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Latin America's "Age of Reform" January 21, 2006 by RedStar2000


It was during a discussion of reformism that this idea occurred to me.

We know that all of the "old" capitalist countries in western Europe and North America have gone through "periods of reform" that dramatically restructured the state apparatus and created what are now called "social safety nets".

The impact on people's lives was considerable; I remember as late as 1970 overhearing a late middle-aged working class person speak with near-reverence of the memory of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

And one of my co-workers back then was a guy who said bluntly that FDR "saved his life"...by providing him a job when he was just a kid who was about to "go down the toilet" back in the late 1930s.

And it suddenly "hit me"...what is the "rise of the left" in Latin America now if not the same thing. At least in the larger and more prosperous countries there, capitalism has sufficiently developed to the point where it can "afford reforms"...and indeed, needs them in order to become a "real player" in the "global marketplace".

North Americans across the political spectrum have always thought of places like Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, etc., as "backward" and "primitive". But that is no longer the case.

They are "standing up" against the American Empire...and starting to do a pretty damn good job of it.

And having their own "Age of Reform" is going to make them even better at it.

More "bad news" for U.S. imperialism.


=========================================

Here's a hypothesis...

We're all aware of "the rise of the left" in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina and, most recently, Chile.

Historical materialism suggests that Latin American capitalism is entering an "age of reform" like that of western Europe and North America c.1930-70.

These periods are characterized by the modernization of the bourgeois state apparatus...including the construction of "social safety nets" to replace the old pre-capitalist family ties that capitalism has eroded.

For people living in an "age of reform", reformism makes sense...it actually "delivers the goods". On the other hand, revolution looks "absurd" and, for that matter, "unnecessary".

Even those who "like" the idea of a "revolutionary change for the better" think in terms of a further extension of what's already happening.

This is a "north-south" divide that I'm not sure that anyone has really noticed...the difference between places were capitalism is capable of reform and places like the U.S. where reform has become impossible.

And one would expect that perfectly sincere lefties from those different places would have differences in perspectives that would reflect the different "stages" of their respective material environments.

Some of our Latin American members look around at what they observe and conclude that the best thing that revolutionaries can do is be "the left wing" of reformism.

It's a reasonable conclusion...from where they stand.

If someone like me tells them that even the word "reform" has increasingly reactionary associations in the U.S., that sounds to them like a "wacko" statement. It's "out of sync" with what they see.

So I am going to have to "step back" and re-phrase my position.

No reformists in the CC from North America or western Europe! *laughs*

Lefties in Latin America who want to "do electoral politics", "take over trade unions", pass "progressive legislation" -- you know, all that stuff that the old American Communist Party did back in the 30s and 40s -- are just doing what seems to them to make sense in their political-economic environment.

An environment that's different from ours.

That doesn't mean that we should be "uncritical" of reformist illusions among Latin Americans. But it's the reformist illusions of North Americans that demand our most vigorous criticisms.

The same North American who publicly celebrates Venezuelan "socialism" will turn right around and stick his nose up the butt of some bourgeois liberal hack in the U.S. or Canada.

A reactionary choice!
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First posted at RevLeft on January 8, 2006
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Granted that the American "age of reform" doesn't look like much compared to Europe...I think we've seen all that we're going to see. The last reform of any significance that I'm aware of here was indexing social security benefits to the cost of living...around 1970 or so.

There was some talk about national health insurance in the first year of the Clinton administration...but it went nowhere.

The new "prescription drug benefit" in the Medicare program is just another rip-off...as is Medicare itself.

In fact, the future of health care here is even worse than people think it is now.

Doctor is in -- for a price

Programs like public housing, food stamps, welfare, etc. are being (or have been) gutted or are approaching complete abolition.

The modern definition of "reform" in the U.S. is privatization...pay more for worse!

A similar process is underway in all the western European countries...though it remains somewhat better there than here.

In my opinion, the future of "advanced" -- or "senile" -- capitalism clearly rules out social reforms of any significance...or even the continuation of the ones that were established decades ago.

What's next? The abolition of public schools and the social security program. By 2050, you'll have to pay to send your kids to school and buy "retirement insurance" and "disability insurance"...or you'll be shit out of luck!

Life is really going to get hellish in "the greatest country in the world"...and reformism is just going to provoke disgust!
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First posted at RevLeft on January 9, 2006
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quote:

Latin American capitalism will never become what European/North American capitalism is.


I see no reason why it shouldn't.

Indeed, I see no reason why a country like Brazil cannot become an imperialist country...perhaps even within a few decades or so.

Are Brazilian corporations investing in other Latin American countries? Or even outside of Latin America altogether?

Then the process has already begun.

quote:

And the local bourgeoisie is fine with that; they have absolutely no wish to push any kind of bourgeois national revolution.


Don't be so sure of that. Those that directly profit from their associations with foreign capital are, I'm sure, quite happy with the present arrangements.

But don't imagine for a moment that there are not some Brazilian capitalists who see a "bigger future" than just being a servant to Europe or North America.

During the first half of the 19th century, almost all of America's "high-tech" goodies were imported from England. It was American capitalists who said "hey, we should start making this stuff ourselves."

Why should not the most "entrepreneurial" elements of the Latin American bourgeoisie draw the same conclusions?

They are obvious.

quote:

Specifically, you assume that Latin America and other parts of the world will retrace the same path followed by the advanced capitalist countries; your simplistic ideological schema says it must...


Yep. If Marx was right, that's how things have to happen.

quote:

And the world situation facing Latin American capitalism is not a situation ever faced by European or North American capitalism. Specifically, a world market dominated by a number of far more developed capitalist economies.


On the contrary, every country that started down the capitalist road after England faced that problem.

Japan faced it after the end of World War II. China started facing it around 1980 or so. Some of the larger countries in Latin America face it now.

At best you may argue that the situation is "tougher" for the "late-comers"...they face greater and wealthier competition than the "pioneers".

But capitalism is not something that "stops at the borders". There is no reason that a Brazilian corporation cannot be just as ruthless, just as clever, and just as successful as an American, German, or Chinese capitalist.

Indeed, you seem to imagine that the "third world" is "trapped in a time-warp" and simply "cannot develop" unless a Leninist despotism is imposed.

Leninism-Maoism is one road to modern capitalism. But as we both agreed some time ago, it wasn't "required" in South Korea or Taiwan or Singapore. Today, some countries like Malaysia and Thailand are beginning to develop significant capitalist economies...without a Leninist in sight.

Leninism seems most suitable for countries which are really "face down in the dirt"...the Philippines, for example.

The "window of opportunity" for Leninism in Latin America seems to be closing...except as a "left wing" of reformism, of course. I don't imagine that anyone in places like Brazil takes Leninism as a "revolutionary" option at all seriously.

Their time has passed.

quote:

A society's development is driven by its material circumstances; societies facing different circumstances are not going to follow the same path.


A truism. What is in dispute are the similarities and the differences.

You obviously cling with remarkable tenacity to Lenin's moldy thesis about "imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism"...a proposition that was falsified less than a decade after it was written.

You will recall that Lenin posited that capitalism had reached "the end of the line"...that the world had been "divided up" and there was "no more room" for the expansion of national capitalisms except through inter-imperialist war -- which, he thought, would lead more or less immediately to either proletarian revolutions in Europe or massive anti-colonial uprisings.

Alas, his "dialectics" let him down. His prediction "looked good" as late as 1919 or so...but then started to collapse.

There certainly have been massive anti-colonial uprisings...but they have not, with only a few exceptions, led to a Leninist "socialist" despotism.

And inspite of two bloody inter-imperialist "world wars", the outcome has not been proletarian revolution...anywhere.

It would be extraordinarily foolish to "rule out" yet another "world war" between today's rival imperialist powers or those that emerge later in this century or the next. But meanwhile, capitalism is not yet "exhausted" or "finished" with developing the whole planet.

Lenin was just wrong...again.

quote:

It'll take more than bourgeois nationalism to achieve real, rounded development for the countries of the Third World; it'll take breaking capitalism as a world system.


The evidence points clearly to the opposite conclusion.

Indeed, "breaking capitalism as a world system" is essentially a meaningless phrase at this point in history. If the working class can get a viable communist society in western Europe by the end of this century, we'll be doing really great!

quote:

What's more, there is little reform to this period of reform in most of Latin America.


I said they appeared to be entering an "age of reform". We'll see what they can accomplish.

quote:

See, this is part of why I say ultraleftists like Redstar are really reformists at heart. Whenever it comes down to cases, whenever it's really possible to win reforms...suddenly reformism makes sense.
-- emphasis added.

It doesn't make sense to me -- it makes sense to the people living in such a period.

So it's what they will do...no matter how many "ultra-leftists" tell them that they really won't change things all that much.

The Leninists of all varieties will mostly jump in and tell them that reform is "the road to revolution".

We've already seen where that leads. *laughs*

quote:

Of course, the capitalist class gives ground, makes concessions, precisely when it's under pressure, precisely when the class struggle is on the rise...and it's precisely then that it's most important to act in a revolutionary manner, when you're closer to an opportunity for revolution.


And that's "precisely" what Leninists don't do. They're running for office, organizing unions, making "transitional demands", blah, blah, blah.

They're the most consistently active reformists.

Because, of course, they have to "teach the workers" to "follow them".

Doesn't work, of course.

quote:

RS2000 really doesn't think the objective conditions are ready for proletarian revolution anywhere in the world.


Agreed.

Otherwise it would be happening right before our eyes.

It ain't.

Only those who are "drunk on dialectics" see proletarian revolution lurking behind every reformist kerfuffle.
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First posted at RevLeft on January 10, 2006
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quote:

The [imperialist] club is complete, even with its own hierarchy of first-and-second class members. They do not want newbies, and will fight those pretensions very firmly.


Lenin said the same thing back in 1914. But he was wrong.

With all due respect, I think you are also wrong. No matter what existing imperialist countries do, there will be continuous additions to the "club".

It's what capitalism does.

quote:

It would require a gigantic international turmoil, though - of the kind and size that would prompt proletarian revolution worldwide.


Lenin's other prediction from Imperialism -- the Highest Stage of Capitalism.

Also wrong.

The concept of "world-wide" proletarian revolution is probably imaginary. It would necessitate a global proletariat "all on the same page". Not technically "impossible" but wildly unlikely.

quote:

But they cannot be as successful. The playground is already full, and the usual bullies rule.


This is just a restatement of Lenin's thesis. You may not "be" a Leninist politically, but it's evident that you accept some of his crucial ideas.

quote:

The opposition is between fully developed autonomous, imperialist capitalism in the first world, and fully developed associated, dependent capitalism in the third world.


I don't think "associated" or "dependent" capitalism can be described as "fully developed".

It may be technologically "just as modern"...but in the absence of an autonomous native bourgeoisie, the "culture" characteristic of a modern capitalist country is slow to emerge.

And that "delay" applies to the proletariat in such a country as well.

They can conceive of the benefits of kicking the imperialists out. But going past that does not seem to be "on their agenda".

Reforms? Sure. Proletarian revolution? What's that?

quote:

In fact, I fear that very few people in Brazil take revolution seriously at all. Would this mean that the "window of opportunity" for revolution in Brazil has passed?


The opportunity for revolution on the Leninist model has passed.

The opportunity for proletarian revolution on the Marxist model is still a long way in the future...but it will eventually arrive if Marx was right.

The success or failure of currently proposed reforms will have no effect one way or the other, of course.

quote:

The only difference I spot between [the Leninists] and you, though, is that while they advocate what you call "reformist actions" while revolution doesn't come, you advocate doing nothing, or at least nothing that you can tell the masses about.


I don't advocate "doing nothing"...simply that you don't do reformism.

Not that you'll listen...you'll end up doing some kind of reformism because it will seem to you to "make sense" in your country at this time.

And you'll comfort yourself with the illusion that your efforts will "lead to revolution"...just as North American lefties did back in the 1930s.

So go do it! Bring some "left pressure" on Lula or run for office or get a job with a trade union bureaucracy or whatever you please.

I'm not stopping you.

I just won't let you get away with describing any of that stuff as "revolutionary".

Because it ain't.
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First posted at RevLeft on January 10, 2006
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quote:

So it is your opinion that the further development of capitalism will make it more similar to what it already is in the third world?


No, I think it will be a different kind of "hellishness". There is obviously an emerging proletariat in the "third world"...but it is still burdened with much of the ideological hangover from the pre-capitalist epoch -- superstition, patriarchy, racism, etc.

In the late or "senile" capitalist countries, what will exist is a highly sophisticated proletariat subjected to 19th century living conditions...which will be perceived as an outrage of intolerable proportions.

Leading to proletarian revolution.

quote:

What do you believe is missing?


Oh, I don't know. I don't pretend to know the "cultural details" of Brazilian society...or any other besides the one I actually live in.

You might get one hint by asking yourself the question: what kinds of attitudes do you see expressed on this board that you could not imagine a Brazilian saying?

Could you imagine a Brazilian being in favor of women's reproductive freedom (legal abortion)? Would a Brazilian ever come out against the biological family? Are there open atheists in Brazilian public life? What position do gay people occupy in Brazil?

Or, to take a different view, in a young capitalist society "civil liberties" tend to be expanded; in a senile capitalist society, they tend to be squeezed. Where is Brazil on this continuum?

It's my contention that Brazil is emerging into a modern capitalist society that is going to become a "player" in the imperialist "club". If it's "too soon" for openly imperial ambitions to be publicly expressed, then wait ten or twenty years.

Come to think of it, those attitudes will tell you "when you've arrived". When Brazilians start talking about their "destiny" to "lead Latin America", you'll know that your country has "joined the imperialist club".

quote:

What makes you think that third world workers believe being exploited by native capitalists is somehow different from being exploited by foreign ones?


Pretty much everything that's happened in those countries after World War II.

In fact, prior to the arrival of the imperialists, it's unlikely that people in those countries even had the concept of "exploitation" in their vocabulary.

It was (and still is) the calculated ruthlessness of the imperialists that caused people in the third world to grasp the idea of exploitation...and naturally they identify that concept with the presence of the imperialists.

The emergence of a native bourgeoisie that's just as ruthless must come initially as a great shock to them. At first, I imagine they have a hard time believing it.

Then they learn.

But, historically speaking, it's a slow process.

quote:

Which countries joined the "club" after 1914?


Canada, Russia, Australia, Israel, Japan and China. On the waiting list: India, the Union of South Africa, Iran, and...Brazil.

Other countries to "keep an eye on": South Korea, Mexico, Chile, and Egypt.

The American dreams of "global empire" are doomed to fail not least because of the fact that the new members of the club have their own imperial ambitions.

It's going to be an interesting century.
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First posted at RevLeft on January 13, 2006
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From your last post, I have the distinct impression that on the one hand, you see Brazil as a modern capitalist country in every way; yet on the other hand, you see it as permanently subordinate to the "old imperialists" -- unless there is a proletarian revolution...which you also think is "impossible" in the foreseeable future.

Given those constraints, I can see why reformism makes sense to you.

Can you see why reformism doesn't make sense in the "old" imperialist countries?

Can you understand that we've "been through all that"?

Can you grasp that however unlikely it may seem, proletarian revolution is the only path left for us?

If you can't, then I don't know what else to tell you.
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First posted at RevLeft on January 15, 2006
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quote:

You are advocating renouncing class struggle, under the idea that class struggle is reformist.


Some is, some ain't.

The class struggle that takes place outside the channels of bourgeois legality is at least potentially revolutionary.

The "class struggle" that takes place inside those norms is almost always reformist and frequently not even "struggle" at all...just ritual.

Like a bourgeois "election".

quote:

I think you do not know what reformism is.


We certainly have a very divergent understanding of the term.

But we live in different countries...and you will, quite properly, do whatever you think is appropriate in Brazil without regard for the opinions of North Americans.

So I wish you good luck...even if I think that luck will not help you a bit.
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First posted at RevLeft on January 16, 2006
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