This dissertation discusses the relationship between the evolution of the political economy, the movements for social changeand attempts at alternative development in El Salvador. Since the 1970s, that country has experienced an exceptionally rich history of social and revolutionary movements, and interesting attempts to build alternative and grassroots economic development models. The foundation of the Salvadoran economy has been transformed from an agrarian system, which was based on coffee exports until the 1980s, into a system that depends on labor export and remittances.
The thesis is written in three parts. The first examines the Salvadoran history during the 1975-2005 period; before, during and after the civil war of the 1980s. It looks for causality relationships between the evolution of the dominant economic model and the revolutionary movement. The second part is a comparative study of three 'utopias', or rural communities attempting alternative development after the end of the civil war in 1992. The third part studies a set of fourteen small cooperatives, part of the same attempts, during the post-war period of the 1990s and 2000s.
I show that for three decades, economic conditions and the economic structure shaped the evolution of the movement for social change. But it was only during the civil war of the 1980s, that the inverse relationship is verifiable.
The communities and cooperatives part of the new solidarity economy after 1992 were not able to transform a neo-liberal political economy from the bottom up. However, two of the three utopias studied grew and successfully developed networks of small community enterprises. In general, I find that the more a community/utopia is able to define its relationships to the markets on its terms, the more successful it is. An endogenous development strategy is the way to achieve this.