The antagonism of the struggles in defense of life as a process of re-politicization of the social in Latin America. A dialogue with Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz

Received: February 27, 2019

Acceptance: August 29, 2019


In this text I present a comment to the essay "The inequalities and the re-politicization of the social in Latin America" by Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz. Starting from the critical approach, which the author proposes to the processes of re-politicization of the social and (dis) empowerment, caused by the profound mutations of the (neo) liberal order, I do an exercise of dialogue, expansion and feedback in terms of collective conflicts and responses, with hopes and transformative possibilities in contexts of socio-environmental conflict. In particular, I present some traces of the social antagonism of community struggles in defense of life in the face of the extractivist offensive on territories and means of subsistence.

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Antagonisms in Life-defense Struggles as Processes of Social Re-politicization in Latin America: A Dialogue with Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz

My essay presents a commentary on Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz's study entitled “Inequalities and the re-politicization of the social in Latin America”(“ Inequalities and the Re-Politicization of the Social in Latin America ”). Using a critical approach that the author proposes for processes of re-politicizing the social, as well as (dis) empowerment, both brought on by sweeping changes to the (neo) liberal order, I undertake an exercise in dialogue, expansion and feedback with regard to conflicts and collective responses, yearning and transformative possibilities in contexts of socio-environmental conflict. In particular, I present sketches of social antagonism from community struggles that defend life against extractive aggression that attacks territories and means of subsistence.

Keywords: Re-politicization of the social, (dis) empowerment, social antagonism, life-defense struggles, socio-environmental conflict, extractivism.

RThe author's proposal to present a critical and general approach to understand the complex processes of re-politicization of the social provoked by the various policies and dynamics of the (neo) liberal order in Latin America is extremely interesting. To achieve this goal, he proposes to follow two paths: on the one hand, from the keys of power and conflict (covert, latent, open), to understand inequalities as processes of (dis) empowerment, which have made the conditions of existence of a large part of the population. And on the other hand, to trace the different responses of the affected sectors to the processes of disempowerment through violence, the way out that materializes in migration, the magic way that seeks refuge in religiosity and the collective action that can derive in the formation of social movements.

In this text I propose to delve into one of the dynamics of extreme (dis) empowerment that the author identifies, in light of the processes of control of territories and exclusion of smallholders from globalization. In other works we have identified this phenomenon as part of an extractivist offensive (Composto and Navarro, 2014: 48), within the framework of the capitalist accumulation mode that has intensified in the last two decades and left a trail of socio-environmental impacts, the irreversible majority, and the emergence of a critical process of conflict led mainly by community, indigenous and peasant struggles in defense of life.1

An unavoidable starting point in the critical understanding of socio-environmental conflicts is to recognize that dispossession and violence are constitutive of the logic of capital accumulation, that is,
They are not memories fixed in a remote past and outdated as modernity and its promises of abundance have been achieved, nor are they an exceptional, anomalous, accidental condition or, as neoclassical economics points out, some failure of the market or of the economy. Condition. On the contrary, capitalism has historically responded to a dynamic of expansion and constant appropriation of human and non-human nature to convert it into value and guarantee its own reproduction. To do this, through violence, it has generated increasingly radical transformations in the fabric of life (Moore, 2015),2 from the elimination and dismantling of forms of human and non-human life organized in interdependence, as a guarantee of the sustainability of life on the planet.3

With neoliberalism, these dynamics of dispossession have been radicalized through extractivism, from subsuming those areas of life that are not fully inserted in the logic of value and separating men and women from their means of existence,4 in order to have the necessary conditions for its exploitation. This mode of accumulation operates from what Santos (2001) calls "imperial discovery", while the discoverer, within the framework of a difference converted into an unequal relationship of power and knowledge, imposes his ability to declare the other as discovered. And in that action of control and submission, inferiority is crucial to legitimize the sacrificial character of the territories and worlds of life not fully inserted in the logic of value. In line with Pérez Saínz, we would say that in current times, from the logic of power, differences continue to be processed in terms of inequality via imposed inferiorization and assimilation (Pérez Sáinz, 2014, 2016).

Regardless of the political sign, in all the governments of Latin America this imperial logic becomes operative through what in other works we have called expropriation devices, that is, a wide range of legal strategies, of co-optation, repression, criminalization, militarization. and even counterinsurgency over the communities and territories in dispute, to guarantee at any cost the opening of new spaces for exploitation and commercialization. In this offensive, actors linked to national and transnational capital appear, hand in hand with governments in their different spheres and levels, in a progressively more visible relationship, with actors linked to delinquent and criminal economies (Composto and Navarro, 2014: 57).

Clearly one of the consequences of the deployment of this set of strategies are the processes of disempowerment, which in my experience I have been able to understand as processes of material and political dispossession at the same time. The dispossession of the political includes the destructuring of the social fabric, the erosion and capture of community regulations of self-government, and the expropriation of political decision-making and self-determination capacities (Navarro, 2015).

A case that illustrates this issue is the targeted social programs of governments and actions of companies through the so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (go)5> to contain local social demands and generate support and loyalty to sustain the development of extractivist enterprises. The sociologist Claudio Garibay Orozco affirms that, in the case of mining companies, an autocratic-clientelistic regime is usually imposed, whose apex resides in the management of the company from where selective profits are distributed and local authorities are subordinated that in turn reproduce this logic over the rest of the community (Garibay, 2010: 175-176). The main consequence of this device of cooptation and capture is the social division that occurs within the affected communities and their confrontation, which results in the deepening of previously existing submissions and tensions.

In other words, the entry and implementation of megaprojects includes a process of destructuring of the community and of the autonomous determination capacities of the producers regarding their means of existence. In historical terms, we see that under the dictates of capital, community socialization has been gradually replaced by a commercial one, in which the individual-citizen-consumer is presented as the prototype and unit of operation of modern societies. In this, the State has played a fundamental role in guaranteeing a relationship of dominance, showing itself as an apparently alien and external entity to society whose purpose is to take care of the general good. From this logic, representation as a principle that organizes the relations of separation between the rulers and the ruled, expropriates - in the name of sovereignty - the ability to decide on the common issue.

In turn, the logic of expropriation and political dispossession corresponds to a process of subjectivation that seeks to shape the perception and sense of the world of the populations that inhabit a disputed territory, fragmenting the fabric of life, enclosing the ability to imagine, feeling and doing life in ways not dictated by the hegemony of capital. Thus, such processes of subjectivation are aimed at normalizing and naturalizing the dispossession to, at the same time, deactivate any insubordination or resistance.

One level to achieve this is that of the production of hegemony which, in these cases, is generally achieved through the diffusion of "progress", "development" and "modernization" as positive values of a modernity in progress. The construction of developmentalist imaginaries around megaprojects, whose “mission” is to spread their benefits among the populations surrounding their area of influence, is particularly effective in economically and socially relegated localities, where the State did not appear or has not appeared. retired from his benefactor role and a feeling of discontent prevails (Navarro, 2015: 124). In this way, the developmental narrative associated with extractivism seeks to generate an expectation of social inclusion, hiding the negative consequences of this type of productive profile.

The truth is that despite the radical processes of dispossession and disempowerment, I fully agree with Pérez Sáinz that “every social subject, no matter how disempowered, must face its existence and deal with it. This leads to understanding their reality, interpreting it by giving it meanings and developing tools to control it through action. Without these three basic psychosocial mechanisms there would be no social action ”(Pérez Saínz). In this way, it can be affirmed that the expropriation of their agency is never total, nor is it possible to fully annul the resistance capacity of the affected subjects.

A sample of the psychosocial mechanisms are the thousands of struggles and resistance, mainly carried out by indigenous and peasant communities, and segments of the urban population, which throughout Latin America are organizing to defend their territories and, in some cases, undertake reconstitution actions. of community life.

As a result of some investigations (Navarro, 2015; Composto and Navarro, 2014; Linsalata, 2016), we have seen that the arrival of a dispossession project in a community is experienced as an instant of danger,6 which tends to detonate the rearticulation of a community plot in struggle for the defense of livelihoods. This supposes at the same time a process of recomposition of the social ties and ties that most of the times are weakened or torn by the historical unfolding of capitalist, patriarchal and colonial social relations and the imposition of the codes of an individualistic socialization and mercantile in such territorialities.

Placing ourselves in the historical density of many of these struggles, the defense of life cannot be explained only as the emergence of a new political sensibility, but as the updating of a way of managing the political to organize one's own existence in interdependence with others. , placing the reproduction of human and non-human life at the center. This is expressed in a diversity of processes of reconstitution of the community, ranging from the strengthening of community institutions and forms of self-government, the reconstruction of the social fabric, the deepening of the bond with the land from, for example, the laying of ongoing productive projects that strengthen the material autonomy, the recognition and protection of the biodiversity of the territory, the design and implementation of internal regulations for the protection of the territory, as is the case of the declarations of prohibited and mining-free territories, the I work with children and young people for their inclusion and generational renewal in government structures, the recovery and reaffirmation of ancestry and spirituality, to practices related to the delivery of community justice.

Among the most representative cases of this territorial defense in Mexico is the experience of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities-Community Police, which since 1995 has been promoting a community security and justice system in the Costa Chica and the Mountain of Guerrero to face to the insecurity of the region, dealing in recent years with the threat of a mega-mining project run by British and Canadian companies.

There is also the experience of the Purhépecha people of Cherán in Michoacán, which since 2011 has managed to establish itself as a municipality governed by uses and customs, and has recovered and put into operation a set of provisions for decision-making and collective organization, as is the case of the Greater Council, the Operational Council, as well as the Community Round for the protection of their territory, which in sum has given them greater capacity to take care of their forest and defend themselves against loggers related to organized crime groups.

And what about the Zapatista communities that have established themselves as a fundamental reference on a world scale in the construction of autonomy based on intense community processes of self-government and life management, expressed in the autonomous municipalities, the Caracoles and the Juntas de Buen Zapatista government, as well as in numerous health, work, communication, education, food, supply, production and administration of justice projects and defense of the territory against the so-called “death projects”, such as the announced Mayan Train in southeastern Mexico.

To close, we can say that in the re-politicization and social conflict processes of the last decades, without a doubt an axis of social antagonism that is increasingly visible and forceful is that of the struggles in defense of life against all kinds of policies and extractivist ventures. These struggles, together with other actors from the world of academia and activism, have been articulating multiple partial knowledge to compose a critique of the mode of production and reproduction of our lives in capitalism, making visible and understandable the set of calamities on the territories and ways of life that have been sacrificed in the name of progress and development. At the same time, debates have emerged about the need to prefigure post-extractivist scenarios and civilizational transitions that place the reproduction of life at the center, and not the increasingly destructive logic of profit and capital accumulation.


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