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The liberal oligarchy, or what’s left?

23 February 2018

I always have a difficult time, or find I spend more time than I need, explaining that the political terms adopted from European theorists, are not necessarily the same as how they are used here. And, that “leftist” and “liberal” are very different things here, and not, as in the English-speaking world, often used interchangeably. Brazilian social theorist and political scientist, Emir Sader, looks at our upcoming presidential election, in which the “leftist” candidate has been called a “conservative” by a “liberal”.

My translation from “El liberalismo oligárquico latinoamericano” in today’s La Jornada:

In his debate with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, one of the most well-known theorists of Latin American liberalism, Enrique Krauze, describes the candidate as a “conservative”. Latin American liberals always define themselves as believers in the defense of freedom*.

They claim an affiliation to European liberalism, the ideology of the rising bourgeoisie in the struggle against feudalism. Then mechanically transfer the role of liberalism in Europe to Latin America, without realizing the historical frameworks of the two continents are very different, creating radically different definitions of the nature of liberalism.

In Latin America, liberalism was the ideology of the primary export models, that is, of the oligarchic right, in defense of opening markets. It was associated with right-wing political regimes, including military dictatorships.

It opposes the State, popular leaderships, and populist policies of income distribution and ecognition of the social rights for all. Liberalism in Latin America has never been identified with the defense of freedom, with the exception of freedom of the press to present liberal thought.

Liberalism here, in opposing the State, has identified with the market, therefore with the big business and its liberal and neoliberal economic policies. It has always been on the right.

By contrast, the European right identifies with the defense of the State and the nation: but, with a chauvinistic concept of the nation, by which one state is better than all the others. There is no external domination.

In Latin America it is the left that assumes the defense of the State and national issues, against external exploitation. Liberalism was always appropriated by the right in Latin America.

In the neoliberal era the connection between liberalism and the market has become structural. There has been a convergence between economic liberalism and political liberalism. In Mexico, the arrival of the PAN governments to the Presidency in 2000 was hailed as the democratization of Mexico. Of course, after the failures of the governments of that party, the liberals have not taken stock of their illusions and continue to support candidates of the traditional parties to avoid what for them is the greatest evil – the left alternative.

Thus throughout Latin America, beginning in the 1990s with the election to the presidency of Brazil’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso — supposedly a social democrat** — governments have been incorporating liberals into the government to support neoliberal programs. Everywhere the liberals have accommodated themselves to market interests, fighting against the State and its capacity to induce economic development, to guarantee social rights, and to pursue an independent foreign policy.

Im short, Latin American liberals confuse combat against the State with a fight for freedoms. They do not realize that the forces working against the rights of the vast majority of the people are not those of the state, but the market, which they long for as a supposed guarnator of freedom. What freedom the liberals end up supporting is freedom of capital and big business: expropriating the rights of the people and concentrating income is what the market does in the face of the minimal state advocated by the liberals.

The rich do not need the State. They have private banks, they have private transportation, they have private education, they have private health plans. Those who need the State are the most fragile, the most destitute, the excluded in a State that is the instrument of the powerful and the millionaires.

Liberals do not understand Latin America because they do not realize that we live in capitalist societies in a neoliberal era, that we live in societies oppressed by imperialism. They are essential categories — capitalism, neoliberalism, imperialism — that they do not know.

Now the Mexican liberals are concentrating their attacks on the candidate that could rescue the country from the misfortunes that neoliberal governments and the Free Trade Agreement with the United States have brought to the country. They are in panic at the thought of a government which defends the interests of the great majority of the Mexican population, defends national interests and brings Mexico closer to Latin America. But that is the hope of the majority of the Mexican people and also of Latin America.

Defeat neoliberalism and subordination to the US to affirm a just and sovereign Mexico.


*   Krauze, writing in the SPANISH daily El País: “López Obrador says that I am conservative. I refer to history:  the conservatives favored the absolute concentration of power in a leader endowed with a large and powerful army; the conservatives believed in “planning advisors”, not in congressional representatives; conservatives encouraged state economic intervention and protectionism. I do not identify with those ideas. López Obrador does. He uses the adjective “conservative” as an anathema against anyone who does not agree — in the strict sense of the word — with the “real change” he preaches. But the truth is that his economic program is akin to the populism of presidents Luis Echeverría (1970-1976) and José López Portillo (1976-1982), which led the country to bankruptcy. In that sense, his “true change” is a change backwards.


**  To win the Presidency in 1994,Cardosa’s small Social Democratic Party went into coalition with the neo-liberal   “Liberal Front” and “Brazilian Labor” Parties, and the far right, “Christian” Progressive Party (Latin American political terms are not “our” terms).  Although Cardosa did implement some important social programs, he also opened the way for increasing foreign market penetration and consolidation of wealth within Brazil’s tiny elite.

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