Interview With François Houtart: ‘Post-neoliberal’ or ‘Progressive’? Governments and social movements facing the crisis. Part II

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Read Part I here

What’s the situation of Latin American integration projects, like the Alba, the Mercosur, the Bank of the South, etc?

I believe that integration must be one of the key concerns of the left. Why? Because we are facing a more centralized form of capitalism, which is more global. We are facing great multinational companies that have a huge economic and political power, we are facing the formal organization of the world’s capitalism, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the IMF, etc, and the informal organization that involves tax havens. The only way to fight capitalism is through integration, because individual countries are not capable of doing it on their own, they are not strong enough to stand against the strength of global capitalism. A country like Brazil, due to its dimensions, could eventually do it, but there are internal forces of the global capitalism that prevent the country —even under a “progressivist” government— from being a force of resistance against global capitalism.

However, we must point out that the Latin American integration movement, which was promoted mainly by Chavez, is supported by Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and by progressivist governments in general, especially Cuba. This movement has ended up in a proliferation of regional organisms such as the Mercosur, the Celac, the Unasur, the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), or the Central American Parliament. These were important steps but they didn’t have a “post-capitalist” orientation, because they encompassed capitalist and not capitalist countries (which is fine, because that’s the way things are), which are at least “anti-hegemonic”, meaning that due to them being Latin American countries and not North American countries, they are naturally anti-hegemonic regarding North America.

Only the ALBA has had a post-capitalist orientation, but it’s quite marginal in the region, because it’s composed only by 10 country members and a part of them are small Caribbean islands. But it’s indeed the only post-capitalist organism, because its own charter letter states that the basis of its work and its viewpoint is not competition but complementarity and solidarity, including the economic field and that’s the reason why the “Petrocaribe” was created, and other social projects too, such as the Milagro Operation, or cultural projects such as Telesur, and that was an door to a non-capitalist future. Sadly, it was the only one. Its existence is very important but at the same time it’s very vulnerable because now we don’t know how the situation is going to change in the continent if Venezuela changes. Last week I travelled to Cuba, and there the impact caused by the changes in Venezuela are already visible. Cuba won’t receive the amount of help from the Petrocaribe that it used to. This has an immediate effect on Cuba’s ability to generate energy.

In the future, this kind of integration will fundamental, first of all as a Latin American, anti-hegemonic stance within a capitalist system. And then, to promote other types of integration such as the ALBA that could set forth a new economic model, and address problems such as the protection of the Amazon, because the only way to save it is through Latin American integration because individual countries on their own have good reasons to exploit the Amazon and destroy it. The FAO warned that in 40 years time we won’t have no more Amazon Forest, which would be an environmental catastrophe, extremely serious for the continent.  

The indigenous matter, the issue of peasant agriculture, GMOs, and other issues, can only be solved through integration, with regulations. The European Union is a bad example but they have had the strength to fight against Monsanto. Three weeks ago,the European Commission decided not to allow the renovation of glyphosate in Europe. Despite the efforts Monsanto made, there was a strong popular rejection that was supported by the European Commission. One single country couldn’t have done it, but 28 countries did. For Latin America, the situation is the same, that’s the reason why integration is very important. I’m not optimistic in the short term because the results are clearly seen in the UNASUR. Venezuela has not paid its fee for over 2 years, Brazil has announced that they won’t pay theirs this year. They are forced to lay off workers. Since its inception, 13 years ago, they haven’t been able to build the environmental commission yet, which would be in charge of addressing the issue of the Amazon Forest.

Apart from that, there are plans to approve the TPP in Peru, Chile, and Mexico. That would change the geopolitical situation.

Absolutely, that’s the other side of the matter: the Monroe integration. That initiative is very strong. First of all, because the potential member countries have a major demographic and economic weight in the continent, and on the other hands, because of the plans to trade with Asia —excluding China. It’s nothing more than the US’ and Canada’s attempt to recycle the same old concept promoted by the FTAA.

Clearly there is no country in Latin America that could reach socialism at once, through a political decision, a revolutionary decision, because that would immediately result in a boycott against the country and also a military intervention in that country. What we must do now (and some, like the MST for example, are already doing it), is convening a meeting on September to reflect on how to overcome capitalism. That is, we must redefine our goals. Firstly, what kind of model can we propose? Which is the fundamental orientation of the new paradigm? Secondly, which are the steps to be taken? Which transitions are possible? Which actors will join us? We should redefine this matters to have a proper base for a project of the left.

In this sense, Which is the relevance that the revolutionary theory by Marx has in this analysis?

It depends on how you define Marx’s theory (laughs) because in the socialist tradition there are many currents.

I’m talking about the revolutionary theory by “Young Marx”, the Marx that observed the French social movements, workers’ administration…

Well, as a fundamental idea there is no doubt that the revolutionary forces must be the grassroots. Evidently, in Marx’s times the working class was the revolutionary class because of its sociological situation. Now, we are facing a very different situation, where capitalism has radically transformed the working class: on the one side it has eliminated most of the productive forces, especially from “developed” countries and it has transformed most workers into  white-collar workers, dividing work: this means that the working class as a social reality is completely different to the one Marx analyzed.

Therefore the widespread idea that the working class is the revolutionary class, is not true any more, it’s not suitable for the current social reality. We have to redefine this concept. There are different types of workers now, such as the peasant movement which is now more radicalized, more critical of capitalism, than the working class. La Via Campesina is more radicalized that the international organization of workers’ unions. We must redefine the way in which Marx’s theory applies in the current situation and in this sense, which are the main forces that can really be carriers of a new project.

We see this in Europe, for example, where unions struggle —legitimately, of course— to defend the achievements of the pre-neoliberal period, facing a neoliberalism that is slowly eliminating all the achievements of past social struggles from the past. But that doing this, falls within the logic of the system. They have not lost their critical spirit but they are minorities in the European working class, who criticizes this attitude and that proposed a more radical attitude, but which are not only from the classic working class. Facing this crisis there is a resistance that can also be a strength, also revolutionary, we must analyse, as Marx did in his times, the class structures to see how could we carry out revolutionary transformations within the current situation.

To conclude… How probable is a new emergence of fascism —as is happening now in Europe— and the possibility that the crisis can intensify this?

It’s true that when the history of fascism is studied, fascism is promoted in situations of crisis and, particularly, in the middle class, which has been extended as the economic system has spread, and fascism in these sectors its social base. I, personally, have the feeling that this happens in Europe but it is present everywhere, for example, in India with the current Government and the most fundamental Hindus currents, or in Sri Lanka with buddhists. Also in Latin America, I believe that there are some ultra nationalist groups, in Brazil for example. They are everywhere. But I also have the feeling that as they are not in the same situation as in the 30s to reach the power, they can influence but they don’t have real chances, as they used to have back then, however we should recognize that there is a real danger because it’s an obstacle to a more deeper transformation. Despite the anti-capitalist speech, fascism has always been an instrument of capitalism.

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