In my previous article on Marxism and religion, I argued the general theoretical case Marxism makes both for understanding religion as a social phenomenon and for arguing against it. In a sense, this could rightly be accused of ‘kicking in an open door’ (as we say in the Netherlands), as it expresses a view widely spread among the radical left today. As secularization has progressed, not even just in Western countries, left and liberal forces have by and large in their theoretical writings cut down reference to religion and spiritual revelation to negligible amounts, and practically it becomes a question of political mobilization more than one of the practice of belief. However, the counterexample often cited by those on the radical left inclined to a more sympathetic stance towards religion (organized or otherwise) is the case of ‘liberation theology’, the explicitly socio-economically radical, pro-poor interpretation of (Catholic) Christianity that established a strong ideological foothold in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s. The concerted efforts of the Vatican to stamp it out and the fall of the Soviet Union – threatening to relegate Central and South America once more to the United States’ unruly back garden – have seriously reduced its ideological and political power, but as a phenomenon it is worth exploring more systematically from the point of view of Marxism. After all, it is not often one finds pro-religious sentiment and radicalism combined in such a theoretically reflective manner, and it has done much to affect the traditionally strongly secularist tendencies among Marxists in both the First and Third Worlds. Continue reading “Excursus on Marxism and Religion II: On Liberation Theology”
Category: Latin America
The Libyan intervention and the Bay of Pigs: A Parallel
There is still much ado among socialists and left-wingers of various stripes as to the question of support for the Libyan rebels, and more particularly, what to make of the US/British/French/NATO intervention in that country. Now that the Americans, deeply fearing being enmeshed in a third hopeless and unwinnable enterprise, have quickly withdrawn, the onus is on the British and French to finish the job and drive out Ghadaffi without making it too obvious their aim is to drive out Ghadaffi: surely a task worthy of a second Suez. Since the respective leaders of the UK and France are about as intelligent and capable as their counterparts during the Suez ‘crisis’ were, this should come as no surprise. In practice, perhaps following instinct, virtually no left-wing parties and organizations whatever have actually come out in support of the foreign intervention against Ghadaffi. This seems to be entirely independent of the reported fact that some elements in the Revolutionary Council in Libya, an outfit of great political variety and opacity, had actively requested such intervention. However, among the general population there is less clarity. Although it seems that generally the majority opposes further war in Libya, probably due to war exhaustion, there is a general feeling in most responses as well as in the wider media of sympathy with any Western-led enterprise to at the very least punish the evil man Ghadaffi for his attacks on the rebels. The only prominent counterpart to this has been the consistent campaigning by MRZine and Counterpunch against the rebels themselves; they seem to have either bought “Colonel” Ghadaffi’s appeals to his Arab Jamahiriyan brand of sham socialism, or they have simply translated their habitual anti-imperialism into a position of ‘say the opposite of what your enemy says’. Neither seem to be very wise from any point of view.
That said, it does behoove us to address more fully the important question of a case like this, where there is rebellion against a disliked government, with a seeming progressive element in it, although it is unclear to what extent. At the same time, there is a potential imperialist element to the rebellion itself, because of the support from outside. This is a question of both political theory, in terms of what we take imperialism and anti-imperialism to be, as well as strategy, in that we need to decide to what extent we consider outside help by opposing forces to be acceptable to achieve generally desirable aims. To understand this, I believe it is useful to go back to an older discussion, now long forgotten: a discussion between Max Schachtman, a leader of an American socialist group originally committed to opposing both the US and the USSR in the Cold War but generally veering towards supporting the former, and Hal Draper, who had split off from the former’s group over exactly this issue, and insisted on considering each equally undesirable from the long-term point of view of socialism. The time here is the 1960s, and while one can debate the correctness of the assessment against the USSR and its allies, it may be clear that neither country involved really represented socialism as we think of it, or made any real moves towards getting there. It is in this context that the debate must be understood. The debate was about the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, which at the time appeared as an uprising within Cuba itself of anti-Castro forces; it was clear to all that those forces had the support of the US, but this being the second day of the invasion, it was not yet generally known that the whole thing was set up by the US to begin with, at least not to Schachtman. For our purposes this is not the interesting part, nor is the question of whether Castro following the Soviet line was really as bad a development as it is made out to be here, since there is no equivalent situation to that in Libya today. What is interesting to us is assuming that we think of Castro as a dictator, generally undesirable but flashing ‘progressive’ credentials (like Ghadaffi), and of the rebels as they were seen initially: a motley bunch with a left and a right, the politics being entirely undetermined as yet, claiming to fight the tyrant for a free politics in Cuba of whatever kind (similar to the rebels in Libya today). Continue reading “The Libyan intervention and the Bay of Pigs: A Parallel”
The Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) of the reigning President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has won the regional elections held on April 9th of this year.(1) Morales is the first elected President of Bolivia to be fully Native American, despite the great majority of the Bolivian population being Aymará or Quechua. For most of its history, the country has been governed by a swift succession of military dictators, vassal oligarchs of the United States and assorted strongmen. Universal suffrage was only introduced in 1951 by the reformist MNR party, which was subsequently overthrown by a series of juntas.
Much of the conflict has revolved around the main economic products of Bolivia: its enormous tin mines (it is the world’s largest tin producer) and the coca leaves grown as export crop by the country’s many poor farmers, which forms the basis for the drug cocaine. Continue reading “Bolivian Prospects”
Crisis in Haiti
When an earthquake of 7.0 on the Moment scale struck the country of Haiti recently, this led to a total collapse of the government, economy and social institutions of this already plagued country. Some 200.000 people are estimated to have died, on a total population of about 9 million – the proportional equivalent of some 7 million Americans dying at once. It killed also the opposition leader, the Archbishop, and most of the staff of the United Nations mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH. There has subsequently been an outpouring of foreign aid and medical support from many countries around the world. And yet the question about this long-suffering country remains: how come it was so poor and so unprepared? Haiti is not far from the United States, one of the world’s richest countries, and yet it is itself one of the world’s poorest, and has been so for a long time.
To understand Haiti’s history, we must go back to the days of Columbus. Continue reading “Crisis in Haiti”
Ten Years of ‘Bolivarian Socialism’ in Venezuela
Hugo Chávez Frías, the current President of Venezuela, was first elected to this office in 1998 and was inaugurated in 1999, now ten years ago.
He had already been a remarkable figure on the Venezolan political scene after having attempted a leftist military coup against the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez. In those days, the oil kleptocracy of Pérez failed and a series of riots by the poor majority of Venezolans, the so-called ‘Caracazo’, destabilized the government. Pérez had been a self-styled social-democrat, but had submitted his country to the liberal rule and ‘reforms’ of the International Monetary Fund, which disappropriated the people of their public goods and bled dry the urban population by abandoning the policies of gasoline subsidy. As a result, the Caracazo erupted and the army intervened to violently repress the revolts against this organized comprador thievery and the umpteenth case of betrayal by social-democracy. Progressive sections of the military, led by Chávez, attempted a coup against Pérez. The coup failed and Chávez was imprisoned, but Pérez was removed from office and his successor freed the coup perpetrators.
In 1998, Chávez’s new “Fifth Republic Movement” (MVR) obtained an absolute majority of votes in the Presidential elections, with Chávez himself as the candidate, defeating the rightist American-trained economist Henrique Salas Römer. Continue reading “Ten Years of ‘Bolivarian Socialism’ in Venezuela”