Beyond Armed Struggle: The Latin American Left, Cultural Revolution, and the Cold War.

AHA Session 109
Conference on Latin American History 27
Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Columbia Hall 9 (Washington Hilton)
Peter Winn, Tufts University
Jessica Stites Mor, University of British Columbia at Okanagan

Session Abstract

The Cuban Revolution is undoubtedly one of the most important events in Latin American history.   It not only challenged US dominance in the region, but also presented an alternative vision to a new generation that sought dramatic, rapid change.  Taking Che Guevara’s dictum of creating “two, three, many Vietnams,” this new left employed armed struggle to challenge US imperialism, their country’s oligarchical systems, and the “fossilied” Communist parties.  Nearly every single country in the region witnessed the rise of insurgencies, culminating in the Nicaraguan Sandinistas’ 1979 triumph against Samosa dictatorship twenty years after the fall of Batista. In other countries, however, U.S. and French-trained militaries employed brutal counterinsurgencies that targeted wide swaths of the population in an attempt to uproot all traces of what they considered to be “foreign subversion.”  This is the most well-known history of the era, but it is not the only one.  While studies have made a great effort in understanding the revolutionary left’s embrace of armed struggle, equal attention has not been given to other forms of challenging authoritarianism.  For many social movements, armed struggle was one of many strategies, and for others, it was the last resort.   

This panel will move the conversation beyond armed struggle, focusing instead upon transnational methodologies such as syndicalism, urban insurrections, revolutionary theater, and literacy campaigns.  Megan Strom’s paper, set in the period 1950-1970 in Uruguay, examines the political and intellectual trajectory of university students and workers, who, through their alliance and transnational solidary with social movements across the Americas and Europe, crafted a new vision that criticized capitalist and communist visions and practices.  Rainer Schultz, in turn, analyzes the 1959-1962 literacy campaign in Cuba, when the revolutionary state mobilized thousands of urban citizens to teach the rural poor how to read, write, and form a new radical consciousness.  In adopting methodologies from Eastern Europe, the Cubans fundamentally broke with the decades-long reliance on North American pedagogy, and presented an alternate vision of citizenship to the region.  James Shrader’s paper shifts the focus to Tucumán, Northwestern Argentina, during 1968-1976.  Following repeated failures to import Cuban strategies of rural guerrilla warfare, leftwing Tucumanos and non-Tucumanos alike realized that mass mobilization of the rural poor would have to be a long-term process embracing both violent and non-violent means, including union activism, literacy campaigns that borrowed from Brazilian theorist Paolo Freire, and a worker-student alliance.  By the military’s 1975 counterinsurgency, Tucumán had become a laboratory for multiple methodologies.  Finally, Nydia Martinez looks at the use of revolutionary theater in 1970s Mexico City, and how festivals and encuentros not only offered possibilities of resistance, but also spaces for transnational solidarity between radical Mexicans and Chicanos.  Her work is important because it contributes to the growing historiography of the borderlands and the role of US social movements in the construction of Third World politics.  All four papers shall increase our understanding of social movements during the Cold War, and the role of race, class, and gender in the formulation of alternative methods of resistance.

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