James Petras: US-Latin American Relations ... Ruptures, Reaction and the Illusion of Times Past

Roundup: Historians' Take

[James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books). His latest book is, The Power of Israel in the United States (Clarity Press, 2006). He can be reached at: jpetras@binghamton.edu.]

Editor: This is a long article. What follows is part of the conclusion.

... The Left -- or sectors of the Latin American Left -- has to face up to the fact that while US power has declined relative to the ‘Golden Age of Pillage’ during the 1990s, it has recovered and advanced since the mass rebellions and overthrow of client regimes of 2000-2002. The hopes that the Left had that the presidential victories of former center-left electoral parties in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, would augur a reversion of the neo-liberal policies of their predecessors have been demonstrably dashed. The attempt to redefine the conversion of the ex-leftist-turned-pragmatic neo-liberals into something progressive or as a ‘counter-weight’ to US power is ingenuous at best and at worst compounds the initial error. The Left’s lack of political clarity on the political changes has led it into a blind alley as damaging to its future growth as Washington’s failed efforts to recognize the new realities of the new millennia.

The only consistent and consequential allies and forces for change are found among the radical left. Tactical and selective alliances with sectors of the pragmatic left are necessary and important, but only if they are based on retaining organizational and political independence. For the Left there needs to be a critical analysis and vigorous debate on the disastrous consequences of subordinating their activities to the electoral campaigns of what are now dominant pragmatic neo-liberal regimes. A review of the strength of the social movements in toppling doctrinaire neo-liberal US client regimes is as necessary as a critical analysis of the incapacity of these same movements to block the re-emergence of new ‘pragmatic’ neo-liberals and above all their incapacity to develop a strategy for power.

While US power over Latin America has declined since the 1990s it has not been a linear process, a sharp fall has been followed by a partial recovery. The decline of the US has not been matched by a sustained rise in the power of the radical left. The real ‘gainers’ have been the pragmatic leftists and pragmatic neo-liberals that rode to power with the demise of the doctrinaire neo-liberals and the favorable expansive conjuncture in world market conditions. There are neither inherent long-term ‘laws of imperial decline’ as some Leftist historians claim, nor ‘an end of the revolutionary left’ as their neo-liberal counterparts claim. Rather a realistic analysis demonstrates that political interventions, class conflict and international markets play a major role in shaping US-Latin American relations and more particularly the ascent and decline of US imperial power, social revolutionary forces and the other political variants in between.

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