Marxist theory is built upon a critique of the accumulation of capital in the hands of the bourgeoisie, through the exploitation of workers, for which Karl Marx visualizes a solution of redistribution of capital, now in the hands of the socialist state, with the support of the proletariat. However, within the “worker exploitation” concept and the construction of the nation-state, there is no room for the exploitation of Nature and bodies, racially stratified furthermore, that the various colonialisms inflicted upon them in their dispute over land and wealth. As an heir of the mid-19th century colonialist ideology, Marx does not question the concentration of patriarchal power, nor extractive industries and “ development” as concepts of, he rather applauds them.
Marx, it must be said, like all 19th-century intellectuals, is heir to the ideology of Darwinian determinism, influenced by the Manifest Destiny of Christianity. Lenin takes up the Marxist ideology and turns it into manuals for the construction of “the dictatorship of the proletariat” (which today, for example, are used by the global extreme right, to launch their projects for the seizure of power), where the rights of nature and its defenders, ie, indigenous peoples, are not included. These, it must be said, are the roots of socialist democracy.
The experiences of the so-called Socialism of the XXI Century (SSXXI) political projects in Latin America had several directions. Although each project was originally based on the giant wave of indigenous and popular mobilizations-organizations that changed the face of many countries in the region, each of them ended up sliding into each other. The “indigenous folklore” is utilized by these regimes as a space of tourist and “cultural” attraction, even as political propaganda, and not as a state policy to protect the rights of peoples for self-determination. The beautiful images of colorful indigenous fabrics are seen positively in the context of attracting foreign capital, not as a people’s identity demanding rights, including autonomy, cultural diversity, education, and sustainable local economies.
Those regimes have been theoretically based on a generation of Marxist-Leninist, white, European intellectuals who suffer from the same innate inability of dialectical materialism to understand something else than the material, the productive. In the end what is denoted, regrettably, is a profound ignorance and contempt not only for indigenous spirituality, but even for history, and even now, in the midst of the pandemic, contempt for logic, since their science is not capable of explaining that developmentalist extractivism, a practice they joyfully share with the capitalist world, is responsible for climate change and the conditions that generated the existence of COVID-19.
Exclusivist statements can be noted such as, “[environmentalism] is a religion barely camouflaged: the millenarian terror, the concern for everything except the political destiny of the peoples … the rights of Nature ‘is a contemporary form of opium for the masses …. Put in simple words: Nature it does not exist, ” by Alain Badiou (EE, 159-60). “What is our greatest source of energy today? Oil… The oil reserves that benefit the planet are remnants of materials from an unimaginable catastrophe… ecology is gradually becoming a new opium for the masses,” argues Slavoj Žižek.
In this way, they seek to disqualify the systems developed by indigenous peoples to protect Nature, which maintained an environmental balance for more than 5,000 years. By abandoning the possibility of even understanding spirituality, diverse worldviews, and the struggle for indigenous autonomous territory, Marxist-Leninism turned its back on the greatest anti-capitalist struggle of the 20th century and what is going on in the 21st century: the demand of Native peoples’ historical and political rights. For indigenous peoples, protecting Mother Nature is an integral part of a living system that gives them a reason to exist, even the defense of the language becomes an area of territorial cultural protection indispensable for the survival of the peoples, and thus they defend it, literally with their lives.
The Tren Maya as a Neocolonial Project
In Mexico, after decades of struggle by the indigenous, peasant, and civil society organizations, a “movement” was created to crystallize historical efforts to defeat the PRI-state party, and its allies of the right-wing, the PAN, to make way for the current presidency of MORENA and AMLO. Just a few months after winning the election, the Mexican government cut itself from the social movement, from indigenous organizations, and even gave way to a direct confrontation. In an effort to “modernize” Mexico, it has taken up extreme extractive policies of the old regime, also violating the Constitution and the International Agreements signed by the country in the matter of indigenous rights (access to state funds, to the prior consultation, health, among others).
The Mega Project of the so-called “Tren Maya”(Maya Train)—which will cross the national territory from coast to coast, infecting workers and native inhabitants with COVID-19, as well as destroying their communities, sacred places, archaeological remains, and irreversibly damaging the ecosystem prevalent there—was dubbed an “essential project” during the pandemic. Indigenous peoples from different regions have organized to resist the project, even taking legal measures to stop it. Some indigenous people of Oaxaca have taken de facto measures, in demand of a local hospital are not allowing the works to proceed. The state’s response has been, “The work of the Trans-isthmic Corridor does not stop with the pandemic nor with the earthquakes.”
Recently, the government, through the tourist office, even recognized that in the context of the construction of the so-called Tren Maya, they may be committing acts of ethnocide but: “Ethnocide can have a positive turn: ‘ethnodevelopment’.”
The “fourth transformation of Mexico” (la Cuarta) flies the flag of the SSXXI like preceding governments in the southern cone, which never surpassed extractive developmentalism, placing them at the same level of neoliberal governments that use depredation to “boost” the economy. In concrete terms, the economic project of the regimes of the so-called SSXXI are very similar in objectives to 19th century Liberalism, undemocratic and authoritarian regimes, and even identify and relate to them as “heroes.”
Take, for example, the way in which la Cuarta raises the image of Benito Juárez, “the only indigenous president” of Mexico, as an impassable bulwark. Juárez was the President of the Supreme Court of Justice, born an indigenous Zapotec, who preferred to speak French (before the French invasion), who came to power in 1857 by a coup (Comonfort vs. Juan Álvarez) and stayed there for 15 years until the last of his days. Juárez decreed educational uniformity in Spanish, which promoted the disappearance of dozens of indigenous native languages. After Mexico defeated the French invasion, a group of peasants led by the agrarian reformist Julio López started a revolt to distribute land to the dispossessed peasants, giving away copies of the Communist Manifesto. Juárez took the landowners’ side and ordered the rebels to be executed without a trial.
Benito Juárez did not govern with an indigenous worldview; he did so as a right-wing liberal. Even the greatest radicalism attributed to him, the secular state, was proposed by the Ayutla Revolution that Juárez helped to overthrow.
A Warning to Northern Socialisms
For the ideological orthodox, indigenous peoples are an obstacle to their idea of development. The proletariat promoted by orthodox Marxism is for a single country, one identity, one socialist state, culture, and language; it does not admit cultural variations, considering them “bourgeois” (indigenous spirituality is a fickle one), and for example, always ends up analyzing the “indigenous problem” in reductionist terms of land tenure, because it wants to understand: indigenous = peasant.
Unfortunately, dialectical materialism does not provide theoretical tools to understand indigenous spirituality. That castration of origin (it can only see workers, peasants, and proletarians), breaks its possibility of Native peoples’ systems of community, reciprocity, and solidarity to sustain the Sumak Kawsay (Harmonious Living). The SXXI project is inexpensive. “The great challenge of our time is to achieve societies dominating the market and not markets dominating societies,” they proudly affirm, very close to neoliberal practices in its form and resources. The indigenous project, by contrast, is a holistic, non-linear, integrating, hermeneutical vision of the world, in which the human being is a small part of a colossal whole, which is nourished by all its members.
In a strict sense, governments that identify with the self-styled SSXXI have promoted a republican colonialist idea of taking land because it belongs to “the nation,” and have developed depredation of sacred ancestral territories and its native inhabitants. They have also implemented extractive policies that exploit the environment, and have even taken steps to commit acts of ethnocide to achieve their goals, in terms of profit for the nation-state.
It should be noted that there is plenty of academic production in Latin America on this subject, which comes from having already gone through various regimes of SSXXI, some more successful, some more authoritarian than others. For example, Horacio Machado Áraoz writes:
The predominant leftitst thought in general–through different argumentative channels and in different historical-political contexts–has tended to disregard, ignore and/or minimize the ecological problem, splintering it from the crucial questions of capitalist domination […] Beyond the great differences that distinguish them, these “growth socialisms” have coincided in embracing faith in the “development of the productive forces,” as a condition and inexorable way to overcome the contradictions of capitalism. “
However, at this time, across the continent, from Alaska, Canada, the United States to the last territory of Patagonia, the vanguard of the social movement, those who have to bear the most significant repression, offer the most practical initiative, more dead, and a greater scope of influence, and against whom governments make systematic efforts to disqualify, demobilize, underfund, and dismantle is the indigenous movement and its inalienable defense of Mother Earth. The spaces of vulnerability to which the indigenous peoples have been subjected to have been today exacerbated by the incidence of the pandemic, and even so, they do not renounce their millennial conviction of being oneself with the Pacha Mama, with all living beings that give us reason to exist. For indigenous peoples, political geometry—the political left or right—does not change the results, only the discourse.