This article is an excerpt of the new introduction to the Portuguese edition of the book Marxism in Today’s World. You can read the complete introduction online at: www.socialistworld.net. Marxism in Today’s World can be purchased for $15 (including shipping) by sending a check or money order to: Socialist Alternative, PO Box 45343, Seattle, WA 98145
For socialists and Marxists, Latin America is the most advanced continent politically in the world today. It is also an anticipation of what will happen in the rest of the world tomorrow. From the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, the working class, the urban poor, and poor peasants are in revolt against landlordism, capitalism, and imperialism.
This finds its sharpest expression in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Yet the same explosive social ingredients that exist in these countries and that pushed their governments towards the left exist to one degree or another in practically every one of the countries of Central and South America.
Growth in Economy and Poverty
Latin America has had an average annual growth rate of 5% since 2004. But this growth has started from a low base, has largely been fuelled by the worldwide boom in commodities and food at the expense of industry, and has passed by millions still mired in desperate poverty. This much-vaunted growth has not quelled the movement of the masses but, if anything, has intensified it.
In Chile, massive street protests against poverty and neo-liberalism have drawn in a new generation, ending the shadow cast by the long nightmare of the Pinochet dictatorship. Huge strikes and protests have convulsed Peru. Mass demonstrations in Mexico have taken place because of the increase in corn prices, while in Venezuela and Bolivia there is a direct and rising challenge to capitalism and imperialism.
The mass of Latin Americas population instinctively understands that the recent growth is fragile. This commentary was written in August, when a financial crisis was actually under way in the U.S. and was beginning to reverberate around the world. The old adage that when the advanced industrial countries particularly the U.S. catch cold the neo-colonial world will suffer pneumonia still holds true, especially for Latin America. This will shatter the rosy economic perspectives of the soothsayers of capitalism.
Chávez and Trotsky
The coming to power of Hugo Chávez nine years ago and his promises to lift the Venezuelan masses out of poverty provoked the morbid fear and bitter opposition of Venezuelan capitalism and their international backers, particularly in the U.S. Starting out with a mission to humanize capitalism, Chávez has been pushed into proclaiming the need for socialism in the 21st Century and lately seems to have embraced not just Marxism but Trotsky and his ideas. The theory of permanent revolution has come in for special praise from Chávez, as has Trotskys pamphlet The Transitional Program.
In April, Chávez stated on his television show: I would not qualify myself as a Trotskyist, although I have a tendency [to be one] because I have a lot of respect for the ideas of Trotsky and every time I have more respect and I perceive it better. The permanent revolution, for example, is an important thesis. You all have to learn it, study it Leon Trotskys booklet that someone brought in for me, I was reading it this morning and it is about the transitional program. It is only 30 or 40 pages long but it is worth its weight in gold. He is an illuminating thinker, Leon Trotsky.
It is to the great merit of Hugo Chávez that he has not drawn back when faced with reaction. Both he and his supporters have shifted leftwards under the threats and blows of the right, which resulted in the attempted coup that tried to remove him in 2002. In place of the scorn, slander, and misinterpretation of Trotskys ideas by both the bourgeoisie and the Stalinists, Chávez has now given a certain legitimacy to his ideas.
But while this is welcome, unfortunately history is littered with examples of figures and movements who sincerely claimed to be Marxist, could even sometimes accurately quote the letter of Marxs ideas, while at the same time watered down or totally ignored the method and the spirit of Marxism. Marx himself said that theory was a guide to action. This is above all demonstrated in sharp turning points in the life of society; revolutions, in other words.
Some features of the revolutionary process albeit drawn out have existed in Venezuela for some time. Pushed to the left, prompted into making important radical declarations, taking concrete actions to reform the lives of workers and peasants; all this Hugo Chávez has done. This has undoubtedly helped to undermine, if not yet break, the Washington consensus of neo-liberal policies of privatization, cutting wages and social services, etc.
Chávez has been a source of inspiration and hope to the masses, not just in Latin America but throughout the neo-colonial world, kept in the dirt by capitalism. But capitalism and the threat of naked capitalist counter-revolution have not yet been vanquished in Venezuela.
In his magnificent documentary about Latin America and reaction, The War on Democracy, John Pilger, while showing sympathy, nevertheless confronts Hugo Chávez over the fact that the rich in Venezuela are still a considerable force; in fact, many have done even better than before by creaming off big benefits from Venezuelas oil boom.
Pilger subsequently pointed out in the British Guardian, Even the description of [Chávez] as a radical socialist, usually in the pejorative, willfully ignores the fact that he is a nationalist and a social democrat. At this stage, this is an accurate description, despite the radical phraseology, of the reality of Venezuela today and of Chávezs government.
While there are many proclamations on the need for socialism, there has not been as yet a decisive break with capitalism – no more, in fact even less, than was the case in Allendes Chile in 1973. Under mass pressure, Allende nationalized 40% of industry. This did not prevent the bloody overthrow of Allende and the long night of dictatorship that followed.
Even Trotskys theory of the permanent revolution can be, and is, unfortunately, interpreted not in a revolutionary but in a reformist manner. Trotsky argued that the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution [which includes land reform, the development of industry, establishing a stable parliamentary democracy, and breaking free from imperialist domination – ed.] would be carried through in the underdeveloped countries by an alliance between the working class and the peasantry, with the former in the leadership.
This would mean a workers and peasants government coming to power, which would complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution and then pass over to the socialist tasks in the national arena but also igniting a movement internationally, as was the case in the Russian Revolution. Trotskys idea made no concessions to the Stalinist perception of stages. It did not mean a step-by-step program with lengthy pauses from the bourgeois-democratic tasks to the socialist tasks in the indefinite future. Trotsky talked about the combination of the bourgeois-democratic tasks with socialist measures.
Unfortunately, the idea of the permanent revolution has been interpreted in a reformist fashion by those around Chávez, both in Venezuela and also by some false friends internationally who merely cheer on Chávez, thereby deepening his mistakes.
Break with Capitalism to Prevent Counter-revolution
The present oil bonanza with oil prices set to increase to perhaps $100 has given a cushion to Venezuela. This has allowed the Chávez regime to give considerable concessions, particularly to the poor, without as yet fundamentally ending the economic and political power of Venezuelan capitalism.
This unstable position, however, cannot last indefinitely. Counter-revolution can take on different forms. On the one side, Latin America witnessed the sharp blow of a coup in Chile in 1973, but then we had the creeping counter-revolution in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas paused although they reached a more advanced stage than Venezuela today because of Fidel Castros advice to call a halt to the revolution. This prepared the way for reaction.
At the moment, Chávez enjoys widespread support of perhaps more than 60%, but this could evaporate, particularly amongst the middle class, if there is an economic dip in Venezuelas fortunes.
We support all steps forward by Hugo Chávez and his government in changing for the better the lives of the poor, the working class, and the poor peasants. But the only guarantee that this will not be reversed and counter-revolution defeated is by taking over the oil industry which is only partially controlled by the government at the moment and other industries, and nationalizing the land and turning it over to the tillers.
Above all, it is necessary to carry though a program of workers democracy, where real power is vested in the hands of the working class, the poor, and their independent organizations.
One of the problems of the revolution arises from the history and characteristics of the Venezuelan working class, its lack of consciousness of its own power and lack of independent movements. This has led some to look for liberators from above.
Because of the vacuum that existed, Chávez and the army officers around him very courageously stepped in, were moved by the suffering of the masses and the blind alley of capitalism, and were subsequently pushed to the left and radicalized in the process. However, because of their origins from within the army they have adopted a top-down approach towards democracy. Cubas influence also reinforced this. There is the incredible assistance in terms of healthcare, which has played an important role in bolstering support for the Chávez government.
How much more effective this would be, however, if Venezuela broke completely with landlordism and capitalism together with Bolivia, and then these two countries could come together with Cuba in a socialist democratic federation under workers control and management. A democratic workers state in Venezuela would act as a beacon to Cuba and the rest of the continent. This is what the CWI is fighting for.
Bolivia on the Brink
Bolivia is as important as Venezuela in the degree to which the mass movement is on the march. The coming to power of Evo Morales and the MAS (Movement for Socialism) has opened up as dramatic a scenario as in Venezuela.
Morales, however, has hesitated before the demands of the mass movement clamoring for a decisive break with the system. We have a president, but we do not have the power. The rich elite continue to control us. They are never going to accept the changes we want, said Silvano Paillo, an assembly member for the MAS.
Yet the counter-revolution in Bolivia feels it is much stronger at this stage than in Venezuela. It has a presence in many states, in some even a majority as in the energy-rich state of Santa Cruz. It is armed to the teeth with the organization of reactionary paramilitary bands outside of the army. Morales has also made a fundamental mistake, similar to Allende, of promising not to touch the officer caste, which is a gift to Bolivian reaction.
However, Bolivian workers and peasants have a long and bloody experience with the military and are certain to resist any attempt, as has happened in the past, by armed reaction to overthrow Morales.
The demand should now go up from the mass movement in Bolivia for a new revolutionary constituent assembly to be convened through the organization of mass committees. These should demand that the assembly carry through the full and complete nationalization of the major industries particularly energy and the introduction of a socialist planned economy linked to Cuba and Venezuela.
As important as these events are, the fate of socialism in the long term in the continent will be determined by crucial countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, with their powerful working classes, socialist and revolutionary traditions, and a history of independent working-class movements.
On the surface, Brazil, with Lulas Workers Party (PT) government at the wheel, seems to be powering along. Economic growth is heading above 5% per year, more than double the average of the past two decades. Yet the reality for the masses is vastly different.
Symptomatic of the situation is the barbaric conditions in the favelas (shanty towns), where grinding poverty is mixed with despair, crime, and drugs. One Rio newspaper recently compared the images of carnage in the city to the violence in Baghdad. It concluded that these were scenes from a civil war.
Despite the much-praised growth of the Brazilian economy, it is leaking jobs to China and elsewhere, as industries such as textiles, footwear, and metalworking go to the wall. With private industry collapsing, workers scramble for the few jobs in the public sector at a time when it is coming under increasing attack from the capitalist class and the former champion of the metalworkers, Lula. In May, 1.5 million came out in protests, partial strikes, and blockades in cities such as Sao Paulo.
Party of Socialism and Liberty (P-SOL)
The attack on pensions by Lulas government provoked big opposition and the defection of significant layers of public sector workers and others towards the Party of Socialism and Liberty (P-SOL), which was formed three years ago. This represents one of the most important and encouraging developments in the Latin American continent.
The Brazilian section of the CWI, Socialismo Revolucionario, was one of the first to predict the need for and raise the demand for a new mass workers party. It was amongst the first pioneers of P-SOL.
Internationally, because of the complete bourgeoisification of previous workers parties such as the PT, social democracy in Europe, and the ex-communist parties, the inevitable process of realignment and the creation of such parties is lodged in the current world situation. The creation of these parties, as the experience of P-SOL has shown, is vital in gathering together the hitherto scattered forces of the working class, imbuing them with a sense of their power, and undertaking a combined struggle against capitalism and imperialism.
However, the CWI never perceived the creation of mass parties as a panacea or an end in itself. Any new mass party today represents, from a political point of view, an arena of ideological clarification and struggle; for the working out of a program to rearm the working class for the coming battles.
This has been shown by the development of P-SOL, which in a short time has grown electorally, getting 6% in the presidential elections, but also has gathered different political trends hitherto separated from one another within the framework of a mass party. Through events and discussion conducted in a positive and comradely fashion, such parties could provide in time the basis for elaborating a clear Marxist and revolutionary program for the working class to take power.
The path that lies ahead, through victories and setbacks, is creating a new generation hardened by the incapacity of capitalism and imperialism to show a way forward.
The 21st Century will be one of socialism. But the means of achieving that goal lie in creating the basis now for the building of mass forces imbued with the method, program, and perspectives of genuine Marxism. The CWI, which has brought together in its ranks some of the best militant fighters and conscious Marxists throughout the world in 40 countries on all continents, is not the last word in this developing process. Nevertheless, if readers examine our ideas set out in this book, we hope they will agree with us that in the approach of the CWI lies the road to mass parties of the working class and a mass international that can realize the dream of the pioneers, of a socialist world confederation.