Modernity, eurocentrism, colonialism: the crisis of the left
By Francine Mestrum, PhD, Brussels and Cuernavaca.
crisis caused by the coronavirus is an opportunity to think about the future.This
article is about ‘the
left‘ or ‘progressive forces’ in a very broad sense with implications for political parties and social movements. Will they be
able to take this opportunity to propose their alternatives? Will it be lost
once again, as happened in 1989 and 2008?
And most of all, what is left of the left? Think of the very difficult
discussions caused by the coup in Bolivia, ignored by parts of the radical
left, or the electoral success of an indigenous candidate in Ecuador. Are there
good reasons, then, to think there is no left or right anymore? What about
Eurocentrism? Post-colonialism? Post-development? De-Growth? What should and can one
I want to show in this article is how the justified criticism of neo-liberal
policies and development
practice has led to numerous
‘alternatives’ that in fact strengthen these policies or at least leave them untouched.
In other words, I want to denounce the current dominant thinking of many
progressive movements. For however understandable many reactions may be,
throwing away the child of development with the bathwater of modernity is not
what is needed. Moreover, these developments also show the emptiness of much current
left-wing thinking. I will therefore end with some thoughts on the new
progressive élan that we all dream of.
thinking as it emerged after the Second World War, especially with the new
United Nations (U.N.), did achieve a certain hegemony but could never go its
way unhindered. Not only did the liberal side, and especially the World Bank
(WB), offer resistance – the WB initially refused to consider social aspects –
but various alternative visions of development emerged, especially on the left.
Just as half a century earlier in the Soviet Union and China there were doubts
about whether capitalism was indispensable, in Africa an African socialism was
advocated. In Latin America, in the wake of Prebisch’s structuralism,
‘dependencia’ thinking emerged that explained how ‘underdevelopment’ occurred
not before but after ‘development’, as a result of inclusion in the world trade
system. All these alternatives to official
development thinking, including the national independence movements, referred
to Enlightenment values of liberation, equality, emancipation… even if, at the
academic level, this Enlightenment was slowly considered problematic.
India, ‘subaltern’ thinking emerged, which accused colonialism of cultural
oppression and gave no voice to the colonised (Chakravorti Spivak). The idea of ‘orientalism’ was
developed in a self-reinforcing discourse of
‘othering’, the creation of a separate group of people with negative
connotations (Edward Saïd).
May 68 and the burgeoning ecological
movement, there was talk of ‘post-development’.
For thinkers such as Arturo Escobar, Gustavo Esteva, Serge Latouche or Wolfgang
Sachs, it made no sense to strive for ‘better’ development. The idea itself and
its intention were all wrong. What was needed was not alternative development,
but an alternative to development. It was never made clear what this would be. After the Club of Rome report on the ‘Limits to
growth’, the ‘de-growth’ idea emerged, which
after some time was no longer to be understood as ‘less growth’, but rather as
abandoning the objective of growth for the entire economy. To-day,
this rather vague concept is used for an alternative economy though it never is made concrete.
the end of the twentieth century and on the occasion of five hundred years of
the ‘discovery’ of America, a very different vision emerged that had been
simmering for some time, with thinkers such as Walter Mignolo and Enrique
Dussel. Anibal Quijano, Eduardo Gudynas and others stated
that colonialism was in fact the beginning of capitalism and modernity at the
same time, and that all three should therefore be consigned to the dustbin at
once. They looked at Eurocentrism and made a clear connection with slavery and
the oppression of both black and indigenous peoples. The Rio UN conferences on
environment and development, along with Rio+20 in 2012, put these theses in
extra focus. From now on, we had to work on the ‘decolonisation’ of our thinking, because we
were in the middle of a ‘crisis of civilisation’. For these movements, the
white man’s domination of thought and action in the world was
beyond dispute and had to end.
neoliberalism had led to two major financial crises – 1998 in Asia and 2008 worldwide -, right-wing and authoritarian populism was on the
rise, NGOs in the company of Bono and others were only talking about ‘making
poverty history’. The debt burden of the South was supposed to disappear, but
what actually happened was that Africa was de-industrialising,
that China industrialised and enriched at lightning speed and that the money
flows from South to North increased at top speed. Right-wing forces were happy. Poverty reduction became entertainment. Development was forgotten.
1989, the Wall came down. That gave a serious knock to left-wing thinking,
although there was only a scant analysis of what could have gone wrong. Across
Europe, the radical left slid towards the abyss, green triumphed, social
democracy gasped for breath. In Latin America, a ‘pink tide’ briefly emerged,
with leftist and progressive regimes actually advocating a ‘socialism of the
21st century’, or a philosophy of ‘buen vivir’ (the good life). Right-wing forces
regained power with the help of
time-honoured imperialism, and Venezuela’s socialist regime became bogged down
in corruption, mismanagement and sanctions. The good life paled in the face of the abuses of
a decade for green and anti-colonial, anti-modernity thinking to reach Europe.
Social movements had already begun to organise and prepare for global actions
at the beginning of the century. In the World Social Forum, intellectuals and
grassroots movements, with NGOs in between, came together to discuss ‘another world’. It was the time when also at the U.N., with the
Carlsson report on ‘global governance’, ideas were spread on how ‘civil
society’ would change the world.
democratic institutions were stuck, nationally and internationally. Party
structures turned out to be too rigid and too power-bound to really listen to
what people asked for. Member states of international institutions, from the
E.U. to the U.N. over the World Trade Organisation (W.T.O.) had only their own
national interest to defend and forgot that environment, development and all
social dimensions also represented a global
the financial markets were deregulated and financial institutions, together with a few old
and new multinationals, gradually took over power. Civil society? You ask, we
turn. The State? Outdated, haven’t you seen how everything failed in the
socialist countries? Freedom, happiness, the market knows better than anyone
what you want and what you need.
the World Social Forum, the intellectuals dropped out in disappointment,
leaving only a few believers of the ‘open space’ to attack neoliberalism with
balloons and hip-hop. We don’t do politics, seemed to become the motto, we are
politics. Full stop. In
Europe, the radical left often had excellent
members of parliament, but
hid in a robust social-democratic
armoury, and more often than not the international dimension was lacking. The
importance of European integration is not recognised, the old anti-imperialism
remains untouched. The
need to internationally organise is rarely understood.
a far too brief and somewhat caricatural presentation of
the situation. For sure, all over the
world there are consistent leftwing groups, trying to renew their thinking, but
more and more, the majority is shifting towards a kind of ‘green-left’
ideology. It often remains a-political and has its pitfalls. What
neo-liberals advocate is not so very
different and might even be enhanced with some green help.
basic income. Nobody was more in favour
of it than a few neo-liberals who wanted to finally get rid of social security and welfare states. An individual sum of money for everyone, an end to
collective solidarity. Jeremy
Corbyn and Elon Musk on one front.
should be taken out of the market. We should take care of each other and not
leave that to the state or private
aren’t women the ones who do most of the care work? Should they work for free?
And again, don’t neoliberals love to see all those free volunteers coming? Free labour!
Look at how internships and flexijobs have increased in the labour market!
shame! Europeans might as well take the train to Vienna or Barcelona,
for example. Or take the boat to America, like Greta Thunberg did?
Again, a completely misplaced joke, our internet usage is more polluting than
planes and e-meeting is far from easy and efficient, as the lockdown has
confirmed. Or take the extremely polluting bitcoin.
It seems we are giving up on social
globalisation, just when companies are increasingly creating their global
market. Yes, there is talk of protectionism again, but does
anyone think that Bayer, Google or Rio Tinto will hide behind national borders?
has to stop! No more mining that destroys nature and livelihoods. It is easy to
agree, but if we want more solar or wind energy, if we want mobile phones and
computers, do we not need minerals then? Instead of endangering the credibility
of the ecological movement, it would be better to defend a fair and monitored
extractivism, with stringent rules.
short, many social movements are putting somewhat distorted emphases and
forgetting the heart of the matter. Moreover,
they often retreat
to the local level and think that another world can be made with municipalism.
Now, you can do a lot in cities, you can indeed build a progressive majority
there more easily than at a national or continental level, but that does not
save the world by a long shot. Look at two recent examples: the corona crisis
and the refugees. Without a national state to issue visas, without global
institutions to conduct epidemiological surveillance, you are nowhere. Time and
again, many movements fall into the trap of what neo-liberals
also want. You only have to read the ten-year-old reports of the World Economic
Forum in Davos to see how they want indeed
to get rid of States and trade unions – ‘old left!’-, the only counter-power to
Illich and Pluriverse
I told an international conference in Hong Kong last year that I was sceptical
about a lot of green thinking
– after visiting an alternative farm in
Hong Kong! – and that I still considered development and growth to be badly
needed, I was immediately told that I was therefore ‘eurocentric and
ecomodernist’. Full stop.
so. But I did immediately start reading the then much-praised book
‘Pluriverse’. It was just published and was presented as something like a new bible of
post-development. It was very informative. But nevertheless, I think,
completely wrong. Unless you really want to live in a world without washing
machines, cars, mobile phones, drones and aeroplanes. And unless you believe
that Buddhism or Hinduism, Ubuntu, Ibadism, Tikkum Olam or Islamic ethics can
provide the real answers to existential questions. What is being advocated is a
world full of spirituality, without modernity and without universalism. As if
we are not all human beings with exactly the same needs.
book is called ‘Pluriverse’ because it focuses on the diversity of the human
species and this diversity is indeed extremely
interesting. The problem is that it differs
from the ‘universe’ which is then equated with uniformity. But, is
it not precisely because we are all different that we also need equal rights?
Equality is not opposed to difference, on the contrary. Opposite equality there
is inequality, and opposite difference there is sameness.
Sameness versus difference, equality versus inequality, it is not a language
problem but a problem of understanding or, better still, semantic confusion.
It is one thing to emphasise diversity, the many ways in which people can look at the world, it is quite another to forget equality. Universalism,
says Francis Wolff, is emancipatory and never, ever amounts to uniformity.
there is more. Many of these pluriverse thinkers are very religious people and
many of them think back with nostalgia of
Ivan Illich who influenced them with his ‘conviviality’, the connectedness of
being together and the rejection of any institutionalisation, from schools to
I think, fooled his world. As he admitted at the end of his life, he had
only one goal: to arrive at the true church of Christ and not an
institutionalised one. He dreamed of the pure church of the incarnation.
Schools or hospitals, they were only examples to make his idea clear, it could
just as well have been the postal service, he clarified. That is why Illich
never came up with any alternatives either, schools or hospitals did not
matter, only the pure church mattered. We
still live with that influence.
paints a world without development, where people can take care of themselves
and where capitalism and class struggle have disappeared as if by magic. There
is no more wholeness, only fragments
Capitalism, colonialism and
Illich is irrelevant when compared to the serious school of thought on
modernity. As I said, with the ‘discovery’ of America and colonialism,
capitalism emerged and modernity developed. This thinking is wrong, and here too there is a semantic
Modernity is a philosophical movement that arose in the
wake of humanism and is anything but purely ‘Western’, unless you also call the
Arab thinking of the beginning of the second millennium in Spain ‘Western’. Why
not? According to the historian Jack Goody, modernity began … in the Bronze
Age. There is nothing typically Western about it. Individualism, democracy and
science, they are older than our Greek ancestors. But at the same time, the
recognition of the individual, the belief in one humanity and in change, the
‘sapere aude’ (dare to know) and self-criticism, remain desperately needed in
today’s world that has already surrendered too much self-determination to
governments and corporations.
And it is true that many ideas of European Modernity have been recuperated by
the instrumental rationality of colonialism and capitalism.
enough, in many cases the confusion here is with the ‘modernisation thinking’
that was inherent in what development was meant to be in the 1960s. Through
economic industrialisation and diversification, education and health care would
also be expanded, and we would eventually arrive at identical political
democratic institutions as in Western Europe or North America. This was indeed
the firm belief and it is not surprising that objections were raised against
it, not only because it did not happen anywhere, but also because any
alternative was banished from sight beforehand. But modernisation thinking is
serious was the criticism from the new consciousness of the original peoples in
America. That they, from a different cosmovision, have difficulty with
‘Western’ rationalism and the belief in linear progress is perfectly
understandable. And that colonialism considered these other cosmovisions
non-existent and suppressed them is also a fact. This epistemological
colonialism has been rightly denounced, by Boaventura de Sousa Santos among
others. Not to argue that we should now live ‘in harmony’ with
nature – who did? Not to give up some
elements of rationalism, but to indeed achieve a
real ‘pluriverse’, to take into account diversity, to realise that some peoples
do need food and drink, but perhaps not aeroplanes and electric can openers.
Mobile phones certainly,
yes. And drones to detect illegal logging.
In short, what it comes down to, once again, is that people must be able to
determine their own modernity. Usually there is a demand for this, and they will have to determine themselves in what way
they want to go. Modernity, a
philosophical and political movement, began long before the ‘discovery’ of America and
colonialism. So did capitalism,
which is neither typically Western.
fact is that Spain was far from being a capitalist country
when it gave Columbus some
ships and a crew. And
Spain did not introduce capitalism in the Americas at all, but rather a
persistent form of feudalism whereby land and people were given to the
conquerors, the ‘encomiendas’. Strictly legally speaking, it was not even
The indigenous population was murdered,
exploited and largely exterminated, certainly. Gold and silver were plundered,
yes. But it took some time for this whole system to become ‘truly’ capitalist.
It was only when the plantation system with the slave trade got off to a good
start a century later, with the British, French and Dutch in the lead, that one
can speak of an emerging capitalism.
these three phenomena –
capitalism, colonialism, modernity – are
inextricably linked and could not but develop together is only the result of an
intellectual thought exercise that has little to do with hard reality.
and it should not surprise us, this thinking started in Europe itself, first
with the postwar analysis by the Frankfurter Schule, blaming ‘rationalism’ for
the holocaust, later with a much applauded Michel Foucault and his reflection
on ‘normativity’. The so-called ‘French theory’ – Derrida, Deleuze, Guattari –
did the rest, though with more devastating consequences in the U.S. than in
Europe. This is not to condemn these important scholars, but to indicate their
influence in the problematization of ‘modernity’.
emerging ‘identity’ thinking, the intersectionality approach of radical
feminism, 9/11 and the growing influence of muslim migration (and its backlash)
in Europe, all contributed to the development of a strong post-modern
is happening to-day in Europe as well as in Latin America, blaming ‘modernity’
for racism and colonial thinking is the (provisional?) result of all this. For many
radical groups, class conflicts seem to have been forgotten, all problems are
explained by ethnicity – white privilege – and eurocentrism. Blacks, women,
migrants and indigenous people are essentialised, representation is forbidden,
left and right become blurred categories. The most clear examples of this is
the ‘ignored’ coup in Bolivia by part of the radical and/or indigenous left, the
choice for a neoliberal banker instead of a social democratic President in
Ecuador by these same groups, the announced refusal of a ‘front républicain’
against the extreme right in France. As Stéphanie Roza correctly describes,
this anti-modernity movement closely resembles the old, traditional,
conservative and never disappearing one.
reject modernity, at the beginning of
the 21st century, is
a very dangerous step.
I keep remembering Goebbels’ stand for whom the real aim of Nazism was ‘to forget 1789’.
Today’s authoritarian right-wing populism thinks no differently.
questions can be asked about this predominantly Latin American thinking. There
is no doubt that colonisation, capitalist exploitation and the oppression of
indigenous peoples must be condemned. Hence, ‘decolonisation’ rightly has
supporters in Latin America, Asia,
Africa and Europe itself. However, most thinkers come from Latin America and it
is striking that they are often much more nuanced than their followers, from
Enrique Dussel to Edgardo Lander and Boaventura de Sousa Santos. I would like
to make two observations in this regard.
America is a continent with serious identity problems. The majority of its
population is white or mestizo, children of the reviled colonisation. It is
also the continent that has always stood out for its original thinking, from
José Martí to Mariátegui, from internal colonialism to structuralism and
dependency thinking. When I study some of the authors, I cannot help but feel
that they are looking for a new theory that can finally give them a fixed place
and identity, and remove the opposition between the indigenous roots and the
white invasion. They are trying to
free themselves from the ‘deforming mirror’ of eurocentrism, searching their
own path and another Modernity, which looks more like self-criticism than like
criticism of ‘the West’. What’s
more, when you read Dussel or de Sousa Santos and think not of that indigenous
past and present, but of, say, Islamic Saudi Arabia or Iran, you soon begin to
doubt the relevance of some of the statements
on colonisation and modernity.
The same goes for the criticism of modern science, because who would think that
herbal tea could be as effective as a vaccine against the coronavirus, however important some traditional medicines may be.
there is more. Several authors have already pointed out that much of the
thinking of and about the indigenous peoples of Latin America has taken a very
bizarre course. The Europeans who arrived in America thought they had found
some kind of ‘earthly paradise’. With their stories, Europeans fantasised even
more about this ‘new world’, and everything was explained using the categories
available in Europe, especially the Bible. These mechanisms have been
brilliantly explained by Jorge Magasich in ‘América Mágica’ or by Serge
Gruzinski in ‘La machine à remonter le temps’. And it is precisely this
thinking that was introduced into America. Or in other words, what is really
considered ‘indigenous’ is often of European origin. To some extent, this is happening right up to the present day. The
whole ‘pachamama’ story about the nurturing (female) earth has little
to do with what the indigenous people think or thought. Today, a whole
intellectual and material white industry has started to teach the indigenous
people who or what their gods are, how sacred the earth is and how they, the
original peoples, can live in harmony with nature. Fortunately, some indigenous groups are now shaking
off this harmful influence and are in a process of communicating their own
short, much of the thinking may boil down to an unconscious psychological need
and to a well-intentioned deception of the people. The reality
of countries like Bolivia and Ecuador, whose left-wing presidents have not
hesitated to continue extracting oil, gas or lithium because they need money
for their social policies and to pay off their debts, speaks volumes. Rafael
Correa repeatedly pointed out that the extensive cattle farming practised by
indigenous people in his country was hardly less polluting and environmentally
damaging than the mine he had licensed. You can hardly go begging, he said, when
you are sitting on a bag of gold.
A political crisis
we must decolonise our thinking, that we must throw all Western and certainly
white ‘superiority’ overboard, that we must learn to look at the world from
perspectives other than our own, certainly. No one has explained this better
than the French anthropologist Philippe Descola who studies the relationship between
humankind and nature. He teaches us how different and how equal
we are, how we live with different ontologies that are each hybrid and fluid,
and each makes ‘a world’ for itself. The totality is not a pre-existing given,
but is shaped daily. He also teaches us how much we can learn from others,
realising that no one, neither black nor red nor yellow, has the answer to all
our questions. To reconnect humankind and nature, that is what we have to learn and that is
urgent, but not in an un-existing and
un-attainable harmony’ with nature, or looking at how
the Aztecs cut out the hearts of their enemies. There is nothing to learn from
is always dangerous to attribute one ailment to one cause and predict one
consequence. All developments are unpredictable; at any moment, a surprising
turn can send history in a different direction. Look at what the coronavirus is
doing now! Teleological historiography is risky. People have their future in their
hands, that much is certain, but they have to decide to do something together.
It is possible that individualism has gone too far, it is certainly true that the
neo-liberalism that has plagued us for decades makes us believe that we can
only progress individually, in competition with the other. It is also true that
we can only really achieve something by working together. The world, society, can be shaped by ourselves, indeed, but it is not on your own that you will
change anything. The elites who themselves display the best class solidarity
ever will do anything to ensure that those at the bottom never learn to work
together, so Yuval Noah Harari tells us.
68 brought down many sacred cows. Young people were tired of living in a rigid
and hierarchical environment. The old structures had to go, they would do
things differently in the future.
has partly succeeded. Many social movements continue to swear by ‘horizontalism’,
the renunciation of bosses and of majority voting. This works as long as you
work in small groups and have plenty of time for discussion. It does not work
if you are working in larger contexts and some people have less good intentions
than what might appear from those fine principles. The World Social Forum was
destroyed by this horizontalism. Power relations exist everywhere; it is good
to recognise them and to neutralise them democratically. However, if
horizontalism prevails over any healthy democratic reflex, it only serves to
hide and perpetuate the existing power relations.
the Arab Spring, the Indignados, Occupy Wall Street and Nuits Debout, followed
by the Gilets Jaunes and other mass movements, we must also ask ourselves where
this could lead. 2019 was a year of protest, from Hong Kong to Santiago de
Chile, from Beirut to Algiers and many other cities. They were not one-day
protests, but months of sustained occupations and denunciations. Here and there
a small concession from a government, but all in all, yet another failure. More
and more young people are starting to wonder whether violence might be the only
way to enforce something after all. The massive and worldwide actions of the
feminists on 8 and 9 March 2020 were an unexpected success. Will this lead to
new legislation, rights and less violence? Can the corona crisis change
anything for the better? Or will it only lead to more violence and repression? Brasil, the Philippines, India, Thailand and now
Myanmar are not the examples to follow.
thing is all too often forgotten: those who want success, those who want to
achieve something, must organise themselves, must have structures, must have
spokespeople. Taking to the streets by the thousands is important, it
politicises, it is memorised, but achieving something politically, whether from an
existing or a new government to be formed, is difficult.
The lessons to be learned here can best be found with
the trade unions that started organising themselves over a hundred years ago, locally,
nationally, globally. Not always with equal success, but they remain to this
day the only credible organisations with which one can negotiate, which can
enforce something, they are
confronting the two major crises of today, social and ecological, this is the
example to follow. We do not need lessons in morality and multi-dimensionality,
poor people need income security and public services, the environmental crisis
requires another economy.
is easy to say but difficult to do. Two things are certain: people in rich
countries will not automatically lower their living standards. All green
promises of ‘more happiness’ and ‘more well-being’ sound good, but they will
not convince city-trippers, as the lockdown has once again proven. And poor
countries need growth, plain and simple. Of course one can talk about what kind
of growth this will be, but with a Gross Domestic Product of US$ 500 per capita
you cannot jump far. Moreover, a growing population obviously needs more food and more energy.
means that we have to look for strategies that can convince people and that we
have to look for growth that does not endanger sustainability. And that in turn
means politics. A government that can make democratic decisions, locally,
nationally, continentally and globally. And a political ecology that integrates
nature in the governance of society. Because the climate crisis
is a crisis of human rights, of social justice and of political institutions.
It means that a number of ideas need to be adjusted.
The theft of history
starts with our history. The aforementioned Jack Goody described very interestingly
how ‘the West’ wrote its own history, overestimating its role considerably.
Many of the concepts we live with and regard as ‘typically Western’ are not
that at all, from democracy to colonialism and capitalism. To consider Greece
as the cradle of our civilisation is also to ignore the context in which a
very diverse Greece was able to flourish, from the Middle East to North Africa.
Viewing the past from the perspective of the present has created a lot of
unjustified myths and presents it as if the Renaissance and the Enlightenment
were really fundamental breakthroughs that gave the West an undeniable
advantage and superiority. Nothing could be further from the truth, according
to the author.
it is precisely that false narrative of history that is used by left-wing and
progressive movements to give their critique of ‘the West’ and to throw all the
positive features of humanism, modernity and Enlightenment overboard, as if they just wanted to make the right happy! By throwing their belief in change, the acquisition of
knowledge and collective action into the wastebin,
progressives are digging their own graves. The Right can then quietly
I am not saying that we should deal uncritically with the legacy of the past.
Certainly the ecological crisis makes criticism and re-thinking very necessary
and urgent. The current consciousness and activism
of indigenous people, all over the world, can be a stimulus to re-think our
systems. But we must, I think, move away from the
easy black-and-white thinking that burdens the West with all guilt.
There is very little that we can say is our ‘own’ achievement, let alone that
we are superior, but our form of society and the discourse behind it may well
be heard. Or in other words, the criticism of thinking should not become a
criticism of Western Europe only.
would therefore like to join those authors who leave a door or window open,
such as Boaventura de Sousa Santos who argues for the opening of more
analytical space, for a non-Western West, for a new interpretation of
emancipation. Social justice, he argues, is not possible without cognitive
justice. We must therefore learn to listen to what others have to say to us and
realise that no ‘culture’ can absorb new knowledge unless it is compatible with
the old knowledge. We must get rid of our ‘orthopaedic thinking’, he argues. We
must learn to look critically at our history and that of others and allow
different forms of modernity to develop. Or in other words, we should not so
much invent an ‘alternative’ to the current system, but develop an ‘alternative
thinking’. In this way, room can be made for diversity and universalism.
seems to me a good guideline to think about our ‘modern values’, about
development, about economy, the State and, of course, about our relationship
with nature. Anthropologists, with their knowledge and insight into the
diversity of our world, have an important role to play here.
I now, arrived on page 10, said anything new? No, not at all. I have
merely warned against dead ends and discouraging defeats. The criticism of
development, Eurocentrism and modernity in recent decades has been very
relevant and useful. But it has not so far led to any hopeful alternative.
Progressive thinking is totally fragmented and partly on the wrong track. The
abandonment of universalism and the belief in change, the abandonment of
structural approaches and organisations, opened the door for
governments and corporations setting the neoliberal law. What all the new-style
progressive movements for post-development, decolonisation and de-growth
too often forget is that we still live in a capitalist system in
which the class struggle, racism, patriarchy and green struggle must be tackled
simultaneously. What permanently distinguishes the left from the right is the
pursuit of equality, solidarity and emancipation. It is a very serious problem when some people no longer want to see that difference and
think, as in Ecuador, that they can also call to
vote for a neo-liberal banker,
or applaud a
right-wing coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia. It is a dangerous development.
De Sousa Santos rightly warns of the ‘social fascism’ that is coming our way.
it is less the left right divide that should be questioned as the categories of
capitalism and socialism. They are the two sides of the same modernity coin,
and rejecting modernity implies rejecting both ideologies. There is no need for
this, but we do have to carefully examine how to re-design modernity looking at
the changes in today’s world. Capitalism surely still exists, but is moving
away from being focused on relations of production to financialisation, middle
classes are once again threatened leading to a dualized world of some rich and
many poor, economic and political power is being re-united. There are arguments
to think we are slowly moving back to some kind of feudalism. As for socialism,
with all respect and friendship for the dignified struggle in Cuba, it has,
till now, not led to any attractive alternative, let alone any sustainable
success. It is certainly not what young people are dreaming of. This task implies
more than looking for new names, it means looking for a new emancipatory social
and ecological narrative and practice.
would therefore like to call for a change of course. To learn to think
differently about what binds us and what makes us different. What binds us is
our humanity, our dependence on nature, not our identity. But what also unites
us is a necessary social struggle against all oppressive mechanisms. Therefore,
we must not forget the old struggles either. Throwing the baby out with the
bathwater is not what we need. We need to realise that nobody has all the right
above all: social movements that today take so many initiatives, that take to
the streets persistently to strengthen their demand for social, economic and
environmental justice, must also learn to organise themselves again, locally,
nationally, continentally and globally. Without organisation, without
structure, nothing can ever change sustainably. The transition may begin in
your street, but it will be of no avail without a simultaneous global approach.
may be useful to read some older authors again, such as Mariategui or
Amilcar Cabral. Or to look at what was said in Bandung, the new international
economic order, the ‘unified concept’ of the U.N.
the left is hanging in the ropes and gradually, unnoticed, the door of reformism
is closing. Social movements are very weak because of their lack of
coordination. They are clinging
to hopeless strategies that only make
the wedge deeper. Trump, Bolsonaro and Duterte love what they see. With the lockdowns of the corona crisis, movements
cannot even be allowed to take to the streets anymore.
is one concept that can unite us, I think, because it implies progress and
change and imposes solidarity on us: emancipation. It is freeing ourselves
individually and collectively from what limits and oppresses us, materially and
philosophically. It is always a story of and and, never of or or. We have to
get this emancipation out from under the dust.