Latin American development presents us with a rich array of paradoxes, which befuddle the predictions, prescriptions, and commentaries of writers and academics from the right and left. Abrupt changes and shifts in the political correlation of forces is matched by striking structural continuities.
Political advances alternate with sharp reversals as popular movements compete for power with resurgent ruling class-directed mass mobilizations. Breakdowns in the financial and productive systems, the flight of capital and the demise of ruling class regimes are followed by strong capitalist-led economic recovery, the resurgence of business-led movements and the restoration of capitalist hegemony over the petit bourgeoisie. Horizontal class anchored movements and trade unions, which overcome ethnic, regional and local divisions to challenge the capitalist state are displaced by vertical divisions in which mass-based regional and sectoral capitalist organizations compete over profits. Hegemonic leadership over vast sectors of the lower middle class, urban and rural poor oscillates between the downwardly mobile proletariat, organized public employees, peasantry, and in some cases, the urban unemployed, and organized agro-export elites, financial and mineral-based multinationals led by big business backed radical right wing middle class demagogues. Economic recovery and sustained and substantial growth rates strengthen the political and social power of the ruling class which contributes to extending and deepening inequalities which exceed those preceding the economic crisis. The political pendulum shifts from radical left influence ‘in the streets’, to center-left institutional power, to a resurgence of right-wing ‘street’ and institutional power. Mass social movements, which occupy and organize failing factories and unproductive landed estates, are replaced by the restoration of the previous factory bosses and the forcible displacement of peasants and the vast expansion of agricultural export commodities.