Colombia: From Capitalist horror without end to the struggle for Socialism – Part One

We start today a three part article, written in June, which looks at how the various guerrilla organisations emerged in Colombia. The bourgeois media present them as merely a bunch of criminals, conveniently ignoring the fact that they arose historically as an answer to the brutal repressive Colombian state at the service of the local oligarchy and imperialism.

Read the original in Spanish.

The declarations of Hugo Chávez calling on the FARC to free the hostages unconditionally and to abandon the methods of guerrillaism have provoked a polemic within the left, sharpening the debate over the perspectives for the Colombian military conflict and the alternative that we must defend as revolutionaries. A debate has opened up following the death of Manuel Marulando (the main leader and founder of the FARC), the assassinations of Raúl Reyes and Iván Ríos (members of the secretariat) and the intensification of the military and political siege against the guerrillas on the part of the Colombian state over the past few months.

As we have explained in previous articles, the bourgeois media present an absolutely false and biased view of the armed conflict that has bled dry the Colombian people. In this version the violence is provoked by the guerrillas who are presented time and again as assassins dripping with blood, criminals, terrorists, etc. The reality, as we shall see in more detail later, is that the armed conflict has its roots in the extremely backward and unjust character of Colombian capitalism and no one else is responsible other than the cruel violent and parasitic oligarchy that has dominated the country with an iron fist for centuries.

The Colombian bourgeois and imperialism have for many years used the fight against the peasant guerrillas to criminalise and exterminate left militants, and to slow down and distort the class struggle. Particularly in recent years, the prolongation of the war (together with the supposed struggle against drug trafficking) has served to justify the strengthening of the US military presence in the country and to arm to the teeth the Colombian army. Imperialism wants to convert Colombia into a military base from which they can attack every revolution on the continent, and in particular the Venezuelan revolution, that threatens the interests of the capitalists and imperialism. As the Marxists explained in advance, despite all of the promised commitments, apologies, smiles and hugs that Uribe is prepared to offer at summit meetings, acts of aggression and provocations on behalf of the Colombian oligarchy and imperialism have increased over the last few weeks and will continue to do so in the future.

"Slander, and some of it will stick..."

On May16, Ronald Noble, Director of Interpol, backed up the version of the Colombian government, according to which the computer that supposedly belonged to Raúl Reyes offered proof that Venezuela and Ecuador are supporting the FARC with arms and money. The media, at the service of the capitalists throughout the world, had no doubts in divulging this declaration and accusing the Venezuelan government of "supporting the terrorists". This very conveniently strengthens the campaign which has been prepared for years against the Venezuelan revolution and against Chávez. The small detail that Mr. Noble's declarations openly contradict various parts of the information supplied by Interpol's own investigators has been conveniently forgotten. Why let the truth ruin a good story?

The bourgeois mass media - as objective, impartial and independent as ever - have not hesitated to hide the fact that according to the report, thousands of files found on the computer allegedly belonging to Raúl Reyes were altered between March 1 (when we are told they were discovered) and March 3, the date on which their content was made public. In addition, the report makes clear that the Colombian state has not complied with the established procedures to guarantee the reliability of the investigation. This means that it is absolutely impossible to determine whether the computer definitely belonged to Reyes or came from somewhere else. (1) Not to mention the absurdity of one of the most hunted guerrillas in the world supposedly travelling with a computer full of emails and archives containing the most secret data and complete with all the details of who supported him and how they did it.

Not surprisingly, the slanders against Venezuela and Ecuador have not been retracted in spite of the statements of President Chávez offering dialogue and reconciliation with Uribe. On the contrary, the bourgeois - as could be expected - intend to use Chávez's statements to confuse and disorientate the active workers, peasants and students that support the revolution in Colombia and Venezuela, while still organising the habitual "hate sessions" against the Venezuelan President, accusing him of being a "terrorist", "Chief of the FARC", etc.

The character of the Colombian government

A little after the bizarre computer falsification, on May 19, a US military aeroplane made an incursion ("by mistake" according to the official White House version) into Venezuelan airspace. At the same time (another mistake), troops of the Colombian Army crossed the frontier at the River Arauca. All of these provocations form part of an escalation of threats, lies and aggression against the Venezuelan revolution that, orchestrated from Washington, has its most prominent pawn in Bogotá.

The bourgeois media in Colombia, Venezuela and the rest of the world put the blame on Chávez for the growing tensions on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, while remaining silent about all these attacks and hide the ultra-rightwing and pro-imperialist character of the Uribe government, and his close relationship with the fascist paramilitaries and drug traffickers.

Some months ago, the Colombian judges made public the content of the so called Ralito Pact (2). This document, signed in September 2001 by a group of Colombian politicians that belong to parties that support Uribe together with various chiefs of the main Colombian fascist paramilitary groups, finalised an agreement between them to "re-found the motherland" on the basis of concentrating even more power in their own hands and the removal of the left opposition from any position of power. Dozens of MPs, mayors and governors belonging to the parties that support Uribe are being investigated; many have been jailed for planning together with the chiefs of the drug-running paramilitaries the assassination of thousands of active workers and peasants.

The scandal of the so-called "para-politics" has served to illustrate what had been an open secret: the ever closer links between the Colombian bourgeois state apparatus (and the structures of the principal political parties of the ruling class, starting with Uribe) with the paramilitary fascists and the drug traffickers. Because of the gravity of these facts and the increasing public repercussions, the Colombian bourgeoisie has now been forced to pull the rabbit of "FARC-politics" out of the hat. They intend to divert attention by accusing the MPs of the Alternative Democratic Pole (Polo Democrático Alternativo) and the Liberal Party, (such as Senator Piedad Córdoba, the former presidential candidate Álvaro Leyva and others,) of ties with the guerrillas. The proof, of course, is to be found in the "supercomputer" of Raúl Reyes! Every day that passes it looks more like Aladdin's lamp. All Uribe has to do is rub it a little and the most delirious fantasies come out. Then Bush and the extreme right internationally convert these into reality.

The (not unusual) case of "Doctor Varito" and Mr. Uribe

The Colombian bourgeois judiciary has condemned some of those implicated in the "para-politics" plot while hiding the responsibility of Uribe, the military leadership and key sectors of the ruling class. Recently, Colombia extradited 14 paramilitary chiefs to the United States for trial for drug trafficking. The international press presents this as unequivocal proof of the will of the Colombian President to fight against drug running, while at the same time it prevents these criminals from being tried in Colombia for the assassination of workers and popular fighters, the reason being that this would implicate Uribe and sectors of the bourgeois. Mysteriously, the computers of these paramilitary chiefs (which have been in the hands of the police and the army for months, but haven't been as carefully guarded as the one supposedly belonging to Reyes) have disappeared.

But, as the saying goes, "you can't cover the sun with a finger". The denunciations linking the actual President of Colombia with the drug-running paramilitaries come from far and wide. Senior members of the Colombian government such as Araujo, the minister of foreign affairs, have been forced to resign because of these connections. Even the father of the ex-chancellor and his brother are in jail for participating in the paramilitary drug networks (3). Senators Álvaro García Romero and Miguel De la Espriella are in the second and third positions on the list of Uribe's party, and are in jail for having proven to be linked to these groups. Mario Uribe, President Uribe's own cousin and joint founder of the Colombia Democratic Party, was sacked recently and is presently being investigated.

Uribe, the son of an oligarch linked to drug trafficking, started his political career as mayor of Medellin, collaborating closely with one of the most famous drug traffickers in this city, Pablo Escobar. Few of those who have investigated the obscure recesses of the Colombian drug trafficking business believe that the sinister character of the political leader linked closely to Pablo Escobar and his businesses who appeared in the best seller "Amando and Pablo hate Escobar" under the name of Doctor Varito (Doctor Wand) and the current resident of the Casa de Nariño could be the same person. What isn't a deduction or a suspicion but a perfectly verifiable fact, is that Uribe appeared in a report written for the US Police Agency DEA in 1991 about 115 Colombian criminals implicated in the business of drug trafficking in Colombia. Criminal number 82, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, was then a promising politician well connected with high finance and with even better relations with the Medellin cartel. (4)

Under Uribe's administration as director of Civil Aviation, Escobar and other drug traffickers were granted licences for aeroplanes that allowed them to transport huge quantities of drugs between different regions of Colombia and the rest of the world. The licences granted by Civil Aviation between 1952 and 1981 amounted to 2,339. In the 28 months during which Uribe led this department, they authorised 2,242 licences. Two hundred of these people were later proven to be connected to the Medellin cartel. (5)

Another notorious and widely known fact that one can find in the "democratic" curriculum of Álvaro Uribe Vélez is that during his time as Governor of Antioquia, he created the so called CONVIVIR (live together), a series of supposedly private security cooperatives financed and armed by the regional government, which were denounced by various human rights organisations. They were a cover for organising and legalising paramilitary fascists. CONVIVIR has been denounced for the harassment and assassination of thousands of trade unionists and peasant activists from the state of Antioquia, and for playing a key role in the creation of the AUC (United Self-Defence of Colombia), the group that was planning to unite all the paramilitary fascist groups under one command.

The leader of the AUC, Salvatore Mancuso, presently accused in the United States of drug trafficking, declared that a few years ago, 30% of all the Members of the National Assembly that supported Uribe for President were controlled by the paramilitaries. "We can affirm with the facts at hand that the original goal of 30% has been surpassed, and this is a milestone in the history of the AUC (...) It is of immense satisfaction that the candidates we preferred, most of whom emerged from our social and political bases, and as such are the fruit of a wide and strong educational effort on the part of the AUC, achieved massive support from the electorate". (6)

To understand how this complicated web has been spun, this web that links together the interests of key sections of the oligarchy, the drug traffickers, the paramilitaries, the state apparatus and imperialism, we must analyse how the armed conflict that has bled the people of Colombia dry for nearly 60 years emerged and developed. We must use this analysis to understand the development of the class struggle in the country and, most importantly of all, to find the programme and the methods that can break the spiral of oppression, death and violence that the youth and the workers of Colombia have suffered, in order to transform society both in Colombia, in Venezuela and the rest of Latin America.

The origins of the armed conflict

The primary cause of the war in Colombia is the economic and social make up of the country, which is profoundly unjust. Of the 10 million hectares of Colombian territory considered adequate for agriculture, only 4 million are cultivated; the rest are left unproductive in the hands of the large landowners and ranchers. In the whole of the country there are 30 million hectares dedicated to extensive ranching or to the so-called "narcolatifundios". 1.5% of the landowners and large drug traffickers possess 80% of the land while 85% of the rural population live in poverty. If we include the urban population as well, the poor count for more than 50% of the population.

There are those who affirm that this was the beginning
of the violence that continues to this day in Colombia

The parasitism and extreme cruelty of the Colombian oligarchy is reflected in the resistance of the so-called national establishment, formed by the fusion of the interests between the great agricultural landowners and ranchers in the countryside and the financial and industrial bourgeoisie of the cities, to give up even a small part of their privileges and power. This is still going on today and is the key factor that explains the armed conflict and makes peace impossible. Every political, peasant or trade union movement with a potential to question the right of this oligarchy to continue to rule over Colombia as its private estate has been brutally repressed.

The split of the left wing of the Liberal Party lead by Jorge Eliézer Gaitán in the 1940s was met by the ruling class with the assassination on the April 9, 1948, of this revolutionary leader, who was supported enthusiastically by the working class and the peasantry (8). Gaitán proposed a profound agrarian reform and declared in favour of the nationalisation of key sectors of the economy, such as the banks and some companies. His assassination provoked a popular insurrection (the "Bogotazo") that was drowned in blood by the bourgeois. In various regions insurrections of the peasants and the masses erupted and proclaimed so-called "Independent Republics", zones under the control of each peasant guerrilla group, where the army couldn't enter.

The absence of a revolutionary workers' party, rooted in the masses and capable of propelling the working class to the head of this revolutionary movement and unifying it around a conscious programme to transform society, prevented the seizure of power. The dispersal of the movement and the failure to achieve its national objectives are characteristic of insurrectionary peasant movements when they are not led by the organised working class. It facilitated the repressive work of the oligarchy. Between 1949 and 1958 it is estimated that some 180,000 people were assassinated. Of these, 65% were peasants (9). The actual armed conflict had its historical origins in this mass peasant insurrection and the brutal repression unleashed by the bourgeois who crushed them.

The fight against the guerrillas was used, even before the birth of the FARC and the ELN, by the landlords and ranchers to impose a regime of terror in the countryside and a mass expulsion of the small peasant farmers from their land. In this way they enlarged their estates (and in some cases even forged the deeds), acquiring at a low price, or even without paying a peso, the property of the murdered peasants or those who, threatened with death, had been obliged to flee their land. Those who remained were forced to work in semi-slave conditions. Not only has this practice not been abandoned, but it has been adapted and perfected over the past decades. There are actually four million displaced people in Colombia, and each year thousands are assassinated. Between 1966 and 1988 there were 29,000 murders, yet from 1999 to 2001 the rate of deaths reached the chilling figure of 5,800. It is this situation of dispossession and ruthless repression carried out by the oligarchy that led to the emergence of different guerilla groups and has provided them with a base for decades.

"In 1952 the guerrillas operated on 12 regional fronts (between 35,000 and 40,000 guerrillas). After the amnesty of Rojas Pinilla in September 1953 the liberals abandoned the fight and made a pact with the government. A small group remained, resisting the agrarian counter-reforms promoted by the landowners. In this context arose the figure of Pedro Antonio Marín, 'Manuel Marulanda', alias Tirofijo. He had fought as part of a liberal guerilla group and had established his centre of operations in the region of Marquetalia. In 1964, under the presidency of the conservative León Valencia, the army launched a massive offensive involving 16,000 soldiers with air support against Marquetalia. 5,000 peasant rebels opposed them with a tenacious resistance and were later forced to withdraw. It has been estimated that these aerial attacks killed around 15,000 peasants. In this same year the FARC emerged. A year later in 1965 the ELN was founded, inspired by Camillo Torres, and in 1968 the EPL was founded. The three later formed the Coordinadora Guerrillera Simón Bolívar." (10) After the electoral fraud organised by the ruling lass in the 1970 elections, these guerilla movements were united in the Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19).

Revolution "by stages" or Permanent Revolution?

The heroism with which the Colombian youth responded over decades to the repression organised by the ruling class (sometimes using their own forces directly or sometimes subcontracting the repression to paramilitary fascist bands) is an example to all revolutionaries around the world. But the only policy that can guarantee success is that of channelling this sacrifice and heroism towards patient work within the working class with the aim of building a revolutionary organisation with a socialist programme, developing trade unions, training cadres, etc. Only by going down this road can the revolutionary activists win the leadership of the working class and also be in a position to offer a revolutionary leadership to the insurrection in the countryside.

Nevertheless, the programme that was put forward by these organisations in the 1950s and 1960s appeared as a point of reference on an international scale for the struggle against capitalism, with the communist parties, both the Stalinists and the Maoists, basing themselves on the so-called "two stage theory". This theory totally separated the struggle for democratic and anti-imperialist goals from the struggle for socialism. According to the defenders of this theory, the immediate objective of the revolution cannot be to expropriate the capitalists and build socialism, but instead what is required is to form an alliance with the progressive or patriotic sections of the bourgeoisie. Only in the distant future when the democratic and anti-imperialist phase of the revolution has been completed and capitalism has developed fully will it be possible to raise Socialist demands.

Trotsky demonstrated with his theory of the Permanent Revolution that this conception of the revolution is absolutely false and can only lead to a tragic defeat of the revolution. The development of capitalism on a world scale that characterises the imperialist phase of the system, tends to fuse the interests of the different sectors of the ruling class, (finance capital, the industrial bourgeoisie, the landlords...) as well as increasing the dependency on, and submission of the different national bourgeoisies to, imperialism. This is significant as there is no such thing as a progressive or patriotic wing in the ranks of the bourgeoisie. Even the most basic aims of the worker and peasant masses, such as agrarian reform, better conditions of life and decent working conditions, the struggle for democracy, national sovereignty and social justice come into conflict with the relentless opposition of the whole of the capitalist class, which does not hesitate to ally itself with imperialism and the most reactionary landlords to crush the revolution, as the history of the various Latin American countries (and many others around the world) throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries confirms.

The Stalinist and Reformist policy of looking for agreements with the supposed progressive national bourgeoisie proved incapable of placing the organised workers' movement at the head of the insurrection that inflamed the Colombian countryside and landed estates. However, the inability of capitalism to offer a decent life to the immense majority of the population, together with the repression of the state, pushed the masses and the most active vanguard sectors into struggle.

The rise and crisis of Guerrillaism

Furthermore, the victory of the Cuban Revolution enthused the most combative revolutionary activists in all of Latin America. Tired of the repression at the hands of the bourgeois state, and lacking a revolutionary programme and methods that could show them how to win the leadership of the workers' movement, they took to the path of direct armed confrontation with the state without basing themselves on the masses. At most they conceived the actions of the masses as an auxiliary to the actions of the guerrillas. They viewed guerrilla's as the fundamental method of struggle.

MarulandaHowever the victory of the different guerrilla groups in Cuba, China and Vietnam, and later in Nicaragua, were the exceptions rather than the rule. In the case of China a fundamental element that favoured the victory of the guerrillas was the dislocation and decomposition caused by the world war. The bourgeois state had collapsed and the ruling class were seen as occupying forces, meaning that the peasant guerrilla army lead by the Chinese Communist Party advanced from town to town and city to city. Moreover the expropriation of the land that followed on from this onslaught was supported enthusiastically by the poor peasants and increased the panic of the big landowners. Although Mao predicted 100 years of capitalism, he was left with no option but to carry out, albeit in a distorted manner, the political and economic expropriation of the capitalists. This guaranteed the triumph of the revolution.

In Cuba the guerrilla struggle led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara was not a decades long drawn out process at the margin of the masses. However, they took imperialism and the local bourgeoisie by surprise, coinciding with an explosive movement of the working class that blocked the reaction of the oligarchy. The Batista dictatorship and the apparatus of the bourgeois state were thoroughly rotten. The general strike in Havana, led by the working class, and the workers' struggles in Guantanamo and other cities, paralysing the ruling class's repressive apparatus, provoked the collapse of the bourgeois state. It permitted the guerrilla leaders to take power without resistance.

In Vietnam, the struggle also did not consist of attacks by a guerrilla group isolated from the decisive sectors of the people against the armies of the bourgeois and imperialism, but in an armed insurrection of the masses. The same could be said of Nicaragua. In 1975 after nearly 15 years of struggle - "prolonged people's war" - in the mountains of Nicaragua, the FSLN was isolated from the masses, in crisis and divided into various groups. It was the insurrection of the proletarian and semi-proletarian masses in the cities, and to a lesser extent in the countryside in 1978 and the first half of 1979, that buried the Somoza dictatorship and paralysed the ruling class. In this context the Sandinistas - who appeared as the only ones that had stayed firm for many years fighting the dictatorship - were seen even by the workers and the peasants as their leaders. The masses looked to them to transform society.

But in the other cases (the immense majority of them), the heroic struggle of thousands of young people who abandoned patient work in the schools and universities, or among the working class, and went to the jungle or the mountains to fight with the guerrillas, did not end in the victory of the revolution and the seizure of power, but in the isolation of the guerrillas from the decisive sectors of the masses and therefore in defeat and in many cases, prison or death. We saw this in Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay... and sadly many more countries.



(1) Informe Interpol desmiente a su Director

(2) Full text of the article on

(3) "Paramilitarismo en Colombia". Documentary shown on VTV 17/5/08

(4) "El olor a narco paramilitar del Presidente Uribe" (H. Calvo Ospina) Rebelión

(5) Idem

(6) Idem

(7) "Colombia: Neoliberalismo, cuestión agraria y conflicto social" Asociación campesina del valle del Río Cimitarra. (Viento Sur) The majority of the data on the agricultural question come from this work.

(8) El asesinato de Gaitán. Leonardo Badell El Militante nº11

(9) "Colombia, Venezuela y Ecuador. Aumenta la escalada de agresiones contra la revolución". P. Cormenzana. El Militante nº 9

(10) "Una tragedia nacional y latinoamericana". F.J. Amaya

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