close window  
Statist vs Solidarity Strategies in Latin America for Building a New World: A Confrontation
by Bob Stone

Click here for more complete text version.

According to Ross Gandy, history professor at Mexico–s National University Social change movements have long debated whether society should be transformed using state power or rebuilt from below in the shell of the old. Thus in the USA in 1900 populists worked for grassroots control of the economy, while socialists tried to win elections with a national party. In the 1960–s the New Left was split between community organizing and party building. Where does the truth lie?  While inclined toward community and workplace strategies, Gandy holds that state power is indispensable. On the other hand, Justin Podur, a student at the University of Toronto, argued in a ZNet article last May for ķsolidarity economics and against the ķindependence strategy popular in the Third World in the 60–s with its imperatives to: Build strong nation-states, with internal unity and homogeneity to prevent divide and rule strategies. Build up heavy-industry and strong militaries. Get technical help, goods, services, and alliances, from advanced decolonized countries, notably the USSR. The independence strategy, he claims, failed by suppressing indigenous groups, or scrapping needed agrarian programs to build industry and armies. It died with the USSR in 1989. It is ill-suited to resisting domination by the IMF/World Bank/WTO and their ķenforcers the US and its allies.    Podur favors a strategy pioneered since 1994 by Mexico–s Zapatistas: Take whatever space you can, and make as many reforms as you can, without waiting for victory. Concentrate on political struggle, slowly and patiently organizing everyone in the locality. Embrace the diversity and do not seek to build a homogenous movement. Be explicitly democratic on a participatory, not a representative model. And for protection from the military strength of the imperial power, build international solidarity, including accompaniment, observation, and connections to dissidents in the rich countries. Podur–s evidence:  Colombia–s ķEconomia Solidaria movement occupied plants and set up a ķmicro-economy of self-managed mutual aid including raising chickens, rabbits and fish. In her Cauca department, indigenous groups join land recovery to participatory government.  Brazil–s Movimento Sem Terra, with its slogan ķoccupy, resist, rebuild, has helped 300.000 families build co-ops on unused land.  In Rio Grande do Sul ķparticipatory budgeting subjects city funds to citizen control. Mexico–s Zapatistas successfully uses systematic international solidarity.  In Argentina ķpeoples assemblies run neighborhoods and unused factories are run democratically. Podur proposes ķparticipatory planning among co-ops and ķbuilding a database of their productive capacities, working circumstances, and needs. Seeing what others produce, co-ops can plan production and consumption in a ķsolidarity economy. Gandy substantially agrees with Podur: Those who emphasize revolutionary seizure of state power and top-down transformation are often called šJacobins.–  Marx usually seemed to be like this, but in The Civil War in France he came close to the other position. Bakunin always favored base-level organizing and accurately predicted the Jacobins would turn into a new class of bureaucratic exploiters.  I tend toward Bakunin–s anarchism against the Jacobins. Yet he says the ķJacobins have good arguments and offers three cases from Mexico: In Morelos, Pascual, a large soft drink co-op managed by worker-owners is running into trouble.  The party of the neo-liberal President Fox, former head of Coca Cola Mexico, has passed a law whose effect is that only Coke may be sold in any state office in Morelos.  Pascual just lost a third of its market, wiping out co-op progress with a minor state action. Secondly, the Zapatistas have done some great community organizing.  But half the Mexican army is now in Chiapas.  The government–s Plan-Puebla-Panama, to turn the indigenous into wage slaves of transnationals, can–t  tolerate Zapatista opposition. The Zapatistas lack fire power; their days are numbered. Finally, Gandy notes:

Mexico–s village land-tenure unit, the ejido, is agrarian socialism. But the State has trashed protection of ejidos, allowed import of cheap U.S. corn, and stopped rural credit throwing masses of farmers off the land.  The State is undermining local organizing and creating willing wage workers. A dilemma results:  ķThe only antidote to oppressive state power is participatory democracy and grassroots co-ops, but that works only locally, not nationally. The future?  ķThis dilemma is intractable in a world of 200 nation states. Only when ecological catastrophe ends unrenewable energy, and the U.S. economy and military hegemony have collapsed, will the world–s peoples have to drop this insane consumerism and decentralize nation states into communes run by participatory democracy. Gandy adds:  ķIf this is correct, then Podur is cavalier in dismissing Jacobins as failures (they are) without answering their critique of anarchist bottoms-up approaches as wipeable-out by hostile ruling classes running national states. Podur will be asked to respond.  It seems meanwhile that social change must walk on two legs.  Yet which foot goes first,

state power or ķgrassroots economics? Venezuela and Argentina seem to be testing these emphases, the former with Chavez–s social change forces in government, the latter with innovations in solidarity economics amidst financial chaos.  Both countries challenge globalization, US hegemony, and their own oligarchies. Can Chavez go beyond his modest reforms to mobilize social change?  Will Argentina–s nascent solidarity economy widen or be crushed or co-opted? Mexico, an interested party with a revolutionary past whose peasantry has been deeply harmed by globalization is also watching. History, which we can help make, will decide.Top

Include the citation below and GEO Newsletter grants permission to copy, use, and distribute this article.
Permission not for commercial or for-profit use.

©2001 GEO, P.O. Box 115, Riverdale, MD 20738-0115