Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 28, 2017

Jeffery Webber and the Pink Tide

Filed under: Counterpunch,Latin America — louisproyect @ 12:48 pm


Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay

On February 28th I got email from a Pluto Press representative about a new book by Jeffery Webber titled The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left that seemed very timely. Pluto did not quite come out and say it but the book appeared to be an obituary on the Pink Tide.

Since I remembered the sharp exchanges between Webber and Australian Socialist Alliance member and Evo Morales supporter Federico Fuentes in the pages of the British SWP’s theoretical magazine, I was curious to see what Webber had to say. As a self-described Marxist critic of the Bolivarian revolution and left-leaning governments in Brazil, Chile and Argentina, Webber would seem to be vindicated by recent events. Argentina and Brazil had new rightwing governments. Bolivian voters had rejected a referendum that would have permitted Morales to run for a fourth term and Lenin Moreno, Rafael Correa’s successor, was elected in Ecuador by the narrowest of margins. Finally, Venezuela was coming apart at the seams. Since I had written reviews of three books by Hugo Chavez’s one-time economic adviser Michael Lebowitz and a biography of Chavez by Richard Gott, it was the right time to revisit the 21st century socialism question.

Jeffery Webber

Although Webber’s book purports to be unified thematically, it was not written from scratch. Instead, it is mostly a patchwork of  articles that have been published in JSTOR type journals such as The Journal of Agrarian Change. I was hoping for a systematic analysis of the Pink Tide but instead discovered an intelligent but frequently mistaken collection of chapters having little in common except the author’s rejection of a project with a clouded future.

The two chapters titled “Global Crisis and Latin American Tendencies: The Political Economy of the New Latin American Left” and “Contemporary Latin American Inequality Class Struggle, Decolonization, and the Limits of Liberal Citizenship” were newly written for the book and amount to an ideological frontal attack on the Pink Tide governments. Despite my disagreement with Webber’s analysis, I strongly recommend that people grappling with the political crisis of left governments in Latin America buy his book and pay close attention to his arguments. There is a dialectical contradiction between his views and those of the pro-Chavez left and a resolution on a higher level is only possible by engaging with both sides of the polarity.

Like many with sympathies for Trotskyism, Webber is always on the lookout for latter-day Kerensky’s. If you read him carefully, you will understand that Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998 repeated the early stages of the Russian revolution when both the rich and the poor rallied around the Social Revolutionary Party leader who made promises about a better future for all even if he secretly sought to keep Russia part of the capitalist system. Like many on the left, Webber considers elections to be a trap. Instead he identifies with “extraparliamentary forms of social struggle—road blockades, strikes, land occupations, worker takeovers of abandoned factories, protests, and even quasi-insurrectionary waves of mass action that toppled neoliberal governments in Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.” In other words, these were the real revolutionary movements that could have seized power if only they had a party to represent them rather than ones led by scheming, neoliberal fakers like Chavez, Morales and Correa who “bent over backwards to capitulate to capital and ensure market confidence”. If neoliberal governments were toppled, the new ones remained neoliberal even if as they were leavened with populist good will and generous social programs. As a title of the book, “The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same” pretty much says it all. Like the classic Who song, Webber wrote something so we won’t get fooled again.

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  1. “[T]he likelihood of people going into the hills of the Catskill mountains to form guerrilla focos is below zero.”

    We’ve no time for such pessimism. I’ll simply ask everyone reading this to visit refusefascism.org and join the revolution. Also, please follow @RefuseFascism on Twitter.

    Comment by Tyler — April 28, 2017 @ 1:05 pm

  2. that is the question that we still face after 114 years? Why 114 years and not 100 years or 112 years or 69 years or 57 years or 38 years?

    Comment by Curt Kastens — April 28, 2017 @ 1:55 pm

  3. What is it, I wonder, with people who are in so much hurry to announce the end of this and that: ‘end of history’, ‘end of the pink tide’, ‘end of socialism’ …

    In any case, here is a bit of evidence that the pinkos are not all dead yet in Brazil:

    Brazil cities paralyzed by nationwide strike against austerity:

    Comment by Reza — April 28, 2017 @ 3:59 pm

  4. Louis, I think you make some good comments, and certainly a better discussion on taking power among e left is needed.
    One comment I would make about the Nicaragua revolution, and it still hampers the left, is nationalism.
    When the Sandinistas took power, the guerrillas in El Salvador were also very strong. ThEy had a choice to support the revolution in El Salvador and create a wider front.
    They didn’t as they were afraid that the USA was going to intervene against them. They lost a huge chance to expand the revolution and in the end they were strangled.
    I don’t know if it would have helped to intervene in the El Salvador revolution, but staying within national boundaries is a killer for our movement.
    The working class needs to organise internationally to match the might of capitalism, or otherwise we will be strangled, country by country……

    Comment by Piergiorgio Moro — April 29, 2017 @ 11:16 am

  5. I came of age politically when the “Pink Tide” first began to peeter, but before that, when I was in high school, some of the first topics I was interested in politically was the “pink tide” and while I didn’t have much of a concept of socialism back then, I was sympathetic since there were actual leaders trying to help the poor except just trying to get rich. I think Webbers analysis is way too “romantic” to use his wording and less pragmatic and it’s easy for someone like him to condemn governments and movements from afar when he doesn’t have to deal with their situations.

    Comment by Ezra Taylor — April 29, 2017 @ 11:24 am

  6. Brazil has played an ambivalent role here, recognized as an essential drive of economic development in South America, including the countries that have been part of the Pink Tide, hence Chavez’s warm relations with Lula, while also acting to consolidate capitalist power in its state assisted corporations through investment in adjacent countries. Brazil was the centerpiece of an effort to develop an integrated self-sufficiency for the countries of South America.

    Brazil’s 2015 recession severely damaged the prospects for this program, at least in the short term. The countries of the Pink Tide therefore face reduced prospects for Brazilian capitalist exploitation, but increased vulnerability to US/EU exploitation. One can argue over whether the Pink Tide countries reliance upon Brazil was any better than their reliance upon North American and European capitalist countries, dredging up the debate about BRICs as a challenge to US/EU capitalist forces, but this alternative doesn’t really exist anymore.

    Comment by Richard Estes — April 30, 2017 @ 3:00 pm

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