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Ron Radosh

The Real Latin-American Left: One We Can Work With

December 10th, 2008 - 6:05 pm

An excellent, thoughtful and substantive article about the different Lefts in Latin America appears in the new issue of the social-democratic magazine Dissent. Written by Ignacio Walker, a former minister of foreign affairs in Chile (2004-2006), and a visiting senior research scholar and professor at Princeton University (2007-2008), it is a serious and important contribution to understanding what is happening in our hemisphere.

Already I can see all the comments from conservatives screaming at me for recommending something written in a left of center publication. Spare yourself the time attacking me, and read his entire article before you even run to your keyboard. If we cannot learn from those whom we may disagree with politically, we are in danger of arguing for policy based on rhetoric, and not on comprehension of a political reality.

In this specific case, Walker argues that one cannot refer simply to a Latin American Left, as if it is one homogenous and undifferentiated thing. Rather, he argues that there are three distinct Lefts: populist, Marxist, and social-democratic. Populism emerged in the 1940s through the 60s, Walker points out, and is “characterized by negative attitudes toward liberal-democratic institutions and liberal capitalism-in Europe, Nazism, fascism and Stalinism; in Latin America, corporatism and populism.”

Obviously, the current regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is the best example of the new populist regimes that are threatening our hemisphere, and pose a challenge to the United States. As we all know, Chavez is seeking allies not only in Nicaragua, but in Iran and Russia. And that is why clarity about the nature of the Left in our hemisphere is so sorely needed.

As the magazine’s co-editor, political philosopher Michael Walzer writes in the editor’s page of Dissent, Walker’s “critique is especially valuable since so many leftists have foolishly celebrated Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who reminds us of no one so much as Argentina’s Juan Peron.”

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