The Left’s human sacrifices and its war on peoples
The Left has sacrificed human beings
in pursuit of its grand ideas throughout its history,
This has now also happened in Nicaragua:
Ortega’s regime killed, tortured, captured and condemned
to “defend the revolution” and deal with a “conspiracy.”
Why does the Left consider dissent to be treason?
Why has the European Left been so dazzled
by Latin American revolutionary rhetoric
while failing to critique its predatory extractivism
that has declared war on the region’s peoples?
José Luis Rocha
During the Cold War, Latin American dictators murdered, disappeared and imprisoned the citizens oppressed under their jackboots in the name of anti-communism. Today, “progressive left” rulers are massacring us in the name of socialism and anti-imperialism because people must be punished when they don’t appreciate and recognize what’s good for them.
People deserve to be punished
Napoleon Bonaparte imposed French revolutionary principles at sword’s point and on a heaving mountain of corpses. He best articulated the idea of progress with bloodletting in a letter to one of his lieutenants in which he justified his actions by arguing that if the people reject their own happiness, they are guilty of anarchy and deserve to be punished. Today, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega punish out-of-line, insubordinate people with the same reasoning. They have enough bullets to make people pay for their ingratitude and lack of class consciousness.
Both men are applauded, a capella or with a full orchestra, by leftwing analysts such as Tariq Ali, Atilio Borón, Emir Sader and Ignacio Ramonet; and joined in Spain by the Podemos party’s politicians-consultants, hiding from the Treasury the petrodollars Chavism pays them for their advice. José Mujica, the former President of Uruguay, applies a cooling poultice to a bleeding gash when he says that Ortega must realize that, at some stage, the time comes to leave power, but doesn’t say a word about the massacres and the hundreds of political prisoners. Looking over to Venezuela, Mujica invokes the danger of a military intervention, but neither the millions of migrating Venezuelans who have voted with their feet nor the evidence of the millions who have demonstrated their repudiation in the streets have managed to extract the most minimal comment from him. At the other end of Latin America, just settling into Mexico’s presidential chair, Andrés Manuel López Obrador discredits the Organization of American States’ multiple, unified vision as interventionist…
Hence the questions that Uruguayan journalist and political theorist Raúl Zibechi asks and asks of us: How could José Mujica remain silent for so many months, while hundreds of young people died in Nicaragua and after Ernesto Cardenal’s open letter, until finally making some criticism of Ortega? How can certain noted Latin American intellectuals justify the slaughter with unsustainable arguments or with a guilty silence? What leads them to demand freedom for Lula without turning against the government of Nicaragua?
Tariq Ali, Atilio Borón, Emir Sader, Ignacio Ramonet, José Mujica and Andrés Manuel López Obrador are intellectuals and politicians who deserve some respect because they have all—some more, others less—shown sparks of lucidity in their speeches or their writings at more than one moment in their lives. That’s why it’s surprising to see them underestimating, disparaging or even discrediting the demonstrations of repudiation against the Ortega and Maduro regimes.
In their opinion these aren’t genuine revolts but insurgences, skillfully conceived and meticulously executed by imperialism. If the masses participate, it must be because they were tricked. After all, wasn’t it the alienated masses that brought Bolsonaro into power in Brazil? The masses can be mistaken; they are often wrong. In whom or in what does sovereignty then lie? According to the Left, sovereignty is an impersonal entity that lies in inalienable principles. The people on the streets aren’t sovereign or self-determined; they are manipulated and dependent, especially if they demonstrate against its buddies…
An auto-immune /meme:
“It was a conspiracy”
Arthur Koestler, George Orwell and Raymond Aron, all European critical thinkers, turned away from the Left when they saw their fellow believers give the crassest justifications for Stalin’s purges. The Polish writer and journalist Isaac Deutscher, whose judgment was always nuanced and virtually unruffled by prejudices, penetrated with easy empathy the experience that marked these thinkers: “There’s no spectacle more repugnant than that of post-revolutionary tyranny dressed in the banners of freedom.” While these intellectuals exercised criticism, others knuckled under to the power of the red czar. There was always a “conspiracy” to attribute the imperative need for exceptional measures.
The idea of conspiracy is a meme, as this word is defined by the British biologist Richard Dawkins: a unit of cultural transmission that replicates in the same way as genes. He said that in the same way as genes propagate in a gene pool by jumping from one body to another via sperm or ovules, in conspiracies, the memes propagate in the meme pool by jumping from one brain to another via a process that, in its broadest sense, can be called imitation.
The best way to stop a meme from propagating is to subject it to critical scrutiny. The problem is that there are auto-immune memes and the conspiracy meme is one of them. Conspiracy theorists claim that the absence of evidence of conspiracy is precisely the best proof that the conspiracy was seamlessly fabricated with utmost professionalism. In the case of Nicaragua, the absence of evidence that the April rebellion was sponsored by the imperial Right is the best proof that institutions such as the CIA and its underlings participated in its design and execution at the highest level.
Ideologies that are religions
The Right’s conspiracy theory, which attributes all geopolitical evils and movements to Putin’s meddling or Islamic fundamentalism, dovetails the Left’s conspiracy theory, which attributes all the South’s hardships to the imperial Right. On both sides, the pensée unique is a single idea that explains everything…and reveals its religious roots.
In The Worship of Man, Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari shows the religious roots of various currents of Western secular ideologies: “The modern age has witnessed the rise of new natural-law religions such as liberalism, communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. These creeds do not like to be called religions, and refer to themselves as ideologies. But this is just a semantic exercise.
“If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam… Whereas Buddhists believe that the law of nature was discovered by Siddhartha Gautama, Communists believed that the law of nature was discovered by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Like other religions, Communism too has its holy scripts and prophetic books, such as Marx’s Das Capital, which foretold that history would soon end with the inevitable victory of the proletariat. Communism had its holidays and festivals, such as the First of May and the anniversary of the October Revolution. It had theologians adept at Marxist dialectics, and every unit in the Soviet Army had a chaplain, called a commissar, who monitored the piety of soldiers and officers. Communism had martyrs, holy wars and heresies, such as Trotskyism. Soviet Communism was a fanatical and missionary religion. A devote Communist could not be a Christian or a Buddhist, and was expected to spread the gospel of Marx and Lenin even at the price of his or her life.”
The recipe of terror
The conspiracy theory has served to justify terror. Virtue and terror were a revolutionary slogan ever since Robespierre proposed: “If the attribute of popular government in peace is virtue, the attribute of popular government in revolution is at one and the same time virtue and terror; terror without virtue is fatal, virtue without terror is impotent. The terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue.”
The Soviet revolution took up this legacy, putting into practice a lot more terror than virtue. As Grigory Zinoviev, one of the seven members of the first Soviet Politburo, wrote in 1918, “We must carry along with us 90 million of the 100 million of Soviet Russia’s population. As for the rest, we have nothing to say to them. They must be annihilated.” And in 1919 when Professor Kuznetsov warned Trotsky that people in Moscow were dying of hunger, he replied: “That’s not hunger. When Titus was taking Jerusalem, Jewish mothers ate their children. When I have your mothers eating their young, then you can tell me you’re starving.”
The Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alekievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel prize for Literature, quoted an order from Lenin in 1918: “We must hang (and it has to be hanging, so that the people will see) no fewer than 1,000 inveterate kulaks, the rich ones… seize their grain, take hostages... Make sure that people hear about it one hundred versts around and tremble from fear.” (A verst is an obsolete Russian unit of length equal to approximately 0.7miles)
It would obviously be wrong to maintain that these comments contain all the intentions of Trotsky and Lenin’s thought. In fact, Trotsky condemned Stalin’s hunger policy which, between 1931 and 1934, ended the lives of more than 5 million people, of whom about 4 million were Ukrainians, an eighth of that country’s population. However, it would also be fallacious to take refuge in a distinction between historical and ideal socialism in order to distance oneself from this tradition.
Today, Stalin is rightly blamed for a large part of the Soviet Union’s crimes, but he was a continuation of a tendency to deprecate the will, judgment and life of the masses. Focusing on this pattern, the British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote that Stalin was clearly a singular case but many of his theories and his characteristic traits, such as using death as a political tool, and of course his paranoia, were shared by his comrades.
The British political activist and writer Tariq Ali has to recognize that the path initiated by Lenin and expanded by Stalin led to the constitution of an authoritarian State that denied its citizens their civil liberties, expropriated all rights of association and organization, maintained a total media monopoly, repressed ideas and resorted to crude displays of nationalism and xenophobia to maintain some legitimacy.
Why did this happen? Ali explains that its highest priority was safeguarding the revolution at any cost. And the cost was high: the suspension of civil liberties, summary executions, arrests without trial and the prohibition of other Soviet parties, whose rationale was to definitively banish dissent among its ranks. This is the same recipe Ortega has used on the people of Nicaragua and very similar to that of Maduro. Regrettably, Ali refuses to recognize these traits in the “21st-century socialist” governments of Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Human beings sacrificed in the
name of the Left’s noble ideals…
One of the Left’s weapons for seizing or holding onto power has been terror and the suppression of liberties. Using terror to stay in power is evidenced by Thermidor in France (1794) and the kulak liquidation policy in the Soviet Union (1929-33); and using it to seize power by the attacks of anarchist terrorism.
At one point the Sandinista revolution wanted to distance itself from the tradition of widespread terror. Its failure to achieve it fully in the 1980s include multiple individual abuses and also the terror it propagated on the Caribbean Coast and in rural Nicaragua in defense of the revolution, admittedly in the midst of a war waged indirectly by the United States. In April 2018 it fully resumed this tradition of spreading terror throughout the country in a context that wasn’t remotely similar.
But leftwing analysts and politicians, who would never apply repressive policies or want them for themselves, assume that what happens in Nicaragua and Venezuela is the result of the extremes to which leftist leaders are forced when they are victims of that auto-immune meme, a conspiracy. They refuse to see that what is being used in Nicaragua and in Venezuela isn’t even the Robespierre principle, because in both countries what we have is terror without virtue; just fatal terror.
…and of the goals of
the Right and of religion
Obviously, the Left hasn’t been the only one to use terror and practice holocausts. The most and largest human sacrifices have been perpetrated in the name of progress and religious beliefs. In order to accomplish them, progress has been cloaked as civilizing companies, promoting racial purity or economic growth.
The German theologian and economist Franz Hinkela¬mmert wrote some time ago about human sacrifices. He explained that Western society always talks about a man so infinitely worthy that for him and his freedom concrete man must be destroyed. Concrete man’s most ordinary rights have been erased in the name of man’s goals such as knowing Christ, saving his soul, having freedom and democracy or building communism. From the perspective of those purported values, rights seem merely mediocre ends, materialistic goals in conflict with society’s elevated ideas. Obviously, it isn’t a question of renouncing any of those ideals but rather of rooting them in the ordinary and immediate: the right of all to be able to live.
Hinkelammert gives us a hint about the bait that attracts leftwing intellectuals: a noble ideal. He says that if the construction of that ideal leaves a trail of concrete human bodies it should be rejected. That must be the criterion that leftist activists and intellectuals employ when subjecting historical socialisms’ experiences to critical scrutiny.
There were always
dissidents on the Left
Leftwing analysts and politicians in many parts of the world have made a preferential option for everything leftist in Latin America. But this position is contrary to the Left’s tradition since its inception.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s supporters throughout Europe split when he discarded his republican attire to don that of an emperor. When Beethoven, who had composed Symphony No. 3 in his honor and titled it Bonaparte, heard that Napoleon had crowned himself emperor in May 1804, he tore the top off the title page and renamed it Eroica. Earlier in the French Revolution there were extreme expressions of division among the Left of the day. Dissentions between the Cordeliers, Jacobins and Girondins enable us to know now which ones were for granting the most political and social rights.
Karl Marx invested much of his time and intellectual wit to fighting those he considered members of a false Left, a portmanteau into which he put idealists, radical activists, dreamers, those who had sold out and been coopted. Most of those he fought with were his close companions in the struggle, breaking with them when they adhered to questionable creeds, repressive regimes or sterile ventures.
The history of socialism was marked by divisions. Lenin and his friend Martov divided the Russian Social Democratic Party into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht founded the German Communist Party when they split from the German Social Democratic Party because its leadership supported Germany’s imperialist pretensions and involvement in the First World War. According to these two revolutionaries, this option went against proletarian internationalism because it chose a national inter-class alliance and set workers against each other in defense of imperialist and nationalist flags. This schism caused Luxemburg’s breakup with her old friend Karl Kautsky, who saw the war as the fight against the czar’s absolutism.
Isaac Deutscher wrote, “Hegel says somewhere that any party is real only when it becomes divided. The idea, far from being a paradox, is simple and profound in its dialectic realism. Any political movement (or any philosophical school of thought) as it grows and develops cannot help unfolding the contradictions inherent in itself and its environment; and the more it unfolds them the richer is its content and vitality. Stalin’s conception of the monolithic party was one of his terroristic utopias, the pipe-dream of an autocrat, frightened to death of any dissention or ‘deviation’ and raising himself in his imagination above the realities of society and history.”
With comparable panic against dissent, a large part of the Latin American Left is closing monolithic ranks around its hagiography of self-proclaimed leaders and is now sheltering under its cloak López Obrador, a Social Democrat it clings to as a life vest despite the repudiation of the Zapatista movement, which refused him its support during the electoral campaign and now denounces the holocausts he is preparing on the altar of progress.
When they abandon democracy...
The images of Vladimir Lenin, León Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg can today share the same altar but, but as flesh-and-blood human beings they squabbled with others whose ideological differences and strategic options annoyed them. Their dissents should help us formulate our own political criteria.
Lenin made the decision to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, but he didn’t want to replace it with a new, revolution-generated one. Trotsky justified the dissolution in these terms: “The open and direct struggle for power enables the laboring masses to acquire a wealth of political experience in a short time and thus rapidly to pass from one stage to another in the process of their mental evolution. The ponderous mechanism of democratic institutions cannot keep pace with this evolution—and this is in proportion to the vastness of the country and the imperfection of the technical apparatus at its disposal.”
In marked opposition to this analysis, Rosa Luxemburg proclaimed her defense of democracy and its institutions: “…the cumbersome mechanism of democratic institutions possesses a powerful corrective—namely, the living movement of the masses, their unending pressure. And the more democratic the institutions, the livelier and stronger the pulse-beat of the political life of the masses, the more direct and complete is their influence…
“To be sure, every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, things which it doubtless shares with all other human institutions. But the remedy which Trotsky and Lenin have found, the elimination of democracy as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure; for it stops up the very living source from which alone can come correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions. That source is the active, untrammeled, energetic political life of the broadest masses of the people.”
On this point Karl Kautsky, a friend to Marx and even more so Engels, agrees with Rosa Luxemburg, denouncing the Bolshevik dismantling of direct democracy’s institutions. His denouncement went even further: “After the destruction of the large estates Bolshevism had nothing more to offer the peasants. Indeed, the peasants’ love for the Bolshevik was soon changed to hatred for the town workers, who did not work and who could not deliver goods for agricultural purposes; to hatred also against the ruling powers, who sent soldiers into the villages in order to commandeer the commodities…
“…it endeavored to abolish class differences. It began by humiliating and destroying the upper classes, and hence it really threatens to end in a new kind of class-society… Right from the beginning of their supremacy (the Bolsheviks) showed themselves to be filled with human ideals, which had their origins in the conditions of the proletariat as a class. ….if we would consider the question of their culpability, we should find this came to light…when they decided, in order to gain power, to sacrifice the principles of democracy…”
Within the Left,
dissent is betrayal
On this point, despite the differences that had distanced them, Luxemburg from the left and Kautsky from the Social Democratic center agreed in their decided defense of democracy’s principles and institutions. They warned Lenin about the many dangers entailed in prohibiting all opposition parties, even if it was—as the Bolsheviks claimed—a “temporary measure,” probably not intending that this suppression would last throughout the Soviet regime’s entire existence.
At the point of ending his active life, Lenin was troubled by doubts and fears. Isaac Deutscher said, “He realized that he had gone too far, and that the new machine of power was turning into a mockery of his principles. He felt alienated from the State of his own making. At a party congress, in April 1922, the last congress he attended, he strikingly expressed this sense of alienation.” On his sick bed, and against his doctors’ orders, he dictated notes on Soviet policy towards the small nations. It was an involuntary way of saying that Luxemburg and Kautsky were right: “I am, it seems, strongly guilty before the workers of Russia.” Deutscher concludes: “In his ability to utter such words lay an essential part of Lenin’s moral greatness.”
This, perhaps excessive, narration of the old brawls between comrades shows that the Left has had traditional internal differences since its inception. But the way of addressing them—both in the heat of the moment and a posteriori —has always been total disqualification. Bakunin and Kautsky were confined in the socialist’s ninth circle of hell. Luxemburg was vetoed by Stalinism and is still not entered in the Communist hagiography with full rights. Kautsky still awaits his vindication.
We’ve not yet shaken off the dominant influence attained by the Soviet version, as a Mecca of Marxism, which ultimately saw dissent and divisions as betrayal. This way of “evolving” has impoverished the tradition of socialist and Marxist thought.
Not only the empire…
Europe has been a constant scene of conflicts among the Left’s different factions. But in Latin America it’s enough just to call yourself a leftist. The strongmen of 21st-century socialism only had to call themselves leftists for intellectually impoverished leftists to recognize them as such, not caring what they do with people, just fascinated by what their proclamations say. Perhaps they think this is the only Left we can achieve here. It’s a way of saying: “Every nation has the Left it deserves.”
Influenced by the eternal conspiracy meme, they only want to see a movie where the empire has the starring role and leftist governments are working to undermine it. The people are just extras favoring one side or the other. They will pay homage to a regime if it opposes the empire—even if only rhetorically and in everything else submits to its logic.
That blunt narrative doesn’t correspond to reality. The empire moves its pieces but people also deploy theirs. Sometimes the moves overlap and tactical interests partially coincide. If the people’s moves are varied, contradictory and often erratic, and don’t obliterate the imperial interests in play, neither does imperial action cancel out the people’s strength.
According to pragmatic realpolitik, the empire dominates. The empire is the invariable variable, which is why it’s ridiculous that some analysts claim, as a novel finding, that the United States is interested in Venezuelan oil and deride the idea that the people also have their own interests; and are moving their own pieces. Within the major narrative of imperial strategy are hundreds of small narratives of surreptitious and open resistance that are also important.
There’s no better example of the duality of this confrontation than the armed counterrevolution (Contra) in revolutionary Nicaragua during the 1980s. The Contra was a peasant movement that arose through the FSLN’s urban-centered, repressive policy in the countryside. The US government provided arms and resources to those peasants to maintain them, so they could last and have a greater military impact. But, even with a hundred Elliot Abrams’ and two hundred Oliver Norths, the Reagan administration would not have been able to establish such a movement.
The Contra’s underlying component was a discontented peasantry, which not only fueled the ranks of the Resistance’s army but also provided the basic elements all guerrillas need: a sympathetic population where they could hide, feed, rest and ambush. For the narrative that only sees good/bad, white/black, communists /imperialists, this version is too inconvenient.
Percunia non olet
Just like historians who focus on relating episodes from the lives of emperors, princes and princesses, many leftists also exclude ordinary people from history, those Rubén Darío called, “the wandering, municipal and difficult masses.”
Only two can play on their checkerboard: the empire and those who oppose it. They forget or relegate to the insignificant events box the clamors of the murdered, the widows, the mothers, the children, the political prisoners… Perhaps they think, “If they hadn’t been manipulated they would complain less.” They leave aside that the Left also gets its resources from the unfair, bloody, imperial market.
The Roman emperor Vespasian declared Pecunia non olet (money doesn’t smell) when he was reproached for his new tax on the urine collected from public urinals to be used as a powerful whitener for clothes. The Germans still say Geld stinkt nicht (Money doesn’t stink). Economists say that money is fungible: it’s impossible to determine where it came from once it’s all thrown into a single sack.
The Latin American and global leftists who applaud the Left in power consider themselves purists, but they don’t question the origin of funds once they are deposited in the coffers of politically correct foundations. It doesn’t matter if they came from bribes paid to the Ortega government by mining companies or logging mafias. Nor does it seem to matter to them if this now sweet-smelling money goes to social projects or into the Ortega family’s pockets. The only thing that matters is that it goes to leftists in presidential office… These funds non olet. The same happens with foreign cooperation. It doesn’t matter if the money comes from a metalworker’s daily sweat or from a land-grabbing company in Senegal, once filtered by the State and the foundations that channel it to development projects in the South. That money non olet either.
Ortega handed over
Nicaragua to mining
In the 1980s anti-US propaganda tried to convince us that Coca Cola was “the black water of imperialism.” In the 21st century the Venezuelan oil that sustains Cuba, underpins Evo Morales’ regime and has fattened the pockets of Ortega’s inner circle appears to be seen by some leftists as crystal clear water.
They probably think the dividends from unbridled capital accumulation that Latin American leftists have accrued from Venezuelan oil are better going to fatten the pockets of leftist leaders rather than falling into the coffers of the traditional rightwing oligarchies or transnational corporations.
But, how is it possible that when so many activists and intellectuals are now speaking out against the ravages of mining, there are leftist analysts willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that, under the Ortega regime, mining has expanded like never before in Nicaraguan history?
By 2016, with Ortega in government since 2008, gold exports had grown at a dizzying pace: from 10,800 troy ounces and US $4.2 million in 1994 to 236,900 troy ounces and US $357 million in 2016. Income from gold exports in 2016 represented 20% of the value of the country’s main export products, ranking it in third place after meat and coffee. During the same period, silver exports rose from 94,200 to 681,700 troy ounces and from US $1.3 million to almost $12 million. Evidence of the Ortega government’s pro-mining policy was embodied in the 2017 law creating the Nicaraguan Mining Company, passed by Ortega’s representatives who have a parliamentary majority through the 2011 electoral fraud. This law grants concessions for 22% of national territory to mining. Formerly it was 12%. These are official figures, not defamation by the empire or ultra-left Trotskyists.
In Nicaragua, the Left in power lives from oil and mining. It also kills through mining. In 2016, according to the Global Witness annual report, 11 people were killed in Nicaragua for defending their lands or the environment, the majority of them Caribbean indigenous people killed by mestizo settlers.
In Nicaragua, mining, timber extraction, the telecommunications duopoly, land-grabbing, discretionary tax exonerations and political operators whose greatest merit is their unconditional obedience to Ortega, have thrived in a government that proclaims itself “Christian, Socialist and Solidary.”
The list of expulsions, displacements and killings of peasants is long and the Caribbean Coast’s indigenous communities top the list. The resources of that half of Nicaragua are a magnet for unscrupulous entrepreneurs. The region’s isolation—which translates into low coverage not only by the State, but also by the media and human rights organizations—offers many opportunities to hide outrages.
The war against peoples
by capitalism and socialism
In neighboring Honduras, ruled by another unconstitutional President, Juan Orlando Hernández, crimes in rural areas are routine. It doesn’t matter whether a dictatorship is socialist or capitalist, both are authoritarian and both pave the way for big capital to do away with the communities’ rights.
In Nicaragua, Medardo Mairena, Pedro Mena and other peasant leaders are in prison. Mairena was sentenced to over 200 years of confinement, Mena to 150 and others to decades. The anti-canal movement to which they belong arose when they opposed the imminent land confiscations involved in the canal concession granted to Wang Jing, a Chinese multimillionaire who couldn’t continue taking part in the “Grand Canal” farce when he lost a large part of his capital in a speculative mega-financial gamble.
In Honduras, several leaders of the Guapinol community, from the Tocoa municipality, were arrested and brought before authorities for protesting against the mining project that threatened to contaminate the river they depend on for drinking water.
In both Nicaragua and Honduras the areas in conflict have become militarized. The peasants are subdued through torture, kidnapping and legal processes that are corrupted from beginning to end. Different ideologies, but the same methods and the same allies. This happens because, as Raúl Zibechi wrote, citing one of Subcomandante Marcos’ theories, “it’s a war against peoples.”
In this war, according to Zibechi, violence and militarizing the land are the norm, an inseparable part of the model. The dead, wounded and beaten don’t result from accidentally exceeding police or military orders. Extracti¬vism’s ‘normal’ way of operating is to kill people who are surplus to its needs, turning the lands into deserts then reconnecting them to the world market. Historically, massacre or the threat of massacre (read: extermination) was the principal mode of discipline in indigenous/black/mestiza Latin America in both colonial and republican times, in dictatorships or democracies, right up to the present.
Also in Lula’s Brazil
Big capital needs land, not surplus value. It imposes the Anglo-Saxon colonization model worldwide, not the one applied in India but the US version. This model has no interest in subduing and using or mixing with native peoples, but rather in eliminating them and/or confining them to steal their resources. The Hispanic colonists saw the aboriginal population as a resource, while the English colonists saw it as a competitor for the land resource. In that model, now reproduced, the people are superfluous at best; at worst, they are an impediment that has to be removed.
We see this trans-ideological model reproduced in other countries that, like Nicaragua, are also supposedly under governments with socialist leaders.
In Brazil, under Lula da Silva’s government, a nouveau riche group grew up around corruption in the state-owned oil company Petrobras. The alliance of political parties, foreign capital and big national capital began with Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government but Lula took it to unthinkable levels during his administration, making Petrobras the world’s second largest oil company.
According to Decio Machado and Raúl Zibechi, the strategic plan of the Workers’ Party governments (Lula and Dilma Rousseff) was “to change the world from above,” and consisted of promoting international expansion of Brazilian companies with financial support from the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES), which at its apogee came to be the largest development bank in the world, raising Brazil to the rank of a global player.
Also in Bolivia with Evo
In Bolivia the government of Evo Morales, another head of State determined to become an unconstitutional President, favors an emerging bourgeoisie, that of the mining cooperatives.
One year after Morales came to power, the Bolivian parliament approved 44 new contracts with 12 multinational companies. These concessions were justified by the nationalization of hydrocarbons. An increase in GDP was soon felt and was sustained, which gave him popular support that seemed solid, but hid multiple fissures.
One of them was among the indigenous peoples. The road that cut in two the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory Park (better known as TIPNIS), without its inhabitants’ consent, showed that Evo Morales’ indigenousness—he himself is Aymara—was limited to favoring the Quechua and Aymara peoples, but was indifferent to the indigenous minorities of Amazonia, who inhabit the TIPNIS. This project demonstrated that one of his campaign banners, indigenousness, contradicted the other, progressivism. And the banner of progress, sooner rather than later, made war on the people.
The “progressivism” of large highways, mining, hydrocarbon exploitation and Ortega’s ephemeral Grand Canal has been the banner of socialist governments. Today two forms of historical determinism, two unavoidable destinies have been fused together: progress and socialism.
Embracing progress has won over big capital. The socialist governments’ progressivism has kept doors and arms open to big capital, favoring it with juicy contracts that make both their projects and their ways of implementing them indistinguishable from those employed by conservative and liberal powers since Latin America’s independence. Machado and Zibechi point out that the so-called progressive governments’ current neo-development is nothing other than the old 1930s developmentalism given a modern new look to fit this century.
What is sovereignty?
While large sectors of the Left remain embedded in the old categories, focusing all their analysis on imperialism and the unpresentable Donald Trump, who facilitates the task with his media bravado, the different peoples are seeing the conflict differently and are practicing a grounded defense of sovereignty.
Zibechi explains that sovereignty requires a border, a perimeter that’s impregnable to those from outside. It requires lands under the control of those from below where those from above don’t enter… The lands have to be wrested from those—whether the State, large landowners or companies—who stole them from us … That’s why Zapatismo is resolute in not allowing social policies into their utonomous lands, because it would mean breaching the border and letting autonomy be destroyed…In those lands the collective subjects make their lives holistically: food, health, education, justice, power…
Just as the Ortega government didn’t guarantee the peasants’ interests along the route of the Grand Canal, the Morales government didn’t guarantee the TIPNIS inhabitants’ interests. In both cases, sovereignty wasn’t raised against imperial interests but rather against the dispositions of States that took upon themselves the right to do what they choose with the resources and the lives of communities they despise. That’s why the anti-canal peasant movement in Nicaragua, a combination of national and local resistance against encroachment, is the best example of the defense of sovereignty, in this case not against the US empire but against the FSLN and the Chinese empire.
Authoritarianism + pacts with big capital
Latin American socialist governments have made the leap from progressivism to authoritarianism. Machado and Zibechi explain that in 21st-century socialism’s discourse, pragmatic policies are adopted whose legitimacy is sustained with the return of a strong State for the alleged protection and well-being of the population. It’s a question of strengthening state institutionality in the face of the empowerment developed by civil society through the social movements, which in many cases even becomes an anti-systemic and articulated resistance against neoliberalism.
Trotsky identified the model Machado and Zibechi analyze today in Lenin’s actions. He said that Lenin’s methods first led to the party organization replacing the party itself, then the Central Committee replaced the organization, and finally the Central Committee was replaced by a single ‘dictator.’ Of course, that wasn’t the original idea but was where it was drifting as a result of Lenin’s decisions to eliminate and neutralize dissidence both within and outside of the ranks.
Judging by its track record and results, 21st-century socialism’s model is authoritarianism plus pragmatic pacts with big capital. In order to effectuate authoritarianism, democracy and civil society’s critical organizations, which contributed anti-systemic activists and thinkers before the ALBA project rose to power, have to be dismantled. Once everything is dismantled, the path is cleared for pragmatic pacts, and it all stays hidden because money non olet…
What class struggle?
This dynamic escapes the criticisms of many leftist thinkers. The Argentinian economist and journalist Pablo Stefanoni observed that “a part of the regional Left defends Madurism in the name of the revolution and class struggle.” But, doesn’t the term class struggle best define present-day Latin America’s contradictions?
Nicaragua’s April rebellion assembled an amalgam of classes, organized groups and self-motivated masses. These crowds were those excluded from a system where an emergent bourgeoisie (under the protection of the ruling party in Nicaragua, Brazil and Venezuela, and in the mining cooperatives protected by the State in Bolivia) made a pact with big capital to grab land then evict and displace citizens and communities.
Intellectuals subservient to the ALBA club still cling to the analytical categories that preserve their usefulness, but not for analytical purposes. They rather use them to build a chain of deductions that always end on the same point: imperialism is to blame. They analyze in this way because, just as in religion, they believe that the Left in power is invested with infallibility.
The false dilemmas
The intellectuals who pass judgment on Latin American socialism in the 21st century face false dilemmas. The conservative version of the dilemma is tyranny or democracy (Chavism or democracy, Orteguism or democracy), while the leftist version is popular government or imperialism.
While we know that genuine democracy will not come with the overthrow of Maduro and Ortega, we also know their regimes don’t represent popular governments but rather the tyrannies of operettas. Will the people be forced to choose between following the empire’s dictates or those of a local tyrant?
Does the sacrificial knife-brandishing Left think the masses who oppose Ortega and Maduro are unworthy because they prefer jobs, toilet paper, drinking water, electricity, land and beans before 21st century socialism, which promises them all this and more in an unattainable future? These two regimes receive support from important sectors of the European Left because the peoples of Latin America are again bearing the intolerable burden of being their Utopia, their New World…
Based on this, some leftist politicians and analysts have distorted the debate to the point that the dilemmas seem to be ideas vs. people; principles vs. human beings. In reality, there are only two competing value systems: those that opt for the lives of concrete men and women and those that immolate concrete men and women on the altar of grand ideas. The Left must decide whether to be critical of the authoritarian tradition in the style of Rosa Luxemburg or to serve those who serve that which “does not stink”…
To be on the Left today
For those of us who opt for the noble idea of communism, the example of Rosa Luxemburg inspires us to support that idea with our feet and hands, and to do so with realism, creativity and without renouncing criticism and self-criticism. Communism can’t give less but rather so much more than liberal democracy.
To be on the Left today demands being feminists and ecologists. How can governments be leftwing when they make pacts with international predators of the South’s natural resources and deny women the right even to therapeutic abortion? The fight against patriarchy, mining, plundering by logging mafias, and the large corporations that pollute the environment and minds, should be present on the agendas of all responsible politicians and even more so those who say they are leftists.
The Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio found a minimal common denominator of what it means to be leftist: the distribution of resources according to need in order to reduce social and natural inequalities.
But in order to distribute, at least two conditions are missing: something to distribute and potential beneficiaries who aren’t incarcerated or dead… How do indifferent leftists deal with this in the face of human sacrifices?
José Luis Rocha is a researcher associated with Institute for Research and Projection on Global and Territorial Dynamics at the Rafael Landívar University of Guatemala and the José Simeón Cañas Central American University of El Salvador.