Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

The Reawakening of Revolution in Latin America

Expand Messages
  • Walter Lippmann
    (This is the introduction to the special issue of the magazine SOCIALISM AND DEMOCRACY, which is devoted to this topic. Alas, most of the rest of the journal
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2006
      (This is the introduction to the special issue of the magazine
      SOCIALISM AND DEMOCRACY, which is devoted to this topic. Alas,
      most of the rest of the journal isn't online. All looks good.)

      The Reawakening of Revolution in Latin America


      Gerardo Rénique

      Today the specter haunting capitalism journeys through Latin America.
      The region’s ongoing social and political upheaval—be it through the
      ballot box or direct mass action—threatens the hegemony of global
      capital and neoliberal ideology. In an unprecedented cycle of
      strikes, mass mobilizations and popular insurrections extending from
      the early 1990s to the present, the marginalized, exploited and
      despised subaltern classes have drawn on deeply rooted traditions of
      struggle to bring down corrupt and authoritarian regimes closely
      identified with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and
      Washington. Important electoral victories have been achieved in
      Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and Uruguay. Mass direct action has
      toppled governments in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina.
      Government proposals to privatize public services have been soundly
      defeated in Uruguay, Peru, and Bolivia. In Mexico, the peasants of
      San Salvador Atenco blocked plans to build a new airport on their
      agricultural lands, and in Peru the peasants and provincial
      authorities in Tambo Grande kept agricultural land from being taken
      over by a multinational mining company.

      Confronted by the retrenchment of the state from its most basic
      social duties, many popular movements and organizations mobilize to
      address such aspects of everyday life as housing, nutrition,
      childcare, education, and productive work. One thinks here of the
      communal kitchens in Peru, squatter organizations in Uruguay,
      cooperatives of unemployed workers in Argentina, landless peasants in
      Brazil, and the autonomous municipalities and Juntas de Buen Gobierno
      (Good Government Councils) in the territories in Mexico controlled by
      the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army). Driven by principles
      of solidarity, self-respect, collective participation and communal
      interest, these popular institutions constitute a powerful challenge
      to the individualism, self-interest and exclusion that are the core
      values of neoliberalism. They also constitute a frontal assault on
      post-Cold War triumphalism and on the neoliberal celebration of
      unrestricted markets, free trade and electoral regimes as the only
      possible path to a modern, democratic and civilized existence.

      In opposition to this agenda, the new subaltern movements offer a
      politics of hope, which is the focus of this special issue of
      Socialism and Democracy. Analysis of Latin America’s anti-systemic
      rebellions and social movements becomes all the more imperative as
      the U.S. hastily regroups forces to restore the neoliberal order
      which has been under attack since the early 1990s. The recent visit
      of Condoleezza Rice to Latin America, the White House's aggressive
      campaign to force the approval of CAFTA (Central American Free Trade
      Agreement), Bush’s threats to interfere with the transmissions of
      Telesur (the news and TV network established between Venezuela, Cuba,
      Argentina and Uruguay), and, more ominous, the expansion of
      Washington’s geo-strategic reach with the Paraguayan government's
      recent authorization of a military base in the Triple Border region
      with Brazil and Argentina, are telling expressions of the U.S. effort
      to reassert its imperial presence and to restore the confidence of
      its chastised local elites.

      The neoliberal offensive had its foundational moment in that other
      September 11 in 1973, when General Augusto Pinochet, with the support
      of the United States, led a bloody coup d’état against the government
      of Salvador Allende—the first elected Marxist president in Latin
      America. For the most reactionary sectors of global ruling elites,
      the establishment of the Pinochet regime offered an unsurpassed
      opportunity to voice openly and aggressively an ultraliberalism*
      which had previously been constrained both by Keynesian strictures of
      the welfare state and by political compromise with social-democratic
      forces and organized labor. The Chilean junta’s free market policies,
      uncompromising anti-communist discourse, and hostility toward any
      state welfare functions, galvanized an ideological and political
      offensive, guided by economist Milton Friedman and his “Chicago
      Boys,” against the regulatory and social policies which they viewed
      as fetters to the “invisible hand” of the market. Today their
      multinational cadre of followers educated in mainly U.S. universities
      hold key executive posts both in multilateral institutions such as
      the World Bank and the IMF, and in Latin American central banks and
      ministries of economy and finance. Not only did Pinochet enjoy the
      personal admiration of Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher and their
      ilk, but many of his measures, such as the privatization of social
      security, were swiftly incorporated into the emerging neoliberal
      orthodoxy. Operación Cóndor—a secret multinational effort aimed at
      eliminating left-wing and popular opposition—marked the beginnings of
      a regional reactionary offensive that had managed, by the 1980s, to
      defeat other left-wing and popular movements and to largely isolate
      the Cuban regime.

      Neoliberalism, dubbed capitalismo salvaje (savage capitalism),
      reached its peak during the so-called “lost decade” of the 1980s,
      when the privatization of public services and national resources
      devastated the already highly polarized societies and economies of
      Latin America. The post-World War II Latin American developmentalist
      state had broadly acknowledged—though not always honored—demands for
      labor rights, basic social services, free education, land reform, and
      national control of strategic resources. Informed by a wide range of
      ideological orientations and political traditions encompassing the
      anarcho-syndicalism of the early labor movement, elite republican
      liberalism, the communitarianism of peasant and indigenous
      communities, revolutionary socialism and communism, social doctrines
      of the Catholic Church, revolutionary nationalism, and the
      counterinsurgent reformism of the Alliance for Progress, the promises
      of the developmentalist state provided a framework for subaltern
      expectations and demands that were voiced in reformist or
      revolutionary modes.

      On the heels of the Chilean coup, however, Latin America's
      developmentalist states were swiftly and thoroughly dismantled
      through the combined efforts of the World Bank and IMF. The result
      was an extraordinary deterioration of the material conditions of
      existence, with 225 million—44% of the total Latin American
      population—reduced to poverty. In response to this onslaught,
      however, new social actors emerged who, together with older
      activists, have created new social movements and revitalized older
      class-based organizations to defend popular interests. By the 1990s
      these movements had managed not only to erode the legitimacy of
      neoliberalism, but also to realign social and political forces in the
      region. Strikes and mass mobilizations in Peru (2000), a popular
      insurrection in Argentina (2001) and most notably rebellions with
      prominent indigenous participation in Ecuador (1997, 2000, 2005) and
      Bolivia (2003, 2005) have overthrown corrupt, repressive and pro-U.S.
      regimes. It is this popular mobilization of what can be described as
      a “social left” that has made possible the election of progressive or
      left-wing governments in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Uruguay.
      Tellingly, discontent with neoliberalism has even reached Colombia,
      where president Alvaro Uribe—Washington’s most loyal vassal in the
      region—lost control of the capital city of Bogotá (in the October
      2004 mayoral election) to Luis Eduardo Garzón, a former communist
      union leader. Recently, Uruguay not only elected its first ever
      left-wing president (the socialist Tabaré Vázquez), but in the
      ensuing regional elections the Frente Amplio-Encuentro Progresista
      (Broad Front-Progressive Encounter) managed to win in seven of the
      country's nineteen states including the capital city of Montevideo.
      Despite their ideological differences and differing degrees of
      commitment to improve the well-being of the masses, these new
      progressive regimes are all characterized by an independent foreign
      policy that represents a serious challenge to U.S. unilateralism.

      The Latin American reestablishment of diplomatic and economic
      relations with Cuba, led by the recently elected progressive
      governments, constitutes a dramatic reversal of Washington’s
      decades-old attempt to isolate and strangle the Cuban revolution.
      Other signs of such newly found independence include: the defeat of
      U.S. efforts to amend the Inter-American charter to isolate the
      Venezuela's elected but revolutionary government; rejection by the
      region’s defense ministries of U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s
      proposal—supported by Colombia—to form a Latin American multinational
      force; defeat of a U.S-backed candidate for Secretary General of the
      Organization of American States; and the explicit rejection of
      unilateralism in the foundational charter of the newly created South
      American Community of Nations. The rejection of the Free Trade
      Agreement of the Americas (FTAA)—slated to go into effect in January
      2005—by the ten South American countries of MERCOSUR(Common Market of
      the South) represents a severe setback to future U.S.-led trade
      agreements, which are apprehensively regarded in the region as no
      less than a strategy for neo-colonization.

      Brazil not only has played a prominent role in the region’s
      opposition to the FTAA but has also acted as an important deterrent
      to U.S. interventionism in both Cuba and Venezuela, while
      prioritizing the expansion of relations with India, China, the Middle
      East and the Southern African nations—including technological and
      military aspects. Venezuela likewise has privileged economic ties
      with Southern Hemisphere nations as well as with Russia, India, and
      China. Venezuela’s close cooperation with Cuba and president Hugo
      Chávez's plan to use oil—Venezuela’s most important resource—as a
      tool for the economic and political integration of the Caribbean
      Basin also represents a challenge to U.S. domination. Even the IMF,
      the most powerful instrument of the neoliberal offensive, has
      suffered defeats in the ongoing Latin American upheaval. Argentine
      President Néstor Kirchner, who was elected in the aftermath of the
      tumultuous rebellions that brought down Fernando de la Rúa, stood up
      to the IMF by declaring a moratorium on private debt. His call for a
      boycott of the transnational oil corporations Esso and Shell (for
      increasing oil prices) was enthusiastically embraced by thousands of
      demonstrators who occupied gas stations.

      In contrast to their independent foreign policies, on the domestic
      front these left-wing and progressive regimes have in most cases
      fallen short on their commitments to the marginalized non-white
      masses. Perhaps the most tragic example of such disappointment is the
      case of Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose
      concessions to the Brazilian right as well as to global financial
      elites have come at the cost of postponing an urgently needed land
      reform and other basic social and democratic measures. Through such
      reversals, Lula has managed not only to bolster the confidence and
      demands of the propertied classes, but also—the greater tragedy—to
      spread a debilitating apathy and uncertainty among the same social
      movements whose organization, mobilization and electoral
      participation were central to the political ascendance of his Workers
      Party (PT). While recent disclosures of the PT’s bribes to
      representatives of its political ally the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB)
      and of its legally dubious bank loans (obtained through the publicist
      with the largest government contracts) have forced the resignation of
      the PT’s president, the crisis plaguing the PT is not recent. It goes
      back to the party’s decision during its 2002 electoral campaign to
      leave untouched the interests of financial capital.

      The centrist reconversion of Latin America's institutionalized
      left—described by Subcomandante Marcos in the recent EZLN Sixth
      Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle as “left-handed neoliberal
      administrations”—resembles the “molecular transformation” that
      Gramsci saw as affecting leftist political formations in times of
      crisis, blurring whatever distinguished them from those of the right.
      This seems to be the case of Manuel López Obrador, the popular
      leftist PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) mayor of Mexico City
      who has ridden an unprecedented wave of protests against the
      right-wing government’s attempts to derail his candidacy in the
      upcoming 2006 presidential election. In response, López Obrador has
      simply taken this massive support for granted. Declaring himself to
      be a “centrist,” he has betrayed the massive popular movement that
      stood in his defense, by appointing former political advisers of the
      neoliberal Salinas government to his electoral campaign. As with
      Brazil’s PT, the immediacy of a possible electoral victory has pushed
      the PRD’s leadership to sacrifice their founding project of a
      sovereign, democratic, and more just nation for an expedient and
      shortsighted moment of power.

      The institutional left’s manipulative and disrespectful relationship
      to the masses stands in marked contrast to the relation of mutual
      dependence that links Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez with his country’s
      popular classes. Massive mobilizations defeated both the
      U.S.-sponsored coup against Chávez (2002) and the oil strike aimed at
      his overthrow. In turn Chávez’s organizational efforts and social and
      economic policies are mainly geared to the benefit and empowerment of
      the most marginalized sectors of society. Despite its limits and
      shortcomings—discussed by Gregory Wilpert in S&D #37— Chávez’s
      Bolivarian Revolution, grounded on a mixed economy, welfare programs,
      popular participation, independent foreign policy, and popular
      nationalism, constitutes Latin America’s most radical break from the
      Washington consensus. His March 2005 declaration on the ineptitude of
      capitalism and on the need for a new 21st-century socialism
      represents a hopeful departure from the embarrassing opportunism of
      the more established left parties.

      Another important case illustrating the centrality of the popular
      organizations and mass mobilization in overcoming neoliberalism are
      the 2003 and 2005 popular uprisings that overthrew the last two
      Bolivian presidents. Unlike Venezuela, where popular mobilization was
      promoted by the state, the Bolivian mobilization emerged from below
      and was led by autonomous indigenous organizations. The 2003 uprising
      against the ultra-liberal Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada came in the
      aftermath of a “water war” (against privatization) and a “gas war”
      (against foreign ownership) that left more than 80 dead and hundreds
      wounded. Acknowledging popular anti-imperialist feelings and pressure
      from the Indian-based MAS (Movement to Socialism—the country’s
      second-ranking party, led by former coca-grower Evo Morales),
      President Carlos Mesa—successor to the ousted Sánchez de
      Losada—organized a referendum in which the majority voted for the
      Bolivian government to retake the gas and oil industry, and in the
      meantime to impose a 50% tax on transnational corporations exploiting
      those resources. Under pressure from multinational corporations and
      multilateral institutions, and after 10 months of intense debates and
      demonstrations, Mesa announced that he would be unable to enforce the
      50% tax. Led by indigenous people organized by the MAS, the
      Pachakutik Indigenous Movement (MIP), and the Confederación Obrera
      Boliviana(COB, Bolivia’s Labor Confederation), regional and ethnic
      organizations mobilized around four demands: 1) a constitutional
      assembly to draw up a pluri-ethnic constitution, 2) rejection of the
      FTAA, 3) expulsion of the French water company Aguas del Illimani,
      and 4) the 50% tax.

      Demonstrations, marches, roadblocks, and occupation of oil and gas
      fields paralyzed the country for several days. Unable to govern, Mesa
      finally resigned. Polarized along regional, class and ethnic lines
      the country witnessed the emergence of a separatist movement in the
      rich provinces of Cochabamba and Tarija where right-wing
      non-indigenous elites demanded a form of territorial autonomy
      amounting to secession and called for the appointment of one of their
      ranks as the president to replace the outgoing Mesa. Popular
      mobilization and parliamentary action led by Evo Morales finally
      managed to defeat the separatist movement and to secure an acting
      president committed to fulfillment of the four-point platform.

      As in Bolivia, indigenous peoples in Ecuador led by the Pachakutic
      Movement (the political arm of the Confederation of Indigenous
      Nationalities of the Ecuadoran Andes—CONAIE) have also played a
      crucial role in the popular mobilizations that have forced the
      resignations of two of the last three presidents. Chile during the
      last decade has likewise witnessed the emergence of a strong and
      militant movement among the marginalized Mapuche Indians, defending
      natural resources threatened by multinational mining and lumber
      corporations and also demanding cultural autonomy. Having displaced
      the more established parties, these new movements act as a pole of
      attraction for anti-systemic forces including parties and
      organizations of the “old left” and the “old labor movement.” Unlike
      the old left, these new movements—as discussed by Raúl Zibechi in
      this issue—tend to privilege unity of action over political
      homogeneity, and diversity over uniformity. As such they do not
      constitute—nor do they aspire to be—a unified and centralized
      movement, and they are frequently subjected to tensions and
      contradictions bred by ideological and tactical differences,
      caudillismo,* and opportunism. Such problems for instance undermined
      the role of the indigenous movement in the most recent uprising in
      Ecuador, when a group of parliamentary and cabinet members of the
      Pachakutik movement sided with President Lucio Gutiérrez in
      opposition to the majority members of CONAIE who favored his ouster.
      The ensuing crisis in the indigenous movement was solved with the
      expulsion of the dissidents and a renewed commitment to strengthen
      grassroots oversight and control of leaders and elected officials. By
      contrast, during the Bolivian rebellion that ousted president Mesa,
      despite serious political differences (including tensions between
      movements represented in parliament and those in the
      extra-parliamentary opposition), the different popular social and
      political forces managed to create unity of action against both the
      state and the right-wing opposition.

      But it is the EZLN—analyzed below by Pablo González Casanova—that
      expresses most fully the potentialities of indigenous organization
      and mobilization, both for the formulation of a new socialist vision
      and for the establishment of democratic and participatory mechanisms
      that assure close oversight of political leaders and elected
      officials. Since its emergence, symbolically staged on the day marked
      to launch the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United
      States, Mexico and Canada (January 1, 1994), the EZLN became, in the
      words of Immanuel Wallerstein, the "barometer and trigger" for
      anti-systemic movements worldwide (La Jornada, July 19, 2005). Born
      at the peak of the neoliberal ideological offensive, when uncertainty
      and disillusionment with both socialism and collective action were
      radically transforming the oppositional stance of the left, the EZLN
      uprising represented the turning point in the articulation and
      configuration of a new anti-systemic movement. Voicing the demands of
      the most oppressed and marginalized sectors of society, the EZLN's
      claims for Indian peoples' autonomy and right to well-being generated
      an unprecedented movement of support both local and international.
      The EZLN's anti-neoliberal and anti-colonial stance and its strategy
      of building local democratic power without taking over the state
      galvanized actions and political debate within the emerging
      anti-globalization movement. The political encounters called by the
      EZLN attracted social and political organizations, indigenous leaders
      and representatives, social movements, and intellectuals from all
      over the world. An important outcome of these activities was the
      formation of the Consejo Nacional Indígena (CNI)—the first
      independent national indigenous organization in Mexican history. The
      “intergalactic encounters against neoliberalism” staged in the
      Chiapas jungle were forerunners of the World Social Forum. The recent
      EZLN 6th Lacandón Jungle Declaration calling for a global left-wing
      extra-parliamentary alliance of social and political forces coincides
      with widespread disillusionment with the failures of
      social-democratic, progressive and left-wing regimes to act
      decisively against neoliberalism. The EZLN uprising and indigenous
      insurgency elsewhere in the region have also brought to the surface
      the legacy of colonial oppression and racism that lay at the heart of
      the current Latin American nation-states. The dead weight of this
      cultural and ideological legacy has rendered invisible subaltern (in
      particular, indigenous) agency in the historical formation of modern
      Latin America. Political independence from Spain led by Creole elites
      was achieved in the aftermath of widespread popular insurrections in
      both Mexico and the Andes. The apprehension generated by the violent
      and sweeping radicalism of Indian action hardened the law-and-order
      mindset of the "enlightened" founders of the Latin American
      republics. Their racialized fear of the masses together with liberal
      emphasis on individual rights have stood as the most important
      obstacles to the creation of truly democratic nation-states,
      particularly in countries with non-white (Indian or Black)
      majorities. This has even had an effect within the left, often
      impeding collaboration between its institutional and its social
      sectors. Hence the importance of understanding contemporary subaltern
      and indigenous mobilizations, their articulation with new and old
      political traditions, their amalgamation of democracy and collective
      interests, and their simultaneous deployment of reform, insurgency
      and rebellion. An understanding of this dynamic will be crucial for
      developing the revolutionary strategy prophetically envisioned in the
      1920s by Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui as the fruit of
      confluence between socialist objectives and indigenous communitarian
      political traditions and struggles.

      Contributors to this issue, reflecting the innovative modes of
      thinking and acting of Latin America’s new poor and marginal
      subjects, stress subaltern historical agency and challenge the
      state-centered and linear understandings that have long dominated
      both the social sciences and left-wing analyses. The centrality of
      the excluded sectors in the political scenario and their
      reconfiguration as new subjects on the margins of the neoliberal
      state and economy are examined by Raúl Zibechi. Unlike the
      traditional working class, whose political subjectivity was
      determined by its subordination to capital, the new poor of the
      neoliberal age, Zibechi argues, have some control over the production
      and reproduction of their living conditions, and this becomes a key
      factor informing their anti-systemic disposition and militancy. The
      organization of militant and unemployed workers is also examined by
      Peter Ranis in his study of worker-occupied factories and
      cooperatives in Argentina. He discusses how the experience of
      self-management has helped generate a new level of awareness and an
      anti-capitalist stance. The consciousness and actions of the mostly
      indigenous popular classes are likewise the focus in Adolfo Gilly’s
      analysis of the 2003 Bolivian insurrection, in which he eschews the
      more traditional Marxist emphasis on state and party. Drawing on a
      comparative analysis with other revolutionary situations and
      considering the historical trajectory of the Bolivian popular
      classes, Gilly concludes that this uprising constituted in fact the
      first revolution of the 21st century.

      Peasant/Indian intervention in politics has long been manifested
      through everyday acts of resistance. These remained fragmented and
      localized, however, until the second half of the 20th century.
      Landlord and state responses to subaltern defiance rested on the
      systematic use of violence and the deepening of colonial forms of
      domination and exploitation—what Aníbal Quijano calls the coloniality
      of power. In his essay, Quijano examines the political trajectory of
      Indian resistance in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, describing the
      current power crisis in terms of the crisis of coloniality. He
      suggests that the achievement of autonomy and of a pluri-ethnic state
      will not only mark the end of the Eurocentric nation-state but will
      also force the redefinition of both the national question and the
      problem of political democracy. González Casanova argues similarly,
      in his essay on the EZLN, that the Zapatista forms of autonomous
      self-government express what he describes as a “culture of power”
      forged, with the deliberateness of caracoles (snails), in 500 years
      of resistance to colonialism and to the Eurocentric logic of state
      power. In place of the latter, Zapatista forms of people’s power
      offer an idiosyncratic form of direct rule aimed on the one hand at
      strengthening democracy, dignity, and autonomy, and, on the other, at
      building an alternative way of life, thereby helping to revitalize
      the universal struggle for democracy, liberation and socialism.

      The importance of direct democracy is also explored by José De Echave
      in his examination of Peru’s popular resistance to large
      multinational mining corporations. Both in his article and in Hugo
      Blanco's assessment of recent popular organization and social
      movements in Peru, direct democracy is counterposed, in terms of its
      practical workings, to the democratic centralism of the old left and
      to the vanguardism of political-military organizations. Chile's
      attempt at a democratic road to socialism remains, after the Cuban
      Revolution, the most important socialist experiment to date in Latin
      America. Its implementation by president Salvador Allende remains a
      highly controversial—if not mythologized—issue. In his time, Allende
      was vilified by the extreme left as defeatist and reformist, while
      being cited by the reformist left as validating their strategy of
      national capitalist development as a prelude to socialism. Today,
      Allende's successors conveniently stress the democratic aspect of his
      strategy while obliterating its commitment to socialism. In a timely
      discussion, Peter Winn explores the inseparable relationship between
      democracy and socialism in Allende’s strategy. His stubborn and
      principled commitment to both socialism and democracy, Winn asserts,
      was the product of Allende’s political pragmatism informed by his
      radical intellectual formation, family history of oppositional
      politics, and a long political trajectory of social justice
      struggles, and not by theoretical concerns or ideological

      Thirty years later, through the lens of neoliberal capitalism and the
      demands and aspirations of the new social movements, Allende’s
      democratic road to socialism takes on another dimension. As the EZLN
      6th Lacandón Jungle Declaration implies, an alternative to
      neoliberalism/neocolonialism is not conceivable without considering
      democracy and socialism as equal members of the same equation.
      Although Allende's parliamentary democracy clashed with the type of
      direct democracy embraced by the popular movements, the challenge of
      achieving a degree of collaboration between the two approaches is one
      of the important practical issues emerging from the present essays.

      All the articles below except those of Ranis and Winn are translated
      from the Spanish. Those translated by Elizabeth Kilburn were revised,
      corrected and edited by Victor Wallis. Adolfo Gilly’s contribution
      was translated by Victor Wallis. Footnotes in brackets are those of
      the editors. Helpful suggestions were also made by Emelio Betances
      and Hobart A. Spalding.

      * Liberalism in the Latin American context refers to the original
      economic meaning of the term, which was synonymous with free markets
      and free trade.

      * movement or political leadership based on the predominance of a
      single charismatic leader
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.