1. THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT AND THE IRAQ WAR/OCCUPATION
The emergence of the anti-war movement was an enormously progressive event. In the midst of the preparations for the military invasion of Iraq, the mobilisation of millions of people across five continents was the biggest opposition to Bush’s attempt at reshaping the Middle East and the rest of the world to his advantage. Since then, despite enormous ups and downs, the movement has remained a factor in our global reality. This was shown by its actions after the M-11 bombings in Spain – which forced the country’s troops to withdraw from the pro-US coalition – or the significant loss of votes by Tony Blair in the recent elections in Great Britain (despite his electoral victory).
However, in Europe, where this movement has been the strongest, both the union leaderships – including the “alternative” and “militant” unions such as the IGM, SUD and COBAS – and the key organisations in the anti-globalisation movement, such as ATTAC and the autonomists, prevented the movement from being an effective tool to stop the US military machinery. Before the war began these leaderships had already given the movement its character: essentially pacifist and sowing illusions in the UN and the European powers opposing the war.
The only chance of stopping the war outside the theatre of conflict was by stopping the military machine that made it possible. The “war machine” fundamentally depends on the states and governments that apply it plus the imperialist bourgeoisies that finance and hope to obtain profits from it. Only with a big struggle against the aggressor governments would it have been possible to stop the imperialist attack or turn it into a social struggle against the imperialist governments. But, apart from the odd isolated action, the leaderships of the anti-war movement prevented the working class from being the centre of gravity of the struggle against the war through general strikes, boycotts and the sabotage of the production and transport of military equipment. For this reason, re-volutionary Marxists’ anti-war policy combines two elements. Firstly it involves revolutionary defeatism in the imperialist-aggressor countries – for which the anti-war movement is an important starting point (but needing to develop from its current pacifism, which is objectively progressive in the imperialist-aggressor countries, to an all-out struggle against imperialist governments such as those of Bush, Blair and Berlusconi). The experience of the Algerian struggle against the French empire or the heroic Vietnamese people against the US army shows that the combination of resistance by oppressed peoples and protests in imperialist-aggressor countries can defeat the world’s most powerful armies –although, thanks to the leaderships, this was achieved at a high cost in terms of lives or years of war.
A revolutionary policy of this kind could only emerge from directly combating the leaderships and the pacifist ideology they advocate, which condemns as a matter of principle all war as “immoral”, leading counter-revolutionary violence by oppressors to be equated with the legitimate struggle by the oppressed. Thus a starting point for the revolutionary programme is to define the Iraq war as a clear war of imperialist aggression against an oppressed nation. Under the mask of “democracy”, the Bush government is seeking to wipe out all national sovereignty in order to subjugate the Iraqi people and plunder their wealth. Any defensive war for the liberation of an oppressed nation is for revolutionaries a just and legitimate war. This was the case with – for example – the Algerian national liberation struggle against the French colonialists or theVietnam war. In this kind of war revolutionaries put themselves in the military camp of the semi-colonial countries regardless of the character of their governing regime. This is because the triumph of the imperialist country will mean twice as many chains for the people of the semi-colonial nation and even worse suffering than under their domestic dictatorship. In the case of Iraq we are for the military defeat of US imperialism and its coalition, despite the reactionary and dictatorial nature of Saddam Hussein. We follow here the teachings of revolutionary Marxism, whose principles were outlined in total clarity by Trotsky when faced with a possible war between the semi-fascist Brazilian regime of Vargas and imperialist Britain in the 30s. In such a con-text, he said, “in this case I will be on the side of ‘fascist’ Brazil against ‘democratic’ Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat”.Therefore the first point of our revolutionary programme regarding the Iraq war was that of the defeat of the imperialist troops. But being in the camp of the oppressed nation does not mean, as populist tendencies do, confusing the just defence of the oppressed nation with its particular leadership. As the whole history of the 20th Century showed – most recently the Argentine military dictatorship in the Malvinas/Falklands war against British imperialism or Saddam Hussein in the two Gulf wars – the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation is incapable of implementing the military and political measures that would lead to the defeat of imperialism. Their fear of the class struggle and of a generalised arming of the population for self-defence mean that when attacked by imperialism they would prefer national defeat to the unleashing of the social forces that might question their class domination. Conse-quently, revolutionaries put forward a programme from the trenches of the oppressed nation’s military camp that combines the tasks of national liberation and the method and aims of the proletarian revolution as a way of competing over leadership of the war with the bourgeoisie – which will sooner or later end up capitulating and allowing the most demoralising national defeats. The proletariat is the only class that can unite and lead all of the exploited layers of society in a struggle to the last against imperialism, as part of a revolutionary and internationalist strategy.
In the case of Iraq, only independent action by the Iraqi working class and masses could have defeated the invader. This would have left the Iraqi people in better conditions to be able to free themselves from the Hussein regime; while their national triumph could have become an extraordinary spur for the struggle against exploitation and for freedom by all of the world’s oppressed people.
This very logic continues today with Iraq under military occupation and in the face of the rise of the resistance. Many sectors that opposed the war yesterday because it was considered an unjustified action by the Bush government, now refuse to fight for the triumph of the occupied country’s masses because of the Islamic nature of the Iraqi resistance. This is a mistaken reasoning that does not see the defeat of imperialism as the central issue. A triumph by the Iraqi masses would give a push to the masses across the whole of the Middle East. And it would undermine imperialist domination of this strategic part of the planet – where the main oil sources are concentrated – and threaten the power of the region’s bourgeoisies. At the same time, defeat for the imperialists would strengthen the struggle by the central countries’ proletariat and masses as the warring governments are weakened. This was the case with the US defeat in Vietnam. Only from such a position is it possible to fight for a clearly anti-imperialist orientation and programme that could take the oppressed nation to victory. This means firstly denouncing the collaboration, despite their different interests, between the Shia clergy, in particular its leading figure Al-Sistani, and the US troops. Secondly it means questioning the way the Sunni resistance is being run, which is giving the struggle a tribal character. This is particularly the case with the minority Islamic-fundamentalist wing that uses brutal methods such as bombings against the Shia population that only strengthen the imperialist occupation. Only a leadership that seeks to turn the working class – the only class that can take the struggle against imperialism and its agents to the very end – into the ruling class of the oppressed nation will be able to achieve effective unity against the imperialist invader and become a source of inspiration for the oppressed peoples of the rest of region and the world.
A new boom in religion
Historically the dominant classes have used religion to strengthen the subjection of the exploited classes, preaching among the dispossessed masses patience and submission in the face of misery and oppression. They justified suffering using the illusion of the afterlife, while on Earth institutions such as the Catholic or Protestant churches accumulated material wealth and political power. These clerical double standards have been seen in all areas.We have seen it in Argentina, for example, in the involvement of the church with state terrorism. Particularly obscene is the repressive preaching in favour of chastity and discrimination while priests and bishops form part of child-abuse networks.
For this reason Marx defined religion as the “opium of the people”. Revolutionary Marxists are irreconcilable atheists and we struggle against religious interference in public life, defending and fighting to conquer democratic rights such as abortion and free choice over sexuality. However we know we must also differentiate between denouncing and combating the religious institutions and hierarchies playing the reactionary role of maintaining the status quo and the patient task of persuading the working and popular masses of our materialist vision of the world and the social relations that make up a given historic period. This position has consequences in terms of programme: for example the policy by the Bolsheviks towards the eastern peoples of the ex-Tsarist empire. To these people the Soviet Union gave full rights of national self-determination and respected their cultural traditions. Although in the “Western world” the churches and religious hierarchies do not govern directly in any country, in recent years we have witnessed a considerable increase in the power of the church and its influence on political life. There are many examples:
In the US the Christian right has a strong influence on George Bush’s government. Furthermore, they have promoted a reactionary climate and attacks on democratic liberties – with campaigns against the right to abortion, against the secular nature of education and against sexual freedoms (such as marriage between people of the same sex). This offensive has been repeated for example in the policy of the Catholic Church in the Spanish State, which was promoted by the previous government of Aznar. Bush himself feels “inspired by God” and justifies his imperialist policies using terms such as “crusade” and the “axis of evil” that bring to mind the wars of religion. US ideologists even talk about a “war of civilisations” and point to the Muslim peoples as the “threat” to “Western democracy”.
The Catholic Church remains an important factor in preserving the capitalist order, as was clearly shown by the late Pope John Paul II and his role in restoring capitalism in Poland and the other Eastern European states.
Zionism, although defined more by its colonial and pro-imperialist character than by being a theocratic movement, emerged with the objective of founding an exclusively Jewish state. In 1948 its attempt culminated in the founding of the State of Israel based on the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, creating a racist enclave that justifies its expansionist policies and the oppression of the Palestinian people as a “biblical call” to take over all of Palestine. Religious parties have considerable influence and their sympathisers are mostly settlers living in the occupied territories –true shock troops against the Palestinian population.
But religion has also been adopted as a banner for movements that distortedly express the anger of the oppressed – as we can see with the Islamic leaderships intervening, for example, in the Palestinian struggle or the Iraqi resistance against US occupation.
The reactionary nature of the religious leaderships
The historic failure of bourgeois Arab nationalism led to the rise of the phenomenon known as “political Islam”, which using an anti-US and anti-Zionist discourse is gaining an important audience among the most radicalised sections of the Arab and Muslim masses. This is expressed for example in the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah organisations.
The active utilisation of religion for political purposes increased from the 60s in order to confront nationalist and secular tendencies. This politicisation of religion made a big advance with the triumph of the Iranian revolution in 1979. This, after wiping out its left wing, ended with the creation of a reactionary theocratic regime, headed by Ayatollah Khomeini.
But while the radical Shia politics that emerged from the Iranian revolution attracted the sympathy of the common and disadvantaged youth that tried to turn Islam into an anti-imperialist movement, Saudi Arabia – the other great centre of religious promotion and unconditional ally of the USA – was promoting the spreading in Muslim countries of a conservative Islamic variant – Wahabism – by financing the building of mosques and madrasas (religious schools for educating poor children). This was to counteract the shockwaves of the Iranian revolution. In the 80s, this “Petro-Islam” financed the“Afghan jihad” whose cause was to fight against the Soviet Union – which had sent Red Army troops to support a pro-Soviet but unpopular regime in Afghanistan. The US backed and even financed the “jihad” activists, whom it called “freedom fig-hters”. It took advantage of the profound anti-Commu-nism and reactionary nature of the movement, which after a decade of fighting forced the Red Army to withdraw, which in turn accelerated the fall of the Soviet Union itself. But the armed Islamic groups that acted in Afghanistan under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden developed their own dynamic and would later evolve into the reactionary Taliban government and Al-Qaeda network. That organisation would become the biggest enemy of the Saudi monarchy and the United States which, now the Soviet Union had disappeared and Arab nationalism been wiped out, no longer needed the services of such Islamist groups.
Organisations such as Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or the Algerian FIS have a completely reactionary nature, as seen in their terrible oppression of women, in the exemplary punishment meted out to those who do not fully obey their religious dictates, and in their terrorist methods which target workers and other civilians – as we saw in the bombings at Atocha station in Madrid. However, there are other organisations such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, or sections of the Iraqi resistance that are part of wider national liberation movements, from which they draw legitimacy, including for the use of military terrorist actions as a way of confronting powers which are far stronger from a military point of view.
Revolutionaries defend the members of these radical Islamist organisations against attacks by reactionary forces – whether imperialist or the Israeli State. We defend the right of Iran – as a semi-colonial country – to resist pressure by US and European imperialism. We defend the democratic rights of Muslim communities in the West that suffer attacks at the hands of imperialist governments, such as in the US – where Arabs are automatically considered as suspect and worthy of arrest and torture in clan-destine prisons. We also defend their cultural rights in imperialist countries that pose as “democratic”, such as France, which prohibits Muslim girls from using the veil. As we stated before, we are categorically in favour of the triumph of the Iraqi resistance against the US. We believe that a defeat for imperialism will strengthen the struggle of the oppressed masses.
From such an anti-imperialist position we combat the Islamic leaderships that seek through a reactionary strategy to establish a theocratic estate that would wipe out basic democratic freedoms. This consequently makes such leaderships enemies of the struggle by workers and the exploited and oppressed. The illusion that they promote a “community of believers” aims to hide Islamic societies’ obscene class divisions, and is an enemy of the independent politics of a working class leading the oppressed masses against imperialism and its local servant governments. Each time they have come to office they have shown their true character as agents of the local capi-talist class, and kept up the subjection of the great majority by means of repressive regimes. Thus, beyond their social demagogy or the contradictions that might exist between such leaderships and the United States, they represent in Muslim countries the main obstacle to workers’ and socialist revolution.
2. AGAINST THE EUROPE OF CAPITAL, FOR A UNITED SOCIALIST STATES OF EUROPE
The EU project is based on an inter-state agreement led by the imperialist bourgeoisies of the strongest Western European countries. It is to enable them to be able to compete to dominate the world and its markets, especially against US imperialism in its he-gemonic-decline phase. Unlike the old EEC, this in-ter-state agreement is made up of imperialist countries and countries undergoing different degrees of semi-colonisation in Eastern Europe.
In this first phase of this economic war, the EU’s aim is threefold: to create a customs and tariff bloc through a compact against outside competition favouring regional capitalist concentration; to raise labour productivity and lower labour costs in Europe; to deepen imperialist penetration in its semi-colonial backyard in Africa, Asia and Latin America and to institutionalise its dominance over its ‘internal backyard’, the countries recently incorporated into Europe. At the same time it is putting pressure on the ex-USSR republics and Russia itself.
The nature of this project is entirely reactionary and anti-worker: seeking the cheap skilled labour of East European workers in order to attack the conquests that are still enjoyed by the workers of imperialist Europe. This can be seen from the continental bourgeoisie’s different schemes such as Schröder’s agenda 2010 or the plan to eliminate the 35-hour week by the Chirac government in France. The neo-liberal and imperialist policies of the member states correspond to “directives” and laws that are agreed in the European Commission and Parliament, giving rise to workers’ hostility and indifference towards the current EU construction process. This led to the victory of the ‘no’ vote in the French plebiscite in May 2005, which was seen by young people and workers as a tool for mass rejection of this anti-worker and anti-popular constitutional project, and a punishment against the hated Raffarin and Chirac government and the Europe of Capital. Although it may have been a heterogeneous ‘no’ from both a social and political point of view, as the call to reject the constitution ranged from Le Pen’s far right to the political and trade-union left (including the Trotskyist LO, LCR and PT and ex Social-Democratic ministers), the ‘no’ vote was essentially working class and progressive – unlike the Dutch ‘no’ where the social-chauvinistic tone was predominant. This defeat for President Chirac and the French political class sparked an important crisis not just in the government but also in the Socialist Party. The party officially called for support for the ‘yes’ vote, but most of its voters voted ‘no’. This exposed the Socialists’ internal divisions and lack of political leadership.
This political crisis in France, one of the pillars of European construction, is taking place in the context of economic stagnation in the strongest EU countries, a social crisis – shown in the increase in unemployment that has already reached 10% – and a cultural and identity crisis faced with the changes that have occurred in Europe in recent years (such as its incorporation of the Eastern European countries). The crisis above can be used by the mass movement in order to go onto the offensive.
The other side to the attack on workers’ conquests in the central countries is the incorporation of the Eastern European countries. This betrays the EU’s profoundly imperialist content. When Greece, Spain and Portugal joined in the eighties, they had to restructure their economies but were compensated by being allocated large Marshall Plan-like public funds. No such treatment will be given to any Eastern European country. On the contrary, it is predicted that the net amount given to new members as a whole will be much less than the 100,000 million dollars given by Germany to its new landers (regions) to minimise social conflicts after unification and the demise of the ex-German Democratic Republic in 1989. It should not come as a surprise that with such a policy, and despite the economic recovery of the last few years, many countries still have a lower production level than in 1989. Worse still has been the burden that people have had to bear as a result of capitalist restoration in the form of rises in electricity rates, rents and transport and agricultural prices; and the privatisation of public services – which used to be free and widely associated with employment in the corporations. All of this has meant a significant social regression. Growth has come from the development of small private firms, which are often precarious, and direct foreign investment. From the point of view of job creation this has not made up for the dismantling of the big companies. There has consequently been an increase in unemployment (currently 20% in Poland), of precarious working conditions and regional and social inequality, whi-ch particularly affects women. This has led to prostitution, working in the black economy, and a retreat to the ownership of small plots of land as a form of ‘social security’.
Because of the coexistence of countries with different structures within the EU, there emerge two kinds of revolutionary dynamic: one which is closer to that of the semi-colonial countries where democratic and agrarian slogans are essential, and another where the proletarian revolution would face capitalism of the most advanced variety. If we forget this fact and treat the whole EU as a homogeneous entity – as the antiglobalisation movement does – we can end up making a series of demands that would not serve to develop the revolutionary mobilisation of the masses and in the worst case would undermine the fight against individual imperialist governments, making it more likely that workers would yield to the social-chauvinistic pressures of the trade-union bureaucracy and the labour aristocracy.
Despite the advances of the EU, it is still not a state, nor is it in the process of becoming one; it is as yet a defensive alliance in pursuit of turning into an offensive one in relation to the US and other imperial competitors. For the time being the national contradictions between different member states have taken a back seat in order for the EU to be able to position itself as best as possible between US imperialism and that of other regions. However this does not mean that the imperialist countries of Western Europe do not have fundamentally opposed interests, which makes European bourgeois unity a utopia. This does not mean supporting alternative bourgeois projects to the EU – such as ‘national’ or ‘self-sufficiency’ projects – that only serve to beautify the old imperialist states. Our objective is not the Europe of Capital or the old national states! We are for revolutionary workers’ governments. For a United Socialist Workers’ Europe. The only class capable of genuinely uniting the continent is the working class at the head of its class allies, requiring the revolutionary transformation of the continent.
3. SOUTH AMERICA: THE MOST ADVANCED REGION OF THE INTERNATIONAL CLASS STRUGGLE
Despite “progressive” government changes in several countries, which have allowed the bourgeoisie to hold back the tendency for mass open movements to emerge, South America is still the most advanced region in terms of the international class struggle. Its epicentre is Bolivia, where a revolutionary process is still taking place, after having brought down two go-vernments: that of Sánchez de Lozada in 2003 and Mesa in June 2005.
Despite lagging behind South America, growing mass action and political crisis in Central America – including anti-government protests in Nicaragua and Panama and the imperialist intervention in Haiti – show that structural instability is extending to almost all of Latin America.
The situation is unequal in South America. In the Mercosur countries, and within the framework of sig-nificant economic recovery and the political effect of changes in government, there has been a greater “containment” of the class struggle, even though there has been a considerable increase in struggle by significant sections of the working class. This does not mean long-term stabilisation nor resolution of the organic crises of bourgeois domination (whose mechanisms and institutions have been eroded after decades of applying “neo-liberal” programmes in the context of semi-colonial bourgeois democracies), nor the interruption of the rebuilding of mass workers’ movements expressed in the realignment of vanguard groups in the region. In the countries of the Andes, destabilisation continues to reign and there is a growing tendency for direct action and mass-move-ment intervention, such has been clearly shown in the Bolivian and Ecuadorian processes.
From an economic point of view, after several years of recession and collapse, such as in Argentina with “convertibility”, economic recovery (which averages 5% for the whole region) has increased business for the bourgeoisie as a whole and temporarily reduced unemployment. However this has not meant earnings “redistribution”, as the progressives promised. Nor has it weakened imperialist oppression and much less so the enormous social polarisation and high level of exploitation of workers.
At the same time, there are underlying frictions fa-ced with imperialist pressure on a region it has always considered as its “backyard”. The US has embarked on an offensive to recompose its hegemony globally, with a greater degree of pillage, intervention and war – as shown by Iraq. It has as one of its central goals to discipline and advance in the re-colonisation of Latin America. Nevertheless it has not managed to reverse the erosion of its political and economic hegemony in South America. The US has had to abandon its original FTAA project and some of its most ambitious proposals, such as obtaining “immunity” status for its troops (except for Paraguay) and isolating Venezuela. Also it has lost unconditional agents with the fall of the Bolivian and Ecuadorian governments.
There has been a relative blunting of inter-imperialist competition on Latin American soil. This is due to Europe concentrating on building the EU and ex-panding into Eastern Europe, while in Latin America it does deals with the United States to defend the mul-tinationals – thus reducing its capacity to be a “frien-dly alternative” to Washington (although not missing opportunities such as the agreement between Zapa-tero and Chávez). This way, limits are set to the overa-ll room for manoeuvre by native bourgeoisies in respect of the inter-imperialist contradictions.
The automatic disciplining through US schemes that dominated during the 90s under the “Washington consensus” is a thing of the past. While US domi-nance is most strongly felt over Mexico and Central America, its position to the south of the Panama Ca-nal has weakened. Such realignments polarised the regional order of states between a more pro-US wing, made up of Chile, Colombia and a few others, and a wing with a demagogically “South-Americanist” discourse around Brazil, which is positioning itself slowly but surely in order to bid for better conditions in its subordination to imperialism, although without forming a united bloc involving shared policies (in fact, there are constant scrapes between the different states of the region).
In different countries, and albeit with varying speed and intensity, “general national crises” are de-veloping. These combine the structural weaknesses of semi-colonial capitalisms, state-political crises (expressions of the organic crises of bourgeois domination) and high levels of class struggle that have turned the relations of more general forces against the dominant class. This is particularly noticeable in the Andean sub-region, which remains the area of greatest political instability and extreme tension in all social antagonisms.
Bolivia combines explosively the criminal character of imperialist plunder, the depth of the “general national crisis” of the weakest and most poverty-stric-ken capitalism in South America, bourgeois state-po-litical decomposition and the rise of a mass move-ment with a great tradition of militancy in methods and demands. In the country new mass mobilisations have taken place that have put an end to the Mesa government and prevented the clearest attempt yet by the Santa Cruz oligarchy to take power, allowing the possibility of reawakening the October uprising.
In late April in Ecuador a new uprising defeated the government of Gutiérrez, the ex-leader of the re-volt on 21 January 2000. He had entered office as the person that “would end corruption and win back national sovereignty”, only to realign himself with im-perialism and domestic reaction. And he was incapa-ble of imposing a Bonapartist twist to enable him to escape the sea of contradictions he got into: failing to calm the fears of the business right wing and having lost the support of the left and indigenous movement that had brought him to power. His fall illustrates the limits of “progressive politics” in Latin American – where the weakness of local capitalism and extreme political and social crisis puts limits on the room for manoeuvre of this kind of coalition government.
In Peru an ailing Toledo, who rose to power after Fujimori’s fall as the “government of all bloods” and guarantor of the “transition to democracy”, has survi-ved but at enormous discredit, facing daily corrup-tion scandals, the decomposition of his own party and the tireless effervescence of the masses. He is hoping to win the elections thanks to the role of contention and electoral distraction played by the APRA, the regime’s other forces and particularly the aid in holding people back provided by the CGTP, and the different bureaucratic groups: Apristas, Stalinists and Maoists.
The rising cycle of class struggle continues on a regional scale. The emergence of a new mass movement with a tendency for direct action, street-fighting, blockades, strikes and continual uprisings that bring down governments elected through universal suffrage, has become a common occurrence since the beginning of the 21st century. The high points of this process has been the independent mass actions in countries such as Argentina, which in 2002 ended the De la Rúa government, the defeat of the coup attempt and oil boycott against the Chávez government in Venezuela, and above all the October 2003 revolutionary rehearsal in Bolivia that overthrew the Sánchez de Lozada government, which posed the question of the insurrection and taking of power by the exploited without the latter resolving such due to its leadership problems. The depth of the Bolivian crisis has led to a new act in this revolutionary process in June 2005, when the Mesa government fell after two weeks of intense mass activity.
The political instability and the “climate of revolt” that has spread across the continent – with mass explosions such as those mentioned and a vast number of workers’, peasants’ and popular struggles – have been encouraged by repeated economic disasters. Such disasters have resulted from two decades of “neoliberal” foreign capital penetration programmes and the worsening of imperialist domination that have pushed the contradictions of Latin American semicolonial capitalism to the extreme. They have also been exacerbated by the social antagonisms and political crises that are corroding bourgeois regimes and governments to different degrees. Although in the last two years the region underwent an important raw material-fuelled economic recovery in a context of global recovery, the tendency toward instability keeps showing itself, as in the new mass revolt that brought down the Bolivian Mesa government.
This new cycle of class struggle in South America has a more urban nature, with notable protagonists among the urban poor and the incipient entrance of the proletariat – as shown by the Huanuni miners in the Bolivian October, the advanced experiences of workers’ control and wages struggles in Argentina and the regroupment of the workers’ vanguard in Brazil. This distinguishes it from the processes of the last decade where the dominant actors were the peasantry and indigenous peoples, such as in the 1994 Zapatista rebellion, the Brazilian MST, the Paraguayan peasants and the high point of the mobilisations that de-feated the governments of Bucaram (1997) and Mahuad (2000) in Ecuador. Of course this is not to deny that these strategic allies of the proletariat still play a very important role, as is shown in the Andean countries, in particular Bolivia, which has seen the involvement of the peasants and indigenous peoples from the Altiplano (high plain area) and the coca growers of Chapare. However, it does mean, as seen in Argentina and Brazil, that the rebuilding of the mass movement is better expressed by a slow yet sustained recovery of the industrial and service workers’ movement based in the large cities.
The shift to “progressive” governments seeks to respond to this situation by rebuilding bourgeois equilibrium. Faced with generalised crisis and discontent among the mass movement – created by the worsening of imperialist plunder in the region – the local bourgeoisies were forced to resort to a significant change in political personnel. This involved leaving behind its discredited neo-liberal governments and opting for governments of a more reformist nature, with the aim of holding back the trend towards radicalisation where there have been mass outbursts, or avoiding the emergence of such movements in the places where the struggle is less advanced. The Lula, Kirchner and Tabaré governments express different class-conciliation projects aimed at delaying the de-velopment of national crises and mass processes. This includes redesigning relations between the different factions of the dominant classes and “tailoring”, by means of minor touches, relations with foreign capital and imperialism.
After the Bolivian October, Carlos Mesa – who boa-sted of his “independence” from the parties – took over with a government characterised by extreme weakness and which could not resist the huge contradictions facing it. Although with a more preventive character, the change in political personnel was clearer in Brazil, where for the first time an ex-workers’ leader became President of the Republic – albeit as the representative of a class-collaboration front. So too was it clear in the case of the Uruguayan government of Tabaré Vázquez and the Broad Front – which has broken for the first time in decades the old alternating two-party system. In Argentina the Kirchner government has appeared with a more progressive discourse – although sustained by the traditional Partido Justicialista (PJ) and benefiting from the economic recovery.
For the time being these governments have been successful in holding back the struggle by the exploited. However their stability could be a passing phase, as they have not solved any of the structural problems that affect the region’s countries and have led to big economic and social outbursts such as in the Argentinean and later the Uruguayan economy. Nobody has overcome the terrible burden caused by paying the foreign debt – neither the Lula or Tabaré governments that are continuing with IMF programmes in an orthodox way, nor the Kirchner government that boasts of having solved Argentina’s indebtedness in a progressive way (after defaulting on the foreign debt, what is effectively a mortgage will hang over the heads of several generations of Argentineans). Despite such leaders claiming to be the spokespeople of a suppo-sed renewed national bourgeoisie, none has altered the regressive semi-colonial economic structure of these countries dominated by penetration from foreign capital in their industrial and service sectors. Nor have they reduced the enormous social inequalities that exist, as shown by the growing income gap between the richer and poorer sectors, or the growing concentration of land in the hands of a few landowners and increased impoverishment of the peasants. And now the Lula government has been shaken by corruption scandals of the most neo-liberal kind. Even the Hugo Chávez government inVenezuela, which is to the left of the above mentioned governments – more populist, basing itself on the liquidation of the old party system and acting as arbiter between the growing mass mobilisations and the reactionary and imperialist forces – still regularly pays its foreign debt and, apart from small concessions, has not resolved the pressing problems of rural and urban misery.
Additionally, in Mexico the recent political crisis in which an attempt was made to ban López Obrador (the candidate for the centre-left PRD) from standing in the next presidential elections, has placed under discussion the true nature of the “transition to democracy” policies. In Mexico the 70-year-old PRI regime was replaced, by means of an “agreed transition”, with a more “multi-party” system accompanied by increased subordination of the national economy to imperialism – through the NAFTA free trade agreement. But with this change there has been the survival of all of the structural evils of backwardness, misery, exploitation and bloody oppression that affect workers, peasants and the country’s original inhabitants. “Democracy” thus has been nothing but one more fraud exploiting the basic and legitimate democratic aspirations of working people.
All of these elements reaffirm that there is no solution to the structural evils of semi-colonial capitalism regarding the masses’ important conquests – whether they be socio-economic gains, democratic freedoms or national independence – through reformist, nationalist and progressive projects that involve reconciliation with the dominant class and are adapted to the narrow margins of the semicolonial “democracies for the rich”, as put forward by Lula, Tabaré Vázquez, Kirchner, Chávez or Evo Morales. Only through the widest radical and generalised mass mobilisation – with the working class leading the alliance of oppressed and exploited masses and taking into its hands the solution to its problems – can the most vital and heartfelt demands of the workers, peasants and poor be met.
This highlights the importance of demands in the Latin American countries such as the non-payment of the foreign debt; the re-nationalisation of privatised companies under workers’ control; the struggle for a sliding scale of hours to combat unemployment and automatic wage adjustment to fight inflation in basic goods; and the expropriation of large estates and the distribution of land among peasants. These are essential measures that the left, by shifting to the centre-left – meaning shifting to integrate itself into the bourgeois system – has abandoned. Today they are an irreplaceable part of any programme that wishes coherently to tackle imperialist domination – to which the region’s weak national bourgeoisies are tied by a thousand ropes.
Brazil and the “workers’ reformism” fraud
The Lula government expresses the fraud of the reformist workers’ parties that, by channelling the discontent of the working masses after decades of bourgeois and imperialist offensives, present themselves as a trustworthy alternative to manage capitalism’s schemes. Lula’s rise is a product of the break-up of the old conservative alliance that backed F.H. Cardoso’s neo-liberal government, and of the fears of the Brazilian bourgeoisie of a default and an uprising similar to the revolutionary days in 2001 in Argentina. Thanks to Lula the Brazilian bourgeoisie has avoided the “Argentine scenario” and has guaranteed the continuity of the neo-liberal programme. Thus, the biggest workers’ party in Latin America didn’t just become a “reformist government without reforms” but became the government of counter-reform – making brutal attacks on the most important conquests that Brazilian workers have won in decades of struggle against the bourgeoisie. After six months in government it had introduced a reform against social welfare that not even the Cardoso government had felt it could apply, and was preparing new reforms affecting labour and the unions. Then it was shaken by corruption scandals that forced the resignation of one of Lula’s two main ministers, José Dirceu.
Among wide sections of the mass movement disillusion with Lula and his government has started to set in. His anti-worker and anti-popular measures have created a process of reorganisation and rupture in significant sectors of the vanguard in both the political and trade union arenas, which could presage bigger movements emerging from among the masses. For the middle classes that hoped that Lula would eradicate corruption among public functionaries, accusations of bribe-taking have hit particularly hard. Initial symptoms of rupture are the emergence of the PSOL, and, in the trade-union movement, the realignment inside the CUT – which has become the guardian of Lula’s plans in the workers’ movement – that has led to the creation of CONLUTAS (a group dominated by the PSTU). But both phenomena run the risk of going along the same reformist route as the PT: of adapting to bourgeois democracy, class conciliation, and an uncritical relationship with the trade-union bureaucracy. This is not a literary affirmation. In its second national meeting the PSOL refused to vote for an amendment to its national resolution proposing that the party declared itself to be against any kind of alliance with bourgeois parties such as the PDT or PSB, with its eyes set on the coming 2006 elections. Additionally in CONLUTAS, the predominant PSTU hides behind its left-wing rhetoric its refusal to fight to expel the trade-union bureaucracy from the CUT and its member unions and win back the unions as tools for fighting for workers’ interests.
Compared to the 48 million waged employees, 22 million workers organised in the CUT and the 53 million that voted for Lula it is very clear that such groups are still small in Brazil. Faced with this it is necessary to overcome ideas of impotence and small-mindedness, fighting in order for millions of workers to advance from their experience of PT politics, by offering transitional mass policies so that processes of rupture permeate deeply among all of the exploited.
The demand for the CUT and its member unions to break with the government is a powerful weapon to overcome the trade-union bureaucracy. It is necessary to get workers’ aspirations to collide with the policy of this rotten bureaucracy. Demanding a break with the government and a debate on the need for an Independent Workers’ Party based on the fighting unions and workers’ organisations will undoubtedly help the masses in their experience with the PT and will be the easiest route to removing the PT from the unions.
The Brazilian vanguard has started to reorganise. It has already fought important battles since the PT came to office. The unions are breaking with the government and the CUT leadership. Consequently it is necessary to fight for an anti-bureaucratic, anti-government and anti-capitalist national grouping that can become a pole of attraction for the new sectors that want to fight. CONLUTAS can and must become this pole of attraction if it is to be capable of leading the struggle for class independence and sweeping aside the union bureaucracy. Aimed at the millions of workers organised in the CUT and other trade-union federations, its task should be that of promoting revolutionary factions in the unions.
Argentina and the struggle for working-class hegemony
With the backdrop of the economic depression – which later would lead to default on the foreign debt – there were revolutionary days in Argentina in December 2001 that overthrew De la Rúa. This peak in the class struggle was the result of a combination of different struggles. There was the massive struggle by the middle class (part of which had its savings virtually expropriated due to the freezing of bank deposits) against the state of siege and the traditional political leadership – expressed in the slogan “¡que se vayan todos!” (“all of them out!”). There was the fight by tens of thousands of vanguard youth known as the battle of the Plaza de Mayo; and the beginning of an explosion by the urban poor who looted the department stores and supermarkets. As a consequence of these events the bourgeois system underwent a period of nervousness, of weakened state authority and a crisis of governability for the key institutions, expressed in a series of changes in government over a short period of time.
A by-product of these revolutionary events was the emergence and consolidation of new social actors that would form part of the new political panorama ushered in after 2001: the unemployed movement known as the piqueteros, which organised a section of the millions of jobless, was strengthened; popular assemblies emerged giving voice to the demands of the impoverished middle classes; and lastly, there was a smaller but significant movement of factory occupations, particularly the Zanon and Brukman factories, which became milestones in the resistance to closures and sackings by taking over direct management of production. The limit to the process was the failure of the majority of the working class to enter into the struggle, due to fear of unemployment and the betrayals of the union bureaucracy. This weakness showed itself when the class alliance between sections of the middle class and the unemployed – expressed in the slogan “piqueteros and pot-banging middle classes, the struggle is one and the same” – showed itself incapable of carrying out a serious fight against the bourgeois state. After its initial rise, the movement was re-absorbed through economic recovery for the middle-class sectors, and widespread state subsidies to the unemployed. Once again it was shown that it is essential that the working class plays the hegemonic role in the struggle against capital and the state.
Such an understanding is absent in semi-populist conceptions such as that of the Partido Obrero (PO), which identified the piqueteros as the vanguard of the revolution – a view that wipes out the working class as an entity and dilutes the effective social power of each of its sectors, elevating the unemployed pique-teros based in a particular territory above the social power of workers engaged in the production of goods or services. Worse still are those with an outright populist ideology who counterpose “territorialism” to the centrality of the proletariat.
Secondly there is the abandoning, in the name of the “essential revolutionary nature of poverty”, of the struggle to conquer the majority of the working class and above all its leading battalions concentrated in the key centres of capitalist production.
After a period of instability, the arrival of the Kirchner government with its centre-left rhetoric allowed the re-establishing of the state’s authority and the ending of the sharpest aspects of the crisis – although this remains latent. With the economic recovery, the social class that was absent during the revolutionary days has re-emerged: the working class has begun to fight to recover its wage levels, the high point being the victorious strike by the underground railway workers led by a group of shop stewards independent from the bureaucracy. This sector is linking with the most advanced working-class experience of the previous period, such as the Zanon workers and their heroic defence of workers’ selfmanagement – which has been in place for three years and is an example for the national and international workers’ vanguard, and in which the Trotskyists that have written this very manifesto play an important leadership role.
Nevertheless, the new workers’ movement that has emerged has yet to resolve the tasks that 2001 left incomplete. Firstly, the struggle to coordinate the most advanced expressions of working-class resistance, and for these to become a pole of attraction after years of domination by the union bureaucracy over the workers’ movement. Although only locally and intermittently, such coordination has taken place, as in Río Negro’s Alto Valle Coordinating Committee, which has brought together several militant unions and other organisations in the Neuquén province, hegemonised by Zanon and the ceramics union it heads, or the recent underground railway strike, which brought together rail, health, telecommunications and ceramics workers, etc.We need to fight to achieve permanent coordination of the most advanced sections of the vanguard. But this unity is not enough. It is necessary to take a bigger step forward, that is, the struggle for the political independence of workers to be able to hegemonise all of the exploited sectors of the oppressed nation. For this reason, what is on the agenda today is the creation of a mass workers’ party, based on the organisations of working-class struggle: trade unions, shop-stewards’ committees, and, of course, the organisations representing the unemployed that are independent from the government. We are talking about a genuine workers’ party capable of putting an end to Peronism’s mass influence, a party that can decide the course of events in national political life, and can express the social power of 10 million wage earners and more than 3 million unemployed.
Bolivia and the need for workers’ and popular self-organisation as a counter-power
Bolivia shows a recurrent tendency for mass struggle and direct action. From the Cochabamba “water war” in 2000 onwards, the Bolivian masses have shown a huge capacity for combat and renewed energy. These combats have seen innumerable forms of struggle such as roadblocks (especially by the rural population) laying “siege” to cities; strikes by workers and popular sectors, with the mass struggle coming together to put pressure on the nerve centres of state power; the insurrection on the barricades, as the “struggle of the entire people” for territory and seeking to block operations by the forces of the state; and advanced military actions – the most offensive expression of the insurrection.
The “revolutionary rehearsal” of October 2003 marked a qualitative leap with regards to the prior processes which had peasants and indigenous people as central actors. This time – due to its more urban nature, radical methods and the entering onto the stage of the working class – a more direct confrontation took place between the fundamental social forces in Bolivia. This opened up a revolutionary process, differentiating it from the other processes that have taken place up to now in Latin America. The combination of a planned mass uprising and spontaneous insurrectional processes such as that of El Alto city ended with the fall of the Sánchez de Losada government and the taking office of the Mesa government in the midst of an open revolutionary crisis in which we saw some embryonic elements of dual power. Nevertheless, the main leaderships – particularly Evo Morales and Felipe Quispe – staunchly opposed concretising in any way the united front that the masses were imposing on the streets and hig-hways. Above all they opposed the emergence of higher, democratically organised forms of the united front of the masses that could have set themselves up as organs of workers’ and popular power.
As a consequence of this, the hundreds of thousands that spontaneously went onto the streets to fight with enormous determination and initiative were not adequately represented by existing institutions of the mass movement such as the COB, that only represents a minority of workers, and the neighbourhood committees, which, because of their character, were not the most suitable channels for the uprising. The reformist and bureaucratic leaderships defended at all times different varieties of solutions within the bourgeois-democratic system and supported constitutional change and the taking office of Carlos Mesa, dismantling the revolutionary attack that was underway.
However, Sánchez de Losada’s flight was taken to be an important triumph by the mobilised sectors. The Mesa government was very weak from the start. During the first period he tried to govern with backing from the leaderships of the mass movements – particularly Evo Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). In this way, the MAS showed its nature as conciliator and defender of the bourgeois democratic regime.
The attempt by Mesa to break the deadlock, pres-surised by the reactionary right wing in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, imperialist interests, and the oil and gas mul-tinationals, led to a rupture in the weak consensus that had existed, to renewed tensions between classes in the first few months of 2005, and to Mesa’s first resignation in March, which tried to harness the support needed to guarantee “governability”. The agreement made from above with the old parliament and backed by the discredited parties that once supported Sánchez de Losada did not last long. A new offensive by the mass movement that called for the “October agenda” to be implemented, involving the demand to nationalise hydrocarbons, put an end to 18 months of Mesa’s government, and kept the Santa Cruz oligarchy out of power by preventing the installation of Hormando Vaca Díez as president. Miners and middle-class groups from the city of La Paz fraterni-sed to avoid the consolidation of a government led by the Santa Cruz elite. Unlike in October 2003 when repression played a key role in radicalising the El Alto masses, this time the army did not intervene, as this could have led to a revolutionary rising.
Once again a way out was found within the bourgeois democratic constitutional framework and the “power vacuum” was filled by a provisional take-over by Eduardo Rodríguez – the ex-president of the Supreme Court of Justice and the candidate of the church, Mesa and Evo Morales. But such mechanisms are showing signs of wearing thin. The revolutionary days of June 2005 showed once again that wide sectors of the vanguard and masses feel great resentment towards parliament and the political institutions. The bourgeoisie is also divided and the rich sector of Santa Cruz also wanted to impose its right-wing agenda to promote the region’s “autonomy”: by becoming partners in the multinationals’ plundering of the hydrocarbons.
This new peak in the revolutionary process has been an important experience for wide sections of the mass movement, particularly in El Alto, which clearly has been the vanguard of the process. Firstly, a debate started up around the idea of the Popular Assembly as the united-front organ of the mobilised masses and the expression of dual power. Its creation was proclaimed in El Alto by leaders of the FEJUVE and COB but without a policy for applying it in practice. In the course of the discussion, the idea was widely promoted of the possibility of meeting the need for coordination, supplies, political leadership and military self-defence by the self-organisation of the masses.
Secondly, 500 neighbourhood councils have met systematically in El Alto with participation from the most radicalised sectors, that in some cases have managed to impose their policies on conciliatory leaders such as Abel Mamani. Lastly, the workers at the Senkhata liquefied-gas plant – which supplies La Paz and El Alto – discussed coordinating with the Neighbourhood Councils over the distribution of gas in the interests of needy sections of the population and against that of speculators.
In this revolutionary crisis, Evo Morales’s MAS once again played the role of the regime’s saviour, which it had also done in October 2003. It consolidated its position as the main national party (as it had already demonstrated in the municipal elections and later by confirming its influence in the mass movement in the March mobilisations). Nationally, the MAS appeared more consolidated as a political apparatus and more integrated in the bourgeois state. It acted as the left face of the regime, holding back the masses’ more revolutionary tendencies. It emerged from the conflict with its parliamentary bench more united and experienced in parliamentary manoeuvres, taking on the bourgeoisie’s professional political experts. However, at the same time, it was increasingly challenged by the advanced sections of the masses, and its own rank and file, which forced it to shift its discourse more to the left through more nationalist postures, but without being capable of imposing hegemony among the mobilised sectors (expressed above all in El Alto).
The need to create organs of power for the mass movement is a strategic problem for the future struggles of the present revolutionary process in Bolivia. That is why the call for a Popular Assembly is so important. It is necessary for the El Alto COB, FEJUVE and COR, the Chapare and Yungas settlers’ federations and the other organisations in the fight to organise a Popular Assembly urgently so that workers and the rest of the Bolivian people can discuss ideas, establish an independent position and course of action, unifying the struggle against the government and the plans of the reactionaries and imperialism. It is not about making agreements between leaders but coordinating effectively – discussing and organising from the bottom up. It is necessary to call a Popular Assembly with grassroots activists acting under mandate from their assemblies of workers, farmers, indigenous peoples, from the Altiplano and the east, from each factory, mine, popular neighbourhood or community. This would be to discuss a workers’ and peasants’ action plan against the national crisis and a struggle plan that would end in a political general strike and roadblocks across the country. It would once again take up the October route – that of fighting for a workers’ and peasants’ government – as the only way to achieve popular demands such as the nationalisation of hydrocarbons under workers’ control and a truly free and sovereign Constituent Assembly.
With such a perspective, the role of the reformist leaderships becomes even more damaging. Since October, Evo Morales’s MAS has positioned itself as the regime’s “left face”, backing Mesa and his policy of “democratic reaction”. Today, Morales is once again serving the interests of the counter-revolution, backing the “institutional solution” and the call for elections, opposing by all possible means the mobilisations that are managing actually to bring about gas nationalisation – meaning the expulsion of the gas companies. All this is done in the name of its “reforms in democracy” strategy, which means by acting within the current system and through reconciliation with employers, landowners and transnationals.
The programmes and methods of its “democratic” reformism with a pro-indigenous discourse betray the most elementary interests of the masses in the countryside, city and the national liberation it claims to represent.
Additionally, Jaime Solares, COB general secretary, and other leaders, despite their “red” speeches, again appealed – faced with the power vacuum that resulted from Mesa’s resignation – to the army’s supposed “patriotism” and a “civilian-military” solution. This disastrous policy (which had already failed in the 21 January 2000 uprising in Ecuador, when all the indigenous, Maoist and other reformist movements supported Lucio Gutiérrez) sowed illusions that the Bolivian armed forces and police – the perpetrators of the October massacres – might “go onto the people’s side”. Such an idea can only bring confusion and disarm workers against any threat of repression or coup. Evo, Solares and others, despite the differences between them, agree on a strategy of class collaboration with bourgeois sections and putting pressure on the regime. They are thus open enemies of the struggle of the working masses to find an independent political solution.
It is necessary to forge in the heat of the current battles a new leadership at the head of our organisations, which fights for a strategy of mass revolutionary mobilisation based on workers’ full political independence and an alliance of the working, peasant, indigenous and popular classes against imperialism and its allies.
A new workers’ and revolutionary leadership is needed at the head of the COB and the unions. The “raw material” for this is starting to be created in the thousands of grassroots activists and leaders that in the course of battles like those of October are gaining great experience of politics and struggle. There is a fight to regroup this vanguard around an independent class policy, so that the working class leads the workerindigenous-peasant-popular alliance to defeat the transnationals and their “native” allies and impose through insurrection a workers’ and peasants’ solution. The fight is to build a great workers’ party that feeds off the best traditions of the struggle by the proletariat and the masses, in order to put forward a revolutionary, socialist and internationalist programme.
Venezuela and the need to expropriate the corporations to defeat imperialism
Since the collapse of the old oligarchic political system, Venezuela has undergone an enormous social and political polarisation. The effervescence of the mass movement has occupied the political stage behind the figure of Hugo Chávez. This movement was anxious to realise its demands and expectations, as during decades of neo-liberalism it had seen its living conditions worsen and political rights trampled on. The urban poor and significant sectors of workers thus became the protagonists of a vast social movement which the Venezuelan president depends on, and at the same time tries to contain with some social reforms (aiming to create new institutional forms in the wake of the collapse of the political regime of the traditional parties).
However, taking advantage of the international economic crisis, the oligarchy attempted to recover from its setback by once again going on the offensive. Thus the spokespeople for the old regime, alongside the opposition union bureaucracy of the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV), the heads of the employers’ organisations, and the middle classes who had seen their living standards fall due to the government’s early economic failures – began a feverish counter-revolutionary activity with the aim of removing Chávez from power.
Once again it would be the mass movement – in particular the urban poor – that poured onto the streets to resist a new onslaught by the pro-imperialist bosses. Throughout 2002 and early 2003, the Venezuelan president had to confront an attempted coup and lock-out that intensified the economic crisis that had been developing. In both events Chávez, his ministers and functionaries were left paralysed and almost completely lacking initiative. It was thanks to the tough mobilisations of the poor that the coup could be defeated, and also to the resistance of workers – who managed to control production in some of the oil-industry facilities and oppose the lock-out – that the general offensive could be rolled back. These two consecutive defeats in the streets for the proimperialist opposition and their supporters in the military leadership are what encouraged Chávez to agree in May 2003 to a referendum over his removal with the OAS, the group of “countries friendly with Venezuela” and the Carter Foundation. This vote was held in August 2004, from which he emerged triumphant. Subsequently, the mass movement would again respond with a massive vote, bringing the Chavista candidates victory in the regional and local elections, where they won in 21 out of 23 regions and 239 out of 332 municipalities – thus giving Chávez electoral legitimacy.
But at no time did Chávez – even after the pro-imperialist opposition’s counter-revolutionary attempts – make any threat of touching the most sensitive interests of the coup-supporting bourgeoisie: its economic power, banks and corporations. It was just the moment to strike a hard blow at the bourgeoisie and imperialism. Quite the opposite happened: instead of applying himself to the defeat of the big bosses and imperialism on Venezuelan soil, Chávez constantly called for reconciliation with those sectors of the bourgeoisie that showed themselves to be “pro-dialogue”, as his aim is to develop a national bourgeoisie in accordance with his political plans. He has never stopped paying the fraudulent foreign debt amassed by the old oligarchic regime, which condemns the country to backwardness and is a mechanism of imperialist plunder. So after the coup, Chávez asked for forgiveness and told the masses that returned him to power to go home, later sitting down “to have a dialogue” with representatives of the opposition but not with representative of the working class or urban or rural poor. The fact of the matter is that the Venezuelan president depends on the masses’ support and their mobilisations but at the same time prevents them from adopting an in-dependent course of action.
We could say that Chávez has been trying to “raise himself” above the social classes and play the role of arbitrator between the interests of foreign and national capital, on the one hand, and all of the exploited masses, on the other – trying to reconcile and harmonise these antagonistic forces. Because he has given some concessions to the mass movement, thanks to high oil revenues, and sought some freedom in relation to foreign capital, we can state that the Chávez regime has some features of a suis generis leftwing bonapartist regime. But he is still a long way from having the fundamental characteristics of such regimes – for example of those of Cárdenas or Perón. Unlike the latter, who based himself on the role of the unions and working class in his struggle against US imperialism, Chávez’s support base is the urban poor and, fundamentally, the armed forces, making him even more spineless than Cárdenas and Perón, who at least got to nationalise important pillars of the national economy and had serious clashes with imperialism. It explains the Venezuelan president’s aim of restructuring relations with the US, in order to negotiate from a better vantage point the terms of exchange but without breaking the fundamental chains of national subordination to the imperialist order.
Nevertheless the Venezuelan situation remains open-ended, as the contradictions in it suggest future clashes between the classes. Imperialism is permanently threatening Venezuela and the only way to defeat it is by expropriating the bourgeoisie and the interests of foreign capital. But such a task can only be performed by the working class hegemonising and leading a revolutionary alliance with the rest of the exploited, something that Chávez will not do due to his class nature. It is thus necessary to fight for the expropriation of the big capitalist leeches and put the whole economy in the hands of workers, peasants and the urban and rural poor, in order to make it function according to the needs of the working majority. Only the working class can give consistent leadership to the struggle of the oppressed nation against imperialism.
For that reason, instead of preaching in favour of workers’ political subordination to Chavism and the lukewarm reform programme of the “Bolivarian revolution”, as most left-wing forces do, it is urgent to develop the struggle for independent working class politics – one that is consistently against domestic reaction and imperialism but explains the need to avoid putting the least political trust in Chávez and his nationalist project.
Internationally, Chávez has raised the need for “Bolivarian unity”. He puts forward this demagogic proposal in all of his encounters with Latin American governments and the mass movement. As revolutionary Marxists, we fight to break the backwardness and slavery imposed on us by imperialism through a powerful federation of Latin American countries. But it will not be the backward Latin American bourgeoisie and its thousand-and-one ties with imperialism that will fulfil this objective. These bourgeoisies cannot and will not develop Latin American unity. In recent decades we have even seen how they have shifted to become agents of foreign capital. At best they try to bargain away the most brutal demands of imperialism, hoping to improve the terms of exchange to their benefit – but not to the benefit of the continent’s exploited masses – and within the framework of imperialist subordination. However, without breaking with such a framework, it is also impossible to break with backwardness, poverty and the other defects of semi-colonial capitalism. Consequently, we state that the struggle against imperialism, which is inseparable from the fight against its local allies, the native bourgeoisies, can only be consistently carried out by the proletariat at the head of all of the national oppressed masses. Against the “Bolivarian” or “South-Americanist” demagogy of na-tionalists and reformists, we say that the necessary economic and political unification of Latin America in a powerful federation can only be achieved by the working class, leading the exploited and oppressed in the continental struggle against imperialism. Thus the main slogan in order to achieve such an objective is the struggle for the Confederation of Socialist Republics of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Cuba: a key question for Latin American revolutionaries
Cuba is still a workers’ state, although profoundly deformed and weakened. The fundamental conquests of the revolution are being eroded but have not yet been destroyed. The central core of the economy is still in state hands. There are enormous obstacles to the restoration process in the property base inherited from the revolution, in class relations, and in the “egalitarian” and anti-imperialist awareness of the masses.
The US strategy is of tightening the subordination of the semi-colonial world through a policy of force based on military might and the imposition of a more direct political domination – representing a step forward in terms of the re-colonisation of Latin America. This directly clashes with the existence of a workers’ state in Cuba, which is considered by the US ruling class as an obstacle to its regional plans. Thus, strangling the Cuban revolution is a strategic priority for the US. And forcing a “democratic transition” is one of the stated aims of imperialism and promoted by right-wing internal “dissidents” to guarantee the most ordered path to the restoration of capitalism. The European Union, for its part, has gone from openly supporting the “transition” to financing and promoting “dissidents”. For some years now, Spain and other European powers, working within the framework of inter-imperialist trade rivalries, have distanced themselves from the US blockade policy. They not only conduct wide-ranging trade with Cuba but have encouraged their monopolies to invest in the island. During this time they have called for a “democratic opening up” that allows the internal restorationist forces to organise freely, while maintaining good diplomatic relations with Castro and without, up to now, giving active support to the opposition.
The continuation of the policies adopted by Castro only serves to strengthen the pro-capitalist tendencies, and weaken the reserves of the nationalised economy and the energy and willingness of the masses to resist the imperialist siege. Imperialism is benefiting from Castro’s isolation and concessions to step up pressure on him and make a political shift towards a “transition” – necessary to ease open the door to the capitalist re-colonisation of Cuba.
However, far from the re-colonisation of Cuba being inevitable, the fact of the matter is that the revolution is still alive. Its strength has not been destroyed, either through imperialist siege or disastrous bureaucratic mismanagement. The Cuban workers and people have shown over four decades their heroism and extraordinary capacity for resistance. Consequently, the definitive imposition of the imperialist strategy will come up against huge obstacles. The Cuban proletariat – the island’s decisive social force – needs to prepare itself with this strategic perspective in mind. That means being prepared to fight in a revolutionary way to take the fate of Cuba into its hands and defeat the bureaucracy, which capitulates to imperialism and further undermines the conquests of the revolution each day that it retains its power. Faced with imperialist siege – whether blockade or any other kind of attack – the starting point for revolutionary Marxism must be the unconditional defence of the workers’ state, despite its serious bureaucratic deformations and its leadership. In the event of a military attack we are unconditionally on Cuba’s side and for the defeat of imperialism. But in no case would that mean giving political support to the Castroite leadership, which is bringing ruin to the revolutionary conquests, demoralising the masses and opening the door to capitalist restoration. It is not possible to separate the struggle against imperialism from the tasks of the political revolution, leaving the latter to a “second stage”. The defence of the revolution brings to the fore and has as its condition the unbending struggle against domination by the bureaucracy and for a democratic workers’ system.
To the extent that the basic conquests of the revolution survive, albeit weakened, the programme for a new revolution will be essentially political, combined with those social tasks that emerge from the need to take on the semi-capitalist and capitalist elements that have developed. The essential elements of our programme will naturally aim to limit the market elements and concessions to what is compatible with the interests of the revolution, the defence and extension of the nationalised economy, and the strengthening of the working class as a politically dominant social class. Only that way will the road be clear to the building of socialism.
A radical review of economic policy is necessary. Workers have the right to review the contracts awarded to foreign capital, in accordance with the interests of the revolution. There should be a reintroduction of the monopoly over foreign trade.Workers, who have had to make all of the sacrifice and effort in the name of the “battle for production”, should have the right to control and decide on the vital issues of production and supply, both in the factory and nationally. Workers’ wages should be raised and inequalities should be reduced to those strictly compatible with the needs of the transition to socia-lism. This will be possible at the expense of the incomes of higher-level state functionaries and the “new rich”, and by eliminating the unproductive expenditure produced by bureaucratic mismanagement. It is necessary, therefore, to do away with the bureaucracy’s privileges. The policy of reforms should be replaced by a new economic policy at the service of urban and rural workers and the strengthening of the nationalised economy – according to the principle of democratically centralised planning.
A central aspect is the struggle for the legality of the tendencies that defend the revolution and fight for full political freedoms and mass organisation. The restructuring of the Cuban economy requires firstly the widest freedom to organise for workers – beginning with the abolition of all legislation and statutes that establish the “leadership role” of the Communist Party in the unions and other mass or-ganisations. Workers should recover the full right to strike, the autonomy of their unions and the right to create new unions, shop-stewards’ committees or any other structures that they wish. They should fight for the full right to debate, meet and have their own press for Cuban workers. The youth, who are particularly sensitive to the atmosphere of political oppression, should enjoy the widest political, cultural and organisational freedoms.
The political monopoly of the Communist Party and its role as “the state party” should end at once. There will be no true democracy for the working masses without them having the right to organise independently from the Communist Party. Fighting the political oppression of the Castro regime does not mean accepting the demagogy of “pure”, i.e., bourgeois, democracy – which is acting as the battering ram for imperialism to impose its plans for “transition”, i.e., counter-revolution with a democratic face. Bureaucratic Bonapartism with its institutions such as the National Assembly must be replaced by a genuine revolutionary workers’ democracy based on organs of workers’ power – democratically organised from the bottom up and formed by representatives elected directly by and with the mandate of the grassroots. It should be possible for these representatives to be instantly recalled and not earn more than a qualified worker.
Cuba’s foreign policy should be based on genuine workers’ internationalism and not “co-existence” with imperialism or support from “friendly” Third-World bourgeoisies. Today, more than ever before, the fate of the Cuban revolution is tied to the development of the class struggle in Latin America and the world. Cuban workers and young people need to strengthen ties with those of Latin America and the US in a common struggle against imperialism. The greatest obstacle to this is Castroism and its Stalinist and reformist allies on the continent, which through their strategy of collaboration with the bourgeoisie have prostituted the banner of proletarian internationalism. Today the defence of Cuba requires it being a launching pad for the continental revolution. Economic and political unity with other countries in the region should be the starting point to end its isolation. However, this can only be achieved with working class politics. Workers must take control of the continental struggle to expel imperialism under the slogan of a Confederation of Socialist Republics of Latin America and the Caribbean!
The workers of Cuba need a new leadership. The Communist Party and the regime cannot “reform themselves”; it is necessary to bring down the Castroite bureaucracy. The pro-bourgeois and proimperialist sections of the opposition and church use democratic demands to try to capitalise on the weariness felt due to the suffocating political oppression of Castroism and the tough economic situation. In order to combat these attempts and help the Cuban proletariat to take the fate of the revolution into its hands, it is necessary to construct a workers’ opposition which is Marxist and internationalist, that is, a genuine revolutionary workers’ party, armed with the programme of political revolution to seize power from the bureaucracy and impose a system of revolutionary workers’ de-mocracy, on the way to building socialism.
4. FOR WORKERS’ AND SOCIALIST REVOLUTION AND THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT
The historical experience of international workers’ struggle – from the Paris Commune through to the 1917 Russian revolution and the revolutions of the 20th century – shows that the bourgeoisie will fight tooth and nail to defend its privileges through the repressive medium of the state. Workers will only be able to defeat capitalism by means of a violent insu-rrection that divides and defeats the army and police and destroys the bourgeois state, establishing on its ruins their own political power: a transitional workers’ state based on the organs of selfdetermination of the proletariat and exploited masses and the arming of the population. Such a workers’ state is based on the establishment of new social relations arising from the expropriation and nationalisation of the main means of production, a monopoly over foreign trade, and a planned economy. In the course of the transition to socialism, when the state’s functions are extended to the mass of people organised in soviets, the foundation is laid for its future disappearance. The bourgeois state, regardless of its political form (whether parliamentary or dictatorial), is the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the exploited majority, the proletariat and the poor masses. Likewise, the workers’ state takes the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat – that is, the political domination by the working class heading an alliance with the rest of the subordinate classes – over the tiny minority of exploiters that have now been stripped of their political and economic power.
Since the collapse of Stalinism, the bourgeoisie – through its political parties, the bureaucratic leaders-hips of the working class, ideologues and academics
– has taken on the role of promoting among the masses the “common sense” view that no other political-social system is possible other than bourgeois democracy, and that every socialist revo-lution leads to “totalitarianism”, equating the dicta-torship of the proletariat with the single-party system. Even theorists that call themselves “anti-capitalist” or “communist” have adapted themselves to this fas-hion, substituting the strategy of a workers’ revolution and the taking of political power with the pseudo “counter power” idea that doesn’t aim to destroy state power or capitalist property and would thus leave bourgeois power intact.
From the ranks of Marxism, the United Secretariat and other smaller “Trotskyist” currents, instead of fighting the heavy legacy of Stalinism by reclaiming the best of our Trotskyist tradition – the fight to the death against Stalinism and the struggle to reinstate a soviet-based strategy – renounce ever more explicitly the revolution by speculating that in the transitional society itself, in the workers’ state, is the breeding ground of bureaucratic totalitarianism. In its last congress, the LCR expressly renounced the dictatorship of the proletariat, replacing it with the struggle for “thoroughgoing democracy”, revealing its profound adaptation to bourgeois democracy.
Against this vulgar adaptation, we argue that the proletarian dictatorship is still the key component of Marxist strategy in order to defeat the bourgeoisie. For revolutionary Marxists the dictatorship of the proletariat is equivalent to a new kind of democracy – proletarian democracy based on the masses’ organs of self-determination: the soviets or workers’ councils. This is the most democratic form of domination by the working class, which will need a transitional workers’ state while imperialism and the enemy classes still exist, and while there is a need to defend the revolution against the attacks by bourgeois reaction, both internal and external.
In his relentless struggle against Stalinism, Trotsky developed in the 1930s the foundations of a revo-lutionary programme for a society of soviets and for the transitional society in general, clearly showing that there was an alternative to Stalinism and that bureau-cratic domination was not inevitable. This programme, whose central pillars were soviet democracy, democratic planning of the economy combined with mechanisms that would allow control of the progress of the plan, ensuring that the market was subordinate to it and that the currency remained strong and stable, and the struggle for the international socialist revolution, retains all its validity today when considering the strategic lines for a society in transition to socialism.
Political democracy is inseparably linked to economic democracy. As Trotsky said about the USSR, “soviet democracy is not an abstract or moral political demand. It has become a matter of life or death for the country”. That is so because in a nationalised economy, in which the market still exists but must lose more and more relevance as the capacity for planning grows, quality requires democracy for producers and consumers – allowing production mistakes to be corrected through criticism and participation in the productive process by workers and the general public.
The Stalinist bureaucracy eliminated all organs of workers’ and popular power and took hold of the state machinery, implementing a one-party dictatorship that dominated through terror. Little by little all mechanisms of control over the economic process were done away with. Production statistics were falsified according to the needs of the governing caste and mid-level bureaucrats in order to be able to reach the plan’s objectives. For Trotsky, the combination of democratic planning of the main economic engines with the “regulatory” action of the market provided a mechanism that was able to control and to some extent implement the plan, testing the effectiveness of the planning departments by commercial criteria.
This was complemented by a strong, stable and convertible currency that in the last instance would act as an objective measure of labour productivity and the real state of the economy. Today this combi-nation is the key to the transition, as it would allow using the corrective mechanisms of the market – bea-ring in mind its distortions – to counter the imbalances of the economy and make a comparison between the productivity of the planned economy and that of the world market.
In the transitional society, the functioning of the soviets enables, through the freedom of criticism, the reaching of a relative equilibrium between the needs posed by the current development of the productive forces, the effort required and the progressive reduc-tion of the working day. Likewise, the freedom of criticism for consumers is essential to reach accepta-ble qualities in goods and services. In a transitional revolutionary workers’ state that seeks to develop the socialist elements in nationalised property, economic planning is nothing like the Stalinist “command economy”, but rather relies on the conscious partici-pation of producers and consumers through the wor-kers’ councils.
The experience of Stalinism absolutely perverted the relation between the united-front organs of the masses – the soviets – and the revolutionary party. It turned the dictatorship of the proletariat into the dictatorship of the Stalinist party.
Trotsky opposed to this single-party regime the soviet multi-party system as a programmatic norm, based on the existence of other non-exploiting clas-ses in the transitional society, such as the peasantry, and on the heterogeneity of the working class. This same social heterogeneity poses in an acute way the need for a revolutionary workers’ party that consciously seeks to realise the aims of the revolu-tion and win the leadership of the soviet bodies.
Stalinism’s failure shows that it is impossible to create socialism within national frontiers. If the Ger-man revolution had triumphed, the German proletariat would probably have aided the fledgling Russian revolution that was being throttled by backwardness and imperialist siege.
The conquest of power by the proletariat is just the start of a process to transform the whole of a country’s economic, political and social life. At the same time it serves as a base to support the extension of the socialist revolution internationally, because only by defeating capitalism in its major centres will socialism be possible as a project to emancipate humanity from exploitation and oppression. This would allow an advance towards the definitive conquest of the “reign of freedom” – consisting of a society based on the disappearance of wage labour, commodities, money and the state: a communist society.