From Socialist Review, No. 169, November 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Latin American Left
ed. Barry Carr and Steve Ellner
Westview Press/Latin America Bureau £12.99
The Latin America Bureau has a good and largely deserved reputation for publishing critical and original work. This book sets itself the ambitious task of analysing the challenges facing the Latin American left ‘from the fall of Allende to Perestroika’ – from the Chilean coup of 1973 to (roughly) 1991. Unfortunately it fails.
This is in part because crucial events are simply omitted. You could not guess from the chapter on Chile that the Pinochet regime stumbled into a massive crisis in 1982. The Pinochet period is portrayed as one long, dark night. Yet the key force within the Chilean working class – the copper workers – began actively to resist the regime as early as 1978. By the end of the 1980s the copper workers had rebuilt their organisation. Yet the left has utterly failed to relate to this or to the new working class which emerged in the Chilean boom.
The result of this sort of blinkered view is a confused pessimism which permeates several contributions. The chapter on Trade Unions, Struggle and the Left concludes that ‘the profound changes of the past two decades’ mean ‘there are no ready-made answers’. Of course, there are never ‘ready-made answers’ – the class struggle is a living, changing process. But this conclusion is in reality a thinly disguised apology for those advocating ‘new alliances’ and a social pact with the middle classes.
This leads directly to an absurd optimism about other events. ‘The Salvadorian Left’, we are told, ‘ended 21 years of struggle and 11 years of war with a political victory at the negotiating table’. This victory amounts to a UN brokered settlement which leaves the power of the Salvadorian ruling class untouched. The probable outcome is a Christian Democrat government. To speak in terms of the ‘triumph of the Salvadorian revolution’ is grotesque.
When it comes to Brazil and the Workers’ Party (PT), the account is dated (to put it kindly), if not simply dishonest. ‘In the long run, the PT strives to build socialism from the day-to-day struggles of working people in Brazil.’ Could this be the same PT which breaks strikes in Sao Paulo and supports the present Brazilian government as a ‘loyal opposition’? This contribution (from a prominent member of the PT leadership) ends with an enthusiastic endorsement of electoral alliances.
There are one or two good things in this book. James Dunkerley, as usual, writes perceptively on Bolivia and there is an interesting chapter on Venezuela. But much of the other material falls a long way short of LAB’s best standards.
Last updated: 28 February 2017