December 15, 2015

Book Review, "Challenges Facing the Latin American Left According to Marta Harnecker" by Steve Ellner

Book Review
Challenges Facing the Latin American Left According to Marta Harnecker 
by Steve Ellner

Marta Harnecker, A World to Build: New Paths toward Twenty-first-Century Socialism.
Translated by Fred Fuentes. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2015.
In A World to Build, the prolific Chilean Marxist writer Marta Harnecker applies Marx’s and Lenin’s theories on socialist construction to twenty-first-century Latin American left governments and points to the original aspects of the lessons drawn from those experiences. The book is divided into three parts: past developments such as the anti-neoliberal protests of the 1990s that helped change the political map in Latin America, the transition to socialism in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and the challenges faced by the left in power to achieving consolidation and hegemony. In each chapter Harnecker discusses the effectiveness of mechanisms designed to bring about decentralization and popular participation in decision making. In some cases she analyzes arrangements promoted by leftist governments such as worker cooperatives, community councils, and participatory planning. In other cases she presents proposals of her own or those formulated by leftist activists and intellectuals such as the Canadian economist Michael Lebowitz (2010), whose emphasis on “human development” under socialism she shares. Translated by Fred Fuentes. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2015.

The book is enriched by Harnecker’s familiarity with the concrete problems, challenges, and successes of leftist governments in Latin America and her ability to draw on the lessons and theories derived from struggles over the past two centuries. Indeed, her diverse political experiences include her leadership involvement in the Christian student movement, her studies under the famed Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, her participation in the leftist movement that supported President Salvador Allende, her extended residence in Cuba, where she founded and ran an institute on popular memory, and her numerous interviews with Latin American leftist leaders and activists throughout the continent.

Another of the book’s contributions is Harnecker’s analysis and conclusions on the thorny issue of the role of the state in the prolonged democratic transition to socialism. She implicitly rejects the social-democratic vision of a unified …


Latin American Perspectives
July 2015 42: 108-112, doi:10.1177/0094582X15590595

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