Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Revolution is Not Being Televised

Lately, I've become rather fascinated with following the quiet revolution in Latin American / South American politics. At the beginning of my infatuation, Naomi Klein's work kind of sucked me into taking a 50,000 foot overlook of the most underreported global political story of the last decade. In the past few months, I've descended to about 10,000 feet in an attempt to understand how left-democratic leaders such as Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Brazil) are trying to forge a sort of "Pax SouthAmericana" as a sea wall against a perceived rising tide of U.S. hegemony in South America.

In a current CounterPunch article, John Ross observes:

...When a Lula or a Chavez take the power of the state, they suddenly find themselves trapped in alignments that force obeisance to the World Bank and the White House from which they cannot break away. Their promises begin to sound hollow as transnationals reap fortunes at the expense of the people whose progress is pretty much straight down hill.

Given the probability of such a scenario, John Holloway suggests that the Zapatista model will prosper. "When people are disillusioned, they begin to look for the real solutions. Building a party that's a little more to the left isn't one of them." ...

Indeed, Brazil's Lula is finding that despite his best intentions, throwing off the shackles of globalization isn't quite as easy as it seems at a nation-state level. A populist message can ring loud and clear within the working class and get you elected, but making a step-change in economic and social direction after the cement of multinationalism has already set and cured is exceedingly difficult. So maybe Holloway is correct, at least at the individual state level -- to make true change stick, a true revolutionary leader would have to dynamite the foundation -- a strategy which, in and of itself, is fraught with peril and unlikely to succeed in the long run.

That's why the "Pax SouthAmericana" approach that seems to be emerging is so intriguing to me. While an individual nation state can ultimately be isolated by the hegemonists, a continental left-democratic movement has the potential to be self sustaining. A broad based alliance that spans several countries in the same geographic region doesn't require nearly as much external political and/or economic support from the rest of the world.

Will the South American experiment that's being largely underwritten by Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan oil fields ultimately succeed? Bigger and braver political minds than mine are trying to figure out the answer to that question. What's important is that bold leadership took the bull by the horns, and the experiment is underway.

More selfishly important to me is how the lessons from the South American political petri dish might translate to the political dynamic in the United States. I'm continuing to mull that one over, but I think Holloway's fundamental thesis is even more correct in the U.S. than in South America: building a Democratic Party that's a little more to the left of the GOP isn't the answer.

If, in reading the entrails of the past election cycle debacle, Howard Dean and the other alleged "reformers" of the Democratic Party don't understand this basic concept, then we'll be no better off politically or socially tomorrow than we are today.