The Latin American Left Today

[Translation of an interview from Folha de São Paulo for August 28. See original here.]

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Marta Harnecker says she has written more than 80 books. The best known, Conceptos Elementales del Materialismo Histórico (The Basic Concepts of Historical Materialism), from the 1960s, has sold more than a million copies and is in its 67th edition. At 75, she travels throughout Latin America and says she is optimistic; the United States no longer does what it wants in the region and the concept of sovereignty has spread.


line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Marta Harnecker – I am very optimistic.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>We didn’t consider this important in the past and these days it is fundamental: a society constructed by people, from the bottom up. It is not a matter of the people being beggars who receive gifts from the state. That is not what we want and that is not what is being done. The midwife of this process was neoliberalism, which brought about contradictions, and the people began to resist and began to understand that they have to participate in politics and to create political instruments. That was the case in Ecuador, in Bolivia and in Venezuela. There was popular pressure there in the 1980s which is part of the origins of Chávez’s triumph.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>But the empire is there. There are the cases of Manuel Zelaya and Fernando Lugo. They had processes that were weaker internally, with more fragile popular organizations, without parties. Both came from bourgeois parties. There is nothing to copy in Latin America. Some become enthusiastic about the Venezuelan process and think the same thing can be carried out in all the countries. The process on the continent is completely differentiated. What unites them is the social process. In Bolivia and in Ecuador, for example, the indigenous are important groups but not in Venezuela.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Petroleum was already nationalized when Chávez came to power but it was not in the hands of the government. It was being managed by groups allied with the opposition. As a consequence of the 2002 coup, management by the government has been reestablished. The profits from petroleum are used for domestic social missions and to support other processes in Latin America. There is a dependency, but they are clear that it needs to be overcome.

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>In Bolivia the Morales government is faced with the opposition of popular movements. How do you explain that?

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>In Álvaro Linera [vice president of Bolivia] is a reflection of the contradictions the country is going through. Between a government of which he has to be an executive, to make decisions, to resolve problems for the whole country, and the social movements, which have a pattern of democratic discussion, etc. In the Bolivian process, the population is diverse and has contradictions. They are united around banners like, for example, that of the plurinational state. But the contradictions are acute and the government has to understand that and to look at all the sides democratically. It is very complicated. The people want the state to resolve the problem. It is a kind of paternalism. When these governments come along, they want immediate solutions, they do not know about politics or about the correlation of forces. Besides that, a local vision prevails, without a vision of the whole.

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>How do you analyze the situation of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay?

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Has the power of the US in the region diminished?

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>We do not have an easy path. These are processes that are not defined overnight. The best defense is to have an organized people. Chávez understands that very well. He always insists that we cannot solve the problem of poverty if we do not give power to the people. Chávez is a type who understands the people, he is very human. I wrote a book with him that is called, Hugo Chávez Frías: Un Hombre, un Pueblo. I’m not saying that Chávez the man has no defects or that there are no contradictions between his discourse and what he does. We are going through human processes, not a pure, divine process.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>I am a Chilean. In Chile, the bourgeois counter-revolutions was consolidated, with Pinochet and his followers. The Concertación continues neoliberal policies with some social policies. There was a neoliberalism that was successful in the increase of the GNP, the construction of highways. But Chile, which was one of the most egalitarian countries in Latin America, is now one with the greatest differences between the poor and the rich. In Chile there were no walls around the homes of the haute bourgeoisie. The effects of neoliberalism cannot be measured solely on the economic side. I met a Chilean married couple, architects, who work 14 hours a day. They live to work, they don’t work to live.

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>How was that? The PT [Partido dos Trabalhadores – Workers’ Party] administration is a bourgeois counter-revolution?

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>In Brazil, the government needs to facilitate the process of popular organization more. We have a Left that had been in the opposition. The government has to be the executive, to resolve problems and it cannot wait for party discussions. The distance between the party and the government grows. Parts of the popular sector take on positions in the government. In a state like Brazil it is necessary to be very firm in order not to change into something else. A worker who becomes a senator or a representative changes his life. As Marxism teaches, material conditions influence. I believe that there is a deformation of many leaders, who stop representing popular interests.

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>So there is no common model for Latin America?

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>I am a student of Lenin. It is necessary to make a concrete analysis of the forces, to choose strategy and tactic. There is a horizon, which is socialism for the 21st century, the society of living well. We do not want a socialism like the Soviet one, statist, totalitarian, a single party, atheist, that used social movements as a means to an end. It is necessary to read the classics, Marx and Engels. The goal is a society in solidarity, that there not be exploiters and exploited, in which each one finds something to do, that differences be respected. That is a utopian goal. I would gauge societies with questions: 1. Have these governments made gains in relation to national sovereignty? 2. Do they consolidate, increase the organization of the people? 3. Do they develop with respect for nature?

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>It is an important structural crisis. It is not terminal because capitalism recovers. Objective conditions are more advanced than subjective conditions. I value movements like that of the indignados. Rebellion is a first step but it is necessary to have it turn into a power. Reconstruyendo la Izquierda (Rebuilding the Left) is a book of mine in which I say that what is needed is an instrument of articulation that is not the traditional parties. Neoliberalism fragments the population.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Politics is not the art of the possible. That is diplomacy. I wrote a book on that. The revolutionary politician needs to understand that in order to achieve his objective he has to create a correlation of forces. To build social forces in order to have political strength in order to achieve his objective. You build social power with popular protagonism. The state cannot create what does not exist, but can create the conditions so that the forces are strengthened.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Political parties do not understand politics as the art of building social forces. But they understand politics as a way of attaining government positions, of having more members of congress, more power. That is not the idea. Politics is often discredited. The Right has appropriated the language of the Left. The Left often does practical politics just like the right: patronage, personalism, political careerism, sometimes even corruption. The people see the same discourse, the same practice, they become disenchanted.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>There are no examples. Each case makes the diagnosis. But it is clear. It is necessary to be very consistent between what you say and what you do. It is necessary to work to construct social power, and not to be dedicated to institutional fights. Socialism requires a great majority, a hegemony, to convince the greatest number of people of the project, being very pluralistic and respecting differences.

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>You were married to a leader of the Cuban revolution and lived on the island for many years. How do you see the situation of the country?

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>How do you see the changes taking place in the economy?

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>You were a disciple of Louis Althusser (1918-1990). What was that experience like?

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>I deliberately didn’t get a degree. I had written a book, Conceptos Elementales del Materialismo Histórico from the notes I had made for a course for Haitians and Mexicans the last year I was in Paris. That book sold more than a million copies. It is now in its 67th edition and has been translated into several languages. In Brazil it was distributed in underground editions. Because of the book, I became professor at the University of Chile, with Theotonio dos Santos and Ruy Mauro Marini. I was editor of the Unidad Popular magazine, Chile Hoy. I adapted articles by intellectuals, making them accessible to the people. That’s when I became impassioned with journalism.

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>What were the criticisms?

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Do you now find that Chávez is an authoritarian person?

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>And do you still live in Venezuela?

mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>How do you see Chávez’s succession?

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>There is the populist leader who uses the people for his political objectives and the revolutionary leader who, using his abilities, promotes the growth of the people A revolutionary leader with charisma communicates with the people just like the populist. The difference is that the populist, like Perón, gives things away, but not help for the people to become independent. He is not the bridge to growth.