We have seen in various posts since March 4 that a new political reality has emerged in Latin America and the Caribbean, defined by rejection of US-directed integration and by the formulation of an alternative integration from below, with its most recent expression being the Declaration of Havana emitted by the 33 governments of CELAC on January 29, 2014. The process of Latin American union and integration can be seen as an effort by the neocolonized peoples and nations to by-pass existing exploitative structures of the core-peripheral relation and to gradually replace them, step-by-step, with alternative structures for relations among nations, shaped by complementary and mutually beneficial intraregional commercial and social accords. The formation of the Bank of the South seeks to provide a financial foundation for this alternative project, undermining financial penetration of the region and the control of the region by transnational banks and international financial institutions.
In conjunction with this step-by-step process of establishing alternative commercial and social relations among nations and alternative financial institutions, the new Latin American political process is proclaiming the fundamental principles and values for an alternative world-system: the protection of the social and economic rights of all persons, including the rights to a decent standard of living, housing, nutrition, education, and health; respect for the sovereignty of all nations, even those that are not wealthy or powerful; and the development of forms of production and distribution that are ecologically sustainable. Thus there exist in embryo the commercial, social, financial and ideological components of an alternative more just and democratic world-system.
Do these developments mean that we are in a change of epoch, involving a transition from a world-system with a logic of domination and superexploitation to a world-system with a logic of equality, solidarity, and sustainability? It has been so named by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, when he observed that we are not in an epoch of change, but in a change of epoch. In the same vein, Hugo Chávez proclaimed that the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is constructing “Socialism for the XXI Century,” a socialism different from the socialisms of the twentieth century, “a socialism renewed for the new era, for the XXI century” (Chávez 2006:193). And this notion of socialism for our era has been invoked as well by Correa and Bolivian President Evo Morales.
As early as 1982, Immanuel Wallerstein maintained that the world-system has entered a structural and fundamental crisis and was in transition to something else, possibly, on the one hand, a world-system with a new logic of domination, or on the other hand, a socialist world order and/or a new civilizational project (Wallerstein 1982:11, 51-53). Can we interpret the process of change in Latin America as the emergence of an alternative civilizational and socialist project that Wallerstein imagined more than thirty years ago as a possibility?
I believe that indeed we can, and the principal reason is that the process of Latin American and Caribbean unity integrates values formed by the movements of the peoples of the world during the last two and one-half centuries: the bourgeois democratic revolutions that proclaimed the rights and the equality of all; the socialist and communist movements that expanded these rights to include the rights of workers and peasants to elect delegates who would govern in accordance with their interests and their social and economic rights and needs; the Third World national liberation movements that proclaimed that rights pertain to nations and peoples as well as persons, and that such rights include self-determination and true sovereignty; movements formed by women that proclaimed the right of women to full and equal participation in the construction of the society; and the movements formed by those who have sought to defend nature and the ecological balance of the earth. These movements have formulated what I call “universal human values,” values concerning which there is consensus in all regions of the world, and which have been affirmed by various international organization and commissions, including those of the United Nations. Based in these universal human values, the process of Latin American and Caribbean unity is developing in practice an alternative civilizational project, one that draws from various political and cultural horizons and that has faith in the future of humanity. It presents itself as an alternative to the established neocolonial world-system that places markets above people, seeks military solutions to social conflicts, pays insufficient attention to the ecological needs of the earth, and induces consumerism and cynicism among the people.
To be sure, CELAC is not in itself a revolutionary organization that seeks to establish an alternative socialist civilizational project: it includes nations where traditional political parties still govern, and it has not arrived to a concept of popular power or popular democracy. But CELAC does represent progressive reform of the world-system from below, in which alternative practices, incompatible with the structures of the neocolonial world-system, are being developed cooperatively by governments that pertain to the semi-peripheral and peripheral regions of the world-economy (see “The Modern World Economy” 8/2/2013). Furthermore, CELAC is part of a process of change in Latin America and the Caribbean, in which several progressive/Leftist governments have come to power, adopting reforms from below in defense of the rights and needs of the people, in accordance with universal human values. In some nations of the region, this process of change indeed is revolutionary, involving the displacement from power of the political representatives of international corporations and national bourgeoisies, replacing them with delegates of the people, who are beginning to adopt policies that defend and protect the rights and needs of the people, to the extent that limited resources permit. This revolutionary process is being led by Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador, and by charismatic leaders in these nations. We will be discussing the revolutionary processes in each of these nations in future posts.
Both of the possibilities envisioned by Wallerstein are simultaneously emerging from the conflicts and contradictions of the world-system. Alongside the emergence of Latin American union and integration and the proclamation of “Socialism for the XXI Century,” there also has occurred a turn to the Right by the global powers since 1980. Confronting a situation in the 1970s in which the modern world-system had reached the ecological limits of the earth; at a time in which the movements of the people, in all zones of the system, had arrived to define the right of all persons and nations to benefit from the blessings the earth; the global elite found itself in a situation in which it could no longer make concessions to the working and middle classes of the core or to the national bourgeoisies (and indirectly to the people) in the semi-peripheral and peripheral zones. The global elite thus turned to the aggressive pursuit of its interests: the imposition of the neoliberal project on the Third World, in violation of the principle of sovereignty and without regard for the social and economic needs of the people; new strategies of interventionism in those Third World nations that seek true independence, making a mockery of established norms of international diplomacy; an attack on the protection of social and economic rights enshrined in Keynesian economic policies in the nations of the North, a process that has accelerated since 2007; the use of the media to distract the people and to generate distorted understandings of social conflicts; and unilateral military action by the United States, setting itself above international regulation and prompting Fidel Castro to refer to a “global military dictatorship.” In short, the global elite has adopted aggressive measures to preserve its privileges and the structures of the neocolonial world-system on which such privileges depend.
But the aggressive policies of the global elite defy the logic of the neocolonial world-system, which requires the protection to some degree of the social and economic rights of the working and middles classes in the core as well as the interests of the national bourgeoisie in the periphery and semi-periphery. Thus the aggressive measures have undermined the stability of the neocolonial world-system, deepening and accelerating the crisis of the system. The aggressive measures cannot sustain the unsustainable neocolonial world-system, but they may turn out to be the first steps in the transition to an alternative neo-fascist and militarist world-system, characterized by: forced access to global raw materials; by repressive control of populations, particularly in the peripheral and semi-peripheral regions; and by the manipulative use of the media to distract and confuse the people (see “The erosion of neocolonialism” 3/17/2014).
In this historic moment in which two practical possibilities for the future exist side by side, we intellectuals of the North who are committed to universal human values must escape the traps of the logic of domination of the established world-system: the fragmentation of knowledge into disciplines, leaving us with partial understandings of what is occurring; and a distorted concept of scientific knowledge, which compels us to demonstrate our “objectivity” by offering criticisms of the movements from below, criticisms that undermine their legitimate claims and political strategies and that confuse our people. We have the duty to seek to understand the movements from below, to delegitimate the ideological distortions of the system, and to affirm the possibility that humanity can be saved by virtue of a political process formed by the neocolonized, even when this political process does not have the characteristics that we would have anticipated or would have thought desirable. I will discuss these unanticipated characteristics in the next post.
Chávez Frías, Hugo. 2006. La Unidad Latinoamericana. Melbourne: Ocean Sur.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1982. “Crisis as Transition” in Samir Amin, Giovanni Arrighi, Andre Gunder Frank, and Immanuel Wallerstein, Dynamics of Global Crisis. New York and London: Monthly Review Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Latin American unity, Latin American integration, CELAC, Rafael Correa, Chávez, Wallerstein