The reawakening of the world working class and the tasks faced by Marxists - Part Four

Alan Woods continues his analysis of events in the rest of Latin America, in particular, the situation in Mexico where Lopez Obrador is seen as a threat to the interests of US imperialism, Argentina and the victory of Evo Morales in Bolivia and what this means. He also stresses the need to defend the Cuban Revolution, but the only way to do this is by spreading the revolution to the rest of Latin America and beyond and returning to the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky.

Mexico

Until recently, Mexico appeared to be a stable country. The right wing PAN was firmly in power, the economy was doing well and was firmly welded to the USA. But in the space of just a few months the whole position has been reversed. There is a serious political crisis. There were massive demonstrations. 1.2 million people came out onto the streets of Mexico City over the issue of Lopez Obrador.

Although he is no Chavez but a reformist, that’s not how the masses see him. And it is not how Washington sees him. Bush is now terrified of a “Chavez” on his own doorstep. And he is right to be terrified – not of Lopez Obrador, but of the masses who stand behind him. Trotsky pointed out that under certain circumstances, reformist leaders can be pushed to go further than they intend. That is what Washington fears.

Economic growth is beginning to slow down. Although in 2005 it was 4.4 % this has signified nothing for the workers: on the contrary, there has been cut after cut. All that sustains the economy is oil, money sent home from Mexican workers abroad, and tourism. The Fox government is in crisis due to the workers’ movement. Never has there been a Mexican government with so many cabinet changes. Every counter-reform imposed by Fox has been stopped by the masses. The PAN itself is a very divided party, despised by the workers. The PRI is also in a major crisis. According to the polls, the PRD has 36%, the PAN 24% and the PRI 22%. The bourgeoisie is running out of options and is now sending trusted people into the PRD to make sure it does not drift to the left.

Under pressure from Washington, Fox attempted to prevent Lopez Obrador from standing in the Presidential elections this year. They accused him of corruption. This is an absurd accusation. Even if it were true, everyone knows that all Mexican politicians take money. The masses know this and they also know why they only picked on Lopez Obrador and that is why they poured out onto the streets to protest. However, the leaders of the PRD appeared to be more afraid of this movement than Fox. They tried to limit it. The PRD bureaucrats went so far as to say “only march on the pavement – you might interrupt the traffic!” But the Mexican workers and poor have revolution in their blood and these appeals had little effect.

Lopez Obrador addressed mass meetings all around the country. This has raised the confidence of the masses, and it will be difficult to demobilise the workers once they are organised. The PRD bureaucracy is trying to put the brakes on the rank and file organisation. It insists that the rank and file organisation is only for the duration of the election, and must be dissolved the day after the results are out.

Faced with such a mass reaction, the ruling class was in a state of panic. Fox had to beat a hasty retreat. If he hadn’t, there could have been an insurrection; such was the mood of popular indignation. Now, however, the movement will be diverted onto the parliamentary front. The masses will try to get rid of Fox by voting for the PRD. This shows the complete correctness of our orientation to the PRD. Naturally, the sects are indignant. They are trying to form a “united front” – against Lopez Obrador! This shows considerable tactical genius. At a time when the masses are uniting around the candidate of the PRD to get rid of the reactionary American puppet Fox, the sects declare war on – the PRD!

The leading role in this ultra-left pantomime is (again naturally) played by the Zapatistas (the EZLN). These hopeless petty bourgeois elements are yet again proudly parading their political bankruptcy in public. It really is an insult to the memory of that great revolutionary Emiliano Zapata that these people should usurp his name. By their actions they are only helping Fox.

The EZLN campaign has a reactionary and sectarian character. Its shrill calls for a boycott, coupled with violent ultra-left attacks on the PRD, are calculated to take votes away from the PRD, dividing and weakening the left. This is serving to undermine the Zapatistas among the workers. In the pages of La Jornada a worker answered Marcos with the following words: “I am a Zapatista, but I do not support your electoral strategy towards the PRD”. He was obviously expressing the views of many others. Hopefully this latest adventure will finally open the eyes of those elements among the students who still entertain illusions in them.

The Mexican ruling class is attempting to control the PRD with its own people. Lopez Obrador is thus surrounded by a clique of ex-PRI people. This is already provoking friction within the party. The rank and file is protesting against the right wing elements that are taking control. The presence of an organised Marxist current is a fundamental element in this equation. We have marvellous comrades in Mexico, who have just celebrated 15 years of their paper, El Militante. The paper and the tendency are well known among worker and youth activists.

After the elections, the pressure from the masses on Lopez Obrador will be redoubled. The workers and peasants will demand that the PRD delivers on its promises. There will be mass mobilisations demanding jobs, land and houses. Through this process Mexico will have entered the Latin American revolution.

Argentina

In Argentina a spontaneous insurrectionary movement of the masses overthrew the de la Rua government, but in the absence of a strong revolutionary party, the initiative passed to the bourgeoisie. Inevitably, there has been some improvement of the economy. In the past three years GDP rose by 27%. This means that the Argentine economy has now reached the same level as before the crisis began. Investors have gradually recovered their nerve.

However, these statistics do not tell the whole story. The conditions of the masses have not improved significantly. Jobs and wages are much worse than before. The levels of poverty are perhaps the highest in the recent history of Argentina, which was formerly the tenth industrial country in the world.

We predicted long ago that if the working class did not take power, a left Peronist government was inevitable. At that time the sects in Argentina were talking about a military coup! Kirchner, in the old tradition of Peronism, balances between the classes and even leans on the masses to strike blows against imperialism and the ruling class, and has even criticised the military, but without changing anything fundamental. He has skilfully made some concessions to the working class and in 2005 wages rose.

This bears some resemblance to the policies carried out by Peron in the past. But the world situation is very different now. When Peron came to power there was an almost unlimited demand for Argentine beef and wheat in post-war Europe. The Argentine capitalists could afford to make concessions. That is not the case today. Now Argentina has a huge external deficit. The IMF will tighten the screws, demanding cuts and austerity. So far Kirchner has managed to manoeuvre. But this cannot be maintained indefinitely.

The most important element in the equation is the movement of the working class. The sects made a fundamental mistake when they tried to base themselves on the piqueteros (the unemployed) instead of the industrial proletariat. The piqueteros movement was very important, but it could only have lasting significance as an auxiliary movement to that of the heavy battalions of the working class. The growth of the economy has created favourable conditions for the development of the economic struggle and a wave of strikes, which has actually occurred.

Faced with an upsurge of the industrial struggle, the bureaucracy of the CGT has been compelled to put itself at the head of the movement. But its motor force is the movement from below. The union militants have shown their instinctive understanding of what is necessary by organizing the Left Trade Union Current. This has succeeded in grouping union militants from sectors like the metro workers, the railway workers, teachers, health workers and others. These are the people we must win.

Uruguay, Brazil, Peru

In Uruguay, we had the election of the Frente Amplio (FA) on the basis of five general strikes, although Tabare Vasquez is a reformist of the Lula type. In the case of Brazil, the opposition to Lula’s policies took two years to materialize. In Uruguay it has appeared even more quickly, after only one year. The Communist Party, which was the main party in the FA has already gone into opposition and there is a ferment of criticism in the ranks of the FA itself.

In Brazil, Lula’s capitulation to imperialism and the IMF has provoked a series of crises and splits in the PT. There is widespread discontent with the right wing leaders of the PT who have been exposed as rotten and corrupt. There is a growing mood of radicalisation among the workers and peasants, expressed in a wave of occupations of land and factories. This must find its expression inside the PT in a mass left tendency at a certain stage. Under these conditions the Left could have taken over the party. Unfortunately, the sects who entered the PT at the beginning organised a premature split. Nevertheless, there are good possibilities for the Brazilian Marxists.

Peru is also heading in a revolutionary direction and we have the first nucleus of the tendency there, which is publishing a newspaper. We have good possibilities in Ecuador, Paraguay and good contacts also in Chile.

Bolivia

Bolivia has lived through a pre-revolutionary situation for the past two years. In reality, the trade unions (the COB) could have taken power on at least two occasions. But they vacillated and the opportunity was lost. Now the movement has been diverted onto the parliamentary plane.

The victory of Evo Morales – which we predicted – represents a major change in the situation. The traditional parties were wiped out. Even in Santa Cruz, the stronghold of the oligarchy, the MAS won 33% of the vote. This shows the extreme weakness of reaction at the present time. In 30 years there has never been an election where the President of Bolivia was elected in the first round. 54% voted for Evo Morales in a massive 84% turnout (about 1.5 million votes). This despite the fact that 1.5 million people, most of whom would have voted for Morales, had been taken off the electoral roles. He got 67% in La Paz, against 18% for the candidate of the ruling class.

Unfortunately, many in the vanguard boycotted the elections. They took an ultra-left position. They failed to understand the process. The masses want to change society. They are filled with a burning indignation against imperialism and the rotten Bolivian ruling class. The workers could and should have taken power. But the leaders vacillated, lost time, lost the initiative. Then the masses said: “OK, the COB didn’t want to take power, so we’ll go to the elections and see what happens with Evo.”

In the revolutionary storm centre of El Alto, between 70 and 80 percent voted for Morales. Yet this was a place where the MAS had no organised basis. The people that participated in the recent insurrection voted overwhelmingly for Evo Morales. This shows how out of touch the leaders of the trade unions and the vanguard were when they advocated abstention.

The attitude of the masses was quite understandable. The masses suffer from terrible problems that do not admit delay. They were not prepared to stand around and wait for the revolutionary vanguard to put its house in order. They saw a chance to hit out at the ruling class and its parties in the elections and they took it. They voted massively for Evo Morales. To be honest, we ourselves were too conservative. We thought he’d win, but underestimated his degree of support. A vote for Morales was a vote to change society. Now the masses will wait to “see what happens”. But they will not wait for long.

What will Moraels do? If we look at his programme and his past actions, we might conclude that he will follow the line of Lula or Gutierrez. But there is an important difference here. Morales was elected after two general strikes and insurrections. These elections are only part of the massive revolutionary mobilisations that have shaken Bolivia in recent years. The masses will demand that the programme of nationalisation be implemented. There is a strong feeling that the leaders must be accountable to the rank and file, and that they must be subordinate to mass assemblies.

Many parliamentarians of the MAS are former activists of the revolutionary movement, like the head of FEJUVE of El Alto, elected with 70% of the vote. Once he was elected, Morales went to Cochabamba to report back to a meeting, to ask for direction for his government. There can be no doubt that the pressure of the masses will be expressed through parliament and in the government itself.

The masses want Evo Morales to take serious measures in their interests – to “nationalise everything”. That is what they are expecting. His radical speeches have created great expectations. Also he is an Amayra Indian, and therefore is seen as “one of us”. Now that he is in power – and with a massive mandate – they will expect him to deliver. They will wait a while and then they will say: “We put you in power – now we want results.”

On the other side, he will be under merciless pressure from the oligarchy and imperialism. Washington is seriously concerned about the effects of Morales’ victory. Their concern will have been heightened after he went to Cuba and Venezuela to form a bloc.

The USA is watching the situation like a hungry vulture. They are massing troops in Paraguay – an implied threat. But they can’t invade. An invasion of revolutionary Bolivia would make Iraq look like an English vicar’s tea party. The working class of Bolivia is undefeated. It has strong organisations and excellent traditions, including Trotskyist traditions. They would fight like tigers. By contrast, the oligarchy is weak. At the height of the revolutionary movement, it threatened to divide the country, hiving off the wealthier eastern parts. This was a direct confession of bankruptcy. They could not even declare a civil war.

The international context is also favourable. Because of the existence of Venezuela and Cuba, there is certain room for a policy that is partially independent of imperialism, at least in the short term. Following the example of Chavez, Evo Morales has called for a Constituent Assembly. He will launch a literacy campaign. These reforms will be welcomed by the masses, who will initially give the government the benefit of the doubt. Morales has made a number of gestures, amounting to a nod to the left wing. He has cut his salary by half. He wears a simple sweater instead of a smart suit. At his inauguration he was escorted by miners instead of by soldiers, and so on.

Morales is therefore presenting himself as a man of the people. The masses are expecting decisive action against imperialism and the oligarchy. But there is nothing decisive about any of this. The main conflicts are yet to come. Morales says he will not confiscate private property, but this has not tranquillised Washington. They still don’t trust him, because of the masses who stand behind him.

However, the options of the imperialists in Bolivia are very limited. They want to pressure him to stay within certain safe limits. But this is not the only pressure he will be under. Morales would like to conciliate. He constantly speaks with two tongues. He says he is for nationalisation but not expropriation. He wants to reassert Bolivia’s rights to energy resources, but will not expropriate foreign property; and talks about re-negotiating contracts and taxes with the foreign transnational companies. In other words, he wants to be all things to all men. How long can all this last? A few months, a year, not too short, but not indefinitely either.

The elections have given the bourgeoisie a breathing space. However, the elections have solved nothing. Evo Morales will be ground between two millstones: imperialism and the oligarchy on the one side, and the masses on the other. The latter will demand nationalisation of the property of the oligarchy. If he does not deliver, there will be crises and splits in the MAS. Manya rae saying, “If Evo lets us down, we’ll throw him out too.”

The Bolivian revolution has begun and can last for some time – months if not years – with ebbs and flows. The problem is that the masses have failed to take power, but the ruling class and imperialism are not in a position – yet – to stage a coup. They are therefore compelled to play a waiting game, to manoeuvre, retreat, intrigue and play for time. That is the reason for the extremely cautious language used by Washington when speaking of Evo Morales. They still hope to buy him off, to neutralise him, to compel him to accept their conditions, and to compromise him in the eyes of the workers and peasants before overthrowing him. The fact that the USA pays ten percent of Bolivia’s budget in “aid” gives Bush a lever he can use to secure this end.

It is quite possible that Evo Morales will bend under pressure The outcome is as yet undecided, as in Venezuela. But in any case it is important not to confuse our own understanding with that of the masses. Morales’ victory will have had the effect of encouraging the workers and peasants, both in Bolivia and the rest of Latin America. In that sense it is yet another link in the chain of the Latin American revolution. The masses will have to go through the school of Evo Morales in order to draw the necessary conclusions and go further. The duty of the Bolivian Marxists is to advance shoulder to shoulder to the masses and to help them understand what is necessary. This process will take some time, but it is the only possible way.

Cuba

In Cuba as well important changes are taking place. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cuban revolution was isolated in an internationally hostile environment. It was under the merciless pressure of US imperialism. The cruel economic blockade subjected the masses to intolerable hardship. The fate of the Revolution was in the balance.

In the 1930s Trotsky predicted that the Stalinist bureaucracy would lead the USSR in the direction of capitalist restoration. The bureaucracy would not be satisfied with its privileged position but would demand that the nationalised planned economy be dismantled in order to convert themselves into private proprietors. The right of inheritance – the legal right to pass their wealth and privileges on to their children – played a key role in this. Now, after a long delay, this is what has actually happened.

However, Trotsky thought that capitalist restoration in the USSR could only be accomplished through civil war. He predicted that the bureaucracy would split along class lines, with the emergence of a left faction (the “Reiss faction”) on the one hand, and a right wing pro-capitalist wing (the “Butenko faction”). But events took a different turn. Stalinism in the USSR lasted much longer than Trotsky had imagined possible. The old revolutionary traditions were completely destroyed. The degeneration of the bureaucracy reached unheard-of proportions. Corruption and bureaucracy devoured a colossal part of the wealth produced by the Soviet working class and undermined the successes of the planned economy. As a result, the whole thing collapsed under its own weight. A single push was sufficient to bring down the bureaucratic regimes in Eastern Europe, and the same process in Russia took only a few years longer.

The collapse of the Soviet Union naturally produced a ferment in Cuba, even at the top levels. It is quite clear that, as in Russia, there are elements who would like to return to capitalism. But on the one hand, Fidel Castro remains implacably opposed to capitalist restoration. On the other hand, the masses remain firmly attached to the ideals of the Revolution, socialism and the nationalised planned economy. So far, the attempts of US imperialism to push Cuba back to capitalism have failed. Castro remains popular and the pro-capitalist elements have been kept firmly in check.

The Venezuelan Revolution has undoubtedly given the Cuban Revolution a new boost. Not only has it provided much-needed oil, but it has also given new hope to the people of Cuba that their long isolation will be broken. The fate of the Cuban and Venezuelan Revolutions are indissolubly linked. They will stand or fall together.

Recently, Fidel Castro made a speech in which he warned that the Cuban Revolution is not yet irreversible. Moreover, he stated that the main threat of capitalist restoration is due to internal, not external factors. This is the first time this has been stated so clearly. Castro pointed to examples of bureaucratic corruption, swindling and theft, specifically naming the case of petrol. He called for the setting up of youth brigades to check up on petrol stations.

Capitalist restoration in Cuba would be a disaster, not only for the people of Cuba but for all of Latin America. For the people of Cuba the imposition of a savage, neo-liberal capitalism and market economics would be an appalling reversal. It would signify an economic, social and cultural regression. In a broader sense it would have a depressing effect on the morale of workers and youth everywhere. It would strengthen the hand of imperialism and provide the basis for a new ideological onslaught against socialism on a world scale. It would mean an immediate intensification of imperialist pressure on Venezuela and Bolivia.

The hypocritical western critics of Cuba and the bourgeois opposition in Cuba insistently demand the introduction of “democracy”, by which they mean a bourgeois democracy. They want to introduce a system like that of the USA, where the office of President is sold to the highest bidder (in this case a mentally deficient Texas oil billionaire), where Congress is run by venal politicians who represent the interests of the big corporations that buy and sell congressmen like cheap merchandise and where the newspapers and television companies are owned and controlled by a handful of billionaires. Naturally, the demand for the introduction of such a “democracy” is inseparably linked to the demand for the abolition of the nationalised planned economy.

Fidel Castro and his supporters are attempting to resist capitalism. That is immensely important. But the methods they want to use will not solve the problem. Only a regime of Leninist workers’ democracy can do this. The attacks on the new rich, the corrupt elements, bureaucracy, etc., can only be successful if they are linked to the programme of workers’ democracy, that is, the programme that Lenin advanced in 1917 and was the basis of the 1919 programme of the Russian Communist Party that was abolished by Stalin after Lenin’s death.

What is needed is not the hypocritical caricature of bourgeois democracy, but the encouragement of criticism and debate, open to all tendencies that accept the nationalised planned economy and are prepared to defend the Cuban Revolution and fight capitalist restoration. In this debate the Trotskyists must participate as a legitimate current in the Communist family. They will offer a united front to those Cuban Communists who are fighting capitalist restoration. They will prove in action that they are the best and most loyal defenders of the Cuban Revolution.

The Latin American Revolution

Above all, what is needed is to extend the socialist revolution to the rest of Latin America, breaking the isolation of the Cuban Revolution once and for all. That, after all, was the idea of Che Guevara – an idea for which he gave his life. The conditions are now immeasurably more favourable for the victory of the socialist revolution in one country of Latin America after another. It is not a question of “exporting revolution” (as if revolutions could be exported, like sacks of coffee). The objective conditions for socialist revolution are fast maturing – or have already matured – in a number of countries of Latin America. Only an audacious and courageous leadership is necessary.

The revolutionary ferment finds its initial expression on the electoral plane. After the victory of Chavez and Morales, more left-wing candidates are likely to come to power. This turn to the left on the electoral plane reflects the general situation of the continent. It is a sign of the reawakening of the masses. In Mexico Lopez Obrador is likely to be elected and will find himself immediately under the pressure of the masses. In Peru, the government of Toledo is hanging by a thread.

US imperialism is not sure what to do next. Faced with this wave of opposition, Washington is reacting to events, not dictating them. The policies of US imperialism are being defeated, one after the other. In the past, this would have meant military intervention, but direct military intervention is ruled out in the short term. Instead, they would like to get other countries in the region to act on their behalf and have attempted to use the OAS Democracy Charter to interfere in Venezuela. But this has led nowhere. Leaders like Lula, who Washington sees, to some degree, as allies, do not dare to do its dirty work in Venezuela for fear of the repercussions at home.

Washington has been reduced to manoeuvring, intriguing, attempting to get some kind of a base through corruption and bribery, mixed with pressure and threats. The only places where they have dared to intervene openly are weak countries in the Caribbean: Grenada and Haiti. Even there the results have not been encouraging.

To be continued…

London, February 1, 2006


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