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Schafik Handal, Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro and Evo Morales, in Havana in 2004
By Roger Burbach
Telesur, July 1, 2014
Something remarkable has taken place in Latin America in the new millennium. For the first time since the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, radical left governments have come to power in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, raising the banner of socialism. The decline of the US empire, the eruption of anti-neoliberal social movements, and the growing integration of the region on its own terms have created a space for the rejuvenation of socialism after the dramatic setbacks of the last century. Cuba is part of this transformative process as its leadership moves to update the country’s economy while the Cuban people experience new freedoms.
In what follows, the theoretical debates and the praxis of socialism in the twenty-first-century socialism will be explored. The intent is not to provide a singular theory of the new socialism, but to put forth some of the interpretations of the contemporary struggles that are taking place in Latin America.
Theories of Twenty-First-Century Socialism
Drawing on the wide-ranging discussions of twenty-first-century socialism taking place in the hemisphere, political theorist Marta Harnecker, who served as an informal adviser to Hugo Chavez, outlines five key components of what constitutes socialism. First, socialism is “the development of human beings,” meaning that “the pursuit of profit” needs to be replaced by “a logic of humanism and solidarity, aimed at satisfying human needs.” Secondly, socialism “respects nature and opposes consumerism – our goal should not be to live ‘better’ but to live ‘well,”’ as the Andean indigenous cultures declare. Thirdly, borrowing from the radical economics professor Michael Lebowitz, Harnecker says, socialism establishes a new “dialectic of production/distribution/consumption, based on: a) social ownership of the means of production, and b) social production organized by the workers in order to c) satisfy communal needs.” Fourthly, “socialism is guided by a new concept of efficiency that both respects nature and seeks human development.” Fifthly, there is a need for the “rational use of the available natural and human resources, thanks to a decentralized participatory planning process” that is the opposite of Soviet hyper-centralized bureaucratic planning.(1)
To construct a socialist utopia along these lines will be a long endeavor, taking decades and generations. Today different explorations, or counter-hegemonic processes, are at work throughout the hemisphere. As Arturo Escobar – a Colombian-American anthropologist known for his contribution to post-development theory– writes in ‘Latin America at a Crossroads’:
“Some argue that these processes might lead to a re-invention of socialism; for others, what is at stake is the dismantling of the neo-liberal policies of the past three decades – the end of the ‘the long neo-liberal night,’ as the period is known in progressive circles in the region – or the formation of a South American (and anti-American) bloc. Others point at the potential for un nuevo comienzo (a new beginning) which might bring about a reinvention of democracy and development or, more radically still, the end of the predominance of liberal society of the past 200 years founded on private property and representative democracy. Socialismo del siglo XXI, pluri-nationality, interculturality, direct and substantive democracy, revolución ciudadana, endogenous development centered on the buen vivir of the people, territorial and cultural autonomy, and decolonial projects towards post-liberal societies are some of the concepts that seek to name the ongoing transformations.” (2)
Orlando Núñez, a leading Marxist theorist from Nicaragua, amplifies our understanding of the long transition to socialism with a more orthodox approach. Rejecting 21st century socialism as a concept to describe what is occurring in Latin America today, he asserts that the region is in a very preliminary phase of “transitioning to socialism in which we should not pretend we are constructing socialism.” Rather we are confronting neoliberalism and each country in Latin America is “facing different conditions.” He adds, “new flags are appearing in the social struggle against the dominant system that cannot be resolved by the logic of capitalism.” It is “a post-neoliberal or post-capitalist struggle” against woman’s inequality and patriarchy, racial and ethnic discrimination, and the degradation of the environment. More fundamentally it is against “savage capitalism,” and “neo-colonialism,” both internally and externally. (3)
The Brazilian political scientist Emir Sader, in The New Mole: Paths of the Latin American Left, argues that the setback for socialism in the 20th century was so severe that it is still recuperating to this day. Socialism can be part of the agenda, but the priority must be on forming governments and political coalitions to dismantle neoliberalism, even if that means accepting the broader capitalist system for the time being.(4) This in part explains why the construction of socialism in the coming years and decades will be a diverse process – differing widely from country to country. There is no single definition or model–we are indeed witnessing, two, three, many transitions to socialism..
Part 2: Rise of the Social Movements and New Theories of Social Struggle
The origins of twenty-first century socialism are found in the wave of social movements led by peasants and indigenous organizations that swept the rural areas of Latin America as state socialism was collapsing. By the mid-1990s they had assumed the lead in challenging the neoliberal order, particularly in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil. These new organizations were generally more democratic and participatory than the class-based organizations that traditional Marxist political parties had set up in rural areas in previous decades. In general, they came to fill the gap left by a working class that was fragmented, disoriented, and dispersed due to the assault of neo-liberalism. With a broad range of interests and demands, including indigenous and environmental rights, these new social movements transcended the modernist meta-narratives of both capitalism and traditional socialism.
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Hugo Moldiz interviewed by Coral Wynter and Jim McIlroy
April 24, 2013 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Hugo Moldiz is a respected Marxist journalist and author living in La Paz. He has written several books, including Bolivia in the Times of Evo, published by Ocean Sur in 2009. He is editor of the weekly La Epoca and has also contributed many articles to the magazine America XXI. We interviewed him during a recent visit to La Paz, Bolivia. Translation from the Spanish by Coral Wynter.
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What is the significance of the election of an Indigenous president in Bolivia?
The very fact of the election of an Indian to the highest level of government, to the presidency, was a revolutionary act. This may not mean so much in other parts of the world, but when we understand the nature of the social formation in Bolivia, it is very significant. This is due to the way the republic was established [in 1825] and its development based on the past colonial period, involving the development of forms of capitalist control over work and the stealing of our natural resources (the source of the original capital).
Successive governments further entrenched this by the almost total exclusion of the majority of people, the Indigenous people, from political participation. It was a double exclusion for the Indigenous people — from political power as well as from participation in society. If you want to look at it in class terms and also from the point of view of the national culture, capitalism in countries like Bolivia has been sustained by colonialism. Thus from this perspective, the arrival of Evo Morales was very significant and resulted from the emergence of an Indigenous, peasant and popular movement and the formation of a new power bloc that is moving to displace the old power structure.
What is the proportion of Indigenous people among the overall population of Bolivia?
In the last census in 2001, 64% of the Bolivian population was recognised as Indigenous. The proportion could be even higher because, before the victory of Evo Morales, before the inclusion process, the Indigenous and peasant movement was only just emerging. From about 2000, or even a little before, there was a process of construction of collectives, of an increase of Indigenous self-esteem. In the previous census of 1991, there was a minimal percentage of Indians who considered themselves Indigenous. This happened not only because the census didn’t ask the question whether people identified as Indigenous. On top of this, people of Indigenous origin viewed the census as an instrument of oppression in society.
For Indians who lived in the city, they considered themselves anything but Indian, because the word “Indio” was a bad word. If I were Indian, I had to present an identity card as an Indian, which would not open doors for me, but rather close them.
I think in this census [which was held on November 21, 2012], the number of people who identify as Indian will be more than 64%. When we speak of “Indio”, we are not just speaking of peasants: we are talking about the Indigenous people. Peasant is a concept of class: we are talking about Indigenous people who live in both rural and urban areas.
In addition, we are going to see the planning of the economy in the period up to 2025. A second major aim is to have a better distribution of national wealth. Until now, the distribution of wealth in Bolivia has been regulated by the number of people who live in a certain area. Today the proposal is to change that criterion, or at least complement it, to establish a better basis for access to basic services, which is one of the 2025 objectives of the president.