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LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES: SPECIAL ISSUE

Social movements, state power and strategy: the challenges of organizing under progressive
governments

Issue Editors: Ronaldo Munck, Marieke Riethof, Kyla Sankey

The overall objective of this special issue of Latin American Perspectives is to critically explore
the role of social movements under the progressive governments in Latin America, with a focus
on their strategies of mobilization, organization and coordination under a changing political
climate. The imposition of free market policies in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s not only
transformed the entire social structures of these societies, but also provided the catalyst for a new
cycle of anti-neoliberal social struggles. While these movements often began as a series of
spontaneous struggles, the agenda soon moved on from how to mobilize against the social havoc
wrought by neoliberalism to engaging with the dynamics of state power. When, in very diverse
contexts, these protests eventually paved the way for progressive governments to assume office
after 2000 the question then became one of how the social movements would strategize and
organize when left wing political parties hold power.

The initial reaction from the left to this new conjuncture was euphoric. In the array of social
forums, constitutional assemblies, community councils and other practices of participatory
democracy, the energies of the left gathered around the hope that another world is possible.
Yet today it is increasingly apparent that the energies that initially greeted the rise of leftist
presidencies was not sustained. As Atilio Born observes: there is no doubt that the great
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momentum of social struggles and progressive forces that shook the entire region at the end of
the last century has waned (2016). Why this turn in the tide and where does it leave the left in
Latin America?

To answer this question, we might take heed of the warning by Nicos Poulantzas back in the
1980s that even reformist programs cannot be carried through to fruition simply through the
capture of political power. The integrated and intransigent nature of the capitalist state will end
up blocking all attempts at systemic change. Any project for change- whether reformist or more
full-blown societal transformation- must realize the need for the mobilization and unification of
social forces for carrying out its program. This issue thus invites contributions examining in
closer detail the strategies of the left under progressive governments in order to better understand
the current situation in Latin America.

Since the 1980s, social research in this area has been largely influenced by varieties of social
movement theory. Against the background of the collapse of the former revolutionary
organizations, together with the decline of traditional workers movements, this emphasized the
emergence of new forms of social activation, assumed to have moved away from class-based to
identity issues, and no longer organized in traditional political parties or associations. Yet closer
examination of todays so-called identity movements might paint a more complex picture,
suggesting some of the most significant struggles of recent times have taken place precisely at
the intersection of class and identity, of social movements and class-based organizations.
Ecuadors CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), for example, argues
that recognition of indigenous identity in the plurinational state must come hand in hand with
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radical land reform. This special issue thus welcomes studies that explore the intertwined
dynamics of class and identity for such movements as they respond to changing conditions.

A further question we seek to address in this issue is that of political strategy. Inspired by neoanarchist and often anti-political thinking, social movements adherents tended to show a strong
suspicion of traditional parties and political vanguards, often rejecting the struggle for state
power on principle. Instead, emphasis is placed on micro-political process: the principles of
democracy, autonomy and spontaneity and alternative communal practices, as epitomized in the
the Zapatistas new way of doing politics. Yet such analysis is ill-equipped for understanding
the dynamics of organization building and the role of political projects, or the interactions
between institutional and extra-institutional spaces when the left holds office. In this vein,
George Ciccariello-Maher has proposed a framework for analysis of the interactions between
movements and state power based on the distinction between constituent moments, defined as
sudden and explosive rebellions from below, and constitutional processes which
occasionally propel the energy of such moments toward the reconstruction of the institutional
structure. (2013, 127). Thus in Venezuela we might emphasize the changing dynamics of the
radical left in the current era, which has moved away from vanguardism towards an embrace of
more participatory and directly democratic governing structures. Under Chavez we might argue
spaces were opened to allow movements to push for broader transformations while he negotiated
the electoral dimensions. This issue seeks to address the various pathways and complexities of
what the Latin American left often refers to as articulation and political formation of social
forces as they seek to organize and build together, and the challenges and contradictions of
engaging with state power.
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Finally, this issue aims to take a closer look at the various political programs offering alternatives
to capitalism. Of these one of the most salient is the notion of vivir bien, which has emerged with
force at the levels of both movements and the state since the election of Correa in Ecuador and
Morales in Bolivia. Aimed at building an alternative model to capitalism based on the principles
complementarity, equilibrium and community, vivir bien became a central feature of struggles
against the destruction of ecosystems and public services under neoliberalism. Yet further
interrogation has led commentators to point towards the disparity between the radically
transformative potential of the notion as it has emerged in some struggles and the more
acceptable use of the notion by the state and other institutes like the World Bank. Pablo Soln
(2016) argues that transformations took place more in symbolic terms of recognition of the
Andean indigenous peoples than in points of inflection for the capitalist developmentalist model
that still exists under the so-called plural economy. The question of how radical programs
have been translated into state policy, whether they have been strengthened or weakened will be
explored in this issue.

We invite manuscripts focused on individual movements, progressive governments, specific


policies and programs. Papers may deal with the following or related topics amongst others:

What strategies and tactics have social movements adopted since the rise to power of left
wing governments? Which of these strategies, if any, may be considered new?

How have social movements responded to various conjunctures of the left in power? Have
they continued to mobilize and organize, or have they been diffused? In particular, what have
been the strategic responses of movements in the face of pro-market policies and alliances
with the right from left wing governments?

Have movements been strengthened or weakened with the left in power? How have their
demands and aims evolved?

What is the social base of these movements? What has been the role of various groups
including unions, peasants, indigenous and student movements? What complexities and
contradictions exist within and between these groups and how have they evolved under left
wing governments?

What alliances have been formed, and what contradictions or complexities exist in these
relations?

What has been the impact of the appointment of activists to state positions? How has this
changed both the social composition of the state as well as the unity and militancy of
movements?

How have radical agendas such as buen vivir and 21st century socialism fared in the hands of
governments? Is there a crisis of credibility for these notions amongst the social movements?

Have there been transformations in popular consciousness or political culture? Alternatively,


how has the increased consumption capacity of many sectors of popular classes following
social policies affected political ideologies and behaviours?

What is the role of political leadership in left political projects? What has been its genesis
and how has it related to the movements?

How do these experiences contribute to our understanding of the paths to socialism in


todays world, and what can they teach us about the contemporary relevance of the
opposition reform or revolution?

SUBMITTING MANUSCRIPTS
To avoid duplication of content, please contact the issue editors to let them know of your interest
in submitting and your proposed topic. We encourage submission as soon as possible but this
call will remain open as long as it is posted on the LAP web site.
Manuscripts should be no longer than 8,000 words of double-spaced 12 point text, including
notes and references, and should be paginated. The manuscript should include an abstract of no
more than 100 words and 5 key words. Include a separate cover sheet with author identification,
basic biographical and contact information, including e-mail and postal addresses. Please follow
the LAP style guide which is available at www.latinamericanperspectives.com under the
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Submissions tab. Please use the About tab for the LAP Mission Statement and details about
the manuscript review process.
Manuscripts may be submitted in English, Spanish, or Portuguese. If submitting in Spanish or
Portuguese, please indicate if you will have difficulty reading correspondence from the LAP
office in English. LAP will translate accepted manuscripts submitted in Spanish and
Portuguese. If you do not write in English with near native fluency, please submit in your first
language.
All manuscripts should be original work that has not been published in English and that is not
being submitted to or considered for publication in English elsewhere in identical or similar
form.
Please feel free to contact the Issue Editor with questions pertaining to the issue but be
sure that manuscripts are sent to the LAP office by e-mail to:
lap@ucr.edu with the subject line Your name MS for Social Movement Issue
In addition to electronic submission (e-mail, or CD-R or floppy disk if unable to send by e-mail)
if possible submit two print copies including a cover sheet and basic biographical and contact
information to:
Managing Editor, Latin American Perspectives P.O. Box 5703, Riverside, California
92517-5703
Editor contact information:
Ronaldo Munck (Ronnie.munck@dcu.ie)