HAVANA — The world was struck dumb by the news that the Colombians had rejected the peace accord reached between the government and the FARC-EP guerrillas.

In this case, we cannot say that external forces — official, at least — influenced the result. The accord is supported by all the world’s leaders, expressing a rare consensus in which Obama sides with Raúl Castro and Nicolás Maduro, with the express support of Pope Frances and Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations’ secretary general.

Nor can we say that the “No” vote triumphed in areas controlled by the paramilitaries. Most of the votes came from the great urban centers, thanks to the support of a middle class that had barely been affected by the conflict, guided by a corrupt and criminal leadership.

It is true that the majority obtained by those who opposed the accord is mathematically contemptible — less than 1 percent — and that what really happened was that the voters polarized in equal numbers.

But the truly transcendental fact is that more than 60 percent of the registered voters chose not to vote and turned away from the process. And that favored the far right and complicated both Colombia’s political scenario and the international efforts in favor of peace, considered until then as an example in the solution of conflicts of this nature.

The specialists on Colombia’s reality will be left to analyze the endogenous causes of this result, and the politicians of various trends will seek alternatives to revert or take advantage of it, but one fact is irrefutable: apathy decided the referendum and this is what is happening in many places, casting doubt on the ability of electoral processes to solve the problems of countries.

The assertion that “the masses are never wrong” is false. They have been wrong many times in the course of history with dire consequences for themselves and others.

It is true that ignorance and political manipulation have influenced that fact, but the basic reason is that “the masses” don’t constitute an organic whole but an amalgam of trends, the result of individual interests and criteria that often have no basis in reality. But that’s the least important factor.

One of the strengths of capitalism has been to establish the matrix of opinion that any person, by himself, can triumph despite the rest. On one hand, this generates apathy toward collective objectives; on the other, it has converted the so-called “middle class” in a natural ally of the oligarchical groups and the transnational capital, simply because their aspiration is to join those sectors, a hope they consider feasible.

The paradox is that, while the progressive governments struggle against the inequalities and improve the situation of the alienated groups, they simultaneously manufacture their own oppositionists by extending the volume of a middle class ruled by the ideology of capitalism.

That — beyond errors and insufficiencies — explains the current crises of Latin America’s progressive governments when the economic situation sets limits upon the aspirations of those sectors.

The term “revolutionary” is not fashionable because it implies a collective will intent on achieving higher goals for all of humanity. That implies commitment and sacrifice, not to give life but to renounce the temptation to opulence, something that doesn’t exist in the minds of majorities.

Therein lies the ideological triumph of capitalism so far, and it demonstrates that we’re living in the apogee of an economic, political and social system that doesn’t need leaders because the true leader is the eagerness for irrational consumption, a determinant for the social status of people. Perhaps this explains the generalized mediocrity of most of the world’s politicians.

It is also true that the awful situation in which many countries find themselves — generalized ungovernability, even in developed nations, and unbridled consumerism, which wastes natural resources — is incubating contradictions that can be seen everywhere and are unsustainable.

Abstentionism and the rebellion of the middle classes, with strong leanings to the right, are also phenomena that can be seen in the First World, including the United States, plunging into crisis the democratic capitalist system on an international scale.

For the left — or the multiple lefts, because the left is not a homogeneous movement — this situation presupposes a novel reading of the situation and a revision of its historical tactics to access the government and, more importantly, to consolidate itself in the government.

Today, nobody has any answers, but the questions are obvious:

  • How to act in a world ruled by the transnational capitalist market where other alternatives don’t exist?
  • What to do in the face of the inevitable growth of the middle sectors as a result of the success of their own policies of social distribution, which are in effect the very objective of their projects?
  • How to improve the democratic system so that it won’t be exposed to the zigzagging and trickery of the traditional electoral mechanisms?

Perhaps we should begin by studying [Antonio] Gramsci — so well understood by the capitalists — who located this problem in the struggles for hegemony, where what’s necessary is not economic and social transformations but control over the minds of people.

This assumes that we must take the greatest advantage of the new technologies of communication and to broaden and deepen the social debate.

Apparently, socialism at present has no option other than overcoming capitalism by “overcoming” the ideological suppositions that made it revolutionary in its origin, with more personal freedoms, a truly participative democracy and the practical concretization of the hope for a better world for everyone.

It may also be useful to return to good old [Karl] Marx, who predicted that capitalism would be destroyed by capitalism itself and that the role of the revolutionaries was to take advantage of their contradictions, not only to understand it but also to transform it.

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