How revolution was derailed in Latin America?

June 08, 2009

In the article "Crisis of bourgeois rule: reform or revolution in Argentina" we chart the plans to introduce a "political reform" by the ruling class in an attempt at derailing the ongoing revolutionary process. A first plan aims to preserve the old regime by making some cosmetic changes to it, and is codified in the governmental project designed to "lower the cost of politics" -which will probably prove inadequate to boost the confidence of the masses. Elisa Carrió and the centre-left forces have announced the other plan. It demands the calling of general elections up to the convening of a Constituent Assembly, and the incorporation of the "people’s assemblies" into the institutions of a so-called "Second Republic".

But even such solutions might end up in failure, given the depth of the crisis. We cannot rule out other possible outcome to contain the action of the working class and the people: bourgeois or petty bourgeois nationalist governments.

During his exile in Mexico, Trotsky charted the peculiar nature of the class relationships within semi-colonial countries. The native bourgeoisie there is a "semi-oppressed, semi-oppressive" class, which exploits the workers and the peasants, while they suffer the oppression imposed by imperialist capital. After the 90s, a decade in which the local bourgeoisie caved in to imperialism all along the way, the combined effects of the world recession and a mass upsurge in the new revolutionary phase opens up likelihood of a revival of governments in line with what Trotsky branded "left-wing sui generis Bonapartism". Such governments, confronted with a heightened imperialist pressure or else a deepening of working class actions, might seek to manoeuvre by seeking reliance in the exploited classes -"even giving them some concessions"- and bringing in some "anti-imperialist" measure, in a double attempt at holding down the revolutionary outburst while they try to get some autonomy with regards to imperialist capital. The history of Latin America has seen a lot of such governments that held down the revolutionary thrust of the working class and the masses, later on paving the way for counter-revolutionary coups.

In 1973, the Chilean Unidad Popular government headed by Salvador Allende went for the nationalization of the copper industry, up to then in the hands of imperialist companies. A colossal peasant and proletarian upsurge was sweeping the country, but the masses trusted Allende. The then US Secretary of State, Mr Henry Kissinger, personally monitored the preparation for the coup d’état, organized by both the local oligarchy and US imperialism. In spite of the tendency of the workers and the peasants to arm themselves, and also the development of dual power bodies, i.e. the "industrial cordones", the policy pursued by both the Communist and Socialist Parties, members of the ruling coalition, undermined the revolutionary mood of the workers, disarming them and calling on them to trust in the "loyalty of the armed forces". The outcome was the coming to power of the bloody Pinochet’s dictatorship.
In the wake of the "Chaco war", Bolivia witnessed a process of social turmoil and the atomization of the ruling class -which went on for many years. This led to the victory of the candidate of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario, Víctor Paz Estenssoro, who spoke out against imperialism and also exposed the so-called "rosca" (the local ruling bloc hated by the masses). A failed coup aimed against him triggered off a revolution, with the miners as its vanguard. The masses burst out onto the scene, defeating and disarming the army and also building militias under control of the unions that controlled the weapons. The peasants seized the land and drove out the landlords. The government nationalized the mines and brought in an agrarian reform. But the workers did go on to the seizure of power. Once the first thrust had died out, the army got reorganized and tried to rebuild its links with US imperialism. Paz Estenssoro gave in to the IMF in a piecemeal fashion, but both the imperialists and the local ruling class wanted an even more reliable government. At last, in 1964, there was victorious coup led by General Barrientos that ushered in a harsh military dictatorship.

When such governments take office, they are the expression of a radicalization of the mass movement, while at the same time they are a stumbling block in the road of the working class towards class independence, preventing it from giving the lead to the workers’ and people’s alliance in the fight against imperialism. It is a "detour" of the revolution engineered by the native bourgeoisie to prevent the workers from seizing power. The whole historical record shows that the "national" bourgeoisie (or else their "shadows", i.e. petty bourgeois forces within big fronts), regardless of its episodic clashes with imperialism, prefer to give in to the latter rather than furthering an independent mobilization of the masses.

We might see a re-run of such developments in the future in our country, especially if the imperialist pressure is to grow and the mass upsurge grows stronger. However, it is most likely that they will take on a rather "farcical" shape, given the senility of the Latin American bourgeois elites today.

Right now, when such projects have yet materialized as such, we already see those from the "left" pushing ahead with a class collaboration agenda, in which the working class is nothing but a subordinate player to some sector of the local ruling class. The Maoists of the PCR are anxiously looking for "their" "nationalist" bourgeois or else military -now openly vindicating Seineldín, former army commander who stands accused of genocide. They are eager to build their "government of popular unity", and as a matter of fact regarded Rodríguez Saá’s ephemeral administration and his gang of Menem’s cronies as such. The Communist Party (United Left member), on the other hand, has wiped the dust off their old-seasoned Stalinist concept of a "popular democratic revolution", one that prevents the workers from going ahead to class independence. Such policies must be exposed right from the beginning: they can only mean a defeat for the workers. We shall fight back with a combination of a coherent struggle against the imperialist rule over the country with a stubborn pursuit of class independence for the working class. Without it, the latter will not be able to gain a hegemonic position within the workers’ and people’s alliance, and will end up being mired in "national fronts" or else "democratic fronts", both of them obstacles pinning down the revolutionary will of the working class and the people.

The alternative of an open counter-revolution

The working class, as we have said above, might be confronted with "detours" such as "political reforms", or even new outbursts of bourgeois (or petty bourgeois) nationalism. But we cannot rule out an openly counter-revolutionary backlash by the bourgeoisie. The perspective of a traditional coup d’état in Argentina is not an immediate one. The armed forces remain, by and large, discredited in the eyes of the masses. They never recovered from the double discredit they earned for themselves with the murderous dictatorship and the defeat in the Malvinas war. In the short term, besides, the necessary basis for such coup, i.e. major sectors of the middle class, is missing. In fact, they have switched to opposition due to the confiscation of their bank savings implemented by the government to salvage the banks. But we Marxists understand the middle class is not a homogeneous stratum and will tend to split up in the face of a future outburst by the working class. Without necessarily having to resort to an old-fashioned coup, the bourgeoisie might however win a social base for a "law and order" styled solution among the well-off sectors of the middle classes, above all in response to a revolutionary outburst of the more exploited classes. They might well seek to pave the way by inflicting partial defeats to vanguard sectors, which might enable them to impose a more police-styled regime, or driving the masses out of the scene for some time at least. If the revolutionary conditions deepen, we might be in for increased illegal repression by squads (which inchoately operated in the "Battle for Plaza de Mayo"), along with gangs of "thugs" with the aim of attacking both the activists and the left, as we have already seen with some Peronist thugs and the union bureaucracy. In the face of these possible forms of repression, it is very important to demand the building of self-defense pickets (which will be the basis for the future workers’ militia) among the various working class and popular organizations.

In both alternative scenarios, what counts is that the working class should conquer class independence, to prevent this new mass upsurge from ending up in a defeat or else aborted.