Ecuador: a fundamental change in consciousness

There is plenty of evidence that the workers and peasants in Ecuador have shifted radically to the left. Opinion polls, surveys and the real movements on the ground indicate that more and more people are turning against capitalism. This has produced the new Correa government. But again, we see temporising and vacillation. The masses want action, not talk.

There is no doubt that the bourgeoisie in Latin America is seriously worried about the political developments in the subcontinent, especially the movements towards some kind of socialism in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

In Venezuela, they rubbed their hands with glee when Chavez lost the referendum 9 days ago, but they did not jump for joy. The most serious of them recognised that the overwhelming balance of forces is still with Chavez, as the main winner in the vote was not the opposition but abstentionism. The reasons for this have been analysed elsewhere in Alan Wood's excellent article.

In Bolivia, the Constituent Assembly has just approved a new Constitution that will be put to a referendum in two stages, the issue of the Constitution and that of the latifundia in the countryside where it is proposed that land that is not being used productively will be expropriated by the State. The bourgeoisie is foaming at the mouth over these proposals and is threatening civil disobedience, strikes and even the secession of part of Bolivia with the formation of a new State called Sucre. Rather than accept a democratic vote, even one that is carried out on bourgeois electoral terms, they are making plans to balkanise Bolivia.

In Ecuador, the situation is not as clear-cut because you have Rafael Correa, elected as president by an electoral alliance called Alianza Pais which has now metamorphosed into Acuerdo Pais with 80 members in the 130 member Constituent Assembly (CA).

For over a week now this CA has been meeting and discussing the draft of a new Constitution and new laws. While it has been meeting, the government has been governing and the State machine of a capitalist Ecuador has been brutally suppressing any form of protest that may harm the production of national wealth.

Take the example of what has been happening in the parish of Duyuma in the province of Orellana. One of the more serious bourgeois papers, El Universo, published a detailed account of what happened.

Until the 1960's, the area was all jungle and home to the Huaorani and Tagaeri people. Then the oil exploration started, oil was found, and the indigenous people were driven out. The area was then repopulated by poor farmers forced to migrate because of drought in their home areas. The parish was called Duyama after one of the Huaorani people.

Today a large part of the population in the area has fled into the jungle due to police and military repression and 22 men and boys have been imprisoned. A population of 2,800 has been confronted by an armed military presence of 1,000. There is a state of siege from 9 in the evening to 5 in the morning.

Three weeks ago a strike began in the area which had nothing to do with the oil industry. It was in protest over an access road into the area not being finished. The private contractor claimed that the government owed money for work that had been done; so all work was stopped until the government paid up. The local people were angry because they had been waiting for decades for a tarred road and now they had a partially completed one.

On November 24th an assembly was called and delegates from 89 communities in the area attended. They came from areas where there are 49 oil wells. They decided to block the access road on Monday, 26th November. They decided that the only way to get the government to do anything to provide basic services was by direct action.

This was the 11th protest in the area since 1998 and each one had basically involved three issues: the provision of the access road and basic services; the oil companies must recruit unskilled labour from the local area and oil leakages must stop.

The oil industry has therefore not benefited the local area. There is now electricity but the supply keeps breaking down. There is no safe drinking water so it has to be brought in by tankers. Women wash clothes in the streams that are often contaminated by spills.

"The wealth that comes out of these oil pipes is not for the poor, it is for those higher up. As you are poor, you have no right to make any claims," said a 55-year-old female resident.

When the roads were blocked by the protesters from the area, oil production was paralysed and losses amounted to $3million per day as daily output was around 36,000 barrels.

A sate of emergency was declared and on Friday November 30th the Army came in. Local people said it was like a war as the Army came in firing, forcing their way into homes, dragging out the men and almost throttling them before tying them up like sacks.

22 men and boys are in prison in Tena, 7 hours away from Dayuma, accused of terrorism and sabotage by endangering national security and public goods and services. If they are convicted, they face years in prison.

When family members went to a meeting of the CA on Friday, December 7th, the president of the CA promised to set up an enquiry. While this promise was being made, the Catholic Church, that hates President Correa for his "socialist" views, jumped into the political vacuum along with human rights organisations, and expressed their support for the 22 prisoners.

And what was the action of the Socialist President Correa? He threatened to resign if the CA came out in favour of the 22. He claims that in the area of Dayuma, "there are certain mafia elements connected with minor local politicians who are trying to carry out an extortion of the oil company."

The whole episode highlights two things: the needs of ordinary people are not being met and when they protest, they suffer the full weight of the State machine; and secondly, the CA is discussing and deciding on the content of a new Constitution and new laws while ignoring the reality of the lives of ordinary people. In the words of one activist on the left in the Acuerdo Pais, "They (Assembly members) are concentrating on the process and are not thinking about what they will be able to do with the new laws." Another activist claimed that "the people are becoming restless" because nothing is being done about meeting their basic needs.

It goes further. Many socialist activists in the AP are making the claim that the new laws and the new Constitution will actually create a more powerful and more efficient state machine to protect the interests of the bourgeoisie!

The issues now being raised are what is the function of a "socialist" President and what are the functions of an elected CA? Whilst Correa is proposing some meaningful reforms, such as keeping private companies out of the national Social Security system, he is also allowing the Sate machine to take action against anyone that may stop the production of national wealth. And while the CA debates and decides, it appears to be floating in mid air unconnected with real life. One opinion poll put the credibility of the CA at 52% and that of Correa at 62%. This is far below the figure of 82% support that the statute to set up the CA and close the Congress received back in April of this year.

The electoral coalition of AP is now, inevitably, facing divisions as different class pressures are put on its members. There is a sizeable grouping of left wing members, many of whom belonged to revolutionary movements in the 1970s, such as the MIR. They see the need to formulate a coherent left wing identity that can present plans and proposals to the CA, but they also believe that if they drive too hard in that direction, the fragile coalition may split and Correa will lose his majority.

While these issues are being discussed amongst the left, surveys have reported a massive shift in the consciousness of ordinary people in Ecuador in relation to the role of the State, private industry and class conflict. 38% of people now think that the State can solve all problems compared to 25% in 1998. Only 44% now believe that a market economy is the best for the country, while 73% believed that in 1998. 43% believe that private industry is essential for development, but in 1998 66% believed that. A staggering 90% believed that the conflict between rich and poor is very strong.

We know that surveys are often unreliable, but we also know that they can contain a grain of truth. What these figures seem to indicate is a massive shift in people's opinions away from capitalism and towards another way of managing society where the state has a greater role.

Such a shift must have an effect on the attitudes and perspectives of the more socialist elements in the AP. At the moment they are at the stage of trying to gather information on important areas of the economy, such as the oil industry and telecommunications, so that they can perform more effectively in the CA. Perhaps more than anything the need for the Assembly members to organise alternative sources of information, rather than relying on civil servants to provide them, demonstrates how little say the elected CA has over the State machine. The CA is not the government!

If the CA does not form and control the government, does not discuss and decide on issues that affect ordinary people, isn't it no more than a talking shop despite the best of intentions of many of its members?

Some on the left in the AP see the answer in putting key people who are politically reliable into key positions in areas of the economy in order to fight corruption. In other words they see the possibility of changing the system by changing the people in charge - a concept that comes from Liberalism and Anarchism, not Socialism.

Another section on the left sees the need to develop a coherent left wing/socialist political identity that can formulate ideas and programmes, and to develop organisational structures to fight for their proposals. In other words they are raising the need to form a socialist party to give a political and social base to Correa, even if at this time they do not want to recognise that that is what they are doing.

The fundamental question however that needs to be addressed is whether the capitalist class in Ecuador, which is tied to the interests of multinational corporations and US imperialism, is capable of developing the productive forces that will create the necessary wealth to pay for the programme of reforms that Correa wants to put in place. Will the bourgeoisie be able to play an independent role, independent of foreign interests, in developing the economy for the benefit of all the people of Ecuador? Neither the economic perspectives, both short and long term, nor past experience support such a role.

The real weakness of the bourgeoisie is reflected in the fact that the CA is developing laws and a Constitution that will strengthen the workings of a bourgeois state machine. If the state machine has to be strengthened, then it must have been weak to start with, a weakness that reflects the weakness of the ruling class.

If this is the case, then a serious question has to be directed towards the many excellent, ideologically committed and capable socialist comrades who form an essential part of the AP. Is it the task of socialists to work towards the strengthening of a capitalist state machine? Is it the task of socialists to make the capitalist class more efficient and more productive?

Such ideas, the so-called Two Stage Theory, were prevalent for over 50 years, beginning in the 1930s. The theory was put forward by Stalin and his supporters in the Soviet Union that before socialism could be established, it was necessary to create a healthy developed capitalist system that would develop the productive forces to lay the material basis that would facilitate the development towards socialism. When the bourgeois state machine collapsed in many parts of Spain during the Civil War, the Spanish Communist Party, following the Two Stage Theory, worked to recreate the bourgeois state machine and destroyed the Spanish revolution in the process. Is this the task of serious socialist comrades in the Acuerdo Pais? To put off the issue of Socialism until a later date and concentrate on building a "healthy" capitalist system? If it isn't, what should the task be when the comrades themselves recognise that capitalism worldwide is in a serious crisis.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to a political discussion on this very theme where two CA members were present. The general trend of the discussion was the need to create a coherent left political ideology that would give a political leadership and direction to the discussions in the CA. It was recognised that part of this process must be to strengthen the base organisations and fight for these ideas within them. The aim should be to develop ideas and perspectives, along with a structure to implement them - in other words a party that would fight to change society.

And what a marvellous opportunity the comrades have in Ecuador where they have political representation in the CA that could be used as a platform to speak over the heads of the CA members to a society at large that is already developing in the direction of rejecting capitalism. The fundamental aim however of any process of raising the political level of the members in the base organisations of AP must not be to strengthen the base of capitalism but to explain patiently with facts, figures and ideas that capitalism and the bourgeoisie in Ecuador are incapable of taking society forward.

The comrades in the CA have made a start. They have rejected the intrusion of private companies in the state Social Security system. They now see the need to thoroughly analyse the workings of the oil industry. For what purpose? To speak in the CA with more authority on the subject? No, it must be to expose the corruption and fabulous salary levels paid to the managers and directors in the oil industry. The demand should be to open the books to see where all the wealth that has been generated is going. In order to fight corruption the demand should be made for the nationalisation of the oil industry under workers' control and management. The industry is still in private hands although the state takes 99% of profits.

The comrades want to analyse how the banking system works. Marx spent many years studying to understand the inner workings of capitalism in order to overthrow it and create a new form of society. Banks exist to make profits for their shareholders. If greater profits can be made in commodity speculation, increasing land prices or paintings by Rembrandt, then the banks will invest in these. If greater profits cannot be made from investment in the productive forces, there will be a strike of capital. They will simply not invest.

But if the productive forces are not developed, then the material resources will not be there to solve the problems of housing shortages, lack of sufficient schools and hospitals, as well as job opportunities. If the banks do not play this role, then the demand must be to take them into public ownership. Meeting needs requires planning development. You cannot plan what you do not control and you cannot control what you do not own. What goes for the banks also goes for the large multinational corporations that live off Ecuadorian society like leeches.

Imagine what levels of living standards could be achieved when the democratically planned development of Ecuadorian society unites the rich natural resources with the ingenuity of its people. It would become a model for the rest of Latin America and the world. All of this however will be impossible on the basis of a capitalist system that is in crisis. It will only be possible on the basis of a democratically controlled and developed socialist society.

For that to be achieved however requires the development of a politically conscious revolutionary leadership and a revolutionary party that can lead and channel the energies of people in Ecuador to change society. The setting up of a socialist party at this moment in time would lay the basis for the development of such a revolutionary party. The bull must be taken by the horns. Socialists everywhere should be working to overthrow a crisis ridden capitalist system that has outlived its historical usefulness, not working to consolidate and strengthen such a system.

Darrall Cozens in Quito, Ecuador
9 December 2007