The progress of left-wing political and social forces in Latin America and the Caribbean is nearly always limited to their access to government, but these forces are far from obtaining real power, at least in its decisive forms. Nevertheless, it is of course true that governments are able to bring about substantive progress in improvements to the balance of powers between capital and labour, as well as between the prevailing national interests and the extremely complicated network of foreign capital interests that, day by day, increasingly adopts forms that are almost indistinguishable from traditional colonialism.
In effect, having control of the formal national government is not enough if these forces lack effective control of the additional facets of real power such as the huge corporations in key sectors of the economy, the mass media that guarantees a sophisticated and efficient system for the manipulation of public opinion and, of course, the unconditional support of the barracks (military and police), which together constitute one of the most important mechanisms for preserving the social order.
Outside their borders, and decisive in equal measure, these countries are controlled by international organisations that effectively answer to the interests of the colonial powers, following which the exercising of national sovereignty is harshly limited or even negated in practice, or they become victims of the policies of rich nations that block them, invade them, or subject them to various types of coups d’état whenever their demands are not accepted. Therefore, there are both major internal and external obstacles that a formal government may only overcome will immense difficulty if, as a state, it lacks a decisive presence in the productive matrix or if it suffers from a permanent threat coming from the barracks.
Consequently, the left-wing and social movements on this continent must make advances in their control of the engine room of the economy so that exercising power as the formal government can translate into effective developments for social progress. Furthermore, they must ensure that they have the effective support of the military, conduct profound reforms of public institutions (dilapidated by corruption and clientelism), drive regional integration and, crucially, promote a foreign policy that enables greater room for manoeuvre in a new world order in which the historical capitalist powers, the United States and Europe, no longer dominate the scene. It is assumed that there is now sufficient support among the population, not just in the voting booths, but also in the potential for favourable social mobilisations.
As much as the balance of powers allows them, progressive governments in the region have to make progress in overcoming the current neoliberal model of capitalism that condemns these countries to be mere afterthoughts, expendable within a global economic matrix that forces them to give up on any economic projects affording them a certain, reasonable, degree of autonomy. From this perspective, the strengthening of public enterprises in strategic sectors, both traditional (steelmaking and chemical production, etc.) as well as modern (cybernetics, robotics, new materials, pharmaceutics, etc.), is decisive. From the seats of government, these new movements must reclaim a new, decisive function for the state in controlling the market and private enterprise, as well as thoroughly reviewing policies relating to foreign debt, tax evasion and particularly foreign investment. Having key companies in these sectors (banking, energy, primary research and communications, among others) means that power – partially at least – can be enjoyed by the sectors of the population that have arrived in government through the popular vote.
This type of development strategy (and not merely growth, as it has been until now) does not mean overcoming capitalism, as can be observed in South Korea or some Northern European countries (Finland, for example); yet it is a strategy that is equally compatible with a socialist ideology, as is the case in Vietnam. Ultimately, it all depends on the objectives of the social movements and the political direction in each case. A proposal for national development such as the present thus demands sufficient clarity within the political forces, who enact it with nothing less than a firm, and especially, organised commitment of the social forces, who themselves take it on as their own. The progressive political forces need to display a high degree of pragmatism to avoid potential hazards (although a sprinkling of romanticism to generate enthusiasm and commitment is always necessary), but they should equally maintain, as a primary goal, strategic objectives such that the measures taken today are only the necessary steps for future progress: neither the irresponsible adventurism of impossible proposals nor settling merely for what opportunity allows (in other words, political opportunism).
For their part, the social forces that take on their national proposal as their own must be conscious of the need for sacrifices and temporary limitations, which are inevitable until the project has been consolidated. This should promote the necessary organisation, mass enthusiasm and daily efforts to progress to the new order that lifts countries from their material disadvantage; enormous social inequalities; the insignificant or non-existent political participation of the masses in addition to the predominance of cultural values that are a clear obstacle, e.g., racism and xenophobia, that to a greater or lesser extent poison these societies; and acute patriarchalism, no less than the unhealthy tendency to place a greater value on the colonial over the autochthonous, which translates into diverse types of inferiority complexes. These societies need to overcome a profound pessimism, an absence of hope for the future, a feeling of consecrating the present as inevitable. Given all this, it is of little surprise that on so many occasions this sombre panorama offers little else on the horizon but emigration to the colonial centre, turning the idea of overcoming present conditions into an impossible dream.
If the objective is not only to reach the presidency but also to have an impact on the basic structures of the social order, it is vital to make progress in the consolidation of public property in the hands of a government of the majority. This is public property in all key areas of the economy, without forgetting the indispensable organisation of the masses, the raising of its political consciousness and, crucially, earning the support of the barracks so that the armed forces and the police are truly national, guarantors of this national proposal, rather than docile instruments of the local oligarchies and even less so Creole extensions of the imperialists’ arsenal. While it is true that real power lies primarily and above all in the control of the economy, it should not be forgotten than it also “grows out of the barrel of a gun”. It is not a coincidence that the great transformations in this continent have, on so many occasions, featured the patriotic military as important protagonists of change, who promoted it and ensured the necessary stability.