[Marxism] "Deepening Rifts on the Left?" - Wallerstein on Brazil, South Africa and Mexico

Ralph Johansen michele at maui.net
Wed Aug 31 20:59:32 MDT 2005

Fernand Braudel Center, Binghamton University
Commentary No. 168, September 1, 2005
"Deepening Rifts on the Left?"

For the last 150 years, one of the biggest issues that has divided the 
world left has been whether or not it is important for left social 
movements to support the electoral objectives of whatever is the 
principal party "left-of-center" in a particular country. There have 
been three basic positions: those who say that such parties are totally 
unreliable as defenders of the interests of the social movements and 
therefore should be shunned; those who say that the only hope of 
achieving anything substantial is to have such parties in power; and 
those who waver between these two positions. In fact this third group, 
the waverers, are almost always a substantial group whose immediate 
position often dictates the political results.

The dilemmas have become very acute lately, as we can see by taking a 
look at the current political debates in Brazil, South Africa, and 
Mexico. The politics and the historical background of each country are 
of course quite different. But they share certain features. Each has a 
functioning parliamentary system with regular elections. In none of them 
is there a serious armed military insurgency that involves the breakdown 
of order. In all of them there is a public debate going on about what 
left social movements should be doing now.

The most immediately dramatic case is that of Brazil. There, a left 
party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), came to power in October 2002 
with the election of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva as President. This was 
the long-sought triumph of a left party and was hailed as this by the 
social movements in Brazil and indeed elsewhere in the world. In the 
elections, as well as in the twenty years preceding, the PT had the 
support of the two largest social movements - the trade-unions (CUT) and 
the rural landless (MST), as well as of a series of Catholic left social 
movements. The immediate problem for the government was that, although 
the PT won a clear majority in the presidential polls and was the 
largest party in the lower house, it only obtained circa 20% of the 
seats in both houses of the legislature. It felt it had to enter into 
shaky coalitions with centrist and even rightwing parties, in order to 
get legislation passed.

 From the outset, the policies of the Lula government caused controversy 
on the left. The government appointed key officials and adopted a 
financial policy that met the desires of the world's investors and of 
the IMF, and was seen by the social movements as thereby capitulating to 
neo-liberalism. The PT had promised distribution of land to the 
landless, and over three years has delivered very little. The PT 
promised respecting environmental concerns about the development of the 
Amazon, and has delivered very little.

On the other hand, Brazil's foreign policy seemed to involve a major 
confrontation with the United States: emphasis on the strengthening of 
the regional trade community of Mercosur, and seeking its extension to 
all of South America; friendly links with Chavez in Venezuela; 
leadership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) of the G-20, which 
opposed the efforts of the U.S. and the European Union to pursue 
neo-liberal objectives via the WTO. Some however see Brazil's policies 
in South America as a regional "imperialism" merely competing with that 
of the United States.

And in 2005, a new element was injected into the picture. Brazil became 
embroiled in a corruption scandal that implicated some of the leading 
figures in the PT and the government, to the point that there has begun 
to be talk of impeaching Lula. In any case, his own reelection and/or a 
PT victory in 2006, which seemed a certainty not too long ago, is now in 

So what should the social movements do? Very early on, many left 
intellectuals turned against the PT. And a small segment of the party 
seceded. But neither the CUT nor the MST seemed ready to desert the 
party. However, now, the MST has begun to be quite strong in its 
criticism of the government, and the party itself has become internally 
divided about its policies, especially its financial policies. On the 
other hand, the social movements, more left elements within the party, 
and many intellectuals hesitate to abandon the PT altogether, because 
they fear that, after 2007, there will be installed a truly right-wing 
government once again, one that would be difficult to evict, once in power.

The situation in South Africa is similar in many ways to that of Brazil. 
There the African National Congress (ANC) finally won an 80-year battle 
to establish a state structure based on one man one vote. And of course, 
once that was achieved, the ANC won the elections handily, electing 
Nelson Mandela as President in 1994. He was in turn succeeded by Thabo 
Mbeki in
1999 who was reelected in 2004. In South Africa, the ANC had an alliance 
with the South African Communist Party (SACP) throughout its years of 
resistance to the apartheid regime, as well as with the trade-union 
movement, whose present incarnation is the Congress of South African 
Trade-Unions (COSATU). In South Africa, unlike the case of the PT in 
Brazil, the ANC has had an overwhelming majority in parliament. The only 
formal alliance has been with the SACP and COSATU.

The actual policies of the ANC in power have not been that different 
from those of the PT. They have pursued economic and fiscal policies 
which the left intellectuals (and indeed COSATU and the SACP) have seen 
as neoliberal. The ministers who were actually in charge of these 
policies are however members of the SACP. The government has not done 
much on promised land reform, although they have done something about 
extending electricity to Black African urban areas. While originally 
promising better access to water, the government has sought to privatize 
the suppliers in part, and this has met resistance from the social 

In world affairs, they have joined Brazil in the G-20 within the WTO. 
They have in effect defended Zimbabwe's regime against the attacks of 
the U.S. and Great Britain. This however is not at all appreciated by 
COSATU and South African left intellectuals, which regard the Zimbabwe 
regime of Robert Mugabe as an antidemocratic regime that has betrayed 
the freedom struggle. Mbeki has played an important diplomatic role on 
the African continent, as a "mediator" in many struggles, but some see 
this too as a sort of regional "imperialism."

The immediate crisis in South Africa, as in Brazil, is over corruption. 
There however, it is the putative successor to Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, until 
recently the Deputy President, who has been charged with this and is 
facing court proceedings. Mbeki moved to suspend Zuma from his party and 
governmental functions. Both COSATU and the SACP have come to the strong 
support of Zuma, asking Mbeki to annul the prosecution and asking the 
ANC to reverse its suspensions of Zuma. But should therefore COSATU and 
the SACP actually break the alliance? Unlike in Brazil, where the fear 
is that right-wing parties could come to long-term power, the fear in 
South Africa of the social movements is that, if they broke with the 
ANC, it could succeed in excluding them from the limited power they now 
have. So they hesitate to make a definitive break.

In Mexico, as we have previously seen (Commentary No. 165), the 
analogous party is the Partido de la Revolución Democrátice (PRD) which 
is not yet in power, but whose candidate, André Manuel López Obrador 
(AMLO), is widely predicted to win the coming elections. The key social 
movement in this situation is the EZLN or Zapatistas. And they have very 
loudly taken their distance from the PRD before it even comes to power. 
They have said that they expect very little in gains if and when that 
happens. In effect, the Zapatistas are predicting that the PRD in power 
will not be too different from the PT and the ANC in power. The PRD is 
also facing some corruption scandals, albeit lesser ones than those in 
Brazil and South Africa.

But almost immediately after enunciating this position, the Zapatistas 
clarified it. They said they were not calling on people to abstain from 
voting for the PRD, nor of course were they calling on them to vote for 
the PRD. They said that it was a matter for each voter to decide. But 
they themselves were going to concentrate on what they call "la otra 
(the other campaign) to build democratic structures and alliances, in 
Mexico and the world, from the bottom up.

So, deepening rifts all over, without yet definitive breaks between the 
left social movements and the main left-of-center party in the country. 
Can the situation in all three countries remain in this uncertain state? 
Will the parties respond to the pressures of the left social movements 
by pursuing bolder, more left policies? Or conversely, can the social 
movements maintain their pressure, if the parties instead move further 
to the right, and become more repressive of the social movements? The 
next few years are a political crossroads in all three countries (and no 
doubt in many others as well), which will have a major impact on the 
worldwide struggles of left social movements to construct that "other 
world that is possible," in the slogan of the World Social Forum.

Immanuel Wallerstein

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