Emir Sader: The Post-Neoliberal Challenge

Saturday 23 January 2010 by CEPRID

Carlos Rivera Lugo


With the passing of a year and the coming of another, it’s time to look at the balance sheet and define the prospects. Who can help us do so better than Brazilian sociologist and political scientist Emir Sader, one of the best-known critical thinkers in our America today? Sader is currently executive secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO). During his visit to Puerto Rico in late December, he fraternally agreed to share, with the readers of Claridad, his points of view on the current character of the process of changes that has been unfolding in our region over the last decade.

The new century has been characterized by the return of hope in our America. There has been a dramatic change vis-à-vis what had gone on, at least, for the previous two or three decades. Sader warns that, even so, we are still in the turbulent and contradictory times marked by two great regressive elements: the shift from a model of the regulatory state of the Keynesian type to a neoliberal model; and the shift from a bipolar world to a unipolar world, under the imperial hegemony of the United States and the absence of a significant force, since socialism, that represents an alternative or opposition. This retreat of the idea of socialism had several terrible consequences, since it weakened, among ourselves, the collective solutions and organized forces for them. A new collective experience, the World Social Forum, is limited to proposing what it calls an "another possible world" of an anti-neoliberal style. The correlation of forces in Latin America changed significantly and the region was transformed into something like the "rein of neoliberalism" with a series of governments adhering to a new model of capitalist accumulation. Nevertheless, contradictions inherent to these processes did not allow Washington to preserve its hegemony easily for long. Rather, the said hegemony is weakening itself, without however an alternative bloc of forces appearing on the immediate horizon to supplant it.

The status quo, having prematurely exhausted itself, still insists on surviving in the absence of strategically viable alternatives. Therein originates, according to Sader, a long period of instability and turbulence determined by the US imperial decline, as well as the decline of the increasingly contested neoliberal model itself. And even despite the blows that neoliberalism has suffered, the market economy is intent on surviving. In the end, a historically determined model and hegemony has run its course, and there remains the possibility as well as challenge of constructing not only a new hegemonic bloc and a new economic model but also a new mode of sociability which can replace the "American way of life."

It is for that reason that, for Sader, the construction of a new hegemonic bloc of power of the post-neoliberal character must be on the horizon. This solution, which he characterizes as hybrid, allows for de-commodification of contemporary Latin American societies. "To democratize is to decommodify" in the current context, to go beyond the sphere of the market, a sphere proper to the neoliberal model, toward the public sphere, in order to gradually advance into the post-capitalist direction till arriving at socialism. For him, socialism is a great public sphere which establishes us all as citizens and subjects of rights, thus overcoming the condition of mere consumers to which the market seeks to reduce us.

The bloc of countries that best represents this possibility of decommodification of democracy finds its nucleus in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America, better known as ALBA. This is characterized by the promotion of processes of social and economic integration and cooperation outside the capitalist laws of the market. Another group of countries, like, for example, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, have only suggested "embryonically" post-neoliberal policies and positions, that is, versions of neoliberalism lite. Nonetheless, Sader insists that the two groups of countries are complementary to each other and strengthen each other in their coexistence. For him, any attempt to divide the leaders of these countries between a "good Left" and a "bad Left" — as has been done by analysts in service of Washington — is mistaken. The category of "post-neoliberal" gathers together diverse degrees of negation of the neoliberal model, as expression of the hybrid constellation of forces and alliances that make possible several independent processes of regional integration today.

Sader emphasizes that, given the growing isolation of the United States, the situation in our America is very much favorable. There has come a turn as a result of the fact that our region was one of the biggest losers under the neoliberal model. The legitimacy of that model was always a function of external interests and expectations, largely concentrated in the economies of great powers, such as the United States and Europe. Hence the rapidity with which it was delegitimized among us.

The quantity of progressive governments which have emerged as a result has made Latin America the weakest link of the neoliberal chain. It is in Latin America where neoliberalism has met greatest resistances, from the Caracazo in Venezuela, the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, to the World Social Forum sponsored by Brazil, whose protagonists have been fundamentally new political subjects: social movements. For Sader, the process thus began as defense, as resistances, and then proceeded, beginning with the election of Hugo Chávez in 1999, to a contest for hegemony. Indeed, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador constitute countries where neoliberalism had patently failed, sowing the most rampant inequality and exclusion.

However, warns the Brazilian intellectual, social movements that have not been able to transcend the first stage of resistance to a higher stage of construction of a new hegemony have lagged behind. This has been, for example, unfortunately the case with Argentinean piqueteros. In contrast, in the case of Bolivia and Ecuador, social movements have been able to move from resistance to a contest for hegemony through the elections of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa respectively and the beginning, in both cases, of the processes of constitutional re-foundation and transformation of the economic model. The state has thus been turned into a fundamental space for a contest for hegemony between public and commercial interests.

In conclusion, in his recent work (Posneoliberalismo en América Latina [Post-Neoliberalism in Latin America], Buenos Aires: CLACSO, 2008), Sader defines post-neoliberalism as "the path of negation of capitalism in its neoliberal phase, which commodifies everything, in which everything has its price, all are sold and bought." To the contrary, post-neoliberalism "affirms rights, values, public sphere, citizenship, and therein lies the fundamental contest of our time, in which Latin America is the most important scene, the weakest link of the neoliberal chain."

Carlos Rivera Lugo is Professor of Law at the Eugenio María de Hostos School of Law in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. He is also a member of the Claridad editorial collective. The original article "Emir Sader: El reto posneoliberal" was published by Claridad on 13 January 2010 under a Creative Commons license. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

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