On January 26, 2022, it will be 127 years since José Martí formulated a concept that acquires greater relevance in these complex times of global crisis: “Homeland is Humanity, it is that portion of humanity that we see more closely, and in which we were born”. As sons and daughters of the Patria Grande, of the Latin America that saw us being born and is our sister, we subscribe to the meaning of his thought, at the same time that we recognize ourselves in the class commitment contained in his immortal verse: “With the poor of the earth. I want to cast my lot with the poor of the earth”.
United in this notion of humanity that gives us Our America, committed to the fate of the poor of the continent, we understand that the defense of humanity passes today to face, all and all united, the multifaceted crisis that strikes our peoples. Although in the immediate term the crisis was triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, in reality what came to light was a profound economic crisis and a crisis of democratic and civilizational values of the system, which had been accumulating for more than a decade.
The international panorama at this juncture is characterized by contradictory and conflicting signals, especially in our continent, where at the same time as we witness the emergence of progressive and leftist governments, we see setbacks in the social and political spaces previously conquered by the popular sectors and the resurgence of conservative currents, some of which do not conceal the retrograde nature of their thinking.
Faced with this disjunctive, faced with this contradiction, some currents of the left and progressivism suggest as a response to abandon the programmatic proposals with greater class content, that is, those that generate more dissent, and move to positions closer to the current conservative tendencies of the international system.
While we can respect this position and recognize the right of these currents to move towards the center, which progressively drifts to the right, our proposal is contrary to this strategy.
We think that the conservative tendencies must be confronted with strength and determination from the left, from a renewed, united and plural left, which finds in a solid policy of principles the strength to confront the fascist tendencies that hide in the false neo-liberal discourse, which defends a failed and anachronistic democracy.
The unavoidable complement to this left-wing position is the commitment to the specific demands of social movements and to join their mobilizations and protests. In this regard, the political parties of the left must leave behind the idea of leading the social movements. We must advance in a united way in sharing flags and lines of action, agreed upon in collective directions and with democratic decisions. We are challenged to overcome the historical tendency to think revolutionary change based more on the revolutionary party than on the class.
The common adversary, in this struggle in defense of humanity, is the North American empire that desperately seeks to recover its hegemonic position by modifying the tendencies of globalization and international rules, because the current ones not only do not serve it, but lead it progressively to a terminal crisis. That is why democracy is only valid for the empire when its results are favorable to it. Otherwise, it prefers coups d’état of all kinds, interventionist and destabilizing actions and extraterritorial economic sanctions.
It is for these same reasons that the hegemonic sectors of our countries are once again becoming national replicas of U.S. policy, accomplices to its violations of international law and instruments of its anti-democratic intervention. The imperial decadence, headed at this moment by Biden and the Democrats, is expressed with greater force in Latin America, converted into a zone of withdrawal of its geopolitical interests, and makes us foresee a worsening of its interference.
We believe that the most dissociative world tendencies will be expressed with intensity in Latin America. Contradictions will be exacerbated in our countries by the narrow margin of recovery of the neoliberal model within its normativity. In its imperious need for survival, neoliberalism, understood, more than as an economic proposal, as a project of domination, transcends its own legal boundaries, lies, transgresses rights, violates agreements and resorts to blackmail and the use of force in a re-edition of “the politics of the big stick”.
Although nowadays concepts such as “dialectic” are usually understood as obscene, the situation in our continent qualifies exactly as dialectic. On the one hand, there are all the attempts of the governments that want to overcome the pandemic crisis seeking that the cost be paid by the workers and the middle classes, and that predatory capitalism and its beneficiaries do not have to be affected in their interests. On the other hand, there are the broad sectors of the population that react with legitimate violence, pressured by the accelerated deterioration of their living conditions and the institutional incapacity to offer solutions.
In the electoral sphere this contradiction is expressed by high abstention rates and by the drift of depoliticized sectors towards frankly fascist positions. The growing generational refusal to participate in the traditional forms of political life and the search for other forms of militancy and/or influence in the life of society also deserve a more detailed analysis.
Youth sectors, of popular extraction or with a sense of class, instead of joining political parties, prefer to confront the media discourse of the right by resorting to the speed of digital technology to propose, reject or support specific demands. It is a kind of militancy that combines the intensive use of social networks with acts of street protest that are characterized more by a high degree of violence and rejection of the system than by an organization with a long-term vision.
Gramsci posits that the modern prince cannot be a person, or a personal hero, but a political party, a complex social organism in which the concretization of a recognized collective will is initiated, and whose history is not reduced to the history of restricted groups of intellectuals or the biography of a single personality.
In the current conditions of the class struggle, and because of the character it has taken on with the emergence of new social actors of change, the modern collective prince must be found both in political parties and in social movements, where it is the permanent feedback that provides the transforming and democratic character. In the long cycles of the historical process, the principles must be understood as provisional in their formulations, since they were designed for a stage of social relations that are modified over time. Ideological strength should not be confused with dogmatism. Ideological strength consists in being able to adapt the principles to the historical moment without betraying their essence.
The institutions and their leaders will have to answer for the institutional failures mentioned above. As far as the Latin American left is concerned, we must take responsibility for our inability to propose concrete policies, economic and social paradigms that give life to new models clearly alternative to those that fragment and destroy the social fabric because they refuse to disappear.
Latin American progressivism, for example, already gave what it could give and encountered its difficulties and failures precisely because the model it proposed had too many dependencies and similarities – political and economic – with the system it was supposed to modify, including its distancing from the social subjects that had brought it to government, who realized its limitations. Electoral defeats, such as those in Argentina, have their roots in this unresolved dilemma.
A brief analysis of the demands expressed in the streets of Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, among other countries of the continent, clearly indicates that the new generations are demonstrating against the deterioration of the environment, in favor of peace, against the degradation of Justice and the disrespect for Human Rights. Their slogans are expressed in favor of the specific rights of women and for the most unrestricted freedom in sexual, reproductive and gender matters.
The intensification of exploitation and the violence of the system that accompanies it, announce new explosions of popular rebellion and the angry demand for a new concept of democracy, which must be deliberative, decentralized and truly representative. A democracy that is not functional to the capitalist system and that is capable of listening to the demands of the new social actors, the generational, gender, Afro-descendants and native peoples. A democracy in which society is capable of self-governance, regulation and self-regulation.
It is true that we are facing a crisis, which in the Gramscian sense is expressed because “the ruling class has lost consensus.” That is, it is no longer a leader, but only dominant: holder of a pure coercive force. Bolsonaro, Piñera and Bukele facilitate the explanation.
The organic crisis of a class or social group occurs to the extent that it has exhausted all the forms of life implicit in its social relations, but, thanks to political society and its forms of coercion, the dominant class artificially maintains its domination and prevents the new dominant group from replacing it: “the organic crisis consists in the fact that the old does not die and the new cannot yet be born”.
If we agree with this diagnosis, the tasks of the Latin American and Caribbean left would consist in making an effort so that the old ends up dying, instead of accepting its promises of well-intentioned reforms, which only give it oxygen in its agony. As an unavoidable complement is to promote the birth of the new, understanding that “the new” is socialism adapted to the current characteristics of our historical moment: a socialism that fights bureaucracy and centralist tendencies and that has drawn the appropriate lessons from the failures that preceded it.
Having assumed this strategic task as an imperative, we ask ourselves the question: is the current democracy, in force in its letter, in its mechanisms and in its spirit, a sufficient instrument to move towards a new democracy and a new society? From our point of view, the answer is negative, because we consider that the prevailing democracy is part of “the old that will never die”.
We are in the paradox of aspiring to a new model of society and a new system by resorting to an anachronistic electoral instrument whose weaknesses are exposed every time there are elections. And even supposing that democracy would open a process of transformation, which includes it, disputing and appropriating hegemony is not a unique process to be solved once and for all, but a process that must be constantly renewed during the struggle and after the popular sectors gain access to power.
This hegemony must be expressed in a historical, national and popular project, understanding the people as the sum of all the new contemporary social subjects. It must also generate a democracy that represents all citizens. The new power will retain its legitimacy if it is able to represent the national collective will and to preserve this attribute in the various stages of the exercise of the acquired power.
Elections within a crisis of democracy in Latin America
In view of the above, we believe that the elections in Chile, as well as those in Argentina, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Honduras and others should be analyzed in a regional context. At present, elections are interrelated, either due to neighborhood effects, previous identities between countries or due to US interference, which tries to standardize its interests under a common parameter.
Latin American democracies, built to sustain and justify a global capitalist economic model, feel the crisis of the system in their functioning and structures. For this reason, they are going through a deep crisis: their institutions are incapable of identifying and giving space to citizens’ demands. On the contrary, imbalances and inequities are worsening.
Governments and large corporations, faced with an economic context of low growth or stagnation, resort to violating their own rules, encapsulating democracy in controlled electoral processes and abandoning and/or sabotaging any form of citizen participation in the direction of their governments and the use of the wealth produced.
As we have already pointed out, the deformations of Latin American democracies explain the emergence of new subjects and emerging social political forces, disappointed by the democratic model, who seek to change it for participatory systems and to put a stop to the excesses of the legislative and judicial powers, especially when it comes to progressive governments.
Under the banners of democracy proclaimed by the US, between 2000 and 2010 there was a marked shift to a neoliberal economic model and matrix that solved the problems of the oligarchies and consolidated a model functional to the interests of capitalism. This model did not solve the structural problems of the continent and progressively plunged the Latin American and Caribbean working classes into overexploitation, poverty, unemployment and, logically, anger and despair.
In almost two years of pandemic, pre-existing economic-social and political-institutional problems have deepened. The persistence of structural problems (fueled by the bad economic-social situation and accelerated by the pandemic) and the strategies of the new emerging political actors who have broken or moved away from the traditional political-institutional consensus and loyalty to the system, are highlighting the weaknesses of Latin American democracies.
In the absence of consolidated social or partisan bases, caudillos seek support from other organizations and institutions. Among these supports, the Armed Forces stand out, which, due to their level of organization and wide presence, are not only being used for classic functions such as citizen security, but in countries such as Brazil and El Salvador they are fulfilling another more political role.
Latin America was going through and continues to go through a period of high levels of criticism of the way democracy exists and performs, justified by the disappointment of its malfunctioning in each country. At the same time, social networks play a role of loudspeaker and amplification of tension and polarization.
As a consequence of this situation and the crisis of political parties, citizens are looking for other alternatives to solve their demands (corruption, economic problems and citizen security). This is where we are called upon to make an evaluation of the recent electoral processes in the continent.
When voting is not choosing and winning is not winning
Our intention is not to analyze the results of the elections that close in 2021, nor to make comparisons between the figures of each exercise. We have already pointed out that we consider that they are taking place within the framework of a democracy in crisis and where the rules of the game are not respectful of the majority will. In addition, in each particular case, the parties and candidates themselves have made public their assessments.
Our purpose is to insist on the lack of representativeness of those elected, on the adulteration of the electoral results through the propaganda that accompanies the candidacies, on the foreign interference that disqualifies candidates, and on the capacity of the media to turn the elections into a marketing duel where the truth turns out to be a collateral aspect.
We would like to call attention to certain regularities that occur in the electoral processes and that constitute a warning call.
One of them is that behind the candidacies we find political conglomerates, alliances or coalitions that presume plurality, but that, in my opinion, more than plural are multiclassist, that is to say, that their distinctive seal is not given by the sum of organizations with similar political projects, but because behind a candidacy are grouped tendencies of diverse ideological nature, that join forces in function of creating artificial majorities.
Rather than having a common program, they have a common objective: to defeat the adversary by accumulating more votes than him, to prevent the continuity of a government project to which they are opposed and/or to attain power in order to later distribute it according to the votes and the material support that each of their components carried to achieve the triumph.
Worse still, the defeated oppositions in the electoral processes refuse to recognize that they lost and resort to destabilizing methods to oppose the victors. Bolivia for a long time and Peru recently, show this regularity, where the concept of opposition is replaced by that of conspiracy. It is impossible not to recognize behind this behavior a continental project originating in U.S. imperialism, which refuses to lose presence and control over the traditional hegemonic sectors.
This is why we consider that voting is not choosing. A part of the population with the right to vote does not exercise it, either because none of the candidates represent their interests, or because by abstaining they want to express their rejection of the system as a whole, or simply because they are not interested in participating, as citizens, in the political destiny of the country through the ballot box. Those who vote, except for a militant hard core, choose “a product” presented in a wrapping of promises and good intentions that soon disappear. The biblical miracle then occurs, but in reverse, and the wine ends up becoming water.
The “agenda adjustment” is also very worrying. It has become a discouraging practice that, shortly after having achieved an electoral victory, the winners modify their campaign proposals, backtracking on points of democratic and popular content. The cases of Pedro Castillo in Peru and Xiomara Castro in Honduras regarding the call for a Constituent Assembly are particularly important.
In both cases, they supported it during their campaign and, shortly after their electoral victory, they eliminated it from their project, giving little or no argumentation to justify the backward step. The issue is very sensitive since, within the narrow margin of the institutional framework of current democracies, using the democratic bonus granted by an electoral victory to advance towards a modern Constitution with popular content would undoubtedly represent a democratic advance. It is to use the existing spaces of the old democracy to create a new institutionality.
Thus, abandoning the banners of a demand of broad sectors of the citizenry and renouncing to provide an updated Constitution, is to want to move towards a new society by resorting to old instruments, which casts doubt on the possible results.
Another element of reflection is that the recent electoral campaigns and their speeches express a distancing between the citizen contingents that proclaim their needs with street protests and the progressive and/or leftist candidacies. Several misunderstandings are contained therein.
On the one hand, the parties and organizations do not realize that the sectors mobilized in the street protests distrust them and the party system as a whole. On the other hand, when the parties propose that the demands be channeled through an electoral struggle, they make those mobilized feel that they are not represented and, rather, conclude that the parties are closing ranks and taking advantage of the system.
This sort of “disavowal” of the forms of street struggle and the imperative to support an electoral formula, explain in part situations such as the first round of the presidential elections in Chile, which surprised by a notorious difference in participation between the votes that led to the Constitutional Convention and the support for the candidacy of Gabriel Boric.
Just as progressive governments, beyond their good intentions and desires for change, distance themselves from their bases in the exercise of acquired power, there is also a mutual disaffection between the candidacies and the mobilized.
This leads us to some initial provisional conclusions:
- Transformative struggles in Latin America have to go beyond the search for electoral victories, for which it is necessary to transgress the existing democratic spaces, to walk at the pace that the popular majorities walk and to accompany their forms of struggle.
- To understand electoral battles as a tactical step and not as an end in itself.
- The future Latin American and Caribbean democracy will not emerge from the results of the ballot boxes. It will be the result of the left political parties meeting again in a common battle with the mobilized masses in the continent.
Political parties suffered a progressive crisis of representation, while losing contact with the citizenry. The disconnection between Latin American societies and the democratic system resulted in outbursts of social frustration: from the “let them all go” (Argentina, 2001), to the “outlaw” movement (Ecuador, 2005) and the “penguin rebellion” (Chile, 2011).
The negative economic context and the spiral of unmet social demands provoked in 2019 a wave of protests of regional scope and new episodes of social frustration, especially in the new middle classes, extremely vulnerable, which overwhelmed the weak democratic systems, with aging state apparatuses and fragmented party systems.
This leads to a moment we would call “asymmetric and obsolete democracies”: asymmetric because they respond to the needs of a minority sector of society, which seeks to maintain power at any cost and which distances itself from the majority of the population that produces wealth, but fails to question the hegemony; and obsolete, because they are democracies whose institutions and procedures were consolidated in a historical moment already surpassed and where their own progenitors, persuaded that they are no longer useful, only maintain them as a stultified electoral discourse, but in fact replace them with coercive mechanisms and authoritarian decisions.
Latin American democracies do not channel demands or find solutions to the growing social frustration. What they do is to develop demagogic and authoritarian political alternatives, with models far removed from, even contrary to, democratic values (respect for the adversary and acceptance of results).
The authoritarian drift is not the patrimony of any particular group in the political or ideological spectrum. The new caudillismos seek to demolish institutional structures, limiting the control capacity of other counterpowers, especially the judiciary and the legislature. Their strategy is expressed in various ways: strengthening of caudillista leaderships, attack on the media and growing contempt for institutions.
In addition to this, there are other mechanisms, increasingly active, such as control of information, especially on the Internet and social networks, to abort the protests of non-organized and non-aligned sectors.
Sociologist with specialization in International Relations. Analyst and Researcher on Latin America