Brazil. The Portuguese had been conspicuously successful in creating a unitary sense of empire in which the colonial élites could strongly identify with the mother country. In contrast to Spanish America, there was no great resentment against peninsular Portuguese: there existed little by way of a separate Brazilian culture for the élite; the involvement of sugar planters in the export-economy made for a common interest with Portuguese merchants, slave-traders and royal officials; finally, the massive presence of Africans and mulattos reinforced the identification of white Brazilians with their European cousins (family ties were, indeed, close).

The political value of this unitary sense of empire was well understood by Portuguese statesmen. Pombal, for instance, was careful not to alienate the Brazilian élites by his reforms. Posts in the bureaucracy and in the newly founded militias were open to Brazilians; local oligarchies were allowed to invest in the monopoly companies; the introduction of new crops into hitherto unsettled areas and the general expansion and liberalization of trade were designed to favour American as much as European Portuguese. Even the expulsion of the Jesuits, who had always opposed the white settlers’ Indian slaving and occupation of native lands, met with Brazilian approval – the large, well-managed estates of the Jesuits, as well as the Indian labour released by the destruction of the missions, provided excellent economic opportunities for wealthy merchants and planters. Brazil was considered to be fully a part of Portugal, even though it happened to be situated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean; so much so, that the possibility of transferring the imperial court to Brazil in a time of peril had been mooted in Lisbon as early as the middle of the seventeenth century.

The American and French revolutions were to plunge all of Europe, Portugal included, into ideological and military turmoil.

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