CWI Latin American School: The Importance of Indigenous movements in Latin America

Report from school’s final day

The fourth and final day of the Latin American CWI School focused on the importance of the indigenous movement in Latin America, especially in relation to the crucial task of building the forces of Marxism.

It began, however, with a quick report from Venezuelan comrades, who announced the results of the referendum to amend the constitution, allow for the possibility of unlimited re-election of President Hugo Chavez. In a hard fought and close race, the referendum was passed by 54% of the population; an important victory for Chavez, but one that will neither stop the growing opposition movement nor erase the enormous difficulties and complexities that both Chavez and our CWI comrades face, especially with the onset of the economic crisis.

Comrade Celso, who has many years of experience in the Mapuche indigenous struggle in Chile, opened up the discussion by saying that capitalists fear that the continued growth of the indigenous movement in Latin America will cause instability to their system. As a result, they are in an active struggle against it.

The indigenous movement, however, is nothing new; it has a more than 500 year history of fighting colonialism and imperialism. However, for the most part, the Marxist movement in Latin America has not adequately taken it up; instead preferring to view it as just another social problem. For example, the historic “Pulacayo Thesis” of the Trotskyist-led Bolivian miners laid out, in 1946, a revolutionary plan for seizing power but never once mentioned the indigenous struggle, despite the fact that more than 60% of the Bolivian population is indigenous.

This is a shortcoming that we have to respond to in the coming period. In particular, the comrades from Bolivia have expressed a desire to begin a serious discussion within the organisation concerning our slogans and material on the role of indigenous peasants in the socialist revolution.

To make the point more concrete, Celso read an email from comrade Adam in Bolivia asking for the thoughts of other comrades in Latin America on this issue. He noted that because the indigenous peasants are currently the most radicalised and mobilised section of Bolivian society, most of our contacts in Bolivia are sons and daughters of indigenous peasants who have moved to the city of Cochabamba to study and/or work. He also noted that indigenous peasants, as opposed to non-indigenous peasants, do not appear to have an instinctively ‘petit-bourgeois’ consciousness (calling for the land to be transferred from the large-landowners to individual peasants), but rather a socialist consciousness (calling for the collectivisation of the land, under the control of the indigenous communities). The email also asked if it would be correct to say that the socialist revolution can be lead by both the working class and the indigenous peasants in a country like Bolivia.

Celso then stated that this was just the beginning of a discussion which includes many themes in addition to the question of leadership. We have to seriously analyze the consciousness of the indigenous populations with respect to collective ownership of property and communal decision-making. We also have to understand that for indigenous populations, the question is not just about land, but about territory and the struggle for autonomy, and that indigenous communities consider themselves to be part of separate indigenous nations. The way we approach these issues is very important.

To conclude, Celso stated that the indigenous movement, because it is a movement for land, territory and autonomy, is in direct conflict with the interests of imperialism and capitalism as a whole. In Chile, the Mapuches are engaged in a constant battle against the multinational logging corporations and the Chilean state. Their struggle has immense support throughout Chile.

Indigenous struggles of huge importance

The need to take up this issue seriously is of concrete importance, not just because the CWI has recently begun work in Bolivia and is in the process of opening work in new countries where the indigenous struggle is of extreme importance. All of Latin America views the indigenous movement as central to the struggle. The CWI must deepen the debate/analysis on the issue, produce material, and solidify our position.

Due to time constraints, before comrades came in on the discussion, Celso gave a short introduction on the importance of the Peruvian Marxist, José Carlos Mariátegui, who dealt with the indigenous question in depth.

Celso began with a reference to Lenin who said that, frequently, revolutionaries who are brutally attacked by capitalists during their lifetimes, are stripped of their revolutionary content and converted into harmless heroes once they die. This has happened today with Mariátegui in Peru where academics, social democrats, the communist party, etc all try to distort Mariátegui’s revolutionary ideas to win support for abstract or reformist ideas.

Mariátegui, however, was a genuine revolutionary who made important contributions to Marxism, not only with respect to the indigenous struggle but also topics such as the importance of internationalism. He asserted that while socialism as a doctrine was born in Europe, it was not a European but a global doctrine. In Latin America, this doctrine has its roots in the indigenous peoples and cultures and it Marxist must understand this in order for their movement to develop.

The discussion on the indigenous movements and Mariátegui involved comrades from all Latin American sections as well as Sasha representing the International Secretariat. Many important contributions were made. It was noted that the workers’ movements are different in each Latin American country, highlighted by the importance of the indigenous movements in some countries and we as Marxists should not gloss over these differences but seriously take them up.

It was also noted that there is a direct correlation between the development of capitalism in Europe and the plundering of the indigenous cultures and wealth of Latin America. We have to recognise this and be careful when we talk about the “progress” brought about by capitalism which for millions meant the destruction of their civilisation.

Sasha noted that the discussion on the indigenous movements reflects the strength of the CWI as a Marxist organisation, which does not view Marxism as a finished dogma but is ready to take up difficult questions, such as the role of indigenous peasants in a socialist revolution. He emphasised that indigenous forces undeniably play an important role in the development of mass movements and revolutionary movements today, not only as peasants but also as members of the working class and that this is an issue which is new for the CWI but one that will undoubtedly be taken up in the coming period. The fact that we now have forces on the ground in some of the countries where the indigenous movement is strongest is extremely important and will aid us in this task.

To close the second Latin American summer school, comrade André from Brazil emphasised the sense of urgency during the five days of intense political discussions due to the global economic crisis which every day is spinning more and more out of control. The school counted on the participation of more than 100 comrades from Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Greece, Germany, the U.S and Belgium and one from the US. It was also attended by 6 members of the Socialist Freedom Collective (CLS), which the Brazilian CWI hopes to join forces with in the upcoming period.

Comrade Sasha from the CWI international Executive Committee echoed André’s sentiment saying “everything is different”, in reference to the effect the capitalist crisis will have on mass consciousness and the struggle for socialism, but also in reference to the development of the CWI in the seven years since he last came to Brazil. We have expanded to new countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, have revitalised the work in Chile, and made qualitative leaps in Brazil, by breaking out of Sao Paolo and through our work in PSOL and Conlutas. But we also have concrete opportunities to expand to more countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Peru. We are still young in Latin America, but even with our small forces, we are ready to intervene in directly in the struggle and fight for socialist revolution in Latin America.

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February 2009