Liberation Theology in Crisis

Patrick Bond pbond at
Mon Jan 1 03:23:39 MST 2001

Uh oh, Yoshie's using some rough tactics (digging up old web
articles... that one from the JWSR is just undergoing dramatic
revision for a book I'm finishing called "Threatening Global

> Date:          Sat, 30 Dec 2000 09:52:56 -0500
> From:          Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at>
> I'm sympathetic to your & Amin's argument for regionalism.  However,
> it is _hard_ to believe that you guys represent the mainstream of
> those who speak of "civil society," etc.  Aren't most of them like
> Iris Marion Young ("reform...the United Nations, 'the best existing
> starting point for building global democratic institutions'...where
> imperial powers 'seek legitimacy for some of their international
> actions' and where states 'at least appear to be cooperative and
> interested in justice'" at
> <>);
> trade unionists & NGO-types in rich nations who advocate
> "social-clause fair-trade"; etc.?

Hey, it's contested terrain. I used to think "we" (lefties in the
movements) were terminally defeated and self-marginalising, and that
co-opted NGOs and labour aristocrats would run strategy. But there
are exceptionally good comrades in strange little Washington
thinktanks and advocacy outfits (e.g., just one is at ) who are really setting the
strategic agenda, thanks to the mass militancy at these globo-elite
meetings, and the success of specific sectoral anti-corporate
campaigns. So after Seattle, now I'm much more optimistic. Then I
started checking around the rest of the Third World, and found
exceptional resonances with the broad anti-neolib activism, in all
manner of urban and rural settings.

> Arrighi, Hopkins, & Wallerstein argue that "the most serious
> challenge to the capitalist mode of production occurs when 'popular
> movements join forces across borders (and continents) to have their
> respective state officials abrogate those relations of the interstate
> system through which the [neoliberal] pressure is conveyed'" (at
> <>).
> And you say: "I interpret this line of argument as saying uneven
> development is being exacerbated by globalisation, hence the
> class-forming process -- by which a global proletariat is created
> (and ultimately forms the basis for global social justice) -- is
> being perpetually disrupted by the destruction of working-class
> power.  Partly for technical economic reasons similar to those Keynes
> considered, I endorse this point of view" (at
> <>).
> However, aren't popular movements capable of having "their
> state officials abrogate those relations of the interstate system
> through which the [neoliberal] pressure is conveyed" also capable of
> seizing the state power of their respective nations?

Hell yeah. Forcing Mbeki et al to abrogate relations with imperialism
is a useful step along that road. (Because they won't, as the
pharmaceutical access issue demonstrated in a murderous kind of
way this year.)

> More
> importantly, aren't movements incapable of doing the latter also
> incapable of doing the former?  Whither regionalism without state
> power?

Absolutely. That's the point of our intervention in the current
Socialist Register.

> In other words, my question concerns less the vocabulary of "civil
> society" (though I do confess my dislike of it) than a matter of who
> is to carry out the projects that you advocate;

Right now, Zapatismo-type networks of militants, grounded in
groups like the Organisacion de Campesinos de Emiliano Zapata, and
proletarianos and women's groups and radical liberation theology
activism and all the kinds of things one picks up in Chiapas (or
Soweto) "civil society." Later, when things are ripe, more serious
political party building can get off the ground. But even after just
reading Kagarlitsky's Pluto trilogy, I see very few places where left
party building is going on seriously. But correct me if I'm missing
something important somewhere (PT?, PDS?, Korean labour party?)...

> how to create a
> movement capable of doing so; whether the projects you advocate may
> not be the kind that would remain an impossibility without state
> power actually in the hands of the masses,

Sure, eventually that has to happen. But there aren't any projects
around today that give me confidence that our team can run a state.
In 1995 I worked in Aristide's Washington office, just after a brief
stint in Mandela's Reconstruction and Development Programme office.
In both cases the comrades were saying, "Hey, we've got the state.
Where'd the power go?!" The power can only come from a social base
sufficiently pissed off with the bourgeoisie to force a state to
abrogate relations with the worst imperialist circuits of K, and to
get a radical project off the ground in the local context.

But if your point is that the nation-state remains the most important
site of struggle, yes, good, if you ALSO agree that the destruction
of the embryonic global-corporate state (esp. the Bretton Woods
institutions) is a prerequisite for changing the balance of forces so
as to make the nation-state whole again (and if you agree with that,
why isn't OSU part of the Bonds Boycott movement?!: -- we're just starting here with Wits
University and anticipate a victory within six months).

> autonomist and/or
> world-systems glosses notwithstanding (and if that's the case, don't
> talks of "civil society" merely give aid & comfort to the
> anti-statist current of thought & activism which refuse to consider
> nation-states even as sites of Transitional Demands, thus rendering
> regionalism an impossible dream?); etc.

Sure, that's the danger, comrade. That's why my friend Mzwanele was
so anxious to ensure "working-class" was the prefix for any
slip-sliding on this terrain. As I say, I think we can win these
debates and pull people into the globo-state smashing terrain, so as
to help whatever radical Third World project does emerge.

Patrick Bond (pbond at
home: 51 Somerset Road, Kensington 2094 South Africa
phone:  (2711) 614-8088
work:  University of the Witwatersrand
Graduate School of Public and Development Management
PO Box 601, Wits 2050, South Africa
work email:  bond.p at
work phone:  (2711) 717-3917
work fax:  (2711) 484-2729
cellphone:  (27) 83-633-5548
* Municipal Services Project website --
* to order new book: Cities of Gold, Townships of Coal --

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