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“To Sing, To Dance, To Creolise and make Music”: Oscar Guardiola-Rivera On Transitions from the Present

Oscar Guardiola-Riverateaches International Law and Globalization and is the Assistant Dean of the School of Law at the University of London, Birkbeck. He is the award-winning author of “What If Latin America Ruled the World” and “Being Against the World: Rebellion and Constitution”. He is a member of the Naked Punch Collective and the Editorial Board of Naked Punch Review.

Auwn Gurmani: My first question is about the Pink Tide. We have seen the Pink Tide of socialist governments in South America receding in the last couple of years. How would you explain or account for it?

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera: In two words, reaction & transition. First, there’s reaction. Arno Meyer, one of my favorite historians, used to say that the left consistently underestimates the reactionary capacities of the right. That’s what happened to the so-called Pink Tide governments of the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century in Latin America. Second, there’s transition. We live in viral times, times of transition in which the old is dying out but refuses to let go so it keeps coming back zombie-like. And the new wants to be born, but not yet…

AG: If I may add another question, why does the left tend to underestimate the reactionary potential of the right, especially in the current situation? 

O.G-R.: This question requires a longer answer, but the short version is that in times of transition various rebellious reasonings and practices tend to miss each other and fall into pessimistic despair. Now I will have to appeal to your patience, in preparation for the long answer. I hope you and the readers will forgive me for taking the opportunity you so kindly gifted me with in order to attempt to provide such an answer.

I believe this whole thing has to do with a more generic “failure of the imagination”. Of course, I’m not the first to observe this. It is known that we have seen a marked diminution in the production of new utopias since the 1960s or 70s, in contrast with the marked increase of dystopias. This is especially the case in cinema and literature, fiction and non-fiction, including philosophy. In fact, I am about to publish what I’m fond of calling “a dub poem, dystopian only in disguise” with an independent press called The 87 Press, led by some young and very enthusiastic brothers and sisters of South-Asian and British provenance. It will be titled “Night of the World” after a fragment by Hegel I keep coming back again and again, paying homage also to the Black Arts movement of poets and visual artists in the Americas whose work resonates so well with the current protests and the antagonisms fueling them. 

It is also known that this phenomenon of failing imagination has something to do with the connection between more and less modern utopian thinking and the meditation on power and communication that seems to lie at its very heart. People like Miguel Abensour and Fredric Jameson have noticed this. 

In the 1960s and 70s, the utopian project was a matter of describing and speaking for so-called “societies against the state” or before power. Now, and there’s a fundamental transformation at play here, it is a matter of peoples talking for and by themselves rather for others. I owe this distinction between “speaking for others” and “by ourselves” to two people from whom I keep learning, I would call them mentors but that might be to embarrass them. I speak of Linda Martín-Alcoff and Drucilla Cornell. I should also mention Gayatri C. Spivak, whom I’m sure you know well, and Lewis R. Gordon. They have taught me not only about this crucial distinction, but also that it is a matter of (un)learning to read and learning to sing, to dance, to creolise and make music. Music is of the utmost importance in all of this, perhaps more so than text. Sound & image, seeing/hearing and to sense-thinking (senti-pensar) as Arturo Escobar and Orlando Fals-Borda would have put it.

And music is what seems to have escaped the description of societies “before power”. Here, the locus classicus has been the research spearheaded by Pierre Clastres, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff and Marshall Sahlins among others. It was a strange encounter between supposedly peripheral or pre-capitalist “traditional” societies, the very far away, and the very new or near, represented by the languages of cybernetics, linguistics, avant-garde literature and the visual arts. I say “strange” because for all its avant-garde credential the language and imagery remained strictly linear. The question became: “how does power emerge in ‘traditional’ societies? And given linear time, irreversible and so on, how can non-traditional or capitalist societies expect to rid themselves from these automatic, robot-like, Hobbesian apparatuses of accumulation and coercion once they emerge?  You can already see how this way of positing the question might lead to not only to an anti-institutional attitude, a sort of exaggerated horizontalism, but also, to end up incarnated into an eternal look ad pessimum or a generalized pessimism. All work, no play. No dance. Hence, no revolution. 

Don’t get me wrong, it was hugely important. We’re all still trying to come up with other choreographies very much in their shadow. But we need new ceremonials, as Drucilla and Sylvia Wynter would say. Choreographies. They imply military-like discipline, but also the freedom related to non-coded dancing, side-to-side and side-by-side movements and improvisation. As in jazz or the blues. Or in the poetry of Larry Neal, singing “Wall Street is going to burn”. Well, it is burning, right? To snap out of the current generic pessimism needs not mean falling into stupid giddy optimism. What is giddy-making is the experience of openness and groundlessness; “surrounded by the spell it is the essentially modern (Baudelaire, Poe)” but also Cortázar after the II Russell Tribunal, le goût du néant … Fabric, not a train of thought”, or dance. “The vertigo brought about by the thought that fails to reconstruct”, incompleteness, the sense that details (things, peoples, actions) no longer fall into place; all that is vertiginous, disorienting. But the vertigo that this induces is indicative of the truth, an index veri

Who said that?1

Philosophers can and have traced such pessimism back to the legacy of Schopenhauer, or further to the role of negation, silence and suffering in the Hegelian narrativized novel of history and the spirit, as well as to Goethe’s color theory insofar as they were received and/or betrayed, all too seriously, by the likes of Thomas Carlyle in Britain and Ludwig Klages, C. G. Jung or Ernst Junger in continental Europe. In the backdrop, obscured, denigrated, the colonies. References are made to the (irrationalist) bio-centrism of these and other thinkers, their logocentrism and their emphatic interest in the iconology of war. Especially the Graeco-Roman figure of the warrior-king: his immortality in memory and his unique agency of visuality vis-à-vis history, located within the camera obscura of tradition or pictured as the inner one-eyed spectator and “seer” placed at safe distance from the unfolding catastrophes of history. He would be uniquely placed to see time as a whole, and to visualize the future into a picture as a narrative drama or a plot.

This figure is, of course, a precursor to Heidegger’s declaration of our time as the “age of the world-picture”. Nowadays, the “age of the extreme self” as Shumon Basar, Douglas Copland and Hans-Ulrich Obrist would put it. It is represented in stark contrast with and as a counterpoint to the spectral reality of everyday common people, in general, and in particular those peoples who dare imagining that emancipation was possible (such as the enslaved, women, aborigines, the youth and so on). The heroic king aims at the perpetuation of mastership against their giddy-making desire for emancipation, which requires permanence and stability rather than change. Thus, the Scottish thinker and historian Thomas Carlyle would declare in the wake of the 1823 Demerara Rebellion in South America that “except by Mastership and Servantship, there is no conceivable deliverance from Tyranny and Slavery. Cosmos is not Chaos, simply by this one quality. That it is governed”.2

The heroic, kingly spectator, exceptionally incarnating divine power, was, inevitably enough, gendered as vigorously masculine and holding at bay the threats of cultural effeminacy and contamination in keeping with colonial views that can be traced as far back as the first letters and chronicles of European expansionism in the Americas (for instance, Antônio Vieira’s “Sermon of the Holy Spirit”).3

This problem of the emergence of kings, the state, or the political and economic point of accumulation quickly forgot its links to the perhaps longer history of the standardization and regulation of ceremonial choreography or performance and the spectator, indicative of forms of power dependent on the abstraction and formalization of motion-vision. However, crucially, it slowly but surely overlapped with and translated into a sense of disorientation following the failure of the May and October ’68 ceremonials and the disillusionment with Third Worldist Tricontinentalism, as well as the kind of armed struggle that was central to wars of national liberation from Vietnam to Bangladesh and Algeria, Cuba and Colombia. The Bangladeshi filmmaker Naeem Mohaiemed has much more interesting things to show us about this period of our immediate past, which has somehow been erased from our biographies. And so, being ill-equipped to read the immediate past we find ourselves unable to make the present legible, let alone imagining a different future.  For now let’s accept that at some point this dis- and re-orienting reflection on the origins of power acquired its ideological foundations in the work of Michel Foucault on the art of governing and the origins of liberalism, reinforced by “revelations” concerning human rights violations in the USSR or Cuba, and their supposed equivalence with those taking place in post-1973 Chile or Brazil. 

This resulted in the “dystopian obsession” according to which the construction of any form of “popular” political or social organization speculatively aiming to build social alterities or futures radically different from this one, inevitably ends in disaster. Alas, a disaster that needs to be managed. The liberal art of government and the illusion of linearity (in space and time, including so-called developmentalism) intersects the need and fantasy of ultimate security: the renewal of the old dream of a Golden Age or a future paradise, describing the end of primitive innocence or the bliss of the hereafter “as a heaven where women will no longer be exchanged, i. e. removing to an equally unattainable past or future the joys, eternally denied to social man, of a world in which one might keep to oneself [vivre entre soi]”.4

Foucault’s boomerang: we may be witnessing the end of the development-security nexus and the rise of global disaster management, as the doomsayers of the “we’ve got nothing to hold on to” are fond of saying. But we should not forget that they would like to seize hold of some new ultimate ground, something to hold on to, or to turn the “nothing to hold on to” into yet another ultimate point of reference after the end of all points of reference.  Importantly, through a frame of reference and in accordance to the conventions of linear perspective, everything is captured, contained, arranged into patterns expressed numerically and, thereafter, thought to be part of temporal sets and regular patterns. Hence, within the frame everything can be managed. Such is the meaning of the importance that the concept of immanence has acquired in philosophy and “horizontalist” politics these days -the politics of the purity and plurality of movements or “identity politics”. However, as both Adorno and Cortázar intimated, behind the question of how to seize hold of a philosophy or a ground (“to make X great again”) lies aggression, the desire to seize hold of it. 

Put in simpler terms and in the context of your question concerning the transitions during and after the “Pink Tide” in the Americas, these “developments” in the level of speculative thinking and imagination as well as practical politics have gone hand in hand with the rise of what the Latin-Americanist John Beverley has termed “the paradigm of disillusionment”. This paradigm can be well represented in the following comment made by the Argentinean critic Beatriz Sarlo in a major newspaper some years ago apropos of the utopian impulse driving armed struggle in her country. As cited by Beverley: “Muchos sabemos por experiencia que se necesitaron años para romper con estas convicciones. No solamente para dejarlas atrás porque fueron derrotadas, sino porque significaron una equivocación’ [Many of us know from experience that it took years to break with these beliefs [in armed struggle and the utopicum]. Not simply to leave them behind or because they were defeated, but because they were wrong.”5

Sarlo was speaking in the context of her opposition to the Kirchner government in Argentina, which she and others saw as a form of demagogic neo-Peronist “populism”. Similarly, Berveley tells us, Venezuelan writer Elisabeth Burgos, Regis Debray’s wife during the period of his collaboration with Che Guevara (and thereafter with Rigoberta Menchú in the writing of a testimonial which was quite significant in relation to the periodization hereby established, marking the origins of the idea of a “culture of human rights”) has recently combined a posture of disillusion vis-à-vis armed struggle with a re-active role in the opposition to Chavismo in Venezuela. This posture of disillusionment and conversion is the common thread uniting the otherwise diverse experiences of Sarlo and Burgos with those of former icons of the Latin American left such as Mario Vargas Llosa (now in position of Spanish citizenship, a nobiliary title and a claim to celebrity life in the pages of Hola!) Teodoro Petkoff or, admittedly to a different degree, Edgardo Lander, the latter a former member of the Modernity/Coloniality project responsible for launching the “decolonial turn” out of a collaboration between Durham and Bogotá, Colombia, in the early-to-mid nineties. They configure what Beverley calls a paradigm of disillusion in the representation of armed struggle and the utopian drive in the Americas. 

I would  two ingredients here, which may be crucial to our analysis of the current situation in the Americas and elsewhere. First, the fact that we can generalize the scope of this paradigm not only geographically but also temporally: once upon a time, the left had a political program. It was called revolution. No one seems to believe in it any longer in part because the agent supposed to know it and how to bring it about would have disappeared in practice. It is precisely in this context that the famous phrase attributed to Fredric Jameson comes about: “It is easier, someone once said, to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. To be fair, Jameson does point out that the left has had another strategy, the one superficial analysts tend to associate more closely with the governments of the “Pink Tide” of the last decade and a half in the Americas. Namely, reformism. The latter is sometimes referred to “in contradistinction to revolutionary communism, [what is often] called ‘socialism.’ But I’m afraid no one believes in that any longer either”, Jameson says.6

And here comes the second ingredient. More interestingly, Jameson notices that “there exists a third kind of transition out of capitalism which is often less acknowledged, let alone discussed”. That is what was historically called “dual power”. I will argue in what follows that “dual power” describes much better the political program and practice not only of the period of the “Pink Tide” governments but also, or rather, the revolutionary processes that produced such governments, and, crucially, the utopian impulse or drive that is likely to survive the tensions, errors and/or disgraceful misfires of these governments. 

As it is known the phrase “dual power” is often associated with V. I. Lenin’s description of the coexistence of the provisional government and the network of “soviets” or workers & soldiers councils in 1971. But my working hypothesis in this utopian take on the situation in the Americas is that the idea of dual power can be traced further: 

  1. Backwards, to Karl Marx’s analyses and decisive changes of position in relation to the onset of the First Civil War in America and in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, to his distinctions between “absolute democracy” and “defiled republic”, “constitutional” and “revolutionary” war and his and Engels’ practice around the year 1862. That is, the “new struggle in the press’ and by these means the construction of a “people” not only as a horizontal mass but also in staunch vertical opposition to the almost unanimous pro-Confederacy propaganda directed at the workers by the British bourgeois press along with many trade-union papers. The building of this staunch, courageous attitude has more to do with sound and sound-ness than it has with image or text (which are the remit of the mainstream press). That is important to my argument here, although I will not dwell on it right now. It would suffice to cite Marx himself on this point: “simple justice requires to pay a tribute to the sound attitude of the British working classes, the more so when contrasted with the hypocritical, bullying, cowardly, and stupid conduct of the official and well-to-do John Bull”. For his mainly German audience of Die Presse, Marx wrote: “This is a new, brilliant proof of the staunchness of the English popular masses, of that staunchness which is the secret of England’s greatness.” The paragraph resonated, a year later, with Lincoln’s reply to the workers of Manchester, although the latter confuses sublime courage and militancy with “Christian heroism”. Crucially, for our purposes, recall that the anti-interventionist position of Britain’s working-class movement not only returned Marx to action (after he himself, like Engels, and many others in industry and proletariat, were badly affected in their self-interest by the Civil War in America) but also helped bring into existence the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA). The “General Rules” of the First International, which he himself drafted, stipulated not only how its members should relate to each other but “all men, without regard to colour, creed, or nationality”. One of his first assignments was to compose a letter to Lincoln on behalf of the Association after his re-election.
  2. Forwards, to René Zavaleta and Álvaro García Linera’s analyses of the missed encounter between Marxist and Indigenous revolutionary reasonings in the Latin American Andean/Amazonian regions. These are of particular interest to the cases of Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia but more generally in relation to the question of how to form “chains of equivalence” among the moments of the horizontal movement and therefore a “vertical flight”. Or how to build the people. Let’s also take stock in this respect of George Ciccariello-Maher’s masterful historical analysis of the “production of Chávez and Chavismo” by the movements of the Bolivarian revolution from below. Add to this the (to my mind more sterile) debates between decolonial voices in the wake of the coup in Bolivia, and (to my mind the more fruitful) take on the question of so-called “archaic” or “historical formations”, social evolution, or historical “transition” present in Marx & Engels after their engagement with the work of Lewis Morgan and Kovalevsky (in drafts which are part of the Grundrisse) by historians like Eric Hobsbawm, sociologists like Orlando Fals-Borda and philosophers like Enrique Dussel. Crucially, this engagement immediately preceded Marx’s position vis-à-vis the Civil War and reconstruction in America, raising the stakes of the issue of political practice in relation to questions of interventionism and anti-interventionism, the national and the international, to the level of the concept of “defiled republic” versus “absolute democracy”. The latter is the seed out of which notions of “dual power” would grow in theory and practice, I believe. These approaches underpin the contemporary practice of historical and philosophical analysis under the sign of “history from below”, which may represent a crucial point of contact between the concrete analysis of the current situation and the emphasis on political practice and imagination one may surmise from Marx’s letter to Lincoln. As, for instance, in the recent work of Marcus Rediker on the whole cycle of revolution in the Greater Caribbean in The Many-Headed Hydra (together with Peter Linebaugh), in Susan Buck-Mors’s brilliant Hegel, Haiti and Universal History and Silvia Rivera’s Sociologia de la imagen. Concepts such as abigarramiento (creolizising, visualising, multitudinous).

The paragraph from Marx’s letter that I believe is apposite to our purposes here is pregnant with possibilities, worthy of being quoted in full:

While the working men, the true political power of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic; while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned labourer to sell himself and choose his own master; they were unable to attain their true freedom of labour or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation, but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.

Ditto, it is pregnant with meaning. Its insight is relevant to our analysis of where we are in the Americas today. Of special interest to me is Marx’s move from the classical division between classes to the thornier issue of the divisions within classes. That is, the Faustian pact made by white workers in the US with white supremacist (slavocracy) placing severe limitations not only on “free labour” but on democracy itself. In exchange for “the wages of whiteness” and heroic memory & visuality, the peculiar institution is given ever new leases on life (from Jim Crow to the prison-industrial complex and internal displacement or interventionism). The next point can be stated by means of another quote: “labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded”, or where the indigenous is being raped (by the military, no less). This suggests a broader political strategy, beyond the politics of social constructionism. Thirdly, the interconnectedness between the overthrow of white supremacy and racism in, say, the USA, as a precondition for the emancipation of more or less precarious workers there, as well as the advancement of the movement elsewhere, in the rest of the Americas and elsewhere (also in Europe or Asia). 

Now take Colombia and Venezuela, two countries locked in a dialectical embrace between revolution and reaction for thirty years or so. On the one side, the triumph of the alliance between former guerrilla movement M-19, the emerging Independent Democratic Pole of the left, the Student Movement and some liberals during the popular election for the 1991 Constitutional Assembly in Colombia, which re-wrote the country’s constitution as part of a process of changing history from below, thereby kickstarting a national-popular and creolizing (abigarrado, in Spanish) multitudinous constituent process echoed later on in Venezuela(1998), Ecuador (2008) and Bolivia (2009) and the electoral victory of  Hugo Chávez in 1998. On the other, the neo-fascist reaction led by Latin American copycat strongmen like Uribe Vélez and the far-right Colombian paramilitary (whom, according to the philosopher Linda Martin Alcoff may have inspired Trump) or Juan Guaidó and Jair Bolsonaro. Notice that the conflicts between the two countries, Colombia and Venezuela, and US interventionism or lawfare in Brazil, are in fact expressive of divisions across the class-race nexus that are internal to those countries and elsewhere in the hemisphere before being represented as matters of foreign affairs.

This means our attention should be not only on more abstract notions of coloniality, or not at all, and instead we should focus laser-like on the concreteness of internal colonialism and experiment with the concrete analysis of this concrete situation. 

AG: This sounds a little confusing or paradoxical. (all laugh)

OG-R: I’m saying that we must accept that the notion of “popular sovereignty” is, of course, contradictory, in the sense that the power once held by kings still exists only now displaced onto such strange entities as “the state” and “the people”. Some implications follow.

For instance, to say the state and the law is “sovereign” means ultimately to define its higher authorities as beyond moral-legal accountability or as incarnating divine justice and the law. This is of course the deep truth about the state whose disturbing implications were laid down in theory by the “Crown jurist” of the Third Reich, Carl Schmitt and his hispanista friends in Francoist Spain (recall that World War II, the war against fascism wasn’t won everywhere). They were riffing off the lines posited in the sixteenth and seventeenth century by the Iberian Second Scholastic jurist-theologians and philosophers that no one reads any more these days. That’s a shame. Our forgetfulness about this period in the history of philosophy may have also blind us to the facts concerning the deep connection between empire-building and the state, the kind of global economics we now call “neoliberal” which is neither new nor liberal, and the justifications of racialization and slavery. 

Be that as it may, we also know that the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century jurist-theologians, lawyers and politicians responsible for the architecture of the then emerging American Empire, in turn, imported their own readings of these and other sources into the state edifices they helped building with the ominous implications we can all see, no longer masked, in the reactionary practice of the Trump administration and the “Anti-Reconstruction” or corporate wing of the US Democratic Party. Chief among such implications is the fact that what we witness is no longer “just war” but “total”, absolute or endless war. Hence, the tendency for modern states is to frame their projects of “greatness” in terms of some endless and therefore unwinnable war: war on drugs, war on terror, John Bolton’s “war on tyranny” and so on. Presidents like Trump, Uribe or Duque and Bolsonaro are trying to shift scales. Shifting the frame of reference up a level where it would be possible to fight over -also rule over- the nature of the rules themselves.

But this also means to say that the incarnation of the absolute in the body of the wannabe king can never be final. The fulness that we tend to express in such terms as “divine justice”, natural or “higher law” or absolute and permanent war is at least partially absent or incomplete, at least it is always so if and when rendered in terms of the actual behavior of these leaders and politicians (both right or far-right and left) or law and the state. Their actual behavior shows deficient being, whereas ideas of the absolute try to represent or express fullness of being. The gap or interval between the two (deficiency and fullness, or is and ought, which I propose we understand in terms of temporal realism) is, of course, at the root of the ethical experience.

One way of broadening our understanding of the implications of this realization, one most relevant to us, is through the late Ernesto Laclau’s science of the rhetorical foundations of society: “If the ethical were entirely absorbed into the normative, there would be no distinction between -for instance- justice and what a certain society considers as just at some point in time. This is the best prescription for totalitarianism,” he says. It is only if justice functions as a (deconstructive) position or as a (topological) connective boundary -in a word, as an interstice or an interval- with connotations of emptiness, apophasis or mystic silence and otherness in the context of an ontology of the Not-yet or spacemattering, whose links with particular images and signifieds or “acts” are precarious, perhaps inconsequential and contingent, that something such as a truly democratic society becomes possible.7

Notice the accent here is on the term “possible”; a concept hitherto ignored or disavowed by most philosophy. Often, it is taken to mean something wall-like. Not only borders and limits (that is, the territory as an element of the state, which isn’t dead in spite of what globalization theorists used to say), but also, the temporal anti-realism according to which everything that can take place has already taken place or is preempted to take place -already planned and predestined. This conception traverses the (mainstream, Euro-centric) history of philosophy through and through, from Diodorus (who said: “nothing is possible in the sense that anything that may be possible must be realized, and if did not come to be real, then it wasn’t possible, and thus, the possible is abolished in the real”) to Kant and Hegel. This conception is theologically founded (in the theology of Christendom, to be precise) in terms of the presupposition that there is a Providence, a point of view exempted from the spacetime of the viewed,  knows all because it sees all and therefore no room is left for anything that was not deemed necessary, the needed, beforehand. The image of Christ in Majesty, Pantocrator or “Ruler of All”, comes to mind here. It marks the historical moment in which the popular-dramatic theology still alive in republican Rome (especially among the women of Rome, as Pierre Klossowski observed) is coopted by the state on its way to becoming an empire and naturalized as civic-natural theology. Another conception of the possible (which Bloch calls “real-objective”) as that which surrounds already existing reality as the infinity of the sea pregnant with possible realizations that are ready at hand, or attainable, is linked up to the project for the critique and decolonization of the relationship between religion (Christian religion, in particular) and empire. Think of it as the second phase of the theology and philosophy of liberation in the Americas and elsewhere.8

It revolves around an object of desire, what we can call the utopicum after Benjamin, Bloch and Enrique Dussel. Of course, the twist here is that every limit always points to its beyond. What is presented as limited, full, ended or completed is in fact a (deictic) sign or a gesture towards its otherness: the emptiness beyond the horizon, silence and the Not-yet in the sense of incompleteness, distinct from mere muteness, nihil and negation or up a scale/level from it. In this respect, let’s speak of unsaying and unlearning or a form and practice of the mind (a “spiritual exercise, if you allow me to play with such language) that accepts the groundlessness of our condition without falling into despair or nihilist pessimism. To connect this with secularization, modernity and the Enlightenment (and its defense as an incomplete project, still active and relevant, incomplete in its very completion), secularization is a kind of apophasis or unsaying. It means that it needs its own docta ignorantia, “its knowing what in its moment it does not know”, listening for the reverberations of religion and its heterogeneous effects as spectacularly displayed during and after the recent coup d’état in Bolivia, or in Trump’s photo-op during the June 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, but also, to rediscover the sense of the act of protest and taking to the streets: that no matter how inconsequential they may seem , at the moment of crisis we might together take risks that matter. Another sense of sense arises here, in “the imaginative seculareligious entanglements at the edgy limits of our coalitions”.9

“Sense” means here not only significance but orientation, borrowing once more from physics and the black arts. There’s no democracy without this equation between fulness and the emptiness of silence, the secular and the religious, the planetary, nonhuman or cosmic ontology of Not-yet-Being and the human as being qua possibility. This entanglement or equation points towards everything that has not been realized yet, like the suspended or interrupted projects of the past, but is not for that reason out of this world. We can speak in that respect of the many worlds that exist in this one, of a universalism of differences perceptible in the tension between subject and object – sociopsychologically and cosmologically speaking. On the one side, what is conscious but not yet, repressed or unconscious (a universal structure, only recently discovered) but, on the other, with the added element of new dawn that fades before us (rather than behind us), both desire and anticipatory visualization (anhelo, in Spanish) or a tendency that is part lack (infelicidad, in Spanish) and part fulness (esperanza, in Spanish) without which we would all be condemned to a world waiting for Godot. A great percentage of this not-yet-conscious comes to be present in (a) the youth, pregnant with desire (anhelos e imágenes eutópicas) yet fighting in the streets against the clown-police and its reality TV-wannabe king out of dystopian unhappiness; (b) in times of transition such as ours, or the so-called Renaissance, in which the old clings on to dear life zombie-like wishing not to disappear and the new wants to be but isn’t born yet, and revolution together with reaction form a vortex-like atmosphere around us which at times leaves without air ; and (c) in the artistic productivity of artworkers intersecting their practices with ethical discourses, scientific and philosophical, as in the cases of Naeem Mohaiemen, Sophia al-Maria, Stephanie Bailey and Oscar Murillo or Carlos Motta, among others.    

Another way of understanding this is to say that the war between the king and its people is on, and that it precedes any war between this and some other people. Such antagonism is both constitutive and contemporary. There’s plenty of evidence in the anthropological record to indicate that here too we’re discovering a universal structure (something like the Girardian scapegoat principle) but without the need for systematic connections between rancor and sacralization. It may well be that this is how hardball politics goes under a regime of incarnation of the absolute, in real time or the common here and now. “That is why the reduction of politics to the contents of a certain normative order and the identification of the ethical with the normative [the state, the law, or the law of the market] are inimical to democracy”.10

What begins to appear here, in vague form or merely an outline, is the couple, not a simple binary but something more like the proverbial twins of myth and lore, formed by two concepts that are crucial for the interpretation and transformation of the current situation: what is known in political theory as “dual power”, and beyond theory, beyond the logic of sacralization and “real” abstraction (still with us, though for the moment elites have become rather good at minimizing its adverse aspects) is the dawning realization that the only way we may be sure that the puppets and buffoons who rule us (Trump, Duque, Johnson, Bolsonaro) never gain systematic coercive power over us is to get rid of the apparatus of coercion itself. The injunctions to “abolish the police” and the much more interesting call to form a universal army of our own putting permanent pressure in the streets over the financier puppeteers and their puppets to force them to pay ever bigger premiums with which to fund projects of grander justice (from universal basic services to universal basic income) in exchange for deferring, at least for now, the time of revolution.   

That’s where we are now in the Americas and elsewhere. If we wish to better our understanding of what has been happening in the Americas for the last thirty years or so, including the most recent wave of active protest and reactionary backlash, we would do well to envision the following sequence: first, take another look at the relationship between foreign policy (interventionism, warfare and lawfare) and internal antagonisms along the class-race nexus. In other words, as said before, the emphasis should be on internal colonialism rather than in more abstract concepts such as “coloniality”. Second, let’s examine the question of agency and agents of structural inertia and change; what I prefer to call “political identities” against notions of “identity politics” and/or “cultural identity” or “culture war”, which must be emphatically opposed as cuasi- or post-fascist. Third, we need to dialectically reconcile conceptions of hegemony and post-hegemony (or dominance without hegemony). This exercise boils down to a complete reconsideration of the nature (building and construction) of the public (“the people”, if you prefer the language of republicanism brought back to the Americas by the likes of Santiago Castro-Gomez and Luciana Cadahia in diverse yet related ways) and public images and discourses. Such an exercise already suggests the need for a transition away from the conventions of political philosophy and legal theory and into the twin spheres of utopia and rhetoric, image science or communication. Fourth, this reconsideration of the moral law of the image, or the importance of what Drucilla Cornell has called “moral images of freedom” and of the role of the imagination in legal, social and political change is not only of the utmost theoretical importance. It also, or rather, brings to the fore the crucial question of what happens with our institutional attitudes (verticalism, horizontalism) in our networked world. Plainly speaking, we have heard enough about the wondrous potential of today’s networked society in terms of flexibility, mobility and information. We may need to see/hear a lot more about its peculiar latent side effect: its tendency to flatten the world. 

I believe it is this fourfold exercise that has led theoreticians, activists and advocates in the Americas and elsewhere to the re-invention and decolonization of a future for critical theory and practice. 

Four moves along four dimensions. A detective-like “sign of four”, if you like:

Firstly, a dance move, or a new choreography beyond given geo-political lines of demarcation. This means shifting not only the geography but also the time dimension, ignored as an illusion for far too long but now rethought as a physical entanglement of possibilities that may be latent but very real. The argument that time is real goes against the conventions of linear perspective  and the naturalistic projects of philosophical geographies and logics of the void that for centuries “grounded” the justifications for land dispossession, warfare, lawfare, the marking of certain bodies and other imperial-colonialist practices around the globe. Here, we need an “anti-colonial recoil” to borrow the language of my good friend at Birkbeck, Slavoj Zizek. Against the tradition of philosophical geography still alive in Kant, in combat together with the implications of the new physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. This also takes us beyond the current tools used in Analytical approaches (geometry, the linguistic turn, even post-structuralisms). I consider myself a neo-structuralist of sorts, very far away from the illusions of American “po-mo” academia. Entanglements call into question notions of scale and proximity, nearness and belonging. Scale and horizon are no longer given and what appears far apart might actually be very close to or even entangled with the near. Here, the Du Boisian notion of “The Great Near” and the need for its visual intensification (against Thomas Carlyle’s conservative and imperialistic notion of heroic visuality) intersects with Ernst Bloch’s ontology of Not-Yet-Being and the sense of incompleteness that is the crucial element of attainable utopia. It also means that the future cannot be determined in advance and therefore the techno-fantasies, religious dreams and econo-geo-philosophical theories and practices that predict, predestine or pre-empt our fate (telling us we’re fated for the worse) are both objectively unscientific and subjectively paralyzing. Topology and choreography become here a better analytical tool than bi-dimensional geometry, standar or technified language and the flatness of the world associated with practices of mapping, standardization and flat data visualization.11

Secondly, a political identity (or subjectivity) move in the opposite direction to the mainstream attempt to explain social facts psychologically à la Gustave Le Bon, i. e. the conservative fear of the mob that is also present in Freud. Instead, an ideology critique of the end of ideology capable of dealing with the ritual co-staging of uncertainty and certainty as well as (in)dividuation (yes, with ceremonials of violence at different levels in “modernity”, from the national to the international level and from finance to the media) or a science of rhetoric along the lines demarcated for us by Frantz Fanon’s dramatic/clinical critique in the 1960s and more recently by the fruitful dialogue between Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek, among others. This means to insert “otherness” into the heart of the pathbreaking picture of desire, as Simone & Pierre Yoyotte or René Ménil and the other black surrealists did during the first pandemic of fascism in the twentieth century, thereby adding to the more generic negativity of psychoanalysis’s tragic politics the determinate and detective-like view of determinate negation, the utopian element that Enrique Dussel terms kairós, using the decolonising vocabulary of popular religiosity in the Americas. 

Thirdly, the properly scientific rhetorical question of the construction of the public or the people bridging political philosophy and aesthetic education. 

And fourthly, the question of the institution, not only and no longer legal but also clinical and critical, or a matter of visualization as Du Bois and Fanon might put it (utopia, again, or as I prefer, the matter of difference and orientation).

To sum up this “sign of four”, four practices: physics not geo-politics, social anthropology or apophatic theology, the science of rhetoric, and instituting art/ethics (dare I say, poetry?). 

The first task takes us back to an important and hitherto ignored chapter in the history and political sense of the intertwinement (I prefer this term to the more fashionable “intersectionality”) between class and race in the Americas and elsewhere. Our starting point here consists of a series of historical documents that have huge philosophical significance. Chief among them, the 1615 letter/memorial written by Waman Puma de Ayala titled Primer Nueva Coronica y Buen Gobierno (First New Chronicle & Good Government), the letters and memorials written by Creek matrilineal leader Coosaponakeesa and former slave Phillis Wheatley between 1747 and 1774 and, interestingly, Karl Marx’s letter to US president Abraham Lincoln almost a hundred years later in 1864.

For now, let us refer solely to the latter. Let us distill from it two vectors, more than coordinates, that can help us re-orient the analysis of the current conjuncture. On the one hand, Marx’s vectorial projection of the US (internal) conflict as moving from the partial moment of “constitutional paradoxes” (namely, secession) to “political conflict” or revolutionary war. On the other, the fact that for this motion process to take place, the US leadership of the time (i. e. Lincoln and the abolitionist wings of Republicanism and the Liberals in the North) needed to amass the courage to arm the slaves. In other words, to move into a form of “dual power”. Only then, what only seemed like a purely legal constitutional impasse, and therefore predictable and manageable (the prediction being in this case that Lincoln and the North would lose to the Southern Confederacy forces), could break open and become a truly revolutionary, or political, antagonism. One that would, in turn, break open history and time, the future coming to be a Not-yet or a novum attainable and verifiable (but, of course, never guaranteed beforehand).     

My working hypothesis is that the current situation can be better understood, illuminated and perhaps even transformed along similar vectors of orientation: political conflict or revolutionary war (rather than constitutional or rights-paradoxes) and militant courage or “dual power”. I believe this is what is at stake in the injunctions to “abolish the police” and the more interesting call to form a universal army so as to rid ourselves of the apparatus of coercion itself. To decisively transform the market-state and make it work in a non-state way. Today, the injunction “arm the slaves” lives in and resonates with the motto “Black Lives Matter” or the lines coming from the poetry of the Black Arts movement such as “Wall Street Will Burn”, which we have seen in action, not only live on TV but also face-to-face, live on the streets of the Americas since at least late 2019 (in Chile and Colombia) and more recently in the US, the rest of the Americas and elsewhere. This marks the decisive moment of the move beyond the manageable politics of political theory and into the un-manageable of viral time, protest time and riot time. This is, of course, also the time of the vortex-like embrace between revolution and reaction, or “danger-time” to make ours once more Benjamin’s words via Enrique Dussel or Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui. And the imagery and language of what many in the US have begun to call “Third Reconstruction” points in the direction of the novum and the utopicum. Hence my appropriation of Fredric Jameson’s proposal in An American Utopia: to set up an Universal Army.   

We may now dispense with the pleasantries. We may say, like journalists are fond of saying, that there are internal reasons why the so-called “Pink Tide” governments of the Americas have receded in the last few years. And then, we may say there are also external reasons. By internal I mean the errors, mistakes, and shortcomings of these governments themselves. By external I mean the clear attempt by the Trump administration to regain its foot in the western hemisphere.

Let me begin with the former, in a self-critical tone if you allow. The tone of journalism. Of course, each case in each country has its particularities which would have to be taken into account. However, in general, one can say that many of the governments which were part of the Pink Tide got disconnected from the social movements that originated them. That was an important shortcoming, or a crucial error. This is because the basis of the success of the so-called Pink Tide governments was clearly their ability – of these countries, governments or movements – to display a form of what I called before “dual power”. That is to say that there was a combination of the horizontality and diversity of the social movements on the ground with the vertical flight which, in many cases, took the shape of a party or a popular-even-patriotic front or coalition of parties. We have seen hegemony and post-hegemony relating dialectically in this manner. The process has been chronicled, with backing up evidence aplenty by George Ciccariello-Maher in his commendable Building the Commune. Radical democracy in Venezuela. As he says, “Over time their [the workers in the broadest sense of the word, for the most part informal or “precariat” workers] demands for running water, education, health care, stable streets and safe housing on unstable terrain, and cultural and sporting activities for youth all translated into new instruments of community control. And since Venezuelans were struggling against a corrupt, two-party system that was democratic only in name, it was natural that they would seek out more radically democratic ways to organize themselves. Neighbours formed associations and then spontaneous assemblies and popular self-defense militias in the 1980s and 1990s, especially after the Caracazo. They began to govern and defend their own communities -their own territories- by themselves.”12

So, the very existence and the persistence of the Pink Tide movements/governments depended upon this form of dual power; the linkage if you prefer, of the horizontal movements and their diversity with the vertical flight of the party. The point here is not that this process was “pure” or perfect. Rather, “just as Chavez the individual did not create the Bolivarian revolution -it was instead the long revolutionary process that ‘created Chavez’- so too with the communes”. That is to say: long before the Venezuelan state attempted (and at least to an extent failed) to take on the task of building the communes from above, revolutionaries were building them from below. As a result, the relationship between the communes -the seed of a future rid of the apparatus of coercion, or the market/state- and the existing state (which is not “socialist”, Venezuela is still very much a petro-capitalistic country trying to grow beyond itself) has been far from smooth. The fact that a sector of the so-called “opposition”, the sector that never makes it in you CNN or Univision news, actually includes some of these revolutionaries from below while others remain committed to the Bolivarian Revolution (being, nevertheless, extremely critical of the Maduro administration, even of Chavez himself) speaks volumes. Moreover, before, during and after the tremendous harshness and inhumanity brought about by the combination of the government’s financial incompetence and the corruption thereby generated, the terrible effect of illegal US sanctions and the in-solidarity of far-right Latin American neighboring governments, there is in Venezuela an ongoing struggle for urban space “storming earthly heavens by tearing down the walls separating the rich from the poor”. If revolutionary Chavismo emerges from the barrios, those who oppose it most fiercely, with rancor and hatred, hail from the increasingly fortified zones housing the wealthy, or from Madrid and Miami. Beyond this more mainstream division between classes, there’s the less noticed yet all the more important division within classes: the dangerous clashes that have been emerging within Chavismo itself. The analyses of these can offer no easy answers. Only with a mixture of uncertainty and courage one may insist on the creative powers of the grassroots all the while acknowledging the harshness of their situation. The need for a revolutionary process such as this one, on its way to forming a universal army, to outgrow its dependence on the oil global network through a systematic incorporation of information technology and a keen commitment to the creation of new kinds of production following the historical example that Chavez was fondest of: not Cuba, but the Chilean Revolution of the 1970s. 

This isn’t the problem. The fundamental problem is money, or capital. The issue is poverty and the destruction of money and capital upon which the very capacity to conceive of radical change depends. The problem may be more acute in petro-capitalist Venezuela, but are all in fact familiar with it. And if we weren’t, the current pandemic is making matters painfully evident. Today not only Venezuela but also the United States (and Colombia, and Chile, and Brazil) is sick, owing not (or not only) to Covid-19  but rather to the toxic accumulation of money and great fortunes (this is what “great” stands for in Trumpian MAGA hats) that, like a virus, have found outlets only in luxury, conspicuous consumption ( like the infamous “VAT-Free Day” in Colombia) and the appellations to the misery of desire of the middle classes and foul technified right-wing propaganda.      

One other example of the recession of the Pink Tide, different albeit related, is that of the Workers Party of Brazil. By 2013, when mostly middle-class composed protestors took to the streets of many of the cities of Brazil, rather than returning to its basis in its horizontal movement, the government Dilma Rousseff preferred to ignore them. Instead, they tried and made compromises with the elite parties in the country. Of course, one has to take into account or one has to give credit where it’s due, for the fact that the persistence in the government of the Workers Party of Brazil was always weakened or was ambiguous, because of the composition of the various parties that make up the Congress of Brazil. However, it is the case that many of the parties in government began to lose their connection with the horizontal movements and that is when it became easier for conservative movements, aided and abetted by the US, to intervene, separate, occupy and thereby weaken the position of these governments.

Something similar can be said about other cases. To sum up, however, as years went by, many of the parties in government began to loosen their links with the horizontal movements. And that created the possibility for conservative movements, added and abetted by the United States in most cases, to intervene, separate and occupy, and thereby weaken the position of these parties. This could be observed in Bolivia and something similar also happened in Ecuador and Argentina. 

Having said that, one must also note that we see a return of many of the movements or parties to the political frame. You see the fact that in places like Argentina and Mexico, forms of dual power have allowed for the return of the Pink or the Light-Red parties to the government or to the forefront of politics.

Furthermore, by late 2019 and before the pandemic closed the streets to the horizontal movement, it was quite clear that in the countries where Pink Tide like movements did not succeed or have not succeeded in the last decade, the table was turning in favor of Pink Tide like movements. I am referring to the cases of Chile and Columbia. This is very important because both Chile and (especially) Columbia have been the main allies of the US administrations in that part of the Western Hemisphere. Do recall that by December 2019, the popularity of Ivan Duque Marquez of Columbia was well below 10% and it came to 4% at some point. If not for the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, it is very clear that those protest movements would have continued. In fact, it is very likely that we would see a resurgence of protests both in Chile and Columbia, as soon as these restrictions are eased up. 

This is also to say that we must take into account the dynamics of the actions and reactions. The actions taken by the horizontal movements and their vertical parties caused a reaction and that reaction coincided with the rise of a post-fascist government in the United States. The reaction has been felt, in the most recent years, in the shape of a recess of the kind that you referred to, in terms of the influence of the Pink Tide governments in the Americas. Finally, let me say that, of course, the Pink Tide movements and the dual power strategy is also evolving. It is the case that the pure horizontality of the movements has shown to be a bit of a rife or a dead end. Yet, it is also clear that the parties are evolving. It should also be noted that forms of socialism or democratic socialism also became more visible in the United States themselves as a result of what happened in the first decade-and-a-half of the Americas. So that tells you that we are in the middle of a dynamic or in the middle of a political battle which is felt mostly and very clearly as a sort of counter-war as well.

Haider Ali: As an extension of this question regarding the governments in Latin America and the way that they came into power as a result of revolutions and movements and then they were able to continue to possess power. Some people accuse these governments for example MAS and Maduro of turning towards Neoliberalism or Neoliberal policies themselves. The mainstream media has also framed them as corrupt and so on. What would you say about this? 

O.G-R.: I would begin by clarifying what we mean when we speak of Neoliberalism. It is very clear to me that at least in the context of the Americas, the so-called Neoliberalism is neither new nor liberal. But rather it is sort of derived from Fascism or is a fascist derivation or a post-fascist derivation of the kind of ultra-capitalism that we saw in Chile, after the Coup d’état of 1973 – as its ground zero.

Given that case, you must then look at what it was like on the ground. After the coup on the 11th of September, 1973, what we have is also a sort of duality or an equivalent duality on the side of right-wing politics. Which is to say that there is a combination of two things. On the one hand, you have the nude force/naked force/naked violence or a sort of militarism that people tend to identify very quickly with dictatorships of the Southern Cone. On the other hand, you have the rise to power of the multi-national class or the empresarios to use the Spanish term for the Entrepreneurial class.

What happened in Chile or what is new about Neoliberalism is precisely this more direct alliance between the military and the high-level members of the employer classes – of the multi-nationals and the financiers who were, in most cases, owners of the media apparatuses in the Americas – thereby, cutting off or sidelining the political class which in Latin America, or even the Americas as a whole, has traditionally played the role of mediators. After 1973, it became very clear that that mediation was neither wanted nor necessary. So, you began to see an evolution of the right-wing politics in the Americas towards both militarism and the part of the civilian population represented by the owners of corporations themselves. It happened to the detriment of the traditional politician.

First, in Latin America and then in North America, the landowners and/or the very owners of the economic conglomerates very quickly became politicians themselves. Here, I have to step back. They (Entrepreneurial Class) had always been trying to present themselves not as politicians but as anti-politicians. This is perhaps a concept that we should emphasize while studying further. This anti-politics appeared in Latin America after 1973 and extended to the US, and then it went global. That explains why somebody like Donald Trump appears in the United States after being inspired by the strong-men of Latin America. In the context of, the countries of Latin America in the ’80s and ’90s, speaking not of the military dictators of the Southern Cone but their puppeteers who learned very quickly that the former appearing on their behalf, manning black shades, and green fatigues, was not going to sustain. It was always going to be problematic. Now you see them in their civilian clothing and fine Versace after they set-up their ability in the media.

Being entrepreneurial leaders, they were seen by a considerable sector of the population as more “free” and “pure” than the politicians. They began to use that to their advantage. In fact, the first examples that we saw of these phenomena belonged precisely to Chile and Columbia. It is very interesting to see how very quickly this entrepreneurial class that had put general Augusto Pinochet in power between 1973 and 1991 replaced him. That class distanced itself from the more violent and crude violations of human rights that had basically taken place under their watch. They became the political leaders themselves now. So, for instance, you saw first in the administration of someone like Sebastian Pinera, himself the owner of an economic group, taking out the mantle of the interest of that class which no longer needed the mediation of the military men.

We must look at Columbia, where we find, perhaps, the more brutal example in the form of Álvaro Uribe Vélez who was president during a great deal of the first decade-and-half of the 21st century. He became the one person that provided a counter-point vis à vis the Pink Tide governments that we are talking about. And his style of politics is of interest. Here too, you see a land-owner who was not really a careerist politician, although he had already occupied public office before. He was seen by the people as an outsider, somebody who came from the entrepreneurial class, who presented a sort of libertarian wing of conservatism. So, he was able to distance himself from both the traditional conservative parties and the military men themselves by putting them to his service.

These strong men who went on to inspire the likes of Donald Trump or Jair Messias Bolsonaro, there is a very clear continuity. We should be very attentive to that line of continuity which is parallel to and co-existent with the Pink-Tide. 

It was this neo-conservative ultra-liberal line of continuity that became quite successful at regaining a foothold amongst the middle-classes. Here, we have to understand another phenomenon that has not been sufficiently studied by political philosophers or those interested in political phenomena. It is what one Caribbean writer called the ‘misery of desire’. What do I mean by this? I am quoting Pierre Yoyotte. He was a writer from Martinique who found himself in Paris in the 1930s and witnessed the ascent of fascism. He quickly understood that together with but different from economic misery, we should also pay attention to the fact that capitalism also coerces the masses psychologically or social-psychologically. In a way, it meant that as soon as the masses of the people gain some purchasing power, they would immediately identify themselves or try to identify themselves with the capacity of the middle and upper classes who could circumvent the moral prohibitions that capitalism imposes on the majority by means of money. This is important because this explains, for instance, why many among the millions that were lifted out of poverty in Bolivia or Brazil, went on to vote for Bolsonaro, turn their back on Morales or voted against the Peace Agreement in Colombia in 2016 and then elected the candidate of the Conservative-paramilitary coalition. 

In this situation, if the majority of more or less precarious workers wants things to radically change via the kind of revolutionary process that we saw in Bolivia or Venezuela (to give examples with very different results in the economic level) in order to solve the economic misery to which emotional misery is linked, the majority of the middle classes, which in the Americas tends to envision itself as “white” (the kind of “white mask” that Fanon spoke of; see for instance the “whitening” of Bolivian de facto rule Janine Añez), burdened as they are with moral guilt  -reinforced against desire and mocked by money- are absolutely ripe for what Yoyotte called, very precisely, “a counter-revolution of emotions and ideals that is to be directed against both money and desire.” You can see this in the reaction against feminisms and LGBTQ+ theorization and activism in countries like Colombia, Brazil and Bolivia (denigrated as “gender ideologies” or explicitly attacked as gay contamination and so on) that accompanies the language of “corruption”, which in Brazil, for instance, instigated the use of lawfare (via the so-called Car Wash criminal investigation) to provoke the ousting of then President Dilma Rousseff and the accusations of “electoral fraud” against Evo Morales of Bolivia, which now even The New York Times has acknowledged to be false or grossly exaggerated.

Ditto, these two phenomena -the increase of economic misery in the wake of so-called neoliberalism, and the misery of desire related to but different from it- mark, on the one hand, the chance for an “evolution” from traditional conservatism into a post-fascist rift which is characterized by the rise of the entrepreneurial class. If you prefer, now that no one wishes to speak of Labour against Capital we may talk in terms of the entrepreneurs and those object of entrepreneurship (emprendedores y emprendidos, in Spanish). The former have stepped into the political fray, no longer needing either the political class or the military men themselves as they’re mediators. They were able to connect directly to the population. On the other hand, on the side of the population themselves, the fact that a phenomenon began to occur perhaps at the back of and/or against the judgment and intentions of these Pink Tide governments. I have termed this using the words of the Caribbean writer Pierre Joujot the misery of desire, which to be very simple, only means that as soon as millions of people earn purchase power, at least some of them would try to use that purchasing power for the purposes of consumption because they see that the upper middle classes are able to circumvent the usual prohibitions that capitalism imposes upon the majority by means of money to put it otherwise.

This is what explains the sort of convergence that people of, you know, the kind of people that figures such as Rios Mont Or Uribe Velez in Colombia, Sebastian Pinera in Chile and Donald Trump in the United States represent. These are all people who come from the entrepreneurial class. They present themselves as successful. They present themselves as winners. They present themselves as purer civilians. In this way they distance themselves from those who did their dirty work in the previous decade, but also at projecting this aura of success, purity, that is to say, anti-corruption and so on. And that allowed them to mobilize that sort of rhetoric, which I have termed anti-politics. So, we see the appearance of anti-politics, and this will be the politics that progressive and left-of-center movements displayed in Latin America. That goes a long way to explain the current dynamics. And we are at a moment in these dynamics in which these two sectors at loggerheads, they are fighting it out.

You see it in the protests of late 2019. You see it in the way they’re dealing with the very, you know, the very scenario created unexpectedly by the pandemic in the Americas. And you see it also in terms of the resurgence of forums, various forms of socialism, also including surprisingly to many in the United States themselves.

A.G.: Oscar, my next question is about decolonization. You have been active in decolonization movement in different capacities. You have written on violence as well. There is an essay available on the Naked Punch from 2009 on that subject. So how do you see the entire project? And what do you think its objectives are?

O.G-R.: The de-colonial turn was launched by myself and others in the mid-1990s as a way to both inherit and reinvent the various theorizations that in the previous two or three decades had illuminated the path for progressive forces not only in theory but also in practice. I’m referring, of course, to the so-called dependency theory to the world systems theories. The kind of sociologies, philosophies, and theologies of liberation that people like, Orlando Fals Borda, Enrique Dusserl and others put into practice in the decades between the1950s and 1980s. So, the decolonial turn was our way of both receiving that inheritance and reinventing it for the very different challenges of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. 

For us, what was most important was to highlight a couple of phenomena that the previous generation of thinkers and activists had perhaps tended to sideline. 

The first of these was to focus on forms of internal colonialism vis a vis forms of external colonialism. This is very important, particularly in the context of the Americas because the United States became an empire in that part of the world and it did so reluctantly. Which is to say, it displayed a form of imperialism that was hitherto unknown – which was non-expansionist for the most part.

Of course, there are exceptions. Like in Nicaragua, for instance. The more or less episodic interventions in places like Nicaragua, Cuba, and or Granada are exceptions. But the fact that they are episodic does mean that the U.S. was very conscious of the contradiction that was at the heart of it’s becoming an empire after the 1880s & 1890s, and more clearly after the two world wars. Of course, as you know better, the historical origins of the United States are revolutionary and anti-colonial. We tend to forget that nowadays. Let us do recall that, for instance, that Henry Wallace the vice president of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was both a left-of-center populist and also very likely to be the successor. If he had remained in power it would have taken the United States in a very different direction. It is this direction that Western historians, revisionist historians, tend to disavow, but was very clear during World War II. This is to point towards the alliance between the U.S.A and the USSR, to the detriment of the more imperialist position represented by Winston Churchill and Great Britain. People do tend to forget that at the Yalta conference, the person who was the sort of odd one out was Winston Churchill because neither the US nor the USSR was ready to accept the kind of imperialism that Great Britain still represented at that time.

And in fact, those who invented the so-called American international law after the US came out victorious in its wars against Spain, Mexico, and so on, which are very important events. These are world making events. The result of the Mexican-American War did open the entire West Coast to U.S. internal colonialism. It made it possible for the U.S. to finally end the Indian wars. All of these things happened more or less at the same time in 1880. 1890 is the end of the Mexican-American War, which meant that California and the almost entirety of the West Coast would become part of the union, including Oregon, Texas and New Mexico. I mean, we’re talking about a very important part of the United States here, but also the Spanish-American War, which ended in 1898. As a result of that the United States of America found themselves in possession of the Philippines in the east and Cuba in the Caribbean, thereby becoming a sort of reluctant empire. So, they had to reinvent themselves as what many may call a ‘legalist empire’, that is to say, an empire that at the very least preserves the veneer or the appearance of a democracy.

Now that contradiction is very important because that contradiction means that the foreign policy of the United States is really the projection of its internal contradiction or of its internal war – of its war with itself. 

There were those who would prefer to see the United States continue on its own path that was clear after the end of the civil war in the United States. And this is important, great for those of us who are still interested in reading Marx. It would be very interesting to recall how Marx saw the outcome of the civil war in the United States. He saw it as a revolutionary possibility. He saw the rise, the rise of an armed slavery force as a revolutionary event. It is the failure of reconstruction and the fact that after nineteen forty-eight that position of the United States is betrayed. The anti-fascist alliance becomes replaced with an anti-communist alliance. It is just then, and this is quite recent in historical terms, that the more conservative side of the anti-politics of the United States begins to dominate the rest of the hemisphere – and thereafter, the rest of the world. It does so always in a sort of contradictory way. Plenty of incompetence, lots of inertia. This is very important because it also allows us to avoid the sort of stupid conspiracy theories that we hear way too often. In Latin America for instance from President Maduro himself we see an anti-imperialism that tends towards an easy or too facile form. 

So, you have to understand that the kind of imperialism that we were faced with in the 1990s when we launched the decolonial turn was really a sort of administration at a distance, a government without sovereignty or an empire without expansionism – without occupying force. 

Therefore, we had to speak of, and this is the second important phenomenon, self-colonization. The two key/crucial concepts that we learned from people like Orlando Fals Borda, Frantz Fanon and other Latin American writers were precisely those of internal colonialism as prior vis a vis external colonialism and self-colonization. It meant that we had to take a second look at our own elites, at our own class differentials, and the way in which the intertwining between race/racism and class played out. It played out a most important role in the Americas. That meant that the tone had to change the tone, the tone of our criticism.

Then, we abandoned, from the very outset, any form of identity politics. We also learnt that from Fanon who was very strictly critical of forms of essentialism, including of the Negritude movement itself. He was very clear, for anyone who has read the African Revolution or the second of the Wretched of the Earth, on the possibilities or the limitations for national consciousness. It was absolutely clear on that. He saw it very clearly wasn’t just him, it was also the people he worked with, particularly Assia Djebbar the very important novelist with whom he worked in the Algerian newspaper the El-Moujahid. He pointed out that, of course, one of the likely outcomes of decolonization would be the replacement of the previous external bourgeois by an internal bourgeois. Of course, that’s exactly what happened. It had already happened in the Americas and that’s why he knew that it could also happen in North and West Africa. And he warned against it. 

Moreover, that’s something that traditional Marxism did not take into account. And because traditional Marxism did not take that into account, it also failed to understand the intertwinement between racism and class and sexual divisions better. 

The paradox is that we should not have made that mistake in Latin America because some of our early readers, recipients and inventors of Marxism including people like José Carlos Mariátegui and others have been very clear from the outset about the need for an encounter between different evolutionary reasons. Chief among them, Amer-Indian reasoning and Marxist reasoning. It is a terrible failure and a terrible historical miss-happening that these different forms of rebellious reasoning did not encounter each other more quickly. We had to wait for people like Garcia Linera and Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui in Bolivia to open the way towards an encounter. This encounter has not been easy but it was absolutely necessary to have occurred. Also in practice, and this is also what is most characteristic and interesting about the post Pink Tide, we are beginning to see – particularly in the late 2019 protests – a convergence between the student movement, which is mostly urban in places like Chile and/or Brazil, and the indigenous movement, which is mostly rural.

When that happens, most of the divisions that had allowed – the unspoken divisions – that had allowed conservative and reactionary forces to stay in power. Again, Colombia is a very good example. The war that scorched the landscape of that otherwise beautiful country for 70 or 60 years was accepted by the middle-classes in urban areas because it always took place for the most part in rural areas. So, you had these terrible paradoxes of middle-class Colombians members or working-class Colombians looking at the war on their TV screens, thereby, being unable to relate to the sheer violence that was necessary in order to maintain their own position. You see something very similar in places like Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where these two classes were very well represented topographically with the working or poorer classes up in the favelas, the wealthier or better-off classes down in the beaches. They existed pretty much in the same space but it is as if they existed on different planets. And that sort of invisibility of those near to each other was what maintained forms of self-colonization. It was very important for us to make that as visible as possible. 

Of course, we found the tools to do so in writings and not only the writings but also the visualizations of people like W.B. Dubois, Frantz Fanon, Orlando Fals Borda, Silvia Rivera and others whose work was very visual from the very outset. The visual media played a very important role here. 

So, we had a convergence of three or two phenomena including self-colonization and internal colonialism, which I’ve already talked about. Thirdly, and perhaps nowadays much more important, the transposition of universalist politics from the register of political mobilization to that of en masse image culture. So, we were reading very different writers and learning lessons. For instance, the more from the poets and the painters, in a sense, people like Pierre Joujot or Etienne Lerrot, you know, the precursors of Frantz Fanon himself and also from for fanon, but a very particular fanon the playwright, the clinician, much more so than from the play model for revolution that he became after the liberation of Algeria. 

So is the case with our engagement with the work of Ernesto Guevara for us. Also, Beatriz Allende, the daughter of Salvador Allende. We were more interested in their role as readers of cybernetics, for instance, which Guevera tried to introduce in Cuba after the revolution when he was Minister of Industry and President of the Central Bank. That was more interesting than the the usual Christ-like guerilla man. In addition, he was more useful for ourselves given the environment which we were in. 

One among many of the mistakes that we made, I believe, was an underestimation of armed struggle and what it meant in the Americas in the period between the 1950s and the 1980s. And that other reality dawned upon us at one point. Remember, we were very young back then. Many of us were in our early twenties. So, that other reality dawned upon us only when we began to interact with those who were coming from the armed struggle. I am not referring to those who, having experienced armed struggle, became disillusioned and melancholic about leftism and revolution. There were many examples of those in Latin America, perhaps one of the better-known ones is Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist. Rather, than those who stayed in armed struggle and as a result of various peace processes and dialogues began to lead an unarmed political life. That interaction/dialogue taught us many lessons. To make long story short just as in the United States you tend to identify progressives by how they relate to the 1960s, we ourselves began to regain our political consciousness as we began to remake the memory of the years of armed struggles.

This is hugely important because it is also behind the motivations, the effects, and the practical reasoning of younger generations. In Chile, for instance, they had to remake their immediate past or to regain the memory of their own immediate biography because their parents never told them the story; either because they came from the right-wing of the political spectrum and did not want any ideological contamination or because they came from the left and wanted to spare their children from their own suffering. So, you have to understand that the younger generations of people, whom you see active in Chile. They were first active in the student movement and then came to participate in Chilean Left-Wing Politics – people like Camila Vallejo – they continued to remain active in left politics by regaining their own memory.

H.A.: We have two more questions which are linked with decolonial theory. First, what were the central texts that were formative for you or for the movement for decolonial theory? Secondly, could you comment on your involvement with and your current views about Liberation Theology because you talk about Amer-Indian perspective and the marriage or confrontation between Marxist theory, post-colonial theory, decolonial theory and the indigenous movements. Also, religion is seen by many as an oppressive power or as an instrument of oppression. Therefore, it would be really interesting to study the other possibilities or alternative perspectives in that regard.

O.G-R.: Absolutely. Let me try to answer both questions as one and the same, because they are indeed related. One of the texts that, for me personally and for many of my friends, held great importance was the theatrical Resistance Trilogy, which we owe to the Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman. Ariel Dorfman tells an important story. He tells the story of a young academic in Chile back in 1972-1973. He is a convinced leftist. He goes to one of the poorer areas of Santiago and he tells of a humble woman because she’s spending her money and her time watching soap operas on television. Then a few months later, he comes back and he realizes that he was wrong. This woman tells him, “are you going to rob me of the only possibility I have for escaping my horrendous reality”. Dorfmann had not understood how important it is to take into account the media of communication and imagination of the population and the majority of the working and lower middle-classes. Part of that media of communication – a great deal of it – has to do with what we would call popular religiosity, which is in fact just a very old tradition of both storytelling and the uses of imagination. 

Without imagination or without the visualization of a better future coming from the past, there is no possibility of political action in the present. That’s exactly what the Liberation Theology was. Both the philosophy and the theology of liberation did understand that using the Book of Exodus in the Christian or in the Judeo-Christian Bible did not have to be an instrument of oppression, necessarily. Because it could also be taken to mean the rising and the escape of the slaves against and from their masters.

It could communicate through images and through words, all the difficult all the concepts that are necessary for political action in a way that no Marxist highbrow theorization could. Therein lies the importance of liberation theology and the philosophy of liberation. And that lesson is more relevant now than it was back in the 1970s. Take a look at the way in which the success of right-wing reaction in Latin America has had to do with the replacement of liberation theology by a theology of prosperity. This, as Enrique Dusserl has pointed out, is one of the best weapons displayed by the Trump administration and its clientele in the rest of the Western Hemisphere. It is precisely this more conservative capitalistic derivation and translation of former religious images. They are more easily taken-up and communicated by the majority of the people. 

This is a lesson that we need to understand much better in the left. We need to be able to regain that foothold. We must engage and win the culture war that is being waged at present. And the spaces of that war are virtual spaces, not just actual spaces, but it is also the imagination. Although this may sound paradoxical, it is necessary at this point for us to win the war of imagination before we even begin to think of winning again in the streets. To put it otherwise, do take a look at the way in which the protesters of late 2019 managed to open the spaces of their galleries, their underground clubs and cafes, and take those spaces to the streets. So, it is in those smaller spaces for the imagination that ideas and strategies begin to cook but, of course, they only become sufficient and efficient if and when they bleed into the streets. Therein lies the importance of liberation theology and of texts such as the life-work of Enrique Dusserl, Silvia Rivera Cusicanque, Frantz Fanon, Orlando Fals Borda, and of filmmakers such as Glaubel Rocha in brazil and Patricio Guzmán in Chile. Those were the most important resources for us as well as the work of Garcia Linera and the group of oral history that was spearheaded in Bolivia. So, this encounter between the high Andes – the mountains – and the Caribbean, or between those two cultures of Afro and Amer-Indian, was what really inspired the decolonial turn.

A.G.: One last question to end the interview. Coming to the current crisis caused by the pandemic, there has been a lot of intervention by philosophers amidst the outbreak. For example, Agamben wrote about the state of exception in relation to security measures taken by the state. Don’t you think that as much as the term ‘crisis’ is an indictment of the prevalent economic model and the functioning of states generally, it also exposes the inadequacy of theory and a lot of philosophical concepts like bio-politics? How is the current crisis going to shape the future of the Third World? Can you explain this in light of your book, again?

O.G-R.: I know Jean Luc (Jean Luc Nancy) much better than I know Georgio Agamben. So, I might feel more comfortable in referring to people like Jean Luc but also, Slavoj [Slavoj Žižek] and Drusilla Cornell and those in the very near environment of the Birbeck Institute for the Humanities, have been debating for a while.  Also, Etienne Balibar, Jacqueline Rose and others. I believe that what we have been reading from them, in terms of, the state of exception and the transcendental derivation of the state apparatus makes sense, if and when, we understand that historically speaking this has to do with the importation of certain techniques from the fine arts into the arts of government. Which is to say that the colonial gaze, that comes from the adaptation of the capacity to abstract the viewer and/or the painter from the scenario that he is painting, referring here, of course, to what is very well shown in the work of Velasquez as analyzed by Michel Foucault, among others. What you see there is precisely this form of governmentality in which the one upon whom the entire organization of space, time and people, and objects, and subjects within that space depends upon is himself abstracted from the very space that he organizes.

So that is the sight of the exception, it is a sort of voyeuristic-fetishistic look. It is that locating of the self at a safe distance from the catastrophe happening out there. It is necessary to de-colonize precisely that image, that look and that gaze. That idea of a position that would be outside of space and time. That is why we need to move from shifting the geography of reason to shifting the time of reason, to move towards a more realistic conception of time and what it does. What I mean by that, to conclude, is that we need a different way of seeing and only then will we recognize that the framework that we keep using, in order to, speak of biopolitics and colonialism is just not fit for the purpose. That would be my problem, perhaps, with what people like Agamben have to say. They are still thinking of biopolitics from Europe and Europe alone, thereby, not realizing that it is in the lack of reciprocity with the site of another and all others that decolonization would take place.


1.See T. W. Adorno, Lectures on Negative Dialectics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008) 147. Also, Julio Cortázar, Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales (Mexico: excelsior, 1975).

 2. For my quotes and paraphrases in this paragraph, see, Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. The Norman and Charlotte Strouse Edition of the Writings of Thomas Carlyle, intr. By M. K. Goldberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993 [1839] and, specifically, his “Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question”, reprinted in Critical Memorial Edition of the Works of Thomas Carlyle, vol. 18, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (Boston: Dana Estes, 1869 [1853]) 26.

 3. See on Vieira and related themes, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, A inconstância da alma selvagem (São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2002) 183-266 and in the English version The Inconstance of the Indian Soul. The Encounter of Catholics and Cannibals in 16-th century Brazil (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2011) 1-18. Enrique Dussel criticizes this kind of “zero-degree” visuality in his Las metáforas teológicas de Marx (Mexico: Siglo XXI editores, 2017) 268n22 in resonance with Santiago Castro-Gómez’s La hybris del punto-cero. Ciencia, raza e ilustración en la Nueva Granada, 1750-1816 (Bogotá: editorial Javeriana, 2010).

4. Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969) 496-97

5. John Beverly, Latin Americanism After 9/11 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011) 96, citing Beatriz Sarlo, “Kirchner actua como si fuese un soberano” in La Nacion, June 22, 2006. My brackets.

 6. Fredric Jameson, An American Utopia. Dual Power and the Universal Army, ed. by S. Žižek (London: Verso, 2016) 3.

 7. See on this, Ernesto Laclau, “Ethics, Normativity and the Heteronomy of the Law, in The Rhetorical Foundations of Society (London: Verso, 2014) 133, and, Slavoj Zizek, “Bloch’s Ontology of Not-Yet-Being” in The Privatization of Hope. Ernst Bloch and the Future of Utopia (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013) xv-xx. See also, Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007) on “spacemattering”, and, Luis Martinez Andrade, Religion without Redemption. Social Contradictions and Awakened Dreams in Latin America (London: Pluto Books, 2015). Also, Lee Smolin and Roberto Mangabeira Unger, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), preceded by Roberto Mangabeira Unger, The Religion of the Future (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

 8.On this project, see Kwok Pui-lan, Don H. Compier & Joerg Rieger (eds.) Empire & The Christian Tradition. New Readings of Classical Theologians (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007). Also, Ernst Bloch, Despedida de la utopia? Translated by Sandra Santana P. (Madrid: A. Machado Libros, 2017) 86.

 9. Catherine Keller, Political Theology of the Earth. Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018) 160, and China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian revolution (London: Verso, 2017) 305-6 as well as “Silence in Debris: Towards an Apophatic Marxism”, in Salvage, issue 6, posted April 2, 2019 at

10. Ernesto Laclau,The Rhetorical Foundations of Society, 133-5. Also, David Graeber & Marshall Sahlins, On Kings (Chicago: Hau Books, 2017) especially 23-64 and 377-464.

 11. See my essay “Space Is the Place: Perspektive, Daten, Eigentum- und magische Technologie” in Technosphäre, herausgegeben von Katrin Klingan & Christoph Rosol (Berlin: Matthes & Seitz/Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 2019) 176-195.. Also, Drucilla Cornell, “Derrida’s Negotiations as a Technique of Liberation”, in Discourse. Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture, 39.2  (Wayne University Press, Spring 2017) 195-215, citing physicist Lee Smolin (with Brazilian sociologist Roberto M. Unger) and Jacques Derrida’s distinction between affirmation and position, and justice-as-negotiation in Negotiations: Interventions and Interviews, 1971-2001 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002) 25-26 as well as the practice of the Black Panther Party.

 12. George Ciccariello-Maher, Building the Commune. Radical Democracy in Venezuela (London: Verso, 2016) 11.

Image/Illustration: Portrait Drawing of Oscar Guardiola-Rivera by Aqsa Fazly

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