Neoliberal culture shows cracks, but has not been defeated

Latin American progressivism has failed to promote a left, alternative and radiant replacement in that region


García Linera thinks that Colombia has rebelled against the enslavement of the north’s neoliberalism. Photo: Marco Peláez

By: Luis Hernández Navarro / Part 2 of 2

One of the great weaknesses of Latin American progressivism and something that explains its partial defeats is the lack of a popular left, alternative and radiant culture, with new axes for organizing daily life, affirms Álvaro García Linera.

For him, despite the electoral triumphs and progressive ideas in the region, neoliberalism, despite its triumphs, has established a common sense, which goes beyond who the ruler is, he exposes in a talk with La Jornada about progressivism, the left, the right and popular culture. Next, the final part of this interview.

–It would seem that in countries like Chile, [1] El Salvador and Ecuador the right has achieved not only winning elections, but also the imaginary of the middle and popular sectors. How do we explain this phenomenon?

–And not only there…

“Even in progressive experiences, the neoliberal imaginary as mass culture has not been completely dismantled. Evidently, there have been moments of breakdown, of stupor and of cognitive openness in some places, but 40 years of neoliberalism have settled a common sense, which goes beyond who the ruler is, whether the State should protect you. It has settled on other kinds of personal expectations.

“Progressivism is not the overcoming of neoliberal culture. It is a process of struggle against that culture. With ups and downs, it has made progress in other aspects, but in this –and in others– it has not even given battle. There are cases in which it’s not even present as a partial struggle against neoliberal culture. There, neoliberal rule is almost absolute.

“Just that it’s a tired dominance. It’s no longer axiomatic, it presents doubts. In the ‘90s, neoliberalism fulfilled a series of life axioms, which people assumed without question, as if they were something of nature. Today, in progressive experiences, but also in countries like Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, in Europe itself, it’s a discourse that begins to walk lame, to stumble, bump into the stands, it’s clumsy when climbing, when walking down the street. It’s starting to show cracks.

“In countries where progressivism has triumphed, those cracks have been taken advantage of to try to promote, also with stumbles, a new culture, still partial, of medium breath. But I feel that, sooner than later, that new culture is also going to emerge in other places.”

–Where would it be emerging?

–Colombia has been what was Chile in the ‘90s. In the 21st century it has become a country in which, with Walt Disney franchises, the promotion of its artists, the overwhelming North American military presence and the imaginary that they are the continuation of Miami in Latin America, the United States would consolidate a model.

“It’s about a model in which a neoliberalism of the South, subordinated, a vassal of the North’s neoliberalism functions successfully. In which US representatives meet with Colombian businessmen and politicians. In which Colombian universities are open to the North Americans. In which its popular culture is being recognized by Hollywood.

“But look: there has been a gigantic mobilization of repudiation against all that. Certainly, it has not been able to transfer it into the politics. And that is an experience of how collective action must have a strategy for being able to radiate a political event. But, even there, in what is the new Chile of the 2020s, there has been a tremor, a cracking. I trust that this will continue in the rest of the countries on the continent.

–In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Latin American left had a formidable cultural potency. Its musical, literary and graphic production were exceptional. Where is progressivism’s cultural work?

–That left culture has fed the political force, the cadres and the knowledge of the reality of progressivisms. The left of the ‘60s has not given rise to progressivism, but has nourished it and has given it an internal temperament. A species of internal tensors, small but very solid.

“I give the example of Bolivia. The emergence of the indigenous-campesino has nothing to do with the left of the ‘60s. Nothing. What’s more, to the left of the ‘60s indigenous-campesinos were second-class actors, the petty bourgeoisie that was going to see how the workers made revolution. The campesino emergence is born from other sectors, from other experiences.

“At the time of the great collective insurrections, this Left, marginalized by neoliberalism, with an urban presence, powerful in the ‘60s, ‘70s, re-emerges in the ‘80s and ‘90s. And then it’s called by progressivism, as part of its cadres, in the ambit of the compressed moments of the previous ideological battles that surrender to electoral victories.

“I am convinced that, ideas are always won, although it may only be partially, before winning electorally. And, there, the old left, the old cadres helped in a compressed moment. They knew how to understand that it was time, they didn’t wait. Some did and they stayed in their cubicle, hoping that socialism or communism would come. But another part joined in. They understood that there was the popular. And those cadres helped to think and enrich, both the effort and the political discussion.

“But the new progressivism has not had either the time or the lucid gaze to expand this leftist culture. It has done it very slowly or in some cases has not done it at all.

“I don’t know if Bolivia is too extreme an example. The paradox has been that in the 1960s and ‘70s there was a left-wing middle-class culture. But the Indians made the revolution in the 2000s, not the middle class. The middle class joined in. That speaks of the radicality of the process, of an indigenous and popular emergence, either plebeian, or from below.

“It’s like another world, in which the taco vendor becomes a minister, and then returns to selling tacos. He isn’t the type that becomes rich and lives in Pedregal in a mansion because of being a social leader.”

–Has a new left culture emerged?

–One of the errors of progressivism, in which I place Bolivia, is not having had enough time to produce a new left culture with this indigenous imprint. No longer the old one.

It cannot be the previous one coming from that radicalized middle-class gaze. Because now, there is the commoner in the street. But, even so, we have not had the time and the ability to create a culture.

“That’s why I said that neoliberal culture has not been defeated. We have opened cracks. It has indentations. It has slits. But it has not been replaced by a new cultural framework.

“When are you going to be able to dismantle the neoliberal cultural framework? When you have a popular culture of the left, alternative and radiant, with new axes for organizing daily life.

“That is one of the great weaknesses of progressivism and something that explains its partial defeats. Because, if it had been achieved, you would have had a long-term cycle, of three or four decades at least. But there has been a wave of 15 years, and, now, another rebirth. I’m not sure that it will have a life of another 15 or 20 years. No.

“The great debate about the new cultural structures for organizing daily life is not yet on your side. You still don’t have a left culture on the continent, a popular, radical culture, with triumphant left narratives.”

[1] Chile held the second round in its presidential election process last Sunday, December 19, 2021. The winner was the 35-year old candidate of the left, Gabriel Boric, a former leader of student protests against the right-wing government.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: