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Radical Dependency Theorists

Andre Gunder Frank and other radical dependency theorists drew on some of these ideas as well as the work of the neo-Marxist Paul Baran. Frank's influential English-language publications adopted the global perspective of the latifundia ("large landed estates," "plantations") historians (Williams), as well as Prebisch's focus on unequal terms of trade and his core/periphery model of the world economy. However, Frank rejected the ECLA economists' optimistic assessment of Third World elites. Influenced by Baran, Frank and other radical dependentistas argued that collusion between Third World elites and monopoly capital in the industrialized countries was one of the leading factors causing underdevelopment in the periphery. They also rejected the dual economy assumptions of modernization theory, arguing that capitalism had penetrated all corners of the globe since its emergence in the sixteenth century. The Third World periphery was not a "backward" region that would catch up with the industrialized world; its underdevelopment was necessary for metropole's prosperity. As Frank argued, the core and periphery were not separate entities, but, rather, the logical consequence of an integrated global capitalist system. According to Frank:

A mounting body of evidence suggests … that the expansion of the capitalist system over the past centuries effectively and entirely penetrated even the apparently most isolated sectors of the underdeveloped world. Therefore, the economic, political, social, and cultural institutions and relations we now observe there are the products of the historical development of the capitalist system no less than are the seemingly more modern or capitalist features of the national metropoles of these underdeveloped countries. (p. 18)

Frank and his dependentista colleagues challenged the assumption that decolonization had truly liberated the newly independent nations in the Third World. They argued that, in fact, exploitation had intensified, both between nations and within Third World countries, and concluded that Third World elites and their Western capitalist allies could bring nothing but underdevelopment and despair to the periphery. They called for revolutionary action to remove local political elites from power and to establish governments based on socialist ideals and structures. Only then would Third World nations be able to break their bonds of dependency, challenge global capitalist patterns of inequality, and develop as autonomous, self-reliant nations.

Radical dependency theory influenced thinkers outside Latin America as well, particularly in Africa, where it found a welcome audience among intellectuals and many policy-makers. The Guyanese historian Walter Rodney wrote a widely acclaimed analysis blaming Africa's historical underdevelopment on the systemic inequalities resulting from capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism, and Samir Amin, an Egyptian political economist, concluded that Europe had underdeveloped large parts of Africa during the colonial period. This had led to the creation of dependent peripheral economies characterized by weak capitalist sectors focused on a small elite luxury market, with little attention to manufacturing for mass consumption or to promoting links between agriculture and industry. Deeply suspicious of Eurocentric explanations of the world and believing Western capitalist structures inevitably and inherently caused underdevelopment in the periphery, Samir Amin has been an ardent advocate of delinking from the West. Whether this is to be a regional or national project is unclear, but the imperative of delinking is never questioned.

In a similar vein, although skeptical of delinking, Immanuel Wallerstein has drawn on Frank and other radical dependentistas for his own project, analyzing commercial relations since the sixteenth century. His World Systems Theory (WST) expands and complements Frank's ideas, providing a broad global analysis of the way successive emerging cores, their peripheries, and semiperipheries have experienced capitalism over the last few centuries. While seeing capitalism as a zero-sum game, in which winners bring inevitable losers, by advancing the notion of a semiperiphery (rather than a binary world of metropole/periphery) and emphasizing its skepticism toward the benefits of delinking in a global world, World Systems Theory acknowledges the dynamics and dialectics within capitalist development. While many critics find this approach too sweeping, WST continues to have passionate advocates (as well as opponents) around the world.

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