Part of the CCDS team at the conference: Kathy Sykes, Janet Tucker, Harry Targ, Paul Krehbiel
By Paul Krehbiel
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
"The capitalist class is in a serious crisis without solution," said David Schweikart at the Moving Beyond Capitalism conference held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from July 30-August 5, 2014. "But there is a solution," he said, "economic democracy, democratic socialism." Over 200 people from 15 countries discussed how to make this happen, organized by the Center for Global Justice.
Chronic high unemployment, depression of wages and benefits, cuts in social services, and growing inequality and repression, and social and political resistance are endemic to nearly all capitalist countries, said Schweikart, a Philosophy professor at Loyola University in Chicago, and author of After Capitalism.
Schweikart’s model of democratic socialism calls for a regulated competitive market economy, socialized means of production and democratic workplaces (he advocates worker-run cooperatives as an example), non-profit public banks to finance projects, full employment, and a guarantee that human needs will be meet for everyone.
Cliff DuRand, a conference organizer, said people are creating alternatives to capitalism today all over the world. "If we’ve built these alternative institutions, the next time the capitalist system collapses…we will be able to survive without it."
Gustavo Esteva, a former Mexican government official, founder of the University of the Land in Oxaca, and an advisor to the Zapatistas in Chiapas in southern Mexico, gave a good account of how the indigenous people of this region are creating a new democratic and socialist-oriented society that they control, within the borders of a capitalist Mexico. The Zapatistas launched an armed uprising in the mid-1990′s to stop NAFTA and the Mexican government from allowing multi-national corporations to come into Chiapas to extract minerals to enrich the corporations and destroy their lives and their local economy.
Ana Maldonado of the Venezuelan Ministry of Communal Economy could not attend, so University of Utah Professor Al Campbell filled in for her. Campbell has worked in Venezuelan with the Community Councils, a new form of grassroots democracy and socialism. Created in 2006 by the late socialist president Hugo Chavez, there are 20,000 Community Councils today, each holding meetings in neighborhoods where all residents can attend, discuss, and vote on decisions for their community.
Private, for-profit banks came under sharp attack for causing the 2008 Great Recession, and for ripping off billions of dollars from people world-wide, primarily through charging high interest rates. Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Institute based in California, declared, "Without interest payments, there would be no national debt," which now stands at over $15 trillion. Politicians use the debt as an excuse to cut funds for education, health care and other social programs. An example of local bank rip-offs is a bank loan for the purchase of a house, where the homeowner pays the bank 2-3 times or more than the cost of the house due to interest payments.
Brown said the solution is to set up not-for-profit public or state banks — like the Bank of North Dakota. She describes how to do it in her book Democratizing Money: The Public Bank Solution. Since the 2008 economic crash, 20 other states including California have introduced bills to study or establish publicly-owned state banks.
"The US controls third world countries," Brown explained, "by putting them in debt and then forcing repayment with high interest rates," which they can’t afford to pay. Brown said the book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, by John Perkins, explains how devastating this is.
Coops in Cuba
Camila Pineiro Harnecker, a leader of the cooperative movement in socialist Cuba, explained that her country is giving much more attention to the development of worker-run cooperatives as a way to help workers create jobs for themselves, and learn how to become masters of their work and work lives. The state socialist sector dominates the economy, but coops now comprise 12% of the workforce and are expected to increase in number.
Occupy Wall Street protest, two days after dismantling of Zuccotti Park camp (Christopher Smith)
Dissent Magazine, September 4, 2014
Cross-posted from Waging Nonviolence.
Those who get involved in social movements share a common experience: sometimes, when an issue captures the public eye or an unexpected event triggers a wave of mass protest, there can be periods of intense activity, when new members rush to join the cause and movement energy swells. But these extraordinary times are often followed by long, fallow stretches when activists’ numbers dwindle and advocates struggle to draw any attention at all.
During these lulls, those who have tasted the euphoria of a peak moment feel discouraged and pessimistic. The ups and downs of social movements can be hard to take.
Certainly, activists fighting around issues of inequality and economic justice have seen this pattern in the wake of Occupy Wall Street. Many working to combat climate change have encountered their own periods of dejection after large protests in recent years. And even members of movements that have been very successful—such as the immigrant students who compelled the Obama administration to implement a de facto version of the Dream Act—have gone through periods of deflation despite making great advances. Further back in history, a sense of failure and frustration could be seen among civil rights activists following the landmark 1964 Freedom Summer campaign.
After intensive uprisings have cooled, many participants simply give up and move on to other pursuits. Even those committed to ongoing activism wonder how they can keep more people involved over the long haul.
Unfortunately, the fluctuating cycles of popular movements cannot be avoided. Unlike community organizing, which focuses on the slow and steady building of organizational structures, a boom-and-bust pattern is inherent in mass protest movements. Wide-scale uprisings can make a major impact on public consciousness, but they can never be sustained for long. The fact that they fade from view does not mean they lack value—the civil rights movement, for one, scored many of its biggest wins as a result of mass mobilization and the innovative use of nonviolent direct action. But it does present a challenge: Without an understanding of movement cycles, it is difficult to combat despondency.
So how, then, do we know when movements have died—and when are they primed to revive? And how do activists translate periods of peak activity into substantive and enduring social change?
For Bill Moyer, a trainer and strategist who experienced first hand some of the landmark movement cycles of the 1960s and ’70s, grappling with these questions became a life’s work. Moyer’s legacy is an eight-stage model for how movements can overcome despair and marginality to change society—a framework known as the Movement Action Plan, or MAP. Nearly three decades after it was first developed, the MAP continues to offer insights into problems that, while new to fresh generations of activists, in fact have a long lineage.
The Moyer map
Moyer was born in 1933 and grew up as the son of a TV repairman in northeast Philadelphia. As a child, he aspired to one day become a Presbyterian missionary in Africa. But a trouble-making spirit would ultimately get in the way. As he told it, “In March 1959 I was voted out of the Presbyterian Church because I invited a Catholic and a Jew to talk to the youth group.”
The expulsion led him into the arms of the Quakers. At the time, Moyer was just three years out of Penn State, working as a management systems engineer and searching for more “meaning.” Through Philadelphia’s active Quaker meetinghouse, Moyer came in contact with a vibrant circle of socially engaged peers, and an elder couple tutored him in theories of nonviolence. These encounters forever altered his life. “I had no idea that it was the start of ‘the sixties,’” Moyer later wrote, “and never suspected that I was beginning my new profession as a full-time activist.”
Without models that looked at the long arc of protest movements, Moyer contended, activists became stuck in their thinking, repeating past tactics and failing to strategize for how to effectively move their campaigns forward.
In the 1960s, Moyer would take a job with the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago, helping to convince Martin Luther King to launch an open housing campaign in the city. Moyer then worked on King’s last drive, the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C. In the decade that followed, he spent his energies protesting the Vietnam War, supporting American Indian Movement activists at Wounded Knee, and promoting the newly emerging movement against nuclear power.
As he increasingly began training other activists, Moyer saw a gap. “How-to-do-it models and manuals provide step-by-step guidelines for most human activity,” he wrote in 1987, “from baking a cake and playing tennis to having a relationship and winning a war.” Within the world of activism, however, such material was harder to come by.
Saul Alinsky and his followers had created training manuals for their specific brand of community organizing. Likewise, materials drawing from Gandhi and King were available for instructing people in how to create individual nonviolent confrontations. But Moyer believed that there was a lack of models that looked at the long arc of protest movements, materials that accounted for the highs and lows experienced by participants. The result, he contended, was that activists became stuck in their thinking, always repeating the past tactics and failing to strategize for how to effectively move their campaigns forward.
Moyer’s MAP aimed to address this need. It was initially printed in 1986 in the movement journal Dandelion, with twelve-thousand newsprint copies distributed through grassroots channels. Subsequently, it became an underground hit. The plan would continue to be circulated by hand, translated into other languages, and shared at trainings for well over a decade, before taking its final form in the 2002 book Doing Democracy, published shortly before Moyer’s death.
“Every good movement”
Of course, creating social change is a lot trickier than baking a cake. And Moyer was not the only person to propose that movements progress in stages.
Within the academic field of social movement theory, which experienced significant growth in the 1970s and ’80s, scholars were increasingly appreciating how social change happens through what sociologist Sidney Tarrow calls “cycles of contention.” Drawing on the work of theorists including Herbert Blumer and Charles Tilly, the standard academic account holds that movements pass through four stages: emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization, and decline. The last stage is not necessarily negative: movements sometimes are defeated or repressed, but other times they fade away because they have won their key demands.
Outside of academia, a variety of activists have offered thoughts of their own. In the March 9, 1921 edition of Young India, Mohandas Gandhi wrote, “Every good movement passes through five stages: indifference, ridicule, abuse, repression, and respect.” Because Gandhi’s take highlights the likelihood that resistance will be met with a crackdown by authorities, the prospect of progressing through his stages seems less inviting than riding out the academics’ model. But Gandhi believed that dissidents are strengthened by the trials they endure. “Every movement that survives repression, mild or severe, invariably commands respect,” he contended, “which is another name for success.”
In recent years British author and activist Tim Gee has gone so far to propose a four-stage model based on a popular maxim that mirrors Gandhi’s sentiment (and is often misattributed to him): “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
All of these different models have some value, but they also present problems.
By Liu Zhenying
CHINESE SOCIAL SCIENCES TODAY
September 24, 2014
The Chinese version of Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) by French economist Thomas Piketty hasn’t been published for good reason. It is inappropriate for Piketty to associate his book with Das Kapital, the 1887 critical analysis of political economy by German philosopher Karl Marx.
Difference in political tendency
The political leaning of Capital in the Twenty-First Century can be classified as left-wing. It suggests imposing a progressive tax each year ranging from 0.1 percent to 10 percent on returns on capital, or 80 percent of punitive capital holding tax on the revenue of over $5oo,ooo. This has led US right-wing pundits to label Piketty a Marxist. But Piketty isn’t a Marxist in the conventional sense, which can be seen from his proposition of not scrapping the capitalist system.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century examines the relations between rate of returns on capital and rate of economic growth, explaining the former is higher than the latter with existing materials. This indicates an analytical framework of confrontation between capital gain and labor income, whereby the increased portion must be the reduced portion of workers’ labor income. It is the same as Das Kapital, which is based on confrontation between labor and capital, specifically paid employment. This doesn’t prove Piketty is a Marxist, however, because classical political economics are also based on labor-capital conflicts.
Conflicts between labor and capital are common in classical political economics. Based on these conflicts, Piketty pivots from the stance of contemporary Western mainstream economics to classical political economics. He doesn’t draw such a conclusion from self-contradiction of the capitalist mode of production as Marx did in Das Kapital, which urged the overthrowing of the capitalist system and establishment of capital public ownership.
Piketty once asserted that he has returned to the stance of classical economics due to his dissatisfaction with mainstream economics. However, it is a big leap to go from classical economics to Marxist economics.
Piketty imagines solving the problems caused by capitalist fundamentalism without solving core contradictions, which indicates he hasn’t realized the gap. Commentators accuse him of being a “utopian.” Indeed, Piketty makes the case that the bourgeoisie would rather see the collapse of capitalism than adopt his proposed tax reforms.
Difference in research methods
Capital in the Twenty-First Century shouldn’t be considered a modern Das Kapital. Both books differ in research subjects. More importantly, they have different research methods and both therefore draw inevitably different conclusions. Capital in the Twenty-First Century explains “polarization” with data, strongly refuting theories that distort so-called facts.
No matter how reasonable Piketty’s ideas are, the bourgeoisie will never acknowledge he is right nor accept his proposed policies.
Piketty’s proposed policies have historically been adopted and are even being implemented in some North European countries. However, whether these proposals will be adopted on a greater scale doesn’t depend on whether the ruling classes are clear that the rate of return on capital must conform to economic growth rate. It instead depends on whether their interests can be guaranteed. The capitalist system defines human nature as individualistic and selfish, with the bourgeoisie only caring about their own interests without considering greater mankind.
Without attempting to persuade the bourgeoisie to become reasonable, Das Kapital proposes not having any illusions about them. For this reason, Das Kapital presents an insurmountable critique without comparison.
This isn’t to say that Das Kapital, as a 19th-century book, can explain all phenomena in the 21st century. Marxist theorist Ernest Mandel thought Das Kapital was more suitable for the 20th century. Based on the inherent negativity of capitalism, however, it is in the 21st century that the logic of Das Kapital has been actually realized.
Marx researched virtual capital, but there was no virtual economy in his era. Marx realized the self-denial of capital would inevitably result in socialism, but he didn’t seesocialism which would have the same level of productivity under capitalism and even has lower level of productivity than developed countries . If a 21st-century adaptation of Das Kapital is written, its logic should follow Marxist theory.
The author is a teacher at the Shanghai Party Institute First Branch School at the Communist Party of China’s Shanghai Administration Institute.
Employees of the Sanli Engine Company, a privately-owned company based in Jinjiang, Fujian Province, assemble lawnmowers for sale outside of China(Photograph taken on August 10, 2009). More than three decades of reform and opening up have fueled considerable advances in China’s state-owned and private sectors, enabling various forms of ownership to develop side by side in a mutually-complementary fashion. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Zhang Guojun
From:English Edition of Qiushi Journal
Journal of the CC of the Chinese Communist Party
Vol. 6 No.3 July 1, 2014
Modernization is the dream of all developing countries. While many countries have pursued dreams of modernization, pushing themselves forwards to achieve development and progress, none have overcome as many difficulties and obstacles as China, which has succeeded in putting an economically and culturally backward country of 1.3 billion people on the fast track to modernization. In light of this fact, we may say that the Chinese path represents a successful attempt to overcome difficulties that developing countries commonly face in modernization.
I. The success of the Chinese path indicates that developing countries no longer have to rely on Western approaches to modernization
All developing countries, including China, face the challenge of identifying a path of development. Following the Second World War, the majority of the world’s developing countries—with the exception of socialist countries, as represented by the Soviet Union—opted to emulate the Western model of modernization.
The path that Western countries have guided developing countries towards takes its roots in neoliberalism—an economic philosophy that emerged in the 1920s-30s, the core ideas of which are marketization, liberalization, and privatization. In 1989, the US government and the Western financial world formulated a set of ten policy prescriptions aimed at guiding economic reforms in Latin America. Later dubbed the “Washington Consensus,” these proposals were essentially a continuation of neoliberal thinking. However, with the introduction of this so-called “consensus” into Latin America in the 1990s, Latin American countries began to experience a phase of continued economic and financial crisis, and have since been confronted with serious economic recessions, polarization, and intense social conflicts. Moreover, following the drastic changes that occurred in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, the “shock therapy” of neoliberalism was at one point the cause of serious economic recession in Eastern Europe. Therefore, it is fair to say that the global spread of neoliberalism has been the cause of bitter suffering in many developing countries.
As an approach to modernization that has been developed outside the capitalist system, the Chinese path represents a fundamental departure from the Western model of modernization that has previously been relied upon. Through its glorious achievements, China has shown the world a path of development that differs completely from the one predetermined by Western countries. As a result, the world has begun to shift its gaze to the East.
The Chinese path differs fundamentally from neoliberalism and the “Washington Consensus” in several regards. Firstly, the differences between the two can be seen from an institutional perspective. The socialist system with Chinese characteristics is founded on the fundamental political system of people’s congresses. This fundamental political system serves as the basis for China’s basic political systems, which include multi-party cooperation and political consultation. The socialist system with Chinese characteristics also comprises a basic economic system whereby public ownership is the mainstay while various forms of ownership are able to develop side by side. Secondly, the differences between the two are evident from the guiding principles they follow. China’s socialist market economy attaches great importance to the role of macro control, laying emphasis on exerting the strengths of both planning and market forces. Thirdly, the differences between the two are evident from the role of the government in economic activities. A great deal of research, including research by Western scholars, has argued that the success of the Chinese path is attributable to the fact that China not only boasts a “big government,” but also a “good government.” These features fundamentally distinguish the Chinese path from neoliberalism, which takes the capitalist political system and private ownership as its basic political and economic foundations, and which advocates “small government” that is governments that do not intervene in the economy. Other distinctive features of the Chinese path include export-oriented policies, high savings and investment rates, and an emphasis on education and human resource development. Together, the aforementioned features constitute the main aspects of the Chinese path.
Fact has demonstrated that the Chinese path—a path that differs from the developmental models advocated by the West—has been the strongest driving force behind China’s development. This path has enabled the Chinese nation to proudly reassert itself among the nations of the world. Moreover, it will guarantee that the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation will eventually come true. The Chinese path has delivered the message that every country should choose its own path of development in accordance with its own national conditions. It has demonstrated that the socialist system, a strong government, a mixed economy, and macro control are equally capable of becoming factors for successful modernization. In the future, the Chinese model will continue to shatter the myth that surrounds neoliberalism and the “Washington Consensus.”
II. The Chinese path has effectively overcome the “late starter’s disadvantage” that developing countries face in modernization
It is a widely-held view that developing countries enjoy a number of advantages as they are attempting to modernize: advanced scientific and technological achievements that can be borrowed from developed countries; a wealth of existing knowledge and experience with regard to modernization; open international markets; and abundant demographic and natural resource dividends. Capitalizing on these “late starter’s advantages,” some developing countries have formulated “catch-up” strategies, which have been successful in certain cases. However, in most circumstances, the “late starter’s advantage” is only seen during the early stages of modernization. Once a country has reached a certain level of economic and social development, this advantage will begin to diminish, being increasingly replaced by a “late starter’s disadvantage,” which severely obstructs the modernization process in that country. The “late starter’s disadvantage” is demonstrated in the following aspects.
Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro with Marta Harnecker at the award ceremony.
The speech was given by Marta Harnecker on August 15, 2014, accepting the 2013 Liberator’s Prize for Critical Thought, awarded for her book, A World to Build: New Paths towards Twenty-first Century Socialism; translated by Federico Fuentes
By Marta Harnecker
August 24, 2014 – I completed this book one month after the physical disappearance of President Hugo Chávez, without whose intervention in Latin America this book could not have been written. Many of the ideas I raise in it are related in one way or another to the Bolivarian leader, to his ideas and actions, within Venezuela and at the regional and global level. Nobody can deny that there is a huge difference between the Latin America that Chávez inherited and the Latin America he has left for us today.
That is why I dedicated the book to him with the following words:
To Commandante Chavez, whose words, orientations and exemplary dedication to the cause of the poor will serve as a compass for his people and all the people of the world. It will be the best shield to defend ourselves from those that seek to destroy this marvellous work that he began to build.
When Chávez won the 1998 presidential elections, the neoliberal capitalist model was already foundering. The choice then was whether to re-establish this model, undoubtedly with some changes such as greater concern for social issues, but still motivated by the same logic of profit-seeking, or to go ahead and try to build another model. Chávez had the courage to take the second path and decided to call it “socialism”, in spite of its negative connotations. He called it “21st century socialism,” to differentiate it from the Soviet-style socialism that had been implemented in the 20th century. This was not about “falling into the errors of the past”, into the same “Stalinist deviations” which bureaucratised the party and ended up eliminating popular participation.
The need for peoples’ participation was one of his obsessions and was the feature that distinguished his proposals from other socialist projects in which the state resolved all the problems and the people received benefits as if they were gifts.
He was convinced that socialism could not be decreed from above, that it had to be built with the people. And he also understood that protagonistic participation is what allows people to grow and achieve self-confidence, that is, to develop themselves as human beings.
I always remember the first program of “Theoretical Aló Presidente”, which was broadcasted on June 11, 2009, when Chavez quoted at length from a letter that Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, wrote to Lenin on March 4, 1920:
Without the participation of local forces, without an organization from below of the peasants and workers themselves, it is impossible to build a new life.
It seemed that the soviets were going to fulfil precisely this function of creating an organization from below. But Russia has already become a Soviet Republic in name only. The party’s influence over people … has already destroyed the influence and constructive energy of this promising institution – the soviets.
That is why very early on I believed it necessary to distinguish between the socialist project and a model. I understood project to mean the original ideas of Marx and Engels, and model to refer to one form that this project has historically taken. If we analysis Soviet-style socialism, we see that in those countries that implemented this model of socialism, one that Michael Lebowitz has recently called the socialism of conductors and conducted based on a vanguardist mode of production, the people were no longer the protagonist, organs of popular participation were transformed into purely formal entities, and the party was transformed into an absolute authority, the sole depositary of truth that controlled all activities: economic, political, cultural. That is, what should have been a popular democracy was transformed into a dictatorship of the party. This model of socialism, that many have called “real socialism” is a fundamentally statist, centralist, bureaucratic model, where the key missing factor is popular participation.
By John Ross
China.org.cn, August 22, 2014
August 22, 2014 is the 110th anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping. Numerous achievements would ensure Deng Xiaoping a major position in China’s history – his role in shaping the People’s Republic of China, his steadfastness during persecution in the Cultural Revolution, his extraordinarily balanced attitude even after return to power towards the development and recent history of China, his all-round role after 1978 in leading the country.
But one ensures him a position among a tiny handful of people at the peak not only of Chinese but of world history. This was China’s extraordinary economic achievement after reforms began in 1978, and the decisive role this played not only in the improvement of the living standards of Chinese people but the country’s national rejuvenation. So great was the impact of this that it may objectively be said to have altered the situation not only of China but of the world.
China’s economic performance after the beginning of its 1978 reforms simply exceeded the experience of any other country in human history. To give only a partial list:
• China achieved the most rapid growth in a major economy in world history.
• China experienced the fastest growth of living standards of any major economy.
• China lifted 620 million people out of internationally defined poverty.
• Measured in internationally comparable prices, adjusted for inflation, the greatest increase in economic output in a single year in any country outside China was the U.S. in 1999, when it added US$567 billion, whereas in 2010 China added US$1,126 billion – twice as much.
• During the beginning of China’s rapid growth, 22 percent of the world’s population was within its borders – seven times that of United States at the beginning of its own fast economic development.
Wholly implausibly, it is sometimes argued that this success was merely due to "pragmatism" and achieved without overall economic theories, concepts, or a leadership really understanding the subject (particularly with no knowledge of U.S. academic economics!). If true, then the study of economics should immediately be abandoned – if the greatest economic success in world history can be achieved without any understanding of the subject, then it is evidently of no practical value whatever.
In reality this argument is entirely specious. Deng Xiaoping’s approach to economic policy was certainly highly practical regarding application – the famous "it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white provided it catches mice." But it was extremely theoretical regarding foundations – as shown clearly in such works as In Everything We Do We Must Proceed from the Realities of the Primary Stage of Socialism, We Are Undertaking An Entirely New Endeavour, and Adhere to the Principle to Each According to his Work. Deng Xiaoping’s outstanding practical success was guided by a clearly defined theoretical underpinning, which can be understood particularly clearly in its historical context and in comparison with Western and other economists.
As is generally known, after 1949 the newly created People’s Republic of China constructed an economy, fundamental elements of which were drawn from the Soviet Union. It is important to understand that there was nothing irrational in this – the USSR, up to that time, had the world’s most rapidly growing economy.
Indeed, the immediate post-1929 success of the USSR was of extraordinary dimensions. During 1929-39 the USSR achieved 6 percent annual GDP growth, which until then was by far the fastest ever achieved by a major economy, and almost twice the historical growth rate of the United States. Despite colossal destruction in World War II, by 1949 the USSR had already regained its prewar production level.
The elements which produced such historically unprecedented economic growth were clear. From 1929, Stalin, with the First Five Year Plan, launched the USSR on an economic policy never previously attempted in any country – construction of a national basically self-enclosed administered economy. Resources were not allocated by price but by material quantities – a steel factory did not buy iron ore on the market but had it allocated by administrative decision. Foreign trade was minimized. State ownership was applied even to small scale private enterprises such as restaurants. Farmers’ small holdings were eliminated and agriculture organized into large scale collective farms.
Despite verbal claims that this policy was "Marxist," Stalin’s economic structure was in fact radically at variance with that of Marx himself. To use the Marxist terminology common to both China and the USSR, Soviet economic policy in 1929, in a single step, replaced economic regulation by prices (exchange value) by allocation by material use (use value).
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.