The New Mole

The New Mole: Paths of the Latin American Left

By Emir Sader

Verso, 2011, 169 pp.

Review by Midge Quandt

Book-midgeThe title of The New Mole is taken from Marx to refer to the revolutionary impulse, which burrows quietly underground until it comes to the surface of history. The “new mole” stands for those novel forms of struggle for the emancipation of the people of Latin America that have appeared on the left in the age of neoliberalism. Sader rejects the reformism of the 1930s through the 1970s because it did not challenge existing power relations.  He also critiques the “armed Struggle” position of the old orthodox left. This strategy cannot survive in the current world mainly because of the strength of the opposition. He argues that those whom he calls ultra-leftists like the American academic, James Petras, are wrong to advocate socialism in an era of neo-liberal hegemony and U.S. imperialism. Ultra-leftists are captives of old dogma, failing to grasp the concrete realities of neoliberal consolidation. (Ultra-leftists wrongly saw Lula, the former President of Brazil, as the main enemy, thus giving aid and comfort to the right.)

He also disagrees with those social movements that embrace a strategy of resistance, such as Mexico’s Zapatistas. They abandon the political sphere altogether, believing in change from the bottom up. These movements are theorized by John Holloway, among others, whose work includes the 2002 book, Change the World without Taking Power. Sader, in contrast, contends that politics and the struggle for power are essential for radical change.

Sader finally (testing the reader’s patience) moves on to what he considers appropriate political approaches. Useful strategies for challenging the status quo take account of the on-the-ground realities of Latin America in a period when neoliberalism dominates the world. That means discarding the dogmas of the ultra-left; that dogma calls for socialism now. He approves of countries that have broken with the neo-liberal model, namely Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador; also with those that keep the neo-liberal model but modify it, such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, which the author has written about before. Both groups of countries are part of post-liberalism, transitional but headed in the right direction. The first group has broken with neoliberalism in several ways. They have instituted new kinds of political representation (Bolivia’s and Ecuador’s systems reflect their multi-ethnic character). They have departed from the neoliberal economic model whereby market forces alone rule and they have reconfigured the state and the balance of social forces in favor of popular sectors.

Between the neo-liberal states (Chile, Mexico, and Costa Rica) and the states that have embraced an alternative model (Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador) lie Argentina, Uruguay, and, most importantly, Brazil. These nations keep the neoliberal model, but apply it more loosely. They have a moderate amount of regulation; provide subsidies for the poor; and slow the process of privatization. Because of its size and the strength of its economy, Brazil is especially important in pointing the way toward a new order. The danger is that these countries could remain within the camp of neoliberalism because they leave in place the finance capital, private media, and agribusiness.

Sader puts great store in the regional integration of the “pink tide” countries (my words). Although constrained by the continued hegemony of neo-liberalism, it is a promising development. ALBA and other institutions lie at the core of regional integration. By emphasizing solidarity over the market, it challenges U.S. power and the neo-liberal model. Again, Brazil leads the way. The future for the new model, however, is not certain.

The only weakness of the book is a lack of clarity or forcefulness as to the author’s long-run solutions for the crisis of neoliberalism. As Sader knows, the neoliberal phase of capitalism is only one phase, if an especially raw and vicious one. In several chapters, he rejects social democracy, presumably because it leaves the capitalist framework and power relations intact. Sader appears to embrace a variant of socialism, or “socialism for the 21st century.” On reflection, that may be a sufficient answer.



Midge Quandt is a solidarity activist and historian.