The struggle of the Indigenous peoples
1. Another feature that has also emerged in Latin America, which is a new phenomenon, is the large-scale movement throughout the continent of the indigenous peoples. It is vital that Marxists and the working class recognise the importance of this question and adopt a correct approach to it.
2. Throughout Central and Southern America there are an estimated 50 million indigenous peoples. In Latin America 62.2% of the Bolivian population are from indigenous communities and in Peru the figure is 24%. In Mexico, an estimated 15% of the total population are from the indigenous communities, amongst whom sixty eight different languages are spoken. In Chile, an estimated 11% of the total population are Mapuche. As in many Latin American countries the Mapuche people are based in their own territory (in the south) but many or most have migrated to the urban centres where they mainly form part of the working class. In addition to this, there is the question of the black population, overwhelmingly working-class and poor, descendants of slaves and migrants from Africa and the Caribbean, especially in Brazil, Venezuela and some other countries.
3. To this must also be added the ‘mestizo’ – or mixed indigenous/European population. The indigenous peoples, originally from the rural areas, together with the ‘mestizos’ comprise the majority of the working class and poor in many or most Latin American countries. The 50 million size of the indigenous population probably makes it numerically the largest since the arrival of the Spanish ‘conquistadores’. On the other hand, the ruling classes in Latin America are overwhelmingly drawn from European descent.
4. In the recent movements in Ecuador and Bolivia, the indigenous peoples have been in the front line of the struggle. In Ecuador, the CONAIE, organisation of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, has played a crucial role in toppling four Presidents since the 1990s.
5. In Chile, the Mapuche flag has been adopted as the banner of resistance for all those involved in the struggle. The mass movement against the recent right-wing coup in Bolivia was conducted under the Wiphala flag of the indigenous peoples – which Morales had instated as one of two national flags of Bolivia.
6. All of the movements have featured the struggles of the indigenous peoples, together with the class struggle and the mass movement of the working class against the regimes and governments.
7. One of the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution is the formation of a nation state and independence from imperialist domination. In Latin America, as in the rest of the neo-colonial world, this task has never been fully achieved. All of the Latin American countries remain tied and integrated with the major imperialist powers through the banks and multi-national conglomerates which control the economy.
8. At the same time, within some of these countries the issue of unification of the nation has not been fully resolved, with repression, exploitation and marginalisation of the indigenous peoples by the ruling classes which are themselves tied to the major imperialist powers. Neither of these elements of dual exploitation can be resolved under capitalism and landlordism or by the national capitalist class of these countries.
9. Although this issue has exploded during the recent movements, it has always been present in some of the Latin American countries. The Peruvian Marxist and writer, José Carlos Mariátequi, developed this question in a series of essays, “Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality” in relation to Peru in the 1920s. In his writings, he identified the issue of the indigenous peoples with the question of the class struggle and property relations – especially the land question. He linked this to the ideas of the permanent revolution and argued that the cultural traditions of common ownership of land and communal culture amongst the Andean peoples would make it easier to combine the struggle against feudalism and capitalism with socialism. This valid point remains true today.
10. The communal land, combined with the strong bond of community and solidarity, is in bitter antagonism with capitalism and especially neo-liberalism. The powerful identity with the land as the provider of food, water and sustenance of life has meant these communities have a long tradition of protection of the environment. This has brought them into bitter conflict with the logging and forestry monopolies which are destroying these precious natural resources.
11. Mariátequi mistakenly considered the ancient indigenous societies of the Incas and others as primitive communist. Despite commonly held land and strong communal bonds, with their highly rigid, hierarchical social structures and divisions, they were not primitive communist societies at the time of the Inca empire.
12. Mariátequi played a crucial role in the formation of the Socialist Party in Peru which soon became the Communist Party. He had conducted a struggle in the radical populist nationalist movement, APRA, and clashed with its leader, Haya de la Torre who opposed it including socialism. He made an extremely valuable contribution to linking the struggles of the indigenous peoples to the ideas of socialism and the permanent revolution which is relevant to the struggles which have emerged recently. However, he also had a chequered history, having opposed the formation of the Communist Party. He also adopted an ambiguous position in the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin, failing to oppose Stalin. However, this chequered history does not detract from his contribution in his early life.
13. In general, the struggle of the indigenous peoples today for land and territories, language and cultural rights, is an inseparable part of the struggle of the working class in many countries throughout Latin America. It is a component part of the struggle of the working class in general, as has been shown by the revolutionary events which have shaken Ecuador, Chile and other countries. The struggle for land and territories in Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia today bring these communities into direct conflict with the big national and multinational companies, and the capitalist state. It is essential that the demands of the indigenous peoples are incorporated into the programme and struggles of the working class in general. Only then can their demands be fully realised.
14. In general, the indigenous peoples have not taken up the demand for separation or independent states. The demands for territorial, language and cultural rights have mainly been advanced to be won within the framework of existing states. Throughout Latin America the demand for “pluri-nations” – i.e. nations fully inclusive of all peoples has been the main demand in the recent period. The election of Evo Morales was seen as a great victory for the indigenous movement. The first time somebody from the indigenous peoples had been elected President. One of the reforms he introduced, reflecting the demands of the movement, was to change the name of Bolivia to the Pluri-national Republic of Bolivia.
15. The demands of the indigenous peoples can of course change in the future on this question especially if their demands are not realised. Should the indigenous peoples decide they want to establish an independent, autonomous or semi-autonomous state or area, Marxists, would support their right to do so. At the same time , it is important to unify the struggles of all the oppressed into a united movement of the working class to break with capitalism and establish a democratic voluntary socialist confederation of Latin American states, in which all the cultural, linguistic and territorial rights of all its peoples are respected.
16. The election of Morales and the role of the CONAIE in Ecuador have clearly illustrated that simply having an indigenous leadership is not sufficient to ensure a victory for the revolutionary movements. Morales, despite implementing significant reforms, attempted to find an accommodation with capitalism, which repaid him with a coup backed by US imperialism. Despite the mass mobilisation of the working class and indigenous peoples, Morales fled the country, for the sake of “avoiding conflict”, and allowed the reactionary racist right-wing back into power. In Ecuador, the leadership of CONAIE, after the government of Lenin Moreno was compelled to flee the capital Quito, failed to take the initiative and establish a government of the working class and poor, and take power.
17. The revolutionary eruptions in Latin America have demonstrated a new era of struggle has opened. It is necessary to draw all the lessons from these new movements and address the weaknesses and new features present in order to overcome the obstacles which exist in order to defeat the ruling class and resolve the social horrors capitalism is imposing throughout the continent.