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Nicaragua was among the last countries in Latin America to become democratic, and among the first to regress to authoritarian practices. It has thus been a fertile testing ground for theories of democratic development, addressing hypotheses about whether leftist revolutions can produce democracy, the difficulties inherent in wartime transitions to democracy, and the roles that foreign actors play in constraining and fostering democratic governance. After achieving independence from Spain in 1823, Nicaragua fell under the hegemony of the expansionist United States and endured a lengthy US occupation. The US-supported Somoza dictatorship was overthrown in 1979 by a revolution that brought to power the socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The FSLN initially implemented a progressive authoritarian regime under an appointed junta, while fostering widespread political participation channeled through mass organizations associated with the party. Policies that centered on improving equality for the majority at the expense of traditional elites and the private sector drew US hostility. For a decade, US-sponsored counterrevolutionary forces made war on Nicaragua in an attempt to unseat the Sandinista government, and a US trade and financial embargo deeply damaged the economy. During that time, Nicaragua put in place a presidential system, permitted the development of opposition political parties, held partially competitive elections in 1984, and in 1987 inaugurated a constitution that mixed socialist and liberal principles. The 1984 elections were boycotted by right-wing opponents but shifted the basis of legitimate governance from winning the revolution to winning at the ballot box. In 1990, Nicaragua held competitive and internationally observed elections convened as one element of a regionwide Central American peace process. The FSLN lost in an upset that yielded an alteration in power signaling the advent of democracy. After negotiating to depoliticize the armed forces, President Violeta Chamorro took office and signed peace agreements with the counterrevolutionaries. For a decade, democracy prevailed and was deepened via a constitutional reform that transferred budgetary power to the legislature, shortened the presidential term, and prohibited immediate re-election to the presidency. In opposition, the FSLN employed both social mobilization tactics and parliamentary procedure to defend their constituents. Liberal remnants from the Somoza era regrouped and won the presidency in 1996. Democratic consolidation proved elusive, however, and instead the caudillo leaders of the FSLN and liberal parties, former President Daniel Ortega and then-President Arnoldo Alemán, reached a pact through which they radically reduced the political space available to smaller parties and assumed exclusive joint control of state institutions. The liberals again won election in 2001, but after their party split in 2006, Ortega was re-elected to the presidency. The new FSLN government introduced progressive policies that reduced poverty, but the quality of elections declined, and presidential term limits were abolished, introducing a competitive authoritarian regime. The FSLN then eliminated rival parties from serious contention and used legal reforms to consolidate a one-party-dominant system lacking horizontal and vertical accountability and marked by old political patterns of caudillo rule, elite pacts, and personalist rule centered on a single family.

Article

Jason Brennan

Market-based economies outperform the alternative forms of economic organization on almost every measure. Nevertheless, this leaves open what the optimal degree of government regulation, government-provided social insurance, and macroeconomic adjustment is. Most economists seem to favor mostly, but not completely, free markets. Although regulation can in principle correct certain market failures, whether it will do so in practice depends in part on how pervasive and damaging corresponding government failures will be. Philosophers, unlike economists, tend to think that questions about the value of the free market are not settled entirely by examining how well free markets function. Some philosophers even claim that markets are intrinsically unjust. In their view, markets encourage wrongful exploitation, lead to excessive economic inequality, and tend to induce people to treat each other in inhumane ways. Among those philosophers who are more sanguine about markets, one major question concerns the moral status of economic liberty. Some philosophers, such as John Rawls, hold that economic liberty is purely of instrumental value. Citizens should be granted a significant degree of economic freedom only because this turns out, empirically, to produce good consequences. However, other philosophers, such as Robert Nozick and John Tomasi, argue that economic freedom is valuable in part for the same reasons that civil and political liberties are valuable—as a necessary means to respect citizens’ autonomy.

Article

The 1992 Salvadoran peace accords ended a 12-year civil war and forced modest democratic reforms on a state long dominated by a ruthless oligarchy and military. However, the new system represented a shallow version of democracy that remained largely unresponsive to the population. For two decades the far-right Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Nationalist Republican Alliance [ARENA]) party held the presidency and used it to enact pro-business economic policies of austerity, privatization, and deregulation. In 2009, the left-wing opposition party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), won the presidential elections for the first time. Yet despite winning some notable progressive reforms, the FMLN did not seek, much less achieve, a radical break from the neoliberal policies of previous administrations. FMLN leaders opted to continue a number of pro-capitalist policies while pursuing reforms to ameliorate the worst symptoms of the system, not overthrow it. The FMLN’s shift away from revolutionary socialism is attributable to several factors: a political and media terrain that still heavily favors the right, the continued influence of the United States government, and private investors’ control over the economy. These constraints were vitally important during the tenures of FMLN presidents Mauricio Funes (2009–2014) and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (2014–2019). El Salvador’s political trajectory since 1992, and especially during the FMLN’s decade in the presidency, offers insights into the constraints facing various left-of-center governments elected across Latin America in the early 21st century.

Article

In general, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) did not treat its gay and lesbian citizens very favorably. Although the legal situation was more liberal than in the Federal Republic (West Germany) and other Western European countries, most homosexual East Germans lived in a state of invisibility at best, or suffered direct homophobia at worst, often at the hands of the government. In the mid-1980s, the public and government stance toward homosexuality liberalized slightly, leading to small improvements in the lives of gay East Germans. However, gay East Germans never experienced many of the same freedoms or opportunities that their West German, other Western European, or American counterparts enjoyed. Gay East Germans occupied a difficult position within the socialist ideology of the GDR. In theory, each East German was equal, enjoying universal rights and opportunities, and living free from discrimination. At the same time, however, the smallest building block of the society was the heterosexual, reproductive, married couple: a model into which same-sex desiring people could not fit. This doctrine of supposed equality probably contributed to the fact that homosexuality was decriminalized earlier in the GDR than in the Federal Republic, but it was also used by the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands: the ruling, dictatorial party) as an excuse not to engage further with the specific needs of gay citizens until the mid-1980s. The GDR saw some limited gay activism in the 1970s in the form of the Homosexuelle Interessengemeinschaft Berlin (HIB); however, the group’s activities never really extended outside of East Berlin and did not lead to significant political or social change. More impactful activism occurred in the 1980s under the aegis of the Protestant Church as the only organization in the GDR that operated largely outside of state control. The SED eventually yielded to some of the demands of gay activists—by sanctioning publications and meeting spaces, for example—but did so primarily to draw gay activists out of the protection of Church structures and in order to be able to monitor and control them more easily. There are few East German literary or artistic works that engage with homosexuality, although a number of relevant literary works were published in the 1980s. These contributed to a fledgling discourse around homosexuality, shifting the issue from a taboo topic to one more acceptable for discussion in the public sphere. However, when East German audiences viewed Heiner Carow’s Coming Out in 1989—the first and only East German feature film to depict homosexual relationships—many claimed that it was their first exposure to homosexuality. And, since the GDR ceased to exist as a state fairly abruptly in 1990, one will never know how the trajectory of gay rights activism may have continued.

Article

Mario Roberto Morales

Guatemala is one of the most complicated countries in the Latin American region, especially because of the interethnic dimensions of its historical processes. Its history goes back 35,000 years, when the territory was first populated. Thereafter, it saw the development of the most advanced culture in the Americas: The Maya civilization. No less interesting is its colonial history. The years of the war of conquest and the centuries of colonial rule by the Spaniards are the very matrix in which all of the complicated ethnic differences among its peoples originated. These differences give an ethnic face to the economic, political, social, and cultural powers and events in everyday life. The name Criollos (Creole) was given to the sons and grandsons of Spaniards born in the Americas. The formation of a Creole or Criollo motherland in the hearts and minds of the descendants of the conquistadors quickly developed because of the feudal land ownership imposed by the invaders, which provided the Criollos with a love of private property. Land ownership disputes among the Criollo elites gave way to wars that led to a failed attempt at Central American unity by liberals against the conservative forces representing the interests of the Catholic Church in matters of state. In the end, a liberal “modernity” was imposed, but this modernity contained a basic contradiction that remains alive to this day: A feudal land tenure as the basis of a supposed democratic liberal state that, oddly enough, often took the form of military dictatorships. The impossibility of modernity characterizes the Guatemalan 20th century. An authoritarian state and army represented the oligarchic Criollo power throughout the first four decades of that century until a civic and military movement overthrew the dictator in charge, General Jorge Ubico. Democracy was established, thus modernizing the state and all public affairs, and the foundations of a “democratic Capitalism” (as President Jacobo Arbenz called it in his inauguration speech) were laid through a land reform affecting only public lands and buying private non-cultivated properties at a fair market price. In the midst of the Cold War, this meant defiance against the U.S. government. In 1954, the CIA, the local oligarchy, the Catholic Church hierarchy, and a faction of the National Army, perpetrated a coup d’état that ended Guatemala’s path toward real economic, political, and cultural modernity. The country went back to where it was: Oligarchic and military rule and the overexploitation of the landless campesino workforce, especially in the indigenous communities of Maya ascent. In the early 1960s Guatemalans experienced the emergence of a guerrilla socialist movement inspired by the Cuban revolution that unleashed a war that lasted 36 years until peace accords were signed in 1996 by a militarily defeated guerrilla force and a triumphant National Army. This “peace” was the local requisite imposed by the corporate transnational capital on the local oligarchy to install a neoliberal regime in the country. Immediately after the peace accords were signed, the oligarchic government of Álvaro Arzú began to privatize public assets like the electric and telephone companies. The effect on the popular sectors and the middle class was devastating. The state abandoned its development plans, and this responsibility was shifted to international funding agencies. The resultant non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began to call themselves “civil society” and still do today. This simulacrum of a civil society was composed by well-funded groups of ex–left-wing militants and sympathizers that soon embraced and advanced issues related to multiculturalism, following the international agenda of the funding agencies. Class struggle was totally abandoned by these politically correct NGOs, which soon became “new social movements.” Public powers were absorbed by illegal private powers now in association with drug trafficking and many other forms of organized crime. Neoliberalism became the national economic paradigm. And when public corruption was incontrollable, the United States intervened, waging a “struggle against corruption and impunity” that led to a “color revolution” and a soft coup d’état in 2015.