Monday, December 15, 2008

The lefts in Latin America

Ignacio Walker has a very worthwhile article in Dissent about the Latin American lefts. He is a Chilean Christian Democrat who served as Foreign Minister under Ricardo Lagos. Popular accounts generally congeal the lefts into two--pro-U.S. vs. anti-U.S., undemocratic vs. democratic, or other similar unsatisfying simplifications. Walker sees three: Marxist, populist, and social democratic. Of particular utility is how he places current politics into the Latin American historical context, e.g. "In significant ways, the history of Latin America in the last century can be described as a search for responses to the crisis of oligarchic rule that took place in the 1920s and 1930s." He has a great quote from a letter that Juan Perón sent to Carlos Ibáñez in Chile:

My dear friend: Give the people, especially the workers, all that is possible. When it seems to you that already you are giving them too much, give them more. You will see the results. Everybody will try to frighten you with the specter of an economic collapse. But all of this is a lie. There is nothing more elastic than the economy, which everyone fears so much because no one understands it.

He then discusses the ways in which populism has re-emerged in Latin America, first as neoliberal (e.g. Fujimori, often called neopopulist) and then leftist. One major point he makes is that the current strand of leftist populism came into being at a time when democracy was taking root, so is actually less authoritarian than its predecessors. Nonetheless, there is always a tension between the personalization of populist rule and representative democracy.

At the same time, however, his focus on populism means that he does not discuss his "Marxist" category adequately. He views Chávez as both populist and Marxist, but it's not clear whether he would label anyone else (except the obvious example of the Castros) in that manner. Regardless, given how much latitude Chávez gives capitalism, I'm not sure Marxist is a good way to describe him. He mentions factions of the FSLN, FMLN, and the PT but the dominant tendencies of these parties are no longer Marxist.

At the very least, it is a step forward from the "bad left" vs. "good left" that we normally see.

10 comments:

GS,  12:31 PM  

But the "bad left" vs "good left" dichotomy is so much easier....

Justin Delacour 1:32 PM  

At the very least, it is a step forward from the "bad left" vs. "good left" that we normally see.

Indeed, that is a step forward.

But the "bad left" vs "good left" dichotomy is so much easier....

It's easier for U.S.-based ideologues whose purpose is not to analyze things but rather to formulate post-facto ratonalizations of their hostility toward governments that defy the Washington establishment.

GS,  4:50 PM  

Buzzkill.

Anonymous,  8:39 PM  

why does Justin only comments on Chavez related articles, is he a paid agent?

Justin Delacour 9:42 PM  

why does Justin only comments on Chavez related articles, is he a paid agent?

Indeed, anonymous, there will soon be poverty-stricken blogger-slash-agents such as myself hiding under everyone's bed.

Boo!

Er, actually, I've commented on lots of things on Greg's blog, but the stuff on Venezuela tends to be of greatest interest to me because that's the country that I've studied most.

Justin Delacour 9:45 PM  

Buzzkill.

Toilet paper.

Justin Delacour 10:43 PM  

By the way, there is an interesting quote from Bachelet about this question of the "the 'bad left' vs 'good left' dichotomy." Reporting from Chile in June 2006, the New York Times' Larry Rohter wrote the following:

President Bush, who visited here in November 2004, and Wall Street have praised Chile and its embrace of free trade and market capitalism as a model for other Latin American countries. But Ms. Bachelet indicated a certain discomfort with Chile being designated "the prize pupil in the class," as she put it.

"I don't want to go back to concepts related to the cold war, in which here is the group of the good guys, here the less good, here the so-so and here the bad guys," she said.

Anonymous,  7:28 AM  

ah! free and cheap agent

Justin Delacour 2:28 PM  

ah! free and cheap agent

In case you weren't aware, anonymous, a "free agent" has no compromising commitments.

Anonymous,  11:08 AM  

OK, OK, you win, Chavez is hot and sexy and is always right

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