Salvadorian workers and peasants defeat electoral fraud and win presidential election

A major clash between the classes has taken place in El Salvador. One of the most reactionary ruling classes in Latin America has been kicked out of office. The masses once again defeated the scandalous electoral fraud that was being prepared by ARENA, the reactionary right wing party founded by anti-communist death squad leader Roberto D'Aubisson. The ruling class, reluctantly, had to concede the victory of the left wing FMLN in order to prevent a revolutionary explosion.

A major clash between the classes has taken place in El Salvador. One of the most reactionary ruling classes in Latin America has been kicked out of office. The masses once again defeated the scandalous electoral fraud that was being prepared by ARENA, the reactionary right wing party founded by anti-communist death squad leader Roberto D'Aubisson. The ruling class, reluctantly, had to concede the victory of the left wing FMLN in order to prevent a revolutionary explosion.

Historic victory

The FMLN is the inheritor of a long and rich tradition of revolutionary struggle of the Salvadorian masses, who fought against military governments and lived through a vicious civil war. Twenty years ago, after two instances of blatant electoral fraud, the enormous political ferment amongst the masses led to a revolutionary crisis. There was a massive movement of the masses which culminated in 1980 with an unprecedented strike wave. It was in that period that the FMLN was born, and it is because of this inheritance that the FMLN still calls itself a revolutionary and socialist party.

Salvadorian workers and peasants defeat electoral fraud and win presidential electionThe victory in the March 15 presidential election is a step forward in the revolutionary struggle of the Salvadorian people. The oppressed faced the might of the state, backed by US imperialism, in a 10 year revolutionary war. The peace agreements of 1992, were just a truce in the war between the classes. None of the key problems facing the masses has been resolved.

El Salvador is an unstable, artificial and non-viable country, which, like the rest of Central American countries, was born out of the criminal carving up of the region by the ruling class. The victory of the FMLN comes with the victory of the FSLN in Nicaragua, the defeat of the right wing in Guatemala, the entry of Honduras to the ALBA and the mass protests against the FTAA in Costa Rica.

Capitalism is not viable in El Salvador

Capitalism has never been able to offer a solution to the problems of the Central American masses, and in particular to the Salvadoran workers, who have a particularly militant history. In 2004, the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL) calculated that 47% of El Salvador's population lived on less than 2 dollars a day. The PENUD estimated that there was a deficit of half a million homes, and The Economist declared El Salvador as the country with the highest level of killings in the world. The masses have reacted by throwing out the ARENA government.

The headlines of the Salvadorian media will probably talk about "the strength of  Salvadoran democracy", about the "maturity" of ARENA in recognising its defeat, and about how we can now "work together to build a new El Salvador". But this is far from what happened during Election Day. This was not just another election, but a reflection of the deep discrediting of the regime and the tiredness of the masses, who are anxiously searching for a way forward.

These elections can be compared to the defeat of the monarchy of Alfonso XIII in Spain in April 1931. A defeat in the council elections was enough to make the monarchy collapse, and the mass euphoria which followed opened one of the deepest and most radical revolutionary processes of the 20th century. We cannot understand the victory of the FMLN outside the context of the revolutionary process in Latin America as a whole, and the ruling class based its whole campaign on this fact.

Massive fightback of the Salvadorian people

Everybody knew there was going to be electoral fraud. The ruling class orchestrated a campaign of fear. There were a series of attacks by the extreme right against members of the FMLN, including two who were assassinated in Nejapa. Days before the elections, the National Police (PNC) harassed dozens of members and sympathisers of the FMLN. The bosses threatened massive lay offs in their factories if the FMN won. There was not even the semblance of impartiality of state institutions, with president Antonio Saca openly campaigning for ARENA, as did Walter Araujo, the president of the Supreme Electoral Court (TSJ).

Defence of every vote

During the elections, despite repeated appeals by the TSJ for people not to wear party symbols, those who came out with ARENA shirts were drowned by the sea of red - the FMLN supporters carrying party T-Shirts and banners. Cars full of propaganda for FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes were driving the streets and even the humblest of corner shops were decorated with red flags. Many who do not belong to any party participated in the elections for the first time. There was a massive turn out, with thousands upon thousands in the streets. The Salvadoran people knew that these were crucial elections.

Salvadorian workers and peasants defeat electoral fraud and win presidential electionElectoral fraud was a real danger and FMLN candidates Funes and Sánchez Cerén, warned about it in the closing rally of the campaign and made an appeal to defend the vote and to turn out to vote massively. The response of the poor was truly inspiring. Every vote was defended fiercely. From the remotest villages to the poorest neighbourhoods, the poorest of the poor came out to vote. During his third nationally broadcast appeal at the end of election day, the reactionary Walter Araujo, from the Electoral Court, had no other option but to recognise the enormous effort of the masses to prevent electoral fraud.

In every live newscast, all the journalists were reporting numerous scandalous examples of fraud, their voices drowned by the news programmes hosts saying that these were just minor isolated incidents. Thousands of foreigners were mobilised to vote for ARENA, arriving in the country in coaches and planes. Many people were discovered to have voted twice and three times. From early on in the day the masses came out on the streets, and in places like San Miguel, FMLN militants blocked foreign citizens, dressed as FMLN supporters carrying false ID cards (DUI). There were also clashes in Cuscatlán stadium, were the people discovered foreign citizens waiting to be transported to election booths. From the beginning it became clear that the masses were ready to fight against electoral fraud.

Collapse of the right wing, enormous confidence in the FMLN

One of the key elements in the election was the enormous discrediting of the ruling class parties (ARENA, PCN and PDC) which despite having a joint slate and waging a hysterical anti-communist campaign, were not able to defeat the power of the masses.

The ruling class does not trust an FMLN government. They fear the revolutionary potential of the FMLN rank and file. Until the last minute they toyed with the idea of electoral fraud. After the the polling booths closed, they could not hide the advantage the FMLN had. All the counts they broadcast went to the left. The TV was showing exit polls which gave the FMLN a 7 to 10 points lead. But when the time came to announce the first official results, the tone of the reports changed and the mass media started to talk about a "technical draw".

At 7.30, the TSE was supposed to broadcast the first official results. Seven long minutes passed before the representatives of the Supreme Electoral Court came out. Their faces showed great demoralisation. Many did not even appear. It is quite clear that the ruling class vacillated until the last minute and discussed the possibility of declaring victory through electoral fraud.

Walter Araujo announced the first results, giving a small lead to the FMLN, after a third of the ballots had been counted but warned: "Nobody can declare victory yet".

Impact of Marxist ideas

The key element that prevented fraud was the massive response of the masses in the streets during the day and the fear that they would go further if there was fraud. The Peoples Youth Block (BPJ) had from the very beginning of the campaign, defended the need for a decisive struggle against fraud, and was viciously attacked by the media for doing so, particularly by the La Prensa Grafica daily. These attacks were a reflection of the impact the ideas of the Marxists were having amongst the masses.

The leadership of the FMLN did not give concrete instructions on what to do in case of fraud. The BPJ called for decisive action and for a 24-hour general strike. By the end of campaign, many of the FMLN leaders were forced to make more serious appeals. The masses took them and put them into practice, going 100 times further to the left. The Prensa Grafica, in desperation, carried an article with the headline: "BPJ insists in calling a general strike if the FMLN loses". They wanted to generate a mood against any protests. But the masses were alert and ready. If the FMLN had been defeated due to fraud, it would have unleashed a massive struggle, which could have acquired revolutionary proportions, in which the masses would have dealt an even more humiliating defeat to the bourgeoisie. Instead of stopping the left wing, that would have propelled society further towards revolutionary struggle.

ARENA had no option but to recognise its defeat

The ruling class was thrown off balance and had to reluctantly recognise the victory of the FMLN. After the second TSE report, where the FMLN was still in the lead, the international media started to announce that Mauricio Funes had won, and he and the FMLN leaders came out publicly to claim victory. But still, Walter Araujo would not recognise the victory of the left wing president. The victory was clear, with a provisional result of 51.2% for the FMLN and 48.7% for ARENA. However, it remained to be seen whether the losers would recognise the results.

After a long wait, right wing candidate Rodrigo Ávila finally made a public appearance with other right wing leaders. After hesitating for a long time in a speech with little substance, he recognised that the results were favourable to Mauricio Funes. He said that ARENA would be a constructive opposition and would remain alert to defend the country's "system of freedoms". He pointed out that half of the people had voted for the left, but that the other half had voted for the right (a figure greatly exaggerated because of fraud). In this meeting one could hear the classic war cries of the right wing: "Fatherland YES, Communism NO". Hypocritically, Ávila expressed the hope that God would "illuminate the leaders of the FMLN and Funes".

The ruling class will play all its cards; on the one hand trying to win over, co-opt or at least neutralise Funes and the leadership of the FMLN, on the other to fight back against any moves which might threaten its interests. The FMLN was the largest party in January's National Assembly elections, but the right wing parties together have a majority in parliament, and ARENA will also rule the capital's local council. All this will be used to sabotage the work of the left wing national government.

It is clear that during the elections there were differences and internal frictions within ARENA. Outgoing president Antonio Saca was clearly annoyed, while Ávila was recognising their defeat. ARENA showed important internal splits during the campaign, but the party held together against the common FMLN enemy. Having been booted out of national state power, the divisions in the ruling class will increase in the next period.

Change can only come through the struggle for socialism

The Salvadoran workers and peasants have delivered a blow against the right wing. This was one of the more polarised elections in the history of Latin America and there are enormous hopes throughout the continent. There are many illusions in the new FMLN government, especially as the party received its largest vote ever. These illusions could be seen in the Mas Ferrer square where tens of thousands of FMLN supporters gathered at the end of an exhausting day. The masses came out on the streets to celebrate euphorically.

Salvadorian workers and peasants defeat electoral fraud and win presidential electionFunes will enjoy a honeymoon with the masses who expect solutions to their problems. However, the economic crisis in the US has already hit El Salvador, and unless there is a break with the capitalist system, the cycle of unemployment, migration, attacks against the workers, lumpenisation and violence will continue. A real solution to these problems is needed, and the Salvadorian people demands change. 

Mauricio Funes is closer to Lula than he is to Hugo Chávez, and during his campaign he has said that he admires and compares himself with Barack Obama. At the end of his campaign it was revealed that he had received a multimillion loan from a businessmen called Salume. It was also revealed that during the last part of the campaign he lived in a luxurious mansion, though he argued that this was for security reasons. It is clear that a section of the ruling class wishes to co-opt our leaders so that they will not go too far, and for this reason it is important to strengthen the rank and file organisations of the workers.

In his celebration speech, Funes declared that he would maintain the "the system of freedoms", answering the arguments of those who demagogically said he wanted to introduce "communism" presenting it as a dictatorship. He also pointed out that the new government would base itself on the peace agreements, which would benefit the people and that it would put an end to privilege. At the same time he reassured businessmen that he would respect private property and make El Salvador's economy the most dynamic in the region. He called on all forces to work to build a new El Salvador, having already declared that he would set up a government of national unity including parties other than the FMLN.

During the campaign the capitalist media highlighted the BPJ statements - those of us who still consider ourselves as Marxists in the FMLN - as an indication that the party was still socialist. In response to this, candidates Funes and Sanchez Ceren declared that as in other left wing parties, such as the PT in Brazil and the PSOE in Spain, there were people in the rank and file who called themselves socialists and Marxists, but that this did not mean that the leadership shared their views.

Some FMLN members argue that the leadership still defends socialism, but that first of all what is needed is to establish democracy and develop the country. This idea is based in the two-stage theory which the Stalinists borrowed from the Menshevik reformists in Russia. This theory has shown its bankruptcy in one country after another.

The economy of El Salvador is intricately linked to imperialism, which is in a severe crisis. This is the inheritance we receive from ARENA. The serious bourgeois economists recognise that the remittances from abroad, on which the economy is heavily dependant, will fall. The FMLN programme talks of basing itself on the maquilas to develop the economy, which at best will mean a regime of over-exploitation of labour. What is needed is radical change. Even though conditions for socialism do not exist within the limits of El Salvador, what is clear is that the development of the country is not possible under the rule of the "progressive bourgeoisie" which is always subordinate to the interests of imperialism. The workers of the countryside and the cities brought the FMLN and Funes to power and they are the only ones which can bring the country forward.

While there are no objective conditions for the building of socialism within the limits of El Salvador, these do exist at an international level. If the new FMLN government bases itself on the mobilisation of the masses, which showed its revolutionary potential, it could deal serious blows to the ruling class, expropriating the key industries, the banks and the latifundia, putting them under the democratic control of the workers. This would make possible the planning of the economy and would be an example for other revolutions which could follow the steps of the of the Americas' "Tom Thumb" and start the building of a Socialist Federation of the continent.

The party has begun! The masses, who suffered 30,000 deaths in 1932, more than 70,000 in the 1980s, and who have carried out insurrections and heroic general strikes throughout history, will now demand that their government should be fundamentally different from the previous bourgeois governments. They will demand the right to organise trade unions, to a roof over their heads, to education, to health care, jobs and decent wages, etc. The ruling class will put pressure on our leaders in the opposite direction, to make sure nothing changes and to keep their enormous privileges, based on private ownership of the means of production.

Once again, the Salvadoran people showed their enormous revolutionary potential. The ruling class has been defeated this time. We appeal to Mauricio Funes and the leadership of the FMLN to break with the ruling class and to base themselves on the enormous strength of the Salvadorian people to start the radical transformation of society. In the epoch of capitalist decay, a small and dependant country can only go forward on the basis of a socialist and internationalist programme.

The FMLN Marxists, organised in the BPJ, will continue to struggle so that our government makes no concessions to the ruling class, and opens the socialist transformation of society for which tens of thousands of workers and peasants of our country gave their lives.

March 15, 2009