by Manuel Bertoldi, published on People’s Dispatch, September 24, 2022
The following article is a summary of debates and reflections within the organization ALBA Movimientos, which were discussed during the last meeting of the International Peoples’ Assembly. These are observations made based on the daily reality in which the peoples of the world exist: in a turbulent world with an uncertain future.
As several popular movements, together with many organic intellectuals, have been warning, we are undergoing a crisis of the capitalist system globally. The results of this crisis are unpredictable. Contrary to what liberals and even some heterodoxy argue, this crisis is a product of neoliberalism. That is to say, the crisis is a product of the intrinsic development of capital itself and not a problem alien to the “normal functioning of the system”. It is the very development of capital itself that creates all the contradictions which, when they become more acute, lead to crisis.
This crisis does not affect the entire population equally. It is poor and working people who are subjected to the disastrous economic, social and political consequences of the crisis. Never in human history has the degree of inequality been as acute as it is today. The obscene wealth concentrated in a small segment of the world’s population contrasts with the misery to which millions of people are subjected.
It is in this context that turbulent manifestations of political instability are taking place all over the world. There can be no political stability without social stability; at the same time, social stability is impossible without economic stability for the majority.
However, in this contentious scenario, it is wise to take into consideration that capitalism (and even more so neoliberalism as a phase of capitalist accumulation) has always used crises to impose its own political transformations.
A global war in the making
We are living in a war scenario that is becoming increasingly internationalized and intensified. In recent years, the big arms companies—true merchants of death—have been increasing their sales. This situation took an exponential leap after the pandemic, when the main global powers dizzyingly increased their budgets allocated to their military industries. In the midst of the global COVID-19 crisis, according to studies by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a historic record of USD $2.11 trillion in military spending was reached.
An image that illustrates the spirit of capital: while millions were dying for lack of medical care, the major powers were putting their resources towards the business of war.
This escalation led to the current war in Ukraine, ongoing for more than six months. Compounding the war scenario are the recent escalation of tensions in Taiwan through the trip of the head of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to the island. All this expresses the militaristic geopolitics deployed by the US in pursuit of reorganizing its weakened and threatened hegemony.
It is important to analyze the particular situation of Latin America and the Caribbean in relation to the geopolitical dispute. China is the second largest trading partner of almost all of South America (with the exception of Colombia and Ecuador). This trend is on the rise: in 2021, total trade flow between both parties exceeded USD $450 billion, an increase of 41.1% over the previous year. Tensions between the US and China place Latin America as a strategic terrain in global hegemonic disputes.
Deepening of the energy crisis
For years, energy production has been one of the main problems globally, being one of the principal strategic resources in geopolitical disputes. Much of what the US called the “war on terror”, together with NATO and other allies, had as one of its main motivations the forcible appropriation of oil outside its borders.
One of the consequences of the current Russia–Ukraine war has been Europe’s difficulties in supplying its consumption. In April through June of this year alone, the price of oil rose by 12% and gas by 11%. This situation has resulted in government measures to severely restrict consumption and a return to highly polluting energy sources such as coal. So much so that the head of the International Energy Agency‘s monitoring committee, Fatih Birol, declared that the current energy crisis is not only worse than that of the 1970s and 80s, but will also last much longer.
The price of energy has unleashed inflation at a global level. This is within a context with the highest inflation, on a global scale, in the last 40 years. On the other hand, the increase in the price of energy promotes the exploration and exploitation of transnational capital in the search for new hydrocarbon energy sources (off-shore and non-conventional). This has increased the interest in new renewable energy sources, as well as in investment projects in the region regarding green hydrogen technologies, and a particular interest in the lithium reserve, half of which is held by Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.
One of the central aspects of the current crisis is linked to the worsening of the causes of the climate crisis, whose effects are spreading and intensifying all over the planet. All indicators are alarming and there is a broad scientific consensus that limits are being crossed that will be irreversible. We are witnessing extreme heat, fires, droughts and record low river flows.
Even before the war, the mechanisms that attempted to mitigate the causes of climate change were already in crisis. The resounding failure of COP-26 in 2021 was a telling example of this, to the point that the president of the conference, Alok Sharma, burst into tears and apologized after failing to reach a minimum consensus.
The impact of the climate crisis, the effects of the war and the “Western” boycott of Russia have produced a food crisis for the peoples of the world. World food prices reached record highs, even higher than those marked by the speculative cycle between 2008 and 2012.
The 2022 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other international agencies noted that already in 2021, 828 million people were hungry, 9.8% of the world population (an increasing trend since 2020), and 2.3 billion people were severely or mildly food insecure (29.3% of the world total). By 2022, this trend will be deepened by “the intensification of the main drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition, namely conflicts, extreme weather events and economic shocks, in combination with increasing inequalities,” according to the report.
The backdrop to this international scenario is a worsening economic crisis due to rising inflation resulting from the increase in world energy, food and metal prices. This price increase was combined with a growing recession.
Latin America and the Caribbean are no strangers to the impact of this crisis. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Economic Survey of Latin America and the Caribbean 2022 warns of “a complex economic outlook” for both this year and the future, which could be marked by lower economic growth, strong inflationary pressures (in June the regional average was more than double that recorded in the 2015-2019 period), low job creation, falling investment and growing social demands. In this context, ECLAC has reduced growth forecasts, from 6.9% to 2.6% in South America, and from 5.7% to 2.5% in Central America and Mexico.
All political projects are in crisis in Latin America. The neoliberal factions are unable to build the stability necessary to carry out their programs. Meanwhile, the so-called new wave of progressive governments in Latin America is weaker and more moderate than the one that marked the continent at the beginning of the century. Neoliberalism lacks the ability to enforce its program, and popular forces find margins to try out political processes that imply some degree of “class compromise,” through which the cycle of accumulation can be relaunched.
In this interregnum of political instability, processes of radicalization on the right are emerging and gaining strength. This phenomenon is spreading in the Latin American continent and to the world.
Crisis of the bourgeois liberal states
In recent years we have seen a persistent deterioration of the institutions of bourgeois liberal democracy and the democratic consensus that sustains them. This deterioration does not translate into a questioning of the democratic limitations of the bourgeois state, but on the contrary, it is often the product of an anti-democratic regression.
Several factors have combined to give rise to this crisis which has swept through a good part of the “Western democracies”. There is a growing severity of inter-bourgeois competitiveness, a product of the crisis, and its lack of predisposition to “democratic respect”. There is also an increase in power of various economic, financial, media and even industrial corporations, which leave nations in a place of relative weakness in terms of their “capacity to control”. There exists a deterioration of the living conditions of the majorities, which do not find ways to mitigate their suffering in the current political system. There is an instrumentalization of the state apparatus, with special emphasis on the judiciary, in pursuit of political factional disputes. Among other factors, these all have exacerbated this crisis from which the new, radicalized right-wing, be they post-fascist, alternative right-wing, or others, grow.
In view of an eventual victory of Lula in Brazil, added to the recent victory of Petro in Colombia and the economic recovery (through the energy crisis) of Venezuela, Argentina today is the main target in South America of hybrid war by imperialism.
Regional integration slowed
Regional integration in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is strategic for obtaining autonomy, has recently slowed. The lack of leadership and the lack of projects with a perspective of regional sovereignty have contributed to this stagnation.
Argentina recently handed over a national company, Pluspetrol, in exchange for the extraction of lithium to a foreign company, without knowing if there was any progress in technological agreements.
Currently, there is no strong consensus within the traditional political leadership about a sovereign and independent perspective. In this context, the integration of popular movements is fundamental to strengthen this strategic horizon.
Crisis of the Left
The left is undergoing a moment of weakness regarding the elaboration of a political project which is anchored in and built from the popular sectors. What is needed is a political project that has the capacity to radiate to society as a whole in a hegemonic way, with a post-capitalist horizon.
It is necessary to build a renaissance of popular mobilization. This is a condition of possibility for the victory of Lula and to prevent the fraud in Brazil, as well as to prevent the Lawfare strategy in Argentina.
In this scenario, the ideological battle takes on a centrality in the class struggle. Those in economic power wield a gigantic capacity of ideological control from new digital communication tools. To wage the battle of ideas, it is imperative to fight from a perspective anchored in the popular and subaltern classes.
Advancing an international conference to debate the problems of today, and to invent solutions from the perspective of popular movements, is a task which the popular processes in Latin America are becoming involved.
This article was translated and adapted from an article originally published on Agencia Latinoamericana de Información.