In the eyes of much of the world, the year 1989 has come to stand for the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of Soviet-type societies, and the defeat of twentieth-century socialism. However, 1989 for many others, particularly in Spanish-speaking countries, is also associated with the beginning of the Latin American revolt against neoliberal shock therapy and the emergence in the years that followed of a “socialism for the 21st century.” This revolutionary turning point in Latin American (and world) history is known as the Caracazo or Sacudón (heavy riot), which erupted in Caracas, Venezuela on February 27, 1989, and quickly became “by far the most massive and severely repressed riot in the history of Latin America.”
Twenty years ago, left forces in Latin America and in the world in general were going through a difficult period. The Berlin Wall had fallen; the Soviet Union hurtled into an abyss and disappeared completely by the end of 1991. Deprived of the rearguard it needed, the Sandinista Revolution was defeated at the polls in February 1990, and Central American guerrilla movements were forced to demobilize. The only country that kept the banners of revolution flying was Cuba, although all the omens said that its days were numbered. Given that situation, it was difficult to imagine that twenty years later, left-wing leaders would govern most of the Latin American countries.
Latin America was the first region in the world where neoliberal policies were introduced. Chile, my country, was used as a testing ground before Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government implemented them in the United Kingdom. But Latin America was also the first region in the world where these policies came to be rejected as policies that only served to increase poverty, aggravate social inequalities, destroy the environment, and weaken working-class and popular movements in general.…It was in our subcontinent that left and progressive forces first began to rally after the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. After more than two decades of suffering, new hope was born. At first, this took the shape of struggles to resist neoliberal policies, but after a few years, people went on the offensive, conquering arenas of power.
“Why talk of socialism?” we may ask. After all, “socialism” has had such negative connotations since its collapse in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries. For many years after Soviet socialism disappeared, intellectuals and progressive forces talked more of what socialism must not be than of the model that we actually wanted to build. Some of the facets of Soviet socialism that were rejected—and rightly so—were: statism, state capitalism, totalitarianism, bureaucratic central planning, the kind of collectivism that seeks to homogenize without respecting differences, productivism (which stresses the growth of productive forces without being concerned about the need to protect nature), dogmatism, atheism, and the need for a single party to lead the transition process.
My reflections on the kind of political instrument needed to build twenty-first century socialism are intended to contribute to a larger body of thought about the horizon toward which a growing number of Latin American governments are moving. I conclude by emphasizing the need for a new left culture, a tolerant and pluralist culture that stresses that which unites us rather than that which divides us. A culture that promotes unity around values—such as solidarity, humanism, respect for difference, and protection of the environment—and turns its back on the view that hunger for profit and the laws of the market are the guiding principles of human activity.
The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held April 20-22, 2010, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, will undoubtedly be remembered as a major historical turning point in the struggle over climate change. Over 35,000 people from 142 countries attended….For perhaps the first time, the issue of the planetary environmental crisis was wrested entirely from the ideological control of the rich countries of the North in a major international forum, leading to the development of a radical South-based perspective.
Perhaps nothing points so clearly to the alienated nature of politics in the present day United States as the fact that capitalism, the economic system that drives the society, is effectively off-limits to critical review or discussion. To the extent that capitalism is mentioned by politicians or pundits, it is regarded in hushed tones of reverence for the genius of the market, its unquestioned efficiency, and its providential authority. One might quibble with a corrupt and greedy CEO or a regrettable loss of jobs, but the superiority and necessity of capitalism—or, more likely, its euphemism, the so-called “free market system”—is simply beyond debate or even consideration. There are, of course, those who believe that the system needs more regulation and that there is room for all sorts of fine-tuning. Nevertheless, there is no questioning of the basics.
As the June-July 2010 World Cup draws the world’s attention to South Africa, the country’s poor and working-class people will continue protesting, at what is now among the highest rates per person in the world. Since 2005, the police have conservatively measured an annual average of more than eight thousand “Gatherings Act” incidents (public demonstrations legally defined as involving upwards of fifteen demonstrators) by an angry urban populace….This general urban uprising has included resistance to the commodification of life—e.g., commercialization of municipal services—and to rising poverty and inequality in the country’s slums.
The medieval kingdom that is twentieth century Oaxaca has imprisoned hundreds of citizens arbitrarily and unjustly. Dozens more have disappeared, victims of paramilitary escuadrones de muerte (death squads). Thousands have been beaten, tortured, and robbed, lost their jobs, or have been forced into exile because they objected to government wrongdoing.…The King’s minions who control Oaxaca’s political and economic systems are a small minority of the state’s population, “but they are a powerful minority. There is no transparency. The governor arranges, controls, dispenses as he wishes—he is the head cacique, he has the legislature and the judicial system in his pocket.” Change means overthrowing the governor and the system of government that he manifests and represents.
“Ultimately,” said Miguel Rivera, a soft-spoken man in his late twenties, “we are a family that has dedicated ourselves to helping the people with their needs and defending their rights. But in the process of denouncing the consequences of mining especially, I think there are people that will be your enemies.”…The Canadian-owned Pacific Rim Mining Company has attempted to exploit a gold mine at El Dorado for the better part of a decade, and has been repeatedly thwarted in its efforts….Now, apparently, the company’s local allies have taken a more violent approach to removing that opposition.