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  • Spokespersons from Venezuela

    Spokespersons from Venezuela's Community Councils and Communes participate in the first gathering of the National Communal Parliament in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 15, 2015. | Photo: @GPPSimonBolivar

What are the margins of possibilities for a post-capitalist project?

2015 has been hard for the progressive countries in Latin America. The decline in commodity prices affected them all. The reaction could be going back to the hegemony of the market or steps forward towards post-capitalism.

The main feature of a post-neoliberal phase of capitalism has been the return of the state as regulator of the economy and for the redistribution of wealth. It was not a transformation of the model of accumulation. That allowed alliances between capitalist accumulation and social concerns. It has been the era of social capitalism and green economy, but it did not change the fundamental logic of the economic system (profit maximization and ignorance of externalities). It relieved to some extent, the most painful consequences, depending from the countries. It has been achieved through economic policies (renegotiation of the foreign debt in Ecuador, for example) or through social measures (welfare state to combat poverty, but creating clients and not new social actors) and better access to public services (health, education).

The project was also to modernize a country out of the economic, social and cultural backwardness preventing it from competing in the global market and building a welfare society that places the nation at an acceptable level within the international scene. The conception of modernity implicitly and uncritically adopted the idea of ​​linear progress on an inexhaustible planet, transmitted by the logic of capitalism, as the Ecuadorean philosopher Bolivar Echevarria demonstrated. It is also what happened to the European and Asian socialist countries.

The new or modern capitalism (post-neoliberal) accepts the fight against poverty, because it creates more consumption, which at medium and long time favors the market. It is in favor of formal employment and social welfare, because it stabilizes the labor force. It does not mind paying more taxes if the state ensures a sufficient degree of political stability, which enables a safe process of profits. These are reasonable expenses to ensure the reproduction of the system of capital accumulation. In addition, modern capitalism distances itself from the traditional oligarchic capitalism and some of its protagonists are part of the new political systems. Others are part of the opposition, when they think that the post-neoliberal project does not ensure a sufficient rate of profit. Much also depends on the links with foreign monopoly capital. However, in a crisis of accumulation, social achievements are the first victims (Brazil).

In Venezuela, oil revenues that had destroyed the productive system and the culture of the country, was reoriented to finance programs of social justice. In Argentina, soy monocultures are the expression of the link between the local and the international capital. Brazil's forest code is written in favor of "modern agriculture," i.e. monocultures (soybean, palm, cane). In Bolivia an agreement has been signed, linking the government with the land owners in the so-called Crescent, to extend the agricultural frontier at the expense of the Amazon rainforest. In Ecuador, the “new production model,” promotes monoculture export despite its environmental and social consequences. In Nicaragua, the traditional agrarian capital becomes modern and enters the new areas of accumulation (international trade, canal project, etc.).

At the same time, oil, gas, mining, evolved as sources of funding for social policy, but also part of the global “extractivism” (capitalist form of extraction) and give new space to multinational corporations. The financial sector, supermarkets, communications, brokers with new investors (China, Qatar, Saudi Arabia), know high rates of profit. The relative de-industrialization, even in a country like Brazil, is the result of "reprimerización" – the return to raw material producers – of Latin American economies, imposed by capitalism as a world system and supported by international financial institutions

The return of the State in several sectors of the “commons” meant, of course, important public inversions: infrastructure (Ecuador), education and health (all countries), fight against poverty with compensatory measures (Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia), widening of welfare system, etc. These achievements explain the existence of a real (but fragile) political support for leaders and parties. Since it was a matter of modernizing a society, the initiative came essentially from the political power, that for reasons of efficiency, had to be centralized, giving the executive a privileged place, leaving little room for participation and transforming communication in an explanation of what has been done.

Values ​​of excellence and competition prevailed, also in the reform of the educational system (in Ecuador: millennium schools and super-universities. Peasant and indigenous family agriculture were marginalized, because of low productivity (in all countries). Despite open constitutions, multiculturalism and multi-nationality have little space. The middle class has seen a significant increase (representing between 30 percent and 50 percent of the population, depending on the countries), but its consumption strongly influences the trade balance.

In Latin America there are several versions of this model. In Brazil, Lula, a steelworker unionist, has always had two key values: efficiency and social justice. The effectiveness in the economic domain is modern capitalism and justice, redistribution (successfully) of a portion of the social product to the poorest. In Ecuador, the new production model, which rightly, encourage domestic production and reduce exports, gradually replaces the initial concept of "good living" (sumak kawsay).

With the crisis affecting the whole of the continent, we are witnessing a depletion of the post-neoliberal models. This is what President Dilma Rousseff said in her speech at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. In Brazil it clearly meant a return to policies that satisfy the markets. The danger of an evolution of the same type exist for the other countries of pos-neoliberal Latin America , i.e. Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. In the latter, the existence of significant reserves (because there has been less investment) could slow down the process. The same applies to Nicaragua. The example of Greece shows that within a logic that has not left the model of capitalist accumulation, there are not many alternatives to austerity policies that make the most vulnerable pay the effects of the financial and economic crisis and enable capital to resume a cycle of accumulation, in particular through the contributions of foreign investment and new loans. This is not to deny the achievements of the post-neoliberal countries, nor ignore their limits and contradictions, but to know how they will react to a global crisis affecting the project: back to neoliberalism or start transitions towards post-capitalism? Finally, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves what are the margins of possibilities for a post-capitalist project?

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