The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Destruction of Latin America’s Left and Lessons for Everyone

I’ve wanted to write about this for a while, and this is a good place to start:

The so-called marea rosa, or ‘pink tide’, of allied leftist governments which held sway across Latin America in previous years is being rolled back. Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff was removed from power in a right-wing coup, co-conspirators of which have now managed to imprison the current presidential frontrunner, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno has stabbed his former leader Rafael Correa in the back by barring him from seeking re-election, while seemingly purging his cabinet of remaining Correa loyalists and beginning the process of allowing the US military back into the country.

Meanwhile in Argentina, the former President is also under criminal investigation.

This all seems, well, “they did bad things, they should be prosecuted,” but somehow other politicians, often clearly more corrupt, aren’t prosecuted. The prosecution of Lula, in particular, was clearly a way to stay in power, since all polls show he would have won the election.

The norms are breaking down in many nations, including the United States. What is done to win is illegitimate, as with Republican vote manipulation and the 2000 Supreme court decision; what is done afterwards to opponents is also often illegitimate, and if the wrong person wins, they are gone after legally.

Americans will immediately think of the efforts to get Trump, and some will assume it is in the same vein. To some extent it seems to be, in others it isn’t (again, he’s clearly in violation of Emoluments.) But it didn’t start with Trump, it started with Clinton, who had clearly done nothing that affected him as President. (That said, he and Newt Gingrich had an agreement in place to gut Social Security and Medicare, which impeachment sidetracked, so I’m not crying too much. Clinton was a right-winger in every important way.)

Corruption is bad, and should be purged, but when I see corruption investigations which are clearly aimed at one side and not both (as with Xi’s anti-corruption drive in China, which was overall good but somehow took out the other major power blocs in China) I suspect that it isn’t primarily about corruption.

And in Brazil, where most seem to agree that those attacking Dilma were, in fact, more corrupt than her, it’s more than hmmm.

This is an ugly game. In Latin America it is bi-partisan with respect to the US. Having Latin America be left-wing was something neither Democrats nor Republicans wanted.

Meanwhile Argentina is inking an agreement with the IMF for 50 billion in exchange for structural adjustments and the Ecuadoran President is clearly moving towards forcing Assange out of Ecuador’s London embassy. (Yes, yes, you may hate Assange for a variety of reasons, some legitimate, but he is not being targeted because he is not a nice man, but because both Democrats and Republicans, on record, want to punish him various leaks, especially Collateral Murder.)

This is a very dirty game, and left-wingers keep treating it as if it is not; as if there are rules, and both sides play by them. Increasingly, in the US that is not the case, and it is clearly not the case many other places. If your enemies win, they will destroy you by any means. You should think long and hard about what you will do to them if you get into power, because they know what they will do to you.

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  1. Daniel A Lynch

    “They say they don’t like my methods. Well, I don’t like them either. I really don’t like to have to do things the way I do. I’d much rather get up before the legislature and say, ‘Now this is a good law and it’s for the benefit of the people, and I’d like you to vote for it in the interest of the public welfare.’ Only I know that laws ain’t made that way. You’ve got to fight fire with fire.” ~ Louisiana governor Huey Long aka “the Kingfish”
    Naturally, the American left despises Huey Long, one of the most effective left-leaning politicians in American history.

  2. Webstir

    And then there is this:

    That link will bring you to a takedown of John Oliver’s recent segment on Venezuela.
    This keeps happening. Just when I think the wool has been removed from my eyes, I realize I still don’t see the depth of the corruption that is regularly foisted upon us. I think I find a source that can be trusted, and BLAM! I get hit in the head by a 2×4 of reality.

    After watching the pure capitalist propaganda Oliver was spewing as fact, I kicked myself for once again being so naive. I’m to the point where I think the media corporation are literally trolling the left. Here’s the bait and switch: (1) find a purportedly leftist upcoming media personality, (2) write scripts for them that are actually fairly progressive in order to gain trust, (3) once a following is established, change the script. Seriously, how many progressive Oliver fans watched this episode and didn’t question a single thing?

    The merry-go-round is making me dizzy. Could someone please stop the world so I can get off? And no, I don’t mean that in a suicidal ideation way. More, Timothy Leary meets James Howard Kunstler. Fuck everyone outside my immediate sphere of influence.

    Law? What, law? My chosen, and once noble profession is today a horrible joke used to rationalize every manner of evil. You’re right, Ian. There is no law anymore. Just cults of personality where justice belongs to the victor to craft as the victor chooses.

  3. Webstir

    “This is a very dirty game, and left-wingers keep treating it as if it is not: as if there are rules, and both sides play by them.”

    “The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”

    Thanks Obama. Thanks for declining to rule.

  4. Chiron

    “This is an ugly game. In Latin America it is bi-partisan with respect to the US. Having Latin America be left-wing was something neither Democrats nor Republicans wanted.”

    Yeah, pretty much this, Hillary was supporting the Latin-America right-wingers, Obama seemed to support Dilma but I think Obama wasn’t strong as people think. The American oil sector is real power center of the US foreign policy together with Zionist lobby.

    I honestly think that there is something more going on, the Neocon right is extremely well connected and powerful, a combination of wealthy Zionists, Evangelical footsoldiers, Big business, oil sector, Banksters,.. Trump was under attack until the Jerusalem Embassy move and the end of the Iran deal, he filled his recent cabinet with hardcore Neocons, I doubt Democrats will impeach him even if the gain House majority in the next election.

  5. someofparts

    Americans still worship Reagan. Trump enjoys an 87% approval from his base. Coherent left-wing opposition has been attacked and marginalized here for over a century. China and Asia will become the new centers of science and wealth. All of the western hemisphere south of Canada will become the impoverished destination for all of the toxic refuse of the world. Americans will pretend to be Canadians when they can afford to travel, so as not to be spit on by, well, everyone.

  6. Ché Pasa

    The activist, political Left in the US was eviscerated in the 1950s. It had been under attack by the High and the Mighty in this country from its pre-Soviet inception. Those attacks never really let up.

    The apparent success of a mild-left in Latin America was an anomaly. The US didn’t openly intervene for once. The rich and powerful forces that controlled governments in those countries appeared to allow the People a temporary voice and the illusion of power, perhaps in reaction to the horrors of the numerous civil wars and bloody suppressions of the past. But it was bound not to last. And it hasn’t.

    Yet there is a remnant activist and political Left in most of Latin America, whereas there is none in the US. Calling Democrats “Leftists” and “the Left” is idiotic. Democrats have never been a Leftist party and they aren’t one now, not even close. They are a slightly less harsh version of their rightist NeoLibCon Republican rivals.

    Noting the absence of an activist political Left in this country, minor parties like the Greens and Libertarians have tried to claim the mantle of Leftism, but it’s easy enough to see through their political incoherence and opportunism. Or it should be.

    If you have a steady enough diet of cable news, however, you would think the Dems are fist-raised collectivist red-flag waving wild eyed commie pinkos coming to take your stuff to give to the undeserving Other and to rape your wimmen and turn your chirren gay just because.

    The trope of the “Democrat Hard Left” is that strong across the media spectrum, baked in. Fox and its fringier ilk may exaggerate the image, but it is foundational practically everywhere in media, and thus in the minds of many Americans.

    It’s false.

    Both major parties in the US are functionally and ideologically rightist. That’s not going to change. No fiery or soothing words, no charismatic figure running for office as a Democrat — including Bernie or someone like him — is going to transform the US into a Leftist Paradise.

    On the other hand, it’s remarkably easy to move the needle rightward. It’s so easy, it’s almost miraculous. Not only in the US but practically everywhere.

    We might want to ponder why that is so.

  7. bob mcmanus

    “This is a very dirty game, and left-wingers keep treating it as if it is not: as if there are rules, and both sides play by them.”

    I sometimes use a picture of Felix Dzerzhinsky as my wallpaper.

  8. bob mcmanus

    And for that matter I have a more open mind toward…the Soviet thirties…than some, and for every hypothetical that has unpurged generals humiliating the Wehrmacht in 1941 I got one that sees a pro-western military coup in 1946.

    Outcome wasn’t all that bad, for local goals.

  9. EmilianoZ

    When you’re on the left, you need to be perfect.

  10. different clue

    If one is going to call various sorts of socialists and other far-reaching reform-seekers to be the “left”, the “left” was significantly degraded and attrited by what some call “America’s most evil President” . . .Woodrow Wilson. He invented the modern War Propaganda State as part of his effort to work with Great Britain to lie and manipulate America into the First World War. ( On the wrong side, some would say). It was ” the evil Wilson’s” Attorney General Palmer who made himself famous with various red-hunting raids. Wilson engineered waves of anti-Germanitic bigotry and culture-destruction all over America, as well as deliberately bringing Jim Crow Segregation to Washington DC.

    And of course it was Wilson who engineered the Political Kangaroo Trial against Eugene Debs which got Debs imprisoned long enough to help break up a genuine indigenous Socialist Party which was emerging here and gaining strength.

    That Wilsonian scorched-earth persecution created the sterile political desert in which the bitter weeds of Marxism Leninism Stalinism could take root and spread, to the pre-emptive near-exclusion of any non-Gulag non-Alien left which might try re-emerging.

  11. Webstir

    I recently read a great book review on the origins of neoliberalism that tie neatly into your point, Ian. It can be found here:

    Here’s the money:
    “Nothing quite like the EU exists in the rest of the world. Elsewhere the main vehicle for the neoliberal project is international agreements on trade and investment. Slobodian argues that the framers of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and its successor, the World Trade Organization, drew heavily from the self-conscious neoliberals of the Geneva school. For these thinkers, the most important argument for free movement of goods and especially finance was not their direct material benefits, but the limits they imposed on the autonomy of national governments. Capital mobility became a bedrock principle of international order not out of a charitable desire to bring more foreign investment to poor countries, but rather in the hope that “the ever-present threat of capital flight . . . would be the surest corrective on projects of building domestic welfare states.”

    Now, why does the right keep pounding the left of late? Because of the constant threat of international capital flight. The right is always backed by BIG money. The problem may not be so much that “This is a very dirty game, and left-wingers keep treating it as if it is not: as if there are rules, and both sides play by them.” But rather, that the left even tries to play on the same stage … regardless of the rules. The right dominates the international stage because it has the money to do so. To hire the lawyers to do the lobbying, write the laws, fight the court battles.

    The left is stupid to focus beyond any administrative region bigger than the city/county. You need money to play at the higher levels. You only need charisma, conviction, and a message to impact those in your immediate sphere of influence. I know it’s so cliche as to have become trite today, but the old saying applies now more then ever to the left: Think globally, act locally. That’s how the left wins in the end. Take the power from the bottom.

  12. tony

    Imagine a socially conservative white man democratic socialist opposed to war. Would that man be acceptable to the left?

    Imagine a pro war neoliberal non-white woman who has all the correct opinions about race and sexuality. Which person would be more acceptable to the left? I would say the latter. There are core values and there are periphery values that mostly function provide bargaining chips.

  13. Daniel A Lynch:
    I’d be willing to bet a good number of people, leftists included, have no idea who Huey Long is. The problem with Long is that he was a racist.

  14. nihil obstet

    Phil Perspective:

    Huey Long was a politician in Louisiana; he never addressed race as an issue. On the one hand, his programs for the poor helped everyone regardless of race. At a time when ways were devised to exclude blacks from universal programs (Social Security excluded domestic and farm workers, agricultural subsidies went to owners rather than tenants, and the like), Long designed and supported his programs to extend to everybody. On the other hand, he did not actively seek to end discrimination in the society. Would he have been effective if he had done so? I’d doubt it. My reading is that it would have ended his political effectiveness. I therefore think that considering him a racist is rather harsh.

  15. Chiron

    @different clue

    The Woodrow Wilson think tank is supporting the destruction of the Left in Brazil, they’re supporting Sergi Moro.

  16. different clue

    testing testing . .

  17. different clue


    ” Evil Woody” would be proud.

  18. scruff

    Imagine a pro war neoliberal non-white woman who has all the correct opinions about race and sexuality. Which person would be more acceptable to the left? I would say the latter.

    I think the problem is that you’re speaking of the people who care primarily about race and sex as if they are the left, whereas their opinion criteria checklist reads more like a right-wing induction psalm than anything leftist at all. The so-called “social justice” movement is yet another example of left-wing politics being co-opted and taken over by right-wing reactionaries; they are the original alt-right. Until we can admit that this has happened and that leftist philosophy is something else entirely that we can strive to return to, this problem can’t be fixed.

  19. Carla

    “You should think long and hard about what you will do to them if you get into power, because they know what they will do to you.”
    Wow. I’ve felt this way for a long time, but never had the guts to say it. Thanks to Ian for his courage!

  20. tony


    Did you notice that Huey Long was immediately dismissed as a racist? Did you read Zizek’s opinion about the lack of democracy in the EU? He effectively said it is unfortunate, but we should not support actual democracy because it would be bad for the migrants.

    I would say that is the actually existing left. The actual alt-right does seem to have anti-war people and protectionists. Opposition to capital and the empire do not seem to be owned by either side, being fringe issues occasionally trotted out.

  21. scruff


    I would say that is the actually existing left

    I would say that you’re using the term “left” as a kind of team name here, rather than as a signifier of political leanings. I think that’s a strategic error, as it focuses attention on groupthink conflicts rather than principles of functional relationships that society can then run on. You’re not being weird here, your usage is commonly mirrored throughout political commentary and thought spaces; *I* am the one being weird here, I know that. Still, if “left” and “right” are to mean anything beyond labels for groups (and given that people switch groups, leave groups, and die off that’s not even a very good usage), they ought to refer to principles of political ethics. It’s that sense in which I am using the term and believe the term is best used.

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