The author of this book, Federico Brito Figueroa, is one of Venezuela’s leading Marxist historians, and a professor at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. The work first appeared in mimeograph form (Caracas, 1966) and was presented to the university by its author upon his promotion to a chair in the Faculty of Humanities.
Venezuela Siglo XX is divided into two parts. The first, covering 1900 to 1921 (the “Epoch of Imperialist Penetration”), contains three chapters: the economy, the people, and the social structure. The second, embracing the years 1922 to 1966 (the “Epoch of Neocolonialism”), while also subdivided into three chapters with the same headings, contains three-fourths of the book’s substance. Although it won Havana’s Casa de las Américas prize for the best essay of 1967, it is hardly that, but it is a solidly documented monograph, based mainly on official Venezuelan sources and reinforced with the author’s own statistical apparatus and analyses.
Brito contends that by 1921 Venezuela had been transformed from a nation with a passive, marginal, tropical agriculture into one in which every sector of society and the economy was involved with the predatory capitalist system of the world at large. Students of Venezuelan economic history in this century will not discover much that is new in his presentation. The gargantuan role played in Venezuela’s economy by petroleum capitalism and its newer partner, the iron ore industry, is already well known. This is also the case with the data demonstrating that Caracas has played a relatively minor role in industrial development. Despite its biases, this is a valuable contribution to Venezuelan social history in the twentieth century. Brito is one of the first to study (even spottily) the living and working conditions of rural Venezuelans over the past six decades. His own experiences as an organizer of farm labor in the State of Aragua in the mid-1940s and his personal involvement with their misery make his profiles of the peasantry graphic and meaningful. So too, in my view, is his treatment of the urban poor.
The reader of this book must be prepared to push his way through a forest of statistical tables. These detract from the narrative, since the text, too, is cluttered with statistics and figures which could well have been summarized or relegated to appendices and footnotes. A set of maps would also have helped to fix the massive array of data more coherently in the reader’s mind, in my opinion. Apart from what may have been the Cuban typesetter’s penchant for employing the word “crack” rather than “crash” to describe the events of 1929, the book is well printed. Notwithstanding its tendentious tone and viewpoint, it belongs on the shelf of every Venezuelanist.