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Open Letter to Jacobin and Monthly Review: Stop Racist and Misogynist Attacks on the Emergent Indigenous, Eco-Feminist Left in Latin America, and Address the Crisis in Today’s Ecuador.

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Members of Indigenous communities and supporters of Ecuador's presidential candidate Yaku Perez march in Quito on February 23 [Santiago Arcos/Reuters]

Members of Indigenous communities and supporters of Ecuador’s presidential candidate Yaku Perez march in Quito on February 23 [Santiago Arcos/Reuters]

This is an important statement with wide implications. As the letter states, “We are concerned that a significant number of today’s left-wing actors, across the Americas and the world, align themselves with extractivism, agrobusiness, authoritarian statism, [10] and stand against Indigenous, anti-racist, and anti-patriarchal movements, ideas, and leaders. We worry that the former is acting to eject the latter from the conversation by labelling them as right-wingers and allies of imperialism. We should not be distracted from the wave of violent, ultra-racist “populism,” and military and parliamentary coups that have swept the region in the past years.”

In other words, this is not just about North American left wingers’ positions on central or southern America, or about Ecuador in particular. It is about a widespread confusion about the new forms of neoliberalism and national populisms now taking shape,. It raises issues about emerging social movements, that support green politics. It hardly needs underlining that left populism, the Bolivarian Revolution, has spectacularly failed.

Signalled on the Marx Mail list, and  (via DM) on Twitter, it is an important correction to the reports about Ecuador, in a wider range of left wing journals, and other places, such as the Morning Star. It is also a reminder that the left has not yet done with populism, a sign perhaps of special importance to signers such as Éric Fassin. (Populisme : le grand ressentiment. 2017).  Jacobin is widely read in the USA and has long identified with forms of populism, often pushing support for figures in Europe such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The longstanding Monthly Review is a much more respected left wing journal with in-depth articles in the broad Marxist tradition.

Stop Racist and Misogynist Attacks on the Emergent Indigenous, Eco-Feminist Left in Latin America, and Address the Crisis in Today’s Ecuador

We, the signatories of this letter, have to come together to demand the retraction or clarification of two recent articles that smear political movements and leaders in Ecuador. The gains of Yaku Pérez and the coalition around the Pachakutik party in the 7 February 2021 elections represent an exciting and emergent new left comprised of Indigenous organizations, eco-socialist politics, feminist and LGBTQ+ activists, anti-racist movements, and anti-extractivist causes. On 24 February 2021, these movements came together in the streets of Ecuador, to demand that every vote be counted. Silencing and discrediting Ecuadoran voices as well as new popular movements—while demanding fealty to state capitalist leaders associated with the extractivist “left” in Ecuador and across the region—must end. Ben Norton’s “How Ecuador’s US-backed, coup-supporting ‘ecosocialist’ candidate Yaku Pérez aids the right-wing,” (republished by the Monthly Review on 8 February 2021) [1] and Denis Rogatyuk’s “Ecuador’s Election Was a Massive Repudiation of Neoliberalism” (published in Jacobin Magazine on 18 February)[2] do not reflect the traditions of Monthly Review—the “longest continuously published socialist magazine in the United States.” [3] Both articles contradict Jacobin’s founders goal to develop a “product of a younger generation not quite as tied to the Cold War paradigms that sustained the old leftist intellectual milieu.” [4] The editors’ openness to new generations is at odds with the sustained offensive against a new Indigenous eco-socialist and feminist political left in Latin America.

Rogatyuk’s article in Jacobin condemns the eco-socialist candidate Pérez and his partner, Manuela Picq, pointing out they “have for years attempted to portray Correa as an anti-Indigenous, anti-environment leader that pursues an ‘extractivist’ model of development.” Yes, they have, as have most independent social scientists who have looked at the wreckage of the Correa legacy. [5] There is a vibrant, Indigenous, and youth-led coalition of leftists who have critiqued Correa’s misuse of “el buen vivir” principles in his policies. These policies nourished new extractive industries. Under Correa, the state criminalized Indigenous groups,[6] LGBTQ+ populations, and exploited new mining resources and areas such as Yasuní.[7] Rogatyuk mocks the new left in Ecuador as a “ragbag” and “surreal” group who “absurdly” make claims about the partiality of electoral commissions. Rogatyuk overlooks the extensive and historic struggles of Indigenous identity, genocide and sovereignty, as well as the multiple battles against extractivism and ecological devastation, gendered injustices, political/social misogyny, [8] and homophobia. The article wilfully ignores the organizational and social momentum and innovation that fuelled Pérez’s electoral success. It ignores these movements’ critiques of extractivist statism and monolithic personalism. Rogatyuk suggested that “Pérez’s political record suggests he is a Trojan horse for the left’s most bitter enemies.”

Similarly, Norton’s Monthly Review article disdainfully dismisses environmentalists, whose critiques of extractivism or racist policies of the statist left he portrayed as “opening up space for the right.” The author singles out “Extinction Rebellion” as a right-wing tool. He rages against the language of “decoloniality” and the eco-socialist left’s critique of statist leaders’ complicity with whiteness and colonial-economic and social legacies. In a typically authoritarian thrust, the article demonizes anyone who allies themselves with NGOs, branding them as supporters of imperialism.

Norton’s widely circulated Monthly Review article aimed at fracturing the left and eroding social movement support for Pérez as an alternative. The piece was published at a crucial moment in the Ecuadorian presidential election. Conventional media outlets have used it to discredit and damage a candidate of the eco-socialist/Indigenous/feminist left. Norton’s article wove together a series of Pérez’s tweets critiquing the statist and extractivist left. Of course, many members of the progressive left, including some of us writing this letter, disagreed with these proclamations as well as Pérez’s support of neoliberal candidates as a strategy to defeat authoritarian elements. But we contextualize these positions.

The Monthly Review article spotlights Manuela Picq, Pérez’s partner, in a misogynist and homophobic diatribe that mocks and attacks her feminist, queer studies, and eco-social politics. Generating absurd conspiracy narratives, this article designates her body as evidence of Pérez’s imperialist complicity. It stinks of rumor-mongering, noting that she took classes at Princeton in a building named after Ronald Reagan, as if this would prove that she was a stooge of the Reagan administration. At age 25, Picq was part of a civil society dialogue in the FTAA negotiation process where she organized critics of the FTAA. Instead of mentioning this history of radical praxis, she is accused of being a “CIA cutout” and an agent of “billionaire George Soros,” a familiar anti-Semitic accusation. She is also incriminated for teaching classes in queer studies and feminist theory. The author claims that because Picq teaches “Latinx Studies” and “Queering Notions of Modernity,” she is an enemy of global class struggle and complicit with imperialism. Norton does not acknowledge the long list of Picq’s other publications on queer theory, international relations, social movement struggles, or resistance to authoritarianism. Most tellingly, the author does not mention that Picq was arrested and deported from Ecuador by the Correa government for having participated in united Indigenous, feminist, and anti-extractivist protests.[9]

These two articles do not explore in detail the context of Pérez’s political momentum in the organization and revitalization of CONAIE—the Indigenous confederation that led the largest set of protests in Ecuadorian history in October 2019, uniting Indigenous groups, feminists, students, and workers movements to fight back against the imposition of a wrenching IMF accord and to demand the end to ecocidal plunder and land dispossession. This moment consolidated the leadership of a younger generation. CONAIE’s legacy, of uniting movements in October 2019, lent popular and movement support to Pérez’s candidacy and might bring him perhaps to second place in the polling. The article does not mention the historic October 2019 uprising or CONAIE and Pérez’s roles in it.

We are concerned that a significant number of today’s left-wing actors, across the Americas and the world, align themselves with extractivism, agrobusiness, authoritarian statism, [10] and stand against Indigenous, anti-racist, and anti-patriarchal movements, ideas, and leaders. We worry that the former is acting to eject the latter from the conversation by labelling them as right-wingers and allies of imperialism. We should not be distracted from the wave of violent, ultra-racist “populism,” and military and parliamentary coups that have swept the region in the past years. It is exactly these authoritarian developments that make it irresponsible and dangerous to brand those who critique the extractivist left as allies of Yankee imperialists or sympathetic to Bolsonaro-type populists who are encouraging genocide, femicide, racial exterminations, and homophobic assassinations. We stand against authoritarian statism focusing on individual male populist figures and armed, militarized “machocratic” patriarchy. Against this model, a new progressive alternative for the left has been emerging—led by Indigenous, Black, and feminist as well as class and worker-identified justice movements—to advocate redistribution of wealth, land, and autonomies to forge new modes of collective, bodily, and eco-social participation and rights.

After Ecuador’s 7 February 2021 election, civil society groups across Ecuador raised concerns that an effort was underway to “find votes” needed to bring Lasso’s totals above Pérez’s. This would serve both sides of what Chilean writer Andrés Kogan Valderrama has labelled the “binary” political equation [11] of extractivist left and neoliberal right. Both sides saw Pérez as the most threatening opponent, for he might win and, more than that, dismantle the binary political equation that has been making true redistribution and eco-social justice unimaginable. The Ecosocialist Feminist Network stated, “We reject the role that ‘Correismo’ [Rafael Correa’s regime] has played in this moment, exacerbating racism and delegitimizing social struggle through media campaigns…We know that the struggle continues and what will be the mobilization and unity of the popular field will permit us to sustain the gains accumulated in October [2019] and resistance against this system of death.” [12] We deplore the demonization of both Pérez and movements that brought him so close to the run-off election. A left-wing global community deserves better, and we call on the editors of Monthly Review and Jacobin to reject these simplistic and dangerous analyses which feed right wing structures of hate in Latin America.

Signed,

Paul Amar, Professor, Director of Orfalea Center, University of California, Santa Barbara
Sonia Correa, Co-Chair, Sexuality Policy Watch
Ghaitai Paul Males Castañeda, Comunidad Indígena de Compañía, Líder Espiritual Cristiano-Andino de Jóvenes
Macarena Gómez-Barris, Professor, Pratt Institute
Mara Viveros Vigoya, Profesora Titular, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, LASA President (2019-2020)
Lisa Duggan, Professor, New York University
Cristina Yépez Arroyo, McGill University
J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Professor, Wesleyan University
William C. Smith, Professor Emeritus, University of Miami
Rita Laura Segato, Professor, Universidad Nacional de San Martín, Argentina
Pamela Martin, Professor, Coastal Carolina University
Mario Pecheny, Professor, University of Buenos Aires
Cruz Caridad Bueno, Assistant Professor of Black Studies, SUNY-New Paltz
Javiera Barandiaran, Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
Michelle Artieda, Florida International University
Mieke Verloo, Professor, Radboud University, The Netherlands
Lena Lavinas, Professor, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Sherene R Seikaly, Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
Gita Sen, DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era), Fiji
Gloria Careaga, Facultad de Psicología, UNAM, Mexico
Rosalind Petchesky, Distinguished Professor Emerita, Hunter College &The Graduate Center, CUNY
Rina Pakari Marcillo, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador
Steve Stein, Senior Professor, University of Miami
Markus Thiel, Associate Professor, Florida International University
Dominique Chiriboga, Activista Feminista y LGBT, Ecuador
Flavio Carrera V., Project Coordinator, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Daniela Cabascango, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), Ecuador
Kiran Asher, UMass, Amherst
Carolina Benalcázar, Concordia University
Fernando Luz Brancoli, Associate Professor, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Diana Coryat, Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar, Ecuador
Bila Sorj, Professor, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
Pablo Ospina Peralta, Docente de la Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Quito, Ecuador
Antonia Carcelen-Estrada, Profesora investigadora, Universidad San Francisco de Quito/Northumbria University
Jennyfer Masaquiza, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Claudia Sofía Garriga-López, California State University, Chico
David Paternotte, Université Libre de Bruxelles
Carlos de la Torre, Director, Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida
Miriam Lang, Professor, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Ecuador
Carmen Diana Deere, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of Florida; LASA President (1992-1994)
Arturo Escobar, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Guilherme Leite Gonçalves, Professor, Rio de Janeiro State University
Johannes Waldmüller, Research Professor, Universidad de Las Américas, EPN
Sylvia Cifuentes, University of California, Santa Barbara
Larry Lohmann, The Corner House (Environmental and Social Justice), UK
Gareth Dale, Brunel University, UK
Alvaro Jarrin, Associate Professor, College of the Holy Cross
Alberto J. Olvera, Profesor Titular, Instituto de Investigaciones Histórico-Sociales, U Veracruzana, Mexico
Benjamin Arditi, Professor of Politics, UNAM, Mexico
Margarita López Maya, CENDES-UCV, Venezuela
Les Levidow, Senior Research Fellow, Open University, UK
Javier Corrales, Professor, Amherst College
Patrick Bond, Professor, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
Joan Martinez-Alier, ICTA, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain)
Zillah Eisenstein, writer, Prof. Emerita, Ithaca College
Iokiñe Rodriguez, Seniour Lecturer, University of East Anglia, UK
Rehad Desai, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Cristina Vega, Profesora Investigadora, FLACSO Ecuador
Muhammad Reza Sahib, KRuHA – people’s coalition for the right to water, Indonesia
Monroe Edwin Jeffrey, International Tribal Association, United States
Francesco Martone, Senatore della Repubblica, Italia
Barry Gills, University of Helsinki, Finland
Pedro Gutiérrez Guevara, Researcher, Kaleidos Center of Interdisciplinary Ethnography, Ecuador
Rosemary E. Galli, independent researcher, Observatório das Nacionalidades, UK
Elisa Van Waeyenberge, SOAS University of London, UK
Markus Kröger, Associate Professor, University of Helsinki, Finland
Gabriel Roldos, ROLPRO SAS Publishing House, Ecuador
Tom Kucharz, Ecologistas en Acción, Spain
Lisa Rofel, Professor Emeritus and Research Professor, Co-Director, Center for Emerging Worlds, UC Santa Cruz
Marcelo Coelho, Journalist, Folha de São Paulo, Brasil
Alejandro Bendaña, Activist, Nicaragua
John Francis Foran, Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
Melissa Weiner, Associate Professor, College of the Holy Cross
Ashish Kothari, Global Tapestry of Alternatives, India
Elisabeth de Souza Lobo, Psychologue, Université Paris 7, France
Noah Zweig, Investigador Independiente, Ecuador
Devin Beaulieu, University of California, San Diego
Bárbara Sepúlveda Hales, Asociación de Abogadas Feministas, Chile
Eng-Beng Lim, Director of Dartmouth Consortium of Studies in Race, Migration, and Sexuality; Assoc Professor WGSS, Dartmouth College
Pallav Das, Editor, Radical Ecological Democracy
Roxana Erazo, University of Toronto
Santiago Acosta, Lecturer of Spanish, University of California, Davis
Andrea Sempértegui, Lafayette College, USA
Najwa Mayer, Postdoctoral Fellow, Dartmouth
Judith Butler, Professor, University of California, Berkeley
Marisol de la Cadena, Professor, University of California-Davis
Benjamin Arditi, Professor of Politics, UNAM, Mexico
Rosa Jijón Co-founder, A4C Arts for the Commons, Italy
Donald E.Pease, Professor, Dartmouth College, USA
Grace Delgado, Data Analyst, Dagan Inc., Estados Unidos
Tamra L. Gilbertson, Professor, University of Tennessee and Indigenous Environmental Network
Danid Barkin, Distinguished Professor, Metropolitan Autonomous University, Mexico
Jai Sen, Researcher and listserve curator
Catherine Szpunt, Occupational Therapist, BOE, USA
Fabio Luis Barbosa dos Santos, Professor, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Brasil
Hugo Ceron-Anaya, Associate Professor, Lehigh University, United States
Salvador Schavelzon, Professor, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Brasil
André Luiz de Oliveira Domingues, farm worker, DSA IC Americas, USA
Mia Yee, alumni, College of the Holy Cross
Juan Wahren, Investigador y Profesor, Universidad de Buenos Aires/ CONICET
Pablo Solón, Fundación Solón, Bolivia
Gina Vargas, Feminista, Peru
Sandra Macedo, Sociologa e artista visual, Brasil
Eduardo Erazo Acosta, Professor, University Nariño, Colombia
Judith Dellheim, Researcher, Zukunftskonvent Germany, Deutschland
Silvia Spitta, Dartmouth College, USA
Carolyn D’Cruz, La Trobe University, Australia
Dr MK Dorsey, Club of Rome, Spain
Didice Godinho Delgado, Activist, Germany
S A Hamed Hosseini, Alternative Futures Research Network, Common Alternatives, U Newcastle, Australia
Céline Veríssimo, Associate Professor, Federal University of Latin American Integration, Brazil
Nina Isabella Moeller, Associate Professor, Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University, England, UK
Kevin Bruyneel, Professor, Babson College, United States
JM Pedersen, Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University
Julien-François Gerber, researcher & teacher, Institute of Social Studies, The Netherlands
Mirella Pretell Gomero, Syracuse University
Pamela Calla, Profesor, New York University
A. Naomi Paik, Associate Professor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Carla Rodrigues, UFRJ, Brasil
Gayatri Gopinath, Professor, New York University
Teresa Armijos Burneo, Lecturer, University of East Anglia, UK
Trevor Hirsche, Instructor, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Bolivia
Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, Professor, New York University
Stefania Barca, Zennström Professor of Climate Change Leadership, Uppsala Universitet, Sweden
Éric Fassin, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, Paris 8 University (Vincennes – Saint-Denis)
Suzana Sawyer, Associate Professor, University of California, Davis
Cristina Rojas, Professor, Carleton University, Canada
Nadine Lefaucheur, CNRS Retraitée, Martinique France
Helena Hirata, Directrice de Recherche Emérito, CNRS, France
Angela Freitas, Coletivo Feminista 4D, Brasil
Dennis Altman Professor, LaTrobe University, Australia
Isabelle Stengers, Prof. emerita, Université Libre de Bruxelles
Emmanuelle Picard, Assistant Professor, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France
Valentine Olivera, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne
Picard Elodie, OpenEdition, France
Daniel Fischer, Food Not Bombs, USA
Margaret Wiener, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Ana María Goldani, Brazil LAB, Princeton University
Paola Minoia, University Lecturer, University of Helsinki, Finland
Lucas Savino, Associate Professor, Western University, Past-Chair of Ethnicity, Race and Indigenous Peoples Section (LASA)
Marco Aurelio Maximo Prado, Professor, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil
Breno Bringel, Professor, State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tristan Partridge, Research Fellow, University of California, Santa Barbara
Geoff Goodwin, London School of Economics, UK
Aida Matilde Marcillo Perugachi, Concejala del Canton Otavalo, Ecuador
Stalin Herrera, Instituto de Estudios Ecuatorianos, Ecuador
George Yudice, Professor, University of Miami
Malvika Gupta, University of Oxford, UK
Aida Luz Lopez, Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de Mexico
Enrique Leff, Senior Researcher/Professor, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Giorgos Kallis, Professor, ICTA-UAB, Spain
Mariana Walter, Phd. Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain
Angus McNelly, Queen Mary University of London, UK
Dalena Tran, Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA-UAB), Spain
Isabelle Darmon, Lecturer in Sociology and Sustainable Development, University of Edinburgh
Bárbara Sepúlveda Hales, Asociación de Abogadas Feministas, Chile
John Cavanagh, Director, Institute for Policy Studies, USA
Anna Storti, Dartmouth College, USA
Robin Broad, Professor, American University, USA
Alberto Acosta, Expresidente de la Asamblea Constituyente (2007-2008), Ecuador
Marinalva de Sousa Conserva/ Profa. Dra., Universidade Federal da Paraíba, Brasil
Maria aparecida Ramos, Assembleia Legislativa da Paraíba, Brasil
Bryan Winston, Dartmouth College, USA

Notes

[1] https://mronline.org/2021/02/10/how-ecuadors-u-s-backed-coup-supporting-ecosocialist-candidate-yaku-perez-aids-the-right-wing/
[2] https://jacobinmag.com/2021/02/ecuador-election-arauz-hervas-perez-neoliberalism
[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monthly_Review#:~:text=The%20Monthly%20Review%2C%20established%20in,magazine%20in%20the%20United%20States.
[4] https://web.archive.org/web/20190711101435/
http://idiommag.com/2011/03/no-short-cuts-interview-with-the-jacobin/
[5]There is extensive literature that examines how the period of Rafael Correa’s government as a time of impunity and human rights violations. See: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-8675.12117
[6] In 2017, CONAIE fought to get amnesty for all activists of the indigenous movement who had been prosecuted and sentenced for protesting Correa’s government and Chinese mining companies, and defending water resources. The government misused anti-terrorism laws dating from the 1970s military dictatorship to incarcerate indigenous leaders protesting extractivism. At that time, 98 individuals faced criminal prosecutions for resistance to authority, terrorism, sabotage, etc. See: https://www.planv.com.ec/historias/politica/conaie-la-lucha-la-amnistia
and https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-22656374
[7] See: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/andes-to-the-amazon/2013/oct/15/ecuador-president-misleading-yasuni
[8] Correa’s sabatinas, weekly speeches televised in different locations around the country on Saturdays, were spaces which could last up to three hours. There he presented his visions and proposals, and attacked citizens, journalists, human rights activists, academics, and environmentalists. The Media Observatory of Ecuador (OME) has counted 95 grievances against women and for sexist language in the 152 Correa’s weekly speeches between 2013 and 2016.
See: https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/05/23/planeta_futuro/1495560980_079621.html
On Saturday December 28, 2013, one of the last during Correa’s first administration, the former president criticized “gender ideology.” On the same occasion, Correa affirmed “defending the traditional family” and declared opposition to abortion “has nothing to do with the left or the right,” but are simple “moral issues.” See full video here: https://youtu.be/ODXFdqtGsyo?t=6341
[9] See: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-manuela-picq
[10] In 2013, Rafael Correa issued Executive Decree No. 16 to control NGOs and establish limitations on the independent and autonomous functioning of unions and social organizations. The decree was harshly criticized by local and international organizations. https://sobrevivientes.planv.com.ec/decreto-16-y-las-amenazas-a-las-ong/
Correa arbitrarily punished journalists who did not agree with him and actively attacked indigenous environmental activists who opposed oil and gas extraction or open-pit mining on their lands. https://rsf.org/en/news/what-future-free-speech-ecuador-after-presidential-election
https://amazonwatch.org/news/2018/0418-new-report-shines-light-on-dark-days-for-amazon-earth-defenders-in-ecuador
[11] https://oplas.org/sitio/2021/02/14/andres-kogan-valderrama-yaku-perez-y-el-fin-de-los-binarismos/
[12] https://internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article7033

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

March 1, 2021 at 5:25 pm

Memoirs of a Critical Communist. Towards a History of the Fourth International. Livio Maitan. Review.

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Memoirs of a Critical Communist. Towards a History of the Fourth International. Livio Maitan. Resistance Books/Merlin Press. 2019.

(This review appears in the latest, March-April, Chartist Magazine.).

Livio Maitan (1923 – 2004) was a leading figure in the international Trotskyist Movement who won respect and had an influence, on the wider left. Memoirs of a Critical Communist, published in Italian in 2006, his last book, is a “contribution” to the history of the Fourth International. The Italian was, with Pierre Frank, (France) and the influential economist Ernest Mandel (Belgium), a leading figure in the main branch of Trotskyism. Maitan had, the late French Marxist philosopher Daniel Bensaïd, writes in the Preface, “a sense of humour and self-irony”, a warmth and intellectual breadth, which is far from the general picture of a Trotskyist leader.

Maitan’s book  Party, Army and Masses in China (published in Italian in 1969), appeared in English in 1976. Written with an audience sympathetic to the Cultural Revolution in mind it was critical of the Chinese bureaucracy but falls far short of the robust demolition of Mao’s “sterilising totalitarianism,” by Simon Leys.

The present volume ranges much wider. It is a “history of the activities of the activities of the international leadership” of his current until his passing. Pages cover the disputes within Trotskyism during the Cold War, the anti-colonial revolutions, the 68 upheavals, the Portuguese Carnation Revolution of 1974, up to what Franco Turigliatto has called “the congress of “disillusionment” of 1995. This tried to come to terms with the fall of Communism and world-wide setbacks for the whole the left (Livio Maitan’s last book). This saw an end of hopes for democratic left-wing developments in what Trotskyists considered to be “bureaucratised transitional societies”.

Latin American Left.

Memoirs recounts Maitan’s extensive involvement with the Latin American left. The faction run by Posadas, best known today for its belief in flying saucers, but in the ‘sixties for asserting that the world revolution was now led from Latin America and Africa, was one of many to stress the importance of these countries. The guerrilla strategy of Che Guevara, who had “read, and liked Mandel’s Marxist Economic Theory”, attracted support in Bolivia, where Trotskyism had influence in the workers’ movement.

The practice of armed struggle led to intense debates across the continent, and the creation of “political-military” groups committed to armed struggle. Disputes in Argentina, where Trotskyism, continues to have an influence, took place against the background of extreme state repression, and calls for militaristic responses. The niceties of Maitan’s account, which also covers Chile and Mexico, including the row with the ‘Moreno’ tendency that continued till the 1980s, will interest specialists.

Maitan has an eye for detail. He describes the Militant leader Ted Grant carting around Marxist relics in his briefcase to quote Trotsky “chapter and verse”. Talented Rally Speaker Tariq Ali is cited as returning from a visit to  North Korea in 1971 with “fairly positive opinion” about its economic development.

The American Socialist Workers Party (no relation to the UK SWP), the oldest Trotskyist party in the world, and an influence on the celebrated list of 1930s New York Intellectuals under the impact of Jack Barnes today subordinates its politics to the Cuban state. Maitan charges them with their leader’s “authoritarian behaviour” and purging their group by accusations of “disloyalty”. He does not explore allegations of ‘cultism’ and  being “Trotskyist missionaries” common to those who have had contact with them in Europe.

Memoirs of a Critical Communist is far from the work of a cultist. If not always an easy read, even for those familiar with the personalities involved and the movements. From optimism in 1968 “during the heat of the action”, to criticism of one of Trotskyism most abiding traits, leaders “wedded to centralising tendencies and charismatic methods” Maitan emerges as a keen observer.

The willingness to engage with other radical movements, to rethink ideas in the light of experience, to try to build “a global anticapitalist movement” on a socialist basis, has been helped by activists of his calibre. For those prepared to plunge into the difficulties the left faces this book is an important reference point.

 

**********

See also: Book Review: Heroism of reason – On Livio Maitan’s “Memoirs” LÖWY Michael

This is of particular relevance to the Chartist article:

I confess that I don’t agree with my friend Daniel Bensaid’s criticism of Livio’s discussion of Latin America: “The comments about the controversies regarding the armed struggle in Latin America may appear incomplete and partial to many of us”. On the contrary, I find these pages among the most lively and interesting of the Memoirs. Livio’s draft on armed struggle, presented at the 9h World Congress provoked as he writes, “moment of highest tension and passionate interest”, both among the Latin American delegates and the others. [4] He recognizes that prioritizing rural guerrilla was a mistake, but explains that these were the views of our main organizations in the continent, in Bolivia and Argentina. There are a few very moving pages about Roberto Santucho, the main leader of the the PRT (Revolutionary Workers Party), the Argentinian section of the FI until 1973, both criticizing his wrong views – the illusion that, by leaving the FI, he would get weapons from the “Soviet comrades” – and paying homage to an intransigent revolutionary who gave his life for the cause.

…..

Taking stock of four decades since the foundation of the FI, Livio raises the difficult question: why has our movement failed to play a leading role anywhere ? Among the reasons: the destructive splits, the negative role of authoritarian, centralist, even “Bonapartist” leaders (the list of names is too long), propagandist and voluntarist attitudes, and, for some, a dogmatic approach, exclusively based on the Russian experience of 1917, and on quotes from Leon Trotsky. But the main factor was objective: the force of attraction of the USSR, China, Cuba. Castroism had a special power of attraction for the radical left, and this led to the last split, when the SWP (under the leadership of Jack Barnes) broke with the FI (in 1990), gave up Trotskyism and uncritically adopted the line of the Cuban government.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 3, 2020 at 12:01 pm