Globe, Latin America, United Kingdom

Progressivism in power: playing political chess

The social and political forces of the Latin American and Caribbean left have enormous challenges ahead of them, but also positive elements to progress along the path of social emancipation and national independence.


Juan Diego García


It is a matter of democratising ownership and forms of political participation with reforms that allow progress in overcoming the huge economic inequalities inherent in the system, dramatically worsened by the neoliberal model in place in the region.

It is also a matter of reforming, radically, the systems of social and political participation progressing towards their real democratisation.

The inequality in the distribution of wealth is vast and the so-called representative democracies are no more than a system to guarantee monopolies of all kinds for the traditional and recently emerged oligarchies, as happens with the drug trafficking economy in Colombia, for example.

 Although they are called democracies, in key respects they are very far from working in a modern way and even further from working in accordance with the liberal values they preach.

Neoliberalism’s current crisis has brought chaos to these regimes and has allowed social and political forces of the left and centre to enter government and enabled them to progress in the spheres of real power as well.

The said social forces try to limit as far as possible the dominant classes’ control of the principal levers of the economy, achieve the democratisation of the state apparatus (the civil service and the military, especially) and make their presence felt decisively in the mass media, to avoid manipulation and sabotage campaigns by the right.

From this perspective it is crucial that the forces of change promote state ownership of those key levers of the economy. It is undoubtedly a matter of consolidating forms of state capitalism, but under the control and guidance of popular governments.

The ideal thing would be to return to the state the ability to intervene in the workings of the economy overcoming the neoliberal principle of giving hegemony in decision-making (what to produce, how to distribute it) to the market, so that the interests of the social majorities take precedence, as should happen in a democratic and modern order.

Given the extent of small and medium capitalist ownership in these countries’ business fabrics, it is essential that in government the left and the centre promote an alliance with these sectors. Limiting the more brutal forms of the current free exchange and tending towards overcoming it would benefit those small and medium-sized businesses that have been ruined by strong competition from foreign producers.

Adequate forms of protectionism are vital; policies of this nature are practised by the metropolitan economies. Why should progressive governments trying to modernise and democratise their countries not do the same?

Performing independently, as far as possible, on the world market should be one of the strategic objectives of progressive and democratic leaders in this region.

The appearance of new world powers does not eliminate the risk of a reproduction of the traditional forms of binding to the world market, in this case with the emerging powers.

Nevertheless, negotiating with several powers instead of just one multiplies the chances of deciding with greater autonomy what is going to be imported and exported, deciding from a better position key matters such as the external debt, foreign investment and other similar topics which constitute mechanisms through which world capitalism extracts a good part of these countries’ national wealth. It is imperative to broaden as much as possible a democratic system that ensures the social backing fundamental to any progressive project.

It is necessary to support the traditional institutions of the popular forces (unions, above all) that have been hit so hard – and in some cases practically exterminated – by neoliberal strategy, in some cases through changes in the legal regime, in others simply through the systematic assassination of their leaders.

But at the same time it is essential to improve and broaden the organisation of the so-called ‘poor class’, that immense mass of excluded and marginalised people who on so many occasions constitute a good part of the population of these countries and who are also crucial protagonists in social struggles.

These broad groups of poor and marginalised people have been critical factors in the recent victories of alternative political forces in this region (most recently in Colombia and Brazil).

Achieving forms of participation that are permanent and identified with a programme of basic reforms – employment, education and health – is without doubt the left’s most urgent task.

Electoral participation and permanent social mobilisation are forms that ensure adequate management of politics to achieve the necessary favourable balance of power. It is enough to observe how the right not only fights for the greatest possible representation in the institutions (and not always with civilised and democratic methods) through the electoral route but also seeks to mobilise the widest sectors it possibly can, including of course groups from the middle classes and from the popular sectors themselves.

This happens, in some cases, because although the dominant class is infinitely in the minority, it has the adhesion of wide sections of the middle class and of popular groups with very little political culture or who are literally blinded by primitive messages and religious campaigns that are pre-modern and contrary to any rational narrative.

That is why the left must work on its own organisation and the formulation of an immediate programme and a strategic objective that enables capitalism to be overcome and the basis of an essentially new social order to be established.

However, there are divisions and conflicts, a sectarianism with little or no willingness to make a critical reading of the experience of the workers’ and popular movements of the past. And that is an obstacle that must be overcome to be able to tackle the challenges of the present.

(Translated by Philip Walker – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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