INTRODUCTION | Beyond Identity and the State: The Crisis of the Latin American Progressive Cycle

DOSSIER: The End of the Progressive Cycle

1st Installment

BY GERARDO MUÑOZ

Alejandra Escalante & Julian Velez

Alejandra Escalante & Julian Velez

 

Immediately after the results of the referendum were counted in most of large urban centers of Bolivia, Vice-President Álvaro García Linera delivered a press conference from Palacio Quemado in which he called the results an “empate técnico”, or a technical draw between those in favor and those against the plebiscite to lengthen Evo Morales’ MAS (Movimiento Al Socialismo) presidential candidacy for a fourth term until 2025. Although the official results posted by TSE (Tribunal Supremo Electoral de Bolivia) are favoring the “NO” by a slight margin of 51% over 48%, it is perhaps too soon to predict the ways in which the MAS will reconstitute its political forces both within and beyond the institutions of the State. Regardless of changes in the wake of these results, what is crucial is that MAS lost two of its most important political bastions (Potosí and El Alto), which symbolically introduces evident fissures into the internal democratic process of the Bolivian State’s political hegemony[1]. Bolivia is central to the thesis of the ‘exhaustion of the Latin American progressive political cycle’ because it is the last standing State with broad base legitimacy and democratic institutionalization.

Perhaps more importantly, under the name of ‘Bolivia’, a new political grammar was installed in pursuit of a strong democratic horizon beyond the conventional antinomies of social movements and State; charismatic leadership and motley social composition. Álvaro Garcia Linera’s writings, in particular those published and available on the ‘Vicepresidencia del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia’ website, have systematically contributed to the linking of democracy and movements perhaps unlike any other politico-theoretical reflection in its transformation of the State form at the center of the post-neoliberal epochality[2]. García Linera’s persistent theoretical reflection is symptomatic of the region’s democratic passion, but also, within the current predicament, of its shortcoming[3].

As a recent and brief exchange between Álvaro Garcia Linera and Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui demonstrated, the specter of identity continues to override the possibility of a democratic breakthrough. If, on the one hand, Rivera Cusicanqui blamed Garcia Linera for “not understanding the Indian”, Garcia Linera’s response, being no less personal, accused Rivera of betraying her “political roots” for social struggle[4]. Whereas Rivera spoke from a semi-epistemic privilege of knowing the Indian; Garcia Linera spoke from the “triumphant” ideologically hegemonic position of doing what seems “right”. In both instances, the debate was diluted to the grounds of identity and hegemony, and not on the basis of disagreement or political contestation. This third position ­­— which I am calling posthegemonic— is the one that this dossier seeks to put forward, against the coming winds of political voluntarism and reaffirmations of counterhegemonic or new identitarian formulations. I agree with Alberto Moreiras’ affirmation that “any kind of hegemony premised on identity, albeit subaltern identity, runs the infinite risk of turning democratic recognition into compulsion, no matter how counter-intentionally. Indeed the last thing democratic politics would want is the kind of organization of the social whereby people must assume enforced identities or reflect unwelcomed ones…The positing of identity as the horizon of subaltern politics is far from moving towards the end of subalternity — it only co-opts its notion at the service of a given ideology of power”[5]

This basic but fundamental premise allows us to think the valence of a radical democratic horizon in the region at a moment where communitarian, decolonial de-linking, and State hegemonic articulation seem to exhaust the conditions of political reflection. This is not to say that Álvaro García Linera’s essays, such as Identidad Boliviana (2014) or Socialismo comunitario: un horizonte de época (2015), are the cause of the recent political defeats or shortcomings of the Bolivian process. Moving against identitarianism, opens the potentiality of a post-hegemonic politicity for a coming democratic horizon. This democratic horizon remains far from the criollo liberal ideology (intensified through neoliberal dismantling of the State since the 1990s), which has also traditionally fomented diverse techniques of governmentality that have haunted cultural locations and their subjects[6]. In a fundamental way, raising the question about the ‘end of the Latin American Progressive governments’ should not be understood as a condemnation or celebration of the political processes in the region within the last fifteen years or so. What is at stake here is precisely the offering of a democratic post-hegemonic possibility, in order to move beyond that which already undermines the deepening of what some of the contributors here — as well as many other thinkers, observers, and scholars — take as the ‘best’ of the transformation of the Marea Rosada. In the end, the Bolivian process matters, but it does not exhaust what should be of interest here, that is, the question of democracy understood as republicanist institutionalization and radical freedom in the face of a post-neoliberal pushback prompted in different cities of the region[7].

The rise of the nuevas derechas is in fact a direct consequence of the hegemonic closure of populism that turned political dissent into consensus and permanent machination (post-political ethos). What is more, the so called ‘post-subalternist option’, offered by John Beverley, seems at the current moment to be equally limited or ironically on the side of the ‘Right’, if we understand the new developments between subaltern subjects and the State as mediated by consumption[8]. In fact, we are at the moment witnessing a fissure between consensual politics (whether from the Right or from the leftist communitarianism) and hegemonic State grammars that solely guarantee democratic passion vis-à-vis a reduction of politics to the political as enmity[9]. These two positions do not merely make enmity the dominant factor of the political. They make the political the dominant structuration of existence and common life. A collective and long lasting engagement can only produce a new posthegemonic reflection as a consistent option for Latinamericanist thought. It is in this light that this dossier proposes a preparatory and modest effort in this direction.

The contributions collected in this dossier are varied in style and argumentation, as well as in the case studies discussed.  Yet, they are not meant to be read as comprehensive reflections on the region throughout these years. Instead, each of the contributions essentially takes up a paradigm that allows us to rethink a problem or a series of problems that traverse different key sites[10]. These are also conjectural texts, but to the extent that they seek to think through central issues of Latin America politics, they also exceed the established temporal parameters fixed by the ‘untimely present’ or the ‘actual movement’ of contemporaneity. Another important observation should be made about the very phrase ‘end of the progressive cycle’. I should also admit that there have been other conceptions of it that have circulated in the contributions of important political observers and scholars such as Maristella Svampa, Pablo Stefanoni, Salvador Schavelzon, or Raul Zibechi, some of them contributors in this issue. My own inflection on the “end” or “crisis” of Latin American progressive governments seeks to complement the historical determination with that of the analytical, so as to open up other categorial possibilities beyond hegemonic structuration and grand-historical narratives. There is a tension throughout across the articles that point to different ways of understanding the ‘crisis’ (which is fundamentally the crisis or krenein of thought, that is, of judgment)[11].

Salvador Schavelzon’s “The end of the progressive narrative in Latin America” offers a broad map that points to the generic conditions of the debate on the ‘end of the progressive narrative’ in the region. Looking at recent developments in Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia, Schavelzon argues that the progressive movement towards democratization has come to a halt through a centripetal redirection generated by a populist logic. According to Schavelzon, “…instead of an anti- or post-extractive outlook as an alternative to a new political cycle, what we are witnessing today is the emergence of a new Right with a revamped, ‘post-ideological’ and ‘for the people’ discourse”. Schavelzon points to the increasing influence of conservative religious values in the political arena, and takes note of the substitution of an old imperialism (U.S, Washington Consensus) with another (Chinese investments). The decay of the progressive political parties in both Brazil and Argentina is just a feature that Schavelzon thematizes in order to move beyond the impasse of right-wing cooptation and post-political fascination.

Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott’s “The Chilean Case and the Latin American Pink Tide: Between Democracy and Developmentalism” focuses on the Chilean case not because Chile has to be included in the Marea Rosada, but rather because this case is the excess or specter that haunts the matrix of accumulation and developmentalism as a principial form of the Marea Rosada State form. Instead of producing a unilateral reading of economic forces (State location and forms of accumulation) Villalobos looks at the way in which “the State form indicates an opening for struggles of social transformation demonstrates the extent to which those initiatives of social transformation taken upon by the governments of the Pink Tide have viability or remain palliative to what John Kraniauskas has called “the cunning of capital” (2014). Through the notion of ‘State form’, Villalobos introduces a double register of the political force in the region, and leaves the question open regarding the kind of ‘people’, beyond the double calculative configuration of constituent and constituted power, that could reappear against the parameters of political and State representation. In the end, Villalobos’ infrapolitics of thought is no longer bounded by the preset calculations between history and imagination as a struggle for recognition.

Diego Valeriano’s “Liberation through consumption: six hypotheses on the passage from exclusive neoliberalism to the new runfla capitalism” is a brief, although important piece. Through a series of programmatic notes that invite further elaboration and investigation, Valeriano forcefully argues against the category of ‘exclusionary neoliberalism’ in favor of the category of ‘runfla capitalism’. As a persistent political observer in Buenos Aires, Valeriano has contributed systematically (in a series of articles, of which this is just one condensation) to understanding what he sees as a process of liberation through a new democratizing force of consumption in the years of Kirchnerismo. In linking the principle of liberation and consumerism, Valeriano challenges many central beliefs that govern traditional narratives of the “década ganada”. Mainly, the passage from neoliberalism to a post-neoliberal redistributive State, liberation as a technique of market force, and a post-ideological (post-hegemonic) understanding of social action through inoperative figures such as ‘runflas’ (runfla which could be translated as lumpen or marginal lives). Valeriano’s hypotheses challenge the claim for the subaltern subject position, while affirming a form of life beyond domination and resistance.

Bruno Cava’s “Can the Latin American Progressive governments outlive their success?” challenges the monumental narrative of the Latin American Pink Tide, and offers instead a viewpoint from the social movements that allowed for the emergence of the institutionalization of the progressive governments in the first place. Cava recasts the question of the ‘end’ of the progressive cycle by admitting its success and by doing so, pushes for a further deepening of the constituent process that opened well before the cycle itself. This task, according to Cava, is also one of reflection, as he argues: “The task is to liberate the analysis from black and white, epic, or dialectical narratives, as to reopen political imagination to a new social and economic composition in the region, in a similar vein as Zapatismo did in the 90s. We can leave the process of mourning to a global left still haunted by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism.” Bruno Cava, far from soliciting a new communist horizon that mourns and restitutes a revolutionary will, posits a problem of imagination in politics that still depends on fissuring constituted power from below against contemporary forms of accumulation, corporate interests, and uneven patterns of exploitation.

“For a Democratic Horizon of Emancipation: Maristella Svampa on the exhaustion of the Latin American Progressive Political Cycle”, consists of a set of questions on the central core of the dossier in light of her own work on the Latin American progressive actors and its ties with extractivism and contemporary designs of post-neoliberalism. Svampa, author of books such as Maldesarrollo (2014) and Debates Latinoamericanos (2016), does not limit her thought on the region within the parameters of self-affection (defeat or triumphalism, unconditional support or militant criticism). Rather, her thought hinges in multiple registers that map out the complexity of actors and dilemmas facing most, if not all, of the progressive governments. At the core of her intervention, Svampa’s commitment is in line with the deepening of democracy, without losing sight of the dynamic of neoliberalism as a force that could reinstate itself further in light of the Macri / PRO victory in the Argentine National Election. Svampa endorses a political reason that exceeds locationality as well as the paradigm of sovereignty in favor of a democratic horizon that could bear witness to the “opening of a wound at the very heart of Latin-American thought”.

Michela Russo’s review of Ticio Escobar’s recent collection of essays Imagen e intemperie: las tribulaciones del arte en los tiempos del mercado total (Capital Intelectual, 2015) raises pertinent questions in thinking the aesthetic register parallel with the return of the ‘popular’ embedded the Latin American progressive cycle imaginaries. Russo’s commentary on Escobar’s art criticism is deployed not in only in light of the complex ways in which modern and indigenous art has been theorized in the Paraguayan art institutions (most notably, under the mission of Centro de Artes Visuales/ Museo del Barro), but also makes an effort to deploy aesthetic political dimension that dislocate the logic of hegemony. As Russo argues: “…Escobar works at the edge of that liminal zone where the political and the aesthetic enter a threshold of indecidability. I am convinced that his reflections on the question of art and image are absolutely crucial in order to think what I believe is one of the central features of the “progressive cycle” in Latin America, a newborn, although already tremendously ailing, geopolitical conjuncture, that is to say, the “return of the popular” and, thus, the question of representation”. Escobar’s recent writings on Latin American popular art, always in permanent dialogue with critical aesthetic theory (Walter Benjamin), becomes a threshold that allow for a particular mode of reassessing limits that separate aesthetics and politics, the national popular horizon and the temporality of archives and its heterogeneous traditions.

My own essay “The exhaustion of the progressive political cycle in Latin America and posthegemonic reflection”, weighs the crisis of the Marea Rosada by analyzing the specificity of the Argentine Kirchnerista State and its demise leading to the electoral victory of Mauricio Macri, and the rise of other political forces to the national scene such as Sergio Massa. The essay considers the limitations of populist culturalism and its adverse translation during periods of transitions. However, my analysis is not solely centered around Peronism during Kirchnerismo; since it also moves on to contest the ‘communitarian’ or ‘turn to the commons’ political contestation as deficient within the generic democratic horizon of the Latinamericanist reflection. The essay leaves an open space — a space that I call posthegemonic reflection within the temporal inhabitation of the interregnum — that necessarily abandons the cathexis of the master concept that continuously solicit identity and location. This has fundamental political consequences for the very notion of the political in terms of its categorial organization (civil society, movement, subject, or State) and principial formation of legitimacy (such as constitution or rights. In a certain way, these essays seek to produce a reassessment of the political in the region. There is still a need to further develop an aprincipial political democracy of the singular.  If we refrain from recoiling back to subject mediations, a space opens that invites disagreement about thinking not only the ruins of the Latin American Pink Tide, but also the ruin and inefficiency of the political categories and concepts that organize the reflexive practice of contemporary Latinamericanism. 

Finally, the last two pieces in the dossier bring to the present, albeit in dissimilar ways, past temporalities latent in the political map of the region. Andres Ajens' poem "Allende, Evo, Over", translated by Michelle Gil Montero, juxtaposes the proper name of two leaders of national-popular experiences in a constellation of references that signal the possible returns of other temporalities through a modality of writing that is no longer governed by the logos of transparence or communication. In the last verse we read: “kunumi letteredly illiterate a graphophagus, pure at times, already mot-tled”. The poem, already a translation, where more than one language are disjointed, transfers an aporetic and impossible attempt at crossing a destination, since as a philosopher has recently reminded us, poetic language always arrives at an illiterate encounter[12]. This is, indeed, the subalternist limit that carries forth Ajens’ poematological experiments beyond the grammar of sense. Jon Beasley-Murray's "Pyrrhic Victories: The Fall and Rise of the Left Turns" is a generous critical response to the different texts of the dossier, while simultaneously recoiling back to the memory of the Caracazo uprising as an ‘ur-origin’ of a political cycle, in which the multitude guides the potential for insurrectional vitality and social mobilization. Rehearsing some of his important theoretical premises developed in Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America (University of Minnesota, 2010), Beasley-Murray invites us to take a distance from both disenchantment and enthusiasm by abandoning hegemony as the principle of political closure: “the more that these regimes sought hegemony, the more frustrated they were bound to become. But the fact that they ultimately (or even initially) failed to become hegemonic is not in itself the marker or symptom, let alone the cause, of their downfall. Rather, defeat was already inscribed in the moment of their triumph: in the ways in which they were more or less forced, upon assuming state power, to turn against the movements that established them in that power, and to find that (reciprocally) those movements then sooner or later abandoned them and escaped the scene”. Whereas Ajens’ poematic resonances rendered inoperative the apparatus of identity and the ideal of transculturation in language; Beasley-Murray’s cautionary response about the epochal ruin of the progressive cycle emphasizes the always-fissured nature of hegemony, thus opening a debate on how to come to terms with the notion of the ‘end’ in the ‘end of the political cycle’. Far from being endorsing political optimism as a compensatory strategy for the current categorial and grammar of crisis, Beasley-Murray's response to the dossier pushes the limits of critical reflection, recasting the original stimmung of the 'pyrrhic victories', whose echoes and rhythms perhaps are perhaps still very much at work in the least expected zones of our present.

This dossier would not have been possible with the generous interlocution and efforts of a series of friends, to whom I would like to, extend my gratitude: Alberto Moreiras, Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott, Pablo Dominguez-Galbraith, and Lindsey Reuben. My gratitude and many thanks to Anne Freeland and Ana Carballo for the superb work at Alternautas.

 

Gerardo Munoz is a fourth year PhD student in Latin American literature at Princeton University. His dissertation “Fissures of the State: crisis of sovereignty and pinriciples Latin American twentieth century” explores cases of fractured hegemony and political principles. He is a member of the Infrapolitical Deconstruction academic collective (www.infrapolitica.wordpress.com)

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Pablo Stefanoni. “Un referendum por penales”. Le Monde diplomatique, Febrero 2016.

[2] To access the publications of the ‘Vicepresidencia del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia’, see http://www.vicepresidencia.gob.bo

[3] For a theoretical and historical reconstruction of Álvaro Garcia Linera’s intellectual itinerary, see Peter Baker’s “The Phantom, The Plebeian and the State: Grupo Comuna and the Intellectual Career of Álvaro García Linera“. Viewpoint Mag. https://viewpointmag.com/2015/02/25/the-phantom-the-plebeian-and-the-state-grupo-comuna-and-the-intellectual-career-of-alvaro-garcia-linera/. Also, on the relations Linera and Zavaleta, see Anne Freeland’s "Notes on René Zavaleta: 'abigarramiento' as condition of constitutive power". Alternautas 1:1, December 2014. http://www.alternautas.net/blog/2014/8/31/k1gjjqvwi5c2eqc5hl3ckgm3i4fdyp

[4] Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui. “El oscuro y tenebroso Qhananchiri”. http://colectivachixi.blogspot.com

[5] Alberto Moreiras. “Democracy in Latin America: Álvaro García Linera, an introduction”. Culture, Theory, and Critique, Vol.56, No.3, 2015. P.274-75

[6] See Gareth Williams, The Other Side of the Popular: Neoliberalism and Subalternity in Latin America. Duke University Press, 2002.

[7] What has been lacking since the independences in the early nineteenth century in Latin America has been democratic republicanism. At the historiographical level this argument has been made by Rafael Rojas in Las Repúblicas de aire (Taurus, 2012), and Los derechos del alma (Taurus, 2014). For a recent defense of republicanism as a radical form of democracy, see José Luis Villacañas essay Populismo (La Huerta Grande, 2015).

[8] John Beverley develops the ‘post-subalternist’ option in his Latinamericanism after 9/11. Duke University Press, 2011.

[9] The understanding of the political as the division of enmity is of course that of Carl Schmitt. For a contemporary reading of Schmitt’s architectonics of the political and its exhaustion, see Carlo Galli’s Janus’ Gaze: Essays on Carl Schmitt. Duke University Press, 2015. The crisis of the principial politics alluded here is also in reference of the ongoing work of the Infrapolitical Deconstruction Collective (www.infrapolitica.wordpress.com).

[10] According to Giorgio Agamben, a paradigm is a relation between a singular and a singular, thus no generalizable master theory or arche is derived from this notion. See his essay “What is a paradigm?” (9-32) in The Signature of All Things: On Method, Zone Books 2009.

[11] On different valances of “crisis”, see Willy Thayer’s Tecnologías de la crítica. Entre Walter Benjamin y Gilles Deleuze. Santiago de Chile: Metales Pesados, 2010.

[12] Giorgio Agamben. “¿A quien se dirige la poesía?” (Trans. Gerardo Muñoz & Pablo Dominguez Galbraith). http://horizontal.mx/a-quien-se-dirige-la-poesia/