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PORTSIDE  August 2010, Week 4

PORTSIDE August 2010, Week 4

Subject:

`Dancing with Dynamite': The Future of Latin America's Leftist Movements

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Date:

Mon, 23 Aug 2010 21:19:09 -0400

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`Dancing with Dynamite': The Future of Latin America's
	Leftist Movements

By Kari Lydersen

Working In These Times (In These Times)

August 23, 2010

http://www.inthesetimes.com/working/entry/6342/dancing_with_dynamite_ben_dangl_explores_struggle_and_state/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

What happens after you win?

That is, as fearless grassroots social movements have
brought leftist, pro -- worker parties to power in one
after another Latin American country during the past
decade, how do these movements maintain true democracy
and commitment to the rights of the marginalized once
faced with the challenge of  a neoliberal global
economy?

After the wave of worker factory takeovers following
its economic collapse a decade ago, such questions
played out on smaller scales in Argentina. Taking
cooperative control of the factories was only the first
step; the workers had to actually run them
competitively in a capitalist economy. Similarly, after
movements of union members, indigenous activists and
other previously marginalized people bring leaders like
Bolivian Evo Morales and Venezuelan Hugo Chavez to
power, how do they make sure their struggles aren't
declawed and co -- opted by the new government?

In his captivating soon -- to -- be -- released book
Dancing with Dynamite, Ben Dangl explores the
complicated choreography between unfettered popular
struggle and the state institutions that are necessary
to a functioning civil society -- yet by nature are
forces of moderation, compromise and cooperation.

Using a very literal metaphor, Dangl invokes Bolivian
miners to describe the "dynamite" of uncompromising
popular struggle. The miners and displaced former
miners who played a major role in bringing current
president Evo Morales to power are part of a movement
forged through intense repression and violence,
followed by perhaps even more insidious economic
suffocation.

	In 1964, the government sent in troops against miners
	in Oruro who were protesting the government's
	bloody crackdown on labor rights activists. A miner
	named Domingo spoke of the violence that began when
	the soldiers attacked his community. "They even
	entered into houses of families and took people
	out, forcing people into the streets in their
	underwear and killing them. We miners in Itos tried
	to defend the mines. We put up a fierce resistance
	with dynamite..." The soldiers won the battle, and
	Domingo has suffered from insomnia ever since.

Bolivian mines were privatized and closed in the 1980s
in keeping with larger neoliberal restructuring of the
continent, breaking the "backbone of the country's
radical workers' unions" as Dangl describes it.

In Argentina, Dangl describes how neoliberalism's
strangulation of the labor movement gave rise to the
processes that would ultimately topple the status quo
and a series of presidents within months:

	Neoliberalism undermined the base from which many
	workers were organized. There were fewer factories
	employing people due to deindustrialization. Closed
	factories meant losses for unions which had taken
	decades to form. Many of the jobless had been
	previously employed in public energy and service
	industries privatized by (former president Carlos)
	Menem.

	Thus was born the piquetero movement which drew from
	waves of unemployed workers. Piqueteros -- the name
	is based on the word piquete (picket or road
	blockade) -- hit the streets together to demand
	work and social assistance. This movement set
	itself apart from the dominant Peronist labor
	movements and federations in which workers called
	for better conditions and salaries, partly because
	the older movements had been repressed extensively
	under the dictatorship, and because economics were
	changing the country, forcing social movements to
	change with it.

	With previous movements weakened by neoliberalism, the
	piqueteros rose up from the wreckage of the 1990s
	as a formidable force in 2001.

In Argentina's economic crisis of 2001, formerly middle
-- class people suddenly found themselves unemployed
and desperate, becoming instantly politicized with a
sharp new understanding of the class system.

Dangl describes this dynamic among the workers who took
over a quarry in early 2003. The company had told
workers to take a sudden unscheduled, unpaid vacation
over the holidays, and when they returned they saw
their employer had left town without paying them
severance or other wages. The workers armed themselves
with shotguns for self -- defense and proceeded to
occupy the quarry. It became a grueling exercise in
survival as they ended up using the guns to hunt
rabbits and fished from the lagoon. By that spring a
judge awarded the workers legal control of the quarry,
and it's run as a cooperative business to this day.

But Dangl notes that while countless such worker -- run
businesses are still flourishing in Argentina, the
forces of political intransigency meant the leftist
shift after the economic crisis  --  including the
election of president Nestor Kirchner and later his
wife Cristina  --  has not born a fundamental change in
the neoliberal policies or class structure of the
country. He explains:

	First of all, Kirchner effectively demobilized and
	bought off the middle class.After applying these
	divisive, demobilizing, and repressive tactics, the
	government used the simple strategy of patience and
	attrition while public activism died down.

A similar thing happened in Uruguay, where Tabare
Vazquez of the left Frente Amplio party was elected in
2005. As Dangl describes it, he proceeded on a

	reformist route, sprinkling his own neoliberal projects
	with social programs that didn't address the root
	causes of poverty and exclusion. And yet, given the
	record of past governments, these small nods to
	social change were enough to placate many voters.

Current Uruguayan president Jorge "Pepe" Mujica, also a
beloved man of the people and former leftist guerilla,
summed up the typical transformation from radical to
reformer himself, as Dangl quotes, telling business
leaders he is a "wild cat that has turned into a
vegetarian."

The examples Dangl puts forth of popular politicians
and movement leaders essentially selling out and going
soft time after time is a somewhat depressing drumbeat.
But he sees the rise of leftist, popular governments in
Latin America overall as a promising and unstoppable
trend wherein the path may not be straight but will
ultimately lead to greater democracy and human dignity.

	In this dance, the urgency of survival trumps the law,
	people acting based on the rights they were born
	with makes the state irrelevant, and anything is
	possible when the community moves.

[Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor,
is a Chicago -- based journalist writing for various
publications, including the Chicago Reader and The
Progressive. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose
Island. She can be reached at [log in to unmask]

She  is the author or co -- author of three books: Out
of the Sea and Into the Fire: Latin American -- US
Immigration in the Global Age; Shoot an Iraqi Art, Life
and Resistance Under the Gun (co -- authored with Wafaa
Bilal), which she was recently named a `Best Book of
2008' by Booklist; and Revolt on Goose Island: The
Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the
Economic Crisis.

Lydersen, a former staff member of the Washington
Post`s (now defunct) Chicago bureau, teaches journalism
at Columbia College and to high -- school students. Her
work can be read at www.karilydersen.com ]

_____________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
interpret the world and to change it.

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