Beyond the Left Turn: The Second Wave of Incorporation of the Popular Sectors in Latin America

by Federico M. Rossi* 

Neoliberalism has been defined as crucial to the reformulation of state-society relations in the postcorporatist period because it has undermined the national-populist or – as Cavarozzi and Garretón (1989) called it – “state-centered matrix”, through the weakening, and sometimes destruction, of existing corporatist arrangements (Oxhorn, 1998).
Neoliberalism has also caused the sociopolitical exclusion or – as I call it – “disincorporation” of the popular sectors. However, exclusion was intensely resisted by social movements mobilizing the popular sectors, such as the landless peasants in Brazil, the indigenous in Bolivia and Ecuador, and the unemployed in Argentina, contributing to a resurgence of the left (Rossi, 2015).
A growing body of literature is examining the turn toward leftist governments (Cameron and Hershberg, 2010; Levitsky and Roberts, 2011). Some scholars associate what might be considered as the end of neoliberalism with the accession of left-wing or populist parties to power in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela (Grugel and Riggirozzi, 2012). While the access to power of some left-wing or populist parties seems to be relevant for the application of inclusionary policies (Huber and Stephens, 2012), I argue that we need to add extra layers of empirical detail and theoretical density to the “left turn” thesis to explain the complexity of the macro-process of transformation in Latin America’s political arena.
The Poor's Struggle for Political Incorporation The Piquetero Movement in ArgentinaWhat I propose is an explanation for the major process of transformations behind the “left turn”: the second wave of incorporation of the popular sectors. The “second wave of incorporation” means the second major redefinition of the sociopolitical arena in Latin America, caused by the broad and selective inclusion of the popular sectors in the polity after being excluded or disincorporated by military authoritarian regimes and democratic neoliberal reforms. I argue that the second wave of incorporation is the result of the accumulation of transformations that were carried out to deal with the contentious struggle for inclusion or –as I call it– “reincorporation” by the popular sectors, organized in territorialized social movements. The emergence of left-wing or populist parties in government is one of the byproducts of two decades of struggles against disincorporation.

The Two Waves of Incorporation
The first incorporation was a corporatist process that involved a combination of the mobilization of popular claims by labor and/or peasant movements and the policies for channeling those claims into corporatist institutions during the 1930s-1950s. In Brazil this was done for demobilization purposes, while in Bolivia, Venezuela and—mainly—in Argentina incorporation implied the mobilization of the labor movement. In Bolivia and Venezuela, first incorporation also included peasants, and in Ecuador incorporation was done by a military reformist regime with a weak labor movement (Collier and Collier, 1991; French, 1992; Gotkowitz, 2007; Yashar, 2005).
The second incorporation departed in the late 1990s from the inherited institutions and actors of the first incorporation. In addition, the two waves of incorporation were partial and selective, redefining the relationship between the popular sectors and the state. However, in this second wave, the main actor mobilizing the claims of the popular sectors were social movements organizing the disincorporated poor people at the territorial level. In addition, the second incorporation was not conducted through the old corporatist institutions, but through new or reformulated institutions conceived in response to the territorialized nature of the claims that emerged with popular movements.
This second wave was “territorial” because the incorporation of the popular sectors was predominantly done through institutions created or reformulated for the articulation of actors that were not functionally differentiated. This was a result of the emergence of contentious claims for reincorporation outside the trade union system. Instead, urban and rural land occupations, neighborhoods and shantytowns became central spaces for claim making for the organized poor people (Merklen, 2005) once neoliberal reforms and authoritarian regimes had weakened or dissolved neocorporatist arrangements for resolving sociopolitical conflicts. For this reason, the social policies to reincorporate the popular sectors were not function- or class-based but territory-based (i.e., defined by the physical location of the actors). This was an important shift from the functionalist logic of corporatism, which had articulated the popular sectors’ claims through trade unions as their sole representative actor and through the Ministry of Labor or Peasant Affairs as their exclusive state department. To sum up, because they were not seen as serving a clear “function” for institutions with a corporatist logic, the disincorporated popular sectors were targeted by policies based on where they were located and the multiplicity of needs associated with their situation, and not only as workers or peasants.
That the second incorporation was defined by territory-based logics did not mean that corporatist arrangements were abandoned altogether. The most important sources of cross-national variance on the degree of territorialization seem to be four. First, the profundity of the reformulation of the locus of politics conducted by the last authoritarian military regime in each country, whereby democratization proceeded from the local to the national level. Second, the effect wrought by neoliberalism on the mainstream parties claiming to represent popular sectors. Third, the ways that the trade union system was modeled by the corporatist period and remodeled by neoliberalism. Fourth, how the first incorporation of the popular sectors (urban or rural) was produced and how its achievements have been eroded by the military regimes and neoliberalism.
As part of the recursive dynamics of incorporation, both waves shared some elements in the sequencing of incorporation. Both incorporation periods were preceded by a (neo)liberal phase that created a new “social question.” This “social question” in both cases evolved into a political question with a contentious actor that was gradually recognized and legitimated. In the period 1990s to 2000s, the emergence of recommodification and marginalization (i.e., unemployment, impoverishment, exclusion, etc.) as a new “social question,” the modification of policing techniques, and the creation of massive social programs can be seen as a process equivalent to that of the pre-incorporation dynamics. Between the 1870s and the 1950s, anarchists, communists, syndicalists, and socialists posing the “social question” pushed the liberal elites to create anti-immigration and security laws, increase control and repression in the countryside and indigenous communities (Isuani, 1985; Suriano, 1988; French, 1992; Gotkowitz, 2007). This gradually led to populist or leftist leaderships that emerged to recognize the claim to social rights and later the actors behind this new claim, the labor and peasant movements (Collier and Collier, 1991; Welch, 1999; Suriano, 2000; Becker, 2011). Concerning social policies, in the first wave this process led, ultimately, to the creation of the first Ministries of Labor or Peasant Affairs, the application of agrarian reforms (except for Argentina), the production of comprehensive social rights policies and constitutional reforms. In the second wave, it also led to constitutional reforms in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, the creation of new ministries such as the Ministry of Agrarian Development in Brazil and the Ministry of Social Development in Argentina, and the production of wide-ranging cash-transfer policies and universal citizenship income rights policies in all these countries. 
Equally significant has been the introduction of the “indigenous social question” by indigenous movements in Bolivia and Ecuador (Yashar, 2005; Lucero, 2008). Even though indigenous movements in Latin America achieved “first” incorporation during their struggles against neoliberal policies, in national terms and as part of the popular sectors (as broadly defined), indigenous peoples had already been incorporated as “peasants” during the period of corporatist first incorporation. The emergence of a “social question” involving stronger ethnic and territorial identifications than those raised during the first incorporation is a trend common to the second incorporation period. Since the 1990s, the struggles for recognition of indigenous peoples as part of the polity in the Andean region have evolved into reincorporation struggles. In Ecuador, the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE) even created their own party Pachakutik, while in Bolivia some indigenous groups reached office as allies or members of theMovimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party-movement (Van Cott, 2005; Lucero, 2008; Fontana, 2009; Becker, 2011).
A pattern of interaction between government and movement was thus established through new institutions or the redefinition of roles of existing institutions. The struggle against disincorporation was a contentious one, which included a “reincorporation movement” (defined in Rossi, 2015): the unemployed in Argentina, the indigenous and coca growers in Bolivia, the indigenous in Ecuador, landless peasants in Brazil, and—with less strength—urban movements in Venezuela. Generally, these movements coordinated campaigns with trade unions and left-wing parties (see Silva, 2009). Later on, reincorporation was conducted in territorial terms, with institutions such as the territórios da cidadanía in Brazil (Delgado and Leite, 2011), the misiones and círculos bolivarianos in Venezuela (Ellner, 2008), and the partly formalized articulation of movement claims through the General Secretariat of the Presidency in Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. Also, new institutions, such as social councils, were created to deal with multiple non-corporatist claims in Brazil (Doctor, 2007), and even constitutional reforms in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela were promoted to deal with the new “social question” (Lupien, 2011).
These transformations did not imply that the relationship between popular movements and the elites have been harmonious. First incorporation divided movements, some supporting governments, while others becoming critical or even suffering persecution and repression. In the first wave, the labor movement kept a conflictive relationship with Perón’s governments in Argentina (James, 1988). In Brazil rural incorporation was also conflictive (Welch, 1999), while trade unions resisted some of the control mechanisms associated to urban incorporation (French, 1992). In Bolivia, Gotkowitz (2007) argues that peasants and indigenous movements were very important in building the conditions for first incorporation and, later, the main losers of incorporation policies during the Revolution of 1952.
This holds also true for the second wave of incorporation. How to deal with the Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administrations divided the piquetero movement, with a supportive sector, and another that is critical. In Ecuador, the CONAIE has a very conflictive relationship with Rafael Correa’s government (Becker, 2011). And the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) suffered a delusion with the modest advances of agrarian reform during Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff presidencies. However, this is just half of the story. Cooperation and participation in the coalition in government have been very important, with the inclusion in office of thousands of middle and lower-rank members of social movements, most of them in state departments related to social policies (Abers and Tatagiba, 2015; Rossi, 2015).
While these parallels allow us to talk about two waves of incorporation, they do not mean that history has repeated itself. There are elements of iteration and innovation in a process that is, as such, like a collage. It is also important to bear in mind that incorporation waves should not be equated with the constitution of a more equal society or the creation of a welfare state but with the reshaping of the sociopolitical arena by redefining and expanding the number of legitimate political actors. In some countries, the urban and rural poor were first incorporated into very unequal societies, as in Brazil under Getúlio Vargas (Cardoso, 2010), while in other countries, a more equal society and some welfare policies emerged as a result of incorporation, as in Argentina under Juan Domingo Perón (Torre and Pastoriza, 2002).
Affecting all these cross-nationally is the timing of each particular process. Reincorporation may be a relatively quick process, as it was in Argentina after 2002 and Venezuela since 1998; long processes brought on by several regime breakdowns, as in Bolivia and Ecuador; or even the result of gradual change over the course of a protracted struggle, as in Brazil. Moreover, reincorporation processes involve the remobilization of popular sectors in more than defensive struggles, but this does not necessarily imply the ideological transformation of the popular sectors’ political culture. For instance, in Argentina, Peronism has continued to supply the main political ethos of the popular sectors, while Katarism has emerged as relevant for Bolivian indigenous and coca growers’ movements (Yashar, 2005; Lucero, 2008; Rossi, 2013).
The reincorporation process it is, so far, ongoing in Bolivia and Ecuador. Conversely, recent transformations in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela signal the aftermath of the second wave of (territorial) incorporation in these countries. It is yet to be seen if this would mean a long-term return to massive disincorporation like in the 1970s-1990s.

The list of references
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* Federico M. Rossi (PhD, European University Institute) is a Research-Professor of CONICET at the School of Politics and Government of the Universidad Nacional de San Martín. This article, originally posted on Panoramasis based on Rossi’s new book The Poor’s Struggle for Political Incorporation: The Piquetero Movement in Argentina (Cambridge University Press, 2017; discount code: TPSFPI2017)

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