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Arguments About the Left Turns in Latin America: A Post-Liberal Politics?



This article proposes a conceptual framework to discuss the left and left turns in Latin American politics. It then proceeds to argue that winning elections—the recurrent criterion for these turns—might generate tremendous enthusiasm but is also a restrictive benchmark. Other indicators I discuss here include the left’s agenda-setting capacity, its redefinition of the political and ideological center, and its incipient challenge of the liberal setting of politics as actors experiment with post-liberal arrangements.
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Arguments about the left turn(s) in Latin America: a post-liberal politics? 1
Benjamin Arditi
This article proposes a conceptual framework to discuss the left and left turns in Latin
American politics. It then proceeds to argue that winning elections —the recurrent criterion
for these turns— might generate tremendous enthusiasm but is also a restrictive benchmark.
Other indicators I discuss here include the Left’s agenda-setting capacity, its redefinition of
the political and ideological center and its incipient challenge of the liberal setting of
politics as actors experiment with post-liberal arrangements.
What makes the left turns leftist?
Let me begin by stating the obvious: there has been a shift to the left in Latin American
politics, if only because the political landscape is now populated by the likes of Hugo Chávez,
Evo Morales, Cristina Kirchner, Tabaré Vásquez, Lula da Silva, Daniel Ortega, Rafael Correa
and Fernando Lugo instead of Alberto Fujimori, Carlos Menem, Carlos Andrés Pérez and
Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. It is also commonplace to speak of the elusiveness of the
signifier left. Understanding what the term stands for has become more difficult ever since
mainstream socialist and left-of-center organizations started to adopt a market-friendly outlook
and to phase out the language of class warfare, national liberation, internationalism, strict
Westphalian sovereignty, state ownership, and so on. The irony is that both claims are true,
but they cannot be true together without forcing a performative contradiction. For how can we
speak of a turn to the left if we are unsure about what counts as the left?
One way to circumvent this difficulty is to say that it worries academics more than leftist
parties and movements. The latter will go on with their business without pondering much
about what the label entails, particularly because the left-right spectrum does not seem to play
a significant role in the making of political identities among the citizenry. This might be the
case, but the time and effort that political warriors have spent shoring up their progressive
credentials and lambasting the right suggests that the question might not be irrelevant for
them, either. Besides, even if the term left (or right) has lost much of its political purchase
among voters, the fact that we continue to use it is significant in itself. This is reminiscent of
something Worsley once said about populism: “since the word has been used, the existence of
verbal smoke might well indicate a fire somewhere” (Worsley 1969: 219).
1 Forthcoming, Latin American Research Review (LARR) 43: 3, 2008. An earlier version was presented at the Peter
Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 24-27 May 2007, as part of the
project “Left Turns? Progressive Parties, Insurgent Movements, and Policy Alternatives in Latin America”
coordinated by Jon Beasley-Murray, Maxwell Cameron and Eric Hershberg of Simon Fraser University and UBC
( I thank the discussant, Tanya Korovkin, and the participants for their
observations. I also wish to thank Francisco Panizza and three anonymous reviewers of LARR for their detailed
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Another option is to make the meaning of the left dependent on the evocative force of the
term, which is what the bulk of academics, journalists, and politicians do anyway when they
speak of left turns. A series of policies, gestures, speech patterns, and friendships prevalent in
a group or in the practices of its visible leaders appear as leftist because, at some point, they
have been classified as such. Although this makes things easier, the fact that the referents are
far from unequivocal can create all sorts of difficulties. The anti-imperialism and concomitant
defense of sovereignty and nonintervention that once dominated the left’s imaginary is
waning. We used to associate anti-imperialism with resistance to U.S. interventionism,
whether as a principled defense of the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions or as the demand of
self-determination from Guatemalans and Chileans after the election of Jacobo Arbenz and
Salvador Allende. It also meant opposition to capitalism, particularly in the context of the
Leninist characterization of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. However, as
Lomnitz put it, in light of the changes in Latin America’s position in the international
economy, today’s “anti-imperialism is not anti-capitalism so much as a politics of
reconfiguration of regional blocks” (Lomnitz 2006). Also, the idea of sovereignty in the strong
Westphalian sense is languishing. One reason for this is that global processes prevent the
nation-state from being the sole —and often even the main— locus of decisions affecting the
polity. Another is that self-determination clashes with another regulative idea that became part
of the discourse of the Latin American left after the difficult years of the 1970s: the
acknowledgement that hiding behind nonintervention can function as a ruse to justify the
worst governmental excesses in matters of human and other rights.
A third possibility is to use typologies; these can be helpful in classifying the left turns by
providing us with an image of thought to reduce complexity and to organize the field of
experience. An example of a felicitous typology is Beck’s distinction among globalism,
globality, and globalization. These terms designate the neoliberal ideology that reduces
globalization to free markets and financial flows, the experience of living in a world where the
decline of closed spaces has been happening for a long time, and the processes of
interpenetration of national states as a result of the operation of transnational actors and the
supranational condition of contemporary politics, correspondingly (Beck 2000: 9 ff.). This
allows us to understand how one can endorse something like a politics of globalization while
resisting globalism. Castañeda’s distinction between good and bad left is an illustration of a
more contentious typology. He defines the left as “that current of thought, politics, and policy
that stresses social improvements over macroeconomic orthodoxy, egalitarian distribution of
wealth over its creation, sovereignty over international cooperation, democracy (at least when
in opposition, if not necessarily once in power) over governmental effectiveness” (Castañeda
2006: 32). The binarism of this definition foreshadows the one at work in his typology.
Castañeda pits the right, modern, democratic, accountable, sensible, and market-friendly left
—which is virtually a clone of the one governing in Chile— against the wrong, populist,
authoritarian, corrupt, state-centered, and irresponsible one of Chávez, Morales, Andrés
Manuel López Obrador, Ollanta Humala, Néstor Kirchner, and now presumably his wife,
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The political intent of this normative distinction between right
and wrong left is to provide a guiding criterion for the foreign policy of the United States and
like-minded governments toward left-of-center coalitions in the region: don’t pick up fights
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that are not worth fighting, offer incentives to those who move closer to the proper left, and
contain those who refuse to give up their wrong ways.
Some might find it useful to modify and improve Castañeda’s distinction by redefining who or
what counts as the right and wrong left or by adding shades of gray and expanding the number of
lefts to three, four, or more. I see little scholarly advantage in doing so, given that it leaves the
motive of the distinction untouched, namely, the intent of sorting leftist governments according to
their commitment to electoral democracy and a certain synchronicity with the images of
rationality and modernity derived from the Washington consensus. This circumscribes the left to
a liberal perspective, which is nothing to frown about except for the fact that it makes the
qualifier left superfluous.
Specifying the political left
All this tells us that we need to say something about what the left stands for if we want to discuss
the left turns. For this I propose two overlapping sets of criteria. One provides us with a minimal
conceptual grid to frame the term: the left aims to change the status quo, it is the torchbearer of
equality and solidarity, and what passes for either of these is verified through polemics. These are
criteria of theoretical reason that highlight the context dependency of the signifier left; they avoid
pegging it to this or that project of change and/or representation of equality and solidarity by
leaving the actual filling of change, equality, and so on, to the polemics among political players
themselves. The other set of criteria focuses on the praxis of left groupings and constitutes a
supplement of practical reason: the identity of these political groupings shifts in accordance with
the hits and misses of their projects, their changing adversaries, and the representations they
make of themselves.
Criteria of theoretical reason
I begin with the conceptual grid. First, the left turns have to do with the political left as it
manifests itself through speech and action in concert in the public sphere, whether in government
or in opposition, through its political parties or through other types of organizations. Some may
want to include the academic left of people like us, who make a living by teaching and preaching
about progressive values and ideas, or even the broadly defined cultural left, whose work,
identity, and lifestyle is broadly considered part of the left because of a shared taste in music,
films, literature, or newspapers (Rabotnikof 2004). This is understandable given that, in Latin
America teachers, writers, and artists often join political movements and intervene in very public
polemics on current affairs, so the frontiers between the various lefts are fluid. But to include
them we need to add a proviso: the cultural and the academic left start to count as political only
when they match their normative preference for progressive values and proposals with an
existential investment. The latter consists of taking a public stand in controversies and/or working
for the advancement of a political group and its projects with the intention of changing the world.
There are many ways to understand what it means to change the world and how different another
world must be before we can call it “other”, but at least we can agree that the motivation to do so
has to do with the acknowledgment that the one we live in has too many injustices. Hence the
second criterion: the left is the torchbearer of the Cinderella values of the French Revolution,
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equality and solidarity (which replaces the gender-specific original, fraternity). This is a crucial
difference with liberals, who took individual freedom as their driving force and remained
relatively indifferent to the systemic inequalities of capitalist accumulation while accepting a
trade-off between market individualism and solidarity. The left considers liberty to be part of its
heritage but believes that without equity it is precarious; like Rousseau, it sees in inequality the
seeds of dependency and subordination that will eventually make a travesty of freedom. This is
why the left gathers those who seek to improve on existing thresholds of egalitarianism and
solidarity through critical thought and collective action. It makes normative claims about the
desirability of greater social justice and of open discussion of public affairs. It is not particularly
relevant whether this pursuit is channeled through mainstream institutions of liberal democratic
states —parties, legislatures, and executive branches of government— or through other sites of
intervention that are starting to demarcate a post-liberal setting for politics (more on this in the
final section). Echoing Karl Marx, all this happens in circumstances that are not of the left’s
choosing and within the constraints imposed by the strategic relationships with others, the
available resources, and a particular time frame.
There is, of course, no hard referent or authoritative judge to determine what counts as
equality, solidarity, or participation in critical debates, or how the various strands of the left
conceive and combine each of these elements, or what kind of tension between them they are
willing to tolerate. All we have is a plethora of singular cases. This is where the third criterion
enters the scene: equality, solidarity, and participation are operators of difference imprinted in
the cultural and affective jurisprudence of the left but have no relevant political existence
outside efforts to singularize them in cases. Disagreement or polemics aim to sort out whether
—and to what extent— these operators actually make a difference or are just hot air, deceit, or
convenient tags to appease someone’s constituency. I use disagreement in the sense given to
this term by Rancière. For him, it is not so much the case of one interlocutor saying “white”
and another “black” than it is a speech situation in which both say “white” but have a different
understanding of whiteness (Rancière 1998: x; see also Rancière 2004). This is why for him
disagreement designates a polemic about what one is talking about, an acknowledgment that
the truth of the matter —of any matter— cannot be settled without argumentation and that all
we have is cases with which we test the universality of principles or values (for more on this,
see Arditi 2007a: 111-118). Disagreement occurs within the coordinates of a given horizon of
possibilities, contending forces, and alternative projects and policies. This creates a scenario of
continual verification in which the contingency of what passes for the left enters into the
equation and therefore reinforces the claim that there is no such thing as a unitary left and that
left politics is largely context dependent.
Criteria of practical reason
Now we can turn our attention to what I described earlier as a supplement of practical reason. It is
that the Latin American left, whether as a concept, an identity, or a set of practices inventoried
under that name, has been continually shaped by three sets of interlocking factors. One is the
historical experience resulting from the hits and misses or the successes and (mostly) defeats of
the past half century or so. Another is the strategic relationship with a changing outside, be this
the oligarchy, the forces of imperialism, military rule, or electoral and everyday adversarial
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politics with other groups in liberal democratic settings. The third factor is the manifold
representations of the left in manifestos, pamphlets, and theoretical writings that try to make
sense of the other two and address the classical questions of who we are and what we are fighting
These elements are interwoven in the itinerary that goes from insurrectional to electoral politics
and from popular fronts to broad-based coalitions, as well as in the post-liberal angle of left
politics. If the 1960s were the glory days when the enthusiasm generated by the Cuban
Revolution and Che Guevara’s guerrilla experience in Bolivia boded well for the socialist shape
of the future, the 1970s and a good deal of the 1980s are the lost decades for the left. After some
initial success in Chile with the election of Salvador Allende in 1970, a string of right-wing coups
and the concomitant militarization of state responses to popular protests marked a period of
political defeat, persecution, exile, and demobilization. The unexpected effect of this defeat is
that it prompted a significant number of political groups either to reassess their misgivings about
electoral democracy or to broaden their appeal beyond workers and the peasantry. The academic
and partisan literature addressing this reassessment is copious, and the left matched its cognitive
shift with a decisive drive to get rid of military governments and to construct or reconstruct
democratic regimes. The new enemy was not so much the ruling classes or imperialism but
authoritarian rulers, and the tacit agreement was that property relations would not be touched in a
transition, all of which explains why the socialist agenda was either downplayed or deferred.
Eventually the tide turned toward multiparty democracy. This is partly because of the efforts of
anti-authoritarian forces but also because, by the mid-1980s, repressive regimes were facing
growing isolation and opprobrium: anticommunism was virtually bankrupt as an ideological
currency to justify the brutality of governments or to obtain support from the United States and
the tacit acquiescence of the international community. The wave of transitions stretches from the
election of Jaime Roldós in Ecuador in 1979 to the defeat of the Partido Revolucionario
Institucional (PRI) in Mexico in 2000.
However, the conservative revolution spearheaded by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in
the 1980s outflanked the left by championing ideas and policies that eventually became an article
of faith among multilateral organizations and an index of what sound economic practice was
about. By the time the Washington consensus had become the unofficial blueprint for economic
reforms —and liberalization, deregulation, free trade, and privatization of state enterprises the
familiar words of order of the 1980s and 1990s— most in the parliamentarian left were already
coming to terms with the need to adjust social policies to monetary stability and fiscal discipline.
Trust in the state as the gatekeeper of sovereignty through its ownership of natural resources,
industries, and services was undermined by the drive to court foreign direct investment and
expand international trade. Neoliberalism served as shorthand for the corpus of ideas behind
these reforms. Perhaps the only significant blip in this imaginary of markets (and elections) is the
emergence of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, in 1994, the same day that the North American
Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was born. They promoted four themes that are now part of
the left’s political agenda: the dignity and empowerment of indigenous people, the critique of
neoliberal policies, the discussion of alternatives to electoral democracy, and the call to reenact
internationalism and solidarity on a planetary scale.
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Things did not go as planned for advocates of neoliberal policies, either. By the mid-1990s, the
certainties of the navigational map charted by the Washington consensus were being reassessed
as the unfulfilled promises of empowerment and material well-being piled up. All governments
faced the destabilizing mix of modest growth with strong inequality and electoral politics with
widespread social protests. Multilateral institutions that consistently downplayed claims that
things might be going wrong began to acknowledge the need to factor in the social dimension
into the economic matrix and thus ease the pressure on governments to reduce public debt at all
costs. In countries like Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru, the remesas sent
back by migrants who found their way into the United States or Europe to work mostly as
indocumentados have become a lifeline for their economies. Virtually everywhere —including
Chile, the showcase of market-driven economic growth in the region— the excluded express their
disaffection and real anger in the ballot box and in the streets. Protesters include the piqueteros
and middle-class victims of the corralito in Argentina, cocaleros in Bolivia, sem terra in Brazil,
students and Mapuches in Chile, and impoverished peasants in Paraguay. The fall of President
Fernando de la Rúa in Argentina in December 2001 is the iconic moment of this backlash against
politics and politicians associated with the failures of neoliberal adjustment policies, encapsulated
in the chant, “Que se vayan todos, que no quede ni uno solo” (“All of them must go, not a single
one can stay”).2 It is not by chance that the Latin American Studies Association chose to discuss
what comes after the Washington consensus as the general theme for its scholarly meeting of
“Que se vayan todos” was significant for another reason too, one that exceeds the boundaries of
Argentine politics. As is well known in Argentina, the discontented middle classes, unionists, and
the bulk of the piqueteros and asambleistas that had vilified the political class in 2001 began to
address demands to the state and eventually participated in the general elections of 2003. One
interpretation of this change of heart is that the chant was not meant as a rejection of political
representation or as the celebration of the multitude in action. It was instead a more conventional
j’accuse directed to a political class that failed to do something about the misery resulting from
the privatization and adjustment policies of the 1990s. There is an element of truth in this, but it
overlooks the fact that “Que se vayan todos” also expressed the enthusiasm for another way of
doing politics. Many of those coming together in the protests, assemblies, and neighborhood
meetings of 2001 were motivated by the belief that there was something fundamentally wrong
with representation and that it was worth experimenting with alternatives like cabildos abiertos,
exodus, multitude, self-government, recall, and so on. A similar experimentation took place in the
Guerra del Agua in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2000, the resistance of Atenco to the construction of
the new international airport of Mexico City in 2002 or the Guerra del Gas in Bolivia in 2002-
2003. There is a long et cetera of cases like these. What is noteworthy is that in all of them, the
resistance to neoliberalism converges with efforts to move beyond the liberal framework of
participation. “Que se vayan todos” functions as shorthand for this convergence, as a symptom of
2 Beasley-Murray locates the turning point earlier than the mid 1990s. For him the Venezuelan Caracazo of 1989 is
the first insurgency against neoliberal adjustment policies in Latin America and must be seen as the direct precedent
for the left turns (see Beasley-Murray 2007). Hernández (2004) also highlights the specificity of the Caracazo and
describes it as an example of the multitude in action.
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the post-liberal dimension at work in the left turns alongside elections and partisan
The certainties of the economic and political commonsense of the 1980s and 1990s were also
undermined by the deafness of the main political player in the region. Whatever interest the
United States had for Latin America virtually disappeared after 9/11, except on questions of
trade, in matters it considers of national security —like immigration and drugs— or during
occasional panic attacks triggered by electoral results in countries like Bolivia and Venezuela.
The U.S. war on terror and subsequent invasion of Iraq simply increased its estrangement,
probably because the neoconservatives who became the ideological driving force of the Bush
administration were more interested in asserting the global power of the United States by
reshaping the Middle East than by strengthening hemispheric relations. Of course, the
geopolitical presence of the United States or the financial muscle that gives it unrivaled voting
power in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) allows it to play a role in major policy
decisions. But the years of relative disregard for the region have taken their toll. The failure of the
United States to win support for its preferred candidate during the election of the secretary-
general of the Organization of American States in 2005 is one example of this.
Taken together, the failures of governments to tackle demands for symbolic and particularly
material goods, the intellectual and political retreat of orthodox neoliberal policies, and the
vacuum created by the aloofness of the United States in the region creates a setting conducive for
the resurgence of the left. In the familiar parlance of detective television shows, they provide it
with a motive and an opportunity to succeed. This resurgent left has more diverse tonalities than
its predecessors, and it is difficult capture them simply by drawing from the familiar categories of
social democracy and populism. But we can agree at least that the term left applies to collective
actions that aim to change the status quo because another, less oppressive and more just and
egalitarian world is deemed possible and necessary. Drawing from this discussion, we can
identify the set of markers that shape the bulk of the Latin American lefts today:
Contrary to what transpires from a red-menace rhetoric dressed as a critique of populism,
this left is not enthralled by a Marxist political script. This is partly because of the
aforementioned criteria of theoretical and practical reason: it sees equality, solidarity,
critical thought, or the questioning of the status quo as context-dependent variables, not
ideological set pieces.
The bulk of the left is now less hostile toward private property and the market and has
warmed up to accepting cohabitation with them, yet it confronts the orthodoxy that only a
decade ago was heralded as the embodiment of economic rationality.
In opposition to the ideology of the minimal state and a zero-sum game between a big,
wasteful, incompetent state and the vital and efficient private sector, for the left, the state
remains crucial for regulating markets and pursuing redistribution policies, even if some
strands advocate a politics of exodus from the state.
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The left is suspicious of the U.S. ambition to fashion a unipolar world with itself at the
helm, which is consistent with its anti-imperialist tradition, but it is quite happy to
negotiate trade agreements with it if these are advantageous to their countries.
Even if multiparty electoral democracy —the heart of the liberal conception of politics—
is a fixture in the imaginary of the left, so is the experimentation with post-liberal formats
of political participation.
Left turn(s) with and without the electoral benchmark
We can now move on to discuss what the left turns might mean. If we measure the success of the
left in terms of actual alternatives to liberal governance and market-driven economic policies, the
results are fuzzy everywhere except in Venezuela and, to a lesser extent, in Bolivia, countries
blessed with vast reserves of oil and gas at a time when the price of such commodities has hit
record heights thanks to factors like the war in Iraq and the appetite of the Chinese for energy
resources to fuel economic growth. Panizza discusses this in a lucid interpretation of the
resurgence of left-of-center parties in Latin America by saying that it is doubtful whether the left
has come closer to developing an alternative to the status quo beyond opposing the neoliberal
agenda and contributing to frame a post-Washington consensus agenda (Panizza 2005: 718, 727-
728, 730). Lomnitz shares this view, explaining that “the new left is not revolutionary and anti-
capitalist; it is pro-regulation. It will continue to turn to developmentalism if there is no concerted
effort to promote alternative models” (Lomnitz 2006).
The difficulty of generating clear policy choices should be addressed but it need not be such a
worrisome sign. This may sound like a contradiction, but it is not. We can downplay the
difficulties of coming up with stronger alternatives to market economics, for example, because
actual policies usually arrive after a new paradigm or imaginary gets a foothold in the public
imagination. Thatcher and Reagan’s neoliberal worldview rested on fairly simple sound bites,
such as never trust tax-and-spend politicians, the state is an inefficient economic agent,
competition gives you better and cheaper services, adjustment policies are tough but inevitable,
wealth will eventually trickle down and make everyone more prosperous, and so on. People often
forget that their actual policies were developed on the go after they were elected, and once they
were applied they were not always successful or even consistent. The many casualties of the
adjustment policies of the 1980s and 1990s are still waiting for the realization of the much-
heralded trickle-down effect, and economists have long pointed out that under Reagan’s watch
the United States amassed the largest public deficit on record.
Alternatively, if we measure success in terms of winning elections, the left did very well in
countries like Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela,
despite the differences in their political forces, policies, and styles of government. Some would
include Argentina under Kirchner and Fernández de Kirchner as well. The left has also done well
in Mexico and Peru, where it positioned itself as a major political player —often indispensable to
get major legislative and policy decisions off the ground— without becoming government.
Governing is a critical marker of success; it opens up a new political scene and provides
important resources to officeholders, which is why the left should strive to be the winning force.
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But what about places where the left has not done particularly well, whether in terms of forming
a government or in terms of having a strong presence in the legislatures? Should we exclude them
from the debate about left turns? The commonsensical response is yes, as winning elections is the
prevalent criterion for judging these turns. I agree with this, but not wholeheartedly, as common
sense —which is the commonplace turned into sound judgment— might be often right, yet it is
also restrictive in terms of imagining alternatives to the given. That is why we should think
outside the box and put the electoral benchmark on hold for a moment to contemplate other
empirical and conceptual indicators. This will allow us to include experiences that normally do
not qualify as indicators of left turns and provide us with a more complex picture of these turns.
Before discussing this I want to make it clear that I do not mean to minimize the importance of
elections but to highlight that they are not the only democratic way to foster changes. There are
—there have always been— other ways of doing so, from demonstrations to sit-ins and road
blockades, and from civil disobedience to the right to rebellion theorized by the very liberal John
Locke. Also, the ability to affect decision-making processes and enforce binding agreements does
not depend solely on electoral results. Governing empowers the left, but it also is, or can be, a
humbling experience. As Michel Foucault famously put it, power is not a thing we possess, and
there is no single or central locus from which it irradiates its effects on us; it has no proper space
of appearance —a space it can call its own— because it is a strategic relation that can appear
anywhere. Hence the extra leverage the left acquires when in government it is bound to be
challenged continually in electoral and other arenas. Adversaries will try to put limits on what it
can do and very likely they will modify its agenda, as Chávez learned when his constitutional
amendments were rejected in the December 2007 referendum. Just like Nietzsche once said,
resistance is already present in obedience because one never surrenders individual power, we can
take as a rule that those who lose a contest —be it an election, a war, a public debate, or what
have you— are defeated but not necessarily disarmed. The governing Partido Acción Nacional
(PAN) in Mexico can dismiss Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the Partido de la Revolución
Democrática (PRD) as sore losers after PAN’s razor-thin and much disputed electoral win in
2006, but they know very well that the defeated have surrendered nothing and that the struggle
goes on.
Another reason to avoid the temptation to restrict the left turns to electoral victories is more
interesting, as it brings into play the performative dimension of politics. Although in speech-act
theory performatives are utterances whose enunciation involves doing an action, as in the
classical examples of “I promise” or “I swear” (where promising/swearing are inseparable from
the enunciation), in politics performative refers to changes that are already starting to occur as
people strive to make them happen. One does not always need to wait until all those in power are
gone —a governor, the midlevel administrator, a particularly nasty local official— to see whether
or not a political initiative makes a difference. There is a wide literature on this. Antonio Gramsci
proposed a non-Leninist strategy by saying that a political force does not simply seize power but
becomes state through wars of position, which is often interpreted as a way to differentiate East
from West but is actually a claim about the performativity of politics: changes are already
occurring long before the last corrupt politician and petty bureaucrat have gone. Similarly, Slavoj
Žižek speaks of “enacted utopia” to indicate that the shadow of the future is already at work here
and now because “we already are free fighting for freedom, we are already happy while fighting
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for happiness, no matter how difficult the circumstances” (Žižek 2002: 559, emphasis in the
original). Deleuze and Guattari (1988) formulate this in terms of lines of flight or nomadizing.
Emigration would be one of the possible meanings of these terms, but the authors see them less
as a voyage or escape than as a refusal of and resistance to over-coding by the state, prevailing
moral codes, public opinion, or what have you. Hardt and Negri (2000) and Virno (2004) refer to
this as “exodus”, which is part of the politics of the multitude in relation to the state.
A good example of this is the resistance to authoritarian rule in the Southern Cone in the 1970s
and 1980s. It shows how this becoming state, becoming free, nomadizing, and exodus occurred
as people began to develop alternative spaces, relationships, and identities by setting up
independent trade unions, student organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the
like. Acts of resistance were changing things by undermining the demobilizing perception that all
resistance to the regime was futile and by reminding authorities that they could not impose their
decisions at will. Those who participated were not unafraid, but neither were they paralyzed by
repression. In a way, they practiced their freedom despite the state because they were already
acting as citizens, even if citizenship was a legal fiction wherever there was an Alfredo
Stroessner, Augusto Pinochet, Humberto Castelo Branco, Jorge Videla or any of their many
military and civilian epigones in government. For those who challenged the order of things,
citizenship was a practice of liberation rather than an appeal to a legal status recognized by the
state, even if the goal was to make it a statutory right rather than a risky exercise of defiance. This
performative dimension is less heroic but equally present in liberal democracies. There, to borrow
a line from Grugel, the impact of social or political activism “lies in the capacities to put
arguments in the public domain; to build coalitions for change; to provide resources for other
groups; and to make connections across and within civil society” (Grugel 2005: 1073). Whether
in repressive scenarios or in more gentrified settings, the left can succeed in modifying public
policies, legislation, or budget allocations —and therefore can partake in governing in the
Foucaultian sense of structuring the possible field of action of others (Foucault 1982: 207-9)—
without winning an election because the constituent force of political performativity is at work
anytime, anywhere.
Panizza provides us with hints of this when he says that the ideas of the left are part of an
emerging post-Washington consensus agenda, which amounts to acknowledging that the left has
had some measure of success in setting up alternatives to neoliberalism. I would take this a step
further and argue that the agenda-setting capacity of the left reflects an important shift. This time
it is not the transit from revolution to electoral democracy discussed earlier, but from a defensive
to a proactive stance, in this case one that seeks to shape the invisible ideology that gives an aura
of reasonableness to the political center. Here I draw from something Armony mentions about the
shift to the left. He states that “the discontent with the status quo and the desire for social change
are framed by a narrative that presents itself as an alternative to the pro-market reform narrative
… [and] defines the current ideological center in Latin America” (Armony 2007, emphasis in the
original). What is at stake in what he says is not the development of a centrist politics but the
constitution of a new discursive center of reference for politics and the leading role of the left in
this process. For Armony, the left is the new center.
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We can build on this observation to reinforce the idea that the left turns are wider than what the
electoral benchmark suggests. In the 1980s and 1990s, the right dictated the parameters of the
center, or more precisely, it advocated the part about endorsing markets and public sector
reforms. I underline this because people often forget that the other key components —human
rights, ideological pluralism, and multiparty democracy— were secured despite and not because
of the right. These were demands spearheaded by the left and by all those who sought to undo
authoritarian rule at a time when the right was happy to endorse the anticommunist ideology that
served first as an alibi for repressing progressive forces and then to pursue a neoliberal agenda.
The Chilean referendum of 1988 is such a clear example of this: in voting for the “yes” option,
the right was committing itself to another eight years of Pinochet’s rule. So, if the center of
reference of the post-authoritarian years is seen as a brainchild of the right, it is only because it
succeeded in placing politics under the mantle of economic reforms and subsequently capitalized
on the perception that to dispute the centrality of the market was to put into question electoral
democracy, too. The current standard of what constitutes the center is more clearly a creation of
the left. It includes strengthening the state to regulate markets and curb the excesses of
privatization (particularly in the case of water, energy, and communications), increasing social
expenditures, examining the policy guidelines of the IMF with a critical eye and rejecting them if
considered detrimental to the national interest, punishing corrupt politicians, politicizing
questions of cultural and ethnical exclusion, and experimenting with new participatory channels
that deepen the liberal format of politics or step outside it.
Latinobarómetro (2007) registers this shift. Despite the marked differences among Latin
American countries, the one coincidence that the study reports is the centrality of issues of
inequality and discrimination in the electoral agenda. In virtually all eighteen countries covered
by the study, people are increasingly disenchanted with the market and believe that only the state
can provide lasting solutions to their problems. This is why the study states that “the only
consensus in the region is the consensus about the Washington Consensus —it didn’t solve the
problems and we need to find an alternative to it” (Latinobarómetro 2007: 8, 9; also commentary
by Zovatto 2007). At the same time, there has been a simultaneous demand for more rather than
less democracy, though as the experience of the piqueteros and the asambleas barriales shows,
this is not always understood in electoral terms.
So, in a setting marked by the retreat of market orthodoxy, the right has to move closer to a
discursive configuration coded by the left to expand its electoral and social base. This re-
signification of the center enables us to interpret the current turn to the left in Latin American
politics as the establishment of a new political and ideological common sense as well as the
winning of elections and success in advancing a given set of policies. Just as the neoliberal drive
of Thatcher and Reagan triggered a cognitive shift before it was able to come up with specific
policies, the left turns are already succeeding in transforming the accepted coordinates of what is
politically reasonable and desirable, and they must follow this success with policies and
institutions capable of differentiating them further from the right. The left may fail in its efforts to
modify the distribution of wealth and privileges to benefit the poor and excluded, yet even if it
does, the left turns are already achieving two things. One is that they have managed to
reintroduce questions of equality, distribution, and inclusion into the political agenda. This opens
up a chance for political invention to give substance to what the Economic Commission for Latin
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America and the Caribbean used to call economic growth with equity. The second is that
connecting the turns to a re-signification of the political center instead of pegging them to the
vicissitudes of electoral processes makes it possible to imagine the duration of their effects after
Chávez, Morales, Correa, Kirchner, and others have left the political stage.
Post-liberalism to come as a politics of the left
Now I move to the final topic of this article. We can group the bulk of the recent literature on the
left according to whether it focuses on mainstream or on alternative politics. This may be a
disputable simplification, but it also reduces complexity and helps us move on with the argument.
Mainstream interventions usually concentrate on political parties and movements as well as
governance because they look at the left in national or local executive and legislative bodies.
Those dealing with alternatives to the status quo tend to discuss non-electoral political initiatives
and to view the left as a force of resistance, opposition, and change. They also differ in terms of
citations: names like Guillermo O’Donnell, Philippe Schmitter, Juan Linz, Alan Knight, Scott
Mainwaring, Adam Przeworski, and Manuel Antonio Garretón appear often in the first group and
those of Antonio Gramsci, Antonio Negri, Paolo Virno, Gilles Deleuze, Ernesto Laclau, and John
Holloway as well as those from subaltern studies are more salient in the second. Mainstream and
alternative themes and citations rarely mix in the literature, which is a shame because there is so
much room for hybridity. A post-liberal setting of politics includes hybrid and other possibilities.
Post-liberalism: political history has no closure
Let me say a few words of caution about post-liberalism. The current wave of left politics still
draws its inspiration from the socialist imaginary, whether in its cultural orientations, the
enactment of distributive demands, or the general vindication of the dignity of those who are
excluded because they are poor, indigenous, or women. Yet, unlike their Leninist predecessors,
the left tends to demand equality without necessarily seeking to abolish capitalism, international
trade, or liberal citizenship. This is not because it is content with cosmetic changes to disguise the
misery and frustration created by the imposition of markets and neoliberal policies in places
where a level playing field for competition is nonexistent. It is because the left has a much more
layered relationship to the liberal tradition that prevents us from seeing it simply as antiliberal. As
we saw earlier, the left does not necessarily reject markets as a matter of principle, and though
elections might have lost some of their appeal among the young and the excluded, they are still a
significant chunk of what passes for leftist politics. If anything, the liberal heritage in matters of
civil rights and electoral participation has to be defended from its authoritarian and elitist liberal
enemies. I say this even if the left also acknowledges that partisan competition is in no great
shape and needs reforming, and some have important objections to representation and the state in
the name of the plurality and singularities of the multitude.
The left, then, is more post-liberal than antiliberal. The prefix does not suggest the end of liberal
politics and its replacement with something else, yet it is clear that the post of post-liberal
designates something outside liberalism or at least something that takes place at the edges of
liberalism. By this I mean two things. One is a politics that exceeds territorial representation
and/or loosens the connotative link between electoral and democratic politics; the other is a series
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of phenomena —from populism to demands for radical changes in patterns of participation and
redistribution— whose status vis-à-vis liberalism cannot be decided outside a disagreement or
polemic. With regard to the former, it is a question not of severing the links of democracy and
elections but of showing that our understanding of democracy does not stop at the gates of its
liberal incarnation. Macpherson (1965) formulates this very well when he recounts how the
adjective liberal came to precede the name democracy. He reminds us that the compound
expression liberal democracy is a relatively recent occurrence because the liberal state existed
long before it became democratic with the addition of universal suffrage. Its democratization was
accompanied by the liberalization of democracy, as this was a democracy embedded in the
society and the politics of choice, competition, and the market. This occurred, he says, after many
decades of agitation and organization by those who were denied a voice in running public affairs
(Macpherson 1965: 6-11). The link between the two components is a result of struggles and of
the hits and misses of political projects, not the expression of natural affinity, which is why the
liberal take on democracy might be a great achievement but not the crowning of political history.
If it were, the left’s scope for inventiveness would be restricted to an endless fine-tuning of the
inherited institutional setting. Post-liberalism is an image of thought of the politics and
democracy to come of the left, whether in terms of electoral contests or from a wider perspective.
By describing it as a politics “to come” I do not mean to say that post-liberalism is an ideal
waiting for its realization or a future politics that is not yet here but eventually will be. As in the
case of Žižek’s notion of enacted utopia, which I used to illustrate the performative dimension of
politics, the “to come” of post-liberalism designates something that is already happening: it is an
invitation to partake in a future that has already begun to occur. For the same reason, this “to
come” cannot be absent from liberal democratic polities, either. There is no relation of pure
exteriority between them: post-liberalism welcomes elections and the liberal state must coexist
with the presupuesto participativo, municipios autónomos, and usos y costumbres. To borrow
freely from Foucault’s notion of device (dispositif), which for Deleuze consists of two elements,
the archive and the diagnostic, we could say that in the device called “left turns”, liberalism is
what we are but also what we are gradually ceasing to be, whereas post-liberalism is a symptom
of what we are in the process of becoming, an index of our becoming-other (Arditi 2005, 2007a).
In what follows, I describe briefly some aspects of this post-liberalism.
Electoral and supranational politics plus empowerment through social citizenship
Three basic features characterize the classical locus of democratic citizenship in liberal thought:
the recognition of people as equals in the public sphere, the voluntary nature of participation, and
the political demand for citizen empowerment as the right to participate in the selection of public
authorities within the territorial borders of the nation-state. Post-liberalism challenges this in
several ways.
One pertains to the nature of electoral participation. Schmitter (2006) proposes a series of reforms
that are part of a post-liberal democracy, such as offering a small payment for voting (which
should not be confused with buying votes), which runs counter to the idea of voluntary
participation. This reward for voting is a means to increase voter turnout and functions as a
modicum of substantive equality —something dear to the left—by compensating the very poor
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for the personal expenses incurred when participating in elections. Another proposal is an
ingenious way to allocate public funding for political parties. In addition to following the
standard criterion —pegging the amount to past electoral performance— citizens themselves
would have a voucher and assign it to the party of their choice. If they are not happy with
available options, their vouchers will go to fund new parties (Schmitter 2006). Both reforms are
feasible without necessarily increasing the amount of public funding currently set aside for
political parties.
Another challenge is the expansion and legitimization of politics outside the physical enclosure of
the nation-state carried out by actors below the governmental level. The literature on this topic is
copious. People like Richard Falk, Robert Keohane, Stephen Krasner, and R. B. J. Walker speak
about the difficulties of Westphalian sovereignty, whereas Ulrich Beck, David Held, and Andrew
Linklater have championed a theoretical framework for supranational politics using the label of
cosmopolitan democracy and citizenship. At present, this cosmopolitanism is less a set of actually
existing institutions than it is a description of a set of informal practices and a project of political
reform. There is no recognized instance to validate citizenship rights outside the state, so the
cosmopolitan variant remains in a legal and political limbo analogous to Hannah Arendt’s “right
to have rights”, regardless of membership to a state. Yet there is already an ad-hoc practice of
supranational politics spearheaded by nongovernmental actors who do not wait for governments
or international agencies to authorize them or grant them rights to act beyond the territory of their
nation-states. Their initiatives have a performative dimension in the sense discussed earlier when
commenting on resistances to authoritarian rule in the Southern Cone: they are already
transforming the idea of citizenship by engaging in cross-border political exchanges. There are
abundant examples —the transnational advocacy networks in Latin America studied by Keck and
Sikkink (1998), fair-trade initiatives seeking to introduce a modicum of equality in north-south
commerce, the activism of those energized by the World Social Forum of Porto Alegre and
protests like those against the World Trade Organization in Cancún. The cosmopolitanism of
these initiatives caters to the internationalism of the left and reverberates with its motto of
solidarity —now across frontiers— inherited from the French Revolution.
A third aspect of post-liberalism involves actions, demands, and proposals of social
empowerment as a way to be political and democratic while focusing on redistribution instead of
participation in the selection of public authorities. What comes to mind here is the Guerra del
Agua in Cochabamba in 2000, the movement of fábricas recuperadas in Argentina, the initiatives
of NGOs and social organizations seeking to modify the agenda and policy debates to develop a
Mercosur Solidario and the proposals for a presupuesto participativo in cities from Porto Alegre
to Rosario and Buenos Aires. As in the case of the “Que se vayan todos”, the common thread in
these cases is the opposition to neoliberalism and the search for non-liberal channels of
participation. Social citizenship is one way. I do not understand this in the classical socialist sense
of the self-government of producers or in terms of Marshall’s third-generation rights to health,
education, housing, and the like —which remain inoperative despite being enshrined in most
constitutional texts in Latin America. Social citizenship refers instead to modes of expression of
the popular will that seek a voice in the allocation of public resources rather than in the
designation of public authorities. Offe and Schmitter call it secondary citizenship or the second
tier of politics and conceive it as the action and interaction of organized interest groups (see
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Schmitter 2006). These bypass electoral representation without necessarily restricting themselves
to functional representation (see Schmitter 2006; Arditi 2005, 2007b).
Hybrid politics: multitude, citizens, state
The final aspect of post-liberal politics I wish to mention are interventions that do not have the
state or political system as their primary targets. Politics outside the electoral mainstream is
nothing new. I am not thinking of the obvious examples of armed insurgencies or the experiences
of extra-parliamentarian parties and movements but of civil society—often a misnomer— as a
site of political agency and invention. O’Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead describe its
contemporary history in the concluding volume of the Transitions from Authoritarian Rule
quartet. They speak of the “resurrection of civil society” as an outcome of mobilizations carried
out by social movements and organizations (O’Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead 1986: 26ff).
These mobilizations may not be enough to precipitate regime change, but they contribute to
expand freedoms and to legitimize independent groups. The doings of these nonpartisan
collectives tells us that politics —in the Schmittian sense of distinguishing friends from enemies
and confronting the latter— goes beyond the designated sites and actors portrayed by the liberal
tradition, if only because in authoritarian settings there is often no functioning party or electoral
For O’Donnell and colleagues this is a temporary state of affairs because parties take over as
soon as there is an opening for their reentry into the public scene. Yet these events leave traces —
a palimpsest of memories, inscriptions, and experiences— of the healthy state of political drives
outside territorial representation. And they do not fade away respectfully with the arrival of
partisan electoral machineries and their state-savvy image. Quite the opposite: nonpartisan
political performances have become a regular fixture of politics through the stubborn presence of
urban, indigenous, and other movements and initiatives, which tells us that what the literature
calls “the resurrection” of civil society is much more than an interregnum between authoritarian
and democratic rule. This is yet another reminder that equating electoral politics with politics tout
court is simply erroneous, even if one must be suspicious about the embellished narratives of
activists who see politics outside the mainstream as inherently closer to the democratic spirit.
Let me say more about this non-electoral politics that includes but exceeds transitional moments.
Carlo Donolo (1982) refers to it as homeopathic politics —when the social is “cured” by the
social— and contrasts it with the usual allopathic politics in which demands made by society are
processed by a formally external instance like the political system and addressed as policies or
legislation. Homeopathic politics has a family resemblance with exodus and the politics of the
multitude, though there are differences, as advocates of the multitude believe we need to develop
non-state strategic options because the state and representation are contrary to the singularity of
the multitude —either people or multitude, says Virno (2004: 23). The very un-Leninist title of
Holloway’s book —How to Change the World without Taking Power (2005)— is quite eloquent
in depicting the discontent of part of the left with the state and conventional politics. Beasley-
Murray (2007) addresses this discontent from the standpoint of the multitude. He sees the
Caracazo of 1989 in Venezuela as the first post-neoliberal insurgency and the true inaugural
gesture of the left turns in Latin America. This was, he says, a “violent, disorganized, and
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radical” form of political action that “marks an excess that has yet to be expunged from the Latin
American political scene … It demonstrated the bankruptcy of Punto fijismo, and so of the
country’s post-war social democratic consensus that was premised on a liberal contract and
radical subalternization” (Beasley-Murray 2007). Insurgencies like this are instances of
constituent power, of a power to found anew that puts representation into disrepute (Beasley-
Murray 2007).
Holloway and Beasley are on to something when they speak of non-electoral ways to change the
given. They are pointing to actions that in many ways reflect the performative dimension of
politics. This is particularly relevant for counteracting the sense of disempowerment among those
who have a taste for public involvement but are weary of the hierarchies and real or perceived
corruption and homogenizing drives among parties and other organizations. Their formal status
as citizens recedes in the absence of channels of participation and exposes them to the experience
of being functional denizens in their own polities. Non-electoral —and often non-state— ways to
change the status quo are an attractive option for them.
I sympathize with these views but also have reservations. One wonders how far to generalize the
Zapatista experience Holloway takes as a political paradigm and to what extent it is feasible to
implement policies of redistribution by shunning political parties and the state (or “power-over”,
as he calls them). Beasley-Murray might overplay the novelty of the Caracazo and other
insurgencies like the Zapatista uprising, the Argentinean crisis, and the Bolivian gas protests.
Novelty is undermined by a healthy complicity with the past because, as he tells us, these
insurgencies “built on and learned from the movements that had preceded them” (Beasley-
Murray 2007). Whether because of links with the past or because of contamination with other
political forms, the multitude is always a hybrid —as is, of course, every other political form,
including liberalism. One can see it in the experience of the asambleas barriales and the
piqueteros that appeared in the Argentine political landscape since 1997-1998 and were some of
the protagonists of the December 2001events. Although their actions may have come close to a
politics of the multitude by proposing exodus from representation when they chanted “Que se
vayan todos”, most of the piqueteros and participants in the fábricas recuperadas made demands
to the state and, in the general elections of 2003, went to the polls to support Néstor Kirchner and
in 2007 voted Cristina Fernández de Kirchner into office.
And then there is the question of the state. Let us concede that the state in Latin America is
generally bigger than it needs to be and far weaker than the left would like it to be given the
(often) modest range of resources it can command and its limited capacity to implement agreed-
on policies —even more so in a world system of complex interdependence, where so many
variables are beyond the reach of the will and the endogenous policies of domestic actors. This
imposes important constraints to what the left or any other political force can achieve by simply
seizing state power. Yet the state matters, whether as an instance of regulation or an instance of
redistribution of wealth. Without the state, it is less likely that one will make good of alternative
sources of income to fund development projects such as the Tobin Tax —which also helps to
protect domestic financial markets from the destabilizing effects of sudden flights of capital— or
reverse the rush toward quick bilateral trade agreements and seek instead broad regional
agreements among Latin American countries to negotiate better deals, particularly by separating
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property rights from trade agreements and rejecting the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of
Intellectual Property Rights (known as TRIPS) when they involve drugs that are critical for
public health. Žižek (2007) underlines its importance in caustic remarks about the various lefts
that are reticent about “grabbing state power” and choose instead to withdraw to create spaces
outside its control: “What should we say to someone like Chávez? ‘No, do not grab state power,
just withdraw, leave the state and the current situation in place’?” (Žižek 2007). On the contrary,
for him the state must be used to promote a progressive agenda and the mobilization of new
forms of politics. Žižek is right, even if the dismissal of non-state alternatives is unfair: these, too,
are ways to transform the given.
The point is that a post-liberal politics of the left refuses to perceive contamination between the
multitude and representation as something particularly problematic. It is less a case of
incongruous politics than one of hybridity. Among other things, today’s multitude is different
from its seventeenth-century precedent in at least one respect: it is no longer a phenomenon
resisting the centralizing drive of emerging national states but is set against already-existing state
apparatuses. This means that, unlike the Spinozist multitude, the contemporary one bears traces
of the state, and therefore a political strategy aiming to establish a zero-sum game between
multitude and state would be simplistic and misguided. Beasley-Murray (2007) accepts this
implicitly when he describes social insurgencies as the direct precedent of the left turns in Latin
America. The Caracazo, he says, is the starting point of insurgencies of a new type “directly
linked to an electoral vehicle that followed it, but demonstrably autonomous and irreducible to
that vehicle” (Beasley-Murray 2007). I interpret this not as a simple discontinuity between an
originating force and the consequences of its actions but as a way to explain the manifestation
and perseverance of the cause in its effects. If these insurgencies can maintain autonomy while
relating to representation in manifold ways and explaining at least in part the left turns, then one
has to conclude that the novelty and distinctiveness of their politics must not be confused with a
relation of pure exteriority with the state, parties, and elections.
I believe we will be seeing many more of these hybrid constructs among the left as it embraces
more decisively a post-liberal politics. Experimentation is ongoing, and it has a potentially risky
side, too, which was raised in passim by Beasley-Murray (2007) when he referred to the “violent,
disorganized, and radical” nature of the Caracazo. There is unease about political violence. On
the left, many prefer to distance themselves from it, especially when it cannot be governed by the
leadership of participating groups, even when they realize that it is a side effect of transformative
action. The default response of the media and conservative pundits is to latch on to what they
perceive as instances of violence as proof of the destructive aims of radical protest. The usual
examples are rallies in which the Círculos Bolivarianos mobilize Caracas slum dwellers, the
cutting of roads by piqueteros, the kidnapping of local authorities by the people in Atenco, and so
on. Violence seems to be such an un-liberal thing to do, contrary to the rule of law and the
accepted procedures of the liberal state. This is only partly true. As Jacques Derrida famously put
it, if the law must be enforced, then force is constitutive of law and not an accident that could
happen to it or not. Some might retort by saying that legitimate violence exercised by the state is
acceptable, but subversive violence is not. Although this argument has its merits, very liberal
societies are proud to celebrate acts of violence that helped them make them what they are. For
example, to call the Boston Tea Party a party is either a misnomer or a desire to dignify the
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exploits of people who gathered with the intent to destroy property for political reasons. To be
consistent, José Bové and the Confédération Paysanne’s razing of a McDonald’s restaurant in
France in 1999 should be called the Millau Burger Party instead of being portrayed as proof that
critics of globalization lack proposals and that all they can do is resort to wanton destruction of
property. So, let us agree that violence per se is nothing to celebrate, and that force and violence
are part of politics and one should expect violence to make a sporadic appearance in the left
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... Tras el fin de la Guerra Fría, Estados Unidos dejó de considerar a la izquierda latinoamericana como injerencia de la Unión Soviética, y la izquierda latinoamericana comenzó a aceptar la democracia liberal tras su resurgimiento en la década de 1990 (Castañeda, 2006). La nueva izquierda dejó de ser revolucionaria para convertirse en defensora de la regulación (Lomnitz, 2006), si bien la búsqueda de la igualdad y el imaginario socialista siguieron siendo importantes, sin que ello implicase abolir el capitalismo, el comercio internacional o la ciudadanía liberal (Arditi, 2008). ...
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Este trabajo analiza en qué medida la ideología ha influido en la confianza de las élites políticas hacia las fuerzas armadas latinoamericanas entre 1994 y 2018. Durante este periodo, que la literatura ha asociado con tres ciclos políticos, las fuerzas armadas han sido una de las instituciones mejor valoradas tanto por la élite representativa como por la ciudadanía. Analizamos la relación entre las valoraciones de las élites políticas hacia los militares de 16 parlamentos de la región, profundizando en las dinámicas de convergencia y polarización ideológica a lo largo de este periodo y particularmente durante los gobiernos de la nueva izquierda. Nuestro análisis de una serie de encuestas a más de 7,500 parlamentarios muestra diferencias significativas por ideología sobre la confianza de la élite en las fuerzas armadas en la mayoría de los países, pero también dinámicas temporales divergentes entre países. Mientras que, en países como Brasil, Chile o Uruguay, la llegada de una izquierda moderada propició un proceso de convergencia ideológica hacia mayores niveles de confianza en los militares, en Venezuela, Nicaragua o Bolivia la llegada de una izquierda radical produjo un aumento de polarización ideológica en torno a los militares entre la élite parlamentaria.
... The notion of post-neoliberal governance framed the agendas of Latin American left-wing administrations in the 2000s as one of balancing the 'social responsibilities of the state while remaining responsive to the demands of "positioning" national economies in a rapidly changing global economy' (Arditi 2008, Rovira Kaltwasser 2011, Sandbrook 2011, Grugel and Riggirozzi 2012, p. 4, Nem Singh 2014, Stoessel 2014, Wylde 2016. With their specific particularities, projects in countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, and others, were seen as pursuing higher forms of social embeddedness and inclusive development, simultaneously expanding the state's developmental role by channelling rents from the exports of primary commoditiesbenefiting from the global commodity boom of the early 2000s when the expansion of large emerging market economies like China and India drove the increase in prices of oil, metals, and agricultural products (Nem Singh 2014, Balakrishnan and Toscani 2018). ...
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In times of crisis, governments can resort to tax rises and emergency taxation schemes to finance extraordinary needs. These schemes often generate tensions in the fiscal contract between the state and society, as they affect basic definitions regarding who is taxed, for how much, and what for. In the context of developing economies, where available sources of extraordinary rents are limited, dealing with these tensions can be problematic as it involves reconciling questions of fiscal legitimacy with the interests of influential economic sectors. This article analyses these tensions by exploring the case of Argentina in the aftermath of the 2001 debt default crisis, when emergency taxes on agricultural exports were implemented and then expanded under Kirchnerist administrations pursuing a ‘post-neoliberal’ developmental agenda. However, we argue that the government failed in legitimating this fiscal agreement, resulting in a tax rebellion by the rural sector in 2008 followed by the growing polarisation of the policy in partisan terms. By bringing to the fore the challenges and conflicts involved in legitimating tax collection, the article illuminates an overlooked aspect of the political economy of developmental states, particularly those seeking to enhance state autonomy while pursuing redistributive goals.
... Je voudrais maintenant illustrer ces principes théoriques et méthodologiques généraux à partir de quelques exemples issus d'une récente recherche sur les actions directes spontanées ayant marqué le devenir de l'Amérique latine depuis le dernier quart de siècle (Corten, Huart et Peñafiel, 2012 ) que les politiques néolibérales soient présentes un peu partout sur le globe sans engendrer nécessairement des soulèvements populaires, il apparaît également que ces actions directes spontanées se poursuivent après l'arrivée au pouvoir gouvernements dits de gauche ouvertement opposés aux politiques néolibérales (Arditi, 2008). Pensons, par exemple, aux cas des « révoltes du vinaigre » 28 (juin 2013) au Brésil, des réactions populaires au Gasolinazo 29 (décembre 2010) ou au projet de route dans le TIPNIS (Territoire indigène Parque national Isidoro Sécure) en Bolivie, ou encore des Marches indigènes, paysannes et populaires convoquées, notamment, par la CONAIE contre le gouvernement Correa en Équateur. ...
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L’étude des médiations et des intermédiaires impliqués dans la mise en place des politiques sociales tend à montrer un immense écart entre la lettre des programmes sociaux et leur implantation dans des réalités concrètes. Cet écart n’est pas simplement dû à des questions de corruption (détournement du programme vers des fins personnelles ou partisanes) ou de propagande (embellissement rhétorique des politiques sociales par les gouvernements en quête de légitimation). Il ne s’agit pas non plus seulement d’un écart entre la complexité de la vie sociale et la nécessaire simplification de celle-ci dans l’énoncé général d’une politique publique. Cet écart entre la formulation d’une politique sociale et son application s’explique également par la capacité de « résistance » des « bénéficiaires » qui introduisent alors une dimension foncièrement politique au phénomène. Ce texte propose une réflexion théorique appuyée sur quelques études de cas afin de présenter une perspective méthodologique permettant d’aborder les politiques sociales en fonction de ces résistances.
... An objection can be raised that individual presidents and their governments have relatively few common features besides those mentioned above. Some authors, therefore, prefer the term "Left Turns" (e.g., Cameron and Hershberg 2010) or articulate some skepticism that a left-wing electoral victory meant dawn of left-wing policies (Arditi 2008). For these reasons, the differences between left-wing governments in Latin America became an increasingly attractive research topic within Latin American political studies, including some biased approaches to their typology that distinguished between a "good" and "bad" left (most clearly Castañeda 2006). ...
The victory of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela inaugurated a wave of left-wing governments across Latin America, often called Left Turn, due to the fact that it followed a decade of domination by liberal economic policies. However, there were important and striking differences between these left-wing governments, many of which have been analyzed in the abundant literature about the phenomena. Most of the approaches to the Left Turn have been dichotomic, basically dividing the governments into radical-populist and moderate categories, and focused on issues ranging from the type of political mobilization or institutionalization of the party system to the policies implemented by respective governments. The authors offer a new typology based on the governments’ approach to the transformation of political regime using Schmitter’s concept of partial regimes. They consider regime changes as democratic transformations that sought to replace one type of democracy with another democratic regime, emphasizing vertical accountability to the detriment of the horizontal one. The group of countries that carried out the regime change (Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia) are then further analyzed from the perspective of their similarities and differences. While Chavismo abandoned the democratic camp, the other two cases remained basically democratic, although definitely not liberal democratic.
Political parties provide a crucial link between voters and politicians. This link takes a variety of forms in democratic regimes, from the organization of political machines built around clientelistic networks to the establishment of sophisticated programmatic parties. Latin American Party Systems provides a novel theoretical argument to account for differences in the degree to which political party systems in the region were programmatically structured at the end of the twentieth century. Based on a diverse array of indicators and surveys of party legislators and public opinion, the book argues that learning and adaptation through fundamental policy innovations are the main mechanisms by which politicians build programmatic parties. Marshalling extensive evidence, the book's analysis shows the limits of alternative explanations and substantiates a sanguine view of programmatic competition, nevertheless recognizing that this form of party system organization is far from ubiquitous and enduring in Latin America.
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While most authors have attempted to conceptualize populism by exploring its relation with representative democracy, this note is concerned with a different, yet equally pressing issue: How is populism related to the other building block of contemporary democracies – political liberalism? Most commonly, populism has, in academic as political discourses, been described as ‘illiberal’. But the precise meaning of this ‘illiberal’ character is elusive, and often overlaps with other concepts such as ‘anti-liberal’ or even ‘post-liberal’. This conceptual haze is not only detrimental to political theorists, but to comparative political scientists as well. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to clarify these concepts, in order to cast light on the relationship between populism and political liberalism. It provides a review and critical discussion of the concepts of ‘illiberalism’, ‘anti-liberalism’ and ‘post-liberalism’; further, it offers to organize them in a coherent, and empirically productive, manner. In particular, it argues that ‘illiberalism’ should be treated with much caution; instead, it defines more workable concepts of ‘anti-liberalism’ and ‘post-liberalism’. So doing, it suggests how these concepts could be used in combination to fruitfully account for different dimensions of the study of populism, namely research on populist discourses, ideas and practices.
Este artículo se propone revisitar el debate en torno al populismo como fenómeno y como concepto político en las ciencias sociales argentinas post transicionales valiéndose de las herramientas propias de la historia conceptual y la historia intelectual. Nuestra hipótesis es que el lugar que ocupa el concepto de populismo en el debate político y académico en la Argentina actual se explica, siempre parcialmente, por la polarización del campo político argentino en torno a proyectos políticos antagónicos cuyo carácter incluyente o excluyente, elitista o popular es nombrado a través de la oposición conceptual entre populismo y republicanismo. El análisis se circunscribe a sus usos y evolución en las principales discusiones al interior del campo intelectual y académico argentino en la historia reciente, en particular, desde el retorno de la democracia en 1983 hasta el final de los gobiernos kirchneristas, coyuntura crítica a partir de la cual los sentidos del populismo fueron especialmente puestos en disputa.
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Dossier: polarización perniciosa, democracia y populismo Coeditores: claudio riveros y alejandro pelfini Volumen 5, número 2, segundo semestre del 2022
Amidst a global turn towards authoritarianism and populism, there are few contemporary examples of state-led democratization. This article discusses how Uruguay’s Frente Amplio (FA) party has drawn on a unique national democratic cultural heritage to encourage a coupling of participatory and representative institutions in “a politics of closeness.” The FA has reinvigorated Batllismo, a discourse associated with social justice, civic republicanism, and the rise of Uruguayan social democracy in the early twentieth century. At the same time, the FA’s emphasis on egalitarian participation is inspired by the thought of Uruguay’s independence hero José Artigas. I argue that the cross-weave of party and movement, and of democratic citizenship and national heritage, encourages the emergence of new figures of the citizen and new permutations for connecting citizens with representative institutions. The FA’s “politics of closeness” is an example of how state-driven democratization remains possible in an age described by some as “post-democratic.”
With all the talk of Latin America's turn to the left, few have noticed that there are really two lefts in the region. One has radical roots but is now open-minded and modern; the other is close-minded and stridently populist. Rather than fretting over the left's rise in general, the rest of the world should focus on fostering the former rather than the latter--because it is exactly what Latin America needs.
This paper examines a neglected dimension of the debate about post-national citizenship by focusing on the articulation of citizenship demands at the level of the region. More specifically, it analyses the pressures for, and the constraints on, the project of social citizenship within Mercosur. Drawing on primary research in Argentina, the article identifies a number of initiatives that attempt to infuse Mercosur with a social agenda. I argue that the significance of these initiatives is that they represent the first coherent attempt to articulate a citizen-centred model of new regionalism in Mercosur. But I also suggest that a formidable combination of obstacles lies in the path of this alternative project of regional governance. Finally, I explore the consequences of excluding issues of citizenship, rights and welfare from the agenda of regionalism, highlighting in particular the possibility of societal rejection if region building remains empty of social meaning.
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