December’s meeting of the CWI’s International Executive Committee marked the beginning of a new and tumultuous phase in the Latin American situation with a plenary discussion, introduced and replied to by Andre Ferrari, from Libertade Socialismo e Revolucao (CWI in Brazil). After a period outside of the epicentre of world developments in the initial years of the current crisis, events in the continent are acquiring an ever-greater importance for perspectives and the world situation.
This new phase brings an end to a fairly prolonged conjuncture of relative economic stability, and political continuity. In the last decade and a half, the continent’s key governments enjoyed an unprecedented continuity, with the repeated re-election of its most significant leaders, and the seemingly unthreatened domination of various ruling political blocks, which passed power from leader to leader, such as the Kirchners in Argentina, the Uribe-Santos right wing in Colombia, etc.
End of economic honeymoon
In many cases, this stability was based on a so-called economic miracle: Latin America had seemingly avoided the worst of the world capitalist crisis, and its main economies continued to grow rapidly. However, things below the surface were more complicated. Andre explained how the strength of the main Latin American economies during this period was based on the continued high demand for commodities especially from China.
This did not represent any kind of re-emancipation of the continent or entry into the “first world” club. In fact, a significant de-industrialisation took place and economic activity on the continent was confined to the production and export of raw materials. This new model also left the Latin American economy much more vulnerable to the impact of the current slowdown in the so called “emerging economies”, led by China. Indeed, this year will see the lowest growth rate for Latin America in over 10 years, of between 2% and 2.5%.
Andre and other comrades who intervened in the discussion from Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Sweden, Ireland the USA and the CWI’s International Secretariat outlined how this ending of Latin America’s economic honeymoon has already been translated into big social and political turmoil. This has been seen in each and every one of the continent’s 4 biggest economies – Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia – which between them account for over 75% of the Latin American economy.
Mexico and Colombia in turmoil
In Mexico, elections this year saw the neo-liberal PAN party removed from power and replaced by the PRI, which previously held power for over 70 years. However, the PRI (traditionally more “protectionist”) has faithfully continued with the PAN’s policies, most notably in the creeping privatization of the oil and electricity sectors. This has been facilitated by the neo-liberal “Pacto por Mexico” which aims to win cross-party agreement for a series of “reforms”, which disgracefully was initially supported even by the traditional left party, the PRD. Andre, as well as Alan Jones from the US outlined the political degeneration of the PRD in the last years, as well as the split to form “Morena” organised by Lopez Obrador (AMLO – left candidate defeated by fraud in the 2006 elections). However, AMLO has maintained a more “moderate” position than previously, closer to that of Lula in Brazil than during his 2006 campaign. The politics of his 2012 Presidential election campaign was particularly weak and demagogic.
However, despite the lack of a fighting mass revolutionary left, the process of neo-liberal attacks has not advanced without heroic resistance by big sections of the working class. Comrades spoke of the strikes of electricity workers against privatisation and of the teachers. Both struggles faced brutal state repression, in an increasingly militarised atmosphere, as the government attempts to flex its military muscle in the “war” against narco-traffickers.
Colombia, another of the main pillars of the traditional pro-US right wing in the continent, has also seen turmoil. The Santos government has been forced to moderate its positions, especially regarding the war with the FARC (with whom negotiations are taking place with the government). However, this has led to a split within the right wing with Santos’ predecessor Uribe defending a more hardline position, and supporting an electoral challenge to Santos in next year’s elections, where he will also be challenged by the Patriotic Front, a broad left force aligned with sections of the guerrilla movement.
There has also been a huge upturn in social struggles with a massive movement of rural workers which threw the government into crisis, as well as a strong education movement involving teachers’ and students’ strike action. State repression remains a big feature, with assassinations of trade union activists commonplace. The meeting passed a resolution in solidarity with the workers of a Nestle factory where trade union activists have recently been killed.
Argentina enters new crisis, gains for the revolutionary left
In Argentina, the previously stable Kirchner regime has also entered crisis. While attempting to give the impression of a certain shift to the left, naming a new “leftist” Finance Minister, Christina Kirchner’s government is in reality engaged in a shift to the right, as evidenced by new deals to re-pay the debt to US creditors and the agreement to massively compensate Spanish multinational YPF following its partial expropriation last year. She is also preparing a new massive austerity “adjustment” by 2015.
The upturn in struggle provoked by this situation was reflected in this years’ parliamentary elections, where the FIT (Workers’ Front of the Left – an alliance of Trotskyist organisations) scored 5%, with 1.2 million votes winning 3 MPs (which would have been 4 were it not for clear electoral fraud) and regional MPs in 7 regions. Especially striking was the case of Salta where the PO (FIT’s biggest component) scored 27%, the highest score for any party. This huge step forward was partially facilitated by the move to the right of the “centre-left” which left a certain space to be filled, but also reflects years of patient work in the workers’ and social movements.
Tony Saunois from the CWI’s International Secretariat, emphasised that the question now is one of perspectives for the FIT, and of how the front can develop into a new mass force. This will pose important questions, including of how to deal with the future undermining of and splits from the Peronist tradition which continues to dominate in the workers’ movement. While the mass audience achieved by the FIT seems to have served to combat the traditionally sectarian approach of its components, the need to maintain an orientation towards the mass movement of workers and youth while arguing for a revolutionary socialist programme remains key.
Brazil key to continent
The most crucial country for the CWI in Latin America remains Brazil, because of its regional importance and of the impressive base which we have built in the country over many years. Economically it has gone from being the region’s powerhouse to having the lowest growth of any ‘BRICS’ country. “Lulaism”, previously a reference for capitalism in the region was this year first confronted with the explosion of the streets. While Dilma remains relatively strong and is likely to win the next Presidential elections, the stability of her government, once unquestioned, has been put into doubt for the first time. Andre explained how a new factor has entered the political scene – “the streets”.
Luciano, also from LSR (CWI in Brazil) spoke of the massive movement which exploded in June, explaining that while its trigger was the hike in transport prices, in reality it was a generalised revolt against the state of things. The hosting of the World Cup and Olympics, and the millions squandered on massive infrastructural projects to facilitate this, has served to expose the brutal inequality that exists, in which millions of people who languish in favelas are told there is “no money” for improvements.
This movement was not an isolated event, and is the culmination of a process of rising workers’ and social struggle, already clear in 2012 (the year with most strikes for 16 years). This year has seen a new wave of workers’ struggle, including a strike of 300,000 public administration workers which lasted for months and the huge strike of teachers in Rio de Janeiro state, in which LSR comrades played a crucial role.
As in other countries, the movement was marked by brutal repression, with rubber bullets and imprisonments. Repression has also been stepped up more generally, especially by the military police in the ‘favelas’. However, there has been a key change in the outlook of the oppressed, especially the youth who have lost their fear. This new confidence was also displayed in how the movement responded to the partial victory achieved when transport prices were lowered… the protests grew in size and put forward more radical and far-reaching demands.
While a certain ‘anti-party mood’ existed in the movement, this must be engaged with and assisted in developing towards an understanding of the need for a political instrument for the struggle. LSR has managed to recruit significant layers out of the movement, despite this complicated mood.
The need for PSOL to develop as a fighting independent mass force, which gives a political voice to these struggles and arms them with a socialist programme is crucial to overcoming the crisis of political leadership which exists. Unfortunately, the right wing of the party managed to fraudulently maintain its majority at the recent congress of PSOL, but the left block within it in which LSR participates has also emerged strengthened in the struggle against unprincipled coalition agreements with bourgeois parties and for a socialist programme. Paolo Eduardo Gomes, councillor for PSOL in Niteroi and close collaborator of LSR, also addressed the meeting, emphasising the need for PSOL to develop as a fighting socialist force.
This year’s presidential elections in Chile also reflected a move into a new era. Again, they reflected the upturn in class struggle which Chile has experienced, especially with the sustained mass movement of students for free education over the last years. The “New Majority” coalition which Bachelet has led to power is in fact more like a “New Minority”, as a majority of voters in fact abstained from both the first and second rounds, reflecting a mass disillusionment and distrust in the political system.
Patricio Guzman, from Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Chile), and other comrades explained ths situation, and how in order to secure re-election, Bachelet also needed the left cover of the Communist Party which recently incorporated itself into the Concertacion coalition and is likely to enter Bachelet’s government. In this context, the need for an independent left challenge to Bachelet – who has already governed with neo-liberal policies between 2005 and 2009 - in the elections was striking. The candidate who initially best stepped forward to fill this space was Marcel Claude, around whom a movement (“Todos a la Moneda”) developed. Socialismo Revolucionario was involved in the development of this movement from the beginning, and stood candidates for the regional council and Senate lists in the elections, winning very respectable results (Celso Calfullan won 16,000 votes for regional council and Patricio Guzman 13,000 for the Senate).
However, SR also intervened conscious of the limitations and contradictions within the campaign. Marcel Claude began the campaign with quite a radical discourse and programme, demanding the nationalisation of copper and all natural resources and a Constituent Asssembly to do away with Pinochet’s constitution. However, in the course of the campaign he began to move right, watering down his rhetoric substantially, even to the point of denying he was left-wing! This had a concrete impact on the development of his campaign. While initially it had gathered thousands – including many youth and students - to mass rallies and was given up to 7% in opinion polls, the campaign lost momentum as the elections approached and Claude ended up with only 2.8%.
Patricio explained how SR’s support for the movement was combined with a political intervention, counterposing a socialist programme of democratic public ownership to that of Claude. We also helped to organise the best sectors linked to the workers’ and youth movement in the campaign in the “Workers’ Front for Marcel Claude” which involves the militant bank workers’ federation, and a number of left wing groups, through which the need to continue with the building of a mass workers’ political alternative following the elections. For this reason, the Workers’ Front has been maintained and Socialismo Revolucionario, which has seen important growth in the last months, will struggle for it develop along socialist lines as a step towards a new mass party of the working class.
The meeting debated the question of how revolutionary Marxists relate to broader, initial steps in the re-composition of the left and workers’ movement such as the recent Chilean campaign, which while representing important steps forward, do not at this stage have a clearly working class or socialist character. The CWI emphasises at every stage the need to fight within the movement for a revolutionary socialist policy, and for mass independent forces of the working class, maintaining the independent banner of revolutionary Marxism held high. However, Tony Saunois explained how in this struggle we must be prepared to engage with initial steps and formations which attract new layers of workers and youth in the struggle against austerity, capitalism and oppression, understanding that they represent transitory and incipient steps in the re-composition of the left and workers’ movement. This method has allowed our forces to successfully intervene in broader formations from Chile to Brazil, and also in Europe.
Venezuela and Bolivia
The new phase of crisis and instability in the continent has also shaken up those countries central to the “Bolivarian” revolutionary processes of the last 10-15 years. Johan Rivas, from Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Venezuela) explained how the death of Chavez has opened up a new situation in which the contradictions of the Bolivarian process, long explained by the CWI, are being laid bare. The fundamental basis for this has been that despite the progressive reforms and nationalisations implemented by “Chavismo” over the last 15 years, capitalism has at no stage been fully broken with. This has led to a situation in which, under the impact of a deep economic crisis – with elements of “stagflation” – the previously discredited and disorientated right-wing has been able to make important gains, including among the base of Chavismo, as reflected in the last electoral contests. Between Chavez’s re-election last November and Nicolas Maduro’s election in April, Chavismo lost 2 million votes, a trend which has been maintained in subsequent legislative and local elections.
While Chavez’s huge authority and charisma helped to maintain the stability and unity of the government under these conditions, his replacement by Maduro opens up a much more unstable situation. The “economic war” waged by the bosses and right-wing which Maduro speaks of is being facilitated by the government’s policies of conciliation with the private sector and imperialism, and a sector within Chavismo itself is flirting with sectors of the opposition. There is also an increasing breach between civilian and military sectors within the government, with the latter having been strengthened since Chavez’s death.
In this situation, the only force capable of lastingly preventing a return to power of the right wing and bringing an end to the economic hardship of the masses, is the working class which must fight for its own independent political voice in order to fight for a revolutionary break with capitalism. SR (CWI) in Venezuela fights for the development of a mass left alternative of workers and the poor, based on the base of Chavismo and key sectors of workers in struggle, who have waged important strike movements in the last months, including occupations and the implementation of workers’ control on a local level.
In Bolivia, the Morales government has moved against its base of workers and peasants in a more decisive manner, with a number of new anti-worker measures, especially the new pensions law of this year. This has, in turn provoked a new wave of struggle against them, the high point of which was reached during the indefinite general strike of the COB union confederation, which lasted one week. Most importantly, the idea of building an independent workers’ party – the absence of which was a key weakness of the revolutionary movement which brought the MAS to power – has been readily taken up by advanced sections of the workers’ movement. This led to the important initiative launched by the COB in February for the building of a new workers’ party (the PT). However, the future development of this initiative in unclear. Franco from ASR (CWI in Bolivia) outlined how it is necessary to struggle for the continued independence of the PT from the government and for its building as a mass political force with a revolutionary programme, rather than a mere bargaining tool for the COB bureaucracy.
The discussion was deeply enriched by the important presence, for the first time, of a representative from the ‘Observatorio Critico’, a Cuban network of left activists. Rogelio explained the growing contradictions emerging within Cuban society on the basis of the new limited pro-market reforms implemented by the government of Raul Castro. While for many within the Cuban bureaucracy, these reforms mean the beginning of a process towards the restoration of a market economy, Tony Saunois explained how it would be mistaken to believe that such a process in Cuba will be a mere mirror image of the collapse of the USSR or of the process of opening up to the capitalist market in China. The deep roots of the gains of the Cuban revolution in the consciousness of millions of Cubans mean that such a process can be checked, slowed down or even reversed under the pressure of events. The need for revolutionary Marxists to deepen an understanding of the Cuban revolution and its current situation, so as to deepen and elaborate the necessary programme for the defence of the revolution against imperialism and its deepening on the basis of workers’ democracy and internationalist socialism.
Andre Ferrari replied to the discussion, underlining the important possibilities for the CWI to grow in size and influence in the next period, moving into new countries such as Colombia and Peru. The new and exciting conjuncture opening up in Latin America will see it propelled back towards the epicentre of the world situation and revolution. The important steps forward made by the CWI in Brazil, Chile, Venezuela and elsewhere will serve to greatly improve the prospects for the ideas of revolutionary socialism to be located in the front line of the coming class battles and victories of the Latin American working class, in the struggle for a socialist confederation of the region.