The end of a cycle: from Caracas to Buenos Aires

The waning popularity of the "progressive" governments in Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil and the attempts of imperialism and the South American right-wing to capitalize on the various crises within these governments have reopened the debate on the character and trajectory of the post-neoliberal governments and what political strategy is necessary to confront the pro-imperialist reaction.

April 27, 2015

Order and Progress

Emir Sader warns of the danger of a ´´conservative restoration´´ against the ´´transformations´´ implemented by Latin America´s progressive governments. However, in Buenos Aires and Brasilia (As well as in Caracas, La Paz and Quito), far from advancing further the processes of change and reform the governments are instead deepening their turn to the right.

They have applied austerity measures (heterodox and orthodox) and made new concessions to transnational corporations (like opening up parts of nationalized oil companies to foreign multinationals). They have put forward reactionary measures around democratic demands, for example; the criminalization of protest and poverty, alliances with right-wing churches and continued opposition to the legalization of abortion. They are working to join together with the ruling class to restore ´´order´´ so as to attempt to return to the path of capitalist economic growth.

This retreat is not because of some circumstantial errors, but rather is rooted fundamentally in their strategy and expresses the exhaustion of the possibilities opened by the cycle of reforms of the past decade. We have entered a new stage in which, facing economic decline and adverse international conditions, the popular governments have chosen to openly adapt themselves to the needs of capital in order to manage the crisis.

The progressive and right are two political forces which are in conflict. Under the nationalist and center-left governments, as a result of the new relation of forces created by the cycle of uprisings from 200-2005, the working class won important economic and social gains worth defending. From this point of view, it´s clearly not the same as the openly reactionary solutions which big capital would prefer. However, the historic function of the post-neoliberal governments is not the transformation of the social order of latin-american capitalism, but rather the preservation of capitalism with some partial reforms.

This is the key to take on the relationship between ´´Order and Progress,´´ or in other words, between the order that the ruling class demands as necessary for (capitalist) progress and the solutions to the crisis put forward by nationalists and progressives.

It has been said that the old positivist slogan of ´´Order and Progress´´ has been updated for our times in latin-america under the new images of ´´Security and Development´´ or ´´Stability and Growth´´. All of these refer to the link between social-political conditions and the forward march of the process of capitalist accumulation. This relationship can be best explained using the concept of ´´Dynamic Equilibrium´´ put forward by Leon Trotsky. Equilibrium combines dialectically the economic movement, the class struggle, political relations and interstate relations. It is an equilibrium which the capitalist regime breaks and reconstructs incessantly ´´extending, on its path, the limits of its dominion´´ in which ´´it is always in a process of rupture or restoration.´´

In the first years of this century this equilibrium broke under the impact of the political and economic crisis´ and the popular uprisings in various latin-american countries. The ruling class had to resign itself to the rise of reformist political forces as an ´´emergency measure.´´ The moderates Lula, Kirchner or Tabara Vazquez, and the ´´radical´´ Evo Morales and Chavez, were unavoidable because of their popular influence when the neoliberal formula became unsustainable. The ´´Reformist Moment´´ was necessary to avoid a more significant rupture with catastrophic and potentially revolutionary consequences for the ruling order.

There emerged two varieties of ´´post-neoliberal´´ government; one more nationalist and populist in the more deeply affected countries such as Chavismo in Venezuela (With traces present with Evo Morales in Bolivia), the other more center-left where the crisis was smaller, such as in Brazil and Uruguay. Argentina demonstrated a unique situation in which - facing the currency crisis and the mass protests of December 2001 that devastated the old party system - it was necessary to return to the center-left wing of Peronism.

This reformist cycle has been sustained and prolonged because it has been able to count on an uninterrupted cycle of growth. The international boom in raw resources and the relative recomposition of internal markets allowed for an internal stabilization and bigger margins of maneuver against imperialism. On another level, it also reestablished the State´s capacity for mediation with a politics of formal democratization and ´´social inclusion´´, partially incorporating both popular demands and neo-developmentalism, recuperating a certain level of autonomy in international politics.

The Gramscian concept of a ´´Passive Revolution´´ has been employed by a variety of studies to interpret these reforms. However Gramsci used this concept to analyze the political processes in 19th century europe in which, in order to avoid another revolution of 1848, historical tasks like the unification of Italy and Germany were achieved ´´from above´´ through reactionary methods by monarchist chancellors like Bismarck and Cavour.

In the epoch of imperialism this possibility has been exhausted because to seriously take on structural and democratic tasks such as national liberation is to enter in conflict with the base of capitalism in dependent countries. None of the post-neoliberal governments has proposed to break with imperialist capital, realize serious agricultural reform or to nationalize natural resources. However, all of of them, ´´honor their obligations´´ and ´´petroleum nationalism´´ has been limited by the radical Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador to a mere renegotiation of terms with the transnationals, not to even speak of the less radical Brazil and Argentina.

The element of ´´passive revolution´´ under these limited processes of change favors the recomposition of the ruling order, not its supercession. While maintaining continuity with the key economic aspects inherited from neoliberalism (such as specialization in exports, the growth of foreign debt and the precarization of work), the partial reforms are made to counter the mobilization of the masses, pacifying the subaltern classes and co-opting social movements to move from ´´protest to proposals´´ following the words of Evo Morales.

The task of stabilization of the reformist cycle — combining its elements of a passive revolution with those of a restoration — have prepared the ground for the ruling class to be able to aspire to a full conservative restoration.

The Progressive Sunset

The decline and exhaustion of the nationalist governments of the center-left has created a scenario of political transition in the middle of tensions and crisis´ which have put the right wing opposition on the offensive. This is illustrated by the Argentinian and Brazilian situations as well as, in a unique form, in the case of Venezuela. The reactionary turn in latin american politics has been expressed from within the post-neoliberal governments (which have retreated on progressive reforms while advancing a conservative restoration) and not only from outside through the recomposition of the continental right and imperialist pressures. It´s the end of the period of ´´Never Less´´ which Christina Kirchner has utilized in order to pass heterodox austerity measures, measures that attack the living and working conditions of the population and erode her own social base. Although each case is different, in general we still have not had full scale neoliberal attacks against the population but rather an end to progressive reforms combined with indirect attacks, such as through fiscal adjustments and inflation.

Their possibilities as mediating regimes, based on their capacity to deliver some concessions to the subaltern classes, has been diminished while the bourgeoisie and imperialism apply pressure for a normalization of the forms of domination. The end of this cycle opens a period of transition in which their will be a political reconfiguration for new stage. The progressive governments are putting themselves forward as ´´responsible´´ governments capable of managing the crisis. Meanwhile the right wing is putting itself forward as a ´´renovator,´´ one which reflects bourgeois interests and those of privileged middle-class layers who wish to dispense with the inconvenient costs and methods of populism.

Adapting itself to this pressure, the progressive governments seek to control their own transition. It´s the tendency towards post-Kirchnerismo in Argentina in which one of the varieties of discussion centers around ´´scioloismo,´´ with the hope that transition could occur around a similar figure.

Venezuela presents a special case, but it does not escape from this general tendency. Sympathizers of Chavism, like Atilio Boron, have rejected the possibility of a post-chavista transition in Caracas. However the road towards ´´moderation´´ was signaled by Chaves himself towards the end of his life with substantial symbolic actions such as hugging President Santos of Columbia, entrance into Mercosul, appointing Maduro as successor and leaving behind the discourse of 21st century socialism.

As the most radical expression of the reformist cycle, Bolivarian Venezuela has been the focus of strong conflicts with the United States and the local bourgeoisie because of its importance as an oil producer and the dispute over the distribution of oil income. At the same time the Bonapartist character of the regime of the 5th Republic and the degree of political and social polarization has made a transition much more difficult and likely to result in conflict. The political crisis and inability of the Maduro government reflects the difficulty it has to define an exit — a transition — at the end of the stage of the ´´Bolivarian Revolution´´.

Political and electoral support to the progressives is support to their type of orderly transition, not a real ´´lesser evil´´ against the right. Chavistas, Kirchneristas e PTistas denounce the ´´permanent conspiracy´´, the ´´economic war´´ and the coup threats, however all they put forward is ´´permanent conciliation´´ and more business friendly reforms.

Public intellectuals of the center-left, such as Emir Sader or the Argentinian "Carta Abierta", advocate moving forward by ´´closing ranks´´ with Dilma or Christina Kirchner. They emphasize the power of the bourgeois media, however Globo and Clarin are nothing more than the visible expression of the economic, social and cultural power of big capital. This power is something which the progressives have preserved and helped to become stronger over more than a decade of government.

The power of the media is influential, however the discontent of workers and the broader population is not because of television propaganda but rather because of the fall of salaries, the high cost of living, the deterioration of public transportation, health and education, the growth of corruption and increasing repression. The ´´culture war´´ of the progressives fails to mention these political retreats, limiting itself to talking about what was conceded over a decade and justifying the current political course. It is not insignificant that the Manifesto de Buenos Aires was only able to talk of ´´a political cycle which still challenges time, against the wind and waves´´; this reflects the ideological and and political bankruptcy of the progressives.

The Working Class

The historic possibilities are not merely limited to the continuity of a retreating progressive government or conservative restoration. The oscillations between conservative and reformist regimes that have characterized the political history of the region do not form an unbreakable cycle. There is no fatalistic determinism which guarantees this. The results will be decided in the course of the class struggle, a struggle which will emerge in the face of complex factors from the economy to political phenomenon in the midst of an international crisis of the capitalist system..

There are many possible future and it is fundamental to think through strategic hypothesis based on the strength and potential of the working class, a class which gained new strength in the heat of the previous wave of struggles. Today the ´´social question´´ has great weight on the agenda of many countries in the region and can become a major factor in constructing a left alternative. Since the end of 2012 the national work stoppages, strikes and protests in Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil and Chile have made a substantial impact. This has been confirmed by the fourth general strike which took place on March 31st in Argentina, together with the strikes and protests in Brazil. The workers movement, together with popular sectors and the youth, has signalled that it is not willing accept worse living conditions in the face of attacks by either ´´progressives´´ or neo-liberals. The national strikes and factory struggles in Argentina and the mass protests in Brazil in June 2013 are some of the clearest signs of this.

The workers, youth and popular movements today contain the embryo of the kind of decisive strength necessary to confront the reaction and open a new strategic horizon for social struggle. If in the beginning of the century the popular and peasant based social movements had greater weight, today the working class can take on the central role. It can form the unifying pole around which to build a workers´and popular alliance with the perspective of a revolutionary response to the problems of the continent.

Anti-Imperialism, Popular Demands and Class Political Independence

It isn’t possible to mobilize against the reactionary right and the attacks of the bosses without fighting the cuts and attacks of the progressives. The workers´ movement and popular sectors need another program in order to advance the struggle. Political subordination to the government or the bourgeois political currents ties the hands of workers and divides our organization. We need a program which articulates substantial anti-imperialist measures as well as workers´ and popular demands that the crisis is paid for by the capitalist class. This is inseparable from the struggle for real political independence

The other side of intervention in workers, popular and student struggles is the struggle to construct real class political alternatives; confronting both the retreats of the nationalist/progressive governments and the attempt of the pro-imperialist opposition to impose right wing alternatives.

Unfortunately there are sectors of the combative latin-american left who consider it possible to influence chavismo or Evo Morales´ MAS from the standpoint of critical support. Drawing a clear political line is not a barrier to united action. On the contrary it´s possible to build united front actions against the reactionary offensive, advancing the demands of the popular sectors and workers´ without maintaining illusions or expectations in these same governments. The united front, as Lenin and Trotsky understood it - ´´strike together, march seperately´´- presupposes political independence. You can have good demands and slogans for protests, but without intransigently defending political independence you run the risk of ending up as powerless ´´left advisors´´ of Chavismo or the MAS.

In Argentina the combination between the struggle to develop a class struggle left unionism alongside the political development of the Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores (Left and Workers’ Front) as a pole of class independence for workers lays the foundation for a real class alternative. The lessons of the most important latin-american and international political experiences play an essential role in this process of construction.

Practical, organic intervention in the life of the workers and youth movements, political action, cultural and ideological struggle must all be united by the same strategic aim on the national and international scale: the development of an independent organization of the workers´ movement and the masses that will be able to present a revolutionary alternative to the capitalist crisis.