lateinamerika - Quetzal - Politik und Kultur in Lateinamerika

Incorporating the Left into Democratic Politics

Autor:  |  Frühjahr 1996

Historically the left has always presumed the existence of an objective, a program, an organised force capable of carrying out that program, and a theory that explained the logic of the system. The program may have been improvised, the objective unreal, and the organized force nothing of the kind, but this was how the left thought about change, at least how it legitimized its activities. All this is now open to question. [1]

This quotation from Jose Aricó well captures the ideological dilemma that faces the left in Latin America since the collapse of international communism in the late 1980s. The Latin American left always sought legitimation in an appeal to a broader context than the purely national one. This was partly the heritage of a left which was rooted firmly in Marxism as its ideological model and Leninism as its political practice. It is difficult, for example, to explain the important political role of Communist parties in Latin America, in spite of their limited popularity, and even more limited success as promoters of revolution, unless this international and ideological dimension is taken into account. Communist parties in Latin America were seen as the direct representatives of an international movement of world revolution giving them an importance beyond their specific electoral appeal or political power. It is true, of course, that the impact of the Cuban Revolution on the Latin American left was shattering, not least on those orthodox Communist parties that claimed a monopoly of the truth. But in a sense what happened was that the centre of the Latin American left was transferred from Moscow to Havana, and Marxism became combined with a kind of revolutionary voluntarism rather than with strict Leninism. The Latin American left still had its international reference point, and its revolutionary orthodoxy. The collapse of international communism profoundly changed the Latin American left. The significance of what happened after the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe was as important for the Latin American left as the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. No longer could the left claim a special significance as part of an international movement. No longer could the left appeal to a particular ideology as containing the inevitable laws of historical development. With the collapse of international communism, the left lost the mobilising vision of a socialist society to be achieved by revolution. In the words of Jorge Castaneda, the idea of revolution became not simply unimaginable but even undesirable. [2]

The left in Latin America found itself now facing a newly defined political context which was national rather than international. This might be seen as an advantage. The left would no longer have to justify or excuse the undemocratic practices of the Communist bloc. [3] It no longer had to defend regimes that offended liberal democratic beliefs. The left no longer had to face the same degree of hostility from the United States. It could begin to free itself from the charge that the left in power will automatically degenerate into authoritarianism.

But no movement changes completely overnight in response to external events. The left in Latin America did not suddenly become social democratic. Old practices persisted, not least that of an elitist Leninism still practising a style of party government that was far from democratic and participatory. The far left saw in the collapse of communism not the result of an excess of marxist practice, but on the contrary a lack of it. There are still practitioners of revolutionary violence. There are still adherents of a state-centred doctrine of economic planning.

These groups might be seen as remnants of the past fighting a rearguard action against the social democratic modernisers. This interpretation would be more plausible if the modernisers had a clear ideological programme, and widespread support. But the prevailing ideological climate in Latin America is not favourable for the left, in whatever form. In the first place, the prevailing economic doctrine of the free market runs counter to the idea of central state planning which has dominated the thinking of the left since its inception. If the idea of state planning is discredited, then the left has somehow to make compatible its long term objectives with a free market system. But in practice the left has little credible alternative to offer to the casualties of the economic adjustment packages that had in many cases stabilised national economies, though at great social cost. Secondly, the left still faces the electoral dilemma that had haunted its history: how can it move outside its core of organised labour and leftist intellectuals to reach social sectors previously indifferent to its message, but necessary for any prospect of electoral success? Thirdly, given the dismal record of the left in power, and, for whatever reason, the economic performance of Allende‘s Chile, Castro’s Cuba, or Sandinista Nicaragua was not inspiring, how can the left establish credibility as competent administrators?

The perplexity of the left in facing this conjuncture is well captured by this statement by Jose Pasos, deputy chief of the FSLN’s international department after the Sandinista defeat in 1990.

We have to become a modern party. There are some principles that don’t change: political pluralism, non-alignment, mixed economy. Our anti-imperialism stays the same, but it is not the anti-imperialism of Marx or Lenin. For us, it means non-interference in our internal affairs and it’s the United States that interferes. We continue to believe in socialism as the goal. But it’s definitely not the socialism that has come up in the East, nor the socialism of Cuba, nor perestroika. Perhaps the most acceptable for us would be Swedish socialism, but it’s very expensive. What kind of socialism a poor country can have is a discussion that we’re now going to begin. From an interview in The Guardian. (London), 30 April 1990.

This quotation captures well the dilemmas facing the left in Latin America in the 1990s. The previous models of socialism widely prevalent in Latin America have lost their appeal, and there is little consensus on a new model. There is a problem of defining the aims of the left in the new order.

There is also a problem of defining the means by which the left can effectively gain power. How can the left mobilise the poor effectively? What strategy of alliances should it pursue to win power in a way which still leaves intact some identifiable socialist project? How can the left relate to the social movements of Latin America without arousing suspicion of political manipulation by the left?

There is, in addition, the issue of the appropriate form of organisation for mobilising support for the left. There are serious questions about whether this can be done simply by continuing with the same kind of party organisation and structure as in the past, not least because of the need to respond to changes in social structure which have weakened the traditional base of the left, namely the dramatic reduction in the power and influence of the trade union movement in countries as diverse as Bolivia and Argentina for example.

The Shadow of the Past

The present crisis has to be seen in the context of the historical development of the left in Latin America. What were the weaknesses of the left, and what of those weaknesses survive to the present time? What were the strengths of the left, and what of those strengths survive to the present time?

The left historically has been characterised by deep and bitter divisions and has rarely if ever been united. In most countries one should talk not of the left, but of the lefts. The most public manifestation of disunity were differences, often bitter and violent ones about ideology and strategy, about who could legitimately be included as being “on the left.” [4] There is less fundamental disagreement today about ideologies: battles between orthodox communists, trotskyists and maoists are increasingly irrelevant. There is more agreement today on the need for unity and consensus on the left, for building wider coalitions, and for working with other parties. In some countries, notably Chile, this tactic has been pursued with some success by one part of the left, namely the Socialist parties; but was opposed with catastrophic effects on its own following by the other part, the Communist movement. In most countries, however, the unity of the left is, if not so far away as it was in the days of heated ideological debate, still an objective to be achieved rather than something attained.

However, the disunity of the left has never been a function purely of doctrinal issues. The left in most countries is best seen as a combination of a variety of parties, social movements and ideologies, and these three elements do not necessarily overlap nor agree. The ideology of the left, of Marxism, has always been much more influential than the organised parties of the left, and often the adherents to the doctrine were amongst the strongest critics of the parties of the left. [5] The real influence of Marxism in Latin America was felt not so much through the parties of the left, but at the level of ideology and as a stimulus to political mobilisation and action, not least in the trade union movement and amongst students and intellectuals, including, from the 1960s, radical Catholics. The problem that faces the current left is precisely how to regain that sense of ideological commitment, and how it can do so to rival the enhanced ideological commitment and appeal of the right with its doctrine of the free market. [6] One of the major strengths of the left was precisely its firm belief in the validity of its ideas. In order to recover that strength the left needs to develop ideas appropriate to the era of post marxism -and that is a challenge that faces the left world- wide and not just in Latin America. The left can no longer behave as if the logic of historical development is on its side.

To talk of redefining ideologies, of devising policies, of making tactical alliances, implies a left structured around political parties, and associated organisations such as trade unions. Yet this pattern of political organisation applies to relatively few countries, notably to Chile and Uruguay, and (to a lesser extent since 1989) to Venezuela. But in other countries, the left is relatively diffuse, similar to the Mexican left which encompasses a large number of parties, political groups, labour unions, organised popular movements and mass publications which continually fluctuate both in form and composition. Such dispersion can be a source of strength if there is a broadly unifying party or movement (such as the PT in Brazil, and, more questionably, the PRD in Mexico). But if this unifying factor does not exist, then such dispersion can be a source of weakness (as in Peru or Bolivia).

Historically, the left sought its base in the union movement, which, in its turn sought to act as representative of the urban, if not the rural poor. But the recent period has seen the decline of unions in general, and those that remain powerful are in the public sector, and do not always enjoy broad social suport for their demands. There has also occured the growth of community based organisations, often suspicious of manipulation by political parties, including those of the left. These grass roots movements express powerful demands for citizenship rights; they draw some inspiration from radical Catholicism; and they incorporate groups that had not been politically active in the past, above all women, and the unemployed. Their demands are rarely political in the first instance, but when the political environment is unresponsive or even hostile, then a general demand for democracy is inevitably linked to their specific aims. Popular movements tend to be of protest and of opposition. They flourished when military dictatorships limited political participation. They created a powerful opposition consciousness, with a strongly corporatist element – they believe in the state and not in the market.

These so-called new social movements are not always hostile to parties. In Brazil the role of the left, especially the Workers Party (PT), in the neighbourhood organisations is important. The PT helped these organisations to transcend their immediate material perspectives, fostered coordination on a broader scale, and raised general political issues. But in other countries these social movements can, and often do, express an explicit rejection of, or disillusionment with, political parties. In Peru areas where the left and APRA had been traditionally strong, voted in 1990 for the politically unknown Fujimori as President, and for his untried party, Cambio 90. Fujimori received 40 percent of his total Lima vote from the twelve poorest districts, far exceeding the vote for the left wing coalition, Izquierda Unida. [7] The electoral challenge to the left from these movements is formidable for these populist figures are often capable of winning considerable support from the urban or rural poor. In societies where class structures are less firm, and certainly less institutionally expressed through class based organisations, the left faces a formidable challenge. What can it offer to the urban poor that is more attractive than the promises of a effective populist politician? One partial answer at least is that of efficient local government, and this is an area where the left is trying to establish a distinctive profile to contrast with the clientelism and corruption that are held to be characteristic of local government generally in Latin America.[8]

The problem that the left has faced in mobilising the poor of the shanty towns is part of a broader problem that has faced and still faces the left in Latin America, that is to say, the electoral and popular challenge of the populist parties. The political space traditionally occupied in Europe by social democracy was occupied in Latin America by nationalist populist parties. These parties were never constrained by ideological orthodoxy, and in the past drew heavily upon the ideas and practices of the left. A crucial and continuous political problem for the left was, and in many ways still is, the nature of its relationship with such parties of greater ideological flexibility, greater political appeal and broader social support. [9] The Colombian left has never been able to establish a continuing electoral presence outside an alliance with the Liberal party in part a consequence of the Colombian electoral system which penalises small indepedent parties. One of the reasons why sectors of the Colombian left have preferred violent tactics has been the overwhelming political weight of the two traditional parties.

However, populism in Latin America has recently emphasised its hostility to political parties as such. This has been manifested not only at the national level by leaders such as Fujimori in Peru or Caldera in Venezuela but also at the local level where a number of mayors of major cities have been elected on anti-party tickets. This presents real problems for the left. Not only does it have to combat the appeal of genuinely popular leaders, but it also has to combat a widespread indifference to, or even rejection of, the political party as such.

One of the most enduring divisions of the left in Latin America has been over the justification of the use of violence to achieve political objectives, a tactic that was given an enormous boost by the Cuban revolution. The election of Allende in Chile was an equally dramatic moment for the left, and seemed to legitimate the peaceful road to socialism. This was the first experiment in trying to create a socialist society through peaceful, constitutional means. This posed a question of universal relevance for the left-could there be a peaceful transition to socialism in a pluralistic and democratic society? This was no imposition from above of a rigid revolutionary dogma, but a pluralist and democratic government attempting to win popular support for the most part by argument and persuasion.

With the coup of 1973, however, other questions were posed: what could the Latin American left learn from the mistakes of the Chilean left? How could the left anywhere hope to attain power in the face of opposition from the national and international right? The effect of the failure of the Unidad Popular government was to polarise the left in Latin America. The more radical groups, such as the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and pro-Cuban groups elsewhere, resolved to intensify armed conflict. Their argument was that the coup showed that a peaceful road to socialism was simply an illusion. The far left argued that facing the opposition of the right, the military and the United States that armed revolution was the only hope of achieving power.

If one response of the left to the coup was to advocate the need for violence, another response was diametrically opposite-arguing that the left should now moderate its policies and actions so that the conditions that gave rise to coups would not occur. The revisionists argued that the left should stop visualising power exclusively in terms of force, as something to be physically possessed. The left should stop concentrating on property relations to the exclusion of other factors: a simple transference of ownership to the state would not solve anything, and could indeed create more problems than it resolved. The military could not be defeated by force. A radical government had to achieve such widespread legitimacy that the conditions that gave rise to military intervention social disorder, political conflict outside the parliamentary and electoral arenas did not occur. That meant concessions to the right and a determined effort to win the support of the middle classes and to achieve a working relationship with the business sectors. Political alliances were seen as necessary, and democracy was seen as a value in its own right.

In a way the modern debate on the left in Latin America began with the Chilean coup and is not yet concluded. Some parties of the left, not least the Chilean Socialist party can be placed firmly in the camp of the revisionists. But other movements of the left, notably guerrilla groups in Colombia and Peru still pursue the armed struggle. And yet others such as the Sandinistas in Nicaragua or the former guerrilla groups in El Salvador are making an uneasy transition from armed movement to political party.

This debate was conducted largely in clandestinity or in exile for much of the 1970s and 1980s as the left was a passive witness to forces that it could barely influence. Military authoritarian governments brutally attacked the left. Parties and unions were suppressed and many leaders were killed or exiled. Intellectual debate was stifled. The period of authoritarianism saw changes in society and the economy which were unfavourable to the left the growth of informal as opposed to formal employment, the emergence of free market economics as the dominant mode, the reduction in the size of the state. These trends continued into the period of transitions to democracy. And if this state of organisational weakness and ideological uncertainty was not enough, then to the misfortunes of the left was added the collapse of international communism.

The Latin American Left in the 1990s

It should be clear from the analysis so far that in common with many other parts of the world, the left in Latin America in the 1990s faced multiple challenges, and faced them from a position of organisational weakness, ideological uncertainty, and minority electoral support. Yet the left in some countries had strengths that it could draw upon. The left had opposed, often with great courage, the authoritarian governments of the 1970s and 1980s, and could claim a greater democratic credibility than the movements of the right. The left in some countries, notably Brazil, organised the new movements in the unions and neighbourhoods, and acted as the representative of the poor. The left in others had a tradition of organisation, and had created a sub-culture of socialism that resisted the drift to the right. There are also the seeds of future growth of the left in the twin failures of many of the restored democracies of Latin America the failure to create adequate safety nets to deal with the social costs of the economic adjustment programmes, and the failure to halt the corruption of the governing elites. The left owes its origins to protest above all, and given the social condition of the poor in Latin America there is still a great deal to protest about.

How far can we identify general trends? How far can we say that the left in Latin America unambiguously accepts democracy? How far is the left a serious political force in Latin America? The answers to these questions are not easy, and to some extent national diversity is greater now, in the post communist era, than in the past. If there are no completely uniform trends, it is still possible to make some distinctions that are broader than the national level.

There is a strong social democratic left in a number of countries. In these countries -Chile, Venezuela, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico are the leading examples- there are parties firmly committed to the democratic system, and with significant electoral support. They each have a popular leader, though not policies for dealing with economic and social issues which are substantially different from the predominant free market ones.

In other countries, notably those of Central America and Colombia, there is a left emerging from the guerrilla experience, forced by a mixture of necessity and rethinking to accept the rules of competitive party politics. The commitment of these movements is much more conditional, and they contain within them groups that prefer the armed method of seizing power.

Yet there still exists an active tradition of leftist insurgency. This is most sharply present in Peru with the maoist inspired Sendero Luminoso movement. It is true that this movement has suffered a sharp reversal of its power with the arrest of its leader Abimael Guzman. But it is equally characteristic of such movements that they can appear suddenly and with little advance warning, as happened with the Zapatista movement in Chiapas in Mexico.

Other countries are characterised by the eclipse of the left, and its electoral and political insignificance. Peronism in Argentina has turned its back upon its leftist past, and has left a vacuum on the left. In Bolivia, a once powerful leftist movement based on the unions, above all the mining unions, has collapsed as the unions have been decimated.

The political influence of the left in any country will be at maximum when four factors coincide and reinforce each other: a united party; widely based social support; ideas that are seen as relevant and credible; and a popular leader. These factors rarely coincide in this neat fashion, but some Latin American countries combine them, notably those where political parties are reasonably well structured and where, arguably, there is a social democratic tradition of some weight. In these countries it can be argued that the commitment of the left to electoral politics is not just a matter of expediency but of principle. Indeed perhaps it is both given that if the violent road is ruled out for a variety of reasons, then the only alternative open to the left is through the maximisation of electoral gains. It could also be argued for these countries that the incorporation of the left into democratic and constitutional politics is less problematical and less conditional than is that of the right.

a. The Social Democratic Left

One response to the decline of orthodox Communism, and the increasing unatractiveness of the Cuban model -and in contrast to the violence associated with the guerrilla movements of countries like Peru, Colombia and El Salvador–was a renewal of interest in socialism of an essentially parliamentary and electoral form. The reaction to years of military dictatorship and the suppression of basic freedoms of the left, was a much more positive evaluation of the benefits of formal democracy. The growth of social democratic movements in Europe, notably the Spanish Socialist party of Felipe Gonzalez, provided a source of inspiration. The work of the Socialist International in Latin America provided international links, further encouragement, and some financial assistance. Closer analysis of the social structure of Latin America led the more moderate left to realise the importance of appealing to the middle classes, and to the growing popular organisations that were not trade unions, nor expressions of class struggle, and which owed more to church inspired institutions than to the Marxist left.

These parties in the 1990s advocated a number of policies that were very different from those of previous decades. Instead of the centralised state, they advocated decentralisation and participation of the community in the taking of local decisions. Instead of a leninist model of internal party government they emphasised inner party democracy and positive discrimination for women. Instead of concentrating power in the executive they emphasised the need for checks and balances and turned their attention to issues such as an independent judiciary and an independent central bank. They sought to establish their credentials by efficient administration of the local governments they controlled. They emphasised that against the corruption that had emerged so much into the open with the return to democracy that they would be, by contrast, honest and accountable if elected. What is happening in practice falls short of the rhetoric but there are countries where the left is trying to present itself, with some success, as a modern, capable and incorrupt political force.

The countries where the social democratic model of the left prevail have a number of features in common. They are all countries with relatively strong institutional frameworks, and with reasonably developed party systems. These systems have allowed the left to develop as an institutional force, and to learn the rules of political competition and party behaviour. They are all countries with relatively modern economic and social structures, providing a social base for the left to develop electoral and political support. Though all countries have seen periods of repression -indeed of intense repression in some cases -it has not been continuous nor been the norm. And in all of them the ideas of socialism and marxism have been vigorous and widespread. The Chilean Socialist party, though always a party that contained a variety of ideological factions, had moved to the left during the 1960s, partly under the influence of the Cuban Revolution. During the Popular Unity government it was more radical than the Communist party, and supported worker and peasant takeovers of factories and farms. It was savagely repressed after the 1973 coup, and most of the leadership of the party was forced into exile, where the party divided into a moderate wing, and a Marxist-Leninist wing. This difference partly reflected the experience of exile. Those exiled in France or Italy or the Scandinavian countries were influenced by the changes taking place in European social democracy, and they came eventually to dominate the whole party. The party was forced to a profound reconsideration of the meaning, of democracy. [10]

The Chilean Socialists embraced a political alliance with the Christian Democrats in opposition to Pinochet in the plebiscite in 1988. Following the elections of 1989 they entered the government coalition. They shed the dogmas of the past, and embraced the market and modernisation of the economy with even greater enthusiasm than the Christian Democrats. Both entrepreneurs and the military found the newly fashioned socialists more congenial politically than the Christian Democrats. The Socialists are divided into two parties, but this enhances rather than diminishes their appeal. The Socialist party appeals to the traditional sub-culture of socialism in Chile, based on the trade union and the local party. The Party for Democracy, founded to fight the 1988 plebiscite, appeals to the less ideological sector of the electorate, to a wide spectrum of middle class urban groups, and gains support through the leadership of the socialist politician most credible as a future president, Ricardo Lagos. In the 1993 elections the socialists combined gained just under 24 percent of the vote. What the Chilean Socialists have done, and done very effectively has been to establish themselves as efficient administrators, as a party of government and not just of opposition.

The Venezuelan Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) was formed in 1971 by dissident members of the Communist party, and many of them had participated in the 1960s guerrilla. Though the party has rarely gained more than 5 percent of the vote, its importance in the political system has been greater than that figure would suggest, for the ideas it has disseminated have been influential, and it helped to consolidate democracy in Venezuela by lending its support to the system established in 1958. The MAS was influenced by the experience of the Italian Communist party and by the Eurocommunist movement. It emphasised that there must be individual and national roads to socialism, and rejected the idea that there was one correct model. It was critical of the Leninist style of party organisation and argued for a participatory party structure. It criticised the Communist party for underestimating the role and importance of the middle classes in the Venezuelan political system. Although many of the members of the MAS came from the Communist party and the far left, the party committed itself to democracy, both for the country, and in its own internal structure. MAS emphasised the need for honesty and accountability in public life, and sought to present itself as the true representative of the values that the major parties -AD and COPEI- had once embodied, but which they had compromised in the struggle for political power.

In the 1988 elections, running in alliance with another left wing party, it won 10.2 percent of the vote, and the first direct elections for state governors held in 1989 saw the MAS take the industrial state of Aragua, and come second to AD in several others. But the MAS suffered from its lack of a popular and union base, and its decision to support Caldera in the 1993 presidential election was seen by many as succumbing to the temptation to gain power at the cost of principle. It has been challenged on the left by Causa R, a trade union based party from the provinces. Causa R takes as its model the Brazilian PT. It has established a powerful presence in the union movement, achieved popularity as an efficient and honest government of the state of Bolivar, and has an attractive leader in the trade unionist and governor of the state of Bolivar, Andres Velasquez. Causa R gained 20.5 percent of the vote in the 1993 congressional elections compared with 28.2 percent for AD, 28.6 percent for COPEI, 12.8 percent for the MAS, and 11.8 percent for the coalition supporting Caldera.[11] The Venezuelan left has not established credibility as a party of central government as in Chile. But it has done so at the local level. It emphasises honest government in contrast to the rampant corruption of the major parties: it emphasises participation in contrast to the elitism of the major parties. This appeal has prospered as the economy in Venezuela went into decline, as accusations of corruption multiplied, and as Causa R was able to break the stranglehold of AD in the trade union movement.

The left in Uruguay was unusual in the way that it seemed less affected in its ideas and strategy by the long years of military dictatorship than the left in Brazil or Chile. However, more than the other countries of the Southern Cone, the restoration of democracy in Uruguay was precisely that -a restoration of the previous system. In fact the left changed rather more than the two dominant parties in Uruguay, Colorado and Nacional. The left made a strong showing in the 1971 elections when, organised as the Frente Amplio. it won 18 percent of the vote. In the first elections following military rule in 1984 it won 21.3 percent of the vote; and in 1989 21.2 percent. But there were changes in the composition and the politics of the Frente Amplio. In 1973 the main parties in the Frente were the Communist, Socialist and the MLN-Tupamaros. By 1984 the vote going to the radical left, the MLN, fell as a proportion of the total left vote from 23 percent to 6.7 percent; to the Communists from 32.9 percent to 28.2 percent; while the major gainers were a new moderate Christian Democratic inspired party, the Movimiento por el Gobierno del Pueblo, which won 39.3 percent of the Frente’s vote compared with the 10.3 percent that had gone to moderate parties in 1971. The Frente Amplio was clearly less extreme than in 1971, and its commitment to electoral politics was firm. It lost the support of the most moderate group in 1989, which formed the Nuevo Espacio party and which took 9 percent of the popular vote, but its share of the poll remained constant. Moreover, the Frente won a plurality in Montevideo, with 37 percent of the vote, and elected the mayor.

The Frente Amplio is a wide coalition, held together by the peculiarities of the Uruguayan electoral system which encourages broad coalitions of many parties. It gained support partly because it was the only credible alternative to the traditional two party dominance at a time when those parties were increasingly unpopular for their handling of the economy. The Frente Amplio consolidated its hold on the left by its opposition to the law which grants amnesty to military officers for human rights abuses. The Frente Amplio benefited from the Uruguayan union system which, in contrast to most countries of Latin America, has a history of autonomous development unincorporated into the state machine and not colonised by one of the two major parties. [12] But the Frente Amplio is weak outside Montevideo, where it gained only 9 percent of the vote, and unionised workers who vote heavily for the Frente constitute only 19 percent of the adult population of Montevideo and are insignificant elsewhere. The exit from the Frente of the moderate parties reduced its overall chance of electoral gains. [13] To some extent the survival of the Frente was testimony to the overall immobility of the Uruguayan political system, rather than the development of a new and innovative left movement.

Like Venezuela the left in Uruguay benefited from disenchantment with the two dominant parties, established a reputation for efficient local government, has a popular leader in the former mayor of Montevideo, Tavare Vasquez, has significant support in the union movement, and moreover mobilised support around the human rights issue. In the 1994 elections the Frente Amplio won 30% of the national vote, but what was impressive was that it made significant gains in the interior of the country as well as in Montevideo. It elected a new mayor of Montevideo – in part a vote of confidence in the record of the previous Frente Amplio administration. Its overall national support is now more or less equal to those of the traditional parties, though like those two parties it also has divisions and factions. The Frente Amlpio’s experience demonstrates the benefit that the left can derive from efficient local administration.

The most important development on the left in Latin America came with the formation of the Brazilian Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). The PT grew out of the new unionism that developed in the massive metallurgical industries of the Sao Paulo region. By 1978 after a year of labour militancy the new union leaders, above all Luis Inacio da Silva,(Lula), came to believe that workplace militancy was inadequate to achieve their broader aims. In Lula’s words; In my view the Brazilian left has made mistakes throughout its history precisely because it was unable to comprehend what was going on inside the workers’ heads and upon that basis elaborate an original doctrine. . . I do not deny that the PCB has been an influential force for many years. What I do deny is the justness of telling the workers that they have to be Communists. The only just course of action is to give the workers the opportunity to be whatever suits them best. We do not wish to impose doctrines. We want to develop a just doctrine which emanates from the organisation of our workers and which at the same time is a result of our own organisation.[14]

The PT has become the largest explicitly Socialist party in Latin America. Its electoral support increased from 3 percent of the total vote in 1982 to 7 percent in 1986. In the 1988 elections for mayor, PT candidates took control of 36 cities, notably Sao Paulo, where the candidate was a woman migrant from the impoverished North East, Luiza Erundina. The PTs vote overall in Brazil’s 100 largest cities was 28.8 percent of the total. Though the party had its roots in the urban union movement, it has also grown in the rural areas where it has the support of the radical Church and the local base communities. In the first round of the 1989 presidential elections,Lula, the PT candidate, won 16.08 percent of the vote, narrowly winning the second place over Brizola (PDT) with 15.74 percent. In the second round Lula (37.86 percent) was defeated by Fernando Collor de Mello (42.75 percent), despite moderating its radical political platform in order to appeal to the centre -a tactic which almost worked. In the 1993 presidential elections the PT was again the major challenger, and indeed for months was the front runner in the opinion polls. In the end it lost to the social democratic candidate, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, but increased its first ballot vote to 27 percent and gained a larger representation in Congress.

The PT also sought to adopt a new model of internal organisation, that would, unlike that of the PCB, respect the autonomy of the union movement. The party was not to lead the workers, but to express their demands in the political sphere. The organisation of the party emphasised participatory democracy. The core organisation of the party would be the nucleo de base composed of affiliated members either from a neighbourhood, a professional group or workplace or social movement, and engaged in permanent political, rather than occasional electoral, activity. The party was meant to dissolve the differences that normally exist between social movement and party. If, in practice, many nuclei do function largely as electoral bodies, the level of participation of the estimated 600,000 members of the PT is still extraordinarily high by Brazilian party standard.

Such a participatory structure was very appropriate for the oppositional politics made necessary by the imposition of military rule. It is less clear that such a structure is functional for a competitive democracy. Many of the members and leaders of the party came from Catholic radicalism rather than Marxism, and they were more concerned to maintain the autonomy of union and popular organisations than they were to create a disciplined political party. There were many conflicts inside the PT not least between the PT members of congress and the party leaders outside congress. The three Brazilian Trotskyist parties all worked within the PT, even though the largest of them the Convergencia Socialista conceives of the PT as a front to be radicalised under the direction of a revolutionary vanguard, combatting in the PT the influence of the Church and the parliamentary group. [15] Such a variety of political positions did not lead to party discipline, but the defeat of the Trotskyists in the 1991 congress led to a more unified party.

The PT is undoubtedly novel, not just amongst the parties of Brazil but even amongst the Socialist parties of Latin America. It is firmly rooted in the working class, and controls some 60 percent of unions in the public sector, and only slightly fewer in the private sector. In Congress the PT is the party with the largest proportion of deputies linked to organised labour and social movements. It has tried to develop new policies and practices; for example, 30 percent of seats in the Central Committee of the party are to be held by women. But there are problems that it faces for further development. The PT is an ideological party in a party system that is very un-ideological. It faces the challenge of other parties on the left, notably the old radical populist party of Brizola, and the social democratic PSDB. It reaches out to the organised poor in town and countryside, but most poor Brazilians are neither members of unions nor of social organisations and in 1989 these sectors voted more heavily for the right wing Collor de Mello than for Lula. Like all parties of the left, the PT has difficulties in proposing policy alternatives for dealing with the economic crisis which do not look either like the unsuccessful formulae of the past, or simple imitations of the orthodox neo-liberal policies. While the PTs attachment to a radical ideology helps to develop committed party members, that very commitment limits its ability to compete in the fluid and populist world of Brazilian party politics.

For all the differences between political systems, there are parallels in Chile, Venezuela, Uruguay and Brazil, and elsewhere in Latin America in the emergence of a socialism which stresses participation and democracy, which rejects the past orthodoxy of one correct model, and which is firmly based upon national structures rather than international doctrines.

As usual in Latin America it is difficult to fit Mexico into any comparative category, but with the 1988 presidential election, a new party of the left did emerge to shake the political dominance of the PRI. The political coalition put together to support the presidential candidature of Cardenas was a heterogeneous coalition of dissident members of the PRI, the independent parties of the left, and the satellite leftist parties that had traditionally revolved around the PRI (such as the PPS , the Popular Socialist Party). In the 1988 elections it was the satellite left which saw its vote sharply increase while that of the independent left fell. Although normally these parties gained only a small vote -4.7 percent in 1979, and 2.96 percent in 1982- their vote rose to 21.04 percent in 1988 when they were supporting the candidature of Cardenas in the FDN coalition.

The attraction of this coalition was based on the popularity of its leader, Cuathemoc Cardenas, the son of the reformist President, on its revolutionary nationalism, and because it was an effective vehicle for anti-PRI protest. The coalition emphasised political democracy and the autonomy of mass organisations, but its message was vague enough to create uncertainty as to whether it was simply the left of the PRI, or a genuinely new socialist departure. The coalition was a fragile combination of very disparate elements from the anti-communist PARM (Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolution) to the stalinist but opportunist PPS (Popular Socialist Party). It faced bitter opposition from the PRI because it competed directly for those groups and voters that have been the backbone of the PRI. It is also similar to the PRI in its rather undemocratic internal practices, and it suffers from continuous internal dissent and disagreement. In March 1990 the renamed PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democratico) agreed to incorporate popular movements into the party, but the relationship between the party and the movements is by no means clear and is unlikely to parallel the close organic relationship between the social movements and the PT in Brazil. What is novel about the rise of neocardenismo for the Mexican left is that it involves a repudiation of attempts to establish a clear separation between the socialist agenda and the ideology of the Mexican Revolution. The eternal dilemma for the left in Mexico, and this applies to the PRD as well, is how to free the mass organisations such as the unions from control by the state, without looking as if they are just seeking to replace PRI control by their own.

Unlike the Brazilian PT, however, the Mexican PRD did badly in its second presidential campaign, coming a poor third in the contest. The history of the left in Latin America is a constant story of advance and reversal, and in the case of Mexico reversals are usually greater than the advances. The PRD faced problems of lack of internal unity, and above all, of the lack of an alternative economic strategy.[16] Moreover in an age when electioneering is increasingly dominated by television, the PRD’s leader did not prove to be an effective performer on the media.

What explains the relative strength of the left in the countries we have examined? In all cases, there was a tradition of leftist political activity on which to build. There was and is a trade union and popular movement influenced by socialism. In all countries there is a competitive electoral system which does not discriminate blatantly against the left (even in Mexico the system did not disguise the support for Cardenas in 1988, though it probably did diminish it). In all countries there is a relatively free and vigorous press which allows the left to put its case. In all countries (except Chile) there is a opposition to the existing government on the grounds of neglecting the suffering of the poor, and for engaging in abuse of power. Popular feeling on these issues has translated into support for the left. And in the case of all countries the left has shown, in central or local government, that it is capable of exercising power with restraint and efficiency. These conditions are not present in most of the other countries of Latin America.

b. The insurgent left

Very different from any other country in Latin America is Peru with the maoist inspired Sendero Luminoso guerrilla movement. Sendero professes admiration for the ideas of Mao at the height of the cultural revolution -a time when some of the Sendero leadership had been present in China. It also drew on the indigenista ideas of Mariategui. Its largely mestizo leadership is hostile to any grassroots organization other than the party. It recreated the authoritarian structures of Andean society replacing the rule of the landlords by that of the party. It is organised on a highly secretive cell structure, which is difficult to penetrate. It is extremely ruthless and violent, and uses terror to impose its rule. Sendero made a substantial shift in strategy in 1988, declaring that the cities were “necessary” rather than “secondary.” Sendero gained some support in the urban shanty towns of Lima, and in some industrial unions. The capacity of Sendero to play havoc with the fragile political system in Peru was not in doubt; but what is in doubt is whether the movement could do more than that. The capture of its leader Guzman in 1993 is undoubtedly a setback for the movement, but such a powerfully organised clandestine movement is hardly likely to disappear unless the conditions that gave rise to it are addressed.

The growth of Sendero created problems for the mosaic of other parties -orthodox Communist, Trotskyist, pro-Chinese, Castroite- that make up the left in Peru. The story of the left in Peru is a never ending process of temporary and fragile unification, followed by division. The left did well in the 1978 elections for the Constituent Assembly, with 29.4 percent of the vote. But the withdrawal of the Trotskyists weakened the coalition, and there were five separate left lists competing in the 1980 elections with a combined vote of only 14.4 percent. Most groups on the left combined to form the Izquierda Unida in 1980, and the left vote rose to 29 percent in the council elections of 1983, with the leader of the IU, Alfonso Barrantes taking control of Lima with 36.5 percent of the vote.

Yet the left was far from united. As mayor of Lima, Barrantes faced a spate of land invasions organised by the far left within his coalition. This lack of unity led to a fall in the left vote to 21 percent in 1985, though it was still the second electoral force. But the divisions intensified, reflecting on the part of important elements of the IU coalition an ambiguous attitude to democracy (shared, it should be said, by some groups on the right and even by the APRA government). The issue of political violence remained a dividing line between those who wished to collaborate in the democratic process, for all its faults, and those who wished to bring it down and replace it with a different order. Barrantes was criticised by those who argued that the major focus of activity should be the streets and factories and not the Congress. The first national congress of the IU in January 1989 led to a decisive split as Barrantes took with him moderate delegates to form a rival coalition, the Izquierda Socialista. The left vote in the council elections in 1989 collapsed to 11.5 percent, and the two candidates of the left contesting the presidential election in 1990 gained only 11 percent of the vote between them. [17] In the 1995 elections the left was virtually eclipsed – as indeed were all the traditional political parties.

Any explanation of the peculiarities of the left in Peru has to be rooted in the sharp economic decline in that country, arguably the worst in all of Latin America. Over 50 percent of Peruvians in Lima live in poverty, 10 percent in extreme poverty. Conditions are even worse in the countryside. Added to that is ethnic antagonism, a series of governments that since 1968 have made extravagant promises of reform exceeded only by the extravagance of their failures, persistent inflation developing into hyper-inflation and a left sub-culture in which the dominant ideology became maoism. This combination of features is peculiar to Peru and accounts for the failure of Sendero to set off would be imitators in other Latin American countries.

The political fortunes of any party in Peru, whether of right, centre or left look bleak at present. It is not so much that the democratic left is rejected in Peru, but that all forces of democracy are weak while the initiative lies with an authoritarian President who rejects parties as such.

c. The left lays down its arms, conditionally.

The experience of the left in the countries of Central America and Colombia has been rather different from those of the rest of Latin America. The left in Central America only really gained power through force and still feels it needs arms to defend itself against possible future attacks from the right. It is not entirely clear that it can evolve into some kind of social democracy. Its history has been marked by more prolonged and sustained repression than has occurred in other countries in Latin America.

The loss of the elections in 1990 faced the Sandinistas with the task of creating a political party in opposition. The Sandinistas were at core a vanguard party, and one that had held neither a congress nor conducted internal elections during its entire existence. While it had avoided many of the normal Leninist traits it retained a strong dirigiste impetus not least because its original guerrilla origins had been reinforced by the need to fight a war against the Contras. Defending a successful revolution against attack calls for very different characteristics from those of a party competing for power in competitive elections in a formally democratic system. As yet elements of both party and vanguard military force coexist uneasily in a political system that itself is far from seeing the end of violence used to advance political positions.

The same kinds of dilemmas face the insurgent movements in El Salvador. How do you move from guerrilla force to political party when you do not entirely trust the other forces to abandon the use of violence? How far will movements such as the FMLN accept electoral results if they are unfavourable to them? How far will the ex-guerrilla movements resist the provocations of the right? How far can movements like the FMLN whose discipline has been enforced by military necessity, accept the kinds of internal disagreements that affect all political parties? The FMLN achieved a fairly remarkable set of agreements in the peace accords in 1992, demonstrating a high degree of political skill. But constructing viable leftist party while simultaneously creating a viable democratic system and rebuilding a war devastated economy are enormously formidable tasks.

There has been a notable change in the language of the leaders of the guerrillas. In the words of one of the leading Salvadorean guerrilla leaders Joaquin Villalobos, “We Salvadorean revolutionaries at first were ideologically rigid, by necessity, in order to survive and develop. But later new conditions were created which offered the opportunity to develop our own thinking. The FMLN is proposing an open pluralist project, which will be pragmatically inserted in our domestic and geopolitical reality. What is fundamental is not its ideological definition but whether it resolves El Salvador’s problems or not.” [18] The question then remains, what if it does not solve El Salvador’s problems? Although the FMLN did well in the 1994 elections, its candidate for the Presidency, Ruben Zamora gained only 24% of the vote in the first ballot and 32% in the second; and the FMLN has only 21 out of 84 congressional seats. It faces a formidable challenge not only to overcome the ascendancy of the right, both politically and ideologically, but also to overcome its own internal divisions.

The Colombian left has faced similar dilemmas to those of the left in Central America. Under what conditions do you lay down arms, and at what cost? Like Peru, Colombia has its peculiarities that render comparisons difficult. Political violence has not been used only by the left. On the contrary, the major parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives have a much longer and more sustained tradition of political insurrection. The left has, in a way, only conformed to one powerful tradition in a country where a weak state has been unable to control political insurgency.

The Colombian Communist party had a small guerrilla, the Fuerzas Armadas de la Revolucion Colombiana (FARC), though rather more as a result of conformity to political practice in the republic than an indication of a desire to seize state power. The PARC controlled some isolated rural municipalities, thus allowing the Communist party to claim that it was pursuing a revolutionary strategy, while in practice finding that electoral politics was a more congenial occupation.[19] The participation of the FARC in the peace process in Colombia has been rather ambiguous because the dispersed organisation of the group makes it difficult to impose any central direction. Guerrilla leaders may decide that the time has come to lay down arms, but they cannot guarantee that their commands will be followed locally.

The success of Castro set off many would-be imitators in Colombia. The Ejercito Popular de Liberacion Nacional (EPL) was a small Maoist group. The Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN) was a Castroite group founded in Cuba in 1963/4 and advocated the foco approach of Che Guevara, but had more success, and gained a considerable fortune by its attacks on internationally owned oil installations. If the motives for the violence of the traditional parties has been sometimes obscure, so it is for the guerrilla groups as well. In part, guerrilla violence has become a business in which the language may be that of a rather stale Marxism or Maoism, but the reality looks more like that of the Mafia.

The most important of the recent guerrilla groups to emerge in Colombia was the Ml9, formed in 1970 in protest at alleged electoral fraud that prevented the former dictator General Rojas Pinilla from taking power. Such antecedents hardly qualify the M19 to be counted as a leftist movement, and its programme amounted to little more than a combination of vague nationalism and spectacular armed actions. The M19 accepted participation in the peace process and gained considerable public support as a result, securing strong representation in the Constituent Assembly called to frame the Constitution of 1991. But as the Ml9 showed itself to be little different in practice from the other parties, it lost its identity and suffered increasing electoral reversals. As Chernick and Jimenez write, the M19’s “deep seated vanguardist and exclusionary sensibilities presented serious obstacles to the development of a strategy combining electoral coalitions with popular nonviolent mobilisation in order to implement the historic leftist programme of dismantling elite economic and political power. In the absence of a political party with an organizational base of support and participation, the ground swell of enthusiasm for the Ml9 leading up to the constitutional assembly could thus prove as ephemeral as the vote for ANAPO in the presidential elections of April 19, 1970.” [20] Subsequent elections have borne out this prediction.

While a relatively weak Colombian state was unable to repress the guerrillas, they did not amount to a serious threat to the status quo -much less than the traditional parties did when they too entered the armed struggle to compete for power. The guerrillas undoubtedly gained some local support in certain areas, such as the banana zone of Uraba with its harsh labour regime, and Arauca where the newly found oil wealth brought few benefits to the poor. But support for the guerrillas remained local, their aims confused, their rivalry endemic, and their power infinitely inferior to the real threat to Colombian democracy which developed with the illegal drugs trade in the 1980s.

The conditions for the development of a successful social democratic left in these countries looks more doubtful than for the countries examined in the first part of this section. The social base for the development of the left is weaker in these societies that are more rural and less industrial. The left has suffered almost continuous repression and has responded by developing insurgency as its main tactic. Even in Colombia with a much stronger electoral tradition, many of the leftist guerrilla who went into politics were assassinated by their former enemies, by the drug cartels, and by para military groups. The Colombian FARC set up the Union Patriotica in 1985 to contest elections. In the next few years some 1,500 members of the party were assassinated. It is hardly surprising that the FARC mistrusts the democratic process.In such circumstances to expect a left to develop along the lines of the Chilean left looks most unrealistic. The left does not determine its own fate. In the case of Central America, if democracy really results from the present phase of pacification, then the left may be transformed into a conventional party or parties: but that depends upon an equally massive transformation of the other political forces. [21]

d. The left in retreat

It is less easy to group developments on the left in other countries into neat categories. In a number of countries parties that were once on the left, have virtually abandoned any resemblance to their former allegiances. Such would be the case for example of the Peronist movement in Argentina, or the MIR in Bolivia, or the formerly leftist parties in Ecuador. In these countries it can be argued that a series of factors have reduced the left to a marginal role at best. Hyper-inflationary experiences, combined with structural adjustment programmes erode the organisational basis of the left, namely the union movement, and popular preoccupation with solving the problem of inflation takes place over any concern with social justice. Indeed in the case of Bolivia the ability to combine a successful anti-inflationary programme with a relatively successful safety net programme for the poor, has strengthened the government and reduced even further the influence of the left. [22]

It would be premature to assume that the left has no future in countries such as Argentina or Bolivia. Indeed one of the big surprises of the elections in Argentina for a constituent assembly in 1994 was the 12 percent of the national vote, and the 37 percent of the Buenos Aires vote that went to a new left coalition, the Frente Grande.

This, however, was more of a protest vote against the Menem government from disaffected Radical party voters than the birth of a new left in Argentina. Although the new named left coalition, FREPASO, gained almost 30% of the vote in May 1995, this once again represented the collapse of the Radicals. FREPASO is a very fragile alliance with no real coherent programme or organisation.

The left in Argentina and Bolivia, amongst other countries has suffered with the decline of the union movement. Successful control over hyper-inflation has brought benefits to the government in power, not least from the poor who suffer most from the process. The left in these countries looks like a remnant from the past, without ideas or policies to confront the future. Protest movements in these countries are equally likely to be apolitical, or rightist linked as they are to be an expression of support for the left. The left has been discredited by its past excesses-from Monontero violence in Argentina to militant sindicalist protest in Bolivia.


What role can the left play in the consolidation of democracy in Latin America? Does it, in fact, have a significant role to play? In some parts of the world, ethnic strife or religious fundamentalism have pushed the left off the political stage. Some parties of the European left have moved so far from their original positions that it strains credibility to call them parties of the left any more: the Spanish PSOE is a case in point.

This has not been the fate of the left in Latin America. It is true that the left in the 1990s has no really distinctive policies to offer that are politically attractive, and that represent a real alternative to those of the neo liberal right. The agenda for debate on the left looks rather unoriginal (though this far from saying that it is unimportant). Questions of inner party democracy go back to the very formation of mass political parties. Methods of strenghtening popular participation through decentralising government functions is hardly a novelty. Many of the issues on the left in the developed world, above all concern over the environment and gender discrimination hardly feature yet in any real sense on the Latin American left.

But the strength of the left in Latin America drew traditionally more upon the unacceptable nature of life for the majority of the people than upon the viability of policy options. The left has drawn upon a powerful tradition of protest. The factors that brought the left into being in the first place have hardly disappeared. The economic recession of the 1980s accentuated inequality and worsened poverty in Latin America. Political power is still disproportionately controlled by forces of the right. The poor and dispossessed have little recourse to justice within existing legal and institutional systems. Corruption has eroded the legitimacy of government in Brazil and Venezuela.

In this sense the left has a dual task: one is to seek a way of aggregating social demands into effective political ones, and the other is to do so in a way that consolidates the fragile democratic systems in the continent. Indeed it could be argued that unless the left is able to channel potentially explosive demands into reasonable political options then the democratic systems will be further undermined. [23] In other words, the evolution of the left will inevitably affect the nature of the transition to democracy, especially in regard to two central challenges: that of consolidating democratic rule, and that of complying with popular demands for socioeconomic development and distributive justice. The left’s response will influence not only the prospects for the survival of democracy, but also the type of democracy that emerges by shaping the character and content of socioeconomic and political structures. That response so far has been uneven, though in view of the international upheavals, and the national repression that have affected the left in almost all countries, a limited response so far is hardly a cause for surprise. But there does seem to be a shift to commitment to democracy as a value in itself; there does seem to be a commitment, guarded at times as it is, to creating a stable and inclusive political order even in world torn Central America; there does seem to be a desire to establish for the left a reputation as honest and efficient administrators. The left may be short of ideas at present, but that too may be inevitable as the left struggles to adapt itself to a new political framework and a new institutional order. No doubt the temptation to revert to an authoritarian Leninist past will be too great to resist for some sectors, and there is the terrible example of Peru where the major force on the left embodies all the worst features of dogmatic, violent revolution. No doubt in some countries the left will continue to be politically irrelevant. In most countries, however, the left in not now predominantly insurrectionary, nor irrelevant, but on the contrary attempting to contribute positively to building a new political and social order which while not reverting to the central state model of the past, seeks to redress the social costs associated with the new model of economic development.


1. From an interview with Jose” Aricó in NACLA, Report on the Americas: The Latin American Left. Vol XXV No 5, May 1992, p 21.

2. This theme is brilliantly developed in Jorge Castaneda, Utopia Unarmed: the Latin American Left after the Cold War (New York 1993). The merit of this book is not only that it is an acute and perceptive account of the development of the left in a number of countries of Latin America, but that it is also a thoughtful presentation of a social democratic alternative for the left in Mexico. For a shorter, more historical account and an extensive bibliographical essay see Alan Angell, The Latin American Left since the 1920s’, in Leslie Bethell ed., The Cambridge History of Latin America. Vol 6, (New York 1994).

3. Even Cuba arouses little enthusiasm on the Latin American left any more, except as a kind of residual anti-Americanism. The exception to this statement is in Central America, where solidarity with Cuba is a much stronger force. But even here there is no desire any more to emulate the “Cuban model”.

4. Defining the right is no less easy. A recent authoritative book on the right defines it as including ‘many different elements of society and many different political agendas. The term refers to different combinations in different contexts, but they would usually include, among others, the holders of traditional wealth in land and minerals, anti populist businessmen and economists, the conservative wing of the established Church, anti – communist international elites and, in most countries, much of the military’. As a working definition this is vague and ambiguous and begs as many questions as it answers. But it does highlight the difficulty of trying to define such imprecise terms as ‘left’ and ‘right’. Douglas Chalmers et al, eds The Right and Democracy in Latin America (New York 1992) p.4.

5. Marxism as an ideological force has been very influential in Mexico, for example, even at the level of government during the Presidency of Cardenas while Marxism as an organised party has been weak and mostly marginal.As Barry Carr writes, ‘It would be unwise to equate the left only with formal political parties and currents….There is a broader Mexican left wing tradition comprised of contradictory positions. This tradition, embracing radical nationalism, statism, syndicalism and a history of struggles against corruption and for popular democracy, is not easily identifiable with the actions of particular parties. Non party, and sometimes anti party manifestations of these tendencies have always been present in the union movement… Since the late 1960s radicalized variants of this tradition have also come to dominate the ideology and practice of social movements outside organised labour’. Barry Carr, ‘Labor and the Left’, in Kevin Middlebrook, Unions Workers and the State in Mexico. (San Diego 1991).

6. An interesting suggestion for the left in Europe, but which could be applied to Latin America comes from the Economist. ‘Social democrats may be better equipped with lots of small ideas than with a few big ones, so long as those ideas offer an alternative to the ideas of the right – essentially by upholding the belief that societies should be judged not by the well- being of their richest members but by the fate of the less well off. July 11 1994, p25.

7. The growth of evangelical movements can be seen as part of this same process of rejection of the traditional forms of social organisation, whether it be the political parties or the Catholic Church, and in Peru an important base of support for Fujimori came from the evangelical churches.

8. I am grateful to Carol Graham for raising this point.

9. Although to describe these parties as populist begs many questions, it does point to features which differentiate them from the orthodox parties of the Left. They had a stronger vocation for power, enjoyed broader social appeal, and had more flexible and politically astute leaders. Examples of such parties would include APRA, Accion Democratica in Venezuela, the Partido Peronista in Argentina, the Colorados in Uruguay, the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (PTB) of Vargas in Brazil, and the Liberal party of Colombia.

10. Haya de la Torre had written about Chilean Socialists in 1946, that ‘they have contempt for democracy because it has not cost them anything to acquire it. If only they knew the real face of tyranny’. After 1973 they did indeed know the real face of tyranny. Quoted in Jorge Arrate, La Fuerza de la Idea Socialista (Santiago 1989) p 2311. Figures Michael Coppedge , ‘Prospects for Democratic Governability in Venezuela1 Paper for the Inter-American Dialogue, Washington DC, 1994 p 9. This paper explains very well the loss of popularity of what had been a very stable two party system, giving rise to support for on the one hand a new left party, Causa R, and on the other for an old style populist now campaigning against the parties, Rafael Caldera.

12. But as Juan Rial points out in his paper to the Inter American Dialogue, ‘Democratic Governance in the Americas ;Uruguay’, the union movement in Uruguay is less centralised and disciplined than it was, and is divided between a radical and moderate faction, p 8

13. Rial, op cit, describes the former guerrilla movement, the Tupamaros as fully – if negatively -integrated into the democratic system, and as the ‘bearers of a high voltage discourse that defends the main tenets of the ideology of the extreme left’, p 11

14. Quoted in an interview with Lula in Adelante (London), January 1981 p 6.

15. It is perhaps too easy in a rather bleak panorama for the left overall to praise the PT. A cautionary note is sounded by Bolivar Lamounier in his paper for the Inter American Dialogue, ‘Brazilian Democracy from the 1980s to the 1990s: the Hyper- Active Paralysis Syndrome’. ‘ The PT is neither a disciplined party of the old Soviet- inspired variety, nor an European style labor or social- democrat party. It is not even a relative of Argentine justicialismo, ready to follow any president as long as he comes from the peronista ranks and seems to be succeeding. Unlike the rank-and – file of these other left of center varieties, the PTs dedicated militancy is characterized by a diffuse and somewhat messianic intent of substituting a “good” for the now defunct “bad socialism”.’ p 52

16. In the words of Denise Dresser, ‘Mexico: twilight of the Perfect Dictatorship’, Paper fof the Inter- American Dialogue, 1994, writing about the 1994 campaign; ‘Cardenas is attempting to shed his statist image and reinvent himself as a modernizer with a social conscience. He has vehemently disavowed suggestions that he would nationalise the banks, and return to the protectionist policies of the past. What he does propose is the need for a revised role of the government in the promotion of economic growth, employment and the design of an industrial policy. Cardenas offers continuity with “revisions”.’ p 10

17. This section draws on Lewis Taylor, ‘One step forward, two steps back: the Peruvian Izquierda Unida 1980 -1990′, Journal of Communist Studies. Vol 6, No 1 1990.

18. Quoted in James Dunkerely. The Pacification of Central America (Research Paper no 34, Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London, 1993 p 103.

19. Christopher Abel and Marco Palacios, ‘Colombia since 1958′ in The Cambridge History of Latin America. Vol VIII [Cambridge 1991] p 655.

20. Marc Chernick and Michael Jimenez, ‘Leftist Politics in Colombia’, in Barry Carr and Steve Ellner eds, The Latin American Left. (Boulder, Colorado and London) 1993

21. James Dunkerley describes the current political situation in Central America as pacification rather than democratisation, in The Pacification of Central America. (Research Paper no 34, Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London, 1993). Dunkerely makes the point that the left’s exclusion from previous elections works to their disadvantage. ‘It is worth noting that even parties such as the Guatemalan Christian Democrats that have participated in deeply flawed electoral systems have thereby acquired operational skills and systems lacking in excluded organisations. Age and the attendant familiarity and loyalty have been core assets for established parties even where failure to win office has precluded the distribution of rewards or threatened a sense of impotence and exhaustion’. p48. It remains to be seen, then, how the left in Central America will react to persistent electoral defeat if that occurs.

22. Successful stabilisation policies can bring immediate popularity to an incumbent government, whatever its politics. But crucial to the long term success of those measures are widespread poverty alleviation programmes. If governments can combine both then the outlook for the left is poor. For a detailed and illuminating account of the Bolivian ESF (Emergency Social Fund) see Carol Graham, Safety Nets. Politics and the Poor: Transitions to Market Economies. (Brookings Institution, 1994)

23. In the discussion of this paper, Alex Wilde made the point that the democratic agenda in Latin America is incomplete in the sense that some issues are not included in the debate on democracy, notably those involving distributional issues. One function of the left then should be to secure that issues that elite pacts prefer not to address, should be put on the political agenda.