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Duke University Press, 2022
Duke University Press, 2022

‘The Impasse of the Latin American Left’: What did we learn from the Pink Tide?

A new book explores the region’s Pink Tide as a political, economic, and cultural phenomenon

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At the turn of the 21st century, Latin American politics experienced a surge in progressive movements, as popular uprisings for land and autonomy led to the election of left and center-left governments across the region. These progressive parties institutionalized social movements and established forms of state capitalism that sought to redistribute resources and challenge neoliberalism. 

In The Impasse of the Latin American Left (Duke University Press, 2022), European historians Franck Gaudichaud, Massimo Modonesi, and Jeffery R. Webber explore the region’s 'Pink Tide' as a political, economic, and cultural phenomenon, and demonstrate that these governments failed to transform the underlying class structures of their societies or challenge the imperial strategies of the United States and China. 

Now, as the Pink Tide has largely receded, the authors offer a portrait of this watershed period in Latin American history to evaluate the successes and failures of the left and to offer a clear-eyed account of the conditions that allowed for a right-wing resurgence.

“The authors view the radical 21st-century Latin American governments more favorably than those of the moderate left,” writes Steve Ellner, a retired professor at Venezuela’s Universidad de Oriente, in his book review for NACLA magazine. “They credit Chávez for being largely alone in achieving certain structural economic changes through expropriations. In contrast, Brazil, according to the authors, became a 'sub-imperial' power with 80% of its exports going elsewhere in the region in the form of 'industrialized products of high or (mostly) medium grade technology,' largely in return for natural resources and other primary products from its neighbors.”

According to Ellner, the feature most emphasized in the book is the Pink Tide’s tight control and demobilization of social movements.

“Popular movements were essential elements in the rise to power of the Pink Tide," he added. In the case of Brazil and Bolivia, Lula and Morales emerged from them, and in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Argentina, they forced presidents out of power. “The book’s authors allege that Pink Tide governments and parties ended up taming and disciplining social movements and in other cases marginalizing them,” he concluded.

“We hope that our interpretation stimulates further analysis and critical assessment of the political experiences that disrupted the neoliberal order in Latin America and represented a watershed moment in history, particularly in the new context of the COVID,” the authors say in the book’s Introduction. “We hope that our interpretation stimulates further analysis and critical assessment of the political experiences that disrupted the neoliberal order in Latin America and represented a watershed moment in history, the consequences of which live on, and about which we need to reflect. The intellectual and political stakes could not be higher. The right—including the extreme-right—is in ascendance in the region, and in order to understand and to resist this phenomenon, it is necessary to evaluate as soberly and thoroughly as possible how the internal contradictions of the preceding era of progressive hegemony helped to make the right-wing resurgence possible.”

“In this important new book, Franck Gaudichaud, Massimo Modonesi, and Jeffery R. Webber provide a timely and incisive analysis of the left’s waning fortunes in Latin America over the past two decades. The limits of what they call progressivism in this convulsed region offer great lessons for popular struggles and left politics around the world,” wrote William I. Robinson, author of Global Civil War: Capitalism Post-Pandemic. “The study could not be more timely given the devastating impact that the crisis of global capitalism and the coronavirus pandemic have had on Latin America. A must-read for students of Latin America and for all those concerned with advancing genuinely transformative projects in the twenty-first century.” 

About the authors 

Franck Gaudichaud is a Professor of History and Latin American Studies at Universite Toulouse-Jean Jaurès.

Massimo Modonesi is a Professor of Sociology at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Jeffery R. Webber is an Associate Professor of Politics at York University.

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