As early as 1919, the British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) had argued for strong state intervention in the economy. In the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929, Keynes argued that the principal cause of the crisis was a collapse in investment, and that state spending would give a boost to the economy and to employment. Higher wages and full employment are desirable, he argued, because they increase consumption and thus strengthen the market. National economic policy should be orientated above all toward attaining full employment and distributing income equitably throughout the society (Toussaint 1999:179-80).
Assuming the presidency at the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45) turned to Keynes’ prescriptions of strong state intervention to raise wages, reduce unemployment, and promote more equitable distribution of income (Toussaint 1999:171-72, 180). This represented a significant change in the domestic policy of the United States. US historian Howard Zinn (2005:392-96 & 401-3) has interpreted New Deal policies as state action to protect to some degree the social and economic rights of the people, with the principal intention of promoting political stability. In a similar vein, Arboleya writes that “the goal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was to save capitalism, but he had the vision and the sensibility to understand that this would lie in feeding the hungry, creating sources of work, and freeing the people from the misery in which they found themselves” (Arboleya 2008:104). “Roosevelt had the merit of understanding that the stability of the North American system was unsustainable under the presence of the inequalities and tensions resulting from the desperation of millions of persons. He thus decided . . . to not leave them at the mercy of the market, which represented a significant change in North American political life” (Arboleya 2008:103).
During Roosevelt’s administration, domestic political factors worked against the continuation of the military interventions in Latin America that had been central to U.S. policy since 1903 (see “US Imperialism 1903-32” 9/18/2013). Keynesian economic policies made necessary a more humanistic discourse, placing ideological constraints on the capacity of the government to act aggressively in other lands. Moreover, there had emerged a renewal of isolationist tendencies and a rejection of armed interventions, expressed in new laws on neutrality that limited the possible participation of the United States in future armed conflicts; armed interventions in Latin America came to be viewed as unconstitutional. At the same time, there had emerged in Latin America during the 1920s an anti-imperialist popular movement, which had been able to develop popular nationalist consciousness in opposition to US interventions, requiring even elite sectors in alliance with the United States to adopt a nationalist rhetoric. Such opposition to interventionism both nationally and internationally required the United States to adopt a non-interventionist foreign policy (Arboleya 2008:104).
So the United States turned to a “Good Neighbor” policy of non-intervention, seeking to pursue its imperialist goals through means other than direct military intervention. The strategy was to strengthen the military in the Latin American nation, in order that it could play a more active role in maintaining social control. In some cases, this involved supporting military dictatorships that had been established through previous interventions during the period 1898-1926. In others cases, it involved establishing military dictatorships through diplomatic maneuvering and economic pressure. In still other cases, the system worked with constitutional and even progressive governments in power.
In addition, it was necessary to give more economic space to the figurehead bourgeoisie, so that this class would have a stronger commitment to the neocolonial system and a greater capacity to participate in the maintenance of social control (see “Neocolonialism in Cuba and Latin America” 9/12/2013).
These new policies represented the pursuit of an imperialist agenda through alternative means, and as such they signified a more advanced and sophisticated form of neocolonialism, under which US corporations continued to control the labor, raw materials, the financial and productive structures, and the markets of the neocolony. The Good Neighbor policy of the New Deal does not represent the abandonment of imperialist goals, but the adaptation of imperialist policies to new economic, ideological, and political conditions (Arboleya 2008:105-7; Regalado 2007:118).
From the Third World perspective, even the most progressive US administration was imperialist. It did not engage in direct military intervention, but it intervened indirectly in pursuit of its imperialist goals.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Regalado, Roberto. 2007. Latin America at the Crossroads: Domination, Crisis, Popular Movements, and Political Alternatives. New York: Ocean Press.
Toussaint, Eric. 1999. Your Money or Your Life: The Tyranny of Global Finance. Sterling, VA: Pluto Press.
Zinn, Howard. 2005. A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Harper Perennial Modern
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, New Deal, FDR, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Keynes, Keynesianism