The Mexican Haunting of Venezuela’s Oil Workers (1912–1948)

A Legacy of Capitalist Incorporation


  • Leslie C. Gates SUNY-Binghamton



Anti-Capitalism, Labor Movements, Incorporation


This paper examines early twentieth century labor movements in Venezuela and Mexico that offer an opportunity to better specify how global capitalism can spawn divergent, not just convergent, resistance movements. It zeroes in on the oil workers in the decades when Venezuela became incorporated into global oil production (1912–1948). Their bread and butter demands for improvements to wages and labor conditions paled in comparison to those of their anticapitalist counterparts in Latin America’s first oil powerhouse: Mexico. This study elaborates why Venezuela’s labor movement is surprising, devises a world-historical approach to explain it, and illustrates the potential of this approach to help us reconcile differences in resistance despite apparent universalizing pressures of global economic forces. It demonstrates that Venezuela’s less radical forms of labor resistance derived from the earlier lessons the oil capitalists brought from Mexico to Venezuela on how to avoid anticapitalist labor militants. In unraveling the Mexican origins for Venezuela’s less anticapitalist labor resistance, this study spotlights incorporation as a process which can forge distinct resistance agendas even in nations on apparently parallel development trajectories. It calls for delving into histories of incorporation and exploring how their legacies create conditions more, or less, conducive for anticapitalist resistance today.

Author Biography

Leslie C. Gates, SUNY-Binghamton

Leslie C. Gates ( is associate professor of sociology at Binghamton University.  Her research examines business power, the political behavior of economic elites and the political consequences of corporate power and has focused on macro-political change in Latin America. She is the author of Electing Chávez: The Business of Anti-Neoliberal Politics (University of Pittsburgh Press) and articles in journals including Theory and Society and Research in Political Sociology.


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How to Cite

Gates, L. C. (2024). The Mexican Haunting of Venezuela’s Oil Workers (1912–1948): A Legacy of Capitalist Incorporation . Journal of World-Systems Research, 30(1), 398–420.