The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development / Edition 1

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In The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development, María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo boldly argues that crucial twentieth-century revolutionary challenges to colonialism and capitalism in the Americas have failed to resist-and in fact have been constitutively related to-the very developmentalist narratives that have justified and naturalized post-war capitalism. Saldaña-Portillo brings the critique of development discourse to bear on such exemplars of revolutionary and resistant political thought and practice as Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Malcolm X, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, and the Guatemalan guerrilla resistance. She suggests that in each of these diverse sites, developmentalist constructions frame the struggle as a heroic movement from unconsciousness to consciousness, from a childlike backwardness toward a disciplined and self-aware maturity.

Reading governmental reports, memos, and policies, Saldaña-Portillo traces the arc of development narratives from its beginnings in the 1944 Bretton Woods conference through its apex during Robert S. McNamara's reign at the World Bank (1968-1981). She compares these narratives with models of subjectivity and agency embedded in the autobiographical texts of three revolutionary icons of the 1960s and 1970s-those of Che Guevara, Guatemalan insurgent Mario Payeras, and Malcolm X-and the agricultural policy of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Saldaña-Portillo highlights a shared paradigm of a masculinist transformation of the individual requiring the "transcendence" of ethnic particularity for the good of the nation. While she argues that this model of progress often alienated the very communities targeted by the revolutionaries, she shows how contemporary insurgents such as Rigoberta Menchú, the Zapatista movement, and queer Aztlán have taken up the radicalism of their predecessors to re-theorize revolutionary subjectivity for the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This is an important and strikingly original work on a topic of enormous contemporary importance. By bringing disparate phenomena together and insisting that they may all be analyzed as examples of the unexamined perpetuation of developmentalist narratives in discourses and practices of resistance in the Americas, María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo allows a fresh light to be shed on what appeared to be well-trodden ground.”—James Ferguson, coeditor of Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology

"María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo takes discourse studies where it needs to go and where few humanists are able to take it: toward an effective interfacing with political economy and ethnography. The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development sits at the center of the hemispheric paradigm that has been emerging in American Studies. Saldaña-Portillo is one of the key new architects of that paradigm."—Mary Louise Pratt, author of Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822331667
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo is Associate Professor in the English Department and Ethnic Studies Program at Brown University.

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The revolutionary imagination in the Americas and the age of development

By Maria Josefina Saldana-Portillo

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-3166-7

Chapter One


One year ago today I proposed that the people of this hemisphere join in an Alianza para el Progreso-a continent-wide cooperative effort to satisfy the basic needs of the American people for homes, work and land, for health and schools, for political liberty and the dignity of the spirit. Our mission, I said, was "to complete the revolution of the Americas, to build a hemisphere where all men can hope for a suitable standard of living and all can live out their lives in dignity and freedom." -President John F. Kennedy, 14 March 1962, commemorating the "Alliance for Progress" Initiative

Pedimos tu participacion decidida apoyando este plan del pueblo mexicano que lucha por trabajo, tierra, techo, alimentacion, salud, educacion, independencia, libertad, democracia, justicia y paz. Declaramos que no dejaremos de pelear hasta lograr el cumplimiento de estas demandas baicas de nuestro pueblo formando un gobierno de nuestro pais libre y democratico. [We ask your resolute participation in supporting this plan of the Mexican people, which struggles for work, land, housing, food, health, education, independence, liberty, democracy, justice, and peace. We declare that we shall not stop fighting for the fulfillment of these basic demands of our people, forming a government for our free and democraticcountry.] -General Command, Zapatista National Liberation Army, Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle, December 1993

Thirty-two years after President Kennedy told the Latin American diplomatic corps in Washington, D.C., that he "look[ed] forward to the day when the people of Latin America will take their place beside the United States and Western Europe as citizens of industrialized and ... increasingly abundant societies," that day had failed to arrive (Kennedy 18). Instead, on 1 January 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) issued their declaration of war against the Mexican government, timing their insurrection to coincide-in protest-with the inauguration of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the latest articulation of Kennedy's promise of "increasingly abundant societies" for Latin America. What joins these remarkably similar performative speech acts, uttered by such seemingly incongruous subjects?

How is it that a leader of the self-declared "free world" of capitalist political economies found himself calling for the completion of revolution in the Americas? How is it that a group of Marxist-inspired, subaltern insurgents found themselves reiterating the principles of his development plan thirty years later? Why is it that development projects and revolutionary movements persist long after both development and revolution have been declared "failures" by their critics both on the right and on the left? What accounts for the striking resemblance between these presumably opposed and enduring narratives of liberation? These questions about the imbrication of development and revolution inspire the writing of this book. The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development is an interrogation of the conjunctures and disjunctures between two narratives of progress that, in one way or another, captured the imagination of three generations of nationalists in the Americas in the second half of the twentieth century.

The convergence between late-twentieth-century discourses of development and revolution cannot be explained by a mechanistic derivation of one from the other, for developmentalist and revolutionary speech acts are constitutive of each other. For instance, a reading of Kennedy's historical reasoning as "neocolonialist" would dismiss his call for the completion of the revolutionary project in the Americas as simple rhetorical posturing in the interest of solidifying U.S. hegemony in the region at the height of the Cold War. There is some validity in this argument, as development aid was a powerful weapon in the arsenal of Cold War politics, rewarded to those economies adhering to the principles of laissez-faire capitalism, denied to those economies straying from these principles. However, although the liberal discourse of development that emerged after World War II was clearly part of a strategy for the containment of communism, that alone cannot account for the extent to which the nationalist leaders of newly decolonized countries and of previously sovereign nations, such as those in Latin America, embraced development theory and its practice. More important, reading the development-revolution convergence as neocolonialist cannot account for the powerful hold that developmentalism had on the imagination of the post-World War II revolutionary movements, which were themselves the origin of the "communist" threat to which Kennedy alludes. The central argument of this book is that a discourse of development captured the imagination of these revolutionary movements, often to the detriment of the constituencies these movements sought to liberate through their anti-imperialist struggle.

Alternately, reading this convergence from the vantage point of postcolonial theory might interpret such revolutionary developmentalism as compelled by the mimetic desire of colonial relations, or it might interpret revolutionary nationalism as derivative, predicated on a repetition, albeit with a difference, of Western development. However, while mimetic desire and derivative nationalism play a role in the imbrication of revolution and development, such a reading cannot account for the fact that Kennedy seemed compelled to articulate his developmentalism in revolutionary terms, or that development policy was itself compelled by revolutionary movements. After all, Kennedy does not mention export-led growth or free trade, the backbones of World Bank development projects. Instead he reiterates the social and economic demands-work, land, housing, education, health care-that have animated revolutionary movements in Latin America since the first articulation of these demands as rights in the 1917 Mexican constitution.

Let me be clear. I am not interested in conflating post-World War II revolutionary movements and development strategies, for neither is monolithic through time, and these two discursive formations are not merely the same. Since World War II, First World agencies and think tanks have put forth complex and various development strategies, often in direct response to revolutionary analyses and challenges, as we shall see in chapter 2. In turn, revolutionary movements and development strategies in the Americas attempted to institute substantially different models of economic and political sociality, with substantially different consequences for the populations that have come under their sway.

Nor am I advocating an antidevelopmental position that would reject in general and absolute terms the imperative to develop embodied in both development and revolutionary ideologies. In the last fifteen years, several excellent poststructuralist critiques of the "age of development" have been published (Ferguson; Sachs; Escobar, Encountering Development; Apffel-Marglin and Marglin; Gupta; Hewitt de Alcantara, Boundaries and Paradigms). These authors do not merely question the validity of different models of development (GNP growth, growth with equity, basic needs approach, sustainability, etc.); they also critique development's entire discursive and institutional apparatus-exposing it, as a discourse, to history. If the problem with the age of development lies in its rendering as "natural" certain normative concepts of growth, progress, and modernity, as these authors make clear, then in the spirit of their critiques we should not respond by, in turn, uncritically privileging indigeny, tradition, and antiprogressive models of futurity. For if one continues to recognize a need for revolutionary change in the aftermath of what fifty years of "development" have wrought-if one's sympathies continue to lie with the revolutionary movements committed to challenging capitalist development, as mine do-then one accepts that some model of progress pertains. Thus I argue that the problem lies not with the idea of progress per se but with the mode of progressive movement-indeed, with the theory of human agency and model of subjectivity-that has underwritten the discursive collusion between the age of development and the revolutionary movements therein.

To clarify the complex relationship between revolutionary movements and development paradigms of the last half century, it is important to distinguish between two relatively distinct modalities of developmentalism. For much of the post-World War II period, First World development paradigms subscribed to the idea that societies moved through stages of development. Let us consider this the first modality of development. The second modality of developmentalism is expressed in the idea that this movement of societies is contingent on the development of the members of these societies into free, mature, fully conscious, and self-determining individual subjects. While it is by now evident that most, if not all, twentieth-century revolutionary movements subscribed to a developmentalist model of history (the first modality of developmentalism), the impact of the second modality of developmentalism on revolutionary politics over the last century has been less recognized. It is the theoretical elaboration of this second modality of development by revolutionary movements in the Americas with which my book is concerned. Indeed, it is my contention that the revolutionary movements under consideration subscribed not only to a developmentalist model of history but-more damning to the everyday practice of radical politics-to a developmentalist model of revolutionary subjectivity, consciousness, and agency.

Thus, rather than positing a mechanistic relationship of parody or derivation between the two speech acts presented in this chapter's epigraphs, as the neocolonial and postcolonial readings I sketched might do, I suggest that they are both animated by a particular theory of subjectivity. Not only do these two discursive terms depend on each other dialectically for their mutual constitution as historical alternatives (i.e., as vying ideological accounts of the first modality of developmentalism), but both revolutionary and development discourses also depend on colonial legacies of race and gender in their theoretical elaborations of subjectivity, agency, consciousness, and change (developmentalism's second, less evident, modality). Even as revolutionary movements in the Americas constituted themselves against the capitalist models of national development prescribed by U.S. and international agencies, those movements nevertheless articulated a liberal, developmentalist model of revolutionary subjectivity and consciousness in response. Similarly, even as Cold War development paradigms defined themselves in contradistinction to revolutionary movements, they nevertheless articulated the requirement for revolutionary agency and change in the American nations.

A normative theory of human transformation and agency, then, is at the heart of the discursive collusion between revolutionary and development discourses. Why might this be so? As narratives of liberation, both discourses share an origin in imperial reason: in those Enlightenment doctrines of progress, evolution, and change that were historically articulated with the practice of European colonialism and colonial capitalism. Thus, even as post-World War II discourses of development and revolution were specifically articulated against colonial and neocolonial relations of power, both shared a theory of human perfectibility that was itself a legacy of the various raced and gendered subject formations animating colonialism. It is precisely the prevalence of this meliorist model of subjectivity and theory of agency in revolutionary movements that, I argue, contributed to the "failure" of decolonization and liberation struggles in Latin America and the United States in the late twentieth century. In this meliorist theory of subjectivity, transformation, and agency, the formation of revolutionary consciousness was predicated on the transcendence of a premodern ethnos. The attainment of the universal(ized) condition of revolutionary agency, as I argue in chapters 3 and 4, was repeatedly (inevitably?) figured as the leaving behind of one's own particularity, as leaving behind the feminized ethnos of indigenous, peasant, or urban black cultural identity. The complex imbrication of development and revolution compels us as cultural critics, then, to reread the narratives of liberation by minority or marginal subjects in this postwar period. We cannot simply read revolutionary movements of the period as against colonial and neocolonial capitalism. We must also read them as within a racialized and gendered developmentalism. In an attempt to do so, this book proceeds in three parts.

The shared meliorist theory of subjectivity and human agency is not a stable, transhistorical formation. Although this mode of subjectivity and agency was discursively related to modes of subjectivity produced by imperial reason and colonial subalternization in the Americas, it was also discretely new and historically contingent. In part 1, I argue that a new mode of subjectivity emerged as the transformative agent for the age of development in the aftermath of World War II and decolonization struggles. Chapter 2, "Development and Revolution: Narratives of Liberation and Regimes of Subjectivity in the Postwar Period," is an account of First World intellectual efforts expended to construct an appropriate subject of labor for capitalist expansion in the Third World, wherever development might cast its eye. In examining this new subjectivity's emergence within hegemonic First World development paradigms, I engage in a discursive analysis of the implied subject of (under)development, investigating the principles of human activity and the model of historical consciousness implied by the discourse of development and its policies.

During the age of development there have been several moments of crisis over the very meaning of development, with each epistemic crisis producing a plethora of new development strategies in response. I am not suggesting that these complex and various development paradigms shared a singular vision of development or relentlessly reiterated a singular recipe for producing it across Third World countries. However, I am suggesting that a strikingly similar theory of subjectivity and agency underwrites most of these paradigm shifts. More precisely, I observe that a particular set of metaphors, tropes, and themes accompanies the theorization of development and its agent/object across quite different development strategies-indeed, even across ideological and political lines. By analyzing some of the foundational moments in the formation of the development apparatus, as well as some important texts in development theory, I identify these key recurring themes, tropes, and metaphors.

Specifically, I trace the arc of the age of development through the rhetorical formation of its subject across a series of historical flash points: its beginnings at the Bretton Woods conference, its ascent into Cold War hegemony through President Harry Truman's Four Point Program, its apex in W. W. Rostow's modernization theory under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and its cusping in the critical light of dependency theory during Robert S. McNamara's reign at the World Bank. I consider the continuities and discontinuities between colonial categories of subjectivity and developmental categories of national citizenship: how race is relativized within the domain of cultural attitudes that must be overcome, how gender is allegorized within the domain of active and reactive nationalisms, and how hierarchical and exploitative relations of exchange in a global capitalist system are reorganized into normative levels of productivity that must be achieved. I argue that the discourse of development requires an epochal change in its subject. It requires the subject to become an agent of transformation in his own right, one who is highly ethical, mobile, progressive, risk taking, and masculinist, regardless of whether the agent/object of a development strategy is a man or a woman, an adult or a child.


Excerpted from The revolutionary imagination in the Americas and the age of development by Maria Josefina Saldana-Portillo Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

About the Series
1 Introduction 3
2 Development and Revolution: Narratives of Liberation and Regimes of Subjectivity in the Postwar Period 17
3 The Authorized Subjects of Revolution: Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Mario Payeras 63
4 Irresistible Seduction: Rural subjectivity under Sandinista Agricultural Policy 109
5 Reiterations of the Revolutionary "I": Menchu and the Performance of Subaltern Conciencia 151
6 The Politics of Silence: Development and Difference in Zapatismo 191
7 Epilogue: Toward an American "American Studies": Postrevolutionary Reflections on Malcolm X and the New Aztlan 259
Notes 291
Works Cited 339
Index 357
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2006

    Hope In a Dangerous Time.....

    Ride around your favorite roller coaster a couple of times. Pause for a breath and then strap yourself in for a third trip, BUT this time face backwards and carry a pair of binoculars so you can peer at the details of the by now familiar landscape.... Oooops ! Looks a whole lot different this time and familiar no longer applies ! It is precisely such a bracing excursion that Ms. Saldana invites any intrepid reader to undertake should they dare to crack open the cover of her breathtaking , wide- screen , roundhouse punch to the cerebral plexus sort of a so- called book. So ya think you know a thing or two about political & economic shenanigans in the the Western Hemisphere during the 20th century & beyond ? Well of course you do ! So buckle up and compare thoughts w/ Saldana-Portillo as she navigates through our times and territory with a falcon's swooping perspective and the cool familiarity of a straight up eyewitness. Mixing wit with precision , the author employs an engaging dual- voiced approach to this serious exegesis of contemporary all-American history. The main argument is cinched as tight as a Buckminster Fuller polyhedral and buttressed with observations culled from many a multi- disciplinary moat crossing.......In the book's delightfully free-blowing footnoted section Saldana expresses her point of view with an invigorating lyricism that should revive any reader's flagging stamina. Stay away from this if your favorite whipped cream comes out of spray cans, but if you'd appreciate having your training wheels removed.... , ' The Revolutionary Imagination....' will do the trick !

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