Are the Indigenous Movements Left Movements?

Ollantay Itzamná

Mayan Quiché Indians in assembly. CQ.

In the course of this century, new transgressive socio-political subjects emerged with force in Latin America under the current hegemonic system. These protagonists are: indigenous people, peasants, women, young people, etc.

Whether through mental laziness or through the fictions of left/right binarism, these new social movements, were per se, catalogued as left movements, both by social scientists and by the generators of public opinion.

The result: not all indigenous movements perceive or claim to be “left-wing revolutionaries”, nor do left-wing intellectuals fully understand indigenous movements because the categories of analysis and understanding of Marxist socio-analysis are insufficient to understand the indigenous as a subject, with their own agendas, dynamics and horizons.

Are the indigenous movements leftist movements?

For the Marxist socio-analytic, the subjects of structural changes are the proletarians (dependent workers). For the indigenous movements, the subjects of change are communities organized in resistance.

For the left, the main enemy to be defeated is the capitalist system. For the indigenous movements the central enemy is the western world system, also called the civilization of death. The organized indigenous not only seek change in the economic system, but also civilizing transformation.

The left demands fulfillment of rights for human beings (social justice). The indigenous movements demand rights from Mother Earth, and within those rights are included human rights (Ecopolitics).

If for the left the subject of rights is the human being (proletarian), for the indigenous movements the subject of rights is the cosmic community that cohabits in and with Mother Earth. The left is anthropocentric. Indigenous movements, cosmocentric.

The left assumes as its main category of analysis and understanding of reality the “class struggle” (workers against employers). The indigenous movements affirm themselves, first and foremost, as dispossessed identities (indigenous peoples). The category “class” would be contained in the category “people”.

The left proposes the overcoming of capitalism by a socialist system. The indigenous movements propose the overcoming of the modern western world system by Buen Vivir. For the left, reality is determined by the economy. For the indigenous movements “happiness” does not depend solely on the economy.

The indigenous movements undertake their struggles in defence of their territories, demanding recognition and self-determination. The left assumes that territory is an essential element of the nation state, so it fails to understand that indigenous people and peasants claim the right to territory. Nor do they manage to assimilate that indigenous people and peasants can represent themselves and govern themselves. The left, whether avant-garde or not, have the false consciousness of directing/advising the indigenous and peasant “masses”.

The Ideological Narrative of the Left and the Indigenous Movements

Mayan Indians in assembly. MQ.

The ideological narrative of the left is comprised of: class struggle, socialism, proletariat, human rights, Marxist economy, nation state, national identity and sovereignty, anti-imperialism, etc.

On the other hand, the ideological narrative of indigenous movements is comprised of: Buen Vivir (Good Living), recognition and emancipation of peoples, communities in resistance, rights of Mother Earth and human rights, territorial autonomies, self-governments of peoples within plurinational states, civilizing struggle between Life and Death.

Apparently, the left, even on a planet devastated by modernity, is more committed to the restoration of the modern welfare state (welfare for the few at the expense of the discomfort of the majority, including Mother Earth). Conversely, in the face of the civilizing crisis of Western modernity, indigenous peoples are committed to holistic changes in order to establish Buen Vivir and build a civilization dedicated to Life.