After a decade of neoliberal governments enforcing pro-imperialist plans on the whole of Latin America, various political developments are signalling their end. New forces are seeking to replace them. The electoral rise of the Frente Amplio (Big Front) in Uruguay, Chavez’s ‘constituent process’ in Venezuela, ‘socialist’ Lagos’ presidential candidacy in Chile, the Alliance’s electoral triumph in Argentina, the strengthening of the PT-led opposition in Brazil, all appear as Latin American equivalents of the ‘third way’.
These developments are the by-product of the deviation of the mass counteroffensive that began to develop on an international scale in 1995, Latin America being one of its most important centers. Peasant uprisings, general strikes, protests of the unemployed, student mobilizations and struggles of the urban poor were all different signs of an upsurge that spread through the countries in the region during the second half of the decade. Nevertheless, the working class was not the leading force in this uprising, and in spite of bringing down governments such as Bucaram’s in Ecuador, it was held back thanks to the reformist and bureaucratic leaderships of the mass movement. Those new forces have capitalized on that derailment, seeking to channell the expectations of change of the masses through to the bourgeois democratic regimes.
The deviation of the mass counteroffensive in Latin America
From the mid-1990s onward, the tenacious resistance on the part of the working class, peasant and popular masses has confronted the governments and their plans alike..
The peasant movement has been at the center of a widespread process of mobilizations that swept almost the entire continent, from Mexico, Honduras and Columbia, to Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.
Throughout the years, the working class has organized major general strikes, many struggles, and all kinds of organized protests: the general strikes of Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia in ’96 and ’97, the provincial revolts in Argentina, the protests in Peru and significant walk outs in Chile (miners, dockers, teachers, etc.) We have also seen strikes in Uruguay, the great struggles by state workers in Colombia, the protests in the Dominican Republic, etc. In Ecuador, peasants, the people and working class masses all rose against and defeated Bucaram in ’97 and later cornered Mahaud’ s government, in what was a major milestone of the class struggle in the region.
In the heat of the recession that began around mid 1998, the poverty of the masses was increased, and all class antagonisms were deepened. Renewed students’ protests shook Chile, Nicaragua and Argentina, as well as Mexico, where the extraordinary strike at the UNAM has already lasted for 6 months. All these point to profound realignments and social tensions that emerge within society. Meanwhile, the discontent has also spread to new sectors of the urban and rural middle classes (small transport owners, farmers and shopkeepers have all protested in Nicaragua, Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil) and the ruling classes have also split up. Because of the paralyzing consequences of the growing unemployment and the obstacles imposed by the union burocracies, the working class was unable to respond to the deepening crisis.
In this way, the mass counteroffensive in the region that reached its peak between 1996 and 1997 was deviated, thanks to the collaboration of the union burocracies and various reformist parties. These subordinated the vast wave of struggles led by the exploited and oppressed classes and used them as a prop to the strengthen opposition bourgeois parties and coalitions that presented themselves as an alternative.
The electoral rise of these opposition parties being a product of the deviation of the mass struggle, these governments are forced to resort to ‘pacts’, ‘consensus’ and ‘negotiations’ in order to carry out the enforcement of their pro-imperialist plans.
The characteristics of the Latin American ‘third way’
The Latin American ‘third way’ has expressed itself under several forms.
They range from variants that stand for continuity through and through, to those that appear to herald greater hopes for change.
One of the most conservative strands is found in Argentina. The newly elected president at the head of the Alliance, (an electoral agreement between the UCR and the centerleft Frepaso), De la Rúa, who was presented as the star at the Socialist International meeting held in Paris, is the representative of the most conservative wing of the traditional Radical Party. With Peronism in the government of 15 provinces, the most important ones such as Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Santa Fé being among them, the Alliance prepares itself to clinch a veritable ‘pact’ in order to push forward with the imperialist plan, while it cultivates a ‘change in order’ profile.
In Chile, the ‘socialist’ Lagos, is trying to present the governing Concertación Democrática (Democratic Coalition) with a renovated image. However, he has been a minister (along with other socialists) and one of the main figures of the Christian Democracy-led Concertación government that has ruled the country for ten years, and has joined in with the right-wing parties in Pinochet’s defense, continuing also the ‘chilean model’ initiated by the dictatorship.
In Uruguay, the big-frontist ideology of the Frente Amplio just seeks to beautify a program that is very similar to that of the Alliance in Argentina, or even that of its electoral contenders, the Partido Blanco (White Party) and the Partido Colorado (Red Party). Its triumph in the first round of the election (whatever the final turn out in the ballottage) reflects the expectations of change among the workers, the youth, and sectors of the middle classes after the succession of “White” and “Red” governments. But Tabaré Vázquez proposes to respect Uruguay’s foreign agreements, starting with the foreign debt, maintaining ‘fiscal prudence’ and leaving the interests of the powerful financial sectors untouched. He even supports workplace-based labour negotiations, tying salaries to ‘flexible labour schemes’ and ‘productivity’, as explained in his ’emergency program’.
In Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected just a year ago, but the mass discontent has caused a significant drop in his popularity, the unrest expressing itself through protests such as the march to Brasilia in which over 100,000 people participated. While Cardoso is already discredited, the expectations placed on Lula and the PT-sponsored class conciliation front grow stronger. These are the ones that have supported Cardoso in the name of ‘governability’, and supported more or less openly the devaluation of the real. To Cardoso’s “neoliberalism”, they oppose a “production oriented policy” together with the powerful Sao Paulo bosses’ lobby, from which nothing good can be expected.
In Venezuela, as a consequence of the collapse of the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie, it has been necessary to lay the basis for a new political regime. Chávez won the election by a wide margin, and keeps up the expectations of the masses by means of the ‘constituent process’ with which he tries to rebuild the bourgeois regime, in line with his populist-Bonapartist plan. This is why he appears to deliver the greatest political changes and why he has to conciliate greater contradictions. But in spite of his nationalist and populist rhetoric, the interests of imperialism and the big bosses remain untouched. On the contrary, he eagerly looks for the collaboration of foreign capital, and respects all of the agreements settled with imperialism and foreign creditors.
In Latin America, these reshuffles in the governing political personnel expressed through such ‘democratic’ or ‘nationalist oppositions’, centerleft, or so-called leftist coalitions, sowing illusions among the masses who thought that they could put an end to ‘neoliberal’ policies in this way.
In spite of their differences, these phenomenons are related, since they have the following essential characteristics in common:
-They are willing to carry on with the fundamentals of the policies pursued by their neoliberal predecessors, in other words, to govern at the service of the great economic trusts and imperialism;
-All of them have replaced or are willing to replace the outright ‘neoliberal’ governments through the ballot box;
-In order to enforce their plans, these governments are forced to rely on the backing of social ‘pacts’ or ‘consensus’ due to the fact that the Latin American upheaval of the working and popular masses during the second half of the 90s was deviated, but not defeated in the streets;
-Being that Latin America (and especially South America) is increasingly disputed between imperialist monopolies, these new governments try to open up to european imperialism without this implying a confrontation with US imperialism; an important indication of this is the support given by the Socialist International to, for example, Lagos in Chile, Tabaré in Uruguay, or De la Rúa in Argentina.
-Unlike their predecessors, who more directlty expressed the interests of the dominant national and foreign bourgeois sectors related to banking and finance, they strive to achieve a certain balance between these and the ‘productive’ bourgeois sectors, be they local or those related to foreign investment;
-Their fundamental electoral base and social support is found in the middle classes; while the preceeding neoliberal governments were supported by the well off layers of the petty bourgeoisie, and they sought to gain the support of the most impoverished sectors in the cities and the countryside through social provision plans.
In spite of their common characteristics, each of the political developments that we group in this general definition also have peculiarities, like the different expectations of change in the mass movement; more or less cohabitation with the former governing parties; stronger or weaker ties with the unions, etc.
Giving a precise definition of them is fundamental if we don’t want to end up beautifying this new phenomenons, like many reformist or centrist parties do.
These variants have in common- ranging from Chavez’s nationalism to the ‘leftist’ image of the Frente Amplio-, a policy based on ‘social pacts’ and class collaboration that seeks to tie the working and popular masses to the ‘anti-neoliberal’ rhetoric of the political representatives of the big bosses and pro-bosses opposition parties. This is expressed in the role played by the ex-governor Brizola in the Popular Front of Brazil, in the influence of the splinters of the Partido Blanco and other important bourgeois figures in the Uruguayan Encuentro Progresivo-Frente Amplio (Progressive Bloc-Broad Front). Also in the coalition between the Socialist Party and Christian Democracy in Chile. In Venezuela, the ministers, members of parliament and all kinds of hacks in the government, along the central role played by the Armed Forces and their new tasks involving ‘social provision’ and relief for the poor is a clear sign of that as well.
The definition of these governments as the Latin American ‘Third Way’ seeks to establish a comparison with the European social democratic governments of the last few years: Blair, Jospin, Schroeder, D’Alema, etc., that followed the neoliberal governments, politically expropriating the worker’s counteroffensive that started out with the great state workers strikes in France in ’95, in order to deviate them and guarantee the continuity of the imperialist plans of the European big bosses.
In the words of its main theoretician, Anthony Giddens, the ‘third way’ proposes an intermediate option between the neoliberal program (enforced by M.Thatcher’s government in Great Britain, for example) and the welfare states that characterized imperialist Europe ever since the post-war.
These European governments have already shown their true social-imperialist nature. All of them, with Blair at the forefront, have led NATO’s intervention in Yugoslavia. They have all stood by the imperialist and anti-working class Maastricht Treaty, and have pushed ahead with cuts and austerity for the workers, as does Schröeder in Germany. Jospin, who has to face the French labor movement that has led great struggles in the last few years, uses his ‘leftist’ demagogy to deceive and betray the workers, implementing cutbacks in a ‘consensual’ manner. Laborite Blair has also upheld Thacher’s heritage.
In our region, due to the influence of imperialist domination, the onerous foreign endebtment, and their narrow material basis alike, the governments of this ‘Latin American third way’ will be even less capable of conciliating the expectations of the working class masses and the poor population in the cityis and the countrysides with the dictates of their masters: the big bosses and imperialism. Thus, we see a perspective of greater political instability for them.
Against those who beautify these reshuffles in bourgeois governments as an expression of the ‘progress of the left’, the truth is that in times of crises and greater mass discontent, these governments seek to continue the essential administration of the pro-imperialist plans that have been imposed upon Latin America throughout the entire decade. All of them have caved in to international finance capital, big multinationals and the big native economic trusts.
The role of the Communist Parties and the populist leaderships
These political phenomenons count on the ‘leftist’ support of different reformist and populist parties, especially Stalinist ones, that share a class collaboration strategy with sectors of the bourgeoisie.
They do this, whether by directly being part of coalitions like the Frente Amplio or the Popular Front of Brazil, or else supporting them from outside. In Venezuela, the Communist Party, Causa Radical and others have subordinated themselves to Chávez. In Chile, where the CP has not gained allies in the Concertation field, neo Stalinism is running Gladys Marin for president, seeking to take advantage of their influence both in the CUT leadership and in students’ organizations, to engineer a “left” coverup of the régime.
In Argentina, United Left, a bloc between the Communist Party and the Workers’ Socialist Movement, although they have few militants and scarce electoral incidence (0.84% in the last presidential elections), presents the Uruguayan Frente Amplio as an example to follow. The CP is also a part of the CTA leadership, which has openly sided with the Alianza, a bourgeois coalition.
Although the influence and prestige of the Communist (and Maoist) parties is just a shadow of what it was in the past -when they used to control unions and were supported by the world Stalinist bureaucracy- they are trying to rebuild themselves by integrating these new ‘anti-neoliberal’ class conciliation experiments. If the class struggle develops still further and the workers’ movement openly begins to emerge, they will try to play the ‘popular front’ card, in order to deviate the proletarian struggle, and thus prevent its independent development, remaining true to their counterrevolutionary class collaboration strategy.
Populist leaderships like the Mexican EZLN, the Colombian FARC-EP, and Brazilian MST, all peasant-based parties, play a similar role from the outside, practicing the same class collaboration policy together with progressive and antineoliberal sectors, while pressuring the régime for reforms. This is the course of action followed by the EZLN before the ‘negotiated transition’ between the PRI, the PAN and the PRD. The FARC has also been pressuring Pastrana through the ‘peace dialogue’, in order to find a ‘political solution’ from which the masses can expect nothing. The MST is an indispensable ally in the class collaboration policy held by the Popular Front of Brazil.
For revolutionary workers’ parties in Latin America in the struggle to rebuild the Fourth International
In order to fight against these variants of conciliation with the bourgeoisie, and to prevent new mass struggles from being lead to a dead end, like those that have shaken Latin America over the past few years, we need to fight for the working class to break away from the class collaboration policy raised by its leaderships, so that they conquer political independence, and the working class can turn into a leading beacon for the oppressed nation, putting forward a workers’ solution to the crisis.
In order to wage this struggle, we need to develop transitional programs that, tackling the fundamental demands of the masses, raises the non-payment of the foreign debt and a breakup with imperialism; the renationalization of privatized companies with no compensation under workers’ control; the distribution of working hours between the employed and the unemployed with a vital and mininum wage; nationalization of banking and foreign trade towards imposing workers’, peasants’ and popular governments across the region, and the establishment of a Federation of Socialist Republics of Latin America.
To fight against the different strands of the Latin American ‘third way’ and its hacks like De la Rúa, Lagos, Lula, Vázquez, Chávez, etc., aided by all sort of Stalinists, populists and reformists, and also for the political independence of the working class is the main duty of those forces that claim themselves Trotskyist in Latin America.
Unfortunately, some of these parties have jumped on the bandwagon of class collaboration. The organizations linked to what is left of the United Secretariat are an organic part of the PT in Brazil and the Frente Amplio in Uruguay, while their Mexican counterparts, have dissolved themselves either in the PRD or the EZLN (Zapatistas).
Those parties that originated from Morenoism, grouped within the UIT and in the floundering LIT, support openly opportunistic policies. Within the first, the MST in Argentina adapts itself more and more to its Stalinist co-thinkers in United Left, the very same ones that welcomed Ziuganov to Buenos Aires, the Russian CP leader that today supports the massacre of the Chechens; meanwhile their sister party in Mexico (UNIOS) supports the bourgeois leader Cárdenas, and in Brazil, they are part and parcel of Lula’s PT (the CST).
Then there’s the PSTU, main party of the LIT, that adapts itself to Lula and the PT’s class collaboration policy, up to the point where they did not denounce the speakers of the ‘opposition’ bourgeoisie during the mobilization to Brasilia. In Mexico, the POS has capitulated to the negotiation policies proposed by the PRD in the Mexican students’ strike. In Venezuela, the PST has called to trust in Chávez.
We call on all groups and individuals of the Latin American working class and students’ vanguard, or those militants in parties that claim to be part of Trotskyism who are willing to fight against the deceits of the Latin American ‘third way’, to join in a common fight to unmask it.
We from the Trotskyist Fraction-International Strategy, reaffirm the urgency of the struggle to set up parties of revolutionary workers that fight to rebuild the Fourth International.