Latin America: Enthusiastic and successful CWI Latin America school

Confident meeting reflects growth of CWI in the region

Over 100 members and supporters of the CWI in Latin America met for a very enthusiastic and successful political education school in Brazil, between 3 and 7 February. Comrades from Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Venezuela were joined this year by comrades from Argentina for the first time, reflecting the growth of the CWI in Latin America. This was the first school following the unification of the former Brazilian section of the CWI, Socialismo Revolucionario, with the former CLS (Socialist Liberty Collective), to form the LSR (Liberdade, Socialismo e Revolucao – CWI in Brazil). Comrades travelled from all over Brazil – Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Campinas, Goas, Porte Allegre and other important areas, to participate in the lively debates and discussions at the school.

America Latina Socalista!

The first two days of the school dealt with the lessons of the Russian revolution, the rise of Stalinism and the lesson of the these crucial events for the struggle for socialism today. This was followed by debate and discussion on the role of a revolutionary party and how to intervene in the class struggle. All these sessions began with an introduction at a plenary session and then broke down into workshops, which saw lively participation, especially by the newer and younger comrades present at the school. As more comrades arrived to the school, discussions followed, on the world situation and the struggles and present conjuncture in Latin America.

The debate on the world situation largely concentrated on the effects of the crisis in Europe. In particular, the crisis in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal featured heavily in the debate, along with developments in Britain and Germany and interventions of the CWI sections in these countries. In the discussion comrades underlined the importance of developments in China, not only for the world situation but also in Latin America, because of Chinas increasing economic influence in Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and other Latin American countries. A theme of this discussion and of all the sessions was the political consciousness of the masses and how Marxists explain socialism and the need for a revolutionary socialist alternative.

The lively discussion on Latin America was opened with a general overview of developments on the continent. This was followed by reports from comrades from Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil and discussion on these countries. The following day comrades from Chile and Argentina presented reports which were followed by debate and discussion.

Over 100 attend Latin America school

The Venezuelan comrades reported on the worsening economic situation and consequences of the recent currency devaluation introduced by Chavez. The 25% increase in the minimum wage announced by the government has not compensated for the massive price increases which have followed. In addition to this, the energy crisis is having a devastating effect. Many areas of Caracas only have access to water for three days a week and power cuts of up to eight hours a day are common! The government was warned of this crisis in 2003 but did little to take preventative measures. There has been an increase in protests by workers and other sectors of the population – over 800 demonstrations have been reported throughout the country. Unfortunately, the governments has responded to these developments by increasing repression. Over 2,000 leaders or activists who have organised protests are currently imprisoned – many of these are left-wingers, some of whom have supported Chavez. Comrades raised in the discussion the possibility of the forthcoming parliamentary elections being suspended if the crisis deepens. Chavez has declared that he wants a 75% majority or else it will mean “civil war”. The Venezuelan comrades stressed the need to avoid falling into the trap of ultra-leftism or opportunism. It is essential for Marxists to warn of the counter-revolutionary role of the right-wing and at the same time explain the need for the working class to develop its own independent programme and organisations to take the revolution forward, on the basis of genuine workers’ democracy and control and not the top down administrative, bureaucratic and repressive methods used by the government.

This was also a feature of the discussion relating to Bolivia. The massive landslide in recent elections won by Evo Morales illustrated the support which exists for a transformation of Bolivian society. In the last two years, Bolivia has experienced the highest growth rates in the economy of any Latin American country. This is largely due to the rise in commodity prices and also partly reflects the steps that the Morales government has taken to clean up the massive corruption which existed under the old regime. At the same time, Morales and the government leaders are not taking measures to confront capitalism and replace it with a democratic socialist planned economy. Although in a less sharp manner, than in Venezuela, some elements of a top-down approach are also being applied. Since the elections, some former members of the right-wing PODEMOS have not only been taken into membership of the MAS, they have been imposed as MAS candidates in the forthcoming local elections. In Santa Cruz, even members of a far right, semi-fascist organisation have been taken into membership of the MAS. In the right-wing dominated states of Media Luna, the MAS made important advances and the right wing were pushed back. In one of these states, Benin, the MAS won a majority. Yet for the forthcoming elections for state governor, the MAS has imposed a 24 year-old former “Miss Bolivia” with no experience on politics as candidate. These steps reflect how the Morales government is attempting to compromise with capitalism rather than take the necessary steps to defeat capitalism and landlordism. Another aspect of recent developments has been that many of the leaders of the social movements and the trade unions are also now members of the Congress and Senate and maintain their positions in the leadership of the social movements. This is a clear attempt to control the social movements and incorporate them into the state. It is important to stress the fragile nature of economic growth in Bolivia, which has given Morales some room to maneuver and grant reforms, but when the economy goes into recession these will be attacked as they are being in Venezuela. The powerful revolutionary traditions which exist in Bolivia and the massive support for accelerating the movement to change society, especially following the crushing election victory, can give rise to powerful revolutionary explosions.

One important feature of this discussion was the need for the CWI sections in Bolivia and Venezuela to stress not only to the need to break with capitalism but to establish a democratic socialist federation of Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador, on the basis of democratic workers and peasants governments. This would allow for the democratic planning and integration of these economies which would strengthen them and given an example to follow in other Latin American countries.

The debate on Brazil – which is in a different phase of the struggle and crisis of capitalism to Bolivia and Venezuela featured the important struggle inside P-SOL for a left-wing Presidential candidate and the formation of a United Left Front in the elections later this year. This has been a crucial battle inside P-SOL, in which the CWI comrades of LSR have played a crucial role. It is increasingly likely that Plenio – the left candidate – will now be selected by P-SOL. The LSR has played a central role in this struggle. The election will not be easy for the left. The continued economic growth in Brazil and limited concessions given by Lula to some of the most oppressed – which, although combined with some neo-liberal policies – have resulted in approval rating for Lula of 83%. His chosen successor, Dilma Rouseff, is gaining in the polls and could beat the traditional right-wing capitalist candidate. This makes the need for a clearly socialist left campaign even more important. At the same time, other important developments, such as the formation of a new trade union centre later this year, are also taking place. These developments are of crucial importance in preparing the active left militants which exist in Brazil for the battles which will develop after the election and with the onset of a new economic crisis. Although attacks have taken place against the working class, Brazil as yet has not yet been severely affected by the world economic crisis. In part, this was because the deregulation of the banking system had not been carried through, which helps to protect its financial system from the full impact of the financial crisis. However, this will not continue indefinitely and new shocks in the world economy will have a greater impact.

The discussion on Argentina reflected an important change, with the dramatic fall in support for the government and Kirchner. The crisis has been reflected by the sacking of the Governor of the Central Bank by the government. There are currently up to 15 or 20 strikes per day taking place during some weeks. The government has 80% disapproval ratings and, despite the fact that voting is compulsory, only just over 60% voted in the last elections. There is a massive vacuum which exists at the present time. While strikes and other protests are taking place they are largely fragmented because of the failure of the CGT and other union confederations to unify the struggles and call a general strike. The old slogan used by the Peronists: “with the leaders at the head of the movement or we will have the head of the leaders” which is very popular and used by the comrades in some interventions. There was a massive strike of 80,000 petrol workers with violent confrontations with the police. One aspect raised for discussion in this session was what governmental slogans and demands to propose in the absence of any independent political organisation of the working class. This is an issue currently being discussed. Some comrades raised in the discussion the possibility of the military being prepared to organise another coup, given the collapse in support for the government. However, it was agreed this is not the most likely perspective at the present time.

Much of the discussion regarding Chile centered on the outcome of the recent Presidential elections. This did not reflect a swing to the right in Chilean society. Pinera (the winning candidate) stressed during his campaign that he was not the candidate of Pinochet and his victory is not perceived as such in Chile. The victory of the right was on a lower percentage, with the vast majority of young people not voting. Some older workers voted for the outgoing coalition as the “lesser evil”. Aznar, the former Spanish Prime Minister has argued that Chile could follow Spain and elect Pinera for two terms in office. It is more likely that Chile could follow Spain and go from economic growth to a deep recession. Aznar was overthrown by a rebellion against his government – largely because of its intervention in the Iraq war and attacks against the working class. Already Pinera’s victory is reflecting the “whip of counter-revolution” as a layer are already contacting the CWI in Chile saying “now we must do something, as the right is in power”.

A vibrant discussion on the environment was one of the most popular sessions at the school. This issue is of crucial importance in Latin America. In Sao Paulo, recent flooding has resulted in the largest urban land occupation, Pantanal, being flooded since the begining of December. This has taken place because the state government closed the flood gates to protect the main motorway in Sao Paulo and as a result thousands have had their homes flooded and lost everything. The Brazilian LSR is part of the leadership of a large mobilisation of these people. A protest outside the state government saw people bring snakes, rats and other animals which are now floating in the houses and streets of the flood zone.

Very lively commissions were also organised on work amongst the youth, the trade unions, women and on LGBT issues at the school. Despite the baking heat, the sessions of the school often continued until 10 or 11pm. The ‘carnaval’ season is beginning in Brazil and the sessions were followed by enthusiastic socials and dancing, usually led by comrades from Rio, who lead music and theatre groups in some of the favellas. All who attended the school all left with confidence that the CWI will strengthen its forces in Latin America in the next year. For this reason, future schools will need to be organised at a larger venue.

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February 2010