Left movements and the end of capitalism

[Translation of an essay from La Jornada of Mexico City for January 13, 2012. See original here and the article by Immanuel Wallerstein referred to here.]

by Raúl Zibechi

The current world crisis is breaking the planet up into regions in such a way that the world system is approaching an accelerating disarticulation. One of the effects of this growing regionalization of the planet is that political, social and economic processes do not manifest themselves in the same way in all parts of the world and divergences are produced – bifurcations perhaps, in the future – between the center and the periphery.

For anti-system forces this global disarticulation renders the design of a single and unique planetary strategy impossible and makes attempts to establish universal tactics useless. Although there are inspirations in common and shared general objectives, the different paces shown in the transition toward post-capitalism and the notable differences between anti-systemic subjects work against generalizations.

There are nevertheless two relevant considerations that affect strategies throughout the world. The first is that capitalism is not going to fall or crumble but should be defeated by anti-system forces, be these horizontal base community movements, more or less hierarchical parties or governments with an anti-capitalist intent.

Paraphrasing Walter Benjamin, it should be said that nothing did more damage to the revolutionary movement than the belief that capitalism will fall under the weight of its own internal laws, especially those of an economic nature. Capital came into the world covered in blood and mud, as Marx said, and it took a demographic catastrophe like that produced by the black plague to make the peoples, paralyzed by fear, submit to the accumulation of capital, although not without resistance. It takes people losing fear, as the Zapatistas do, in order to begin to re-appropriate the means of production and change and to construct something different.

The second is that nothing indicates that the transition to a new society will be brief or will take place in a few decades. So far every transition has required centuries of enormous suffering, in societies in which community regulations placed limits on ambition, when demographic pressure was much less and the power of those at the top resembled not at all that wielded today by the wealthiest one percent.

In Latin America, anti-system movements have invented during the past three decades new strategies for changing societies and constructing a new world. There are also reflections and thoughts about collective action that in fact diverge from the old revolutionary theories, although it is evident that they do not deny the concepts forged through the centuries by revolutionary movements. At the present juncture, we notice three facts that lead us to reflections different from those being developed by anti-system forces in other regions.

In the first place, the unity of left movements has advanced notably and in not a few cases these have come to power. At least in Uruguay, in Bolivia and in Brazil the unity of left movements has gone as far as possible. It is true that there are parties of the left outside these forces (especially in Brazil), but that does not change the central fact that unity has been accomplished. In other countries, like Argentina, to speak of the unity of the left is to say little.

The central fact is that, beyond any evaluation of their efforts, the more or less united left movements have given almost all they could give. The eight South American governments that we can describe as leftist have improved people’s lives and decreased their suffering, but they have not advanced in the construction of new societies. We need only confirm facts and structural limits that indicate that by that route no more can be obtained.

In the second place, there are in Latin America germs, foundations or seeds of the social relations that can replace capitalism: millions of people live and work in indigenous communities in rebellion, in settlements of landless peasants, in factories taken over by their workers, in self-organized communities on the outskirts of cities, and they take part in thousands of enterprises born in resistance to neoliberalism and have become alternative spaces to the dominant means of production.

Third is that the suffering generated by the social crisis brought on by neoliberalism in the region was contained by initiatives for survival created by the movements (from dining halls to popular bakeries), before the governments that came out of the ballot boxes took inspiration from those same enterprises to promote social programs. These initiatives have been, and still are, keys to resisting and at the same time are creating alternatives to the system, since they not only reduce suffering but they generate practices independent of the states, the churches and the parties.

It is true, as Immanuel Wallerstein points out in “The World Left after 2011,” that the unity of the left can contribute to lighting the way to a new world and, at the same time, to reducing the birth pangs. But in this region of the world, a large part of those pangs have not diminished with the electoral victories of the left. Almost 200 have been prosecuted for terrorism and sabotage in Ecuador for opposing open-pit mining. Three activists of the Frente Darío Santillán were assassinated days ago in Rosario by gang members, in what could be the beginning of escalating attacks on the movements. Hundreds of thousands in Brazil have been displaced from their homes because of speculation in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup. The list is long and is growing.

The unity of the left can be positive. But the battle for a new world will be much longer than the tenure of the Latin American progressive governments and, above all, it will be resolved in spaces stained with blood and mud.

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One Response to “Left movements and the end of capitalism”

  1. Dirk Says:

    “The first is that capitalism is not going to fall or crumble but should be defeated by anti-system forces, be these horizontal base community movements, more or less hierarchical parties or governments with an anti-capitalist intent. ”

    This is not true. Capitalism will fail utterly and completley by design. Capitalism as we know it depends on two critical inputs (1) unerring belief or perceived belief by it’s members that everyone can be wealthy and that (2) it requires constant and increasing inputs of cheap energy to create ‘growth’. The fact that (2) is not true nulifies (1). Just as energy resources are finite, so is real wealth. To make up for the decline in (2) governments must either find ways to create growth/more real wealth, which is not possible in a closed system, or invent crafty trickery to produce perceived wealth out of thin air to placate (1) into believing that they are wealthy. Of course, we are finding the latter practice inevitably devalues currency, creates inflation, drives up debt; so desparate are capitalists now that they ‘bundle’ debt and try to sell that. Really??? Yes, capitalism will fail ultimately, completely and soon. Greed has seen to that long ago. I look forward to the day, sadistically so perhaps, when the wealthy figure out all that shrewdly accumulated wealth amounted to only so many digital blips or dots in a computer program somewhere and that they have no more ‘money’ than the poorest amoung us. To wit, the happiest people are those who can least afford to give but are the most inclined to do so.