In the 1980s, a process of anti-neoliberal mobilization began to take shape in Latin America. In a large part of the continent, popular and peasant organizations carried out important demonstrations against the waves of privatization, the dispossession of common goods and the elimination of social rights imposed by the ruling classes. It was a resistance from below to the global recolonization by capital, a recolonization undertaken by states and corporations. In countries such as Mexico, Venezuela and Ecuador, popular resistance put in check the money lords and their political mediators, who, using repression, co-optation and electoral frauds, managed to stay in power.
The process of popular anti-neoliberal insurrection took on new forces in our America in the 1990s. Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples emerged with all their power and experience of resistance to centuries of colonial and imperialist domination. The anti-neoliberal movement that spread throughout the world, and which had a multisectoral and ideologically diverse composition, found in the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), in 1994, a mirror and a narrative of its own: against neoliberalism and in defense of humanity, another world is possible.
In other Latin American countries, the anti-neoliberal movement was turning into a form of disruptive force that managed to remove the dominant political forces and take over the state machinery. Venezuela was at the forefront with its experience of 21st century socialism and the communal state. Other experiences also emerged in Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and other countries. These were years of forming networks and common platforms, of theoretical and artistic production, of experiments and concrete practices, of meetings, dialogues and debates that sought to build regional and global alternatives. There was talk of 21st century socialism, Afro-Indo-American socialism, and buen vivir. With differentiated impacts, Europe was contagious with the new alternatives that were beginning to take shape in Latin America.
But the social-democratic narrative and practice was imposed and the radical and popular aspects of that cross-border revolt were left behind. Soon there was talk of citizen revolution, Andean-Amazonian capitalism, left-wing populism, progressivism…. The popular, peasant, indigenous, union and Afro-descendant leaders were replaced by the Samsonite boys, with their armies of bots and their image consultants, the fresh faces and attire were ready to join the spectacle of politics from above.
Prisoners of internal contradictions pushed beyond limits, constantly attacked by imperialism with its overt or covert coups d’état, and afflicted by the world crisis, most of these progressive experiences were displaced from the state apparatus by conservative forces. In their attempt to build hegemony, some progressive governments co-opted or openly confronted the social and popular movement, which, with new and old demands, did not cease to insist on the extension of social rights, on the defense and recovery of territories, and on the independent character of the movement itself. More problematic is the fact that the second progressive wave has already completely abandoned social demands and has not picked up the lessons learned from the first progressive wave.
As in the second half of the 20th century, when Latin America lived a cycle of revolution-counter-revolution, which Cuba managed to survive thanks to the profound scope of its transformation, today we seem to be witnessing a cycle of progressivism-conservatism. In this progressive-conservative cycle, the former move to the center to win elections and state administration, while the latter move further to the right and show their true face: that of neo-fascism that goes against social rights, against critical and scientific thinking, and that openly speaks of disposable and eliminable populations.
But, just as Cuba overcame the counterrevolutionary cycle, Venezuela today overcomes the conservative cycle that in other countries is imposed by figures such as Bolsonaro, Milei and Bukele. In both cases, Cuba and Venezuela, resisting the conservative cycle has meant overcoming coups d’état, assassination attempts against their leaders, and embargoes and economic blockades imposed by Washington.
The Zapatista experience deserves special mention, which over the course of 30 years moved from anti-neoliberalism to anti-capitalism, and moved towards building autonomous structures that are alternatives that go beyond the State. The Zapatista peoples have combined creative resistance to the system of exploitation and domination, to colonialism and its racism, to patriarchy. Attentive to the problems of humanity, they organize to resist wars, forced migration, ecocide and rapacious capitalism.
In the face of the difficult world panorama and the loss of horizons, we must look at the experiences that have made progress in the construction of alternatives. It is necessary to look at what is new in the alternative that is being built from below in order to find the ways forward.
Original text published in La Jornada on December 15th, 2023. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2023/12/15/opinion/020a1pol
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.