in the 1980s in Central and South America equates the radical left and right and blames them equally for the bloodshed and repression that brought ruin to Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s.3 But these claims have a limited basis in the historical record, as the repressive thrust of Southern Cone governments antedated any serious guerrilla insurgency. In recent years, a scholarly current hasemerged that emphasizes the relative superﬁciality of the political commitment of the protesters, ascribing the rapidity of the formation of the movement to a generalized rebelliousness. The global character of the protests, across the ideological spectrum and the Cold War divides, has led some authors, including Jeremi Suri, to emphasize a “language of dissent” directed at political elites that islargely devoid of speciﬁc political content.4 Paul Berman and Forrest Colburn both underscore the middle-class origins of the New Left and the moral dimension of its protests as the genesis of fatal problems ranging from authoritarianism to abject insensitivity to the needs of the dispossessed class they sought to emancipate. Berman writes: “The entire project of building a new kind of left-wingmovement had begun with a moral worry about being privileged in a world of suffering. The idea had been to take privileged young people and put them on the side of the oppressed.”5 Colburn’s study, rooted in the underdeveloped world, argues that revolution became a “vogue” among intellectuals and university students around the world.6 These analyses minimize the importance of the preceding years ofstudent and labor protest and mobilizations and the challenges to class divisions posed by the 1968 protests in Latin America. An egalitarian ethos informed the movement, calling into question all hierarchical social and political relations. The New Left ethos was of course symptomatic of a generalized nonpolitical rebelliousness, exempliﬁed by the counterculture. Yet it was also profoundlypolitical, in that activists tended to politicize all aspects of social and cultural life. Their rejection of parliamentary politics, although certainly problematic, should not be confused with a rejection of politics or as evidence of low political consciousness. Most New Left activists were, indeed, middle-class. But in Latin America, the term “middle class” was geographically and sociologicallyelastic, including children of low-level government employees, white-collar workers, and shopkeepers, not far removed from the urban working
Grandin critiques Jorge Castaneda’s Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left after the Cold War (New ˜ York, 1994) for offering such an interpretation about the role of the radical left in provoking military repression. Although Castaneda’s study overlooks the1968 protests, state repression of these move˜ ments was a precondition for the growth of the guerrilla movements. 3 David Stoll’s Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala (New York, 1993) offers an early statement of the “guerrilla provocation of military repression” thesis for the 1970s Guatemalan context. 4 Jeremi Suri, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente(Cambridge, Mass., ´ 2003). Suri’s focus is not on the 1968 protests per se. His analysis of the protests does not deal with their speciﬁcally political dimension. He writes: “Extensive student interaction within the framework of crowded, usually urban, educational institutions provided the infrastructure for dissent within many societies. The words of prominent iconoclasts . . . supplied the languagethat allowed men and women to express their anger as they had not before . . . In many cases student protesters mobilized around a powerful rhetoric of social criticism articulated by intellectual elites.” Ibid., 88. 5 Paul Berman, A Tale of Two Utopias: The Political Journey of the Generation of 1968 (New York, 1996), 118. 6 Forrest D. Colburn, The Vogue of Revolution in Poor Countries...
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