Overcoming neoliberalism (which is much more than an economic model) is undoubtedly the immediate task facing the left in Latin America and the Caribbean.
It is a challenge that pits against each other two big alternatives that depend on sound theoretical formulation and, above all, on the favourable balance of power being created.
The first alternative is returning to some form of developmentalism, until now the social model that enabled the transition from ruralism to urbanism, from tradition to modernity.
The current conflicts generated by neoliberal globalisation make it necessary to introduce some protectionist measures, among other reasons because the metropolitan countries seem to opt for this very strategy. It is obvious that the current free trade system always works in a very unequal way: the periphery countries are forced to open their domestic markets without any restriction, and it works in a very selective way for the metropolitan countries.
Free trade agreements and the economic policies of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO always favour the interests of large multinationals and impose on the periphery countries measures which are detrimental to their national production.
In addition, they extract ever larger percentages of their wealth through the world credit system (foreign debt).
This neoliberal model reproduces the classic framework of the colonial relationship of dependency between the rich centre of the capitalist system and its poor periphery. It is a new colonialism.
Returning to some form of developmentalism would involve radically revising free trade agreements, seeking food sovereignty and promoting industry, commerce, finances and state-owned services, giving priority to strategic and state-owned businesses.
Equally, it would involve overhauling the exploitation of natural resources and reshaping associations with foreign companies. It would seek to favour the development of science and research.
It would also involve returning to the state its function as the ultimate regulator of economic activity and as the determining entity in relation to the market. Today it is a state whose repressive function is strong, but which is weak due to the neoliberal policies which leave key functions such as health, education and pensions to private initiative.
The question is how to achieve those objectives and where the leadership of the process would come from.
Developmentalism was driven by a section of the local middle class with broad support from popular sectors.
But nowadays that section of the upper middle class does not favour this strategy, since it is comfortable with the current situation.
Therefore, it is the popular sectors who must push the modernising and democratising measures that the bourgeoisie will not carry out.
They would be the “new proletariat” (the classic one, plus the large and new sectors of the salaried classes), rural and urban small and medium-sized business owners, and the marginalised masses, an indispensable force because of their current size.
In this conglomerate, the salaried classes play a key role in the economy and without them no economic project would have foundation. But the poor majorities of the countryside and the cities are also key due to their quantitative importance as social and political forces, not just at the ballot box.
The second alternative is the construction of an essentially new social order that overcomes both the warped capitalism that predominates today and the system itself.
The left urgently needs to formulate the terms of this kind of utopia and show, pedagogically, the possible and necessary link between the partial reforms viable at present and the scenario that would allow the most obvious contradictions of the current order to be overcome.
There are cyclical crises of the system that neoliberalism did not manage to resolve: handing to the community the central decisions that regulate the social order, or fulfilling the classic maxim “expropriate the expropriators” by ending the exploitation of human beings by human beings.
It is a question of finding a realistic resolution to the enormous contradictions that the system creates with nature and which put at risk the very survival of the human race.
A new relationship with the international community is also pressing, taking advantage of the current weakening of the West’s world hegemony.