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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 181 | Agosto 1996
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Central America

The New Society We Yearn For

For a truly popular political force, it is important both to win democratic elections and to develop a strategy of active, propositive opposition. No force should consider itself today to be the vanguard of the people, but rather should see itself as the rearguard of an organized civil society.

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

The Berlin wall has fallen, the soviet union has split and we are witnessing the defeat of socialist based utopias that had begun to be built in 1917. But the great wall of poverty has not yet fallen. The advent of the free market in the former European socialist bloc and the decline of a certain type of revolutionary project in our Central America©àsymbolized by the Sandinista electoral defeat in 1990 and even more by its ethical crisis©àhave not improved the living standards of the two thirds of humanity living in abject poverty. A new society is still needed in Central America and in the world as a whole.

What fundamental core should that new society have? Can we outline its basic contours?

Globalization and Worldization

The seeds of a new society must be sown now, and it will have global dimensions. Today we have the simultaneous existence of a "humanizing worldization" and a "dehumanizing globalization." Faced with the temptations of Manicheanism, we find in the current universal changes the good and bad seeds growing together. The end of provincialism, the awareness of universalism in even the most far flung corners, the proximity of all of us living as neighbors in this "global village" are humanizing. It is humanizing to live so vividly the catastrophes of Bosnia or Rwanda and Burundi and the victories of South Africa or Haiti, as well as overcoming distances to participate in great sports, musical or religious events. It is dehumanizing that this universality has been achieved with the global triumph of capitalism, which has transnationalized a mode of production with maximum exploitative efficacy and is imposing the cosmopolitan lifestyle of high level multinational executives on us all.

It is crucial to recognize that the international solidarity of the earth's poor has succumbed to this globalization; their hopes of being represented by the proletariat classes were supplanted by the interests of a party state superpower and its bureaucratic leadership class. A worldization in which solidarity finds new institutional channels is a still pending challenge. One cannot take up the project of a new society if it does not integrate worldization and seek to surmount the transnationalizing capitalist globalization that today undermines the life of the majority of humanity.

This is where we put our change of perspective. It is not enough to analyze globalization and verify what, from our values, are its dehumanizing characteristics. We must also design a program of convergent efforts to bring out the possibilities of humanizing worldization. More democratic mechanisms must be introduced in the world system that has emerged in the change of epoch from 1989 1991.

From Above and Below

Those converging efforts should take place "from above" and "from below." From above, the social linkages in the heterogeneous world society must be rethought, globalization ideologies unmasked, new ethical challenges laid out, and the double standard that presents as international relations what are actually elitist links within the transnational leadership class or that only gives national validity to values that should have universal acceptance must be exposed. The enormous and growing problem of migrations, the drawing up of world level labor laws and the fight against racism are some points on the agenda of humanizing worldization. There is also the fight to institutionally democratize the United Nations: to eliminate the veto right of the five great powers and include third world states as permanent members on the Security Council. And efforts must not stop to democratize the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, those great dictators at the service of capitalist transnationalization.

It is also very important that we program convergent efforts "from below," organizing international solidarity networks in civil society. These include religious networks, for example among "sister" parishes in the Catholic faith; human rights networks and those that fight against impunity; alternative media networks; development projects; health and housing initiatives; formal and informal education; nongovernmental organizations; women's groups; ethnic organizations, etc.

Despite the failure of "revolutions," the need to build grassroots power, to socialize human formation, economic media, organizational forms and cultural dreams has not lost validity. To invent together with the people effective forms of popular mobilization that can create these solidarity networks is a great challenge in our hands, particularly since it will have to face the disenchantment of the great masses of population that are today leaning towards conservative and individualistic values and dreams.

Trying to give the popular movement a world dimension of struggle means building a social identity that crosses occupational, ethnic, linguistic, religious, gender, generational and national borders. It means beginning to construct a common world culture of liberation, while we continue to struggle for human liberation at the levels of national, local and personal identity.

Production and Speculation

Globalization's greatest impact on society so far has been on the economic level, where it is marked by two enormously dehumanizing trends. The first is the tendency to substitute--not only complement and alleviate©àhuman labor with machine labor. This process, known for years as automation and now as robotization, is reinforced by incorporating ever less material per product unit. The second is the inclination to invest capital more in the financial circuit than in the productive circuit, speculating with the production of money more than the production of goods that satisfy basic human needs. Both trends fuse and result in economic growth that does not create jobs. Joining these two trends with a third, hardly new phenomenon--the broadening gap between the few super rich and the many super poor--leads to a growing pauperization of the majority of humanity and the exclusion of ever more people from job opportunities. Only Southeast Asia is today experiencing economic growth with job creation.

Clearly today's economic theory, built on blind faith in a total free market, is not moving us towards overcoming the great economic inequalities that split humanity, or even to satisfying the basic needs of the majority of human beings. By itself, the market only creates jobs that allow capital to reproduce itself with maximum profit rates in the shortest possible time. More than ever, transnational globalization reveals that the law of greatest wealth wins.

The triumph of transnational globalization has meant the defeat of central state planning as the creator of social wealth, of goods that can innovatively respond to fundamental human needs. These two ideological extremes--the total market and total central state planning--have shown their limits as humanizing motor forces of the economy.

Faced with these two dehumanizing currents, the commitment to a new society should show various convergent efforts. It is neither theoretically possible nor practical to renounce the mixed economy. The market and planning should be complementary paths that mutually correct each other. The high cost of the welfare state should not stigmatize state regulation of the economy. It should lead to decentralizing and debureaucratizing regulations, buttress ing the ability of civil society and its multiple organizations to regulate the market mechanisms. Less state should not mean a weaker state, but a strong one, present where no other organization develops the needed activity to humanize the economy. We cannot accept a new society without economic policies. These policies must heavily tax purely speculative financial activities and stimulate productive activities that respond to humanity's basic needs at the local, national and world level. They must also stimulate job creation.

Employment, food, clothing, housing, health, education, credit, rest and security for all are the parts of a new society project.
A "full employment" society©àwith jobs accessible to all who want them--is not socialist dogma. It is a characteristic of any truly human new society. We need a work culture that values the human contribution to transforming reality as one of its most important pillars. And for this culture we need a concept of education and human formation that prepares us for much more work diversification than we are currently familiar with.

Transnational Power and National Power

The victory of transnational capitalist globalization has meant that political power is displaced by competition between blocs led by superpowers and the undisputed monopoly of the bloc of richest countries. Until recently, national states had some room to promote social transformation by inserting themselves in one bloc or the other and defining themselves as "nonaligned." The world system was not monolithic and certain proposals or attempts to build a new society, using state power, could squeeze through the fissures. By losing the capacity to transform its own society, the national state has lost power in the monolithic nature of the current world system.

The triumph of transnational globalization has stimulated the extension and radicalization of an anti state doctrine that began to emerge with force in 1979 1980, under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. This doctrine includes certain, apparently unquestionable postulates: privatization (transnational private enterprise is always more profitable and better administered than the state), deregulation (the market is a better planner of economic growth than any planning agency and should be given absolute liberty), an emphasis on supply rather than demand (stimulate capital and its great executives rather than the acquisitive capacity of the great majority of those who depend on jobs), the growth of the macroeconomy (quantitative emphasis on some large economic indicators, without qualitatively complementing them with the small numbers that express people's fundamental needs).

The Temptation Of Corruption

The postulates of this anti state dogma can be coherently applied only to those stabilization and adjustment programs imposed on countries of the south by their new "governments" or by the supranational economic cabinets known as the IMF and the World Bank. In the central countries of the monolithic world system, the state preserves and practices the ability to protect transnational businesses or entire branches of the national economy. The policy of agricultural and cattle subsidies in the United States and the European Union, as well as the quota policy in international trade, offer clear proof of the existence of "one sided" laws. As in all epochs, capitalism still provides advantages to those who concentrate capital. The maximum expressions of this advantage today are seen in the demand that countries with scarce resources totally open their markets and in the permissive tolerance of protectionism in countries with abundant capital.

These trends translate politically into the shrinkage of national state power and the increased attractiveness of corruption among politicians. Political power has always been tempted by economic opportunism, and today even more so. Power's intrinsic incentive©àthe possibility that political leaders can create or transform society©àis less and less realistic. If state power cannot be used for social engineering, it will have to be used to "charge" for administering that which cannot be transformed.

State Power and Social Power

Social power is growing in today's world; there are more and more experiences of union, human rights, development, ethnic, religious and generally cultural organization. This power placed in civil society occasionally functions as a world body. The various world union federations were pio neer institutions, although they were polluted by their dependence on political parties and the policies of states and blocs. In the case of human rights, Amnesty International's world status has been visible for a long time in its fight for prisoners of conscience and against torture. University associations are also worldwide, as are Indigenous Peoples' Congresses, theological associations and third world theologians. It is also seen in the interreligious meetings that began some years ago to support refugees, in those organizations with strong symbolic force such as Doctors of the World, Veterinarians of the World and even Clowns of the World©àand there are more examples©àas well as in the meetings of nongovernmental organizations during the major United Nations summits on ecology, population, the social question, women and housing.

A certain upper echelon elitism and excessive power is present in these universal examples of social power, as are corruption and new forms of domination. Even so, this civil society organized at a world level has the ability to promote alternative proposals for a new society and to begin experiments that test these new possibilities.

Politics must be reinvented with solidarity and participation, given the loss of reputation of political parties and unions as mediators of the citizenry's participation in power, the loss of national state power itself and, above all, given the power monopoly that is trying to consolidate around the new political monolith of transnational economic forces and executive arms in the IMF and the World Bank. Convergent efforts are being made to rescue politics from its current deterioration and lack of importance. Conscious that the power is now less than before, political vocations with a charisma of service must be awakened, ceding a new humility to public administration and state power. It is important to imagine a new politics, in which the attitude during electoral campaigns©àlistening to popular aspirations and seeking civic support to guarantee political victory©àgoes beyond elections and becomes a habit of consulting, a challenge for participation, a real construction of authentic popular power.

The true governing force would not only be in administrative mechanisms or financial resources or the armed forces, but above all in the ability to reinterest people and organizations in the public sphere as a counterweight to the flight to privatization.

It would be in the ability to support and be supported by a strong and pluralist popular movement, by to counteract the dictatorial pressures of global political monoliths like the Group of Seven, the IMF and the World Bank. The political agenda of politicians dedicated to the cause of the majority should not emphasize what can be achieved with state power but what can be done by opening channels to people's organized activity and putting the state apparatus at its service.

Rearguards, Not Vanguards

The political leaders of the inevitable state cannot consider themselves the people's vanguard, but should be the rearguard of the popular movement. In all authentically revolutionary utopias there is a vision of the future which stresses a certain "anarchy," a dissolving of authoritarian institutions, a humbling of the state. We need fewer leaders and more interpreters and administrators of pluralistic, concerted and societal interests, especially the interests of the majority that lives precariously. The electoral debate among candidates should open the way to a society that debates and decides from the local to the national level--reaching the world level©àwith continuous exchanges, alliances, and a new negotiating habit.

Political vocation continues to be necessary. But the humility of its exercise in pluralist social organization will help create a new political project that puts the state in its place as the converger of "so many disperse energies," as Rub¨¦n Dar¨ªo said. In this sense, it is no more important to win elections democratically and have the opportunity to carry out a project with state power than it is to lose that power and develop an active and propositive opposition strategy aimed at keeping the convocation of people and organizations viable and not leaving the public arena in the hands of those in power, much less in a vacuum. Just as it is crucial to recover the primacy of work and productive work in society's economic dimension, it is crucial to recover the value of the public terrain in society's political dimension, to aspire to fill it with social protagonists organized around multiple and plural interests and to rekindle interest in participation.

Cultural Globalization And Cultural Biodiversity

Globalization's cultural dimensions reach us through the mass media. Among the ingredients that the media daily presents to us as ideal are love of money and the opportunity of a few to live with happiness, the tremendous banality of human life in orgies of violence presented as normal, the stripping of the mystery suffered by being made publicly naked and sold as a fair attraction or muscular prowess, the individualism that consecrates private realization as a maximum value. Behind all this is the masculine manipulation of the world that insidiously introduces the principle of domination in all it organizes and ends by raping all, exercising violence against human beings and nature, and building a uniform world in which consumerism destroys the wealth of human cultural biodiversity.

Ambiguity also shows up in this terrain. The dehumanizing globalization of culture has a humanizing counterweight. Today we can appropriate the universal and make the entire world everyone's business. This possibility circulates in the same universal communication network as the uniformizing project.

Manicheanism does not help one realize what is happening in the media, where a project of human solidarity is also being proposed. This is a solidarity that does not wake up only through shakeups produced by collective catastrophe, for example through faces prematurely aged by the hunger of African children who appear on the screens again and again with stubborn rhythm. There are other faces too, of different colors, with different dress, in varied landscapes, all occupied with living, with working to live, with celebrating the fruits of labor and the dreams of a better life. They, too, appear on those screens and build universal relations full of sympathy. Contact with diversity can awaken aggressive impulses but it can also awaken curiosity and hope, with the promise of a richer life. What can no longer happen in our world is what happened in the 15th century and continued until the 19th, the era of discovery and colonization: that the surprise of meeting human beings so different consolidated the temptation to deny them a common humanity.

In the new society neither the homogenizing globalization of capitalist culture nor the confrontation of diverse cultures will serve us. Universal solidarity and the rich diversity of ethnicity, class and nation, generation and gender, religion and cosmovision must flower in a terrain where two "racisms" have coexisted: that of the satisfied elites and that of the majority harassed by scarcity.

We must also invent convergent efforts to reach the new society in the cultural sphere. To recover a society powered by justice for the many whose lives and dignity were snatched away before their time in war, displacement, torture chambers, ghettos and in so much labor paid with poverty wages, memory must be kept alive. The memory of martyrs is a humanizing memory that recovers the past so that its dreams continue illuminating life and so that lives can continue motivating solidarity.

Looking Through Other Eyes

Reaching the new society requires an attitude that goes beyond simple cultural resistance to the packet of individualist values beautifully wrapped for sale in the global market. It requires a radical critique of machismo as world vision and sense of life, above all the machismo expressed in the possession of women and children, in environmental exploitation and in the authoritarianism that dominates social relations. It means consistently proposing and seeing reality with humanity's "other eye," the feminine eye. This shift must be made in statistics, in all works of analysis and reflection, in all consciousness raising programs, in all calls for participation.

It is also important to rework religious messages of humanity, finding in them compassion and preference for the divinity of the poor and weak. It is urgent to reread the great myths, tales and symbols of humanity from the feminine perspective and from that of the poor and discriminated races. Religious celebrations and liturgies must be transformed into true festivals of creativity and human solidarity. A huge campaign must be carried out that defends hope and lifts the curtain of oppressive cultural walls that are falsely presented as indisputable.

Mass communication must be taken advantage of, building alternative popular communication networks and at the same time trying to democratize established media by introducing pluralist messages proposing a humanizing world vision. It is also crucial to try to build a new alliance between science, technology, research and university institutions and organizations of the poor in rural and urban territories. The exchange of experiences and creation of common projects will help combat the monopoly on knowledge and information. Thus knowledge and power could be joined with production and a new social pact for living could be negotiated.

It is strategic to work to achieve acceptance of an ethical dimension to the economy, politics and culture, conscious that "criminal" capital--accumulated through influence, bribery, drugs, etc©àis only the tip of the iceberg of a globalized corruption that threatens to destroy human society.

Eurocentrism and Worldism

Learning history, thinking about it, theorizing it and taking charge of it is one of the most transcendent cultural proposals at this time. When socialism fell in Europe, the Eurocentric philosophy of history celebrated it as "the end of history." With myopic vision, undervaluing the utopian horizon of humanity, the "winners" proclaimed the advent of the Reign of Capital and the culmination of the myth of progress, leaving for the future the reaching of ever higher quotas of the only desirable living standard, marked by consumerism and technocracy.

The long term view of what is happening in the world is theoretically clear about the major historic turn we are making. We are experiencing the beginning of a non Western, non Eurocentric world, in which for the first time the diversity of the prolonged history of humanity is accepted, with all of its advances and retreats.

The short term view shows the arrogance of analysts satisfied with a premature conclusion based on the intoxication of an ephemeral victory; it is a blasphemy against the majority of humanity, who have been advised that they lost the race and can no longer hope for anything but the same abject poverty. The short term stays in the West, adopts Europe and by extension the United States as the center of the world, looks at the fall of European socialism as the failure of any other type of socialism and even allows itself to forget how much the United States contributed to destroying the first attempts of socialism in freedom that humanity engendered in Chile and Nicaragua.

The long term is a theoretical idea, born from the humility of those who accept the complexity of human history and maintain the hope of the poor and defeated that humanity is not condemned to the failure of a life that can only be for a minority. It crosses Eurocentric borders©àcapitalist ideology©àand remembers the experiment of the Chinese giant©àwhere one sixth of humanity lives©àin tension between socialism and capitalism, and the small living seed in Cuba, despite errors from within and siege from without.

In the effort to approximate a new society different from the old one, we can look at what has dawned in South Africa: the acceptance of "other" in all his/her human diversity, of black by whites and white by blacks. The fall of apartheid signifies the fall of a wall as solid and oppressive as the Berlin wall. No economic exploitation and no political domination are humanly possible without being based on discrimination, on the express or tacit racist declaration of the superiority of one group over another.

In the new history that is beginning we face the world not only with science but also with wisdom, not only instrumentally but also esthetically, based not only on reason but also on feelings, not only with cold mental analysis but also with cordial intuition, not only with a firm will but also with the free expression of tenderness. The Eurocentric historical epoch has been dominated by terror of the "other," culminating in the ever more scientific application of torture and the threat of humanity's extinction by nuclear holocaust. A new historic epoch is now dawning, and it must take charge of humanity's hopes, especially the hopes of the poor.

With What Social Subject?

The search for economic forms to produce and share a vital and dignified minimum for the majority, the search for political forms that recover the interest of ever more people and organized groups in the public sector, and the search for the myths, dreams and symbols that will be good news able to recreate, maintain and mobilize human hope needs social force. The forces that contribute to a new society at the local, national and world level must be located. Clearly we will find ourselves on the side of those who are most affected by the old society.

The social subject will continue to be the poor, especially poor women. But not just any poor person or any woman. This is not an attempt to resuscitate the messianic proletariat postulate. It will be the poor, and among them, poor women who dream of working, of producing and of leaving poverty and want to do so efficaciously. Yet it will be the poor who do not dream of becoming rich or want luxuries or consumerism. It will be the poor convoked by the consciousness of environmental catastrophe who can ignite the air we breathe, the land we walk on and the shade that covers us; the poor whose happiness is not measured by a car and fancy clothes, but by sharing; the austere poor who know that without austerity there will not be enough for everyone to survive, nor enough for the world itself to survive.

All of those who want to be in solidarity with the poor will also be social subjects of this path to a new society, amid so many other impoverished people who are already infected by the individualistic dreams and attitudes of the rich, and so many women who are the principal support of cultural machismo.

The path must be effective and concentrate solidarity on fundamental priorities: women, ethnic minorities and those suffering discrimination, the exfoliated environment, those suffering from new diseases or trapped in the desperation of unemployment and so many other modern plagues. It is an attempt to defend the cause of humanity, and must be defended on a world scale.

Who are the Enemies without?

The fundamental enemy of the project of a new society and a commitment to it is the old society, that structurally powerful system that is globalizing transnational capitalism, the result of a long process of exploitation, domination and hegemony that has solidified into a world system that for the first time is quasi monolithic. This system can only be surmounted by maintaining the capacity for economic growth, the technological inventions, efficient administration and communication and the massive information that it has achieved while transforming its "heart of stone" into a "heart of gold," its cold heart into a compassionate one that uses all of its potential so that six billion people can live happier lives, reconciled with nature and with progressive humanization. This structural transformation needs an educational process open to change. The priority should be on the young generations, awakening their potential to challenge society as they find it, training them in humanity's historical memory, preparing them to be inventors, to have a political vocation of service, an ecological commitment and a humble resistance in freedom to the attractive passions of luxury and authoritarianism.

But it is not enough to act institutionally on the structures. It is also urgent that we identify some of the "personal" masks that evil has donned in these kinds of failures, some of them "habits of the heart" that have destroyed the splendid potential for generosity, solidarity and willingness to serve in so many people.

Unmasking the Enemies within

Individuals who try to take the lead over all others and narcissistically see in the mirror only their own contributions to the cause are not only often destroyed by a conflict that prevents recognition of the evil in their own hearts©àthey are in love with their own genius©àbut also make every process of change turn on them. In so doing, they pervert the nucleus of service and the building of the new society.

Those possessed by the arrogance of their superiority to others--albeit a "virtuous" superiority of having suffered more than anyone for the cause--end by justifying new forms of exploitation, domination and discrimination and disparage their partners in the human adventure. So doing ethically dissolves every transformation.

Those who are dominated by the devil of impatience, who cannot bear the diverse rhythms of participants in the human adventure of social transformation, who get desperate when faced with the slowness of many in this symphony, do not know how to bet on the long term and waste the energies of many people. They end by harvesting the discouragement produced by a ruinous erosion of forces.

Those who live on success and are incapable of accepting the thousand failures of the social transformation adventure, sow disillusion around them. Their harvest is boredom with the transforming processes, abandonment to the "warrior's rest" and reduction of their project to the personal: "every spring we have flowers in our garden."

Those who exaggerate the ideal and live purely, intransigent toward weaknesses and intolerant of ambiguity, undervalue any small advance toward the new society, judge and condemn those who achieve. They end up justifying their own incoherences, transforming them into an absolutist cynicism even more boring than their previous self importance and lack of sense of humor.

Those who improve their luck throughout the social transformation adventure and the confrontation with the dominating system end up being contaminated by the values that shine with the appearance of human plenitude. They identify their own "liberation" as the liberation of the people and, corrupted by money, fall out of the struggle to enjoy life based on "ideological profits."

Those who, though poor, want the new society to burst out over the old one like a miracle, fall into the temptation that Jesus avoided--"changing stones into bread" to satiate hunger©àand infiltrate into the transformation processes the poison of idleness and the superstition that there are subsidies out there that can increase the goods on humanity's table without the sweat of our brows.

These seven are some of the worst enemies surrounding us. They are not imaginary dangers or invented at a desk, but are extracted from the experience of much frustrated or betrayed heroism in this now long history of a new society. It is worth showing them in a humble light while we try to change our perspective and continue building forces on the road to a new society.

*****

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