[News] Latin America - Autonomy or New Forms of Domination?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 25 13:45:01 EST 2009

Autonomy or New Forms of Domination?

Raúl Zibechi | February 18, 2009

Translated from: 
<http://ircamericas.org/esp/5807>¿Autonomía o nuevas formas de dominación?
Translated by: Monica Wooters

Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)

In late 2008, the Hugo Chavez administration 
celebrated 10 years in government. Since his 
first electoral triumph on Dec. 6, 1998, a new 
period began characterized by the emergence of 
progressive and leftist governments in South 
America. Chavez's rise to power was the result of 
a long process of struggle from the bottom-up 
that initiated with caracazo of Feb. 1989­the 
first massive popular insurrection against 
neoliberalism. It has now led to crisis in the 
party system, which supported domination by the elite for decades.

In the following years, another seven presidents 
have come to power creating a new paradigm within 
the institutional political scenario in eight out 
of 10 governments in the region: Luiz Inacio Lula 
da Silva in Brazil, Néstor and Cristina Kirchner 
in Argentina, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Tabaré 
Vázquez in Uruguay, Evo Morales in Bolivia, 
Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Fernando Lugo in 
Paraguay. These governments were made possible, 
to greater and lesser degrees, by the resistance 
of social movements to the neoliberal model.

In a few cases this change was the consequence of 
a long electoral history (notably in Brazil and 
Uruguay), while in other countries it was the 
fruit of social movements' actions that were able 
to bring down neoliberal parties and governments 
(Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and in part, 
Argentina). After 10 years of this process, it 
seems timely to undertake a brief history of what has occurred:
    * More important than the differences between 
these processes is the fundamental element they 
have in common: the return to a central state 
that has been converted into an actor for change;
    * The marginalization of the social 
movements, which in the 1990s and at the start of 
2000 were the main players in resistance to the neoliberal model;
    * The dominant contradiction has been the 
dynamic between the government and the right, an 
issue that pushed many social movements into a 
pro-state position that has appeared largely avoidable;
    * Some tendencies aim to move the social 
movements toward new bases of support, employing 
new causes and forms of intervention.

The decline of the "progressive" decade as a 
process of social, political, and economic change 
implies the need for social movements to take 
inventory of the period and analyze the gains and 
losses that it represented for the popular camp.

The Risks of Subordination

In the first stage after the "progressive" 
governments took power, the subordination of 
social movements to their respective governments 
predominated, resulting in demobilization, 
divisions, and the fragmentation of initiatives. 
Only small groups maintained open confrontation, 
while the majority collaborated with the state in 
return for subsidies and other material benefits, 
including positions in state agencies and 
institutions. Another large part of the original collectives simply dissolved.

In contrast, the social movements of Chile, Peru, 
and Colombia have taken important steps forward. 
In these three countries, it is the indigenous 
peoples that have taken the initiative. The 
Mapuche people of Chile are recovering from the 
destruction caused by the antiterrorist law 
inherited from the Pinochet era and reactivated 
by the "socialist" Ricardo Lagos (president from 
2000-2006), and together with students and 
diverse sectors of the workers' movement (miners 
and foresters in particular) are engaging in an 
important revitalization of their movement.

Indigenous communities affected by mining in Peru 
founded a new organization, National 
Confederation of Peruvian Communities Affected by 
Mining (Confederación Nacional de Comunidades del 
Perú Afectadas por la Minería, Conacami), engaged 
in vigorous resistance to the genocidal mining 
activities of multinational companies that 
contaminate water sources and air to improve 
their profits. Conacami is a Quechua 
community-based organization that continues to 
resist free trade policies with the United States 
and the neoliberal policies of Alan García. Its 
members have proved willing to risk their lives 
and incarceration as political prisoners to carry their movement forward.

In Colombia, the historical struggle of the Nasa 
people manifested in the Association of 
Indigenous Councilmen of the Northern Cauda 
(Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del 
Cauca, ACIN) and the Regional Indigenous Council 
of Cauca (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, 
CRIC), has been doubly successful. The large 
social movement known as Minga (collective work) 
was created in October in Cauca, joining dozens 
of indigenous peoples. Minga was able to break 
the military hold on society that paralyzed 
indigenous peoples. The vast majority of 
Afro-Colombians, sugarcane laborers, service 
industry workers, and community and human rights 
organizations united with the indigenous struggle.

The example of these movements, created and 
fostered in adversity, inspires social movements 
throughout the continent. The long hunger strike 
by Patricia Troncoso between Nov. 2007 and Jan. 
2008, and the efforts of the indigenous Colombian 
movement Minga share the powerful goal of 
overcoming isolation and low-intensity genocide 
designed to wipe them off the map and deny their existence.

In other countries the social movement scenario 
is very complex, Argentina being perhaps the most 
emblematic case. Most of the piquetero movement 
was co-opted by the state through social programs 
and the designation of leaders of the movement 
for government positions. The human rights 
movement, and in particular the Mothers' 
Association of the Plaza de Mayo (Asociación 
Madres de Plaza de Mayo), which played a major 
role in the resistance to neoliberalism in the 
1990s, has moved toward a more official role and 
begun to defend government policies. In addition, 
a section of the neighborhood associations have disappeared.

However, not everything has regressed within the 
social movement community. In the last five years 
numerous collectives have emerged, many of them 
linked to environmental issues such as open-pit 
mining, deforestation, and soy monoculture. As a 
result, hundreds of local assemblies (most small 
but incredibly active) have been created, 
coordinated through the Union of Citizen 
Assemblies (Unión de Asambleas Ciudadanas, UAC), 
which has become an active leader in the resistance to multinational mining.

Some 200 rural organizations of small-scale 
farmers make up the National Campesino Front 
(Frente Nacional Campesino). This Front 
represents family and community agriculture 
against the imposition of soybean production. It 
brings together longstanding movements (such as 
the Campesino Movement of Santiago del Estero, 
[Movimiento de Campesinos de Santiago del Estero, 
MOCASE]), with newer organizations of small 
producers including a handful of collectives from the urban periphery.

Movements in Brazil have not been able to 
overcome a long period of being on the defensive, 
which intensified under the Lula administration. 
In Uruguay, despite the strengthening of the 
union movement due mainly to state protection of 
the union leaders, social movements are far from 
being defined as anti-systemic actors. The urban 
poor have mobilized but only on a local level and 
their movement is extremely fragmented. 
Government social programs are largely 
responsible for the current weakness of grassroots movements.

In Bolivia the situation is different. Movements 
have not been defeated and continue to maintain 
an important capacity to mobilize their bases of 
support and pressure both the government and the 
right-wing. The political crisis of last Sept. 
was resolved thanks to the popular sectors. The 
intense activity of the social movements included 
a siege on the opposition stronghold of Santa 
Cruz, and by resistance from the huge Plan 3000 
settlement of poor and indigenous people located 
on the outskirts of the oligarchic mestizo city.

According to Raquel Gutiérrez, the attitude of 
the Bolivian movement during this period reflects 
"a new margin of political autonomy from 
government decisions," since they learned that 
the government will be unable to restrain the 
oligarchy. "They are no longer willing to 
subordinate themselves so that the government 
will guarantee them what they want."

Alongside pressure from the movements, there 
exists a pro-state logic embodied in the profuse 
state bureaucracies (judicial, legislative, 
ministerial, and municipal agencies, and 
military). These bureaucracies are averse to 
change. In addition to their characteristic 
conservatism, there are the new political 
apparatuses integrated by a wide array of elected 
officials (representatives, senators, councilmen, 
and mayors) and un-elected officials (ministers 
and hundreds of consultants) whose main ambition 
is to remain in their positions.

New Forms of Domination

It seems virtually impossible for grassroots 
movements to overcome their dependence on and 
subordination to the state, especially given that 
the new "leftist" and "progressive" governments 
have instituted new forms of domination including 
social programs aimed at "integrating" the poor. 
These play the leading role in the design of new forms of social control.

Recently I had the following conversation with a 
high ranking official of the Uruguayan Ministry of Social Development:

"We understand the [current] social policies as 
policies of independence and not as policies used to control the poor."

"Is this your personal opinion or that of the Ministry as well?"

"It is the belief of the national government and 
not just that of the Ministry of Social 
Development or my personal belief. The national 
government did not come here to placate the 
poorest social sectors­it came to generate 
opportunities for integration and independence."

This conversation, no doubt honest, calls into 
questions the role of social movements as the 
state assumes their discourse or even their 
practices. The issue raises three central questions:
    * The end of the old right. The new 
governments that gained strength during the 
crises of the first stage of neoliberalism­a 
period of privatization and deregulation­cannot 
move forward without destroying the foundations 
of the traditional domination of the elite 
right-wing. These elite have erected expansive 
networks with local political bosses to subdue 
the poorest individuals through mediation with 
state institutions and control of the electoral system.

    Grassroots movements came about in the battle 
against the elite. The case of the piqueteros is 
typical. The struggle to gain direct control of 
subsidies, taking it away from the network of 
local political bosses, gave meaning and power to 
the movement. The wave of mobilizations that 
modified the regional political map directly confronted the right-wing.
    The new governments tend to displace these 
networks, with more or less success, and replace 
them with state bureaucracies. Perhaps this is 
the principle "progressive" move on the part of 
the new governments. In order to dismantle the 
networks belonging to the old elite, the states 
appeal to the same language and the same norms 
and codes of the popular sectors organized into movements.
    * The new forms of control. The crisis in 
discipline as a way to train new cadres in closed 
spaces was one of the main characteristics of the 
"revolution of '68." The loss of control by 
patriarchal hierarchies and the breakdown of 
vertical control in factories, schools, 
hospitals, and the military forced capital and 
the state to create new forms of control, placing 
at the center of their strategy the question of 
population and security. Social programs directly 
implemented by the state but executed by a range 
of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are how 
new forms of domination are put into practice in 
the opaque area of control. Through these tactics 
the state becomes expansive and comes to the poor 
neighborhoods that have been converted into 
bastions of revolt to work from the inside; in 
other words, it works with the same sectors that 
have organized themselves into movements but to dismantle those organizations.

    The state's presence no longer takes on the 
shape of the police baton, which never really 
disappears, but rather the more subtle "social 
development for integration and the citizenry." 
NGOs supply the state with information they have 
accumulated over decades of "cooperation" through 
daily interaction in the "participative" 
practices that characterized popular education to 
accomplish this task. We now have a new legion of 
young government officials who no longer wait for 
students in the schools or patients in the 
hospitals, but go directly into the heart of 
impoverished and rebellious populations. They 
have an advantage in this area of work; they know 
the ins and outs of the popular sectors because a 
large percentage of these officials have 
participated in the resistance to the neoliberal 
model. In other words, they have been radicals, 
or, at the very least have had close ties with social activism.
    It is fair to say, as does the Brazilian 
sociologist Francisco de Oliveira, that social 
programs are instruments of control based on a 
bio-politico mechanism through which the state 
classifies individuals based on what they lack 
and "restores a kind of political clientele 
relationship" in which the policy ends up becoming irrelevant.
    It is true that social programs can help 
alleviate poverty, but they do not change the 
distribution of wealth, avoid the growing 
concentration of income, or transform the central 
aspects of the model. In affecting the capacity 
for organizing movements, they block their growth 
and in this way are tools of the neoliberal war 
to commercialize life. It is interesting to note 
that almost all leftist intellectuals consider 
the implementation of social programs an accomplishment of progressivism.
    * An offensive against autonomy. These same 
governments are now adopting the vocabulary of 
social movements, even saying that they wish to 
support a "critical autonomy" within the social 
sectors that receive the benefits of social 
programs. They create methods of coordination so 
that the social movements may participate in the 
design of social programs and become involved in 
the application of local policies (never general 
policies that could question the model).

    The social movements are made to participate 
in a "participative evaluation" of their 
neighborhood or town. They even charge them with 
carrying out the local assistance work so that 
they might become involved in the policy of 
"organizational strengthening" designed by the 
World Bank, which decides which organization is 
best suited to collaborate with the corresponding ministry.
    All of this occurs to "build the state" in 
the daily practices of the popular sector, the 
same context in which these individuals learned 
to "build movement." Social programs are directed 
at the heart of communities that have engaged in 
rebellion. The state seeks to neutralize or 
modify the networks and methods of solidarity, 
reciprocity, and mutual aid created by those from 
below to survive the neoliberal model. Once those 
ties and the autonomous wisdom that was generated 
by the social movements disappear, the people 
will be much more easily controlled.

None of this should be attributed to a supposed 
evil within the new progressive governments. Each 
time those from below throw off the trappings of 
domination, other, newer, more perfected forms 
necessarily appear. Only by neutralizing the 
social programs and overcoming the offensive 
against autonomy from below can social movements 
find their way back to the road to independence.

Translated for the Americas Program by Monica Wooters.

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