Radical Democracy: The New Left-Wing Utopia for Latin America

By Romero, Anibal | World Affairs, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Radical Democracy: The New Left-Wing Utopia for Latin America


Romero, Anibal, World Affairs


THE LEFT'S DEMOCRATIC COMMITMENT

Does it make sense to worry about the present-day Latin American Left? Don't we all more or less agree that the Left learned the right lessons after the hard experience of the 1960s and 1970s-the failure of guerrilla movements, the unraveling of the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions and. above all, the collapse of socialist utopia in the USSR and Eastern Europe' Certainly, as Cavarozzi rightly points out.(1) the Latin American Left is currently undergoing a period of weakness and growing heterogeneity, both in an organizational and a programmatic sense. Nonetheless, there also exists something of a consensus among analysts that the Latin. American Left has extracted positive lessons from a process that in the past thirty years brought it all the way from the illusions of Che Guevara's guerrilla foco theory and the utopia of a revolutionary new man to its present commitment to democracy.

Here are some examples extracted from recent literature:

Most of the political Left and sectors of the

Right [in Latin America] have engaged in a

positive authentic revaluation of democracy.

Political democracy in the strict (i.e., institutional)

sense of the word--linked to the liberal-constitutional

model, with its guarantees of

individual rights, the right of association, and

truly competitive elections--is no longer disdained

as being purely "formal."(2)

Democracy, despised and decried by the Left

during the 1960s and into the early 1970s as an

empty procedure, a fallacious formality, was

discovered anew in the prisons and torture

chambers of diverse dictatorships.... Procedural

democracy--discovered through their

painful learning process--was not the empty

shell it had once seemed.(3)

The new democratic commitment of the Latin

American Left has been embodied in the pluralistic

concept in which interparty unity

encompasses a greater diversity of ideological

positions on the Left than it did during the popular

front period of the 1930s.(4)

A vital experience-the sufferings under

authoritarianism ... led [the Left] to rediscover

the value of the institutions of political

democracy.(5)

The process of political democratization

acquired a life and value of its own, which turns

out to be one of the most valuable legacies of

various dictatorships.(6)

According to the now-dominant interpretation, the Left has embraced with deep and sincere fervor the same political democracy that in times past was contemptuously dismissed as "merely formal." Jorge Castanada speaks of the "democratic imperative" of the Left, and has brought matters to the point of affirming, with a certitude that all but takes one's breath away, that "in the immense majority of cases, it has been the Left that has played the most responsible role in the struggle for democracy, both under authoritarian regimes or in periods of transition."(7) As Renique sums up the matter, the unifying theme of the Left is "the replacement of democracy for revolution as the central theme of the political and intellectual debate."(8) It would seem, then, that the Latin American Left has undergone a fundamental transformation, a species of revelation, a kind of newborn Christian revival expressed in an enigmatic code that is not, as we shall see, easy to decipher.

In effect, the revisionists of the Left make two claims: First, that the Latin American Left has undergone a process of creative political apprenticeship. And second, that this apprenticeship has led to a more adequate understanding and a fuller defense of democracy.

It is my view that these affirmations are incorrect. …

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