Social Democracy in Latin America

September 25, 2007

Social democracy originated in the struggle between labor and capital in 19th century Europe. In its inception its goal was to organize the working class to eliminate class society. However, as the movement evolved its organizations became increasing- ly bureaucratized despite con- siderable working-class member- ship; the struggle for reforms as building blocks of the socialist revolution became an end in itself; and in 1914, on the eve of the First World War, the social democratic parties abandoned proletarian in- ternationalism in favor of alliances with their national bourgeoisies. In a word, social democracy ceased its struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and became, instead, part of the capitalist state. With the overseas expansion of European capital since the end of World War II, European social democracy has allied itself with capital against revolution everywhere. FORGING LINKS WITH LATIN AMERICA In the past few years, Latin America has witnessed a veritable explosion of activity by the Euro- pean social democratic parties and the Socialist (Second) Interna- tional (IS). Meetings between party leaders and prospective and ac- tual members have proliferated along with funding for research, leadership training, political 36 organizing and even guerrilla war- fare (Nicaragua). Operating through its party and other organizations, European social democracy has developed a solid and growing base among the na- tionalist, populist, as well as labor- based parties in Latin America, ten of which are now members of the IS. Moreover, its ideological in- fluence has spread beyond its for- mal membership, as indicated by the renewed emphasis on popular front coalition's stage theories of revolution and "classless demo- cracy" found in the political pro- nouncements of Latin American political leaders and intellectuals. But the most striking evidence of the social democratic advance is the fact that they now control the governments of the Dominican Republic and Jamaica and par- ticipate in mixed Juntas in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The proximate cause of Latin America's new welcome for Euro- pean social democracy may be sought in that long period of the 1960s and early 70s when Europe's social democrats gave refuge to Latin American leaders fleeing the dictatorial onslaught. This external material support and, presumably, the arguments put forth by the Europeans convinced some of the exiles that the future lay with the evolutionary rather than with the revolutionary path of the past. The ideological attraction of European social democracy con- sisted in its willingness to countenance movements which professed "socialist" goals, criticized U.S. imperialism and op- posed the extreme right-wing dic- tatorships dominant in the region, but which avoided the label of "communist subversion." Operat- ing as a left oppositionist with western legitimacy seemed to pro- vide the necessary protection for exiles returning to mass organiz- ing; membership in the IS would allow Latin American opposi- tionists to draw on European sup- port in periods of "emergency"-the threat of economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and political isolation by European social democratic governments could stay the hand of repression. RIPE FOR REFORMISM Although Latin America's exiled opposition leadership acted as a crucial conductor for European social democracy, the latter's deep and widespread influence in Latin America's political life is one outcome of the particular develop- ment process that has charac- terized the region. Latin America has been ex- periencing relatively high levels of industrial growth accompanied by the expansion of commercial agri- culture, processes that have greatly increased the absolute, if not the relative, size of the wage- labor force and its concentration. This economic growth has been propelled by large-scale inflows of overseas capital which demand, as a condition of investment, an environment where class conflict is well contained. Economic growth, then, has presupposed the NACLA Reportupdate * update . update . update existence of autocratic states that have sought to muzzle labor via pseudo-representative, state- controlled "corporatist" organs as well as outright repression. However, the exploitative condi- tions accompanying capitalist ex- pansion and the lack of political autonomy of the workers' move- ment became the basis for new struggles. And it is the social democrats who have been best able to capitalize on these struggles. On the one hand, because the severe state repression which preceded and accompanied the economic growth process was especially directed at the revolu- tionary Left, the latter was, and is, not in a position to give leadership to the growing mass discontent. Many of its militants were physi- cally destroyed and its activities continue to be severely cir- cumscribed, limiting its ability to reach out in a public fashion to the vast new strata in motion. More- over, much of the mass opposition has as its immediate preoccupa- tion the recovery of living stan- dards and elementary political rights-demands which are not in- compatible with the program and leadership of consequential social democrats. On the other hand, this burgeoning popular movement has little interest in the regional organizational vehicles floated by the U.S: AFL-CIO. Historically linked to U.S. intelligence agen- cies, corporate interests and right- wing movements, U.S. trade unions and liberal political groups have little appeal in Latin America. Furthermore, the issues that are being contested in Latin America involve a combined political and trade union struggle which ex- ceeds the narrow boundaries defined by the business unionist JanlFeb 1980 leadership of the AFL-CIO. Thus, a "vast space" exists in Latin America for European social democracy. THE EUROPEAN IMPERATIVES The increasing intervention of European social democracy in Latin America is not only deter- mined by factors internal to that region. It is also crucially depen- dent on the objective interests -economic, political and ideo- logical-that have operated within the European context to generate an interest in Latin American social democracy. The growth of overseas Euro- pean expansion, especially in cer- tain areas of Latin America, is one of the salient characteristics of inter-imperialist rivalry in recent years. Large-scale, long-term in- vestments and trade agreements require close working relations with governmental and non- governmental political leaders to facilitate contracts and licensing agreements, tax and labor ar- rangements, etc. While the Euro- peans have been able to work well with the incumbent military regimes, they have not felt altogether comfortable with them for several reasons: 1) The military have long-standing previous ties with U.S. business interests and, in some cases, were brought to power with U.S. assistance, thus lessening European access and influence; 2) the Europeans are wary of the instability of these regimes and do not want to put all their eggs in one basket; and 3)European labor movements have directly experienced fascist and dictatorial movements and are less sanguine than their counterparts in the AFL-CIO about supporting such movements in Latin America. Hence there exists a strong pressure within labor and the Left to limit economic relations with the dictatorial Right. Thus, factors operating in Western Europe have converged with developments in Latin America to breathe new life into social democracy. NEW ORIENTATIONS For many years social democracy was rather dormant in Latin America. Parties describing themselves as "social democratic," such as the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) in Peru and Democratic Action (AD) in Venezuela, had turned into con- servative bureaucratic ap- paratuses linked to foreign and domestic business groups and promoting policies that had little to do with their populist-nationalist rhetoric. However, the resurgence of popular movements in the region has required the IS to move beyond the crusty anti-communist rhetoric and programmatic con- fines of its older members to a more "radical adaptation" to the new members which they have recruited or are seeking to draw into the fold. This shift is clearly evident in the efforts to win over major elements of the Sandinista Movement in Nicaragua- especially the Terceristas-and in the ties with the Brazilian Labor Party and the New Jewel Move- ment in Grenada, among others. The recent effort to extend the influence of social democracy in Latin America began in April 1976; a meeting was held in Caracas under the sponsorship of Vene- zuela's AD (then the governing party), to discuss the new oppor- tunities developing on the conti- 37update * update update * update Full Member Parties Argentina Barbados Chile Costa Rica Dominican Republic El Salvador Jamaica Consultative Parties Paraguay MEMBERSHIP OF THE SOCIALIST INTERNATIONAL (Latin American and Caribbean Countries) Partido Socialista Popular (PSP)/Popular Socialist Party Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Partido Radical (PR)lRadical Party Partido de Liberaci6n Nacional (PLN)lNational Liberation Party Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD)lDominican Revolutionary Party Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR)lNational Revolutionary Movement People's National Party (PNP) Partido Febrerista Revolucionario (PFR)lFebrerista Revolutionary Party Venezuela Acci6n Democrdtica (AD)IDemocratic Action Movimiento Electoral del Pueblo (MEP)lPeople's Electoral Movement Parties Informally Linked to the Socialist International* Argentina Uni6n Civica Radical (UCR)lRadical Civic Union Movimiento Peronista Montonero (MPM)IMontonero Peronist Movement Bolivia Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario de Izquierda (MNRI)l Nationalist Revolutionary Movement of the Left Brazil Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (PTB)lBrazilian Labor Party Chile Partido Socialista-Movimiento de Acci6n Socialista (PS-MAS/Socialist Party- Socialist Action Movement Ecuador Partido de lzquierda Democratico (PID)/Left Democratic Party Grenada New Jewel Movement (NJM) Guatemala Frente Unido de la Revolution (FUR)lUnited Revolutionary Front** Partido Socialista Democratico (PSD)/Democratic Socialist Party Mexico Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI)llnstitutional Revolutionary Party Nicaragua Frente Sandinista de Liberacibn Nacional (FSLN)lSandinist National Libera- tion Front Panama Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD)lDemocratic Revolutionary Party Partido Socialdemocrata (PS)lSocial Democratic Party*** Movimiento Independiente Democratico (MID)iDemocratic Independent Movement * * * Peru Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA)lAmerican Popular Revolu- tionary Alliance Puerto Rico Partido Independentista Puertorriqueno (PIP)lPuerto Rican Independence Party Uruguay Frente Amplio (FA)lBroad Front *These parties have participated at conferences heyd by the Socialist International, or have sought SI support. "**The PSD's National Director, Mario Solorzano Martinez' also participates on the International Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean. S**PS and MID are competing for recognition by SI. Compiled by Tom Paul Delaney nent and to lay the basis for ex- panding contacts. In March 1978, Mario Soares-the Socialist leader responsible for containing Portugal's mass revolutionary up- surge of the mid-70s and known within the IS as "the German's man"--headed a delegation to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, 38 Venezuela, Jamaica and Costa Rica. Contacts were also esta- blished with groups and individuals from Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay. This organizing drive met with tremendous success-29 Latin American organizations were represented at the IS Congress in November 1978, including the Puerto Rican Independence Party and Nicaragua's Sandinista Front. At that time, a special working group on Latin America was established through Swedish in- itiative; it was headed by Michael Manley of Jamaica with Peria Gomez of the Dominican Republic NACLA Reportupdate * update * update . update as secretary. In addition, Manley, Oduber of Costa Rica, Gonzalo Barrios of Venezuela and Sule of Chile were named vice-presidents of the International. These elections and appoint- ments reflect the rivalry within the IS between the more reform- oriented Swedish section-sup- porting Sule, Pefa Gomez and Manley-and the more capital- oriented German section-favor- ing Barrios and Oduber. While one should not exaggerate the con- flicts among the European social democrats, it is important to note their different nuances in ap- proach. The proposition that Ger- man social democracy is con- cerned, in Latin America, to create a political base for German capital is generally accepted in European circles. In contrast, the orientation of Swedish social democracy less directly reflects its ties to capital. First of all, Swedish multinational capital is less prominent and dynamic; secondly, Swedish trade unions-especially the metal- workers-are anxious to prevent the flight of Swedish capital to low- wage areas and hence, are in- terested in the working conditions of Swedish capital's Latin American employees. Its looser linkage with capital allows the Swedish Party a greater tactical flexibility in dealing with new radical and leftist forces in Latin America and thus, allows it to penetrate areas which its German counterparts would find more dif- ficult. Nevertheless, the Swedish social democrats remain part of the IS and accept the limits of reform defined by the capitalist system. SOCIAL DEMOCRACY'S FLUCTUATING FORTUNES In the recent experiences of JanlFeb 1980 Latin American social democracy, a particular pattern has recurred with considerable frequency. In opposition to right-wing military or civilian regimes the social demo- cratic movements have been able to gather broad support and even, in a number of cases, to take con- trol of the government. But once in power, the social democrats have failed to implement their pro- grams, sustain mass support and retain political power; furthermore, sharp divisions between the political leadership administering the state and the mass-based organizational apparatus have led to protracted internal struggles and occasional splits to the right and left. Two social democratic parties have recently won elections in the Caribbean-the Jamaican People's National Party (PNP) and the Revolutionary Dominican Party (PRD) of the Dominican Republic. In Jamaica the Manley govern- ment began with a radical reform program to nationalize foreign enterprises, redistribute income and mobilize the masses; how- ever, it has turned into a regime whose economic and social policies are dictated by the Inter- national Monetary Fund (IMF), policies which have reduced the living standards of wage workers by 20-30%. In the Dominican Republic the Guzman regime, elected by a mass popular land- slide, has been increasingly hostile to the demands from the working class and even from its own trade union members-pursuing the same capitalist development policies of its predecessor. Beyond their narrow electoral and civil liberties commitments, the social democrats have little to offer. No effort is made to alter the fundamental property, class and state relations that perpetuate ine- qualities. Moreover, because of their dependence on private cap- ital-both foreign and domes- tic-they are limited with respect to the incomes policies they can pursue. Efforts to reform capital that conflict with the conditions for its profitable accumulation lead to capital flight and consequent economic stagnation. Efforts to secure external financing bring in their wake the myriad forms of in- tervention in governmental policy- making: the social democrats are forced to become the instruments for restructuring public spending, social services and wage levels. These practices lead to divisions within the parties, further weaken their organizational capacity and inevitably lead to the party's elec- toral demise. The very factors that facilitated victory in opposition-the alliance with capital, the agitation for "classless democracy" and the welfare capitalist model-are the same factors that prevent com- prehensive and consequential change once the social democrats have secured power. Recent history suggests that social democracy in Latin America, as a social reform movement capable of sustaining popular support, has been a dismal failure. Yet social democracy is not dead; on the contrary, in many areas it is grow- ing and will continue to grow, given the conditions existing in Latin America and the limited op- tions from which the masses have to choose.

Tags: social democracy, capitalism, exiles, reform, Caribbean

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