Issue 14 – Lessons from Latin America: Neoliberalism, Crisis and Social Struggle

Editors: Aylin Topal, Burak Sönmezer, Ecehan Balta, Fuat Özdinç, Galip Yalman, Pınar Bedirhanoğlu, Şebnem Oğuz

The Oppressed and Politics in Latin America: At the Beginnings of a New History
Çiğdem Çıdamlı

This paper examines the dynamics of the new social labour movements in Latin America during an age of neoliberal domination and liquidation-legalization of political left. Especially after the political crises in the early 200ö’s m various Latin American countries, a new page is opening in the history of the oppressed classes after a long age of “the end of history” and the question of political power is once again becoming a first rank concrete question. Latin American social labour movements started their new historical making in an age of rapid global expropriation and proletarianization process in the late 80’s and the newly impoverished masses expressed their objective existence first by the fierce protest movements of the unorganized urban and rural poor. While Latin American labouring classes started to organize themselves in broad political fronts constructed over direct action strategy of the mass movements, they also tried unsuccessful political coalitions with the electoral left parties that started to come to power from the end of the 90’s in various Latin American countries starting with Brazil’s PT. However, there is a structural conflict between the nature of the social labour movements which grows as self-defense movements against neoliberal imperialist domination and class relations and the path taken by the electoral left-wing parties that are forced to become a part of the new international power bloc as shown by the examples of Ecuador and Brazil at the time of the demise of this new “social democracy”, another direction among the left is a trend towards an “escape from political power and politics itself”, as a recurrence of the trend towards the “escape from class” of the early 90’s. The emerging political vacuum is filled with the new social labour movements, whose real dynamism depend on their ability to create a new “public sphere”, in the form of a “political community of human society” in the immediate context of land and factory occupations and road cuts. Various parts of these movements such as the landless workers’ movement, unemployed workers movement and indigenous movements have certain political capacities and incapacities in this respect and this complex situation puts them in a position of being able to
throw out the neoliberal governments but not being able to take the political power in revolutionary ways.

Keywords: Latin American left, Marxism, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), social movements.

Leftist Goals and the Debate over Anti-Neoliberal Strategy in Latin America
Steve Ellner

Three strategies emerged in the 1990s in Latin America in the struggle against neoliberalism: Jorge Castaheda’s approach which assigns centrists a key role; the strategy associated with Marta Harnecker in which the left prioritizes antineoliberalism; and the strategy defended by James Petras in which anti-neoliberal demands do not overshadow anti-imperialism or anti-capitalist struggles,The experiences in Venezuela (Rafael Caldera), Argentina (Fernando de la Rua), Chile (Ricardo Lagos) and Mexico (Vicente Fox), where Castadeda’s strategy was put into practice, demonstrate that antı neoliberal goals are blurred when centrists dominate the governing coalition. The cases of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and “Lula” in Brazil put in evidence the influence of the “national bourgeoisie,” organized labor and the marginalized sectors on the directions that anti-neoliberal governments take. Contraıy to Petras’ thinking, non leftist leaders and organizations were essential İn the rise to power of Chávez and Lııla and in their responses to initial challenges.

Keywords: Latin American left, neoliberalism, anti-neoliberalism, anti-capitalism, Marxism.

The Unexpected Revolution: Venezuela Confronts Neoliberalism
Gregory Albo

The recent revolutionary process in Venezuela shows us that there is no single design for breaking out of neoliberalism, as there is no blueprint for a revolution against capitalism. The importance of Chávez for the left is that the Bolivarian movement has reposed the question of ‘what we want to become’ and not just of ‘what we no longer want to be’ after all the destructiveness of the last decades of neoliberalism and globalization. Especially Chávez’s declaration of a new model of 21’st century socialism is inspiring for the left everywhere that is leaving the mechanical revolutionary formulations of the past and actively seeking to rebuild a viable socialism for today. In order to provide a deeper understanding of the dynamics of this important process, the paper begins with a discussion of the factors that led to the political ascendancy of Chávez. In the second part, the pressures and openings for the Bolivarian project are located in the context of the consolidation of neoliberalism in Latin America, the cycle of accumulation in Venezuela, and the particular external constraints facing Venezuela. This is followed by a detailed account of some of the key policy fronts of the Bolivarian programme against neoliberalism . Lastly, the challenges that face Chavez, such as economic-political isolation and the social fractures over State power, are discussed. The paper concludes that socialists outside Venezuela can best support the Bolivarian revolution by re-imagining their own movements.

Keywords: Latin American left, Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Marxism, imperialism.

Ballad of the Silent Man: Reflections on Venezuela in the Context of Latin America
Fuat Ercan

This paper is an analysis of the recent developments in Venezuela based on a combination of the author’s direct observations with a historical approach to the political economy of Latin America. The paper discusses the broader pattern of Latin American capitalist development and Venezuela’s specificities within this pattern, in an attempt to understand the factors that led to the Bolivarian Revolution. In doing this, the author criticizes the Dependency School’s emphasis on the role of external factors in the development of capitalism in Latin America, and instead suggests an alternative periodization based on the conceptual separation between “surplus transfer and “surplus creation”. He argues that there were four main stages in Latin American capitalist development: i) colonial mercantilist stage (marked by surplus transfer), ii) simple export-based accumulation (still marked by surplus transfer, but requiring money and commercial Capital for the formation of the interior bourgeoisıe), iii) accumulation based on productive Capital (marked by surplus creation and formation of the interior bourgeoisie), iv) internationalization of the total circuit of capital (marked by enhanced surplus creation and internationalization of the interior bourgeoise). It is argued that the latest stage of capitalist development accelerated the process of proleterianization and led to the creation of an enormous section of urban poor all o ver the continent. It is this internal dynamics, rather than the external factors emphasized by Dependency School theorists, that has led to the recent resurgence of the Latin American left in general, and Venezuelan left in particular. İn this sense, the particularities of Venezuela’s pattern of accumulation based on petroleum extraction does not make ıt a totally exceptional case. To the contrary, Venezuela is going through the same process of enhanced surplus creation and intensified class conflicts that dominate ali Latin American countries. Thus, if this transition process happens to fail, certain elements of Chávez’s “endogeneous development” strategy such as the support for small enterprises and private property in land, might lead to a further deepening of capitalist relations in Venezuela. What is still inspiring in this contradictory process, however, is the ongoing shift of Chávez’s discourse from populism to socialism since he came to power.

Keywords: Latin American left, Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, Marxism, labor movements.

Made in Venezuela: The Struggle to Reinvent Venezuelan Labor
Jonah Gindin

This paper explores the recent developments in the Venezuelan labor movement after Chávez’s election in 1998. The radical change that brought Chavez to power also led to a dramatic split in the labor movement between Chávez supporters and opposers. A large portion of unions affiliated to the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) split from the CTV to form National Union of Venezuela Workers (UNT) in 2003. Since then, UNT has promoted a new kind of unionism based on worker-state co-management, as a key part of Venezuela’s new strategy of endogenous development centered on the slogan “made in Venezuela”. Three co management models have emerged in this process. The first model emerged at Cadafe, the state electric company, where workers occupied two positions in a five-member coordinating committee through a well-organized push for co-management from below. The second model emerged in the paper factory Venepal, where workers formed a cooperative (Covimpa) to run the company. Covimpa now owns a 49 percent share in the factory and wants to own all of the shares. The third model emerged in the state-owned aluminum processing plant Alcasa, whıch was chosen as the guinea pig of a natıon wide government strategy of co-management that aimed to fight inefficiency and corruption through the replacement of management with workers, elected by workers. The paper argues that the new union strategies and co management experiences in Venezuela have revived the crucial ideological debates about the socialist, capitalist and corporatist models of co-management; as well as questions of how to balance workers’ control with community interests, and union autonomy with the need to support a socialist government.

Keywords: Latin American left, Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, anti-capitalism, labor movements.

The Lula Disaster in Brazil

Sungur Savran

This paper discusses the reasons for the Brazilian Workers Party’s (PT) surrender to neoliberalism under Lula’s government. The determining factor behind the surrender, the author argues, is the class composition of Lula’s government. Even before the elections, Lula and the PT leadership deliberately formed an alliance with prominent sectors of the bourgeoisie and pledged allegiance to the commitments of Brazil towards the international financial markets. The outcome was total compliance with neoliberal policies, which should be seen as a political betrayal of the party leadership rather than an end-result of objective constraints. There was a long historical evolution behind this betrayal. The organisational transformation of the party from a class-based organisation to an electoral apparatus was the decisive aspect of this evolution, but the ideologicalpolitical shift of the PT leadership from socialism to left liberalism was also a factor that paved the way for its compromise with neoliberalism. A paradoxical example of this was the “participatory budget” experience in Porto Alegre, which was initially celebrated as a model of democracy, but was in fact a neoliberal model of “participatory austerity”. The author argues that the ideological-organisational shift of the PT was not inevitable and that the Marxists within the party could have struggled against it. The trouble was that major sections of the Marxists had themselves become paralysed with demoralisation and abandonment of the fundamentals of Leninist politics, in particular after the fail of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Keywords: Latin American left, Marxism, Leninism, Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Decentralization Reforms in Mexico: The Intersection of Neoliberalization and Democratization Processes
Aylin Topal

Since the 1980s, most international donors and developmental agencies have been significantly investing in and funding decentralization processes in Latin America. They assumed that by bringing political decisions closer to the citizenry, decentralization would naturally lead to more participatory subnational governments and empowered local communities. To test this optimistic assumption, this article examines decentralization reforms in Mexico vis-â-vis neoliberalization and democratization processes. Based on intervievvs with key actors, local and national newspapers and related primary and secondary sources, this article concludes that in Mexico, decentralization policies are the intersection set of neoliberalization and democratization processes. The part played by neoliberalization in decentralization processes ensures that the latter would not lead either directly or unproblematically to democratization. In 1983, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), faced with a deep hegemony crisis, responded to two sets of demands. Threatened by the bank nationalization in 1983, certain sections of the capitalist classes have increased the pressure for a smaller State, while workers, peasants and indigenous groups have demanded democratization and more participation. PRI chose to implement decentralization policies with the intention of receiving consent from these various social groups while at the same time strengthening the local organization of the party with new political, administrative and financial faculties. The multifaceted nature of these decentralization reforms explains the varying impacts of these policies at the local level. This article shows that in the Northern regions, where the local capitalist groups are organized, the party of the political right, the National Action Party (PAN), came to power. However, there are hints that decentralization policies may empower other local parties. Parties ideologically closer the workers, peasants and indigenous groups, like Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), can organize at the local level and with this support can present a viable alternative in 2006 presidential elections.

Keywords: Mexico, debt crisis, neoliberalism, democratization, decentralization reform.

Global Process, Local Meanings: The Argentine Local Supporters to the Structural Reforms
Gastön J. Beltrân

During the 1980 decade Argentina was affected by a severe economic and institutional crisis. After two episodes of hyperinflation, the government, with the support of most local businesses and a few neoliberal intellectuals began a process of deep structural reforms. This paper analyzes how and why the support for those reforms evolved internally, watching at the way in which global dynamics and local configurations intersect. The paper then focuses on the way the local powers – mainly State, local business and local intellectuals -interpreted and incorporated neoliberalism during the 1980s and how and why they demanded their implementation.

Keywords: Argentina, hyperinflation, neoliberalism, structural reform, liberal intellectuals.

Politics of the Demos vs. Politics of Politicians: Lessons from Argentina
Emilia Castorina

The aim of this paper ıs to explore the extent to which the conceptual/theoretical displacement of State and class-based politics by identity politics and diversity, as conceived in “development studies” today, has severed rather than enforced the understanding of new forms of resistance in the Third World. This paper will take particular issue with the Argentinean case. Not only Argentina represents a paradigmatic case of neo-liberal policies during the 1990s, but also -as its dialectical reverse- there emerged new social and political actors and forms of struggle. The key problem for understanding and conceptualizing the novelty of this new politics from “below” that has emerged ın Argentina in the midst of the crisis of neoliberalism in the form of unemployed movement (“piqueteros”), social outbreaks (“puebladas”), neighbor assemblies, movements of taken factories, ete.- is the inadeguacy of available theoretical frameworks. Indeed, neither the post-modern/postdevelopment/post colonial nor the traditional class/state-based perspectives seem to be able to account by themselves for the specificıties and particularities of this new phenomenon Yet, this paper aims at exploring the extent to which this epistemological lack entails serious political limitations. The point ın case -the new politics from “below” in Argentina may illustrate the (des)empowering effects neglecting and/or underestimating the role of the state has on the theory and practice of popular struggles when fundamental re-distributive aspects of capitalism are at stake.

Keywords: deconstructionism, governance, neoliberalism, postdevelopmentalism, postmodernism.

A Critique of the Neoliberal Concept of Education and the New Curriculum in Primary Schools
Kemal İnal

The new curriculum for elementary education implemented in some pilot primary schools at the academic term of 2004-2005 was introduced by the official authorities as “reform”, even “revolution” in the national education. The new curriculum which was claim ed to be formed on the philosophy and Science of Quantum instead of Newtonian Science on which all the problems of former educational system were charged, was founded on the neoliberal conception of education. At this educational context it is aimed at educating a type of individual conformed to the process of globalisation. Increasing the chance of Turkey’s competition in the international markets, namely the economic factors constitute the main reason or basics of the new curriculum . However, the new curriculum is open for some serious critiques because of its project for a new type of individual and the problems in practice.

Keywords: neoliberal education, primary school curriculum, hidden curriculum, education policy, Turkey