[Marxism] "Deepening Rifts on the Left?" - Wallerstein on Brazil, South Africa and Mexico
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
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.
[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein. All rights reserved. Permission is
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