The ongoing struggle in Latin America between the workers and poor versus the capitalists and big landowners - between revolution and counter revolution - was a key feature of the commission on the continent during this week’s CWI European Summer School in Belgium.
The discussion, introduced by Aron Amm from Germany and replied to by Tony Saunois, touched on a wide array of countries, issues and struggles. The recent coup in Honduras, the revolutionary processes in Bolivia and Venezuela, the potentially explosive situation in Mexico and developments in Brazil were some of the key topics discussed.
Latin America – An anticipation of tomorrow
Aron pointed out how Latin America has been at the forefront of the international struggle against capitalism. Having been a ‘test lab’ for neo-liberal ideas since the 1970’s, it was the first to see mass struggles against neo-liberalism and capitalism, and a flourishing of socialist ideas.
This struggle will only be made sharper by the impacts of the international economic crisis.
Aron pointed out that it is true that, so far, in what are just the first phases of what is the worst depression since the 1930s, Latin America has not been as dramatically devastated as else where. This is partly due to the continents relatively smaller financial sector. However, the region is highly dependent on foreign investment, which is crashing, and exports which will also increasingly decline. This will mean more tumultuous events.
Brazil has been one of Latin America’s hardest hit by the economic crisis. Aron reported that there has been a process of de-industrialisation in Brazil, with companies moving to China, resulting in job losses.
A key issue in the commission discussion concerned political perspectives, in light of next year’s presidential election. The constitution forbids sitting President Lula to stand again. But his party, the PT (‘Workers’ Party) has no other candidate with the same popularity. In this context, there is potential for an increase in an anti-PT sentiment, and an opening for the new left party, P-SOL. However, this will be limited by the PSOL leadership’s attempts to water down the party’s programme, and their talk of being ‘flexible’ about a coalition with the right wing parties.
The CWI in Brazil has been very active in fighting against the right ward drift of the P-SOL leadership, working with the left opposition grouping. Aron outlined four key points the Brazilian CWI call for in this situation: 1) the need for a socialist programme 2) P-SOL must root itself in the struggles of workers and the poor, 3) the need for genuine internal democracy and 4) opposition to coalition with the capitalist parties.
As a result of this principled stand, the CWI in Brazil has grown and recently merged with another Marxist group, forming ‘Liberty, Socialism and Revolution’.
Venezuela and Bolivia at the crossroads
The sharpest struggles between revolution and counter-revolution can, at the moment, can be seen most acutely in Venezuela and Bolivia. Mass politicisation and discussion of socialism has been a character of the situation in these countries, for years now. The carrying out of pro-poor policies by left populist governments, and Chavez and Morales’ talk of socialism, has played a role in this in this process.
However, hand in hand with this there has also been a growth of bureaucratisation of the state, and also a rise in corruption in these countries. This, along with the slow pace of the reforms, has resulted in a growing impatience with the governments. On top of this, the money from the high price of oil which funded the reforms is now beginning to dry up.
In both Venezuela and Bolivia, the right wing has been regrouping. In Venezuela, the defeat of Chavez’s referendum and his party’s poor performance in last year’s local elections underlines how unless the revolution progresses, the counter revolution can take the initiative. Similarly, in Bolivia, the attempted de facto coup of the right wing in Santa Cruz, last September, shows the dangers for the working class.
In Venezuela and Bolivia workers must fight to push the revolutions forward, end the power of the capitalist state apparatus, take democratic control and management of the economy and establish genuine worker’ democracy and socialism.
The 5 July military coup in Honduras is a warning for the revolution in Venezuela and Bolivia. Coming from a rich background, President Zelaya was elected in 2005 for the ‘centre-right’ Liberal Party. However, once in power he came under pressure from workers and small farmers and he was forced to give reforms, such as a 60% increase in the minimum wage. Half of the population lives below the poverty line and joblessness stands at 28%. It was Zelaya’s decision to take Honduras into the regional alliance promoted by Chavez of Venezuela, the Bolivian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) and his plan to make a trade deal with Venezuela, which ended the domination of the importation of fuel by multinationals, amongst other things, that proved so unacceptable to the ruling class in Honduras. The military stormed Zelaya’s house, despatched him on a plane to Costa Rica and proclaimed a new ‘government’.
As Hannah Sell from Britain pointed out in the discussion, there is historically a strong tie between the Honduran military and the United States. However, how much the US and CIA knew and supported the coup cannot be known for certain. While it is unlikely that it was a complete surprise to all in the US state machine, it appears that the coup is actually more of an embarrassment than a success for them, particularly given the huge opposition it has caused, with protests and the call for a general strike. This call must be supported and linked to the demands for committees of struggle across the country, a revolutionary constituent assembly and a workers’ and farmers government.
In his sum up to the discussion, Tony Saunois of the International Secretariat of the CWI argued that “Mexico stands on the eve of a massive social explosion”. Mexico has seen a 8% shrink in its economy, this year, being particularly hard hit due to its dependence on the US for trade and for emigrants’ remittances. In a recent election, only 43% voted, and of this up to 6% were spoilt or blank votes. There is much anger against the ruling PAN government, but the opposition (PRI) is also divided, with an internal power struggle taking place. With its strong history of revolutionary struggle and uprisings, Mexico shall be at the forefront of the Latin American revolution.
Other countries discussed included Cuba, Chile and Argentina. In Cuba, a very sharp question is posed; either a return to capitalism and all the poverty and crisis that entails, or a new revolution establishing a genuine, socialist workers’ democracy.
Both Chile and Argentina have seen an increase in struggle in recent years, and a discrediting of what had been seen as ‘progressive’ parties, namely the Peronists in Argentina and ‘Socialists’ in Chile.
From the commission discussion, it was clear Latin America is a continent in the throes of momentous political events and struggles. In the coming weeks and months, the flames of these struggles will be fanned by the international crisis of capitalism. The forces of the CWI can and must blossom into a large Marxist force on the continent. The working class and poor masses of Latin America have the potential to transform society, setting the world alight with revolution.