After writing my recent post on the Latin American Left
, Sergio Méndez of Un colombiano más
directed me to this post of his
on the same subject. Esteban of Fairly Informed
was kind enough, in the same comment thread, to translate the post into English. I'm glad he did; it makes me wonder how much other good stuff I'm missing because I don't read Spanish.
What is the Latin American left playing at?
"Am I not a bad note in the divine symphony[…]?" wondered Charles Baudelaire in one of his most famous poems. It's a question I now ask myself, in view of the enthusiasm generated by the wave of triumphs of leftist governments in Latin America. And I wonder, not because I myself don't share that enthusiasm, nor because I don't see good things in these governments. On the contrary, the political era we're living in is exciting to me, and I think it would be good to highlight the interesting things those governments are doing, like:
- The agrarian reform and push for cooperatives Chavez is doing in Venezuela, as well as his eagerness to promote a union of Latin American peoples to defend our interests in a common bloc (yes, I know it's a union of States, but it's better than nothing).
- The (regrettably incomplete) rejection of the war on drugs by Evo Morales. It's all very good to put an end to fumigating coca crops, but I don't understand his eagerness to continue cooperating in the absurd war on drugs.
- Lula's struggle against hunger in Brazil.
- The manifest desire of the Kishner government to pay off a substantial part of the Argentinian foreign debt, breaking the bonds of credit banks, the true vampires of this planet.
Yet despite this, I still feel like the bad note, because a lot of the new Latin American left continues to toy with the temptation to use totalitarism and statism as solutions to our problems. For example:
- In Venezuela, after unopposed elections, Chavez assumed absolute control of the Parliament. Taking advantage of this, he passed laws that accentuate government control of the economy and another permiting indefinite Presidential re-election. Can you say "dictatorship?"
- For his part, Kirchner is strangling the press with state control over broadcast media with clear political content.
- Evo Morales is prepared to nationalize gas. The question is, will (bureaucratic and corrupt) state control of a natural resource benefit people more than control by foreign corporations? I don't think either is desirable nor do I think the extraction and marketing of petroleum implies a false dilemma between these monstrous capitalists (because that's what corporations and the modern state are at teatime).
- That's not to mention the well-publicized alliance that governments like those of Morales and Chavez have have Castro's Cuba. Is this the model they want to emulate? Absolute state control of the economy, censorship and political persecution?
I once commented that it takes more than it takes more than anti-North American speeches to build a serious left. I think this is a good time to remember this comment. It's also a good time to remember what I once said I think should be the future of the left, both Latin American and global: a left that seeks to reconcile with its illustrious ideal of freedom, with its liberal roots. That doesn't mean it should abandon its search for equality, just the method for reaching it, which should no longer be state coercion. It also doesn't mean that the left should abandon the search for power through traditional methods at this historical moment, but rather that it should build other methods in parallel, more in keeping with its demands, to achieve its ends.
So, I don't want Morales or Kirchner to renounce their power, because it would be foolish to deny that they represent the possibilty of a change. What I want is for them to use their power primarily to put an end to the privileges the State has created for the benefit of a few - latifundistas, bankers, industrialists, usually and ironically in the name of ideogies that call for non-intervention by the State - instead of transferring the privileges of the corporate private sector to some State bureaucracy.
This brings me at last to point I'd intended to make when I started writing this entry, but which seems quite pertinent. Two days ago, Charles Johnson published an entry on his blog with a long list of links to philosophical discussions on the web. One of them was an article on the philosophical rupture between Camus and Sartre. The reason for this rupture had to do with Camus' book The Rebel, where he condemned the idea of revolution, because it always ends up engendering even greater oppression than it intended to combat. There is no shortage of examples, such as the French and Russian revolutions. Camus preferred a sort of private, interior "revolution," expressed through art, as a viable alternative way to protest and rebel against oppression. Sartre saw this as a betrayal the political commitment to oppose oppression (particularly in the context of the anti-colonialist movement in Algeria) and a "petty-bourgoisie" way out of a problem that required real solutions. Camus, for his part, saw Sartre's critique of his work as a way of closing his eyes and excusing the oppression of Stalin's Communist regime. As the article's author points out, both were right both were wrong. Both were confronted with a dilemma, that of taking sides, and both had valid reasons to take the side of a movement opposing oppression, as well as not to do so.
I think that in Latin America, the left faces the same dilemma, and I think the dilemma has a dialectic solution: we must take sides with the movements that now exist on the ground, but at the same time, try to give them a cause which is different in many ways from these movements. Otherwise, I'm afraid we're condemned to repeat the failed history of the Latin American left.