The fight to preserve Latin America’s democratic revolution
For Prof Anderson the template of Spain after Franco’s destruction of civil society “has become the general formula of freedom: no longer making the world safe for democracy, but democracy safe for this world.” Through a confluence of historical factors, Latin America is the crucible where the last chance to make a world safe for democracy is being fought. The importance of this battle shouldn’t be underestimated: if it fails, we might not get another chance
By Matt Kennard on Monday, June 28th, 2010 - 1,189 words.
In his 2008 essay on post-Ataturk Turkey, Perry Anderson, the veteran professor at UCLA, hit on something truly profound. When comparing why the capitalist classes allowed democracy to flourish in Turkey but not Spain after World War II, he explained in two short paragraphs the
history of Western democracy.
In Spain after the war, he wrote, “democratisation was an unthinkable option for [General] Franco because it would have risked a political volcano erupting again, in which neither army nor church nor property would have been secure.”
For Franco and his business supporters, dictatorship was the only option. But, they needn’t have feared. After 36 years of the general’s nightmare rule “[e]conomic development had transformed Spanish society, radical mass politics had been extinguished, and democracy was no longer hazardous for capital. So completely had the dictatorship done its work that a toothless Bourbon socialism was incapable even of restoring the republic it had overthrown.”
Now, in other words, Spain was safe for democracy, which was duly established in 1975.
“In this Spanish laboratory could be found a parabola of the future,” continued Anderson, “which the Latin American dictators of the 1970s – Pinochet is the exemplary case – would repeat, architects of a political order in which electors, grateful for civic liberties finally restored, could be trusted henceforward not to tamper with the social order.”
This retarded form of democracy, I’ll call it tamper-proof democracy, sensitive to vested interests but not the will of the population, has been erected throughout the world since Franco and before, pushed by Western governments and the supranational institutions they established to enforce it.
Any disobedience to the “consensus” has been punished harshly. Leaders who don’t subscribe to it are vilified in our press, and if populations take democracy too seriously we put in a tyrant to prepare the ground for the democracy we like. Historical examples of democracy getting “out-of-control” are legion, from Aristide in Haiti to Mossadegh in Iran. Our enforcers are notorious too, from the Contras in Nicaragua to Suharto in Indonesia.
But history is lived in the present and international relations modalities don’t change all that much. We are now living through the latest, probably the last, stage of this battle between a
global population that wants a democracy safe for people, not capital, and a ruling class that wants it the other way round.
This time the fly in the ointment is Latin America, where resistance to tamper-proof democracy is centred. It might not be a coincidence that the fight-back is congealing in a part of the world often dismissed as “irrelevant”: it’s probably the reason the US and its allies haven’t had the time to stamp it out yet (although, to be fair, they’ve tried).
But it also might be too late, even with the planned military bases in Colombia. The form of democracy the West and their satraps in the third world so love – one of a disengaged population going to pick between two business parties every four years and then leaving leaders alone – is being seriously subverted all over the continent. The great democratic pantomime we are subjected to in the West (and the nations we make in our image) isn’t working on the people of Latin America. Their democracies are rapidly becoming safe for their people. There are real political parties, like Evo Morales’s Movimiento al Socialismo, with real principles and real objectives that are serious about tampering with the social order for positive change.
And increasingly mainstream-types are becoming aware of this historic change, and are liking what they see. The latest convert is Oliver Stone who released his documentary South of the Border last week, a pygmy in the shadow of John Pilger’s masterly War on Democracy, but
But this percolation of knowledge into the US mainstream is naturally scaring the gatekeepers of political discourse there, a tribe who have been able to bloviate about their love of democracy for decades without being troubled by the existence alternative definitions. Now the pretence is hard to maintain and the reaction is sadly predictable.
We all know about the hysterical attacks on the Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, who you can love or hate, but has been elected in fair elections more than any Western leader. The putatively liberal New York Times even supported the US-backed military coup against him in
2002. Media outlets in the US and Europe that profess to be serious call him a dictator regularly, along with his democratically-elected allies in Bolivia and Ecuador.
Amongst this nonsense, it’s perilous to take a cold look at the facts: step on the wrong side of the democratic divide and you will be attacked mercilessly. So full credit to Oliver Stone for exposing himself to the onslaught.
A brief look at the Wall Street Journal gives you an indication of the tenor.
One Ron Radosh was assigned to review the documentary for the paper and rustled up an article with the headline, “To Chavez, with love: Oliver Stone’s mash note to the dictators of Latin America”. It’s something Pravda would be proud of. Aside from Raul Castro, every leader in the film has been democratically elected (most multiple times).
One of the most exquisite examples of the general lunacy is from the WSJ’s star columnist Mary O’Grady, winner of the Bastiat Prize (former judges include Margaret Thatcher and Milton Freidman). In 2008 she wrote an anguished article before the Bolivian election entitled “The
End of Bolivian Democracy: Elections scheduled for December 6 will mark the official end of the Bolivian democracy”. Read that again. Elections signalling the end of democracy? Eh? Surely, Ms O’Grady should be doing PR for Kim Jong-Il.
The first sentence is also classic: “A dictatorship that fosters the production and distribution of cocaine is not apt to enjoy a positive international image.” Note: Evo Morales was elected with 67 per cent of the vote, more than double his nearest opponent. And this is a serious newspaper?
But these kind of intellectual contortions are a sign of what happens to our civilization’s finest minds when their definition of democracy is challenged. They turn into blubbering wrecks in a process that would surely be funny if these weren’t also the same people designing policy and, inevitably, future coups in the region.
This almost subconscious contempt for democratic movements in Latin America is the result of centuries of unthinking domination, a similar psychology to a schoolyard bully who’s had his run of the yard so long he gets complacent. Suddenly, when he’s taken his eye off the ball in order to clobber some poor kid called Iraq and take his bag of sweets, the other one decides to finally stand up for himself. It’s hard to take.
For Prof Anderson the template of Spain after Franco’s destruction of civil society “has become the general formula of freedom: no longer making the world safe for democracy, but democracy safe for this world.” Through a confluence of historical factors, Latin America is the crucible where the last chance to make a world safe for democracy is being fought. The importance of this battle shouldn’t be underestimated: if it fails, we might not get another chance.
Matt Kennard graduated from the Journalism School at Columbia University as a Toni Stabile Investigative scholar in 2008. He has written for the Guardian, Salon and the Chicago Tribune, amongst others. In 2006 he won the Guardian Student Feature Writer of the Year Award.
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