[Your friendly CompaManuel blogger just bought the book described below and shares some of its ideas through this interview in Spanish that we translated into English.]
By FM La Caterva
Progressivism seems to be in crisis in a good part of Latin America. To understand its debacle, “Changing the world from above” was just published (in Spanish) in Argentina. From the National Network of Alternative Media (Argentina) we interview Raúl Zibechi, author of the book together with Decio Machado. “The material and social bases on which progressivism is settled have been de-structured by reality,” he asserted.
-The subtitle of the book is “The limits of progressivism.” Without a doubt he makes reference to a debate that has not become much more profound, but that is more urgent than ever. How did the idea for this publication emerge and what do you propose in it?
-The book has various objectives. On the one hand, to put forward again some debates, which seem to me are important to maintain. For example, around the word revolution, which has a history and content, not anything is a revolution. La bourgeoisie have perverted it, they tell you that now the “revolution” is to buy a car, I don’t know as well as the publicity, the consumerism; but we have also perverted it, not just anything is a political revolution. The classics of socialism, Marx, Lenin, Mao, design what a revolution is, even the Social Sciences. A revolution supposes destroying the State’s repressive apparatuses; in other words, an electoral victory is not a revolution. I consider that it’s more of a conceptual thing, weightier, and therefore it’s necessary to clarify what we’re talking about when we talk about revolution. Secondly, we’re facing what some of us consider the end of the progressive cycle, and we also wanted to clarify what we understand by the end of this cycle. It’s not that there will no longer be more governments that declare they are progressive, it means that the material and social bases on which progressivism is supported are in crisis, they have been de-structured by the same reality. We are basically referring to two questions. A first one is the economy. Progressivism was based on an economy that exports raw materials at very high prices, oil at more than one hundred dollars, soy and minerals. Those prices fell sharply, and in the case of Venezuela it’s very clear, the oil is less than half and there is a very grave economic situation of indebtedness. The material bases of progressivism fell, and at the same time the social bases, which are very clear beginning with 2013 in Brazil, a time in which the social peace was also broken with the emergence of the popular sectors on the political stage, and later with the rights taking advantage of that popular emergence because the lefts were incapacitated or not in play to understand what was happening. For example, Lula can win the elections, if he’s not in prison, which is very probable, but can he revive Lulism? We think not; that Lulism is buried because all its project of governability is destroyed and weakened, so it won’t be able to create a government like the one it created at the start of 2003. Now under the Dilma government Lulism had entered into crisis, and let’s not forget that Dilma was the one that initiated the adjustment that today is terrible. I’m not saying that today is the continuity of that, but rather a tremendous deepening of what Dilma tepidly started. That is a second question. And third place in the book we want to place some debates, for example about social policies and consumerism. What is the objective of the social policies? What effects have they had on the principal countries of Latin America? These are some of the things that we want to put up for discussion with this work. Finally, the role of the intellectuals, whether the movements today need academic or media intellectuals, or whether the role, and to me this seems marvelous, is to create their own intellectuals.
-Is there a part of the book in which you talk about the relationship between progressivism and corruption. From where do you broach this theme, which at times is a difficult discussion to have among the lefts?
-Corruption today, different than what it was in the history of capitalism, is systemic. In the history of our countries corruption was a sharp deviation, there were corrupt people that took advantage of being in a state position to help their businesses. Today the system is unthinkable without corruption. I give you an example: Germany, a country of the center, developed, the capital there relatively “honest,” to put it one way, has gone for years without being able to inaugurate an airport in Berlin, constructed by private companies paid by the government, because of structural faults of that airport. I mean that they made a blunder when they constructed the airport. Even in Germany, being one of the most careful social-democratic capitalisms in the history of 20th Century capitalism, until this thing of corruption arrived there. Corruption today is not a deviation; it’s part of what we call accumulation by dispossession, or accumulation by theft. Just like they rob us of water and contaminate it for cultivating soy, for mining, they rob people of their house, their work, their rights, etc. The system functions in this way. Then in a country like Brazil, in which private enterprise always financed the electoral campaigns, in which gifts imply that I elect you governor, or the city’s mayor, because I pull the strings for your campaign as a private entrepreneur, and you give me back that string that I put, increased, plus value multiplied, through public works. That’s how Brazilian capitalism works, which is one of the most exacerbated in that sense, but not the only one. That the system works that way doesn’t mean that I endorse it. The PT in government, as Frei Betto, the Brazilian liberation theology priest that was in Lula’s government and se left, has set forth very clearly in a book he published, The Blue Fly (La mosca azul), in which he says that when the blue fly bites you, it corrupts you, you begin to like comfort, having a car, having a beach house, another wherever, etc. Comfort didn’t bite him, and the left should have passed by that, should not have functioned inside of the corrupt system, but rather have transformed it. What the PT did in Brazil was to play with that corruption, only that instead of doing it in favor of the old corrupt caudillos of the Brazilian political system, it did it in favor of the governability of the PT, and that already had been seen two years after the PT’s arrival in government in 2005, with the “Mensalao,” which was a monthly payment that went to opposition deputies so that they would vote for government projects, using state companies. The lesson was not understood, and it continued in the same way. So, I have no doubt that the right and Judge Moro, who is also on the right, would take advantage of the corruption to sink the PT, but you were in the game, you are also responsible for having been there and not having transformed it.
-Just as is the word revolution, as a counter-face there is one that many times the lefts forget, which is the word exploitation. The labor reform in Brazil was just voted on, and in Argentina a few days ago the State repressed and evicted the Pepsico factory, occupied by its workers. What is your reading of this regional panorama that implies an offensive of the capitalist classes?
-I think that in this epoch of the accumulation of capital by theft, the exploitation of labor is increasing exponentially in the entire world. For example, faced with all the jobs that were destroyed in the crisis, today in part it returns to having employment, because capital needs it, but in much worse conditions, with lower salaries; what they are doing is a profound restructuration of social security, increasing the retirement age, diminishing retirement conditions, we are going to much more exploitive regime than that from which we came. The Welfare State ended, the developmental State ended. Then capital can just establish a system like the maquila (sweat shop). What is the maquila? It’s a system through which the factory is converted into a prison; so you stop having rights, you are a prisoner that works not 8 hours, but the hours that capital wants or it throws you out or kills you, as happens in the maquilas of Guatemala, of Honduras, in Mexico, in the north close to the border with the United States. At one time the system aspired to integrate workers, with better working conditions, which was Peronism and development in Argentina, from the 40s forward. The dictatorship now began to break that up and neoliberalism broke it even more, and now it’s finished. Today the system of exploitation is very cruel; the extractive model generates employment for half of the population, minimally dignified employment, the other half survive as motoqueros, as precarious workers or they don’t directly survive. They have to go to completely illegal employment, in the networks of the narco, or in self- employment or whatever. But the half of the population the system rejects has no place in the current system; thus, the war in Mexico, the exponential increase of violence against women and young people. One must understand that the system functions like that. The governments that are coming, which can come to be governments that give you a little more of the air, are going to be conjunctural, as was the government of Cámpora in 1973, which was a better government than others, but how long did it last, how long did it last being a government that bet more on what’s popular? That ended, capital bet on the hardest. What the progressive governments did, among other things, beyond some positives, was to deepen the extractive model. When did soy increase the most in Argentina? It increased in the decade of Kirchner. The model today is a model of exclusion, of hyper-exploitation and impoverishment of the popular sectors, because they no longer need half of the population, not even to accumulate by theft, because there is nothing to steal from them. And the merchandise that the other half consumes is low-quality merchandise; they don’t consume I phones. This is the situation in which I believe we are.
-How do you see the role of the media at this juncture?
-The system’s media, this mega-fusion that Clarín just did, Oglobo in Brazil, are the system’s media, and are evidently not going to favor us. They are the media of oppression, of distraction for the system. So we have to have our own media, and we must make it very clear that what the media sell us is not for us. There is an old saying of the Romans that was “bread and circus,” giving a little bit of food to the poor so that they are entertained, and lots of circus. Today the circus cannot make us dizzy. The circus is not ours, and when I say circus I am thinking about consumerism. We cannot think about transforming reality, and I’m thinking about the militant activists, about the thousands of individuals that are going to the marches, about the thousands that are angry at the system. We cannot think that with an iPhone in one hand and a ballot in the other, we’re going to a socialist paradise, or wherever. It’s necessary to stop having that iPhone in one hand; perhaps it’s better to have a radio that is tuned to community radios like yours, and other things, and in that other hand a fist for fighting. We cannot let ourselves be persuaded by the system’s media, we need our own media. Since you asked me, I’ll tell you something that made me very happy, I read a census that ARECIA (the Network of community magazines) took, and the online and paper magazines reach 5,000,000 people. If you add community radios to that… we are no longer marginal. At the communication level we have some weight. I remember that during the Monsanto encampment, if I wanted to inform myself about what was happening in the camp not even Pagina/12 informed me about it; I had to go to Ecos Córdoba [an alternative media] that reported on the camp. We already have a network sufficiently wide and constructed so as not to depend on the big monopolized media. And that seems to me to be a very strong and very important learning experience, because we are now in that situation in which we have and are able to enhance what we already have. It’s good to denounce the media monopolies, but above all that we must do is support each other and support what we have already constructed, which is not a little; we are not marginal.
-In your book you argue with intellectual referents about political processes related to progressivism, among them Álvaro García Linera, who recently has asserted that we are in the presence, more than at an end of a cycle, of “revolutionary waves.” According to him, there was a first wave linked to progressivism, and like all waves it implies ebbs and possible new surges of that struggle at a future time. In the book you propose something interesting at the moment of thinking about what a civilizing change would imply, which is the idea of a collapse; in other words, no longer conceiving of the revolution in terms of the myth of what were known as the 20th Century revolutions, of the conquest of power in a traditional sense. To what are they referring with this perspective on the collapse of capitalism and what do you think about these proposals of García Linera?
-First about García Linera, I would be happy if there were new revolutionary waves, and I think there will be. What happens is that the progressive governments, and concretely that of Bolivia that Álvaro García Linera talks about, what they have done is to close off the ability of the movements to confront those waves. All the progressive governments have weakened the movements, some directly, others unintentionally, but in fact they have weakened them. I think that revolutionary waves are always born below; they don’t come from a government. The governments can encourage, can support. But, what I’m seeing is something different. When the TIPNIS march took place in defense of a territory and a national park -because the government wanted to build a highway that practically destroyed it-, the government repressed the march, condemned it and criminalized it. So, the movements are the subjects of a revolutionary wave, not the States. As for the collapse, it has a long trajectory in revolutionary thought. Marx and Engels bet on the collapse of capitalism, Lenin also. In fact, the peoples experienced World War I as a true collapse, just like WWII. The collapse is not of the stock markets; the collapse is of the life of those below. It’s in that where we affirm our action; I think that there are two things there. One: the current system for many reasons heads towards collapse, that is a key element, but the other thing is that if one stops as a revolutionary, or as a person that wants a new world, and I think about the biography of Lenin, for what moment do you prepare yourself? You prepare for the moment in which those extreme situations arrive. Lenin prepared for 1917 his whole life. One does not prepare for the next electoral campaign, beyond the fact that you can agitate and go to the elections, I’m not saying no, but your fundamental preparation is not for that, your fundamental preparation is for when life enters into a bifurcation, socialism or barbarity. We prepare ourselves for that. And I think that it’s a question that comes well before the definition of a tactic, some objectives or of a strategy. It’s thinking about why I’m here, and in what direction I am preparing myself. I think that these are debates lacking in our left, in our activism. As said before: strategic debates, we think too much about the current conjuncture, about whether such law, such repression, which are important, but that denunciation, that organization around a specific activity in response to the system, cannot make us forget that we have a long-term strategy, and that that strategy is what guides our action.
Originally Published in Spanish by Radio Caterva
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee