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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Solidarity Economy Roads

Chapter 12 - Toward a Civilization of Labor and Solidarity

Article type
GEO Original
December 9, 2019
Body paragraph

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12

Translated by Matt Noyes

(Thanks to Emi Do and Leo Sammallahti – MN)

[Translator's note: In this final chapter we reach the “unusual point of observation” described in the introduction, a higher ground from which we can “make out the different paths of solidarity economy” and see the solidarity economy as “the expression of something that comes from long ago...and reaches into the far distant future.” From this vantage point we can also make sense of the economic, political, and cultural, crisis of contemporary civilization, especially in Latin America, and “discern a new epoch in embryo.”

The analysis, rooted in Latin-American history and informed by Razeto’s study of the work of Antonio Gramsci going back to his years of exile after the 1973 coup in Chile, has particular relevance today in the context of the climate crisis, which “most urgently and powerfully poses the need for a different civilization” and ongoing crises of governability in country after country.

It is not, he stresses, just a question of seeing the world as a whole, from a distance, we must at the same time “draw closer to the people and things nearest us, fine tuning our perception so as to see them up close.”It is as much about engagement as observation. We end Solidarity Economy Roads as Razeto’s friend Victor Jara sang “caminando, caminando” walking, walking, “loving our fellows and opening ourselves to their needs, concerning ourselves with the common good, and projecting ourselves into transcendence.” - MN]

Chapter 12

Toward a Civilization of Labor and Solidarity

Where are these solidarity economy roads headed?

We have now seen the ten principal roads of solidarity economy. They start from different contexts and problems and involve multitudes of people: the poor and marginalized, the privileged and rich, workers, people seeking greater participation, people who want a better society, people promoting development, women, families, people concerned with ecological problems and climate crisis, people of color and first nations people, and those who seek to live out their love and faith with others. From out of these different contexts, in the heart of these great human collectives, people come together in groups to take on the real and pressing problems they face and begin to experiment, creating new forms of economy centered on labor and solidarity.

At the outset, those who travel these roads are few: the most audacious, the pioneers, those who first grasp the possibility. Every beginning is difficult, the problems they face are the most difficult, the obstacles the biggest. Everything has to be learned by feeling one’s way, experimenting and failing, enduring the incomprehension of those who do not believe or do not want to believe, with scant means and little collaboration or support. But, as they begin to build the reality they want to see, their witness draws others who join them; as they move forward, the group grows. For those who join later the road is already a bit easier because they can learn from the founders, who are eager to share their experiences and teach what they have learned. Discovering and initiating a road is more difficult than following one that has already been successfully explored.

Moreover, after a short time, the initiators who started along one road with one set of motives, find that they are heading the same direction with others who started on a different road, with different motives. They meet and learn from each other and, most important, strengthen each other’s motivations. People building solidarity economy in order to overcome poverty and marginalization find others doing it in search of a more just and mutually supportive society; those motivated by the desire for social participation meet up with women seeking their own full development and full participation in society; those who are concerned about ecology and climate change find others motivated by a search for a higher spiritual existence and learn that their concerns overlap. Advocates for work with dignity, autonomy, and self-management, find support from professionals and institutions ready to provide them indispensable resources; people interested in alternative social-economic development come to see that first nations people possess the secret of its realization. As people meet and learn, the ten roads come together revealing the coherence of people’s efforts and the complementarity of their objectives: together their actions acquire a deeper meaning and they come to build connections, support each other, organize meetings, and create networks.

These encounters between groups traveling different roads is not always easy; each holds tight to their own motivation. Often they do not know how to appreciate each other’s value and fail to see what they have in common. But as they advance, each on their own path, they end up recognizing each other because in fact they are traveling in the same direction – most often without realizing it – and each step forward brings them closer.

Though they started in different places and created different organizations, all of them are bringing solidarity into their economic activities and introducing it into the economy in general. The processes they initiate take different names expressing the richness of contents and forms produced in this multi-pronged search: popular economy, self-management, cooperativism, grassroots organizing, local development, alternative economy, ecology movement, women’s development, family micro-enterprise, ethnic identity, artisanal production, christian economy, gandhian economy, etc. These and other names each bear a specific meaning that should be preserved; they are genuine expressions of particular identities.

Yet it is important that the broader, higher identity arising in the course of their encounters and the mutual recognition that takes place among them be expressed in a shared name. It is necessary for several reasons, so that all the groups can: meet and recognize each other on a deeper level, improve and enrich the meaning of each organizing experience, more effectively build each other up, take on more ambitious projects, have a shared project which they can carry out together, constitute a real economic sector capable of demonstrating its force and potential to the society as a whole, and make the deeper meaning of this sector’s complementary contribution better understood.

To that end we have proposed the expression “solidarity economy,” an expression that does not allude to any of the particular roads nor to any of the groups identified but signifies something that they all have in common, something that they are all in fact doing, and that marks the direction they are going.

Is a common term really needed? Yes. Every identity requires verbal expression, a simple name that permits it to be identified both by those who make it their own and by the society at large. The name makes the identity; once named, a given reality, a given person, begins their life in the social or cultural world.

Any name that is to be shared by all will likely provoke initial resistance, especially on the part of those who fear losing something special of their own.

Another name might do, but this one seems to us to express something essential and is good for all groups. The name is apt because solidarity is in fact an element of each of the experiences forging these converging paths. It benefits everyone because solidarity is a great value and expresses a profound yearning written in the heart of every person and every social organization, a desire that each of us can recognize as our own.

There is another reason, of the greatest importance: a name that is to express the shared identity of all of these quests should also have the property of expressing the emergent project that flows from these distinct realities and be coherent with an even broader and longer-term project that can be proposed to or shared with other social identities encountered in society and history. This leads us to a final reflection on the larger project within which solidarity economy can be inscribed, taking into account the fullness of its meaning.


The crisis of modern civilization

As we have made clear as we explored this path of transformation and social change, it is not our project to build a predefined model of a new society, nonetheless it is important that our project be based on an accurate diagnosis of the social reality into which we seek to introduce change. We must, then, look at our world today as a whole.

Two great tendencies mark modern society and have dominated the scene for an entire historical epoch: on one side, the sovereignty of capital over labor, and, on the other, the primacy of the State and political society over civil society. Both tendencies have converged in the construction of a social order based on massive organizing structures: big industry and mega-businesses in the economic realm, the State and macro-institutions in the political realm, and mass media in the realm of culture. These huge organizations have brought massification of the people and standardization of their behaviors.

In recent years we have begun to observe certain phenomena and processes that point in a different direction from the tendencies we have just described: the promotion of micro-enterprises, the decentralization of some large production facilities, the shrinking of the State, the renewed interest in the local, the appearance of small-scale communications media made possible by the development of computerization, etc. But although they achieve high visibility by placing a high value on media and benefit from the constant interest in showcasing new things, these new phenomena nonetheless remain secondary. They constitute, in fact, the beginning of a reaction that comes on the heels of many years of exacerbation of the main tendencies, which are still dominant. As elements of a reaction, these phenomena underscore the fact that the dominant tendencies structure our civilization.

Still, many signs indicate that this civilization faces a true and very deep crisis, a crisis defined not by declining rates of economic growth, which in fact we continue to see, but by a series of imbalances caused by processes that are growing in divergent directions, rupturing the organic integration of established structures.

In our view, the crisis of this civilization is the product of a combination of processes of tendential deterioration of the balances on which the social order is founded, resulting in progressive worsening of the quality of life and in a growing disarticulation of the integral relationships of its systems; at the same time the crisis creates the possibility of alternatives.

Due to limitations of time and space we can’t delve deeply here into the analysis of the specific contents and causes of the current crisis.1 We will only note here some the most evident manifestations and show how they are linked to a historical-social structure in which the political has achieved primacy over the cultural, the State over civil society, capital over labor, masses over people, large bureaucratic organizations over communities, and major industries over small-scale production. We can describe these manifestations as occurring on four planes:

a) On the individual plane the crisis is seen most basically in the incapacity of the established social order to provide individuals a meaningful life and facilitate their integral development. For many people, this gives rise to a tendential deterioration of psychological equilibria: neurosis, anomic behavior, the spread of alcoholism, drug addiction and other escapisms, the rise of delinquency, and a certain accentuated one-dimensionality and fragmentation of human experience.

In an effort to overcome this lack of meaning and integral development more and more people seek hope and personal growth in philosophical, religious, and spiritual perspectives whose origins and provenance lie outside the fundamental parameters of modern society.

There are many reasons to associate this “crisis of meaning” with the dominant tendencies of contemporary civilization. In the first case, it is enough to ask oneself if the State and politics that occupy center stage in social life have the ethical and cultural substance necessary to offer meaning to the lives of their citizens. Politics can give life meaning, of course, as it has done in the phases of nation formation when there is a high identification of people with the nation and an elevated patriotic spirit, or in movements of national liberation and social emancipation in which great ideals are present; but in those cases it is precisely a politics that is rooted not in the quest for power or the effort to control bureaucratic organizations but in ideas and higher values capable of generating strong collective identities.

Capital relentlessly induces consumerist behaviors in order to generate accumulation of wealth. These behaviors imply a strict calculus of profits and the pursuit of the maximization of individual utility and generate situations of accentuated psychological tension due to the endless pursuit of a type of success which provides no happiness. The individual is situated as a means and not an end in themself, regarded as an insatiable being, never satisfied, constantly seeking pleasure, and not as a creative being whose self-realization is accomplished through the constructive projection of their potential.

b) On the social plane, the crisis of contemporary civilization shows up in the form of the growing incapacity of the established order to generate forms of community required to satisfy the needs of coexistence and in its accentuated ineptitude at integrating primary and intermediate instances of association in a social order which channels the concerns and actions of different groups toward the common good. Not only do we see a marked lack of communitarian forms of association, we also find that the family, the basic unit of all sociability and social integration, is subject to imbalances and tensions that prevent it from sustaining shared processes and projects among its members.

The connection of this crisis of sociability to the exacerbation of the tendencies of the established social order is sufficiently clear.

Production and labor, having been torn from the family environment and the areas where people live and concentrated in huge manufacturing centers, offer few occasions for family integration and impede the formation of true local communities. At the same time that it foments individualistic values economic organization produces a depersonalizing massification of social life.

The bureaucratization of the human relations inherent to most social activities carried out by large organizations inhibits the establishment of affective bonds, the conviviality characteristic of small groups, and the formation of true communities of life. In large enterprises, organizations, and institutions people tend to associate with each other functionally and achieve integration by conforming to corporate interests.

The incorporation of the multitude of functionally distinct grassroots organizations into a global social order tends to be effected along the same bureaucratic and functional lines, resulting in a social order which is mechanical and corporate; the mutual exteriority of social groups and organizations is maintained and no true integrating communication is established.

c) On the political plane the crisis has multiple manifestations, differentiated according to the institutional arrangements of each State; still, critical elements common to political life in numerous countries can be detected. The nodal point of the crisis is located in the growing incapacity of the State to constitute a unifying center for the different human and cultural groups that make up society. In practically every country, to a different degree, the State has seen a decline in its capacity to serve as the institutional expression of the nation. And as the consistency and legitimacy of the nation-state resides precisely in this capacity for integration, it has been losing coherence and some of its reason for being.

This situation is due in part to tendencies inherent to an economy that is rapidly internationalizing and markets in which the principal subjects operate multi-nationally and maintain their centers of decision on a level above that of nation-states. Each nation-state sees a decline in its capacity for articulation and regulation of the market and for effective intervention in production, distribution, consumption, and accumulation to bring about alignment with national objectives.

The dynamics of politics themselves tend to be articulated internationally in conformity with ideological conceptions that do not respond to specific analyses and national projects, giving rise to increasingly powerful supranational party organizations. The power acquired by a nation’s political forces depends more and more on international relations and the support that they can obtain and less and less on their historical rootedness in the country itself.

In the end, through cultural dynamics, or orientations of thought and the sciences increasingly defined and diffused via global communications media, cultural worlds are configured that fail to correspond to national identities and spirits, leading to a progressive loss of the national identities that provide a basis for the existence of sovereign and autonomous states.

Together with the loss of power that can be exercised “from above” (a weakening caused by the growing supranational dimension of processes and relations), the State also faces a loss of consistency “from below,” that is, from within the country that it leads. In those countries we witness a process of social fragmentation.

A first great fracture in society divides the sector most integrated into modern life and the processes of economic, political, and cultural globalization, from the huge sector of marginalized people who find themselves with fewer and fewer possibilities of dynamic entry into the official and predominant forms of life, culture, communication networks, political structures, factor markets, circuits of distribution, etc.

In addition to this transversal fracture there is an entire process of multiform fragmentation that divides and disperses society into a plethora of smaller groups that develop forms of life and particular self-referential subcultures, as well as a variety of inorganic interests and aspirations. These heterogeneous groups or sectors typically mobilize to exercise pressure around corporate demands on a State that is in no position to satisfy them nor to integrate them in some kind of rational equilibrium or coherent policy.

Thus, national societies show signs of growing ungovernability. This ungovernability is based not only or even mostly on the directly political conflict that results from counterposed political projects but in the action of the groups that, through the achievement of their interests and aspirations, act in an intransigent manner, without effective political mediation, lacking a coherent leadership that could place the group’s particular objectives and actions in the referential framework of the common good and the general interests represented by the State. (On the plane of politics it remains possible to achieve a certain composition of the various parties, insofar as each is capable of culturally universalizing the particular interests and ideas of the social sectors they represent and expressing them in legislative proposals, financially viable sectoral policies, etc.) On the extremes, organized groups of delinquents, terrorist organizations, extremist regionalist or localist groups, etc. generate climates of violence and confrontation that exceed the capacity of the institutions to guarantee the indispensable social order and security of the citizens.

d) On the international and planetary plane, the manifestations of crisis are also multiple and evident. Globalization of the economy and politics stands out in a context of striking inequalities that block the organization of a true world order.

In the past few years, one part of the world experienced the complete collapse of its highly centralized political and economic systems and still faces enormous challenges to reach a certain minimum level of order in its processes of change, experiencing the resurgence of long contained nationalisms together with an accentuated decline in people’s conditions of life.

Another even more populous part of the world has been struggling too long against poverty in a context of chronic political instability.

In this setting, the most highly developed western countries, which are also experiencing processes of political change tending towards growing regional integration, face increasing responsibilities on the international level without being in a position to adequately meet them. They end up closing in on themselves fearful that the reigning global disorder might menace their own balances and levels and ways of life.

To this framework of great imbalances and international instability is added the dramatic ecological and environmental situation, which introduces a critical element of potential conflict into international relations. By affecting the climate conditions of the entire planet, the climate crisis poses the necessity of regulations and solutions of an international character. But the appropriate structures needed to impose said regulations and solutions on the world level do not exist, nor does it seem possible to establish general norms that would be respected by all due to the enormous inequalities between countries in levels of economic, social, technological, and cultural development.

Each player tries to shift onto the others the primary responsibility for the problem and the costs that its solution implies. Rich countries point to the indiscriminate use of natural resources by the less developed countries and their use of poorly developed technologies. The latter claim to be unable to address the problem at this level due to the dramatic social costs involved; and, in turn, identify the principal cause of the problem as disproportionate energy use and consumption of products that exist in developed countries that, for their part, are not prepared to reduce their levels of consumption and livelihood.

In reality, the causes of ecological imbalances are found in all countries, disseminated locally in every direction; at the same time each of these sources of contamination has effects that are felt more and more all over the world. Each country makes an effort to impose on others dramatic and growing restrictions and controls. In the absence of an effective global institution, this leads steadily to the exercise of economic and political pressures, up to and including the use of military force. The ecological problem thus threatens to be a new cause of conflict that will continue to aggravate the international crisis.

If we take as a whole the manifestations of the crisis on the personal, social, political, international, and ecological planes, we can not escape the conclusion that in effect we are facing a profound crisis of civilization.

It is industrial society and its modern state forms that are in crisis, that is to say, the civilization which has built itself upon two great pillars: large industry and large capital in the economic realm, and the large State in the political realm. It is the crisis of a civilization based on competition, conflict, and struggle, a civilization in which persons and collectivities are supposed to seek success in the conquest of power and the accumulation of riches.


Is it realistic to propose the construction of a new civilization? What would it consist of?

Starting from the diagnosis of a crisis of civilization we can derive the necessity of orienting the project of transformation in the perspective of a new civilization. But isn’t there a contradiction between this idea and the point we have affirmed repeatedly, that change which is possible and ethically appropriate can not have pretensions of being global and totalizing? Isn’t civilization something larger and more totalizing than any social order defined at the national or state level?

Our objections were not to the globality of the change sought but to the pretension of realizing change on the basis of a predefined global model to which everything must submit and reality must be adjusted, the idea that certain particular social or historical subjects are bearers of this model and that, in order for the change to be implanted, they must seize political power. This raises a more serious problem: is it possible that the transformative action that we postulate has to be built from the bottom up, through creative activity, prioritizing small scale construction of economic and social units, personalized and communitarian, can contribute effectively to a change as general and multifacted as the one implied by the creation and development of nothing less than a new civilization?

Tackling this problem supposes that we understand what makes up a civilization and what are the necessary dimensions, contents, and forms of the new civilization we seek. With respect to the first, the study of past civilizations and reflection on the crisis of the present one permit us to identify the following constitutive elements of a civilization, in historical terms:

a) A certain union of theory and practice, that is to say, the existence of a social order that is historically durable and manifests a certain basic level of consistency between modes of thinking and modes of acting, between the forms of social awareness and the real systems of action.

A civilization is, in effect, a great social unit which requires, for the integration of its elements, a conception of the world that is sufficiently broad and deep, sufficiently capable of unifying the numerous human groups that make it up, to give meaning to their lives and articulate their social and historical action. Such a socio-historical unit can not exist when a mode of thinking or a conception of the world affirmed in words and officially recognized is contradicted by a practical system of ends and means that is incarnated in life and action, that is to say, when diffuse social behaviors conform to implicit modes of thought that contradict the system of ideas verbally affirmed or publicly recognized. The gap between theory and practice demonstrates the existence of a contradictory cultural system, a duplicated social awareness, a social reality that is disaggregated and full of conflict.

b) An organic relation between leaders and led, which is nothing but the social and institutional expression of the unity of theory and practice. A crisis of civilization is always manifested in a separation and even active contradiction between leaders and led, reflecting the fact that the leading groups of society are not an expression of the social multitudes, the behavior and modes of thought of the former developing along different lines than those of the latter and following different logics. As a consequence, the leading sectors of society maintain their position by means of coercion and restriction of the liberties of the people; in other words, there is no alignment between the people and the institutions, between the multitudes and the society’s system of leadership and administration.

The only possible guarantee of the organic relation between leaders and led is the existence of a culture that is relatively homogeneous across the sectors, in which the highest and most elaborated cultural expressions are expressions of popular culture, settled, refined, and coherent, and where those expressions permeate society raising the people to ever higher levels of culture and education. The cultures of intellectuals and subalterns2 must no longer be different or opposed, and the system of general ideas that governs the life of the social unit as a whole must draw on profound historical roots.

c) A structural coherence between economy, politics, and culture, as a consequence of the union of theory and practice and of leaders and led, consisting of the existence at the level of society as a whole (that is, at the level of the given historic-structural conditions and the projects of development and transformation), of an organic system of action aligned with which productive, connective, and creative activities are articulated in harmony and balance.

Economy, politics, and culture must each create conditions for their mutual development and reciprocally potentiate each other without entering into structural conflict. Naturally, in an economic-political-cultural formation that is socially divided these three systems of relations can not be articulated in complete balance and stability, as different forms of conflict will necessarily arise, disturbing the society. For this reason, the progressive character of a civilization will be determined by the highest degree of development of economic and social justice, political participation, and cultural unity that is historically possible to reach on the basis of the existing situation.

Considering these three constitutive and foundational elements of a civilization, let us examine which roads might lead there and the contributions that might be made by the solidarity economy.


Latin-American civilization, a unifying form

To begin with we must specify the dimensions or scale of the unified society implied by the possible new civilization. This question of the dimension of the constitutive social unit of a civilization is fundamental, because the very possibility of its realization hinges on the answer.

To answer the question we must remember what we pointed out with respect to the growing insufficiency of the national dimension of the social units in which modern civilization is expressed: the new civilization has necessarily to express itself in broader social units than those constituted by a nation-state. At the same time, we must take into account the great disparity among the conditions and degrees of development in various zones of the world, as well as the contradictions that arise between them. This is why it does not seem realistic to think in terms of a single social unit of global dimensions, able to express in one form the formal contents constitutive of a civilization.

Constrained on both sides, and taking into account the tendency effectively underway to form large regional entities in which nations on the same continent or subcontinent that present similar conditions, problems, and challenges are combined, it appears that the new civilization emerging from the crisis of contemporary civilization will tend to constitute itself in regional dimensions. In our case a Latin-American dimension.

This means, in other words, that the three formal elements of a civilization would develop in Latin-American dimensions so as to configure an integrated social unit in the subcontinent. Let us consider what this means and what it might imply.

First of all this poses the question of Latin-American identity, an old problem in the region that is periodically reformulated by one thinker or another keeping alive the Bolivarian project. Impossible to resolve in the framework of a civilization constituted by separate nation-state entities, this problem acquires new relevance in the perspective of emerging regional civilizations.

The problem is not resolved solely by overcoming historic and structural relations of dependency and subordination to various imperialisms (as it has been seen from the point of view of nation-states in the framework of modern civilization). It is rather and above all a question of the search for an integrating form, that is, the theoretical and practical elaboration of a distinct system of meanings that lends a unified meaning, an organic structure, and a coherent development path, to the combination of economic, political, and cultural activities in the region: the prospect of a new Latin-American civilization.

Latin America is still formless, it lacks sufficient cultural and institutional unity to guarantee the region’s autonomous development.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the colonial era having ended with independence, the autonomist forces faced the task of establishing a new type of political, intellectual, and moral order, one which was supposed to bring unity and coherence to the various cultural and political components that shaped the achievement of independence. In the cultural and political conditions of the time, such an order could not but take on the forms and contents of the nation-state in conformity with the models developed in Europe which were proper to the dominant civilization. More than twenty nation-states were created in the region, all independent and separated from each other.

In truth, attempts at federalism and integration were made, but national logics prevailed: the low demographic density of immense geographical spaces, the difficulties of communications and transportation, the orientation of production to the exterior, all of these made it impossible to constitute a unified Latin America.

Over some two centuries of development, the nation-state form has been solidly established. It is a reality that will continue to exist in the future as well. But it is seamed with structural limitations that have existed since its origins and are still more radical than those which we highlighted when analyzing the crisis of contemporary civilization.

Unlike Europe, with its unified ethnic formations and historically consolidated institutions and cultural traditions that provided nation-states an identity defined through the continuity of their own history, in Latin-America nationalities – in the ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and political senses – did not exist. Society was a mix of groups with divided histories lacking a unifying form. In other words, Latin America was made up of a multiplicity of States in which the nation-state form lacked sufficient historical and cultural foundations. Each nation-state was thus a unit that had to be constructed starting with the cement itself, taking as the basis for provisional delimitation of borders the colonial subdivision into kingdoms, viceroyalties, and captaincies that was at the same time rejected on an ideological level. The absence of adequate cultural, political, and economic bases on which to define these nonetheless necessary national entities, would be overcome through the determined affirmation of the will to create national unity. Thus the exacerbated ideological and political nationalism that characterizes the entire history of Latin America was converted into a unifying content. In these circumstances, nations are built from the top down, by the State.

The need for national unification and the nationalism is engendered implied a serious tendency to disregard the ethnic diversity of the first peoples, to forget the importance of those indigenous ethno-cultural formations that in some countries constitute the demographic majority and in others significant minorities. In the demarcation of borders, for example, there was not even the most minimal respect paid to the productive, social, and family structures of the indigenous peoples, who were forcibly divided into blocks assigned to different States, severely undermining their vitality. Recruited into different national armies, they often ended up fighting each other with no understanding of the reasons for their rivalry.

The need for national unification was prioritized over any other differentiation, such that unity was achieved on the ideological and institutional levels through a logic of negation of the existing unifying and differentiating forms.

In the course of history the accentuated political nationalism of States has blocked the increasingly important processes of economic and cultural integration. Today this necessity is more obvious than ever due to the aforementioned contradiction between the nationalism of political life and the need for a Latin-American economic life in a market of regional dimensions capable of securing an autonomous development of the productive forces.

Overcoming our current crisis of civilization implies, then, the search for an integrating form, a historical unity of Latin-American dimensions, capable of gathering the forces of the peoples and nations of the subcontinent, oriented towards economic-social development and political-cultural autonomy, in a unified, integrated, and coherent system of meanings.

This is not the place to offer hypothetical content with respect to the concrete elaboration of such an integrating Latin-American identity. We will limit ourselves to identifying an element of method that emerges from the analysis of the existing conditions and offering a very general concept of the civilization to be built.

The methodological suggestion is, essentially, that the search for an integrating Latin-American form should proceed, not in counterposition to the established national unities, but according to a logic of exploration completely different from that which was followed in the construction of the nation-state form. We need a logic of elaboration of the new unifying form that differs from the existing form in three essentials:

a) Unlike the nation-state units that were constituted through the affirmation of unity in opposition to internal differentiations, or through the negation and occlusion of ethnic, cultural, economic and other particularities, Latin-American unity should be sought and constructed through a process of recuperation of all the differentiations and all the complexities, pluralism, and structural heterogeneity that exists in the existing politics, economics, demographics, and cultures.

The integrating Latin-American form of the future should be one that does not deny real national differentiations, on the contrary, but it should also recuperate other differences that have been forgotten but not eliminated by the predominant nationalism.

b) A second difference in the logic of elaboration of the unifying form consists of this: while in the construction of the nation-states it was not possible to look to the past and traditions in order to find identity (the national entity being at that point something completely new to be invented), it is precisely through a critical reinterpretation of its history from the origins that the integrative Latin-American form can be defined and constructed on its own terms. To do so, it would be necessary, specifically, to recover the region’s proper identity by revisiting Latin-American history in its various phases and recuperating it in the collective consciousness.

In this regard, it must be recognized that Latin-American culture still has not become fully aware of and come to terms with its origins and colonial past. To do so would imply reaching an adequate comprehension and a just appraisal of its identity. Latin America, in effect, was born not as a pure expression of European culture but as the result of a conflictual encounter, which is constitutive and ongoing, between autochthonous civilizations and cultures, on one side, and the occidental civilization and culture on the other. This is why, in the context of the current crisis of civilization, there is an urgent need for critical re-appropriation of all of our history and culture, in order to rediscover our identities and specify possible alternatives: the modes, conditions, and means of construction of a new historical rationality, a new Latin-American civilization.

c) A third difference in the logic of construction of an integrating Latin-American form with respect to the nation-state has to do with the mode of reaching institutionalization and achieving alignment of people and groups with the new ethical-political system. Nation-states were inaugurated through a central political act, in most cases the formation of a government and the promulgation of a constitution and legal bodies to which behaviors, relations and activities should conform. The integrating Latin-American form, without rejecting opportunities for determined actions of the juridical type, which tend to be top down, should be organized from below, acquiring forms and contents and aligning behaviors through a complex and multiform process of social, cultural, and political aggregation protagonized by communities and social groups of various types that come to be subjects of new historical actions.

Thus, from the beginning, the new Latin-American civilization will be built through the organizational articulation and cultural unification of its component parts: individuals, communities, and collectives. From out of grassroots communities and organizations new leadership groups must emerge as well as subjects who elaborate a higher culture, who lend coherence to and potentiate historically significant movements and Latin-American popular values, avoiding the rupture between elite culture and popular culture, between leaders and led.

Built through a prolonged but densely participatory process in which the people are involved via their various socio-economic, politico-institutional, and ethno-cultural structures, the integrating Latin-American form that is emerging will be the adequate expression of its real contents.


The role of solidarity economy in the construction of a Latin-American civilization of solidarity and labor

It is obvious that a civilization is not built arbitrarily. Nor can it be based on projects invented by people or groups more or less removed from the real problems and interests of society. Rather, it starts with initiatives and processes emerging from the existing social forces which, taking into account the real and current problems of society that derive from the crisis of the old civilization, are capable of generating effective solutions. The new civilization is either already emerging out of the crisis of the previous civilization, which gives rise to orientations and forces that bear, at least in germ, the essential contents of the new one, or it is simply impossible.

In our consideration of the ten roads opened by processes and movements oriented towards solidarity economy, we have encountered an immense multitude of social forces which can be activated in the direction that groups inside of each one have begun to chart as they experiment with new ways of doing, new ways of thinking, feeling, valuing, relating, and acting. These social forces are so broad and so directly involved in the great problems of Latin-American society that it is realistic to think of them as potential agents for a long term historical process that can breathe life into a new civilization.

Considering the characteristics, contents, and rationality of the experiences being organized along these roads it is possible to identify important elements of content which the solidarity economy can contribute to the new civilization of which we speak.

A first element has to do with the special characteristic that defines these organizations as polyvalent and multi-active, inasmuch as they combine activities of an economic, social, political, and cultural character in their own functioning and dynamic. We see in these experiences the search for and real elaboration of new and stronger relations between economy, politics, and culture, a very striking aspect given that we have found that the crisis of contemporary civilization is characterized precisely by the tendency toward separation and contradiction between those distinct levels or dimensions of social life.

A second element refers to the centrality of labor in the economy, placing the person and their activity above things and their monetary value. Labor rises above its subaltern condition and acquires autonomy, becoming able to deploy through its intermediation those qualities of creativity and personal development that are inherent to its special human dignity. Labor thus performed offers people meaning in the framework of their economic activity and satisfies in itself their needs and aspirations for self-realization, going beyond the simple generation of income needed to acquire the indispensable consumer goods and services in the market.

A third element is related to the size of organizations and operations, which, in the solidarity economy are carried out on human scale. We said that one feature of modern civilization was the tendency to form large organizations in which the person develops unilaterally, fulfilling functions that are increasingly specialized and partial, producing human being who are massified and standardized. The privileging of small scale operations, together with the preference for greater integration in personal development, with each individual participating and assuming responsibilities in the various functions and stages of the productive process, permits people to see their organizations as their own, permitting them to achieve greater control over the conditions of their livelihood.

A fourth element corresponds to the development of conviviality, the establishment of personalized and socially integrated human relations in the framework of associations and communities marking a level of belonging and social interaction that is deeply satisfying. It is a way of overcoming individualism through the construction of social solidarity with no loss of individual liberty because it is established directly through interpersonal relations and not by the forced articulation of individuals through the ordering action of the State or any other entity wielding power that has been removed from the people and exists and acts over their heads. Direct relations between associations and communities reflect a step up to broader levels of social aggregation and socialization on which society constitutes and orders itself as an interwoven community of communities.

A fifth element is the new type of relation between leaders and led that is established through the broad participation of associations and the organized community in decision-making on matters that affect all. This is how, in the emerging civilization, the split between civil society and political society that is characteristic of modern civilization and exacerbated by its crisis will be overcome. The organic relation between leaders and led being one of the formal constitutive elements of any civilization, the contribution which solidarity economy makes in this area, through participation and self-management, turns out to be decisive.

A sixth element is a meaningful process of convergence in the standards of living and wealth to which the different categories, sectors, and social groups constituted on the basis of economic organization can accede. In this sense the contribution of solidarity economy to the democratization of the market stands out, implying a more socially equitable distribution of wealth, power, and knowledge, the three factors which generate division and conflict between classes and social sectors. The emerging civilization, to the extent that it turns out to be shaped by a high level of development of solidarity economy, will give rise to societies that are better integrated, less divided, and less adversarial, with no loss of the pluralism and social differentiation that result from the free expression of opinions by people, communities, and groups, which, on the contrary, will be enriched.

A seventh element has to do with the characteristics and modalities which processes of development and social change assume in the new civilization. Naturally, energies oriented towards change will be deployed there as well, dynamizing the society and contributing to the unfolding of its potential; but in the solidarity economy they will be oriented towards constructive and creative directions, in decentralized processes with local dimensions, with attention to the particular problems that present in each place and to the real aspirations of those who face them. It will be possible for development to unfold in a more integral and balanced sense, in alignment with the conception of alternative development which solidarity economy implies. If the problems of contemporary civilization are to a large extent consequences of the imbalances that characterize its processes of growth and development, the identification and realization of “another development” seems to be a crucial aspect of any civilization that is to be different and better.

An eighth element alludes to the establishment of a new relation between humans and nature, mediated by an economy, in which people take responsibility for the transformative effects of production, distribution, and consumption on the environment. It could be a matter of a new civilization that assumes nature to be a living whole which has to be respected in its own balances and processes – not as a reality to be articulated mechanically – composed of elements and material energies insusceptible to being dominated and indiscriminately utilized by humans. If the ecological question is the one that most urgently and powerfully poses the need for a different civilization, the contribution of the solidarity economy can be truly crucial.

A ninth element corresponds to the consolidation of a new situation for women and the family in which one could unfold their identity and potential in all spheres of social, political, economic, and cultural life, in the framework of balanced relations between sexes and generations. The emerging civilization will be characterized, then, by the non-subordinated presence of the feminine, which will mark social relations and processes in a historically unprecedented way. In modern civilization the family ceased to be the center and the mainstay of socialization that it had been in all previous civilizations. The recuperation of the family’s centrality in the various dimensions of social activity, as in fact begins to happen with solidarity economy, could very well be one of the surprises that the emerging civilization holds in store for us.

A tenth element has to do with the fact that the new Latin-American civilization must valorize the region’s ethnic and cultural diversity. To the extent that the solidarity economy sinks roots, takes nourishment, and reinvigorates its quests through contact with the economic forms of the first peoples, it can make a decisive contribution to the search for and elaboration of an integrating form in which the identity of a unified Latin America is expressed and a logic of integration that is the inverse of that which led to the formation of the subcontinent’s nation-states is followed.

The final element is the spiritual dimension of the civilization, in which people, groups, and societies discover or add meaning to that which they do and and the ways they live. This seems to be the dimension in which the cause of morbidity of the existing civilization is to be found. Solidarity economy rescues a conception of the human being as a free person open to the community, the subject of needs, aspiring to personalization in both personal and communitarian dimensions, inherently corporal and spiritual, capable of acting in conformity with higher values, not only searching for individual utility but also loving one’s fellows and opening oneself to their needs, concerning oneself with the common good and projecting oneself into transcendence. The values of labor and solidarity are foundational for solidarity economy; they can also be the values that sustain a new Latin-American civilization, which may well be a civilization of solidarity and labor.


  • 1Razeto has written and spoken widely on the subject of a New Civilization. See, for example, How Can we Begin to Create a New Civilization? Trans. Lafayette Claud Eaton Henderson. Universitas Nueva Civilización; 1 edition (August 29, 2017)
  • 2Using Gramsci’s term here, in keeping with Razeto’s overall analysis, in lieu of the more literal “simple folk.” - MN

Luis Razeto Migliaro (2019).  Solidarity Economy Roads:  Chapter 12 - Toward a Civilization of Labor and Solidarity.  Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).

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