Encountering the proletarian movement in Paris in 1843-44, while simultaneously studying British political economy, Marx formulated a penetrating and moving understanding of human history. He interpreted the social action of workers, artisans and intellectuals connected to the working class movement as the first steps in a revolutionary process that would forge a transition from capitalism to socialism. The future socialist society, Marx believed, would be built on a foundation of automated industry, and it would be characterized by the abolition of class divisions, inequality and exploitation, because there would not be a functional need for them. Marx thus envisioned the creation of what we would today call a just and democratic world-system, established by the political action of the exploited class. (See various posts on Marx in January 2014, particularly “Marx and the working class” 1/6/2014; “Marx illustrate cross-horizon encounter” 1/7/2014; “Marx on the revolutionary proletariat” 1/14/2014; and “The social and historical context of Marx” 1/15/2014).
We have seen that the process of change occurring today in Latin America and the Caribbean can be interpreted as the beginning of the emergence a post-capitalist/socialist/civilizational project that seeks the establishment of an alternative more just and democratic world-system (see “A change of epoch?” 3/18/2014). Thus we are able to see in our time the possible fulfillment, at long last, of the transition envisioned by Marx from capitalism to socialism.
But the possible transition to socialism of our time has characteristics that Marx did not, and given the time in which he wrote, could not fully anticipate. The social movements that are its foundation are not the working-class movements of the core but movements of multiple popular classes and sectors of neocolonized regions of the world, which have included students, peasants, women, workers, and indigenous peoples, and movements in which the principal leaders have come for the most part from the petit bourgeoisie. (I have discussed this phenomenon and its implications in different contexts; see: “The social and historical context of Marx” 1/15/2014 “The proletarian vanguard” 1/24/2014; and “The proletariat and the Mexican Revolution” 2/14/2014).
Another dimension, not anticipated by Marx, has been the role of charismatic leaders, and this also is a phenomenon that I have discussed previously (see “Toussaint L’Ouverture” 12/10/2013; “Reflections on the Russian Revolution” 1/29/2014; “Lessons of the Mexican Revolution” 2/19/2014; “The dream renewed” 3/6/2014). In the case of the process of Latin American unity and integration, Hugo Chávez has assumed this indispensable function of charismatic leadership. Discerning that the objective conditions for integration were present, and possessing faith in the Bolivarian vision of sovereign Latin American nations united in La Patria Grande; Chávez was constantly present, proposing and exhorting. (To read more about Hugo Chávez Frías, see “Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela”). It is a question of objective and subjective factors being present, from which emerges a charismatic leader who is able to discern what is possible and to lead the people toward its fulfillment. As we continue in the development of this blog to review various revolutionary processes in various nations, we will see that this combination of objective and subjective factors and charismatic leadership is a recurring phenomenon.
In addition to the important role of charismatic figures with exceptional gifts of understanding and leadership, another characteristic of the new Latin American and Caribbean political phenomenon, also a characteristic not anticipated by Marx, is the central role of patriotism. Not the distorted form of patriotism that has a tragic history in Europe and the United States, in which elites manipulate popular sentiments in order to enlist the people in wars against other nations, for the disguised purpose of protecting elite interests. But a form of patriotism that values the protection of the sovereignty and the dignity of the nation, and that proclaims one’s own nation’s right to sovereignty on the basis of the principle of the sovereign rights of all nations. In this new form of patriotism, the enemies of the nation are not the peoples of other nations, but the national elite who have dishonorably betrayed the nation in the pursuit of particular interests. It is a kind of patriotism that would propel Hugo Chávez to proclaim, with reference to the traditional political parties in Venezuela: “They were on their knees, there is no other way to say it, they were on their knees before the imperial power.”
The new form of patriotism, which I call “revolutionary patriotism,” is intertwined with a spirit of internationalism and international solidarity (see “Revolutionary patriotism” 8/15/2013). The new patriotism proclaims the right of all nations to true independence and sovereignty, and it condemns the imperialist policies of powerful nations that seek to maintain the neocolonial world-system. It expresses solidarity with all nations and peoples that seek true sovereignty and independence. In his 1982 essay, in which he was contemplating the possible transition to an alternative world-system, Wallerstein wondered, “What kind of ‘nationalism’ is compatible with the creation of a socialist world order” (1982:52)? The revolutionary patriotic discourses that at the same time are expressions of international solidarity, formulated by Chávez, Morales and Correa, are responses to Wallerstein’s question.
Revolutionary patriotism is not new. It has been an integral component of anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial revolutions of the twentieth century. Patriotism would compel a young Vietnamese socialist in Paris in the 1920s, who later would become known to the world as Ho Chi Minh, to take the name of Nguyen Ai Quoc, which means “Nguyen the Patriot.” Although clearly a committed communist who believed in a global revolution, Ho was above all a patriotic nationalist. And patriotism would prompt a young Fidel Castro in the 1950s to conclude a public statement with a phrase from the Cuban national anthem: “To die for the nation is to live.” When the triumphant revolutionary army entered Havana on January 8, 1959, the comandantes at the front were bearing huge Cuban flags. Subsequently, the revolutionary government did not change either the national anthem or the flag, a decision that was explained by Fidel, in response to a question from a foreign journalist, by saying, “There is a lot of glory under that flag.” The Cuban Revolution took power in 1959 in the name of popular aspirations for a truly sovereign nation, accusing the established political elite of having violated the dignity of the nation.
Thus the socialist revolution of our time is developing in a way that Marx did not fully anticipate. It is a popular revolution formed by various popular classes and sectors, with a principal social base in the neocolonized regions of the world, led by charismatic leaders with exceptional gifts who for the most part have social origins in the petit bourgeoisie, although the leaders have included workers (Nicolás Maduro) and peasants (Evo Morales). These charismatic leaders have aroused and channeled the anger and the hopes of the people, in part by sound analysis of global dynamics, but also in part by touching the patriotic sentiments of the people, and by naming the treasonous conduct of the national bourgeoisie, for its collaboration with the interests of international capital at the expense of the people, many of whom were already impoverished and ignored by centuries of colonial and neocolonial domination. Driven by faith in the future of humanity, the charismatic leaders have proclaimed that a better world is possible, and they have found the audacity to lead the people in its quest for a more just and democratic world, in which all persons are treated with dignity, and the sovereignty of all nations is respected.
Although the socialist revolution of our time does not have the characteristics that Marx fully anticipated, it is in a broad sense the realization of the socialist revolution that Marx foresaw. Marx envisioned a socialist revolution on the basis of observing the contradictions of the capitalist system from the vantage point of the exploited class, and from this vantage point, he recognized that the contradictions cannot be resolved without structural transformations that imply the end of the system itself and its transition to something else. From this vantage point from below, Marx also could discern that one possible outcome was the transformation of the system in a form that would protect the rights of all, and that such a resolution would be consistent with human progress and with advances in natural and social scientific knowledge, thus making such a resolution all the more likely. In our time, we can see such a possibility unfolding: A resolution of the contradictions of the capitalist world-economy, which can be discerned from the vantage point from below, through the decisive and informed political action of the exploited and neocolonized, who seek a more just and democratic world-system.
The post-1995 resurgence of revolution by the neocolonized peoples of the earth provides a clear choice for humanity: a choice between, on the one hand, a neocolonial world-system that places markets above people and the privileges of the powerful above the rights of the humble; and on the other hand, a dignified alternative being led by charismatic leaders whose gifts of discernment, commitment to social justice, and denunciations of the powerful remind us of the prophet Amos, who condemned the structures of domination and privilege of the ancient Kingdom of Israel as violations of the Mosaic covenant, a covenant that was a sacred agreement between a homeless and marginalized people and a God who acts in history in defense of the poor.
We intellectuals of the North have the duty to observe and discern what is happening, and to explain it to our people, so that the people, freed from the distortions of the media, can decide what they ought to do. I believe that, if the people were to know, a consensus would emerge to do what is right. But the people need the help of intellectuals. In no national revolutionary context have the people figured things out by themselves. The role of intellectuals, who created a subjective context from which emerged charismatic leaders, was essential, and charismatic leadership was decisive.
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, Chávez