El Salvador: where does the Bukele government go after militarising parliament?

On 9 February, the President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, militarised parliament. Only days before, he called for an insurrection of the people using Article 87 of the constitution, which sanctions insurrection when the constitutional order has been disrupted. These actions mark a turning point in the recent history of the country.

Since the Peace Accords, no government had used force to obtain reforms or loans to finance policies. The events of 9 February also indicate a convulsive future within the state institutions, a crisis that has its foundations in the depths of the bourgeois-democratic regime. The use of the military was also a wake-up call from President Bukele to all opposition forces.

Is a parliament coup timely?

We have explained in the past that, for President Bukele and the United States, a parliamentary coup is not currently advantageous, as it would mean the dissolution of one of the most symbolic institutions of bourgeois democracy, to replace it in practice with a military police regime.

The main reason for this is that they do not need it – it would be an unnecessary action that would only complicate things and not produce any advantage for capitalist interests. Capitalist domination and exploitation are better protected under a democratic shell. The more perfect "democracy" is, the less visible the bourgeois dictatorship is in the eyes of the masses.

Lenin raises this idea with absolute clarity in The State and the Revolution. Following the analysis of Marx and Engels, Lenin says:

"Another reason why the omnipotence of “wealth” is more certain in a democratic republic is that it does not depend on defects in the political machinery or on the faulty political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell... it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.’’

We do not know if, at the time, Bukele exactly understood this, but we do know that Washington perfectly understands. The bourgeoisie does not mutilate part of its apparatus of domination – the state – without a key motive, or in the face of the imminent danger of revolutionary events that threaten the established power. What events are we talking about? Revolutions or wars with internal enemies. The regime in El Salvador is not currently facing either of these threats.

On the contrary, Bukele has an entirely manageable situation to govern from parliament into the near future. Let's look at some data revealed by the UCA Survey, one of the most serious pollsters in the country, just a month ago. When asked: ‘if the elections were today, which party would you vote for?’, New Ideas (Nuevas Ideas) – Bukele's party – led in the intention to vote with 46.5 percent; followed very far behind by ARENA at 6.8 percent, FMLN at 5.2 percent and GANA at 3.7 percent. The difference between President Bukele's party and the other parties is absolutely overwhelming. So what is the purpose of dissolving the bourgeois parliament when you can dominate it by winning a majority in the next elections?

We believe that Bukele was looking for two things: to demonstrate his authority and power, but above all to further discredit the political parties and the Legislative Assembly itself. However, the method used was too far even for his national and international allies.

Did the United States support the alleged coup?

A week after the events of 9 February, it has become clear that Bukele acted independently. We are sure that there were many attempts to control his actions from the United States and international agencies just hours before the Assembly was taken over by the military.

After the events, many parliaments, agencies and international media mouthpieces screamed to the heavens, denouncing the "attack on democracy". The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, OAS, the EU, and the UN strongly condemned Bukele's actions, labelling them as dictatorial and jeopardising the democracy achieved and maintained since the Peace Accords.

Bukele Trump Image Flickr The White HouseIt has become clear that Bukele acted independently of his imperialist allies / Image: Flickr, The White House

This is completely hypocritical, because we know that they have been silent for years about repression and dictatorship in Latin America. Starting with the coup and electoral fraud in Honduras that has allowed the imposition of a bloody dictatorship against the people, or during recent events, where the governments of Chile, Haiti, Colombia and Ecuador, have deployed excessive use of police force and the military against the people. Were these events not anti-democratic? Why have we seen so few condemnations and in these instances?

The truth is that all these hypocritical statements should not be interpreted as a call to defend the interests of the people. What they are really defending is the freedom to dominate and exploit, through their institutions, which – even though they are discredited – are effective tools to maintain the status quo. Institutions such as the Legislative Assembly, the Supreme Court of Justice, etc., are not a part of society that seek change; on the contrary, they exist to ensure things remain the same.

It is through these institutions, which the bourgeois and their mouthpieces call "democratic", that the dollar has been imposed as a national currency in El Salvador and the pension system has been privatised, so that the rich soak up our wealth and leave us in poverty during old age. These institutions have allowed the abuser of a seven-year-old girl to go free and have convicted women who have miscarried of having abortions, resulting in sentences of up to 30 years. These obsolete institutions are a brake on health, education and housing.

They repeatedly say that they are the expression of democracy, but is it possible that we poor people can change everything that affects us through these institutions? The working class has tried for years to change their living conditions by voting for a representative, a mayor or a president, but in the end, nothing changes. What democracy are we talking about then? Everything is a farce.

Why did people support these actions?

Taking into account that people have come to the polls over and over again, trusting that their living conditions would change if they vote for this or that candidate, it is not difficult to understand that after they vote and nothing changes, their disappointment would lead them to seek alternatives to change their living conditions. That is what has happened in El Salvador for the past couple of years. The people's level of approval of political parties and institutions such as parliament have suffered a resounding fall, and almost no one believes in them.

The academic Manuel Alcántara cites interesting data in a recent article on the situation in El Salvador. He says:

“In a supplementary way, this scenario is accompanied by a serious problem of people's general malaise with politics. According to Latinobarómetro, in the last decade, support for democracy has dropped from 68 percent to 28 percent, and confidence in political parties has dropped from 39 percent to 6 percent. As for the affiliation with the political parties in the last 10 years, according to the Barómetro de las Américas, it has dropped from 51 percent to 35 percent. In line with this, electoral participation is barely 50 percent, with a decrease in the last two decades of 15 percentage points, which, however, increased very modestly in the 2019 presidential elections, in which the landscape suddenly changed with the candidacy of Nayib Bukele.”

Leaving aside the forced mobilisation of state workers and taking into account these figures cited by Manuel Alcántara, it is not so difficult to understand why around 5,000 people mobilised on Sunday 9 February, shouting in favour of the taking of parliament. They see in Bukele a figure that can bring an end to those responsible for carrying out reactionary policies against the people in past years and who, in all this time, have not done anything to reverse them. Indeed, they oppose government policies that Bukele says are having excellent results.

All actions have been justified by Bukele under this central idea: “the deputies oppose my government, therefore, we must press them, force them to work for the people and all those who do not support us are attacking the poorest." Since the beginning, riding on people's discontent has been Bukele's most effective policy.

Bukele's polls and conclusions

In January, the UCA survey revealed that more than 50 percent of people believed that their personal security had improved in the last year, and more than 50 percent also said they agreed with Bukele's policies, highlighting the Territorial Control Plan. However, despite these good numbers, Bukele’s popularity rating dropped a few decimal points from 8.37 to 7.8 in seven months. These figures shed much light on the recent events.

If we start from this point, we could easily conclude that the refusal of the deputies to approve loans to finance the flagship policy of Bukele would cause an impending conflict. This represented a perfect hook to Bukele's government and the deputies knew it perfectly. What they did not know was how far Bukele would go with the manipulation of the people and the armed forces. We have a totally unstable and therefore unpredictable president.

On the other hand, another survey published in January reveals another quite interesting fact that Bukele may have taken into account for his subsequent actions. An article by ARPAS highlights these questions: “If there were strikes or protests that caused disorder in the country, would it be justified for the authorities to use force? 50.5 percent said they agree or strongly agree. In addition, 76.6 percent thought that it is necessary for the authorities to govern with a strong hand”.

And they continue: “Regarding whether in some circumstances an authoritarian government may be better than a democratic one, 48.4 percent agreed or strongly agreed, while 43.8 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed. IUDOP (University Institute of Public Opinion) asked: should groups and people who represent serious threats to society be eliminated? 64.3 percent thought they agree or strongly agree”. It seems that Bukele's advisors and Bukele himself know how to interpret the surveys very well. The answers to these questions reflect the convulsive state of society against those who appear to oppose improving people’s lives.

Bukele always wins

If we analyse Bukele's actions, we can say that, among the oppressed classes, he gained some popularity for standing up to those who have always opposed the measures that benefit them. The followers of Bukele interpret all these actions as a defence of policies that maintain the security of the country, although this is not really true. We have already explained that Bukele's programme is militaristic and repressive. It can stop violence for a while, but it will not be able to end it completely – sooner or later this will come to light. Policies that can end violence and crime must be equated with raising the living standards of the working class and ending inequality.

800px Nayib Bukele se presenta en San Miguel Image PorTTadaThe desperate masses see Bukele as a way out, for now / Image: PorTTada

The discrediting of the deputies is such that they are at a crossroads and everything they do and say can be used against them. Thus, if they block the loan, they will be hated by the people. But if they approve it they won’t make significant electoral gains; rather, their failure in the elections was determined long before. No matter what they do in these months, they are too reactionary to give the people what they need, for example, decent pensions and water laws. Their interests are the interests of the capitalists, not those of the people. To do this would go against their own interests. In these circumstances, Bukele has everything to win in the 2021 elections.

It is necessary to clarify that, although it is true that people are disappointed and frustrated with political parties and deputies, it does not mean that they want to do away with them. Workers still have illusions in bourgeois democracy and that is clear when we look at the opinions of the latest polls. Many still have the idea that, if other deputies come forward, for example from New Ideas, the parliament may be different. Not being clear on this can lead to serious errors in the interpretation of the facts.

These perspectives are very good for the New Ideas party and for Nayib Bukele. The big problem will be expressed when they have the full power of the Executive and the Legislative Assembly, because the excuses will have been exhausted, and there will be no one to blame for the fact that they cannot raise the living standards of the poorest. To achieve this, they need to boost the economy, create more jobs, better salaries and greater opportunities for the youth. Can they do it without investment, and without attacking their masters?

Foreign investment and the Bukele government

But not everything is good for Bukele’s government. Investors are nervous. The collapse of the world economy that can be triggered at any time, and today, more than ever, they need stable conditions to invest.

What are those conditions that governments and investors always talk about? In simple language, they are low wages, zero union freedoms and zero taxes. But in addition, and this is a fundamental issue, they need stable public institutions that know how to handle labour conflicts well, or who know how to maintain exploitation and misery as something normal and commonplace.

This is confirmed by the statements of Luis Cardenal, president of the National Association of Private Enterprise, ANEP, when he commented on Bukele's actions:

“Investors take care of their resources, their savings and they will not invest in a place where there are no sufficient guarantees that there will be stability and security that allows their investments to be secured for the future”.

In this way, Bukele's fate is sealed.

No serious investor wants to risk investing in a country where the president mobilises his followers to enforce their policies, where the institutions that must protect their interests are in constant crisis. This is too risky for the capitalists. Bukele has put the rope around his neck with his actions. If he planned to receive some percentage of foreign investment, which in itself was already difficult, he will now face much more adverse conditions, which will bring him into conflict with the people waiting for solutions to their problems, that Bukele himself has promised.

Bukele's performance after 9 February

Now Bukele will have to win the confidence of the international capitalists. We began to see this immediately after Sunday 9 February. His appearances in public were reduced as well as his tweets, to the point that he gave eight days for the Assembly to approve the loans. But after eight days, he did not mobilise or call an insurrection. His ears were still a little red after they were pulled hard by Washington.

The international pressure ultimately weighed in on all his actions. We may have in the next few days a more measured response on the government’s part. However, the germ of their authoritarianism is always latent in Bukele’s personality: it will cost a little to regain the trust of international opinion.

In his absence, Walter Araujo, former deputy of ARENA and former GANA mayoral candidate for San Salvador, has taken the illegitimate title of ‘leader of the people.’ But his call for a meeting on Sunday 16 February was a very poor-quality show. Many of those who were there probably felt cheated. What is the point of travelling many kilometres across the country to listen to a 15-minute speech, full of cheap patriotism, and end by saying that the insurrection is postponed for another 15 days?

What does this back and forth mean for the regime? What is in the background?

Everything that is happening is an expression of a deeper crisis that is developing below the surface. These struggles at the top only express the enormous pressures below, and are the first signs of much more convulsive events: we must prepare for the coming of these events that are now proving difficult to contain.

Certainly, tensions between bourgeois institutions will remain on the agenda until 2021. This is very bad news for those who ask for peace and reconciliation. Imperialism and the national bourgeoisie need a strong and reliable government to go about their businesses. Bukele has to grant them this, but it will not be so easy. The oppressed assume that Bukele's government is their government and they will think the same with the New Ideas deputies, whom they will vote for in 2021. Therefore, they will face enormous pressure to accomplish their programme from the first day after the elections. If their promises are not fulfilled, the opposition will begin to gain strength and we would see great events in the class struggle.

Is there a threat of fascism today?

Wrongly, some intellectuals argue that Bukele wants to impose a fascist regime, but this is an exaggeration that has no logical basis. We have denied that possibility in El Salvador and Latin America for many years. Of course, our analysis does not start from a subjective question of individuals, as if they act entirely as they please, but from an in-depth analysis, taking into account all the possible variables of the situation to arrive at a concrete analysis.

In the past, we have said that, firstly, the conditions do not exist for fascist regimes in El Salvador. One of those conditions is the absence of reactionary classes that served as a social base for fascist regimes in the 20th century. For example, the classes on which Hitler relied in Germany and Mussolini in Italy were the peasants, who were a proportionately large force in German and Italian society at the time. They also relied on university students, the majority of whom were fascists. These reactionary classes attacked the organisations of the working class.

Today, these forces of reaction are outside the current equation. Capitalism has developed society so much that it has completely displaced the peasantry, to the point that today we have no peasantry but rather a kind of farm worker who is dispossessed of their lands. This is the case in the Salvadoran countryside. Of course, we can't call Bukele's followers fascists, just because some are often violent against their opponents on social media. This would be an absurd generalisation. Not all New Ideas supporters are reactionary, some, if not the majority, are simply confused and deceived.

On the other hand, we can say that some of Bukele's actions may have fascist content, such as attacking the Workers’ Union of the Salvadoran Social Security Institute, STISSS. But you cannot categorise a regime as fascist by pointing to the existence of some fascist methods. Doing so would lead us to a series of errors in our revolutionary practice.

The relationship between classes within bourgeois society

Gobernando con la Gente Image Presidencia El SalvadorSome have raised concerns about a fascist regime in El Salvador, but this is not an immediate prospect and misunderstands the nature of Bukele's support base / Image: Presidencia El Salvador

We must bear in mind that the evolution of fascist regimes in Europe was also marked by great events in the class struggle, and by the World War itself. The defeat of the revolutionary movements of the ‘20s, where the working class fought to take power, but was severely defeated by the betrayal of the Social Democratic leaders, was one of the basic conditions for the rise of fascism.

In Latin America, the working class is totally intact – it has not been defeated in revolutionary or insurrectional struggle for decades. What we have is a powerful working class. In some cases, such as Chile and Ecuador, it is maturing towards revolutionary struggle and the taking of power. In these countries, and El Salvador too, the working class has not yet been defeated in open struggle to take its destiny into its hands, and is fit to fight to change its living conditions.

Is there a danger to the relations of production?

The development of regimes is not due to the subjective interests of the individuals, but rather to the objective conditions under which these individuals develop. In the countries where we saw fascism, capitalism's own relations of production were at serious risk. They were impossible to safeguard under bourgeois-democratic regimes, that is, a democratic republic like the one we have in El Salvador.

This created the need for a totalitarian regime, which could rise above all classes – the bourgeoisie, the workers and peasants – to protect production relations, but not before attacking all classes, ending the bourgeois institutions, expropriating industry, banking and land from the hands of capital, and placing them under the control of the regime. While, on the other hand, violently crushing and annihilating the oppressed, mainly workers' organisations, unions and parties.

This is why fascist regimes do not always have the approval of imperialism. The bourgeoisie only gives power to the fascists when there is no way out. But these regimes cannot be controlled. Due to their specific characteristics, they are incapable of being maintained over a long period of time, because they arise with a specific purpose: to end the threat of revolution.

Reading a bit of history, Bukele's actions will seem to us like a kitten's meow, rather than the roar of a fascist tiger. For now, there is no mass movement that opposes Bukele's policies – quite the opposite, he has significant support from the working class, which is seeking change through him.

Although this will not last forever, the masses can tolerate a charlatan like Bukele for some time. But sooner or later, they will demand that he fulfill his promises. When will this happen? An exact date cannot be defined, it could be a few months after a significant majority of deputies in the Legislative Assembly wins or even earlier, but one thing is certain, when this happens, Bukele will be in serious trouble.

We have stated that, for now, the bourgeois-democratic regime is favourable for meeting the objectives of the transnationals and national capitalists behind Bukele. And as long as this is so, the regime will remain bourgeois-democratic. But we have also said that Bukele can in certain instances become a bonapartist. What does this mean? That he can balance between the classes: benefiting one and attacking another, and using the correlation of forces to achieve his objectives as he did on 9 February.

This implies that, when the opposition to Bukele becomes stronger and his social base is diminished, it is not ruled out that he could move towards a totally Bonapartist regime. This would make Bukele an arbiter between classes: replacing the state and all its institutions to concentrate all power in his hands in order to complete his objectives and maximise his power. This means that, in order to overthrow the regime we must overthrow its auxiliary armed detachments; and for that, we must arm the proletarian vanguard by creating a workers’ militia.

Ted Grant explains this type of regime very well in his article ‘Democracy or Bonapartism in Europe’:

“That is the essence of Bonapartism: naked, military-police dictatorship, the 'arbiter' with a sword. A regime which indicates that the antagonisms within society have become so great that the state machine, 'regulating' and 'ordering' these antagonisms, while remaining an instrument of the property owners, assumes a certain independence of all the classes. A 'national judge' concentrating power in his hands, personally 'arbitrates' the conflicts within the nation, playing off one class against another, nevertheless remaining a tool of the property owners. At the same time, we characterise as Bonapartist, a regime where the basic class forces of bourgeoisie and proletariat more or less balance one another, thus allowing the state power to manoeuvre and balance the contending camps and again giving the state power a certain independence in relation to society as a whole.”

What is the short-term perspective?

Therefore, the short-term perspective is the resurgence of the class struggle and not the advent of a fascist regime. Fierce battles between the working class and the ruling class are yet to take place. Talking about fascism is a bit of an exaggeration, not only because we believe it is an incorrect analysis, but because if it is true, we should have a more serious attitude to defending ourselves.

To conclude, stating that fascism is coming, also means that mass murders are coming, along with systematic political persecution of the leaders of the trade union movement, attacks on the establishments of the workers' organisations, the suppression of freedom of assembly, expression, the right to strike and demonstrate, the concentration of economic power in the hands of the regime, etc. Therefore, we must arm the workers to defend themselves, because this will not stop with calls for peace, reconciliation and dialogue as the social movement proffers today. This only means that we are offering ourselves up on a silver platter to the regime. These statements are the result of a level of exaggeration when we link the general analysis to practical issues.

What do we defend?

El Salvador abortion Image Flickr DC ProtestsA better society is possible, and must be fought for through class struggle / Image: Flickr, DC Protests

We raise the flag of struggle in defence of our conquests. The conquests of thousands of honest combatants who gave their lives to achieve the few democratic freedoms we have taken from the capitalist regime. We do not share the absurd slogan of defending democracy in the abstract that the former FMLN guerrillas and other trade union and political movements have raised. That would be to side with the OAS, Washington, ANEP and ARENA, and against the workers who see in the deputies of the Assembly a chance to achieve better living conditions.

We defend the limited democratic freedoms that allow us to express ourselves, meet and organise as an exploited working class, which (although limited), are still an invaluable conquest of our martyrs and heroes of the ‘70s and ‘80s. We denounce that defending the deputies of the Assembly and the Parliament itself and other institutions, is self defeating, in the sense that those same institutions are responsible for our misery. We fight to replace the current bourgeois parliament – a place of quackery and corruption – with a parliament of workers, in favour of workers; and for a constitution based on the interests of the workers.

The current constitution is nothing more than the framework of laws that govern our exploitation. These laws have always benefited the capitalists, because when accommodates itself to capital, the law is complied with. But when it comes to guaranteeing education, health and housing – rights established in the constitution – the deputies and government officials ignore it.

What freedom, democracy or constitution do they give to the pensioner who receives only $200 each month to survive? What rights can you give to the young man who cannot go to university for lack of state and free universities? What freedom can you give to a woman who does not have the right to make decisions about her body? It is all hoax, and now the workers are understanding as much through experience, so they reject the words of those who speak in the name of democracy and peace.

The tasks of the left

The task of the left is not to unite with the reactionaries against Bukele. The task of the revolutionaries is to fight Bukele while explaining that we defend our conquests and rights, but that we also fight for another type of state. One that can be organised from every corner of the country – from all the workplaces, schools and universities.

The revolutionary way to confront Bukele's government, the bourgeoisie and imperialism is by forming a platform of the working class, youth, women and all the oppressed classes, on the basis of the most fundamental demands of the moment. We speak of nationalisation of the pensions system; salary increases above the cost of living; a water law that avoids the privatisation of the water as a product; a secular, free and quality education system; the decriminalisation of abortion; and an end to sexist violence and murders. Only a broad and general programme of struggle can achieve the unity of revolutionaries against Bukele's attacks.

We must transform this society

We firmly believe that a totally different society is possible, and the power to change society is in our hands alone. But we also believe that, to achieve this, it is necessary to build a strong political tendency, which can build a political party of the working class in the future.

We rely on the power of the working class that exists everywhere – in stores and supermarkets, in market places, in cross-border factories, in call centres, in factories of all industries. Without this formidable force, nothing moves in the country – not even a wheel turns. This is the true power of the Salvadoran working class: the only power that, once organised, can change the rotten society which we live in.

But this will only be possible through a relentless struggle against the bourgeoisie, imperialism and against their corrupted institutions, political parties and officials.

Join our fight

We call all honest and selfless young people, those who suffer daily misery, exploitation and marginalisation, to join our struggle. It is necessary to understand that, only together, by educating ourselves as revolutionary fighters in theory and practice, will we be able to remove all the foundations from this disgusting society. Get organised with us and let's fight together for socialism!

Originally published 18 February by Bloque Popular Juvenil |