Saturday, January 07, 2012

Political effects of protest

Roger Burbach has an article in NACLA about protests in Latin America that raises an interesting question: what political effect will they have? At least to this point, the answer appears to be different from what the article suggests.

These movements are highly diverse in their social and political composition, and they are anti-systemic, raising fundamental questions and challenging the existent order.

I don't think this is true, by which I mean the protests have not attempted to destroy the system, but to increase their leverage with it. Take the Chilean and Mexican examples, which he examines in depth. Looking toward presidential elections in both countries, all the likely candidates are establishment, with no one else in sight. The only anti-establishment candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has been making up with the establishment (e.g. no longer constantly using the word "mafia") ever since he became the PRD's official candidate.

The comparison to OWS are particularly instructive. Except perhaps at its very small core, OWS is not anti-systemic, and in fact would have zero influence if it were. Rather, it is pointing to problems that the system should fix. The exact same is true with the Chilean education protests. This could change, but it is premature to lump Latin America (or OWS) in with the Arab Spring (as he does).

One important point the article makes, however, is that ideology does not explain much. For all the over-simplified "good left, bad left" rhetoric, there are protests against all different types of governments, even supposedly radical ones like in Bolivia or Ecuador. If anything, the protests have revealed conservative tendencies in leftist governments.


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