Colombia: From Capitalist horror without end to the struggle for Socialism – Part Three

In spite of the heroism of the guerrilla fighters, what they have lacked is an understanding of the role of the working class in the process of socialist revolution. What is required is a party based on the working class in the cities that can lead the peasantry. In this struggle the guerrillas would still have a role but as auxiliary to the working class, not as its substitute.

Read the original in Spanish.

Are there divisions within the bourgeoisie?

As we explained previously, the economic, social and political cost of the armed conflict inevitably provokes internal contradictions within the ruling class. This is surely one of the fundamental reasons why the "para-political" scandal erupted. The decisive sections of the bourgeoisie probably intended to discipline the other layers of the ruling class (the paramilitary chiefs and some - not all - of the capitalists, landlords, bourgeois politicians and state bureaucrats most linked to them), and get rid of a layer that had gone too far and had begun to represent a threat to their privileges and interests.

The ruling class needs the paramilitary chiefs to do their dirty work for them. But after a while, (and especially with an extended conflict where there is in circulation so much money that they themselves have made from drug trafficking) they tend to develop their own interests. Many of them are beyond the control of the ruling wing of the oligarchy, secure in their role as saviours and guarantors of the capitalist order with which they are entrusted, and no one dares dispute their privileges and spheres of influence. At the same time, once this scandal was uncovered, the bourgeois wanted to use it as propaganda to make it appear that Uribe had risen above good and bad, and to sell the idea that while there was corruption and links between "the political class" and para-militarism, the state would fight against it.

These internal conflicts within the ruling class also appeared in 1990s when the chief of the Medellin cartel, Pablo Escobar, clashed with the decisive sectors of the oligarchy and imperialism. Escobar, born into a very poor family, had been converted into one of the principle big Colombian landowners and, according to Forbes magazine, was the seventh richest person on the planet. According to various investigations, he had developed plans to take control of the state (eliminating even other members of the ruling class who got in the way of or complicated their plans). Especially when US imperialism asked for his head, Escobar openly challenged the oligarchy. This cost him his life. However, one aspect that is decisive for the revolutionary militants to understand is that these internal tactical disputes over sharing out the loot do not prevent them from achieving complete unanimity when it comes to attacking the working class and murdering with impunity guerrillas and left activists.

Mancuso, the current chiefs of the AUV and even a group of the bourgeois politicians, landlords and capitalists who accompanied them in Ralito, had accumulated power and privilege over the previous years and they thus became more and more arrogant. Statements such as the fact that 35% of the deputies were at their service did not help to hide the real face of the system from the eyes of the masses, and confirmed to decisive sectors of the oligarchy that many of the narco-paramilitary chiefs had a problem of image and legitimacy. They started to become a risky competitor. But it is one thing to identify contradictions within the bourgeoisie, and another to say that a sector exists with which you can negotiate to reach an agreement for a just and durable peace.

A new negotiation?

A few years ago the Colombian bourgeoisie began the so-called process of demobilisation of the paramilitaries. This had been presented in their propaganda as a gesture to the masses and as a step towards peace and the civil reintegration of the combatants. In practice it meant the legalisation of more than 12,000 mercenaries belonging to the AUC and their integration in some instances into the state apparatus, where they act as hired killers under the control of the bourgeoisie when necessary. Meanwhile, other irregular groups of fascist paramilitaries like the "Black Eagles" and others took over, and continued to assassinate worker and popular activists. So far this year, while some bourgeois have talked of peace, including a new negotiation, 43 trade unionists have been assassinated.

Now, after the intensification of the military and media siege against the FARC, some sections of the Colombian bourgeoisie have made statements proposing to open up a new process of negotiation. Firstly, what we have to make clear is that, as has been demonstrated in the past, they are not prepared to give up a single one of their privileges or to alter anything decisive in their policy of attacks against the working class, the peasants and the youth. In the best case scenario they will only be willing to negotiate the surrender of the guerrillas. In the worst case, especially if the guerrilla leaders do not cede on all the fundamental points, they will exploit the negotiations demagogically when this suits them, while preparing to break them up when this suits them.

The debate around new talks has reached right into the heart of the guerrillas and the Colombian and Latin American left. Some sections, including President Chavez and the Ecuadorian President Correa, have raised the need for the FARC to free unconditionally the hostages they are holding, abandon the armed struggle, and to open up a new process of negotiations, with international monitoring, between the guerrillas and the bourgeois state. This has generated expectations among some sections, but it is faced with several obstacles. The first and most important is, as we have said, that the bourgeoisie will not concede anything fundamental. Moreover, the spectre of what happened with the Unión Patriótica remains present in the mind of many guerrillas and left activists.

Both among the guerrillas and beyond, many left activists think - and the experience of the last 60 years is the reason - that if the FARC surrender their arms and repeat the " peace process", as in the past, they will be massacred without pity by the state apparatus and the paramilitaries. The problem is that some others consider these alternatives are the only two to choose from: either continue with the methods of guerrilla struggle and the programme adopted so far, or surrender their weapons and seek an agreement with the bourgeoisie.

Only the struggle of the working class with a socialist programme can achieve peace

Raising the struggle for peace in abstract, separate from the struggle to transform the living conditions of the masses, and without organising and mobilising them to defeat the counter-revolutionary plans, leads inevitably down a blind alley. If the current situation remains unchanged, the direct military confrontation between the guerrillas and the state will be used to curb and repress the development of the class struggle and the guerrillas, and will create an ever more difficult social and military situation. However, if the guerrilla leaders surrendered their arms in exchange for a promise on the part of the bourgeoisie for new negotiations, they would lose out. In the event that the leaders of the CUT (the trade unions) or of the Democratic Pole, instead of mobilising the masses with a socialist programme, which we have explained is needed to transform society, devoted themselves to fostering illusions that the road to peace is to be found in an agreement at the negotiating table with a supposedly progressive sector of the bourgeoisie, the result would soon be more frustration for the masses and new fascist aggression and crimes against the left militants.

In a situation of brutal repression by the ruling class and heroic resistance from the workers and peasant masses, as we see in in Colombia, the guerrilla struggle can be an auxiliary method of struggle, but it must be subordinate to the organisation and mobilisation of the masses and subject at all times to the leadership and aims of the proletariat. Adopting it as the key method of struggle - as the leadership of the FARC have done - can only lead to isolation. At the same time, the struggle of the masses must be linked inseparably to the defence of a genuine socialist programme, linking the struggle for peace to the organisation and mobilisation of the workers and peasants in each neighbourhood, village and workplace to improve their living conditions (land reform, the struggle against unemployment and privatisations, etc.) and to respond to the attacks that the ultra right-wing government of Uribe and the reactionary Colombian oligarchy are carrying out.

Counter-revolution in the economy

Basing themselves on all the political factors that we have analysed, the various Colombian governments, and especially Uribe, have applied a veritable counter-revolution in terms of the living conditions of the masses, wages and social rights. Privatisations, the loss of thousands of public sector jobs, the eviction of hundreds of thousands of people who have been unable to pay their mortgages, the measures imposed by the IMF (opening up and deregulation of the internal market, cuts in social spending, insecurity at work...) have aggravated the position of the peasants, the wage workers and the semi-proletarian masses to intolerable extremes. Many have arrived in the poorest neighbourhoods of the cities the Colombia fleeing the war in the countryside and poverty.

In a country with a rich agriculture, food imports increased by 700% during the second half of the 1990s. The result of this has been to subject the Colombian internal market to imperialist interests, the proportion of cultivated land in the latifundia has fallen by 77%. In the case of small farms it has fallen by 35%. It goes without saying that this has condemned thousands of Colombian peasants and workers to ruin and misery. The introduction of advanced technologies in agro-industrial production in this context, far from being translated into a reduction in working hours for the workers, has meant a reduction in jobs and increasing poverty for the workers and peasants. "The big industrial chains can harvest as much cane with 11 wage workers in a week that it traditionally took 700 families with home-made tools to produce in a year". (17)

The new international speculative boom in biofuels has aggravated the situation even more, and is adding more exploitation, misery and hunger to the already intolerable living conditions of the masses. The pressure of the large imperialist multinationals to replace traditional crops (that are necessary to feed the poorest in society) with plantations dedicated to making quick profits, has been extreme in all countries. In Colombia, where the national bourgeoisie is particularly subservient, they have applied each and every one of the imperialist measures, making the Colombian experience one of the bloodiest examples of the consequences of such a dynamic.

"By 2002 the country was producing only 7% of the barley, 36% of the wheat and 98% of the maize that it produced in 1990. This is not only not enough to satisfy national consumption as it was 12 years ago, but it also confirms that all of the Colombians born in this period have been fed with imported food. A survey of the nutritional profile of Colombia carried out by the FAO in 2002 concluded that the country now imports more than 51% of protein and vegetable calories and 33% of fats. By contrast, in 1990, 90% of the national demand was covered from domestic production. This situation, far from improving under the mandate of a puppet of imperialism like President Uribe, has intensified, especially in the last few years with the boom in biofuels. The Rural Statute and the Forestry Law abandoned food security to promote entrepreneurial enclaves of raw materials for biofuels and wood - such as the failed Carimagua project - and the Bandera programme, 'Agricultural Income Security', in the first year, allocates only 35% of the resources to produce cereals and oil seeds, and within five years will dismantle the lot.

"Imports have increased in volume and in cost. It is a serious state of affairs that the amount of foreign purchases of agricultural and agro-industrial products should rise from 6,106.564 tonnes in 2002 to 8,126.637 in 2007, but the rising curve of cost is even worse. One tonne of yellow maize has risen from $96 in August 2002 to $249 in March 2008; wheat has gone from $172 to $485 over the same period; rice from $242 to $524; barley from $133 to $485 and white maize from $148 to $259. Each time the imports get more and more expensive."

The neoliberals insist on these imports, and eliminating tariffs. They appear to ignore the fact that for some time now, on many products they have already been reduced to zero. For example, yellow maize in December 2006, barley in December 2007, palm oil in January 2007, wheat in July 2007, soya in October 2007 and sorghum in December 2006. Nor can it be argued that the exchange rate against the dollar has been unfavourable for 'procuring food'. We have in fact the lowest levels since March 2003, falling from $2.960 to $1.790, with a revaluation of 12% since January, and yet there is no bread, neither for $100 or $200. (18)

Poverty levels in Colombia have risen to 50%. Unemployment is the highest in Latin America at 12%, and this is the official rate. As in all countries this figure is distorted; in reality the percentage of unemployed is much higher. The prices of basic services are unsustainable and privatisations have made living conditions extremely precarious. The Colombian economy - apart from drug trafficking - is based on foreign investment, exports to the USA and Venezuela, and the remittances of emigrants. The recession in the USA and the world economy has started to impact on all of these factors and will do so even more in the future. Sales in the textile sector have fallen by 25% in the first months of 2008, construction licences by 17%, the sales of foodstuffs have plunged and growth forecasts have substantially been reduced. (19)

The Colombian bourgeoisie only has one option: to attack the masses again and again. This will be aggravated by the coming into force of the NAFTA agreement, which will further increase social unrest, provoking a massive response sooner rather than later.

The heroic resistance of the working class

The fundamental factor that has permitted both Uribe to stay in power until now and the bourgeoisie to launch its attacks against the working class, discussed earlier, has been the absence of a mass organisation of the workers with a revolutionary programme capable of making the workers' movement and all the exploited layers conscious of their strength and offering them a channel and a plan of action through which they can transform society. But this situation, in which inertia, fear and the individual struggle to survive, keep sections of the masses at the margins of the political struggle, cannot last forever, and is already showing symptoms of change.

The "most-voted-party" in all the elections in Colombia is that of the abstentions. In the re-election of Uribe a few years ago, it reached a new record of 60%. Emigration has also acted as an escape valve and contributed to delaying a social explosion, but under the surface of Colombian society enormous discontent has accumulated that only needs one spark to ignite it.

The most remarkable fact in the current state of the class struggle in Colombia is that in spite of their criminal strategy, the capitalists have not been able to crush the resistance of the masses, in particular that of the working class. The heroic struggle of the proletariat and all the exploited layers of Colombia is expressed in important, and ever more more audacious and numerous, struggles of the workers and peasants: several general strikes over the last few years, the increasing mobilisations and the street protests against para-militarism (the last of these being on March 6) or the electoral advances of the Alternative Democratic Pole. In spite of its contradictions, both in terms of its composition and in its programme, this party won 22% of the votes in the last presidential elections, (making them the second force after the coalition that supported Uribe,) and it won for the second time the mayoral elections in Bogotá as well as in other important cities.

The struggle is in full swing, and the Colombian working class has time and sufficient opportunities to win power, but this requires of its leaders a programme able to unify, enthuse and mobilise all of the sections of the population that are suffering the reactionary economic and social policies of imperialism and the bourgeoisie. This, in the concrete situation in Colombia, means that the struggle for peace is necessarily linked to the struggle to solve the pressing problems of the masses (unemployment, poverty, etc.) and both the political and economic expropriation of the oligarchy. Raising the struggle for peace in abstract terms leaves the door open for the Colombian bourgeoisie to continue to use its demagogy among the most backward layers of the masses, justifying its militaristic and repressive policies as necessary "to force the guerrillas to give up their arms".

If the leaders of the CUT (the trade unions) and the Alternative Democratic Pole defended a socialist programme, basing themselves on the struggle of the masses and on the organisation and mobilisation of the working class, they would be able to weaken the power of the oligarchy and imperialism. The same is true for the leadership of the Venezuelan revolution. To complete the revolution in Venezuela, expropriating the bourgeoisie and building a genuine revolutionary state is the only guarantee against the eagerness to intervene of the White House.

What policy should the Bolivarian Revolution adopt towards Colombia?

Unfortunately, the foreign policy of the Bolivarian government has until now prioritised the search for diplomatic agreements with Latin American bourgeois government and other countries, in the mistaken belief that this shields Venezuela from the attacks and manoeuvres of the imperialists, rather than the struggle to complete the Venezuelan revolutions and spread it to other countries.

As we explained in an article written shortly after the conflict between Chavez and Uribe over the invasion of Ecuador and the assassination of Raúl Reyes:

"In respect to Colombia, the policy of maintaining the status quo, presupposed that the Venezuelan government should not make any comment on human rights violations, should not denounce the state terrorism of the Colombian oligarchy and that during the state summits between the two countries Uribe should even be qualified as a friend and appeals should be made to him to work for peace. But this is like asking a fox to look after the chickens! One conclusion can clearly be drawn from the recent conflict with the Colombian government: these policies have not served to prevent Uribe from leaving his sewer as soon as imperialism blew its whistle at the orders of his friend Bush.

"If the position of the Bolivarian leadership swings between critical support for the FARC when there is conflict between the Colombian government and equally uncritical diplomatic accords with Uribe, hugs and abstract calls to keep the peace, this will only result in confusion and demoralisation of the masses and it will leave the door open for the Colombian oligarchy to continue to exploit the desire for peace of the Colombian people in a demagogic and reactionary manner. The only real way of guaranteeing the defence of the revolution against imperialism is to complete the revolution in Venezuela itself.

"As Trotsky explained, the revolution is permanent in two senses. Firstly, that starting off as a democratic and anti-imperialist revolution, it can only continue to advance and complete its objectives if it is transformed into a socialist revolution; the working class must take the lead and expropriate the capitalists. The other aspect of the permanent revolution is that after beginning in one country, it can only finally triumph if it is extended to other countries and particularly to the most advanced. If the revolution remains isolated it will sooner or later be strangled by the capitalist siege, either by being defeated in a direct and immediate manner by way of economic sabotage and a triumphant counter-revolution or by degenerating along bureaucratic lines, as occurred in the USSR. Sooner or later it would also run the risk of a capitalist counter-revolution.

"The expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the setting up of a planned economy that would solve the problems of the Venezuelan masses would serve as an example to the masses of the Americas and the world. Also, it is imperative to explain to the masses that the struggle for peace in Colombia - as we said earlier - is indissolubly linked to the struggle for the socialist transformation of society. If Venezuela can end the domination of the capitalists and solve problems like unemployment, shortages, housing, etc., it would immediately become a magnet for all of the peoples of the Americas, starting with our brothers and sisters in Colombia. This, combined with a call to the other Latin American peoples to organise themselves to struggle for socialism, would be the best way of making real the dream of Bolivar of a United Latin America. The Socialist Federation of the peoples of Latin America would no longer be a slogan but a real possibility." (20)

For an antifascist and anti-capitalist united front of the left with a Socialist programme

The first step that should be taken by the Colombian left is to organise a revolutionary and anti-fascist united front of the trade unions, the revolutionary peasant organisations and the parties and movements of the left, against the attacks on the lives, democratic rights and conditions of the workers and peasants, raising a programme for the transition to socialism and combining the struggle of the masses in the countryside (including the armed struggle) against the brutal attacks of the landlords and paramilitaries, with the conscious organisation and mobilisation of the workers in the cities to call a general strike against the anti-social, reactionary and terrorist policies that Uribe and the bourgeoisie are applying against the masses.

The programme of the left in Colombia must start by offering a solution to the most basic necessities of all sections of the people: repeal of the labour, tax and pension reforms; agrarian reform that expropriates the landlords to give the land to those who work it, the peasants; sharing out the work through the reduction of the working day to fight unemployment; a plan of investment and works to improve infrastructure and social services and create jobs; unemployment benefit for all unemployed workers until they find employment; nationalisation of all companies in crisis, the multinationals and also the banks under workers' control so as to be able to guarantee cheap credits to small farmers. The rich should pay for the crisis, and not the workers with sackings, wage cuts or reduction in trade union rights, and neither should the middle class with taxation! Cancel the external debt, which the capitalists are responsible for and not the people.

The leaders of the trade unions and the peasants must call assemblies and form committees of struggle for peace and in defence of these social demands in all of the neighbourhoods, villages and workplaces. Also, apart from coordinating the struggle for decent living conditions, better salaries etc., a task of the trade unions, peasants' organisations and other left groupings, is to organise pickets and self-defence committees against the repression of the fascist paramilitaries and the state. Massive demonstrations against violence are a first step, but these must not be limited to calling for investigation and punishment of those responsible by the self-same authorities that are accomplices in these crimes. It is important to organise committees in the factories, neighbourhoods and villages, and to set up armed militias under the control of the workers' and peasants' assemblies to strengthen the confidence of the workers in their own forces and to defend themselves against the attacks of the paramilitaries and the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state. A united front of all the left organisations to fight for a programme on these lines would isolate and defeat reaction.

Armed with this alternative, the Colombian workers would win massive support from all the oppressed, including those who today are inactive, terrorised and demoralised, and would create a wave of excitement and hope throughout the whole country. The masses of the middle classes and the most backward sections of the semi-proletariat, faced with a strong and massive workers' and poor peasants' movement in the streets, would lose whatever confidence they have left in Uribe and the bourgeoisie. Many would even turn towards the left.

The Colombian people need to see that there is a political alternative to Uribe and the domination of capital that has lead the country into barbarism, militarism and poverty, and that this is an alternative that can win. The immense majority of the activists of the FARC and the ELN would sympathise with these ideas and would be attracted by them.

The masses are on the march throughout Latin America and revolution has been placed on the order of the day. The fate of the Colombian workers and peasants cannot be separated from that of their comrades in the rest of the continent, and in particular, from that of the Venezuelans. The victory of the revolutionary movement of the masses in any one of the these countries would serve to stimulate and be an example to all the others, and the final victory of the socialist revolution would only be possible on the basis of spreading it to all of Latin America and the whole world.

The working class which has demonstrated its strength many times over, is the only class that can paralyse production, disorganise the ruling class, put it in check and lead the peasants and all of the exploited layers, counterposing a socialist future to the future of war, blood and repression the capitalists are preparing. For a socialist Venezuela and Colombia within a Socialist Federation of Latin America!




(17) "Colombia: Neoliberalismo, cuestión agraria y conflicto social" Asociación campesina del valle del Río Cimitarra. Publicado en Viento Sur

(18) "La verdadera vulnerabilidad alimentaria de Colombia". A. Suarez Montoya. La Tarde. Tomado de

(19) "Se estanca la economía" (E. Sarmiento). El Espectador

(20) "Tras el conflicto con Uribe y la Cumbre de Río ¿Qué política exterior debe defender la revolución bolivariana?" El Militante nº10

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