Thursday, December 23, 2010

dancing with dynamite (2010)


Book Review from the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dancing with dynamite. Social movements and the State in Latin America. By Benjamin Dangl. AK Press. $12.

Anarchists and anti-parliamentarists are always pointing to the overthrow of Allende in Chile in 1973 as an example of how the ruling class will not accept defeat at the polls, not even by leftwing reformists let alone by the election of a majority of socialist MPs.

They are behind the times. The last 15 or so years have seen the election and survival of leftwing presidents in a number of South American countries (Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and even Paraguay), some of them with programmes more radical than Allende’s. There was indeed an attempt to overthrow one of them (Chavez in Venezuela in 2002) but this failed due to popular resistance and the refusal of the armed forces to back it.

Of course this doesn’t show that the ruling class might not stage a coup in the event of a socialist election victory, but it does rather undermine the argument that elections can never be a way to win control of political power.

In this book, brought out by an anarchist publishing house, Dangl examines the relationship – the “dance” – between “social movements” (in favour of land rights, legalising factory occupations, getting amenities in shanty towns) and the elected leftwing governments. He argues that the social movements should not put up candidates themselves nor let themselves be dominated by leftwing parties; instead, they should maintain their independence and continue to employ “direct action” to try to get what they want.

However, he is unable to take up a strict anti-parliamentarist stance because he can’t deny the logic of the movements preferring a government that will help them to leaving political power in the hands of those opposed to their aims. None of the movements have, as Dangl is obliged to record, adopted this stance but have voted and even campaigned for the leftwing presidents.

The case for a mass socialist movement not taking electoral action is just as weak since this would be to leave the apparatus of the state in enemy hands. A socialist movement is no more likely to do this than the present-day social movements in South America have.
Adam Buick

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