Lumpenbourgeoisie: Lumpendevelopment (Review)

Review of André Gunder Frank’s Lupenbourgeoisie: Lumpendevelopment

André Gunder Frank’s Lumpenbourgeoisie: Lumpendevelopement, written in 1972, is a short summary of the evolution of dependency in Latin America from the colonial period through the neocolonial period up to the 1970s. Frank shows how the class structure of Latin American countries evolved in connection with changes between the imperialist countries and the underdeveloped countries. One can’t understand the evolution of class in Latin America without understanding the imperialist system. The wealthy countries and poor countries are two sides of the same coin. One is tied to the other. The ruling class that became dominant in Latin America is a comprador bourgeoisie. The comprador bourgeoisie works with the imperialists to transform their Latin American countries into countries that are underdeveloped. Frank describes underdevelopment as “lumpendevelopment.” Working with the imperialists, the comprador bourgeoisie, what Frank calls the “lumpenbourgeoisie,” is the main local actor responsible for the stunted, unhealthy status of Latin American economies since the colonial period up to the time of his book. Although Frank describes his terminology as “poetic,” many would find it confusing. Although underdevelopment has changed in some of the details since the 1970s, underdevelopment itself continues to exist in many forms. Latin America and the rest of the Third World still suffer from imperialist domination and underdevelopment today.

Frank asks why Latin America ended up as underdeveloped when the United States, especially the North, did not. Frank convincingly rejects as chauvinist the Weberian view that the protestant work ethic is why the United States became wealthy. He rejects the view that a Catholic culture of laziness is why Latin America became poor. Frank less convincingly argues that the United States did not benefit at all from the capitalist culture of Britain. Frank unconvincingly claims that capitalism arose first in Catholic Spain, Italy, and Portugal. (1) Frank holds a version of the commercialization model of the origin of capitalism. Frank, presumably, connects the development of capitalism to the wealthy trading cities of the late middle ages, not to a unique transformation of the mode of production that spread outward from Britain. Whether or not Frank is correct about the origin of capitalism or whether others, such as Robert Brenner and Ellen Meiksins Wood, are correct has no immediate relevance to Frank’s broader arguments about underdevelopment. Even though Brenner came to be associated with the worst forms of First Worldist so-called Marxism, this incorrect aspect of his work does not necessarily follow from his work on capitalism’s origin. In fact, a parallel can be found in the Brenner-Wood explanation of early capitalism in Britain and Frank’s explanation of development of the northern United States. Both develop on the edges of much wealthier economic regions. According to Wood, British agrarian capitalism arises in, what was then, the isolated backwoods of Europe. And, Frank explains the progress of the industrial bourgeoisie over the agrarian bourgeoisie in the northern United States as a result, paradoxically, of its lack of wealth. In part, these breakthroughs in development happened as a kind of survival strategy for an initially poorer periphery. According to Frank:

“Thus a comparative study of the varieties of European colonies established in the New World leads us to a fundamental conclusion which may at first seem paradoxical, but is nevertheless an accurate reflection of the dialectic of capitalist development: the greater the wealth available for exploitation, the poorer and more underdeveloped the region today; and the poorer the region was as a colony, the richer and more developed it is today. There is only one basic reason for this: underdevelopment is the result of exploitation of the colonial and class structure based on ultraexploitation; development was achieved where this structure of underdevelopment was not established because it was impossible to establish.” (2)

In those colonial countries where there was great wealth, the imperialist imposed underdevelopment. They did this by transforming local economies into economies with a very limited range of production, sometimes only a single commodity was produced: sugar, tobacco, coffee, minerals, etc. The imperialists turned whole countries into giant plantations or mines. Export economies were created all across Latin America. Raw materials were exported to Europe to be used in industry. Europe produced consumer goods to flood colonial markets. This type of economic model benefited Europe to the detriment of the colonies. Frank describes the outlines of underdevelopment:

“The colonial and class structure is the product of the introduction in Latin America of an ultra-exploitative export economy, dependent on the metropolis, which restricted the internal market and created the economic interests of the lumpenbourgeoisie (producers and exporters of raw materials). These interests in turn generate a policy of under- or lumpendevelopment for the economy as a whole.” (3)

“The bulk of the capital available for investment was channeled, by the institutions of underdevelopment, into mining, agriculture, transport, and commercial export enterprises linked to the metropolis; almost all the rest went to luxury imports from the metropolis, with a very small share left for manufacturers and consumption related to the internal market. Because of commerce and foreign capital, the economic and political interests of the mining, agriculture, and commercial bourgeoisie were never directed toward internal economic development. The relations of production and the class structure of the latifundia, and of mining and its economic and social ‘hinterlands,’ developed in response to the predatory needs of the overseas and the Latin American metropolis.” (4)

Europe was able to impose this model on Latin America with the help of a comprador bourgeoisie whose interests were bound to the export economy. Imperialists and compradors achieved this by passing laws that made it very difficult for local industries to develop or compete with European imports. In addition, they often imposed the system with brute force. Europe often supplied the arms or armies to suppress revolts by the industrial bourgeoisie or other popular revolts against the system. This tradition survived into the modern period. After World War 2, the United States, for example, increasingly used brutal military dictators such as Batista in Cuba, Samoza in Nicaragua, or Pinochet in Chile to crush opposition to comprador policies. Today, the United States has tried to clean up its image. Now, the United States crushes popular opposition under the banner of democracy. The United States supports brutal wars against the people of Peru and Colombia waged by their puppets under the banner of so-called democracy. The imperialists also sought to topple Hugo Chávez in Venezuela under the banner of democracy.

Even though underdevelopment has survived the many twists and turns of Latin American history up to the present day, there were points where those whose interests lie with development sought to assert themselves against the comprador class who defended underdevelopment. Frank describes the conflict between two sections of the bourgeoisie, one nationalist and the other comprador. It was usually in times when there was a disruption, wars or depressions, in the imperial system when the industrialist, nationalist bourgeoisie tried to assert itself in Latin America. Nonetheless, they were almost always defeated. For example, the economic depression in Spain in the seventeenth century, “which reduced the shipping tonnage between the mother country and New Spain to one-third of what it had been in the sixteenth century made possible a significant development of local manufacturing.” This prompted the viceroy of New Spain to propose in 1794 that “the only way to destroy such local manufacturers would be to send the same or similar products from Europe, to be sold at the same or lower prices.” (5) In the nineteenth century, this conflict was represented by the struggle by the “American” party against the “European” party. Frank quotes Guizot, who, in a letter to the French Chamber of Deputies, writes:

“There are two great parties in the countries of South America: the European party and the American party. The less numerous of the two, the European party, includes the most enlightened men; those who are most familiar with the ideas of European civilization. The other party, closer to the soil, imbued with purely American ideas, is the party of the land. This party seeks to develop the region through its own efforts in its own way, without loans, without relations with Europe…” (6)

In all the struggles between these two forces in Latin America, victory went to those who defended underdevelopment and had strong ties with the imperialists. According to Frank, the United States had a very different experience, which is why the United States avoided underdevelopment:

“But, as we observed at the start of our study, the settlement of northern North America did not involve the same type of colonization and dependence as did South America’s; conditions for this type of exploitation did not exist in the North. Consequently, the class structure which developed there, based at the start on small farmers, did not present any obstacle to a development policy which permitted the Northern bourgeoisie to become strong enough to use independence to promote integrated development, to defeat the planter/exporters of the South in the Civil War, to impose a policy of industrialization and arrive at their own industrial ‘take-off’ point and, finally, to arrive at the period of imperialism and neoimperialism.” (7)

The industrial path taken in the northern United States avoided underdevelopment and laid the basis for the transformation of the United States into an imperialist power which would come to cut out Europe and dominate all of Latin America. This continues to this day with ever new forms of underdevelopment evolving to subject the vast majority of Latin America to extreme poverty to the benefit of First World populations. Frank described this trend four decades ago:

“The inequalities of income distribution in Latin America are much greater than in developed capitalist countries or in the socialist countries. According to estimates for 1965, 20 percent of the population receives only 3 percent of all income, or an average of $60 per year in 1960 prices. The poorest 50 percent of the population receives 13 percent of income, or an average of $100 per year (in El Salvador and Brazil, $.15 and $.20 a day). The richest 20 percent of the population receives 63 percent of the national income, and the richest 5 percent among these receive 33 percent, or more than half of that income; while the richest 1 percent of the population receives more than half of that, or 17 percent of the national income. Thus 1 percent of the population of Latin America receives about one and one-third (133 percent) as much income as 50 percent of the population, or the poorest half of all Latin Americans. By comparison, the poorest half of all United States citizens receives about 24 percent, or nearly twice as much relative income (and of course, several times more absolute purchasing power), while the richest 20 percent receives 45 percent of U.S. national income…Furthermore, part of the poorest group in the United States is there only temporarily, due to cyclical unemployment, while the Latin American poor are in permanent poverty because of structural unemployment, or low productivity employment. Forty percent, or 100 million people, are permanently without the minimum income necessary for minimum access to the possibilities offered by civilized life in Latin America.” (8)

The trends in inequality that Frank describes continues to exist. Today, the median income worldwide is about $2.50 a day. By contrast, a rough figure for median personal income per workday for people (working and non-working) in the United States over 15 years of age is $119. (9) Elsewhere, I write:

“All First World peoples fall within the top 20 percent of global income. Most of the world’s richest 20 percent are First World peoples. Every working person in the United States, for example, falls within the top 15 percent. A person in the United States at the US ‘poverty line’ is at the richest 13 percent globally. The top 20 percent, which includes the entire First World, accounts for three-quarters of world income. This leaves only one-quarter to be distributed to the bottom 80 percent in, mostly, the Third World. The only way that the current income levels for First World peoples are maintained is through the imperialist exploitation of the Third World. The world economy is one that directs value flows from the Third World to the First World such that the First World as a whole benefits. The only way to maintain or expand current income levels in the First World is by maintaining these flows. This is going to be the case whether a regime in the First World calls itself socialist or not. In fact, many regimes, especially in Europe, have called themselves socialist or social democratic. None of these regimes sacrificed the income levels of their populations in order to redress Third World exploitation by the imperialists.

Three-quarters of the private consumption in the world is accounted for by the world’s richest 20 percent, mostly in the First World. Nearly all adult workers in the United States fall within the richest 10 percent. The richest 10 percent accounted for over half, 59 percent of the world’s private consumption.

The current share of First World peoples is already much larger than what would be entailed by a rough egalitarian distribution.” (10)

The inequality between the First World and Third World is the most glaring fact about our world today. Underdevelopment in the Third World is directly tied to the wealth and social peace that exist in the First World. Value is transferred out of the Third World, poverty is created in the Third World, so that First World populations can live lives of relative luxury. The value that is transferred from the Third World is distributed across socioeconomic lines in the First World. So much value is appropriated by the First World so-called working class, for example, that it has ceased to be a proletariat, ceased to be a revolutionary class, in any meaningful sense. In fact, the First World so-called working class, like the First World bourgeoisie, consumes more than its share of the global social product. Thus First World workers, like the First World bourgeoisie, are exploiters that benefit from capitalism-imperialism. This is why First World workers continually align with their own ruling class against the Third World. The contradiction between the First World so-called working class and the First World bourgeoisie is not antagonistic. Lenin referred to this as the phenomenon of the labor aristocracy. Engels called it the bourgeoisification of the working class.

Much has occurred since Frank wrote. The First World has become so parasitic that less and less of the First World population is employed in production, while the same First World population consumes more and more. At the same time, industrial production has been transferred to the Third World, including Latin America. However, this industrial production does not translate into development, it is merely a new form of underdevelopment. Even though industrial production has increased in Latin America since Frank’s day, this production is controlled by and benefits imperialists and local comprador populations at the expense of the vast majority in Latin America. For example, Mexican maquiladoras are industrial plants in the Mexican border regions that employ Mexicans at subsistence-level wages to produce goods to be consumed by First World, especially North American, populations. This is hardly a model of healthy development.

Imperialists, including First Worldist so-called Marxists often hold that imperialism can be a progressive force in the world because, according to their view, imperialism brings capitalism and development to backward parts of the world. Frank thoroughly debunks this myth. Within the international communist movement, it was both Lenin and Mao who agree with Frank and oppose the chauvinist view. Lenin held that capitalism, in its highest form, was no longer progressive, but had become decadent. Mao held that imperialism did not bring real development. Rather, imperialism stunted the healthy development of countries. In order to ensure the transfer of value from exploited countries to exploiter countries, the imperialists enter into alliances with and prop up the most reactionary comprador and feudal elements within the exploited countries. Maoists call various aspects of underdevelopment “semi-feudalism,” “comprador capitalism,” “bureaucrat capitalism.” Mao’s theory of New Democracy is an answer to this. Since the national bourgeoisie of the underdeveloped countries can no longer move forward with healthy development and build up national capital, this task falls to the proletariat and its party. Frank’s works, including this one, fills in many of the details of the traditional Maoist analysis. It is also helpful for those trying to understand the new breakthrough of Leading Light Communism. Frank also does not shy away from the realities of revolution. The Leading Light is in full agreement with the conclusion reached by Frank:

“As they modernize Latin America’s dependence by means of reforms within their alliance for progress of imperialism, the contradictions of lumpendevelopment in Latin America are deepened and can only be resolved by the people — with the only true development strategy: armed revolution and the construction of socialism.” (11)

Only global people’s war, led by Leading Light Communism, is capable of destroying imperialism and liberating humanity once and for all. Those, for example, in Nepal, who call off people’s war in the name of development fail to understand the most important lessons from the past.


1. Frank, Andre Gunder. Lumpenbourgeoisie: Lumpendevelopment. Monthly Review Press. USA: 1972. p. 17
2. Frank, p. 19
3. Frank, p. 14
4. Frank, p. 23
5. Frank, pp. 24-25
6. Frank, p. 51
7. Frank, p. 59
8. Frank, pp. 116-117
9. United States rich, India poor, so-called “international communism movement” deaf and dumb. LLCO. August 19, 2007.
10. Real versus Fake Marxism on Socialist Distribution. Monkey Smashes Heaven. August 5, 2010.
12. Frank, p. 145

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