28.11.2016

When the right is left and the left is not right.

The Latin-American lefts have adopted an uncritical discourse that has closed doors to basic social experiences and disabled discussion spaces in which feminism had and still has a lot to say.

Photo: iStock by FernandoPodolski

Taking stock of a decade of progressive governments in the region is a task that exceeds any individual and depends on the disclosure, through critical debate, of both the light and the dark, as well as analysis of the deeper roots of epistemic, cultural and political deficits of the Latin-American left. It is an emerging process that is tackling the challenge, as Arturo Escobar proposes, of "expanding the epistemic and social space of what has traditionally been considered Latin-American critical thinking" [1]. Along with left thought, Escobar proposes including at least two prominent aspects that arise from the struggles and the thinking. First "from below": autonomic thought and thought from the earth. Second, from the feminist perspective, "thought from the body" should be incorporated. That is, the power relations that penetrate through this, the articulation of individual and collective autonomy, relations with the land and with nature.

The "move to the left" has incorporated a heterogeneous set of dissimilar political processes and cultures. However, despite their heterogeneity, all have acknowledged one another as segments of the left and have formed allied camps (San Pablo Forum and ALBA) that have never been opened to debate.

The Sandinista National Liberation Front led by Daniel Ortega belongs to both spaces, without its strategies for continuance in power, its restrictive policies on sexual and reproductive rights or the conservative alliances that support the government having been called into question. On the contrary, in June 2016, the declaration issued by the XXII Session of the San Pablo Forum salutes the popular support: "to the FSLN and its leader, Commandant Daniel Ortega, presidential candidate for the November elections in this country, in which the Nicaraguan people, confident in their triumph, have given a lesson in sovereignty by prohibiting the traditional intervention of the imperialist powers in the democratic processes of our countries under the guise of electoral observation." This position is shared by a significant section of social movements, deepening what Boaventura de Sousa Santos calls "a phantasmal relationship between theory and practice" [2].

Alejandro Bendaña asserts that "unlike some countries in South America, the unfortunate difference is the impossibility of enumerating any significant progressive initiatives but, rather, enormous setbacks" such as prohibition of therapeutic abortion, the deepening of social inequalities, concessions to multinational companies, or the defencelessness of the indigenous communities in the face of trafficking in land and wood aided by major capital and the political authorities. In a similar vein, the Nicaraguan Feminist Movement has pronounced on the new electoral situation. One of its most recent documents asserts that "it rejects the use of women's bodies to negotiate quotas of power between political, economic and religious powers, and so we will continue to fight by our own means and form alliances only with those social stakeholders who are willing to give centre space to justice and equality for men and women from all echelons of life in proposals for change".

When political practice remains anchored in Cold War conceptualizations, one can only be "with" or "against" and all questioning reflection is automatically labelled as being right-wing. According to Boaventura de Sousa Santos, "the loss of critical nouns, along with the phantasmal relationship between critical Eurocentric theory and transformative struggles in the region, not only recommend practising some distance in relation to critical thinking previously considered inside and outside the continent, but much more than that, they demand thinking the unthought. That is, to adopt surprise as a component part of the theoretical work".

Progressivism and populism

Eduardo Gudynas argues that "progressivisms express heterodox political regimes, where certain novelties that could be identified as leftist coexist with other more conservative ones. Some innovations have been made, but at the same time certain components remain which have trailed along since the neoliberal decades" [4]. But what at first could be described as a "move to the left", characterized by a new role for the State and the inclusion of voices and demands by the social movements with expectations of emancipatory change, have encountered the limits of their neodevelopmental proposals and it was found, as Maristella Svampa says, that "actually existing populisms place us in a more pessimistic scenario, which warns of conflicting relations regarding models of democracy, confrontation between progressive governments and social movements, and the growing limitations of neo-extractivist projects" [5].

The tensions and contradictions of this heterodoxy, along with the corruption of some processes, have caused ruptures in various grassroots movements. Leaders of Brazil’s Workers Party claim to have become separated from social movements, without reflecting that this happened precisely because of their own options and concessions to predatory capitalism, agribusiness and finance. These were not innocent acts and their repercussions are very serious from the political, ecological and social points of view.

Resorting exclusively to a critique of imperialism and the mass media hinders the development of critical thinking on the left which can profit from this practice to analyse the economic policies of governments, their options and alliances.

Feminist struggles are confronted with a leftist culture, but also with other aspects of critical thinking, which continue to marginalize fields of feminist political activism, reproducing an obsolete division theoretically and practically between "the political" as state management and everyday social relations in which social exclusion, racism, sexism and heteronormativity are articulated in people of flesh and blood, in the bodies of women who suffer violence and of sexually abused girls and boys.

What is the field of alliances that leftist parties have favoured? Relations with feminists, ecologists, human rights activists are both stigmatized and ridiculed for looking at "the tree and not seeing the forest", without understanding that it is precisely the forest that we do not like.

Movements aiming at social change should be identified by the imaginative radicalism of their proposals in creating new forms of production for politics and social organization. How do we think of our future as a society?

Building new emancipatory directions requires a change in the analytical perspective. That is still the main field of political dispute. We should begin by placing the capital-life contradiction, as defined by feminist economics, at the centre of the debate, to contemplate the quality of life itself or "the life that deserves to be lived."

Plural dialogue is a political tool but it is also an emancipatory proposal in itself, since it opens up the possibility of creating feminist politics from diversity and with a plurality of aspects. In the political scenario of Latin America, and within this thousand-faceted feminism, discussing imaginaries built up in the struggles to become protagonists in its history, and using this dialogue as a fertile space for political action enables such colonized imaginaries to be dismantled and for new alliances and interactions to be reinforced.

First published in Spanish, Nueva Sociedad, November 2016.

1. Escobar Arturo; From below, by the left and with the earth. The difference between Abya Yala/Afro/Latin-America in: Recovering hope. Beyond neoliberalism and progressivism. 2016. Entrepueblos, Barcelona.

2. De Sousa Santos, Boaventura Epistemologies of the South. Utopia and Latin-American Praxis/Year 16. No. 54 (July-September, 2011) pp. 17 - 39 International Journal of Ibero-American Philosophy and Social Theory / CESA-FCES - Universidad del Zulia. Maracaibo-Venezuela.

3. A feminist attitude to the national situation. Nicaraguan Feminist Movement. October 18, 2016

4. Gudynas Eduardo, Assessing the identity of progressivisms. ALAI 2015

5. Svampa Maristella; Latin America: End of cycle and high intensity populisms in Recovering Hope. Beyond neoliberalism and progressivism. 2016. Entrepueblos, Barcelona.

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