René Ramírez, National Secretary of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, interviewed by Orlando Perez
Translated from El Telefrago by Ariel Sheen
For the academic, 2016 “can be read as the year of the end of the long 20th century in historical terms”. He adds that Brexit, the victory of Donald Trump in the United States and the death of Fidel Castro symbolically mark a turning point in the correlation of forces worldwide, both political and economic. Álvaro García Linera points out that it is the end of globalization.
What is your new book called?
Why the great transition?
In reference to the book by Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation. I locate what happened in Ecuador in this decade in the framework of the political dispute, of the neoliberal background that marked two decades lost for the country and Latin America. There is a historical absurdity of wanting to point out that 10 years is enough to make a structural transformation, as some politicians like María Paula Romo and Guillermo Lasso have mentioned. That is to have no idea of history, neither Ecuadorian nor global. That is impossible, even more so when institutions created to generate an oligarchic society had to be dismantled and, after destroying it, to rebuild another that seeks the common good of the great majorities. If someone is being dragged by the current in the direction of a waterfall, the first thing to do is to steer the boat to take another direction. These ten years have allowed us to re-direct the ship, sailing against the current of world power relations and generate enough social energy to go towards peaceful waters and be able to anchor in a good port. Part of the great transition involves having redirected the ship, while improving the welfare of its passengers.
Does this mean that there is not a decade won?
Of course there is a decade won. And we have another decade ahead of us to win, but it is first a decade to contest. However, we must make a historical reading of the decade gained. Beyond the social results, which are clearly positive. Ppoverty has been reduced, consumption levels have improved, income levels, universal access to education and health, among others. There is a decade gained in political terms justly because the possibility of continuing to dispute a transformation of social structures to build a new social order: the construction of a sustainable human democracy is alive; that is, the society of good living.
What are the historical conditions identified in this transition that make the great transformation viable?
That there has been a dismissal / constituent moment, where the citizenry manifests the need to sign a new social covenant pact that generates a new social order; that the new social pact allows a structural transformation and that the political decisions that accompany the new pact have been structuring actions that allow us to configure the conditions of possibility of being able to dispute the great transformation.
The dismissal / constituent moment is clear, but does the new social pact make a new social order possible?
I have absolutely no doubt it does. The horizon of meaning is embodied in the new constitutional text. There are multiple paths for transformation. For example, we must pass:
1) from anthropocentrism to biocentrism;
2) from colonialism and patriarchalism to the pluridiverse society (plurinational and intercultural);
3) from exclusively representative democracy (which is consubstantial to capitalism) to sustainable human democracy, based on social participation and deliberation;
4) from market capitalism (social de-commodification) to the social and solidarity economy and, 5) from the mercantilist corporate state to the popular sovereign state guaranteeing rights.
Europe raised the construction of the Welfare State and that has been the last proposal for the construction of a new social order (after the failure of the offers of society made by the Soviet bloc). Now it seems that the right begins to dismantle it. In this framework, the road was based, among other aspects, on recognizing the equality of citizens with respect to social rights based on representative democracy. Undoubtedly, the constitutional proposals of South America are moving in that direction and the progressive governments have made rapid progress in reducing poverty, inequality and democratization of rights. But in the world that we live that is insufficient. The “new modernity”, if the term fits, goes through the construction of plurinational societies. This is what the Constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia, which without a doubt are in the vanguard in these terms. While this was raised in the South, in Europe last week in two days, 340 migrants died trying to reach their land. In fact, in 2016 the record number of 4,300 deaths in the Mediterranean was reached with three times fewer arrivals of migrants by sea than in 2015.
Europe is now synonymous with obscurantism and barbarism. Equality has to live with diversity and recognize the diversity of identities that exist in the world. In this framework, the vanguard is to recognize universal citizenship and the recognition that unitary Plurinational States can be built respecting the pluriculturality of identities and nations that coexist in each territory. In Polanyi’s diagnosis of the rise of fascism in the mid-twentieth century, he shows how xenophobic nationalism was a reaction against the enormous inequality caused by the free market. It was a social defense mechanism. In our days, in it’s own unique way, it seems that history repeats itself.
In the economic sphere, what are the transitions that make the transformation viable?
Globally, you might think that 2016 can be read as the year of the end of the long 20th century in historical terms. The Brexit, the victory of Trump and the death of Fidel symbolically mark a watershed in the correlation of forces worldwide, both political and economic. Only the rejection of Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific treaties and the exit of the EU from Great Britain configure another scenario in the world panorama. García Linera points out that it is the end of globalization. Personally I think it is the beginning of another globalization. Ecuador must think about that framework.
In these 10 years has been able to walk disputing the sense of the barbarism of what is capitalism but obviously within capitalism. The autistic left believes that it was viable to do it from another system. Impossible! Sometimes I feel that this left doesn’t understand what power means, while the right has a great understanding not only of its meaning but also how to exercise it.
In summary terms, I can point out that in the book I argue that in this decade there have been three actions (at different speeds) that are essential to continue disputing a great transformation:
1) a great deconcentration of capital;
2) a new original socio-ecological accumulation;
3) a large accumulation of physical capital.
It remains a task of the vanguard to build a form of productive organization where redistribution is produced and produced by distributing. We propose the construction of a social economy of knowledge built from a collaborative logic.
In these processes, other common meanings must be configured to break the hegemony of the exchange value and a new social value-based appropriation based on life and use value. We must break with the society that knows the price of everything, but knows the value of very few things. The construction and appropriation of such a sensibility is the urgent task of the second transition now in dispute.
Does the left that you call autistic point out that the big winners are the capitalists? What do you think about this assertion?
The decade is won because the whole society won. The difference is that in comparison with the preceding decade, these ten years before had a deliberate priority: the poor and the workers.
In my book I show how the growth during these 10 years went largely to the poor and working class. Participation in the pie (which, incidentally, doubled) decreased by 10% for the capitalists and was distributed among the workers and in that so-called mixed economy (for example, popular economy, cooperatives, etc.). In these ten years, decisions were made that disputed a de-accumulation of capitalist logic; that is, that it passes from hands -either in stock or in future flows- of the capitalists towards society, either directly or indirectly through the State.
Here are some examples: the compensation of the two biggest social robberies in the history of the country. With the audit of the external debt and the recovery of the bank bailout of 2000; the social recovery of oil revenues; the financing of the doubling of the human development bonus destined to the poorest financed with the profits of the private banks are examples of this deconcentration of capital.
In structural terms, we must be vigilant that the trade agreement does not entail a re-concentration of the accumulation in transnational capital and that the original accumulation produced in this decade will not serve to generate accumulation elsewhere, but will produce a larger concentration of wealth where the economy it is produced. This develops a domestic pattern of economic diversification and specialization.
Likewise, there has been a new accumulation of socio-ecological capital and a democratization of access to programs which enhance human capacities. Access to education, health care, social security. Avoiding the emission of 6.3 tons / year of CO2 as a consequence of the change in the matrix energy, etc. Is it not amazing that the average life of Ecuadorians has increased 5.5 years in the past decade?!
In this transition, it is important to develop non-speculative physical capital to make another types of accumulation viable: roads, hydroelectric plants, ports, airports, etc.
What we must have clear about is that in the current scenario there has been an accumulation that did not exist before. The right is rubbing his hands over this. After this wealth that did not exist before was created, the Right seeks to concentrate the benefits in a few hands on national and / or transnational capitalists. They want to freeze the increase in social spending for 20 year and, impose the elimination of the state’s obligation to guarantee initial and secondary education made public and free by Temer. They want a reduction of the government investment in Science and Technology a la Macri. Then there’s Lasso’s proposal to privatize social security so that each “one chooses” its provider in the name of freedom.
it is clear evidence of a new accumulation that the great capitals in our continent intend to do or are already doing after the social decade won by the progressive governments. The proposal of the right: the appropriation of human capacities and institutions of common interest. We must realize that in Argentina, and Brazil, for example, the dispute over transformation has become very opaque.
What should be the strategy?
In the contest to constitutionalize Ecuadorian society, we must be clear about the meaning of the history we are currently experiencing. A free flow of goods and services does not necessarily place us in the nexus of the world economy. As I point out in my book, it seems that 2017 will be the beginning of the 21st century.
That strategy is of the last century and would plunge us into the worst dependency in history. When I talk about the great transition in the book, I also point out that it is not a single transition, but two: the one that Ecuadorians sign and that is embodied in the constitutional text and the one that happens on a world scale: the transition from industrial capitalism to cognitive capitalism based both on processes of speculative financialization of the economy.
The new commercial policy will be directed towards the management of intellectual property. This strategy must then be linked to intelligent inclusion in the powerful circuits of generation of knowledge, technology and innovation. And all this within a framework that addresses the needs and potential of our peoples.
Unfortunately, I see very little debate about what is the role of science in social transformation and what strategy of technological development ought be followed in Ecuador’s coming decades. Ecuador will not get out of the development traps previous set unless it has a clear strategy of how to break the technological and cognitive dependence it has. And it must know how to defend the biodiversity that it has.
It is not fortuitous that in world treaties countries are forced to put in penal codes randing from sanctions to imprisonment when copyright or property rights are undermined. Yet nothing is done when the biodiversity of our countries is stolen! This is biopiracy!
In my book I proposed that the new geopolitics is already contesting this knowledge-biodiversity relationship. That is why, the strategy I propose is for bio-knowledge for the good living of our peoples and nationalities. Thank God we have oil, but we must also be clear that only through deliberate social collective action can we be a tertiary exporting country of knowledge and technology. Thank God we have Galapagos, but thanks to the will of the Ecuadorians we are building Innopolis.
What do you mean when you point to the little debate that takes place on these issues in the electoral process?
It is very sad to see how we have fallen into the democracy of the “encuestología”, that the government opposition consists simply in opposing everything the government has done according to their surveys. That is no proposal for how the future should be goverened. Not only that, if one analyzes what the candidates say, the country would fail sooner rather than later. Ecuador has no monetary policy towards the dollar, so trade policy may be cut for obvious reasons. This is heard in the proposals of the candidates who say they will lower taxes, will remove the tax at the exit of foreign currency or the advance of income tax, etc.
When the government put up safeguards, among other reasons, to defend dollarization, the right immediately went out to attack it. It wants to guarantee quality rights as in the ‘first world’, with a fourth world tax system. This is unfeasible! If such actions take place, Ecuador will soon have to exit dollarization (if the price of a barrel of oil changes radically upwards). I think we are in a very serious debate in the economic field in the electoral process.
One more point: the repressed past is being disputed. The right says: the government spent too much, now it is necessary to amend through sacrifice. It is punitive morality which seeks to induce fear and solve it by pointing to a scapegoat. In all the opposition speeches a negative messiah is announced and the pitiful tone of Ash Wednesday of the revolutionary carnival is heard. The left must continue to dispute the future, to hope, to embody the conviction that it is possible for all of us to live well, here, today and in this land called Ecuador. Let hope overcome fear!
What role do the media play in this dispute?
The media are the main tool of power used by the right to produce disenchantment and despair. The news, the newspapers try to build the society of fear, of suspicion, of distrust. The news that grows most in audience are the ones with the most blood. To this is added the social networks. This new public sphere allows anonymous trolls to defame without any public responsibility.
Their strategy of pyramidalization (I think this means reinforcing hegemony) when trying to generate the news of the week is clear: they use the massive media and the big ‘influencers’ who have many followers in their social network accounts. Not those who are random private media journalists. Therefore, one of the main principles that must be challenged in tofay’s democracy is truth and defense of the public sphere.
As a citizen I would expect that any candidate for the Presidency of my country will always be attached to the truth and have the courage, in case of being wrong, to clarify and ask for public apology for the mistake they made. Not that lying ought be used as a deliberate strategy to win votes. That is the strategy of a right without morals. We must be clear that there will be no quality democracy as long as there is no ethics in politics and as long as the truth does not reign in the public sphere.
There is a left that indicates that it has been a wasted decade. What do you think?
I agree with the point made by Emir Sader: for those that see is as wasteful decade, it is because they wasted the decade. The question asked by the Brazilian sociologist is pertinent: if governments like the Citizen Revolution are responsible for the return of the right, as these groups usually affirm, then why is this ‘ultra left’ not strengthened? Because they have not taken advantage of the weakening of progressive governments and thus taken their place? No. It is simple. It is because they have no popular base and their arguments have not penetrated any sector of the population.
This left should learn that they are also responsible for their actions or non-actions. Unfortunately, the right has been much more astute and efficient in political terms than this left. It is no coincidence that this left in the next elections has no direct spokesperson as a presidential candidate. A left without a town, it is not a left. In this sense, it seems that the left noun remained large. Yes, they have wasted this decade!
What is the role of politics in this regard?
Perhaps as important as the viability of the contest is that the same described transition has been made within a democratic and peaceful framework. The process of social reconfiguration, having these characteristics, has allowed us to recover the trust in the other and above all the capacity of citizen astonishment in the face of social injustice – which has allowed people to move from indignant anger to the hope of a mindful citizen hope. The right is astute in pointing out that institutional confidence, citizen’s hope in and the recovery of politics are the main weapons that progressive processes have to move forward.
In this context, it is vital for the right to disenchant, to despair of citizenship and to dismantle the image of politics as a space to create a just social order. In this framework, it is necessary to understand political action as a means but also as an end to the process of change. In this way, political action must create a virtuous circle, based on actors that support and push change, and that the change they sustain and support strengthens them. Faced with the society of mistrust and fear that the right seeks to establish as a common sense, one of the main challenges that Lenín Moreno has is to restrain the citizenry – as he does- in order to continue with the hopeful spirit we have had in these 10 years, which implies generating another aesthetic in politics.