After the revolution: lessons from Latin America

What would a socialist revolution be like? Socialist Alternative has a view

If socialism is not Stalinism, it is also much more than a nationalised economy and a few more publicly run services. When we argue that another world is possible, we mean a world free of the class divisions and inequality of capitalism; a world in which all resources are directed towards enriching and bettering society and where production is determined by what the mass of workers want and need, rather than what will make profits for a tiny minority of CEOs and bosses as it is today.

Two interesting books shed light on the feasibility of these vision. One is Stefan de Vylder’s Allende’s Chile from 1976. Once the fate of the Popular Unity government in Chile overthrown in a military coup in 1973 was a topic of constant preoccupation on the left. Enrico Berlinguer famously cited the Chilean experience as justification for the Italian Communist Party’s ill-fated pursuit of a historic compromise with Christian Democracy. Popular Unit was a coalition between the Communists and Socialists with a few other minor left parties. The Communists made up the right of the coalition and presented popular Unity as an anti-monopoly alliance. The Socialists were an exceptionally diverse party but their majority current was to the left of the Communists and presented Popular Unity as the commencement of a transition to socialism. President Allende’s position was intermediate between them.

The impression from Vydler is that the macroeconomic policy of the Allende government was largely misguided although there were good political reasons for this. The Chilean working class was a small portion of the population although it was strong in its support for Popular Unity. The government needed to broaden its base of support. It undertook a massively expansionary budgetary policy and increased wages. The result was a short-lived economic upsurge that soon ebbed due to supply constraints, the  Chilean economy was simply unable to rapidly increase production. Inflation and shortages alienated the middle-strata. The state enterprise sector grew rapidly but it was largely unprofitable.  Workers’ consumption was financed at the expense of investment that would have required to transform the economy. Revolutionary Marxist analyses of Chile ignore the UP’s economic policy. Vydler notes that the UP took over existing economic regulatory devices and tried to turn them towards left causes. Yet even if the UP program has been implemented most of the working-class would have been outside of the socialist sector. In some aspects a new inequality would have emerged between state employees, particularly concentrated in urban areas, and the rural working-class population. Left-wing third world regimes often adopted policies that privileged urban workers in secure employment at the expense of the peasantry Nicaragua was an example.

Could we draw parallels with the Australian left? Certainly the advocacy of budgetary expansion and a disregard for financial constraints has been a common theme on the Marxist left and Australian left confirms to the pattern identified by Griffith-Jones. More generally much of the Australian left tied its fate to the defence of the structures of economic regulation that existed in the 1980s and aspired to turn them towards progressive goals. When these collapsed they were without an alternative.

Kelley & Klein’s Revolution and the Rebirth of Inequality from 1981 is a study of the consequences of the Bolivian National Revolution of 1952. Long before Evo Morales Bolivia was the location of one of the most significant social revolutions of the 20th century. An insurrection by the working-class urban left sparked off a peasant rising that destroyed the classically feudal social order in the countryside. Here land ownership was concerted in small elite who extracted labour taxes from peasants and even subjected peasants to corporal punishment. Such a social order might seem unimaginable in Australia but something similar existed in the Northern Territory up to the 1960s. The MNR itself was an interesting organisation that had included elements who regarded European fascism as a role model. Interesting that the urban left was initially not supportive of the peasant revolution. Subsequent hyperinflation destroyed assets of the wealthy. It might seem that a revolution is necessarily an equalising process, but Kelley argues that by dispossessing the old ruling elite the revolution actually increased inequality in the long-run. The peasantry entered a market economy and this encouraged inequality, even although all benefitted by the revolution. Human capital became more significant education and talent counted for more. The authors also cite other research that suggests that although fully socialist revolutions delay the re-emergence of inequality they are not successful in the long run. Revolutions they argue cannot fulfill their egalitarian promise in the long term. In contemporary Australia inequalities in human capital are more important than inequalities of physical capital ownership. Consider also the consequences of Aboriginal emancipation the overthrow of feudalism in the Northern Territory (which it what it was not withstanding right-wing nostalgia) liberated the indigenous population but led to increased social differentiation within the Aboriginal population.




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