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The lessons from Honduras

Over the past month I have been reading Hayek's works, and I am noticing how pervasive his ideology is. The recent coup d'etat in Honduras compounded that view. The rhetoric used by the supporters of the regime is starkly reminiscent of Hayek. When they claim that the coup d'etat in Honduras is actually protecting democracy, it might seem contradictory, but thanks to the logic of Hayek, it does make sense; of course, I do not agree with his arguments. The basic premise is that democracy can only exist within liberal society where the free market; the rule of law that is applicable to everyone equally--the 'false universalism' of liberal-capitalism--; and limited popular democracy. Any attempt to regulate the economy and to massify the political will inevitably lead to tyranny of the majority and eventually to authoritarianism; therefore, a strong constitution that brackets off 'substantive' issues is needed to protect 'liberty' from the tyranny of the majority. Due to the political impossibility of agreeing on what the 'public good' is, within a democratic framework, will lead to the political system investing its decisions to a strong-man who has total control of the economy, thus, people's lives. Thus, the overt class politics of Zelaya, wanting to redistribute income and power under the 'guise' of democracy is an unacceptable encroachment on liberty, and goes against the 'laws of the market' leading Honduras to a 'Road to Serfdom'. As Hayek states:

In this sense an act of the duly authorized legislature might be as arbitrary as an act of an autocrat, indeed any command or prohibition directed to particular persons or groups, and not following from a rule of universal applicability, would be regarded as arbitrary. What thus makes an act of coercion arbitrary, in the sense in which the term is used in the old liberal tradition, is that it serves a particular end of government, is determined by a specific act of will and not by a universal rule needed for the maintenance of that self-generating overall order of actions, which is served by all the other enforced rules of just conduct. (Libearlism, Hayek)

Thus, since the policies and objectives of Zelaya were particular and not universally applicable, meaning it recognizes inherent asymmetries in power, it is autocratic even if under the rule of the demos. The implicit assumption in Hayek, and the junta is that they are not exercising their own form of serfdom on the majority of the people. The superficiality of liberalism's formal equality, focusing on negative rights that are easily applied universally to all, condemns millions of people to a very real life of 'serfdom'. Zelaya's politics are more overtly classist, but that does not mean that the normal operations of the liberal-capitalist state isn't classist. Particularly under the neoliberal frame, the state as Marx suggested is ultimately the 'executive committee' of the bourgeoisie; however, because these operations are considered 'normal', and 'rational' they are not considered classist.

Liberal democracy obfuscates, through the democratic franchise, and legalistic process the power of the ruling classes that define what those 'universal' laws are. Perry Anderson's elucidation of Gramsci's thoughts in this work, The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci is instructive. In it, he argues that the enfranchised masses believe that, "they exercise an ultimate self-determination within the existing social order...[that due to] the democratic equality of all citizens in the government of the nation—in other words, [a] disbelief in the existence of any ruling class” (Anderson 30). What Zelaya, Chavez, etc., are doing with their referendums is challenging liberal democracy on its own terms. The elites in these societies know that they the lack critical mass of support among the population and what the new left in Latin America is doing is--within the pluralistic, liberal democratic framework--using the liberal notion of consent=legitimacy, and changing the hegemonic system of oppression. They are exposing to the world the ruling classes that bely liberal-capitalism's 'democracy', that it is a rational and neutral plane from which all interests are equally considered and is ruled by laws and not power/politics. It is no wonder that Allende, Chavez, and Zelaya were overthrown, eventhough they worked within the paradigm of liberal democracy. As Perry Anderson's elucidation of Gramsci's thoughts in this work, The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci, reminds us that:

To forget the ‘fundamental’ or determinant role of violence within the power structure of contemporary capitalism in the final instance is to regress to reformism...Deprived of this, the system of cultural control would be instantly fragile, since the limits of possible actions against it would disappear...[therefore] the ultimate determinant of the power system: force. This is a law of capitalism, which it cannot violate, on pain of death. It is the rule of the end-game situation (Anderson 43).

Indeed, this is what occurred in Honduras, existing capitalist relations were under threat in the country and therefore, the ruling classes had to react at pain of death, or so their pathologies told them. The greatest fear of capital is exactly what Zelaya, and Chavez are doing, mobilizing the subaltern in a counter-hegemonic discourse. Liberal democracy according to Hayek means that, "Democracy is concerned with the question of who is to direct government. Liberalism requires that all power, and therefore also that of the majority, be limited" (Liberalism). The issue, that is not addressed by Hayek, is who is doing the articulation of how government is to be limited. Where does it say that the elite of the society are the sole arbiters of defining what the limits of the state should be? Herein lies the challenge by the left in Latin America to existing liberal-capitalism, as the subaltern are being mobilized against the parasitic elites of their societies who would rather invest their money in condos along Miami beach than reinvesting the profits at home. The subaltern are exacting their democratic prerogative to challenge existing relations, so they are in essence democratizing liberalism. What the proto-revolutionary left in Latin America is doing is challenging and keeping liberal-democracy up to its suppsoed core ideological justification, which is premised on, as elucidated by Abraham Lincoln's famous dictum that the state is ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’.

Zelaya was overthrown, not because he broke the constitution--many presidents do that all the time, and there are legal mechanisms to depose of a leader who is charged of breaking the constitution. The real reason for his sudden, violent overthrow was because his referendum was too much of a immediate, and legitimate threat to existing power relations in the country. If Zelaya was a demagogue as they claim, and if he was unpopular as they claim he was, why overthrow him? If the referendum was going to fail, wouldn't that signal the end of the reformist project, and his political career? It is important to remember, as Anderson points out, proving Gramsci right, that, “it is in the nature of the bourgeois State [and system] that, in any final contest, the armed apparatus of repression inexorably displaces the ideological apparatuses of parliamentary representation [and the judiciary]” (Anderson 76).

Gramsci's analytical framework's predictive powers are reinforced by the difference between the coup d'etat engineered against Chavez in 2002, and Zelaya in 2009. In 2002, when Chavez was overthrown, the subaltern masses poured in from the ghettos that surround Caracas like water into a bowl, culminating in front of Miraflores to demand the return of Chavez. The subaltern in Honduras, in contradiction to The Economist propaganda, have also taken to the streets in the major urban centres of Honduras. Chavez was back in Miraflores three days after his ouster, yet Zelaya remains in limbo, why? The reason is that, as Anderson pointed out earlier, the foundation of the state is force, not ideological power. Ideological power is essential to the long-run viability any hegemonic order, by definition, but once that ideological facade collapses, force and dominance is the end game. In order for Zelaya to have a triumphant return to power like Chavez the military has to be on his side and they are clearly not. Chavez was brought back because there were serious splits within the military. People power alone is not sufficient, people power--the notion of people power is always partial and particular due to 'class conflict'--has to be able transcend its own corporatist interests to convince the members of the armed apparatus that this is the end game and that they are fighting for the losing side of history.

The lessons for progressives should be clear from what is occurring in Honduras. Some racists or ignorant persons may argue that what is happening in Honduras is because it is a 'banana republic' and simply cannot happen here. However, it certainly has been attempted 'here', for example the attempted coup against FDR in 1933-34 by big business. What is happening in Latin America is what a real left should look like, a left that does not accept the naturalization of existing capitalism as is. As Chantal Mouffe, and Ernesto Laclau argue about the sad state of ersatz leftism in the West:

We never thought, through, that discarding the Jacobin friend/enemy model of politics as an adequate paradigm for democratic politics should lead to the adoption of the liberal one, which envisages democracy as a simple competition among interests taking place in a neutral terrain--even if the accent is put on the 'dialogic' dimension. This, however, is precisely the way in which many left-wing parties are now visualizing the democratic process. This is why they are unable to grasp the structure of power relations, and even begin to imagine the possibility of establishing a new hegemony. As a consequence, the anti-capitalist element which had always been present in social democracy...has now been eradicated from its supposedly modernized version...This argument takes from granted the ideological terrain which has been created as a result of years of neo-liberal hegemony, and transforms what is conjunctural state of affairs into a historical necessity. Presented as driven exclusively by the information revolution, the forces of globalization are detached from their political dimensions and appear as fate to which we all have to submit. So we are told that there are no more left-wing or right-wing economic policies only good and bad ones! To think in terms of hegemonic relations is to break with such fallacies. (16).

I hope we can break with such fallacies, and Latin America is providing the light by which we can. However, we must remember that we live in a society of power not of reason.

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