Mohsen Abdelmoumen: How do you explain the retreat of the left and the rise of the far right in Latin America, as we saw in Brazil with the election of the fascist and torturer Jair Bolsonaro and that of Mauricio Macri in Argentina?
Prof. Atilio Borón: There are many reasons, which I could only summarize here. First, the intensity of the American counter offensive to defeat progressive governments has been impressive. Macri was an unexpected gift, more due to the mistakes of Kirchnerism than to anything else. But the victory was very important for the US. Bolsonaro is the product of the PT demobilization established by Lula since the beginnings, the complete corruption of the judicial system that put in jail Lula and allowed Bolsonaro not to be present in the presidential debates, the staunch support of the hegemonic media and, of course, serious mistakes of the Lula/Dilma governments which believed that social policy and the extraction of millions from extreme poverty would be enough to change popular consciousness and make those people supporters of progressive policies. It was, as in Argentina, a policy of income redistribution without mass education and socialization. On the top of that the problem of gang violence in the favelas was crucial in Brazil, and it was not conveniently attacked by the PT governments, which gave the impression that the only policy they had to confront this serious problem was a long term program civic education which, of course, failed to stop the staggering progress of crime in the slums and favelas. Subtle propaganda and Meta data, plus Cambridge Analytica and the skill of Steve Bannon made the rest. Brazil proved, as earlier in America, that “fake news” are usually regarded as sound information. So, the lies and defamation of the Bolsonaro campaign were tremendously effective.
In your very relevant book “Twenty-First Century Socialism: Is There Life After Neo-Liberalism?”, you show that Latin America has no perspective with capitalism, and you refute the neo-liberal theories which claim that capitalism is the cure for all ills. Do not you think that the capitalist system has simply failed, whether in the capitalist center as seen with the Yellow Vests movement in France, but also on the periphery? Do not you think that the capitalist system offers no perspective anywhere?
Capitalism has been a tremendous failure. Many achievements in technology and very modest risings in the standard of living of the social majorities combined with an unstoppable concentration of wealth and incomes both at the center an in the periphery. The book of Thomas Piketty and thousands of papers and books proved this, and the tendency cannot be reversed. Today the richest 1 % of the world population grasps more wealth than the remaining 99 %. This situation has no precedent in the universal history! And it is politically, socially and economically unsustainable. In addition, recent capitalist developments have harmed Mother Nature as never before. So, the “second contradiction” of capitalism, as posed by Jim O’Connor has become lethal in these days. Enough to look at the environmental disasters of climate change to realize the depth or this problem and the complete inability of capitalist societies to get rid of it.
In your opinion, does not capitalism bring within itself its own ruin?
Yes, this was the main thesis of Marx in his writings, but it was also established, although in metaphysical terms, by Hegel’s penetrating reflections on the dialectics of markets and civil society in capitalism. But, as Lenin taught, the capitalist system will not finally collapse unless there are social and political forces that would bring it down. By itself capitalism will endure in spite of its contradictions, and in this process barbarism would become its distinctive sign.
According to you, is the movement of Yellow Vests that was born in France and spreading in Europe not a revolutionary and fundamentally anti-capitalist movement?
It is a popular revolt, anti-neoliberal but not entirely anticapitalist. In addition, it is an extremely heterogeneous collection of social actors and I am not sure that at the end of the day all of them would be ready to storm the citadel or capitalist power. I would not be surprised if a significant portion of them finally end their activism joining the forces of the right. “Poujadism” was a very important experience in post WWII France.
Do not you think that there is a need for the reconstruction of the left in Latin America and in the world? Does not the working class have an imperative need for a revolutionary framework that obeys the demands of the moment?
Yes, it is absolutely necessary. But we are facing a critical problem: the disjunction of the objective conditions for revolution, already ripe enough, and the delay in the constitution of a revolutionary consciousness, the delay in the ripening of the subjective conditions. Despite the former, the revolutionary perspective is completely out of sight for the masses, in Latin America as in the rest of the world. The tremendous efficacy of the ideological apparatuses of the capitalist state has completely blurred revolution from the landscape. Therefore, the enormous importance of the ideological battle is to convince the masses that revolution is not only possible but necessary. Second, once the former is achieved, we should find the appropriate political form to channel the renewed revolutionary impulse of the masses. Are the traditional Leninist or Gramscian parties the adequate response to a new, enormous and highly heterogeneous world proletariat, fragmented in thousands of small pieces like a broken mirror? I doubt. The Mariategui dictum saying the “revolution can not be ‘carbon copy’ (calco, “trace”) and copy but a heroic creation of the masses” is more valid today than ever before.
Trump's former adviser Steve Bannon is federating the far-right in Europe. Knowing that in Latin America, the US has supported fascists like Bolsonaro and Macri, do not you think there is a plan led by the US administration to unite the far right across the world?
Yes indeed. And it was explicitly state by Bannon and many other peoples. It is a longstanding aspiration of the US government since the end of WWII, and the rapid change in the political climate (in a reactionary direction, starting in Europe because of the refugees and the growing presence of Muslim population) has provided Trump with a golden opportunity. Yet, the outcome is far from being what they expect and many factors are intervening in the evolution of the political situation. Results can be very disappointing for the US government.
According to you, in some countries likely to experience imperialist interventions that target the wealth of their subsoil and by geopolitical interest, such as Algeria, is it not necessary to have legitimate and honest leaders and strong institutions to avoid chaos? Ibn Khaldun prophesied that tyrants will bring back the invaders; are the true allies of imperialism not corrupt and illegitimate leaders?
In order to counter the imperialist created chaos honest leadership and strong institutions need to be accompanied by an intense and well organized popular mobilization. There are plenty of stories in Latin America in which honest governments were ousted by coup d’états promoted by the US government and its oligarchical allies in the field. Take the case of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, or Arturo U. Illía in Argentina in 1966 as two shining examples of what I am saying. On the other hand, bribery, sabotages, corruption and despotism have been the marks of any regime established after imperialist intervention in Latin America or the Caribbean. Cases like Alfred Stroessner in Paraguay, François Duvallier in Haiti, Rafael L. Trujillo in Dominican Republic or Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, not to mention the most recent dictatorships in Argentina, Brazil and Chile prove, in conclusive terms that the US and the local bourgeois interests do not believe in democratic procedures at all. The rhetoric of the right is absolutely fallacious. If in order to make their interests prevail they need to kill or incarcerate or torture they will do all of that. Take the case of Sukarno in Indonesia and the mass murder of some half a million people in order to clean the country of "communists"; or the thousand of "desaparecidos" in Argentina, or the magnicides perpetrated against outstanding figures of the left in Latin America as Joao Goulart, Pablo Neruda, Orlando Letelier (in Dupont Circle, Washington DC!!!), Omar Torrijos from Panamá and Jaime Roldós from Ecuador, among the better known people. Imperialism and honest government do not match. The struggle for national self determination, a vibrant democracy, and honest governance is doomed to fail without a strong resistance against imperialism, the real factotum of the most atrocious regimes ever known in our region.
Will the achievements of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua survive the continued onslaught of US imperialism?
I think so, but at the cost of a hardening of the political regime. A citadel under siege never offers a good soil for tolerance, pluralism, unbridled liberties. But the plans of the empire are exactly those: to have Sandinism evolving backwards, in a undemocratic involution leading towards a “humanitarian crisis” that could serve as a prelude to a “Lybian solution”: invasion, social and economic chaos, turmoils and lynching of Ortega and his immediate circle.
Is there no risk of American intervention in Venezuela?
There are plans. The Southern Command said so a couple of years ago. The problem they face is that the Bolivarian military forces are strong, well equipped and ready to fight. The Brazilian military are reluctant to participate in an invasion, and the Colombian counterparts are afraid that the distraction of their forces in Venezuela could create the conditions for a rapid growth of the guerrillas at home. So, I would not exclude the possibility of some chirurgical military intervention of the US in Venezuela but so far all has been just talks and no action. On the other hand, in non military ways, the US intervention in Venezuela has been persistent since the rise of Chavez in 1999. Economic sanctions, sabotages, coup attempts, diplomatic pressures, trade blockade, etcetera have been common and persistent during all the Bolivarian experience.
How do you analyze the political transition in Cuba? How do you explain the permanent fierceness of the US administration against Cuba since the embargo was put in place in 1962?
It is a long story. Already in 1783 John Adams asked for the incorporation of Cuba under US jurisdiction. Cuba has an enormous geopolitical worth as the main entrance door to the Caribbean, and this is regarded by the US military and strategists as a sort or “mare nostrum” and they don’t accept the fact that Cuba act as a sovereign nation, with self-determination, and unwilling the humbly receive orders from the White House. The blockade has failed because the revolutionary regime did not fall, but the sufferings inflicted to the Cuban people are enormous and criminal, as are the obstacles the blockade posed to the economic development of Cuba. Yet, the Revolution is still able to deliver better social policies in health, education, social security than most countries of the world, and for Washington that is an intolerable “bad example” that should be eradicated at any cost. So far they were not able to do that, and I don’t think they will in the near future.
For example, we see the martyrdom of the Palestinian people by the criminal entity of Israel, or the massacre of the people of Yemen by Saudi Arabia, allied with the United States. Is there not a need to have a global anti-imperialist front whether in America, Africa, Europe or Asia, where peoples share the same fight: to resist imperialism that devastates countries and capitalism that exploits and bleeds peoples?
Absolutely. Chávez wanted to create that anti imperialist front but his claim was not well received because many misinterpret his proposal as a revival or the Third International under Stalin. That was stupid but unfortunately many popular organizations followed this line. Samir Amin, Francois Houtart and myself proposed the creation of such an international front in the International Council of the Porto Alegre World Social Forum and were defeated, largely because the opposition of powerful NGOs that completely rejected the idea. Not only that: these NGOs also were instrumental in the diffusion of a strong “anti-politics” sentiment that despised political parties, political leaderships and political agendas. To the point that it was very difficult to have Lula and Chávez invited to the successive meetings of the Foro. Nowadays this has changed, although I am not sure about the depth and consistency of this promising development.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Professor Atilio Borón?
Professor Atilio Borón is an Argentine sociologist, political scientist, professor and writer. He received his PHD in Political Science at Harvard University. He teaches at the University of Buenos Aires and is researcher at CONICET (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas). Professor Borón serves as Director of the Latin American Programme of Distance Education for Buenos Aires and is a collaborator of TNI's New Politics project (Transnational Institute). He is also ex-Secretary General of CLACSO (Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales), an academic umbrella body for Latin America.
In 2009 he received the International José Martí Prize from UNESCO for his contribution to integration of Latin American and Caribbean countries.
He wrote several books, including: Empire and Imperialism: A Critical Reading of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2005); Twenty-First Century Socialism: Is There Life After Neo-Liberalism? (2014); State, Capitalism, and Democracy in Latin America (1995); Filosofia politica contemporanea (2010); El eterno retorno del populismo en América Latina y el Caribe (2012); America Latina en la geopolítica del imperialismo (2013); Imperio & Imperialismo (2002), Filosofia política marxista; etc.
Published in American Herald Tribune, January 24, 2019: https://ahtribune.com/interview/2821-atilio-boron.html