Latin America – the need for an open left

On reading a recent Guardian article I was struck by the admission of the former President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, that his friend and ally Evo Morales had been wrong to run for a third term in office, something which stretches the norm in Bolivia.

Lula da Silva

I disagree in principle with term limits for elected people – voters should get who they want to vote for, is how I see it. But that does also rather depend on healthy environments inside political parties, which I suppose is part of the logic for Latin America. There has also been much talk of polling irregularities in Bolivia, hinging on an OAS report. The report itself seems to rest on analysis which points to suspicious outcomes for framework reasons, but is light on actual evidence. At the very least however, the state has failed to provide for the transparency of process necessary to free itself of such allegations.

Together these have provided the pretext to a right wing military coup, which must be condemned without reservation and opposed by anyone with any interest in political activists not being suppressed and murdered.

But this does not mean the left hasn’t fallen into a trap. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of Latin American left approaches since the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua has been the willingness of movements to abide by multi-party democratic elections, which now seems to be a stated policy for the left continent wide, except perhaps in Cuba. This was also a fundamental tenant of Chavismo, and has been a condition to making social reform possible on a massive scale across the whole continent. The issue here is seeing that principle relegated in importance.

It’s healthy to see a pink tide leader, unfairly imprisoned and his own movement deposed undemocratically, still feeling able to articulate himself with a bit of nuance about his own friends. If he is able to do this in the face of the crypto-fascist/evangelical alliance running his country, so can those of us more distant from Latin America’s situation.

There is a big conference about the Latin American left in London today. It will be interesting to see how much talk there is about how the left there can be better at avoiding screwing up. The fascist enemies of the left are still powerful in Latin America and are morally responsible for their own acts, but it still doesn’t help the left to step into traps.

Uncritical support is often the most useless kind, and is simply laughed at by most of the people who aren’t already on your side. We need to support socialists worldwide in a way which offers perspective from our own position, and can help to plot a way forward. In short, we have to have a conversation about what makes the left still vulnerable to open social conflict and stops its development as a hegemon in democracies which are overwhelmingly working class and less well off. But sometimes it seems that as an international left we do make this as hard for ourselves as possible.

For me the obvious barrier is an inability to take stock and re-assess. This has had particular negative implications in parts of Latin America for both the constitutional and economic policy of the state, knocking on to real people’s lives and choices.

Like in much of the world, the Latin American left is often affected by a closed style of political culture that’s all about blankly support this or oppose that. There is too scant attention paid to the debates that actually need to be had on policy or strategy, and minimal confidence in activists and voters to lead and participate from below.

There is a need for ‘socialist democracy’ within any serious left movement globally. I guess the point I am trying to make is that this quickly degrades unless structures and cultures are aligned to encourage ‘open politics’ as a part of this; otherwise we are all cogs but no oil.

Populism is not necessarily bad, but the particular problems of centralism, bureaucracy and ‘big personality’ are now a worldwide issue in socialist political culture. They stop our movements adapting before they break, limit participation, and make us narrow. They have got to be challenged and overcome, and to do that, we need to recognise them as political in nature. There will be no renewal for the Latin left without this – something the rest of us can also learn from.

We need to be clear that normal people are as capable of being able ‘intellectuals’ and leaders as power brokers or academics or politicians. That’s what the left needs to be about.