Friday, August 20, 2010

Latin America and 21st Century Socialism

The July-August issue of Monthly Review contains a translation of Marta Harnecker's Latin America and Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes, which is available online here.

The reader interested in the transformations of Latin America will find much of interest here, including commentary on events on the continent through 2009. Harnecker's focus is the development of 21st century socialism. The electoral capture of governmental power by the left across large parts of Latin America has not followed the revolutionary path of state seizure of 20th century socialism, and thus, as Harnecker argues, requires different metrics. First, 21st century socialism, of course, must learn from the mistakes of the 20th century version. And second, it must also learn from the diversification of the movements instead relying on the model of working class struggle to the exclusion of peasants, indigenous people, women, and others. Finally, it must focus on creating new forms of local and protagonistic democracy to decentralize state power.

Harknecker argues that, while there can be no step-by-step blueprint for socialism, there are three fundamental goals by which we can measure the success of the new Latin American left. She calls this, following Hugo Chávez, the elementary triangle of socialism (p. 43ff):
  1. "Social ownership of the means of production." Harnecker argues that increased attention must be paid to the distribution of social ownership so that it does not become state-bureaucratic command over production.
  2. "Social production organized by the workers." Like social ownership of the means of production, the modes of production must be organized by workers and not become the prerogative of only management. This requires an educational component to work so that the division of labor cannot coalesce into technocrats and workers. She quotes Allende's critique of technocratic and bureaucratic organization: "since workers had the same rights as any citizen [Allende argued] 'it would be paradoxical if in the heart of the company where they work they did not have equal rights'" (p. 45).
  3. "The satisfaction of communal need." Rather than the acquisition of commodities, production needs to aim for the satisfaction of "full human development."
In addition, these new forms of distribution, production, and consumption should be organized with two other concerns in mind: first, a redefinition of productivity to include ecological concerns; and second, an eye toward integration and solidarity with other regional allies.

Much of Harnecker's essay focuses on these features of socialism. Nevertheless, its brevity leads to several omissions. First, I found that the discussions of implementing 21st century socialism sometimes left me wanting for current concrete examples. It helps, in this regard, to be familiar with at least some of the previous literature on Venezuela and Bolivia.

Second, after the initial discussion of international trade relations, Harnecker only revisits the topic in passing. Chávez, for instance, has made a significant effort to create a network of Latin American solidarity in trade and aid, to reduce the influence of US economic imperialism over the continent. Nevertheless, in attempting to establish stronger Venezuelan and/or Latin American economic autonomy he has forged ties with much less socialist sympathies (to put it nicely!). In Changing Venezuela by Taking Power (Verso, 2007), Gregory Wilpert argues that Chávez's ties with, and occasional praise of, leaders in repressive countries can undercut local struggles for social justice. These countries include Belorussia, Iran, Syria, China, Zimbabwe, and Russia. No matter how much skepticism the discourse of human rights warrants, Wilpert writes
Chávez does the peoples of these countries no favor by publicly praising their leaders and strengthening their positions while these same leaders trample on the rights of their people. By supporting these leaders, Chávez makes it more difficult for activists in these countries to fight for social justice (p. 181).
As many Marxists have pointed out, the uneven development of capitalism is central to its continued development and dominance as a system. Let us hope that the 'uneven' development of 21st socialism is only a transitional form.

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