Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein (eds.), Until the Rulers Obey: Voices from Latin American Social Movements Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2014; 528pp; ISBN: 978-1-60486-794-7.
This book is a brilliant idea: the two editors (in addition to some friends) take us on a journey into 'the magical world of Latin America' (p xxviii). It is a trip starting in Mexico, moving into Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua before it continues to Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina. Along the way the authors introduce us to all sorts of social and political activists, including leaders of political parties of the left, environmentalists, indigenous activists, feminists and trade unionists.
This is a commendable effort for several reasons. Understanding Latin America is in itself important as a wave of change has rolled through the area since the turn of the century. At the same time, Latin American social movements have undergone significant development and change over the last two or three decades, as Raul Zibechi describes in his foreword. Many of these new movements, for instance the Landless Movement of Brazil, the Zapatistas in Mexico, and various indigenous movements in the Andes, have come to play a vital role globally as they stimulate and inspire new social movements around the world.
No wonder Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein heap plaudits on the cover: 'This is the book we have been waiting for'. Others call it a 'wonderfully edited collection'. And still others 'cannot imagine a more important and timely volume for scholars and activists who wish to understand the transformations that are sweeping the subcontinent' (William Robinson).
Until the Rulers Obey is at its best when the authors ponder the difficult relationship between the 'new' leftist regimes in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, and social movements. Raul Zibechi has already reminded us that state policies tend to dissolve the self-organisation of those from below, turning many into clients of the regimes. The new presence of the state tends to 'smother' the movements (Zibechi, p xiv). Still, the editors do express some sympathy with the governments of the 'Pink Tide' in Latin America. However, the picture that seems to emerge from the interviews with activists is not very flattering for these governments, as the editors readily acknowledge. The interviews with activists living under the watchful eye of self-declared leftist regimes are a...