Some Mistaken Notions about Latin America (and the World)

“The current crisis means the end of neoliberalism and of US hegemony, and this crisis will lead to the end of capitalism.”

The greatest error of this view lies in thinking that a model, a hegemony, or a social system will come to an end without being destroyed and replaced by another, without the global South — or another bloc — proposing alternatives and becoming capable of building them.  Neoliberalism is not over; it is moderating itself with degrees of state support.

“It is possible and necessary to change the world without taking power.”

The project of changing society profoundly, “from the bottom up,” without changing the relations of power does not lead to any real process of social transformation in Latin America.  On the contrary, social movements — such as those in Bolivia — who have transformed their social force into a political force are the ones spearheading real processes of change in the world.

“The national state has become a conservative element.”

The progressive governments in Latin America are making use of the state, be it to regulate the economy, to foster economic growth, or to develop social policies, among other purposes.  It is the neoliberal governments that despise the state and are transforming its functions into minimum ones, leaving open space for the market.  In the processes of regional integration and alliances in the global South, too, states are indispensable players.

“Politics has become irrelevant.”

Wrong.  The progressive governments in Latin America have restored the role of politics and of the state.  If they had not done this, they couldn’t have reacted as they have in the face of the crisis.

“In our societies there are millions of ‘unemployable’ people.”

This argument, originally made by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, sought to justify oligarchic governments, always governing only for a part of society, excluding the poorest, now under the pretext of supposed “technological unemployment” which was said to dispense with a majority of workers.  Progressive governments combine the renewed drive toward economic development with constant growth of formal employment and rising purchasing power of wages.

“Social movements should retain autonomy from politics.”

Social movements that follow this vision will abandon the struggle to build alternative hegemonies, isolating themselves, if not disappearing, from the political stage, when the time comes to transition from the phase of resistance to the construction of alternatives.  We should remember that movements like those of the indigenous in Bolivia formed a party — the MAS — and fought and elected their principal leader as President of the Republic.  In other countries, social movements have taken part in coalitions of forces in support of the progressive governments, maintaining their autonomy but directly participating in the struggle to build a new political hegemony.

“The only way out of neoliberalism is socialism.”

There are those who say that since capitalism has reached its limit with the neoliberal model — be it due to the general commodification of societies or the hegemony of finance capital — only through socialism can we exit this model.  What they disregard is regressions in the factors necessary for the construction of socialism, of the state, of politics, of collective solutions, and of the world of labor, among others.  Changes introduced by neoliberalism — among others, social fragmentation and the “American way of life” as the dominant form of sociability — represent obstacles that can only be overcome through a long and intense political and ideological struggle to put socialism on the agenda again.

“The alternative to the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay comes only from the Left, not from the Right.”

The failure of the attempts to build radical left-wing alternatives to these governments confirms that politics is polarized between the progressive governments and the right-wing forces.  This situation has frequently resulted in sectors to the Left of these governments finding themselves, objectively and sometimes even consciously, in alliance with the right-wing bloc and, rather than taking equal distance form both blocs, ending up seeing the progressive bloc as the fundamental enemy.

“The current processes of regional integration are by nature capitalist.”

This view disqualifies all the processes of regional integration, for they won’t come about through a break with the international capitalist market and will rather represent integrations in the framework of capitalist societies, including not only Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina, but also Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.  It fails to comprehend the importance of creating spaces for exchange other than free trade.  It doesn’t understand the importance of fighting for a multipolar world, weakening the unipolarity of the US empire.  Nor does it grasp how the ALBA promotes forms of exchange that are alternatives to the market and to the rules of the WTO, in the direction of what is called “fair trade,” based on solidarity, which is complementary rather than competitive.

“There is a good Left and there is a bad Left.”

Those who take this position wish to divide the Left, planning to co-opt the most moderate sectors and isolating the most radical ones.  The Left is anti-neoliberal, does not favor free trade agreements, privileges social policies, and rejects fiscal tightening, each progressive government having its own nuance.

“The current period is one of regression in Latin America.”

Some sectors, whose criteria are detached from concrete reality, disseminate pessimistic, discouraging visions of Latin America.  Sometimes, they use the position taken by social movements in each country vis-à-vis those who make up the governments as a criterion, to judge whether or not there are progresses, instead of defining the character of those movements according to their position vis-à-vis those governments.  They subordinate the social to the political, without taking into account the extraordinary advances of the continent, which become even more precious if compared to the preceding decade and evaluated in the international context profoundly marked by the predominance of conservatives.  This pessimism is a result of social isolation of those who are on the margins of concrete forms through which history is advancing in this continent.

“In elections like those in Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina, who wins them makes no difference for the Left.”

That is said as if it didn’t matter whether Lacalle or Mujica won, as if there were no difference between the return of the “toucans” and the victory of Dilma Rousseff, as if the replacement of the Kirchners by Duhalde, Reuteman, Cobos, or some other hero of the Argentinean Right would mean the same thing for the country.  They think that such contests are just about “contradictions among the bourgeoisie,” with no major impact, disregarding how the principal political and social forces of each of the two camps are aligned, above all on the issues of the broadening and deepening of the processes of regional integration versus the free trade agreements, the prioritization of social policies versus fiscal tightening, the role of the state, the stance on social struggles, private media monopoly, and finance capital among others, which clearly differentiate the two camps.

“Contemporary Latin American nationalism is bourgeois nationalism.”

Since nationalist ideologies began to make a comeback in Latin America with Hugo Chávez, there have been people who hastened to compare him with Perón, dismissing the phenomenon as “bourgeois nationalism” or simply as nationalism that had nothing to do with the anti-capitalist struggle, etc.  They have moreover substituted clichés for concrete analyses of concrete situations.  The nationalism of governments like those of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador — which are recovering their countries’ essential natural resources — is integral part of the anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist platforms.  Each phenomenon acquires its own distinct character, according to the context in which each demand is made, as each government takes on its own character.  In the case of current nationalism in Latin America, it is promoting, more than its predecessors, processes of regional integration, which gives it a Latin American, rather than just national, character.

The original article “Algunas tesis equivocadas sobre América Latina (y el mundo)” was published in Punto Final 712 (26 June-8 July 2010).  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at]

| Print