Gramsci, Laclau, Mouffe (and Bhaskar)

Andy Daitsman adaitsma at
Tue Mar 7 01:07:33 MST 1995

>Louis Proyect:
>This is a most interesting anecdote. It is not inconsistent, however,
>with the overall dynamic of the class struggle throughout Central
>America. A reading of "I, Rigoberto Menchu" or Zapatista literature reveals
>much of the same pattern: indigenous peoples fighting to reclaim a
>village-based, communal, traditional, subsistence farming-based mode of
>existence in the face of multinational agribusiness hostility.

I'd have to take issue with this interpretation of the anecdote.  The people
I met in Usulutan weren't "Indians" in the sense we usually use the word,
and I would in no way want to suggest that the Salvadoran revolution was
fought by "indigenous" peoples to reclaim their "village-based ... mode of

The key moment for understanding indigenous culture in Salvador is 1932,
when an aborted uprising organized by the Communist Party was brutally put
down by the Salvadoran military.  In the aftermath of the uprising up to
30,000 people were killed, the vast majority of them Indians living in
villages.  Indians responded to the attack on their cultural identity by
giving it up, replacing traditional clothing with European styles and
speaking Spanish instead of Mayan languages.  They lost their "Indianness,"
but they saved their lives.   After 1932, it is very difficult to speak of
an "Indian" culture in Salvador.

The 1980s civil war was led by the FMLN, avowedly M-L in orientation, and
with an openly socialist political project.  The areas of Salvador I visited
that were under clear FMLN control were in fact being restructured along
socialist lines -- one community, composed of returned refugees, worked as a
recognizable collective farm, and another much larger community was a clear
attempt to construct "socialism on one mountain."  (The latter project was
run by the ERP, which has recently abandoned the FMLN in favor of a much
more openly social-democratic project.  The future of the experiment is very
much in doubt.)

The former plantation that I referred to in the first post was a backwater.
The political folks that I talked to before I went there warned me that the
people had a low level of consciousness, that is they considered the place
problematic, and in fact the FMLN allies in the community had only recently
won an internal election giving them control over the cooperative.  Before
that, the coop had been run for about six years by a political machine
dominated by the former landowner's foreman, and associated (if I remember
correctly) with the Christian Democrats.  Rather than a defense of
community, I see this experience much more as a _reinvention_ of community,
as people, faced with the breakdown of their existing social order and
lacking any alternative models, cast about in their own historical memory
for some way to provide meaningful structure to their lives.


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