We live in a neoliberal world where markets spread ever wider and ever deeper. Nothing escapes the market as it enters terrains that have for long been protected. From being a creative activity labor becomes the source of ever more uncertain survival; from being a medium of exchange money becomes a vehicle for making more money through loans and bets on loans, leading to wealthy creditors at one pole and impoverished debtors at the other; from sustaining life, nature (land water, air) is subject to the destructive forces of capitalism, and turned into a high-priced commodity, encouraging violent dispossession; once a public good, knowledge is now sold to the highest bidder whether they be students in search of credentials or corporations in search of subsidized research. The commodification of each factor of production feeds the commodification of all. There seems to be no limit to the market.
Yet markets generate their counter-tendencies whether these be social movements and/or state regulation. This issue contains four articles on Uruguay’s socialist response to the dilemmas of global marketization: redistributive policies leading to and caused by strong unions; social policies that have legalized abortion, same-sex marriage, and marijuana; the retention of high levels of public education. Capitalism, on the other hand, has invaded agriculture, transforming agrarian society into a vehicle of accumulation. In power for the second term, the broad socialist front that includes former members of the Tupamaros guerrilla movement, pursued a popular mandate for social democracy, a trajectory so different from Chile’s conservative road. Despite the rise of pink or electoral socialism in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia, Uruguay’s social democracy stands out as both humane and successful.
If Uruguay is an outlier in Latin America, then Hungary is an outlier within the former Soviet bloc – not in its socialism but in its authoritarian populism, an alternative response to the destructive powers of the market. The three articles from Hungary describe the rise of a mafia state headed by the self-aggrandizing Viktor Orbán, so different from Uruguay’s President José Mujica who lives the humblest of lives. In Hungary political elites ever more removed and ever more ruthless close down democracy and public debate, discredit the idea of class as a communist distortion even as class becomes ever more salient, and cultivate a national chauvinism aimed against Jews and Roma people while scapegoating the European Union for Hungary’s economic plight.
Two countries with very different economic and political histories respond to the same neoliberal stimulus with divergent political strategies. But can either social democracy or populist authoritarianism reverse the momentum of marketization that stalks the planet almost unhindered? Does the reversal of neoliberalism require a counter-movement not just on a national level but on a global scale, and what might that look like? Would such a global counter-movement expand or contract freedoms? Is it feasible or are we heading ineluctably for collective self-destruction?