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Latin America's Radical Left

Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-first Century

Edited by Steve Ellner - Foreword by William I. Robinson

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This timely book explores the unique challenges facing the left in Latin America today. The contributors offer clear and comprehensive assessments of the difficult conditions and conflicting forces that have brought to power the current leftist regimes in Latin American and the Caribbean and are shaping their development. Avoiding the widely accepted but simplistic dichotomy of “good” and “bad” left or democratic and antidemocratic left, the book first sets the theoretical and historical context for understanding the rise of the left in the region. It then provides case studies of the radical left in power in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador and its influence in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Cuba. Thematic chapters consider social and labor movements and debates over problems arising from the democratic transition to socialism. The book points to concrete circumstances in which theoretical issues related to reform and change have played out in nations where the left is in power. These include prioritization of social over economic objectives, the role of the state in the democratic road to socialism, and ecological as opposed to developmentalist strategies. Finally, the book examines the opposition to radical governments in power coming not only from the right but also from movements to their left. With its balanced and thorough assessment, this study will provide readers with a deep and nuanced understanding of the complexity of the political, economic, and sociocultural reality of contemporary Latin America and the Caribbean.

Contributions by: Marc Becker, Roger Burbach, George Ciccariello-Maher, Héctor M. Cruz-Feliciano, Steve Ellner, Federico Fuentes, Marcel Nelson, Hector Perla Jr., Camila Piñeiro Harnecker, Thomas Purcell, Diana Raby, William I. Robinson, and Kevin Young
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 306Size: 6 1/2 x 9 1/4
978-1-4422-2948-8 • Hardback • March 2014 • $99.00 • (£65.00)
978-1-4422-2949-5 • Paperback • March 2014 • $35.00 • (£23.95)
978-1-4422-2950-1 • eBook • March 2014 • $33.00 • (£22.95)
Steve Ellner is professor at the Universidad de Oriente, Anzoátegui Campus, Venezuela.
Foreword: The Global Significance of Latin America's New Radical Left
William I. Robinson
Introduction: Complexities of the Twenty-First-Century Radical Left in Power
Steve Ellner
Part I: Theoretical, Historical and International Background
Chapter 1: The Radical Left's Turbulent Transitions: An Overview
Roger Burbach
Chapter 2: Brief Hypotheses on the State, Democracy, and Revolution in Latin America Today
Diana Raby
Chapter 3: Institutional Conflict and the Bolivarian Revolution: Venezuela’s Negotiation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas
Marcel Nelson
Part II: The Twenty-First-Century Radical Left in Power in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador
Chapter 4: Social and Political Diversity and the Democratic Road to Change in Venezuela
Steve Ellner
Chapter 5: “Bad Left Government” versus “Good Left Social Movements”? Creative Tensions within Bolivia’s Process of Change
Federico Fuentes
Chapter 6: Rafael Correa and Social Movements in Ecuador
Marc Becker
Part III: Influences of the Twenty-First-Century Radical Left in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Cuba
Chapter 7: The Twenty-First-Century Road to Socialism in El Salvador and Nicaragua: Making Sense of Apparent Paradoxes
Hector Perla Jr. and Héctor M. Cruz-Feliciano
Chapter 8: Cuba’s New Socialism: Different Visions Shaping Current Changes
Camila Piñeiro Harnecker
Part IV: Economy, Society, and Media
Chapter 9: The Political Economy of Social Production Companies in Venezuela
Thomas Purcell
Chapter 10: Constituent Moments, Constitutional Processes: Social Movements and the New Latin American Left
George Ciccariello-Maher
Chapter 11: The Good, the Bad, and the Benevolent Interventionist: U.S. Press and Intellectual Distortions of the Latin American Left
Kevin Young
Chapter 12: Concluding Observations: The Twenty-First-Century Radical Left and the Latin American Road to Change
Steve Ellner
Nine of the 12 sections of Latin America's Radical Left, edited by Ellner are revised articles from the May 2013 issue of Latin American Perspectives. Ellner summarizes each section to make the material classroom friendly. The overall intellectual framework comes from Jorge Castañeda's distinction between a 'good' and 'bad' Left in Latin America. Castañeda argued that the 'good' Left was exemplified by the democratic and economically responsible governments of Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil, led by reformed communists and Marxists. Populists such as Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Andrés Manuel López-Obrador in Mexico represented the 'bad' Left. Several authors of articles in this book identify with Castañeda's 'bad' Left to the extent that it represents popular movements in each country. . . .Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, and professional collections.
CHOICE


An engaging and pertinent read for those within Latin American Studies and beyond. . . .Unlike previous work on the left, the authors move beyond the stagnant ‘two lefts’ thesis and instead provide a more nuanced discussion on the left in the region. . . .This book fills the gap by providing a comprehensive discussion on Latin America’s radical left which is accompanied by strong theoretical underpinnings on the complexities of this left and substantiated by in-depth case studies of the radical left in power across the region. . . . Regardless of your position on the radical left, this book is important because it steers away the stale good-bad debate and moves towards more substantive questions about governance, equality, diversity and democracy under radical left in the region.
E-International Relations


Convinced that we cannot change the world by ignoring the issue of power, the authors focus their attention on the trials and errors of Latin American leaders elected in the 2000s.
Le Monde Diplomatique


At once challenging, complicated, fascinating, and useful to any Latin Americanist interested in today’s (and tomorrow’s) events.
Latin American Perspectives


Aimed primarily at university students, this collection of essays analyses the phenomenon
of what the authors call the 'radical democratic Latin American Left in power'. . . .The book offers some useful and varied insights into the complex dynamics of a rapidly-changing region. . . .by focusing on the challenges faced by current leftist regimes in Latin America, the book provides a valuable opportunity to look beyond the experiences of individual countries at the broader social, economic and political forces at play in the region. . . .Rather than merely critiquing gaps between state discourse and practice, as some accounts do, the book highlights the structural factors that condition the trajectories of leftist governments. . . .All in all, readers of this book will gain a sense of the complex political, economic and socio-cultural realities of contemporary Latin America, as well as the dilemmas and challenges faced by the region’s leftist governments.
Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography


A valuable contribution to the growing literature on the left in Latin America. It reappraises the radical left and redeems it from marginalized status in the political science literature, and from critiques of it as simply populist and authoritarian. . . . A masterful and successful effort to analyze and defend the radical left.
Z Magazine


In Latin America’s Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-first Century, Steve Ellner attempts to provide much-needed context and nuance to our understanding of the continent’s so-called ‘radical left’. . . .The book’s contributors make the respectable claim that to clump these diverse leaders into the categories of good and bad is both overly simplistic and counterproductive. . . . Ellner’s essential thesis is that contemporary leftist governments face more significant challenges than their historical counterparts, given their socially and ideologically heterogeneous bases, and the demands of democracy and globalisation. This important point, coupled with the essential questions raised throughout, make this volume a thought-provoking, relevant read.
Survival: Global Politics and Strategy


Ably edited by long-time Venezuela scholar Steve Ellner, a strength of this volume on Latin America’s left governments is its willingness to allow for critical disagreement. The twelve contributors debate many of the principal issues raised by experiences...in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as addressing similar topics more broadly across the region. The book is rich in analysis about whether international conditions and regional levels of economic development allow for the construction of socialism; about the role of the traditional proletariat in the struggle; and, in a number of essays, about whether the left should concentrate on contesting state power or whether it should focus on increasing its influence within civil society. These issues have long been fraught among leftists and so the fierce—though respectful—debates among the book’s contributors, come as no surprise. . . . This volume succeeds admirably in defining the issues confronting the left—both activist and academic.
NACLA Report on the Americas


Written by scholars sympathetic to but critical of the project of so-called twenty-first-century socialism, the book provides significant insights about Latin America’s radical left in power. It will be useful for advanced undergraduates and postgraduate courses on contemporary Latin American politics and for anybody interested in highly original and complex processes of change.
Latin American Politics and Society


[An] excellent entry into understanding current developments in the region. . . . This group of very experienced Latin Americanists has the tools and knowledge to provide unusually clear understandings of what is going on, and they convey it well.
Z-Net, Global Research


Latin America’s Radical Left, edited by Steve Ellner, is a collection of articles that examine developments especially in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Is this socialism, is it anti-neo-liberalism, is it social democracy: what is it?. . . .This group of very experienced Latin Americanists has the tools and knowledge to provide unusually clear understandings of what is going on, and they convey it well. . . . This volume is an excellent place to begin—and has the added advantage of authors knowing of these other cases taking place at the same, so there is a comparative consciousness that makes most of these contributions even more valuable than just the subject immediately at hand.
New Politics


The essays in Latin America’s Radical Left deserve much praise for the number of issues they intelligently tackle. . . . [They] help deepen our understanding of the challenges faced by left-wing and centre-left administrations in Latin America.
Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research (JILAR)


This collection’s most distinctive feature is its focus on the so-called bad Left governments in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, which Ellner labels the twenty-first century Latin American radical Left, or 21LRL. . . .Collectively, the chapters do an excellent job of explaining the dilemmas and challenges facing the 21LRL, including the combination of representative and radical democracy, the difficulties of synthesizing pragmatic, economically efficient policies with popular mobilization and progressive social programs, the embrace of multiple social groups rather than prioritizing specific class actors, and the corresponding need to manage often severe internal differences. . . .On the whole, the essays in this volume provide a good contrast to Castañeda’s two Left theses and the mainstream social scientists and journalists who subscribe to it.
Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies


Historians will be happy to know that this collection is not unmoored from twentieth century experiences; contributors offer comparisons with past social democratic and communist regimes, although principally to illuminate contrasts. . . . This volume is designed for classroom use. Its comparative organization, including introductory summaries for each part, makes it easy to divide up into assignments, and students will find themes echoed across both more theoretical and empirical chapters. Its overt stance in favor of these socialistic experiences would make an ideal pairing with work from other perspectives.
Hispanic American Historical Review


Steve Ellner is one of our most insightful interpreters of Latin American politics, and in his new collection he brings together a diverse set of perspectives to assess the successes and setbacks of the region's governing militants. This is an important book that should be required reading for policy makers and students alike.
Greg Grandin, New York University


This collection of essays sheds new light on the heterogeneous social interests and political currents that have come together under radical leftist governments in twenty-first-century Latin America. Ellner and his collaborators not only compare the radical left in contemporary Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, but also explain what makes this new left different from historical models of communism, populism, and social democracy. Rich in theoretical insights as well as empirical analysis, this book is a major contribution to our understanding of popular movements and political alternatives in contemporary Latin America.
Kenneth M. Roberts, Cornell University


Compares the radical left and the moderate left in Latin America and contrasts them with communist and social democratic lefts in power in the twentieth century

Discusses challenges facing the radical left not only from movements to its right but also those to its left

Critiques media reporting that demonizes the radical left while praising the “good left” in Brazil and elsewhere

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