In the morning of Saturday June 7th, the third congress of El Salvador's Peoples' Youth Block (BPJ) took place. The meeting was held in what used to be the headquarters of the National Union of Salvadorean Workers, which was one of the main mass organisations during the armed conflict. After the peace agreements the building was left abandoned and it was the BPJ which took it over, opened it again and used it for a period as its headquarters.
From early in the morning, some of the local branches which had been given the task, dealt with the logistics of setting up the venue, which was adorned wuth a carefully painted banner with the faces of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and in the centre, the Salvadorean Communist revolutionary Farabundo Martí. On one side there was the logo of the BPJ and on the other that of the International Marxist Tendency (Corriente Marxista Internacional in Spanish) and the main slogan was "For a Socialist Federation of Latin America", stressing the Marxist and internationalist character of the congress. One of the side walls was decorated with another banner that had been used at the May Day march which read "For an FMLN government with a socialist programme. Workers of the world unite!" which was also signed by the BPJ-CMI. The attendance was 60 comrades on the Saturday and 50 on the Sunday, more than half of those were delegates elected in advance by the branches. The congress was the conclusion of a broad and democratic debate at all levels of the organisation.
A period of crisis and class struggle
The congress started with an analysis of world perspectives. There was a discussion on the causes of the current economic recession in the US and the accumulation of anger amongst the working class which is ready to fight but is faced with reformist leaderships which usually become real obstacles for the development of the class struggle. If we look at what happens on the surface we might get the wrong impression, we have to look at the mood among the rank and file. Comrade Ricardo Ayala, who lead off on the subject mentioned as an example what has been happening in Italy. The victory of Berlusconi shows the complete bankruptcy of reformism, not a shift to the right of the working class. This was shown clearly in Turin last December, when a work accident in which 7 workers died unleashed a strong movement of protest in which the workers were very critical of the PRC and trade union leaders. There was also a mention of the revolutionary process in Pakistan and the speech ended up dealing with the revolutionary situation in Latin America today.
The debate was opened to the comrades who had prepared interventions on different aspects, the struggle of the workers in Europe, the general strikes in Greece, the Spanish and French elections, the strikes and struggles in Switzerland and Denmark, etc. A comrade explained how in Denmark 100,000 workers had gone out on strike for better wages, with the support of 80% of the population, and how the initial wage offer was similar to what the Saca government in El Salvador had been proposing, where they offered a 10% increase, but spread over 2 years. He added that those strikes were an example for the Salvadorean workers to follow.
A young worker comrade spoke about the decline of the US dollar: "A worker can understand the economy clearly when he sees that his income doesn't cover his monthly expenses and cannot even buy French bread better than some economists who produce graphics and statistics but only confuse you and say nothing". Other comrades spoke on China, Cuba, México and Venezuela. A young comrade of 13 spoke on Honduras and mentioned the National Strikes and the strike of the attorneys: "We will change history, every one of us must recruit another 10 comrades for the next congress", he added.
During the debate greetings were received from a number of organisations who had been invited to the congress, including the Cuztatleca Feminists, who stand for socialism and class struggle. They made an appeal to the comrades to study the rich history of class struggle of the Salvadorean people, but also criticised the fact that there were no women represented in the presiding banner. In the reply it was explained that the faces of those revolutionaries had not been chosen because they were men or women but because of their ideas and revolutionary struggle. Also present were representatives from a number of student organisations like ASESUES (El Salvador University Sociology Students Association) and the FERM 19 (Rafael Menjivar July 19 Student Force) who praised the work of the BPJ and its university students' platform (FAU), recognising that the BPJ is one of the strongest organisations of Salvadorean youth. On behalf of the Trade Union Confederation of Salvadorean Workers, comrade Atilio gave greetings to the congress. He is a member of its executive committee and general secretary of the Lido, SELSA bread company workers' union. "It is an honour for me to be present at this congress. It is very important that the youth becomes acquainted with the current situation of crisis, because you will have to get organised in trade unions to defend the interests of working people", he said, thanking the leadership of the BPJ for carrying out excellent work.
One of the main ideas that permeated this discussion was that of Leon Trotsky that the crisis of humankind is the crisis of its revolutionary leadership.
El Salvador enters into a period of crisis
In the afternoon the discussion was on national perspectives. Comrade Luis Valle gave the introduction explaining the dependence of the Salvadorean economy on that of the US, particularly through the remittances which bring in as much income as the country's exports. The crisis in the US will inevitably have serious consequences in a country which is already suffering from a breakdown of the social fabric, as seen with the spreading of criminal gangs. The masses are tired of this situation, he explained, and for this reason they support the FMLN, even though its leaders do not have a clear revolutionary position, merely raising a perspective of limited reform.
There was also criticism of the bureaucracy within the FMLN and the two stage strategy of its leadership. Stage-ism is really a Menshevik idea which was then taken up by the Stalinists and what it does is to limit the workers to the national democratic "stage" of the revolution, when what is needed is for the workers to take power and then spread the revolution internationally. A programme of expropriation of the banks and the main industries is needed.
The debate was excellent, with comrades talking about the repression, migration, electoral fraud, the food price crisis, and the Free Trade agreements. A comrade spoke about the rights of workers in municipalities where the FMLN is in power. These workers are badly treated and their labour rights are not respected. An example of this was given by a comrade who had arrived late because he was coming from work. He had suffered an accident and had injured his hand. The doctor had given him three days off, but the employers in the Ciudad Delgado Council, which is ruled by the FMLN said that if he did not go to work they would deduct the days off from his wages. He ended his speech by saying: "Long live the municipal workers! Long live the FMLN! Death to bureaucratism!"
The intervention of comrade Rudy Sandoval, the outgoing general secretary of the BPJ, was very moving and started with the shouting of slogans by all comrades. Amongst those were "This fist is not fascist, it is militant and socialist". The comrade spoke of the electoral struggle as a field of expression for the class struggle and therefore the need for revolutionaries to participate in it. "The FMLN is still the main party of the Salvadorean working class and Mauricio Funes is its candidate. We will support the FMLN because as the Communist Manifesto says, Marxists do not form a party apart from the working class, but are always its most far sighted and radical wing". He criticised the current situation within the FMLN where the leadership is all powerful and there is no internal democracy.
In the debate there was also mention of the convulsive period that has opened up in the country and the possibility of electoral fraud. If this happens the masses will come out onto the streets to defend the FMLN's victory, as they did when the ruling class attempted to rig the elections of San Salvador last time, only this time the struggle will be tougher as the ruling class will not make concessions easily. If the FMLN gets to power, it will come under strong pressure from the masses. If it betrays its mandate that would unleash an internal crisis within the FMLN, in which a Marxist tendency clearly explaining the situation and offering a left-wing alternative could grow quickly. The Marxist tendency in El Salvador is called on to play a decisive role in the future revolutionary process.
Turn towards genuine Marxism
On the second day there was a balance sheet of the work of the organisation, opened up by a lead off by comrade Napoleón Grande, a young Marxist cadre. The comrade explained how "the BPJ has always been an organisation of genuine and sincere revolutionaries. We declared ourselves to be Marxist-Leninist, but in reality we were an ultra-left organisation which acted more like "shock troops" . It reached a point when our methods did not allow us to advance any further and if we had continued down that road we would have completely degenerated or disappeared altogether. This congress marks our turn towards the genuine methods of Marxism".
He also spoke about the finances, both the regular contributions of members and the fighting fund, the importance of having our own paper and the impact that our documents and ideas are already having. For instance, he explained how on May Day more than 400 dollars in sales were made, allowing us to reach hundreds or even thousands of workers and FMLN members. He also explained how after leafleting the university, many students from the Economics Faculty, many of them workers, told us they agreed with the idea of a general strike and asked us when it would be called. At the Medical Faculty the impact was such that there was a point were up to 600 students were discussing and commenting on the call for a general strike.
He also explained the work at the university, through the University Action Force, which has experienced significant growth and has allowed us to win over a group of workers at the university, the work amongst school students with the Revolutionary School Students Front (FERS-20), which recently organised a march with 300 students against the rising cost of living and for reduced fares for students, linking their demands to the call for a general strike.
Within the FMLN we have received attacks in several areas on the part of the bureaucracy, but our ideas are getting a good reception amongst the party members. In the trade union field we have established links with the CSTS, which organises three trade union federations. We have organised political education for trade union leaders, but he explained how we need to educate more cadres so that others can take up the work of taking the ideas of Marxism to the workers and educate a new generation of workers' leaders.
During the discussion of this point comrades referred to the advances of the FERS-20, which allowed a comrade to be elected to the leadership of the CDE School becoming the only student organisation present at the INFRAMEN, which is the largest school institution in the country. Comrades talked about the possibility of attacks against the students at INFRAMEN, where there is already a police and even an army presence. Comrade Amilcar, who gave the report, insisted that the task was to spread the work that had been done at the INFRAMEN to the rest of the country.
The comrades of the FAU also reported on their progress, particularly around the struggle for entry rights to university, which achieved a victory and strengthened the organisation. We are already a recognised organisation at the University of El Salvador (UES), even though our work there only started very recently. Comrades spoke of the need to remove the image of an ultra-left organisation that some had of us, and that this could only be done through patient work and showing our methods in practice. A worker comrade from the university explained: "We are generating debate in our workplaces. The ideas of Marxism-Leninism are not distributed through leaflets but through practice. We considered the BPJ as a vanguard organisation, and we were an advanced group within our union so we decided to join the Block". The mood of enthusiasm and confidence amongst the comrades could be seen in interventions like this, where the comrade added: "the organisation is not the adding up of individuals, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts". He explained the example of the student work of the CLEP-CEDEP in Mexico and the Students Union in Spain and added: "The working class is a sleeping giant, but it will awake. Long live the struggle of the sons and daughters of the workers and that of the workers themselves!"
A comrade from Syapango mentioned a recent attack on the part of the FMLN bureaucracy, where a group of youth calling themselves "the socialist pioneers" was expelled form the youth organisation, accused of being part of the BPJ. The comrade denounced this attack against a sister organisation and made an appeal to struggle against bureaucratism. He added that the leadership of the FMLN in Soyapango fears even the mention of socialism and Marxism.
A history of revolutionary struggle
Comrade Rudy, in his intervention on the balance sheet of the work talked about the history of the BPJ:
"We were born out of a group of members and youth of the FMLN, from its left wing which was in struggle against the reformists at that time. In the struggle against the building of the ring road in Ciudad Delgado in 2002, which went on for several months, we set up the initial nucleus of what was to become the BPJ, which was officially founded the following year as part of the struggle against the privatisation of the health service. In that struggle, in which we were part of the leadership, we fought against the attempt of the NGOs and the reformists to water down its contents.
"We have always participated in the FMLN, in all the election campaigns, we supported Shafik when he was a candidate, so nobody can tell us that we are not a part of the FMLN, in fact we are more members of the FMLN than many bureaucrats and MPs."
He mentioned a number of aspects of the rich history of the FMLN, pointing out some wrong ideas which led to ultra-left mistakes. He explained how the BPJ has been severely repressed by the state. On one occasion the National Police shot a comrade and this was hidden by the bourgeois media. A number of BPJ comrades have suffered jail and even torture, and the Antonio Saca government has accused the BPJ of being a terrorist organisation. He asked for a minute-long applause for comrade Edward, a member of the BPJ who disappeared [desaparecido] a year ago. "The comrade was disappeared as has happened to dozens of youth in this country who are disappeared or assassinated by the ARENA government acting with impunity." The comrades present paid homage to comrade Edward who was a member of the BPJ branch in Lourdes in the Libertad department.
Joining the IMT
Despite the attacks of the ruling class and the bureaucracy, one can see the advances and the enthusiasm of the BPJ as a result of the adoption of genuine Marxist methods. Because of this there were no disagreements when the motion to join the International Marxist Tendency was discussed, all comrades agreed and were fully convinced of this step. Comrade Geovanni, a leading activist of the FERS-20, explained briefly the history of the different international organisations of the working class, and how after the death of Trotsky, Ted Grant, founder of the IMT, was the one who maintained the traditions, ideas and methods of genuine Marxism. He explained the importance for workers to organise at a world-wide level, because socialism in one country is not possible. The motion to join the IMT was passed unanimously.
The report of the international work of the IMT was very moving for all comrades, particularly the advances in countries like Italy, Mexico and Pakistan and the impact of the ideas of the Frederick Engels Foundation in Cuba. Greetings were read out from comrades in Spain, Denmark, Austria, France, Switzerland, Britain, Iran, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, and from comrade Alan Woods who said: "We are convinced that the comrades of the BPJ will build a decisive force amongst the working class, the peasants and the youth based on this programme. Your affiliation to the International Marxist Tendency is also a step in that direction. The future of the socialist revolution in El Salvador depends on your work. Nobody can replace that work." All these greetings helped raise the revolutionary spirit of those present at the congress.
The new Central Committee was elected unanimously and the comrades who will no longer be part of the leadership were thanked for the work they have carried out and will continue to carry out. Comrades who have played an historic role in the organisation were replaced, but this was not due to political differences.
The congress showed the progress of the BPJ. The list of speakers in all debates reflected a raising of the political level of the organisation and the development of a new layer of cadres. The BPJ has always been based on revolutionary traditions of sacrifice. Comrades from the different municipalities brought the food, and we had proletarian lunches with fried beans, rice, avocado and cheese. Another example of unity and sacrifice was the financial collection for the development of the work of the BPJ, where the comrades gave 340 dollars in cash and a further 517 in pledges from comrades and workers' organisations. The original target of the collection was 600 dollars, but that was easily surpasses. This is a large amount of money considering the situation of crisis that working class families are suffering, and the fact that many comrades had had to pay their congress fees in order to be allowed in as delegates and had also paid for the food. The meeting was closed for the first time in the BPJ's history with the singing of the Internationale and slogans of "Long live the BPJ, Long live the International!"