You are on page 1of 9

Introduction A Second Look at Latin American Social Movements Globalizing Resistance to the Neoliberal Paradigm

by Richard Stahler-Sholk and Harry E. Vanden

It has been said here before, and accurately, that antisystemic struggles should not be circumscribed solely to what the orthodox call the infrastructure or base of capitalist social relations. The fact that we hold that the central nucleus of capitalist domination is in the ownership of the means of production does not mean that we ignore (in the double sense of being unaware of and not giving importance to) other spaces of domination. It is clear to us that transformations must not focus only on material conditions. Therefore for us there is no hierarchy of realms; we do not hold that the struggle for land has priority over gender struggles or that the latter are more important than recognition and respect for difference. We think, rather, that all emphases are necessary and that we should be humble and recognize that there is currently no organization or movement that could presume to cover all aspects of antisystemic, that is, anticapitalist, struggle. Subcomandante Marcos

As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, the role of Latin American social movements in resisting policies imposed by global capitalism and the local elites who facilitate its penetration continue to be of great importance (see Alvarez, Dagnino, and Escobar, 1998; Eckstein and Wickham-Crowley, 2003; Ballv and Prashad, 2006; Johnston and Almeida, 2006; and Stahler-Sholk, Vanden, and Kuecker, 2008). Their impact can be seen in several arenas: (1) They have been fundamental in spearheading the expansion of citizenship, the use of public space for popular purposes, and the strengthening of democratic participation (see Lievesley, 1999; Avritzer, 2002), including an insistence on recognition of collective rights (for example, those of indigenous peoples) that questions the limits of liberal notions of democracy (Otero, 2003; Yashar, 2005; Zibechi, 2005; 2006). (2) They have disrupted the Washington Consensus on neoliberal economic policies in the region (Hershberg and Rosen, 2006), and in the process they have developed transnational modes of social-movement organizing that challenge old patterns of Northern nongovernmental organization (NGO) hegemony (Smith, Chatfield, and Pagnucco, 1997; Veltmeyer, 2007; Thayer, 2009). (3) They are experimenting with ways of engaging with
Richard Stahler-Sholk is a professor of political science at Eastern Michigan University and an associate editor of Latin American Perspectives. Harry E. Vanden is a professor of political science at the University of South Florida, Tampa, and a participating editor of LAP. Along with Glen David Kuecker, they edited Latin American Social Movements in the Twenty-first Century: Resistance, Power, and Democracy (2008) for the Latin American Perspectives in the Classroom series. The collective thanks them for their work in organizing this issue.
LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, Issue 176, Vol. 38 No. 1, January 2011 5-13 DOI: 10.1177/0094582X10384204 2011 Latin American Perspectives

6 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES

parties and governments of the left without surrendering autonomous capacity for mobilization in the wake of the pink tide of elected left-of-center governments at the turn of the twenty-first century (Beasley-Murray, Cameron, and Hershberg, 2009). These movements have sustained the progressive government in Venezuela and have been key to the insertion of new progressive governments in Ecuador and Bolivia (Petras and Veltmeyer, 2005). They continue to pressure the governments of Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico for muchneeded changes and have organized to resist the illegal coup and sham election in Honduras. (4) They are changing the way ordinary citizens in Latin America think about politics and political participation and helping to define what we might call a new politics and concomitant political culture (Chalmers et al., 1997; Lievesley, 1999; Petras and Veltmeyer, 2005). In this issue we hope to continue charting the growth and development of these social movements and extend the examination of their origins, strategies, and outcomes begun in our first 2007 Latin American Perspectives issue on globalizing resistance (Stahler-Sholk, Vanden, and Kuecker, 2007) and continued in the book based on it (Stahler-Sholk, Vanden, and Kuecker, 2008). This issue focuses on key aspects of the social movements that have been developing in Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Mexico and details the new forms of resistance, conceptualization, and organization that they are engendering. It also begins to examine the diffusion of these new forms of resistance and organization and suggests that some of their practices (e.g., of Zapatismo and of the Brazilian landless movement) hold lessons for activism and organization in the United States and elsewhere. One of the questions we posed in our earlier issue was to what extent the social movements could achieve their objectives without seizing state power whether there was any practical resonance to the pursuit of rule from below. In his article on Venezuela, Anthony Spanakos examines the relationship between social movements and the state in an attempt to elucidate the degree to which control of the apparatus of the state by progressive forces is necessary for social movements to achieve their objectives. He shows how different smaller segments of the public (micropublics) were incorporated into the Bolivarian movement and forged into a new conception of the public and a concomitant new vision of the citizen. This analysis suggests that the case of Venezuela is of prime importance because it shows how power, ideas, and (Chvezs) leadership can pull micropublics into a larger collective organization capable of pursuing the progressive transformations that the social movements desire. Finally, Spanakos sees the tension for social movements between mobilizing into a politics of resistance and taking over the state apparatus, as was done under Chvezs leadership, as likely to persist. In the latter case the newly formulated public may exclude other micropublics that can then regroup to resist the state-led project and the incorporation of the new citizens of the public into participatory forms of democracy. Sara C. Motta, in Populisms Achilles Heel: Popular Democracy Beyond the Liberal State and the Market Economy in Venezuela, further explores the nature of politics in Venezuela. Her lucid analysis delineates the problems inherent in the facile use of the concept populism to study the new politics that is developing in Venezuela and shows the concepts roots in liberal

Stahler-Sholk and Vanden / INTRODUCTION 7

democratic theory. She argues that its applicability to the Venezuelan political process is cast into doubt by the persistence of liberal democratic elitist assumptions of democratic institutionality and politicsassumptions that exclude popular articulations of democracy within and outside of the state. Additionally, the popular classes are often labeled irrational, shortsighted, marginal, or open to manipulation. Motta cites De La Torre (1997: 13), who notes that modernizing elites have argued that populisms rhetoric and style of mobilization pose dangers to democratic institutions and that they have constructed popular subjects as the Otherthe negation of the modern and rational political subjects that they aim to forge. The concept of populism also posits a concept of modernity bound by the limitations of capitalist rationality that flows from assumptions derived from the market in liberal capitalism. These conceptualizations raise methodological, empirical, and normative problems because within this framework of analysis the other is denied and the politics of the other is silenced and/or ignored. Motta highlights the limitations and dangers of the use of generic ahistorical concepts such as populism/populist to explain political processes that seek to break the boundaries of the liberal state and the market economy through the articulation of a popular democracy. If the Venezuelan case raises questions of whether state-sponsored movements can remain true to their social base, Brazil under President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva seems to represent a different sort of cautionary tale. In Brazil, the masses have consistently mobilized through the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Rural Workers MovementMST) and other popular organizations but have not been part of or formed coalitions with the government or progressive parties or started their own parties. Thus the MST and other social movements have won only a few changes and have not been able to turn national policy in the more radical direction they desire. Indeed, the land reform that the MST has so passionately advocated since the 1980s is not on the horizon. Lulas Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers PartyPT) has become more moderate and has begun to work with key sectors of Brazils economic elite. Indeed, such policies are now referred to as Lula lite. Latin Americas largest country rejected U.S.-dominated globalization schemes and the neoliberalism of the Washington Consensus but did not confront the United States as Venezuela and Bolivia have done. Brazils economic nationalism has been manifest in its focus on the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) and in its trade protectionism. But, as though trapped by the economic growth, exploding consumerism, and credit revolution that Brazil has experienced, the leadership of the Workers Party has abandoned the social and economic revolution it flirted with in the early days of the party. Lula and his party have adopted a much more calculated probusiness line in the hope of continuing recent Brazilian growth and prosperity. Lula is still a popular figure with Brazils poor, and his policies are gaining wider acceptance among the wealthy classes, but the MST and many in his own party are disillusioned by his apparent turn to the right and are unable to find the traction to initiate a movement strong enough to change the rightward drift in the Lula government.

8 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES

Ecuador seems to present a kind of intermediate case in which social movements, in this case of indigenous peoples, have had mixed success in aiming for institutional change through party and state vehicles. Marc Becker, in Correa, Indigenous Movements, and the Writing of a New Constitution in Ecuador, argues that President Rafael Correas relations with indigenous movements pointed to the complications, limitations, and deep tensions inherent in pursuing revolutionary changes within a constitutional framework. Although indigenous movements, along with most social movements, shared Correas stated desire to curtail neoliberal policies and implement social and economic policies that would benefit the majority of the countrys people, they increasingly clashed over ways of realizing those objectives. Examining the struggle over the new constitution, Becker goes on to argue that the political outcome of the new constitution depended not on the actions of the constituent assembly but on whether organized civil society could force the government to implement the ideals that the assembly had drafted. Thus Correas citizens revolution deemphasized social movements and reinforced colonial and liberal ideologies that oppressed and erased the unique histories of indigenous nationalities. Becker further notes that, with all of these contradictions, many on the indigenous left viewed the new constitution as a mixed bag. Finally, Ecuadors different indigenous movements had to take what they could get rather than losing everything on a more principled stance. Other individuals and social movements that were critical of the government ultimately joined the campaign for passage of the referendum. Becker notes that they declared the new constitution the result of decades of resistance and struggle of social movements, the indigenous movement, and diverse sectors of the Ecuadorian people and that it embodied very important social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental advances, including plurinationality, interculturality, collective rights, rights of nature, defense of sovereignty, food sovereignty, Latin American integration, expansion of education and health care, water as a human right, rights of migrants, respect for diversity, solidarity economy, and access to media. In the end, the new document was ratified by an overwhelming popular vote. Becker considers the new constitution a strike against neoliberalism and a step toward opening up democratic participation and concludes that the role of the indigenous movements in the writing of a new and progressive constitution in Ecuador points to the promises and limitations of social movements realizing their agendas through engagements with governing bodies. The power of the indigenous movement in Ecuador is also explored by Kenneth P. Jameson. In The Indigenous Movement in Ecuador: The Struggle for a Plurinational State, he argues that the indigenous movement in Ecuador has been among the most successful new social movements in Latin America and that its success has come from its formulation and continued advocacy of an alternative to the changing manifestations of the capitalist order, the plurinational state. The anticapitalist alternative of the indigenous movement never became more than a list of parochial issues responding to a given context. However, since 1990 the demand for a plurinational state has been the constant of the movement. The article shows that the continued centrality of the movement in Ecuador can be attributed to this persistent demand.

Stahler-Sholk and Vanden / INTRODUCTION 9

The Confederacin de las Nacionalidades Indgenas del Ecuador (Confeder ation of Indigenous Nationalities of EcuadorCONAIE) has been in the forefront of indigenous movements in Latin America. The importance and effectiveness of these indigenous movements have grown tremendously since the late 1980s, and governments have ignored them at their peril. Jameson concludes that there is still a long road to travel before attaining the fully plurinational state that indigenous groups desire or a plurinational economic development mode. Nonetheless, as does Becker, he believes that the indigenous movement has learned from its experience since 1986 and is unlikely to disappear or to be co-opted. The piquetero movement of unemployed workers and neighborhood dwellers that emerged in the wake of Argentinas financial crisis also highlights the complexity of social movements relations with political parties and the state. Jos Benclowiczs contribution to this issue offers a close-up look at the dynamics of the piquetero organizations of Tartagal and Mosconi. Tracing the origins and leadership of these groups, he finds deep roots in earlier labor union struggles and left parties, arguing that they should therefore be thought of as union-social organizations rather than as entirely new social movements. Without detracting from the creativity of their tactics of struggle, Benclowiczs analysis highlights the importance of organizational experience, which in the new context of massive unemployment allowed activist leaders to convert the streets and neighborhoods into schools of direct action for the many who were newly mobilized. In this analysis, the long tradition of the organized left in Argentina emerges as a crucial resource lending coherence to the mass mobilization unleashed by the economic crisis. The ability to coordinate resistance actions also proved decisive in whether local uprisings (puebladas) could effectively confront the repressive power of the state. Complementing this interpretation of the piquetero movement is Paula Abal Medinas article, which emphasizes the originality of symbolic politics and the new forms of politics in new spaces that challenged the visual forms of neoliberal domination. Drawing on the theoretical insights of Foucault and Bourdieu, she examines the seizure of public thoroughfares and other piquetero tactics as part of the struggle against the invisibilizing visibility of the capitalist state, with its Panopticon gaze designed for social control. The invisible unemployed burst forth onto the public stage, breaking the discursive barriers that labeled and excluded them as violent delinquents or unproductive surplus labor. Abal Medina also examines critically the transitory employment programs designed to reorganize the ideological constructs by which the subaltern are excluded and the multiple discursive and visual tactics of the movement for resisting invisibilization. Guided by new slogans such as The Neighborhood Is the New Factory and Creating an Alternative Economy, the Argentine piqueteros claimed a political subjectivity outside the spaces effectively regulated by the capitalist state. The seizure and reorganization of space is a crucial feature of social movements responding to the contemporary era of globalization, in which capital seeks to privatize public realms in order to reduce social interaction to a series of transactions between individuals in the marketplace or between disconnected citizens who are nominally equal in the liberal polity. It is for this reason that todays social movements in Latin America seek to reinvigorate the

10 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES

participatory quality of democracy and repoliticize spaces in society outside the control of parties and the state (Edelman, 2001; Zibechi, 2005; Motta, 2009)whether these are the streets and neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, the indigenous communities of Chiapas or Ecuador, the rural land-occupation settlements of the Brazilian MST (Garmany and Maia, 2008), or the symbolic and discursive spaces that Abal Medina identifies in the Argentine piquetero movement. As Zibechi (2009) notes, even with the advent of self-described left governments, many of them brought to power on the crest of a wave of social mobilizations, there is the danger that social programs are directed at the heart of communities that have engaged in rebellion. The state seeks to neutralize or modify the networks and methods of solidarity, reciprocity, and mutual aid created by those from below to survive the neoliberal model. Amory Starr, Mara Elena Martnez-Torres, and Peter Rosset, in Participatory Democracy in Action: Practices of the Zapatistas and the Movimento Sem Terra, scrutinize the internal dynamics of the MST movement in the context of Lulas PT government in Brazil and the Zapatista movement in the Mexican state of Chiapas, which eschews entanglement with party or state programs. In these two movements they find an intensely personal participatory democracy. The Zapatista consultas (publicly staged opportunities to express opinion), encuentros (assemblies without fixed agendas), rotating structures of local government constituted as good-government councils (juntas de buen gobierno), and invitations to network such as the Other Campaign (La Otra Campaa), are new forms of politics aimed at democratizing everyday relationships in society. Similarly, for the MST, Starr, Martnez, and Rosset highlight the communal spirit of the Brazilian land encampments, the decision-making processes of the 10-family units called ncleos de base, using modified consensus, performances of mstica (see Issa, 2007) to reinforce worker-peasant collective identity, Freire-influenced self-organized education, and collective strategies for getting resources from the state without becoming contaminated ideologically or co-opted. What these contributors call a school of democracy in the practices of the MST and the Zapatista movement points toward an emerging political culture of deliberative and participatory democracy, a potentially powerful ideological and organizational tool for antisystemic movements. As scholars in this area we wish that this useful piece had included more specific citations that would have allowed us to follow up on the research and helped others to learn from and verify it. The articles by Kara Zugman Dellacioppa and Abigail Andrews both focus on the transnational dimension of social movements, with specific reference to the Zapatistas. One of the themes in our earlier examination of Latin American social movements was that the outcomes of such movements were difficult to evaluate in the era of globalization, since a local success could be parried by redeployment by transnational capital in another guise and place. Clearly one of the challenges for effective organizing is globalizing resistancefinding ways to transcend the boundaries of the nation-state. Dellacioppas article, The Bridge Called Zapatismo: Transcultural and Transnational Activist Networks in Los Angeles and Beyond, considers Zapatismo not just as an indigenous peasant uprising in Chiapas but as an organizing model and philosophy that is also appearing on the other side of the border. She focuses on the case of the Casa del Pueblo in Los Angeles,

Stahler-Sholk and Vanden / INTRODUCTION 11

arguing that an emerging trans(cultural) activist politics with ideals of horizontal relationships, decentralized structure, and community-based participation is spreading globally across movements. At the same time, her examination of organizing in Los Angeles notes contradictions and tensions, for example, between organizers addressing specific community needs and activists advocating more expressive forms of direct action. Dellacioppas study moves beyond the framework of the transnational-advocacy-network literature, which assumes that social movements in the global South need the muscle of counterparts in the global North to have a boomerang effect (Keck and Sikkink, 1998) on their local contexts. Her shift of focus recognizes the agency and impact of social movements originating in Latin America. This last point is central to Abigail Andrewss article, How Activists Take Zapatismo Home: South-to-North Dynamics in Transnational Social Movements. Through interviews with numerous activists of more than 30 Northern groups in solidarity with the Zapatistas, she analyzes how ideological and behavioral change is transmitted from Latin America to U.S. movement organizing. She identifies dilemmas for groups seeking new solidarity and alliance strategies but also the radical potential for inverting power relations and getting beyond the constraints of the international NGOindustrial complex. Zapatista notions of autonomy have given the movement a particularly widespread international appeal, but Andrews notes that by encouraging the people who provide them with financial and political support to take up Zapatismo at home they may be forgoing access to support from international civil society when they most need it. Bernd Reiters contribution, Whats New in Brazils New Social Movements, sounds a cautionary note about the reification of concepts such as new social movements. He reviews the history of Afro-Brazilian mobilizations to emphasize that identity-based movements have been present in Latin America since colonial times. His epistemological critique of the stretching of the concept of new social movements (a term coined in the context of European postmaterialist societies) is at variance with much of the recent comparative literature on Latin America, which has highlighted distinctive characteristics of the regions upsurge in social movements since the 1980s. Although Reiter prefers to explain these trends in terms of changing political opportunity structures, he too notes innovation and adaptation in the repertoires of contention practiced by contemporary Latin American social movements. Together, the articles assembled here underscore the dynamism and creativity of Latin Americas social movements in the face of an economic context of neoliberal globalization, the political context of a hegemonic model of representative democracy that privileges clientelism over meaningful participation, and in recent years the ideological competition of parties and governments that claim to be on the left. In important ways, these movements are continually redefining politics, participation, and citizenship. They are not new they obviously build on long traditions of struggle, and the social and economic conditions of Latin American countries present distinct contexts in which each movement organizes (Fuentes and Frank, 1989; Biekart, 2005; Petras, 2009). Yet capitalism in its current globalized manifestation has spurred organized resistance expressed in mobilizations that do not directly involve class identity or focus on the immediate goal of taking state power

12 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES

(Otero, 1999; Lievesley, 1999; Motta, 2009). These articles offer insights into the diverse forms of popular mobilizations under way in Latin America, suggesting both their dilemmas and their possibilities. REFERENCES
Alvarez, Sonia E., Evelina Dagnino, and Arturo Escobar (eds.) 1998 Cultures of Politics/Politics of Culture: Re-visioning Latin American Social Movements. Boulder: Westview Press. Avritzer, Leonardo 2002 Democracy and the Public Space in Latin America. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ballv, Teo and Vijay Prashad (eds.) 2006 Dispatches from Latin America: On the Frontiers of Neoliberalism. Boston: South End Press. Beasley-Murray, Jon, Maxwell A. Cameron, and Eric Hershberg 2009 Latin Americas left turns: an introduction. Third World Quarterly 30: 319330. Biekart, Kees 2005 Seven theses on Latin American social movements and political change: a tribute to Andr Gunder Frank (19192005). European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 79 (October): 8594. Chalmers, Douglas A., Carlos M. Vilas, Katherine R. Hite, Scott B. Martin, Kerianne Piester, and Monique Segarra 1997 The New Politics of Inequality in Latin America: Rethinking Participation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. De La Torre, Carlos 1997 Populism and democracy: political discourses and cultures in contemporary Ecuador. Latin American Perspectives 24 (3): 1224. Eckstein, Susan Eva and Timothy P. Wickham-Crowley (eds.) 2003 Struggles for Social Rights in Latin America. New York: Routledge. Edelman, Marc 2001 Social movements: changing paradigms and forms of politics. Annual Review of Anthropology 30: 285317. Fuentes, Marta and Andr Gunder Frank 1989 Ten theses on social movements. World Development 17: 179191. Garmany, Jeff and Flvia Bessa Maia 2008 Considering space, politics, and social movements: an interview with Joo Pedro Stedile, a leader within Brazils O Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (the MST). Antipode 40: 187191. Hershberg, Eric and Fred Rosen (eds.) 2006 Latin America after Neoliberalism: Turning the Tide in the 21st Century? New York: New Press/NACLA. Issa, Daniela 2007 Praxis of empowerment: mstica and mobilization in Brazils Landless Rural Workers Movement. Latin American Perspectives 34 (2): 124138. Johnston, Hank and Paul Almeida (eds.) 2006 Latin American Social Movements: Globalization, Democratization, and Transnational Social Movements. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. Keck, Margaret and Kathryn Sikkink 1998 Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Lievesley, Geraldine 1999 Democracy in Latin America: Mobilization, Power, and the Search for a New Politics. New York: Manchester University Press/St. Martins Press. Motta, Sara C. 2009 Old tools and new movements in Latin America: political science as gatekeeper or intellectual illuminator? Latin American Politics and Society 51 (1): 3156.

Stahler-Sholk and Vanden / INTRODUCTION 13

Otero, Gerardo 1999 Farewell to the Peasantry? Political Class Formation in Rural Mexico. Boulder: Westview Press. 2003 The Indian question in Latin America: class, state, and ethnic identity construction. Latin American Research Review 38 (1): 248266. Petras, James 2009 Latin America: social movements in times of economic crises. Global Research, August 12. http:/ /www.globalresearch.ca (accessed January 3, 2010). Petras, James and Henry Veltmeyer 2005 Social Movements and State Power: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador. London: Pluto Press. Smith, Jackie, Charles Chatfield, and Ron Pagnucco (eds.) 1997 Transnational Social Movements and Global Politics: Solidarity Beyond the State. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. Stahler-Sholk, Richard, Harry E. Vanden, and Glen David Kuecker (eds.) 2007 Globalizing Resistance: The New Politics of Social Movements in Latin America. Latin American Perspectives 34 (2). 2008 Latin American Social Movements in the Twenty-First Century: Resistance, Power, and Democracy. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. Thayer, Millie 2009 Making Transnational Feminism: Rural Women, NGO Activists, and Northern Donors in Brazil. New York: Routledge. Veltmeyer, Henry 2007 On the Move: The Politics of Social Change in Latin America. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. Yashar, Deborah J. 2005 Contesting Citizenship: Indigenous Movements and the State in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Zibechi, Ral 2005 Subterranean echos: resistance and politics desde el stano. Socialism and Democracy 19 (3): 1339. 2006 Indigenous movements: between neoliberalism and leftist governments. Washington, DC: Center for International Policy/Americas Program. May 3. http:/ /americas.irc-online .org/am/3257 (accessed March 1, 2010). 2009 Autonomy or new forms of domination? The complex relationship between governments and movements. Washington, DC: Center for International Policy/Americas Program. February 18. http:/ /americas.irc-online.org/am/5877 (accessed March 1, 2010).