The Bolivarian Alternative: Cooperation and Resistance in the New Pluralist International

So the assertion suggested in the working title of my paper is really just a hypothesis. But a big question I’m thinking about in looking into the history and functioning of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and the larger, more recent group CECAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) is whether their structures could suggest the budding possibility of a new kind of “bloc,” a new kind of socialist international, fundamentally different from the hierarchical model of the Soviet-dominated Cold War alliance. A curious trend of recent political developments–directly related, in fact, to the current conflict in Ukraine–is that from the division of the world’s most powerful nations into the “socialist bloc” and the “capitalist bloc” we seem to have inherited two gigantic, alternatingly opposed and united “capitalist blocs,” both of whose economies benefit from the remnants of colonial power structures. The greatest source of hope I can envision for opposing this arrangement, indeed from preventing its dramatic worsening as the net of free trade alliances draws tighter around the globe, would be an alliance of non-capitalist, anti-colonial nations that could serve as a point of economic and political support both for one another and for emerging revolutionary movements around the world seeking to oppose the consolidation of “globalized” empire.

The closest thing to such an alliance existing today seems to be ALBA, though it currently comprises only a few states. (I need to look closely at CECAC as well, but it’s very young and seems less important in this regard since many or most of its member nations are not socialist, revolutionary, or strictly opposed to American dominance.) Historically grounded in the friendship between Cuba and Venezuela, ALBA currently has a membership of nine Latin American and Caribbean nations, each of which owes its relative independence from American influence to a unique and complex revolutionary process. The alliance excites me in part because of how this plurality of revolutionary paths seems to have issued in a plurality of socialisms, and in turn in a non-hierarchical form of international alliance. Despite this decentralized organization, ALBA has managed to maintain solidarity versus the OAS, which of course largely represents US interests in the region. Could this “pluralist international” represent a new form of permanent opposition to the world order of Western capital that seems to have absorbed not only colonial nations but also all former bastions of concentrated resistance in the “developed” world? In my paper I want to explore the range of possibilities and risks involved in hoping so.

I do not, of course, want to downplay these risks for the sake of optimism. Initially, as far as I can tell, they seem to stretch between two poles: (1) Whether such an alliance actually can withstand the economic warfare constantly directed against it by the US and other powers, and (2) whether it can resist eventual ossification into a top-down hierarchy, for example in the form of subordinating all members’ interests to those of Venezuela and Cuba, who do currently seem to represent a kind of “vanguard.” (On the other hand, one of the things my conception of the “pluralist international” seeks to defend is the idea that vanguardism is in fact called for in some specific revolutionary situations, while others require a more spontaneous development, and that in fact these two forms can potentially work together in a non-hierarchical way. It doesn’t seem entirely accidental, for example, that Cuba’s revolution was largely a vanguardist project–though this claim risks undervaluing the importance of the interplay between urban and rural forces in the seizure of power there–while the later revolution in Venezuela arose much more spontaneously after the failure of Guevaran orthodoxy. On the other hand, a major question is how reliant the considerable achievements in Venezuela were upon the prior existence of a revolutionary ally in Cuba, and today, it seems, it would be difficult to determine which nation depends on or unduly influences the other.)

This is all stuff I’m not currently too well educated on, so tips for reading and ideas are very welcome. Here’s my initial reading list:

Jon Lee Anderson, Che: A Revolutionary Life

George Ciccariello-Maher, We Created Chavez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution

James DeFronzo, Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements

Enrique Dussell, Twenty Theses on Politics

Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism

Greg Grandin and Gilbert M. Joseph, eds., A Century of Revolution: Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Violence During Latin America’s Long Cold War

Eric Hobsbawm: The Age of Extremes

Eric Selbin, Modern Latin American Revolutions

As well as various news sources. Suggestions, please!


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One Response to The Bolivarian Alternative: Cooperation and Resistance in the New Pluralist International

  1. grockhil says:

    This is a great topic, and I’ll be curious to see how it evolves. It is, of course, enormous, but the central question that you highlight will provide some crucial unity. It might be worth considering the relationship between revolutionary seizures of power (à la Cuba) versus ‘electoral revolutions’ (à la many countries in South America), as well as what the latter mean for the very notion of revolution. Similarly, the relationship of ALBA to global capitalism is a crucial issue, particularly because the world market has, of course, been engaged with in various ways. Is ALBA fundamentally anti-capitalist, or is it trying to find ways–at least in part–of using global capitalism against itself, for socialist ends etc. (I’m thinking, for instance, of the sale of Venezuelan oil)? In short, how can we theoretically make sense of ALBA’s relationship to global capitalism? Finally, the role of indigenous movements might not be outside of the purview of the questions that you will be raising. Isn’t the resistance to global capitalism bound up as well with a resistance to imperialism and neo-imperialism, in brief to Euro-American hegemony?
    On a slightly different note, the notion of a “pluralist international” is important, and I think that this could help you develop a rich approach to contemporary developments. It does not seem unrelated to indigenous politics, and I’ll be curious to see how you develop your account.
    Regarding resources, there is a lot out there. DeFronzo’s various encyclopedic books include helpful bibliographies. A book like this one might also help develop your bibliography: “Latin America’s Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-first Century.” Some of John Pilger’s documentaries provide an interesting vantage point, as well as Chris Marker’s “Le fond de l’air est rouge.”

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