Pablo González Casanova, a Latin American trajectory

Don Pablo (Comandante Pablo Contreras) with Subcomandante Galeano. Photo: Daliri Oropeza.

By: Sebastián Rivera Mir*

In the 1970s, the Argentine dictatorship decided to outlaw hundreds of books analyzing the continent’s social and political conditions. On Sociology of exploitation, by Pablo González Casanova [1], they declared that it was a book that demonstrated “a form with undoubtedly dissociative tendencies, since they attack the structure of the State or one of its institutions, considering the need for its change by unacceptable means.” Why did one of the bloodiest dictatorships on the continent worry about the approaches of the Mexican historian and sociologist who was more than 8,000 kilometers away?  How could a text of rigorous analysis of Latin America’s economic and social future be a threat to Argentine generals?

Beyond the anti-communist hysteria itself, these soldiers seemed to understand one of the main objectives of Pablo González Casanova at the time of carrying out his intellectual activity: it’s not enough to just understand reality, it’s essential to try to change it. His commitment to social movements, to revolutionary processes, cannot be dissociated from his rigorous and critical efforts to analyze political, cultural and economic problems. Of course, the impact of his proposals throughout the continent has ended up becoming a challenge for those who seek to curb democratic processes.

The Latin American gaze of González Casanova began to be cemented from his first steps in the academic field. Paradoxically, one of his first publications in El Colegio de México, where he studied for a master’s degree in history, focused on censorship implemented by Spanish colonial authorities in Latin America. The doctorate, carried out in France together with one of the leading historians of the time, Fernand Braudel, again led him to explore the activities related to the coloniality of thought, although this time from the perspective of the sociology of knowledge.

The need to rethink, from Marxism, those categories that explained the conditions of subordination of the continent led him to build, with a statistical rigor uncommon in the 60s, the concept of internal colonialism. It was a question of understanding how forces were articulated within our countries that contributed and took advantage of the relations of dependency for their own benefit. Like many of his works, it was also based on dialogue with other researchers and political actors. Different approaches were discussed in academic spaces in Brazil, Peru, Chile, Mexico, among other countries. Thus, the result was not a personal interpretation, but a true work of collective criticism throughout Latin America.

Don Pablo González Casanova with Marichuy in 2018. Photo: Daliri Oropeza.

The process of conceptual and reflective elaboration of Pablo González Casanova has been accompanied by the creation of institutions that would allow these intellectual efforts to be sustained over time. At different times, he was linked to the Centro Latino-Americano de Pesquisas em Ciências Sociais (Clapcs; Unesco), the Latin American Association of Sociology, the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (Flacso), the Permanent Seminar on Latin America (Sepla), publishers such as the Fondo de Cultura Económica or Siglo XXI, the Salvador Allende Center for Latin American Studies, among other organizations. We could go on enumerating; However, what is relevant is to recognize that his commitment to institution-building has given density to the analytical exchanges required to face problems that often exceed national boundaries.

This last aspect allows us to understand the thematic breadth of his reflections, which have covered elements as diverse as democracy, militarism, peasant and workers’ movements, the constitution of states and uneven economic development. These problems, central to understanding the challenges faced in Latin America, have been part of Pablo González’s political career. For example, his support for anti-dictatorial movements led him to focus his analyses on the role of democracy in the region, or his collaboration with South American exiles pushed him to rethink militarism. Thus, as we have stated, their political practices, their theoretical works and their contributions from the academic field, have formed part of the same process.

That’s why it’s no coincidence that Chilean students at the end of the 60s took up thinking again about university reform, having their books reprinted in different parts of the continent or that even the Federal Directorate of Security continued its activities in support of the revolutionary movements in Cuba, Central America or Mexico. The trajectory of Pablo González Casanova in Latin America has allowed consolidating an alternative political thought and praxis, which continues to encourage the struggles for a different world. And this, as with the Argentine military in the 70s, constitutes a challenge for the defenders of the current neoliberal model.

* Professor researcher of El Colegio Mexiquense

[1] In April 2018, the EZLN named Doctor Pablo González Casanova a comandante in the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee of the EZLN (CCRI-EZLN), Comandante Pablo Contreras.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Wednesday, December 14, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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