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Class Struggle at the End of History: Cooperatives in "Neoliberal" Nicaragua

Authors: Jonah Walters*, Rutgers University
Topics: Economic Geography, Latin America
Keywords: Nicaragua, diverse economies, community economy, popular economy, cooperatives, socialism
Session Type: Paper
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The “diverse economies” framework proposed by feminist geographer J.K Gibson-Graham (1996, 2006) has generated a theory of the ethically constituted “community economy” as a possible alternative to normative capitalism. This idea bears a striking similarity to the idea of the "household, community, cooperative, and associative economy" developed around the same time by veterans of Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. My research show how some Nicaraguan workers, often self-organized into cooperatives, came to understand themselves as the protagonists of a popular economic project outside of (and oppositional to) capitalism. This paper synthesizes archival data, interviews with Sandinista cadres, and theoretical treatments of capitalism published in Nicaragua from 1990-2010 to show that cooperativistas strategically exploited the contradictions of neoliberal structural adjustment to preserve "popular economy" institutions like cooperatives. Cooperativistas responded to the liberalization of global capitalist labor markets by developing what they called a “civil society strategy” for socialist transformation, sustained in large part by an emergent global non-governmental organization (NGO) infrastructure that confounded common-sense distinctions between state and non-state projects. This paper deepens and extends the diverse economies literature by demonstrating how processes of ethical re-subjectification, particularly those linked to the creation of collective economic projects, have historically articulated in complex and contradictory ways with state programs. It also contributes to regional debates about "twentieth-century socialism" and the Pink Tide in Latin America.

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