. Short Essay on Latin America and Revolution | London Progressive Journal
A non-partisan journal of the left.

Short Essay on Latin America and Revolution

Sun 2nd Jun 2019

This short essay is a study of the history and politics of Latin America and revolution. Latin America, like most parts of the world, has a revolutionary history, a revolutionary politics, and a revolutionary tradition. This short essay is about the history and politics of the revolutionary tradition in Latin America - from the Capitalist Revolutions of the 19th century to the Socialist Revolutions of today. Revolution has been a part of the history and politics of Latin America since 1800. Ever since the 19th century there have been revolutions and revolutionary struggles in Latin America. For Socialists these revolutions have played a crucial role in the development and history of Latin America.

Latin America is a crucial theatre for Socialist Revolution in the world today. [1] In order for Socialist Revolution to triumph in Latin America, today, it is important to understand the history and politics of revolution in Latin America. The struggle for history and politics is part of the struggle of revolution. [2]

All societies tend to produce revolutions and revolutionary traditions. This is certainly true of modern societies produced by modern industry and by modern politics. Latin America, in its own ways, is no different. The revolutionary tradition in Latin America first emerged in the 1800s, with the first modern revolutions on that continent - in the reality of the breakdown of the old colonial system of Spain and Portugal and the emergence of Capitalism in Latin America. This revolutionary tradition continues today - under the reality of Capitalism and Imperialism in Latin America and under the reality of the struggle for Socialism. The revolutionary tradition in Latin America continues today - in the form of the struggle for Socialism and for Socialist Revolution. [3]

Latin America has a revolutionary tradition due to its history and its politics. The economic history and political history of Latin America, marked by feudalism, colonialism, early imperialism, economic problems and economic struggles, the rise of modern Capitalism and modern Imperialism, has produced the revolutionary struggle in Latin America. Latin America, in its history and its politics, has produced a number of revolutions - both political revolutions and social revolutions. [4]

Latin America has two revolutionary traditions - one from above and one from below. The first revolutionary tradition in Latin America is the Capitalist revolutionary tradition. The second revolutionary tradition in Latin America is the Socialist revolutionary tradition. The Capitalist revolutionary tradition is revolution from above. The Socialist revolutionary tradition is revolution from below. The Capitalist revolutionary tradition was the bourgeois struggle of the 1800s, which freed Latin America from Spain and Portugal in the 1800s and which established the bourgeois republics in Latin America and the reality of Capitalism in Latin America. This struggle, against Bourbon Spain, remains a powerful historical example of the political tradition of revolution in Latin America. The Socialist revolutionary tradition in Latin America is the revolutionary struggle for Socialism in Latin America. This tradition emerged in the late 19th century and in the early 20th century, based on the revolutionary struggle of the workers and peasants of Latin America for Socialism. Every revolution and revolutionary struggle in the history and politics of Latin America, across the long centuries since the Spanish Conquest in the 1500s, fits into one or the other of these two revolutionary traditions.

From the wars of independence in the 1800s, through the Mexican Revolution of 1910, to the struggles of the 20th century, the social struggle in Latin America has been a struggle between the Capitalist revolutionary tradition and the Socialist revolutionary tradition. Every social revolution in the history of modern Latin America, like most revolutionary struggles in the modern world, has either been a Capitalist Revolution or a Socialist Revolution. So-far the majority of revolutions in the history of Latin America have been bourgeois revolutions - which established the majority of Capitalist states and Capitalist societies seen across South America. The struggle today, in Latin America, and across the whole of the Americas, is the struggle for Socialism and Socialist Revolution.

Latin America has had many social revolutions and political revolutions over the last two centuries. Most Socialists are aware of them and their effects. The Capitalist Revolutions which occurred alongside the Latin American Wars of Independence, from 1808 to 1833, are the best known. These revolutions, especially the revolutions of 1810-1811, established the reality of Capitalism in Latin America - but kept Latin America under the grip of Feudal backwardness in some areas and the reality of Western Imperialism and US Imperialism in other areas. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 followed on from this - and turned into its own form of social revolution.

There are also the revolutions of the 20th century - the attempted Socialist Revolutions of Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. So-far, Latin America remains caught between its two revolutionary traditions - between Capitalist Revolution and Socialist Revolution, between Barbarism and Socialism.

The key revolutions in the history and politics of Latin America remain the Revolutions of the 1800s, the Wars of Independence in the 1800s, the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Chilean Revolution of 1970-1973, the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

The fact that Latin America has two revolutionary traditions shapes the struggle for Revolution and for Socialism in Latin America today. The fact that the Capitalist revolutionary tradition and the Socialist revolutionary tradition both exist in Latin America today still impacts the history and politics of Latin America - especially in regards to the history and politics of the Latin American Left and the Latin American working-class.

The struggle of the Left in Latin America has often been shaped by the legacy of the Capitalist Revolutions of the past, and the struggle for Socialist Revolution. [5]

The Capitalist Revolutions of the 1800s established Capitalism in Latin America. [6] Capitalism in Latin American emerged from these Revolutions. This reality of Capital and Capitalism, alongside the remains of Feudalism, remains, for most of Latin American politics, the social reality of Latin America today. Despite the limits of Capitalism in Latin America, the revolutions of the 1800s marked the beginning of modern Latin America. This revolution of Capital and Capitalism was a slow process, indeed it remains unfinished in large parts of Latin America, but it still established the modern social structure and society we see in Latin America today. This revolution, like all Capitalist revolutions, has produced the basis for Socialism in Latin America. The Capitalist Revolutions, against Bourbon Spain, against Portugal, against Imperialism, failed to achieve much social progress in Latin America, indeed they established firmly bourgeois dictatorships for most of the 1800s and 1900s, but they did establish the reality of social revolution and social change in Latin America. The Capitalist Revolutions also had the effect of creating the precedent for Socialist Revolution - both in the 1800s, the 1900s, and for today.

The Socialist Revolution has yet to achieve victory in Latin America. This has not been without struggle and effort in Latin America itself - by the Left of Latin America and by the working-class of Latin America. Since the 1800s there have been numerous struggles and revolutions in Latin America attempting to achieve Socialism and Socialist Revolution in Latin America. Many Socialists across Latin America and the world can easily point to examples of working-class struggles, working-class rebellions, and working-class revolutions in Latin America - across the last two centuries. The best examples of these attempts at Socialist Revolution in Latin America, from Cuba to Chile, from Brazil to Peru, remain vital parts of understanding the struggle for Socialism in Latin America. There is a revolutionary Socialist tradition in Latin America, even today, and that tradition will be vital to the struggle for Socialism and Socialist Revolution in Latin America - both today and in the future.

The effect of revolution and the revolutionary tradition on Latin America is, of course, the reality of Latin America today. Latin America has been shaped by the course and results of its revolutionary tradition. How can this be tradition be understood today? How can this tradition be understood in terms of understanding the continent and the possibility for Socialism and Socialist Revolution in Latin America today? Such questions are important - because Latin America also has a history of counter-revolutions, military repression, wars, and coups, alongside its history of revolutions.

Latin American politics, both in the 20th century and today, has been based on the relationship between revolution and counter-revolution. Most of the reactionary states, dictatorships, and coups in the history of Latin America, from Chile to Brazil, from Uruguay to Argentina, from the 1900s to the 2000s, occurred as attempts to prevent further social revolution in Latin America - or to prevent Socialist Revolution. The military dictatorships of the Right in Latin America, from the 1950s to 1990s, were based on preventing Socialist Revolution. The recent coups and attempted coups of Latin American politics, in Venezuela in 2002, in Honduras in 2007, in Brazil in 2016, and in Venezuela in 2019, show that the politics of counter-revolution always remain active in Latin America – in attempting to prevent social change and social revolution.

The ruling-classes of Latin America today remain determined to prevent further social revolutions and political revolutions in Latin America. This especially includes preventing the possibility of Socialist Revolution. The social struggle in most parts of Latin America, from Brazil to Venezuela, remains focused around this dynamic - of Revolution and Counter-Revolution.

The Capitalist revolutionary tradition in Latin America began in the 1800s: with the struggle to achieve independence from Imperial Spain and Imperial Portugal, and to achieve both Capitalism and bourgeois republics in Latin America. The revolutions of the early 19th century in Latin America, from 1808 to 1833, formed the basis of the Capitalist Revolution in Latin America and the beginning of Capitalism in Latin America.

Between 1808 and 1833, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela, achieved their independence from Spain.

In 1822, Brazil achieved independence from Portugal. These revolutions ended the old power of Bourbon Spain in Latin America and began a new period in the history of Latin America - effectively a period of Capitalist Revolution. It is on this tradition that the majority of modern states in Latin America rest on, and upon which the majority of states in Latin America remain founded on. This Capitalist revolutionary tradition established, also, the modern social structure and modern social struggle in Latin America - as Capitalism furthered itself in the 19th century and in the 20th century in Latin America, upon the states established by the revolutions and wars for Latin American Independence.

The Socialist revolutionary tradition in Latin America began in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. This tradition began with the emergence of a working-class politics and a Socialist politics in Latin America. In the 20th century, and today, the social struggle from this Socialist revolutionary tradition has yet to achieve the full Socialist Revolution in Latin America. Yet the social struggle in Latin America, as in the 1800s and 1900s, shows the potential for Socialism in Latin America – as long as the Working-Class itself is capable of struggling for Socialism. Most of the great social revolutions and political revolutions of Latin America in the 20th century contained the potential for Socialism. Any real social revolution in Latin America today can only come from the Socialist tradition of Revolution in Latin America.

The nature of Latin America’s revolutionary tradition has shaped the reality of Latin America today. Latin America, for better and for worse, is the product of that revolutionary tradition. Latin America is thus the product of Capitalist Revolution, Capitalist Counter-Revolution, and the current struggle for Socialism. Latin America, like societies everywhere, needs Socialist Revolution and it needs Socialism.

Any change to the societies and states of Latin America today will rely on the struggle and victory of the Socialist revolutionary tradition of Latin America. It will depend on the ability of the Left in Latin America to struggle for that revolutionary tradition of Socialism in Latin America.

The impact and legacy of Latin America’s revolutionary traditions means that Latin America remains a place where revolution and social revolution is possible. Latin America remains an area of contest and conflict between the Capitalist revolutionary tradition and the Socialist revolutionary tradition, between Capitalism and Socialism. Indeed there is still great potential for social revolution in Latin America today - whether in the form of Capitalist Revolution or Socialist Revolution. Indeed there is still the reality of social revolution in Latin America today - as Capitalism expands itself in the continent of South America and Central America - and as the working-class, across the continent of South America and Central America, struggles to achieve its own visions and its own politics - that of Socialism and Socialist Revolution. The social struggle in Latin America today, one inherited from history and politics, is the social struggle between Capitalism and Socialism. It is also a social struggle inherited from the history and politics of the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries - both of which were revolutionary centuries in the history and politics of Latin America. The social struggle between Capitalist Revolution and Socialist Revolution, as in most parts of the world, is also particularly fierce in Latin America - given the history and politics of the last two centuries, and the brutalities of social struggle and social revolution in the history of Latin America. Latin America, like most continents, has a bloody revolutionary history and a bloody revolutionary politics - which ensures that the social struggle for Socialism in Latin America today continues on from the struggles of the past.

The struggle for Socialism and Socialist Revolution helped to shape Latin America in the 20th century. The struggle for Socialism and Socialist Revolution still shapes Latin America today. That struggle still continues today - despite the shortcomings and setbacks of previous struggles for Socialism. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 was probably the best example at an attempt at a Socialist Revolution in the history of Latin America - despite its real faults and real shortcomings as an example of a Socialist Revolution. The Chilean Revolution of 1970-1973 was probably the other great example of an attempted Socialist Revolution in Latin America. These have been followed by other attempts at Socialist Revolution in Latin America - from Mexico, to Nicaragua in the 1980s, to the Venezuelan Revolution of the 2000s. So-far each of these revolutions, even when led by the Left, have been limited as examples of Socialist Revolutions - even in the context of Latin America. The Cuban Revolution, while heroic, did not spark off a continental Socialist Revolution - as many had hoped in the 1960s. The Chilean Revolution was crushed in the coup of September 11 1973. The Nicaraguan Revolution was defeated in the reality of the Nicaraguan civil war and the counter-revolution of the Contras.

The Venezuelan Revolution, so-far, has been handicapped by the limits of Chavezism, the limits of Bolivarianism, and by American reaction, but still has the potential, even today, to achieve something of a social revolution and a Socialist Revolution. Indeed the Venezuelan Revolution shows the eternal difficulty of converting a Left-Nationalist Revolution into a Socialist Revolution. The social struggle in Venezuela today, and the fate of the Venezuelan Revolution, shows the importance of achieving a Socialist Revolution there, for the future of Latin America. Today Latin America remains a key theatre for possible social revolution and Socialist Revolution - from Brazil to Venezuela. The legacy of attempting a Socialist Revolution in Latin America in the 20th century is the legacy of a long struggle - one highlighted by the struggle of the working-class of Latin America - but it is a struggle which has yet to achieve the decisive struggle for Socialism in Latin America. Any struggle for Socialism in Latin America today will have to take stock of the revolutionary legacy of the 20th century struggles for Socialism - both in terms of history and politics.

The attempts at Socialist Revolution in Latin America, in the 20th century, while heroic, have yet to achieve the decisive revolutionary break and revolutionary struggle for Socialist Revolution in Latin America. Essentially the struggle continues in Latin America today. The struggle for a Socialist Revolution in Latin America continues today - whether in Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil or Venezuela. The struggle continues from the bottom of the continent to the top of the continent. Any struggle for Socialism in Latin America today, from the Left or from the working-class, from Venezuela to Brazil, from Cuba to Mexico, is to be welcomed. Yet any such struggle must understand both the strengths and weaknesses of previous attempts at Revolution and Socialist Revolution in Latin America - while struggling for a Socialist Revolution in Latin America today. [7]

Thinking about the Socialist Revolution in Latin America is almost as important as making the Socialist Revolution in Latin America. Thinking and making the Latin American Revolution, today, requires a firm grasp of the history and politics of Latin America. The revolutionary politics of the past are vital to the construction of the revolutionary politics of the present. Revolutionary experience is the basis for any revolutionary practice.



[1] R. Debray, Latin America: The Long March, (1965)

[2] R. Debray, Latin America: The Long March, (1965)

[3] E. Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America, (1971)

[4] E. Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America, (1971)

[5] R. Debray, Problems of Revolutionary Strategy in Latin America, (1967)

[6] E.J. Hobsbawm, Age of Revolution: 1789-1848 (1962)

[7] R. Debray, Latin America: The Long March, (1965)

You must be logged in to post comments on the site or you can use Facebook above.