‘A World to Build: New Paths toward Twenty-First Century Socialism’: A Book Review

Harnecker, Marta. 2015. A World to Build: New Paths toward Twenty-First Century Socialism. Trans. Fred Fuentes. New Delhi: Aakar Books. 224 pp. ₹595.00. ISBN 978-93-5002-345-7 (Hb).

Prabudh Singh
Department of Sociology
South Asian University

Marta Harnecker’s book is an account of the Latin American revolutionary experiments towards socialism. This new form of socialism is referred to as “21st century socialism” as the Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chávez, had coined it to not to “fall into the errors of the past”. The error identified here is the “Stalinist deviations” whereby the bureaucratization of the party leads to an end of popular protagonism.

The rise of the Left in Latin American countries can be seen in a historical context of the diminishing hegemony and the crisis of neo-liberalism in the region, as it had failed to deliver the promised path to development but had rather increased economic inequalities and US intervention. Thus, on being elected to power in their respective national governments, the Left forces in Latin America were faced with a dilemma to whether continue with the neo-liberal project with a ‘human face’ or to boldly work on alternative models towards socialism and anti-imperialism. As history is a witness, Latin America became the pioneer in rejecting neo-liberalism and it is their political programme which becomes a guiding light for the Left across the globe.

The key social movements on which the Left mobilized across Latin America were pluralistic of their ideas and content. The Left rallied around the local issues of these key social movements and converged them into a comprehensive national agenda. These national alliances of social movements were backed by international Latin American solidarities, which proved crucial to form a formidable resistance to national and trans-national capitalist forces backed by the US military interventions.

However, there are objective limitations which the Left governments face as arising from the geo-politics of international capitalist finance and security organizations, opposition-controlled media, and inherited cultural baggage of consumerism. Thus, being aware of the correlation of forces, Harnecker proposes to not to judge the performance of these Left governments by the pace of their performance, but by the direction they are headed towards.

Harnecker highlights some of Marx and Engel’s original ideas covering integral human development by positioning human beings as social beings, converting capitalist private ownership into social property, eliminating the division between manual and intellectual labour, giving due importance to nature and environmental concerns, and mooting a case for increasing decentralization of the state.

Protagonistic democracy is described as an alternative to participatory democracy. By organizing forces from below, i.e., creating more spaces for local governance on the principle of self-sustainability of everyday life, the corruption and bureaucratization of the state and the party can be checked. However, in the transition period, to overcome the limits of direct democracy, delegate democracy has also been put in place. The state’s role has been to facilitate protagonistic democracy, intervening only to assist it, support it when it fails and in issues of national importance. Social ownership of the means of production, production organized by workers, and production tuned towards satisfying communal needs becomes an essential part of this protagonistic democracy.

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