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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Un Colombiano Más on the Latin American Left

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.


Blogger troutsky said...

By all means remain wary, but lets keep an open mind and work to get as much empirical knowledge of the situation as we can.This tendency towards pessimism is understandable given all the left has been through,but listen to the language now being employed throughout the region. Socialism for the 21st Century for example, implies awareness of past failure and a willingness to embrace critique.
Ideas such as'Endogenous development'tell us the leaders are not just listening to Castro or the Communist Party but are seeking new voices.The anti-imperialist aspect of the Movement is only one part of it.

My own optimistic feeling is that the experience of Venezuela may actually influence the form of development in Cuba eventually.New leadership in Uruguay and now Chile is proof something momentous is happening which we need to understand.This might mean transcending our own "frames" of reference.

January 16, 2006 9:42 AM  
Blogger alan said...

Troutsky, I too am hopeful that a democratic Venezuela can postively impact Cuba and turn her from dictatorship, with all of her accomplishments intact. But I ain't holdin' my breath!

Chavez seems to be colouring himself at best an very strong executive with few means to check him as long as he is in office and at worst a populist dictator with a democratic gloss.

In my opinion Argentina may be better positioned to lead Latin America's revolution. Its economy is much more diverse, so it doesn't have to start from scratch. Venezuela has oil money, but precious little manufacturing. Perhaps a partnership between the two is in order...but this would require that Venezuela be not only populist but democratic. It is unclear just how far Chavez will deviate from established norms of republican government.

January 16, 2006 4:18 PM  
Blogger troutsky said...

It is just this idea of partnership, more so perhaps than any notion of leadership, that has real potential for structural change regionwide.Through joint development strategies, Mercosur and ALBA ,trade relations based on oil for services or food, reclaiming land for sustainable agriculture,structures like this will create regional cohesion beyond the anti-neoliberal rhetoric.

As for democratic processes,this is an administration that narrowly escaped a US supported coup attempt,a little clamping down on an opposition that is ruthless is understandable.More important,I feel, is the democracy building on a local level with Social Production Enterprises,several thousand cooperatives, the setting up of endogenous development zones under a Ministry and all the various Missions dedicated to social services such as health, education,housing etc..More needs to be learned but I can't help cheerleading a little.Michael Albert (paracon) was there recently and came away impressed by the participation.

January 16, 2006 8:34 PM  
Blogger Sergio Méndez said...

Wow...thanks for the translation and the post Kevin. And honor that one of my posts is republished in this blog. By the way, I think you can change "ilustrious" for "enlighted".

January 16, 2006 8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was actually esteban who did the translation. And it was an honor to be able to read it--I'm glad to have helped draw it to the attention of those who don't read Spanish.

--K.C., via public computer

January 16, 2006 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me, the brightest star of Latin America has been the Zapatistas. I know that they aren't leading a whole country, but their ideas and way of doing things are much better than any of the recent elected leaders. In fact, it has bothered me that so little attention has been given to the Zapatistas current campaign in Mexico. Everybody is very much discussing Venezuela, but what about the Zapatistas? They are emphasizing what many of us anarchists and libertarian socialists have said are the arbiters of real change for the better, social movements.

Related interesting side note: A rumor (or maybe a legitimate offer) was going around that the Zapatistas were going to Evo Morales' inauguration, but they said “We don’t have relations with governments....We have relations with the people.” I couldn't imagine what would happen if they did go. The US would no doubt be very, very worried (to say the least).

Narconews has been covering the "Other Campaign" pretty well.

January 17, 2006 8:40 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I'm a fan of Narco News and the other Giordano projects myself. He was probably the best source of a news alternative to the AP agitprop during the Venezuela coup in 2002. It's funny you quote that Zapatista statement about not having relations with governments--I just happened across it yesterday, catching up on Narco News for the first time in several weeks.

Which Andean country was it, where a left-wing politician made that remark about dealing with the circus owner, rather than with the clowns (regarding the U.S. and the pro-U.S. government)?

January 17, 2006 10:27 AM  
Blogger troutsky said...

Anonymous, certainly we need to keep focused on the Zapatistas, who were in many ways the vanguard of much of this modern movement.They will not support Obrador in the coming elections, they probably know something I do not, but I hope this not supporting Morales or Bachellet is not just a case of, your going to love this, infantile "left wing" communism.It is time for solidarity, not purity.

January 18, 2006 9:03 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

The Zapatistas have links with anarcho-syndicalism, most particularly the Spanish CGT. see

I also don't think the Zapatistas are being ultra-left, just cautious...

January 18, 2006 10:12 AM  

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